Recently I was asked to be part of the faith practices team at the ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago.
This group was formed to evaluate the discipleship initiative of the last decade and to determine the next steps for the ELCA. We are evaluating whether we should continue to focus on discipleship as a culture through the seven faith practices originally lifted up (pray, study Scripture, worship, invite, encourage, serve and give) or to explore other ways of bringing additional faith practices to the wider church. We have a retreat coming up during which we will consider this big question, along with data gathered from folks who were much more involved in this early on.
One of the things we will do at the retreat is a faith practices icebreaker. I have to say that I'm not much on icebreakers and this one is probably no exception. In the handout to prepare for the icebreaker, we're asked to evaluate the frequency, comfort level and priority of each of the seven faith practices. Well, I got stuck on the first one — pray. Actually, the sheet says "pray frequently."
Of course, I think prayer is important and should be one of our core faith practices. But I get hung up on what I think others think it should be, what prayer should look like or sound like, how I should pray.
Martin Luther suggested reading the Small Catechism, the Lord's Prayer, the creeds or simply praying the Psalms. But most importantly, he said to do it. When asked about prayer, Luther said he had to make time for it every morning or he would end up postponing it until the day was gone and all opportunity along with it. In other words, just do it. And I get that part. Just do it. Then I wonder, do what? Do I need to sit, stand, kneel, pray alone or with others, use my own words or written prayers — and on goes my uncertainty.
Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote that he breathed his prayers: "The wind comes through the trees and you breathe it." That is a "how to pray" that makes sense to me.
Each morning I begin my day with yoga. An integral part of yoga is focusing on breath. Without breath yoga is just exercise, but it has always been more than exercise for me. Yoga is an intentional connection with my higher power, my creator and the breath of the Spirit moving through me. When I stand in tree pose with my hands extended toward the sky, praise and gratitude rise up in me as if I was singing one of the Psalms. When I close my practice with the savasana pose, I surrender my life and day to my Lord and Savior anew.
When I look at it that way, I realize that prayer is as central to my life as my very breath. I don't need to worry about that icebreaker. I'll do just fine. I just need to let go of what others think about the "how" of prayer and just do it my way. I'm as sure as the breath that is within me that God is just fine with that.
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