I had an amazing day yesterday at the ‘Developing a Contemplative Prayer Life’ day, facilitated amazingly by Julie Dunstan from the London Centre for Spirituality.
Essentially, this was a day of prayer … real engaging prayer! Often I have been to ‘prayer’ days when there has been a lot of talk about prayer, a lot of sharing of the struggles of prayer, a lot of looking at the bible to see how people of the past prayed, a lot of sharing of practices that we find helpful ….. but those days and events have never particularly had a lot of prayer in them.
This day was different.
We had loads of space to pray and practice …. and I guess this was my first real experience of ‘practicing’ prayer in a space with others and then having the opportunity afterwards to chat about how it felt, and what came up and so on. I had this thought, really, of how bizarre it is that in church we practice/rehearse music, we practice/rehearse drama and we will set up tables and chairs in preparation for some event … but we don’t really give people an opportunity to practice different types of prayer. We seem to say prayer is important and tyhen expect everyone to know how to do it!
Yesterday I spent a large part of the day practising how to pray, and then talking with people about it afterwards.
Julie took us through five different types of contemplative prayer, some of which I have used in the past, and some that were totally new to me.
I really loved the format of the day. Julie started each session with a poem and then a brief outline of the type of prayer. She would then lead us through that prayer for 20/25 minutes. We were then given a further 10 mins to reflect alone on that type of prayer and how we found it and what, if anything, that God brought up. We then shared with someone else what we were thinking. This was an amazingly relaxed yet deep way of progressing through the day.
We looked at prayer using our imagination with scripture, asking ourselves the question ‘where would I put myself in this story?’ Carl Jung said ‘the imagination is the bridge between the head and the heart’. I particularly resonated with this type of prayer. Whether that is due to myself finding myself leaning to the more creative sides of things (right brained thinker and all that) i don’t know, but straight away I was aware of an amazingly powerful connection with God.
We then prayed in a Lectio Divina style … chewing and turning over a particular phrase of word from Isaiah 55. This, again, was a rich fruitful experience.
After the lunch break Julie led us through a body prayer. Essentially this is what is says on the tin … we used our bodies to say the Lords Prayer. This was fun … although I admit to moving to the back of the church so no one could see me, ….. and although it was fun I did kind of agree with a friend who, in the feedback, expressed that he ‘felt a bit of a dick head!’ Although I did, I found some of the postures quite powerful in their allusions to vulnerability and, on a personal note, that is always a useful place to find myself in front of God.
For me, the hardest part of the prayer day was Christian meditation … but i think that is because it cam straight after lunch. I had a bit of a struggle to stay awake …. despite what people may say it’s not an age thing … just I had a full belly and was asked to make myself comfortable and sit silently repeating my meditation word. The word I use at home when I meditate is ‘maranatha’ … not because it is a particularly spiritual word, but more that it is a word that does not bring up any distracting images for me.
We finished the day using the Examen, which is a practice I use regularly. It’s a method of prayer that I love ending my day with as it helps me to look back over the day and identify where God was at work.
So … a great day … thanks Ian for organising this.