A couple of years ago on my blog, I asked: What makes you feel close to God? Dozens of people responded with concrete illustrations about how they connect to God in everyday life. They talked about playing with kids, turning the compost pile, washing the dishes and walking in the local park. Even taking a shower got a mention. Their reflections became the blog series What Is A Spiritual Practice. Two things surprised me. First, no one mentioned church or Bible study. Second, most people come closest to God in tangible everyday activities yet rarely identify these as spiritual practices or forms of prayer.
These observations started me on a journey to rediscover the nature and purpose of prayer. Starting with Madame Guyon’s assertion that prayer is an exercise in love, I started to discover prayer not as an activity I engage in but a relationship I enter into. My journey has opened windows into the loving nature of God far beyond my imaginings. It has exposed me to prayer traditions I never knew existed. It has encouraged me to create my own new and fresh expressions of prayer. It has also brought me together with a growing number of people who search for a more vital prayer life.
One result of this journey, is my new book Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray. It was written for those who hunger for a deeper, more life encompassing relationship with God. Some of the practices I share have existed for centuries and only require us to tap into the rich knowledge and practices of ancient followers of Christ to access them. Others will be newly created, springing fresh from our imaginations and creativity, specially designed for intimacy with God in our present culture.
For example, I have long been a collector of rocks. As a child I loved to gather specimens when my family went on long road treks over the summer holidays. And in Australia there are some wonderful rocks to collect – sapphire chips, small pieces of opal, agates, and even flecks of gold. But in the last few years it is not these semi precious stones that have caught my attention. Now like the Israelites of old, who often built cairns of rocks into memorials, I gather rocks that mark significant events – and I give them names as memorials to remind me of special moments with God.
I have a beautiful green serpentine marble like rock I picked up on the island Iona off the west coast of Scotland. I found it on the beach where the Celtic saint Columba is supposed to have come ashore after being expelled from Ireland. I call it my rock of faithfulness. When I hold it in my hand I am reminded of all the faithful people, like Columba who have gone before me, embraced by God’s love, sharing the faith and building the kingdom of God.
My friend Kim uses rocks as a totally different form of spiritual practice. She calls it skipping stones into a new creation. When her husband lost his job recently, she walked down to the local beach with a handful of stones from their driveway. She tossed them into the ocean, “letting go” of the possibilities and hopes that the job had offered As she prayerfully threw each stone, she released her sadness, disappointments and hurts reminding herself that as the stones will be polished by the movement of the waves and tides, so is her life being polished by the all encompassing love of God. As she did this she felt liberated, and walked away singing.
It is my growing conviction that it is not in church or in our “prayer closets” that most of our praying is done. Church is more a place that is meant to help us interpret and act on the presence of God in our lives and in our world. Breathing, drinking a glass of water, picking up a stone, taking a photo can all become acts of prayer, thin spaces that awaken us to the loving presence of God. Our God is a God of endless creativity and imagination, a creativity that has been passed on to all of us who are made in God’s image. This creativity is meant to be poured out in the ways we pray, worship and practice our faith. Each moment is, I believe, pregnant with new possibilities, new concrete expressions of prayer waiting to be born.
So where do you feel closest to God? What are the creative ways that God might stir your imagination through this experience of closeness, into new expressions of prayer?