Uncomfortable Words and Prayer

Peace

Contemplative, centering and meditation. What do you think when you read these words? Many western Christians bristle at these words. They conjure up images of bald Tibetans in orange and red robes or multi-armed Hindu gods. And yet Scripture is full of admonitions to meditate. Often the admonitions occur with the word “wait” or “still” as well as many uses of the word “meditate.” In Psalms, meditate and meditation (a derivative of meditate) simply mean to muse, or contemplate or pray. It is also interesting to note that “the fact remains that every human brain, from early childhood on, contemplates the possibility that spiritual realms exist”[1].

Our Brains and God

God built our brains to seek after him, but somehow many of us, myself included, have lost our way in how to do this. For instance, I have task lists and check marks for how I “do” faith. My devotion time is something I squeeze in between getting out of bed in the morning and showering. But am I really seeking God or going through a motion to look spiritual? It isn’t so much the timeframe of this practice as much as it the authenticity of it. Reading Scripture and prayer are good things, but where is my head, and especially my heart, when I do them? Is my prayer a laundry list for God, a list of tasks and expectations that resemble my Franklin Planner? Or am I really desiring to commune with the God of the universe?

The Dessert Fathers from so many centuries ago knew better. “Meditation for them consisted in making the words of the Bible their own by memorizing them and repeating them, with deep and simple concentration, ‘from the heart.’ Therefore the ‘heart’ comes to play a central role in this primitive form of monastic prayer”[2]. But things have changed. Foster notes that “usually people will tolerate a brief dabbling in the ‘inward journey,’ but then it is time to get on with the real business in the real world. We need courage to move beyond the prejudice of our age and affirm with our best scientists that more than the material world exists” (emphasis in the original)[3].

I agree with Merton and Foster.

Jesus and Being Self-Aware

It is so easy to lose the peace in my soul and to allow the “joy of my salvation” to be stolen away.  Why?

Partially because I grew up in a home that breathed in anxiety and breathed out worry. We could all be starters for any team in the in the NWL (National Worry League). I don’t know if those of us from Northern European descent are more predisposed to worry or not, but it seems so genetically ingrained that it is nearly impossible to overcome. Yet Jesus still says that with God nothing is impossible; He goes on to say that He gives us peace, not worldly peace, but the peace that passes understanding (cf. Lk. 18:27, Jo. 14:27 & Phil. 4:6-7).

I want this peace; frankly, I need this peace. How can I be a light in the world when I’m dark inside? How can I expect the world to be a more peaceful place when I can’t even be a more peaceful person? This isn’t being self-absorbed, it’s being self-aware. I want to draw people to Jesus, but all I do is repel them if they look at me see a tightly wound up ball of tension that is irritable and angry. I pray, Jesus, take this away! In fact, the centering prayer phrase I’m now using at this point in my life is, “Peace in Jesus; peace in me.”

So again I embark on a discipline of incorporating more centering prayer in my life. Usually such attempts last a few days and then the busyness and tiredness of life bleed this away from me. So far, my latest attempt has lasted a week; and I love it. I still pray for people and for God’s touch in their lives. But now I’m also intentionally allowing the Holy Spirit to flow more freely in my soul. Through this I am receiving fleeting tastes of that peace I have so desperately longed for.

Over time, I will let you know how this is going.

[1] How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Neuroscientist. Andrew Newberg, MD & Mark Robert Waldman, New York: Ballantine Books, 2009. Kindle location 108.

[2] Contemplative Prayer. Thomas Merton, New York: Image Books, 1969, p. xxix.

[3] Celebration of Discipline. Richard J. Foster, New York: Harper Collins, 1978, Kindle location 277.

God at 1,000 Feet

God at 1000'

Not even half a mile away from our new home and I’m already climbing a gigantic hill. It goes from 249 feet to 1,000 feet in less than five miles; five very slow miles I might add. Because of other chores that were a higher priority I’m starting my ride in mid-afternoon where the temperature has topped 85 degrees and is expected to reach close to 100.

What am I thinking? I’m thinking about celebrating life, feeling the strain of muscle against pedal, sweat trickling down my neck and back, and catching vistas of vineyards and lavender fields. My lungs ache, my heart pounds, and my legs protest, but my spirit is running free from the shackles of stress, chores and long to-do lists.

Cresting the hill I stop to drink in the view of the lush Willamette Valley: green and brown pastures, towering evergreens and sprawling deciduous trees, manicured orchards, vineyards, and purple patches of lavender wafting a calming fragrance through the breeze. The river winds in long, silver meanders with hawks and a few eagles soaring on thermals high above my head. I take just a minute of pause to snap a picture and thank God that I even get such an experience; yes, world, I am alive and glad for it!

I often recall the short conversation I had with my surgeon on Saturday, January 7, 2012 where she said, just barely 24 hours after operating on my spine for a second time that I may not do the things I used to do. While that statement is true in some respects, especially in running, chronic pain and other things, I still get to ride my bike up big hills that reveal the splendor of a creative and loving God.

So before I begin the terrifying descent I whisper (basically gasp) “thank You, Jesus!” Then I turn my attention to the looming downhill portion of the big climb. I’m not used to such big climbs, which, of course means I’m not used to bombing down such big hills—this brings a totally different type of prayer (but that’s another blog)!  For the moment, though, I celebrate life and praise the God that gave it to me.