Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Spiritual Prayer Retreat

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Once a year the Elders, Deacons and other leaders in my congregation take half a day off and "retreat" to a quiet place for a time of spiritual renewal.

Today we headed up to Oahu's North Shore where one of our members graciously opened her home for us. Her home is right on the western end of Sunset Beach, near Ekuhai and Pipeline.

Although a little church business squeezed its way into the morning, we managed to keep the rest of our time busy with prayer.

We began with all of us together as I led a "guided prayer" experience. In the quiet of their minds and imaginations, each person discovered a "special place, built a "room" and hosted a visit from Jesus. Each person held a private conversation with him and, after he had left, "returned" to the place where we were gathered.

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We then experienced a brief time of "centering prayer." Here the goal is to quietly deflect all thought and all distraction with the help of a "sacred word" of our own choosing. The word I chose for today was "Holy." By removing the busy-ness of thought and the distractions that surround us, we become open to a sense of peace and quiet that is very foreign to most of us. In the process of emptying ourselves there is the possibility of experiencing things beyond the five senses and the process of thought. In emptying ourselves we allow the presence of God to touch us in places that are usually filled with other things.

Following a brief break (where we sang "Happy Birthday" to two of the leaders and ate some cake) we were introduced to the tradition and discipline of Lectio Divina, the "divine, or prayerful reading of scripture."

After giving instructions, each person headed off for a time of solitude with their Bible.

We then quietly read a brief passage of scripture to ourselves (we read from Mark 8:1-4) and let the words sink in.

We then read the passage again and "listened" for one word of a brief phrase to stand out and "claim us."

We then read the passage a third time and allowed the word to speak to us, opening up a part of our lives that it sought to touch.

Finally, we read the passage a final time and "listened" to what we were being called to do in response.

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This "spiritual" reading of scripture was normative for most of our Christian history. Through the Bible, God is able, through the work of his Holy Spirit, to speak to us personally. In this sense, the Bible is not so much an object to be studied or read, but the living word of God to be listened to!

A critical study of the Bible has its place. But it does not transform our lives.

As long as we place scripture under our microscope and analyze it as if it were an exotic virus of some kind, it will always be little more than an object of curiosity and debate.

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It is only when we allow the scripture to place us under its microscope and allow the words of the Bible to analyze us, that we are able to hear the voice of God speaking words of comfort, counsel, admonition, forgiveness and hope to us.

At Noon we finished, cleaned up a bit and drove back to our homes.

For today, at least, prayer was not so much a time of talking to God as it was a time of listening to God talk to us.

This is why Christians refer to the Bible as the "God's word for us."