The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Category: Prayer (page 1 of 2)

Salvation

People think
they are
not good
enough.

Salvation
is discovering
you don’t have to be.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

The Kingdom of Heaven

It is Saturday morning. There is nothing I have to do – or nothing urgent. I sit at the open window in my pyjamas with the sunshine, the trees now in full leaf, the early morning birdsong, the air touching my face. This is what I want to do. This is how I want life to be always: nothing I have to do. I feel my upper chest relax, right into my shoulder joints, as I allow the truth and trust of this fully to sink in. Though it is my ritual upon waking to sit here, to pray and meditate, I don’t feel the need to do something ‘spiritual’. I want to sit and look out of the window and do nothing (except for the mostly unnoticed actions that occur autonomically: respiration, blood flow, peristalsis: this body is a dynamic system that does not rest – until it does).

I have a completely clear day. Nothing planned. No one about. I am wondering what to do. I decide to sit here until I find out what I want to do.

But then I realise: Sitting here, doing nothing, enjoying the edge of the rapture of being alive, is exactly what I want to do. For a few seconds, now and again, I choose to be aware of breathing and I feel the air on this body. How amazing it is to be alive! What a surprise! How shocking that I am of the Universe!

A stranger here, strange things doth meet, strange glory see,
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange, all, and new to me: But that they mine should be who nothing was,
That strangest is of all; yet brought to pass.
Thomas Traherne, The Salutation

Frequently an impetus arises, a feeling that I ‘ought’ to do something, and there occurs a frisson of anxiety in my chest. My shoulder joints tighten up again. (A seemingly trivial example: Last week on Radio 3, there was a series of lunchtime concerts given by Michael Collins, a clarinetist I like. The acquisitive part of me wants to record these. And then this wanting turns into an imperative with a deadline (they are only available for a month on catchup) that I must fulfil or else they will be lost to me forever.)

Truly being alive, being with You, experiencing “the rapture of being alive”, is a continuous flow, like breathing, repeatedly receiving the unexpected and unwarranted gift of life, and then letting it go. This body is a sacrament of this flow: inhale, exhale; systole, diastole; ingestion, elimination; birth, death – inspire, expire.

Death is not the opposite of life. Holding on is.

He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
William Blake

When did the simple pleasure in being alive get overlaid with the need to possess – to have and to hold, from this day forward … till death us do part? When did amazement turn into amassing?

Repetition” is not holding on to an experience, of God or of consolation or insight. It is revisiting and remembering and realising the eternal truth and reality revealed in that experience. To have felt God’s love once is enough to know that I am loved now.

So, in looking out of the window, which is also looking at You, I am not trying to get or achieve anything, something I can hold onto. I am being alive, being with You. This is my deepest desire.

Human being is a gift that is only on loan for a while. Growing up and ageing comes with the increasing apprehension (in both senses: understanding and anxiety) of the inevitability of death. With this apprehension comes a desire to hold on to life. This holding on – and the reverse of the same coin, a refusal to embrace – is precisely the condition of the denial of life. You really cannot have your cake and eat it.

Otto Rank described this life stance with a wonderful phrase: “Refusing the loan of life in order to avoid the debt of death.”
Irvin Yalom, Love’s Executioner

“Unless you become like children,” that is to say, unless you rediscover the simple pleasure in being alive that allows everything to arrive and depart, “you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” which is right here, now and always, within and among us. You do not need to search for it because it is what you already are; you do not need to possess it because it is what you always will be.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Sigh no more

Then sigh not so, but let them go,
   And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
   Into hey nonny, nonny.
Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

People will often say that they can’t pray. When asked they will say that they are unable to make their minds still or empty of thoughts. Somehow they have acquired the fantasy that to be able to pray they have to be able to stop the hubbub of thoughts that happen. At this point I am reminded of what was said to me on a course in mindfulness: “When your mind wanders, this is not a problem.”

The reality is that everybody’s head is full of noise. It never stops. There are many things that go on in the mind. Try to be gentle with it. It is just trying to preserve and prolong your life and the life of those you care about. That is what it evolved to do. It is the nature of the mind always to be thinking. Prayer does not stand or fall on having a quiet mind.

There are many kinds of noise. Two of my favourites are planning and reminiscing – thoughts about the future and the past. The trouble with the brain is that, by evolutionary design, it is defensive. Planning easily turns into anxious thinking about how to make the future safe, either about a situation that is coming up that is worrying me, or a much longer-term concern about old age finance, health, and mortality. Reminiscing easily becomes rumination upon my failings and mistakes – “sighs for folly done and said.”

Ignatius would call these defensive strategies the work of the enemy of our humanity, inasmuch as they bring about “spiritual desolation”. Our hope and trust in God’s grace and mercy is undermined by anxiety and sad rumination allied with flawed thinking (what Ignatius called “fallacious reasoning”). Or, to put it in more modern language, because the brain likes the negative we can easily lose our momently delight in being alive.

There is a kind of work to be done to counter this preference for the defensive. I say ‘kind of’ work because prayer is mainly down to God’s grace, which is always present and active and abundant. Grace, it is said, abounds. God is only to be experienced in the present, and so our work is only to try to remain present and open to grace.

This ‘work’ is helped by two practices I have written about elsewhere:

There is another kind of noise which might be called censoring or filtering, and could be likened to a copy editor. A critical eye monitors our thinking and makes a judgment. “Stop thinking!” Don’t think that!” “That’s not allowed!” “Get a grip!” “Thank God no one else knows what I’m thinking!” And so on. Etcetera, etcetera. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights might recognise our right to freedom of thought and expression, but we don’t always extend that right to ourselves.

This too though, in its own way, is still the mind’s attempt to keep you safe, making sure you remain acceptable and don’t stray too far from social norms. For the human creature, belonging to the group is a significant survival strategy. In the not-far-distant past (on an evolutionary scale) it was a dangerous business to be excluded from the group. Here again we see how defensive thinking, by undermining our hope and trust in God who always includes, can lead to spiritual desolation.

I hope I am conveying that this is all utterly normal. No one who prays, however experienced, is without brain noise. You are not a remedial pray-er when your head is full of noise. Thinking is merely what happens. So rather than berating yourself for your lack of attention, be kind to yourself in your humanity. The human is a fragile construct.

In the end, three things matter in response to the noise in our heads:

  • Be kind and tender towards yourself and the thinking, planning, reminiscing, censoring, protective mind. It is not your fault when your mind wanders. This is simply what minds do. Reality is not as we would wish it to be. There is no blame attached to this.
  • Show and tell your thoughts to God, to Jesus, to Buddha, to whomever you pray. Realise that they present no lasting bar to loving relationship with the Divine. One way to do this is to turn what might feel like random thoughts into a conversation with God. If you find yourself making a shopping list or a to-do list, then talk with God about what is on the list. If you are anxious about a meeting you are soon to have, share your anxieties with Her. If you feel the shiver of shame at what you said to someone, let Her look at the situation with you. When you judge yourself, show this to God and let Her be the judge. These thoughts might not be what you hoped to happen in prayer, but to show and tell will cement the relationship you have with God.
  • Then sigh not so, but let them go. Your thoughts are not that important. They are not you. Hey nonny nonny. Be you blithe and bonny.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Appledore

A couple of years ago I wrote this blessing. It garnered significantly more interest than anything else I have written here. Strictly speaking I didn’t write it. It was given to me early one Monday morning, not long after Easter, and I wrote it down.

The week before I had been away for a week’s holiday with my partner in Appledore, Devon. She had booked on a ceramics course with Sandy Brown and I had the days to myself. I had fully expected that I would spend the time exploring the North Devon landscape and coast. Instead I found myself staying indoors. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to see people. I didn’t want to do anything very much. I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. I prayed. I stared out the window. I felt guilty for what I thought was wasting the opportunity of this holiday. North Devon is beautiful and I thought I should be making the most of my time (and our money). I felt guilty that I didn’t want to go and chat to the people on the ceramics course, find out what they were up to, and be personable and encouraging.

Over the days I felt God pull at a loose thread in my tangle of thoughts, and offer me a different point of view. I came to see that my feeling was the consequence of a not-fully-conscious idea that I am not good enough, and that I have to ‘make an effort’, to improve myself, to make something of my life – an idea I acquired at home and in school. I saw that I had made a project of this holiday rather than a pleasure, research rather than recreation, achievement rather than amusement.

In the quiet of my solitude, I found my self writing to myself what I ‘heard’ God saying in contrast to this impetus:

“There is nothing that You want me to do. You just want me to enjoy being alive.”

“If I do nothing with my life except follow my nose and enjoy being alive, then that would be all right. You might even be happy with a life lived like this.”

“My life does not have to have a meaning … or … it is all right if its meaning is that You enjoy life through my enjoyment of life.”

“Maybe the criteria of a good day is not how much I have achieved but how full my heart is of gratitude.”

“I do not know the meaning of life. I shall never know. All I can know is what I am curious about, or what I love.”

When I boiled this down to essential consolation of the week, it was this:

There is nothing You need or want me to do for You. There is nothing to prove, no one to appease, and one to impress.

The essence of my desolation is the belief that I am not yet good enough, and that I must work hard to achieve an acceptable state of grace.

But… There’s more… It is not enough to assert that I am good enough after all. At heart it is understanding that the notion of being good enough or not is an entirely human construct in which God has no part. God is outside the realm of comparison and criticism and evaluation.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.
Rumi

You are the Creator and Ground of the Universe. You created me, and everything, out of love (‘out of’: both in the sense of ‘because of’; and in the sense of ‘using the raw material of’ – “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” Dante Alighieri). You have no need for me to make it (the Universe) better, or to make myself (this little scrap of the Universe) better. I am supposed to enjoy life. This formulation is utterly in accord with that first time You touched me and revealed Yourself to me.

And, this is my greatest gift to You: that I enjoy being alive, and in me, as me, You enjoy being alive; because, although I am not You, yet You are what I am.

In the end, being ‘in’ this body is not fundamentally about journey or growth or development or learning or self-improvement – though these might all be fun and make life interesting. It is certainly not about making the grade. It is being alive – being alive to yourself – being alive as yourself – being alive as a self – God being alive as yourself. It is a gradual and progressive letting go into the rapture of being alive.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

So little

People are frequently frightened

to give themselves into relationship

with You.

What will You require?

But it seems to me

You ask so little.

It is the intimacy

of this littleness

that so

unsettles

me.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

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