Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Something New

For as long as I can remember I have prayed.  Growing up as a Southern Baptist in the Bible Belt my prayers tended to be either asking God for something or trying to make a deal.  This selfish, shallow and ultimately meaningless type of prayer has been a hard habit to break, despite my having left the Baptist church decades ago.  But being the restless spirit that I am, I’ve kept on trying and searching.

A few years ago I began hearing bits and pieces, here and there, about something called contemplative prayer.  Little did I know that there was an entire movement just waiting for me to discover.  I stumbled upon a gem of a book, Zen for Christians, by Kim Boykin, and voil√°, I was onto something. But how to find out more?

A casual conversation with a summer parishioner a couple of years ago led me to the Shalem Institute in Washington, DC. Please check out their website and you’ll understand why I became so excited that I could hardly contain myself.  I knew that I had found something to help me along this new path. 

What is contemplation?  Classical spiritual authors use the term to mean a sheer experience of loving presence.  A simple definition could be “loving presence to what is.”  For Christians it is finding God in all things and all things in God. For so many years this was the religion I wanted and instinctively felt in my heart; I just didn’t know how to verbalize it.  And to find out that many, many others feel the same way- my spirit is now free and bounding thru space at this discovery.

In February I began a 16-month course thru Shalem called Transforming Community:  Leading Contemplative Groups and Retreats.  The work consists of an extensive reading list, a dedicated daily prayer time, work with a spiritual director, writing, two residencies and the leadership of my own contemplative prayer group. It is time-consuming, daunting and expensive…and I am thrilled to be doing it.

Will I someday make this my life’s work?  Will I give up being a church musician, a piano teacher?  I don’t think so.  I don’t know where this is leading, but right now I’m doing it for me.

Somehow I will banish those Southern Baptist remnants!

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