Friday, 28 June 2013

5: Posture

How much do you think about what you do with your body when you pray?

We all remember from primary school being told 'Hands together, Eyes closed'. The idea of that is to stop distractions. Hands together means you aren't fiddling, eyes closed means you aren't distracted by what you can see around you.

Scientists are continually finding more connections between our bodies and our minds. We are not just a mind in a body, like a computer in a case. Our bodies are part of us, and what we do with our bodies can shape our thinking.

At its simplest, try this: smile. You actually feel happier when you make the muscle movements that are a smile, even if you are just acting. Maybe thats why funny cat videos are so popular?

How many different physical ways of praying can you think of?

Originally, in Roman times, people seem to have stood to pray, with their arms outstretched. If you go to an Anglican or Catholic church, the position of the priest during the communion prayer is a descendent of this.

Kneeling became fashionable in the middle ages. It was a position that people were used to because you knelt before a lord, or the King. Kneeling was used because as people began to have a more personal idea of God, they related to God as they would to their social superior. A similar theme can be seen in other cultures, such as Islamic prostration on prayer mats, which again imitates the kind of posture used in the presence of a king or superior in Eastern medieval culture.

In some times and places, people lie on the floor to pray. This is called prostration, and it is usually kept for particularly serious times of prayer. In some churches now, this is used on Good Friday, or at ordinations of new clergy. In the past, monks or nuns might pray all night lying on the floor before taking vows to join the monastery, and a knight might do the same before a battle, perhaps.

Nowadays, the most common posture for prayer is sitting down. Differences are mostly about what you do with your hands: clasped together? Flat together? Open on your knees, as if you are waiting to receive something from God? In the air, as if you are carried away at a rock concert or celebrating a goal?

Today, try several different postures for prayer, and see how they make you feel about the relationship between you and God.

Go to your room, or somewhere you know you won't be disturbed, so you don't feel embarrassed at being found in different positions! Then try standing, with your arms out (like a priest at the altar). Imagine you are standing before God. How does it feel to be in front of God like this?

Next, kneel down (either on one or two knees). This is rather like kneeling before the monarch to be knighted; or pleading with a lord for some favour, or mercy. Imagine you are kneeling in front of God: how does it feel?

Next, lie down, flat on your front. Legs together, arms outstetched - a bit like a lying down crucifix. Are you lying in front of God? How does that feel? Or are you imagining what it was like to be Christ on the cross?

Now sit on a chair. Imagine Jesus sitting next to you. How does it feel to be talking to God in this position? If you like, try out some different hands positions too.

If your body comes up with other positions to try, then try those out too. Think about how each position makes you feel, and makes you feel in relation to God if you imagine God there in the room with you.

Friday, 21 June 2013

4b: review of Lego Bible Study

Well, that was interesting! Noah and his younger brother (Toby, 8), did this one together, as Toby thought it sounded cool and didn't want to be left out.

Toby says: 'it was easy as pie. It made me think the story was very realistic'.

Noah, however, was not very impressed (something you may not be surprised by at this stage!):

'It didn't make me think very much, I just had an idea in mind of what I was going to build so I just built it. It was fun but I didnt think about it much. Probably because it was a story I already knew backwards.'

They scored it: Noah gave it 8/10 for ease, 2/10 for 'spiritual value/ made me think', whilst Toby gave it 10/10 for ease and 9/10 for value.

It was interesting discussing their models with them though. In fact, I think they were thinking about the story more than they realised. They paid close attention to the facial expressions of the models. Noah focused entirely on the scene of ambush and attack, and Toby on the acts of the kind stranger who helped the victim (and was very concerned to get the detail of paying money to the innkeeper in). Interestingly, neither made any reference to the passing by on the other side which we adults often make the primary focus of the story.

Both agreed, though, that my suggested story was stupid because it is so well known. They are going to try again with a different story.

In the meantime, though, here are their models:

Monday, 17 June 2013

4: Lego Bible Study

Lego Nativity
Bible Study! Anything with the word 'study' in the title sounds boring, right? But Lego....hmmm.

There is a way of reading the Bible called 'Ignatian', because it was invented by St.Ignatius. The idea is that you read a Bible story, and imagine yourself there. What does it feel like (hot?), smell like (camels?), sound like (busy? shouting?), and so on. Then you imagine yourself in the scene and ask yourself what part you are playing. And then you imagine Jesus turning to you. What does he say?

This is a bit like that, but less 'sit still and think' and more 'get out the Lego and build'. You are going to recreate, in Lego, a story from the Bible. The challenge is to think about what the characters in the story are thinking or feeling, and try to choose Lego figures with appropriate facial expressions, and pose them in ways that expresses what you think they are feeling. So in the nativity above (courtesy of Noah last Christmas), the shepherd looks terrified, because the angel is saying 'do not be afraid'.

You could choose any story you like, but if you can't think of one how about giving the story of the Good Samaritan a go? You probably know it already, but you can also read it here.

Show your model to friends and family, compare how different your version is from your friends and discuss why, and put the pictures on facebook or tweet them to me @MirandaTHolmes!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

3: Prayer Beads

Using beads, or even just knotted string, to help you pray has a long history.

The idea is usually threefold. Put very simply:

1. Each bead, or knot, reminds you to pray for something.

2. Your hands and mind are kept busy by touching the beads, so your mind can encounter God directly.

3. The physical action of taking up the beads and going through them one by one makes you take time out to pray.

The picture above is of a modern example of prayer beads, the 'Pearls of Life'. These were invented by a Swedish bishop (Martin Lonnebo) in 1995.

The exercise this week is to first make your own prayer bracelet, and then to wear it and use it.

So first, you will need a stock of beads (or buttons would do), and a piece of string, wool, or elastic.

The diagram shows the original 'Pearls of Life' layout: you can copy this, or you could make a simpler version of your own. The suggested sizes and colours given here will help you remember what the beads each represent, but you could choose whatever you like, or whatever is available easily.

1. Tie a knot in the string first, or the beads will all slip off when you put the first one on! Then choose a large gold bead (or another one that seems special to you), and start by putting this on the string. This is the God bead.

2. Find 6 plain beads - here, they are long and wooden. These are used to create space between the special beads, and are called the beads of Silence, or peace.

3. The third bead represents you! Try to find a small pearl-like bead, or another one that you feel represents you better.

4. A large white bead comes next in this pattern: this one represents Baptism, becoming and being a member of the Church.

5. After a Silence spacer, comes a big sandy-coloured, maybe rough-textured, bead. This is the Desert bead, and represents the rough and bleak parts of your life.

6. After another Silence spacer, a big blue bead: this is called the Carefree bead. It might remind you of the sky, or the sea. This one represents being happy and relaxed, and trusting God.

7. Another Silence spacer, and then two big red beads. These represent God's love for us; and God's (Jesus's) death for us.

8. Then come three (or more) small Mystery beads. They might be pearls, or silver, or whatever you like. These are for your most important things or people to pray for and about. You could choose one for each thing or person, or each one can hold a whole group of concerns. For example one could stand for your family, one for friends, one for issues that you are worrying about.

9.The big black bead is the Night bead, for death and darkness.

10. Another Silence spacer, and then a final big white bead for Resurrection.

So, make your bracelet following this pattern, and then either wear it as a constant reminder of prayer, or just pick it up and use it.

There aren't particular set prayers to use, but if you want more reflection on the different beads you could try clicking on the different beads on the Pearls of Life website.

Just touch the first bead with your fingers: hold it between finger and thumb. Think about what it means to you, today, for a bit. Then move on to the next one. Remember what it represents: think about it for a few seconds, or a few minutes. And so on, all round the bracelet.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

2b: The Lord's Prayer - Review

This is just words, words, words.

I tried saying the prayer every morning and evening for three days. I know it off by heart because we say it at every church service - and I go to church every week because my mum is a vicar! I didn't say it in any particular way, I just said it in my head.

I didn't understand the piles of boring writing, so I just said the prayer and then got on with getting up or going to sleep. I didn't find I thought about it much, I just said it.

I didn't really understand what any of it meant: the explanations were just a bunch of words. Last week the instructions on what to do were clear, but this didn't really tell me what to do.

Ease: depends what you mean. Saying the words was easy, but the exercise as whole was badly explained: 4/10.
Value/interest: 1/10.

We apologise for the delay but we were on holiday!

Miranda's comments:
A definite fail, here! I thought we'd better not do something all-singing all-dancing interactive every week, and include some more traditional prayer, but I think that was a mistake. Also, I shall make sure that I give much clearer instructions next time, and write less.

I wonder if this would work better in a group context, with the whole group rewriting the prayer phrase by phrase? If anyone tries this, do please let me know how it goes.