Do you find yourself ready for a retreat because summer – or life in general – is getting to you? Does life feel stormy, or are there clouds threatening the horizon of your heart? If so, a little spa time is just what you need! We often think of pampering our bodies when we are weary and heavy laden. Sometimes physical rest and relaxation is in order, and it truly helps us. But often afterwards, we get back home and into life again, and we find ourselves right back in a stormy, weary place, wishing we could return to the spa…
What would happen if we would choose to spend our “spa” time and energy on preparing to soothe our soul through prayer? We could then set up an all-encompassing prayer space that ministers to our body as well as our soul. We could also make a plan to restructure our life to include spending time in that space each day, praying.
But how would we go about creating such a space and implementing such a change? “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” offers solutions to this question. The book is full of reasons for us to bathe our souls in peaceful prayer. And it doesn’t simply scold us with reasons to straighten out our prayer life: it gently takes us by the hand, introducing us to practical means to do so.
This book is, in itself, a retreat. Each entry is simultaneously soothing and thought provoking. It is written thoughtfully, and every page is poetry which engages the mind while challenging the reader’s thoughts. Themed chapters help the reader think from a distinctly Orthodox Christian perspective about topics related to prayer. They are as follows: Mind…Body…Soul; The Five Senses; Your Prayer Plan; Inner Stillness; An Offering; The Hours; Tools for Therapy. (Readers will likely find the “Tools for Therapy” chapter to become the most visited chapter. It includes a few ideas for ways to invite your body to join in prayer, as well as pages and pages of prayers, ranging from Psalms for each of the Hours to morning and evening prayers.) The author’s near-exclusive use of lower case is intentional; whispering her ideas and findings instead of shouting them, enhancing their soft allure. The final pages of the book are supplements that include a reproducible prayer card for your daily prayer plan, pages of scripture verses to memorize and pray, and recommended books (featuring an important quote from each) for further growth.
In Orthodoxy, we often invite the world to “come and see” what The Faith is all about. The same applies to this book. Attempting to describe it is one thing: but experiencing it is something else completely. The author’s intent with the book is “to bring the hidden wisdom of early christian luminaries to those in the twenty-first century who may not yet have come to experience this tangible way to love your God, your neighbor, and yourself within the fabric of daily life.” (p. 108) She has succeeded. “Prayer Spa” is at once a tall drink of cool water on a hot day and a sturdy lighthouse in a stormy sea. You may wish to “come and see” for yourself.
Whether or not we adopt all of the ideas in “Prayer Spa,” let us embrace its challenge to be intentional in our prayers. Let us indeed commune with God daily, with our whole self, through prayer, thus nourishing our soul. This is the kind of “spa time” that we truly need. Anchoring our life in prayer brings calm and peace to our souls, even in the storms of life.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for sharing a copy with the AODCE so that we could read it and write this review.
Purchase your own copy here: https://paracletepress.com/products/prayer-spa
(Note: although this book may not be applicable for use with your Sunday church school students, its effect on their teacher will certainly impact their lives for the good! And perhaps it will stir in you ideas for growing prayer in your students’ lives.)
Here are a few gleanings from the book:
“train your mind to pierce
through the roar of voices
undistracted, to a single focus.
this recalls the stillness of the desert
where our monastic fathers and mothers
honed their communion with a personal God…
…massage your attention span
to align and extend its reach.
memorize prayers, scriptures, and psalms
to lift mind and soul
wrap them in together in white cloth.” (p. 15, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)
“prayer is a way toward theosis—union with God
sharing in His divine nature, through grace.
this is a long, narrow pathway
which must be sought after with great humility and perseverance.
yet spiritual refreshment is available to any person
who wishes to partake in the tangible beauty
of a life seeking the Holy in this grace-infused world.” (pp. 28- 29, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)
“at the beginning, you must force yourself to pray
but soon, prayer becomes essential to a day well lived.” (p. 33, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)
“…by carrying God’s presence deep in the center of your heart
you may one day become, through grace
a person who has been turned into prayer.” (p. 47, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)
“father anthony bloom taught a method
for gathering the crumbs of wasted time
and transforming them into something holy.
the secret of this contemplative exercise is to find joy
simply being with God
as you listen for His voiceless presence within your heart.” (p. 48, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)
“a fourth-century aid to contemplative prayer
the christian prayer rope is a way to offer time
kairos time, in the moment … not chronos time, by the clock
traditionally it is tied with knots made of nine crosses
one cross representing each order of the angels
to use the prayer rope, simply repeat the Jesus Prayer
while moving from knot to knot with the thumb and forefinger…” (p. 56, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)
“as creatures contained in time, we can sanctify our days
savor the remembrance of God
by praying “the hours.”
the “major hours” consist of morning and evening prayers.
you may choose to expand your offering to include
the seven “divine services” throughout the day
spoken on their designated hour, or adjusted to fit your schedule.” (p. 66, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)
“if you have children, let them catch you praying.
share these short remembrances of God with them.
let them discover your own yearning for prayer
as a treat you quietly prioritize each day.
remember, you too are a child of God, beloved.” (p. 69, “Prayer Spa: Ancient Treatments for the Modern Soul” by Jennifer Anna Rich)