Walking Our Faith: Better than Meditation (column)
If you walk into St. Mary’s Church on any given Thursday between 5 and 6 p.m. you might be confused. In the dim light of early evening, you will find four to twenty people sitting in silence, at a polite distance from one another, heads bowed in prayer or gazing at the altar.
You might think they were waiting for something to happen. The start of a church service, perhaps?
No, not at this time. Instead, each person will sit for the entire hour in silence. And yes, you will see a core group of the same people every week.
I’ve become one of them. Apart from Mass, this is the hour I most look forward to each week.
In our weekly church bulletin, it’s listed simply as “Adoration.” It’s also known as Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, an hour of contemplative prayer as we sit in the presence of God with the exposition of the consecrated sacrament displayed in a starburst monstrance on the altar.
I began attending sporadically at first. Then as I realized how much I received during this hour, I have tried to make it an integral part of my week.
Here’s the thing. I have devotional time with God every morning at home. I read the Bible, then a devotional and I pray. But there is something palpably different during Adoration.
I hesitate to describe it because I’ll sound ‘woo-woo.’ But there is no other way than to say that when I sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and still my mind, I experience a feeling of the presence of God that is altogether different than when I simply pray at home. Pope John Paul called it the ‘wellspring of grace.’
When I started, I thought Adoration and contemplative prayer served a similar purpose to meditation, a quieting of one’s mind. However, after reading a slim volume by Henri J.M. Nouwen, with the unfortunate title Clowning in Rome, I came to a different understanding.
In meditation, the goal is to attain an emptying of the self. During the hour of Adoration we quiet the mind, empty our self, but the goal becomes opening our heart and mind to God. We empty ourselves so we can become filled with the Holy Spirit.
What a difference! Rather than sitting in isolation, we are joined by God and understand that he is as interested in our concerns as we are.
Weekly Adoration has changed the way I approach God in prayer. It has taught me the value of spending an extended time in prayerful conversation with God.
As with meditation, contemplative prayer requires an initial period of bringing oneself into a state of mind where we can be receptive to the presence of God.
For instance, I find that the first twenty minutes, my mind will chatter away, reflecting my need to make sure that I am heard.
Eventually, around the thirty-minute mark, my mind clears, and I can finally turn my attention toward God. At this point, I sometimes repeat the name of God, or Jesus, or Holy Spirit, as a means to focus my attention and intention on God’s presence.
When I finally let go, I am able to simply enjoy worshipping God. This, I believe, is the point of real communion in prayer.
From this foundation, I believe this hour of contemplative prayer can grow into what Henri Nouwen describes as “unceasing prayer.” We can turn the unceasing thoughts that fill our mind during the day into an ongoing dialogue with God by opening our heart and mind to his continual presence always with us, by offering our thoughts to him.
As our thoughts move from a “self-centered monologue to a God-centered dialogue” we go from “fearful isolation into a fearless conversation with God.”
This connection has helped me enormously. I encourage you try it: set aside one hour a week for contemplative prayer and dialogue with God.
If you cannot make it to a Catholic church to participate in weekly Adoration, I believe there are two keys to bringing this practice into your own home.
Setting aside at least one hour where you can sit in silence, undisturbed, is optimal. I say this because as I mentioned above, it takes about 30 minutes to quiet your mind and become receptive to God.
Second, to bring your mind into God’s presence, I believe it would be helpful to read a passage or two from the Bible before you begin. I find the Psalms are particularly helpful.
As Henri Nouwen writes, “…solitude is the place where God reveals himself as God with us, as the God who is our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, as the God who is the source, the center and the purpose of our existence, as the God who wants to give himself to us with an unconditional unlimited and unrestrained love…
In solitude, we meet God. In solitude, we leave behind our many activities, concerns, plans, and projects, and enter into the presence of our loving God…And there we see that he alone is God, that he alone is love.”
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