Introduction to the Theme

Today, we’re going to be spending some time in silent prayer together—but during that silence, we’ll have the opportunity to be moving.  I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but across the past decade or two, our society has become less and less comfortable with stillness, with silence of any sort.  There are a lot of reasons for that, but all the noise that fills our days can make it really hard to hear God’s voice within us.  It takes discipline to

Martin Luther was quoted as having said, “I have so many things to do today, I shall have to take at least three hours in prayer.”  Prayer helps to orient our priorities and our personal agendas, it helps to keep us rooted in what’s real and eternal and truly valuable, rather than being buffeted around by the whiplash that current events can seem to give us.

Our scripture texts this morning both remind us of the importance of making time for prayer, of creating space for quiet contemplation and communion with God.  As you’ll hear in our gospel reading, Jesus made prayer a priority in his life—even when it meant getting up in the wee hours of the morning to be by himself with God.  He knew that the clamor, and the needs, and the demands of the people and circumstances swirling around him all day would drain him, so he made the time to sink the roots of his spirit down deep into the sacred center of his relationship with God.  If he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have had the power to heal and teach and carry out his ministry.  The same is true for you and me.

As the Psalm is read slowly, I invite you to pay attention to your spirit’s response.  During our time of reflection, you might want to return to it.  I imagine that Jesus may even have reflected on, and prayed with this very Psalm, in some of his devotional times.  One note about a particular word that confuses some people in the reading of the Psalm: the word [Selah] literally means, “pause” or “breath”—it’s a little reminder right in the poem to take a breath there; to pause for a moment and let the words sink in, to let the spirit rest a moment.

After our Scriptures are read, I’ll introduce you to a couple of prayer practices that involve both movement and silence.  And then, we’ll take about ten minutes practicing one of these forms of silent prayer in community.  I invite you now to listen for the Word of God.


“Prayer with Silence, Prayer with Movement”
Rev’d. Tanya Stormo Rasmussen
Congregational Church of Hollis, U.C.C.
19 October, 2019
Week Seven of Eight in Holy Habits: Prayer series
Psalm 46
Mark 1:29-38

[Before we get started, I’d like to invite the colored pencils to be passed around, and please take at least one pencil—if you’re someone who likes coloring, take a few colors in case that’s the activity you choose to do.  You don’t have to use them, but at least you’ll have them if you’d like them.]

This morning, as we continue our exploration of the Holy Habit of Prayer, we’re going to practice using a couple different tools that may deepen our prayer practices at home.  In previous weeks, we’ve examined different ways of praying—using different words for the Lord’s Prayer, for example; and, we’ve considered how our voices on behalf of the oppressed is an expression of prayer; last week, we looked at prayers of lament and prayers of praise; we’ve explored how using different tools that engage the five senses can deepen our sense of communion and communication with God.

Today, I’m going to introduce you to two different ways of praying with silence and movement, especially if you’ve got a mind that is easily distracted or is very chatty.  If you turn to your “Takeaway” inserts, you’ll see two roundish objects on one side of the page—that’s the side I’d like to begin with.  These objects are labyrinths.  More specifically, these are finger labyrinths—scaled-down versions that are possible to be “walked”, or traveled, traced with your fingers (or maybe a pencil or pen if your finger is too thick).

Labyrinths are ancient archetypes dating back 4,000 years or more.  It’s entirely possible that Jesus could have encountered and even used the labyrinth as a tool in his own prayer and meditation practices.

As you look at them, what do you notice?  They tend to have a circular pattern.  Although they resemble mazes, labyrinths only have one path—there are no tricks or dead-ends.  The path always leads to the center, which represents the heart of God.  If you’re paying attention as you travel the path, you might notice that as you enter the labyrinth, it looks or feels like you’re very quickly quite close to the heart or center—but then, as you continue the journey, you feel like you’ve been drawn quite far away from that center.  This is a similar experience for many of us in our journey in faith: when we first come to belief or faith in God, there’s a real sense of God’s closeness, and the power and warmth of divine presence.  But as our journey continues, we may feel more distant, or like we’ve drifted a long way from the heart of God.  So long as we continue on the path, however, we will continue to make our way to the center.

There are generally understood to be a few phases of “walking” or traveling the labyrinth: 1) the preparation, 2) the inward walk, 3) the center, 4) the outward walk, and 5) the reflection.[1]

Phase 1:         As you prepare to “walk” the labyrinth, it can be helpful to take some time to reflect and to quiet your mind and focus your thoughts.  You may want to make note of some of the questions I’m going to pose before we begin:
What brings you to the labyrinth today?
Are you looking for guidance, to ask a question, to be open to God, to reflect on your spiritual journey?
Do you have a prayer you want to pray as you move through the labyrinth?
What emotions are you feeling as you prepare?
What is your body doing as you prepare?

Phase 2:          As you enter the labyrinth, you are traveling inward to the center of the labyrinth, which symbolizes God.  You are walking intentionally toward God.  Expect God to meet you.

Remember, there is only one path; it is not a maze, so follow the twists and turns.

Move at your own pace as you travel toward God.  You might let your mind wander or you might actively pray.  You might recite scripture or you might gather a question for the journey.  You might reflect on things that you need to surrender or leave behind as you move towards God.

Phase 3:          Once you arrive at the center of the labyrinth, rest in the presence of God. Receive the comfort and inspiration of the Spirit.
What word does God have for you?
What do you need to leave here with God?
What do you need to pick up and carry back out from here?
Stay as long as you need to here, in the center, abiding with God.

Phase 4:          As you leave the center, you are returning to the world following the same path that brought you in.
How are you carrying the presence of Christ with you?
What are you taking back out into the world?
Your pace might be the same as when you walked in and it might be different.
It is a different journey, to travel outward from the center of the labyrinth to the world, even though the path is the same.

Phase 5:          After you leave the path of the labyrinth, it can be helpful to take some time to reflect on the experience.
What observations do you have on your experience?
What did you discover about prayer during your labyrinth journey?
About yourself? About God?
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The second prayer tool I want to introduce you to today is a practice called “Praying in Color”[2], a practice that a woman called Sybil MacBeth has designed, and is laid out on the opposite side of your Takeaway sheet.  This form of prayer might come quite naturally to you if you’re a doodler, or if you’re a creative person who has a difficult time sitting still and focusing on a single thought for a time.  And, this form of prayer actually lends itself nicely to a prayer journal—if you keep a book, you’ll be able to see who and what you’ve been praying for, and possibly see how prayers have been answered.

            Here’s how to get started:

1) Write your name for God, however you feel led to address God—Creator, Father/Mother, Spirit, Lord, Jesus, Holy One—whatever name you want to use, somewhere on the paper.  Draw a shape around it, or just let your hand wander as you focus on God for that moment. That drawing becomes a prayer space.

2) Continue to add marks and shapes as the spirit moves you.  Focus on the name you chose for God.  If words come, pray them; if not, just accept and enjoy the silence.

3) To pray for a person, place, or situation, write their name or a couple words on the page and draw around it.  Add color if you want.  Keep drawing as you release the person, place, or situation into God’s care.

4) Add other people and situations—concerns or expressions of gratitude—to your drawing.  Think of each stroke of your pen as a prayer for them.  Take a breath or say “Amen” between each new object of your prayer time.

Now, let’s spend some time practicing these forms of prayer.  If neither the labyrinth nor the Praying with Colors appeals to you, then perhaps you’d just like to sit and silently re-read the Psalm again, or the Gospel lesson, placing yourself in the scene and imagining how you might have felt or responded if you had been one of Jesus’ disciples, first bringing the needy and unwell people to him, then hunting him down with the news that he was wanted and needed, and realizing what he was doing—how might that change your own daily practices, if you’re trying to be more like him?

As we begin, I’m going to say the words of the Prayer of Reflection.  And when we conclude, I’ll invite you all to say it again with me.  Let us pray:

God, help us to live slowly:
To move simply:
To look softly:
To allow emptiness:
To let the heart create for us.  Amen.[3]

Invitation to the Pledge-Receiving Moment:

A final form of prayer with movement.  Today is our Stewardship Pledge Sunday.  This is the day when we ask everyone to make a prayerful commitment to support the financial needs of this church’s ministry with a pledge.

Our Stewardship Board has sent letters of appeal to every member and contributor to this church, and we hope you’ve had a chance to reflect and pray about how God is inviting you, and all of us, to Grow in Faith Together as you make this commitment.

None of us knows for sure that we will be able to fulfill our pledge.  We simply assess what has been entrusted to us, the measure with which we have been blessed, and we make a commitment to share as significant a portion of that measure of blessing as we can here.  It’s a mark of our faith in God that we commit to something that will help us to stretch a bit, that we willingly sacrifice, in order to identify more closely with the One who showed us that fearless sacrifice is the only way to experience the fullness of eternal life.
A financial pledge is also a mark of our faith in this community, that the gifts we offer are being put to good use in service of God’s work through us and our community.  It’s also a mark of our faith that—should something happen and we can’t fulfill our pledge—we trust will be cared for and supported with compassion and companionship as we continue our journey together in faith.

And so now, I invite you during this time of Offering, to take a few minutes to reflect on the pledge you are making and prayerfully commit it to God.  When you feel ready, please continue your personal prayer of dedication as you come forward and place any offering you brought for this Sunday, along with your pledge for next year’s annual budget, in the plate.

[1] What follows is taken from and liberally adapted from: https://sacredordinarydays.com/blogs/news/prayer-labyrinth-journey

[2] https://prayingincolor.com/

[3] by Michael Leunig.

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