Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Creative prayer: Walking and memorizing psalms

Thursday August 8 2019

Creative prayer: Walking and memorizing psalms

I am so pleased that my good friend Steve Simon has written a book about the prayer practice that took his faith from his head to his heart. Steve memorizes psalms as he walks his dog, and then he prays those psalms. Holy Walks: Learning and Praying the Psalms is practical, humorous, and so helpful. He asked me to write the foreword, and here’s what I wrote.

Foreword for Holy Walks: Learning and Praying the Psalms. By Lynne Baab.

When I read a psalm—or listen to a sung version of a psalm—I am invited into something amazing and wonderful. The Psalms encourage me to approach God just as I am, with my messy emotions and disordered thoughts. The psalm writers model an extreme honesty before God that lightens my heart. I see that I, too, can be honest, that God welcomes my anger, frustration, sadness, and pain. Whatever has caused these emotions, however much I blame myself for feeling these things, God says, “Come.”

When I stay in a psalm, something else happens, equally wonderful and freeing. In almost every psalm, God turns negative emotions into praise, thankfulness, joy and singing. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NRSV). For me, the period of weeping is often much shorter than a night because the psalm writers’ words lighten my heart as I pray along with them.

Steve Simon knows this. In Holy Walks, Steve describes the ways he has grown in becoming a person who loves God with his heart, not just his mind. Steve is one of the smartest people I know, and it has been a delight to the see the ways the Psalms have taken Steve’s faith from his mind into his whole being.

Steve’s fine mind is visible in Holy Walks, as he explains the variety of types of psalms, how psalms are structured, and how the language of the psalms works. But even more valuable is Steve’s description of the specific habits that enabled him to engage with the psalms:  memorizing specific psalms, pondering them, and praying them—while he walks his dog.

Memorizing passages in the Bible has been a key practice for me. The passages I know by heart have shaped me deeply. They have given me fodder for thought and prayer. They have helped me draw near to God. Countless other Christians throughout the ages have benefitted from memorizing portions of the Bible, and each person who wants to memorize scriptural passages has to come up with a system for doing it.

Steve provides helpful specifics for how he memorizes psalms. His method may well be beneficial for many readers.

The walking component of Steve’s engagement with the Psalms is also significant. Christians have long underemphasized the significance of the body, and I am thrilled that in recent years Christians have begun to rediscover spiritual practices based in the body, including fasting, pilgrimage, walking a labyrinth, and the stations of the cross. Friends increasingly tell me they are finding joy in a variety of bodily positions while praying. The rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement has always enabled prayer to flow easily for me, and I love Steve’s combination of walking while memorizing, pondering and praying the Psalms.

The strong presence of Emma, Steve’s beloved dog, adds lightness and humor to Holy Walks. The dog, the varied weather, the early morning air—Steve has grounded his book beautifully in the physical world made by God, the Creation mentioned so frequently and so tenderly in the Psalms.

Steve calls the Psalms a “remedy for lifeless prayer.” Amen to that! As I pray along with the psalm writers, I get to experience such a range of prayer forms and moods. In times of trouble, the Psalms help me experience God restoring my peace and joy. And as I pray outside in nature, I experience something wonderful about God’s creativity in our beautiful world.

Because the Psalms, scripture memory, and praying while walking have been such important aspects of my faith journey, I can enthusiastically tell you that if you adopt some or all of Steve’s method as he describes it in Holy Walks, you will grow in intimacy with God.

(For my readers in New Zealand, Holy Walks is available at the Book Depository, where the postage is cheaper than ordering it from amazon.)

Next week: the gift of music when praying the Psalms. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” below (for cellphones) or in the right hand column (for laptops).

Some other posts about praying and walking:

Creative prayer while walking

Friday April 26 2019

Creative prayer while walking

In my late twenties and early thirties, when I was a stay-at-home mom with young children, I took a walk three times a week, My walks felt like salvation, givine me a breath of fresh air, literally and spiritually, and desperately needed silence in my extremely relational life. In the early years of mothering, I arranged various babysitting ventures to enable me to take my walks. After my kids started school, a priority for their time at school was a walk for me.

During my stay-at-home years, I studied part time at Fuller Seminar, working slowly toward the degree that would enable me to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister. When my kids were 4 and 6, I wrote an essay for a Fuller class where I explored the notion of “thinking in the presence of God” while walking.

My walks definitely involved times of prayer, and I described one prayer pattern last week, where I imagined Jesus in a rowboat on Greenlake, and I handed him my struggles and pain, and he handed me peace, love and joy. But I didn’t pray the whole time I was walking. Often I let my mind wander here and there in this pattern that I called “thinking in the presence of God.”

I felt as if I had a companion in my thinking, as if Jesus were right there, sometimes guiding my thoughts, sometimes entering into my thoughts, sometimes helping me clarify a thought or know what to pray for. And sometimes laughing at the ridiculous things I was thinking! I would think for a while, then pray about what I has been thinking about, then return to this pattern I had developed of thinking in God’s presence.

Of course I wasn’t aware of Jesus’ presence or the Holy Spirit’s guidance every minute I was walking. Some of this ruminating was just that – chewing on the details and pattern of my life like a cow chews its cud. But the awareness of God with me kept returning, in a kind of ebb and flow, that fueled my prayers as I walked.

The fact that I had memorized many verses of the Bible and many praise songs and hymns helped me center my thoughts on God as I walked. That combination – taking time to walk in nature three times each week, letting my thoughts freewheel while inviting God to enter into to them, and bringing scriptures, hymns and praise songs to mind – anchored my life and my faith. It gave me mental and spiritual rest in those relationally intense years of parenting small children.

My friend Steve Simon has written a wonderful book called Holy Walks: Learning and Praying the Psalms. Steve has memorized and prayed many Psalms while walking his dog, and the book recounts how he did that. When the book comes out, some months from now, I’ll be promoting it on this blog.

Steve asked me to write a foreword for his book. I’ve been working on it this week, and the book goes to the publisher next week. Here’s a paragraph from my foreword, relevant to my topic today:

The walking component of Steve’s engagement with the Psalms is significant. Christians have long underemphasized the significance of the body, and I am thrilled that in recent years Christians have begun to rediscover spiritual practices based in the body, including fasting, pilgrimage, walking a labyrinth, and the stations of the cross. Friends increasingly tell me they are finding joy in a variety of bodily positions while praying. The rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement has always enabled prayer to flow easily for me, and I love Steve’s combination of walking while memorizing, pondering and praying the Psalms.

I invite you to discern the places in your life where you “think in the presence of God.” Maybe for you it happens while driving or cooking or gardening. Wherever it happens, do all you can to cultivate an awareness of Jesus’ presence beside you and with you in your thoughts as well as your actions. Think about the connections between God’s presence in your thoughts and the way you’re using your body in that activity. And be sure to nurture the prayers that flow out of your thoughts.

Next week: creative prayer in a foreign language. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below (if you’re looking at an individual post on this blog) or in the right hand column (if you’re looking at this blog on a laptop).

Two previous posts about our bodies that you may enjoy:
          Bringing my body to the manger
          My body as a kind of home

Four kinds of home

Wednesday January 11 2017

Four kinds of home

The notion of “home” has been a big deal in my life, a contested and difficult concept. In my childhood, we lived in 12 places in my first 15 years, a pattern that makes a child feel pretty disoriented. In 2011, I came to a place of peace about having two homes – Seattle and Dunedin – rather than having to try to figure out which one was really home.

My 2011 shift in thinking about home (which I wrote about in an earlier blog post on this blog) came from reading Thomas Tweed’s book, Dwelling and Crossing. Tweed argues that we find and create homes in four arenas:

our body
our dwelling place (our house or apartment)
our homeland
the cosmos or heaven

Tweed believes that religion helps us find homes in these four arenas and move between these homes.

I suspect that for most of us, one or two of these kinds of homes is quite comfortable or comforting. And I suspect that most of us feel a bit uneasy or uncomfortable about one or two of these kinds of homes.

For me, the most comfortable arena for my experience of home is the house where I live. I enjoy furnishing and decorating spaces, and I enjoy spending time in the spaces I create. I don’t have illusions of being a great interior decorator, and I’m not terribly picky about my personal space. I simply enjoy feeling and being at home. After seeing so many homeless people during our time in Seattle in 2015, I am deeply aware of the huge privilege of having a house to live in.

Second most comfortable for me would be my home in heaven.  I love the notion that Jesus has prepared a place for us (John 14:2-4). I love knowing that one day this mortal body will be swallowed up by the immortal (I Corinthians 15:51-57).

My least comfortable home is my physical body. When I turned 13, I started turning to food for comfort, which began a pattern of overeating that has lasted for decades. It’s better, no doubt about it, but I still need to grow and change. I love knowing that God never stops helping us grow toward shalom – wellness and wholeness – in every area of life, and I look forward to feeling even more at home in my body in the years to come as God continues to transform me into the image of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Here we are in the middle of the first month in the New Year, a time to look back and look forward. Lent begins in six weeks, on March 1, and Lent is season for reflection as well. I want to invite you to consider the four arenas of home identified by Thomas Tweed: your body, your house or apartment, your homeland, and heaven. Here are some questions to reflect on:

1. Which of the four kinds of home feels most comfortable or comforting to you? Spend some time thanking God for the gift of that home. In 2017, is there some way God is calling you to change your thinking about that home? Is there some way God is calling you to share that home with others in a new way?

2. Which of the four kinds of home feels least comfortable to you? In what ways has God shaped you or worked in that area of your life in recent years? In what ways would you like God to change your thinking or actions related to that aspect of home this year? Write out a prayer describing the ways this kind of home feels uncomfortable to you and asking God for help. Write out your desires and dreams as a part of the prayer.

(Next week: my latest creative endeavor. The week after that: the first post in a new series on worshiping and serving God from the heart. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email notice when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

Some Christmas thoughts from the Southern Hemisphere

Tuesday December 20 2016

Some Christmas thoughts from the Southern Hemisphere

The fruit and vegetable stand down the street offers the opportunity to order some special foods for Christmas. What’s on the list? Strawberries and raspberries. For my Northern Hemisphere readers, have you ever considered those fruits to be essential at Christmas?

Here in New Zealand, the ad flyers in December feature “Christmas specials” on picnic supplies, patio furniture and barbecues. The first time I saw one of those flyers, I had a profound sense of disorientation. Now, after almost a decade of living down under, I can see that Christmas in the summer offers some lovely fuel for contemplation.

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post in an Advent series answering these questions: Who do I want to bring to the manger? Who might otherwise be excluded? My unexpected answer: my body. For much of my Christian journey, I have been a bit dislocated from my body. A summer Christmas helps address that issue.

Christmas in the summer is all about being physical: playing Frisbee in the park, walking on beautiful beaches, enjoying the extravagant roses in the Botanic Garden, taking long, leisurely bike rides. With so many fruits and vegetables in season, it’s harder to want to cook pies or heavy winter food.

With so much light and warmth, getting outside to enjoy God’s creation is easier. Jesus came to earth to redeem the whole creation, and a summer Christmas can remind us of that. All the opportunities for exercise in a summer Christmas connect us with our bodies, which Jesus came to redeem. I have a sense of a holistic Christmas here in New Zealand: Jesus came for the sake of the physical world – including my body – as well as the spiritual world.

Last week I wrote a post for the Godspace blog about Santa Lucia Day, which is celebrated on December 13 in the Scandinavian countries. In the old Gregorian calendar, December 13 was the winter solstice. Santa Lucia, or Saint Lucy, was a young Christian who was martyred for her faith in 304. She wore candles on her head so her hands would be free to carry food to Christians in the catacombs. The light of those candles shone in the darkness of the catacombs, just like the light of Christ shines in the darkness of this word’s sin and brokenness.

In the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere, lights in the darkness are a great picture for Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. But I have experienced the long, bright December days here in New Zealand to be a different and equally powerful reminder of what Jesus has done for us. He has brought abundant light into our lives – bright and long-lasting light that leaves no room at all for darkness.

Sadly, in New Zealand society and even in the church here, the meaning of Christmas is often lost because of the bustle and busyness. If December in the Northern Hemisphere is busy, December in New Zealand is busy squared. The academic year ends in November or December, so Advent is full of year-end plays and musical productions and graduations. Families are getting ready for their summer vacations, and I know I spend a lot of energy on getting ready to go on vacation. Add into that mix Christmas shopping and preparation for family gatherings at Christmas, and no time is left for Advent reflection or the kind of quiet that nurtures a deep understanding of how a summer Christmas might speak to us of the meaning of the incarnation.

Whether you live in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, I want to encourage you to take some time in the days before or after Christmas to reflect on what it means to you that Jesus came to earth. Take a walk, sit on a bench in a garden, light a candle, or just lay in bed before or after sleeping. Wherever you live, think about these questions: What does the metaphor of Jesus’ light shining in the darkness mean to you? In what ways do long bright summer days with lots of physical activity speak to you of Jesus’ coming to earth?

I wish you wonderful moments of gratitude for Jesus.

(Next week: four quotations about thankfulness, the last post in my series on quotations I love. Illustration by Dave Baab: December Roses in Auckland. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Bringing my whole self to the manger

Saturday December 20 2014

Bringing my whole self to the manger

(On her Godspace blog, Christine Sine has an Advent series this year answering the questions: Who do I want to bring to the manger? Who might otherwise be excluded? Here's what I wrote in response to her invitation. The photo is my husband, Dave, on a Christmas hike in Dunedin, New Zealand, on the top of Flagstaff, 666 meters or 2185 feet.)

Who do I want to bring to the manger this Christmas? Who might otherwise be excluded or ignored? Here’s my somewhat odd answer: my body.

Of course, my body isn’t actually separate from myself, but sometimes it feels like it is. Part of that comes from the Christian emphasis on spiritual things. Our redemption in Christ often seems to be more focused on our souls and spirits rather than on our bodies. Another part of my sense of separation from my body comes from my struggles with weight my whole life, which have often contributed to a view of my body as a bit of an enemy rather than as a beloved part of myself.

My conviction that Advent and Christmas are a good time to focus on the significance of our bodies in God’s grand story comes from living in the Southern Hemisphere for the past few years. This Advent is my seventh in New Zealand.

I come from Seattle, where Advent evenings are pitch dark before 5 pm. Here in Dunedin during December, there is still light in the sky at 10 pm. In New Zealand, the red and green colors of Christmas take new forms: strawberries, local zucchini and red peppers cooked together, and lettuce from our garden paired with bright red tomatoes. These are healthy, light foods. Favorite activities of New Zealanders during Advent and Christmas include walking on beaches and hiking in the mountains, sailing and surfing, gardening and strolling among the roses in the Botanic Garden. Here, our physical bodies are not smothered in heavy sweaters and down coats during Advent and Christmas. Bodies seem alive and real this time of year, nurtured by healthy food and lots of physical activity.

At first, a Christmas season full of long, sunny days seemed very weird indeed. I know people in Florida experience sunshine at Christmas, but I seldom had. I missed the candles in the dark evenings, and all that imagery of Jesus as the light shining in the darkness. I missed that sense of hunkering down inside with delicious smells of cooking in the background and green and red decorations in the house. Now the red and green show up in healthy foods, and we focus on the beauty of the light outside and all the growing things we can see from our window even in the evening.

I have come to see the new pattern as a gift, a part of my growth in bringing my whole self, including my body, to Christ in worship and submission. When we think of the incarnation, we remember that Jesus took on flesh in order to redeem us. He didn’t want to redeem just our souls and spirits. Our bodies are an integral part of our selves, and therefore an integral part of our redemption. I celebrate that reality much more profoundly at Advent in the Southern Hemisphere than I ever did up north.

As I walk among the December roses, I remember that God made those gorgeous blooms, just like God made my body, soul and spirit. At this time of celebrating the incarnation, remembering the beauty of creation helps remind me why the incarnation was necessary. Truly I long to return to the purity of what God made, before all that beauty was marred by sin. Truly my whole self – body, soul and spirit – is broken and needs redemption in Jesus.

Yes, this year I want to bring my body to the manger, to bow in worship and surrender, giving my whole self to Jesus.

(If you'd like to become a subscriber to this blog, which means you'll receive an email every time I post something, sign up in the right hand column.)