Day 4: Meditation

December 1, 2021

Chicago Botanic Garden, Japanese island, photo credit Elizabeth Jones

Do you meditate?

Many people around the world meditate on a regular basis. Many of these people come from a variety of faith traditions. That is, vast numbers of people who practice meditation come from a faith tradition other than Christianity.

I did not know much about meditation when I was growing up. (I guess there were not too many Lutherans who were in the habit of regular meditation during the 1970’s, at least in my area.) By the time I really got interested about different types of prayer – which was during the late 1980’s – I found a number of books published about meditation and contemplation. And, these books came from a variety of different faith traditions.

If no one in your family or among your friends practices meditation, it might indeed seem different.  But, is meditation any more different than certain types of prayer that are practiced in many homes of devout Catholics in the Chicago area? Or, the types of prayer practiced by Orthodox acquaintances of mine around Chicago? This is an honest, sincere question. (I really would like to understand!)   

I love the simple definition given by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: “Meditation is simply the practice of stopping and looking deeply.” [1] That means to me stopping and looking deeply – with no judgment.

A snap response might be: “Oh, that is easy!” But, is it? A non-judgmental, open, interested stop, with a deep gaze – this might indeed be a challenge, whatever your faith tradition!

Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say, “With mindfulness and concentration you can direct your attention to what is there and have a deep look. You can begin to see the true nature of what is in front of you.” [2] Isn’t this a way of looking at things (and people) the way God must see them? At least, starting to see them with God’s eyes?

I have practiced the different ways of meditation and contemplation this monk suggests in this small book. Mind-opening, to say the least. I cannot meditate on a regular basis, because my mind is too wedded to the written word. (I really enjoy praying with Scripture! But, more on that, later.) However, when I do try to meditate, I receive rich rewards. God knows that this is not my preferred way of praying, and I believe God honors that, and understands.

Yes, I have meditated, a number of times. I have been refreshed! And, I deeply respect and honor Thich Nhat Hanh, and his practice of coming before the Holy. This slim, little book holds a valued place on my bookshelf devoted to books on prayer, contemplation and meditation.

Please, pray with me. Dear Holy One, thank You for many different understandings of You and how You are in the world. How You relate to individuals, as well as how You might be as different people approach You in different ways. Thank You for helping me to open myself to new experiences in prayer. Thank You especially for this little book How to Sit. Help me glean words of wisdom and ways of prayer and meditation from its pages. In Your divine Name I pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )


[1] Nhat Hanh, Thich, How to Sit (Parallax Press: United States of America, 2014), 18.

[2] Ibid.

Day 3: Silence

November 30, 2021

Morton Grove Forest Preserves, Nov. 10, 2021, photo credit Elizabeth Jones

I used to shy away from silence, when I was young. I always had to be surrounded by people or by sound. And usually, either music or voices. White noise was okay, but I still felt alone. And, I deeply felt the aloneness. Gradually, I had to grow accustomed to silence. But, that was decades ago. Looking backward, I see myself then as immature. Only half-birthed, and such a young one.

When I was introduced to the book Living in the Presence by Tilden Edwards just a few months after starting seminary, I felt blown away. My professor in the course on Introduction to Prayer actually studied at the Shalem Institute with Edwards. The width, depth and breadth of Edwards’ knowledge about spiritual growth and formation blew me away, too.

Edwards said that we all “have a tendency to become very noisy inside to compensate for the silence outside.” His comfort level with silence fascinated me, and was something I wanted in my life. Sure, I had grown a bit since the constant need (desire for?) sound in my teens, and it continued through my 20’s and 30’s. Yet, at 40, I had some idea of how desperately far I still needed to go.

Edwards is just one of so many who references “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) as part of the contemplative tradition. He said “Being still before God is the enduring stance of prayer, that which lasts when all the words and other sounds inside are exhausted.” [1]

Yes, I can sit in silence before God now. Sometimes I even crave that Godly silence, the silence so filled with the presence of the Almighty – containing the totality of the spectrum of sound, which includes silence. But, sometimes my comfort level ebbs and flows. Sometimes I do still crave some kind of music or voices, or water and rain sounds. And, that is okay, too. As long as I am communicating with God. That is what God truly wants, after all.

Would you join me in this sounding of prayer?

Dear God, thank You for sound. Thank You for the multiplicity of varieties of sound, from the whisper of the breeze to the crash of the ocean waves. Thank You for the beauty of voices singing and instruments playing. Thank You for silence, too, that deep, smooth pool of stillness, spreading across the psalmist’s awareness. Help us to know – truly know – that You are God. Amen.


[1] Edwards, Tilden, Living in the Presence (Harper Collins: San Francisco, 1995), 35.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

Day 2: Quieting the mind

Missouri Botanic Garden, December 2019 – photo credit Elizabeth Jones

November 29, 2021

Day 2: Quieting the mind

It’s so difficult to hear anything in a crowded room full of people talking. Competing voices, sounds, all kinds of ruckus and noise. Do you want to turn down the sound level, like turning down the car radio?

Sure, sound can be that way in the external world. However, I am thinking of the internal world – the interior space within each of us. How can we clear away the sound, the noise, and even prepare our internal, interior space for prayer? Contemplation, or meditation? This effort is the first thing I seek. I am not always able to get there, it is true, but I try.

As a marvelous writer on prayer and spirituality said, “For too long we have been in a far country: a country of noise and hurry and crowds, a country of climb and push and shove, a country of frustration and fear and intimidation.” [1] Richard Foster is so right. We need to set aside all that clutter and noise inside our heads, and between our ears, too.

Quieting the mind for me has some options, for sure. My favorite ones right now are first, taking deep breaths, in and out. That slows my heart rate, encourages me to sit up, sit straight, and stretch. Stretch my arms, shoulders, do shoulder circles (forward and back), and swivel or pivot my head and neck.

If you feel some muscle or place in your body or torso that feels like it needs to be stretched, by all means do it! Your body will thank you for stretching. And, your mind and spirit will appreciate the physical invitation into the presence of God.

Sometimes it can be enough to quiet the mind. Sure, these different contemplative practices can be so meaningful! But sometimes – it can be enough to have some inner stillness, to center oneself. Advent especially is a time of preparation and stillness. Ask God. The response can be clear. Praise God.

Please, pray with me. Dear God, thank You for this deep-down desire to quiet the mind. Thank You for help to become still enough to hear from You. Being in Your presence is so worth it! Remind me – remind us of that truth, please. In Jesus’ name we pray.


[1] Foster, Richard, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (Harper: San Francisco, 1992), 1.


@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for the excellent image, the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

Day 1: A sacred, personal space

Photo credit: Kevin Jones

November 28, 2021

Do you look at life from a glass-half-full perspective? Or, is your glass half-empty?

I try to go through life looking at things from a positive perspective. (That is, most of the time.) When situations and challenges rock my boat, I sometimes try to calm things down by praying. Sometimes with meditation and contemplation, too.

Except, sometimes is not often enough. Sometimes.

I was introduced to the Tree of Contemplative Practices through a prayer retreat . My ecumenical association, the Federation of Christian Ministries, sponsored a (much needed!) Zoom retreat earlier this month. This prayer tree, found on the website http://www.contemplativemind.org, immediately caught my attention. Yes, and my mind and spirit, too. I noticed that I had done or been involved in almost every contemplative and spiritual practice listed on this tree. My intention is to journal about the many practices, when and where in my life I had the opportunity to practice, and see whether at the end I have any more insight than I do right now. Which, admittedly, is not much. I journal in hopes of gaining some godly wisdom.

When I pray, or meditate, or contemplate, or whatever journaling I may do, I find it helpful to get into a quiet place. This may not be a whole separate room. No, a chair may be enough. Or, a desk in a corner. You could even put in earphones or whatever sound reducing device you prefer. I suggest quiet music helps, even silence, at times. I’ve meditated to the sound of waves, and of rain. I love to listen to Gregorian chant and baroque guitar or lute while journaling. Whatever calms you and causes your heart rate to slow. Take some slow, deep breaths, too, before you start. Whatever is helpful for you, for your soul and spirit, and for your heart.

Remember, God wants to get in touch with us. Up close and personal, if possible.

Please, pray with me. Dear God, thank You for this time of quiet. Help me – help us to come to You with open hearts and spirits. Thank You for meeting us when we turn to You. In this time of Advent, of preparation, draw us close – close to You. Dear Lord, in Your mercy, hear all of our prayers.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

An Advent of Contemplative Practices


Day 0: November 27


Have you ever felt fragmented and off kilter? I have, a number of times in my life. To center myself, my mind and spirit, I have determined to journal every day.

I discovered an excellent prompt (or series of prompts) in the image of the Tree of Contemplative Practices. Thanks so much to the website http://www.contemplativemind.org for the genesis of this journal idea I will be doing a daily Advent discipline of journaling each day in Advent 2021.

Want to join me on my journaling journey?

In the past few decades, I have engaged in all of these prayer and contemplation practices. Contemplation, prayer and meditation help center and calm me. (The more active practices energize me!) See whether these practices might help you, too!

 

Mission Statement

Have you ever felt fragmented and off kilter? I have.

To center myself and my mind, I have determined to journal every day, for the next few weeks. I found an excellent prompt (or series of prompts) – the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

I will be doing a daily Advent discipline of journaling each day in Advent 2021.

Contemplation, prayer and meditation help center and calm me. See whether these quiet practices might help you, too!

Want to join me on my journaling journey?