Prayer: Place, Atmosphere, Context
After a long winter, spring is arriving and my mind turns to fields of wild flowers. As I walk through the field I am mesmerized by the variety of flowers. There are large blooms and small blooms. Some are tall; others not so tall, and more uniform in height. When a light breeze wafts over the field they begin to sway in unison. The sun shines and everything is bathed with its warmth that encourages the infinite hues of green, yellow, red, and blue to reach up in praise. A beautiful, calming sight is spread before me; a wonderful atmosphere. The context is one of united praise of God the creator, praying as each best knows how and I am reminded of Sunday worship.
As I continue my walk I notice a single flower off on its own, placed apart. The atmosphere is one of solitude and quiet reverence and the context seems to have shifted to quiet listening or meditation. Gathered together or alone, in public worship or hidden away, we are like the flowers of the field. We find our place to pray with others, apart, or hidden away. We may have a variety of contexts from meditation and contemplation to praise and intercession. Out of these contexts an atmosphere develops from quiet stillness to vibrant celebration and all points in between.
The place we pray and our reason for prayer, our context, allows an atmosphere to develop. Yes, we can pray anywhere, anytime, but knowing that we are taking ourselves to a place to pray alone, in a group, or in community helps us prepare to pray, focus our prayer, and be open to the Holy Spirit. Each context will develop a different atmosphere. If our Sunday worship has a dynamic atmosphere when the gathered community is singing boisterous hymns and sharing the Eucharist we probably should not expect this time of prayer to be quiet and meditative. When likeminded people gather for the weekly prayer group and pray aloud about particular situations and people the atmosphere becomes quite focused. This context may very well include songs of praise and catching up with one another. If we are thinking we are joining the local contemplative prayer group we might not get what we expect or need. And both of these are different from being in our own small space with a candle, a cross and quiet music to slow us down and lead us into a deeper quiet. Atmosphere, context and place weave a pattern with what we and others bring. And it is the Holy Spirit that weaves us and the moment together.
Flowers are rooted. Rooted in the earth, flowers are where they belong to be fed by the rich nutrients the earth supplies. The same earth holds the rain that falls; water to give strength to the fibres of the stalk. They grow to stand to their full stature. There is a plentiful supply of air, to breathe, to exchange. And there is the light of the sun to draw their attention to create the food they need and gives the robust hues of green that shout ‘Life!’ in all its fullness.
We too are to be rooted. To pray in strength needs an atmosphere to grow in that strength. Prayer rooted in Christ reminds us that we belong to him. It is Christ who feeds us the fresh bread of life on a daily basis and our thirst is quenched by the living water. Some will say that our lives must be rooted in prayer. It might be more precise to say that our lives must be rooted in Christ in an atmosphere of prayer. Rooted in Christ, standing in the light of Christ, and surrounded by the wind of the Holy Spirit we realize how God surrounds us in every way, fills us to overflowing, and weaves us into God’s self. In the still quiet or in the hymn sung out, we, with all creation shout ‘Life!’