Following the synchroblog in August Cindy, Erin and I promised that we would get our thoughts together and write a review. A few months on and it is ready. We’ve had a lot of good conversations in putting this together and our friendship has deepened too. I have got to work with two really amazing women over the past few months, whom I thank God for.
Free(d) to Pray
Following a conversation the three of us had about prayer, we decided to run a prayer synchroblog. We wanted to find out how others prayed to God, how did prayer look within the emerging church, and maybe find out that we were not on our own when it came to struggles with prayer. We were overwhelmed with the number of bloggers who took part in the synchroblog – 41 in total. Many new friendships were formed. Time and time again similarities were shown between posts, many of which blew our minds away. We decided to put together a document to pull together the main themes which ran through the blog posts, as we thought this would not only be helpful to ourselves, but to others too. Below is probably more of a summary of our thoughts rather than an in depth look at this event. The three of us have had so many conversations about it, it would make far too long a blog post!
The bible records hundreds of beautiful prayers from across the ages. They’re diverse and unscripted. They’re passionate, vengeful, ebullient, sorrowful, always real. Yet, some of us in the Church have allowed our prayers to become lifeless words, far removed from the kinds of petitions and praises that flowed from the lips of David, Jeremiah, and Jesus.
A number of the “How Do You Pray” synchro-bloggers confessed in astonishing unison that we had succumbed to the practice of praying by formula—a cheap display designed sometimes to impress (others or ourselves) and sometimes in attempt to coerce God into granting our wishes. It sounds absurd to speak of coercing God; and, of course, it is absurd. We aren’t graven image worshipers who perform vain rituals to gain rewards from the gods.
No. At least not anymore.
I was moved by the resolve of so many to determinedly pull away from empty, legalistic forms of prayer. The prevailing sentiment was a desire to be sincere with God, even if it meant not praying at all for a while, or longer, until we get it more or less figured out. From the resulting void grew an awakening to fresh and new—as well as ancient and beautiful—expressions of truth before God. These new and new/old approaches to unshackled prayer inspired and renewed hope for me.
I was not only amazed by how many took part in the synchroblog, but also at the very different styles people used whilst praying. Some people preferred more traditional methods, whereas others used art and other creative methods to pray. There were a couple of key elements which seemed to appear time and time again, though. Those were liturgical forms of prayer, such as Phyllis Tickle’s “The Divine Hours“, Northumbria Community and The Jesus Prayer. Secondly, breathing seemed to be a term used a lot. The phrase “I’m learning to breathe again” or “Prayer has become natural just like breathing” was used repeatedly. Which led to people becoming more honest, and even reckless with God. Along with this breathing seemed to come stillness and realness with God. One contributor put it like this “Could it be that God is not found in the whirlwind, not in the fire, not in the earthquake… and sometimes not even in the whisper. Might he sometimes be found in the silence?”
More traditional forms of prayer seemed to help people find a rhythm with their prayer life. One blogger wrote “I’ve discovered that liturgy is a balm for me. I know that this is not true for everyone. But for me repetitive prayers become healing and allow God to speak into my life in ways that I have not found before.” Another contributor put it like this “The Jesus Prayer is so portable. Powerful. Meaning FILLED. I repeat it gratuitously. I repeat it fervently. It rolls in the back of my mind on some occasions like the surf on the beach. It has in some ways become a part of my pattern in living.” Creative forms of prayer shared included nature walks, photography, painting, meditating on scripture whilst looking at a candle, rock and sand, and even a tool box! Someone who uses art as an expression of prayer wrote this “I pray with art, with images and color that reflect out loud the embers that still burn in my bones. I pray with paint, and glue, and scraps of paper that I collage together.” Prayer, whether done in the old or new, is a way of life, it’s a rhythm, like a heart beating. It is finding a way to connect with God that is right for you. There can be no right or wrong, for it is the heart that God seeks.
I often refer to the blogging community as the blogohood, a spin on the word “neighborhood”. The word brings up images in my head of Mr. Rogers (for you Americans). Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood is a children’s television program that has been around since 1968. Fred Rogers discontinued producing new episodes in 2001, and passed away in 2003, but existing episodes of the show continue on. Every episode, Mr. Rogers began the show with the song “Won’t you be my neighbor” (this was, I think, the early precursor to Facebook)…the words went something like this:
It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?…
It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood, a neighborly day for a beauty. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?…
I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day. Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor?
Won’t you please, Won’t you please? Please won’t you be my neighbor?
Something amazing happened with this Prayer Syncrhoblog… each of our neighborhoods expanded. I have come out of this experience with a number of wonderful new friends, and for that I am so very thankful… I am touched and encouraged by the new people I have met and the relationships which have grown from that.
But I’m not speaking only of myself. What I have observed beyond myself is of much greater importance to me – I have seen that everyone else made new friends, too. As I make my blog rounds now, I see so many people interacting, people who I believe may not have known each other prior to this synchroblog… and I am so thrilled with. It makes my heart smile.
All I really want for each of us is to have people in our lives who understand us, who can share with us and encourage us. For each of us those people will be different. Some of those people will be our “skin friends” and some will be our online friends. Recently, though, I saw a “coming together” online for many of us that I had not expected, and a growing of each of our neighborhoods.
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Hopefully this post has helped to remind you of the key things which came up from the prayer synchroblog. Maybe you never read any of the posts before and now feel inspired to do so?
Following the synchroblog we asked others to comment on what they had learnt through reading everyone else’s posts. A few of the responses are below.
“I learned that many people are learning that prayer is less about the words that you say or the way that you say them. Instead, prayer is more about recognized God as being near and desiring to communicate with us as a father talks to a child.”
“I guess my surprise was finding that there were quite a number of people like me, struggling with prayer, either not feeling like we’re “doing it right” (my issue) or not being heard or whatever. I felt sure going into it that most people would be talking about satisfying prayer lives, and there were quite a few who did, but there are a lot of us who find it a struggle for one reason or another.”
“This process of redefining my faith and beliefs sometimes leaves me feeling without direction. In the past, I relied so heavily upon rules to guide my spiritual life that I wasn’t sure what prayer would be without all the formulas attached to it. To my surprise, it felt free, natural, easy; so much that I think it scared me a bit. Reading the Prayer synchroblog brought me into a community of believers who have found the natural rhythm of breathing with God, confirming to me that this instinctive way I had begun to converse with my Creator was valid and good.”
“The Prayer Synchroblog was a good time of reflection and awareness for me. As I read through the many thoughts on prayer, I felt a sense of freedom sweep over me. We are free to worship and commune with the living God, in our own unique way. With this kind of support, being able to express myself without guidelines or judgment has greatly encouraged me to be me.”
“I enjoyed writing an article on my prayer life. I enjoyed even more reading other peoples articles on their prayer lives. There was encouragement and questions, ideas and routines… all reflecting the very different people we are, and how we relate to our Creator. I loved being asked to be a part of it, because it meant that I’m slowly connecting to a community of people I really like and respect. I’ve been given lots of grace and hope to keep going in this journey..so thanks!”
In concluding, we have learnt that prayer is a personal thing; it is from the heart and should not be legalistic. It is part of our natural relationship with God, which feels to many like breathing, it is a rhythm. Prayer can be many things including creative, meditative and liturgical, there are no rights nor wrongs. Barriers seems to come down in the prayer synchroblog, people seemed willing to bare their soul and consequently new relationships were formed.
Click here to read my original post and to see a list to all of the people who participated.