For the past month, I've been practicing regular centering prayer with several brothers in our congregation, and re-reading Cynthia Bourgeault's marvelous book on the discipline, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. While I bridle at her propensity to methodize just about any spiritual practice she addresses, reading her work always leaves me with some deeper insight into my own soul life.
As far as I can experience, deep prayer is not something I do, beyond having a will and intention for it, but something that happens to me, beyond any will and intention of mine. If you ask me to explain that, I can't, but I can offer you a little parable.
About the same time we brothers began to gather one morning every week to get centered in prayer, I went to Pardee Hospital to have my plumbing inspected. My doctor found a couple of relatively innocuous cysts on one of my kidneys, that fortunately don't require further treatment, but the experience, though painless, was exceedingly interesting apart from the self-knowledge gained through it.
Clearly I recall being wheeled into the operating room, and sliding off the gurney onto the operating table, and chatting with Jason, the anesthetist about hiking in the Shining Rock Wilderness before I was looking out a window over the rooftops of Hendersonville and Karen, my nurse was telling me, "You're in recovery. How are you feeling?" and I answered, "Hungry."
Somewhere between the beginning and the end of that sentence, Glover Little and his team got their probes and equipment inside me deep enough to see that my problem really wasn't the problem I feared it might be. I didn't have anything to do with that process other than willingly putting myself in their way. Only when it was over and done, did I begin to understand the significance of all that went on during those thirty-five minutes in my inner darkness.
So when I read C. S. Lewis saying that our prayers are not ours at all, that prayer is God talking to God through us, I have a little inkling of what he's trying to tell us. We begin with a will and intention, and when we finally give up and let go all will and intention, all thought and dream and aspiration, we get prayed through. Later, we might wonder how it happened, how we survived it.
Our first snow of the season commenced at dawnserly light yesterday morning and continued through the night. So, whatever the calendar, our brains are re-set to winter now. The world suddenly doesn't seem quite so crowded. The days are quieter, more spacious. The wind doesn't need to talk so loudly for us to hear her, and we walk more slowly now. We have time to understand what she is telling us.
For the past several years, I haven't bought paper books if I could find the title in e-book format. I'm an old man, trying to reduce my clutter. But I made an exception in this case. You can buyThe Art of Loading Brush in Kindle, if you prefer, but in deference to St. Wendell's admonition to "avoid addiction to screens," I bought this one properly hard-bound. A warning, though- it won't help your addiction to pages at all.
But this book will expose you to some deep wisdom, fine writing, including some good stories. It also confirmed my belief, which has been nourished and informed over the years by Wendell Berry's words, that our estrangement from our natural places parallels our culture's deep estrangement from God.