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

Spiritual practices and “life-giving, non-cerebral prayer”

Lynne Baab • Tuesday August 29 2023

Spiritual practices and “life-giving, non-cerebral prayer”

After my first post on Christian meditation, where I discussed the purpose of meditation for Christians, I got an interesting email from my friend Viv. She describes herself as “an ‘active senior’ Presbyterian minister who has also served in the Baptist movement." In Viv’s email, she said she “lives in the cognitive” and is a “studious introvert whose main pathway to the sacred is thinking and sorting.” Viv wrote that she has learned that many spiritual disciplines can “lift me into God's presence in life-giving, non-cerebral prayer.” She believes that too often we look to spiritual practices to help us live in a predictable way and feel safe. She said as a person whose spirituality has been so heavily cognitive, she needs encouragement to “step into the unknown.”

Viv mentioned the interchange between Susan, Lucy, and Mr. Beaver in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe when Susan says she is nervous about meeting the lion Aslan, C. S. Lewis’s Christ figure. Both Susan and Lucy wonder if he’s safe. Mr. Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” [1]

My friend mentioned numerous spiritual practices that have helped her experience “life-giving, non-cerebral prayer.” As I list them, I will provide links to posts in this series or elsewhere on this blog about those practices:

Referring to my post where I described possible purposes of Christian meditation, Viv wrote, “I love all your proposed ‘purposes,’ especially ‘experiencing Jesus’s companionship in daily life.’” Her words made me realize that when I think about walking with Jesus, I think mostly of receiving encouragement, peace, and empowerment as I talk with him. But as I thought more deeply, I recognized that I also receive Holy Spirit nudges to do things I don’t actually want to do, such as show care to someone I’d rather avoid, pray for people on the other side of the political spectrum, or look again at how much money we can give away this year. Those unexpected and uncomfortable nudges are some examples of God's guidance through prayer that leads me into “stepping into the unknown.”

Over the past five years, I have experienced a growing passion to help people pray more often and more easily. I want to provide resources, information, and encouragement so my readers can develop habits that make it comfortable to enjoy God’s presence. I want to help people identify the places and situations where prayer comes easily, and I want to encourage them to go there. I want to encourage the kinds of Bible reading, Bible study, experience of nature, and reflection that lay a strong foundation for prayer. Basically, I want to make prayer more natural and comfortable.

Viv’s email made me realize that I have neglected to emphasize the distinctly uncomfortable aspect of drawing near to Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit. This Lion of the Tribe of Judah, who is good but not safe, demands our whole beings and pushes us into uncomfortable actions so we will reflect his values and show his love.

The goodness of this Lion, King Jesus, brings transformation in the midst of the challenges of following him.

When we pray in ways that open us to hear the Holy Spirit’s nudges, and when we respond in obedience, we are being transformed into the image of Jesus. We become more like this beloved Savior, Friend, and King, who knew exactly who he was and what his purpose on earth was. He walked in close communion with his Father, and “for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). I want that joy.

God who made us and calls us Beloved, God who redeemed us and made us whole, give us eyes and ears to perceive the ways you invite us into life-giving, non-cerebral prayer. Help us listen when you call us to do the unexpected. Help us embrace stepping into the unknown. We do want to be transformed into your image, and we ask that you give us your peace and joy in the midst of all of it.

(Next week: Spiritual practices, being/doing, and prayer. This is the 16th post in a series on spiritual practices and prayer. If you’d like to learn more about spiritual practices, the first post of the series is here. That post also has a list of all the posts in the series thus far. Illustration by Dave Baab: Karitane, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

Since I’ve given you so many links to previous posts in the bullet points above, this week I want to highlight my latest book, Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Life, available in paperback, audiobook, and for kindle. The book is based on a quotation about the importance of learning to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. That quotation, which I came across right before the pandemic, gave me a significant shift in perspective. I had believed that if we embrace thankfulness enough, we won’t feel grief. Instead, so much of the Bible encourages us to grieve human brokenness at the same time as we thank God for the amazing gifts around us.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: Macmillan, 1950), 64.

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