How can we pray in this time of trauma?

Dr Rhona Knight was a medical doctor in General Practice who then trained for ordination. During the last year, she has been developing a remarkable online resource, The Prayer Room, to help people pray as they experience the pandemic and lockdown as a time of trauma. I asked her about the project.

IP: Tell me about the project—what exactly have you been developing?

RK: I would frame it as mission and ministry in a time of trauma. Since the beginning of the first lockdown I have been emailing and posting prayer stations on Facebook. It struck me very early on that Covid was a global trauma. This was going to be a drawn out, complex trauma which would be compounded in many different ways as the disease mutated, as health services were stretched and as the world had to take steps to meet the challenge. Isolation and community fragmentation were just two of these traumatic ripples.

The prayer stations are God focussed and trauma informed. Intimacy with God, knowing God holds the bigger picture and knowing we are not alone all help people and communities journey through trauma. The Good News of the gospel is good news at all times. The prayer stations therefore aim to enable people to meet with and encounter God and his good news even, and perhaps particularly, in these times of adversity. This is both mission and ministry. The stations are pastorally framed – implicitly using pastoral care theory and practice, for example the different models of grief. Finally, they are creatively approached and liturgically held, through the use of liturgy in its broadest sense using word, image, music and poetry. Ignatian and Benedictine approaches to praying with scripture are implicit throughout.

IP: How did this project start—what prompted you to get going on it, and what made you continue?

RK: The first lockdown started on 16th March 2020. The first prayer station was created on 19th March 2020, based on Psalm 23, as a way of supporting a ministerial colleague who had started doing some podcasts to encourage his congregation. Then each day a prayer station was posted, based on a well-known passage of scripture. Some friends wanted these emailed to them. In a time where touch was restricted by lockdown, Holy Week 2020 saw a series of prayer stations based on the touch of Jesus – the anointing, the foot washing, the dipping of bread, the kiss, the placing in the tomb, the touch of God in our lives, and the resurrection where Jesus tells Mary not to touch him. By this time, I was aware that a number of people were finding the approach in the prayer stations helpful in lockdown, and so after Easter began a Journey with Jesus through the book of Mark. This was a 49-day journey. The 50th was a day of Jubilee which led into a week of celebration in the Psalms.  Following this, on 14th June 2020, we began a 52-week journey through the Bible called Footsteps in Prayer. The journey is from Genesis through to Revelation. As I write this we are currently in the book of Romans. The prayer station is posted on a Facebook group, and emailed to a mailing list each Sunday.

IP: What does each prayer station look like?

RK: Each prayer station is a downloadable PDF with a number of slides, using a consistent pattern. In Footsteps in Prayer, the first slide encourages stilling and focusing on the presence of God. The next slide provides a YouTube link to music or a worship song and a link to the passage of the day to pray with and through. The passage can be read but there is also a link to David Suchet reading it, and each passage is accompanied by an image and reflective questions. Following this is a link to a further, often instrumental, piece of music. At the end of each prayer station are three things: a Psalm for the week, with links on the slide to a reading and singing of the Psalm; a reading from the book of Proverbs; and a creative prayer activity for the week. The final slide includes credits and links to the Bible Project outline of the book, and in the Old Testament, to the Fuller Seminary introduction. There are links to the artists who have created the artwork. Each station is accompanied by a short written narrative introduction to the book

IP: How have the prayer stations been used? 

RK: Many people use them individually, dipping in and out at different times. Some are using them every day as part of their daily time with God. Some are emailing them out to a group of others. Some are ‘meeting’ to discuss over Zoom. Some are downloading it as a resource to use later. My home church had a Zoom Journey with Jesus through Mark study group last year and have begun signposting the year-long Footsteps in Prayer in the weekly notice sheet which we started at the beginning of 2021.

IP: What challenges did you face in developing the resource?

RK: Apart from the question of which passages to use from each book, and trying to be led by God and not my own bias, the challenges were mainly practical. The first challenges were with the technology. You cannot upload files on to a personal Facebook page, so I had to create a group. Every now and then Facebook would not let me upload a file so I had to create a website as a safety net that I could signpost people to. According to Facebook, the prayer stations are used by people of all ages from many different places, so in each station there needed to be music for all. Although a blessing, this was actually very time consuming. But I did discover music I didnt know existed – some amazing music from the past and from all over the world. Sometimes there was a piece of music I really wanted to use, but it wasn’t on YouTube, so I learned to buy music online and make videos for YouTube – ever thankful that when I purchased my iPad a year ago, my husband said I should go for one with a decent sized memory. Friends also signposted me to other pieces of music that then made their way into the stations.

Finding the right images was also challenging. Finding images of a non-western Jesus is not easy. Friends and strangers that I emailed out of the blue generously permitted me to use their images and poetry – and without these the stations would not have happened. I have also learned a lot more about copyright issues and discovered copyright free web resources. Emailing prayer stations with images meant that I needed to find some way of reducing the size of images on the iPad – which for some would have been an easy challenge, but for me took time. Maintaining a group and, initially, daily posting was quite a commitment. Moving to weekly posting and emailing of the prayer stations made things sustainable for the longer term. I also had to make sure that I had enough stations prepared in case I became unwell and couldn’t work for a period of time, so learned to schedule posts ahead of time. The final challenge was making sure the detail and punctuation was correct and the implicit and explicit theology was sound – so thanks again to my husband Chris for his reviewing of each station before completion.

IP: What have enjoyed about the process of producing this?

There have been so many joys on the journey. Time to dwell in scripture as part of daily ‘work’ is always a blessing. It is said that prose under pressure becomes poetry – and reading poetry to use in the prayer stations has been a gift. Music also has been a joy. One friend, who is an organist, has written some beautiful music to accompany some of the prayer stations. This has been put together with images – usually artwork created by other friends (some of whom are ‘Covid friends’ who I have never seen or met in person) – to create reflective meditations. There is something about music and image that reaches parts that words alone do not reach. For me there has been the beauty of connecting with others and their work in its various forms. While many connections over Covid were compromised, in other ways it felt that for those of us with access to the internet, connectivity was increased. I would send a Facebook message or email to someone I didnt know, and would often get a response within the hour. These responses came from people as far as India, Tasmania and America. Finding accessible creative approaches to prayer has also been wonderful – some arise from inspiration – some adapt other ideas – some link to online resources. From creating orthodox prayer ropes, to writing a psalm of lament, to ‘Hidden in the Heart’ scripture in a tin, to photography as prayer, each week has seen accessible, simple and not too expensive ideas for praying through creativity.

IP: You comment above that the prayer stations are ‘trauma informed’. What do you mean by that?

RK: This has been key to the project. In trauma, people feel powerless as agency is removed. We have all felt this to different degrees over Covid as we have become unwell and seen others become unwell, seen jobs lost, income cut, friends and loved ones die, been placed into lockdown, had holidays or operations cancelled and not been able to see others. Covid poses lots of questions about suffering and pain. Ruth, Job, Lamentations, Habakkuk help us engage with these questions – as does the Holy Week journey itself. The prayer stations sought to enable the journey through trauma,which sees the story of the trauma being told and witnessed in a safe space, and sees that story reframed and meaning being made. Brueggeman’s analysis of  Psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation reflects this journey. As we move through trauma we need to lament – the Psalms helps us to do this but they do more – they help us to reorientate as we move through trauma, as we see the greatness of the God who holds the bigger picture. Those who sow in tears weep with songs of joy. The Emmaus story perhaps captures this journey through trauma most effectively. The disciples tell their traumatic story and it is witnessed by Jesus who then reframes the story for them in the context of the greater story of scripture. In the breaking of the bread, meaning is made.

IP: There has clearly been a lot of creativity in developing each prayer station. Why has this been important?

RK: God is a creator God and we are made in his creative image. Although I have a scientific background, I have been increasingly involved in mission and ministry through creative arts.  The way God works in and through people’s lives through creativity is profound. The growth of ministries like Bible Art Journaling and creative retreats are just two examples that reflect this. We are embodied beings and so many things – not just trauma – are held in the body. We are to love God not just with our heart, soul and mind but also with our body – our strength. And God ministers to us through our body as well. John Bradford, in The Effects of the Sacraments, notes the multisensory nature of the Lord’s supper which he  sees as ‘seeable, sensible, testable, and touchable words’.

IP: What feedback have you received from those who have used the prayer stations?

RK: The feedback I have had is of people valuing not just the words, but the images, poetry and music. ‘I love the multi-media dimension of the prayer stations. Its the first Ive done with music, art, poetry and most importantly scripture. I love it.’ People have valued the structure and the fact that they can use and share them with others. People have valued the shared care that has gone into their creation as the gifts of so many people have been brought together. It has been a reflection of the body of Christ in action. For me, feedback has also been encouragement – and I give thanks for those with a ministry of encouragement.

IP: What plans do you have for continued development of the resource?

We will finish Footsteps in Prayer in June. I am wondering then about a series on the names of God, which would take us to the end of the summer, by which time I hope and pray we will be moving into a post-Covid, or at least a Covid-controlled, time. There will need to be time to lament, to process, to heal and to be restored. There will need to be time to reflect on how we care for creation and our responsibilities in the future. There will need to be time to consider how we, as the body of Christ, are called to love God and current and future neighbour as self in a post-Covid world.

Rev Dr Rhona Knight is a theological educator, pastoral supervisor and spiritual director. She has written a Grove Booklet which is coming out this month on Mission in a Time of Trauma.

The image at the top of the page is from art work based on the book of Ruth, Sow in tears, reap with songs of joy by Karen Herrick of Harlequin Arts.

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