I know exactly where I was twenty-two years ago today. I was with most of my family gathered at my house on Beechmoor for lunch. Earlier that morning I had been ordained a deacon (transitional, that is) at Christ Church Cathedral by The Right Reverend Maurice Benitez, who died earlier this year. I am grateful to him for so very much in my life.
I guess that means that I am an adult deacon plus one year. Truthfully, although my ordination day is important to me and, I hope, to God, it’s pretty much a non-event to the rest of the world. I have a couple of friends who almost always send a card or email, but it’s mostly a private day for me and God to reflect and chat.
I spent most of this morning in my prayer room in my prayer chair. I did a lot of pondering about centering prayer and contemplative prayer–to purists, different types of prayer, but for me they are both times to be still in the presence of God.
I started thinking about my practice, or not, of contemplative prayer a couple of months ago when I met my brother for coffee. He had recently been placed on the board of an international religious organization, and a significant part of their meeting had been spent in centering prayer. It was life-changing for him. As we talked, he assumed that this was part of my own faithful daily spiritual practice.
Well. Sort of. Most days I have quiet with God. But the more I thought about my conversation with my brother, the more I had to admit that I’d become sloppy and neglectful in my own quiet with God.
The next week I went to Oregon to visit my grandsons, ages 3 1/2 and 1 1/2. Almost every morning and every afternoon we took a walk, and we discovered a small park close by with a person-made pond and two waterfalls. Austin (the three year old) had a new favorite place to go. His favorite practice was to run to the rock outcropping overlooking the higher waterfall and sit on the edge. Those rocks and water had big danger alerts for me, his grandma. I wanted to hover with arms outstretched to make sure he didn’t fall in.
But I eventually began to trust his motor skills. We began to have chats about how he felt when he sat on that rock overlooking the waterfall. Austin is a very curious, lively, active boy, and like most three year olds, he can have melt downs when he feels out of control. One morning as we sat on the big rock over the waterfall, we talked about a meltdown he’d had earlier that very morning; he had a very good word for how he felt when he was in that place full of tears and angst. I wish I could remember his word–it was perfect. The closest word I can pull up is jagged.
As we sat on that rock, we talked about how he felt being still and enjoying the water. I told him that was a place that he could carry in his heart all the time. That how he felt at that very moment, sitting in the sun, with the gentle breeze, the sound of water flowing, was a place that was always in his heart. When he got in that out of control place again, he could place his hand on his heart and remember how he felt sitting by the waterfall.
I call it a place on centering prayer. Of contemplative prayer. It’s that place within us where God alone dwells, even if we don’t know that that place is called God’s home. It’s a place that is available to all of us.
A few weeks later, when I had a five days with the children of St. Mary’s to teach them about prayer, we started each session with that place of quiet–Austin’s waterfall place. When we taught the adults about contemplative prayer during the sermon on the Sunday following, many were amazed to see our youngest Christians go so easily to that place of quiet with God. In fact, even though I couldn’t recall the quieting prayer I’d taught them without looking, most of them could pray the words from memory: