How’s your spiritual health these days? During these long days of the pandemic, much attention has been given to our physical health. But the crisis of COVID, combined with our national crises, is also taking a toll on our spiritual health.
Maybe you’ve run out of words to pray. Or are simply too tired to pray. This is a good time to try, or return to, “Centering Prayer.”
Centering Prayer is, essentially, a way of opening up your mind and heart—your whole being—to God. It’s a way of moving beyond conversation with God to communion with God.
It doesn’t take effort. It simply calls for you to welcome God and receive the gift of God’s presence. There are only 4 guidelines to Centering Prayer:
- Start by choosing a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action.
- Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed, and settle briefly. Then, silently introduce your sacred word as the symbol of your consent to be open to God.
- During your silence thoughts, sensations, feelings, images, and feelings will cross your mind. As they do, keep returning, ever-so-gently, to your sacred word.
- At the end of your silence, remain with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
To make it easier, there’s even an app for this! Check out the Centering Prayer app from Contemplative Outreach. It offers many excellent opening and closing texts, and includes a choice of gentle sounds to begin and end your prayer time.
For more information, download this Centering Prayer brochure.
Adapted from Contemplative Outreach: https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/centering-prayer-method/
Gratitude may feel like a burden, something we need to dig up rather than let bubble up. It’s been a hard year, and the weeks ahead seem no less daunting.
Still, we let the words of Scripture sink in:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:15-16, NIV)
Yet we wonder how it is possible, in these daunting days, to get to gratitude.
Pausing to reflect is one of the most valuable practices we can do. Practicing gratitude not only helps us feel more grounded and peaceful, it also improves our ability to share that love with others. To give back. To say thank you.
Here are 7 easy gratitude exercises that you can do by yourself or with others. Listen to your heart and let the peace of God fill your spirit.
- Identify 3 things that you feel grateful for and appreciate about your life. These things can be based on the past, present, or future. No category or thing is too big or small to appreciate, however, being specific might be helpful.
- Identify 3 things that you take for granted but are actually very thankful for. We all have things that we take for granted. This is the time to reflect and discover which of those you value the most.
- Identify 3 things that you appreciate about yourself. Pick things that are meaningful. These can involve your personality, your qualities, your actions, or anything else directly related to yourself.
- Identify 3 things that you feel grateful for about your present--right now--experience. Be in the here-and-now. Right now, what can you appreciate about your experience? Think about the environment, the time you're taking for your own wellbeing, the chair under your legs, anything that relates to the now.
- Identify 3 people who had a significant and positive experience on your life. These can be coaches, mentors, professors, bosses, family members, or anyone else. Call those people to mind and think about how they made a difference in your life.
- Create a thank you message to those 3 individuals. A grate way to feel appreciative is to think about sending a thank you letter. You can write and send one if you want, or simply construct one that you would imagine sending to these people. Connect to that appreciation while thinking through your message.
- Identify the 1 thing that you are most appreciative of (based on the list above) and feel it in your heart. The whole point of these exercises is to feel it. When you find one of the above that stands out the most--pause and breathe into it. Allow that warmth, love, appreciation, and gratitude to wash over you.
The seven exercises are from 7 Easy Gratitude Exercises That Make Even the Most Pessimistic People Happier by Matthew Jones,
Psalm 46:10 reminds us: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
How can we allow ourselves space and grace to be as we are, experience our emotions, and know that God is in the midst of all we are and everything we are feeling?
We can start by sitting in a quiet place and breathing. Listen to your breath going in and out. The ancient Greek word, pnuema, for spirit and breath is the same. When breathing in, you could imagine that the Holy Spirit is filling you with life and love.
Be still, and know that God is God.
Be still and know.
When it is time, you can move on. At any time, you can come back to your breath, to the power and creativity and sustenance of God giving you life. You can be still and know. Your worth does not depend on how much you accomplish or the schedule you keep. Keep coming back to your breath and the stillness as often as needed.
It is enough, and you are enough.
God, When we base our worth on how much we get done, remind us that we matter because you have made us each precious and irreplaceable. Guide us to times of stillness, times to rest in your love and presence. Fill us with your Holy Spirit’s breath of life, moment after moment, day after day. Help us to be still and know that you are. Amen.
—Adapted from “Just Be” by Jordan Miller-Stubbendick
October 10, 2020, ELCA “Bold Café”
Lovingkindness, or metta, as it in called in the Pali language, is unconditional, inclusive love, a love with wisdom. It has no conditions; it does not depend on whether one “deserves” it or not; it is not restricted to friends and family; it extends out from personal categories to include all living beings. There are no expectations of anything in return. This is the ideal, pure love, which everyone has in potential.
We begin with loving ourselves, for unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others. Then we include others who are special to us, and, ultimately, all living things. Gradually, both the visualization and the meditation phrases blend into the actual experience, the feeling of lovingkindness.
This is a meditation of care, concern, tenderness, lovingkindness, friendship–a feeling of warmth for oneself and others. The practice is the softening of the mind and heart, an opening to deeper and deeper levels of the feeling of kindness, of pure love. Lovingkindness is without any desire to possess another. It is not a sentimental feeling of goodwill, not an obligation, but comes from a selfless place. It does not depend on relationships, on how the other person feels about us. The process is first one of softening, breaking down barriers that we feel inwardly toward ourselves, and then those that we feel toward others.
The Welcoming Prayer is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life. The purpose of the Welcoming Prayer is to deepen our relationship with God through consenting in the ordinary activities of our day.
Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.
The history of the Welcoming Prayer is a little surprising. It’s not an ancient practice, though it’s an ancient idea. Mary Mrozowski of Brooklyn, New York — one of the first leaders of centering prayer — developed the method. She was inspired by Abandonment to Divine Providence, an early 18th-century spiritual work by Jesuit priest and spiritual director, Father Jean Pierre de Caussade. Father Thomas Keating and others saw the value of her method and, over the years, it has been supported, fine-tuned, and expanded within the community of people who practice centering prayer and beyond.
If you are struggling in any way, this method offers a structured way to embrace and accept your feeling so you can release it and move on. There are three phases to the Welcoming Prayer. You might go directly from one to the next in a single, relatively formulaic prayer sequence. Or you might find yourself staying in one phase. Using Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault’s labels from her book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, the three parts are:
- Focus and sink in.
- Let go.
The Christian practice of honoring the body is born of the confidence that our bodies are made in the image of God’s own goodness. As the place where the divine presence dwells, our bodies are worthy of care and blessing....It is through our bodies that we participate in God’s activity in the world. - Stephanie Paulsell
Knowing that God has chosen to make our bodies her dwelling place opens the door to remarkable opportunities for heightening our awareness of God’s presence. And isn’t heightened awareness of God’s presence with us and for us at all times and our capacity to remain in vital connection with that presence, what the spiritual journey is all about?
Life in the body is, after all, a varied and wide-ranging experience and some experiences are better than others! Christ’s choice to take on flesh and inhabit a human body forever elevates the experience of embodiment to the heights of spiritual significance. Jesus, the supremely spiritual being who has existed for all eternity far beyond the physical, material world as we know it, chose to take the journey into human flesh and to become limited as we are by time and space.
One of our central sacraments of our faith – the ritual and substance around which all Christians gather – is bread and wine that commemorates Jesus’ life and death in the body made of flesh and blood. The spiritual practice honoring the body therefore, helps us find our way between the excesses of culture that glorifies and objectifies the body and the excesses of Christian tradition that have often denigrated and ignored the body. As we become more intentional about finding this middle way, we will be surprised by the spontaneous combustion that comes when aspects of ourselves that were always meant to exist as an integrated whole finally coming together in a way that produces joy and vitality.
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. - John 12:24
Fr. Thomas Keating writes, “The spiritual journey is not a career or a success story. It is a series of small humiliations of the false self that become more and more profound. These make room inside us for the Holy Spirit to come and heal. What prevents us from being available to God is gradually evacuated as we keep getting closer and closer to our Center” — the place where God dwells within us as redeemed people. Oftentimes it is suffering that initiates these necessary “evacuations”; even Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered.
Lent, then, is a time to practice dying in small ways so that when the bigger deaths come, we will know how to let go of that which is no longer needed. Perhaps is in this time of COVID-19, we are learning obedience in and through the things we are currently suffering. Perhaps this is a time for experiencing what it is like to have our outer nature wasting away while our inner nature is being renewed day by day.
- What needs to die in me in order for the will of God to come forth in my life this day?
- What new thing is God doing in my life that requires some old things to pass away?
- Where do I sense God wanting to teach me obedience through the things I am suffering?
(Adapted from “LENT: A Season of Returning” by Ruth Haley Barton)
Author Ruth Haley Barton says that, “Most of us are not very good at sitting with longing and desire - our own or someone else’s.”
Longing and desire feels tender, vulnerable and out of control. It is perhaps where we cannot fix or fill another, nor can we fix or fill ourselves…..it IS a place where only God will do.
In the practice of silence we encounter God that is not mediated by words, theological constructs or religious activity or by our own manipulations of our relationship with God. Silence is a spiritual practice used by seekers down through the ages to experience intimacy with God rather than just talking about it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together, said:
"The Word of Scripture should never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love. And just as you do not analyze the words of someone you love, but accept them as they are said to you, accept the Word of Scripture and ponder it in your heart, as Mary did. That is all....Do not ask 'How shall I pass this on?' but 'What does is say to me?' Then ponder this word long in your heart until it has gone right into you and take possession of you. "
Lectio divina (translated “divine [or sacred] reading") is an approach to the Scriptures that sets us up to listen for the word of God spoken to us in the present moment. Lectio divina is a practice of divine reading that dates back to the early mother and fathers of the Christian faith. Referring to the material being read and the method itself, the practice of lectio divina is rooted in the belief that through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures are indeed alive and active as we engage them.
This practice is a powerful way of involving a delicate balance of silence and word. The practice invites you to enter into a time of silence and then into a rhythm of reading, silence, and listening. God is yearning to speak to each of us, and so this quietness creates a space for us to hear God.
For this practice, you will need your Bible and a space that is quiet and comfortable.