Friendship, Listening, and Empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Creative prayer nurtures stopping

Lynne Baab • Saturday August 3 2019

Creative prayer nurtures stopping

Have you ever thought about stopping as an important spiritual concept? I was in my late forties before that word had any traction for me.

I’ve written in many places about Dave’s and my experience of the Sabbath when we lived in Israel as young adults (see below for links). We brought our Sabbath practice home to Seattle and continued to embrace it enthusiastically for almost two decades before we started reflecting on what it meant and why it mattered.

When I began to write about the Sabbath, first as a chapter in my book on midlife, A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife, and then in my book Sabbath Keeping, I had to think theologically and analytically about why the Sabbath matters. I had always thought that the word “Sabbath” meant rest, and indeed that is one meaning, but another meaning is stop.

As I wrote about the Sabbath, I pondered the significance of stopping. So many aspects of life today call us to keep moving – busyness, shopping, looking good to others – and these patterns easily morph into idolatry. We will seldom be able to address those idols without stopping and looking at our lives. In addition, God speaks to us in so many ways, but we cannot hear unless we stop long enough to activate our listening ears.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the connections between mindfulness meditation and prayer, and an old friend wrote a Facebook comment about those connections. She wrote that an important overlap between mindfulness meditation and prayer “is giving yourself permission to stop completely. That is a wonderful gift to give to yourself and to honor who you are. In doing so, we can get in touch with our thoughts and feelings and explore them.”

Her words got me started thinking about the many forms of prayer that help us stop what we’re doing so we can remember God and ponder what’s going on inside us. Some of the kinds of prayer that help us stop:

Thankfulness prayers – alone or with others – help us stop thinking about our needs and the needs of the world in order to focus on God’s gifts. Thankfulness prayers also help us see our own lives differently.

Prayers of intercession for others help us stop thinking about our own needs. When we pray intercessory prayers with others, their prayers can help us stop some of our selfish thoughts.

Breath prayers help us stop our restless and unruly thoughts in order to focus on our body.

Praying while walking can also help stop the wandering of our restless minds so we can focus on our bodies and on God’s created world. Praying while walking has also helped me so many times to see my life more clearly.

Meditating on a verse from the Bible, or praying a psalm, can help us stop thinking about our to-do list and all the stuff on our minds.

Using a printed prayeralso helps us stop engaging with what’s on our minds.

Praying silently with otherscan help us focus our minds on God and stop the restless wandering of our minds because we know others are doing it. And praying silently with others can keep us in a quiet, reflective mode long enough to do some helpful reflection about the patterns of our lives.

As I write this list, I see that I am most concerned with stopping the wandering of my restless, unruly mind which so often goes in the direction of to-do lists and selfish needs. This is a good concern. In addition, I believe all kinds of prayer helps us stop our ego-driven certainty that we know best and that we are in control of the universe. Every time we come into God’s presence, we are acknowledging on some level that Someone Else is in charge of the universe.

Gracious God, help us turn to you in a way that helps us stop the restless and unruly pattern of our thoughts. Help us turn to you in a way that stops our silly belief that we know the right way to do things and that we are in charge of our own lives. Help us to stop what we’re doing long enough to reflect in your presence on the patterns of our lives. Help us honor you as God.

Next week: walking and praying the Psalms. Illustration by Dave Baab.

Some links to resources on the Sabbath:

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