Pencil and paper
Prayer pairs #8
The written word has only been accessible to most people for a relatively short time in human history. When the printing press was invented in the 1450’s the opportunity for the masses to access the written word grew quickly. The timing with Martin Luthor’s publication of his reformation ideas, changed the Church and the world. You can read more about that time in history here.
With an increasing number of people learning to read and write, it was empowering to hold a prayer book or Bible and turn the pages, to select a prayer and read it aloud. However, even then, as it still is today, not everyone could read and write Children, not yet reading, remain listeners, just as the adults around them had previously been the ones listening to the priests and scholars. There are adults who are not able to be readers, or if they can read, may find the written and spoken word challenging to understand and to retain. The printing press did make writing and reading accessible, and broke down barriers of exclusivity. But not completely.
The challenge of inclusivity is with us today. It’s in every family. It’s in every church. There are those who cannot yet read. There are those who can read but can’t remember. There are those who could once read, but no longer are able to do so. The written word and the spoken word are a challenge for many to process.
I love written prayers and spoken prayers. I love words and the way they have been thoughtfully created and curated to evoke a certain idea or feeling, or capture a moment. For me written or spoken prayers are one part of my prayer life.
The other part of my prayer life is experiential prayer. It’s almost thirty years since I started using experiential prayers and this style of praying is part of my daily life. Experiential prayer is a bit messy and has rough edges. These prayers aren’t carefully created word structures. My written prayers are simply prompts to allow those praying to use their senses to guide them. To share them with you I have had to write them down, but I hope those who can read the instructions are able to pass on the use of these prayers in a way that empowers those who are not readers.
I am always surprised at the assumption that praying experientially is for children and not so much for adults. My view is that experiential prayer is accessible for all ages. The use of senses, particularly the tactile and visual senses, provides a grounded experience giving us a base from which to pray. We use our senses to support our thoughts and emotions. This is quite different to the way our brains process words. The thoughts based cognitive processing to read, hear, speak, interpret, understand and reflect upon words is not easily accessible for everyone. When we add in a sensory prompt, this supports the brain to process words by accessing a whole lot of other information that our brain knows and understands.
We don’t have to form words to pray. We don’t have to name those things we want to communicate with God about aloud or even silently. Experiential prayer gives us the space to pray when we have no words and God hears our prayers.
In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don't know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God's people.
Romans 8:26-27 (CEV)
Today’s prayer pair is pencil and paper. From the time I was a small child I have loved pencils and paper. I love writing with a pencil. I love sharpening pencils. I have many pencils! I also love paper. For me a blank sheet of paper is an invitation to write or draw. I can’t imagine how life would be for me if I couldn’t write or draw. These things bring me joy. I know for others, pencil and paper just feels like school or work.
This highlights one of the challenging aspects of experiential prayer. When we use every day objects we enjoy as a prayer starting point, our prayers will flow more easily than when we’re using objects that don’t actually spark any sense of enthusiasm. Always with these prayers, feel free to adapt them and find things that do create a spark within.
After everything I’ve written about writing above, you may be wondering what you’re going to have to write in these prayers and why after so much talk of using our senses am I offering pencil and paper prayers. Let me offer a clue - neither of these prayer are about writing or drawing! Enjoy. I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences in the comments section.
On the journey
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