the Empathy List #64: How to Pray / Beyond the Personal Quiet Time
What the Evangelical Church Never Taught Me, Part 4
Hey friend, Liz here.
I gotta tell you, I had a whole other essay about church written to share with you, but it didn’t sit right. (That’ll be for next week instead, and it’ll be about how church isn’t a safe place for many of us. WOO HOO! That’ll be a party.)
Instead, I spent some private, one-on-one, personal quiet time during my car ride home from dropping my kids at their elementary school, just me and the divine, and suddenly, Jesus appeared in the middle of Dexter St. in a ball of fire and white robes just to say, in the voice of one thousand waterfalls, DON’T PUBLISH THAT.
Just kidding. Is that how your one-on-one time with Jesus works? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure the majority of us talk to Jesus the most when our health fails or we’re dumped. If we ever happen to flip open the extra ancient book called the Bible as a way to meet the divine, many of us do it with trepidation… or while nodding off.
I grew up in the protestant tradition where your job, as a Christian, was to write out as much of the Holy Text as you could onto 3x5 cards that you carried around until they disintegrated in your jean pocket.
The point of the cards was to protect against those worst case scenarios of either:
being jailed without a suitcase (preferably for declaring faith in Jesus to a hostile, secular government),
OR in the case you were shipwrecked on a desert island like Tom Hanks,
OR in the case that you were kidnapped by pagan Sudanese pirates who refused to provide you with Gideon bible—you’d still have the whole Bible in your head anyway, as if on micro-film.
In those cases, you'd dramatically transform into the apostle Paul and Silas, voila!, singing bible verses you’d memorized in order to convert the guards and/or nearby pagan parrots.
OR at the very least, I learned that you could measure your love for Jesus by how much of your stack you’d memorized.
Unfortunately, I’m the kind of girl who has stress dreams about being cast in a play and then being required to memorize a thousand-page script—it’s just not my thing. When I speak in front of groups (something I love to do and did often pre-pandemic), I wield an outline and then fill in the rest extemporaneously. I’m not a literal, WORD FOR WORD kind of person.
Which meant, based on my lack of Bible memory skills, that I was constantly disappointing Jesus, I guess?
Sure, I could get into the competition of a sword drill (see below), or the academics of my Christian high school’s bible class (you better believe I can recite the precise order of the weirdest prophets in the Bible’s nether regions), but imprinting exact translations onto my heart? Nah.
But, thanks be to God, I have discovered there’s more than just ONE way to meet the divine
You might have been shamed, like I was, into not fitting the mold of how to meet with God. That can be traumatic.
(For the record, the right way looked like: 30 minutes of ACTS prayer + one chapter each from the New and Old Testaments or a Psalm daily, preferably completing the routine BEFORE school hours so that it would HAVE AN EFFECT on you amongst your pagan classmates = God is pleased with you. The wrong way looked like: any other way).
I could go into detail here about how American, how Western, and how privileged our idea of “personal quiet time” really is within Evangelical culture.
But I understand the desire is good: those who developed these methods desire to teach spiritual disciplines. They want to provide tools to learn about God, in hopes that book learning becomes something more. But sometimes, those narrow practices can leave us without room to actually meet God.
Because whether the formula works for you or not (and it does work for some of you type A wunderkinds), we all go through seasons within faith—say, you have a newborn and cannot keep your eyes open long enough to peruse the onionskin page with that tiny font.
Does God hate you? Um, no. Not even close.
God is tender toward us in every season—the ones where circumstances seem to be conspiring to keep us so busy we can hardly breathe, where we doubt, where we’re grieving and can barely get out of bed, where we no longer feel or hear from God (was God ever there at all?). Regardless, I believe that God sees and knows us and I believe God wants to meet us. (Though, I confess, some days, it doesn’t seem Jesus will ever again deign to show up for our meeting times!)
I want to share with you the ways that I meet with God currently, in hopes that you can find a new path to spending time with the divine presence. May you find new freedom as you seek to try new methods for practicing God’s presence in your life.
Ways I Pray
—Lectio Divina (aka meditative Bible reading)
Using imagination and repetitive scripture reading (especially those narrative parts of the Bible), lectio divina takes a listener inside the experience of the characters of the Bible. It’s the daily practice I use to engage with the Bible.
Or this book: An Ignatian Introduction to Prayer: Scriptural Reflections According to the Spiritual Exercises by Fr. Timothy Gallagher
—Daily Examen (aka reviewing your day with Jesus)
This practice gives you a framework for welcoming Christ to rewrite the story of your day for you.
Here’s how you do it, according to the Jesuits:
Place yourself in God’s presence. Give thanks for God’s great love for you.
Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life.
Review your day — recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.
Reflect on what you did, said, or thought in those instances. Were you drawing closer to God, or further away?
Look toward tomorrow — think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Be specific, and conclude with the “Our Father.”
—The Daily Office (aka prewritten liturgical prayers)
I’m an Anglican; us Anglicans believe in the power of the written word. So repeating prayers, week after week, is both comforting and instructive for me.
Try the Anglican book of common prayer podcast: the Daily Office.
—Visio Divina (aka engaging with Jesus through art)
Jesus does not only meet us through words. Sometimes, he can leave an imprint on us through our eyes.
Try one of these reflections, based on the illuminated text of the St. John’s Bible.
Or go to an art museum and spend time looking (or scroll down to #3 and see whether that work stirs emotion or prayer within you).
—Pray in color (aka prayer through drawing)
Try to pray nonverbally, using colored pencils or markers. I tend to use this method when I don’t have the words to pray for a friend or loved one but they are on my mind.
Get started with Sybil MacBeth’s phenomenal resources.
—Silence (aka listening prayer)
This really is as simple as it sounds: get still. Stay quiet. See what arises inside of you.
If you want more guidance, try this worksheet which can facilitate your experiencing of listening for God (via interactive gratitude and Immanuel journaling).
Or try Brother Lawrence’s ancient method: peel potatoes and think about God while you do it.
—Others Praying for You (aka finding a trusted prayer partner)
You might not feel safe praying all on your own, for whatever reason (or you just might not WANT to pray on your own, which is also normal). In those times, I rely on dear friends to pray with and for me. I text them when I’m struggling to ask for prayer, and when we’re together, we take turns praying for the other. Often, friends can pray for me better than I can pray for myself (and vice versa)!
Note: I’m pretty careful about who I pray with, as prayer is intimate and vulnerable. I usually have 1-2 friends I’ve decided I can trust to be safe spiritual companions. I recommend treading carefully as you seek your prayer person. (Reach out if you want more guidance in this respect.)
NOTE: this email is the fourth in a series in which I plan to explore the skillsets the Evangelical church never taught me.
Even so, there are MAJOR THINGS for developing a HEALTHY SPIRITUALITY that I never learned to do until I walked through the door of a therapist and began shelling out thousands to get well.
So I’m speaking to my people—us Evangelicals. We need to change, starting yesterday. We can do it, together, with humility and tenderness. I want to push you forward on that journey, my friend.
As always, thanks for reading along. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
And if someone you know might be encouraged by my words, would you share this email with them?
What happens when you’re deconstructing your faith, but you don’t want to lose it altogether?
One author wrestles with the fundamentalism of her youth and how her current faith is shifting.
“I’ve been wrestling with doubts, not about my faith, per se, but about the Christian culture in which I’ve been immersed most of my life. Books like Jesus and John Wayne and The Color of Compromise have challenged my understanding of the American church. The best term I could think of to describe this process was deconstructing.
Yet most people I saw on Twitter who said they were “deconstructing” were also throwing aside elements of theology I could not give up. I questioned the religious culture around me, not the Apostle’s Creed. Was I the only one who was wrestling while holding onto orthodox teaching?”
(Answer: Nope. She’s not the only one.)
Fathom Magazine | Read more…
What is visual art good for?
Turns out, it can cure stress, defy aging, and teach us empathy. (And occasionally, doctors have even handed out prescriptions to local art museums to boost the body’s healing processes.)
“For those who have struggled to connect with the mindfulness methods extolled by wellness gurus, art can serve as its own form of meditation.”
Town & Country Magazine | Read more…
In lieu of the previous article’s invitation to look slowly at art as a meditative practice, here’s a chance to do just that.
Surprise! Bill Gates is a train wreck, and Melinda should get all his money in the divorce. (Okay, that’s just my take. You can make up your own mind.)
The New York Times | Read more...
Your microwave isn’t only for popcorn anymore. The pandemic taught one writer to put the clunkiest appliance to good use.
“The chef David Chang, a longtime evangelist for the appliance, solidified his position as the high priest of the Church of Microwave with dozens of photos and videos, posted to Instagram, that display techniques both straightforward—reheating rice, par-cooking vegetables—and mind-expanding.
In one revelatory post, he explained how he nuked some onions and garlic in olive oil, added crumbled sausage to the mix and microwaved again until the meat was cooked through, then tossed the result with greens and cooked pasta. ‘Doesn’t matter if the sausage doesn’t brown,’ he explained in the comments. ‘It’s getting wet anyway.’”
The New Yorker | Read more…
So you’re saying I should take up sewing…? 😬