Time to Say Yes

Four R's of Centering Prayer
Resist no thought
Retain no thought
React emotionally to no thought
Return ever so gently to sacred word

It has been a long month in the Bronx. After being accepted into the Contemplative Formation Program, I was excited and ready to begin! Four long weeks later, I'm still excited and ready to begin, but I was starting to feel that this day would never come.

This coming weekend will be the first of the five contemplative weekends I will be spending over the next nine months.  I have been preparing, but until recently have been uncertain about exactly what I should be doing or what was to come. This past Saturday was an orientation meeting involving three of the facilitators and ten of my fellow pilgrims on this journey.

As they came into the room, it became clear that we shared some characteristics: all white, all in our 40s or older. There were four men and nine women. As we talked about our personal spiritual practices, I realized that most of the people's practices were from a little to a lot "out there" compared to my traditional morning prayer, evening prayer, centering prayer. I began to think, "What am I doing here? Have I made a mistake?"

Fortunately, I had immediate and complete faith in the facilitators (one of whom had been my primary contact as I got through the application process), so I didn't make a bolt for the door. As the day passed, I realized that while we are traveling together, we are all on our own separate, individual journeys. Our obligation to the other pilgrims is to pray for each other and to encourage each other. I had a little practice doing that on Saturday, and I can certainly continue to do that. I also remember my recent session with my spiritual director, Jeanine.

I had wondered why Jeanine had scheduled my second monthly conference before the  program began. What new did we have to talk about? I assumed that a call after the first weekend would be more productive, but as the conversation progressed, I realized that Jeanine was preparing me with the goal of my getting the most out of the coming weekend that I could. We talked about how I should not be skeptical, but ready to say "yes" to any opportunity to grow. I should feel free to give myself as fully as I can to the experience.

Which reminded me of an incident long ago in college, when a friend tried to guide me through self-hypnosis, with the object of providing me with better concentration and less stress in my academic life. As she was guiding me through the process, my eyes were closed, my hand was half-raised, and then she suggested to me that I was unable to put my hand down. I promptly put my hand down. Surprised, she guided me out of whatever stage I was in and asked me what had happened. I said that when she suggested I couldn't move my hand, I thought to myself, "She's wrong, I can move my hand." She responded, "Noooo! You can't say 'no!' That way nothing happens. You have to say 'yes'!"

I wasn't ready to say "yes" back then. Now, however, if I want to get the most out of this program, I must say "yes." I must give myself freely to the experience and not prejudge. I mustn't set goals, for that will throw me off when I don't achieve them. I don't know what's going to happen inside me, it's a mystery. But I think whatever does happen will be progress, perhaps life-changing progress, so I shall do my best to ride the wave and say "yes."

A rabbi came to speak to us at Maryknoll once, and he referenced a sign by the road that he'd seen as he was driving up that morning: "God answers prayers." He said, "God does answer prayers! But the answers may not be what we thought they would be." But whatever God's answer is, we need to accept it and learn from it. We need to follow wherever God leads, because Her (I prefer the feminine--maybe I'm a little "out there" myself) wish for us is good. God loves us, and as long as I remember that,  it doesn't matter where the road takes me.

So as the first weekend looms in the near future, I am excited to begin. How will I feel next Monday? I can't predict, but I imagine I will be farther along the road toward that horizon where God waits for me.

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