Viral Theology #3 – Finding Space for Prayer (brought to you this week by ‘social distancing’)

Like many people around the globe I’m trying to use this period of social distancing to get some things done around the house. Today the task was getting my son’s winter glove off the roof. Please don’t ask for details. The details aren’t helpful. With that safely done (and the neighbours properly puzzled), it’s time to turn once again to viral theology.

Yesterday I received a note from one of my loyal readers in New Zealand (yes, my media empire spans the globe) asking for some reflections on prayer in nature. It’s a perfect prompt because one thing we can do these days is go for a walk. Going to a park or natural area is a perfect way to get out of the house and maintain the two meter buffer from every other human being alive. I’m not big on conspiracy theories but sometimes I wonder if public health has been taken over by introverts. If so, all I can say is that I’m a fan of their work.

More seriously, though, I do think prayer is an excellent practice to get serious about right now. There are lots of different ways to pray, but what they have in common is intention. Walking can become an act of prayer, so can baking or playing the piano. Sitting and deliberately voicing our anxious thoughts to God can be prayer too. What they have in common is intentionality—a decision to acknowledge God’s presence, to listen and to give voice to the things we carry on our hearts.

For me praying in nature is enabled by things like this:

  • Slowing – There is so much going on in one small natural setting (let alone a whole landscape) that it invites us to slow down so we can really see. The old KJV catches this when it uses the word “behold” (e.g. Matt. 6:26). Screens are flat, nature is not. It invites slow consideration.
  • Observing – Slowing down creates an opportunity for observing or beholding. The intricacy of even a winter hedgerow draws us out of ourselves and toward something transcendent. As I recognize the ways soil literally turns shit into nutrients, I’m more apt to think God might do the same in other ways.
  • Connecting – I’ve come to think that an important part of restructuring how we think about ourselves with respect to God’s good earth is seeing the connections. What we forget in debates about whether humans are ‘just’ animals or something distinct, is that we are undoubtedly a part of the community of creation. Seeing these connections is seeing the truth. Truth heals us.
  • Depending – Recognizing that we depend on natural systems for every moment of our life is the foundation of gratitude and wonder. We pray for God’s provision, yes, but often we fail to acknowledge what already is. What is, is amazing and beautiful.
  • Interceding – Knowing that we are held within the community of creation evokes from us a sharing of the worries we have for those we love. Seeing God’s power and attention in the earth’s plants and animals assures us that God is capable of bearing our anxiety.

I could say more I suppose, but hopefully that gives us something to reflect on as we keep our distance, indoors perhaps, but especially outdoors. Walking, sitting or standing—prayer is a thing we can do.


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