Centering prayer persists when I am believing or disbelieving, when I feel “close” to God or far away.
God is flying to tell me something. On a recent Saturday I worked beyond the point of exhaustion. Not to. Beyond. Never mind exactly on what. I like to think it was for a good cause, though that is debatable and not the point here. The point is: I so believed outcome x needed to happen that I was willing to do violence to myself to make it happen.
It’s been 100 years since your birth and almost 75 since you entered the abbey. You died with your story unfinished.
I staggered through my house that morning, knowing I was out of coffee. I took multiple trips around the house looking for my shoes, finally settled for outrageously large climbing boots, then took multiple trips looking for my keys. I finally jumped on my motorcycle—adrenaline is a good substitute for endorphins when you get older—and broke many laws getting to the local caffeine clinic. Upon arriving I had the sinking realization that my man-purse was not in my backpack. At this point all my training as a contemplative was out the window.
I slid off the trail and let my daypack fall from my shoulder to the duff below. For the first time in 15 weeks, my soul felt like it was loose, not lassoed by its feet and dragged behind its own horse. I had been so wrapped up in graduate school and work that I had lost touch with my sense of feeling alive, of being connected to anything besides production.
Years ago I was very good at hope. I could hope for a more celebrated position, flatter abs, or to cross the finish of Ironman. I was also good at setting goals to achieve these ends: I put my head down and knocked them off. The elation of accomplishing these goals and garnering a little attention for my efforts was a great high, but unfortunately it did not usually last long.
What is it about Western culture that makes it so difficult to taste God? Why would we rather prove propositions than experience the holy?
All deserts are silent, harsh and beautiful. Sinai adds its history of God’s dealings with humanity. It’s a holy place where the veil is lifted.
Some friends of mine are avid labyrinth walkers and have recommended the practice to me. But though I’ve long admired the floor of Chartres Cathedral—and once had the pleasure of seeing my children race around it at top speed before they climbed the tower and searched the high vaults for bats—I’ve never been on a formal retreat involving labyrinths. Perhaps that’s because I’m more familiar with informal collapses than with formal retreats. Fortunately an economic alternative has suggested itself: puddle hopping.
Here at the beginning of the New Year, I have resolved to quit the journey. What journey is that, you may ask. Judging by the language I both use and hear, it is the linear journey of life. Day by day, I wish people well on their journeys, as they wish me well on mine. Sometimes we offer to go with one another at least part of the way. When this is not possible we offer each other provisions for the journey—a book, a pocket cross, a mantra. But recently have I begun to notice how believing in the journey interferes with giving myself fully to the life I have right now.
The slow but urgent work of contemplation