Intentions, Distractions and Centering Prayer
As we begin, let us center ourselves in Christ Jesus. Allow yourself to rest in the present moment to know God’s presence with you. It is good to be still as we pray for the Lord to speak to our hearts.
Intentions, Distractions, and Centering Prayer
During this season of Lent we are considering the Christian contemplative journey and time proven practices that open us to deeper, more expansive, and profound ways of being on the journey. The Christian contemplative journey is a journey of love, with Love. It is a journey by which the image of Love becomes more aware and responsive to union with Love, God, who created the image. In short, the journey consists of being aware of Love’s presence; gazing into the purifying eyes of Love; being illuminated by Love, uniting with Love and becoming kenotic vessels through whom Love flows, without resistance, or grasping; it is simply let go into the world around us. Love, God, interacts and enlivens the human essence (sprit, soul, mind and body) bringing us to a fully mature, fully alive, way of being Christ-like that can have a profound effect on the world around us. This is the trajectory and teleos of the Christian journey. However, the journey is not a passive journey in that it will not just happen without our acceptance and participation. There are many forces in the world that are dead set against our Christian, with God, sanctifying, journey. One of the great enemies, whatever the source, that would keep us from the contemplative, with God life, is distractions.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." NRS Luke 10:38-42
It is not that what Martha was doing was bad, or even wrong. The problem that Jesus is pointing out is that she is being distracted, thus missing an opportunity to simply be with the Lord. Mary is our example of one who is practicing the presence of God, as she sits at the feet of Jesus Christ. The lesson is that Martha is demonstrating a distracted, unaware, self (spirit, soul, mind and body), while Mary demonstrates a still, very aware, self (spirit, soul, mind and body). The interesting thing from a contemplative perspective is that it has little to do with the actions of either of the two women. For Martha could have very well be about her chores and still been very much aware of God’s presence. Likewise, Mary could have been at the feet of God and still not with God in a contemplative manner. So, the lesson Jesus offers is not that we must choose between a monastic life and an active life, as much as it is a lesson in distraction and awareness. The better part, which May chose, and to which Jesus refers is daily life with a deep awareness of and responsiveness to God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), who is Love (1 John 4:8, 16), regardless of what we are doing, or what must be done. The lesson is that life with a moment by moment awareness of God with us, regardless of what we are doing, is the better part. Distractions from this way of being are a problem we must address.
Just this very minute it happened to me. As I was writing my phone buzzed, I received a text, I looked, and before I knew it, I was checking, unnecessarily, to see how many people viewed this morning’s Awakening devotional on Face Book. A three-minute distraction, while I was writing about the threat of distraction on the Christian contemplative journey.
What can we do?
We must become intentional: By continually alternating between prayer and action until all action becomes prayer and all prayer becomes active. We must be intentional in the creation of a flow of life that has regular intervals of intentional prayer that will eventually overtake and color all our activities, until every moment is centered on, and in God, whom we now perceive in an effortless, non-resistant manner. Over the millennia his has been done effectively, (albeit never fully effectively, or constant, to my knowledge), in many ways, such as regular daily prayer at set times of the day, or the Jesus Christ prayer spoken in regular manner throughout our day, and/or short quick prayers offered when the opportunities arise.1 For me, over the past 6 years it has been a practice called Centering Prayer that has been the most fruitful of my contemplative practices.2
Centering prayer, at its core, is an intentional practice of surrender where we declare our love for God and our intention to be undistracted before the mystery of God. My practice includes 20 minutes in the morning and then 20 minutes at night, with shorter opportunities dispersed throughout my day. Our desire, as with every contemplative practice, is to be drawn by God into silence and union, so we may become eternal vessels of love for the glory of God. Centering prayer is a holy habit that brings us to the threshold of God’s grace-filled draw into silence and union. We begin by becoming as still as possible, both outwardly and inwardly. Inhale deeply, holding your breath for just a moment and then slowly exhaling until all the air has left your lungs. Do this three times. When I do this, I pay attention to my breathing in and then upon exhaling I pay attention to my breathing out, while I simultaneously allow myself to become more deeply still and grounded in God’s presence. From here, we then allow our breathing to become regular, as we rest quietly. As we remain still, we then allow a previously chosen sacred word to enter our minds (mine word is Jesus). At first, we say the word slowly and gently several times, gradually allowing ourselves to center our being in Christ Jesus. The word is not meant to be a mantra. It is meant to be an intentional act of love directed toward God, that says here I am Lord. Allow the word to drop from your mind and lips when you feel immersed in God’s presence. When you are distracted, by a thought, or even a physical sensation, simply allow the thought to move on while you reintroduce your sacred word. Try to do this for between and 10-30 minutes each morning and evening, but do not miss the opportunity to return to your sacred word and sit at the Lords feet at any time during the day. As the practice becomes more natural you will find yourself, quite naturally, returning to your sacred word and sensing a deep awareness of God’s presence during the regular events of your day. Thus, Centering Prayer can have a profound effect on your moment by moment life, which will eventually lead us to holy silence as we rest in the holy mystery of God. This is the ultimate desire of the Christian contemplative.
1 It should be mentioned that all these, including Centering Prayer are best when grounded 15-30-minute morning and evening periods when we intentionally, within the context of regular sacred space and sacred time practice our prayer discipline.
2 The Awakening Institute offers a 3 hour seminar on the practice of Centering Prayer. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website www.theawakeninginstitute.com or call 321-298-8801 for further details.
Next week, “Awareness and The Prayer of Examen”
May God Bless You All, Gene Yotka
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