Finding Time in the Midst of Chaos

This is a repost from an article on the Alive Now website.

I had every intention of continuing to nurture my Centering Prayer practice. I started working on it in February in anticipation of a special event in my life: becoming a parent. I had visions of early mornings, peaceful moments in the quiet, anchoring my soul to God’s presence to get me through the day, etc., etc., etc.

So … now, it’s happened. I’ve become a parent to an 11-year-old. And my centering prayer practice has gone out the window, along with most of the quiet and peace. (OK, folks. I can hear you laughing even from here!) I’ll have to take a break on the centering prayer until another time.

But I still need the anchoring … I need it more than ever. And I’m finding it in music. I’ve been listening to “Restless” by Audrey Assad (© 2010 by Sparrow Records). I listen to it in the car, at the gym, sitting in the floor of my closet trying to get a break. It’s saving my life in this time of change and chaos. (If you don’t see the video of the song above, click here to view it on YouTube.)

I’m wondering — what do you use when you hit a rough spot in your life and your usual spiritual tools don’t work?

More on Centering Prayer

 

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.”

Italian Lessons

Bells in Italy
Bells in Italy

I loved the church bells in Italy. They reminded me of the Christian tradition of praying the hours. In a tiny village where we stayed, the bells sounded every hour between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. I didn’t need to wear a watch — after a short time, I relaxed into the comfortable rhythm of daily village life. As I heard the bells throughout the day they brought me back to the present moment — of waking, eating, resting, praying, praising, reflecting, preparing for sleep.

The 7:00 a.m. Bells

The village followed the rhythm of these hours. Before 7:00 a.m., the only sounds I could hear were the waves and the swallows. After 7:00, the people of the village began to move around —  sweeping the sidewalks, opening up the cappuccino shops, the baker loading the station wagon with warm brioche (sweet pastries) to drive to the nearby towns. The children started their hikes up the hill to the school. Listen to the 7:00 a.m. bells:

The 5:00 p.m. bells

The village quieted down for a siesta around 2:00 p.m.. Most all of the restaurants and stores closed for a 3-hour rest. During those hours, the bells continued to ring, but quieter. (I settled down for a nap.) Around 4:00 p.m., the men of the village gathered in the square to play cards.

Then at 5:00 p.m. the siesta time came to an end with rousing peal from the bells. By 7:00 p.m., restaurants opened back up to serve dinner. Here is a recording of the 5:00 p.m. bells:

I miss the bells of Italy and their reminders to stay in the present. What are the reminders that bring you back from the future or the past? What helps you stay in the present moment?

Learn More about Praying the Hours

Caring without Numbing

Crucified Christ
Crucified Christ -- on a wall in Tuscany

[I wrote this article after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. But I return to it as new disasters occur and I find myself overwhelmed by tragedy. 2010 has been a difficult year — from the earthquake in Haiti to the Nashville floods to the Gulf oil spill. How do we care without numbing?]

The earth seems to in great chaos — shootings, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, oil spills, floods, tornadoes. As we follow story after story of heartbreaking disaster, I wonder: “How can I continue to see, to hear, to read about these tragedies of human life? How can the aid workers continue to do their tasks as they hear the stories, see the losses, attempt to respond to the incredible needs? How can the survivors reach out to others when they have lost so much? How do they do it? And how did Jesus continue to care for people, day after day after day?”

JESUS MODELS CARING

The scriptures tell us that people followed Jesus everywhere. There were so many people with so many needs around him all the time. And Jesus met the needs of those people — touching them, healing them, feeding their spirits and their bodies. Jesus’ eyes saw the hurt; his ears heard the crying; his hands touched the wounded places; and surely, his heart felt pain — their pain, his pain — at seeing so many people with so many needs. I wonder, “Did Jesus ever experience compassion fatigue?” (I surely do.)

The scripture also tells us a little bit about how Jesus dealt with all the needs around him.

First, Jesus took action: He spoke with people. He touched them. He listened to them. He healed them. He gave of himself whenever he could. We can’t and don’t need to be Jesus; but we, too, can take action. Many of us can give financially or donate material goods to those in need. We can participate in community events responding to the disaster. We can help our families, friends, and children think of ways to take action.

Second, Jesus prayed: He lived his life through a series of “holy moments.” He sought God. He listened to God. He made time for his relationship with God. We can “pray the news.” Whenever we hear, see, or read about the disaster, say a prayer. Let that intersection become a way that you connect with God, asking God to be present to those in need around the world. Write a prayer list and pray it at least once a day.

Third, Jesus took time apart: He went away in a boat. He went up the hill and left his disciples behind. He sought out times to be alone with God. We can take time apart also. It may not seem that it’s ever possible, but think about the times in the day when you are alone. Standing in line at a store, driving in the car, sitting at your computer … these are times when you can take some deep breaths and turn your attention to God. Time apart for us today might mean “time away from the media.” Take a daylong fast from the news. Instead of watching the news, take that time to meditate or read the scriptures. Allow God to take care of the hurting places in the world by turning the world over to God during that day.

CARING FOR OURSELVES

Intense pain in the world and in our lives can be distressing and overwhelming, reminding us of our own grief and sadness. Just as Jesus took time away from hurting people, we also need to take care of our physical, mental, and spiritual selves.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, try praying this “rope’s end” prayer by Flora Slosson Wuellner:

Living Christ, I’m in over my head. This situation is getting beyond me. Take over; take over all the way. Fill this room, this place, [this world,] and all of us who are in it with your empowered presence. I give all of this to you. I thank you that you are here and that your light and love are enfolding us at this very moment. In your name, in your word, in your power. Amen. [Used with permission. From Prayer, Fear, and Our Powers, copyright © 1989 by Flora Slosson Wuellner. Published by Upper Room Books®.]

As I think about how I can respond to the people, the pain, the tragedies that surround me, may I remember Jesus’ example: his compassion, his action and interaction, his life of prayer, and his trust in God.

PRAYER

Loving God, touch and heal the hurting all around the world. Give us wisdom, compassion, and loving hearts to respond as members together in the family of God. Help us to follow the example of Jesus in our actions, in our spiritual lives, in our families and communities. Show us how to love without tiring, to care without numbing, to pray without ceasing. Amen.