I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I pray differently in different places. For the past eight years I’ve lived in Dunedin, New Zealand, a city of 120,000 people in a beautiful setting with water and mountains. Now I’m in Seattle for seven months, another city in a beautiful setting with water and mountains. Despite the similarities, I see the need for different prayers here than in Dunedin.
I read Dakota: A Spiritual Geography in 2001, soon after Kathleen Norris released it. In fact, I devoured it. She talked about how her spiritual life, her prayer life, was impacted by the place where she lived, South Dakota, and the people who lived there. At that time I was living in Seattle, and I realized how deeply my prayers were impacted by my sense of place. Mount Rainier has always been a lodestone to me, and the water and mountains speak to me of God’s creativity and majesty.
Now I’m thinking about my prayers in Seattle versus Dunedin in a different way. My spiritual geography of 2015 is calling me to make some shifts in prayer. Here are some examples:
1. Prayers for people who are far away versus prayers for people who are close by. My older son, his wife and daughter live in Seattle. My mother lives one hour away. My brother, his wife and my nephew live three hours away. My niece lives a few hours further away. When I’m here in Seattle I see these people with some regularity. When I’m in Dunedin I go months or years without seeing them. Praying for people close by is different in many ways than praying for people far away. Close by, I need to pray for my conversations with them. I need to ask God’s help for showing love to them by my actions when I’m with them. When I’m far away I pray for them differently, asking God to bless them and help them, asking God to help me to show love to them from a distance. Despite all the wonderful ways to communicate with people far away, love looks different from different distances, and so we need to pray specifically for God’s help in giving and receiving love based on location.
2. Prayers for specific location-based stressors. The traffic in Seattle is horrific. I find myself angry at someone in another car almost every day. I can see that I need to begin some entirely new prayer practices around this tendency to get angry so easily at the way other people drive. This is something we don’t deal with in Dunedin, where a “traffic jam” might involve 10 cars at an intersection. In Dunedin, my primary stressor is different. There, my major stress comes from living so far from so many people I love. I believe God will call us back to Seattle someday, and I need to trust God for the timing of that move and trust God for peace in living so far away. Identifying the major stressors in different places calls us to pray (and ask forgiveness) in location-specific ways.
I pray often for the rivers in New Zealand, because one of the biggest environmental issues on the South Island is the number of farmers switching from sheep to cows, and cows have a much bigger impact on the rivers. But what should I be praying for in Seattle related to caring for the earth? Politics is another arena where prayers for specific local issues vary from one place to the next.
What are the location-specific needs and issues that inform your prayers? In what ways do you pray differently in different places? In what ways do you need to?
Today’s post is contributed by Lynne Baab the author of numerous books and Bible study guides on prayer and other Christian spiritual practices, including The Power of Listening, Sabbath Keeping, Fasting, and Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. She teaches pastoral theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand. She has also recently published a new novel, Death in Dunedin, a mystery set in her beautiful adopted home town, Dunedin New Zealand.
Visit her website, www.lynnebaab.com, to read her blog, access numerous articles she has written about spiritual practices, and find information about her books.