Recently, I took a trip to Tennessee. I was on a mountain, in a place called Sewanee. There, in a remote community, is the campus site of a school called The University of the South and it is a liberal arts school with a School of Theology. The school has a long history and I will share more about that in other posts but, for now, I just want to collect some thoughts on methods of prayer. During my short stay, I had some time to visit St. Mary’s Sewanee retreat center and walk their outdoor labyrinth. The only labyrinth that I have walked, up to this point, has been at my local church. I was first introduced to labyrinth walking prayer through my church which, houses one in the center of their sanctuary.

While walking St. Mary’s labyrinth, it was cold outside and the wind was piercing sporadic gusts so, my desire to have a nice, relaxed time of prayer ended up being more like an express sprint. I did manage to take enough time at the center to notice that there were little rocks piled in the middle. It appeared that whoever had walked before had placed a rock they collected in the center. I thought that was meaningful and carried some depth to the journey. Bring whatever you have gathered or perhaps whatever burden you may have been carrying and lay it down where you meet with God. I don’t know if that is what was intended but, it felt like a worthwhile gesture. It helped me to think about what I would lay down on that particular journey.

I have spent twenty years learning how to pray and I don’t think I am done and I don’t think I ever will be. I think back to my Christian conversion and how I started to pray. I was given instructions to thank Jesus over and over again. I was told to start by praising God and then direct my prayer towards my supplications. I was told to make sure I used specific scripture to resonate with whatever I was praying for. Jesus told us how to pray in Luke 11 with the model prayer.

“When you pray say:
Our Father in Heaven,
Hallowed be Your Name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.”

Luke 11:2-4 New King James Version

The methods I was originally taught somewhat follow the structure of this prayer. In one bible study class I had to write a prayer based on this structure. I don’t have that prayer anymore but, I wrote an invocation opening that I liked well enough to keep. “Dear God, creator of heaven and earth, creator of all things, by your power and for your glory.” I find that sometimes I don’t have my words all figured out and I don’t know what to pray. This little intro seems to give me that initial breath to go into the full invocation and supplication of my prayer.

“We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!”

― Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

One thing I have felt compelled to notice is how prayer is different every time I pray. Of course, my mood is never the same and as I have learned, mood doesn’t count. Then what does? The words? If I use those big intellectual words or deep theological phrases, does that make it good and worthy? Will it be heard or lost among the shuffle of millions? How do I make it special so it will get top ranking?

Cain and Abel come to my mind as I am writing this. This is actually something I would not have chosen to use as a reflection on prayer. Meditating on the message of the story, what I understand is that because one received more favor, the other got jealous. Sounds a lot like people today but, I digress. Another reflection is that one gave from the heart and with reverence and the other did not. Perhaps this will continually evolve for me and shed more light into what prayer actually is and what it means to spend time in prayer.

Peter Paul Rubens / Public domain

Over the years, I have found that going into a time of prayer doesn’t always mean being on my knees and doing prayer in the formal way that most people know. I have prayed while drawing, writing an icon, walking a labyrinth and I have a special space set aside with a candle and Anglican Rosary for my more formal times of prayer.

Prayer has become one of the most integral pieces of my daily life. I will continue my reflection on prayer in different forms and methods. I like walking a labyrinth as a form of prayer because of its focused intention within a specific space. There is a mystical feel that I get when I walk the unicursal path of a labyrinth. Perhaps the sacred geometry has an impact on me being able to be focused in the method of walking prayer. Whatever the case, even in the midst of gusty winds and cold temperatures, a single moment can make what seems uneventful and routine, rise to a higher level of being present.

The Season of Lent

“The boa digests slowly. The habit digests slowly.”

(Le boa digère lentement. – L’habitude digère lentement.)
― Charles de Leusse

It is that time of year again. Every year I try to do something different for the Lenten Season. I’ve been creative and sketched through Lent and I’ve tried reading specific Lenten studies and meditations. To me, it’s all good because it is all intentional towards an awareness. This sacred season makes me stop and think about sacrifice, self-examination and coming from dust and going back to dust. It envelops a deep presence when I come to the staunch recognition that my entire life is merely a whisper in the wind.

This year I decided to do something I have done before but, it’s been a few years. I gave up coffee and started drinking tea. Tea is not the same. It is just not the same. The caffeine level is not the same and the taste is definitely not the same. What kind of reflection does this provide for me? For one, I see my own limitations through my habitual nature. I come to realize how much I rely on this thing, a drink, for my daily survival. It also makes me realize that I am capable of change and adjusting to that change no matter how hard it may seem. The first few days are hard and uncomfortable because I am changing a daily ritual. The day after Ash Wednesday I had to fly out of town. I worked till lunch, went to the airport, got patted down by security because the piece of metal in my foot, left over from foot surgery years ago, always sets off the signal of potential danger, arrived at my destination, rented a car, drove for 40 minutes, arrived at the hotel and ……. no tea in the room, just coffee. UGH!

It is amazing how the world begins to change through the eyes of a cup of coffee.

Donna A. Favors – Member of the Board of Directors of the Montgomery Institute, 1955

I was good. I did not drink the coffee although it was very tempting. What does this teach me? Other than I have an emotional and physical love for coffee, it teaches me about my limitations. There is a lot of criticism that this sort of suffering through Lent is silly and superficial. Sometimes, I agree, and then I put myself through an actual seemingly minor change. When I wake up in the morning, making coffee is the first item on the agenda. When I changed that routine it made my comfortable daily living, uncomfortable. I think Lent should be a little uncomfortable. Self-examination is uncomfortable, if you are doing it right.

Lent is what we make it. It can be a spiritually invigorating experience or something we eagerly wait to be over so we can get on with “normal” habitual life. I am going through some big changes in my life this year. These changes will alter the path of my life. Everything I have known up to now will be transfigured in many varied degrees. So, I gave up something that made me comfortable in order to disrupt what I knew as comfortable. I feel that was a fitting choice for this Lenten Season 2020.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ’

Matthew 4:1-4 NRSV (New Revised Standard Version)