“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 Thomas 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 cured, 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
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.