On Sunday we spent some time in corporate worship reflecting on a 15th Century icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev. This was probably a new experience for lots of us, but hopefully it helped to engage our imagination in worship.
Within the Catholic tradition, there is a large volume of art depicting Scripture; paintings and music alike. In fact, the Catholic Church has commissioned some of the most awe-inspiring works of art in history. During the Reformation of the Church, elaborate art was removed from Church buildings, as it was considered irreverent. As a result, there are much fewer works of art from the Protestant tradition, and they tend to be narrative in nature.
Aspects of the Catholic tradition seek to engage all of our senses in worshipping God. The use of incense, for example, interacts with our sense of smell and can be a powerful reminder of the presence of God permeating the space around us.
In his book on song-writing, Writing Better Lyrics, Pat Pattison discusses how using sense-bound imagery (language related to our sensory experience) can be a powerful tool for helping people connect with lyrics. And it’s no surprise! God has made us with a whole host of powerful senses through which we interact with and understand our world.
So here are some suggestions for how we might use our senses to help us connect with God in prayer:
Praying by Yourself
Object writing is a common song-writing tool, but it can also be helpful as a prayer exercise. Essentially you pick an ‘object’ – inanimate or a person – and then write about it for 10 minutes. The only rule is that you can only use sense-bound language.
So the ‘object’ of our writing might be Jesus, and we would write, directed by the following questions:
- Sight – When you think of Jesus, what do you see?
- Hearing – When you think of Jesus, what do you hear?
- Taste – When you think of Jesus, what do you taste?
- Touch – When you think of Jesus, what does he feel like?
- Smell – When you think of Jesus, what does he smell like?
- Body – When you think of Jesus, what happens to your pulse, breathing or sense of pain?
- Kinaesthetic (balance, dizziness, falling etc.) – When you think of Jesus, what sense of motion do you feel?
Why not try engaging your senses in this way? Set aside 10 minutes and write about Jesus using sense-bound language. Once you’re done, read it back and mull over each sentence, asking God to show you what’s behind what you have written. You may discover some extra depth to your relationship with Christ that you were unaware of.
Praying with Others
Paying attention to the art of contemporary culture can often direct us towards the issues and longings in our society, which could in turn deepen our prayer life.
Take as an example The 1975’s song “Loving Someone”. The song opens with these lyrics:
‘My heart is telling me the telly isn’t telling me anything
I need but it needs to keep you selling me
Besides celebrities lacking in integrity
Holding up the status quo instead of showing your kids
That they matter, who’re you gonna buy up next
Keep hold of their necks and keep selling them sex
It’s better if we keep them perplexed
It’s better if we make them want the opposite sex
And this drives drunk through criminal minds
And you camp out beside where your man resides
You’re not slow, it’s just never been shown
That you should
Be loving someone.’
When you take a moment to reflect on lyrics like these, a few things come to your attention:
Firstly, the amount of lyrics in this verse is huge. This feels reminiscent of the mass of information that is being thrown at us all the time.
Secondly, you have to re-read it a few times to actually grab hold of what’s being said, which is partly the point. At times, pop-culture can lead us to not look beneath the surface, not to dig deeper, but instead to live superficially.
Thirdly, the last line feels like a relief and an indictment. Despite everything that’s going on around us, we should be loving someone. The implication being that loving those around us is important.
As you reflect further, passages like Philippians 2:3 may come to mind: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
This reminds us of our tendency to put ourselves before others, and encourages us to pray for God to transform that part of our character and to transform that part of our world.
As Christians, we believe that it’s ultimately in Christ that our longings are fulfilled. Revelation 21:4 says:
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
With others in your Connect Group, with housemates or with other Christians in your workplace, why not try an exercise like this? Pick a song that our culture is connecting with (have a look at the charts for some help if you need to) and print out the lyrics. Have a listen to the song, and afterwards, talk together about what you think the song is saying about the world we live in and what it means for your own lives. Bring these thoughts to God in prayer and ask him to transform these parts of our world and lives for his glory.
As we learn to see the longings of our culture we can identify lots of cross over with the church. In this way we can seek God for how best to help people direct their longings towards Jesus.
Praying with Children
This week the children took a break from the Lord’s Prayer and instead had a Valentine’s Disco. We talked about love and how much we love God and love Sundays. Find out more by downloading the take home sheet.
As you pray with your children this week, why not get them to get them to express emotions by asking them to complete these sentences:
The best place in the world to go is…
Playing sport makes me feel like…
Eating yummy food makes me feel…
My best friend reminds me of a….
God, you are greater than a….
When I think of you, God, I smile like a…
Your love reminds me of a….
Jesus, you are more wonderful than a…