Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Not Accomplishing Anything

It’s easy, at least for me, to get caught up in the need to be doing something useful, to be accomplishing something. All day long I strive to be productive and to check things off my task list. Even on weekends, I like to feel that I’ve gotten something done -- cleaned the house, taken a long walk, read something worthwhile. Even most Christian religious practices aim at some culminating point of accomplishment, the Eucharist for example.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been practicing once a week with the Nashville Zen Center. Their practice of silent meditation is very similar to centering prayer. The main difference for me is the sheer amount of silence in their weekly gatherings, longer than any centering prayer groups I’ve been a part of.  We do almost a full hour of silent meditation, with a short period of walking meditation in the middle.

Though more is not necessarily better, there is something about these longer sessions that has challenged me in a new way. Specifically, they have challenged me to learn to be okay with not accomplishing anything. Throughout my time there, my mind returns to the myriad other “useful” things I could be doing. At the end of sitting for so long, I don’t feel that I’ve accomplished anything. How could you even evaluate whether a silent  prayer period has been successful? I haven’t earned any spiritual points. I haven’t become any discernibly closer to God. (How could I become closer to God who is always with us and in us, anyway?) I don’t even feel less stressed or more mindful.

But, I’m beginning to realize that’s okay. To want a certain thing from prayer -- a certain feeling of closeness to God, etc. -- is to make an idol of our own ideas about what prayer should be. In the end, God is in control, and we must learn to let it be. There’s certainly a time for accomplishing things, but I hope that I can learn to let go of the attachment to the need to always be achieving, accomplishing, moving forward. I hope that I can learn in both prayer and ordinary life to work with peaceful purpose, rather than frenetic drive. I hope that I can learn to be okay with not accomplishing anything.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Play, Prayer and Presence

Rickey and I just returned from a 13 day road trip. We traveled over 2,700 miles, and I am happy to report we traveled safely and overall we had good visiting with friends and family along the way.

We loved the changing geography. Leaving familiar flat Florida behind us, we embraced the hills and mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Or maybe I should say I felt embraced by the hills and mountains. I found myself smiling and drinking in peace as I enjoyed the site of slow moving cows loping across uneven fields in Greeneville, Tennesse. But the full experience of watching the light change on the trees and water in North Carolina, listening to the Toe River talk and sing as it danced downstream, stirred me deeply. 

We visited two days with my brother Fred, who lives in Celo, North Carolina on the side of a mountain.  Both days he took us down a steep hill to his "sweet spot" by the Toe River. We sat on huge rocks and talked the first day. The second day we took turns riding with Fred as he paddled us round in a kayak. I read aloud some great poems by Marie Howe (current New York Poet Laureate). Rickey read to himself. I played with stones by the river's edge, and I centered when I was left alone.  I think perhaps this photo of one of my stone sculptures captures some of the spirit of play, prayer, and presence that was God’s gift to me that day. What a gift!