When people find out I’ve published a faith-based title, they often ask, Do you meditate? “I pray,” I tell them. This is usually met with an uncomfortable silence or, “Oh.” Then crickets.
People, it seems, aren’t quite sure what to do with prayer. Meditation is the in thing. It’s so much more … accepted, inoffensive, non-denominational. It’s something people do who are giving responsible attention to their “inner quieting” when the world feels so loud.
I get that. So much shouts at us to hurry up! keep up! get ahead! don’t fall behind! Be better! Be faster! Do more! All while the backlog from our to-do lists piles up and our best intentions get shoved aside. Who in her right mind would turn down the opportunity to embrace stillness and quietly channel her inner self in calm moments of meditation?
I would, actually. Do, in fact. Oh, it’s not the calm or quiet I object to, it’s the “stillness” that gives me trouble. Whenever I am required to be completely immobile, no matter where I rest my hands, how I cross my legs or where I direct my gaze, I feel like I am confined by a straight jacket. Almost instantly, I want to fight to free myself, open my eyes and give in to a good belly laugh at the silliness of the whole situation.
Now, some who would meld prayer and meditation have suggested that meditation is simply the listening part of prayer. For instance, begin with “be still and know that I am God” and then meditate on the response you hear, sense or receive.
While this feels like a powerful practice and can be for me on my good days, on most days that “be still” part catches me up. The key is getting to the listening part in a condition that actually inclines me to listen; I have to loose the straight jacket without losing my focus.
I’ve found (and described in my book, Made to Move) that the best way for me to do this is via natural movement like rocking, swaying, nodding or through rhythmic activity like walking, running, riding, rowing or swimming. Movement that “happens” without intentional ignition is best, especially when it can continue without drawing attention to itself. It’s as if I have engaged my body to attend to my soul.
Best of all, I can tap into this any time! By piping down the panicked voices that shout “faster, better, more” — and for me this requires I call on that Higher Power who can silence what doesn’t belong — I can actively and healthfully engage my work in the world. Whether it’s writing a novel, working difficult mathematical calculations, tending to a distraught co-worker or family member, creating strategic market analysis or any other work worth doing, I can engage it fully, contemplatively.
While meditation teaches me to subtract myself from my doings, to take a break in order to re-engage the fight, real-time bodily prayer actually adds to my effectiveness in the “fight.” By it, I gain confidence, courage and insight to do what’s before me, again and again.
Yes, I pray. And actually I am okay with the silence that may follow. Because in it, I am on the move, taking the awkward and tossing it back and forth with my prayer partner as if we are having a catch in the back yard. Throw/catch. Throw/catch. Listening to it snap into the pocket of my mitt, and then into His.
Words are easy there. So is silence.
“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each,” writes Paul Goodman in the Nine Kinds of Silence.
“There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and sub-vocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”
What a beautiful display, like the unfurling of cards in your hand. At first, one, and then one by one, slowly displayed and made available to be played.
Silence, not just one thing but many. Mesmerizing. As in the magical world of The Phantom Tollbooth …
“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” ― Norton Juster
Ah, the moment after the door closes when you are all alone in the whole house. Silence is so much more than quiet. It is shush. It is thinking. It is fear. It is failure. It is overpowering. It is overpowered. It is expectation. It is reciprocation. It is listening. It is distracted. Isn’t silence amazing?
Goodman and Juster have inspired me to think about the many kinds of Generosity, for “not giving and giving are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each.”
There is the selfish generosity which withholds because it doesn’t notice need; the generosity of scarcity which hoards and stores, fearing scant days ahead; the glad generosity which gains by opening generosity’s door; the generosity of the perfect gift which smiles in anticipation; the generosity of giving without expecting anything in return; the generosity of listening which, by its attention, strengthens and grows; the shrinking generosity of payment due, extracting joy; the gift declined; and yet, yet, the generosity of spirit, unbidden, uncompelled, offered wholly back to God and to those whom God loves.
Giving and not giving are both human ways of being in the world. Only one remains. It is not the gift God loves, it’s the giver.
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. ~2 Corinthians 9:6-7