Archives for category: Contemplative Prayer

toolbag

Image courtesy of  Gualberto10 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have two uncompleted afghans, two uncompleted scarves, one uncompleted dishcloth,  an uncompleted shawl, and numerous other crochet projects that have been on hold for so long I no longer know what they are or where the pattern is I was following when I was working on them. I often get “hooked” (no pun intended) into crocheting a new pattern just for the thrill of creating something different, but when the newness wears off I sometimes abandon the project. Novelty must be one of my life’s strong allures, and, in fact, I think that attraction played a part in the relationships I have explored during my lifetime. It may even have played a part in my constantly seeking and exploring various religions.

I think I may just be trying to justify all my “unfinished business.” At the same time, however, there are benefits associated with prioritizing variety and new challenges over confining yourself to following a set way of doing the same thing forever and forever, amen. Seeking variety has introduced to new ideas, new ways of doing things, new people, new insights, and new experiences that I would have otherwise missed. The key issue here, for me, is discerning what is of value that I need to keep with me as I journey on to explore new avenues. It is almost as if I have spent my lifetime on a “scavenger hunt”—-a scavenger hunt in which the goals are not predetermined. Therefore, I don’t know what I am looking for until I find it and try it on to determine if it is a “comfortable fit.” If it is, it gets put in my “tool bag” and carried with me to future adventures.  Along the way, of course, I find I have outgrown some of the “tools” in my bag and I exchange them for a newer, more effective “tool.”

Through the years I’ve collected tools like the ten commandments, the beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and Christ’s commandment to love one another and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Later, that latter “do unto” belief was bolstered by the Wiccan  belief that whatever you do to others comes back to you threefold as well as by the concept of “karma” that I also stuffed in my tool bag. Some of the tools I have discarded are beliefs taught to me by fairy tales: that love is forever and that you will live happily ever after. I have discarded many beliefs I developed during childhood: that everyone is honest, that a spoken promise or commitment is better than a written contract, and that I should not question authority or be assertive or aggressive. And, of course there are the “big tools” I have discarded that almost killed me: the beliefs that drinking alcohol and eating were fun activities that “felt good,”  and therefore, I should be able to drink and eat what I wanted, as much as I wanted,  whenever I wanted.

Here are some of the new tools I’ve put in my bag: It is okay to say no, it is okay to express my own feelings and meet my own needs, not everything has an “ending” and some things you thought would never end do end. I have learned that pain and “being wounded” by some of life’s experiences are not necessarily bad things—-that they often lead to growth and newer, better outcomes. Pain can bring spiritual clarity, and being a wounded survivor can give you strength, insight, empathy, and heighten your ability to help others. Of course, over 32 years ago, I put AA’s 12 steps in my tool bag, and they are still there. However,  I take them out periodically and refine them so they continue to be “new and useful” tools. My newest tool is one I  find extremely useful: centering or contemplative prayer in which I consent to quietly seeking and receiving God’s unconditional love.

It took me all these words to realize what I am trying to say is life is not so much about “finishing something” as it is about evolving—-it is about process and not perfection. It is about the journey and not the destination. What tools have you discovered, picked up,  or revised in your tool bag?  What ones have you discarded? May God bless and keep you.

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Sanctuary Window at Centering Prayer 3_3_14

Photograph courtesy of Bob Towner

Yesterday a good friend rescued me from my “stuck in the house” doldrums. I was able to put attachable cleats on my shoes, walk across the snow and ice to his car, and then to walk out of his car and into the church for our centering prayer session. I felt like God came down, fitted me with wings, and let me fly out into the light again.

I tend to take my friends for granted, and it is not until times like this that I realize how much they mean to me. That same friend was able to use my cell phone to take a beautiful photo of God’s light streaming through one of our church’s stained glass windows right before our prayer session started, and the result was a photo I will treasure always. It will remind me not only of God’s love but the love that my friends have shared with me.

God has been working on me to more strongly anchor the concept of “willingness” into my heart.  He did this yesterday  by giving me lessons about my own willingness as well as how to introduce others to the concept of willingness. Yesterday my lessons led me to accept favors, to ask for help when I needed it, and to grasp an arm held out and offered for support in case I should start slipping on the ice. Yesterday also offered me opportunities to begin sharing my concept of willingness with another friend who is considering trying to use AA’s twelve steps for the first time to enter into recovery from carbohydrate addiction.

In looking back at yesterday, I have to wonder, once again, why is it so difficult for me to let others help me and so easy for me to focus instead on helping others? I am forced to admit it must involve my “false self”—my ego-centered pride. And below that layer of the onion is  my more deeply centered issues of trust. Yesterday I trusted cleats, a friend, and God not to let me fall on the ice. This particular friend and God have been with me through many trials and tribulations; they have more than proven their trustworthiness. Why do I still have trust issues? I am like St. Peter who walks on water until he begins to be afraid. If I am not careful, I will allow my fears and insecurities to build a fortress that not only protects me but also imprisons me from the love and kindness of others. My fear, if fed, can even shut God out.

Happily, I learned yesterday that trusting God and friends can make all the difference in the world—and in my eternal reality. I got to be with other people of faith yesterday, and discussing our beliefs reaffirmed my faith and what it means to me. Had I stayed at home, my dogs would have continued to offer me unconditional love as they always do, but they cannot talk to me about matters of faith. It is even hard for them to let me be without interruption long enough to practice centering prayer. So, I am dedicating this blog to thanking my friend Bob, my other friends at Centering Prayer, my friend who let me talk about willingness, and, of course, God for freeing me from my self-imposed prison. May God bless and keep you.

Rainbow Sock

Image courtesy of dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today I wore my  purple “When I Become an Old Woman” sweatshirt (one of my “thrift store finds)  to a centering prayer meeting. A parody of the famous poem about growing old and wearing purple is written of the sweatshirt. Upon reading my shirt,  a friend suggested I write a parody of my own. So, here goes:

Now that I Am an Old Woman

Now that I am an old woman, I shall continue to wear purple as it is my favorite color, and I will wear socks of bright colors: some with peace signs and others with smiley faces.  I shall spend my retirement funds on necessities and luxuries when I can afford them. I will spend my money on  healthy foods, and I will take my prescribed medications. I shall go to meetings to support my sobriety and recovery, and I shall eat with healthy restraint. I will hoard pens; pencils; yarn; crochet hooks;  crocheted afghans, shawls, and scarves; and boxes and boxes full of “stuff.” I shall spare no expense in feeding and caring for my four beloved little white dogs. I shall consent to being immersed in God’s love, and I will try my best to share that love. I will forget some things and remember others. I will put things in safe places only to lose them, and later I will find them when I am not seeking them. I will re-direct my thoughts in a positive direction when my mind starts to dwell on negative matters. I shall exercise when I want, take naps when I want,  and stay up as late as I want. I will write for fun rather than publication, and I shall read books and  play computer games to my heart’s content. I shall greet each day by making conscious contact with God and turning my will and my life over to him. I will ask for knowledge of God’s will and the power to carry it out. At the end of each day I will be grateful for the day God has given me and for the mercy he has shown me my whole life through.

Wow, it felt good to write that! May God bless and keep you.

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.