Friday, January 23, 2015

Contemplative Silence or Contemplative Words?

We started our Church Administration and Leadership class by reading Henri Nouwen's book In the Name of Jesus.  In this work he reflects on his life of Christian leadership and talks about the temptations of Christian leadership.  The first temptation he points to is the temptation of relevance, of wanting to be seen as somebody special instead of being somebody after God's own heart. His suggestion for countering that temptation was contemplative prayer. I think he's right about that. I also think that means I have a lot of work to do.
I keep on thinking that I should be more into silent meditation.  I know several different contemplative prayer practices, but I keep coming back to the practice of sitting in silence and I get frustrated at how much I suck at it.  I am so heady and wordy.  I create dialogues in my head and had begun this blog post three times in my mind before it ever got onto paper. That is how I operate in the world. I create my own commentary.  So when I try to focus on one word, try to clear my mind of other thoughts, I struggle. I either fall asleep or just feel uncomfortable. But how can I wait on God when I can't release myself from inner commentary? This is what I struggle with.
I know other practices that work better for me. Repeating prayers and listening to familiar music are ways I can simply be. Journaling and blogging are ways for me to release the commentary and see if God might actually be leading me in my thoughts. But I worry about being heady.  I think we all worry about finding that line between what is God's will and what is my will.  What are God's thoughts and what are mine? Am I actually listening to God at all or am I just doing my own thing? And that is why I want to be able to sit in silence. I want to be able to clear my mind and just sit. While I know there are other methods of contemplative prayer that come more naturally, I guess I have a bias towards silent meditation. It feels more "authentic" than staring out the window on the bus purposely listening to music that is so familiar, I don't even really hear it anymore.
My professor kind of glossed over contemplative prayer, saying we need to do the kind of prayer where we just listen to God, but I wish he had said more. My husband has devoted his life to contemplative prayer, I've taken classes in it, and I still don't quite get it. I don't know what does or doesn't count.  I worry that I don't pray enough or I don't pray the right way. I wish that I could be confident in my prayer life.  But my prayer life looks an awful lot like a person listening to music on a bus. I fear this doesn't really count.
The other day as I was coming back from class, worrying about contemplative prayer, I realized I was sitting on the other side of the bus from where I usually sit. And through the window I could see businesses on the other street over, a street I had never been to before. I saw things I had never seen in nearly two years of taking the same bus to school. And my commentary began. I thought, "Maybe contemplative prayer is simply about being receptive. Maybe it is waiting and being open to glimpses of the unseen. A lot of the time nothing happens, but sometimes you get a glimpse of God, and maybe that is what it is all about."
For now, I am not sure sitting in silence would really work for me. I need stimuli that put me into a prayerful state, and right now, those things are all filled with words. Not just one word, but many words. Words about God and for God. Words that come from my heart and other people's hearts. Familiar words. In this sea of words, I find myself able to move in and out of inner dialogue, able to sit with God without feeling uncomfortable or intimidated by the process. And maybe that is enough for now. Later I can work on the silence, but maybe right now I really need the words.
I live with the same fears I had as a child. When I was young, I told my mother that I was bad at praying because I couldn't keep my eyes closed. She revealed to me that many people pray with their eyes open. I fear that I cannot pray in the silence. Maybe it is okay to pray with the words.

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