Power of Meditation

Part of my everyday spirituality is a daily reading from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling. I’ve been around the calendar with it a couple of times now. Recently I was looking through some of her comments about meditation and came across this one:

When you sit quietly with Me, I shine the Light of My Presence directly into your heart.

This is one of the better descriptions of the power of meditation I have seen because it makes a useful attempt to describe what actually happens in meditation. The line resonates especially well with me because it is so close to what my first spiritual director explained to me many years ago. I had told her about my meditation practice and some of the changes that had come about in my life apparently as a result of it. She nodded and said, “By sitting in silence, you opened a door for God to speak directly to your heart.”

The practice of meditation, and this explanation of its impact, have been profoundly important in my life.

           

How to Welcome Change

I guess it wouldn’t be Life if we did not always see change. In fact, change is so unavoidable that it makes me wonder why we always dread change. It makes more sense to dread the opposite of change, which is surely death. From that perspective, perhaps we should spread our arms and welcome all the change we can find.

Several changes stand before me, on the verge of unfolding. These range from the totally mundane to the exceptional. On the mundane side, I find I will have to do the research this year to find a new health care plan because providers I use will be dropped from my coverage in 2016. Aaaargh! No one consulted me about this change. In that way, it is typical of most change that comes my way.

On the exceptional side, I am in a weekly walk with a favorite gentleman who appears to be nearing the end of his life. He has reached the stage when he experiences spikes of good days and drops to bad days, but succeeding spikes don’t ascend as high, and the descents to bad days reach greater and greater depth. What’s painful is that everyone involved, most assuredly the gentleman himself, must learn how to do this as we go.

Nathaniel Branden wrote: “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” I am fully located on the second step with my mundane issue, but somewhere in the middle of the staircase with the serious change, which will bring impact to many people, not just me, in many ways.

My greatest gratitude is that I don’t face any changes, not even the small ones and certainly not the large ones, alone. God has promised to walk with us, never to leave us, and His strength and guidance are available to us at every step, as close to us as our very breath.

           

Peace Defined

I never particularly thought I needed a definition of peace. The word has always seemed to signify a self-explanatory end point—a goal to which much of my life has been aimed.

So I was surprised a few days ago to find in Jeremiah, in the Amplified Bible, a verse (33:6) in which there appears to be a definition of peace.

In this verse, Jeremiah is prophesying the future in a restored Jerusalem: “I will lay upon it health and healing, and I will cure them and will reveal to them the abundance of peace (prosperity, security, stability) and truth.”

Since I came across this verse, this definition has been running around the back of my mind. I have been trying it on for size. Had you asked me last week what my definition for peace is, I’m sure I would have come up with something other than “prosperity, security, stability.” Yet, if I have all of those elements squared away, how could I not be in peace?

Once again, the Amplified has shown the way!

           

First Things First

One of the best things you can do to keep your life on an even keel is to keep first things first. Of course, we learn this (again) every time we take a webinar or read a book related to effective living. But there is no substitute for actually putting the concept into practice.

You might think there can be only one “first thing” in a day, but I have three. If you think about it, you may find that you have more than one also.

The initial “first” is the first thing in my head when I wake up. Over many years of spiritual practice, my mind has been trained to start the day with a thanksgiving prayer. This particular “first thing” sets the tone for the day, and I am grateful to start each day with this attitude.

The second “first thing” occurs when I sit down at my desk to work. My spiritual practice is to open the workday with a short devotional time. Sometimes it is a few Bible verses; sometimes the workday begins with the day’s reading from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. This is a resource I highly recommend.

The third “first thing” is the first work task for the day. Like everyone else, my work tasks might number anywhere from five to ten in a day, but there is always one that is the most important to my long-range future. That is the one I start with, even when others on the list appear more urgent. And I never put email or Facebook ahead of that one most important task. An excellent book that can help anyone stay focused on this approach to work is Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog! The book is structured into 21 chapters on how to stay focused on completing important projects and get more done in less time.

Everyday Spirituality means living close to God every day, living close to whatever you most value, and putting first things first.

 

           

God Speaks to Each of Us

“God Speaks to Each of Us” is a poem by the European mystical poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke.

Though the entire poem is worthy of time spent with it, there are two lines I dwell upon most.

The first is: “Don’t let yourself lose me.” Remember that these are meant to be God’s words spoken to each newly made person. It is the responsibility of each of us to see that we don’t lose God, that we don’t lose sight of Him or turn away from Him, no matter what comes to us in life. This is the principal reason for pursuing spiritual practices as an everyday matter. We all need to be reminded daily, even hourly, of Whose we are and why we are here.

The second line that especially draws me is the final one: “Give me your hand.” Yes, it is our own responsibility to keep God centermost in our lives, but we don’t have to work at that without God’s help. The guidance of God is always available to us. But it is our choice whether or not to reach out for it.

           

Getting Pushed Around by Your Thoughts?

In his 2003 book Stillness Speaks, Eckhart Tolle offers the startling advice: “Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.”

His point is that we get trapped in our concepts of what is going on, when really those concepts form only one of many perspectives of reality. Further, your thinking constitutes only a small portion of your overall consciousness, so it’s best not to assign too much weight to your thoughts.

Other authors too numerous to list urge us to take control of our thoughts because “we are what we think about.” This theme suggests that we must take our thoughts very seriously because they determine who we will be.

These are really not two diametrically opposed positions, though at first they appear to be. Instead, they work together quite well if we can approach them deliberately.

The first step is to compose in your thoughts the kind of person you want to be, then use your thoughts to intentionally cement that persona into your subconscious. Thoughts can also be used successfully to sort out decisions and plan actions. But left to itself, when those thinking activities are completed, the mind goes off in all sorts of tangents, forming judgments, criticizing what we ourselves or other people are doing, remembering and reliving nasty experiences best forgotten, etc. Clearly, these “left-to-itself” thoughts of the mind are the ones we must not take seriously, but, in fact, should replace as quickly as possible with the deliberate thoughts composing the persons we want to become.

           

Value of Loneliness

This morning I caught a few minutes of Jesse Duplantis, a television minister whose message is usually good and whose delivery is always lively. Though I did not hear his entire message, I was struck by this comment:

“Lonely times and wilderness times in your life—you’re going to have them—help you get clearer on your calling and your goals.”

Lonely times and wilderness times both refer to those times that come to all of us when we feel isolated, alone, and lost. We sometimes remain in those places so long that we begin to drift. It doesn’t take long before we conclude that there is very little worth working for; we give up on pushing toward our goals because they aren’t materializing anyway; we are left going in circles and getting nowhere, much like the Israelites who took forty years to make an eleven-day journey.

Duplantis is saying that those times are, instead, perfect opportunities for stopping to reflect on where we are going in life. The dissatisfaction inherent in those lonely, lost times provides the optimal environment for us to ask the important questions, such as: Where am I supposed to be headed? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Is this emptiness what God intended for me, or am I missing something really important here? What could my life be about if I only allow it to go in the direction I believe God has in mind for me, based on the talents I was given?

Asking these questions prayerfully and letting God provide the answers to us will not only reconnect us with our talents, goals, and calling, but also help us find our way out of the wilderness.

           

Lesser-known Heroes

I continue my subscription to Christian Century because there is always something special in every issue—something that makes me pause and think or maybe causes me to be a little more grateful. A lot of my blog posts had their roots in something I read in the magazine.

“Faith Matters” is a column that I always take a look at, and in the January 7, 2015, issue the column was entitled “Lesser-known Heroes.” It was written by M. Craig Barnes, President of Princeton Theological Seminary. His lofty title notwithstanding, Barnes was writing to recognize local pastors who not only do not usually have lofty titles, but are seldom celebrated. He reminds us that “there are many unpretentious, undistinguished pastors in the world who are quietly doing heroic things.”

And what is the main heroic thing these pastors do? Barnes tells us: these pastors go before their congregations, people often beaten up by the effort life can be, to remind them, “We have a Creator for our lives who is not done. We have a Redeemer for all of the tragedy we have created by acting as if we were gods. We have a Spirit who will not abandon us to the mess we’ve made of ourselves and the world.”

To be thus reminded has to be one of the highest reasons to attend local church services.

           

New Year—Reason to Reflect

We’ve just brought the New Year in, but this year I did not take part in any of the usual festivities. For example, we usually dance with the dogs at midnight, write in journals, watch fireworks, and otherwise take special note of the passing of one year into another. Not this year.

This year we were, instead, caught in the life-and-death reality of my partner’s illnesses.The crisis came on suddenly around five in the morning on December 31, continued all through the day, all through the night, and all through New Year’s Day to approximately eight in the evening, when she was finally again stabilized. In the night, I had been setting the alarm for every two and a half hours to get up to see how she was doing. (I should add that she adamantly refused to go to an ER.)

So where was the “everyday spirituality” practice here? It was in my continuous praying, of course. It was in my constant belief that the divine Spirit is always with us, seeing us through whatever trial we face. The health crisis was not my idea of how to welcome in a new year, but maybe it was ideal for causing us to stop and reflect on what it means to come into a new year.

           

Why Do You Pray?

The December issue of Christianity Today included a graphic entitled “Prayers of the People” that included 10 responses Protestants had given concerning their prayer life. The response with the highest percentage was “prayer for my own sin” – prayed for regularly by 51% of the respondents. Of course, you might have guessed that one, along with the 44% who pray for people in natural disasters.

But I found some surprises in the graphic. According to CT, 46% of people who pray actually pray for their enemies. Seems high but hopeful. Then, 20% pray to win the lottery, and that’s one number I would have thought might be higher, along with 11% for a favorite team to win a game, 9% to find a good parking spot, 7% to not get caught speeding, and 5% for someone’s relationship to end. Really?

I contrast this graphic with the introduction to a wonderful book entitled The Little Book of Prayers. The first sentence of the introduction asks this question: “How soon after humans stood upright and turned to the sky did they begin to pray?” Editor David Schiller poses the more commonly considered reasons to pray: to give thanks, to ask for answers, to receive, to give, for ask for help. Typical names for types of prayer include praise, petition, thanksgiving, and atonement.

Schiller offers another “universal quality” to prayer. I hadn’t thought that it was universal, but I hope it is. That is humility. He writes: “And in an age that could be characterized by its astonishing lack of humility, prayer offers a rare chance to put our inflated selves aside, and in the suddenly unburdened state that follows rediscover the things that really matter.”

Humility before God, regardless of the content of your prayer, seems like the surest way to build that crucial relationship.