Category Archives: Spiritual Direction

Play and Practices

I’m reading a book called, The Gift of Wonder: Creative Practices for Delighting in God (by Christine Aroney-Sine).  I have no idea how I came across it, but I am delighting in it.  “Nothing lights up the brain like play…”.   “We don’t usually think about having fun with our spiritual practices…I find myself wondering if we need to rethink what spiritual practices are and how they connect us to God.”  “Restoring the joy of play restores the joy of spiritual practice.  It is part of our journey toward redemption and salvation.”  And the question, the beautiful question, “What creative and playful activities do you enjoy that could become fun spiritual practices for you?” 

What an amazing idea that play could be a spiritual practice.  A restorative practice as well as a transformative one.  It delights me that play could lead me into mystery, into love, into intimacy.  But, that is something that play does.  It bonds us to our play-mates.  It helps us to stretch and learn new things because it is fun or because we are doing it with someone.  

I no longer play with dolls, or nurses kits.  I don’t pretend to be a cowgirl while riding my bike or of  being a ballerina when I listen to classical music. I no longer build forts in woodlands, and I don’t ice-skate on frozen lakes.  Those were a few of the things that lit my brain when I was a child. 

So what does light up my brain now?  

First, I find it much easier to mention the things that do not light up my brain.  Doing dishes! Doing laundry! Watching sports!  Reading assembly instructions!  Filling out forms!….  But, the question is, “What creative and playful activities do I enjoy that could become fun spiritual practices for me?”  Creative and playful being the important words.  

My play seems to be mostly solo.  Walking around the local lakes, being outdoors seems to clear my mind, creates mind space to think without a screen.  Knitting seems to light up my brain….learning a new stitch or technique, or weaving a basket.  But, what would it look like if I were to “play into” those things that don’t seem to light up my brain?  What if I were to change the narrative or make a game out them?  What would a child be doing if they were doing the dishes?  What would they be appreciating or noticing?  What would they be trying to do?  How would they fill out the forms?  (Can I at least think about it?)  I can still do the solo things; Visiting with people one-on-one , reading, writing my thoughts down in a journal.  But, whether I enjoy doing something or not, how would a child do it?  

I may even come up with a list of playful practices to use when I feel depleted?  A quick go-to “playlist”! What might I notice?  God watching?  God playing with me?  And how might it make me feel while I’m doing it?  Can I let go of the “I have to get this done” feeling?  Can I just be with myself in a more joy-filled way?  Will I feel grounded and relaxed?

So if you’ve read this far, I wonder if you have any thoughts about play as a spiritual practice and what other questions I might ask myself when I play.

Centering Prayer

“Praying with a sacred word disposes the one who prays to
the open depths within by drawing to stillness the
wandering mind that flits and skitters all over the place.”
Martin Laird

Dispose, let go, part with
the distraction.
So that
…my intention,
will govern or influence, 
…will be a gift.

Make this matter, this letting go,
be a habit, a tendency, 
be a disposition of sorts,
…finding a word
decide the matter.
Set this aside, …and this, …and this.

Breathe the word.
Be willing and posed…
For presence sake,
…I begin where I now am,
To make this order what it needs to be.
A tendency, an inclination…
This first, this stilled self, this Presence, 
This word that gently brings me back to what is first.
Things let loose, set free, disposed of, 
so I can lean a different way.
Let my disposition be one of leaning toward,
Like a child,
Receiving the Gift.

Mary Herbert. February 2022

This poem comes from meditating on a paragraph written by Martin Laird.  There were two things I thought of as I wrote it.  First the word, “disposed” which has several meanings that fit so well together with some of the ideas within Centering Prayer, which was the second thing I was thinking of.

Centering prayer is a prayer practice, introduced and written about by Father Keating, which at its core is the desire for the presence of the Divine. It is a wordless prayer, yet uses a word to bring oneself gently back to the Presence when our thoughts drift. Father Thomas Keating has written several books on this practice so I won’t try to explain it further.

The Raven Dance

Let’s go into the desert,
and watch the ravens dance
we’ll find an odd companion
and wander away the day

Who has wandered this desert
what life was ever found?
There is no water
no shade or ease
this place of death
and drought.

We’ll find a thirst
and our desire
and watch the ravens dance
We’ll eat and sleep
and eat again
a rhythm till we rise.

The desert doesn’t last
It’s where the saints have gone
to listen for the Wind
and watch the angels dance.

1 Kings 19:5-9

1 Kings 17:1-5


The wilderness, the desert, the “dark night of the soul” are places of invitation.  We only discover the “invitation to what?” by moving into those places.  It can be unsettling to be there, to feel very alone.  But there is a treasure there that cannot be found anywhere else.

The Welcoming Prayer Practice

The Welcoming Prayer (by Father Thomas Keating)
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God’s action within. Amen.

Welcoming is an act of hospitality.  We, (maybe it is just me) easily say hello to joy, love, and all the “positive” emotions, but it seems difficult to know what to do with our other emotions.  We have a proclivity to “stuff” or try to ignore those emotions like bad neighbors.  When we welcome our negative experiences and emotions, we are more present to our whole selves, and better able to bring that whole self to God in humility and honesty.

The Welcome Prayer is one of welcoming the emotions we are experiencing, and then letting go of the things we cannot control.  It is a prayer that invites us to look at our emotions and the events of our lives, acknowledging them and being present to them, so we can then release them.  It is as though we say to ourselves, “Ok, I am feeling this way.  Lord, you see it, I see it.  This is where I feel it in my body.  I welcome (naming this feeling).  Can we sit with it for a few minutes?”  And then we release those emotions and feelings. 

David G. Benner, in his book Opening to God, which I think is an excellent book on prayer, has written a very concise and understandable section on the Welcoming Prayer.

He says, “Before we can welcome an emotion, we must bring it into consciousness.  We must face it directly and feel it as a sensation in our bodies…Do not judge, analyze or try to control whatever you are experiencing.” (p. 154)  We really cannot welcome or release what we do not acknowledge.  How can we bring something to the Lord that we are not noticing completely or pretending does not exist? We have to admit that at this moment we are feeling something we do not enjoy.

Then, he goes on the say, “When resistance is replaced by welcome, we remove the power of these unchosen events to disturb our peace.  Once we respond to them with hospitality, their disruptiveness begins to diminish-sometimes with astounding speed.”  (p. 155)  There were seasons when my children were quite young, where they were  disruptive to our family.  Times when they would quarrel more and made it hard for the rest of us.  I found that paying more attention to that one child, welcoming them into my presence, diminished the disruptive behavior.  They were suddenly seen and observed, and maybe that was all that was needed.  There have also been times, when I have been with people who were very upset and I’ve given them a place to talk about what is going on, acknowledging their feelings.  When I’ve done this, it has been interesting to watch them relax.  So, maybe this phase of the welcome practice is a time when we extend that hospitality to ourselves and our feelings, as we share them with God.

Benner makes a crucial distinction when he says, “It is important to recognize, however, that what we are welcoming is our inner response to the present moment, not the whole set of circumstances that might surround it.”  (p. 155)  In other words, we are not welcoming an illness, or people who are abusive.  We are bringing our emotions and feelings that we are presently experiencing to the forefront of our consciousness.

One last note from the section in David Benner’s book: “What we must release is not simply the negative feelings but also the assumption that to be happy we need to be in control.”  (p. 155) Maybe this is the most difficult part of the Welcoming Prayer.  We can only keep so many ping-pong balls under water at one time.  We cannot control everything and realistically, very little.  This makes me think of another prayer, but that is for another time.


There are many others who have written on this subject, but two resources that I highly recommend: Opening to God, by David G. Benner on different prayer practices, and an online resource from Contemplative Outreach.

A Welcome Prayer

A welcome prayer,
I’ve never heard.
How do you welcome
a mystery?
all muddled
and hidden?

Why open the door
at the ground floor?
If it rains, it will flood
and someone may come
and find it unclosed.
SomeOne may come
and find me exposed

Why do we start here,
at this new prayer?
To help me heal,
to see and to feel?
To let go
To let go
To let go
of what I hold so near.
I’d rather start by a different track.

The why seems unimportant
It is the sinking I find hard,
but I open a crack…
and find the flood.
I knew it had rained.
So there’s no going back.

So unbolt,
SomeOne will come.
SomeOne is here.