Tag Archives: silence

Prayer

I grew up learning that God always answers prayer. Yes, no, or wait. These were the answers that God gave. Because God always answers prayer. It seems pretty simple and as a neat little formula, it works to explain how “casting our cares” (or wants, wishes, and hopes) out there into the ether could result in them being received by a God who is influenced by my petitions.

How one prays and what prayer means to a person says a lot about who God is to that person. Many, I think, see God as somewhere out there making things happen from his heavenly throne, receiving the prayers of countless worshipers, big enough (or not big enough) to answer them all and respond accordingly. Some would say, pray according to your faith. Expect God to do wondrous things and miracles will happen. Pray “in Jesus’ name” for an extra seal of approval and seek to align yourself with the will of God. Prayer is powerful to move mountains and soften the hardest heart. What it comes down to, most often it seems, is that prayer is transactional, an asking and a receiving, hinged on hope and often destined for disappointment when things don’t go the way we wish.

What I have seen is that people pray for things (with very strong faith, to be sure) and those things do not come to pass… and sometimes they do. And then others don’t pray at all and they are gifted with what many pray so fervently for… and other times they are not. Studies have been done about the power of prayer, yes, and I wonder, is prayer for the one doing the praying, for the one prayed for, or for the one prayed to?

I no longer think of God as a force that is “out there.” As I have come to experience and understand God as Life, as the animating force that sustains, maintains, and contains all things, prayer has changed. What is the will of God when God is infinite, beyond and within time in ways that our linear finite minds could never fully perceive? Will, as we would understand it, would be governed BY time and WITHIN time. God’s knowing, as we would understand it and claim it, would be bound to knowing as we know. I can’t say that this is the case. So praying so as to influence God, or praying so as to better know the will of God, seems like a game of cat and mouse.

Prayer, in it’s essence, is non-linear. I can put so many words to what prayer is not, to how prayer falls short. But attempting to describe prayer that aligns with indwelling Life is to describe an action, an attitude… a way of being. The “will” of God, is what IS. Life happens in its horror and bliss and all is within that Life. To pray is to have our intentions, our desires, our being engulfed, embraced, consumed, and overwhelmed by presence. We don’t cast our prayers out there somewhere… our prayers are taken up and transformed before they ever reach our lips. I do believe prayer is incredibly impactful, not just for our time but for all of time and for all places, but this can only be when God is in all things and all things are in God.

Perhaps we would all do well to release our need to pray with the right words or finding the right things to pray for and just listen for a while. Rather than going through the lists of those we care for and the things we want to see happen in the world, we could breathe… in silence… without the words. When I open my groups or spiritual direction with silence or teaching breathing practice, we are praying, just in a more natural and universal way.

Imagine it like being in the ocean. You could get obsessed with what you are going to do in the water, what kind of floaties you will have with you, how you can boat, swim, or dive. You could analyze and think about all the little parts of the water and the sand and the aquatic life. But you wouldn’t get the same experience as if you stopped and felt the waves on your body, the movement, the ebbing and the flowing. You would be missing something if you didn’t pay attention to being wet, to being weightless, the salt on your lips. Prayer is similar. It is a relationship. Loving affects the lover, the beloved, and all those in their presence.

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The gift of silence in community

It is the silence that makes our words (sounds) mean something. When the words we offer come out of the deep silence of our listening, it is here that we can be assured that we are offering something and not just spouting out noises to fulfill our own needs or insecurities. How often do we really get the chance to intentionally sit in silence as a community? Very rarely, I would imagine.

Parker J. Palmer writes in his book, A Hidden Wholeness, in regards to creating what he calls “circles of trust”:

By creating moments of intentional silence, we smooth the way for spontaneous silence in a culture where the cessation of sound is taken as a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

Because many people get rather uncomfortable in silence, I always invite them into silence after I set our intention of safe space, our desire to learn from each other, and give them an overview of what is coming up. Often, I begin our time together with silence as a chance to gather ourselves here, sitting with our intentions and our desires to be present. I invite the group to offer their gratitude in the silent space to each other and also to God (the Divine, the Source, etc) for the chance to be together. Here we root ourselves, not in our desire to be heard and fulfill our own needs, but to be here for each other. The silence is the buffer between what we brought with us and our movement forward together.

Coming out of the silence for me, is often difficult. As I noted in the previous post, a facilitator has to pay such strong attention to transitions. I don’t want us to simply jump from silence into “business.” In Christian circles, it is easy for me, as I simply offer a short prayer. I did this for years, and then when we started with Spiritual Integration at myc yoga, I wasn’t sure how to come out of the silence. Cross-spiritual groups are a bit trickier. Often, I will use a quote or say something about silence and the gift we offer as we intentionally engage in this as community. As I will say often, the material is only a tool. My interest is primarily on what goes on within each person in the room.

As strange as it may sound, my hope is that even as we gather in community to talk, share, laugh, cry, we might support each other in our ability to be silent, alone, and listening. This is an incredible gift we give the world. The Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu says it like this:

The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten. the purpose of the word is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to.

Silence

Silence is not so much a rule to be observed by refraining from speech,
but… an opportunity for growing in the sense of the Divine Presence.
It is only by learning to live in that Glorious Presence,
and by reflecting on the depth of our own silent listening
that we can come to
know the difference between activity and compassion,
and it is compassion that makes us
open up our silence to others.

Gurus, Ashrams, and Christians – Vandana

Waking up “hungry”

I really woke up cold this morning… and I hit the snooze two or three times so I could tunnel back into the warmth of my blankets. But as I pulled myself out of bed, I realized I was hungry. Not in the physical, stomach-growling way, but in a deep heart place. I was longing for something… eager for something more… some inspiration or Spirit-connection. I long to experience presence… of “an-other” (person-wise) or of God God’sself.

So I woke up hungry. I looked through my bookshelf, trying to find that right book… the book that would meet me where I needed to be met. A shadow, only a shadow. Music, music would bring me there… to a place of silence. And this, this is where I need to be. In a silent place. A place where the noise on the outside fades and the heart cries out from within. A place where whispers echo, breaths resound, and heart beats are the drum-beat for clarity. This is what I am hungry for.

So I listen and I watch. I see pain in faces, hear tension in voices, feel the insecurity, the preoccupation, and the hurry. Silence. I soak it all in. My hopeful response being one of love and genuine interest in return. Spirit responding to spirit.