In the days after my grandmother died, my aunts introduced me to Iris DeMent's song “Let the Mystery Be." As is true for many people, from the early years of Christian faith, the loss of one dear to me sparked wonderings about what happens after death. I have fuzzy, 15-year-old memories of one of my aunts thinking aloud about the possibility of reincarnation, and older family members assuring us all that my grandmother was sitting at the feet of Jesus.
Recently I spent a week at a monastery. I didn’t interact a lot with the monks—it’s a cloistered community, and its members don’t often come to the guesthouse area where I stayed. I saw them at church seven times a day; otherwise I was mostly alone, either walking the grounds or in my room reading or praying.
When he’s at home, Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, begins each day with a short meditative walk, or sometimes with some slow prostrations, followed by 30 to 40 minutes of sitting on a low stool to repeat the Jesus prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”). Usually he repeats the words silently, saying them while breathing out. “Over the years increasing exposure to and engagement with the Buddhist world in particular has made me aware of practices not unlike the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and introduced me to disciplines that further enforce the stillness and physical focus that the prayer entails,” says Williams (New Statesman, July 8).