Cousins From Another Planet
What's a Good Christian Doing Reading the Bible?

Habit, Gesture, Rhythm

"Which forms of prayer are best?  There is no rule of thumb, for the reason that every thumbprint is different and distinct.  Some habit of prayer is clearly wise, for all life is built on habit; but the habit should be under frequent scrutiny lest it harden into a confining shell.  Some gesture of prayer is wise.  Here also there can be no general prescription. . . . [A] gesture. . . cuts a physical channel through which the spirit may flow.  Audible speech has the power in unusual measure: words clarify the vague resolve and themselves carry it into the deed.  Again, some rhythm in prayer's forms is wise. . . . Speech and silence should both have place, for one is active and the other receptive.  Repetition gives deeper and deeper imprint to a prayer, but becomes mere rote unless balanced by newness.  So liturgy and 'free prayer' each claim place and bestow a common good. 

(Presbyterian Pastor George Buttrick, in Prayer)

In the recent couple of years, my favorite method of prayer has been to pray about whatever comes to mind as I take a daily walk.  While it took some concentration, some purposeful attention, I enjoyed the newness it put into my prayer life as I put aside trying to cover a list of prayer concerns, or specific topics, or, in fact, to make any intercession at all.  I even enjoined others to such an approach, citing the example of Brother Lawrence, in a talk I gave.

But I'm discovering that with all methods, all approaches to prayer, it is necessary to keep moving.  Now when I walk, I am too distracted.  I find myself going long distances daydreaming.  I repeat myself.  I have a rote beginning to my prayers.  They begin with a bang and go out with a whimper.  I recognize the signs of calcification, the need to move on.

So what I'm doing now is beginning to focus on written prayers, not to the complete exclusion of my "walking prayers," but as an ordering supplement.  Puritan prayers, Celtic prayers, the Psalms, and others, placing myself in the writer's place, inserting my praises or confessions or intercessions and petitions around the forms that the author gives, and learning, as George Buttrick commends, a rhythm of speaking and then listening, reading and reflecting, sometimes speaking aloud that the gesture might incarnate the meaning of the words I read, make them live in my world.

I recognized in what Buttrick said what I had previously said:  Satan loves law.  He will take the freeing thing and make it dry duty so that it becomes dead.  We have to keep moving, holding lightly whatever form or method we use, because he loves habit.  He uses it to his perverse ends.

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