the first steps

The-Deepening_spiral-shell_700x425

What good is it for me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to God’s Son in my person and my culture and my times?”

~ Meister Eckhart

As we seek to deepen our engagement with faith in the lead up to Christmas, I thought it might be helpful to let this question, posed by a German Dominican monk who was living in a different culture and very different times, be the backdrop for the whole advent journey.

With the materials offered each week we’ll aim to explore your responses to the question: How might the joy, hope, peace and love of Christ be nurtured within you and brought to birth through you?

The Resources

Super slow reading

Before you read the story below from the gospel according to Luke, please have a read of spiritual reading 1spiritual reading 2spiritual reading 3spiritual reading 4spiritual reading 5spiritual reading 6spiritual reading 7 about letting the reading read you. Even if you have come across the ideas and method of this reading before….read it with a beginner’s mind, then make sure you have a good space of time to sink in as you read Mary’s encounter with Gabriel here.

Let your reflections, observations, questions, responses arise and allow these to unfold in any way that feels natural to you – writing, spoken prayer, walking or other movement, a creative expression through art, music, poetry.

Once you feel that you have followed your own engagement with the story, but not before, read on….

Prompts

Here is what I noticed… Mary has two questions from her encounter with the angel:
“what kind of greeting is this?” and “how can this be?”

What are the questions you find rising in you?

Mary humbly accepts both the greeting and the mysterious explanation and she in turn offers the gift of her welcome as she agrees to give birth to the son of God – an act of deep trust and love.

How do you find yourself responding to the idea of giving birth to Christ in your person? What might that mean? What do you imagine it might look like?

How might you offer welcome to this idea?

Do you notice any resistance or reservations? Any quickening expectation?

Practice

‘Without continuous grounding in Divine Compassion, the life of compassion we long for will never come into being’ from Living Compassion by Andrew Dreitcer

The following three practices are simple and foundational to the formation of the soul’s trusting welcome of the love of God. When practiced faithfully, they help to anchor you at a fixed point in your day – a still place for affirming your desire and intention to live fully alive, to be free and present in each moment and for each person. It is a place you begin from and return to once you notice that you have been distracted, drawn away by fear or confused by counter offers.

Pick the one you feel most drawn to and stick with it for the week, practice it for a set time of 20 minutes each day, taking it seriously but holding it lightly.

The Look of Love

This is a practice of recollection, as in it is a way to recall you to yourself, to draw back scattered energy and attention to focus on one thing, open to one thing and to be grounded in one thing – the compassionate Presence at the heart of all life.

It’s helpful to practice this with an icon, one that you find invites you in, but a mental image can also work as a focus for being present. The intention of the gaze is to look with the eyes of the soul without any need for mental engagements – simply gaze upon the one who holds you in love and receive the loving gaze in return.

The repeated phrase

This is a mantra style prayer from Christianity’s Jewish inheritance:

“Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me,

O Lord, make haste to save me.”

The early Christian monks in the Egyptian desert chose these two short lines from psalm 70 because they felt that every aspect of human experience and feeling was acknowledged and addressed. The prayer affirmed God is present and trusted not to abandon or neglect the pray-er. It affirms the humility of human limitation and the deep desire for intimate relationship with God as well as awe and worship for the God who is compassionate and mighty to save.

The monks used this phrase, which has a nice rhythm to it, as a way of praying continuously while walking, working, preparing food, etc. Of course, they were solitary, so no one would have wondered at their lack of conversation.

The sacred word prompt

This is the practice of centering prayer which you can read more about here.

Although this looks on the surface like a mantra style prayer, the ‘sacred word’ is simply a prompt, a recollecting of wandering energy back to the core intention which is to be available and agreeable to God’s presence and action within.

So to practice centering prayer:

  • choose a sacred word as the prompt to recollect your intention to be available and agreeable to God’s presence and action within. (a short word eg. peace, Jesus, love)
  • sit quietly in an alert but comfortable position, silently introduce the sacred word, recollecting your intention to be available and agreeable to God’s presence and action within.
  • when you notice that you have become engaged with your thoughts, return gently and without judgement to the sacred word, recollecting your intention.
  • repeat.

One for on the go

Those are all well and good for the long term forming of openness to God’s presence within us and with us, but you may also feel like you need a way to recollect yourself in the heat of the moment, as it were.

This body and breath focussed practice may be what you are looking for:

Whenever you notice yourself sliding into reactivity (fearful, angry, critical, defensive, withdrawing, pretending…*insert coping mechanism here) turn your attention to your breathing.

Soften your belly and gently allow your breath to flow deeply into your abdomen and slowly exhale fully. This may be enough to recollect your energies and reground you in compassionate presence, but you might also like to add a silent mantra style prayer. Something like:

  • inhaling…divine compassion
  • exhaling…breathes in me.

Looking forward to hearing how you journey with this.

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