Subscribe to Christianity Today
Listening for God
In May two local churchesneither my local parishat polar opposites of my liturgical denomination sponsored prayer events. They looked similar in intent: listening to God. Similar in their physical, relational dynamic: something like "parallel play," in which individuals share a room but don't directly interact. On other counts, the two offerings looked very different. A charismatic congregation, worshipping in a windowless warehouse sanctuary, opened its doors and cleared its floor for an evening of "soaking prayer." Four days later the buttressed cathedral offered a labyrinth prayer walk north of the limestone pulpit, beneath a rose window.
I knew people who'd been profoundly touched by both forms of prayer. What was I missing? Aware of the liturgical season, the expectant void between Ascension Day and Pentecost, I decided to experiment.
The charismatic church is a place where people repeat praise songs, speak prophecies, and make intercessions, occasionally in unknown languages. They're talkers and doers. Their church time is participatory. If they're listening, it's to Bible readings, sermons, or the Eucharistic Prayer.
But not this nightthe one "open" session of a two-day event requiring registration. Yes, the evening started with congregational singing and a lengthy teaching, about intimacy with God. But then the lights dimmed and the format changed. We in the audience weren't expected to join in as the musicians played or sang soothing music meant to "soak" us with the love of God. "This is Mary time," a handout said, referring to the woman Jesus commended for sitting at his feet rather than scurrying about, like her sister Martha. "Focus on the Lord's presence within you." We weren't even expected to sit on the chairs, set up in only half the room. We were encouraged to stretch out on the carpet, to "rest in the Lord" (Psalm 37:7), to "be still" and "meditate within your heart" (Psalm 4:4), to "lie down" as if "in green pastures" and let the Holy ...