Friday, March 19, 2010
The hole is a tunnel
I attended a retreat/worship last weekend focused on spiritual practices to which I had not given much thought during the week, except that I was going. And then, the weekend became complicated and I had to choose what to cut. The retreat, of course. That seemed extraneous and was not something someone was asking of me.
So I sat down to plan a first-day session (Sunday school) someone had asked me to teach last minute and I was so angry because I was missing the retreat. This is ridiculous, I told myself. You love those kids and should not feel anything but that when planning for their lesson. It’s usually a joyful, prayerful time.
With 45 minutes until opening worship, a shower, brown-bag lunch and 45-minute drive ahead of me, I decided to go. Late, but present. Along the scenic drive, I contemplated what I would say about my spiritual practice. That I had slacked off, couldn’t find daily time in my erratic life, bounced around because so many possibilities interested me. Yes, maybe this retreat would help me sink back in, making me a better person.
That kind of thinking should have been my clue ... that the day would be anything but.
I discovered everyone else, whom I consider faithful, experienced and practiced Quakers (weighty in the denominational lingo), bearing pretty much the same struggle. What a profound relief. This was not a time for punishment, admonitions and recriminations from myself, others or God. It was affirmation that we are human and many of us with a creative bent live erratically, so why should a spiritual discipline be any different? After all, it’s a vehicle to reach God. The means, not the ends.
And, when I divulged I multi-tasked my swimming as prayer, there was great support, even amazement. I really do think of it as being in the living water. We almost exclusively expressed a sense of our lives as prayer, of letting God in most of the time, not just in worship or a set-aside period. That’s key, I believe.
Interestingly, this week, a fellow lap swimmer mentioned a peer says she gets too bored ticking off the laps. I blurted out that I use the time as prayer. She blushed, then confided she did the same, but didn’t mention it very often. When the bored swimmer spoke to me about it, I said I used it as a moving meditation (somehow I wasn’t sure she’d respond to the word prayer as warmly as the other had).
So, as I have been intentionally thinking about that spiritual-practice time, I also realized I have my own prayer box, one I can physically enter, metaphorically strip down and get, as I like to think, “naked-to-naked*” with God. My body feels no pain [which helps clear my mind] and I sit there warm and energized after the swim and in a receptive mood – all in this 6-by-6 wooden sauna tucked into the corner of the locker room of my gym.
No grandiose chapel. Just a simple wood bench in a warm box, barely out of the public fray. Heaven, I sometimes think.
* When my girls were little and we'd sometimes bathe together or when we were undressing for bed, we’d love to touch our naked bodies; naked-to-naked, we called it. I’m sure it started as they were nursing newborns. There’s really nothing like that feeling of security and love all rolled into one. That’s how I like to approach God: with nothing between us.
• What do I do when a spiritual practice doesn’t suit me?
• Where has that practice taken me?
• Do I get too hung up on the practice itself? Or can I focus on the where it aims to transport me?
• How often do I share those experiences?
• If I am finding time at a premium, how might I incorporate some prayer time in my regular activities?
• Is there a place or space where I can make my life a living prayer?
I was born with
an open aperture
in my heart
but hurt, experience
and life taught me to
begin to close it,
leaving it only
ever so slightly
the practice of
with you, dear Spirit
began to slowly open
it just gets wider and wider
... even as I have left
the formality of
I now see the
hole is a tunnel
and, once we both
nothing is the same