Last night, 13 of us gathered in the imagine Art Gallery front space to make a monthly Oasis of prayer and Communion. For a while, I've been sensing we needed to gather together to pray. We've done it before with the inward/OUTWARD Missional Formation Workshop, and inward/OUTWARD Missional Formation Cohort, but they had a specific format and focus. Oasis is envisioned to just be together to seek the Lord through praying, while he may be found.
Since I was tasked with the format of the first one, I decided to keep it simple. Simple puts little pressure on folks. Simple can be elegant and powerful. Simple lets people find their own way and be themselves.We'd meet and without a structure, pray together. Everybody was equal and could contribute as each chose or not - no pressure or expectation, just praying together.
The physical atmosphere we set was quiet and lightly contemplative. We had the lights off and lit candles. We sat in a semi-circle, but people could sit anywhere they desired. One of us chose to stand, and I sat on the floor with my back resting against a wall.
After a few simple instructions from me about what we had the opportunity to do together, we closed our eyes and began. Some of the folks there I'd prayed with before, but some of them I hadn't. I've been in all sorts of prayer groups over the years, so I recognize differing styles. The introverts tend to be quiet and pray sparingly; the extroverts tend to pray more often in such a gathering. Some have much to say, and with great facility; others are more shy or reserved, and may only contribute a single prayer, or be silent the entire time which doesn't mean they're not praying. Some people can readily dominate the gathering with their prayers. I call them prayer hogs. They're no fun to pray with.
Because it was the first time, people waited for a bit to find an unforced communal prayer rhythm. I like that because it helps folks settle down, focus and "live" in a silence first before diving in. We were listening for how we'd pray together, and what kind of things we'd pray about. There are cues people look for. Such silence and settling also helps quiet the incessant chatter in our heads. It also lets everybody sense how people pray so they can blend their approach with others.
It took a little bit of time, but we began to pray together. Between each prayer there'd be a silent space, and then someone else would pray. I've experienced over the years that communal silence and can feel awkward, even unnerving for folks, but I didn't sense any substantial tension last night. It can be quite palpable at times.
I didn't check my watch when we closed the prayer, but I suspect it was 45 minutes to an hour, plus or minus. Pretty good for a maiden prayer voyage. Most everyone prayed, and we covered a range of topics , from praying for Northampton, in general, to praying for imagine/Northampton stuff, and our individual prayer needs.When we stopped, it felt right.
Then, we had communion together. Jim talked briefly about the meaning of the elements, and how Communion illustrates Jesus's desire for us to experience intimacy with him. It was simple and relaxed, a fitting end to our first Oasis of prayer.
Highlights for me were how the act of praying together solidifies our relationship with one another, and our corporate identity as followers of Jesus. We join together our hearts, minds, and voices seeking a connection with our Savior and Lord and with one another without pretense or pressure. We just pray and support one another in that prayer. I love it when we pray about the Kingdom mission we're shouldering together. Our communal identity is clarified when we do so. Add to it, the opportunity to get to know folks by what they pray for and how they pray. There is a simple vulnerability in praying with one another that is beautiful and real.
Also, prayer is spiritual warfare and Kingdom assaulting of the vile minions of darkness and death.Through such praying we say no to the evil one and his vile schemes. We call him out. We pray life and light and peace and healing behind enemy lines. We subvert his strategies for slavery and misery. He doesn't want us praying because when we do, we sabotage his strongholds and expose his lies. Praying is a spiritual laser weapon.
Our plans now are to make Oasis once a month. It might remain on that schedule or it may become more frequent, We'll see. I'm sure it will morph and develop as a we proceed. My hope is we never stray far from the sense of spiritual oasis for time to quiet and pray together in the atmosphere of the unjangling rhythms of grace.
So be it, Lord ...