meditation

Pray then Contemplate then Meditate then Pray...

Photo by  Motoki Tonn  on  Unsplash

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Listening to different groups of people I hear three words used to describe some of their practices. The religious (often conservative) use the word prayer, academics (often liberal) use the word contemplate, and mystics (not just Christians) use the word meditate. Sometimes there words are used interchangeably in popular culture, but my lived experience teaches me that these are not different words for the same practice, but rather three different practices. The trouble is, most of us just do one of these when we really need all three.

Prayer is many things, however at the core, prayer is paying attention. it is the act of paying attention to the needs around us. It is paying attention to gratitude. It is paying attention to the hurts and pains in the world. It is paying attention to what the still small voice of God whispers to us.

While prayer is using our peripheral vision to pay attention, contemplation is the practice of focusing on something. It is focusing on one scripture or one concern. It is focusing on what God is inviting us to do or become.

Meditation is the practice of letting go. If prayer and contemplation are about opening our eyes to different degrees, meditation is about closing them. Not closing them to the pain of the world or the concerns of God, but closing them so to empty ourselves. Meditation gives us access to our limitations and shows us how we are not in control or in what ways we are limited to effect change.

To pray, contemplate or meditate in isolation is not only difficult to do but we are missing out on the fullness of these practices. They each build upon one another and connect to one another. We pay attention, we focus, we release, only to pay attention once more.

Since we are just out of Lent, perhaps it is easier to pull the example of Jesus from Matthew 26 36-42. First Jesus prays (pays attention):

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 

Jesus is praying and in doing so he is paying attention. He is paying attention to his situation becomes grieved and agitated, even to death. Jesus asks the disciples to “stay awake with me” to pay attention to what God desires.

The story continues:

And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 

Now Jesus moves from praying to contemplating. He is focused on the real possibility right before him. He narrows his choices to two - let this cup pass or thy will. Additionally we wonder if Jesus frustrated with the disciples because they are asleep or because they are not paying attention? The story then makes the final turn toward mediation:

Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

Jesus lets go of a desire to control the outcome. He is aware of his limitations in the situation. He clears his mind through meditation and said “the same words” of release to God. Once this threefold movement is complete, Jesus remains frustrated, not at his impending death mind you but at the disciples who could not even do the first step to stay awake, pay attention, pray.

WeCroak app and the desert wisdom

Hoping for a better year is rooted in our clinging to life. And while life is good, when we cling to life we fear death. When we fear death then we are not living the Christian life. Christian spirituality is, at its core, about embracing death. Not in a macabre or violent way, but in a way the trusts that death is not the last word. Embracing death removes any fear we have of death and when the fear of death is removed then power of death is gone - because the only power we give death is fear. 

There is a little app on my phone that I have been living with for a few weeks now called WeCroak. I came across this app in a wonderful little write up in the Atlantic and I cannot recommend this app or the Atlantic article enough. The only thing the app does is remind you at five random times in the day that you are going to die. In fact the message looks like this:

https://www.inlander.com/spokane/searching-for-the-meaning-of-death-theres-an-app-for-that/Content?oid=7382589

https://www.inlander.com/spokane/searching-for-the-meaning-of-death-theres-an-app-for-that/Content?oid=7382589

While the creator of this app was inspired by the practice of reflecting on death in Budhaism called Maransati the centrality of death is present in many traditions. Jesus talked about picking up your cross and the desert wisdom placed death at the center of many teachings. For instance here is this clever little story:

 "They told the story of a hermit who was dying in Scetis. The brothers stood round his bed, clothed him, and began to weep. But he opened his eyes and began to laugh; this happened three times. So the brothers asked him, "Abba, why are you laughing when we are weeping?" He told them, "I laughed the first time because you fear death; I laughed the second time because you are not ready for death; I laughed the third time because I am passing from labor to rest, and yet you weep." As he said this, he closed his eyes and died."

In the coming year, may you let go of clinging to life so that you may embrace death - even just a little bit. I know it is scary, however it is when we let go and trust that death is not the last word we experience resurrection. 

At least that is the Gospel.

Getting Distracted in Prayer? Rejoice.

There is a story that I came across some many years ago and for the life of me I cannot locate the source. (If you know where this is from I would love to know!) The gist of the story is:

A student was frustrated that he was getting distracted in his prayer and meditation. He went to the teacher and expressed what he saw to be a problem. The teacher, after seeing the distress in her student said to be thankful for the distractions. She then saw a shock come over her student and she went on to explain, "each distraction is an opportunity to return to the heart of God." 

The distractions in prayer and meditation are going to happen. If we cannot return (repent) to a simple prayer or moment of silence, then we are going to have a difficult time returning (repenting) to God or neighbor when we really screw up. The distractions are an opportunity to practice returning when the stakes are really low. 

Why you may be falling asleep when you meditate

I am not a meditation expert by any definition. I do practice, but with two kids and a full church and a white knuckle grasp on a dream of being a professional soccer player/stand up comic, I do not take the time to meditate as much as I hope to. I have hear a number of Christians talk about their inability to meditate and I hope this little post will help you in your desire to meditate.

First of all, if you are a Christian remember that when it comes to meditation. Sometimes we forget that when we meditate and look to other sources to guide our meditation, many of which teach that meditation is about clearing your mind. While these sources have been helpful for many, if you embrace the Christian narrative then you may have a difficult time with this because the Christian narrative is first and foremost an embodied religion. It is a religion that states God constantly comes to us. We were given the gift of the Holy Spirit to guide and remind all the Christ taught. We are a people who believe that God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth and will come again (whatever that looks like). 

If you believe God is constantly coming to us, then you might find it counter productive to try to be a blank slate and banish thoughts and feelings. Those thoughts you have are not necessarily bad or distractions. To the Christian thoughts and feelings are possible vessels of God's grace and guidance. The list of things to do that floats into your mind may be a distraction, but it also could be that God is using that list to remind you to slow down. The Christian meditation is one that engages those thoughts differently than just by banishing them.  The Christian might be best served by acknowledging the thoughts but then moving on. 

I invite you to try this form of meditation. Imagine that you are sitting on a rock in a river. As thoughts or feelings come to you treat them like leaves floating on the water's surface. You see them but they do not capture your attention - they float on by. There will be some that float right into you as you sit there and you may find that you are covered in a few leaves. That is okay. Pick each one up, examine it, see if there is any writing from God on that leaf. If not, put it back down on the water and let it float on downstream. If there is residue of the divine, then make note of it. There may be some leaves that are larger or more interesting to look at, take the time you need but know that when you stand up to walk out of the river of your meditation you are saturated with Living Water.

Source: http://www.boston.com/community/photos/raw...