Oh my, here I go, supposedly trying to get away from deeply personal writing, yet now, wholly unprovoked, writing down my two most personal Christian contemplative practices. Much as with my recent cri de coeur about international democratic socialism (www.dailykos.com/...), this supply of thoughts is certainly not responding to any perceived demand. Still worse, discussing one’s private religious journey at a political website is potentially diverting valuable eyeball time from important business, and perhaps even offending potential allies. Only if this is inoffensive and for some reason interesting to you, please read on.
Thirty years ago, under the mentoring of a dear, loving, and quietly but to me unquestionably lefty Episcopal priest (m.dailykos.com/...), giving myself permission to be authentic politically and religiously may have saved my life and certainly has made it a lot richer. I have written much more about the political dimensions of my journey than the religious. I purposely identify politically as an international democratic socialist rather than a Christian socialist because we have a multi-cultural world, and only together can we save it. We must find a way to rise above our religious (and national) differences. Similarly, I say and believe that my religion as it relates to the outside world must be 100% socialized. I must try to act toward the outside world as I believe an international democratic socialist should act. One can have a religious belief or practice that causes one to retreat from the world and even push inhumane beliefs on other human beings. This I will not purposefully tolerate in myself.
I constantly fail as a human being, but I do not want my religion to be the reason. If you read my political writing over the years, it is easy to see that my political journey is not pretty and is a highly imperfect work in progress. But I hope that I fail as a human being not because of my religious beliefs but because I am unable to get beyond my human weaknesses and problems, including egocentricity, selfishness, fear, etc.—which while I might call “sin,” to the recipient of my action or inaction, or ally or adversary, may or may not be perceived that way. Way too often I am just a jerk, but at least I hope this is not because I’m being arrogant religiously.
Contemplative Practice No. 1
Religiously, my priest mentor introduced me to “centering prayer” as taught by Thomas Keating. The basic practice is explained here: www.contemplativeoutreach.org/…. Father Bernie formed a small group that together met each week and discussed an early edition of Keating’s now classic book (books.google.es/…)
I have adapted the practice over the years to my own life and needs. Even though I usually no longer do two 20-30 minute sessions a day and usually no longer do it sitting up, etc., as his book suggested, I still practice a form of centering prayer a few times a week. Typically, because I often wake up really early, far too early to rise and yet unable to go back to sleep, I try to practice centering prayer in bed. It feels like I am turning what could otherwise be a stressful experience of not getting enough sleep into an organic part of my contemplative journey. Essentially I tell myself that if I fall back to sleep, that’s fine, and if I don’t, that’s fine too, because I’m practicing centering prayer either way. And I also feel timelessly connected to Jesus as I understand him (socialist, in my view, by the way, but I’m not here today to preach), to Father Bernie and those dear friends from ages ago, and to unknown others also on journeys of their own.
Contemplative Practice No. 2
Several years ago, I began to realize that I needed to add another contemplative practice that would be more consciously connected to my waking hours, including when I am at work, with meditation the last thing on my mind. I vaguely remembered Keating writing about how with some forms of “Lectio Divina” (en.m.wikipedia.org/...), a word or phrase from scripture chosen for the day would be silently thought throughout the day in synchrony with the breath.
But some problems arose for me. For one thing, I don’t read the Bible much these days outside of the Psalms in Spanish (my second language). More fundamentally, I’m not at all “fundamentalist” and do not believe the Bible is inerrant. I believe it was written by human beings, and has moreover, some really bad parts I want nothing to do with.
For another, I’m just not able to merge my breath for a whole day with anything, including a supposedly spiritual word or phrase. That to me doesn’t work. It seems boring if not zombie-like.
I eventually decided to write my own personal contemplative prayer, which happened to be mostly in Spanish, with a few Aramaic and Hebrew phrases I like thrown in. Over the course of months it turned out to be seven four-line parts. And over time, I came to associate one day of the week with one part.
I wrote these words out of authentic cynicism as much as any faith. But as time goes by, faith is growing on the fertile ground of my authenticity. I hope if you’re interested in this practice you’ll consider coming up with your own seven-day cycle of prayer.
I know these aren’t magic words. But I honestly believe they are making me, slowly, a better person. I try to say the part for that day at least three times in that day, but over time, the words are becoming part of me and a phrase or entire four-line part sometimes pops up when I really need it—like a flower on a weed I may not see without help from an atheist friend.
Mi Oración Contemplativa
Valle de la muerte
Abba de polvo
El pan y el vino
Cordero de Dios
Luz del mundo
El leproso y la lesión
Alpha y Omega
La pobreza de espíritu
Los niños preciosos
Aliento de vida
Más allá del conocimiento
El amor de sacrificio
Hijo de María