Friday, June 8, 2012

Prayer Practices and Possibilities

One of my friends told me about Jane E. Vennard's Praying with Body and Soul:  A Way to Intimacy with God.  I was pleased to see that it's still in print, and so I ordered a copy.

My friend plans to do one activity from the book each month with a worship group, and she's contemplating making it be part of a Taize service.  She asked me which activities I thought would work best.

So much of this book is not what you would expect--or at least I didn't.  I thought it was going to be a movement as prayer kind of book.  I was expecting a meditative yoga kind of book.  But this book is so much more.

My favorite exercise has participants think about themselves as part of the story--it asks who are you in this story?  It's a classic technique. 

But Vennard describes a different process, what she calls moving within the story or reading the Bible inside out (chapter 1).  She describes the story in Luke 13:  10-13, the story of the woman who had been bent over for 18 years.  Jesus heals her.  She describes having participants bend over and imagine what it's like not to be able to straighten.  Then she has them imagine being healed.

On page 98, she describes participants who go even deeper, thinking about characters both before and after the Bible story that's depicted.  It's not exactly movement, but certainly leads to a much deeper involvement with the text.

Other exercises that I think would work well in groups by drawing as meditation after hearing a Bible story (chapter 5).  When I think of prayer and movement, I don't think of drawing or painting, but of course, it's an action which requires movement, doesn't it?

She also talks about drawing as prayer, prayer pictures.  She talks about dreams and how we might utilize them.

She also takes us back to simple exercises, like paying attention to our breath (page 12-13).  Those of us who have done yoga or other kinds of meditative/movement exercises understand the importance of breath.  But much of the population doesn't pay much attention to breath.  I'm amazed at how many people don't really understand how to breathe deeply, how to get that oxygen deep into the body, how to release stress.  A simple group exercise could be to experiment with different kinds of breathing.

This book is full of possibilities.  On page 114, she talks about dancing for peace.  It's not the liturgical dance which might be familiar to so many of us.  It intrigued me.  I'd love to see this bit in action.  On page 124, she talks about labyrinths, a tool that's still unfamiliar to so many of us.

My favorite chapter doesn't lend itself as easily to group activity, but it would lead to great group discussion.  I loved chapter 3, Praying when Our Bodies Betray Us.  Many people might think of the ultimate kinds of betrayal, like horrifying diseases.  But we can feel betrayed by our bodies in so many ways.  A book which proposes that we pray with our bodies can't really neglect this important fact.  Vennard handles it well.

Vennard even includes a chapter on sex, something that I wouldn't want to see acted out as a church group activity.  I'm a good Lutheran girl, after all.  But she brings up important points about treating bodies with honor and about intimate relations that can lead us to a deeper intimacy with God.

If you need a book that takes your prayer journey in a different direction, this book has much to offer you.  I like that it doesn't get bogged down in theory, but gives specific activities to try.  And it's full of activities, so if one doesn't fit, you've still got plenty to try.

So, if you feel summer sluggishness threatening to swamp your spiritual life, fight back!  Start with this book, and choose an activity a week or one a month.  By the end of the summer, you might find yourself in a fitter spiritual shape.

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