Monday, February 22, 2016

Prayer as a Basis for a Contemplative Non-Violent Lent

(Lent is a great opportunity to grow our contemplative non-violent lives - even when we don't think we have one! I intend to use my blog to reflect on the invitation from God to live more deeply into a contemplative non-violent life which I want to respond to more and more. The plan is to write a reflection on Ash Wednesday, each Sunday of Lent and during Holy Week. I invite you to follow if you wish. With each entry I will suggest one prayer practice and one action that I will engage in and offer to you as a possibility. Blessings for a holy Lent.)

I'm a day late posting this week because I am traveling, this week in Nebraska. I led the clergy retreat for most of the week for the Diocese of Nebraska at the St. Benedict Center, a beautiful Roman Catholic retreat center in Schuyler, NE. Then I was privileged to preach at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Omaha, and lead their adult forum. It's been busy! All of which reminded me that the Invitation to a Holy Lent which we began with on Ash Wednesday is ever more useful when it comes to living more deeply into a contemplative non-violent Lent, especially when we are so busy. In particular when it comes to the  suggestion for prayer. 

We all know that our lives are busy. For most of us, they are too busy - or at least we perceive them that way. Sometimes it seems that there is not enough time to even breathe. But breathe we must - and not just to stay alive physically, but to stay alive spiritually as well. Breathing is the starting point and ending point of contemplative prayer and therefore, it is the starting point and ending point of living a non-violent life. 

In his Rule for Monks, St.  Benedict taught us that we are to begin every good work with prayer. And that has proved to be great advice for this monk. Prayer is a wide topic that includes liturgical prayer, intercessory prayer, thanksgivings, prayer in common, prayer in solitude, Lectio Divina, rosaries, the Jesus Prayer - it goes on and on. But I'd like to focus on silent contemplative prayer as being a practice that might enrich our Lenten experience. 

If we are to seek a path of non-violence, we first must begin with ourselves. The first step in non-violence is not to join a some movement rather, the first step is to develop a contemplative approach to our lives. That is why St. Benedict's advice applies here. The work of non-violence is a very good work, and it should begin with prayer!

This first half of Lent I have been focusing these blog entries on personal practices (fasting, self-examination, and now, prayer). They all have wider implications as we will see later in Lent when we "turn our faces toward Jerusalem" and, therefore, to the world. But for now, I believe focusing on our own selves is the preparation we will need for Gethsemane, Calvary, the Empty Tomb, and beyond. 

Breathing is the basis of contemplative prayer. While this may sound like it is of the "new-age" it is, in fact, as old as prayer itself. Unfortunately, since the High Middle Ages, our forebears in the West turned prayer into a solely mental activity. but we are reclaiming the natural place of prayer which requires every bit of us - yes the mind, but also our bodies our emotions, our spirits, our souls. 

The activity of consciously marking our breath, of becoming awake and aware to it, is what connects all those parts of ourselves (mind, body, spirit) and calls us to unity within ourselves. The busyness that permeates our lives tends to dislocate all those aspects of our lives into many separate ones. This causes us much anxiety - usually on a subconscious level - and that builds stress within us. That stress often gets acted out as violence in one form or another, but most likely as violence committed against ourselves. 

This violence committed against ourselves takes many different forms - from self-hatred to engaging in activities which are dangerous to us (over drinking/drugging, over-eating/under eating, never exercising/too much exercising, etc., etc.). These acts and many others like them, are a form of violence which seems to be epidemic in our society and around the world. Violence practiced against ourselves only leads to violence practiced against others - even if only verbally. 

And so, we breathe. We take the time to consciously sit and mark out breath which will lead to other forms of deeper contemplative prayer. But without the act of consciously breathing - little else can happen in regard to contemplative prayer.This is the work of a contemplative non-violent life. The amazing thing about it is that we are already breathing 24/7 and so I am not asking you to add an activity to your already too busy lives. I am asking you to become awake to your breathing, conscious of the great gift that God has given us which is to share in the breath of God and open ourselves to that unity. It begins with a single breath. 

Prayer: If you do not already practice a form of conscious breathing, try one minute of that practice each day this week. If you do practice it - add one minute to however much time you engage the practice. 

Action: Notice your breathing throughout the day. Stop for just a moment when you are at your busiest at work or at home or when you are in the middle of an upsetting conversation or thought, and notice what you are doing. Is this a time in your day when you might want to more consciously breathe? Is this a moment when you might see a way to breathing more fully into non-violence?

Blessings to you for a Holy Lent.

Peace be upon you.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank You. You use breathing to point out so much of our being that needs tending to this Lent (and always) as we try to take a non-violent approach to everything. Thank you and Amen.