When we think of prayer, we often think about talking to God. With our words, we give God our adoration, our confessions, our expressions of thanksgiving, as well as making our supplications known to God. Yet, God knows the words of our mouth before we even speak them. God knows what we need better than we do. So our spoken prayers are more for our benefit than God’s.
God knows the rich benefits of prayer and our need to pray often and encourages us to do so. This said prayer is still more than just our talking to God. In fact, some of the most fruitful prayer is not when we speak but when we make space for God to speak to us.
One form of non-verbal prayer is listening prayer. It is being attentive to the gentle voice of God. This can take many different forms. Some choose to use spiritual walking tools such as a labyrinth or just to sit quietly in a prayer closet away from the distractions of life. You can take a quiet walk to consider the lilies of the field or the birds of the air. You can lie down in the grass and watch the clouds go by and watch God finger-paint.
The word for Spirit and the word for wind is the same, so you can take time to listen to the Spirit of God swirling around you and dancing in and out of you with every breath. God wants to speak to you and attempts to do so in billions of different ways through object lessons illustrating the Divine point of view. God invites us to just be still and realize that God is there and has lots to say. If we are intentional and mindful of what God is doing around us, we will learn this quiet spiritual vocabulary.
Another form of prayer is often called centering prayer. This is a prayer of self-emptying. Christ did not choose to hold onto the trappings of divinity. We too can choose not to hold onto our own agendas, our own thoughts, our own ideas, instead we can just give ourselves to God without seeking anything in return. It is like a small child just choosing to snuggle with a parent, just to absorb the warm comfort of their loving presence.
In this prayer you are not looking for a word from God; you are just enjoying the presence of God. You cannot do it wrong, because your prayer is your intention just to be with God, nothing more, nothing less. God is always present and God never turns us away when we seek to rest in that fact.
Then there is prayer in the form of movement. This is when you take the time to dance with God. The movement can be fast or slow. It can have a grace all its own, as you express the prayer of emotion in motion. This can be a private dance or the group dance of a congregation. It is gestures full of joy or grief, full of pain or pleasure, serious or filled with fun.
As you move God moves with you. As you release your emotions, you feel God’s response in partnership. This is a prayer of expressive intimacy, an intimacy that is beyond any verbal prayer. Dance is one of the languages of the soul.
All prayer is a spiritual exercise that strengthens our connection with the Holy. As you practice, you develop soul-memory, and it becomes easier and easier to enter into sweet communion with God.
It takes a lifetime to develop these forms of prayer, but the benefits start with your very first tentative attempts. As a parent with a beloved child, God cheers you on with each step, encouraging you to try again and again.
It is said that our first breath is our first prayer and our last breath is our last prayer. With each breath we take we speak the life-infused Name of our Creator. Each attempt at prayer brings blessing, not only for our lives but for all life. With each and every prayer we touch God and are touched by God. Enjoy.
*The Rev. Michael Johnson is a Certified Spiritual Director, a member of the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation, and the husband of Bishop Peggy Johnson.
“Rise Up and Pray” is our theme for the 2017 Eastern PA Annual Conference.
In light of that theme, we are searching for informative, insightful writings about prayer. We welcome brief, intercessory prayers or words of wisdom and witness on this topic from anyone—clergy or laity, conference members or not—to share with our readers over the next four months, leading up to and beyond our June 15-17 conference session. If you have something under 600 words to contribute, please e-mail it to email@example.com.
We will select, title and slightly edit if necessary meaningful writings to share on the conference website and social media sites. We would appreciate receiving authors’ photos with their submissions, but that is not necessary. What is necessary, however, is some basic information: your name and e-mail address, your church if you attend one, and your city or town of residence.
It’s time to Rise Up and Pray. So, we’re casting a wide net, hoping to catch some inspirational words from inspired authors, words that can feed the hungry minds and souls of our audience and lead us all closer to the throne of grace. RSVP!