Centering Prayer Journal

daisiesThis is a repost from my article on Alive Now’s blog

I starting practicing centering prayer in February as I was working on the July/August 2011 issue on Finding Time. Centering prayer seemed to be a good spiritual practice to include with this issue. And I realized that if I was going to invite readers to try out centering prayer, I should be willing to practice it myself. Before February, my only experiences with centering prayer had been in a Sunday school class at my church. I went to three or four sessions, but ended up falling asleep each time. So I joined a more active class instead.

My time for centering prayer is in the early morning after breakfast and walking the dogs. I kept a journal for a while and share some of my experience with you here. As you can see, I’m still “practicing.” I hope you’ll share your own thoughts and experiences, challenges and successes, questions and comments. Blessings!

2/19/11 – God, I feel like a failure this morning in my prayers. My brain cannot concentrate on you. Every little space I create gets filled up in seconds with a thought or distraction. I could never achieve that peaceful connection that I am longing for. Help me, God, to let go of my expectations and accept what happens. I am longing for you, God. Please fill me. Amen.

2/21/11 – God, I thank you for this time. It seems I fight through chaos and distractions, only to find you in the final minutes of my mediation. I forget that you are present even if I cannot seem to reach you. I stood in your presence, I felt, for a few seconds at a time. Fog swirled around me, but I was fully present to you. Thank you for the luxury of 20 minutes of quiet. I pray for mothers and fathers for whom such a time seems impossible. I am yours. Amen.

2/22/11 – Somewhere between dozing and distractions of dogs walking, licking, and barking, I may have felt you. Saw glimpses of you. Walk with me into this day, O God. I need your presence. Amen.

3/13/11 – There is within me a sort of hall of presence where I meet you, God. It expands so large within me. When I can find the way, I open it to you and you come inside. Quiet, expansive, spacious oneness with your presence. I thank you, God.

3/14/11 – I cannot find the space except for short glimmers of you. I open up the left side of my awareness and try to hold off distractions with my right arm. That doesn’t work. Help me to relax into your love. I cannot control or fight my way there. I’m powerless over these distractions. Help me, loving God.

3/16/11 – Even without distractions I am flighty in my thoughts. My expectations are high and I struggle to force things out if my mind. Perhaps surrender would be a better way – force does not work. And still I meet you for moments and glimpses. I am grateful.

3/19/11 – It’s a curious thing, this spaciousness that I slip into. I don’t know how to make it happen or how to stay there once I find myself there. But it is a relaxed place. Like I have relaxed into God’s arms or lap or presence. I’m grateful, God, for this gift from you. Amen.

3/22/11 – Presence. Your presence, O God, through the distractions. I am yours. Amen

3/25/11 – It’s a morning when I feel like I failed my prayer time. I tried to control all the noise, but once it got quiet, I still couldn’t quiet my own mind. God, you are my God. I search for you. Thank you for your presence. Amen.

3/30/11 – I start out in a darkened place. I am broken before you. I don’t want you to see me this way. I start writing in my head even while I try to let go of the thoughts. I am broken, God, and standing before you. Have mercy on me. Then there is a spacious place that is around me and holding me in. Thank you, God, for letting me enter your presence.

3/31/11 – Some days I finally reach you just before the end of the allotted time. Thank you. It is enough. Amen.

4/1/11 – Even in the quiet of the morning I have trouble making a way clear to you. My brain keeps working on problems and I am unable to give myself over to you. A glimpse will have to suffice. Thank you, God. I am hungry for that spacious connection with you.

4/3/11 – I’m not ready for centering prayer in the midst of distractions – such as the dog chewing on his new bone. I need quiet, and still I lose my way. But I do better with silence and peace. It’s baby steps and gratitude and lack of judgment. That is what I need. Thank you God, for the glimpses of your presence.

4/4/11 – My brain hops around like a bunny. I hold tension in my arms trying to find the right position to meet God. I’m powerless over my attention. It seems impossible to be still for 20 minutes. It’s glimpses. Just glimpses. Thank you God for the glimpses of peace.

4/6/11 – Another day of some longer glimpses and I am grateful. Peace is wonderful. Thank you for the presence.

4/8/11 – I’m scattered and unable to concentrate. Gather me up, God, in a single-minded focus on you. Amen.

4/12/11 – Missed a few days and I’m totally out of practice. Didn’t even get to the narthex of your presence, God. Thank you for being there, even though I couldn’t find you. I need your help.

4/13/11 – I’m still fighting to be here. And fighting does not work. I am yours. I am here. Help me, God.

4/16/11 – Seems as though I mostly squander the time I have with you, God. My mind drifts off into all kinds of thoughts and I forget what I’m doing. I can’t remember to concentrate on you and waste most of the time far away from your presence. I’m sorry, loving God. I know you have forgiven me. Thank you.

4/21/11 – My brain is a clutch of bunnies hopping around, unable to focus. Bit there are glimpses of you. And that is enough. Thank you. Amen.

4/22/11 – Why is it that I don’t get to peace and presence until 20 seconds before my alarm goes off? Thank you, loving God, for those 20 seconds.

4/25/11 – I didn’t know it would be so difficult to learn to sit for 20 minutes in quiet. Thank you for this time of learning. I am yours. Amen.

5/3/11 – On this morning after I haven’t slept well, I am fairly peaceful and connected. Thank you, God, for your quiet presence inside of me. Amen.

5/4/11 – Maybe practice does help. It wasn’t a long stretch, but I was able to reach a deep place for a while near the end of my 20 minutes. I don’t know how it happened. It just did. Thank you, Spirit. Amen.

5/12/11 – Such a hard time getting anywhere today, thoughts float through my mind and I chase them on. Planning, solving problems, investigating noises. My brain is in a fog. But for short moments, I slip though the fog into the space that is you, and my mind quiets for that moment. Thank you, God, for moments with you. Amen.

5/18/11 – God, every time I think I’ve mastered the quiet, I find that the chatter is back. I cannot control my brain. I forget to surrender to you. I love you, God. I am yours.

5/20/11 – Thanks, God. Even with dogs barking from time to time, I found the quiet place. I’m grateful.

6/30/11 – I am trying to let go of the tension in my body. Seems like I am trying too hard to concentrate on the word rather than letting go, relaxing into God’s love. I’m trying to force my mind to be open. It doesn’t work so well.

 

More on Centering Prayer


Photo Credit: Beth A. Richardson. “Colorado Daisies.”

Love Your Enemies

Mosaic

This is a repost from the Alive Now blog.

Jesus set such a seemingly impossible standard when he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5). I’ve been all jumbled up inside since I heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I felt relieved, but also sad. When I saw and heard the crowds of people cheering, I was uncomfortable. I was nervous this American response would stir up even more hatred and violence toward our country. During the night I had strange, disturbing dreams, and I woke up feeling tired and anxious.

I was worried about the current issue of Alive Now on “The Household of God,” in which we hear the voices of people from all over the world, from several different religions all talking about how we are invited to a banquet where God is the host. What if, I worried, there’s a backlash against the magazine because of these current events? (We were aware that the content of this issue would be challenging for some.) Then I remembered how we turn this magazine over to God as we begin to work on each issue, asking for God’s guidance and wisdom as we gather and shape the content. Perhaps, I thought, this issue on “The Household of God” in some way represents what God wants to say to us today.

It makes sense that Osama Bin Laden’s death would bring up emotions. 9/11 was an event of terror that brought trauma to an entire nation. And events such as Bin Laden’s death bring the trauma back as if happened only yesterday. For me, it’s brought back feelings of fear and sadness. I imagine that this event has stirred up a variety of responses in us all, especially for those who were directly affected by the attacks ten years ago and the wars since then.

Those of us who are Christ-followers have the example of Jesus, who set that seemingly impossible standard when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). May the God of love guide us. And may we keep learning how to be Christ-followers, even as we seek our place in the world community.

Blessings,
Beth A. Richardson

 

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

Birth of a Magazine

We’re happy to announce the birth of the January/February 2011 issue of Alive Now magazine on October 21, 2010 at 4:00 p.m. – 10:0 p.m. We took a party out to Courier Printing in Smyrna, TN and watched as the presses were prepared and the magazine began to be printed. We took cookies to the Courier employees, received a tour of the plant from Sam Suppa, our contact at Courier. We got to see the first half of the magazine run on a gigantic web press — it prints, heat-sets, cools off, and folds the pages of the magazine faster than you can say “hermeneutic of suspicion.” The cover was run on a sheet-fed press. It looks really great!

The J/F 2011 issue of Alive Now is scheduled to be mailed in early-mid November. If you are not already a subscriber either at home or at your church, I hope you’ll consider ordering now. You’ll receive the January/February issue if you sign up by November 1.

Here’s a slide show of our adventure —

The Keeper

Beth in the 1980s
Beth in the 1980s

This was my first-ever published writing — in the “Patterns” issue of alive now! J/F 1985. I wrote this following my mom’s last trip to Colorado before her death in 1983 from a brain tumor. This piece speaks to me today as I prepare the “Living in the Present” issue, J/F 2011.

Yesterday at the top of the Trail Ridge, I was getting really frustrated because Mom was so slow. I had to walk her to the bathroom and wait while she went and washed and dried her hands. I walked out. Dad wanted to go to the gift shop, but Mom wanted to look at the display in the visitors’ center. So I stayed with Mom.

I was so angry because I did not want to see the display — we’ve seen it so many times before — every year the very same display of stuffed tundra birds and pictures and charts. As I watched her walk around and read each display like it was the first time she had read it, it all of a sudden hit me that she might never see it again. Each trip for her could be her last.

The reading of the display, the rituals that we participate in as a family — certain things to be done (mail a postcard to Aunt Eileen from the top of Trail Ridge, read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”), certain things to be said (“When are we gonna get there?” “Smell that cool mountain air.” “We’ll have these moments to remember.”) — all these things take on new importance as we/she lives every day as a holy one. Mom is the keeper of the ritual right now. In the participation in these family rituals, there is a combination of such pain and joy, such comfort and such vulnerability.

From Alive Now, J/F 1985. Copyright © 1984 The Upper Room.

Whispers of Guidance

Cover of May/June 1987 Alive Now
Cover of May/June 1987 Alive Now -- the first issue I worked on as Assistant Editor

This week I paged the January/February 2011 issue of Alive Now. “Paging an issue” is when the editor sits down with all the potential copy (poems, quotes, scripture, stories, etc.) and the theme (“Living in the Present” — in this case) and decides what goes on what page.

I was trying to get this task finished all of last week and, instead, ended up doing quite a bit of “housekeeping.” I put up pictures in my office, cleaned out files, and alphabetized all the Upper Room books on my shelves. Then on Monday morning of this week, all the chores completed, I faced the task of paging the issue.

I had a bad case of “Editor’s Block.” After working on the web for 14 years, paging a printed copy of a magazine seemed so — permanent. On the web, it’s easy to take something down or change it if you don’t like it. Not in print. What gets published is ink on paper.

I started thinking about wandering around the building and visiting with people. That’s when I remembered Mary Ruth — my boss, mentor,  and editor of Alive Now when I worked there in the 80’s. She must have faced the same thing. When it was time for an issue to be paged, Deen (the Editorial Assistant) and I waited with expectation. Once Mary Ruth completed her task, we had a whole bunch of work to do — picking out photos, typing copy, sending permissions requests, etc. But until she paged the issue, we sat around watching the deadline approach … watching the deadline pass. And where was Mary Ruth?! She was not at her desk! She was off wandering around the building again.

So, now I know … I’ve got a new understanding of Mary Ruth’s “wanderings.” It’s a daunting task to pick what goes into the magazine and on what page it will be seen. It’s a holy moment; a time to be open to the Spirit — listening hard to the whispers of guidance — even as we wander the building, stare out the window, or compete a few housekeeping tasks.

Creating God, guide this task, these choices, that these ideas and words and paragraphs would become instruments of your grace in the form of a magazine. Amen.