Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. -- Matthew 9:17
For this passage, my Bible concordance states, “In ancient times goatskins were used to hold wine. As the fresh grape juice fermented, the wine would expand, and the new wineskin would stretch. But a used skin, already stretched, would break.” I use the wisdom of this verse often in my own prayer life and with those I companion as a spiritual director.
Our lives are in constant motion and we choose to grow or not in response to life’s circumstances. When impacted by chronic disease as the one diagnosed, as primary caregiver or, perhaps, professional employment that serves this population, our resulting new life can become a metaphorical “new wine.” Our needs are different. Our relationship with God may undergo significant testing, refining and deepening. Our spiritual needs take on a new urgency for relevancy. If we try to stay with the same prayer rhythm that we utilized in healthy, less chaotic times, we are essentially pouring this new life into an old “skin” that may or may not suit us in this new place.
For myself, there are a few prayer practices that have stayed with me throughout many life transitions. The Bible and a journal have been consistent. Everything else changes with the seasons of my life. Praying with art, nature, music, meditating with Scripture, dance, silence, singing, labyrinth walks, etc. all move in and out of my life as circumstances shift. God has provided me with an abundance of ways to connect with the Spirit, and I use the prayer practice that meshes with what I need in that moment to remain connected with God.
I did not get to that place overnight. For a long time I was pretty much in a routine that I was unwilling to change. I stuck with it whether or not it seemed to make a difference. There are times to be disciplined in a prayer practice. There are also times to open the box and allow God to enter through new avenues. I talked with others about their prayer practices, read books and took classes. I visited churches different from what I had become comfortable with to experience how others prayed and what was meaningful to them. My prayer horizons expanded to meet my deepening needs for a prayer life to hold all that was happening in me and through me. Now, I am in a much better place to vary my prayer practices as needed to ensure my relationship with God is as strong as it can be. My wine skin continues to grow and change as I grow and change.
To help you deepen or expand your own prayer practices and to engage with others embarking on the same journey, I invite you to check out AWBA’s next event, Praying With Illness. This on-line retreat is offered February 10-March 31, 2013 with a registration deadline of January 28. For those who have not participated in an Internet-based community experience and are wondering if this is something to try, visit here for some personal stories from those who have benefitted from an AWBA virtual community.
As we move move through this Advent time of active waiting, may you come to identify those places in your life where God is inviting you to new birth.