Archives for category: Contemplative Prayer

Sky View Cross

Photograph courtesy of Joshua Burgard

Today’s quote is very short, and it comes from Carolyn Warner’s  Treasury of Women’s Quotations (p. 243, 1992,Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall). Pearl Bailey is cited as saying ” People see God every day, they just don’t recognize Him.” This one, short, and simple sentence got me to wondering. “Okay, self where did you see God in the last 24 hours?”

I first saw him when I got up in the morning, let my dogs out and said my morning prayers. I saw him again when I read inspiring “posts” on Facebook. Then, when I taught my class, I saw him in the eyes and souls of my students as we role played how to encourage a depressed person to socialize with others.

Then, came one of yesterday’s “Big God Incidents.” This happened when I found a parking ticket on my car after teaching my class.  I immediately went to DPS on the university campus to have it revoked. The officer on duty revoked it,  but when asked if the policy he’d just explained was in writing anywhere he  said “no” and pointed out very authoritatively that the ticket was given because that was the way they’d been doing it for the twenty-six years he’d worked there. The old me would have “gone combative on him.” However, what I did do was not that much better—-I went home and immediately looked up the University’s Emeritus Parking Policy in the Faculty Handbook and found that, indeed, the policy did not read the way it has been enforced all these years. Here is where God comes in….rather than get my ego all involved in proving my interpretation of the written policy was correct and his was wrong, I just decided to let it go. Accept. Let God handle it. Take my “ego” out of it. I will send documentation of the incident to my Department’s Chair and leave it up to her discretion whether or not something should be done about clearing up the conflict between written policy and actual practice.

Then I met God again yesterday evening at Centering Prayer as His light filtered through the stained glass window onto those of seated in a prayer circle quietly consenting to receiving His love. After that meeting ended, I set up my last meeting of the day. It was an open twelve step meeting for beginners. People came from two treatment centers, and we had to pull out extra chairs. Last week there were only four of us, and then in this second “Big God Incident” of the day, God sent all of these people to be introduced to the seeds of recovery. I met God in what some of them said, in how they said it, and in the eyes and hugs of gratitude from the three who asked for a twenty-four hour “chip”—-a medallion that reminds people that God is with them helping them stay sober and clean one day at a time. I was ashamed that ten minutes before the meeting started I had complained to God that  I was tired and wished I could go home instead of setting up and leading a meeting probably  no one would attend. God had a purpose for me, and I thank him for helping me carry that purpose out.

Obviously, God was everywhere yesterday—-I am sure he was in many more places I failed to notice. It has been my “recovery life-time” practice to make a “gratitude list” whenever I feel depressed or sorry for myself. I’ll probably still do that, but I am going to start making my “where I saw God” list instead whenever I feel tired and question the path God has me walking. May God bless and keep you.

Plums and Prunes

Image courtesy of Praisaeng/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Overheard around the tables this morning was an often repeated phrase, “Just take the next right step.” It is often used in connection with the phrase, “Let Go and Let God.” I had just come from a Centering Prayer Group where I had disclosed  that during our 20 minutes of silence my thoughts had kept vacillating between meditative silence and worry about my computer not working—-that it was just another thing I couldn’t control, just like my worries about my  aging father’s health. The group discussion then turned to how centering prayer lets us “exercise our ‘letting go muscle.'” I must admit that sometimes out of twenty minutes of “quiet time” devoted to centering prayer I spend about 18 minutes of that letting go of one random thought after another.  However, the good news is the exercise is starting to make it easier to let go of things in my life outside of centering prayer.

So after my two group sessions this morning, every time I caught myself worrying about my computer wireless connection not working I would tell myself to “let go of it”—-that the wireless disconnection had mysteriously occurred, and that God could just as mysteriously correct the situation.  I was gone for a little over three hours, and when I got home my computer wireless connection was functioning once again.

How many years, how many times, do I have to wear myself out trying to solve problems that are better left in God’s hands? Will I ever learn just to turn things over without causing myself undue stress by trying to solve my (or someone else’s) problem(s) all by myself until I “give up” and then turn things over?  When will I realize “taking the next best step” involves trusting God and carrying on with my life as God would have me live it?

I would bet money this letting go muscle of mine is going to need to be developed and fine-tuned one day at a time for the rest of my life. I am just grateful I am able to do it more quickly now than I previously could.

Here’s another “weird and way out analogy” that wandered into my head this morning. Our group was discussing scones and using the term “plum” and “prune” interchangeably. Without thinking, I commented, “A prune is just an elder-plum.” In retrospect, my life’s experiences and the progress I’ve made in turning things over to God over the decades I’ve spent in recovery have been turning “my will and my life” into a more highly evolved spiritual being. Just as a plum becomes chewier and develops more sweetness and flavor as it becomes a prune, perhaps this letting go business has helped distill my being into an essence that is more easily connected to God. God bless and keep you, plum, prune, or whatever.

Sun Breaking Through2

Photograph courtesy of Joshua Burgard

Today’s blog is a tribute to author Anne Lamott.  The message she posted on her Facebook status this morning really spoke to me. First of all, she described, perfectly, the process I have to go through when I write something of worth for others to read. What a relief it is to know I share this attribute with a popular, well-read author! What spoke to my soul  the loudest, though, was her description of what  happens when one is able to dig through all the “chatter” that clutters one’s mind and soul until one reaches one’s “true self” (Lamott, 2014 accessed 2/2/14 at: https://www.facebook.com/AnneLamott).

Here is part of what she had to say: “And inspiration is when the really real in us gets through the chatter……… But inside that chatter, that bad self esteem and grandiosity and judgment and self-righteousness is the prize–me. My true me. Who I always was, deep inside, behind my eyes, taking it all in. My perfect precious self, who no one managed to ruin–not the parents, the culture, the worst men, the alcohol; not nothing ” (Lamott, 2014 accessed 2/2/14 at: https://www.facebook.com/AnneLamott).

I hadn’t thought about this link between my writing and my centering prayer before reading her status this morning. Both activities are centered in the  “true self” Lamott describes—-one that is undaunted by the “chatter” that occupies our minds or the messages given to us by our life’s experiences.  The mind’s chatter is always a distraction and challenge for me whenever I engage in centering prayer and  try to “go within” to my inner self and sit quietly so that I am able to experience God’s gift of love.

Feeling God’s deep and unconditional love in that inner, true-self space—– knowing it there, in my core, gives rise to a glowing, powerful love that is able to “bleed out” and infuse itself into other aspects of my life. The certainty of that love is real, palpable, and infinitely precious. It is also comforting to know that any time I need to “re-fuel” that feeling of being unconditionally loved, I can take that journey inward through all the mind chatter and tap into it once again. It is always there. It is always part of me. No matter what.

So, thank you, Anne Lamott. Your words have gifted me with strong support for my journey through recovery. May God bless and keep you and my readers.

Jesus

Image courtesy of Naypong,/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Everywhere I have gone today I have encountered the word “blessed.” Different meanings of the word blessed were talked about in our Sunday school class; those meanings included “happy,” “wonderful news” or “fortunate.” Then, once I had gotten home and eaten lunch, I read the material that had been electronically sent to those of us who participate in a Sunday afternoon 11th step focused study of Matthew’s “Beatitudes.”  Of course, it was information about the various meanings of the word blessed.

In the Sunday school discussion, the beatitudes were presented as a proclamation Jesus made of how he was starting to create God’s kingdom on earth by turning things “upside down,” and the author of the book we were studying (Wright, N. T.,2002, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, Louisville, KY: John Knox Press) emphasized that these “blessings” were not something we are rewarded with in heaven after we die for having lived the “right kind of life.” Instead, Wright points out that these blessings are present-tense blessings and suggests we should try living according to these principles in the present moment.  He doesn’t specify how to do so, but I sure he means to live in a manner that helps create God’s kingdom in the present moment. I cannot imagine he means to purposefully become poor, hungry, persecuted,  or look forward to mourning the death of someone you love.

According to Bob Towner (2014), the convener of the 11th Step Beatitudes Study Group, the blessings Jesus was addressing in what is traditionally thought of as the “Sermon on the Mount” were actually an invitation to search one’s inner self in order to find peace and happiness—–even in unhappy situations like those specified in the beatitudes. Towner’s spin on the meaning of the beatitudes suggests Jesus is actually  “offering me [us] the choice of finding worthiness and benefit in attitudes and conditions which the world finds useless or shameful.” This  means I need to apply what I encounter in my inner searching into changing my attitudes and behaviors accordingly.

So, I am faced with considering two different perceptions of the message Jesus was trying to give those who were listening—-as well as to those of us who are reading the account of what he said. They both seem to agree that they are more “here and now” than future focused. They both seem to  agree that the “blessings” are in direct relationship with actions one must take to feel blessed in the present moment.  I have experienced peace and happiness within my inner being when surrounded by the very things mentioned in the beatitudes, and practicing the 12 steps has taught me that much of my inner peace depends on changing my attitudes and actions.

I think I just figured out my take on all this. Blessings are something God gives to me if I am willing to seek them in a spiritual manner. They are not concrete, measurable rewards to be stacked up in heaven or here on earth. I don’t have to do things to make myself miserable in order to receive them. However, I would be the first to admit there have been times in the past when I was only able to find such blessings because I was miserable enough to surrender my will and to actively seek God’s will.  Fortunately, I am learning to work on my “God seeking” skills, and I am much more able to realize and accept blessings now than I have been in the past; I am also fortunate that it doesn’t always take “hitting bottom” to motivate me to seek God and his blessings these days. Although I still work on changing my attitudes and behavior for the better, I still have lots of room for improvement.

So, when I close my blogs with “God bless and keep you,” I am not suggesting you just sit around and wait for God to drop blessings on your head. I am inviting you to actively seek those blessings and hoping you will find and express them in your attitudes and behavior. Although I would like my closing to be some sort of magical spell that guarantees my readers will be blessed and safely held in God’s arms, it is actually expressing my hope that you will actively seek, find, and share God’s love and the peace that “passes all understanding.” God bless and keep you.

pizza

Image courtesy of  suphakit73/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In an 11th step centering prayer meeting discussion this morning we talked about how  we all have recurring compulsions and that we should not be self-critical when related obsessive thoughts become the focus of our attention. It was suggested that we should acknowledge such thoughts and look beyond them and continue seeking the God of our choosing. Thus, one can develop the habit of thought redirection so that the after first acknowledging such thoughts one can think something like,  “Oh, you again” and immediately follow that thought with “I am going to look over/around you as I seek to be in the presence of my Higher Power.” The “you again” is simple enough for me, but I’ve got to work on the re-direction part.

In recognizing the all too familiar obsessive thoughts (cravings) I tend to sometimes start thinking about the “you” addressed in “oh, you again” rather than immediately turning  the focus of my thoughts to the God that protects me from giving into those cravings. It can be as simple as just taking a deep breath and thinking “I’m in God’s hands, you no longer have power over me” or “I’m not wasting my time on you anymore, I am, instead, turning my will and my life over to the care of my God as I understand him.” I have heard these phrases repeated over and over again by people in recovery, and I have even said them myself. But this is the first time I have associated them with mindful breathing and centering prayer—–a practice that is teaching me to quiet my mind and extraneous thoughts while I consent to spending some alone time with God, accepting his love, and listening instead of asking.

I have experienced a lot of “positive side effects” of centering prayer since I have been learning this new technique. One is that the skills my mind learns to use while in centering prayer can “bleed out” into “ordinary reality.” For example, I can have an obsessive thought about food any time I open my refrigerator—–or even think about what is in my refrigerator. I am learning to just smile and think, “oh, you again” when such thoughts occur.  Then I immediately remember I started the day off by turning my will and my life over to God, so those thoughts are rendered “powerless” over triggering compulsive eating. I’ve been doing something similar to this for years whenever I happen to walk through a grocery store’s liquor section.

Applying this thought redirection approach is starting to help me put my eating compulsion into  perspective. I have been trying the “25 chews/bite with one breath between bites” method (Altman, Donald,  2004.  Meal by Meal: 365 Daily Meditations for Finding Balance Through Mindful Eating, Kindle Locations 3644-3648, New World Library, Kindle Edition )when I consciously remember to do so. It has amazed me that it no longer feels “silly” as my previous attempts to learn to eat slowly have. Now I am aware of taste, texture, and the need to chew things thoroughly before swallowing. The breath between bites has been amazing—–it reminds to thank God during those “breathing” times for the gift of living—–of being able to breathe and to eat healthy food as it should be eaten. It has changed eating from being a frantic race to fill an ever-empty hole to a celebration of the sacred. What once seemed tedious and unnecessary  has become a very viable, easy way to accomplish a means of reaffirming my spiritual path.  It is amazing to me how much better thought redirection can work for me if the re-direction I apply is directly associated with something spiritually important to me .

God bless and keep you.

hand held heart

Image courtesy of  Somchai Som/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today, during a guided imagery session, my Higher Power made me aware of a  couple of insights.  One is my Higher Power’s love is always there, has always been there, and will always be there—-even if I have been hurtful to myself or others in the past. But the newest insight for me, the one that really got my attention, was I am able to feel and express that same type of love for those I love in spite of any hurts, real or imagined, that I  believe I have suffered at their hand. Thus, the important lesson I came away from today’s session with is this: Our love for someone is strong enough to withstand the hurt we attribute to that person, just as God’s love is strong enough to withstand the things I have done that I am sure have hurt him.

I’m not talking trivial, little transgressions here. The person I love and chose to bring into today’s imagery session had, when I was a child, tied our family dog to the back of our school bus and had the bus driver drive away so the dog would be dragged behind the bus; the rationale for doing this was to teach the dog not to chase the school bus so he would avoid getting run over in the future. That same person slapped me at the dinner table in front of company and at another time picked me up by one arm while  swatting my “behind” with his other hand—- I literally became a human pendulum swinging back and forth between blows. Remembering those instances of hurt I experienced as a child brought unbidden tears to my eyes—even after all this time. And then I knew that some of the things I have done in the past like driving while intoxicated, practicing addictive behaviors, and engaging in what at the time was  called “free love” must have hurt my Higher Power just as deeply as those childhood memories that are embedded in my soul.  Then I felt the blessed relief of knowing  my Higher Power loves me anyway—-just as I love the person who psychologically and physically hurt me as a child. Those embedded hurts no longer have the power to block the love I have for the person who hurt me. Love is stronger than the hurt.

My writing today is relatively short. Conversely, however, the message “love is stronger than the hurt” is a momentous one for me. Now when I think of perceived hurtful events in my life I can stop investing energy in resenting those instances.  I can, instead,  focus on the love God shares with me and all of us that overlooks and overcomes the hurt. Resentment will never again have the power over me that it has had in the past. To be honest, I don’t yet trust that the resentments I have “nurtured” during my life time to entirely go away, but I know that now I can overcome  the hurt and resentment by focusing on the love I have been given as a gift by my Higher Power. And for this I am grateful.

Prescription

Image courtesy of  voraorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A frequently occurring mantra in my head this morning is, “Take a deep breath, relax. This too shall pass.”  I am in one of those moods where every little thing is irritating me. Actually, I am allowing it to do so. I have to consciously redirect my thoughts to what really matters—– that God is in control. Period. It does not matter that my television carrier stopped carrying the Weather Channel overnight. It does not matter that the university’s web-page generating program is tedious, onerous, and just about every other “bad adjective” I can think to attach to it. It doesn’t matter that I made a trip to the pharmacy last night for a medication that was promised to be phoned in and ready to be picked up by 6 PM last night yet was not there when I arrived to purchase it.

Now, looking at that list of grievances, I realize the things I have allowed to bother me are trivial. The bible verses I chose to post on my church’s Facebook page this morning for the daily bible reading say it all: “It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon” (PSALM 74: 15– 16 NIV). I need to just relax and trust God. Just because things are not going my way does not mean God has abandoned me or anyone else or thing he created. Just because things don’t happen how or when I want them to doesn’t mean God is not in control—–or that he should have done things my way instead of his. Sometimes my psyche is like that of a demanding 2 year old. I don’t like that part of myself. Luckily, God loves all of me regardless of whether I am demanding or in a good mood or not.

Prior to working a twelve step program I would have used this “free floating irritability” triggered by my inability to control everything in my life exactly the way I want to as an excuse to indulge in one or several addictions. Now I know better. I don’t reach for a drink, drug, or sugar. I love myself too much to use my irritation as an excuse to hurt myself. Now I am forced to feel what I am feeling instead of numbing my feelings. I am learning to be that “witness” contemplative prayer is teaching me to be—–to practice a type of detachment so that I can observe what happens and my reaction without getting caught up in the drama of it. I can say to myself, “Well, you’re upset because you didn’t get the medication you need when you  need it. Live with it. Going without it a bit longer will not kill you. Get over yourself.”

And, today, that is my best advice to myself—“get over yourself!” It is not all about me or how I think or need things to be. What I can change is how I react to life. Sometimes it is about accepting my reaction, noting it, and getting on with the business of living, and, if I am lucky, I can even begin to realize that living is a gift and not a business at all. God bless and keep you.

Sands of Time

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Today I am writing about something very personal. The photo I chose to illustrate today’s writing was taken by Sattva, and the photo is  entitled “Sands of Memory.” It seemed appropriate because today I am writing about the magical transformation occurring in my life because of contemplative prayer.

When I read today’s meditation out of Open Mind, Open Heart (Keating, T., 2005,p. 8, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group) I was, as we used to say, “blown away.” Here before my very eyes were the words that explained the magic of contemplative prayer to me. It seems that God’s spirit heals us when we quiet our mind to the point that we are able to  experience “interior silence.” Keating explains that this process works in a psychological way without our conscious knowledge—much as one is unaware of what happens when one is anesthetized and undergoes surgery. In fact, Keating says, “The purpose of contemplative prayer is to facilitate the process of inner transformation.”

I would tend to question this promise of an unconscious “inner transformation” if I had not already started experiencing it myself. I have been practicing contemplative prayer for a few  years now, and during my first year of “unknowing” I had not read about what can happen during contemplative prayer, so I had no preconceived expectations. During one of my group contemplative prayer sessions I sensed that someone entered the room because of what I smelled. I think I must have audibly gulped at that point because I recognized the scent as that of the man who molested me when I was four years old and who has been dead for decades. The Spirit moved me to have a conversation with this man and to tell him while I would never forget what he did, that what he did has shaped my entire life, that I forgave him, and that I loved him. It wasn’t easy, but the Spirit told me he had brought the man to me because I needed to do this. The Spirit also reminded me we are all one and that God is in each of us. Because of this I was able to honestly tell the man I forgave him and that I love him.

Since then, I have studied and learned more about contemplative prayer. I have come to understand that my “contemplative spiritual experience” was one of healing. It was a gift God gave me when he knew my “unconscious psychological level” was ready to handle the experience within the embrace of his love and guidance. On a conscious level through much reading, journaling, and counseling, I had developed insight about what happened to me all those years ago, but I could not “force” the healing. Healing was something only God could do, and it would not have happened had I not invited God to do so by consenting to his presence when I entered what Keating calls the “interior silence.”

So, on a very personal level, I know that God works on my “psyche” when I seek his love in that sacred interior space by stilling my thoughts and listening. Now, thanks to today’s meditation, I know that my “inner transformation” is occurring on an ongoing basis even if I am not consciously aware of it. Contemplative prayer is changing my life and my eternity. I believe the only way I can adequately thank God for this precious gift is by attempting to share it with others who follow a spiritual pathway. May God bless and keep you.