Thursday, 31 July 2014

Year of Prayer: Month 1 - Meditation

So it begins! I find myself energized about the months to come, and the opportunity before me to engage in so many different forms of prayer. We'll see how long that energy lasts! I suspect there will be a fairly natural ebb and flow to the process as I begin new practices and then settle into them. And I suspect some months I will be disappointed to see the month end, and others will feel like they go on forever!

For the month of August I'll be engaging in meditation and breath prayers. I made this particular choice because I've already been engaging in meditation to a degree, and because for quite some time I seem to have been craving this type of engagement. Not craving in the way that I crave chocolate, but craving in the way one's body might crave a walk after a very large Thanksgiving feast.  My body knows what it truly wants, even if the will or the overactive brain seems reluctant.

I'm combining meditation and breath prayers, because I find that I tend to end up doing both anyway. My meditation often runs straight into breath prayer and I don't seem to find my way in breath prayer without having first spent some time in meditation. And since I believe in listening to one's own inclinations toward wholeness and connection with the Divine, I'm not going to force myself to be a purist.

When describing the basics of each practice, I'm going to rely primarily on the work of Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. This is an incredibly comprehensive book which lays out dozens of ancient spiritual practices with brief history and instructions. 

Mediation is not about emptying the mind so there is nothing there. Christian meditation opens us to the mind of God and to his world and presence in the world. As we enter times of meditation, it is important to let go of our preoccupations so we can focus our minds and become present to God (173).
While Calhoun focuses more on the practice of meditating on scripture, on nature or the creeds, I find I am more drawn to simply becoming aware of God's presence within me. Whatever the focus of our meditation, the preparation is the same. Find a comfortable and quiet place and settle into a position that you can maintain without undue discomfort or attention. I tend to sit cross-legged on the floor, but many sit with feet planted, or curled up or even lying down. And then we begin to breath, slowing down and placing the self in the presence of God. You may wish to ask God to create openness within you to experience the indwelling of the Spirit.

I know from past experience that, while I can engage in meditation on my own, I very much value guided meditation. The following are a few youtube resources that I've found helpful.

Sympathetic Breathing
Quiet Mind
New Insight
Let Go
Guided Meditation for Centering

I appreciate these resources particularly because they are either non-religious or multifaith in their orientation. I find this allows me to open myself to the images and presence of God that the Spirit brings to me, in contrast with some specifically Christian guided meditations which seem to presume that we will always encounter God through the person of Jesus.

I also just picked up a new resource that I'm excited to explore called Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents). And yes, I am interested in this for myself, not just as a resource for others! 

Breath Prayers:
Breath prayer or "prayer of the heart" has been practiced in the church for millennia. The Eastern Orthodox Church in particular has seen breath prayer as a way of living out Paul's instruction to "pray without ceasing"(205).
Take a seat in solitude and silence. Bend your head, close your eyes and breathing softly, in your imagination, look into your own heart. Let your mind, or rather, your thoughts flow from your head down to your heart and say, while breathing: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Whisper these words gently or say them in your mind. Discard all other thoughts. Be serene, persevering and repeat them over and over again (205).
So basically breath prayers are similar to meditation in that you begin with silence and breathing and becoming aware of the presence of God and all that good stuff, but the breath prayer includes repeating a word or phrase while breathing. And this can be any word or phrase or a name or image of God that is meaningful to you (Spirit of God fill me, Mother God here I am, Abba I belong to you, Jesus have mercy, thanks be to God, etc.). Often the word comes to me while I'm meditating, and hence I end up with a breath prayer!

Something that I often need to remind myself of is that prayer is an experiment in relating. We try things and see how they feel or how we connect with God, or where there is life and light, and then shift our practice as needed.

The main challenge for me this month will likely be simply making space and remembering to sit down and pray. I expect others have this challenge as well. :)

But I trust that God's loving arms will surround me, Jesus will walk with me, and the Spirit will light my path on this journey.

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