Category: How-to

Writing as Listening

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person holding ballpoint pen writing on notebook

If we are to walk in God’s way, we need to learn to listen to Him. But how? One of the traditional ways to do this is to write down all the incidence in life that may be His voice. That is, to journal. This idea is based on an understanding of how God speaks to us; not generally in the clear straight forward voice portrayed in the Old Testament, but in whispers, clues, signposts. By recording possible ‘messages’ (whether during prayer, in a sermon, or as part of daily life) we can:

  • build up a record and search it for God’s truth for us.
  • show God (and ourselves) that our desire to find God’s word for us is sincere;
  • listen to ourselves and understand our reaction
  • learn to discern God’s voice.

How you journal is very much up to you. Avoid any-one who tells you that there is a ‘right’ way to do it. You may want to use words, you may prefer drawing your impressions. Loose leaf, a beautiful book or on the lap-top. Use different colours for different themes or voices. Address what you write to God like a letter (or try writing it as a letter from God to you). It might be on a daily basis, or less regularly (but it is probably more useful to write a little bit daily rather than to save up for a marathon ‘when I have time’).

A specific part of journalling is to record your prayer times; how you approached God, how you felt (do not be judgemental but be honest!), was it easy, hard, boring? Did it feel complete or is there something else to say? Did you learn something? To begin with you may want to make the journal for a specific time: Lent, Advent, on retreat.

God cares about the details of your life and by keeping track of what happens to you, you may be able to notice God’s leading. So do not censor your writing too much. A passing thought or a chance meeting might be a gift from God. Recording the place where you had an impression may lead you in time to identify where you are most receptive (morning walk, coffee break, old kitchen chair…..).

Journalling can become addictive and it can become an instinct to reach for your book. However received wisdom is to separate the times when you listen to God and the times when you write down what you believe you heard. Allow the thoughts to pass through your mind. Trust God that if He wants you to recall something you will. So for example you might listen intently in a morning quiet time, do the washing up and then journal over coffee.

Finally, find time to go back through your journal occasionally. Does a pattern stand out?

Approaching Scripture

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Love scrabble tiles on book page

There are many ways of approaching Scripture. We may have to free ourselves from the ideas we were brought up with, to allow God to meet us in Scripture in a different way.

The other key word here is “imaginative”. We are often happy to bring God our mind and our sight, but imagination seems to be about ‘making things up’. Just like every other aspect of ourselves, our imagination can be offered to God and He can work though it.

Imaginative Scripture reading is about entering into a story to allow God to meet us there. The best way to explain it is to give an example.

The calling of Nathanael John ch1 vv43-51 For the purpose of this story you are going to put yourself in the place of Nathanael. Begin by reading the passage through a couple of times, so you have the picture in your mind, then go through the passage in detail, slowly, with yourself in the place of Nathanael:

43 Take time to enter the story, the location is vague, where would you have Jesus be? In your home country, in countryside or town, field or road?

44-45 Philip is someone who has met Jesus and now comes to share Jesus with Nathanael. Who might play/have played the role of Philip in your life?

46 Is your reaction to the news of Jesus to doubt? Healthy scepticism or a cynicism you need to overcome?

47 Yet you go to Jesus and He sees you coming. Where are you? Imagine it for yourself. In a country lane, in a busy street or a quiet, deserted place? Is it indoors or outdoors? Choose a place, and imagine it, with Jesus there, waiting for you. What can you see? What can you hear? What does the place smell like? Imagine the feel of the ground under your feet as you walk towards Jesus.  Hold on to this moment, how does He look at you? What is in His eyes? Then He speaks; how would Jesus describe you? Listen carefully to Him rather than yourself, it might surprise you!

48 Dialogue between you and Jesus, what questions would you like to ask Him – this is a safe place to do it. What answer does He give?

49 From what Jesus has said, Nathanael recognises who Jesus is. What are you learning about Jesus from this encounter?

50-51 Jesus does not leave things there, He goes on to talk of ‘greater things’ and promises them to Nathanael. What greater things might Jesus be leading you towards, promising to you?

For an example from Mark (the woman with the haemorrhage) and more teaching about this see https://blog.bible/bible-engagers-blog/entry/ignatian-contemplation-how-to-read-the-bible-with-your-imagination

For an example on utube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTyoBg6aO9I

Holy Noticing

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grayscale photography of bird

In a TV interview a few years before his death, Billy Graham was asked what he would do over if he could do things differently. In his inimical way, he said, “I’d spend more time in meditation and prayer.”

Definition & Origin

Mindfulness is a research-based practice that involves both dedicated meditation time and present-moment awareness in everyday life.

Charles Stone refers to it as Holy Noticing, being fully present and mindful in each moment God has given us.  Stone defined mindfulness as the art of Holy Noticing, noticing with a holy purpose, God and His handiwork, our relationships, and our inner world of thoughts and feelings.    

God models this pattern of noticing because He is a Perfect Noticer. Nothing in our lives is too small or insignificant for Him to notice. He knows the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). He noticed the Hebrews groaning under Egyptian bondage (Exodus 2:25). He notices our pain, our joys, our heartaches and our happiness. The psalmist writes, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8 NLT). 

Some Christians are slightly sceptical of mindfulness because they perceive it to be of purely Buddhist origin. Yet, “Holy Noticing” is a centuries old Christian practice and we would like to to encourage Christians to reclaim it.

For example, in the last few decades, scientific research has discovered that exercise is good for you. Exercise is exercise, though. We don’t split it into secular exercise and Christian exercise. It benefits Christians and non-Christians alike. 

There is a long tradition of contemplative prayer and biblical meditation in Christianity.

Biblical foundation

Christian mindfulness practice is rooted in the most basic witness of Jesus: God with us, right here, right now. Jesus proclaims, The reign of God is at hand! here, now available for all, if we pay attention. Or, as Jesus says, if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. If we are mindful. To live out the reign of God requires mindful lives, intentionally aware in each present moment of God’s life and mission in the world. Christian mindfulness, then, is an anchoring practice, a way to abide in Christ…

However, does God’s Word support and does Christian history illustrate Christians using some of these techniques as tools for spiritual growth? Yes. It’s a lost spiritual discipline that believers should reclaim. And well-known Christians are embracing practices like mindfulness.

The Bible has a lot to say about calming our minds and keeping a vertical focus on the One who lovingly created us and knows us intimately. For example:

  • The apostle Paul reminds Christians that they’re called to be mindful and live with an awareness of the present (Philippians 2:1-5).
  • Prayer is one very practical way Christians apply mindfulness to daily life (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  • Meditation appears in the Bible in the context of spending time studying the Word of God (Psalm 48:9Psalm 63:6).
  • We should look to Jesus and think about true, admirable things (Hebrews 12:2Philippians 4:8).
  • Christians shouldn’t let themselves to be distracted by worry about the future (Matthew 6:25-34).
  • Scripture teaches us to “take every thought captive” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
  • Paul tells us to “be transformed” by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2) and to practice God-honoring thoughts (Philippians 4:9).

Like anything, mindfulness can be misused. However, it doesn’t automatically contradict the Christian faith. We just need to make sure we approach it in a wise, biblical way.

Benefits

It’s important to remember that our ultimate goal is not to use mindfulness simply to make us feel better—because science has discovered that it does just that—but rather to make us more like Christ (see Romans 8:29Ephesians 4:13Galatians 4:19). 

There are many benefits to practicing mindfulness. It helps us to relax, to de-stress, and to become aware of our own thoughts. They draw our gaze towards God.

Christians counselors use mindfulness in a Christ-integrated way as a therapy tool. They believe mindfulness can be compatible with a biblical worldview — as long as it’s rooted in Scripture and focuses on connecting with God.

Christian mindfulness is a tool God uses for our healing and growth

Mindfulness training has been associated with the following benefits: 

  • 50% reduction in depression relapse rates over 12 months 
  • 50% reduction in general psychiatric symptoms 
  • 70% reduction in anxiety
  • 44% reduction in medical symptoms

God created our brains to respond to these mindful practices in several positive ways.

Our neuro-pathways are rutted with conditioned reactions and responses. Mindfulness practice rewires these rutted neuropathways, creating new ones. These actual physical changes in our brains and bodies begin to mark our lives in concrete ways.

Christ-Centered Mindfulness Techniques

 Secular mindfulness is horizontal. In other words, you pay attention only to yourself. However, that approach contradicts Scripture’s teaching to have the mind of Christ and evaluate everything in light of our vertical relationship with God and Jesus.

Christian Mindfulness or Holy noticing—noticing with a holy, God-focused purpose—means noticing your 

  • Body: being aware of your physical body states and sensations; 
  • Relationships: assessing the health of your relationships; 
  • Environment: taking notice of your current surroundings, including sights, sounds, smells, and God’s creation; 
  • Afflictive emotions or Affect (a general term for emotions):acknowledging how you’re currently feeling; 
  • Thoughts: being conscious of your current thoughts; 
  • Heart: paying attention to the state of your spiritual life and the Holy Spirit’s whisperings or impressions on your heart; and, to tie it all together, 
  • engage: engaging the world like Christ, practicing holy noticing in the mundane, the everyday, the ordinary. 

Examples

(from https://calminggrace.com/christian-mindfulness-exercises)

Breathe deeply with a two-word anchor prayer.

Another mindful grounding technique is to focus on your breath. The breath is commonly used as an anchor in mindfulness, because it’s always there. To also connect with God’s presence, breathe with a prayer. This exercise is useful any time you’re feeling a bit anxious and you need a way to come back to the present.

Simply focus on your breath as you breathe normally. Thank God for each breath, then start to repeat a two-word prayer in your mind. 

Breathe one word in, and one word out. If you want to, extend your breaths to be longer and deeper. Deep breathing helps you relax and calm down.

Choose a two-word phrase from Scripture or a phrase that you feel He is teaching you. For example: “Trust God.” “God’s grace.” “Jesus’ love.” It can be any phrase that will help you connect with God as you breathe deeply.

You can also read a Bible verse and find a two-word phrase. For example, take a Bible verse like: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 NIV) and breathe the phrase, “Trust, Lean.”

Or take a rich verse like this, and choose two of God’s characteristics:

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. ~ Psalm 18:2 NIV

For example, breathe in “my rock” and breathe out “my fortress.”

Use this breathing exercise any time that you need to stop and anchor your mind in Christ. 

Pause to appreciate natural beauty.

God’s creation is all around us, and pausing to notice it is an opportunity to see His handiwork and praise Him for it.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. ~ Psalm 19:1 NIV

Even when we can’t go on vacation and immerse ourselves in nature, we can still appreciate natural beauty in the everyday moments of life. If you spend most of your days inside, at home, work, or school, plan to look out the window or go outside for a few minutes.  Simply notice and observe what your senses show you. What colors and shapes do you see in the sky and the clouds? Can you hear, or feel, the wind blowing? Do you see flowers or tree branches moving in the wind? Can you see or hear any animals or birds?

When you notice these details, say a prayer of gratitude to God. Thank Him for creating this beautiful world, and for expressing His own characteristics through nature (see Romans 1:20).

Here are some other ideas to mindfully appreciate the beauty of God’s creation, even if you don’t have much time:

  • Watch the sunrise or sunset and notice the colors. 
  • Keep flowers or houseplants wherever you spend the most time in your home.
  • Go outside at night to look at the moon and stars.
  • Listen to the birds chirping in the morning.
  • Notice the weather and the changes in the clouds.

Mindfulness of Domestic Chores

Pick an activity such as ironing clothes, washing dishes, vacuuming floors, and do it mindfully.

For example, when ironing clothes: notice the color and shape of the clothing, and the pattern made by the creases, and the new pattern as the creases disappear. Notice the hiss of the steam, the creak of the ironing board, the faint sound of the iron moving over the material. Notice the grip of your hand on the iron, and the movement of your arm and your shoulder.

If boredom or frustration arises, simply acknowledge it, and bring your attention back to the task at hand. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, let them be, and bring your attention back to what you are doing.

Again and again, your attention will wander. As soon as you realize this has happened, gently acknowledge it, note what distracted you, and bring your attention back to your current activity.

Resourceshttps://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/the-art-of-holy-noticing/

article “The art of holy noticing” by Charles Stone

https://calminggrace.com/christian-mindfulness-exercises/embed/#?secret=sPggwMccIC

books

Walking as Spiritual Exercise

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person in black coat walking on sidewalk during daytime

Walking can be a profound way of spending time intentionally with God, of slowing down, of putting down some of life’s daily pressures and reflecting more on the Divine. Advice on this subject is plentiful but the following could be one way of experiencing this practice, which begins with being fully present when you walk:

  1. Choose a route to take and note the amount of time you have available. The route can be anywhere, urban or rural, or anything in between (a part in a city centre and so on).
  2. Intentionally commit this time to God and try to prepare yourself by consciously deciding to let go of the many things buzzing round your head.
  3. Start walking and resolve to focus only on the walk, and on your body doing that walk. Try not to focus on the worrying or demanding thoughts that pop into your mind.
  4. Be aware: of your breathing, of the way your body moves, of the feel of the pavement or ground beneath your feet.
  5. Broaden that awareness: notice the sights, sounds, smells around you.
  6. At the end of your walk-time, pause for a moment – give thanks, notice what the experience has been like for you and commit that into God’s hands.

This is simply an initial exercise. If you’d like to know more a very helpful, short, book on this topic is “Every Step a Prayer” by Thomas R Hawkins, which is full of practical suggestions on making the most of this fundamental human activity as a way of spiritual discovery. You might also find “God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul” by Mark Buchanan with its emphasis on walks as different kinds of spiritual practice – walking as prayer, as pilgrimage, as friendship and so on – very useful.

Prayer of Examen

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A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump;
God-shaped life is a flourishing tree.

Proverbs 11:28 (The Message)

The Prayer of Examen

The Prayer of Examen is a daily spiritual exercise designed by the Spanish monk Saint Ignatius of Loyola [1491-1556], the founder of the Jesuit movement. He encouraged fellow followers of Jesus to engage in the practice for developing a deeper level of spiritual sensitivity and for recognising and receiving the help of the Holy Spirit. At the heart of the practice is an increasing awareness of God’s presence and the Holy Spirit’s movement throughout the day. 

This Prayer is primarily an exercise in remembering, and noticing God in experiences and encounters from the past 24 hours. The beauty of the practice is its simplicity; it is more a guide than a prescription. The purpose is to increase awareness and sensitivity, not to finish or accomplish a task. 

The examen of conscience is the process of inviting the Lord to search our hearts to the depths of the psalmists words in Ps 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  We uncover those areas that need cleansing, purifying and healing

Space:

Find a quiet space, where you won’t be disturbed, turn off your phone (or any other distractions), and sit comfortably. Allow yourself to relax and soak in a moment of silence before you begin. Many people light a candle.


Time:

The prayer length can vary, based on the time you want to put into it, but can generally take place in about 10-15 minutes. Evenings are generally best for this type of prayer, as your day will still be fresh on your mind. 

Ignatius provides a simple five-step routine for our daily Examen:

1.PRESENCE: become aware of God’s presence 

As you sit in silence, renew your awareness of God’s love for you as your one true and perfect Father. Now place your hand on your heart to remind you this exercise is more about feelings than facts. 

Try to make yourself attentive to his presence and ask the Holy Spirit to guide your heart and mind as you pray. 

2. GRATITUDE: review your day with gratitude

The whole day was a gift from God. How is he looking upon you now? How has He loved you? How has He graced you?

Review your day from beginning to end—identifying and being thankful for God’s presence throughout. Process your day’s high and low points. (Ignatius called these moments of Consolation and Desolation)

Allow big things and small things to arise—everything from the gift of my faith, to the gift of my marriage, to the easy commute to work today.

Recall things that were life-giving. Respond to God in joy for his presence and love for you. 

3. REVIEW   

You look back at my day and ask the Lord to point out to you the moments when you have failed in big ways or small. You take a sobering look at the mistakes you have made this day.

However, before doing so, you ask God to fill you with his Spirit so that the Spirit can lead you  through this difficult soul-searching. Otherwise, you are liable to hide in denial, wallow in self-pity, or seethe in self-loathing.

You are reviewing your life from a place of love and acceptance. In other words, you’re not trying to earn his approval or acceptance (and you never could)—but because Christ has gained acceptance for you, you have the pleasure of responding in gratitude to his grace. 

4. SORROW:  Ask for forgiveness and healing

If you have sinned, you ask God to forgive you. You ask for help to get over it and move on. You also ask for wisdom to discern how you might better handle such tricky moments in the future.

Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?

5. GRACE

Take what has been shown to you, look forward and prepare for the Lord’s grace and love for the coming day.

You ask God to show you how tomorrow might go. You imagine the things you will be doing, the people you will see, and the decisions you will be mulling over. You ask for help with any moments You foresee that might be difficult. 

Example of Prayer of Examen

I get into a comfortable position, I let my muscles relax and mind quiet down. I take a deep breath and ask God to make his presence known around and in me. I feel this presence and soak in it

I ask God to reveal all the gifts and graces he has given me today, from the big ones (life, safety, love) to the small ones (a good night’s sleep, a phone call from a friend, a compliment).  I thank God for each of these gifts.

I ask God to fill me with his merciful love. I ask God to be the leader of this prayer time, rather than brooding or obsessing over myself or the day

Going hour by hour, I review my day. In my imagination, I relive each significant moment of my day. I linger in the important moments and pass quickly over the less relevant ones.

I continue thanking God for the gifts I find in my day. I pause at any of the difficult moments of my day. I pay attention to any missed opportunities when I could have acted in a certain way but didn’t. 

When I find moments in which I was not the person I was called to be. I ask God’s forgiveness. I try to sense his healing mercy wash over me

I ask God to show me, concretely how he wants me to respond or what he wants me to do tomorrow. I ask God to show me what kind of person he is calling me . I resolve to be that person and ask God for his help.

I ask myself if there are any last words I wish to say to the Lord.

I close with one or two of the following gestures. I make the sign of the cross, bow or say an “Our father”

Resources

Try the app:

Reimagining the Examen

IgnatianSpirituality.com

Lectio Divina

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selective focus photography of person reading book

ACCEPTING THE EMBRACE of GOD: 

THE ANCIENT ART of LECTIO DIVINA

 

The Process of Lectio Divina

Lection Divina is a very ancient art – it is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God. 

This ancient practice has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious treasures of the Benedictine monastics and oblates. Time set aside specifically for lectio divina enables us to discover an underlying spiritual rhythm in our daily life. Within this rhythm, we discover an increasing ability to offer more of ourselves and our relationships to the Father, and to accept the embrace that God is continuously extending to us in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. 

An Excerpt from The Ladder of Monks by Guigo

“Reading seeks for the sweetness of a blessed life, meditation perceives it, prayer asks for it, contemplation tastes it. Reading, as it were, puts food whole into the mouth, mediation chews it and breaks it up, prayer extracts its flavor, contemplation is the sweetness itself which gladdens and refreshes. Reading works on the outside, meditation on the pith [soft inner part of a feather or a hair; the essential part, core, heart]: prayer asks for what we long for, contemplation gives us delight in the sweetness which we have found.”

HOW TO PRACTICE LECTIO DIVINA

“… the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deuteronomy 30:14) 

Lectio Divina means “sacred reading” and has four stages.

The method of Lectio Divina includes:

  • moments of reading (lectio), 
  • reflecting on (meditatio), 
  • responding to (oratio) and 
  • resting in (contemplatio) the Word of God 

with the aim of nourishing and deepening one’s relationship with the Divine. Note that the time frames listed below are only suggestions. Individual steps might take you more or less time. 

Get Ready (3 minutes) 

  • Find a place where you can be quiet and undisturbed. 
  • Invite the Holy Spirit’s presence. 
  • Choose a brief passage of Scripture. 
  • Quieten your heart, sit in silence, and ask God to meet you as you encounter God’s Word. 
  • Invite the Holy Spirit, who inspired the Bible, to make its message clear to you and speak to your heart. 

Read (lectio) (3-5 minutes)

the scripture passage through one time without hurrying and without stopping.  Spend a few minutes in silence after this first reading.

Reflect (meditatio) on the passage (3-5 minutes) 

  • meditate and reflect on any words or phrases that attracted you or caught your attention. Think about it/these and consider what meaning it/they might have for you. 
  • Begin to repeat that phrase, sentence or one word over and over, allowing the word(s) to settle deeply into your heart. 
  • As you continue to meditate and reflect during the following steps, listen to God and allow God to speak to you. 


Respond
  (oratio) to the Passage (3-5 minutes) 

  • Read the text a second time. 
  • Pay special attention to any memories or emotions that the word or phrase stirs up (for example, anxiety, fear, comfort, joy, longing, peace). 
  • Then listen for a personal invitation rising up from your experience of prayer so far. Consider the word or phrase and what it has evoked for you in memory, image, or feeling –  what is the invitation?  Is this invitation a summons toward a new awareness or action? 
  • Ask God to show you why God caused a word or phrase to catch your attention. What is God saying to you? 
  • Tell God about what you are hearing or feeling or about how the passage has affected you. 
  • Take time to sit and listen for God’s response. 

Rest (contemplatio) (5 minutes) 

  • Read the scripture a third time
  • Quietly rest in the presence of God. This is called contemplation. Simply offer God a few moments to be together.  Be with God, resting in the one-of-a-kind, unconditional love that God has for you. 
  • Return to the Passage. 
  • As you go through your day, keep returning to the passage and your reflection on it. 
  • Find ways to integrate the word into your life. 

QUESTIONS RELATED TO LECTIO DIVINA 

1.    Which word or phrase has caught my attention? 

2.    What is my response to that word or phrase? 

3.    How does this apply to my current life circumstance? 

4.    What do I sense God inviting me to in this reading? 

Sue Pickering in her book “Spiritual Direction: A Practical Introduction introduces another way of experiencing Lectio Divina

She encourages people to choose a  ‘key moment’  they want to explore using the suggested fourfold lectio divina process.

Lectio: ‘Reading’ the event or contemporary image that has taken our attention, taking time to explore our initial response to the ‘key moment’. 

Meditatio: Thinking, reflecting, exploring, making connections, for example with scripture, with what we know of God through our experience or through what we have been taught or seen in others, with our own situations including our questions, struggles and joys. 

We listen for the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit who knows what we need to be asking ourselves! 

Oratio: ‘Talking’ to God about what we are discovering about God and about ourselves through this event/image/‘key moment’; responding to God with our whole selves, our feelings and our imagination, our bodies and our minds. 

Contemplatio: Resting in the love of God, letting ourselves open to the Love which waits to enfold us, consenting to the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

Resources

Web pages: 

https://www.theignatianjourney.com

https://sacredpilgrim.com  with Lectio Divina podcasts

YouTube 

Rhythms of Grace with Steve

Jesus Prayer

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This way of praying has been used by Christians for centuries as a way of cleansing and opening up the heart and mind to God.  

I have found the following practice useful:

  1. When you first try out this way of praying, find a quiet space, free from distraction and a way of sitting that allows you to concentrate.   However, after practising for some time, you may find that this approach to prayer becomes second nature and you can pray like this in all kinds of situations.
  2. Being by relaxing tour body and gently breathing in and out at your own pace.
  3. Commit the following phrase to memory:  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.  (Some people find it meaningful or helpful to use a slightly longer phrase:  Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. I leave this as a matter for your own choice). 
  4. Set a timer for two to three minutes.
  5. Say the phrase silently in your head.  Adjust your breathing (slow it down if necessary) to fit the phrase in the following way:
    IN: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
    OUT: Have mercy on me (a sinner).
  6. Concentrate on attentiveness to God – gently notice disruptive thoughts but let them “float on by” and don’t judge yourself for lapses in concentration. Simply return to your pattern of breathing and repeating the phrase in your head.

Centering prayer

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Centering prayer is one way of  moving away from, or beyond,  “conversation with God” and simply responding to the desire of your heart for deeper communion with the Divine.  When we practice centering prayer, we intentionally make space to seek and find God in silence.  Centering prayer is drawn from the long history of Christian contemplative prayer, including the practices of the Desert Fathers and Mothers in the 3rd century.  

There is no single “right way” to pray like this but we have found the following suggestions helpful.

  1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted and a way of sitting, kneeling, lying that allows you to concentrate.
  2. Have a timer, and pen and paper (or their equivalent) to hand.
  3. Spend a few moments relaxing your body and mind.  Breathe in and out gently at your own pace.
  4. Choose a positive word or very short phrase (sometimes called the “sacred word”) as a way of symbolizing your consent to the Divine presence and action within you, and of your own desire for closer communion with God.  It can be any positive word or short phrase with which you feel comfortable and that reminds you to be present to God.  Some examples might be: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Abba, Father, Mother, Comforter, Love, Listen, Peace, Mercy, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Holy, Glory. 
  5. Set your timer initially for two or three minutes maximum. Breathe in and out at your own natural pace and repeat the word or phrase silently in your mind as a way of focusing on God.
  6. It is perfectly normal to have all kinds of thoughts pop into your head as you try and concentrate like this.  Don’t start judging yourself, or characterise yourself as a “bad pray-er”, or “no good at this sort of thing”!  Simply let the thought float away and bring your attention back to your sacred word again.  Occasionally, a thought is so urgent or relates to something so vital that you wont be able to concentrate further until you make a quick note of it – hence the need for pen and paper.
  7. Sometimes, you start meditation with a particular word or phrase and you discover after a minute or so that it feels like the “wrong” word for that moment.  Simply stop for a while, choose another word or phrase that feels “right” and carry on.
  8. When the timer goes, ask yourself – did that feel like an appropriate amount of time?  Too short, too long?  Adjust the amount of time accordingly for the next occasion, but don’t set yourself impossible targets – 10 minutes is a good target to aim for eventually.
  9. A note of caution – this kind of prayer is simply a way of being open to God.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel anything in particular and it is not about having a “successful” , or a “good” prayer time.  It is about your availability to God’s presence.

non-verbal prayer

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woman praying under tree during daytime

There is always a danger with prayer that it becomes too cerebral, word-based, even academic, so this page is a chance to think of other ways of praying, ways of using other parts of ourselves. We do not often get to know friends by talking non-stop: how do you grow in friendship? Adapt the same methods to communicate with God, to pass time with Him, even to waste time with Him!

Walking: why not take a walk with God? Go through the woods and praise Him for the beauty, go through the town and intercede for the people you pass.

Gazing: The first way of contemplating is to look at God, gazing in awe, wonder. It may be considered in terms of those who contemplated the Christchild at the nativity (shepherds, magi, the Holy Family, animals). It is opening the being to God whilst maintaining inner silence, taking time to be alone with Christ.

Painting/drawing: both looking at painting and doing it for yourself, either to encourage yourself to look at something fully, or to paint free style and to see what comes up. An example of looking at a painting: https://www.pathwaystogod.org/feast-all-saints?mc_cid=a9145f1b9e&mc_eid=a6924bfe19

Dance: westerners are often particularly bad at using their bodies in worship and prayer, but it can be very liberating, our bodies can express things our tongues cannot say. Find a quiet place, with no one watching, use music if you want, reach out to God.

Writing see elsewhere for journalling, but consider also poetry, free expression, writing a letter to God.

Music. The human voice is a wonderful instrument for prayer, but think also of percussion and other instruments, of non-Christian music. Could learning to play the clarinet be for you a spiritual discipline?

Audio – a simple option, but we take in Bible stories differently if we hear them. Many of the older parts of the Old Testament originate from an oral tradition rather than from the written word. So why not try listening? There are many audio Bibles (David Suchet’s NIV is I think the best known and very good), Bible Gateway https://www.biblegateway.com/  has some audio versions. You might like to sit back in peace, take your audio gear for a beautiful walk, knit, iron or carve wood whilst you listen! Keeping the hands/body busy can help the mind concentrate.

Christian massage – Letting a (trained!) fellow Christian touch you in a way that ‘restores, reconciles, reassures, forgives, heals” (Henri Nouwen).