Centering Prayer

Since my earlier post on meditation, I have been looking for a way of organizing my prayer/meditation life so it’s not just sitting there with no clear objective.

In searching for Christian meditation techniques from the esoteric to the more-conventional, I came across a an interesting one: Centering Prayer. This method is both easy and difficult. Easy, because you can start in minutes without extensive training. Difficult, because of the busy mind.

A simple introduction to Centering Prayer is found in this brochure (PDF) and on Contemplative Outreach.

In centering prayer, you follow four guidelines:

1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
3. When engaged with your thoughts,* return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

*thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections

Pretty simple, eh? The only problem is that it’s hard to sit still for twenty minutes, and letting go of thoughts (a process called kenosis) can be sometimes difficult. But I’ve found that it’s worth it.

Through this practice I’ve found some more inner peace and the ability to let go of disturbing or sinful thoughts. Instead of battling against the unsettling thought by declaring “That’s not who I am in Christ!” or somesuch, I find myself able to gently let the thought go and proceed in life as if nothing happened at all. I’ve heard it said that thoughts are like birds – one may land on your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest. The practice of letting go of thoughts and embracing quiet is valuable because quiet is where the deepest presence of God dwells.

One of the great things about centering prayer is that you can’t really fail at it. The only failure is in not doing the practice. It’s relatively easy to chop out twenty, or even ten, minutes of my day, to do this simple practice. It’s not always easy to let go of overwhelming thoughts, but God always helps me through it. Highly recommended.

For more on the practical aspects of centering prayer, see this post.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

‘Lord, Help!’

It has long been my belief that the most holy, most sanctified, and possibly the most important prayer one can pray is also one of the simplest:

“Lord, help!”

Often I find my emotions going one way and life circumstances going a different way and I am stuck in the middle, feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. It is at those times, which are frequent, that I pray this one prayer.

“Help me, Lord.”

There is also a personal adaptation of ‘Jesus Loves Me’ that I sometimes sing to myself on these occasions:

Jesus help me, this I ask
I’m insufficient for this task
I need you to light my way
Every night and every day

Oh, Jesus, help me
Yes, Jesus, help me
Yes, Jesus, help me
I need you every day

Sometimes I feel ashamed that I am in constant need of divine help just to make it through some days. But who else would I ask for help from? I already take my medication. I ask for prayer from my wife. But the quickest way to fix the situation is to go straight to the Source. And when I pray, I find my emotions calming down, my perspective shifting a little, and a bit of peace coming in where there was unrest.

“Jesus, help me.”

Perhaps much of my prayer seems self-centered. But how else should I pray? I cannot help others if the spark of joy, creativity, contentment, and peace are not active within me. Without that stability that comes from God, I can do nothing. I can’t write, I can’t sing, I can’t do much of anything. But what I can do is hunker down and ask God to help me.

“Lord, help.”

‘He is the vine, I am a branch; without him, I can do nothing.’ Thankfully, with him we can do everything that’s necessary. All we have to do is ask for help.

Controlling Anxiety Through Meditation

Note that the post title is meditation, not medication. This post is about Christian meditation and how it’s slowly helping me overcome the breakthrough anxiety that my medication can’t quite reach–those thousand little worried or panicked feelings throughout the day.

But first, the music: the first song off the excellent soundtrack to the game Monument Valley–a peaceful album that just happens to be excellent for times of meditation.

I’ve never spoken about meditation before, but I imagine from articles that I’ve read that, when this practice is mentioned, there typically follows a fear of ‘New Age’ philosophy. I hope the readers of this blog would know me better than that, and have the intelligence to Google ‘Christian meditation’ before panicking. This fear has been addressed hundreds of times before, so I won’t go into that here; rather, I hope to be practical here and explain what exactly I am doing and how it is helping me.

How does meditation work? I’m not sure, but I have heard that it’s really good for one’s mental health, and I have found that to be true. In times of meditation you quiet your mind to focus on a single thought–perhaps a single verse of Scripture, perhaps a concept. The quietness apparently helps, or at least it seems to help me.

More after the break. Continue reading “Controlling Anxiety Through Meditation”

Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’

Last week I was feeling rather dry and depressed inside. I couldn’t find anything to listen to on my evening commute–none of the many audiobooks I have seemed to fit the bill, and none of the music I have on my phone seemed to satisfy.

(By the way, today’s song is Who is Jesus? by the BRILLIANCE, off their newest (and quite amazing) album All Is Not Lost.)

Then I remembered a friend of mine had a new podcast which I had loaded on my phone and forgotten about, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt. It definitely didn’t hurt, and in fact, it helped quite a bit. Continue reading “Coming Home, Part 1: ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’”

Praying For Your Enemies: Justice and Mercy

This morning I had a big bowl of lies and betrayal for breakfast, metaphorically speaking.

It didn’t go down well.

I won’t go into what happened, but suffice it to say, it hurt me and indirectly hurt my family, and I was angry–still am.

As a Christian, what am I supposed to do at this point? I feel like praying for them to take a long walk off a short pier. What I’m supposed to do is, of course, pray for my enemies.

The ESV has Matthew 3: 43-45:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”

How do we pray for our enemies? The Lord’s Prayer says:

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

and

Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

…but if I may add something that has been helpful to me, and perhaps may help you, I will.

Whenever I am lied to, betrayed, or hurt in some way, I pray for justice and mercy.

That’s it. Justice on the one hand, mercy on the other. Both, not just one or the other.

The Douay-Rheims has Psalm 85:10:

Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.

In Christ, justice and mercy meet. We deserved justice; we received mercy.

God’s Idea of Justice

I specifically pray for justice, because I have been wronged and I want to see it made right. I want revenge. I want something bad to happen to those who made something bad happen to me.

Justice: That Time When I Was Fired and the Company Failed

One time I was wrongly fired from a job. At the time I was much younger in Christ, and I wanted revenge, big time. My wife and I even consulted a lawyer, but there was nothing he could do. At the time, this scripture came to mind, James 5:1-6. Per the ESV:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

That was a satisfying scripture.

What happened? The company later folded in one of the most miserable ways: from the inside. A year later, the company was gone.

Did God destroy a company for my sake. Well, I think so, but I don’t know. There were a few non-wicked individuals in that company who didn’t deserve to lose their job. The rest, who knows? Did they later repent? Did they later get saved? Who knows? The fact is, it happened, and I was very glad at the time. It appeared to be God’s justice at work.

This isn’t a formula, and it doesn’t happen all the time. I was unfairly let go from another company several years later, and the company is still there and doing fine as far as I know. The people who wronged me this morning, things could be going swimmingly for them for years to come. But I trust God to make it right.

In the end, God makes everything right. Psalm 1, ESV, emphasis mine:

Blessed is the man [this is you]
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Mercy

The reason I pray for justice and mercy is that God is love. He, as exemplified in Christ, is the perfect embodiment of both justice and mercy. So while we pray for God to make it right in justice, we also pray for God to also make it right in his kindness. Jonah expected God to wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth, despite their repentance, and God had to give him a remedial course in mercy. We don’t know if Jonah learned anything, but we can learn for ourselves.

Mercy is God’s decision. Romans 9, emphasis mine:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Since mercy is God’s decision, mercy needs to be my decision.

Mercy: The Ultimate Revenge

I pray for justice, but I also pray for mercy. The ultimate revenge, to my knowledge, is seeing my enemies meet Jesus and become saved. I’ve met people who were hellions in high school and treated me terribly back then, and many years later, met them again and they had gotten saved and were living righteous lives.

I won’t say that this is because of my prayers (I sowed plenty of my own wild oats myself in high school, so at the time I might not have thought to pray for them at all). But clearly someone prayed for them, and maybe even it was someone who they had wronged.

God has mercy on his enemies. He wants us to pray for our enemies, ‘so that we may be sons of our Father who is in heaven.’ So that we may look like he who granted mercy on us. Christ received death so that we would receive life. The NIV has Isaiah 53:5:

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

The Lord’s Prayer also addresses mercy:

Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.

We are to forgive as he forgives.

What Next?

What do you do after a betrayal? After someone lies to you, steals from you, cheats you, or otherwise mistreats you?

You hurt. You rage. Maybe you cry. It hurts. You have to recognize that your emotions are all right, and it’s OK to express them. If you have friends or loved ones or a pastor you can express them to, all the better–they can help you cope.

Then, when things calm down, you pray. After the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps you do as I do.

“Lord, I pray for justice and mercy.”

Then you learn to let it go. You decide to forgive. Forgiveness is not automatic; you have to decide whether or not you will forgive them. Your emotions will not cooperate with you.

Ultimately, you let God be God. Let him do what He wills. You’ll see ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’. You’ll ultimately prosper, and God will handle them. Maybe you’ll hear about the person who hurt you being punished later on–maybe they’ll even see ‘instant karma’. Maybe they’ll repent and become saved, and you’ll be reconciled. Maybe they’ll go on their merry way, hurting other people, and you’ll have to let God handle it.

Doing your part, praying for your enemies, is what you can do. Then you let God handle all the rest.