When Words Fail

When Words Fail

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It’s been one of those weeks when words just can’t keep up with my prayers. I, like you, find myself tripping over my concerns, my heart barely getting traction to lift up one thing when the next thing comes barreling down. Now, we know God hears all prayers–from the carefully worded prayers we pray in public to the unintelligible gasps of joy or sorrow in life’s deepest moments. So I’m not particularly worried about making sure God’s listening. But prayer also serves the purpose of letting God work in our spirits and in times like this, I need God’s deep peace–a peace I can’t rationalize or worry my way to. It’s not just that I need to voice my concerns to God, like a restaurant patron giving on order, I need to practice settling into God’s spirit.

With this in mind, I created a visualization prayer practice based on the idea of confidence. While Christian tradition does have some imaginative prayer traditions (by imaginative, I mean prayer practices that rely on picturing our prayers in some way or another), other traditions are richer in this way. Generally speaking, Christian tradition has been very heavy on words. So I based this practice on the format of loving-kindness meditation, which has it’s roots in Buddhism but actually came my way through the secular world as a practice to develop compassion and forgiveness. (Learn more at UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center.) If you’re familiar with that practice, you’ll recognize the general flow of this prayer as you practice trusting God with gradually harder things.

Begin in a comfortable position. Many people find it helpful to sit with your feet on the ground, hands loosely in your lap, back straight. I’m not legalistic about this, if you do your best work sitting cross legged on the couch or laying on a yoga mat, do whatever signals to your mind that you’re settling in for a bit.

Picture first a person or situation that is bringing you joy. This might be a child, a spouse, a parent, a friend from church. It might also be an event: the family reunion, the church meeting you attended, the person who helped you when your car broke down. Picture the person or event in your mind. Know that God worked in that situation and as you feel this sense of trust in God’s work, imagine a circle of light surrounding the image in your mind. Say, “I trust God is working here.”

Holding onto that image, picture another person or situation that is bringing you joy. Add it to the circle of trust you’ve created in your mind. Holding onto your feelings of confidence in God’s work, say again, “I trust God is working here.”

Now bring to mind something that is neither challenging nor particularly awe inspiring–something that simply is in your life. Perhaps it’s work, or the laundry or a neighbor you don’t know well. Hold this thing or person in your mind’s eye and pull them into your circle of light and trust. Let that feeling of confidence spill over onto this thing as well until you can say, “I trust God is working here.”

Holding onto those images and that feeling of trust, turn your attention to a situation that is challenging you or causing you to feel a lack of peace. Picture that person or event in your mind. Without losing your sense of trust, add this new thing/person to this imaginative circle of light. Let your sense of confidence grow so that you can say, “I trust God is working here.”

You can repeat each of these steps as often as it’s helpful. Play around with different phrases that are helpful to you. You might try, “I send God’s peace to you.” Or, “I see God’s light in you.” The overall goal is to lift up these things to God but also to practice letting go and experiencing peace.

Let me know how it goes for you–or if you have other imaging prayer practices that you use!

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