What do you love? Who do you love? It can be hard to know sometimes. We’re really quite good at telling ourselves stories about our motivations and goals. We know who and what we should love, but oftentimes our lives do not mirror our words. As was discussed on Sunday, prophets like Jeremiah hold a mirror up to us to show who and what we truly love, what seizes our imaginations, what gets us out of bed, how we spend our time, what we read, what we buy, etc…
“For Jesus prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love. Returning to love. Trusting that love is the bottom stream of reality.” -Richard Rohr
Try something with me, will you? It’s a bit of an experiment. Go to a quiet place. Pray through a psalm--it doesn’t have to be long. Focus on a word or short phrase from that psalm. Offer this time and your love to God, inviting his loving presence into this space. Try to quiet your mind as you center yourself on those words. Take a few slow, deep breaths, repeating the words in your mind slowly with each breath. Rest in those words. Take the next 10 minutes or so to center yourself in those words. If you’re anything like me, 100 different thoughts will emerge the moment you try to quiet yourself--thoughts about bills, to-dos, projects . . . and then deeper thoughts about relationships, feelings, hurts, hopes, and fears. You can take note of these thoughts and then let them go, releasing them like little rafts down the river of your life as you recenter yourself on the word or phrase in the psalm and God’s presence in the present moment. There’s no judgment for distracting thoughts. Each time a thought occurs, recognize it, and then gently let it go.
After 10 or 15 minutes, remain still for a few more minutes. Reflect on the distracting thoughts that came to mind during prayer. Explore the meaning these thoughts have for you. This little exercise is useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is great practice for centering our minds and hearts in God’s presence while learning to let go of distracting thoughts--not just during those 10 or 15 quiet minutes, but throughout the day as well. Secondly, this practice highlights what thoughts, and thus what concerns, ideas, and values occupy our minds and our lives. By taking note of the distracting thoughts that come up during centering prayer, we are better able to identify the voices that have gained our attention. These will reveal to us our attachments--to material things, plans, identities--and some of our contradictions. These thoughts and concerns--those things that decide what gets us out of bed in the mornings and how we spend our evenings and weekends, our money and resources--do they reflect an absolute love for God, or a love for something or someone else? What we are in love with does determine everything. What do our roaming thoughts during prayer reveal about our truest affections?
I invite you to enter into an advent experiment with me. For the next few weeks before Christmas, would you join me in setting aside 15 minutes each day for centering prayer? I will try to post a psalm and a quote on the blog each morning over advent as a resource for prayer that morning. It might be fun for each of us to pray through the same psalm, but certainly feel free to choose your own.
As we enter into times of prayerful reading, silence, and listening this advent season let us welcome God's loving presence into our hearts and lives. Come, O come, Emmanuel.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila
Centering Prayer by M. Basil Pennington
Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating
Contemplative Outreach Ltd.