Exodus 35:30-36:1 & Mark 14:1-10

Intimate with the Ultimate – Rich Prayer

Praying. I wonder, what does praying look like to you? Just take a moment and imagine someone praying. What are you picturing in your mind’s eye? This is an important question for us, because this morning we’ve all promised to pray for Isabella, Harriet, and Phoebe. Some of us have promised to help them learn to pray. If we’re going to keep these promises then it seems to me that it would be good if we had a clear idea of what that means, what it looks like.

Maybe our ideas look a bit like this:

pictures of monk praying, person kneeling by their bed, church people saying the Lord’s prayer.

What I’d like to suggest this morning, is that while prayer can look like one of these, it can also look like this:

woman running, man cooking, someone painting, someone knitting.

Over the last few weeks in our Sunday morning services we’ve been exploring what it means to pray, and we’ve been been working from the basic understanding that prayer is a conversation with God that happens naturally as we walk with God, work with God, and watch for God. If you want to catch up on things you might have missed, they are all on our Facebook and Youtube channels. But, for this morning, we are going think about the richness that our God given creativity can bring to our communication with God.

So let’s start with that basic building block. Right back in the first book of the Bible, in the first account of the creation of the world in Genesis, we read this:

“God created human beings in his own image.”

It is this verse, which is echoed throughout the Bible, that is the foundation of our understanding of creativity. God created – it is fundamental to the Christian understanding of who God is, that God is creative – is the source of all that we see and experience. And that we are created in God’s image, which means that if God is creative, so are we. We might not feel very creative, we may have been discouraged in our early years from believing that we are creative, because we weren’t naturally gifted in drawing, painting, music, writing, but I believe that God has created each one of us with the capacity to create – to take one thing and make something else.

So, if this is true, what does it have to do with how we pray, with our communication with God?

I’d like to suggest three things this morning.

Firstly – creative about what we believe prayer to be

This is where we loop back to those images I had up at the beginning. Sometimes I feel like we have an image of what prayer ought to look like – maybe someone sat quietly, or kneeling down, thinking or saying prayers of length with lots of words, or maybe our image is of a quiet contemplative, hour of meditation. Or of reading through a set prayer or liturgy. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those, but I wonder if we might take another approach. What if we started with ourselves and our lives as they are. If we asked what do we enjoy doing already, and how might we talk with God as we do it.

If we’re into running, or going to the gym, what would it mean to be aware of God’s presence there with us, talking with God as we run through places?

If our happy place is the kitchen, creating food for people, what does it look like for us to pray as we do, to acknowledge God’s creativity and generosity as we prepare food for people?

Knitting, gardening, playing golf, spending time with grandchildren, walking, dancing, playing an instrument, taking photographs … whatever it is for you, I believe that these expressions of creativity are expressions of God’s image in us, and we can find ways to be with God, and they can be communication channels between us and God.

Do you like mind-maps – mind map your prayers. Do you enjoy doing jigsaws? Pray through that. On Ash Wednesday someone told me that as their “thing” during Lent they were going to do a jigsaw featuring a picture of the Return of the Prodigal Son, and pray as they were doing it.

I could go on and on, with different specific examples. The common thread is this. God created you as you are. God created your personality and made you, you. God also wants to communicate with you, to hear you and speak with you. And so, it follows that God created you able to do that. So, if you have an image of prayer that seems unobtainable, then don’t start there. Start with who you are, and explore ways of talking with God that come from there.

Let’s be creative with what we believe prayer to be.

Secondly – Let’s use our creativity in our own prayers – using all our gifts and all our senses.

The reading we heard from Mark’s account of the good news of Jesus is such a good example of this. When we include some of the other details of this encounter from John’s gospel, we see that the woman comes to Jesus, pours out this perfumed oil on his head and feet and then wipes his feet with her hair. The house is filled with the fragrance of the oil. There are no words recorded by either Mark or John, but is there any doubt that the most profound communication is going on, as Mary uses what she has to hand, is creative with it, and communicates in touch and fragrance her love and devotion to Jesus.

Again, we start with where we are. What are we good at, or even what do we like doing, even if we’re not very good at it. Too many of us have been put off even trying to express ourselves in different ways by discouragement in the past. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be any good.

Just as I’m sure that Chris and Emily, Alex and Heather, will stick all kinds of interesting “art” on their fridges over the years, because they are created by Isabella, Harriet and Phoebe, so God delights in our prayers, and sticks them on his fridge, because they’ve come from us.

It’s also worth, reminding ourselves that comparison is the thief of joy. How often do we stop ourselves trying something, or doing something, because we believe that we’re not as good as someone else. God does not make those comparisons, God looks at our heart, and what we bring, and that is what matters, so let’s use our creativity in our prayers.

Thirdly – using our gifts of creativity to enable others to pray.

In our reading from the Old Testament, from Exodus, we heard about Bezalel and Oholiab, who God had chosen and filled with the Holy Spirit to be creative in all different kinds of art forms to create a beautiful space to be a focus for the prayers of the people of God.

Some of us have the gifts and talents to create things that are beautiful – and they can often be a gift to others, in enabling them to draw closer to God. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have commented to me over the years about the beauty of the stained glass in this building. That was the gift of those artists to us.

A few weeks ago we opened the church building up so that people could come and pray for the situation in Ukraine. We had a set of images displayed on the screen as we prayed, and one of them was an icon, drawn by a Ukrainian artist, showing the last supper.

For many people fine art, sacred music, architecture, provide a way into prayer. But there are other expressions of creativity that can help people to pray. There is a national movement of people organising Prayer Spaces in schools, for example. These provide students at the schools different, creative ways of praying, of connecting with God. Again, it’s not about comparison, it’s about what using what we have in our hands creatively to encourage and enable each other in our conversations with God.

We are a church that values Exploring, that wants to be creative. So, as we walk on together, as we pray for Isabella, Harriet, and Phoebe, as we teach them to pray, I invite you to an exploration of creativity. Of starting with who we are and what we have in our hands and being creative with them. Of using our creativity in our prayers. Of gifting our creativity to each other. As we do this, I believe that we will discover more and more of the richness of who God is, and will be drawn deeper into God’s love for us and delight in us.

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