Calm. Composure. Level-headedness. Poise. I'll bet these are things you want in your surgeon or pilot. And I'm guessing you'd like to possess them yourself. The ability to hold yourself calm in the eye of a storm will save you a lot of suffering over the long haul. But calm doesn't just come over you; you've got to work it into you, massaging it into the deep tissue of your being through practice, practice, practice.
Contemplative prayer is such a practice. Through meditation on the name of Jesus or some other simple prayer, you make a habit of drawing of your mind down into your heart and holding it there in the presence of God. In this way you train yourself to dwell at the center, remain composed and calm, no matter what's going on around you.
One of my kids called late one night. He was stuck in on the 134 in LA. An accident. Traffic at a dead stop, not even crawling along. People around him pounding their steering wheels in rage. Others swearing out their windows. His own anxiety skyrocketing in the midst of the mayhem. Never mind that someone's suffering, maybe dead on the road ahead. Thousands are stuck in gridlock, feeling claustrophobic and powerless to do anything but rage against it all.
Unless you've trained yourself for such a time as this, you'll get sucked into the collective insanity.
Practice poise. Enter the stillness each day in prayer. For 5 minutes (but the more, the better), do nothing in the presence of God but fend off the thoughts that try to pull you away from center. Return to the center, to God. Just be.
Then when you're on the road or in a meeting, answering an email or listening to the news you're less likely to get sucked into the collective insanity of so many around you who do not practice peace.
Intention: Today, I'll practice poise. I'll grow still in prayer. I'll massage into my deep tissue a growing trust in God's presence in and around me.
The alarm goes off before dawn. I hit snooze . . . at least once. My wife finally nudges me and I turn off the alarm and click the prayer app on my smart phone. For ten drowsy minutes we lie there, listening to the guided prayer from Pray As You Go. A bell begins this morning meditation on scripture. The summons to prayer is followed by an introduction by a lovely British voice, then a piece of sacred music. All this prepares us for the reading of the text for the day, and a few sentences spoken reflectively, inviting us to listen for the whisper of God illuminating our lives, preparing us to experience God this day.
Look, I don't always stay awake for the whole thing. But that doesn't matter as much as the fact that the sounds are awakening my mind and heart to the Holy even before I put my feet on the floor. It has an effect beyond my rational awareness of that effect.
Of course, sometimes, I'm stunned by the appropriateness of the meditation to what happened the day before, what came to me in my dreams, or what I sense is before me. But much of the time, it's just a gentle influence upon my first conscious thoughts . . . a better way to start the day, than stumbling in the dark, muttering to myself about the day that's already coming hard at me with its many obligations.
Take a look; better, listen in daily as a way to start a fire of prayer on the hearth of your heart.
Intention: I'll try this simply guide to prayer, either tonight as I prepare for sleep or tomorrow morning as I awaken.
Have you ever experienced a moment in prayer when it felt as if a gentle rain was falling on your shoulders? For many of us prayer is a duty--a should, an ought. Of course, there are benefits prayer. We have a sense that the God of the universe had heard what's on our hearts, and we believe that God will do something with what we've expressed. More than that, we've seen answers to prayer, and these answers keep us going, keep us praying.
But prayer as a gentle rain falling upon the thirsty earth of your inner being? When was the last time you felt that?
This nourishment of prayer is not something you can believe; it's something you experience. Beliefs are artifacts of faith; they're derived from genuine spiritual experience, they are not spiritual experiences themselves. Faith, on the other hand, is the experience of God, and that experience cannot be fully described anymore than your love for another person can be fully described. If course, we try. And well we should. Experiences nearly cry out for communication. Poets try to speak of the love that burns in their hearts. Artists paint it. Musicians put it to sound. But these expressions are symbols and metaphors, not the real thing--as lovely as they may be.
So you believe in prayer. That's good. But why not experience it? Get outside the usual cramped space of your praying, and step into the rain. A slow, life-giving rain is falling.
Too few get out of themselves long enough to feel it.
Intention: Today, I'll pause for prayer, but I'll avoid telling God things. Instead, for just a few moments, I'll let the grace of God fall upon my parched soul, like "rain and snow that water the earth" (Isaiah 55.10).
How many of us have dreamed of doing something new, adding something to our lives, cutting something out? And how many of us have done what we've dreamed of doing? Why not?
In this TED Talk, Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google, invites you to do something for 30 days . . . and see what happens. In less than six minutes, he'll embolden you to step out and achieve something new in your life.
Write a novel.
Break the Facebook stranglehold on your time.
Go deeper in prayer.
Stop dreaming and DO.