Tag Archives: The Strengths of a Christian

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.

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Integrity of Patience

As I reread Robert Roberts’ The Strength of a Christian, I notice my own impatience rising to the surface.  I want to glean some quick insight into the practice of patience, so that I can immediately apply it to my life.  I want patience NOW.  Roberts provides instruction on the practice of patience (that I will post tomorrow, be patient), but first Roberts makes a wise observation on the necessity of patience for becoming a whole person.

Patience is also a condition for the integration of the person. Like other strengths, patience gives our lives continuity and autonomy, enabling us to live not by impulse, or at the beck and call of environmental stimulus, but by some design.  The Christian design is of course the love of God and neighbor.  It is one thing to have noble sentiments, such as compassion and concern for one’s neighbor and gratitude to God, but quite another to be in the appropriate sense the author of these, the kind of person who through “interior strength” has etched this design upon life.  Only someone self-present in the way a patient person is can practice Christian life as a spirit does. (p. 56)

The strength of an oak tree

When I was in my twenties, I remember reading a Christian article about how God is more interested in growing mighty oak trees than in zucchini.   Zucchini are rather amazing plants in that they grow from seed to fruit rapidly. Yet they will not survive a hard frost.  Oaks take considerable more time.  Yet it is the oak that survives the winter and summer storms and bears witness to God’s glory, year after year, by being the oak it was created to be.    In the same way, as Christian, we are called to serve God faithfully, becoming fully what God created us to be.   Growth in Godly character is often seasonal, with long stretches where one wonders if God has forgotten you. This is where the integrity of patience comes to bear, trusting God is at work, even in the times of waiting and hoping.  I continue to pray and seek patience as God works on my character of becoming a strong oak (see Psalm 1).

Who has been a model of patience for you?

The Happiness of Patience

Happiness needs Patience

Robert C. Roberts gives me food for thought in his chapter on patience in The Strength of a Christian.  I had never really connected happiness and patience before.

Patience is a condition for happiness.  Some vices are enjoyable, or at least seem so at the moment you practice them.  For example, most people get a delicious pleasure out of invidious gossip.  But other vices are just thoroughly unpleasant.  Envy, for example, is evil through and through.  Someone would have to crazy to go looking for an opportunity to be envious.

Impatience is an unpleasant vice.  It is a state of more or less intense frustration: you want to be somewhere other, or doing something other or accomplishing something other, or in the company of someone other, than you are.  Some people’s impatience is limited to certain moment, but other people are beset with impatience about large segments and pervasive situations of their life: for example the mother of small children who just can’t wait until they grow up enough to go to school and get out of her hair. These are the ones whose impatience has made them unhappy people, rather than just people with unhappy moments.

By contrast, people who can dwell gladly in the present moment despite some desire, or what would normally be a reason to desire, to depart from it–are not frustrated.  Because they exercise patience, this present moment of life is something in which to rejoice and be glad.  The impulses to flee are under control, and they experience peace and self-acceptance.

This week at lunch my host said he had a choice when he got up that morning: whether to choose to have a great day or not.  I think part of that choice is to decide to be patient, to live in this day, hour, moment with these people and circumstances.  God will be in this day; will I be attentive, patient to discover and rejoice in his presence?

How has patience and happiness overlapped for you?

The Stength of Patience

One book that I reread is Robert C. Roberts, The Strength of a Christian.  In chapter three he gives an excellent definition and helpful wisdom on the virtue of patience.  He starts by quoting Paul’s famous chapter on love: Love is patient.  Patience gives strength to love so that we can truly love God, our neighbor and ourselves.

Patience is the ability to dwell gladly in the present moment when we have some desire  . . . to depart from it.  It takes patience to be a good duck hunter or scholar or even a good thief.  Waiting for the ducks to come near the blind may get boring, just as reading some theologians may be.  Patience is not only a Christian virtue but a virtue in the book of anybody who understands human life. 

Our life is full of beckonings from the future: The future says, “Come away from where you are; you are not moving fast enough, not accomplishing enough, not getting what you set out to get.  And is it not a bit boring where you are, and unpleasant and annoying in other ways? Come away, come away.”  And so a craftsman rushes his job, or the scholar lays aside the volume of Moltmann’s theology.  Some people are so deficient in patience that they flit from task to task or from entertainment to entertainment, never doing anything well or enjoying anything deeply.

Patience is a form of self-mastery that enables us to dwell in the present moment, to stay at the present task, to narrow our focus of vision so that our mind is not sundered by every passing impulse to quit the present and fly away.

Patience leads to strength and strength to patience

Roberts goes on to examine how we can achieve such self-mastery in our Christian lives.  I confess that I am struggling with patience as I work my physical therapy exercises.  I hope to run again and perhaps train for a marathon.  But all I can do is repeat over and over and over and over the exercises that my PT has given me.   I also need patience as I pastor in a new congregation, learning God’s story and culture within this great congregation.   So I am rereading and reflecting on Robert’s book.   I will share more in the coming week.

How and when have you learned patience and what role did God play in the learning?