Meditation and Social Action

Last Friday, I took a few minutes at the beginning of class to ask my Christian Spirituality students how events like the school shooting in Parkland, FL impacts their lives.  

"What's this like for you guys?" I asked.  "I know what it's like for me as a parent, but you're a whole different generation growing up with this reality.  What does it mean for you?"  

The shootings were (and still are) heavy on my heart.  But I was also worried that the day's class topic - meditation - would seem too other-worldly, too removed in the face of recent events. 

Several students expressed concern about the abundance of violence in our culture and the real possibility of increased desensitization to incidents like these.  Another said he found it frustrating how many polarizing opinions were flying around without anyone really presenting a vision for how we can move forward together.  A third student expressed an awareness of how very complicated the matter is - "How we we decide where to focus our energy?  How do we figure out what part is ours to do?"

As I listened, taking notes as I often do, a strange thing happened.  I realized that meditation - time spent dwelling in the presence of God - offers a means of addressing each of these questions.  

Meditation, it became clear, is the bedrock of social action. 

Time spent in the presence of God increases our sensitivity to the cruelties of this present age.  The more we dwell with God, the more aware we are of the brokenness of our world and of our very own lives.  In prayer, our hearts are made vulnerable and soft, attuned to the violence of our own words and actions.  We begin to long for the kingdom of God to be made real and we're empowered to live differently in the world, to live as true witnesses to the kingdom which is both already and not-yet. 

Time spent in the presence of God nurtures the kind of imagination, freedom, and confidence required to envision a path forward.  Only those who are rooted deeply in divine love will be able to risk building a path free of ego and personal gain.  Only those rooted deeply in divine freedom can speak boldly and confidently in the midst of our entrenched and antagonistic perspectives.

Lastly, meditation, more than any practice I know, teaches us who we are.  In the deep places of our soul, we come to know not only God, but self.  Stripped of ego, we're confronted with both the limits and gifts, the strengths and weaknesses, of our true self.  Positioned in truth and grace, we become uniquely situated to discern our own path - to discover the place of alignment between  our deep gladness and the world's deep need (Buechner).  Meditation offers, in the midst of the many voices shouting for us to run here or go there, a calm, quiet voice that says, "This is what I have made you for, this is who you are."

The phrase, 'thoughts and prayers" has lost its meaning in our culture not only because it is often an excuse for inaction, but because too often it isn't accompanied by the kind of prayer that actually makes a difference and positions us to do the same.  Prayer gives rise to action and change, both internal and external.  Action that produces fruit - long and lasting change - both arises out of and leads us back into prayer.  

If you want to know how to respond to the current crises we face as a culture, ask someone who prays.  Odds are, they will be able to identify a good, solid starting point.  If you want to be a person who brings lasting change in the world, begin with prayer that places you before God - simple, quiet, prayer that forms you, moment by moment into the image of God. 

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If you are new to meditation or, like many of my students, fear meditation may not be for you, I urge you to check out Ed Cyzewski's book, "Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace With God Through Contemplative Prayer."  Written from an evangelical perspective, Cyzewski addresses common concerns and offers practical insights to developing a practice of prayer rooted in the presence of God. 


The Voice of Love

Prayer . . . is listening to the voice that calls us "My Beloved." - Henri Nouwen

My husband wakes, alone, in the early morning dark.  While the rest of us sleep, he lets the dog out, rekindles a fire in the wood stove, and turns on the coffee pot.  By the time I stumble down, he's often sitting, cross-legged, in the arm chair closest to the stove, with his eyes closed.  With a timer set on his phone, he endeavors to start the day in silent prayer.

But, he is no monk in a cell alone.

I wander through, on the way to the bathroom, then back again with a full cup of coffee in hand.  Then, my daughter’s alarm clock goes off and she staggers blindly into the living room as well.  The dog, of course, leaves her seat and clatters around, needing a greeting from every new entrant into the room.  

His morning prayer is rarely silent, often interrupted, even though his eyes remain closed.

The other morning, before the lights were on, my husband sat in his quietening chair and I sat near the base of the stairs, scrolling on my phone.  Then, out of the darkness, six-year-old Levi yelled from the top of the stairs, “Dad? Dad?”

Wanting to preserve my husband's silence, I answered for him, “What Levi?”

“Where’s Dad?  Is he still home?  Is he going to work today?” Levi belted his questions, like a winter storm flinging hail. 

“Yes,” I said, stealing a glance at my husband, whose eyes were now open. “It’s early.  Daddy’s still home, but he’s going to work in a little while.  What do you need?”

“I want to say goodbye to him,” he called.

I looked again at my husband, seated by the stove, and he nodded his head. 

“What Levi?” he called.

“Goodbye Dad, I love you!  I’ll see you tonight!” Levi said, “Thanks for helping with my Valentines.”

“Goodbye, Levi.  I love you too.  I’ll see you tonight, sweetie,” my husband replied.

Then, from the shadows, came Levi’s twin brother's voice, “Goodbye Dad, I love you!  I’ll see you tonight!”

“Goodbye, Isaiah.  I love you too.  I’ll see you tonight, sweetie.” my husband replied.

All semblance of prayer was lost as they scampered back to their beds.  As my husband turned off his timer and prepared to leave for work, it occurred to me that, despite numerous interruptions, his time of silence was also exactly how prayer should be.  Not the absence of sound, but a listening quietly in the dark for the presence, the voice of love.  How very lucky we are when that voice descends not once, but twice, clothed in the voice of a six-year-old child.

May you find the voice of Love descending on you today in unexpected ways.  

The Wandering Hen

She stood still, and silent as stone, under the garage’s small overhang.  I had to look twice to even tell it was a hen.  Her gray coloring and curved outline made her look more like a bowling pin.  The yard and driveway were coated in a layer of February’s mixed snow and ice.  The eaves protected her from a steady rain as she stared out across the driveway.

“Is that Brownie?” I asked my husband, while peering out the kitchen window.

“Yeah,” he said, “earlier, she was perfectly centered between the two trash cans.”

“She’s so strange,” I said in a tone of awe and admiration.

Since we fenced in our flock of chickens a few months back, Brownie has been one of the only birds to persistently escape.  She’s one of our oldest hens, one of the handful of chicks we bought in 2015.  A gray, speckled, Araucana (easter-egger), she lived in our small, a-frame coop for two and a half years before being forced to integrate with our much larger garage flock.  She’s also the only hen we have who sports a real and genuine beard of feathers. 

I don’t know how much a chicken thinks, but her persistent solitude and wandering captivate my imagination.  I like to think of her as something like a Desert Mother or a John the Baptist type, led by an unrelenting urge to be alone, exposed, in the wilds of our two-acre yard.

Outside of the flock, she has no protection, no direct access to food or water.  She scrounges for seeds under the wild bird feeder and drinks from the driveway puddles.  When the garage is open, she wanders it too, but I wonder if she doesn’t sometimes sleep in the old a-frame coop where she was raised.  The other day, I found her sitting, happily feasting in the open corn bin in the garage.  Clearly, she has developed a certain level of ‘street smarts.’

My oldest son and I have put her back in the pen time and time again.  Solomon corners and herds her in through the wide fence gate.  I have done the same, but the other day I lured her close with a pretzel, then bent and grabbed her by the tail feathers.  She squawked and lunged immediately, and a few seconds of battle ensued while I struggled to get my hands around her wings.  Once her wings were tucked, she calmed, and I carried her under my arm and deposited her unceremoniously in the coop.  I was surprised by the fierceness of her fight.  She was out again the next day.

I don’t know what that hen has to tell me, to teach me, but I continue to watch her with admiration as she persists in holding steady, defining her own way of being in this large and lovely world.