Christine Sine, executive director, liturgist and chief gardener of Mustard Seeds Associates and her blog Godspace is a one of the innovators of the contemporary Christian contemplative tradition. In this delightful book which is aptly named Return to our senses: Re-imagining how we pray, Christine challenges our perception of how and why we pray. Christine argues that though there is great value in verbal prayers, there is more to praying than using our cognitive “senses.” To her, our sense of sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste are also means to praying. Christine is not advocating a New Age (or Old Age) spirituality but a return to appreciate the works of our Creator God by using all our senses which he has created to connect with him. To do that, Christine introduces us to some ancient Christian prayer practices that use one or more of our senses as means to prayers. Christine notes that
This is the question that I think is at the heart of the gospels and that is the premise for this book. Prayer is not about trying to get God to listen to us. Nor is it about trying to make God spend more time with us. Prayer is about sharpening our awareness of the God who is already in us and around us, present in every moment and every activity of the day. Waking up to, living in to and sharing the love of God is the heart of prayer (4).
In other words, prayers is relating to God in our mundane everyday life. It involves us being aware of our breathing (or the way we breathe), having sacred spaces, listening, seeing with “new” eyes and walking with our legs and our fingers! This book is a potpourri of Christian prayer practices, quotations and poetry from various sources, and also a collection of her own poems and prayers which are inspiring and edifying. Christine repeatedly emphasized that prayer is meeting God in the ordinary. I like the illustration she shared about making Chinese tea (not Japanese) using Chinese teapot and tea leaves,
Like teapots, we’re each unique, fragile vessels created to contain one essence, that of our Creator. Over time the flavor of God intensifies in our lives as the Spirit seeps into our pores and transforms our nature, making us more like the Creator in whose image we are formed. Like the tea leaves, we are also unique, each variety requiring a different processing and brewing technique that results in the perfect cup of tea.
When we first encounter the Risen Christ, a cleansing is in order. Like leaves rolled tightly into little balls and dried by the edge of the road, we’ve collected dust, dirt, and contaminants that alter our flavor… As Jesus’ life is poured out on the cross, his life, love, and sacrifice infuse our lives, cleansing us of the filth that clings so closely in every wrinkle and crevice of our withered lives. Like the tightly rolled leaves, we expand, allowing God’s Spirit to reach more and more of our being. Rinsed in Christ, we are now ready to be used by God… When another type of tea is used in the pot, the flavor is corrupted. So it is with our lives, when we permit the flavor of God to mix with greed, nationalism, lust, and a whole host of other gods. When this happens the tea poured out tastes “off”. Something is wrong (71).
This book is a rich resource for various Christian practices in praying with our senses and it is wonderful and surprising to discover the varieties of forms and practices of praying that other Christians use. Not all the practices mentioned are ancient. Christine also includes Facebook, blogging and ‘praying on the go’ to use in our modern busy connected lifestyles. Prayer is not just building an exclusive relationship between God and us but should translate into action and love for others. The last four chapters of this book move into advocacy of some sort of creation care.
This is a good book for an overview of contemplative prayers in the post modern or post-postmodern culture. It also has suggestions as how to practice these prayers and I recommend it for reading and practice during this Advent season.