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Notes from our gathering on November 15
Another blessed time of stillness
It was lovely to regroup, after taking a break the previous Wednesday. We began simply by arriving in our own bodies – we so often live far from ourselves, in places of worry, anticipation, regret, anxiety, stress, or fear. To open our time of quiet and stillness, we took several deep breaths, allowing our attention to rest on this “divine/human delta” of breath flowing into and out from our bodies. Gradually, we did a brief scan of our bodies, noticing places where we might be holding tension or stress, while we allowed those places to relax and soften.
And with an emerging sense of being a bit more present to ourselves, to this moment, to one another, and to God, we began with a prayer from Evensong in the Book of Common Prayer, sending the grace we were beginning to experience ourselves out to others: “Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.” (p. 124)
We then noted that while several of us are dealing with personal difficulties that can feel all-consuming at times, all of us are simultaneously alerted daily to tragic incidents of violence and suffering at home and abroad. The result can be emotional and spiritual overload, which makes these regular gatherings for stillness and silent prayer all the more important for healing and the cultivation of peace, not just for ourselves, but for the world.
Even seasons of peace and calm in our lives can be full of distractions that keep us merely skimming the surface of our lives. Meanwhile, our depths quietly and mysteriously beckon. Annie Lighthart’s beautiful poem, “The Second Music,” spoke to us of these healing depths, always present but never imposing:
The Second Music Now I understand that there are two melodies playing, one below the other, one easier to hear, the other lower, steady, perhaps more faithful for being less heard yet always present. When all other things seem lively and real, this one fades. Yet the notes of it touch as gently as fingertips, as the sound of the names laid over each child at birth. I want to stay in that music without striving or cover. If the truth of our lives is what it is playing, the telling is so soft that this mortal time, this irrevocable change, becomes beautiful. I stop and stop again to hear the second music. I hear the children in the yard, a train, then birds. All this is in it and will be gone. I set my ear to it as I would to a heart. "The Second Music" by Annie Lighthart from Iron String © Airlie Press, 2015.
As James Finley noted in a recent interview about his book, The Healing Path, “That which is essential never imposes itself. That which is inessential is constantly imposing itself.”
Meditation and contemplative practice can feel awkward or difficult, whether one is a beginner or a long-term practitioner. But Annie Lighthart’s poem reminds us that this “less heard yet always present” second music is always playing, always welcoming us to attune ourselves again to its melody. Often, to begin our private times of contemplation or silent prayer it is best to begin very simply and gently – just sit down, close your eyes, let your attention rest on your breathing, and then quietly say, “Here I am, Lord. I surrender myself entirely to you.”
After these opening experiences, we turned our attention briefly to meditations from Henri Nouwen that speak about how easily we can exhaust ourselves in the work of peace making. Worse, if we do not cultivate our own inner peace, we can also end up being co-opted by the frenzied powers of destruction and war:
“While I was traveling through the United States and lecturing about Central America, I became aware that while I was exhausting myself to prevent war, the chances of war were increasing. This has helped me to realize that sometimes the powers of evil seduce us to work for peace in such a way that we come close to losing our soul. Peace Pilgrim helped me see how important inner peace is. It is that sense of God’s presence in our lives that allows us to trust in the power of God’s peace even when we do little. Living in L’Arche with the handicapped also opened my eyes to the peace that does not belong to this world but can be found here already.
“Be sure to make this inner peace your utmost priority. . . . When we radiate the peace of Christ we are peacemakers, and then our peace action can witness to this inner peace. But without that inner peace our actions easily become instruments of the powers of war and destruction.
“Jesus’ words ‘Pray unceasingly for the strength to survive all that is going to happen and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man’ (Luke 21:36) are of crucial importance for us in these days. Prayer should be our first concern. Without prayer even our “good busyness” will lead us to our destruction.”
“It is important that you learn to read the newspaper with a heart that sees God at work among his people and to be aware of the great struggle in which you are involved—struggles with the power of evil and the hidden love of God. God is present, but you have to be in touch with that very reality. … do not see [suffering communities] as a set of distracting things but see God is at work in this world. The world and the reality of daily events are there to be read with the mind and heart of God.”
Henri Nouwen, Daily Meditations, November 14 & 15
Our passage for Lectio Divina was from Luke 21, a verse of which Henri Nouwen quotes in the meditation above. We looked at the larger context of the that verse and noted a few things: In times of turmoil and upset, fear and foreboding, it seems that the Divine is very near in response. The trouble is that we are often more attuned to the turmoil and do not notice the coming of the Divine. To this, Jesus says, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” at such a time. And, “when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
Paul says something that comes to mind: “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” (Romans 5:20) We might remember that when we are cut or injured in our bodies, healing blood cells rush to the site of injury. If that is true of our biology, could it not also be true of our society and the spiritual life – where there is hurt and violence, God is very near. If only we could turn our attention there, so that instead of allowing ourselves to be drawn into the violence, we might become instruments of that divine peace and healing.
So, our Lectio Divina passage was Luke 21:34-38, in which Jesus urges us not to be weighed down with the worries of this life, but to give ourselves to prayer in times of distress, fear and foreboding. After Jesus’ teaching, the verses conclude:
“Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.”
We noted that this same dynamic is playing out in the temple of our bodies every day.
Finally, after Lectio Divina and a longer period of silent “resting in God” together, we closed with a poem that reminds us of that intuition we sometimes have that we are being watched over. That intuition also that we are silently watching over each other as we pray for each other, though we may be far away from each other. Sometimes, perhaps, we sense this presence – God’s presence and the presence of others – looking in on us, lingering with us, loving us.
The closing poem, like the opening one by Annie Lighthart, came to us as a blessing. It is entitled “Listening for Your Name,” by David Graham:
Listening for Your Name As a father steals into his child's half-lit bedroom slowly, quietly, standing long and long counting the breaths before finally slipping back out, taking care not to wake her, and as that night-lit child is fully awake the whole time, with closed eyes, measured breathing, savoring a delicious blessing she couldn't name but will remember her whole life, how often we feel we're being watched over, or that we're secretly looking in on the ones we love, even when they are far away, or even as they are lost in the sleep no one wakes from—what we know and what we feel can fully coincide, like love and worry, like taking care in full silence and secrecy, like darkness and light together. “Listening for Your Name,” by David Graham, from The Honey of Earth.