As my sabbatical time draws to a close, I want to share with you the last of the four movements that I hoped to address during these three months. As a refresher, these items have been
- Internal work confronting the seed of white supremacy within me;
- The pilgrimage to the Holy Land;
- Rest and rejuvenation;
- And silence.
The fourth found its way into my consciousness through a parishioner at St. Mark’s who encouraged me to use my sabbatical to build a spiritual practice of silence. She gave me a wonderful book called Word into Silence by John Main, the urtext of the Christian meditation movement. I have been reading the slim volume slowly over the last month as each paragraph and page offers much food for thought.
Main says, “The important aim in Christian Meditation is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us to become more and more not only a reality but the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, everything we are.”
The practice of meditation goes back to the early days of the church, and monks like Main reclaimed it in the second half of the 20th century. And now my parishioner has invited me into this spiritual practice.
The first day I began with five minutes.
I sat still and upright as the practice teaches. I chose the recommended mantra (that is, the word you say over and over again while meditating in order to chase away distractions and move deeper into God’s presence). The word is Maranatha – “Come, Lord Jesus” – which we find at the very end of the book of Revelation. You say the word slowly as four equal syllables. Over and over again until you are saying it not consciously but autonomically, like breathing. Indeed, the mantra becomes your breath.
I’m not sure how many stray thoughts entered my mind during those first, tentative minutes of meditation, but the total was probably in the dozens. That’s okay. It’s a practice, and you have to start somewhere.
That first day was about a month ago. Since then, I have meditated about half the days, though my plan is to work to meditating everyday as Main teaches. On the days when I have meditated, I have noticed myself inching toward a calmer center, a more integrated personhood. I’m at fourteen minutes now (on my way to twenty), and I’m amazed everyday how fast the fourteen minutes go by.
Of course, the stray thoughts still enter my mind, but the mantra sends them on their way like a breath that disperses a cloud of steam. When the time of meditation ends, I feel grounded in a way like no other. I think the reasons for this are threefold:
- While I have not viscerally, mentally, or spiritually felt God’s presence in meditation yet, my faith reminds me that God is the motive force behind my desire to be in communion with God. Thus, it is God inviting me into silence. God is there and together we are working to bring me deeper into the awareness of the mystery and clarity of God’s presence.
- Our world is fracturing along so many binaries right now that to stay sane I must remember that true reality transcends either/or thinking. Non-dual imagination allows us the space to discover this reality, which is the reality God (as One Being and a Trinity of Persons) continues to create. Cultivating a practice of silence is probably the best way to nourish non-dual imagination.
- I write so many words – thousands every month in sermons, posts, articles, stories, and books. In many respects my life as both a priest and an author centers around crafting words. So to bring myself to a spiritual practice that leaves words behind is refreshment for my soul.
I am still a complete novice at this meditation thing. Heck, I haven’t even finished reading John Main’s book yet. But the best way to begin a new spiritual practice is just to start – and then ask God for perseverance along the way when my dedication wavers. But with even just a handful of meditation times under my belt, I can see why and how the practice of Christian Meditation has grounded the spiritual lives of so many faithful followers of Jesus Christ.