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Creative prayer: Returning prayer

Lynne Baab • Thursday June 27 2019

Creative prayer: Returning prayer

“Returning prayer is a way of coming back home to God and to ourselves. We leave the ‘far country’ and our false self efforts and return to who God made us to be.” [1]

I found this language of “returning prayer” in a new book on the Enneagram that I really like. The words reminded me of a statement I love from the Church of Ireland Prayer Book: “When we were far off, you met us in your son and brought us home.”

In one sense, any prayer is a returning prayer, because we draw near to God through Jesus Christ, who met us in the far country and brought us home. In any moment of our life, the forces of our culture (materialism, the fast pace, etc.) as well as forces from within us (ego, fear, etc.) try to pull us away from God. These human forces are amplified by the demonic forces at work in our world and in us as well.

To call all prayer “returning prayer” can help us remember that so many forces are pulling us away from God, and we need to consciously chose to return. But to identify “returning prayer” with all prayer dilutes the meaning. I have found it helpful to be more specific. What exactly do I need to return from?

We have a very talented musician in our congregation, Ben Newton. Last Sunday we sang one of his songs, “Bring us Home.” (You can listen to the delightfully rhythmical song here.) The song opens with the refrain:

"Bring us home, God our Father, how we need to know your touch
To feel your arms around us, to know your love
Because you are home, God our Father, you are everything we need
How we need to know you love us, bring us home"

The first verse focuses on the role of the speed of life that we need to come home from: “Our world is rushing by, we are missing the deeper life.”

The second verse focuses on our tendency to run after the many distractions of life that draw us away from God: “We have spent our time chasing distractions from the center of life.”

Yes, we need to return to God when we get absorbed in rushing around. We need to return to God when we have chased distractions that have taken us away from God our center.

I can think of several additional things that I need to come home from. One of them is sadness and grief. My husband’s sister died last month, and our granddaughter will probably be moving away with her parents in a few months. I am grieving. I need to come home to the arms of Jesus for comfort and peace.

The authors of the Enneagram book where I got this idea of returning prayer, Adele and Doug Calhoun and Clare and Scott Loughrige, write, “Returning prayer begins with returning to body awareness. We remember that we are inhabited by the Spirit of God. As we become present in our bodies, we can breathe into our hearts so they open up and return to a place of listening to God.”[2]

I definitely need reminders to return to awareness of my own body and my location in a specific place. My scattered thoughts and unruly emotions take me so far away from this present, physical moment. So for me, one application of these words “returning prayer” has to do with mindfulness of this moment, this body, this place, these people, this work. My body is inhabited by the Spirit of God, but I often don’t pay any attention to that reality.

In the bridge of his song, Ben Newton uses the words “real water for our true thirst.” We can pray that the various things that draw us away from the ability to rest in God will create in us a thirst for the real water that comes from God, our true home. We can ask God to help us feel a deep need to return to our center, God’s very real presence.

Next week: Some ponderings about the ways mindfulness meditation can inform Christian prayer. Illustration by Dave Baab. Words to Ben Newton's song used with permission. His band is called Lightcure, and his playlist on YouTube is "Doubt Melts Like Snowmen." If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" below (for cell phones) or in the right hand column of the webpage (for laptops).

Two blog posts about the giant AHA moment I had in 2011 about the concept of “home.”

[1] Adele and Doug Calhoun and Clare and Scott Loughrige, Spiritual Rhythms of the Enneagram: A Handbook for Harmony and Transformation, InterVarsity Press 2019, page 199.
[2] Ibid.

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