I have been practicing contemplative prayer. I appreciate the invitational framework offered by theologian, Wendy Farley. She has studied many of the faith traditions’ practices of contemplation and meditation. She specializes particularly in those practices and thoughts of medieval Christian women. Every practice has an underlying ethos to it. Some are based on purification, detachment, and deprivation which can be harmful even violent to women shaped by an unjust world. Farley encourages a “spirit of gentleness” in one’s approach. “Think of your thoughts as a child playing around you. You do not scold your child. Nor do you take hold of her and attempt to control the outcome of her play. You notice and let her be.”
I was reminded of this image of a child and a spirit of gentleness that mothers her when I read Psalm 131, known as the “Song of Quiet Trust.”
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
My eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
Too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with its mother;
My soul is like a weaned child that is with me.
O People of God, hope in the Lord
From this time on and forevermore.?
For this prayer, imagine that we are children of flesh and spirit, born to Adam (adamah – earth/body) and to Eve (“life/breath”).
To do this, let us hold our breath in one hand and earth/body in the other. Place your left hand over your chest to feel your breath, go in and out. With your right hand, place it on your belly, to feel rumblings of your body, your gut instincts, your call to survival.
Now, breathe. (You can do this alone, but there is something powerful about just breathing with a small group or 4 or 5). As you breathe you are practicing what the great teachers know to be the first practice of Loss. The Inhale and the Exhale of Breathe. The inviting of life into the great weight of our bodies. And then the next second, the letting go of this fragile yet essential breath as a relinquishing of control and acceptance of death.
Take time to breathe, to feel air fill your body and then to let it go.
As you breathe, you will become aware of tension in your body. Your shoulders held too close to your ears, ease them downward. Your tailbone on the hard surface, the sounds around you. This is your body working out its proper place. The tension you feel is your body trying to live inside its own boundaries of skin and bone, tightening muscles to live inside our own nutshell. Breathe in air and release the tightness. Let the air invite fluidity into your joints and muscles.
Restore yourself to a sense of place—an existence in a space greater than your body, a connection to the your plot of earth, a garden inside the earth, your body as part of a larger living creation.
As your mind wanders, acknowledge your thoughts but don’t follow them. Let them dance and play around you like a child you love but cannot coddle now. Treat your mind gently.
As you breathe, you may hear or feel the inhalation and exhalation of people around you. Join them. Let their breath be your breath. Suspend the feeling of other breath, the feeling of sounds outside yourself, these are markers of lost relationship. These are symptoms of holding onto separation. Hear them as sounds that life thrives around you. Oxygen is present. Water is near.
Sound is God’s clue that the Garden of Eden that sustains you flourishes around you. The human ear is perfectly tuned to the sound of birdsong, because the presence of birds in a new territory is the best sign that human life can thrive in that wilderness.
Let the exchanging of breath and the sounds of life around you remind you of the relationship God invites you to return to.
Breathe in, invite in lightness of being, breathe out, accept all things come to an end.
Breathe in, feel spirit push out the space inside your body. Breathe out, join yourself to the larger place of this Sanctuary.
Breathe in the breath of your neighbors, breath out, mend the relationship between you and others.
As you inhale and exhale, open yourself up to trusting in the body you inhabit, the life you live, the place you share with others, the relationships you build, discover that trust thrives in all these things.
If you are alone, cross your arms, resting your own hands on your shoulders in honor of beloved hands that may not be with you right now.
If you are with others and feel comfortable and your neighbor consents, rest your hand on their shoulder, acknowledging the connection we all have living and caring for the beings of this earth. (If you wish not to be touched and there are many good reasons for this, cross your arms and place them on your own shoulders in honor of beloved hands too far away now or in search of the touch of the Beloved (Wendy Farley’s name for the divine).
Open your eyes, if you feel comfortable and your neighbor consents, rest your hand on their shoulder, if you wish not to be touched, cross your arms, rest your own hands shoulders in honor of beloved hands that may not be with you right now.
Finish by chanting or saying the words most comfortable to you: a mantra, a rosary, the prayer that Jesus taught, an “OM,” an Amen (So be it), or simply let it be.