Content from my website has moved to my blog and the website is no longer active. Both http://www.thegreatjourney.com and http://www.turningaround.net will now take you to this site. Check out the new menu items.
Feb 272019
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 5/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 5)

Seeking Wholeness
Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit

Sometimes those of us who think of ourselves as being on a spiritual journey get so focused on prayer, meditation, and spiritual practice that we forget that we are “embodied spirits” as one writer put it.  True spiritual practice and conversion of heart involves the whole person.  In the traditional language, true conversion of heart involves the mind, the body, and the spirit.   Our spiritual practice must include practices to care for all three.  

Care of The Mind

Care of mind includes monitoring and limiting what comes into our mind, intentionally opening ourselves to material that fosters growth and transformation, and meditation practices to center the mind.

As with most things about the spiritual life, this is complicated.  In our fast paced lives, with all of our technology, all of our access to television, video, movies, social media, etc. , it seems that our minds are always full, always busy.   In today’s world an awful lot of that could be categorized as “fake news”.  In the midst of all of that busyness, all of that activity, what would spiritual practice to care for the mind even look like?  Yet this still begs the question we are faced with here in two important ways. 

 First of all, we need to ask ourselves routinely how much of what currently fills our minds on a day to day basis could be considered healthy, and wholesome?  How much of it could be considered spiritual practice that in any way moves us toward Conversion of Heart and spiritual maturity ?   It is not enough to just fill our minds.  From a spiritual perspective it matters what we fill our minds with.  All too often much of what fills our minds might be classified as mindlessness.  How much of what we read on social media, watch on television, see at the movies, view or listen to on the internet, or even read in books could in any way be considered to be spiritually uplifting?  Really, how much of the conversation we have with our family and friends would qualify as spiritually uplifting?  How much of what fills our minds on a day-to-day basis moves us toward transformation and conversion of  heart and spiritual maturity?  

If we are to include care of mind in our spiritual practice how much of what currently fills our mind would really need to be eliminated?  How much of it, while maybe not needing to be eliminated totally, should be significantly curtailed?  My mobile phone now keeps track of my phone usage.  The other day it showed that I had averaged four hours a day on the phone.  Clearly I need to reduce that significantly.  These are hard questions, but they are serious questions that must be addressed seriously if we are to include care of mind as a central part of our spiritual practice. 

Beyond that how much of what fills our minds today actually  serves to block us from the stillness and the quiet so important to the spiritual life?  How often does all of this get in the way of our spiritual practice?  How much of it takes up time that would be better devoted to spiritual reading or to paying attention to our responses to the people, events, and things that make up our lives?  How much of it serves to prevent the connectedness with family and friends so necessary to living a spiritually mature life?

I was in a restaurant the other day and I noticed a woman and what appeared to be her teenage daughter walk in.  The daughter walked in the door with her phone up in front of her face  They walked over and sat down and ordered.  The girl never put the phone down.  She held the phone up with one hand and ate with the other.  As far as I could tell the girl never spoke to her mother and her mother never spoke to her through the entire meal.  As they left the girl kept the phone up in front of her face.  Clearly there was no interaction—no connection between the two.  How many of us do similar things with our spouses, our children, our family and our friends?  How often do we miss the beauty and wonder all around us?

So if we were to cut back on some of this often mindless busyness what would fill the void?  The answer to that question is different for each of us.  There is no one formula—no one size fits all.  For some it is more time with loved ones and family and friends.  For some of us the first answer is more time for spiritual reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation, and worship.  For some it is participating in ministry and other service opportunities.  For some it is hobbies, exercise, and other activities we never seem to get around to.  For some it is simply quiet and solitude.  The list is endless, and the answer is different for each of us, and generally involves more than one thing.  Often it is all of the above and more.  The answer is often different at different times in our day and different periods of our life.

The important thing here is that we take these questions into our spiritual practice, into our prayer, and as my coach often puts it, that we “noodle’ on them and pray about them, and that we make the real changes that still small voice calls us to make.  Let me be clear, this is not a one time thing.  Care of mind needs to become a central part of our spiritual practice on an ongoing life long basis.  As such we must pay regular attention to what works and what does not work, and make necessary changes and adjustments in response to that still small voice that provides guidance, strength, and courage.

Care of the Body

Care of the body includes exercise, eating right, maintaining our correct weight, taking necessary medications, and a myriad of other self care tasks.

When we think of care of the body the first word that comes to mind often is “exercise” and indeed exercise is a central part of what it means to care for our body.  I often have said that I have never come across an exercise that I liked and that is true.  I have gone through periods where the focus was on taking long walks, doing yoga, or going to a gym.  Sometimes, as a result of medical issues, I have done exercises provided by a physical therapist.  I cannot say that I enjoyed any of it.  Beyond that I have never had any interest at all in sports.  What to do?

I recently went through a couple of months of physical therapy.  I went in for therapy twice a week and did the assigned exercises regularly.  When the therapy was over I told myself I needed to continue to exercise.  For a while I did, but I gradually stopped doing it on any regular basis.  What is ironic about this is that when I do the exercises I always feel better both immediately afterwards and for the next couple of days.   And yet I still do not do it on a regular basis.  I know what I need to do here.  I need to make doing the exercises a regular part of my overall spiritual practice.  I need to approach the exercises with the same attitude and commitment as I do my meditation and prayer time.   I need to include it in my rule of life and actually see the exercise as a regular part of my spiritual practice.  It is part of care of the body.

Beyond exercise care of the body includes simple things like taking our medications and cleaning our teeth to more complex issues like going to the doctor and eating right.  It is beyond to scope of this reflection to articulate all of the possibilities.  The point here is that care of the body is equally as important as more traditional spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation, and if we make care of the body an integral part of our spiritual practice it can help us get those important things done.  It can change our attitude toward these other often boring activities.  

Care of the Spirit

Care of spirit includes traditional spiritual practices such as centering, reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation, and living, all of which are covered in other sections of this book. and in my previous book.

Taken really seriously care of the spirit involves developing a comprehensive spiritual practice of our own, which is ultimately the subject of this entire book.  As the titles of the chapters of this book indicate, it involves taking a serious look at all aspects of our relationship with the Divine Mystery we call God.  Why do we pray?  What is prayer?  What does it mean to really listen in prayer?  What is the place of conversion of heart and transformation in the spiritual life?  How are we called to be present with the people, events, and things that make up our day-to-day lives?    

 

Question for Reflection

  1. Do I include care of mind, care of body, and care of spirit as an integral part of my spiritual practice?  What do I need to do to strengthen each of those areas and create balance between them.

____________

* When we look at all of this—care of mind, care of body , and care of spirit—how do we develop and maintain a spiritual practice—a prayer practice—that is right for us personally and that is balanced and moves us toward wholeness?  This is part of the topic for the last Reflection of this book entitled “A Prayer Of Our Own”.


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart: (View)
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
Introduction

Conversion of Heart (View)
What Does It Really Mean?

Divine Union (View)
Letting Go Of The Ego

Work v. Grace (View)
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit (This Post)
Seeking Wholeness

(Coming Soon…)

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed

Jun 182017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

May 142017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 6/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 6)


Prayer
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

As we saw earlier, the dictionary defines prayer as:

a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.*

This definition captures the essence of the way we typically approach prayer. We tend to focus on “supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.” These are all valid and even necessary ways we communicate with God. They are all an important part of what prayer should be, and yet they all focus on our approach to God. If we are not careful this focus can cause us to miss prayer’s deepest meaning: “a spiritual communion with God”. The dictionary defines communion as:

the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.**

It is this “sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings” that is the very essence of prayer for me. It is not enough for me to communicate with that Mysterious Other I call God. “Supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession” is extremely important, but it can take us only so far. What I seek is what the monastics call Divine Union. I want God to communicate with me too. I want God to actually lead my life. I want God to actively provide ongoing “guidance, strength, and courage” for my routine day-to-day interactions with the people, events, and things that make up my life. I want real communion with God—real day-to day two way communication. Nothing else is enough.

Let me be very clear here. Someone once said, “we do not need to listen to God because God has already communicated everything he had to say in scripture”. I simply do not believe that is true. When my wife read this statement she said, “So does that mean that God is dead and there is no holy spirit?” That seems to be a reasonable conclusion to me. Scripture, and other people’s commentary on scripture, can only tell me how the writers of both scripture and the writers of scripture commentary related to God. It can help clarify goals and practices, but it does not and cannot provide real two-way “communion”—real “sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings”. It ultimately does not and cannot take us to Divine Union. It can call us and lead us toward a deeper communion, but it is not that communion, and it is not near enough.

Then how does this communion take place? How does Divine Union actually happen? How does this Mysterious Other actually communicate with us and provide “guidance, strength, and courage”? There is a place deep inside of us I have come to call the Sacred Inner Being where this relationship—this communion can happen. One of the most profound goals of prayer in specific and the whole spiritual life in general is to discover, acknowledge, and develop an ongoing relationship with that Sacred Inner Being. It is here that we can develop real communion—a deep, ongoing, two way relationship and communication with God. It is precisely here that this Mysterious Other can provide us with that ongoing, day to day “guidance, strength, and courage” so central to living a spiritual life. It is here that divine union can happen. That Sacred Inner Being is always there. It is always available to us. Always! We have only to be open to it.

It is through prayer and spiritual practice that we can learn to quieten our ego driven turmoil and be attentive to that Sacred Inner Voice we so often ignore. As we learn to recognize the source of that Sacred Inner Voice in our prayer—in our time apart—over time it becomes a part of the way we approach and live our active lives. That Voice will more and more speak to us in the events of our day. It will provide us with that “guidance, strength, and courage” we need. Over time that voice will lead our lives and we will experience true Divine Union.

Two People Talking

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Listening to that sacred inner voice is not enough. If we are to experience true Divine Union we also have to be obedient to the “guidance, strength and courage” that comes to us through that Voice. We have to live our lives in response to that Voice. This is the very essence of what spiritual maturity is all about—learning to listen to our Sacred Inner Voice and be obedient to it in all of the myriad interactions we have with the people, events, and things in our day to day lives.

As a recent personal example, I have been looking for, or better said, wishing for, a really good life coach. I had convinced myself that I would not be able to find one that would really understand me, or as my grandson’s then girl friend once put it, that “really gets me”. I do not fit the traditional molds. I am not a traditional Christian. I am a strong introvert in a primarily extroverted world. And I am certainly not into the traditional culture.

So I am sitting in a group meeting I participate in. Everyone is engaged in small talk and I am wanting to be at home in my room. There is a woman there who I had never really connected with, but I did know that she was a coach. She started talking about something I was interested in, and I realized she was someone I could talk to. That said the introvert in me was resisting asking her about the coaching. As I was about to leave that Still Small Voice that I have come to trust “said to me” “Richard, you should really talk to her about coaching, and you should do it now”. The resistance in me was palpable, but I was “listening”, and I knew I needed to be “obedient” to the leading of that Sacred Inner Voice, so I walked up to her in the group and asked her about the coaching, something I would normally never even consider. We met a week later and really hit it off. It was clear to me that she really did “get me”, and we developed a coaching relationship that is really special to me.

If I had not been listening, and if I had not been obedient to what came to me I would still be complaining about not being able to find a coach that “gets me”. Let me be clear here, there was no audible voice that “spoke to me”. It was simply that “Still Small Voice” that rose up from that deep place in me that I have come to trust. It was just a clear awareness of what I was called to do, and I was listening to it, and I was obedient to it. I trusted it, and I knew it was guidance from that Mysterious Other I call God. (More about how we “know” and come to recognize and trust that inner voice later.)

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you recognize that Sacred Inner Voice in your life?  Does that voice sometimes speak to you and provide you with guidance, strength, and courage?  Do you trust that guidance?  Are you obedient to it? 

____________
* Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.
** Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer (This post)
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

(Coming Soon)

Developing  A Way of Life
A Guide To Live By

Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life


Follow our blog.

May 072017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Sep 082016
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Sep 052016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 8/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of My Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway
Examining Our Vision
(Part 8 of 9)

 

What Will Prayer Ask Of Us?
The Call To Transformation

Sometimes it seems to me that we approach prayer as something designed to change God—to persuade God to do our bidding.  As I mentioned earlier, all to often our prayers sound like a todo list for God.  If we  pray for ourselves we are often just asking God do something for us, and even if we pray for growth or change we are asking God to change us.  We want God to do all of the work.

But then there is this from Romans:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Canon

Photograph by Winnie Southworth

This sounds more like we are being asked to grow and change, and there are very specific instructions for that growth and change.  A persistent commitment to prayer will call us to that growth and change.  It will call us to “the renewing of [our] mind”, and to discerning “his good, pleasing and perfect will” for our lives.  We can pray for God’s guidance and strength and courage, but in the end true prayer will call us to do the “work of the spiritual journey”—to receive that guidance and implement it into our active lives.  In the end this is work which we have to do ourselves.

At its heart Christianity is an inner path of growth and transformation out of which all else in the spiritual life grows.  The essence of that path is captured in these two verses from Romans.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world.  Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  Discern how we are called to live our lives.  The monastics call this path conversion of heart.  From a more academic perspective it  is called spiritual formation.  Our journey along this path is a lifetime journey.

Belief is not enough.  Baptism is not enough.  Prayer is not enough.  Fellowship is not enough.  Worship is not enough.  Service is not enough.  All of these and other similar activities are good and absolutely necessary parts of the spiritual life,  but they are not enough.  If the spiritual life is to reach its full potential ongoing personal transformation is essential.  That call to “be transformed”, and to “test and approve what God’s will is” must form the very foundation of our daily lives—the very foundation of our belief, our baptism, our fellowship, our worship, and our service, and thus of our prayer.

It is this ongoing “work of the spiritual journey” that is at the center of my own spiritual journey and all of my writing and teaching. There are valid spiritual Practices that facilitate this ongoing growth and transformation that I have come to call The Practice.

Butterfly

Photograph by Kate McFarland

It is spiritual practice—prayer practice that:

  • quiets the inner turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that typically drive our lives, and;
  • guides us to the ongoing discovery of who we most deeply are  and who we are called to be as unique spiritual persons, and;
  • facilitates the ongoing incarnation of those discoveries into the reality of our day-to-day active lives.

Said another way [a valid life of prayer] must ultimately lead to real growth and change—real transformation and conversion of heart.  It must ultimately lead to our active lives increasingly becoming an authentic expression of who we are and who we are called to be by that Mysterious Divine Presence that created us and  guides us and gives us strength and courage.   It must facilitate Choosing Authenticity.

That is what prayer is all about.  Ultimately that is what the entire spiritual life is all about.  I want to share some of my own experience and some of what I have learned so far through study and through my own practice.  It is my hope that it will challenge you to begin or deepen your own journey of growth and transformation.  If I can help just one person along this journey this labor of love will be worth it.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have I felt called in my prayer to growth, transformation, and conversion of heart?  What specifically have I been called to change in my prayer life, and in my active life?  How have I responded to that call?  In what specific area of my life to I feel called to growth and change now?  How will I respond?

Purchase Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

What Is Prayer Anyway?  View…
Seeking a Deeper Understanding

Prayer Is Not Magic View..
It Is No A ToDo List for God

Prayer Is A Relationship View…
Prayer Is Not A Monologue

The Foundation of Prayer View…
Stillness, Quiet, and Silence

Types of Prayer View…
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Praying Without Ceasing  View…
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

What Will Prayer Ask of Us? (This Post)
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…

 

Aug 242016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 6/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of My Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway
Examining Our Vision
(Part 6 of 9)

 

Types of Prayer
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Thomas Moore captures the understanding of what prayer is for many of us:

All the classical things that have been said about prayer are true—petition, praise, adoration, communion, conversation. But one’s notion of God and divinity has to be sufficiently empty, and its mystery sufficiently accounted for, or else prayer becomes exploitation of the divine. Prayer only makes sense in the paradoxical presence of both human pain and desire on the one hand, and divine infinitude on the other.*
Man Praying

Image by Irene Furr

Petition, praise, adoration, communion, and conversation. These are the “classical things that have been said about prayer”. To these I would add confession, penance, and forgiveness. These are the things that most of us have been taught about prayer in Sunday school and church, if in fact we have been taught anything at all. For most of us these are the things that come to mind when we are asked the question, “What is prayer?” They are the things that we think about when we are called to build a relationship with that Mysterious Other we call God. They are the very essence of the traditional answers to the question, “Why do we pray?” As Moore points out they are all valid. They are all a central part of what prayer is all about. It is beyond the scope of this reflection to explore each of these types of prayer individually. The question for us here is how we approach these essential aspects of prayer.

Almost all of these types of prayer are most often seen as different types of verbal or discursive prayer. Even when we think of communion and conversation we still think of these practices as us speaking to God—as us “saying our prayers”. This verbal discursive prayer is the approach I have encountered almost exclusively in the churches I have attended over the years. These “classical approaches to prayer are all valid and profound types of prayer, but taken by themselves they are not enough.

As I have written elsewhere:

There are literally thousands of spiritual practices [prayer practices] available. As I have looked at this vast array of different exercises, I have found that most of the consonant practices are variations of six primary practices. These practices include centering, reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation, and action. Taken as a whole these practices are part of a monastic teaching known as Lectio Divina or “divine reading”.

Again, it is beyond the scope of this reflection to explore each of these types of prayer individually. Some would not refer to some of these practices as prayer at all, yet that would serve to ignore the whole Christian contemplative tradition, as practiced by many spiritual masters, saints, and monks throughout Christian history. It would also serve to ignore the profound prayer experiences of many sincere contemplative Christians, including myself. That said we should also note that the forth practice in the lectio divina model is “prayer” which is essentially verbal or discursive prayer. The critical point here is that our understanding of what prayer is should include all of these different aspects of prayer. Yes, prayer includes us approaching God through verbal prayer. Yes, prayer includes us opening ourselves to God through contemplative prayer.

Richard Sitting

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Taken together these prayer practices can change our lives in profound ways–if we are open to that growth.
We need a broad understanding of what prayer is and what it can be for us. We should not settle for just verbal prayer or just contemplative prayer. Individually they are not enough. We should not settle for just the approach to prayer we learned from our parents or from Sunday School and Church. It is not enough either.

Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to develop a “prayer of our own” that works for us personally. Each of us, as part of our prayer practice, needs to sincerely try different approaches to prayer and observe what works for us when we pray. We need to make appropriate adjustments in our regular practice until we find what really works for us. This process of observing what happens to us when we pray and making adjustments needs to be an ongoing part of our overall prayer practice. We will deal more with this issue in a later reflection.

As an introvert I have personally identified most strongly with contemplative prayer, and it has dramatically changed my life. When I was working, what worked for me was about forty-five minutes “early in the morning, long before dawn”. I would sit in my favorite chair in front of an alter I created, read a couple of psalms to center myself, read a passage from Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict, and then sit in silent contemplation for about twenty minutes. Now that I am retired I have adjusted that schedule to include longer periods of time, and often more than one “time apart” a day. I have also added some quiet walks, especially in the evenings, to my practice, and I have used many different readings. These ongoing adjustments are the result of my ongoing effort to pay attention to what happened to me during these times ap. art, and to continue to make my time apart more and more “a prayer of my own”. If you take this effort to develop a prayer of your own really seriously it can change your life as well.

Question for Reflection

  1.  What is your prayer life like today? In what specific ways do you feel called to deepen your prayer life?

____________

* Moore, Thomas, Meditations:  On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life, (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994), p. 69.

** Southworth, Richard N. Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enougn, (Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, 2011), p. 53..


Purchase Choosing Authenticity


Other Posts in this Reflection:

What Is Prayer Anyway?  View…
Seeking a Deeper Understanding

Prayer Is Not Magic View..
It Is No A ToDo List for God

Prayer Is A Relationship View…
Prayer Is Not A Monologue

The Foundation of Prayer View…
Stillness, Quiet, and Silence

Types of Prayer (This Post)
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Praying Without Ceasing  View…
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

What Will Prayer Ask of Us? View…
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…

 

Aug 172016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 5/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of My Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway?
Examining Our Vision
(Part 5 of 9)

 

The Foundations of Prayer
Stillness, Quiet, and Silence

All too often we approach prayer as something we have to do—something we have to say. As Susan Cain put it in the subtitle of her book Quiet, we live in “a world that can’t stop talking”. Everywhere we go there is music and noise, in restaurants, in banks, and even in restrooms. As I write this my granddaughter is playing noisy video games on my iPad in the next room. As soon as we get up and when we come home we turn on the radio, our music, or the TV. Now we can listen to music and watch videos on our mobile phone wherever we are. We also live in a world that can’t stop doing either.

We carry those tendencies over into our spiritual life and even into our prayer. We have to “say our prayers.” We have to “take our time”. Even when we speak of contemplative prayer we have to quiet our mind, and we have to listen to God. We develop all kinds of prayer lists and methods to use when we pray. I get an electronic prayer list from my church via email each week, and I am given another printed updated prayer list in Sunday School each week. We are asked to pray for the people and the issues contained on these lists. We are encouraged to read scripture, recite psalms, and read from other spiritual texts as part of our prayer. I even have an app on my mobile phone that allows me to listen to multiple readings from the divine office several times a day.

Let me be clear, all of these and other active prayer practices are good and even necessary parts of the spiritual life. They are an important part of what prayer is all about. But so is stillness and quiet and silence. The title of a book I read once was Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There. Just “sit[ing] there”, just being still and just being quiet must also be a part of our vision of what prayer is for us.

Some time ago the rest of my family went on vacation for a week, and I stayed home alone. My intent was to treat the time as a retreat. I would spend time in prayer and contemplation, I would take long walks in the neighborhood, I would catch up on my reading, and I would focus on my current writing project. The truth is that I actually had a todo list for that retreat, and I was really looking forward to having time to work on the things on that list. After they all left I walked back into the living room and set down in my favorite chair. I did not do anything from my todo list. I just sat there. I was just silent. I just enjoyed the house being quiet. I did not try to quiet my mind in contemplative prayer, and I did not think about my writing. I just sat there enjoying the stillness and the quiet. For the first three days of my retreat I returned to this practice of just sitting quietly again and again. I did none of the things on that todo list. I took care of my meals and other personal items, and I sat in the quiet. I went to the YMCA and sat in the hot tub. There were times when I started to feel guilty and felt the cultural imperative that I should use the time more productively, but for the most part I did not actually do anything. For much of the time I just sat there and soaked in the stillness and the quiet.

Peace

Photo by Teresa Parr

Over time the external quiet of the empty house and of me just sitting still brought an inner quiet and peace as well. The tension in my body dissipated. I let go of the feeling of guilt for not being productive. I allowed myself to “just be” without talking or actually doing anything. I put my phone on “do not disturb” and I did not read my email. I never turned on the television or my music. I did not call or text anyone. It was the fourth day before I even looked at my todo list. When I began working on those items I found that I approached them very differently. Even my time apart for prayer and contemplation was different. I was present in that time differently. I was more open. My mind was less cluttered. As the week went on I found myself “just sitting” spontaneously during the day in a way that I could not do before and actually would not have thought to do before.

It has been my experience that these three things—stillness, quiet, and silence—form the very foundation for prayer. Without this foundation prayer all too often becomes just another item on our todo list. It becomes part of life out of balance. Prayer becomes a demand. It becomes something we do, not a real part of who we are and how we live our lives. For me these three practices are a essential part of my spiritual practice—of my prayer practice.

If I cannot be still, if I cannot be quiet, and if I cannot be silent—if I cannot experience these three foundational things both internally and externally, I cannot hope to really take my prayer practice to its deepest level. The imperative “Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There.” must be a foundational part of our prayer practice, and ultimately of the way we live our lives.

Question for Reflection

  1. How comfortable am I with being still, with being quiet, and with being silent? How easy is it for me to move to a place of inner and outer stillness and quiet, and silence when I pray? How is stillness, quiet, and silence a part of the way I live my life?

Follow Blog


Other Posts in this Reflection:

What Is Prayer Anyway?  View…
Seeking a Deeper Understanding

Prayer Is Not Magic View..
It Is No A ToDo List for God

Prayer Is A Relationship View…
Prayer Is Not A Monologue

The Foundation of Prayer (This Post)
Stillness, Quiet, and Silence

Types of Prayer View…
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Praying Without Ceasing  View…
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

What Will Prayer Ask of Us? View…
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…

 

Aug 102016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 4/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of My Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway?
Examining Our Vision
(Part 4 of 9)

 

Prayer Is A Relationship
Prayer Is Not A Monologue

Hands

Image by Irene Furr

Prayer is also not a monologue or what my wife has called a “suffering list”. It is not just us talking to God. It is not just us taking our pain and suffering, and our needs and our desires (our suffering list) to God. It is not just us praising and worshiping God either. It is all of those things, but it is infinitely more than any and all of them. As Moore put it, “Prayer only makes sense in the paradoxical presence of both human pain and desire on the one hand, and divine infinitude on the other”. When we approach prayer as a monologue we fail to honor that “divine infinitude”. We limit our ability to have any kind of meaningful relationship with God. We limit God’s options. All too often we in effect “say our prayers” and go on with our life, leaving the rest up to God. We absolve ourselves of any responsibility. We ignore even the possibility that God might speak to us—that God might call us to respond differently to the situations we pray about, or that God might call us to see the situation differently, and/or to grow and change ourselves. There is almost a cult around the idea that we should give it up to God, and in all too many instances that becomes a copout. As someone said, “lift it up, don’t give it up”. Yes, it is a good thing for us to hold up our problems, concerns, and needs to God, and in certain cases, to let them go and “trust in God” to deal with them, but there is way more to it than that.

We will talk in detail in another reflection about openness and listening, but if our prayer is to be more than a monologue we must approach it with openness. We must stop talking and take time to listen. Jesus put it this way:

6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:6-7 (NIV)

These are pretty harsh words. A pastor friend of mine told me that when he prepared a manuscript for a sermon the last line was always a note to himself that said “Now. Sit down and shut up!” This is good advice when we pray. Yes, it is good to “say our prayers”, but then we need to “sit down and shut up!”, and we need to listen. Sometimes it is good to do that right from the start. As one writer put it, “Don’t just do something, sit there”, or in this case, don’t just say your prayers, sit there. Be silent and listen for that still small voice within that can give us insight into the situations we pray about, guide our response and give us the strength and courage to follow that guidance.

I was at a hospital some time ago with two sisters. Their father was dying. They had been praying for him to get well. When it became very obvious that this was not the likely outcome, one of them acknowledged that he was if fact very likely dying, and said, “I don’t know how to pray now!” She looked at me, as if for some kind of guidance. Hesitatingly I responded, “Maybe it is time to pray that his passing is easy.” In a sense that advice was good. It was in fact time to accept that he was dying, but what I wish I had said, was a more gracious version of “Maybe it is time to just ‘sit down and shut up’ and listen for God’s guidance, connect with God’s strength, and God’s courage to face the reality of the situation.

In all of these classical approaches to prayer—petition, praise, adoration, communion, and conversation, confession, penance, and forgiveness—we need to be absolutely certain that our expectations are not magical. We also need to be sure that we are open and listening carefully for a response from that Mysterious Other—listening for the murmurings of that still small voice within where that Mysterious other, if we are paying attention, speaks to us and gives us guidance and strength, and courage.

It is precisely here that we are called to spiritual growth, transformation, and conversion of heart. We cannot just will ourselves to be silent, and open, and to listen and to hear that still small voice within. We have to develop the ability to be silent both externally and internally. We have to learn how to discern that Still Small Voice within. In the end these classical approaches to prayer must be an integral part of an overall life of prayer that includes a discipline of spiritual practice and spiritual living that permeates all aspects of our lives. As Nouwen put it, “Only within this kind of life does a spoken prayer make sense”. Only within this kind of life can we avoid these “classical things that have been said about prayer” from becoming magical or perfunctory monologues.
Jesus offers us a very short and simple example of how we should pray. There is no temptation to magic here, and there is no babbling:

9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Question for Reflection

  1. Are my prayers a monologue? Do I spend time in silence listening for that still small voice within? Am I able to quieten the thoughts, emotions, and impulses and really listen to the still small voice?

Other Posts in this Reflection:

What Is Prayer Anyway?  View…
Seeking a Deeper Understanding

Prayer Is Not Magic View..
It Is No A ToDo List for God

Prayer Is A Relationship (This Post)
Prayer Is Not A Monologue

The Foundation of Prayer View…
Stillness, Quiet, and Silence

Types of Prayer View…
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Praying Without Ceasing  View…
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

What Will Prayer Ask of Us? View…
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…

 

Jul 092016
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

%d bloggers like this: