Becoming a Prayer

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Becoming a Prayer

Post  Anwar_Thomas on Wed 11 Jul 2007, 6:07 am

Prayer is not primarily words that we say, formulas that we recite, postures that we maintain, or rituals that we perform. These are hopefully the results and expressions of the prayer that we are, and yet we often must do these very things to reconnect with the prayer that we are. That is the paradox, the bit of "doing" that reminds us and hopefully regrounds us in our Deepest Being. It is not a practice that turns God on. "Why do you babble on as the pagans do," Jesus says. It is a practice that turns us on - to who we really are - and who we no longer need to be. - Richard Rohr

I am discovering, and even surrendering to the idea (at least a little bit at a time), that walking the path of spiritual progress is less and less about the how and why.

That may seem like a grave contradiction. How can anyone possibly get on a spiritual path without knowing how to do that? We all realize that a starting point is the only place to begin and the proper motivation to begin a spiritual journey usually comes from the purpose (the why) and once convinced we want directions (the how). Iím not denying any of that, in fact, Iím asserting it.

Nevertheless, I donít believe this invalidates my opening statement. One of the mysteries of the journey is that the more you know the less you know. My experience tells me the bigger your faith the greater the need for expansion. Continual open-mindedness and willingness is crucial. Here is the basis for true humility.

So if our progress becomes less about knowledge and reason it must be something else.



A Collision of Opposites

It is my belief that the answers, in so far as we can call them answers, reside in the reconciliation of contradiction. Essentially cracking open the paradox and finding that the whole is more than black-white, right-wrong, yes-no and other simplistic ways of looking at things. I know the attraction of simplicity and rationality. We all want things to be clear-cut and easy. The beauty of my personal discovery is that the wrestling over the collision of opposites induces continual growth. The only way it wonít is if we throw our hands up in the air and quit. Instead of quitting we can try acceptance. Set aside our disagreeable nature and allow the conflict to just be. Force yourself to look at all the sides and then sit with it.

Jesus taught that the only way to understand spiritual truth (the things of heaven) was to be reborn in the spirit. Our essence is spiritual Ė we are spiritual beings living a human experience. Clearly we are all more than flesh and blood. Without the new birth (John 3:5-7) we are limited to an experience that is mostly physical, mental and emotional. And we hardly understand this reality Ė small wonder that we struggle with spiritual concepts!



Letting Go

Youíve probably encountered the phrase, ďlet go and let GodĒ. Essentially it means trust that we donít have to figure everything out or be in control. Indeed we can not. We are lacking in the ability Ė the power Ė to understand and control our lives. This is not abdicating responsibility; it owns up to the futility of living out of self will.

Iíve spent a lot of time wrestling with and eventually accepting this. If self propulsion is not the right way of living then there must be something else I must turn my will over to. This surrender means I no longer live for me. I am to become a part of something bigger, a community of faith united in one spirit.

The problem is the tendency to slide back into selfish living. As soon as you get two or more together we all tend to view things through our perspectives. Unless we are opened up to the benefit of a changed collective perspective guided by a loving and Divine Spirit we will revert to what we know. Itís not surprising. Old ways are comfortable. New things are scary.



A New Way of Seeing

The change in perspective is not an overnight matter (at least not in my experience). Itís a process. Now that Iíve accepted it a new way of living is set before me. Itís a new way of being, a continual rebirth. Some call it a spiritual awakening. The terminology is not so important. You can call is a psychic change. Regardless, it is radically different Ė a new reality.

Have you discovered that when you begin to seek in certain areas you start to get input and answers from lots of places, frequently unexpected, strange and delightful sources? Thus it has been with me lately in the area of contemplation, solitude and stillness. Iím in no danger of becoming a guru on the subject. Maybe all Iíve done in the past year is dip my toe in the water.

The results have been intriguing. Iím sensing constantly and in different ways how important it is to get centered and still and to turn my intent to God. Thereís a wealth of teaching and information about meditation and quite a bit of it focuses on technique and focused attention. This doesnít work well for me. However, the idea of resting in the presence of God by letting my thoughts come and go while continually returning my intent to God is different. Thomas Keating, a monk who has done much for the centering prayer movement, is a proponent of this idea. His book Open Mind, Open Heart is considered a primer by many centering prayer practitioners.



Something Unexpected

Out of my brief entry into this way of prayer Iíve discovered something unexpectedÖand quite delightful. Iím becoming a prayer. Thereís no doubt in my busy mind that getting still is key. In Richard Mahlerís ďStillness: Daily Gifts of SolitudeĒ he lays out many practical reasons for finding time in each day for inner solitude and quiet. Itís not necessary to go on an extended retreat or wilderness getaway (as he did for 90 days in the remote northern New Mexico Mountains). Extended and short retreats have their benefit. However, from a discipline of regular centering prayer one can learn to seek God by a silent turning of our will to God. Itís not a litany of words or a wrestling with theological matters; itís not worship songs or scripture reading. All of those activities have benefit. But, just intentionally turning to God in a conscious way reminds me that God is ever present and I just need to be still and know that (Psalm 46:10).

A very concrete benefit of this practice is a growing tendency to truly be in the present. Most moments are filled with our thoughts and feelings and most definitely we spend a large amount of time fretting about the future or mulling over the past. How can we be present with God if we donít allow ourselves the surrender from the tyranny of the clock? Timepieces always remind us of things we must do, places to go, or whatís already passed.




Embrace the Sacred

When I choose to be in the now and to be a prayer there is a dreamy timelessness to the moment. Itís neither an escape nor a fuzzy feel-good attitude. Itís an embrace of something sacred.

When I choose to turn my intent and will over to this spirit-filled state I can do things out of the ordinary. I can smile more. When I pass people, even complete strangers, I can ďshootĒ a prayer at them. Arrows of love spring forth. Grace and mercy are embraced. Itís not me Ė itís Godís Spirit living in/through/with me. This was Jesusí fervent prayer that we may be one just as he and the Father are one (John 17:21).

How and why this happens is not as important as it happening. Try it Ė believe and become a living prayer.
Tom Gilbert

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