Do you have some people in your life that you simply like to “be” with … people you enjoy just being close to – no need for conversation or activity – people with whom you experience great joy, just by being in their presence?
I remember a time when I went out with a group of a dozen or so single guys and gals back in my single days and just happened to sit down by a girl with whom I was quite smitten. The waiter had handed out the menus, laying them down on the table in front of each of us. Though my face was turned towards my menu, I was so giddy with joy just sitting next to that particular girl, that none of the information on my menu made it from the page to my brain. After some minutes passed, I looked over at the girl and said with a smile “Have you started reading yours yet?” She looked back at me with a similar smile and said, “No…have you?”
Not too many months later, that girl was wearing the wedding ring I gave her, with a special word engraved on the inside: “Menus”. My bride has now worn that ring now for some 27 years, and I still often feel giddy when I sit beside her.
Both of my children went to college out on the west coast, a 30-hour drive from Memphis. During their four-year stints, we did a lot of driving back and forth together in the fall and spring heading west and returning home. 30 hours in a car is a long time, and not all the time is filled with conversation. A lot of it was spent just “being” together. I loved both the conversation and the quiet.
Milk and Cookies
If one of my kids were to come into the living room with a plate of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk and were to say something like: “Hey dad. I made these for you. Would you mind if I sit with you for a while? You don’t have to say anything, I would just love to sit next to you. Would that be OK?”
Would that be OK??? Are you kidding? I would LOVE that. When my children just want to “be” with me it blesses my socks off.
When we think about spending time with God, many of us have in mind coming to Him with a laundry list of things to thank Him for, things to ask him for, etc. Usually a one-way talk session ended with a hearty “amen.” It’s rare if ever that we simply choose to “be” with Him. To sit with Him and to release ourselves to His agenda for the time we have with Him.
How wonderful would it be to take some time and just let Him know that you would like simply to sit with Him giving consent to His presence and action within you?
Sitting with God
Years ago I read a wonderful book called “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ.” It was written in the late 1600s by Jeanne Guyon a French Catholic mystic. Madame Guyon wrote about spending time with God, just being in His presence. She powerfully articulates the simplicity of the practice. However, when I tried to practice just “being” in His presence, I found that my mind would turn into a busy airport with thoughts landing and taking off non-stop!
We have a cartoon posted on our refrigerator. A guy is telling his wife that when he tries to go to sleep at night that his A.D.D. kicks in and it’s “One sheep, two sheep, cow, pig, duck, old MacDonald had a farm, HEY MACARENA!”
So how can we practice “being” with the Big Guy? What would it be like to simply “sit” with God?
Thankfully, a fellow named Thomas Keating came along in the 1970s and codified a practice called "Centering Prayer." For me, he too Madame Guyon's idea of sitting with God and put some helpful structure to it. His book "Open Mind, Open Heart" is a great starter book for you to read if you are interested in learning how to "sit" with God.
In short, you begin simply by sitting still and quite, and by asking Him to suggest a word to you. When I began practicing Centering Prayer some 10 years ago, the word that bubbled up for me was "savior." If no word comes to you, that's fine, just choose a word. It could be "love," "joy," "peace," "grace" or any convenient, positive word you can think of.
A "feather falling on a pillow"
The purpose of the word is not to focus on the word itself, it's simply a tool to use to quiet your mind. When sitting quietly with the Big Guy, if thoughts begin to flood your mind, simply suggest your "sacred word," and repeat it silently and gently to yourself, as if it were a "feather falling on a pillow" (as Keating would say). This will help quiet your mind, putting you back into that wonderful place of simply sitting in silence with Him.
As you begin your "sit" with Him - Keating recommends 20 minutes - tell Him that you would like to just "be" with Him. That you have no "agenda." That you are consenting to His "presence and action within" (Keating). What will follow is a time of true faith practice, where you engage God on His terms, with no expectation, only a childlike desire to be with Him and for Him to have His way with you.
When I begin, I'll look at a clock or my watch before I close my eyes. Sometimes I'll open up my eyes again just to confirm the start time. Sometimes when I do this, 15 minutes will have passed…but I had just closed my eyes! And it wasn't because I fell asleep. I was simply so lost in Him that time slipped by. Other times I'll reopen my eyes to double check the time, thinking I must have gone over my 20 minutes and only a minute will have gone by!
An anchor for the soul
The primary benefit I have found in practicing Centering Prayer is a sense of grounded-ness…of being anchored in Him. Then, as I go through my day, I find it easier and easier to find that sense of peace and connectedness with Him.
Keating recommends two periods of Centering Prayer each day. Once in the morning, and once in the late afternoon. I have found a way to carve out 20 minutes on most mornings, but have yet to find a way to carve out a second period. My usual routine is to arise between 5 and 6am and to go on a 4-mile walk with my big ol' hound dog (Rhodesian Ridgeback). When I return home, that's when I make time for milk and cookies … and God. I've learned to cherish this time greatly.
So, give it a try and let me know what you think. It's a great practice, and a wonderful way to help wake up your spiritual life.
Milk and cookies … and God.