Tag Archives: Meditation

Prayer practise

The other day I rediscovered a prayer practice I used to use and found took me on some real adventures with God. I learnt it (or something like it) on a retreat about 10 years back, and have had some amazing encounters through it. If you want to try it, it goes something like this:

  • Ground yourself; be mindful. Do this in whatever way you find helpful. For me, I like to try to consciously become aware of my senses, rather than paying attention to my thoughts. You might find focusing on your breathing, or a candle, or relaxing your body, or repeating a simple word or prayer helps. Then;
  • Let God look at you. Just become aware of God’s gaze on you, and God’s presence.
  • Imagine God asking you ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, as Jesus often asks the people who come to Him in the Gospels.
  • Respond however feels right, and just let your imagination go wherever it wants to with it.

I’ve often been surprised what my response turns out to be, there in the moment with Jesus asking me what I want of Him. It’s often not what I thought.

When I did this the other day, my response was ‘I want to see You work through me. I want to be an empty space through which You can reach into the world.’

At that point, the image of ‘handmaids’ popped into my head; and I sensed the response immediately: ‘You are so, so much more than that to me. This is a partnership. I could break through and intervene through you if I wanted to, but that’s not how it works. You’re not a slave to be exploited. You want a push-button quick solution. I want the better way, not the easy way. It means putting in the hard work of relationship. You need to press into me, know me, follow me.’

Wow! I hope I’m brave enough.

I wrote about this in my diary, and mistakenly wrote it down as a ‘prayer practise’; but actually I do need to practise this prayer, to have more God encounters to challenge me, to help me know God more closely, and so that there can be more God and less self manifesting in my life.

Dirt and eagles 3

Here is a meditative activity I’ve used myself, and with groups, as a way of shifting perspective, and praying for a seemingly overwhelming global issue:


 

Psalm 121:1-2 – I look to the mountains; where will my help come from? My help will come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

 

Imagine yourself going walking somewhere mountainous. As you start out in the valley, the valley sides loom above you and seem impossibly high. You cannot see beyond them. Imagine these foothills as the ‘stuff’ that’s currently going around in your mind, obscuring the bigger picture. Acknowledge the things that are concerning you, and the things going on immediately around you in your life – in work, health, relationships – and leave it all in God’s hands for now…

As you climb these foothills, and reach their peaks, you see that there are bigger mountains, some climbable perhaps, others not so. Imagine these mountains to be great global disasters, situations of injustice, harmful systems and structures of the world, and acknowledge them…

When you look at the aerial view of the terrain you are passing through on a map, you see how big the region of mountains is compared with the valley you stood in to start with.

Now consider the view from where you are standing of the sky as it would be at night, the many stars, nebulae and galaxies… Try to open yourself up to imagine the earth in the solar system… in the galaxy… in the universe…how small we are, and how big it all is…

God, made the heavens, and the earth…

God is bigger than the universe! Dwell on that thought…

Now think about who God is, about God’s attributes – maybe spend a few moments jotting down as many as you can think of – and allow yourself to be drawn into worship of that great Goodness…

From this wide perspective, slowly imagine yourself back down to the mountains. Focus in on one peak, one issue (eg, the refugee crisis). Reimagine the situation (in your mind, on paper, through art etc – but no ranting about how things ‘should’ be at this stage!)… Keep one eye on the situation as you do this, and one eye on the Infinite Possibility who is God… As you reimagine, pray ‘Let it be’ in your heart.

 

1 Cor 12:27 – All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it.

We work alongside Christ in His saving work of re-creating the world and bringing in His Kingdom. Finish with an act of commitment to work towards the new world you have imagined, as far as you are able, in His grace.

 

Dirt and eagles 2

I don’t normally like unpacking my poetry; I prefer a poem to speak for itself and mean what it will to the reader. I’m also aware of the irony of adding words to a piece about silence! But I want to explore this a little more.

These words welled up one day when I was feeling overwhelmed, as a result of processing some of the things I’d read and listened to recently into prayer. A mixture of broken relationships, insecurities about money and failure, and deeper questions over my purpose and calling in life pressed on me to an extent that threatened to block both my way forward and my perspective on the bigger things of life, and recognising that, I realised I needed to find a way to pray it through. But some of this is stuff I’ve been wrestling with for years, praying through, laying before God in tears, ranting over… God has heard it all before, nothing is new. Even so, I needed God in it, and I needed some perspective.

And a few things I’d read recently sprang to mind; some words from a book I’ve been reading*, which mentioned Lam 3:28-29 almost in passing in the context of silent prayer, the book of Lamentations itself, which I was drawn to to explore the context of this some more, Isa 40:31, discussed at my church homegroup in the context of trusting God’s timing, and finally a group prayer meditation I’ve used previously, based on Psalm 121, which has helped me shift perspective before. I began with this, leading myself through it as I went out for a cycle ride to clear my head, and found myself arriving at these words.

My train of thought went something like this. We’re always surrounded by immediate problems in this life, and they do matter. Right now they’re certainly much bigger than I am! But the world is even bigger, and full of problems we still need to take on sometimes, things beyond our own immediate lives, but that affect what it’s like to live in this world – the big things in the lives of our friends and family, war, climate change, poverty, all kinds of suffering. It takes a deliberate effort for me when feeling overwhelmed to see through to these bigger things. But then when I do, they too begin to press down on me and block my way to what I need to do now, and to a wider perspective. The only ways I know to move out of the paralysis it causes are to either try to block it all out, or to deliberately find a way to see it all through God’s eyes. Sometimes I can draw on words that have brought me back to hope in the past. Sometimes I’m too overwhelmed and it’s not enough.

This time I felt in need of God’s presence and perspective but all out of words to help me express it in prayer. The passage in the book I’d read that pointed me towards Lamentations struck a chord somewhere. Silent prayer, simply placing self humbly before God, face down in the dirt… maybe hope will be found there? As I read Lamentations I was struck by the terrible situation it describes. The people were under siege, and turning in desperation to murder and cannibalism to survive. The prophet writer is so moved he exclaims that there is no hope, that his trust in God is gone. The people had tried looking for solutions everywhere the humanly could. They’d called to God to hear their cries. They’d wept. But the possibility of hope comes in this one verse; silent, face to the round. God is the only thing we can trust.

I’m under no illusions; I’m not facing anything remotely like this level of desperation and despair, and it was almost perspective enough just to read it. But it made me think: I’d been looking all over for answers, trying all kinds of doors to see if any of them might led to a solution. I’d complained and ranted to God. I’d wept. Maybe I just needed to stop. Be still. Be aware that I am nothing, and make myself less before God.

I haven’t reached the end of the process I described in the poem, but after a little time sat in silent humility before God, handing God my lack of answers and excuses and saying nothing, I began to see where it was leading me. I began to sense, like the writer of Lamentations, that God was all I could trust. Not my own ideas or efforts, not some vague hope of change. God is enough, even if no solution comes, and God is somehow close…

Everything in me is currently fighting back at this realisation, trying to assert myself, that surely there’s something I can do. I’m definitely not there yet! God’s not yet been handed full control. I need more time ‘with my face in the dirt’ before I really accept it and can let God just be God here. For now, it just feels good to have perhaps found a new prayer practice to use at times like this, and I already have some sense of peace and a way forward.

But I got a sense that if I do reach that point, even for a moment, that that is part of what’s implied in Isa 40:31; that giving up ourselves and our turmoil, shifting our perspective from the mountains to their Maker, and being still before God, may be when we find ourselves lifted up, carried up into the highest perspective from which we truly know all things are held by this God who is Love. We can’t get up those mountains on our own, and we can’t fly. We give up, trust, and let God carry us where we can’t go, open up hope, and show us the way. The way up my sometimes be down, and I hope and pray I learn to find it.

 

*’Cave Refectory Road’, by Ian Adams

Other food for thought – Only Hope, Eagle Rider

 


 

I wrote the poem whilst sat on the sea wall, looking out at flocks of wading birds feeding on the estuary. As I wrote the final words, they all took flight, briefly filling the air before disappearing further out. A passer by commented to me ‘worth waiting for?’

Dirt and eagles

Maybe, sometimes, face down in the dirt is the best perspective I can get

I find myself, again, hemmed in by even the tiny foothills of the great and daunting mountains, which rise higher the longer I look at them

But yet, with You, who hold the very universe in the palm of Your hand

Silence.

Sometimes there are tears or complaints.

But the truth is, I’m all out of words and attempts to find an answer.

Instead, I bring You silence, and emptiness.

In silent humility, face to the earth, You resolve form in the darkness

Love and Life itself

Closer than my breath, and big enough to hold every thing that exists

And when I open my eyes, I find us soaring, so far above the tiny landscape below…

 

A birthday labyrinth

I found and walked this labyrinth on my last morning in Germany back in June before coming home, my birthday.

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This past year in particular has been such an amazing year of exploration for me into the person I am, and could be. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about myself, been changed, challenged and stretched in all kinds of ways. Keeping this blog has been part of the process, learning to open up and try to become the same person in all circumstances. Work (and working for what matters, rather than for money) has been incredibly challenging and humbling as I find myself struggling with all sorts of questions around success, failure, pride, identity, vocation, ambition, apathy and money. I’ve been pushing myself creatively, letting God work through some of my failings and become a slightly calmer, hopefully nicer, person (but gaining some new character flaws in the process!), and making peace with myself, coming to accept all parts of my life, beliefs, eccentricities, and all my influences are a part of me, and that somewhere underneath I make sense.

It seemed really appropriate to have ended this year with a pilgrimage, and the pilgrimage with a labyrinth, the tiny journey of the labyrinth bringing into focus my thoughts on the physical and spiritual journey I’d been on over the last couple of weeks, and the wider journey of the year.

A labyrinth is not the same as what we usually think of as a maze. There is a single path, usually with one way in and one way out. A labyrinth does not have any dead ends, and you can’t get lost in it. It’s a tool for meditation, for stilling and/or focussing the mind and listening to God. The physical act of walking allows you to put aside distractions, as you concentrate on the labyrinth just enough to stay on the path but not so much that it occupies your mind. Sometimes I find it helpful to do something active but ‘mindless’ like this to stop my mind wandering when praying.

There is a long tradition of labyrinths being used in Christian worship, particularly in Celtic and medieval Christianity, and they were sometimes included in churches and cathedrals to be walked as part of a pilgrimage or prior to confirmation as a symbol of new life. Walking a labyrinth for a Christian can be a way of meditating on redemption, letting something go, the journey of life or faith, a particular story (from the Bible/ of a saint for example), an aspect of our own life or character, or can be simply a space to meet with God in the everyday, to take time out of the busyness and spend some quality time doing nothing in particular, to experience a ‘thin place’ where heaven feels very close to earth, or just as a focus for prayer.

I had a few quiet minutes to give to the labyrinth so I decided to prayer walk it properly. I stilled my mind a little at the start and opened myself up to have God speak to me as I walked and guide my thoughts. I decided to just listen to the thoughts that came as I walked. I’ve walked this design before, and there’s something about the way the path winds around it that really gets to me every time, but this time it really resonated with a lot that I’ve been wrestling with recently. I noticed how I kept on doubling back on myself, going round in circles, finding myself back where I started. It felt a bit like I was trying multiple dead ends to find the centre, only to find myself going back the way I’d come. But it’s a labyrinth, not a maze. All the time I kept walking, regardless of where the path took me, I was approaching the centre, and it was at the point the path seemed furthest away that it finally brought me in.

Is life like this? Are all my dead ends getting me somewhere? Is it when I’m furthest away that I can find the centre? I stopped in the middle for a moment to listen, and felt a sense of God’s affirmation, and with it an encouragement to keep on going. I sensed a little of who God made me to be. I want to put into practise what I’ve been learning of love and grace. Feeling energised, I made the return path at a run:

God, help me put all I have into giving You back what You’ve put in me!

Sacred Hot Cross Buns

I’ve been making these hot cross buns for years, and almost every year since I became a Christian I have tried to make them on Good Friday*, when the process takes on layers of meaning that becomes for me a meditation on Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. I find it helpful as a way of focussing me on the amazing message of Easter, as it’s a slow process that gives me plenty of time to think. I hope you find it helpful too! Here’s how it goes:

(Makes 24)

Ingredients:

Buns:

800g white bread flour

1 tablespoon yeast

3 tablespoons ground mixed spice

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

90g sugar

150g currants

100g sultanas

200g candied peel

300ml warm (non-dairy**) milk

200ml warm water

70g vegetable oil

4 tablespoons plain flour

Sugar glaze: 4 tablespoons sugar

The dough tells us a lot about Jesus. First, you put the bread flour in a large mixing bowl. Jesus is the bread of life; His body, broken for us; the grain of wheat that must die in order to grow.

To this, add yeast. The kingdom of God is like a little yeast added to a whole batch of flour to make it rise.

Mix in the vine fruits. Jesus is the vine into which we are to stay rooted; the new agreement with God, sealed with His blood, shed for us.

Add the peel. Fruit and fire of the Holy Spirit.

Mix in the spices. Spices for worship; spices for burial.

Then stir in the sugar. God’s love and mercy to us is an incredible undeserved sweetness.

Mix together the warm water, milk and oil. Jesus is the living water, who washes us clean of all our wrongs, all that separates us from God. Milk is for new life, offered in its place. And oil gives us God’s promised Messiah – the ‘anointed one’.

Stir the liquid thoroughly into the dry ingredients, then knead the dough with your hands by picking it up carefully over the bowl and stretching, folding and twisting it for about 10 minutes. Cover the kneaded dough and set it aside for about an hour to rise. After this, knock the dough back down to its original size. This Jesus, made of all this goodness, was rejected, tortured, abused and beaten.

Divide the dough into 24 equally sized pieces, and shape into rolls by taking each piece in floured hands, holding it in one hand and folding the edges into the middle and pressing them down with the other, all the way around until the roll is a smooth, round shape and feels dense in the centre. Place on greased and floured baking sheets. Leave them to rise again until about twice their original size. Jesus was killed and buried, but He rose again!

Then score crosses onto them with a sharp knife. Heat the oven to a high temperature, 220oC is ideal. Mix the plain flour with just enough water to form a thick but slightly runny paste. Either drizzle this along the scored cross marks using a spoon, or use a piping bag or icing syringe to pipe the crosses on. Jesus was crucified brutally, and stabbed by the officers in charge to ensure he was dead.

Bake the buns in the hot oven until golden brown and sounding hollow when tapped underneath. Meanwhile, make a sugar glaze. Put the sugar in a pan with just enough boiled water to cover it, and heat it gently, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Once the buns have baked, brush them thoroughly with the sugar glaze and put them onto a cooling rack to cool. The cross and the tomb are empty; Jesus was raised to new life from the dead with the promise that all who trust in Him will also overcome death and be made new! This is worth celebrating!

Serve the buns warm from the oven, or toasted, with plenty of margarine. Freeze any you won’t be eating over the next two days to keep them fresh.

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*Yes I know I’m late – I’ve been away, so only got to make my first batch this Easter today! And yes, it’s still Easter for another few weeks 🙂

**I’m vegan, so I tend to make this with soya milk