Experiential Sensory Prayer – Part 5 – Fidget Prayers

Fidget toys are a current trend. Ask any kid and they’ll be able to tell you  all about slime, putty, kinetic sand, fidget spinners and numerous other fidget toys. It’s a great time to be a kid. Fidgetting is mainstream! Fidgetting is fun! Fidgetting is good!

Here’s a very, very, quick run down on why fidgetting is good for our brains.  There’s research around the benefit of fidgetting with tactile objects, not just for children, but also for adults. Neurological research has shown that fidgetting and manipulating a moveable small object is a way to regulate the body’s nervous system. Rather than distracting the person fidgetting with their toy or other fidget, by integrating in this tactile way, the part of the brain responsible for processing and integrating sensory information is able to filter the sensory input, actually decreasing distraction, helping calm and aiding concentrate on what is going on in front of them.  Of course we’re not all the same. Some people need more sensory input to regulate their nervous system. What works for one person, doesn’t for another. We don’t outgrow the need to regulate our nervous system. A child who benefits from fidgetting to regulate their nervous system will likely be an adult who also benefits from fidgetting to regulate their nervous system.  The autistic community understand this to be stimming but it’s not just autistic people who fiddle or stim to calm or alert their sensory system.

The trend in current toys means kids of all kinds get to legitimately play for hours with all the cool fun stuff, while their brains are secretly regulating, adults shouldn’t feel left out. There are actually lots of fidget toys out there specifically targetting adults.  They look ‘more grown up’ but what’s wrong with having a small tin of putty in your handbag or a fidget cube in your pocket. Invariably, people make their own fidgets anyway. Clicking a pen, unwinding a paper clip, doodling on a pad with a pen, flicking a rubber band, tapping a knee, twiddling thumbs, squeezing a stress ball, drumming fingers on a table, fiddling with a ring or watch or any number of fidgetting actions. Take a few moments this week when you’re in a group of people to notice the fidgetters around you.

It strikes me that if fidgetting helps concentration and focus for large numbers of people, that this fits in very well with my thoughts on experiential prayer. By deliberately touching and manipulating objects, not only does it help bring a sense of calmness, it also focusses concentration on the prayer.  While this style of praying doesn’t work for everyone, and could even be considered a bit of a gimmick by those who prefer stillness  there are others who will find this way to pray brings them closer to God than a words based prayer.

One of our young grandaughters has joined with a couple of friends and started a small slime making business. They sell only to their friends through their closed Instagram accounts. They make their own slime (google it if you want to try making it – it’s super easy) and then they make videos of the slime. She’ll spend hours making slime, playing with slime and watching videos of other people playing with slime. I asked her to make me a video for this blog post because I thought it was a great way of illustrating a fiddle and introducing an experiential, tactile, multi-sensory, fidget prayer.

Slime Prayer

Fidget with your slime. Pull it into long strands, twist it and turn it and fold it back on itself, push your fingers into it, squeeze it and squelch it, get absorbed in playing with the slime. As you put your energy into moving the slime, pray about your stresses and concerns in your own life. Give your needs to God. Talk about things that are bothering you, that aren’t working out, that need some God input. Notice the changes in the slime as you work it. Ask God to be at work in your life, making you more open and malleable to God’s involvement and promptings.

5 Senses to Prayer © Caroline Bindon 2018 (Sense of Touch – Adoration and Praise (SP.T.1) 

5 Senses to Prayer Virtual Prayer Room

Our new resource, 5 Senses to Prayer Virtual Prayer Room is now available for purchase. It’s a subscription resource with monthly or annual subscriptions.  Every week two curated, tactile, experiential prayers are provided via email.  Check out 5 Senses to Prayer Virtual Prayer Room and look at a free sample. Subscribe here and either pay via our website or we’ll send you an invoice.

We’ll shortly be publishing our first 5 Senses to Prayer book and introducing a 5 Senses to Prayer Basic Box Kit. Both will be available for purchase from our website.

Sign up to Friends of Kereru to be sure to hear the release news as it happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Experiential Sensory Prayer – Part 4 – An experiential walk through John’s Gospel

The gospels tell the story of God’s son eating, drinking, walking, washing, socialising, crying, sleeping, laughing and living a human life. We read about a Jesus who can relate to our everyday experiences but at the same time we read about a Jesus who is no ordinary person. Reading the gospels is not a flat two dimensional collection of words. Instead it is a life and death and resurrection story which points the way to our own journeying story. It’s an experiential story and when we experience it, it changes our world.  Words are not enough for us to use in response to such a story.

This is the greatest story ever told and it requires a reaction from us. When we read it, focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of this story, we are left with some of the sensory impressions that might have been experienced by those who were witnesses at the time. It’s more than a historical story. It’s a story that gives life for us today as we journey. If it’s our journey story too, then we have to pay more than lip service to the story. It has to be a whole-of-ourselves experience. Of course we can’t really walk through a story, but we can read it as if we were reliving the experiential moments in the story by using our understanding of our own sensory experiences.  Take a multi-sensory walk through John’s gospel.

Read each chapter in John’s gospel, considering the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch included in the story. There are several aspects to focus on by reading it from a multi-sensory perspective.

Jesus uses senses to live his ordinary daily life

The gospel tells of God’s son as a human. There are ordinary parts to the gospel where we see Jesus’ actions in his life journey being very similar to our own. We read about him walking, talking, eating, drinking and sleeping. We read about Jesus the man and we experience the Jesus who has a sense of smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing just as we do in our ordinary daily lives.

Jesus uses senses to teach and tell stories

Whether in telling stories or trying to make a point to explain something, Jesus uses a lot of images and metaphors. It’s as if he knows the points themselves are too complex and remote to understand and we need a sensory experience to aid our understanding. We read Jesus’ words about being born again as “Only God’s Spirit gives new life. The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to. You can hear the wind, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.” John 3:8 CEV

Jesus uses senses to perform his signs and miracles

The miracles performed by Jesus are very multi-sensory. The water turns into wine. How would you know if you didn’t taste it? The royal official’s son is healed. The effects of the fever that could be seen can now no longer be seen.  The invalid man lying beside the pool picks up his mat and walks away. After 38 years that is some activity!  Jesus feeds five thousand. Imagine eating enough bread and fish until you’re full and then watching the leftovers being piled up. You can almost taste the moment.

There is a storm on the lake and Jesus walks on water.  A storm uses all our senses… smell the stirred-up water spraying, see the effect of the wind on the waves, listen to the haunting echo of the wind and the waves crashing, taste the rain drops on your lips, feel your wet hair clinging to your face, the water droplets running down your neck and into your clothes and feel that chill that seems to go right through you to your bones when you’re cold and wet.  Suddenly all is still. The senses are shocked into silence. Jesus walks on water. This is surely a visual experience never to be forgotten.

Then there is the blind man who is healed when Jesus spits on mud and puts it on his eyes. This sign involves both sight and touch.  As for the rising of Lazarus from the dead – a bad smell experience is averted. 39 Then he told the people to roll the stone away. But Martha said, “Lord, you know that Lazarus has been dead four days, and there will be a bad smell.” John 11:39 CEV

Jesus uses senses with his “I am…’ statements

The seven ‘I am’ statements in John’s gospel create experiential images for us to understand Jesus. When Jesus uses these metaphors to describe himself he also gives us clues as to how we can understand the metaphor. For instance, if we eat the bread of life Jesus says we will never go hungry again. It’s a very ordinary, practical example of a sensory experience to explain an aspect of our spiritual journey.

I am the bread of life (6:35)

I am the light of the world (8:12)

I am the gate (10:7)

I am the good shepherd (10:11)

I am the resurrection and the life (11:25)

I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6)

I am the true vine (15:1)

Jesus uses senses in his final days & at his resurrection

The story of Jesus’ final days is overwhelmingly full of sensory experiences. The shouts of jubilation from a palm waving crowd, the ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, the meal shared with bread and wine, the lonely vigil amongst the olive trees, the sword that Simon Peter uses to cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest, the tying and binding of Jesus, the way Peter is cold and warms himself in front of a fire only to hear the cock crowing, the beating of Jesus, the wearing of a crown of thorns and a purple robe, the shouts of the crowd calling ‘Crucify him’, the nailing of Jesus to a cross, the gambling over his garments, the wine held out to him on a soaked sponge, the spear stuck into Jesus’ side, the spices that Nicodemus took to the tomb, the stone that is rolled away, the weeping Mary, the resurrection of Jesus, the locked room with the disciples, the way Thomas had to put his hand into Jesus’ side, the net that was full of fish, the breakfast on the beach with the disciples …  this is a story where those that were there must have had their senses filled; the tastes, the sounds, the sights, the smells and the touch.

This is the story of Jesus.

Experiential Sensory Prayer – Part 2 – Creating a Prayer Room for church and community use

A couple of years ago I spent a few unexpected weeks in a non-English speaking hospital in Germany after emergency surgery while on holiday.  It was a difficult and frightening time. Once I was able to walk, one of the staff showed me the little prayer room near my ward. Every evening, as the hospital quietened down for the night, I would go and sit in there for an hour before turning out my light and going to sleep.  It was a quiet, peaceful place. The walls were draped in a light yellow sheer fabric, the seats were comfortable, the lighting was dimmed, there were a couple of peaceful paintings on the wall, a wooden cross, and a Bible. Simple. Peaceful. Restful. Inviting. In the silence of every evening I sat there and talked to God. I was constantly in prayer during those days, but the quiet hour spent in a room set apart especially for such communion was particularly precious. In my mind I still go back into that room. It was a safe place and God met me there. (As an aside, I remember even then, when I really wasn’t very well, thinking about how much better it could have been if there were some interactive things in the room to help people pray.)

Hospitals often have prayer rooms, places where family and friends as well as patients can find some solace and comfort. These spaces are most often interfaith and they get used by both the faithful believer and those who wouldn’t call themselves religious. At times of trial, even those who do not claim to have a faith turn to God or a higher being for help and comfort. It’s less typical to find a similar prayer room in a church building. Churches generally focus on their meeting place as the central space for prayer. The purpose of the meeting space is to encourage meeting with God in a corporate way. Sometimes there’s a back room where the clergy and lay people might meet for a prayer meeting or prayer before a worship service.  But a small prayer room isn’t a typical space. I think it’s worth putting some effort into making one, no matter what style of corporate worship you enjoy.

We worked for a few years in a church which had an old chapel styled building with several small side rooms. My role was to work with the community and find ways to connect the community into the church.  We had a lot of different groups coming in and out of our buildings and so we turned one of the small rooms into a multi-sensory prayer room.  It was really interesting seeing how the room was used. Many of the church going regulars had keys to the church and would come in and use the room during the week. Other church going regulars would use it on a Sunday morning, before or after their worship service. It intrigued me to see the different responses the church going regulars had to the room. For some it was a highlight of their worship experience, and they enjoyed the quiet stillness the space afforded, for others, it was an unneccessary use of the room when there was already a lovely chapel in which to pray. Some enjoyed the hands-on approach and loved to take advantage of the tactile prayers, while others would tidy up what they perceived as mess.

What intrigued me even more was the reaction to the room by different people from the community who were in and out of the building for all kinds of classes and events, both church based and community based.  In particular our church run weekly preschool music and movement group had adults and kids regularly using the prayer room.  There were queues some mornings as people stopped in for their little weekly communion with God. This was by far more exciting to me than the use of the room by the regular churchgoers. This non-threatening space gave people a chance to interact at their own pace and level. There wasn’t anyone watching them. It was comfortable and safe. They didn’t have to act in a certain way or say a particular set of words. There was no church culture that they had to step into and imitate. It was a comfortable space in which they could be themselves. They could talk to their children about faith and experience something of God together. I’d never really know who was using it from day to day, but every so often someone would stop and chat to me about something they’d experienced as they sat or knelt or stood in the room and prayed.  God was at work in their lives.

So here’s some ideas for setting up a prayer room or space within your church building.

The Space

  1. The Room – Do you have a small room in your existing space you could repurpose as a prayer room? If you don’t have a room, you could set up a space using screens to create a defined area.
  2. Remove the clutter – Take everything out of the space. Churches are often the recipients of unwanted large furniture items and these items usually find their way into small seldom used rooms. Be a little ruthless. Find somewhere else for the excess furniture to sit, or even consider getting rid of it!
  3. Lighten the walls – White paint! With a bit of elbow grease and some basic white paint, you can brighten up a room quickly and cheaply. Paint the walls, ceilings and doors plain white. It’s light and you can then add in fabric and props as required for your various prayers.
  4. Seating – You may want to be flexible with your seating in your room and change it according to the types of prayers you have displayed. Different people will respond in different ways to the space. Some will pass through quickly and will only want to stand, while others will want to spend some time in the space so will prefer to sit. Depending on the needs of your potential prayer room users, may determined what kind of seating you supply. Whether floor cushions, bean bags, a rocking chair, an armchair or a wooden stool, the style of your seating and the position of it in the room will set the tone and provide an indication on how you expect people to interact in the space.
  5. Small tables – Use several smaller tables to arrange your prayers. Think about the height of the prayers and match the furniture to the type of prayer. Do you want participants to stand, kneel, sit? Rather than having fixed furniture, change it around depending on the prayers you’re using.
  6. Lighting – You may want to change this around depending on your prayers, but try to create soft lighting by using a lamp, fairy lights or battery candles. Make it easy for yourself and for those who will be using the room. Having all the lights plugged into a multi power box means there is only one switch your prayer room visitor may need to turn on when they enter and exit.
  7. Heating – If the room is likely to be cold, add in a small heater so that your participants can feel warm and cosy when they’re praying. Choose a heater which will have an automatic switch to turn off if left on too long. Alternatively, get the person who unlocks and locks up the building each day to turn the heater on and off.
  8. Draperies and wall coverings – You may want to use the walls to display visual image or  instructions for the prayers. You could also have sheer draped curtains or fabric which could be put up or pulled down depending on the prayers. The softness of the fabric helps soften the room and creates a softer feeling for the participant. Add a couple of cuddly throws or blankets. This gives an added sense of security and warmth to the room.
  9. Practical instructions – Tactile prayers are messy. Whether you’re picking up stones and putting them in water, cutting up small pieces of paper, peeling mandarins or pressing paper flags into a sand saucer, there is potential for mess. Have a general instruction to leave the room ready for the next person. You may want more specific instructions related to each prayer.

The Prayers

  1. Think in themes – I like to group three to five prayers together by theme. Generally this is related to seasons, both calendar and church calendar. Prayers on Spring, Autumn, Winter and Spring provide metaphors to build from in spiritual lives. The church calendar seasons of Lent, Easter, Pentecost and Advent all lend themselves to themed stations. Other themes could be topical; Elections, natural disasters, local social issues.
  2. Think across the senses – Use the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and feel when you plan your prayers. What physical ideas can you incorporate into your prayers? The use of the senses helps ground the prayers, taking the ordinary and connecting it to the sacred.
  3. Think in faith stages – The room will be used by a variety of different people who will be operating at varying levels of faith and understanding. Provide a range of starting points, so that someone new to the faith or even pre-faith can pray but also that someone who has a long faithful heritage can also pray. I’ve generally found, if you keep it simple, those who want to make their prayer more complex will do so, but if you make your prayer instructions too complicated, it just doesn’t get used.
  4. Think across developmental ages & stages – What appears interesting to a five year old, may not appeal to a fifty-five year old. Different people have different skills in physical manipulation. Include prayers which are easy to use. Simple prayers like placing a stone in a bowl is accessible to everyone whether old or young.
  5. Think of different types of prayer – I like to group my prayers by the following types and when I plan my prayer room content I select two or three types of prayer, with one prayer based on each type or on some occasions I’ll make the Prayer Room totally Intercession or Confession prayers.
    • Praise and thanksgiving
    • Petition and supplication
    • Confession
    • Intercession
    • Responsive
  6. Think of equipment – Go through the exercise of praying all of the prayers yourself in the room to make sure your equipment works. Do you need to add extra things such as paper towels or a basin of water, a small brush and shovel to sweep up bits, newspaper on the floor, a rubbish bin? All these practical details make the prayer room able to be used and reused.
  7. Think of instructions – Keep your instructions to the minimum reading required. Less is more. But usually instructions are required in some form. If you can put some of your instructions in visual form; photos showing the various steps, diagrams or cartoons, speech bubbles with each step.
  8. Think of the space and the people – Some people will want to stand to pray. They’ll want to have their flight plan in place in case they want to leave the room quickly. Others will feel more comfortable seated and will intend to stay for a while. Getting the space right takes some time. This is about knowing those who will use your prayer room and how they might interact with it. There’s a balance between creating a private space and not a trapped space. Experiment with the space and get feedback from a variety of people. Remember that there’ll be a mixture of reactions and no one perfect way to set up your room.