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?

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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.

 

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

Jack’s Week at Camp Tracy

Jack and Boone
Jack and Boone

I recently went out of town on a trip, so Jack (and Spec) got to go to Tracy’s house for a week. Her house is much more fun than his at home. Tracy works with dogs. Here’s a link to her website, ZenPaws. Here are a few of Tracy’s notes about Jack’s week at dog camp:

Tuesday, May 24
Jack rode really well in my car — maybe because Spec was in it. Jack didn’t want to get in the car, though. He didn’t even want his leash on to leave the house. Mike (the handyman) was here when we got here and Jack jumped all over him.

Wednesday, May 25
Jack barked for about 30 minutes at bedtime. We all got up at 5 a.m. and then went back to bed. Then Jack barked from 6:30 – 7:30.

Thursday, May 26
Last night I left Jack out with McQueen. Jack whined when I went to bed but didn’t bark. He amazes me by how fast he runs. He can keep up with the big dogs. His little legs do triple time.

Friday, May 27
Jack and Boone were up all night playing. And they bark while they play. Boone was afraid of Spec at first (well Spec lunged and barked at him and chased him all around the yard) but Boone just did three play bows in an attempt to get him to play. Spec didn’t know what to do. Boone ran off with Jack.

Saturday, May 28
I have a headache behind my left eye called “Jack.” That monkey/hyena barking is enough to drive a person … well, drive a person to drive away. It takes a village to care for Jack. And, luckily, I have a village. Almost every dog has given Jack “what for.” And they do it so nicely and then go right back to playing with him. Sadly, I’m the only one bothered by his nightly barking!!

Sunday, May 29
I don’t know what the dogs did while I was away, but the white one were covered in mud. It’s bone dry outside. Maybe they dug a well. Jack has been spending a lot of time outside with the big dogs. He’s usually the last one to come when I call.

Monday, May 30
Hey, I think Jack misses you. He finally started paying attention to me. I was brushing Ginger and he was standing underneath her and was totally orange by the time I was done. He stayed out with the big dogs last night and didn’t bark at all.

Tuesday, May 31
Jack was quiet all night. He was out with Layla and Boone and I think they are finally too tired to play. Spec had the honor of waking me this morning with his low, raspy bark. Jack isn’t giving Spec the time of day. He’s too busy with the big boys and I think Spec is glad!

jack
Jack slept for 2 days after he got home from camp

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.

God Weeps

fog over water

I first wrote this piece after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. I rewrote it for the sorrow in the world today.

350 dead. … 1,000 dead. … 10,000 dead in one prefecture. Trains, boats, entire villages washed away. Thousands missing. How many will have died when the counting is done? My ears hear, but my mind cannot comprehend these numbers … In this place far away from Tennessee, in a country I do not know and may never visit, people are suffering, people are crying.

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
        she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
– Matthew 2:18, NRSV

These words of the prophet Jeremiah apply today, too.

Voices are heard in Tokyo, Sendai, Kesennuma,
        wailing and loud lamentation,
Mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers,
        friends and strangers weeping …
They refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

What can I say? How can I respond? These grieving, devastated people live so far away. But they are my sisters and brothers. They are children of the Most High, the God who must be weeping, too.

God of Compassion, with you and all the world family, we weep and mourn. Comfort all who are alone or afraid, who wail in loud lamentation, who cry silently. Let us be your heart reaching out to those who grieve. Let us be your hands working to assist those who still live. For you are the God who stands with the least and the lost. Come by here, Lord. Come by Sendai, Minamisoma, Ichihara, and Tokyo. Come by all the places that need your comforting and healing presence. Amen.

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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.