Tag Archives: centering prayer

Gate Closed

Yesterday a gate closed for me.  Others may close in the coming months and years.  All are a part of the growing older.

Grand Valley

Last summer I backpacked in the Olympic National Park and my first day included a two thousand foot descent into Grand Valley.  It was late in the afternoon and my right knee began to ache as I dropped altitude rapidly.   I took some ibuprofen that night and hiked on.

When I returned home and started running again I notice that my right knee became sore after most runs.  It usually subsided in a few hours, but not always.  Occasionally the pain and discomfort woke me up at night.  In late September after a full day bike ride, I noticed the discomfort as I drove home.  I stopped running and biking.  The pain continued.   I started a series of trips to my family physician, an MRI, and finally Dr.Andrea Saterbak , a respected orthopedic surgeon who is the team physician for the US Ski team.

I went in knowing from the MRI that I had a torn meniscus but that it was “complex” tear.   Many meniscus tears can be “repaired” with arthroscopic surgery.  Friends had told me of their surgery and how they were back running within weeks.  I hoped my story would be the same with a successful arthroscopic surgery soon behind me.

After examining my knee and while looking at the MRI Dr. Andrea Saterbak said emphatically, “This cannot be repaired by surgery.”  Then she wrote at the top of on my treatment plan, “Early Osteoarthritis in Right Knee.”

She asked, “What exercise do you use to stay fit?”

“Running.   I like to run marathons.”

“I don’t think marathons are in your future,” She responded.

A gate closed for me as she said this.  She went on to explain that the pounding of running will aggravate the knee further, resulting in more arthritis.  My heart sank a bit as she carefully explained that my tear was more like a “frayed” meniscus and that orthopedic surgery would only aggravate the joint and cause further  pain.  She didn’t rule out running entirely, but she emphasized I will need to be gradual in my approach and see how my knee responds.

Other aerobic sports will need to be monitored as well, including biking and hiking. Especially long downhill descents like the one I did last summer into Grand Valley. She said a specialized knee brace may be helpful for such adventures and she gave me a referral for the brace.  The gates to bikes and hikes may be closing as well, but it is too early to know.

She gave me a four point treatment plan.

1.      Lose 10 pounds (mostly by restricting calorie intake)

2.      Cortisone Injection  (she gave me one before I left)

3.      Low impact activity

4.      NSAIDS (Ibuprofen occasionally as needed).

I walked out of her office disappointed but not devastated.  I could look for a second opinion.  Dr. Saterbak said that I could probably find a surgeon who would arthroscopically “trim” the meniscus, but I would be back in the surgeon’s office complaining about pain and inflammation within six months.  Overall, I trusted Dr. Saterbak’s experience, diagnosis and treatment plan.  I may not like what she said, but that does not invalidate it.

My practice of Centering Prayer, a form of Christian meditation, has strengthened over the past three years.   Centering Prayer has a corollary prayer called the Welcome Prayer in which I am instructed to welcome whatever new circumstance may enter my daily life with the prayer,  “Welcome, Christ, in the midst of this new circumstance.”  Whether it is a pleasant experience that I enjoy or drudgery that I wish to avoid, God will be present in my response.    With this diagnoses of osteoarthritis I am practicing the Welcome Prayer as follows  “Lord, I may not like this diagnosis, but You are here in the midst of it and I welcome you and ask you to help me respond with grace and compassion – towards my body, my community and you.”

One thought I have embraced is that this diagnosis is not life-threatening.  I will not die tomorrow or next month.   It is life-changing and that is the part I am seeking to understand and affirm.

Now I could respond with requests for healing, but somehow that seems unwise.  God could miraculously heal my knee, but then I would miss out on what God is teaching me in the midst of this situation.  I believe that God is present as I rethink, refocus and deepen my trust in God.

The diagnosis is still fresh and my emotions and thoughts are processing.  This blog post is part of that process.  I will probably write more in the coming weeks and month.

Thanks for taking time to read this.  Peace be with you.

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Resigning from Resurrection

Monday I resigned as Lead Pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church.  My last Sunday will be October 25, 2015.  You can see my letter of resignation here.

The path to the decision was a long and winding one.  (The twisting path was also a partial reason I have not posted on this blog for six months.)  It was not made suddenly or without prayer and conversation.    Though there have been many contributing factors,  three key events shaped my decision.

Retreat CenterThe first was an eight-day silent centering prayer retreat in June.   Though it was held at a non-descript  wooded camp, the experience was life transforming.  The silence time of prayer and reflection helped solidify my longing for contemplation and deep prayer.   I had a couple of profound experiences that I need to write about in future posts.  I want to go back.

18395_10153362640945266_2272565119671433986_nThe second was the five-day ELCA youth gathering in Detroit in July.   Thirty thousand youth packed into Ford Field, praising, dancing, singing in the joyous, raucous Spirit of Christ.  There were times when I felt like I was 17 years old again, swept up in the celebration.   It was a powerful trip for me, the three adults, and ten youth from Resurrection.

Taken together, the silent prayer retreat and the youth gathering, could be seen as two ends of a spiritual spectrum.  One end  is the quiet, contemplative Spirit of God, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) The other is the joyous noisy  Spirit of God, “You will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” (Jeremiah 31:4)

Both are good and healthy, but they rarely live together in the same tent.

Still Dance SpectrumThe two are significant in that I see my own spirituality moving towards the quiet, contemplative end of the spectrum, while I see the needs of Resurrection’s spirituality is for the joyful dance.  Neither is better than the other, but they were not working together within me, especially since I am called to be the leader.   Thus for months my own spirit has been restless.

The third event was a private conversation with two trusted leaders of the congregation.  They initiated the conversation in a caring environment.  During the conversation they asked me was a simple, yet profound question, “Do you feel like you still fit at Resurrection?”

praatgroepenLike a skillful politician I hemmed and hawed and dodged the question that evening.  But as I drove home from the conversation, I realized in my heart-of-hearts that I no longer fit.   It was a blow to my ego.  I wanted to be in control, yet I was not.  I wrestled with the question all through that night and several afterwards.  Yet I woke up each morning realizing that the answer was the same.  It is time for me to leave Resurrection.

In the next couple of days, I will post on what my plans are for the future.   For now it is sufficient to say that I am both sad to leave a fantastic congregation like Resurrection and at peace with listening to the call of God’s Spirit.

I have been reflecting on these words from Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak.

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.  Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. (page 3)

One Day at a Time

Just past the familiar opening phrases of serenity, courage and wisdom in Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer comes this statement:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time,

The prayer invites us to stay focus on the present , not to be trapped by  past regrets or future anxieties.  To live fully alive today, not drifting off to yesterday or tomorrow.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matt 6:34)

boarding-a-plane-11282012-113858_horiz-largeI have struggled with this.  I remember preparing for a wonderful vacation trip with my family, but even as I boarded the airplane, my mind raced ahead.  In my mind’s eye I could see myself boarding the plane to return, the vacation over and done.  I felt this wave of regret that the vacation would end, and it had barely begun!  I was not living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at time. I had become anxious about tomorrow, not heeding Jesus’ warning.   I was letting my mental thoughts race ahead to the completion, focused on how transient my week of vacation would be.

Yes, there is value in recognizing that all things in life, including vacation trips, are transient and impermanent.   The old proverb, “all good things must come to an end” holds truth.  But I was pushing away the enjoyment of the good with my future focus, unable to savor the gift of one day, one moment.

The practice of centering prayer (a form of mindfulness practice)  has helped me recognize when my thoughts are running away from the present.  The practice has taught me to simply see such wandering thoughts and feelings as “thoughts and feeling” that are not necessarily reality.  In my vacation example, I could not predetermine how I would feel when I returned.  Today if I were to encounter a similar thought/feeling as I boarded, I might respond, “Oh that is an interesting thought.  I will be curious to see how I feel when I board to come home.  But for now, I am here at the beginning of my vacation.  I will find my seat and enjoy the novel I brought along to read.”

How do you find ways to live one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time?

Lord Jesus, help us to live in this moment with you.

Healing at the Center

Centering Prayer is saving my mind while healing my soul.

IMG_20140812_190249_047-EFFECTS

St. Paul Monastery in Minnesota

I just returned from a five-day silent retreat at the St. Paul Monastery.  I practiced Lectio Devina (a form of prayerful reading and conversation).  I was familiar with the practice – we use a form of it during our staff meetings at Resurrection – yet the monastic practice strengthened my love of God and God’s Word.

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

However the most profound part of the week was the practice of Centering Prayer.  Each morning at 7 am we sat together for an hour simply breathing and praying our holy word.  We repeated it again at 10 and at 3.  Too many it sounds incredibly boring.   For me, it was drinking from the river of the water of life (Revelation 22:1).   It was simply resting or floating in God’s gracious love. Emptying the mind so God’s love could fill it.  Not just thinking about God’s love, but actually resting in it.

Oh, my mind fought the emptiness.  My thoughts and feelings would race from one idea to the next.  The river seemed to be covered with all kinds of flotsam and debris.  “What is happening at church?”  “Why did I say that to her?” “What will we have for lunch.” This would happen hundreds of time during the quiet.   Each time I caught the thought skipping across the surface, I let it go and return to my breath and my word.  To simply BE in God.

Henri Nouwen wrote in Here and Now, 1994

The real enemies of our life are the “oughts” and the “ifs.” They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future. But real life takes place in the here and the now. God is a God of the present. God is always in the moment, be that moment hard or easy, joyful or painful. When Jesus spoke about God, he always spoke about God as being where and when we are. “When you see me, you see God. When you hear me you hear God.” God is not someone who was or will be, but the One who is, and who is for me in the present moment. That’s why Jesus came to wipe away the burden of the past and the worries for the future. He wants us to discover God right where we are, here and now.

Centering prayer is a form of mindfulness practice, living in the current moment.

Fire Creek was ablaze with color.

At times I missed the beauty that surrounded me

I discovered my real need for this last summer when I was backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail.   I had looked forward to the trip for months and was in absolutely beautiful alpine country, yet my mind kept racing back to worries in Minnesota or to past actions that I regretted or wished I could change.   Here I was in the place I wanted to be, and my mind could not stay there!    I knew I needed help.

This past spring I took Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class which is a secular form of Buddhist meditation practices.  It was incredibly helpful.  The Centering Prayer has similarities to meditation, yet centers the practice in the love of God in Christ Jesus.   That has been healing.

Now next week, I head back out to Washington state to do another section of the PCT.  I will continue my practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Devina.  I trust that my mind will be able to stay on the trail with my body this year.

How does prayer touch your life?

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray.

Centering Down in Patience

Tuesday morning I visited a centering prayer group in a congregation near my home. I had discovered it on their church website and wanted to practice with them. Centering prayer is a Christian form of meditation in which the purpose is to silently wait in God’s presence. You can read more about centering prayer at http://www.centeringprayer.com.  After taking a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class I wanted to bring my meditation practice into a more explicit Christian context.

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

Jesus in the Center of Prayer

The seven women who gathered together were an eclectic group. They graciously welcomed me. The small chapel had a cross with candles and comfortable chairs for sitting quietly. The group is self-lead and we started with a brief devotional reading about being open to the love of Christ. They read it as a form of Lectio Devina, preparing one’s heart to listen. Then we sat in silent prayer together for about twenty minutes.  I appreciated a deep joy in sharing this time of centering down.

51KNK7QgraLRobert Roberts on his chapter on Patience in his book The Strengths of a Christian writes about how silent prayer is essential to developing the virtue of patience, the art dwelling gladly in the present moment.

Centering down is a matter of purifying your attention, collecting it into a focal point which is the God whose identity is known through Jesus Christ. As such, centering down is the practice of the presence of God and at the same time, the practice of patience defined as dwelling gladly in the present moment.  In centered prayer the individual is “absorbed,” though not in the sense of dissolved, in glad fellowship with God. (p. 73)

When I practice centering prayer I focus on my breathing, using a short prayer like “Jesus is Lord” or simply “Yah-weh” (the ancient Hebrew name for God – I am who I am – Exodus 3) with each breath. “Jesus” on the in breath; “is Lord” on the exhale. Recently I taught our congregation the simple prayer, “Papa is here,” based on the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus used the familiar word “abba” or “papa” in his address of God the Father. The exact words of prayer are not as important as consistent use of heart, mind and breath.

Like all who practice centering prayer, my mind wanders off on tangents and I need to gently bring it back to my breath and prayer. I don’t berate myself about the wandering but rather simple note it and come back to my prayer. I know that God knows my desire is to center on him and I believe He will bless my attempts. Like a good papa, God is patient with us.  Can we be patient with God?

How have you found ways to Center Down in patience?

Lord Jesus, let me be centered in you.