Thinking Out Loud

September 21, 2018

Prayer Requests in Writing

Prayer is a language unto itself, but it also uses language, and not unlike the emails and Facebook status you may have checked before reading this, it is language which, while it can be visibly seen, usually isn’t.

The reason is that most of our prayers are spoken, or perhaps cried out, or even breathed.

Still, some of you keep a journal where your prayers are written out. Seeing them often makes what is an invisible practice more tangible.

Others of you perhaps have been in a service where you wrote an immediate need or a long-term longing of your heart on a sticky note which you brought forward and placed on something at the front of a church sanctuary or perhaps on a piece of colored paper which you pinned to a wooden cross.

Seeing the above scene in Europe* reminded me of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Wikipedia reminds us that,

Today, more than a million prayer notes or wishes are placed in the Western Wall each year. Notes that are placed in the Wall are written in just about any language and format. Their lengths vary from a few words to very long requests. They include poems and Biblical verses. They are written on a wide variety of papers, including colored paper, notebook paper and even bubblegum wrappers, using a variety of inks.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall, receives hundreds of letters yearly addressed to “God, Jerusalem“; he folds these letters and places them, too, in the Wall.

Online services offer petitioners the opportunity to send their notes to the Western Wall via e-mail, fax, text messaging and Internet; the note is then printed out and inserted in the Wall. The Israeli Telephone Company has established such a fax service, as have a number of charitable websites.

But the above replica (if that’s what was intended) is made of plaster covered over with chicken wire, in a place available to all people all the time.

It’s a more tangible expression of what we might normally just say, and then the element of walking away, and leaving our request with God is also significant.

Some churches have a prayer request book in the lobby. Others have an email to which you can send requests. Still others will share requests in the main weekend service, although that practice is widely disappearing.

Does your congregation have a vehicle whereby you put either a physical or a community presence to your petitions to God?


*Picture above, taken by Ruth, is of the Heiliggeistkirche Lutheran Church in Heidelberg, Germany

Advertisements

March 1, 2018

Cricket, Cricket

Many of us aren’t fans of the part of the church service where someone leads us into a pause for silent reflection. Part of us dies inside waiting for the sound waves to begin re-commencing. We become aware of our own breathing and then we swallow. Someone coughs. We hope we turned our phone off, as this would be the worst time for our particular ringtone.

I’m currently starting four mornings this week with The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom and Silence, a short book written by Henri Nouwen  in 1981. The book was written primarily to church leaders, but I love how he nails it on this subject in terms of what we all experience in such moments, which, as the rest as the rest of the book explains so well, is something much needed.

One of our main problems is that in this chatty society, silence has become a very fearful thing. For most people, silence creates itchiness and nervousness. Many experience silence not as full and rich, but as empty and hollow. For them silence is like a gaping abyss which can swallow them up.

As soon as a minister says during a worship service, “Let us be silent for a few moments,” people tend to become restless and pre-occupied with only one thought: “When will this be over?” Imposed silence often creates hostility and resentment.

Many ministers who have experimented with silence in their services have soon found out that silence can be more demonic than divine and have quickly picked up the signals that were saying: “Please keep talking.” It is quite understandable that most forms of ministry avoid silence precisely so as to ward off the anxiety it provokes.

~Way of the Heart, pg. 52

I was intrigued by the line, “silence can be more demonic than divine.” I wonder what other well-intentioned forms and elements in our worship services are producing the opposite effect to what is intended because of the way we’re wired? 


There was another line in this section where Nouwen spoke of “driving through Los Angeles, and suddenly I had the strange sensation of driving through a huge dictionary. Wherever I looked there were words…” (p. 38) We crave constant input now more than ever.

There’s another excerpt from the Prologue to this book being posted tomorrow at our sister blog, C201.

A revised version of the book was published in 2003.

A few years ago I compiled a number of quotations from Henri Nouwen. They are collected at this link.

Blog at WordPress.com.