What happens when we pray? Does it change us? Does it change God? Is there some kind of magic in saying just the right words?
I think its a multifaceted answer. I think when we pray something happens in us. Our energy and intention become focused on whatever we are praying about. And that has an effect on us, encouraging us to do what we can in the situation.
I think that energy also effects the situation for which we are praying. This reaches far beyond my knowledge or understanding, but there are ways in which our focused energy and intention has the power to actually effect other people.
And I believe that God hears prayer and responds. In fact, I believe both of the above come from God. It is not our power that effects people or even ourselves, but God’s. I believe God is that powerful energy that can ultimately change the seemingly inevitable.
I believe prayer is not bound by time. Meaning praying for something that is to come has effect, but so does praying for something that has already passed. Spiritual things are not bound by the chronos or linear time that governs us, but by a kairos time that is not bound by moments moving forward.
Believe it or not, there is some science around what happens when we pray.
NPR reports on the science behind prayer saying, “The field is called “neurotheology,” and although it is new, it’s drawing prominent researchers in the U.S. and Canada. Scientists have found that the brains of people who spend untold hours in prayer and meditation are different.”
Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg says, ”The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain.”
One of the subjects of Newberg’s study , a Tibetan Buddhist named Michael Baime, says of praying, ”It’s as if the present moment expands to fill all of eternity, that there has never been anything but this eternal now.”
When Baime meditated in Newberg’s brain scanner, his brain mirrored those feelings. As expected, his frontal lobes lit up on the screen: Meditation is sheer concentration, after all. But what fascinated Newberg was that Baime’s parietal lobes went dark.
“This is an area that normally takes our sensory information, tries to create for us a sense of ourselves and orient that self in the world,” he explains. “When people lose their sense of self, feel a sense of oneness, a blurring of the boundary between self and other, we have found decreases in activity in that area.”
After researching the science, I decided to ask some theologians I know.
“When we pray. When we actually pray, a link is made between “on earth” and “as it is in heaven.” This link has impact on both ends. Prayer can cause God to act, though the first place God seems to act is usually on the other end of the link. That is, in the heart of the one who is praying. I sometimes imagine that when we pray about what’s wrong with the world, shootings and the like “God, fix this” God eagerly says, “Yes, let’s.” For indeed, the testimony of Scripture is clear that the normal way that God acts in the world is through human partners.” – Professor of Missional Theology at Dubuque Theological Seminary, Chris James
“one thing that comes to mind immediately is that prayers help shape us into thinking–a bit at least–as God does. It helps frame our life about God’s concerns not mine” – Adam Copeland Director of Center for Stewardship Leaders in Greater Minneapolis
“we engage in a communication with God – optimally, I how we both speak to God and listen for God. Sometimes we/I do more of one than the other. It is an intentional time, an act of piety and Christian formation that Jesus taught and God invites as part of our worship and discipleship” – Sarah Erickson, Director of Life Long Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary
Instead of just talking about prayer, let’s do some today. Here are some helpful directions for some ways to pray.
Take a few deep breaths. Now, bring to mind something that is unjust, something that makes you angry or frustrated, it can be personal or global. Now, stand and firmly push your feet into the ground. Squeeze your your hands into fists, furrow your brow and clench your jaw. Allow yourself to feel angry about the injustice in your mind.
Now slowly relax your brow and jaw, unclench your hands and lighten your stance. Gently raise your open hands as if handing over this injustice. Release the anger and frustration just as you released the tension in your body.
Soften your hands now as if you are waiting for something to be place in them. Steady yourself as if preparing to lift something. Open your heart to how you might take action in the face of injustice. Take a few deep breaths. Amen
Take a blank sheet and some color pencils or crayons. In the center write a name, situation, or issue you would like to pray for. Take a few deep breaths then begin to draw or write on the page in whatever fashion you like the things that come to your mind. Write whether they seem related or not. When you feel as if you’ve finished, take a few moments to analyze what you wrote, drew, etc.
Mandala means “sacred circle” in Sanskrit. Circles appear in nature (flowers, snowflakes, sun, moon, etc.), architecture and are also powerful symbols in cultures throughout world history. In various spiritual traditions, mandalas are used to facilitate meditation and are used in sacred rites as a transformative tool to assist with healing.
Tibetan Buddhist Monks and Native American Indians all use mandalas as a way of evoking spiritual energy, meditation and healing. Psychologist Carl Jung used mandalas with his clients and for his own personal growth. His studies revealed their creation allowed a deep healing to take place from within the human psyche.
Why are circles believed to be so powerful?
•The circle is a symbol of wholeness, continuity, connection, unity, harmony and the cycle of life.
•Unlike other shapes, the circle flows and has no hard edges or angles.
•Circles are believed to help individuals focus inward.
If you choose to color a mandala it will tap into your creativity without any need for artistic expertise. The process of coloring can sooth and nourish you. Coloring mandalas is a great way to start using mandalas in your everyday life.
an ancient image…a spiritual tool…an instrument of healing…a sacred path
What is the purpose of walking the labyrinth?
The purpose of all spiritual disciplines and tools – way of the cross, fasting, rosary, etc, is to help create in us an open attention so that we can receive and renew awareness of our grounding and wholeness in God.
The labyrinth offers an invitation to make a personal spiritual pilgrimage. Often the path is described as having three stages:
shedding: (the way in) – letting go of preoccupations, of other things or attitudes you wish to or need to release. illumination: (the center) – receiving from God, the Divine, the Higher Power, whatever is meant for you. union: (the way out) – joining yourself with God, the healing energy in the world and taking that with you as you re-enter your ordinary life
The labyrinth is a path of prayer for all people seeking the Divine, regardless of tradition in which we stand. It has one path that takes you to the center and back out again. It is not a maze so there are no tricks to it.
Each time you walk will be a unique experience with its own particular feelings, insights, meetings and mysteries:
Some experience silence
Some walk with an urger or a dream fragment that comes to them
Some sense music or words or presence
Some feel empty or find hurts or even hard places
Some are inspirited to dance or to move their bodies in slow, attentive movements
All of these and many more experiences are possible, acceptable, helpful on you walk of the sacred path, the labyrinth
Labyrinths are found in almost every religious tradition around the world.
The oldest surviving labyrinth is carved in rock and dates from 2500-2000 BCE
This universal metaphor for the pilgrim path has roots in Egypt, Greek mythology, Celtic, Scandinavian and native American cultures. Since the 4th century, it had been a part of Christian tradition until it fell into disuse.
The labyrinth pattern was placed in the floor of Chartres Cathedral, France between 1200-1220. In the middle ages Christian pilgrims walked this path in prayer. During the past 350 years the labyrinth has been hidden and seldom spoken about
There is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth as long as the desire to walk is consciously chosen
Walk with an open heart and open mind, bring your own experiences…of desire, of need, or gratitude, of longing
Walk the “holy ground” with your shoes off, unless you need your shoes for support; if you do, please wear them
Walk in this manner…
Pause and bow your head before you enter so that you do so consciously; give the person ahead of you a chance to get started.
Keep your own pace – listen to your body. A rapid pace or a slow one may be your desire today. Feel free to pass someone walking at a more meditative pace.
Respond to another you meet on the path either by making no eye contact and passing quietly or, if you are moved to do so and know the person, you may want to touch the hand or guy the pilgrim you meet.
Before you walk, try to set aside expectations. Whatever happens as you walk – even seemingly negative things – can speak to you as helpful metaphors.
Imagine yourself on a the back porch of a large mountain home. Your view is of a wide and fast rushing river. The sound is soothing and consistent as the water flows past. You sit on the back porch in a comfortable rocking chair. You rock gently as you observe your surroundings, and your worries suddenly seem very distant. On the porch next to you, in a rocking chair much like your own, sits a gently rocking figure. Peace and love seems to emanate from the other, and you feel calm and delighted. Close your eyes and sit in that space. If worries come up, picture them flowing down the river and rushing away.
Take a few moments to center yourself. Now bring to mind a few things that were life-giving to you this week (consolations). Next, think of the most troublesome, challenging or hurtful things this week (desolations). Make two lists of your consolations and desolations. Take a few deep breaths and begin to examen your lists. What are the themes within your consolations? What are the themes within your desolations? What can you do to live more fully into what is life giving to you? Are there ways you can deal with or lean away from those that are draining?
Sit comfortably and notice your breath. Begin to deepen your breath in and out. As you breath in, imagine that your breath is bringing in goodness, peacefulness and hope. As you breath out, imagine that your breath is carrying out stress, frustration, and fear. Continue to breathe in this way for a few minutes refocusing if you become distracted.
Listen to the lyrics, the rhythms, the instruments of the music. Let it deconstruct in your mind. Let it flow back together. Say the words you hear in your own mind. Open your heart to how this song might shape you. Empty your mind and just listen.