Think back over your morning or day. What steps did you take to arrive right where you are, in this moment? Did your alarm go off this morning? Did you wake up on time? Did you get kids to school? Did you commute to work? What conversations did you have? What conversations did you listen to?
We live in a busy world. We experience noise and activity from the moment our alarms go off in the morning, to arriving at work, to going home in the evening. We fill empty spaces with TV and radio, social media and phone conversations. And we juggle relationships, careers, home lives—not to mention hopes and plans for the future.
Jesus promises peace within the noise and activity. He says, "Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid" (John 14:27 GNT). This is good news! But turning to Jesus's peace during our morning routines or a stressful meeting can seem unrealistic. And if we do manage to pause and be quiet, will we find the peace we are looking for?
Several years ago I started attending a Centering Prayer group at my church. I joined a handful of other parishioners to simply sit in silence, making space to encounter and rest in God. Sounds simple, right?
I quickly discovered that the noise isn't just coming from my external environment. It is in the population of my own thoughts and emotions. When I stopped and quietened and listened, I was confronted with hidden anxieties. Old grievances. Conflicts that hadn't resolved. Conversations I was still processing. Grocery lists that turned into existential questions. My mind was anything but an inner sanctuary or reprieve from the world around me!
Over the years, I have used this group time to practice removing distractions—not just in my environment, but also in my own mind and heart. I have started to learn how to let go of my thoughts and anxieties in order to make room for God's presence. As I practice doing this in meditation, I am slowly learning how to keep returning to the peace Jesus offers me throughout my day.
Meditation is a longstanding Jewish and Christian tradition with roots in the pages of Scripture. In fact, it comes from two different Hebrew words that are used 58 times. The Psalms begin by declaring happy those whose "delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night" (Psalm 1:2 NRSV). Isaac goes to the fields to meditate (Genesis 24:63), and in the Gospels Jesus often withdraws from the crowds to pray (Luke 5:16). Jesus urges us to abide in God's love and gives us the Spirit to comfort and guide us (John 15:4; 14:16).
In the third century, the Desert Fathers and Mothers devoted their lives to living contemplatively with God. One excerpt from their collected sayings illustrates the importance of cultivating union with God, exactly where you are:
"Somebody asked Anthony, 'What shall I do in order to please God?' He replied, 'Do what I tell you, which is this: wherever you go, keep God in mind; whatever you do, follow the example of Holy Scripture; wherever you are, stay there and do not move away in a hurry. If you keep to these guidelines, you will be saved.'"
Anthony taught his protégé to set his mind on God and Scripture. To not hurry through the activities or tensions of life, but to experience God's presence in everything. We are also called to continually return to the awareness of God's presence with us. As we keep God in mind, all of our actions and responses to the world can draw on this place of union with God's Spirit.
Give It a Try
There are many forms of meditation. In Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster suggests listening to God's word, reflecting on God's works, rehearsing God's deeds, and ruminating on God's law.
Here are some steps to try Centering Prayer, the practice that has been most formative in my own life. Set aside 20 minutes and pick a place where you won't be interrupted. Now listen to the words of Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher:
"Choose a word or phrase [from the Bible or a prayer] as an expression of your intent and desire. Sit comfortably and upright, eyes closed, breathing naturally, and begin to repeat this sacred word silently. As your attention is focused on the desire behind the word, gradually let the word slip away. Rest in silence. When thoughts, images, or sensations arise, gently return to the word, a symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within you."
This may be difficult at first. Stick with it! Try it at least a few times before you consider giving up. You will start learning to direct and redirect your mind continually to God, rather than the myriad things that clamor for your attention. As you practice Christian meditation, you may notice that you begin to crave these times of stillness with God. May you find the peace Jesus promises.
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