Archives for posts with tag: prayer

3 chairs“Prayer is not just spending time with God. It is partly that – but if it ends there, it is fruitless. No, prayer is dynamic. Authentic prayer changes us – unmasks us, strips us, indicates where growth is needed. Authentic prayer never leads us to complacency, but needles us, makes us uneasy at times. It leads us to true self-knowledge, to true humility.” ~ St. Theresa of Avila

Wow. St. Teresa’s words are powerful, maybe even a little frightening. Prayer can do that? Be that? You mean it’s not just folding our hands, bowing our heads, and reciting familiar words? There is something that happens in us, because of prayer?

As many of you already know, I have an app on my phone that I talk about often. Called ‘Insight Timer’, it is an app I use every day. I was drawn to it many years ago because it provides a way to set a timer to begin and end my prayer time. I can choose the bell sound I want from a variety of different tones, and I can pre-set times and sounds I want to choose from.

Last Spring, another company bought the app, and late this Fall, they unveiled a number of new features. Now, when I open the app each morning to prepare for my prayer time, the first page that comes up shows a map of the world, with dots that indicate where people are praying at that moment. And below, it lists first names of people who are meditating or praying right then. They are from: Nackenheim, Germany; Paekakariki, NZ; Belmont, MA; Los Angeles, CA; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Thailand; Buffalo, NY; Thunder Bay, ONT; Melbourne, Australia; Lexington, KY; Brownsville, TX; Dublin, Ireland . . . As soon as I see this map and these names and places, I am comforted and enlivened by knowing that I am praying and meditating with a worldwide community.

Because there is also a social network feature, sometimes I receive a quiet bell sound on my phone with a message “Thank you for meditating with me today.” When the bell rings to end my prayer time, a page opens with a cascade of small images filling the page. And at the top it says, ‘You just meditated with 4015 people’ . . . or ‘5140 people’ . . . or . . .

If I am going to engage in this powerful, maybe even a little frightening, practice that needles me, and makes me uneasy at times, and that also leads to true self-knowledge and true humility, I need this community of people with whom I pray and meditate each morning. I am reassured by their presence, by their participation, by their willingness to connect.

As well, I need to reflect on my experience of prayer, and of God, with a patient companion, who listens deeply, questions openly, and challenges thoughtfully. He is my spiritual director, and my spiritual life depends as much on his companionship as it does on using my Insight Timer.

I’m wondering – what supports do you have for your prayer life? For your spiritual life? I can recommend the Insight Timer app for your devices. And I also invite you to consider seeking the companionship and support of a spiritual director, who can listen openly, honestly, and spaciously for Divine presence in and through your life.

I have spaces available to receive new people for spiritual direction. Also, you can find a spiritual director near you by following this link: http://www.sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director/seek-and-find-guide. Remember, “authentic prayer changes us, unmasks us . . . needles us, makes us uneasy at times. It leads to true self-knowledge, to true humility.” Let me know if you’d like to explore this together. (leave comments at http://www.susienallen.com)

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Convergence

IMG_1718Over the last few weeks, I have been reading in two books. To continue my study and prayer on the theme of pilgrimage, I have been reading The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, by Phil Cousineau. And for my book group, I have been reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gawande.

It seems no accident that I’m reading these books in the midst of the move from our home of 17 years, to a small apartment. In preparation for the move, we have gone through everything in the house to determine if we want to bring it, or let it go (limited space is a big incentive here). We’ve gone through photographs, boxes of stuff from my parents, children’s toys and books (our kids are all grown now), college memorabilia, music, clothing, appliances, furniture, food cupboards. We’ve tried hard to stay focused on the task at hand, though there were many moments that I had to stop and ponder the memories that an item brought to mind.

As I read in Cousineau’s book each morning, I become aware of the sacred potential in this move. While our travels, as we packed and prepared, were no further – physically – than the next cupboard or the next closet or the next room, the memories that arose allowed me to recollect the ways in which I have struggled, celebrated, opened, defended, raged, and grown through the years. I have been reminded of the people and places and events which, and who, have been touchstones and milestones; pointing the way, leading the way, distracting the way.

I’m also aware that, at age 62, I’m looking into the last third of my life. This is a sobering thing to write and to look at. Gawande’s book, a powerful and challenging look at the strengths and limitations of modern medicine, offers a hopeful and life-giving set of questions to ponder as one faces illness and death. While I am counting on many years of good health and fruitful living, I have begun to think about my life’s pilgrimage with these questions in mind. What is most important to me? How does that influence my decisions – on what I do, where I live, and who I want to be with?

If I overlay the idea of life as sacred pilgrimage with the more present awareness of my mortality, what opportunities appear before me? Where do I want to go? What are the touchstones and milestones I am looking for? Who are my guides and companions? What is my guiding question?

I don’t see feel sad or morose or fearful about this. I feel enlivened and excited and eager to engage my life with a deeper gratitude, and a growing clarity. And to all who I know and love, I am thrilled that you are with me along the way.

~with thanks to Sarah Smyth Hauser for the photo