[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B00A3KIIL0″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51vby3mA-BL.jpg” width=”222″ alt=”Christine Sine” ]Change Your Consciousness and Transform the World
A Feature Review of
Return to Our Senses: Re-Imagining How We Pray
Paperback: MSA Publications, 2013.
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Reviewed by Austen Sandifer
A FREE study guide is available from the publisher…
Prayers are the deepest callings and intentions of the heart. Sometimes, our hearts are complicated or we desire to express intentions and hopes as part of a community, and then prayers may have ritual or traditional aspects to them. Sometimes, too, praying seems like it should be so sacred that certain formulas for correctness should be followed; this tendency has resulted in millennia of questions, instructions, and even resignation amongst people about the nature of prayer and how they should go about doing it. Mostly though, in spite of a human tendency to complicate things, praying is simple. We pray when we set our hearts on openness and love in a way that allows us to experience wonder and gratitude at beauty in the world. We pray when we set our hearts on loving and caring about people who are sick or in need. We pray when we feel desperation and reach out for hope and love. We pray when we set out deepest intentions for goodness in the world. These are all ways we connect with God, the spirit of love and giver of life.
Even within this simplicity, the term “prayer” comes with bags of associations that some people find meaningful and others find impenetrable, dissuading them from engaging in a practice of prayer. Especially in Western society where people often prefer to label themselves “spiritual” but not “religious,” prayer can be somewhat daunting and even offputting. In many cases, mindfulness practices are seen as more inspiring and meaningful to people because mindfulness helps them engage more fully in the world around them. But prayer is also a practice of mindful engagement, a truth that is often lost in the ways the two terms are used in our society. The rhetoric of “spiritual” verses “religious” often creates a division between prayer and mindfulness that need not exist.
It was with the thought of bridging the rhetoric of mindfulness and prayer that I picked up Christine Sine’s new book, Return to Our Senses: Re-Imagining How We Pray. I expected it to be about engaging our senses in full awareness of the omnipresence of God in creation and in our daily moments. I was not disappointed; this volume is filled with prayer techniques that focus on honing such mindfulness and wonder. Indeed, many of the methods that Sine suggests are ways to increase awareness of our spiritual journeys and the presence of God through the visceral experiences of our bodies. In a book that is accessible to a wide audience, Sine clearly explains and mixes traditional contemplative prayer methods, like Ignatius of Loyola’s Awareness Examen, with Christian mindfulness techniques, like breathing as a practice of engaging both breath and spirit (the Hebrew word ruah and Greek pneuma are single words indicating both meanings), with love and generative aspects of God consciously made part of every breath-cycle.
In each of 14 chapters, Sine highlights a different basic theme for prayer, from practicing loving presence to prayerfully engaging social media. For each theme, she describes some theology behind the general topic, overviews prayer techniques, and includes personally written prayers. She concludes each chapter with exercises for readers to try. What makes these exercises especially remarkable is that Sine offers two potential alternatives: in many cases, one is focused more on overtly spiritual pursuits and the other is focused more on practical applications of the spiritual theme. For example, in her chapter on water, Sine suggests the exercise of mindfully engaging with a glass of water while considering certain scriptures and noticing aspects of the water. Alternatively, Sine offers resources for practical methods of conserving water in one’s own house and discerning what those savings may mean for others.
In this juxtaposition of inner spiritual pursuits and active world engagement lie the special jewels of this book. Sine has not only created a guide to inner prayer life and mindfulness, but also a framework to help encourage readers to actively engage with the world, in both its suffering and joys. She posits that a transformation in attitude, in which a consciously developed practice of noticing and experiencing gratitude and thanksgiving for life, joys, faithfulness, and goodness become the hopeful ground where all intercessions and petitions take root, allows for “active engagement with anticipation because we know that God is already there at work.” This thought conditioning opens up real possibilities for making concrete differences in the lives and realities of others with mindfulness for what is happening and where hope already exists.