I started my Thursday in prayer with three wonderful ladies. Our paths crossed during a Bible study with a larger group centered on the book by Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel. Though the book study ended after eight weeks, the four of us enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship we had developed, and since we already had the time set aside in our weekly schedule, we continued meeting on our own. That was over a year ago, and though we each have busy schedules with travel and family, we text during the week, and meet most Thursday mornings when at least three of the four of us are available. We have read a couple of books together, but mostly we meet to share joys and concerns and simply pray with each other. We crave our time together as a small group of women of faith. We miss each other when we are traveling. We celebrate when we return. We’ve cried through cancer crises, and we’ve squealed with joy when a baby was born. Our group has become an extension of our family, as we now gather for fellowship time beyond our Thursday mornings and bring along our significant others. Indeed, this quote rang true, “We are created to be in relationship with God and others, so we are always seeking stabilization with others.” (Loc. 345) Through prayer, God has brought continuity and stability to our lives in the midst of a chaotic year.
Naturally, when A Guidebook to Prayer: 24 Ways to Walk with God by MaryKate Morse appeared on our semester reading list, I thought of my small group. What a perfect guide to carry us through the new year to take our casual praying to a deeper, intentional level. The book is concise, personal, and promoted interactive prayer amongst our group. We read the chapters during the week, and during our group time, we practiced the activities associated with the “group prayer.” (Imagine meeting at a coffee shop each week, and the patrons seeing four women laying flat in the courtyard praying and trying to recite Hebrew!) Because there are four of us, we divided into pairs to complete the “prayer partner” examples at another point during the week. Granted we are only a few of weeks into the new year, but experiencing the community prayer week and the creation prayer week has already impacted our relationships with God and with each other. As Morse said, “The point is to experience God together,” and through our gatherings and living life in connection and community, we are striving to do just that. (Loc. 402)
The community prayer – chapter one – prepared us for experiencing God in new ways. We were reminded, “Community prayers are prayers of trust that God is good, present and yearns to be with us.” (Loc. 404) Cancer has struck every member in our group, either directly or indirectly, in the last six months. Feeling surrounded by faithful believers has given us hope and support that God has not forsaken us in the midst of struggles and hardships. For our meeting today, we tried one of the examples given by Morse. We stood with feet together facing the same direction (the sun) and recited the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Now, I must tell you, we meet weekly at our locally run coffee shop. Most of the patrons go to our church or the Baptist Church down the road, and there are more than a few Bible study and prayer groups that meet in this place. However, four women chanting prayer and trying their hand at Hebrew prompted more than a few stares! Nonetheless, after letting go of the timidity and shyness, we fell into the recitation, and our connection to God and each other was powerful. What was meaningful, we found, was the discovery of the ability to connect to God anywhere at anytime. It was difficult to overcome the first few giggles of embarrassment, but this moment as women in faith reached into my soul and plucked out a love and bond I had not experienced in some time. Likewise, my prayer partner and I met daily this week to pray a Psalm, as Morse suggested. (Loc. 436) At first it seemed like we were simply getting together to recite words, and the gravity escaped me. Then we intentionally verbalized that these were Psalms Jesus recited with his disciples. (Loc. 446) From that point on, one of us would recite the Psalm while the other sat with eyes closed and breathed in the words. It was as if Jesus was there teaching and encouraging us to listen and learn. Though I have been praying for much of my life, and though I have read countless books by Foster and studied the life of Brother Lawrence, this prayer with my small group of women reminded me of God’s grace and love. It allowed me to respond to Him and others as I had not before. And because we were doing it as a group, it took away the apprehension of praying in public.
As a small side note, reading this book and praying as a small group coincided with a challenge issued to our congregation by our church leadership. We were asked to discern how to create community in and amongst our congregation. After Stefania’s post last week, and participating in community prayer activities this week, I thought I would also pose the same question here. How do we create community? My group of ladies spoke about how community requires us to be engaged regularly through four areas:
- Fellowship – through food and play
- Study of Scripture and books – challenging our mental and spiritual lives
- Prayer – lifting our joys, concerns, passions and confessions to God
- Mission – putting our faith in action
The purpose of each method of engagement is to attain not only the goal of becoming a community of faith, but also to develop into true disciples. Creating community, we discerned, connects us to God, connects us to a faith family, and connects us to this small group. Through community, we create authentic relationships, as we strive to love God and love others. Morse affirmed this by saying, “The very first way that we know God is that God made us and made us for connection.” (Loc. 316)
 Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010).