During Lent at Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, we want to encourage holy experimenting with faith practices. There are many ways in which we are doing this through the church programming. Please check for the full schedule of events on our Website under “News and Events”.
One of the ways we are helping to provide ways for disciples of Jesus Christ to practice their faith is through Prayer Practice Triplets. If you are reading this blog, it may be because you are already a part of a small group who has agreed to meet once a week during Lent to learn about and to practice different types of prayer. Or, you may have come to this blog through our Facebook page or by accident. It matters not how you got here! I am just glad that you are here. Feel free to use these Blog posts and the attached Prayer Practice Guides (see attached PDF at the bottom of each blog post) to experiment with your own faith practice. Feel free to reach out to a couple of friends and form your own triplet if you would like. If you do, I’d love to hear from you about your experience!
Rev. Ellen Fowler Skidmore
In October of 2015 many Columbia neighborhoods were flooded by a combination of extraordinary rain fall and the failure of many local dams. When the bridge between my home and Forest Lake Presbyterian Church washed away, what had been a quick 2-minute drive to church became (at least initially) about a 15-minute traffic crawl as everyone worked to figure out new routes around washed out roads. There was much about those days that tested our patience. But I learned very quickly how much driving I was doing by habit. I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I left my driveway and – without thinking – drove towards the missing bridge only to remember that I could no longer go that way. I was driving by habit and muscle memory while my mind was a million miles away. It was mindless driving. I began to pay attention to how much of my life was mindless living – just out of habit.
Being mindful of one’s surroundings is not only a good safety practice, but can also be a spiritual practice. We often do things without thinking about them, or do two things at once without noticing either. This is what happens when we sit down to watch a movie and wonder where the bag of popcorn went! This is what happens when we are worried about something and realize that we have just burned the toast because we were not paying attention. When we are in a relationship with God, just imagine how a lack of mindfulness allows us to miss what God is saying and doing in the world around us.
Take just a moment and try something. Stop what you are doing and just sit for about 30 seconds. Bring your awareness to where you are. About what percentage of your awareness is present to the moment? Can you bring more of yourself/awareness into the room? Notice colors, sounds, smells. Try to stay present in your chair – without other thoughts flooding your mind.
This week our assignment is to try to pay attention to God, to people and to things. I warn you, this is a humbling and frustrating assignment, because when we are honest with ourselves, it quickly becomes clear how much of our thinking is consumed with our own needs and wants. The “tapes” that play in our heads are full of self-justification; how we did well, how we could have done better if only someone else had done something different, or how we were wronged and things should change. Mindfulness is an attempt to put God and others at the center of our focus, and our egos don’t like that practice very much. So, this prayer practice more than any other is likely to provoke frustration. Think of this feeling of frustration like a tired muscle. If you feel frustrated that you cannot keep your mind focused on another person or on God in prayer, then this means that you are doing something right! Only by exercising the muscles of mindfulness will they grow stronger. And most of us are normally only able to focus our attention on God in brief Nano-second bursts. That is OK. It is a beginning! Don’t be discouraged. As we grow in our ability to love God, our ability to focus will also grow. In Luke 1:38+, it was Mary’s great love for Jesus that allowed her to understand that giving him her full attention was what was most important.