Meditation, prayer tailored to fit you

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To probe meditation and prayer consider

  • tailoring it to your individual self and style,
  • explore awe in worship,
  • practical suggestions for meditation.

Tailor worship to you
You have your individual ways to relate to people and to events. Meditation and prayer are most effective when tailored to you so your prayer really is yours. Most of what I have on this page needs to be tailored to you and to those with you, so perhaps the first step is as you read on to ponder your response and feeling, and how can it be helpful and life giving for you and yours. There is a wide variety of ways for meditation, silence, prayer. These are personal and individual, and we may experiment with a variety of ways to learn the depth and facets of meditation.

There are many ways to pray. Some ways may be deeply meaning filled, while others for you may be less meaningful. Some may seem cold and others warmly human. Keep experimenting and learning so your prayer and meditation is tailored to your own senses and feelings and temperament—to you!

Think about yourself and how you relate to friends or to those who are most supportive for you. How much do you speak and how much listen? How much is physical touch. How much is looking at each other — into each other's eyes, and how much looking out together? Perhaps together looking at works of art or the beauty of nature or listening to music or birds? Your experiences suggest how to pray and meditate. Perhaps sounds or aromatic candles or sticks may help. Consider whether you feel more prayerful sitting or standing or kneeling. In your own individuality, what seems the best way to tailor prayer or meditation to you?

What is awe?
Meditation includes deference and respect that may seem strange in our egalitarian society. Have you experienced inherent, automatic respect for some people? Consider the feeling of Navy Yeoman Forest Sterling right after meeting Commander Dudley Morton:

"A rapport was established between us. … I found myself willingly drawn into his sphere of commanded loyalty. … The usual formality of officer-enlisted man relationship diminished rapidly, but it was no longer needed. I knew that from then on Morton's slightest wish would be my command." (in Wake of the Wahoo)

Worship is that deep feeling of respect and loyalty, willing and eager to follow and to obey. But there is more:

Albert Einstein said, "the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. The person to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder, or stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead."

I think each of us who has given ourselves to another in love experiences this awesomeness, this "overplus." Meditation and worship seek that feeling of respectful awe. Surrounding and supporting you, comforting and challenging is what this One wants to do in meditation.

How to meditate
Compare our praying to a child learning to talk, expanding vocabulary, seeking response from parent, enjoying the feelings with bursts of ecstasy. The child chatters, and the child is silent to watch and listen to parent or other children. The child is learning language and interaction and sharing. So with our meditating and praying we do all of these with two adult additions. We can maturely reflect on our experience based on our life memories, and second, our minds chatter that distracts us and prevents our simpler (“become like children”) meditating and praying.

Most meditating includes our speaking. For some it is extemporaneous and spontaneous — pouring out our feelings and wants and thoughts. For some the prayers of others give words to our feelings. These prayers may be rituals of churches, or prayers found in books. One of the most common and moving is:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can, and
wisdom to know the one from the other.

Reinhold Niebuhr originally wrote:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things that should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

A variety of words express feelings and concerns that may help "tune us" in; the Lord's Prayer is one. It is in Matt. 6.9–13 or Luke 11.2–4. Here is a translation:

    Beloved, our Father and Mother, in whom is heaven,
    hallowed be your name.
    hollowed be your sovereign way,
    done be your will and rule,
    throughout the whole creation.
    With the bread we need for today, feed us.
    In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
    From trials too great to endure, spare us.
    For your reign is the glory of the power that is love,
    now and forever. Amen.

Here are some more:

  • the Shema Israel — Deut 6.4–9, Mark 12.29–31,
  • many phrases from the Psalms (as you read them, mark or copy what resonates with you),
  • others in the Bible: Numbers 6.24–26, Romans 15.13, Philippians 2.5–13, 4.7, Hebrews 13.20–21,
  • there are many writings of mystics of Christian, Jewish, and Sufi traditions of men and women, and
  • the Muslim exclamation — "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful."

These and other commonly repeated phrases can usher us into prayer. One person usually began his prayers, "Thou, whom we know in Christ, who" then summarizing an incident or saying of Jesus related to individual prayer concerns.

The collect is an ancient form of prayer many find useful. Collects begin by

  • naming God,
  • who has done or said what is relevant to your prayer,
  • your request,
  • closing with what we want to happen as a result.

Here is an example.

A rich source for our spoken prayer are hymns. If you want to deepen your prayer and meditation, buying a hymn book may be the best start. In hymns are a vast variety of feelings and images. There you find people expressing their own experiences of God.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise…
‘tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘tis life and health and peace. (Charles Wesley)

O God our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come…
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure. (Isaac Watts)

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty. (Frederick Faber)

The Lord's Prayer is one model for spoken prayer. The New Testament has two versions; in Matthew 6.9-13 in the inclusive translation:

'Abba God in heaven,
hallowed be your name!
May your reign come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven:
give us today the bread of Tomorrow.
And forgive us our debts,
as we hereby forgive those who are indebted to us.
Don't put us to the test,
but free us from evil.'

and in Luke 11.2-4 in the inclusive translation:

'Abba God,
hallowed be your Name!
May your reign come.
Give us today
Tomorrow's bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we too forgive everyone who sins against us;
and don't let us be subjected to the test.'

As we use words to pray and to meditate, reflect in Hamlet after King Claudius prayed deeply he realized, “My words rise up, but my thoughts remain below.”

Listening
Conversing with our best friends is speaking and listening and silence. Prayer likewise is all of these, and silence may be the deepest and more meaning filled. In silence many thoughts may cross our minds, and we may spend useful time pondering those. We may review events of the recent past or what we need to do or dreams or wishes that flit across our silence. Silence may bring to mind words of hymns or other literature. In silence we may think of personal heroes and ponder how they might influence us. In silence you may have only silence that is deep and becomes filled with meaning.

Brother Lawrence wrote a small book called Practicing the Presence of God in which he tells of his having conversations with God while at work in the common stuff of life. Conversing with God for some people is their best expression of meditating both in silence and in speaking.

Listening and silence may be helped by looking at a flickering candle, or breathing deeply of aromas, or looking at art, or listening to the intricate counterpoint of music. Many works of art can be the useful object of individual meditating and listening.

Your attention span may be a problem. Silence may seem extremely long and painful. If so, find other ways to be quiet and to listen — as while you walk. With practice periods of silence may grow in length and meaning.

Some people find a mantra helpful. A mantra is a phrase or a sound that centers and focuses your thinking and feelings and attention. Consider finding a mantra in the words of some favorite hymn or passage of Scripture or words of a friend or whatever can focus your feelings and thoughts.

Eastern meditation and yoga are means of experiencing deep meaning in silence. Transcendental meditation is a particular discipline of breathing deeply, focusing your eyes and attention, being silent, breathing ever more deeply and slowly. One result is improved blood pressure, another is deep relaxation, while it also gives meaning and depth to silence.

If your thinking is more western and active, perhaps you will find meditating and practicing the presence of the One happens most while running or walking, biking or boating.

Contemplating
Singing, praying, listening, silence are interwoven in the worship of the Taizé Community, and their model is used in many churches around the world. Explore their many facets of meditating. Many find deep aid in the book Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating.

Looking
Some of us are visual people, and find most meaning in what we see with our eyes. Some have been deeply moved by looking intently at Michelangelo’s painting of creation in which God’s active hand reaches out to the limp hand of Adam — a person or us. The painting of the praying hands has given flight to the feelings and meditation of some. If you are a visual person, find the works of art or objects or plants that in gazing into them give flight to your meditating.

Touching
If you are a touching person, then perhaps sculpture will motivate your meditative feelings, as you stroke a favorite piece. Caress a baby or child. Stroke a dog or cat. Massage the back of a friend. Work your fingers into soil and plants.

Bible reading
The Bible is a deep source of meaning and feelings as we read it with imagination and trying to identify with the experiences we read. An ancient way of finding deeper significance in our reading of Scripture, called Lectio Divina, uses four steps.

  1. Read and listen to the words of Scripture, re-reading quietly.
  2. Reflect on what you read; this is mind work: thinking and exploring with your mind.
  3. Probe your feelings. Explore how the words touch your heart. How does your reading resonate with your experiences and feelings?
  4. Contemplate; with silence probe for what is too deep for words. Listen.

If you want to try this discipline, read the Gospel of Mark, gliding over parts that seem less meaningful, but using these four steps when you read of interactions between Jesus and others. Those others may be his followers or ones who ask questions or who ask for healing or plot against him. Identify with the words, then thoughts, then feelings of as many of these people as you can, using the four steps above.

The Psalms in the center of the Bible are expressions of people who often share deep feelings; they feel the presence of God — or the absence of God. Glide over less meaning-filled Psalms to seek and find meaning-filled Psalms. Mark them, write notes in the margin, and use the four steps to probe into and identify with the feelings of the psalmist. Keep a journal, so you may recall what gave you the most meaning.

We are sacramental
We express love for significant others in physical ways — touching, stroking, hugging, kissing, sex communion, and more. Love exists most fully as it is expressed in physical ways. Some experience God best in the sacrament of bread and wine. God exists most fully in Jesus, so in remembering what he did and said we glimpse God — that is sacramental. Paul wrote, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a koinonia in the haimatos (life blood) of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a koinonia in the somatos (self and people body) of Christ?" Koinonia is a multi-faceted word meaning participate, share, commune. The acts and rituals of bread and wine can give flight to our feelings and thoughts, our words and silence.

Prayer for others
Sometimes we pray for persons, perhaps family members in danger or in conflict. But such praying could be what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called "lobbying for special favor in the courts of the Almighty." If my offspring were indeed helped, and I believed it was God's answer to my prayer, what about others who were not? Is it the purpose of religion to provide special protection to its adherents?

Praying for others for me is like parents who share together their concern for their children, I think the Almighty One wants us to honestly share our feelings and concerns for other people — ones we know and others.

Conclusion
When we pray or meditate we take the huge risk of relating to the One whom no eye has seen nor ear heard nor entered into the imagination of any one, whose presence we seek and whose support we crave. This one has supported countless persons in every age and in an infinite number of ways.

A man martyred by Hitler found his meaning in these words:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;…
the Spirit and the gifts are ours, through him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever. (Martin Luther)

Copyright © 2003, 2010 John F. Yeaman