With calls for social distancing, even some people in quarantine or self-isolating, many of us are finding ourselves with more time than usual on our own. This is hard for all of us, to differing degrees, but it is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to recover sabbath: practising rest, practising solitude, practising meditation, practising prayer, practising silence.
These are practices our forebears knew well. How many of us remember our mother or father, or our grandmother or grandfather, sitting with an open Bible early in the morning or late at night, mouthing silent prayers of thanksgiving or petition?
Yet rest, solitude, meditation, prayer, and silence are not practices many of us are familiar with for ourselves. Our busy, crowded world has pushed these practices away from the ordinary everyday and made them strange, unusual, unfamiliar. During this “enforced sabbath” we can recover these practices. With all our fears and anxieties floating around us and within us—many of them legitimate—we may find in these practices a new measure of peace, and inner strength, and even joy.
Here are a few ideas for developing a pattern of regular prayer on your own or with your family.
Create a time for prayer.
This might seem easy—you’ve got all the time in the world, now, right? But you still need to carve out this time. Turn off Netflix, set aside the phone (unless you’re using it for your prayers!), and create a time for quietness, for reflection, for prayer. Five minutes, ten minutes, a half hour—whatever you need, whatever you can do.
Create a space for prayer.
We often think “spiritual things” don’t require “physical space” and “physical stuff”—but that’s not true. We need physical space to pray. Sometimes, of course, that’s just wherever we are, whenever we need to pray. But when we can, it’s helpful to create a space set aside for prayer.
Maybe it’s a favourite walking path through town or by the lake, if you’re able to leave your home. Maybe it’s a favourite chair by a favourite window, a mug of tea in your hand and soft music playing. Maybe it’s at the kitchen table with pictures of your family in front of you. Maybe it’s a “shrine” you create in a quiet corner, with icons of Jesus set out around you, or a candle lit to represent the presence of Christ with you and within you.
Establish a posture of prayer.
I don’t just mean “physical posture”—though that is important, too, whether you are walking, standing, sitting, kneeling, or lying down. Find a comfortable physical posture, but one that will allow you to stay alert.
Even more, though, I mean your mental “posture,” a “posture of the spirit.” Take a few deep breaths in silence. You may find it helpful to imagine, after a few deep breaths in and out, that you are “breathing in the Spirit of God,” then “breathing out my fears [worries, anger, despair, etc.].”
It may be that this “wordless praying” is all you can do. Perhaps that’s all you need. If so, that’s fine. If you want words to pray, carry on.
Find words to pray, and pray them.
These might be words of gratitude for the good things you have, the good people in your life. These might be words of praise to God for who God is, how God has shown love and faithfulness to you. These might be words of lament, pouring out your sadness or disappointment or fear or even anger before God (God can handle it!). These might be words of faith, expressing your trust in God even through difficult times. These might be words of petition, lifting up other people to God, lifting up yourself to God, praying for specific needs.
These might simply be words like, “Spirit, enfold me in your presence,” or “Lord have mercy,” or “God, help us!”
You might find Scripture to be helpful in finding these words, especially the Psalms, which have been a prayer book for Jews and Christians for centuries. Here are a few specific Scripture passages you can check out if you need suggestions:
- Gratitude: Psalm 100, Psalm 103, Psalm 136, Psalm 138, Colossians 3:15-17
- Praise: Psalm 145, Psalm 146, Psalm 147, Psalm 150, Romans 11:33-36, Ephesians 1:3-14
- Lament: Psalm 12, Psalm 13, Psalm 31, Psalm 42, Psalm 43, Psalm 86
- Faith: Psalm 23, Psalm 37, Psalm 91, Psalm 121, Matthew 5:3-10, Romans 8:31-39
- Petition: Matthew 6:9-13, Ephesians 3:16-21, Philippians 1:3-11, Colossians 1:9-12
You might also find it helpful to use words others have written. The church has been passing on prayers for centuries, prayers tried and tested through every imaginable circumstance (even plagues). There are creative pray-ers writing fresh prayers all the time and sharing them with others. Here are some suggestions to check out:
- “Take Our Moments and Our Days”: an Anabaptist prayer book,with Scripture readings and prayers and suggested songs that follow the church calendar (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and ordinary time); available in book form to buy or borrow here (v. 1) and here (v. 2), or as an app for your phone here (Apple) or here (Android).
- “Common Prayer”: a prayer book with strong Anabaptist leanings, with Scripture readings and prayers and suggested songs that follow the calendar year; available in book form to buy here (full ed.) or here (pocket ed.), or as an app for your phone here (Apple) or here (Android), or a daily prayer posted here.
- “Leading in Worship”: an online collection of worship resources by Carol Penner, Mennonite pastor and now a professor at Conrad Grebel University College; there are many excellent prayers on Carol’s website here or shorter ones on her Twitter feed here.
Finally, here are some resources we’ve used among us before, created by Pastor Michael:
- “Lord, Teach Us to Pray”: a handout available here on “Praying in the Pattern of the Lord’s Prayer,” along with a prayer Michael wrote called, “The Lord’s Prayer for All People.”
- “Soul-Shaping Prayer”: a blog post available here adapted from a sermon on prayer, giving further ideas on praying short, memorable prayers that shape us from the inside out.
May God bless and keep you during this time of sabbath.
May God’s face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
May God embrace you in God’s very presence, and give you peace.