I begin my days with a cup of tea with God. I get up and make my tea, then I light a candle and go sit on a meditation cushion and talk to God while I drink my tea.
I start by remembering the various people or situations I am praying for – then I review the list of my own concerns and worries and try my best to place them in God’s hands so I don’t carry them around with me all day.
By that time my tea is finished, I try to spend at least 10 minutes in contemplative prayer – stilling my mind. I know there are people who can do this quite well, but I find it difficult to really quiet my mind. I have been doing this practice of contemplative prayer for more than 15 years, yet my mind still wanders . . . a lot.
Today I found myself thinking about what music and photo files I should store on an external drive in order to make more room on my computer hard drive. I used to feel like a failure at prayer when that happened, but now I gently release whatever thoughts come up and turn my mind back to stillness. I may have to do that 100 times, but I remain faithful to the practice.
There are a couple of things that help me focus my mind. The first is repeating a phrase over and over again. Sometimes I repeat “Christ before me, Christ within me, Christ all around.” Other times I will imagine a very still lake in the early morning. Holding on to that image helps to quiet the ripples of my own thoughts. It is a time for me to rest in God’s presence before I begin the flurry of the morning rush; making breakfasts and lunches for teenage twins, getting them off to school, going over the daily schedule with my husband and getting ready for my own work day.
An Episcopal priest, the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, wrote . . . “In every single one of us though unbeknownst to most of us, is the level that Thomas Keating describes as our ‘spiritual awareness.’ ”
“Awareness” might be too mental a word to describe it, however; the sensation is much more visceral. You might picture it as a kind of interior compass whose magnetic north is always fixed on God. It’s there; it’s as much a part of what holds you in life as your breathing or your heartbeat. And its purpose, just like a compass, is for orientation.
In “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,” by Cynthia Bourgeealt, she writes ”The problem is that most of us are not in touch with our spiritual awareness . . . it comes upon us only rarely, sometimes in a moment of overpowering emotion, such as suddenly being moved to tears by watching a sunset or receiving Holy Communion. That nostalgia for the divine sweeps over us and we are left trembling before the presence of a mystery almost more vivid and beautiful than we can bear. But ordinary life does not encourage such moments, and the impression fades, to be revisited only in our dreams, the usual repository of our spiritual awareness.”
Practicing centering prayer helps me to orient my inner spiritual compass toward God throughout the rest of the day. If your New Year’s resolution for 2013 was to renew a relationship with God, you might want to begin by simply asking God to join you for a cup of tea (or coffee).
The Rev. Debra Warwick-Sabino is rector of Grace Episcopal Church. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.