Susannah Wesley (mother of Charles and John) had eleven children. Despite the chaos of a very full house, she prayed daily. When it was time, she sat in the middle of her busy kitchen and threw her apron over her head, and her children knew to be a little quieter around the house.
For many of us, shutdown has brought home what has always been true: that each one of us is ultimately responsible for creating time and space to pray. When churches are open, people can be tempted to outsource the curation of ‘spiritual’ time and space, relying on ‘special’ buildings and other people to recall them to the texts, prayers and practices of faith. Now churches are closed, the onus is back where it has always belonged: on every one of us.
Like Susannah, many people find it helpful to set up a special space for prayer. The typical suggestion is to find a space where you won’t be interrupted, and there place a comfortable chair beside a small table, with a Bible, a journal, a pen, and an object or two of spiritual significance (e.g. a cross, a candle, a small vase of flowers, a shell). Certainly, having a designated space can help you sink quickly into prayer, and it can also recall you to your prayer as you move past it at other times of the day. But I think Susannah would gently smile at these suggestions.
She knew what it was like to be in a house which was simply packed: the sort of house many of us find ourselves in right now. Children and teens remote learning; adults working and studying from home; people constantly tripping over each other. When finding space to work from home is so hard, setting aside a space for prayer feels laughable, and yet there is deep value in it. And so, like Susannah and her apron, we must improvise. Here, then, are seven simple ways you too can create space at home for prayer:
1. Bedside table: (The most formal suggestion!): Sitting up in bed, first thing in the morning and/or last thing at night, can be a good time to pray. Make sure you have a granny rug at the end of the bed which you can throw around your shoulders to keep warm; and keep your Bible, any book you might be working through, your journal, and a pen on your bedside table. Don’t forget The Rattle Bag! Or you might just pull up a lectio divina exercise, centering prayer or the Examen on your phone.
2. Smooth stone: For many years, I have carried a small smooth stone in the pocket of my favourite jacket. Every time I put my hands in my pocket, I encounter the stone. I remember God’s promise through the prophet Ezekiel to turn hearts of stone into hearts of warm beating flesh; and I pray that God continue to soften my hard heart. Alternatively, you could remember the five smooth stones the young David chose for his slingshot; or that Christ is the cornerstone of our lives, and take your prayer from there.
3. Sit on the grass: Just sitting down for a while can be a powerful prayer and political statement. Everything in our society screams at us to work harder, run faster, strive more, but Jesus tells us not to worry and to place our trust in him. Remember the gospel picnics, where multitudes downed tools, sat on the grass and were fed by Jesus. So stop striving and sit down: on the grass, on a step, on a rug. Ask Jesus to take away your worry; ask him to feed you. You might add to this time of prayer by recalling and reflecting on the Beatitudes.
4. Handwashing: We are all washing our hands so much more these days. Copy out a handwashing prayer and stick it above the basin, and pray it each time you are there. As you wash, pray that you might embrace a life of forgiveness (here); or pray that your heart be cleansed of toxic tendencies (here).
5. A hot shower: For many of us, our shower has become the only uninterrupted time of the day. So use it. Close your eyes; feel the hot water running over you. Ask God to wash away any hurts and frustrations; to sluice off destructive tendencies; to relax you and warm you through. Remember Isaiah’s invitation to the waters and reflect on the waters of chaos, of birth, of baptism, of the River Jordan, of the Red Sea; reflect on streams in the desert and living water which will never run out.
6. Get weeding: Others of us are finding ourselves outside in the garden, weeding, often for the first time in years. If you can, get outside, get down on your knees, and weed. As you ease the weeds from the soil, remember the wheat and the weeds and ask God to gently weed your soul. Remember, too, the sower who throws seed around with such generous abandon. Give thanks for the gospel seeds which have taken root in your life: the stories, images, prayers, songs and attitudes which crop up unexpectedly, and shape and guide you each day.
7. Sunspots: Seek sunspots. Sit down, close your eyes, and feel the sun against your eyelids; or simply lay your hands upon a sunspot and let them be warmed through. Remember how Jesus so gently placed his hands on people and healed them. Imagine Jesus’ hands in the sunwarmth; pray for his healing touch.
So there’s seven simple suggestions for prayer. I wonder, how do you inhabit the gospel stories at home? How do you make time and space to pray? Are there methods or ideas you would like to share?
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