Through posting prayers to Instagram, recording podcasts and running prayer schools, Commoners Communion seeks to approach prayer through a creative lens and explore how relationship with Christ can combat the busyness of the world.
Strahan Coleman’s ministry through Commoners Communion creates what he calls a ‘very strange paradox’.
Commoners Communion is a blend of the traditional and modern, where beautiful prayers are shared in the form of poetry via social media and podcasts, inviting people to connect with God and make space for prayer life away from the demands of a screen-oriented world.
Though it began as an alternative creative outlet when severe chronic illness prevented him from performing music, Strahan is deeply grateful for the opportunity to open a conversation about prayer and some of the world’s misunderstandings about it.
‘The complete premise of our entire belief system is that in some amazing and miraculous shape or form, God made a way for us to be friends with him,’ he says. ‘To be friends with God is no simple matter, as it turns out, and it can also be a source of pain for people. Prayer is the word that we give to friendship with God. And I think the church assumes that everybody knows what to do.
‘One of the biggest barriers is, simply, people’s assumption that God lives outside of them, and [that] prayer is about pulling God into us,’ he says. ‘Prayer is more about us acknowledging a truth that God is already with us, than it is about bringing him in and, therefore, that changes the entire dynamic.’
Swapping Distraction for Prayer
Strahan believes the church could be more proactive when teaching people about what prayer is and practically encouraging them to allow greater space for God to move in their lives. He experienced the benefits of this first-hand, over an extended period when he was too sick to even watch TV or read.
‘It was very painful, and so I would sit and stare out a window basically all day long, and, in that process, detox from what I thought was a normal level of consumption,’ he says. ‘I noticed that the more room I made, the more God naturally rose to the surface of my life. And that’s when I realised, Oh my gosh, we’re trying to teach people to have good thoughts and to process things with God and to have an eternal life, in a world that’s literally like a hurricane of noise.
‘If you want to have a good prayer life, read more books, watch less TV, turn off your phone and have more space in your calendar, because it doesn’t matter how great your spiritual practices are; if you’re busy-minded and given to lots of consumption, sitting down to pray, your brain will be a nightmare for you.’
In one Commoners Communion Instagram post, he describes busyness as ‘deluding us with the breadcrumbs of instant satisfaction that never quite fills’.
To quiet the noise, he hopes churches could begin addressing this issue in Sunday services or ending sermons with tips and weekly practices for people to implement.
‘Some of them could be running courses on digital minimalism, or on the practicalities of living a sustained, healthy life—things like good sleeping habits, good TV habits, good habits for stilling your mind around negative thoughts and negative self-talk,’ he suggests. ‘In my understanding, this is all returning to the way that God made us, so it’s deeply biblical.
‘There’s no point in saying “Jesus loves you” if someone is so depressed and overwhelmed, drinking too much and completely consuming social media and television that they don’t even really understand what that statement means anymore, so we have to help clear that space somehow in churches.’
Of course, the irony of his message being carried through a screen or set of headphones is not lost on Strahan. However, he sees Commoners Communion as a platform through which God can speak, a starting point for people to rediscover or reimagine their relationship with the Lord through prayer.
‘Primarily, for me, it’s a place of mission. It’s a place of servitude; I’m there to serve Christ.’
When chronic illness meant Strahan was no longer able to sing, he leaned into poetry as a way to express his creativity and connect with God.
‘We create because we’re made in the image of the Creator. It’s not about getting Instagram followers or pleasing somebody or being special, it’s simply that if I shut myself up, my soul will cease to flourish,’ he says. ‘And if other people get to enjoy that, magnificent—what a privilege.’
‘It’s a real blessing to me, and I feel that poetry is the language of the soul. How do you explain what God feels like? How do you make sense of the movements of the Spirit outside of poetry and metaphor?’
Many of the prayers he posts meditate on elements of creation. For example, within a post entitled, ‘You’re praying before I am, God—I’m simply joining the conversation’, he compares prayer to jumping into the ongoing current of a river, rather than a still lake. He says this may be because the imagery of creation is often far more accessible to people—including himself—than the Bible itself, in terms of revealing Christ to the modern world.
‘The Bible is 2000 years old, written in a language we don’t speak … it’s a foreign document that I love and appreciate and read as the authoritative Word of God, and it is how I discover theology. But when I sit before the ocean and I consider the way that the tide moves, life seems more clear to me. That there are seasons when the tide comes up and the seabed is covered, and there is a change of season when it goes out again, that’s natural and normal. That makes more sense to me in terms of my own emotion and life.
‘Those years when I was sick, I couldn’t read the Bible, because my brain fog and anxiety was so high, and so I just looked and I watched. And as I watched, I felt like God spoke to me through the simplicity and the imagery of creation.’
If there is a particular audience he is speaking to through Commoners Communion, Strahan believes they can be found in the verses of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, such as the poor in spirit, the mourners, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The prayers he writes are all responses to his own experiences; as a result, they often touch on difficult topics such as chronic illness, grief and mental health.
‘There are a number of people out there going through journeys that are incredibly difficult, and the church isn’t always great at theologising for them and making sense of their experience of God. The church usually says, “When this is over, or if you can just pray this way, you’ll get there”. But that’s meaningless to me, because when someone tells me, “God wants to heal you”, I say, “Amen, please”.
‘But what do I do for the next couple of months while I’m in bed and I can’t play with my children? Who is God to me then, and how do I find meaning and beauty in my life? And to that question, I don’t think the church has ever given me a truly good answer.
‘Because I have been sick for so long and because it’s such an ongoing wrestle for my body and my mind and for my relationships, it undergirds a lot of what I speak to and how I relate to people,’ he explains. ‘With what I’m doing, I feel confident to speak from my own experience because I believe that there’s enough of us out there who can’t change our circumstances, who need the gospel.’
By processing these challenges through poetry and sharing them via Commoners Communion, he hopes they might resonate with and be a blessing to others.
‘I started it because I wanted to try and express an intangible journey that I’d been on, and I’d hoped a couple of people might come with me. I didn’t have any particular goals. And so, I find myself in a place now where I feel that what started out as a creative outlet has become more of a responsibility to teach and to share and to help others go on their own journey.’
Stepping into the Teaching Space
Commoners Communion has grown in its scope to run online prayer schools. Within these groups, Strahan leads discussions about prayer where, together, they can break down some of the misunderstandings, delve into the mysteries and embrace the gift of relationship with Christ.
Making the leap from a creative endeavour to a teaching opportunity came as a surprise to Strahan. ‘I’ve never considered myself a teacher, ever! I think it was really a response to the hunger of the people out there on the subject and the lack of local resourcing, and so it’s really about meeting a need,’ he says. ‘I feel like God has given me the gift to do it in this season.
‘It seems to be helpful for people and I love connecting with people and seeing them come alive. That’s what really motivates me, and so these prayer schools, the stories that come from people and the experiences they have are just enlivening to me.’
Strahan has a vision to pursue this ministry further. One day, he hopes to open up a physical centre near his home in the Coromandel, as a place where people can visit for prayer and spiritual direction, and ‘have conversations with people where we can teach about the integration of prayer and mental health and physical health and nutrition’.
‘One of the things that I think in the next season as a church we need to grow in is curiosity. Being able to say, “Hey, this is my experience … What’s your experience? This is what the Bible seems to say, this is what tradition and experience seem to say. Let’s explore this together and go on a journey”. That’s embracing the reality of God’s mystery, but also saying that he can be found in a mix of stuff.’
As for what or where that is, it could be a building in the Coromandel; a podcast or prayers shared on social media; a Sunday church service. It could be a continuation of something the church has been doing for years, or a new creative endeavour that no one has even imagined, let alone brought to fruition, yet. But Strahan believes it is through relationship with each other and through prayer that we will find Christ in those spaces.
‘I feel like I’m called to create a space for people to come and explore those questions together,’ he says. ‘I don’t have all the ideas, but the church does, and if we can get together in dialogue, nothing’s impossible.’