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:Luke 11:2-4 New King James Version
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.”
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.
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.