This will conclude this series. Truth be told, I’m tired of talking about myself… there are far better topics.
If you’ve read this cycle from the beginning, you know that I have three points left from my original idea. Those were, “the increased awareness of other,” “Making peace (peace breaks out),” “forgiveness,” and “the awakening of prayer.” Forgiveness and making peace really seem now to be the same thing.. maybe I had something more grand in mind, I really don’t remember now. I covered awareness of other a lot in the, “finding of voices” post, and I’ll do a bit more of that here. Something has happened, though, which has changed my perspective on all topics: I begun to learn to sit with Jesus.
That may seem like a weird term. If so, I invite you to read Brian Zahnd’s “Water to Wine,” a book which has made such a deep impact in my life, I hope never to climb from the crater it has left. The idea was his, and I can’t chart its path beyond that. The gist of the term is this: sitting with Jesus is sitting still, deeply aware that the Spirit is always near, and that Jesus shows up when we stop drowning out his voice with a thousand others.
I know this sounds like New Age spiritualist bullcrap. Trust me, I’ve been critical of this process myself. Here’s something I now know to be true: it’s the most cleansing experience I have ever had. Sitting with Jesus isn’t prayer. It isn’t even talking, most of the time. (This is a challenge for me.) It is a willful casting off of yourself, your needs, your whining, your joys — yes, even your joys — to sit with Jesus for no reason other than his presence.
It flies in the face of my culture. I know many of us see prayer as asking for some stuff that you really don’t think you’ll get, followed by getting on with life. I’ve been there. I’ve practiced that. It took forced, unwelcome solitude to bring me to a place where I welcomed it. That’s the history of this story up to now.
Sitting with Jesus isn’t just turning off the TV, setting down the remote and then looking at an empty chair next to me to say, “all right, come on down.” It requires a little discipline, a little patience. (Also challenges for me.) Zahnd has a regimen he uses that’s pretty rigid. Mine is a little loosey-goosey at times, but it keeps some consistent traits: praying liturgy, praying scripture, and listening. It feels at first like a massive waste of time. So if you say something to yourself like, “well, I’m a high-energy person. I can’t do that,” I say this would would be a phenomenal opportunity for growth.
Well there’s a topic that’s sure to lose some readers. If you grew up like I did, you probably just said, “ppppppphhh, I pray my own prayers.” I do too. Letting God hear what’s in my head and heart is critical to the relationship. Sometimes, though, I’m just not feeling it. I’m not there, I’m not where I need to be in prayer. Frustration in prayer, just not knowing what to say, happens to anybody that’s serious about it. That’s where liturgy comes in.
It’s not the only place it comes in. I don’t just turn to Julian of Norwich or Francis of Assisi when I don’t have anything good of my own to say. I also regularly include the prayers of past church fathers and mothers because it’s an important connection. I know we’re living in a time where we think we have the best ideas in history, but that’s just a goofy line of thought. Abandon that, and realize that someone smart was born before you were.
Praying liturgy connects us to God, and also to the rich heritage which God has been weaving through all of time. It gives us a framework for understanding our own faith. It is something that I have worked hard through my life to convince myself is only for dusty old people and the unimaginative, and I’m thankful that I was saved at the last minute from that line of thought.
The Psalms are also great. Whatever it is, if you’re just getting started, definitely pick something you can make your own, something that can be prayed as your own words. Psalm 23 or Psalm 145 are good, and of course the Lord’s Prayer. I have about four different versions of the Lord’s prayer, one of which is a re-paraphrasing of my own. Just because you’re praying ideas that someone else originated doesn’t mean they can’t be your own. There’s a communion in that moment that makes me feel deeply connected both to my creator and to those who have come before me.
Prayer for me has become tightly woven together with silence. Do you talk to someone and then give them no time to respond? (Yes… I do…)
After prayer, silence is a gateway to a time of “sitting with Jesus.” It’s like coming into the room with him and setting down at the door all the things you don’t need when you’re approaching him. Those things are many.
Silence isn’t thinking of things to say. It’s not getting your wish list together before you talk. It’s blank. Beautiful, healing blankness. Emptiness that releases you from the self that is chasing things in the world, so you can be ready to hear the things beyond that. For me, this sometimes lasts several minutes. I have a lot going on in my head.
Finding God at last
I don’t want to make this sound like some sure-fire process, it’s really not. It’s not something that happens the first time or even maybe the fiftieth time. It’s not a blinding light that invades the room or knocks me to the floor, it’s a presence that is felt in the smallest of increments. It really is the peace that passes understanding. Experiencing God’s love resting on you without asking for things, without needing to say anything, I think that’s a treasure worth finding.
I’m certainly not saying I’m a master at this. If you want to hear from someone who is, read Thomas Merton or Richard Rohr. Those are the guys who helped bring me into an understanding of what it is to be contemplative.
…and after a while, you’re different.
I said all this stuff changed my perspective: that is absolutely true.
It wasn’t true the first time. Me starting a time in silence was because I was seriously so bewildered I didn’t know what to pray. I had no idea that would actually become a form of worship, of finding God in his reality.
Merton has said that we’re created as our true self, and sin causes layers of falsehood to attach to us (my paraphrase) which change us from God’s ideal. It’s our own Eden: God made us to live in perfect communion with him, and we chose things instead that were easier to find and more tangible to hold. They’re the things I set at the door when I go sit with Jesus.
Some of them I have to pick back up after we sit together. There are some genuinely important things there, like my family. Remember when Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison”? I understand that verse here. It certainly isn’t that I want to escape my family. It is that being with Jesus is about Jesus and me. Being a dad comes after. Being a husband and a son and a cousin and an uncle comes after. I pick that stuff back up after I meet with him.
Some stuff, though, I don’t pick back up. When you sit with Jesus, things come into perspective a little more clearly, a little at a time. When I first started, I would pick everything up again. It was my stuff, and I was clutching it to my chest as if it were critical to life.
After a few times, though, I start leaving a few things behind. Sometimes I don’t even notice it. It wasn’t that some deep conviction happened, it was that those things just didn’t occupy a spot in my mind anymore. There are times where he says, “give it to me.” There are others where having those things seem out of my own character. I hope that those are times that his character has infused my own.
Forgiveness happens, not because seeing things from Jesus’ point of view says, “forgive that person,” but because holding grudges and anger are foreign to his nature. Peace happens because, if you learn more about the nature of Jesus, peace is central. I am not saying that being a doormat is called for, that’s passive and weak. I mean being a peacemaker, the kind of person who Jesus says is blessed. That takes intense strength of will and laser focus. But not on peace itself. On Jesus himself.
But you’re not done.
Not at any time did Jesus say, “hole yourself up in a room, do not allow yourself to be contaminated by the world, so that I can teach you things for the rest of your life.”
I’m struck by the times that Jesus seemed disappointed that his disciples weren’t ready to fly on their own. A good example of this is in Matthew 14, where people had gathered around to hear Jesus speak. Phillip, the bean-counting disciple, said that they should send the people away because they didn’t have enough money to everyone, numbering in the thousands. Jesus’s response was simple: “That isn’t necessary. You feed them.”
The disciples weren’t ready. They had heard him, but they were still living in the internal place. They had sat with Jesus but they hadn’t connected it to the external yet.
Jesus still included them. See what happens after the five loaves and two fish come to him? He breaks them and then gives them back to the disciples. Jesus didn’t hand them out on his own, eager to take credit for his cool magic trick. The gospel is not meant to be consumed, it’s meant to flow between us like water.
So it is today. We should read, we should contemplate. We should pray and sit with Jesus. There’s always the door, though, and that is what takes us out to his own creation, which we still have a divine call to be a part of.
What that looks like, I can’t say for everyone. For me, it always looks like love, and love takes on many forms.
Thanks for hanging with me through this cycle. I hope you find one of your own.