Five stones – a resource for communal prayer
An interactive alternative to Candles of Joys and Concerns using pebbles as touchstones for prayers. Developed by Jo James at Mill Hill Chapel in lockdown 2020
It can be helpful to invite participants to contribute actual stones, sea pebbles & touchstones are ideal, to hold. At Mill Hill we invite people to drop stones into the water of the baptismal font.
The notes on James Luther Adams ‘Five smooth stones of liberal religion’ (with acknowledgments to a responsive reading found here: https://www.uua.org/re/tapestry/youth/wholeness/workshop1/handout-1 ) are included for interest and may or may not be helpful in practice of worship .
In our individualist and atomised culture it can seem that the forces that oppose change are overwhelming. But we remember David in the First Book of Samuel (ch.17: 40): “Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine [Goliath].” The boy David placed his faith in his hand when he went to face his giant opponent.
James Luther Adams (in his essay “Guiding Principles for a Free Faith” in On Becoming Human Religiously: Selected Essays in Religion and Society, Max Stackhouse, ed. Beacon Press, 1976, pp. 12-20.) said that the liberal church also had five smooth stones:
• “Religious liberalism depends on the principle that ‘revelation’ is continuous.” liberal religious tradition is a living tradition because we are always learning more about reality and discovering new aspects of the truth. God’s ongoing self revelation didn’t end with the Bible, but is a continuous process that we can choose to participate in.
• “All relations between persons ought to rest on mutual, free consent and not on coercion.” The history of religious radicalism is a struggle for freedom inspired by God. The God of Exodus is the God of liberation, and “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom”, so in freedom we enter into relationship with one another, and we aspire to relationships free from the shadow of domination.
• “…Religious liberalism affirms the moral obligation toward the establishment of a just and loving community. It is this which makes the role of the prophet central and indispensable in liberalism.” We aspire to fairness and equality. The role of prophetic witness is to disturb and disrupt the superficial narratives of competitive culture. By instinct and tradition we cherish freedom of conscience, reason in religion and freedom of expression.
• “Liberalism holds that the resources (Divine and human) available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism.” Despite all our difficulties and all the challenges that confront us, we may share in a hope which transcends hopelessness. Beyond hope there lies an opportunity to discover new meaning and new life
We recognise that prayer is itself a counter cultural act and so we raise up prayers like stones against the faceless and mindless powers and principalities of hyper-materialism.
It is important to note that online, as in chapel, silence need not be difficult or awkward but it can instead be a resource; silence is the stream from which we lift our stones.
Our first stone is a prayer of gratitude
1. what small things (or maybe big things) are you grateful for…
Our second stone may require you to commit more deeply it is a prayer of sorrow or grief.
2. You may chose to hold this sorrow in your heart but if you wish to share it, please know that your grief is held and respected and your tears are welcome
Even more courage may be required to lift up our next stone which is a prayer of self acceptance and may be written or voiced or maybe understood only in your own heart
3. State with clarity in your own heart any failure you’d like to overcome – or state an aspiration to do better. Again you may choose quietness in which to bring your own knowledge of the things you struggle with to consciousness, but it is important to bring to awareness all that you know in your heart. You may wish to share the goal you are setting for yourself.
Our fourth stone is a prayer for our own congregation or family & friends –
4. Who are the individuals close to us we should raise up, in celebration or in concern?
Our fifth stone is a prayer for the wider community:
5. what places or communities in the world should we raise up in celebration or concern?
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