Thread: Alternative ways of praying Board: Oblivion / Ship of Fools.

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Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
How useful do others find prayer opportunities?

I start this from thinking about labyrinths, which a lot of churches now have, Chartres, Grace Cathedral, and I specifically mean the fixed tiles or mown outside circles rather than the structured prayer walks. We have a canvas labyrinth we put out once a month and it usually falls on me to organise and run it.

Has anyone else experienced labyrinth prayer? How helpful did you find it?

What other physical forms of prayer do others find useful?
Posted by IngoB (# 8700) on :
I have never done anything like this, so I'm curious. Could you elaborate on what you are actually doing there? Does this activity simply involve negotiating the labyrinth, or do you associate some kind of mental or voiced prayer with moving through it? Or is perhaps the kind of movement you are supposed to use constrained (i.e, "contemplative stepping")? Basically, where is spiritual focus in this, as opposed to simple puzzle solving?
Posted by LeRoc (# 3216) on :
As I understand it, there isn't any puzzle solving involved in a labyrinth (as opposed to a maze). There is just one path.
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
The idea of the labyrinth as a Christian aid to prayer was a completely new concept to me when I discovered it. I only knew of it in pagan/classical settings.

I have since tried physical ones but they didn't really work for me. Probably because I didn't know how to use them. The one that did work was an online one which was created years ago but is still around. A bit dated in presentation now perhaps but I've found it very helpful and calming.
Posted by MSHB (# 9228) on :
I have done the labyrinth a couple of times as part of some kind of "spirituality day" (or weekend).

While it wasn't some kind of mystical or ecstatic experience, the walking of the convoluted pathway seemed surprisingly like the many twists and turns of life - including feeling almost out on the edge - far away from the centre - just before plunging into the centre.

So I found useful things to ponder as I wove my way around the circle. It seemed a bit like an acted out parable of the pathway through life. Anyway, that was how it struck me at the time.
Posted by MSHB (# 9228) on :
What other physical forms of prayer do others find useful?
I remember once being given a lump of pottery clay and sent off to use it in prayer for a while (60-90 minutes, if I remember correctly). While I cannot remember all the details now, I do remember shaping the clay into a hand and lower arm, where the shape of the hand expressed a prayer.

Over the time, I changed the shape of the hand - it was holding on, letting go, receiving ... the shapes were a wordless expression of the progress of my thoughts/prayer during the session.

So I had time to form my prayer into the object I was creating with the clay. I still have the clay hand, now dried out in the final shape of a holding hand.
Posted by Hart (# 4991) on :
I think I've walked a labyrinth twice, both at Franciscan retreat centers as it happens. As someone said, there's no puzzle solving involved, you just follow the path around its convoluted* meandering until you get to the center. I am used to their being something at the center that feels like a goal. I think one I used had an image of the Good Shepherd there.

How is it prayerful?

Well, first of all, it should be beautiful. The two I've done both were.

Secondly, it can serve as an embodiment of the reality that we're a pilgrim people. We are going somewhere. We can trust in Christ's promise that there is an end, and that he guides us along the way. But we still have to walk.

It's also an ascesis of control. I don't decide when to turn: the path does.

Finally, I've found it those move my heart to recollection. As I said, I've only done it twice I think, so it mightn't do this every time, or even ever again, but somehow it has been helpful. I don't know if I'd want to do it too frequently, though.

* I mean this in a purely descriptive sense
Posted by EloiseA (# 18029) on :
Yes, I say decades of the rosary while walking a very simple circular labyrinth once in a while and there is something about circling, following a path 'mindlessly', a circling path that has no end point really, and saying the rosary again and again that 'switches off' the conscious mind and everything goes very quiet within. The body and conscious mind are kept occupied and another part of consciousness is free to simply be there and worship.

Describing this very badly because I hardly ever talk about what I do.
Posted by Kelly Alves (# 2522) on :
I thought one of the dynamics in labyrinth walking was similar to walking on stepping stones across a pond in a Zen garden- by walking such a narrow path ( the labyrinths I have seen tend to have skinny paths) you are arm- twisting yourself into being mindful.
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
I do know a bit about labyrinth walking, because I have books and books on it. Several comments chime with this:

The narrowness and twisting of the path is to slow down and make the movement more measured and thoughtful - and letting go of the speed we live life.

There are several ways of reflecting on the labyrinth, but one is that the journey to the centre is the journey towards God and the way the path turns nearly to the centre and then veers out to the edge again echoes our real life journeys as we move towards and away from God. Quite a few people just sit or kneel and pray in the centre.

There's another version when you can use the journey to the centre as a letting go of the week and the journey out where you pray about getting nearer to God.

As there are so many ways of praying the labyrinth we tend to tell people to just try it rather than suggesting ways to pray it, although we'll suggest different ways that it might work if someone can't just launch into it. And those of us who walk it regularly find it is different each time.

I've been putting it out and taking it down in such a tearing hurry recently that I haven't had time to use it myself. I tend to sit back quietly and let people get on with it unless they look lost. But when I was making enough time to use it myself I found that it worked better for me if I walked it twice - as I put it out and again before I put it away. The first time seemed to lose some of the week's/month's accretion and the second to actually get me nearer to praying. And to quote something from IngoB on another thread:
as you spontaneously pray, you suddenly sort of go ... elsewhere. This is really quite distinct from the praying and for me at least (the few times it has happened...), there was a sort of going away from things without disintegrating. A "zoning out" while being really clear about all. Anyway, this may just be me, and who knows what it was worth. But a God-given state of contemplation above and beyond the prayer is indeed what is supposed to happen by grace, is a kind of experiential pinnacle.
And again in the centre, there are different ways of praying, some people look to the reredos and altar, others look up to the crucifix on the rood screen, I use the petals of the central section to reflect on different aspects of faith as shown in the art of the church - baptism at the font; music from the organ; the community from the town window; the future; martyrs from some of those windows - it's a tool to open out to others.

I need to go to work, so I'll leave a response to MSHB until later.
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
Originally posted by MSHB:
I remember once being given a lump of pottery clay and sent off to use it in prayer for a while (60-90 minutes, if I remember correctly). While I cannot remember all the details now, I do remember shaping the clay into a hand and lower arm, where the shape of the hand expressed a prayer.

You reminded me of a couple of other things:

Posted by MSHB (# 9228) on :
Originally posted by Curiosity killed ...:

I do remember having some kind of drawing exercise as prayer on more than one occasion. I have been to a number of "spirituality days" over the years, and a variety of physical ways of praying were used.

Of course, the converse of drawing or painting is being given an icon and told to go away and reflect on it for 30 minutes. It took about 20 minutes of looking at it blankly and trying to analyse it before I suddenly "got" it (or at least got something worthwhile from it).
Posted by Pia (# 17277) on :
Interesting thread. Thank you!

I use the labyrinth in various ways (I think - not all of this is conscious, but I've been reflecting on it since reading the thread). I am quite easily distracted, so I find that the act of walking and following a narrow, twisting path helps me to focus my thoughts and to cancel out any external distractions. I tend to follow the 'journey in away from the world - journey out back to the world' kind of model, but this is sometimes more conscious (I will deliberately set particular concerns - usually work-related - on one side as I walk) and sometimes more 'natural' (just a sense of increasing peace and stillness and focus on God). At the centre I try to be still for as long as feels comfortable, and usually contemplate the crucifix above the rood screen, as Curiosity said. And then on the way out I try to hold on to that feeling of peace and stillness while being conscious of the fact that I am somehow re-engaging with all those other bits of my existence that I'd temporarily set aside but which are, nonetheless, part of who I am.

At my church we sometimes use the labyrinth as part of a very simple service, which starts with a Gospel reading, and (depending on the passage, a bit) it can work to relate the labyrinth journey to a reflection on the passage. I also think that it can be quite significant to walk the labyrinth with others: a reminder that the church is a community, that we are not on this journey alone, and that we must needs therefore be mindful of those whose paths cross our own.
Posted by Fineline (# 12143) on :
I tried praying in a labyrinth in a garden of a monastery. I didn't find it particularly helpful for myself. It was a small labyrinth, and it took less than a minute to walk through it, even though I walked really slowly. I was thinking too much about the labyrinth to focus on God. I find it easier to pray on long walks in the woods, where I'm just walking and not thinking about the exact path, and turning corners, and knowing it will end in a minute.

The physical kind of prayer I find most useful is writing down my prayers, or typing them. The act of writing helps me formulate and focus my prayers, and seeing them written down helps me process them. And also I can go back to them and see how over time I've grown and how God has answered prayers.
Posted by Nenya (# 16427) on :
Originally posted by Curiosity killed ...:
Has anyone else experienced labyrinth prayer? How helpful did you find it?

There's a labyrinth at the retreat centre I go to and I like to walk it at least once every time I go. When I was on a week's retreat there last summer I walked it several times each day.

I think there's a lot more to labyrinth prayer than what I've found, but my experience has been that walking it highlights or reminds me of things I know but have slipped to the back of my mind. This particular labyrinth sweeps you right round the edge and then almost into the middle before starting you off on the twists and turns - and don't we often think things are going to be really easy and we'll get what we're aiming for very quickly, and then realise the road is going to be longer than we thought? On one occasion I walked it barefoot and the little stones were agony on the feet - and there are times in our lives when the pain of things is all we can think about.

The first time someone came and walked it at the same time, my own reaction took me by surprise - "Get off my labyrinth, can't you see I'm doing my private spiritual thing here?" although of course I didn't say anything, being a Good Christian Person. [Biased]

And sometimes, like life, it's just a bit of a plod.

I do loads of writing things down as well but I am not very good at art as prayer. One retreat weekend we had to do Earth Art - make something out of things we found lying around outside. I did manage to do something, but I don't think it was particularly meaningful for me or anyone else. [Roll Eyes]
Posted by Ethne Alba (# 5804) on :
Thought that i would find walking a labyrinth was something i had looked forward to for a while. Big anticlimax: for me it didn't 'work' that the right word?
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
Not sure work is the right word Ethne Alba. Labyrinths provide another way of praying. Of the people who come, some return every time we put it out, others come once and rarely, if ever, again, so it's obviously something some people find helpful and others don't.
Posted by Ethne Alba (# 5804) on :
Maybe 'work' is the wrong word, possibly so.

Given my temperament i kinda expected a labyrinth prayer walk to be ....something.

Sadly it wasn't....anything [Frown]

Hints and tips?
Posted by Nenya (# 16427) on :
Originally posted by Ethne Alba:
Hints and tips?

Don't rush it; set aside your preconceived ideas; just do it. [Smile]
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
I would agree with Nenya - don't rush it and try not to weight it with expectations - which I realise is really difficult to do. People who just come in and try seem to return more than those who build up to come and then feel disappointed as it doesn't live up to expectations.

If you manage to go again, walk it once, then sit quietly for a while before you walk it again just letting it speak to you. It's one of those things that is very gentle, calming, slows you down to give you a chance to listen, but you need to give it time.
Posted by Martin PC not & Ship's Biohazard (# 368) on :
Hoo boy! Well, something's going on now I've discovered The Eighth Day. Brother Lawrence's words heated my eye, I know not why.
Posted by JoannaP (# 4493) on :
We are doing a course of alternative ways of praying at church this month and this week we prayed the rosary together. I was surprised by how helpful I found it, as a way of spending time with God, and am considering getting some Anglican prayer beads. Have shipmates any positive experiences to share?
Posted by balaam (# 4543) on :
Originally posted by JoannaP:
We are doing a course of alternative ways of praying at church ... I was surprised by how helpful I found it,

I find it helpful when someone who has experienced a prayer or meditation technique teaches how to do it. I have a poor record when learning to pray from instructions. There is a need by people like me for people who can mentor them.
Posted by CuppaT (# 10523) on :
I've never heard of a labyrinth prayer, but I suppose that is somewhat like what I do sometimes. When I go to church to pray the psalms, and I am tired, or just need to move around a bit, I go around the room and process from one icon to the next, or from one group of icons to the next, praying the psalm in front and then the Jesus Prayers in front of each one till I come around to the front again. It is good.
Posted by Raptor Eye (# 16649) on :
Interactive prayer spaces can help to engage unchurched and young people in a way which draws them into prayer and teaches them different aspects of it, eg giving thanks and regrets as well as requests and questions.

This site shows some of the ideas that have been tried.

I have made clay figures, written prayers on paper leaves or fruit and attached them to trees, stuck post it notes onto a bubble tube, attached Angels and flowers to netting, dropped stones into a pool ( to let go of sin or past hurts so releasing forgiveness), and much more. They can be powerful ways of starting to engage with God in prayer.

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