50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Timesby Teresa A. Blythe
For individual or group use
“It is my hope that this book will provide at least fifty ways you may take steps in a lifelong walk with God. It is written for you, the seeker and sojourner, as well as you, the church leader, youth minister, retreat facilitator, or worship planner. It is for all of us who thought we only knew one way to/p>/p>/em>… See more details below
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For individual or group use
“It is my hope that this book will provide at least fifty ways you may take steps in a lifelong walk with God. It is written for you, the seeker and sojourner, as well as you, the church leader, youth minister, retreat facilitator, or worship planner. It is for all of us who thought we only knew one way to pray.”
--from the introduction
The explosion of interest today in Christian mystics, ancient prayer practices, and guided meditations speaks to a need for more hands-on tools that will help us pray in traditional as well as new and exciting ways. This book is intended to address that need.
Each of the exercises includes not only instructions on how to use it as a prayer practice, but also some background, an introduction, a statement of intention, and tips to help you become comfortable with the practice. For those of you wanting to lead these practices in a group, there are special instructions and information in the Leader’s Guide at the end of the book.
“Rich with wisdom drawn from the wellsprings of Western spirituality, this remarkable book is a sustained experience of spiritual direction offered by a seasoned spiritual guide.”
-John S. Mogabgab, editor of Weavings journal
“This is a basic, balanced, and accessible guide to the variety, promise, and practice of prayer. Read it to deepen your understanding of prayer; use it to deepen your life in God.”
-Frederick W. Schmidt, author of What God Wants for Your Life
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Table of Contents
Teresa A. Blythe is a writer, spiritual director, and frequent conference speaker on topics of popular culture and spirituality. She has co-authored Meeting God in Virtual Reality and Watching What We Watch, along with numerous essays and reviews for Beliefnet, Spirituality & Health, and Publishers Weekly. Teresa serves as Program Coordinator for the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson, AZ.
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Read an Excerpt
50 Ways to Pray
Practices from Many Traditions and Times
By Teresa A. Blythe
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2006 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
THE BIBLE is a wonderful starting point for exploring Christian spirituality. Though you may be familiar with a scholarly approach to the Bible, these exercises will not be academic in nature. They are more about ruminating and mining Scripture for wisdom that applies to our inner being than they are about digging in the history, context, and authorship—all meaningful pursuits in Bible study. Many of the exercises here focus on a question posed by Jesus or by the story itself and how we might answer it after much consideration and prayer.
The challenge in reflecting on the Bible is that the Bible is so many things to so many people. For some Christians, it is the inerrant word of God given to humanity directly by God to instruct us in salvation. For others, it is not the last word about God's love of creation, but rather the start of a centuries-long dialogue between humans and the Creator. For our purposes, the Bible will be a tool for digging deeper into our souls for faith development—not primarily a guidebook or outside authority.
Our approach to Scriptures in this chapter is very much in keeping with the way Scriptures have been read by the faithful for eons—as a love letter with many important questions we want to ponder together.
Meditation on the Heart's Longing
Jesus was famous for asking important questions. The questions of Jesus are an excellent starting place for spiritual practice. I have used variations of this exercise alone, in retreats, and in individual spiritual direction sessions to help people focus on the longing of their hearts. Hearing the words from Jesus legitimizes the question for many devout Christians. This exercise may be revisited time and time again, because invariably our heart's longings change as our journeys evolve.
Responding to the voice of Jesus as he asks, "What are you looking for?"
Start with a period of silence. Pray for the Spirit's guidance in discovering your heart's deepest desire.
Read John 1:35-38 slowly once.
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?"
Allow two minutes of silence.
Read the passage again, slowly.
Allow two minutes of silence.
Consider: What are you looking for this day? If Jesus were to ask you this question, what would you say? What are you searching for? What are you longing for?
Spend about ten minutes in silence considering the question. Write an answer.
End your reflection by noticing where you felt particularly close to God or Jesus in this exercise. Where did you feel a sense of God's Spirit? Where did you feel the Spirit blocked? What contributed to freedom of the Spirit? What contributed to blocks of the Spirit?
Dialoguing with Scripture
Scripture doesn't have to be one-way communication. It invites us to respond, question, debate, and celebrate its offering. When we begin to "talk back" to Scripture, it comes alive and becomes interactive. Our critical thinking skills engage with our spiritual "feelers," strengthening our faith.
A deepening of faith as we connect intellectually and spiritually with a figure in Scripture.
Choose one of the following Scriptures for reflection:
Exodus 1:8-22—The Hebrew midwives fear God
Exodus 18:13-27—Jethro's advice to Moses
1 Samuel 3—The call of Samuel
Mark 9:14-29—Jesus heals the afflicted boy
Luke 8:22-25—Jesus calms a storm
Luke 10:25-37—The Good Samaritan
Luke 10:38-42—Jesus visits Martha and Mary
Luke 19:1-10—Jesus and Zacchaeus
Read the selected Scripture slowly. You may want to read it more than once.
Consider which character in the story you would like to interact with. It could be a person you find agreeable, or a person you want to question or debate with. Who are you drawn to? When you decide on a character, write the name at the top of your paper.
Hold an imaginary conversation—on paper—with the character in the story. You may want to stick with the theme of the Scripture and talk about that, or you may want to discuss other topics. It is completely up to you. Let your imagination roll free and see what transpires. (20 minutes)
When you are finished, read your dialogue aloud.
What is it like to have a conversation with a biblical figure? Why did you choose the character you chose? Did anything in the conversation surprise you? Did anything in the conversation move you? Did you feel any inner blocks to doing this sort of exercise? Did you feel the presence and guidance of God in the dialogue? What did you learn about yourself as you engaged this biblical figure? How easy or difficult is it for you to have these kinds of imaginary conversations? How useful would you say such conversations are for you?
End your reflection time with a prayer of gratitude for what you experienced.
Listening to Wisdom
Biblical Wisdom literature is rich soil for spiritual gardening. The beauty of this genre is that it is almost entirely devoted to describing the human being's experience of God—something the seeker in us can relate to. What you don't find in Wisdom literature is a lot of talk about salvation. The writers were more interested in providing instructions for how to live along the way.
Jesus would have been very familiar with the images and philosophies that appear in Wisdom literature. So, it is not surprising that the two passages chosen for reflection in this exercise have historical connections.
Linking God's wisdom to our own.
Sirach 6:18-19, 24-28 (found in the Apocryphal-Deuterocanonical portion of the Bibles used by Orthodox and Catholic churches)
Blessings of Wisdom
My child, from your youth choose discipline,
and when you have gray hair you will still find wisdom.
Come to her like one who plows and sows,
and wait for her good harvest.
For when you cultivate her you will toil but little,
and soon you will eat of her produce....
Put your feet into her fetters,
and your neck into her collar.
Bend your shoulders and carry her,
and do not fret under her bonds.
Come to her with all your soul,
and keep her ways with all your might.
Search out and seek, and she will become known to you;
and when you get hold of her, do not let her go.
For at last you will find the rest she gives,
and she will be changed into joy for you.
Read Matthew 11: 28-30:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Spend the next ten minutes silently reading each passage slowly and carefully, looking for a word of instruction for your life. What do you hear or read that seems to be speaking just to you right now? Write down your word or words of instruction.
Now reflect even more deeply on the word or words of instruction. How exactly might you live out the instruction this week? Write down your thoughts on the action that it prompts.
Of the two passages you read, which did you find most meaningful? Why? What was it like to reflect on a word or words of instruction? Do you generally respond well to receiving instruction from others? What is it like to receive instruction from God or God's word? Was any part of this exercise difficult for you? Did you feel a resistance to any part of it? If so, can you name the resistance? In what way is reflecting on Wisdom literature different from reflecting on a parable of Jesus? Or a gospel narrative?
End with a prayer of gratitude to God for the gift of God's wisdom to us.
What Do You Want from God?
Spiritual director and retreat leader Kay Collette of San Rafael, California, uses this guided meditation to help people get in touch with their feelings about God and what they desire from God. She teaches that our deepest desires are keys to knowing our self and God. Many of us are used to feeling that God has expectations of us, but feel somehow ashamed that we have expectations of God. This Scripture passage invites us to share those expectations openly.
This exercise is a Scripture reflection much like ones St. Ignatius—sixteenth century founder of the Jesuit Order and author—suggests in his Spiritual Exercises. Ignatian spirituality, with its emphasis on finding God in our ordinary, daily lives, will be explored in many upcoming exercises as well.
Becoming deeply honest with God about our desires.
Read Mark 10:35-40 through twice, slowly.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
After reading, make yourself comfortable and prepare for an imaginative journey. You may write your responses to the questions in the guided meditation.
Now, keeping the Mark 10 passage close by, slowly read the following guided meditation, stopping at the end of every sentence to let your imagination roll.
Imagine that you are in the company of James, John, and Jesus. Notice the surroundings. What does the setting look like? What time of day is it? What is the temperature? Imagine, feel, and—in your mind's eye—enter the scene.
Now James and John make their request of Jesus: "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." What is your reaction? What do you want to say to James and John? What do you want to say to Jesus? Notice how everyone in the scene is relating to one another. Has anything about the setting changed? Stay rooted in the scene.
Listen as Jesus responds: "What is it you want me to do for you?"
For a moment, let James and John's reply about sitting in glory at the right and left hand of Jesus, fade into the background. Imagine that Jesus is asking you the question.
"What is it you want me to do for you?" How do you answer?
"What is it you want me to do for you?" What is your most honest reply?
"What is it you want me to do for you?"
Now that you have answered Jesus' question, what response do you hear from Jesus to your request?
Open up the conversation to include James, John, Jesus, and yourself. Other people may have joined in, which is fine. Listen to what each person in the conversation has to say.
Now it's time to wrap up this conversation. Silently speak to each person, expressing your appreciation for what they had to offer. Say a special thanks to Jesus for asking the question.
Now slowly and gently bring your attention to the present.
Step outside the imaginative prayer and reflect upon what it was like to pray with your imagination. What physical setting did you "see" in your mind's eye? What did you say to James and John after their initial statement to Jesus? What response did you have to Jesus' question? Did the response change during the repeating of the question and the silence? What did any of the other characters say in response to your request? Did any figures other than James, John, and Jesus show up for you? Did the imaginative reflection take any unexpected twists or turns? Did you feel any reluctance to praying in this way? If so, what were you feeling? Did the prayer time make the discomfort fade or become stronger?
End with a few words of gratitude for this experience.
Stages of the Journey
Like the children of Israel after the exodus, we are all on a wilderness journey that we trust is leading to the promised land. In this exercise, we reflect on what stage of the journey we are presently in. Are we trekking along the arduous route in the wilderness? Are we resting at the way station of Mount Horeb? Or are we making that risky but hope-filled march into the promised land? It is important to note not only where we are on the journey, but also where we long to be.
The people of Israel were especially fond of Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai) because it was where Moses received important revelation from God. Still, the people were in a holding pattern—no longer in Egypt and not yet in their promised land.
No stage of the journey is less important than another. What is important is listening to the voice of God, as Moses did when he heard God say, "You have stayed long enough at this mountain."
Remembering the stages of our spiritual journey and observing how God interacts with us along the journey.
Read Deuteronomy 1:6-8 twice, slowly:
The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying, "You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Resume your journey, and go into the hill country of the Amorites as well as into the neighboring regions—the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, and the seacoast—the land of the Canaanites and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land that I swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them and to their descendants after them."
On a sheet of paper, in any form you choose, create a timeline of your own spiritual journey, considering the various stages of the people of Israel's journey:
The Egypt stage. Think about a pivotal point in your life, a time when you needed some kind of deliverance. It does not necessarily have to be a time of great oppression or hardship, but it could be. What was your Egypt? Somewhere on your page, make a note or an image indicating an Egypt stage.
The Wilderness stage. Now think about the time that followed the exit from your Egypt. Did it involve wandering or seeking? Were there some stops along the way? Some highlights or lowlights? Spend a few minutes thinking about a wilderness stage in your life. If it helps, draw a line from Egypt (doesn't have to be straight!) to indicate the wilderness trek.
The Mount Horeb stage. Along your life's journey, was there a time of revelation for you? A resting place? An event for which you have fond memories? Make a note or an image indicating your Mount Horeb stage. Is it connected to the wilderness trek? If so, connect your line to your Mount Horeb.
Stay at your symbolic Mount Horeb for a few minutes in silence. As you reflect on Mount Horeb, can you remember a time when you felt God indicating it was time to move on? Remember what it felt like for God to say something like, "You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Resume your journey and go into the promised land." If you cannot think of an experience like that, imagine what it might have felt like for the people of Israel to hear God say that to them. You may want to write a few words about that feeling.
The Promised Land. Now, somewhere on your page, make a note or image indicating the promised land. What is that for you? What has God promised to you? What do you need to move toward? If you feel you have arrived at the promised land, think about any connections between your Mount Horeb experiences and where you ended up. Was it hard to move from Mount Horeb to the promised land? If you have no idea what the promised land is for you, think about how the people of Israel may have felt when God told them to take possession of the land set before them.
Bring your attention now to the present. Which stage do you feel you've spent the most time in?
Which stage are you in now? Is the metaphor of journey meaningful? Why or why not? What stage of the Israelites' journey do you find most interesting or helpful for your life? What, if anything, about the passage meant the most to you? What, if anything, about the passage disturbed you?
End your reflection by writing a word or two of gratitude to God for the journey you are on.
Excerpted from 50 Ways to Pray by Teresa A. Blythe. Copyright © 2006 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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