Monthly Archives: February 2015

February 2015 Shavings Letter

Praying in the Sauna

In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul writes instructions that have always challenged me. He says,
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will
of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

How do we rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances?
Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are all important parts of our Christian life, but it
seems ridiculous to say that we can/should do them all the time, constantly, in every
situation. Paul did not hesitate to encourage his readers to do things that are difficult, but
he surely knew that it is fruitless to ask people to do the impossible. So what can “pray
without ceasing”mean?

For the past year, for the first time in my life, I have made a routine of sitting in a sauna
or steam room at the fitness center where Anne and I work out. Especially on cold days,
it is a real pleasure to sit for 5-10 minutes, thawing out in 160 degree heat or breathing
in the warmth of steam. And, I have found it is time that I can use in a prayerful way. If
I have an urgent concern, I can pray about that. Or, more often, it is a time of spiritual
check-in. I may ponder how I have been using my 2014 One-word, which is “practice.” I
may do what people in AA call a “brutally honest self-assessment.” I may sit in silence,
enjoying the gift of being alive, grateful for breathing and a heart that beats.

Paul’s words tell us correctly that it is always appropriate and beneficial to pray, in good
times and bad, by day or by night, in joy and in sorrow. There are no moments when praying
is particularly powerful, no special days when it is better to pray than on regular days.
Prayer can be spoken or silent, long and passionate, or short and simple. Praying can
be done at a regular time, perhaps in a prayerful setting, or spontaneously, in a random
moment. Our prayers can be memorized, like the Lord’s Prayer or a childhood table
grace, or we can use our own words.

We can find prayerful moments, when our attention is not held by a task, when we are
alone, or surrounded by silence. There are in-between moments, pausing or waiting.
I do not want to minimize Paul’s challenge, or find an easy way out, but neither do I
want to count myself a failure as a disciple of Jesus because I cannot accomplish Paul’s
seemingly-impossible task. So I pray when I can, when the moment presents itself, when
my mind is free. Praying in the sauna is as “unceasing” as I can do.