Last Sunday during the Mission Center Sunday Service a guided centering prayer was offered. We were asked to close our eyes, and direct our attention to our breath, silently saying the word open as we breathed in and heart as we breathed out. My busy little brain wanted to sing a favorite hymn that begins with “Open My Heart Lord”. I am still growing in this process of spiritual practice.
For the last few years, I have been participating in the Spiritual Growth and Companioning program. A great deal of time in this program has been devoted to the study and practice of spiritual practices. At the first retreat for this class I was asked to select a spiritual practice that I would like to use daily. I love God’s creation and have over the years found peace in gardening and fishing. So I chose Holy Attention and devoted my time in spiritual practice each morning looking deeply at a toothpick holder that my husband a woodworker had made from a burl.
Or I would sit quietly on the patio bench watching finches, hummingbirds, and quail stop by for a snack. I found it easy to be still in this attention to God’s creation. Well sometimes I found it easy, other times my busy brain would like to take off like a gerbil on a wheel with all kinds of conversations that were not happening, or concerns about issues out of my control. In time I learned to gently quiet my busy mind and return to the silence.
Concentrating on the breath is an often suggested means of bringing the mind back to the meditation. My problem is when I am concentrating on my breath I struggle to breathe normally. I was grateful recently to read that this was not uncommon in learning spiritual practices. One would think this would all be much simpler, but then there was a time when I did not know how to tie my shoes. It is all part of learning and growing spiritually.
At the next retreat I was instructed by my leader to pick a new spiritual practice. I liked the practice of Holy Attention and complained to my Spiritual Director that as I was learning so much from the practice of Holy Attention that I saw no reason to change to another practice. A wise man, he suggested I try including the prayer of examen in my evening prayers for others, and continue the practice of Holy Attention as I wished. I said I would try it for a month. The prayer of examen changed my life and I cannot image ever ending my day without this spiritual practice. (See November 2019 Blog article)
Yesterday I received a book, Lectio Divina (required reading for the class) transforming words and images into heart centered prayer (by Christine Painter). I will share an abbreviated portion of the of the initial steps of this spiritual practice suggested in this book. After reading a short text or scripture, settle into your prayer space (maybe spending some quiet time with your breath.) Listen for a word or phrase in the reading that calls to you. Repeat the word or phrase in silence.
Quietly listen for what images feelings or memories are stirring and welcome into your heart whatever comes. Listen for how the stirring in your heart connects to your everyday life. In time prayer may arise spontaneously, when you allow your heart to be touched by this entering of God into your experience. (Sometimes for me the prayer is a deep feeling of peace.) Other times answers about the questions of my day will come to me later as I go about my daily activities.
So, returning to the centering prayer last Sunday. Amazing, I found that silently saying the word open as I breathed in and heart as I breathed out resulted in my breathing remaining fairly normal. I love it when at last I just get it. We were asked to continue this breathing for one minute, and after a bell at the end of the minute, we were asked to open our eyes and rest in the silence for a minute and a half. A minute and a half can seem like a very long time sometimes, and other times 20 minutes fly by. I use an egg timer or my phone to track time.