Just another WordPress.com site

Posts tagged ‘Centering Prayer’

Praying for an Open Heart

“Someone will come for you, but first you must open your heart.”

-Kate DeCamillo in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

It’s an interesting process to decide on the topic for each week. I often find myself wanting to write about several experiences and ideas, but since I must choose, I sift through them, asking myself which one was the most real experience of God. More often than not, writing requires me to be vulnerable, exposing my weaknesses which is not easy to do. But always, I find they are taken up in God’s strength, so ultimately I hope this blog points to God. In some mysterious way, God uses weakness as a finger to point the way to God. Mining these experiences, while not easy, is always helpful to me and I hope to some who might read it.

This week, I’ve kept going back to Monday evening. I have felt myself being drawn more and more in recent months, into the quiet places of reflection. Writing and reading are two of the things I most look forward to each day. On this particular Monday evening, Joel and Lyle were both out. It’s not that I don’t love their company, but a quiet house is also a treat, as I’m sure anyone with a busy life would understand.

Our community has been exploring a meditation practice called “Centering Prayer”, made famous by the Trappist monk prayer-spirituality-teach7_clip_image002Thomas Keating, among others. It is a method of silent prayer where one sits for 20 minutes in silence. Swirling thoughts are gently addressed with one word which the practitioner chooses, such as “love” or “peace”. Some in Watershed have been practicing it in recent months and talking about their experience.

This time of silence prepares a person to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, where the relationship with God is fostered. So often our minds and hearts are filled with fears, worries, busy plans, all of which get in the way of the deeper stillness where the mystery of God is found.

Many years ago now, I practiced yoga. My first teacher, Heather, introduced me to silent meditation. She loved meditation with a passion, and we would begin each class with 10 or sometimes even 20 minutes of silent sitting. Often the word “Om” was playing from the stereo, the chanting bringing a calm backdrop that I sometimes still hear in my imagination all these years later. I sat with Heather and the small group for years, but deep inside I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about, though I even practiced at home dutifully and with devotion.

It’s strange, but all these years later, I have felt drawn back to meditation, but this time with a Christian not Buddhist, entry point. I dug out my old meditation cushions. “Heather, you would be proud of me,” I said silently with a smile, and sat down.

Looking back on the week, this is where I experienced God the most clearly. No light beams from heaven shone on me and no voices from God spoke. I just felt that God was close. Some poet has said that God is always closer to us than our own breath and I think most of the time we put so much clutter in the way that we miss this.

I know that many times, prayer can seem like words hitting the ceiling, going nowhere, and that in the silence, sometimes all we hear are our own thoughts, but like an advertisement from God, this time felt like an invitation to come again. The rest of the week was a mixed bag of smooth and bumpy sailing, as always, along with a nasty cold to battle, but I kept having the sense that, like Julian of Norwich said, “All will be well. All will be well.” The sense that God was close stayed with me and is with me still.

I wondered what the difference that all these years have made. Why is my heart more open to sitting now? I think getting older has a lot to do with it. I am now the ripe “old” age of 51, and what I know now that I didn’t know when I was 31 is that I can not heal myself. Back then, I was trying a million things to cure my headaches and the underlying depression I would experience. Yoga was one of them. By now, I know, at least a little bit more than I did then, that there is no cure.

You might think me cynical, but I don’t mean to be. It just seems to me that in this life, we all must experience some kind of limitation, something that, despite our best efforts to fix, keeps coming back, nipping at our heels like a persistent dog. I used to think that I needed to be “better” before I could be happy, but there is something more true than being tumblr_lxtb54vJzk1rnql18o1_500cured, and that is being healed by Love.

One of my all time favorite novels to read to my students is called The Miraculous Journey of Eduard Tulane, by Kate

Things begin to go wrong for Edward

Things begin to go wrong for Edward

DiCamillo. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, Eduard is a stuffed rabbit who goes through a treacherous journey where many, many things go wrong. Like all of us, he experiences radical limitation. Without giving the plot away, he is not cured, but becomes healed by love in many forms.

My students absolutely love this book, and I can never read the ending without tearing up. I think that even in their young lives, these students understand that Love trumps all the bad news, and that like Edward, we are never left alone.

At one point, an old doll tells Edward amid his troubles, “Someone will come for you, but first you must open your heart.”

Like the Grinch and Scrooge and Edward Tulane, may God keep cracking open these hearts of ours.

Watching the Boats Pass By

Last Sunday I ran one leg of the Manitoba Marathon. Almost-five miles, that’s all it was. Myself and 4 dear friends each took a leg to make up the 26.2 miles. Cal came along to cheer and our friend Lorna was the driver, making sure each person got to their spot on time. 

This is my fourth time around for the marathon and this year I noticed a common theme from last year. Like last year, I found myself smiling the whole time and as I ran. When else do you get to run surrounded by cheers and the occasional bagpipe band?

I also noticed something else. Since this marathon is at the end of the school year, I found myself praying, like last year, thanking God for being with me and sustaining me all year.

Gratitude might seem like the most obvious thing in the world. Seen from a distance, it is always clear to me how generously God has provided for my every need. However, when I am neck deep in report cards, or endless lesson planning, or putting out the behavior fires that come up every day, it’s easy for me to get discouraged and forget.

Isn’t it like that for all of us? Don’t we all forget how rich we are when distracting troubles come our way? Troubles such as health, interpersonal problems, insecurities, frustrating situations at home or work, our own monkey mind… the list goes on. If you are like me, a pity party can start up pretty quickly. It’s like we start inhaling our troubles, over-identifying with them, all while forgetting the resources surrounding us.

One study group at Watershed is going through a book on contemplative prayer by Thomas Keating. Keating teaches a way of prayer called “centering prayer”. He has a great image that has helped many people when all these distractions come up.

Imagine a river with boats drifting along by on the surface. Imagine that you are sitting on the shore, watching. The river is your consciousness and the boats are all the random thoughts and problems that seem to spring up unwanted out of nowhere. Keating uses this image and says we are to just watch the boats go by without getting embroiled in them.

It’s ok to watch the boats go by, 

we just do not want to climb aboard and inspect the cargo.” 

This has been a helpful image for me in recent weeks. Taking a deep breath (or many deep breaths) is one of the best ways I know to pray wherever I am. Whatever I find myself getting caught up in, if I take a breath and remember it’s just a boat passing by, then I can pray for help not to climb aboard the boats. Then I can remember the great river I am actually part of, the one I’ll notice every year at the marathon relay as I remember all the ways God was with me during the year. (For a good, short article on this practice, check out this link.)

Despite these hectic year end days, I’ve found myself more reflective lately. Like the plentiful monarch eggs which we’ve been watching in my class since May (check out my class blog here to see pictures and videos!), I’ve been reminded of so many evidences of God.

  • I’ve seen God in the kind and generous people I work with, who always try to see the best in each other and in the children.
  • I’ve seen God at work in my fellow soul mates at Watershed: answered prayers, hope in the place of worry or despair, and people revived by the Great River that is God (who also practice not climbing aboard the boats).
  • I’ve seen God at work in the many times I’ve been encouraged and restored to sanity by the above people. (not to mention people I rarely or never see but who connect with me via the Internet – Mel, my top commenter on this blog, Karen Cook, my former student teacher, now a teacher herself and still a dear friend, Bill Howdle who writes another blog, to  mention just a few.
  • I’ve been encouraged many times by my mom and dad, and especially my dear dad as he writes back to me, always encouraging me and letting me know he’s a fellow pilgrim on this walk of faith. It means more to me than he knows. (Happy Father’s Day Dad)
  • I know I’ve said it lots, but this blog keeps me pondering the Great River. I write contemplatively with an eye to the bigger Story in these Internet pages, and it helps me immeasurably each week.
  • There are many community events that keep me grounded each week: Wednesday night studies, Sunday mornings, movie night, walks with friends – all events part of our faith community that keep me focused.

For all of you reading, my prayer is that you too will be steeped in awareness of God and whatever gives you life and hope and let the boats pass by without climbing aboard.

Tag Cloud