Over the coming weeks I hope to post a few ideas about praying with the Bible. Today's focus is on the topic of form and creativity.
Are you creative? Chances are, if you are made in the image of a creative God the answer is "yes". Perhaps you might not think of yourself as creative because you think it means "arty", but there are many forms of creativity. What form our creativity takes reflects who we are as individuals and our personalities. Some are better with words, others with pictures, others with music, still others with food, carpentry, flower-arranging, finding novel solutions to problems, etc. Prayer is an intrinsic part of the Christian life and it can be enriched by finding creative ways of praying.
The Psalms provide us with a wide variety of forms. They have long been recognised as prayers that may be said or sung. This suggests that we might bring music into play in our prayers - turning them into songs, perhaps, or using music as a backcloth to set a mood, for example. Even if melody or harmony is not used, we might still find rhythm helpful - whether it is a rhythm behind the words, like a poetic "meter", or the rhythmic repetition of something akin to Psalm 136 ("...His love endures forever" at the end of each line).
The variations of poetic forms in the Psalms might provide creative inspiration for new forms of written or spoken prayers. Some use an "acrostic" pattern - starting each new line with the next letter of the alphabet. Others take us through a transformation from dark to light moods. There are no set rules about how a Psalm must always be written - the authors have exercised their creativity. By imitating them in this regard, we can find new ways of praying familiar themes. This can help relieve boredom in prayer and bring a freshness to our thinking.
It doesn't have to be poems, though. Creative form can vary greatly. Paul's letters often include sections that are prayers of some sort, e.g. Romans 16:25-27. We might even wonder if the stories of Jesus collected into John's Gospel are perhaps a kind of prayer - "these things are written that you may believe (and go on believing)..." (John 20:31). Is John offering his narrative/"biography" as a "prayer"?
Sometimes we just want to speak to God quickly and naturally; we don't always have time to try something else or aren't always feeling in a creative mood. Yet, occasionally, it might be worth spending some time crafting our words carefully, focussing on bringing out what we really want to express. This can be a gift of worship to God - a bit like a letter or poem to a loved one. It can enable us to express emotions and ideas more deeply and personally. It might also be something that could help others with their prayers - our creativity is not just something between us and God. Others can benefit from our prayers, perhaps by being inspired to be creative themselves or by connecting with the experience and emotion of our words/pictures/music.
Have you ever tried to write a prayer down before? If not, why not have a go? Try writing it like a letter or a poem, for example. You could take a particular passage such as a Psalm and have a go at doing your own version. Especially if you are finding prayer a bit hard or dull at the moment, I would encourage you to use something of whatever creative skill God has planted in you to enable you to connect in a new way.
A few prayers based on Scripture can be found on the Going Deeper With God website. The prayer based on Psalm 145 is particularly relevant to this post. These prayers are not offered as models showing "the right way" to do things, but as examples of one person's attempts to connect creatively in prayer. I hope they may encourage you.
© Joe Lenton, July 2012