Multi-Sensory Prayer – Part 1 – Creating an ambient worship space for personal prayer and reflection

Confession. I pray with my eyes open. If I shut them, my mind dances off into fairyland. And I don’t very often bow my head. Or get on my knees. Praying at night in my bed is a great getting to sleep technique – not a good way to pray. Every time I start a morning routine of praying as the first thing to do before I get into my day  – it lasts three days at the most. I don’t really like praying out loud. Actually, I don’t always like praying with words. Mostly I need to look at something or touch something to stay focussed on praying. Yep, on paper this looks like I’m not going to pass any test on being a praying type!  But I pray. A lot.

I believe in prayer for lots of reasons. Firstly, prayer is my communication with God and God’s communication with me. How can I expect to have any relationship with Jesus if I’m not going to communicate? Secondly, prayer changes things. Prayer changes situations and it changes my approach to situations. Things happen when we pray. God intervenes. Thirdly, prayer gives hope. In the face of difficulties, hope is everything. When it feels like nothing we can do is going to help a situation, then prayer is the something that we can engage with to bring hope.

I will pray anywhere and at anytime. For me I find looking at a tree, the sky, the grass, the sea, a bowl of fruit, a bunch of flowers… these things make it easier for me to start talking to God. Instead of being distracted by what I’m seeing, they soothe my mind and bring me to a state of peaceful flow as I talk and sit with God.  Even better, if I have something to fidget with in my hands I’ll stay even more focussed on my prayer. A fidgety praying type came up with the idea of rosary beads I’m sure!

Increasingly in our world today as we are bombarded with noise and bustle, images and sounds, people are realising the importance of what is trendily called, “mindfulness”. Tools and tips to develop mindfulness are everywhere. Essentially, mindfulness is a state focussing on the present moment and calmly acknowledging and accepting without judgement what is going on in your thoughts, feelings and actions. There is hunger for this mindfulness and people are responding to needing it in their lives. There is also an increased awareness of spirituality in our culture, not neccessarily Christian, but an underlying acceptance of a creator, a powerful life force, something beyond ourselves.

Thanks to the age of technology we are also more visual than we’ve ever been before. Social media, particularly Instagram and Pinterest are full of beautiful images and millions of people all over the world share and participate in the visual experiences of others via these platforms. Souls hungry for being fed with visual image can feast on a daily stream.  There is an increasing openness to a ‘sabbath’ like approach to the week, taking some time out and resting and this is reflected in social media.

We’re also more tactile. We like things that have some hands on action to them. We hunger for experiences. I was interested to read last week that makeup sales in NZ have increased by 16% last year. I’m guessing that this is because people are being photographed more, out experiencing things, and subsequently sharing it on their social media. These experiences going out and about are not just about photo opportunities. Around us, we’re putting more effort into how things look and feel, and not just in relation to personal appearances Take a walk around any city and find the trendy cafe spots. They’re destinations as well as places which serve food. Fairy lights, funky art, rustic mismatched chairs and crockery, dog water bowls, colouring pencils, blankets, lanterns, heaters, ivy covered walls, hanging plants, eclectic ornaments… these are places where people want to hang out. To be. To live. To breathe. To engage. Possessions aren’t so important anymore. People want experiences.

What a great time we live in to experience prayer in new ways. I’m pretty sure I would have survived the prayer trappings of any other period of Christian history and retained my faith, but I sure am glad to be able to live out my faith in today’s world. It’s rich and varied and visual and tactile and responsive.

I’m going to blog about some of my multi-sensory prayer ideas over the next few weeks. But today I thought I’d blog about setting up a personal prayer and reflection space. I probably should start with a disclaimer. A pretty place to pray is not essential to prayer. We worship a God who comes right to where we are and understands us! We don’t need to gussy up ourselves or our surroundings for God to intervene in our lives. Omnipresent and all powerful, full of love and grace and forgiveness and acceptance – we worship a mighty and awesome God who loves and accepts us just the way we are.  So it’s not for God I’m suggesting these ideas – it’s for people like me, easily distracted if I shut my eyes, like to keep my hands busy, get inspired by visual surroundings, multi-tasker, appreciator of creativity and a strong believer in prayer being able to change things.

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So here’s my ideas on creating your own private prayer and reflection space.

  1. Finding the right spot – Where do you feel inspired and settled? Choose somewhere warm and light filled. It might be a chair on a porch or deck or in the garden, or maybe in a bedroom, a study or a lounge. If there’s not enough natural light, think of adding a lamp or a set of fairy lights or a candle.
  2. Set up a comfortable seat – What do you like to sit on? A deckchair, a beanbag, a rocking chair or a comfy armchair? Why not add a cushion? What about a cuddly rug to throw over your knees?
  3. Using your sense of smell – What smells make you feel refreshed and awake? I believe we totally underestimate the power of the sense of smell.  There are lots of ways you can add fragrance to your space such as a bunch of fresh flowers, a scented candle, a scented oil diffuser, a sliced lemon, a potted herb such as mint or a container of freshly ground coffee.
  4. Using your sense of touch – What could you do with your hands to maintain a prayerful state? Maybe you could keep a basket or box with some things to help you in your praying such as play-dough or silly putty, a stress ball, a fidget spinner, a smooth stone or pieces of different textured fabric to stroke.
  5. Using your sense of sight – What will your eyes see when you look around? You want to focus on things that will help you stay focussed on your prayer not distract you. A basket of shells or pieces of driftwood, a pretty plant, a painting or photograph, candles, fairy lights, a simple ornament.
  6. Using your sense of taste – What better way to sit companionably with someone than over a cup of tea or other favourite drink? So why not sit and sip your drink as you pray. Make yourself a jug of fruit infused iced water or a pot of coffee or tea. You might even like to pray with a glass of wine in your hand.
  7. Using your sense of hearing – What will fill your ears as you sit and pray? Maybe you’ve chosen a place where you can hear birds or insects or the sound of children playing or traffic or the sea. The setting might provide enough sound in itself. But if not, why not play tracks of background music or sounds of the sea or birds or water rushing. You can find all kinds of these things free on the internet or on apps for your phone or buy a CD.

So here’s the thing.  These ideas might not resonate with you at all.  And that’s okay. Because everyone is different and I totally respect that most people are not like me! But I know that there are people who are like me and that these ideas might just help, so if they do, and if you’ve never tried to create a prayer space for yourself but you think it might make a difference to your prayer life I’d encourage you to give it a go!  And message me and tell me how it’s working for you! I’d love to hear your stories.

Prayer Stations at Kohekohe Church

Our first Refreshment at the Station book has just been published so I thought it timely to reflect on our recent Church event on Sunday with our Avenues Church.  We just held our annual Avenues Prayer and Pizza event at this beautiful little historic church on Awhitu Peninsula in Auckland.  It’s an idyllic setting and one of a handful of times our Church family meets in a church building during the year. It’s also one of the very few times we have a front for our meeting!  Our prayer event includes some responsive prayers led from the front and then a dozen stations that participants can move around at their leisure, followed with a guitar prayer and some final responsive prayers.

It is fascinating how everyone approaches the stations differently.  We provide plenty of room for people to make their own choices… and if taking part in the stations isn’t someone’s cup of tea there is an alternative reflection provided – with an amazing view to look out upon to aid in the reflection.

There are those that breeze through the stations quickly and others who only manage to fit in a third of the stations in the time provided.  Some of our regulars are very ‘Station Savvy’ and explore in great detail faith questions at each station, while at this event we also had some newcomers who hadn’t experienced Station worship before and enjoyed the different way of coming to worship. As usual there was a mixture of engagement and time spent at different stations.

It’s been ages since Andrew and I have gone around Stations together.  When our kids were little, it was one child each, or if there were visitors we’d usually split to make sure everyone was comfortable.  These days visitors are scooped up by our regulars and so on this Sunday we went around together.   Another thing which always surprises me about stations is my own reaction to them.  By the time I’ve planned the service, written the stations, gathered the bits and pieces… it is delightful to me that i still discover new things when I move around the stations.  Perhaps it’s the opportunity to interact with others, or the time and space to pause and reflect… whatever it is – it’s powerful and moving and very faith refreshing!   The whole idea of refreshment at the station really rang true for me this last Sunday!

Of course the senses were fully engaged at this event!  I’m a bit of a foodie too – and the additional part of the day with pizzas cooked on an outdoor pizza oven further down the peninsula at Graham’s Beach really made it all very special, refreshing, relaxing and invigorating.

There is a book coming of course on Five Senses to Prayer.  It’s been about 10 years in the writing!  I just need to get organised and get into some serious organising of all the material!

The great thing about writing this kind of book as an e-book is that it will be filled with cross referenced hyperlinks – so you can navigate around it to find prayers that suit your worship event.   To be amongst the first to hear about it make sure you join our Kereru Club and/or like us on www.facebook.com/Kereru.Publishing

To see more photos of our Prayer and Pizza event you can find them on the Avenues facebook page www.facebook.com/AvenuesChurch and the Avenues website www.avenues.org.nz has some older photos from previous events too.

In the Beginning

After experimenting with creative and all age worship in a variety of one-off worship events, in 2001 we had the opportunity to create a different style of worship service as a regular event.  One of the startling discoveries we made way back at the beginning of Avenues has stayed with us as we’ve journeyed.  That’s the beauty of experimenting… sometimes you stumble on something that really works and it surprises and delights.

What we found in catering for children and using tactile experiences and open-ended questions, was that as well as catering for children we provided opportunities for adults to grow and develop in their own faith journeys.   The use of Stations was an early introduction in our journey.  We use them in a variety of ways. Stations allow all participants to take part in a non-threatening way and be as little or as much involved as they’d like.  The relaxed environment allows room for exploration and discovery at the pace the participant wants or needs or can cope with.  They arrive at the Station with whatever baggage they’re carrying and hopefully leave refreshed and reinvigorated in their faith journey.

We’re launching our ‘Refreshment at the Station’ series with ‘Stations for Lent and Easter’.   What better season than the highlight of the Christian calendar to choose for our first book in this series.  There are plenty of different ideas in this book to inspire and use in a variety of settings.  We’re really delighted to be able to share these resources with others.