Have you ever walked into an old, extremely opulent church building with walls covered in marble, stain glass windows lining the walls as you walk in depicting the birth, life and death of Christ, Latin words carved into the stone in a centre dome, angels floating above you on the ceiling, an area to light candles for a loved one, a bowl filled with water for you to touch to remind you of your baptism, and a gift shop? Anytime someone tells me about a recent visit to one of these spaces they always say “it was just so much! I couldn’t handle all of it.”

I have always appreciated these types of churches. As an Anabaptist I’m told that I come from a rich heritage that emphasizes our interior design not being so…rich. However I love these opulent buildings because of what they do for me spiritually– and I never realized until more recently why I love these places so much.

On a recent trip to Buffalo, New York my friend took me to Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica. I am still thinking about this church. I remember walking in, touching the cold walls, feeling the old wooden pews, Gazing at the lucrative amount of art.gazing at the astonishing amount of art and being totally captured by this building’s magnificence. I sat down in a pew and I stared – processing what I was feeling, seeing, smelling, and hearing. I closed my eyes and I entered into a prayerful and engaged headspace that was enabled by this very active, very old, and opulent place. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of who I was as a created being, being lured into the Christian story that I was born into. My hyperactive mind loved wandering around in this visual playground, free from distractions of the outside world – completely soaked in the rich history of the church and the Christian story.

In my moments of prayer, in these places, I find a surreal sense of inner peace. My hyperactive mind is able to wander, be distracted, and yet I am kept focused on prayer and my words because of the incredible amount of images and words that I am processing all at once.

As a child we learn that prayer was about settling your body, folding your hands and sitting still. There is nothing wrong with this practice – in fact I really enjoy this practice when I am capable of getting into that headspace (more on that later), but at the same time I’ve grown a real appreciation for kinesthetic prayer, meaning prayer that involves movement, fidgeting, and letting the mind play a bit.

I'm going to identify two of many great gifts in Christian tradition that can help the kinesthetic learner stay focused and stimulated during prayer.

The Rosary: In short, the rosary is a rich Catholic tradition that involves a string of beads of various sizes that you hold. As you move it through your hand, touching each bead, a prayer is spoken. Being able to connect a prayer to our physical movements is enough for the fidgety-type person to keep them stimulated and focused in prayer. I’ve prayed once with a prayer bead – and I remember it working really, really, really well for me. Maybe this is something we need to consider having for our active type of people in the congregation!

Labyrinth: The labyrinth is a circular, maze-type path on the ground found inside and outside. I’ve seen them put on cloth for the sake of portability. I was in Vancouver last November and I was walking around the Unviersity of British Columbia and I found a labyrinth behind the Vancouver School of Theology. It was a cool and rainy day and I put my backpack down and I started to walk around this labyrinth nice and slow. I gave thanks for the rain, for the opportunity to take time off from work, and in that silent walk, feeling the rain drops run down my face, I was able to focus and create a meditative space for prayer. The water touching my face was perfect for keeping my attention; the movement of my body around the circle was perfect because I didn’t have to think about where I was going other than around, and around and around. Movement of the body and engaging the senses was perfect for me in this moment of worship and prayer.

The opulence and the over stimulation of our rich traditional churches has lots to offer the kinesthetic person. I invite you to consider the ways which you pray, and what your body might need in prayer. While you're doing that, I will consider how to translate my need for movement and stimulating the senses into a tradition that values simplicity.


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Pastor Joe Heikman
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Pastor Eileen Klaassen
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