I say once again, since I’ve engaged in meditation on and off for some years. I guess you could conclude that it has been somewhat “unsuccessful.”
Although we are cautioned not to “expect” anything in meditation, I suspect we all do. After months of practice with no discernable “improvement” I get discouraged.
Yet, I know it is one of the most valuable practices in our spiritual journey. I decided, after reading Cynthia Bourgeault’s book on Mary Magdalene, reviewed here, that I would get her book on centering prayer and read it during Lent.
I’ve so far found it a rich land. She calls centering prayer, the “boot camp in Gethsemane”. I like the idea of that.
When we think of Christ’s “agony in the garden” referred to in the Gospel of Luke, we think of his intensity, so great that his sweat “fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” I take this as metaphor for the depth of his immersion in God.
We seek in Lent to traverse the agonies of Christ, to touch his deeply felt pain, his exquisite determination to do as God wanted, overcoming his natural human fear. We seek to fall into God in the same completeness that he enjoyed and achieved.
That is what makes our meditation efforts real “work.” But not work of endurance or exertion. It is more singular determination, to sit in radical openness to God. We learn that it is in this willingness to sit that God comes to us, and does his will upon us in the deepest places within us.
As Rev. Bourgeault says, we are largely unaware of this going on. It goes on in the continual turning toward God, in those brief moments before our thoughts intrude once again. As she reports, the great centering prayer teacher Thomas Keating replied to a nun whose first attempt was a failure in her eyes because “ten thousand thoughts went through my mind”:
“How lovely. Ten thousand opportunities to return to God.”
And for me, this makes centering prayer wonderfully cushioning. It delivers from me any “need” to worry about progress. For I am told that most of what is accomplished is done secretly, in the depths of my inner being. There God explains and “I” put into practice the words of Jesus,
“Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.”
- Daily prayers will resume Thursday, March 24, 2011. (contemplativechristians.com)
- The Hope of Gethsemane (of Lent, Mortality, & Ashes) (paulburkhart.wordpress.com)
- Gethsemane (sabinspirations.wordpress.com)