Time for Tactile Prayer

It’s been a roller coaster week.  Even down here at the bottom of the world, in little New Zealand, the topic on everyone’s lips is the US elections.  We might be far away but we’re not removed. Kiwis are global in our world view.  We like to keep up with international events.  Even so, there has never been a US election we’ve been more interested in following.   And we’ve followed it!   It’s on our news, in our papers, and discussed around the water cooler in every office around the country.  These elections are significant on a global scale and this week we’ve recognised that we’ve watched an historical global event.  What will our world look like in the weeks, months and years to come?

Some of us are devastated and worried.  Social media has gone crazy, particularly amongst the millenials. There is disbelief, hurt, frustration, fear …. and so much energy!! What do you do with that energy?   In our helplessness we reach out to our creator God.

An “OH GOD!” is the cry from so many.

I was thinking about prayer typically used in Christian circles and how it’s word based.  Sometimes words just don’t seem enough.

This is a time for prayer outside of words!  I’m thinking it’s a time for tactile prayer.  A time to release emotions, to pour out our fears and frustations and anguish.  To be physical and tactile as we express ourselves and cry out to our God for peace, hope and love.

This isn’t a gimmicky way to pray.  Look at the old testament and the sackcloth and ashes prayers.  There is relief in expressing ourselves physically as well as verbally.

Our booklet “All Over the World” has a host of prayer ideas using a shower curtain world map, but you could easily adapt these to use with a sheet and a roughly drawn map in permanent marker, or a paper map of the world, or forget the map altogether.   If you’re looking for ideas for corporate prayer this Sunday, this booklet has plenty of food for thought.   Only $5.95 (NZD)   About $4.29 USD


Spa Pool Church

I have been playing around in my head with the metaphor of a spa pool for a way to describe Church.  Before I go too far along this metahor, I should make clear that when I say ‘Church’, I mean the gathered together group of Christians who form Church together in wherever, whatever place that is for them.

I would love to have a spa pool.  One day… maybe.  I find it so invigorating, relaxing, refreshing and soothing.  When I’ve had the chance to sit in a spa pool by myself, outside on a starry night – it just feels so great.  Water and I have always been friends, and while I’d love a swimming pool (but hey – can’t really complain I live 500m from the most amazing beach), soaking in warm water is something else – especially at night.

The stars shine brightly, the dark silhouettes of trees shake in their own rhythmic dance, and the moon smiles its friendly face down on our little piece of earth. Soaking in that warm water, it encompasses me, cocoons and shelters me, seems to protect me from the cold night and makes me feel safe.  The worries of the day, the stresses of the week, all soak away while the physical bruises and bumps, the aching muscles are soothed and removed.  Problems seem suddenly smaller, and the world tilts on it’s axis and everything seems a whole lot better.   (Why do stars seem brighter when I’m in a spa pool?)

I’ve soaked in spa pools when rain is pouring down, making sitting in the warm water all the more pleasant, and making it not so much fun to get out grab a soaking wet cold towel and use it to remove the warm water to stop the dripping on the carpet inside.  It all seems worth it – even when the weather elements are all set to ruin the fun.  The spa pool almost creates a space which is complete, connected and whole.  Perhaps it’s even more so when the spa pool is in a circle shape.  (Why is it that circles always create a never-ending closeness about them?)  We once stayed in a little cabin on Waiheke Island, an island not far in the harbour out from Auckland City. We weren’t facing the city and with the electric lights out in the cabin, and not a light in our line of sight, it felt like we were the only ones in the world, sitting in our circular spa pool.

Which is what I love about gathering together in a Church community.  It’s a place we can be ourselves, we can be refreshed, revitalized and soothed.  It’s the spa pool we come to when we gather together, encourage and challenge each other, as we deal with the daily realities of our faith living lives. It warms us, heals us, calms us and reminds us of the mystery and wonder of our faith. It makes us feel connected and part of an unbreakable circle.

But… not all Church gatherings are like that.  They’re not always places where people gather to get refreshed and soothed.  And it bothers me.  It bothers me that sometimes Church seems to be about outdoing everyone else in our ‘Christian-ness’ (which from my viewpoint doesn’t always look all that Christian).  I don’t like that sometime Church i’s about power and control and other very non-mysterious and non-appealing things. Things that can be found in lots of other places without having to gather together as Church to find them. Things where I struggle to see the example and life of Jesus in action.

If we sit in a spa pool too long (presumably the heat control is constant and the warm water is there as long as you can stand the heat)  skin gets all wrinkled, we overheat and we feel light headed and funny.  We try to stand up and our blood rushes to our head (or out of our head or something medically technical)- so we struggle to stand, let alone walk from the pool to the indoors. And then we feel nauseous and thirsty and uncomfortable.  It’s not so pleasant overcooking in warm water.  I can’t imagine it’s all that healthy for us either.  In fact the whole benefit of this amazing experience gets lost – and something that which felt so good and awesome, now feels so bad.  Instead of invigorating it suffocates, instead of refreshing it exhausts and somehow the most wonderful experience in the world becomes wrinkly and tiring and underwhelming.

I was wondering if overcooking in the spa pool  is kind of like one of those Churches that is all encompassing.   The kind where every day of the week there is something I could do with my fellow Church friends, so that from week to week I stay on a wonderfully warm, encouraging and all encompassing, connected, amazing high. The Church offers me a full on schedule of opportunity to interact and grow and learn with my fellow journeyers.    Of course  I do think that sometimes we do need to stay in the spa pool longer, or have more frequent soaks for long periods…  seasons and times when our journey of life and faith is demoralizing and hard work and we need to spend good lengths of time refreshing and recharging, soothing our aches and pains so we go out there and carry on.

But what about the other times? The times when everything is going great in our own lives and we stay within the connected circle of the Church because we’ve got so used to it and we like it.  When we get too overcooked in our Spa Pool Church that we become apprehensive of the darkness outside of our warm connected circle.  We get wrinkly and light headed and can’t figure out which way is up when we try and walk away from the Spa Pool.  We lose all understanding of the benefits of the spa pool because we’ve avoided getting the bruises, bumps and aching muscles of living outside of the Spa Pool.

It is a balancing act.  I don’t know if we’ll ever get it right – those of us that like life both in and out of the Spa Pool.  This balance between living out our faith in the ordinary world with others who might or might not be on the Christian journey and gathering together in our Spa Pool Churches with others who are on the journey. In the words of the Great Commission from Matthew’s gospel is the challenge that stirs me every time I hear it, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV)  It’s a very ‘doing’ instruction from Jesus… not really the instruction that says we should spend all our time soaking up the warmth of the Spa Pool.  And it’s comforting too… because even when we’re outside of the Spa Pool, Jesus is with us – to the end of the age.

(Photo credit: Adobe stock image)

Christian cakes vs Non Christian cakes

I had a memory sparked by a random conversation this week…  it took me back in time to when I was working for a local church as a pastor with a focus on the community.

For Andrew and I, our focus in ministry has always been on creating belonging and it was no different when I was a pastor in this particular church.  As part of my role each week was running two weekly music sessions for preschoolers and their caregivers. The two sessions were sandwiched with a morning tea in the middle.  We wanted to create an environment of belonging in the group so one of the things we deliberating did was we put out a roster for any of our adult participants to sign up to bring some baking one week in the term.  It was never hard to fill the list of volunteers and there was great camaraderie in sharing recipes and admiring each others cooking over the weeks.  Friendships were formed that still exist to this day – and although music was apparently the main thing that was happening, in many ways, the real stuff that makes a difference in people’s lives happened over a shared cup of coffee and a muffin.

No surprise to get a phone call from someone from a nearby church wanting to start such a programme in their church and finding out how it would all work. I must have made some remark about the great success of the home baking and she in turn expressed concern over how she would be able to manage that each week with a small group of volunteers from her church who would struggle to provide baking each week.

I breezily replied that it wasn’t a problem at all.  I know a lot of churches liked to serve morning tea as a way of sharing with their community, but that wasn’t how we operated.  I just put out a list on the first session and adults wrote their names on if they wanted to participate.   Having only ever had enthusiasm for this approach from our attending adults, I had never viewed it as anything but a positive option.

Silence on the other end of the phone as this was processed.  And then in a shocked, incredulous voice…. “You let non-Christian’s provide the baking?”

I couldn’t help myself in my reply!  “Well, call me strange, but I’ve never been able to tell the difference between a Christian cake and a Non-Christian cake.”

I can’t remember how the conversation ended.  The reality was, that the woman on the other end was well meaning and had a heart for doing things for others.  It was part of her faith to reach out and share and I’m not knocking that.  But I sometimes wonder if when we’re inside the church looking out, we’ve somehow got the wrong idea about what we should be doing as followers of Jesus.  We see ourselves as the chosen ones and we put an invisible guard around ourselves and what we do.  It’s like all that is good and right can be found inside the church and all that is bad and wrong is outside.  And we almost fortress ourselves in, and throw out our ‘goodness’ in pot shot fashion with a hit and miss approach as to where it lands – but congratulating ourselves anyway.

I don’t believe that things are that black and white.  There’s not an ‘in’ and ‘out as distinctive by anything us mere humans can identify’. And if there was, being ‘in’ does not mean that you aren’t ‘out’ and vice-versa.  I am constantly encouraged by the way that God works in peoples lives who are outside of any traditional or contemporary church.  God loves the people of this world!  And it is delightful and inspiring to see God’s people coming to realisation of that in their lives and seeing God at work through them with a tang and a flavour that is new and fresh and encouraging.

It’s like salt and light.  When you light a candle in a brightly lit room, the light from the candle is lost in the overall brightness, but when you light the same candle in a darkened room, it shines and stands out and provides light for the whole room.  One of my favourite characteristics of salt as a metaphor is salt as a flavour enhancer.   Almost every cake recipe I have in my beloved recipe book with recipes from my grandmothers, my mother and my mother-in-law have a pinch of salt in them.  The trick is that if a cake tastes salty – you’ve put in too much salt!  But cakes with a pinch of salt, taste much better than a cake without that pinch.

 (Photo credit: my daughter made this purple ombre cake on request for her niece’s 10th birthday)