Why do I choose to meditate or practice contemplative prayer?
The Celtic tradition calls it yearning for God or leaving space for listening and being receptive to the voice within, giving attention to each breath with is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, wrote “God uses everything that happens as a means to lead me into solitude. Here I will find God in everything and all things will bring me joy.” So, I seek moments of solitude each day as an opportunity to listen, to focus on my breath, to notice the passing thoughts go by, but not hold on to them or let them distract me. I return to the breath or presence of the Holy Spirit with openness and receptivity. The Christian mystic poet Kabir said, “God is the breath inside the breath.”
In contemplative prayer, I will often use a word or phrase to help me stay focused. Thomas Keating suggests “Resting in God.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese monk, says, “I am going HOME.” I also say, “Come, Holy Spirit.” In silence we participate in honoring the great mystery with all other human beings. While we may not be able to explain of prove the mystery of God’s presence with us, we can choose to accept it. Sitting in silence gives us time to let it shape and mold our hearts. It can soften our judgements of ourselves and others and lead to thoughtful, compassionate action in our world.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and Heath Care at the University of Massachusetts Medical School suggests 20 minutes twice each day for beginners. In the meditation groups that we participate in, we sit for one hour with a brief break after 30 minutes. Sometimes we do walking meditation for 10 minutes in between sittings. For beginners, Zinn directs us to “use your breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment.” The posture the body should embody wakefulness. He calls it taking your seat, sitting with dignity, honoring and helind place and placement of body, time, and posture in awareness. This reminds me of Jesus’ words to “Stay Awake!” Zinn tells us that this is a work of a lifetime. It’s not a quick fix! The calming of the body and mind in silence without judgement is a peaceful way of being in this world. After all, we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS!
The practice may bring changes in your life. It may influence your use of time, money, your choice of books to read and films to watch. It has prompted me to try to simplify my life, set priorities and appreciate the people and events in my daily life more fully. The practice of present moment awareness fits my Christian desire to pray continually.
It is my hope that the Christian church, now in the 21st century will begin to offer more opportunities for contemplative prayer. It was a practice among the early Christians, carried on over centuries in monasteries and convents and is associated with many saints, mystics, and monastics. It is a form of apophatic prayer, listening rather that talking to God. We do well at verbal prayers of thanksgiving, confession, petition, and praise of God in church, but seldom do we sit for even 5 minutes to calm ourselves and be receptive to God’s message for us as individuals or as members of the loving, caring community that we are. It is my hope that we can become more comfortable with longer periods of silence in church. Of course, we can always create a quiet, desert space in our home where we can enter the solitude of our heart, experience the presence of God within us, and “Be still and know that I AM.” (Psalm 46:10) or “Pause a while and know that I am God.”
Submitted by: Linda Elder