Psalm 23: 1-3 The Lord is my shepherd: I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me to water in places of repose; He renews my life; He guides me in right paths as befits his name. (The Jewish Study Bible, Tanakh Translation)
I subscribe to a Native American spirituality site, White Bison (www.whitebison.org), and recently I received the following daily meditation:
Elder’s Meditation of the Day – September 21
“everything is laid out for you. Your path is straight ahead of you. Sometimes it’s invisible but it’s there. You may not know where it’s going, but still you have to follow that path. It’s the path to the Creator. That’s the only path there is.” — Leon Shenadoah, ONANDAGA
When I read this and held in my heart for awhile I recognized the truth in the statement. However, I also saw that we are not given just one path, and many paths lead to the Creator. Every day, every second of every day, we are asked to choose the path we will follow. The choice is not always clear, nor is always easy. Most often we are asked to make our choices quickly without thought and while these choices may seem insignificant it won’t be until much later do we realize how important they were.
I don’t have the answers to choosing the “right” path, as if any path could really be wrong. For me when I let go of my ego control and let The Great Spirit take the reins of my life the choices become easier, not easy, but easier. I know I will still end up walking some dark and dangerous road instead of the one in sunshine, but I will also not feel I am alone on that scary path.
Letting go of our ego and releasing our control is hard spiritual practice to follow and one that I start over with every single day. But there are rewards. When I do let go I find that I am at peace with my choice of path and that I can smile and bear the difficulties much better. Right now I am struggling with letting go and am on a path I am not sure of. I keep saying ‘I can do this, I don’t need anyone else,’ but I know that is false. I can’t do my life by myself! I need the comfort of The Great Spirit and so I practice letting go. Even though I slip back every day, and there will be doubt, I grab onto the hand of the Spirit and haul myself up to the next step, the next place.
Do you have difficulty letting go of your control as you choose your paths? What do you do to help you choose the next path, do you release your control of your life, or do you, just as I do, often say ‘I can do this by myself?’
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening By Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound’s the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.
You probably are thinking the heat has gotten to my brain, or maybe it’s the pain pills for my back pain. But, on one of the recent warm summer days I picked up a book of poetry and it opened up to one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost. So in all this heat we’ve been having here in the Northwest I thought this might make for a peaceful, cool meditation using either Lectio Divina with the poem or Visio Divina with the photograph, or do both.
Lectio Divina with Poetry, using poetry to hear God in the silence
Choose either a single verse or the whole poem portion you wish to focus your meditation on.
Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent, focus for a few moments on your breathing.
Read the chosen text through, slowly and gently. Listen to yourself read, let yourself to savor each word and phrase.
Read the text a second time. What words or phrases stick out for you? Remember God speaks to us in silence and in our listening. The words that pop out do so for a reason, pay attention to them.
Read the text a third time. Are there any other words that speak to you?
Sit now in silence, letting the words you have heard, speak to you and for you in your prayer, your conversation with God. What images, ideas, words spring forward? Or maybe all of them are present in mediation. Sit with those insights as you experience the presence of God. Give your insights to God. Do the insights give you new meaning or transformation of your actions, or prayer life?
Now rest in God’s arms. Let God’s presence give you comfort. Do you feel the pull to return to your meditations? Then begin again. If not close with a prayer of gratitude for the time you have spent in God’s presence and the insights you have received.
Visio Divina with a Photograph
Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, people, places and things. Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the photo? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.
May the presence of the Holy Spirit blow through your heart cooling your spirit and giving you new strength.
This last week I heard of the passing of Marcus Borg. I was sadden not just at his passing but because I have learned so much from his writings. I will miss reading his words and having them open up my understanding of Jesus as both human and Divine. Marcus Borg’s writings were instrumental in changing how I came to look at Jesus, the apostles, and the first century Christians. He made me think and doubt what I have always believed to be true and to take that doubt and turn it on its head by searching for answers and being comfortable with finding only more questions.
Because of Marcus Borg I began to read scripture, questioning the standard interpretations, searching for what the words printed in the Bible meant to those they were written to, the first century believers in Jesus. Borg’s books were my first window into the church of the 21st century and why, and how, it is so different from the community of believers in the 1st century. Reading Borg’s books were instrumental in giving me an interest in pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree and looking at the carefully at the path leading to ordination. Yes I will miss this Master of Theology who opened doors and, through his writings, fostered a love of scripture, sacred texts, theology, and history. Whose writing led me on a search for the divine and human Jesus that I wanted in my life.
We do not go through this life alone. There are many people, our mentors, who have walked and are walking with us. Some mentors we know, some mentors we request or go looking for, some we have not known they were mentors but were our companions for a while, showing us us how to live by living their own quiet, faithful lives. Some mentors never know they mentored us at all. Marcus Borg was one of my mentors who never knew he walked with me. I am grateful for his life and his words. I never met him, only read his books, but I felt ‘close’ to this incredible theologian who made Jesus and God accessible to me.
I will never be able to thank him, so, instead I will thank all of my other mentors while I still have time. My parents, my first grade teacher Miss Wooster, they taught me courage and determination. I am grateful for Pastors from childhood to adulthood that listened to my ravings and didn’t belittle me. I am grateful for my current pastor, and friend, Laurie, who has been the most gracious and gentle of mentors as I have grown in my faith. I am grateful for friends who let me be me, inspiring me to be the best friend I could be. I am grateful for my beloved John who has supported me through thick and thin as we have traveled this crazy new journey God has led us both on in the last 15 years.
I am grateful for the love, comfort, and companionship of dogs, cats and birds who have taught me the value of unconditional love. I am grateful for being able to live and work, and play in a world of great beauty, and sorrow. I am grateful for my life as it is and as it will be and I know that whatever life hands me I know I am not alone, there is always someone standing beside me to offer encouragement.
On this Prayerful Tuesday who are you grateful for? Who has walked with you on a difficult path or a path of exploration and great joy? Who walked with you, gave you insights, taught you a lesson of life that you didn’t recognize at the time? We all have people who have brought meaning to our lives, today offer your gratitude, your thanks for your life’s mentors.
Gracious Presence, I am grateful for all who walk, and have walked, with me on my very bumpy life’s journey. I am grateful for your presence as you have been with me always, even though I don’t recognize you. My spirit is grateful for all I have been given, and thankful for all that is yet to come. Amen.
“. . . too often we resist the urge to turn our hearts to God, for this might entail some serious and inconvenient changes in our lives.” Jamal Rahman, Out of Darkness into Light
This past week has been interesting. You see I am coming to a place where I have to let go of some goals and turn my resulting life, that will be, over to God. Now I am a stubborn person, and I LIKE being in control of my journey, but, I am discovering I control nothing. Nothing in my life is predictable, except when I surrender my will to God.
The above words of Jamal Rahman really hit home for me, because surrendering to God does mean my life changes dramatically. The number one in my life can no longer be me, but God. It means everything I do take’s on a sacred attribute because I’m not doing it for myself; I am doing nothing, because you see everything is for and through God.
When I give up and let go of the reins I am clutching in my white knuckled hand my life focus changes from “it’s all about me” to it is all about what God wants of me; doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). While Micah’s words sound simple they are not easy and I am consciously, continually, moving into them bit by painful bit.
One of my first steps in surrendering to God began with (or I should say begins with) a practice of examining the unease I have with my life and then holding it to as I find the root cause. I allow myself to kind to me as I acknowledge and hold the energy the cause has over me, offering it up in prayer for God’s mercy and forgiveness.
So I offer Surrender as our spiritual practice of the week. When you feel something is wrong in your life do not ignore or deny it. Instead sit quietly and hold the feeling in your heart, listen to it and search from where it comes. Then as you hold the feelings in your heart pray to God for strength and mercy, asking for God to walk with you as you go deeper into the feeling and surrender the cause to God in prayer. Over time as you repeat this practice you may discover your connection and relationship with God growing ever stronger.
Surrender may be difficult but not impossible when you remember the words of Jesus who said “do not be afraid, for I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:10).
January is a month of quiet stillness, the stillness of snow falling, the stillness of early darkness. It is time when the earth sleeps waiting for the renewal in life coming in future months. January is a desert time, a time when the darkness can overwhelm us with emptiness, and loneliness. For some the month of January can last forever, or seem like it anyway. But spring is coming, hope lies just below the surface of cold snow and hard ground just as water lies beneath the surface of the desert waiting until it is able to break through into the light.
Today I invite you to join me in the practice of Visio Divina with the above desert picture. As you focus on the desert scene ask yourself the following questions:
When have you felt the silence of the desert in your life?
In what ways did the desert nurture your renewal into a new spring?
And, what is calling your forth from the desert?
May your deserts, whether cold or hot, draw you deeper into the arms of the Holy Spirit.
Several years ago I led a labyrinth walk on September 11, in memory of the World Trade Center Disaster. It was held in the churches outdoor labyrinth and the day was perfect for walking. I placed two baskets at the entrance of the labyrinth, one held fallen leaves to represent those who had died that day and the second held small river stones to represent the courage of all of the emergency people who responded to the attack. Each walker was to carry leaf and stone into the center. They were asked to leave the leaf either in the center or place it along the path of the labyrinth. The stone was theirs to keep in remembrance of the walk. The walk was open to the public and was well attended.
One young woman came near the end of the walk and I remember her because she was unsure as to whether she would walk or not. Finally she picked up a leaf and stone and entered the labyrinth. As soon as she entered tears started to roll down cheeks, she walk very slowly stopping at each of the stone benches to sit for few minutes. When she reached the center she sat down on the bench and bent over appearing to be either in pain or great distress. I thought about going to see if she needed help but changed my mind and waited. She must have sat there for 15 to 20 minutes before she stood up, carefully placed her leaf on bench and walked out of the labyrinth.
When she exited she came over to me to apologize for taking so long and I told her that it was quite alright. She said she had read of the walk in the newspaper and that she really wanted to be here today. You see, her sister worked in the World Trade Center and died that day. At the time she was also living and working in New York and when she heard that plane had crashed to the towers she had run out and saw the towers collapse. They never found any remains of her sister.
She told me she hadn’t realized how much grieving she still had to do and that the walk had been more painful than she thought it would be, but she was glad she walked. I told her the labyrinth was always open to the public and she was free to walk it at anytime. I also gave her the names of a couple of Pastoral Counselors she could call if she needed to talk to someone. She left clutching her small stone.
Fortunately all labyrinth walks are as dramatic as this young woman’s. Most, if not all, are walks that draw us into a quiet place and provide space for conversation with God. Yes revelations can occur but they are very rare. It is a blessing just to have a quiet walk that brings some peace and serenity to your life. That’s plenty I think.
If you’ve never walked a labyrinth here is some historical information. Labyrinths are an ancient meditation tool that predates Christianity. Up until the end of the middle ages they were use in place of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. People walked the labyrinths sometimes on hand and knees to simulate the difficulties of a long journey. Around the middle of the 1400’s labyrinths fell out of favor and it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that they were “rediscovered” as a meditation tool. They are now very popular and used by those striving for deeper spirituality and also in the health professions where the health benefits of walking the labyrinth have proven to be quite diverse.
The spiritual practice I am recommending this week to walk a labyrinth. You may locate labyrinth in area that you may walk, or you may “walk” a labyrinth with your finger using a printed labyrinth figure or finger labyrinth made of wood, stone, or metal.
The labyrinth has only one path. It diﬀers from a maze in that there are no tricks to it. From early on within the Christian tradition to now, countless people have walked labyrinths as devoted acts of pilgrimage, prayer and spiritual formation. There is no right way or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. As you follow the winding pathway to the center and back out again, surrender to the journey with an open heart and an open mind.
Four Fold path of the labyrinth
REMEMBERING you are invited to gather your thoughts as you prepare to begin your walk; remember you are blessed. All that we have, all that we are is a blessing from God. If you are waiting in a line of others for your turn to enter the labyrinth, this is a time for literally counting your blessings.
RELEASING begins when you enter the labyrinth and ends upon arriving at the labyrinth’s center. This is an opportunity for “letting-go” of whatever distracts you. This is a time for quieting, opening, emptying, and shedding. For some, this happens through a mindful slowing and deepening of their breathing, or the silent repeated reciting of a simple prayer.
RECEIVING is a gift at the center of the labyrinth. Having emptied oneself, there is now spaciousness within to receive creative Spirit. Receiving guidance, interior silence, new insight, deeper wisdom, a sense of peace are only a few experiences that can occur on a labyrinth walk. It is diﬀerent for everyone. You may sit or stand in the center as long as you like. Receive what is there for you to receive and accept such as a divine gift.
RESOLVE, begins when you leave the center and return on the same path back out of the labyrinth. There are many aspects of this: you can resolve to take a next step in your life, or come to a resolution about something bothering you. Rejuvenation often occurs, or a feeling of rebirth begins. Or, on your way out, you reclaim those responsibilities you set down on the way in, but for which you have new strength to carry them. Often, feelings of strengthening and integration occur. Symbolically, you take back out into the world what you’ve received.
Some wisdom for these Four R’s of the labyrinth
This way of using a labyrinth is only a map; it is not the territory. You can allow blessing anywhere on the labyrinth. You can release anywhere on the labyrinth, you can receive anywhere; you can come to resolution anywhere on the labyrinth. The Fours R’s is one way of understanding what can happen while you are walking the labyrinth. Do not hold these too tightly; during your walk you will understand the ﬂow.
This Labyrinth ministry resource is Provided Courtesy of Disciples Home Missions (DHM), Office of Search and Call, of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Indianapolis, IN, Rev. Warren Lynn, This document is created with permission from, and based on a source by, Veriditas, Inc., San Francisco, CA; The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress
Sermon – Epiphany Sunday
January 5, 2014
Queen Anne Christian Church Seattle, WA
Matthew 2:1-12 (Common English Bible [CEB])
Coming of the magi
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
6 You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Greek derivation of Magi, (Strongs Hebrew, Chaldee, and Greek Dictionary)
3097.magos mag’-os (of foreign origin (7248); a Magian, i.e. Oriental scientist; by implication, a magician:–sorcerer, wise man, [interpreter of dreams, prophet]. (plural, could refer to a male or female wise person)
The story of the Magi is such a familiar story. We have heard this story so many times before and I am sure all of us are able to repeat it without difficulty, at least the surface story. I was confronted with this simple story, which is anything but simple, when I chose to meditate on it for Epiphany Sunday’s Sermon. Sitting in silence, letting the words of Matthew settle into my subconscious I realized there is so much more to this tale than I first believed. There are also way too many questions to address in a single sermon. If you ever wanted to experience an abundance of graces just read this story carefully. I could go into the fact that the gender and number of the Magi is never mentioned in the scripture and that the Magi were gentiles; or the Magi don’t visit the stable, they come to the home of Joseph and Mary; and because the story of the killing of the Bethlehem’s children that follows the Magi’s visit lead scholars to believe Jesus could have been as old as 2. And, that’s just few of the questions I found in these 12 verses of Matthew Chapter 2. What did intrigue me, and what I will discuss, was never addressed by all of the learned theologians I perused. What I wanted to know was the reason these learned gentiles come in search of a child, a child born to a carpenter and his wife. And, what unknown gifts still hides in this story for me, and all of us, beyond the pretty tale of rich strangers visiting a destitute baby?
First of my questions was what did the Magi expect to find when they arrived in Jerusalem. Since they came to the city of the kings of Judea they must have expected to find the child born there, and to parents with more than a lineage to David. My guess is they had expected to find a somewhat wealthy family, or at least fairly well off. After all they were looking for a King and you normally don’t find one living in the home of working class people. They must also have been confused and terribly disappointed that no one knew what they were talking about. I mean, the birth of a King is big news isn’t. Doesn’t everyone celebrate the birth of a King? It isn’t until King Herod calls them for an audience do they learn that the prophets foretell the birth of “the anointed one,” “the Christ,” was to happen in Bethlehem. I have no doubt they left somewhat confused. But, eventually they find the baby living in the home with his mother and father. They even bring gifts, and while Mary might have preferred diapers, the gifts they gave were costly and fit for a King. (By the way Bethlehem and the gifts are never mentioned again, why? Another question to confound me.)
They were seeking a child, an infant King, someone who would turn the Roman world upside down and I can only imagine their surprise at finding the child in such humble circumstances. They brought gifts Herod would have drooled over, gold, frankincense, myrrh. Wonderful gifts but not really practical for the family they found, well the gold was probably most welcome. But frankincense and myrrh those aren’t baby gifts. Frankincense and myrrh were used to perfume oils and ointments for the purification of worship spaces and the anointing of the dead.
Now I know what Matthew was implying by the gifts: Gold was the symbol of Jesus’ kingship, frankincense the symbol for the priestly role Jesus would be called to live, and myrrh a foretaste of what he would endure at the end of his life. But I think these gentile scholars brought something else and it has been bequeathed to us today and our children. The Magi brought the gift of “seeking God’s face.”
God has always welcomed us and longed for our inquisitive search for the face of the Divine, and She encourages us to reach for her Holy arms. One of David’s Psalms says it well:
30 I will praise God’s name with song;
I will magnify him with thanks 31 because that is more pleasing to the Lord than an ox,
more pleasing than a young bull with full horns and hooves. 32 Let the afflicted see it and be glad!
You who seek God—
let your hearts beat strong again
— Psalm 69:30-32 (CEB)
And in the Book of Acts Paul tells the Athenians “27 God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us.” (Acts 17:27) No God is never far away, we are. And, seeking the face of God is one of the joys of creation we should do more often.
The Magi were the first to seek God’s face in its incarnated form, the face of a child. For Matthew the Magi represent the mission Jesus gives his disciples to reach out to all peoples but especially gentiles, and those born within the great humble mass of humanity, in all its lovely diversity; poor and rich, young and old, all genders, all races, and all people.
For me the Magi represent the longing to see God in the face of my beloved, my grandchildren, best friend, and all creation. I too want to see the incarnated God, I too long to see the ever present being in the first light of dawn, and I do see it in the face of my beloved when he first opens eyes in the morning. The Magi have passed this longing down to us and I am grateful for the gift and grateful to pass it on to the next generation.
The Magi’s gift of presence to a child in a humble home was passed on to us through Jesus’ presence in his life, death and resurrection. Now it is our mission to be present to the incarnated child born to humble parents. To recognize and honor the incarnation born in each of us, through our gifts to the world whatever they may be; caring for each other, the environment, our nation, and our world. It is up to us to be the Magi of today and visit the child in a humble home, to offer the gold of our love, to purify our mistakes with the frankincense of compassion; and to anoint those who pass on to the next world with the myrrh of God’s blessings and praise. In a Judean desert David writes:
God! My God! It’s you—
I search for you!
My whole beingthirsts for you!
My body desires you
in a dry and tired land,
no water anywhere. 2 Yes, I’ve seen you in the sanctuary;
I’ve seen your power and glory. 3 My lips praise you
because your faithful love
is better than life itself! 4 So I will bless you as long as I’m alive;
I will lift up my hands in your name.
— Psalm 63:1-4 (CEB)
So too are we called to offer our praises to God, honor the child that lives today, in each one of us, and in all of creation. Seek the face of God in all you meet, child, adult, male or female, and all of God’s marvelous creation. Look in the eyes of your loved ones, your companion animals, see the face of God looking back. Amen
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 (NRSV) 12But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 . . ., encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
There is an ancient story in the Orthodox Christian Tradition concerning a Pilgrim who searches for a deep communion with God, for an understanding of prayer and the spiritual practice of “prayer without ceasing.” In his travels and conversations with people of the church he discovers the writings of the Christian writers where he learns how to let his life be a witness to the teachings of Christ through unceasing prayer. Using the words of the blind beggar Bartimaeus who calls out to Jesus “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and timing his breath and steps to the rhythm of the prayer the Pilgrim repeated the prayer without stop as he journeyed from place to place. He found that even when he wasn’t literally speaking the prayer it was playing in the back of his mind and guided him in his actions towards all he me.
The prayer the Pilgrim used is called the “Jesus Prayer” and often used in a form of contemplative prayer called the Breath Prayer. By repeating the Jesus Prayer in a daily prayer practice the mind learns to become still and your being centered in order for the still small word of G-d to be heard and the presence of G-d to be felt. But the pilgrim wasn’t just praying a breath prayer; he was using an ancient form of prayer called chanting.
A chant is defined as a “short, simple series of syllables or words that are sung on/or intoned to the same note or a limited range of notes; A canticle or prayer is sung or intoned in this manner, or to sing or intone to a chant such as chant a prayer. It is the repetitive speaking or singing a single tone, word, or phrase that the one praying uses to open the door into G-ds presence. And, chanting has an eclectic past. It is used by almost every religion in some form or other. The far Eastern Tradition often uses a single tone, pronounced “ohm,” to draw their minds into stillness and into oneness with the universe. Those in the Judaic faith repeat the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” traditionally as they rise in the morning and as they go to bed at night. But it is also used as a prayer chant. Those in the Roman Catholic Faith have many chants which they use to draw their minds into stillness and their hearts into G-ds presence. One type, Gregorian chants, were psalms set to music in which medieval Monks used for the same purpose, creating stillness. I became interested in chanting many years ago when I heard my first Gregorian chant and found the cadence and sound of the notes lifted my heart into a new place that it had never been before. I have been chanting ever since.
In the scripture quoted above from 1 Thessalonians Paul calls us to pray without ceasing. When I was a teenager and heard those words my first thought was that is impossible. After all, I have class work to do, problems to figure out, chores to do, people to talk to, games to play, work to do, you name it and I could find a reason why such a task would be difficult. I’m betting you could add to this list, after all our lives are busy with living. So how on earth can we pray constantly? Well it has taken me a little while, Ok, OK, a long while, to figure that conundrum out. I realized that Paul wasn’t asking us to give up our lives. Rather he was calling us to center our lives in prayer. For me chanting has been the way to accomplish that task.
Now you might be asking how chanting helps me pray unceasingly? A while back I was laid off from my job and I was truly afraid of what could happen if I didn’t find another one. Every evening, following a day of unsuccessful job searching, I took long walks with my dog and tried to come to grips with what was happening to me. The problem was I was the only one talking. In fact I realized I was talking so much that if G-d was there she was never going to get a word in edgewise. One evening a friend invited me to a Taizé service and I rediscovered the peacefulness of singing chants in order to quiet my mind and offer the simple prayer of myself.
My Spiritual Practice of Chanting
So how does chanting help G-d enter, well the steps are pretty easy really. First of all there are really no hard and fast rules. You begin by identifying a word or phrase that draws your attention and has significance for you. This is a trial and error processes so don’t worry if it doesn’t quite fit and you have to change it. You will discover your chants will change over time as your needs change.
To begin a spiritual practice of prayer chanting set aside 15 to 20 minutes in your day and repeat your chant, rhythmically, timing it to your breath or your step as you walk. You may chant out loud or you may do it silently it all depends on where you are and what is happening around you at any given moment. The major thing is to practice it every day. Learning a Spiritual practice means you must do it every day just as if you were learning to play an instrument or play a game, it takes commitment.
You have a wide choice of times to choose when to practice your chants. You may set aside a quiet time as you would for any meditation or you may chant while preparing for you day in the morning or rest at night; waiting and riding public transit; doing dishes, laundry, or other housework. The key is to do it every day. Gradually, just like the ancient Pilgrim, the prayer will begin to “play” in the background of you mind all the time, providing comfort and guidance in all your daily activities.
You may chant using whatever method you are most comfortable with such as a single tone, as those in the Far Eastern traditions do; a single spoken word or phrases, such as the Jesus Prayer; or, and this is my preferred way, a musical chant. Whatever you choose the process is pretty much the same. Musical chants are often short scriptures or spiritual phrases set to a simple tune that is easily remembered and sung. Because I love music, even though I no longer am able to sing well, and I find musical chants the easiest for me to remember and repeat when I am praying. I find that music triggers a sense of stillness the spoken word alone cannot do.
I mentioned my chants change from to time to time and it is because my relationship with G-d changes over time. As my relationship deepens I become more comfortable with certain chants because they draw me deeper into the mystery that is G-d. You will know when that happens and you will also simply know what chants deepen your experience with G-d and other don’t. I have a number of different chants that I am particularly fond of that I use depending on where I am emotionally and spiritually that day. Most often I use scripture passages that have been set to music but occasionally I will use a phrase that means something to me at that time in my chants. Currently one of my favorites is based on Matthew 28:10, 20 “Do not be afraid, I am with you always.” The music is written by Harpist Linda Larkin and the arraignment is by John P. Newell. This chant reminds me I am not alone and I find comfort in it when I am confused and frustrated. I also often use the Taizé chant Ubi Caritas (Live in Charity) written by Jacques Berthier of the founder of the Taizé community. Currently these are very meaningful for me but you may use whatever chant fits your current spiritual journey.
My prayer for you journey is you will find comfort in G-ds presence as you sing words of peace, prayer, love.