Some days the things I most need to pray about, I am way too anxious about to sit still and pray about. Thankfully, I don't always have to sit still in order to pray. One of the great traditions of the Christian faith is prayer walking. Prayer walking is a large genre of different kinds of prayer done while moving. One form of prayer walking is pilgrimage, another walking a labyrinth. While those are two very specific types of walking prayers, there are also examples of less structured prayer walking which can be helpful on a daily basis.
One way of prayer walking is by walking around a location which is the site of concern. If you're anxious about a work problem, then you can walk around your office space or work conference room praying about the situation. If you are having problems at home with a family member, walk around their room or the room in which you tend to fight and pray about the relationship. Many times communities do this in an organized way. When social issues crop up around schools or local governmental groups or so forth, prayer walks are created to walk into those spaces and pray for them. This brings prayer to the space and public recognition to the situation.
Movement tends to focus our thoughts in different ways than sitting still does. Sometimes the location allows us to see new things or situations from different perspectives which allow us to pray for them in new and different ways. What areas of your life need prayer? Walk in prayer, or invite someone to walk with you, with Christ, knowing that God is with you wherever you are.
This past Sunday, the Epistle reading in the Revised Common Lectionary was from the book of Ephesians, Ephesians 6:10-20. Since this passage is paired with the Bread of Life discourse from the gospel of John, the number of times one preaches on it is few and far between. This passage is rather well known for a passage from Ephesians, because it talks about putting on the armor of God. The author of the passage outlines some items of clothing which followers of Jesus should put on in order to fight against the spiritual forces of evil in this world.
Belt of Truth
Breastplate of Righteousness
Shoes of Peace
Shield of Faith
Helmet of Salvation
Sword of the Spirit
It sounds lovely. But there are a few things I noticed about this passage this past week. While there are some very good reasons for the pieces of clothing mentioned, I realized that if I drew a diagram of the armor of God, it leaves some portions of my body rather uncovered. It also leaves out a few aspects of the faith I would really love to have with me when dealing with the world, especially any forces of evil.
So in an exercise of imagination, I thought I would fill out the outfit to fill in some of the gaps and bring in some other aspects of the faith that might be helpful in dealing with the world.
Underwear of Kindness
Pants of Patience
Socks of Joy
Shirt of Self Control
Cape of Love
Now, we are properly covered and protected!
And looking extremely awesome.
(Did I mention the cape?)
Naturally, taking peace with you every where you go or being wrapped in truth are strong Christian practices. However, even closer than our belts, we need to be kind, both to ourselves and to those around us. I imagine the Pants of Patience being the comfortable pants you have which also make you feel good (a rare find indeed), which remind us to remain patient in every situation, relying on God's time and not trying to force our own. With the Shoes of Peace, I think we need to wear Socks of Joy, that way we can sustain and share God's Peace. The Shirt of Self Control goes under the Breastplate of Righteousness, keeping us in line so that we can shine with righteousness. And of course, the most epic piece of any well armored soldier, the continually in the way, yet awesome looking Cape. God's love is like that, confusing our normal everyday notions of who is in and who is out, flying around us without control, and yet the most amazing gift we will ever receive.
Fully clothed in God's gifts of grace, we can face any situation throughout our days. From spilled coffee, to sick children, to angry bosses, God goes with us.
in error of my enamored plight
I wrapped my arms around a tree
waited until love came into sight
and paid the Devil's cursed fee
with jolly glee he brought a rose
which smelled of sweetest delight
yet still I looked for other beaus
hankering for an ungodly fight
Satan's lowly curse had me consumed
the blackest poison I had subsumed
yet still true Love came as a knight
and turned my darkness into Light
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
How can we possibly follow Paul's suggestion to pray without ceasing? Typically there are only two things we human beings do without ceasing, our hearts keep pumping blood and our lungs keep breathing air. Early in Christian history followers of Jesus put together this injunction to pray without ceasing with the unceasing nature of breathing and started the tradition of Breath Prayer. Very similar to some eastern breathing prayers and exercises, Breath Prayer focuses on your own breathing.
To practice Breath Prayer, choose a quiet spot to sit or kneel comfortably and a phrase to repeat. Many people use the Jesus Prayer while practicing Breath Prayer, although there are many other good phrases or prayers that could be used. A good prayer for Breath Prayer is made up of two parts, one to be said while breathing in, and the second to be said while breathing out. In this way, breathing in and breathing out, you repeat the prayer phrase over and over again, letting go of other thoughts and allowing your body and heart to pray.
Breath Prayer is a wonderful practice to bring you back into mindfulness of the present moment and the presence of God in your life. While it is nice to practice it in a quiet space, Breath Prayer is a portable practice, available while you're stuck in traffic, while you're in waiting rooms, or even while waiting in line at the grocery store. Taking a moment to focus on this unceasing habit of your body, breathing, reminds us of the unceasing love of God for us. Just as your lungs keep working throughout the day, Breath Prayer can work with you and through you throughout the day, keeping your heart close to Jesus.
"The sea is his for he made it, and his hands have molded the dry land." Psalm 95:5
All the way at the beginning of the Bible, at the very start of Genesis, God lays out how human beings are supposed to be in relationship with the earth. God asks the first human beings to care for creation and to be good stewards of it. We are not simply in charge of everything around us, able to do as we please in our environment. We are to care for it and treat it well, in order that it may flourish and might be passed along to the next generations.
In today's society, taking care of the Earth is seen as only something certain kinds of people do. However, taking care of our environments is not simply an environmental issue, but also a justice issue. Many times when the environment is not taken care of, it is in areas that greatly affect and damage the poor and needy, those who are already struggling.
Currently St. John's and Grace have two opportunities for you to help in caring for creation. We have adopted a stretch of 417 which we clean up a couple times a year. We pick up all the litter along the side of the road, to help protect the land, grass, trees, and water along 417. We also have recycling bins throughout the Parish Hall for recycling plastic and cardboard which helps keep those items out of landfills. There are many other ways we at St. John's can help care for creation, on our own and as a community. We can teach our children and grandchildren to garden, how to conserve energy, how to choose products which are not full of harmful chemicals, and how to recycle and share our personal goods. Jesus calls each of us to care for the world around us, including the dirt, rocks, trees, and rivers.
"God walks everywhere incognito." (C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer)
It can be a great comfort to know that God walks among us all the time. Unfortunately, we don't always seem to be able to see God at work in and around us all the time. While there are many practices which help us open our eyes to God in the world, one of the best practices is Christian meditation.
Many people feel that meditation is a practice of Eastern or New Age religions and not Christianity. However, Christianity has a long and deep tradition of meditation, especially in monastic traditions. Christian meditation is not simply about emptying the mind, but connecting to the mind of God and being open to God's presence.
Practices of meditation range from meditating on a verse of scripture, repeating it in the mind to allow it to settle and for you to see it with new eyes or heart. Or perhaps meditation by looking deeply at an image, an icon or a cross, and letting the image open itself up to you. Another way of meditating is my sitting in nature or a prayer or some other reflection. Meditation is a practice of opening yourself up, letting go of preconceived notions, and letting whatever you are meditating on speak to you. What speaks to you this week?
Studying the whole Bible all at one go is an enormous task. No one can get through all of it in one day or even a couple of days! The most common ways of studying the Bible are following different guides which break up different books or genres of the Holy Scriptures into accessible passages for study. There are hundreds of good commentary and Bible Study books and programs available online and through book stores which focus on different books or topics included in the Scriptures. Many times people join Bible Study groups, like our Wednesday Night Bible Study, in order to be able to have personal guidance and listen to other's perspectives on the chosen passages.
Even if you aren't interested in following someone else's guidance through the Bible, there are many good ways of reading and studying the Bible on your own. Four time honored ways of reading the Bible on your own are by following one of the following patterns: Lectio Divina, the Artist method, the Detective method, the Treasure-seeker method, and the Jesus' Apprentice method. Lectio Divina is made up of four steps: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate. The Artist method looks at the images of the passage and the images brought up in your own mind from the passage. The Detective method asks the who, what, where, when, why, and how questions of the passage and relates it to your own life. The Treasure-seeker method seeks the truth or lesson in the passage for the person reading. What is the truth for me in this passage? The Jesus' Apprentice method can be used specifically in the Gospel passages. It seeks what is important to Jesus, what is his teaching, what does he seek.
All these different ways seek greater understanding and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures and their place in our own lives. How many have you tried? If there is a new method to you here, try it out this week. What insight does it bring you? God is always speaking to us through the words of the Scriptures.