Bear's Rule of Life

One of the things that Abbot Pennington recommends as a consequence of our desire to be with God in centering prayer is that we elaborate our own personal rule of life. It is important that this rule should be simple enough for us to sustain, but it should also reflect what it is that we really want out of life, what it is that we really want to do with our life. It should be a structure supporting our life, not something rigid against which we measure our success or failure in observing it. Practicing centering prayer is one way to help us articulate such a rule. Indeed, practicing centering prayer--or so I have found in the past couple of weeks--may itself give rise to the desire to formulate such a rule, as much as to reassure oneself that there will be time for God every day as out of any sense of the value of having such a discipline.

So, what is it that I really want out of life? Clearly, I'm a seeker; I want to know God. If this is the case then it should go without saying that I should spend some time every day paying attention to God. And yet, I've been frustrated for some time now about learning to pray. Loath as I am to admit it, everything that I've tried up till now has felt, yes, mechanical, not really like prayer, despite the fact that I know all the good reasons for observing such prayer: reading the Psalms, saying the rosary, even saying the Lord's Prayer every night. Nothing--until centering prayer--has worked. I say "worked," but then the whole point of centering prayer is that there is nothing to "work." It is work only in the sense that one comes to it regularly, not in the sense that during the prayer one is exerting any particular effort or expecting any particular result. Predictably enough, however, once one lets go of the idea that prayer should do something, it comes. I won't say that I've been experiencing consolations these past couple of weeks, but I'm definitely experiencing something consoling. For one, I no longer feel so crushingly depressed as I had for the better part of two months. So, rule one: practice centering prayer twice daily for twenty minutes a time, morning and afternoon.

Interestingly, having accepted that centering prayer is something around which I want to center my life, everything else falls quite easily into place. It helps me in the morning to do thirty or so minutes of yoga to help ready my body for sitting in prayer, so that goes in the rule. And as it is easier and more comfortable to do centering prayer when one has not just eaten, ideally I should eat as I have been practicing for the past several months, although here again doing nothing (i.e not dieting) is also paradoxically the best rule. I'm finding the more I center, the more I feel drawn to reading more spiritual works, so I'm thinking maybe I should include some time for lectio divina in my day as well, but I'm still working on this. I have some problems with reading Scripture that I need to work out first, most particularly my sense of whether I can actually read it as revelation. I'm hoping that doing centering prayer more, perhaps reading some more of Abbot Pennington's work will help me here, but for the moment I think this is enough: pray, eat well, and do yoga.

There is a temptation to elaborate further. Shouldn't I include fencing practice and blogging in my schedule? And what about time for working on my book or, once term starts again, teaching and preparing for class? Here is where centering helps: certainly, these things are important in my life, but if being in faith-filled love to God is what really matters, then having the time and energy to pursue other, external ambitions is merely a bonus, not really the stuff of life at all. And yet, the more time one spends with God--or so Abbot Pennington assures us and it seems my own experience these past couple of weeks suggests--the more time one seems to have for other things in life as well. Or perhaps more accurately: the better one is able to discern what it is that really matters and therefore what one should spend time on when one is not in prayer. As Abbot Pennington says (pp. 161-62): "Time given to contemplative prayer is time well invested, even on a natural level. Whenever anyone asks me how I manage to get so much done, I always answer: 'By giving several hours a day to contemplative prayer.'"

The real test will come, I know, once I get back to a full writing and teaching schedule, but I'm starting to think that maybe there was a reason for hitting the wall that I did this past month in my writing. It was the Spirit's way of pulling me up short, showing me how trying to muscle my way through the next chapter of my book (particularly given its topic!) simply wasn't going to work. If I had been spending my days living my previous schedule, I would not have found the time for centering prayer; even worse, I would not have felt the need for centering prayer so urgently. Mind you, I'm still wary. This feeling of calm (or so I tell myself) can't last. But maybe, just maybe it can, if I keep to my rule.

Morning, on waking: yoga 30 minutes; centering prayer 20 minutes.
Afternoon, at 4pm (at ChiGong signal from my Blackberry): centering prayer 20 minutes.
Diet: eat when hungry what tastes good; stop when satisfied.

It's enough to live by.


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