Be Where Your Body Is: A Prayerful Invitation During Church

September 14th, 2013

Know how it feels to constantly be on autopilot?  Sunday morning is often an hour of continued autopilot for people attending church. They simply happen to be there rather than at work, home, school, or elsewhere. Their bodies are there. They smile, nod, sing, bow their heads, stand, sit, look around...but have you ever noticed, really noticed, how few are really “there”?

Or maybe you've noticed this in yourself. One way of detection is seeing what you remember later on in the day or the week. This isn't something church-specific of course, it's the way we tend to be everywhere—continually going through the day without stopping, we're constantly onto the next event or activity. Rarely are we present, we're quick to arrive and quick to leave. Consider the ramifications of that on the soul (the individual and communal spirit).

But what if there was a way God invited us to be at church, to be together, not just in body but in mind, heart, and spirit as well? What if there was a simple way to help people transition to really being present at church and to the rest of life?

There is and it is called prayer. But not prayer as many churches practice it these days.

For some reason we're afraid of silence. And we're afraid of anything that is awkward. Communal silence can certainly be fearful and awkward. Even as I typed those words I pictured an angel of the Lord appearing and saying, “Do not be afraid! And do not be afraid of feeling awkward!” This gives us permission to feel both but still follow, still have open ears to hear what's coming next.

Sometimes I lead a time of prayer at my church and since there are a lot of new people each Sunday I'll often say something like, “In this prayer time, we'll have some space for silence and I want to tell you that because in our noisy culture silence can be scary and even awkward but it can also be a gift.” I guess it's a version of “Do not be afraid!” Rather than running away from or taking away the fear or awkwardness in silence, naming it helps people have courage to be in it, and even curiosity as to the gift.

One gift is that silence offers people an opportunity to notice their own bodies and feelings. Their brains are invited to catch up (or come back) to where their bodies are. After all, it's in the present moment that God wants to meet with us, it's too bad we're often not there for the meeting! Our minds are easily stuck in the past (what or who we were with, where we were before coming to church) or launched into the future (what we'll be doing or where we'll be going after church). Noticing how and where we are now, reminds us we are allowed to be how and where we are with God. In so doing, we become attentive to what is happening in the present (the place where God is meeting us).

Silence also gifts us with space to breathe with, rest in, remember alongside, receive from, and entrust all to God. After the prayer, space is opened up within us, even if it is a little space. Remember, God can work with a mustard seed. And now the words of the message have a place to go and take root. All of this happened in five minutes or less, really!

The first few Sundays I led this type of prayer I had folks say to me, “I never thought about silence being awkward but it's so true, it helped me to hear you say that” and “I've never heard a prayer like that, I actually listened and even teared up.” In other words, they were present!

After several years of leading this kind of prayer, rather than the silence being awkward, I have noticed a calming hush falling over the four hundred or more in worship.  After several years folks notice when we've gone a season without praying in this way, they miss it.  Yes, there are still people who are very antsy during the silence but that's okay.  God welcomes us all in whatever state we are in at the present moment.  Consider the ramifications of that on the soul, the individual and communal spirit!

Sometimes it's hard to know where or how to start.  I've used the four prayers below at Providence Church.  During the pauses, allow at least 30 seconds of silence, if not more.  You are welcome to use these prayers with your own church community or tailor the words to fit your setting or for personal prayer.

God, thank You for this weekly opportunity to stop and together reflect on You and on the journey and landscape of our lives. We consider how we’re coming today. We might be tired, feel rushed, anxious, excited, glad, peaceful, breathing a sigh of relief in simply being here, maybe we’re a mixture. We also consider what has felt heavy, weighed us down, saddened, frustrated or angered us this week. And in the silence, we offer ourselves and how we’ve come as well as the burdens we carry to You now.

(Pause for ~30 seconds of silence)

God, there is much You have done this week—ways You’ve answered prayer, beauty Your hands have made, wisdom You’ve offered us, joy we’ve experienced. Help us recall one of these moments in this past week, to relive and offer You our thanks.

(Pause for ~30 seconds of silence)

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

God, thank You for being such a good gift-giver—offering mercy, grace, strength, freedom, and life through the gift of Your Holy Spirit, if we’ll but receive them. Before we can do that, we admit there is much we’re holding onto that doesn’t allow our hands and hearts to be open to receive anything.

We take a moment to open our hands now on our laps, allowing our worries, fears, things we’re trying to control, our desires and even our dreams to fill them. And we squeeze our hands shut reminding us of how tightly we try to hold onto these things on a daily basis. Continuing to hold them in our tight fists we notice the tension, the feeling of grasping.

(Pause for ~30 seconds of silence)

And now we remember Jesus’ words, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-burdened and I will give you rest. Come to Me.” Then slowly we open our hands, allowing what we’ve been holding so tightly to fall away, slip through our fingers, be offered to You, God, until our hands are empty and ready to be filled by You. Come Holy Spirit, we are ready, our hands, our hearts, are open. Amen.

Here we are God, together in this time and place. We become aware of our being here-our bodies in the chair, our feet on the floor, our breathing, other people around us, grumbling bellies and crying babies. It’s kind of like a cocoon, for we’re all invited to undergo change here as individuals and as a community.

This cocoon houses the parts of us we like and the parts of us we don’t like, the parts of our church community we like and the parts of our church community we don’t like. Yet with our consent, Your compassionate presence transforms every part into something beautiful. So we pause to become aware of this cocoon, of ourselves and those around us who are in it too and we allow the silence to become a sign of our consent as a community to Your life-giving change.

(Pause for ~30 seconds of silence)

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

God, “Your mercy flows in wave after wave,” as Mary exclaimed in the Bible. And we’re in need of this bigger-than-the-ocean, more constant-than-the-waves mercy. This morning each of us here is a mix of experiences from the week, thoughts and feelings, gratitude and concerns, hopes and doubts, honesty and pretending, pain and comfort.

Here we are God, just as we are, the parts of us that want to run from You and the parts of us that want to run to You. As we enter the silence, help us to become aware of and receive Your mercy as we picture wave after wave of kindness, love, and forgiveness, washing over us and the mix that we are.

(Pause for ~30 seconds of silence)

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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