I’ve been very overwhelmed this last month. Most people, I think, have their overwhelm before Christmas and the holidays. Ours has happened after Christmas, as my husband looks for work after being unjustly fired, and we are living off of savings and what I make as a new teacher online… Plus the pandemic, parenting a threenager (he seriously hit three like a pile of bricks 😐 ), economic downturn, attempted coup after a democratically run and secure election… I can’t really go on. This is traumatic, and I know I’m not the only one. We are all hurting, though our hurts might not be the same. We are all weary of the pandemic, and it is still the middle of the worst peak, yet. We know over 400, 000 people in the US have died alone. Some initial data shows that over 300,000 more people died in 2020 than in all of 2019, and death rates for every age group above 25 have been 20-50% more than in the previous year (source). I don’t know many of those affected, but I know that their loss affects me, and you, too. Sorrow ripples out, and grief compounds during this time as we lose our loved ones and the rituals surrounding death. We mourn the comfort of closeness. Loneliness is a killer, too (source).
I started a book on centering prayer last week by Cynthia Bourgeault called Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. I confess I really didn’t know what centering prayer was. I have been working on meditating… for years, unsuccessfully. Having an overactive thyroid nodule removed a few years ago helped immensely, as I had a great deal of anxiety from hyperthyroidism. But my analytical mind has always had too strong a hold on me and I wanted for years in vain a way to lessen its hold. That started really only this year, I think, when I started doing a more regular, short practice of yoga. The stretching and working of my body put my mind’s constant babble in the background a bit and helped me explore small amounts of concentrative meditation, focusing just on breath, or a single subject or emotion. In short, it was amazing. I’m literally at the very beginning of my centering prayer journey. It’s more cerebral than instinctual (sigh, there goes my thoughts dominating all again), but the analysis my mind has been doing is oddly in service (maybe, hopefully?) of letting GO of analysis. Just being. Getting out of my own way to that deep inner center that is God, where God can work and rework in me to be more like Godself. In God, alone. In God alone.
The opening of this chant can be understood in both these ways in English, and I think that’s perfect. Prayer in the style of Taizé is not centering prayer as it is a concentrative method of prayer, and centering prayer is an attempt to let go even of that much thought. I would not be at the point of wanting to learn and practice centering prayer if I hadn’t been priming my wheels for this sort of practice for years already, and for me, that looks like yoga, Taizé, and a self awareness that is continually asserting itself even when I don’t want it to. I can live with that because of my work in Feldenkrais, which teaches surrender in your body to movements and motions that are otherwise inefficient or unhelpful. If you work not to eliminate that motion, but to work with and alongside the unintended motion, you can master it and more gently let it go without working tension into forcing it from you. This gives you no actual instruction HOW to practice centering prayer, I’m afraid. I’m not qualified to say any more than how I’m attempting it, and to invite you to something I can lead, which is this prayer in the style of Taizé.
Rest and Peace are in short supply in our communal life. But in the inner life, God is always ready to offer you rest, peace, and joy. I need this prayer to get through the days right now. It is a reminder to myself to let go of those things I cannot control and hold onto the only real and lasting comfort, God. That, in turn, is fueling my rather feeble attempts to meditate, whether through centering prayer or another technique. And those imperfect attempts are having tangible benefits to me. I really can’t give any greater testimony than that: my very imperfect meditation is STILL giving me glimmers of peace, hope, comfort, and joy. I really couldn’t do that by my self. In God, alone, my soul CAN find rest and peace. In God ALONE my soul can find rest and peace. God is always there. The promise that those who lose theirs lives will gain them perhaps means that those who let go of control will find a greater, inner power. ‘Knock, and the door shall be opened unto you’ perhaps means literally try your hardest to meditate and even
if when you fail, you will have already succeeded.
This post is certainly a glimpse into the inner craziness of my mind. I can’t promise that things will be super family/child centered in the coming months, but that is intentional. In order to love and teach children the way we hope to, we need to look at ourselves and live out what we hope to teach. Learning this song and sharing it is a great start, but embodying it is a better lesson. This blog is my own attempt to do just that.