Come to the Quiet, Part 2
As the chaos of this holiday season intensifies, we need to remember that the original meaning of “holiday” was “holy day,” a sacred day, a day bringing healing or wholeness. Last Saturday I offered a workshop on meditation, or mindfulness, at our Oceans of Grace Spiritual Life Center. Twelve of us sat in a circle, and practiced breathing meditations (see last week’s blog). We then practiced a walking meditation outside in the crisp air, letting the stark winter landscape be the focus of our meditation (see last week’s blog). In this week’s blog I will focus on two other kinds of meditation, an eating meditation, and meditating with a sacred text.
I grew up in a home where we always paused and said a prayer of thanksgiving before every meal. I continue to do this every time I eat, especially because I am aware that so many people in our world are hungry. No matter how simple a meal, we should give thanks for the gift of food. Then a year ago, my understanding of eating changed dramatically. This is because of of class I took in Boston, led by the Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. Two thousand people gathered in the grand ballroom at the Park Plaza Hotel for this class. We had all been asked to bring our lunch, so as to practice mindful eating together. I had my doubts as to whether this exercise would work with two thousand people, but it did. Thich Nhat Hanh said that especially in the West we overeat because we rush and fill ourselves beyond capacity. It takes twenty minutes for our digestive systems to register that we are full. So if you wolf down your meal in five minutes, you may be eating a lot more than you actually need. One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s young monks did a prayer of blessing, actually a spoken guided meditation at the beginning of our meal, asking us to contemplate how the entire cosmos is in our meal: the sun and the air and the water that fed the plants and made them grow. The earth that nourished the plants with its nutrients. The farmers who grew the food, tended the fields, planted, fertilized, harvested. The people who transported the food to the markets. The people who worked in the markets. The one we live with who prepared the food or cooked the meal for us, etc. He encouraged us, with every bite we take, to be mindful that the entire cosmos had a part in bringing us every bite of food that we put in our mouths!
He invited us to eat slowly, and to chew each morsel at least 20-30 times, giving thanks and gratitude for each bite. I was shocked to realize that I was only able to finish half my salad before I was full. Those of you who know my tremendous appetite will know that this is a miracle in itself: for me to be full after just half a salad! I will never eat in the same way again! I encourage you to practice this eating meditation, especially during this season of overeating. May we be mindful that the entire cosmos is contained in every morsel.
Finally, another form of meditation is praying with a sacred text. In the Christian tradition, this is called “lectio divina,” or sacred reading. (see link to podcast). The Christian mystics do this with biblical texts. This is actually how I prepare my sermons, as well as part of my daily prayer practice. You read a text slowly, paying attention to the single word or image, phrase or idea which strikes you, and tugs at your mind or your heart. Then you stay with that. You hold it up in your imagination, like a multi-faceted diamond, asking the Spirit why it is that that phrase or image or idea hooked you. What is it that you need to learn from that one thing? That is what you contemplate in silence. Here is where some people might journal with this one thing, or artists might paint what comes from contemplating this one thing, or poets might compose a poem or musicians a song about this one thing. But be assured, the Spirit has a message for you in this one thing that tugged at your spirit. For me this one thing becomes the title of my weekly sermon. I pray with the text assigned for each week at the beginning of the week. Then, as the week progresses, I marvel at how the events of the week, from the news and the life of the community, from things I read or experience, coalesce around that one thing that “hooked” me from the text! It is as though my eyes are opened and I begin to see the connection between all things. I encourage you to practice this form of meditation. In the spring I will offer a second workshop on this kind of meditation.
I used to practice Lectio Divina only with biblical texts. Then when I was doing my four-year spiritual direction training, and we had to write a paper each week, I would read the book or article using lectio divine. A few years ago, when I was doing my yoga teacher training program, and reading texts from the Hindu tradition, I began practicing lectio divine with these sacred texts. I now do this with everything I read: science, history, poetry, etc.
Then some years ago when I was on retreat in the desert, I read the book “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes,” by Belden C. Lane. Lane wrote of that breathtaking desert landscape as a sacred text. We can pay attention to the one thing that speaks to us from the landscape, and ponder the message it speaks to our lives. That same book also invites us to think of our own life stories, or the story of another, as a sacred text, to ponder our own inner landscape, and to pay attention to the message the Spirit is speaking throughout the sacred story of our own life experiences.
In other words, all of Life is sacred. All of Life speaks to us, inviting us to learn the lessons we need to learn on the spiritual adventure of this life.
This day, may you see the holy in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the holy to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright December 16, 2014
Photos: Linda in Cappadocia, Turkey; Fish tacos made by Zach for my Mother’s Day Dinner; dinner at Fishbone, Panama City Beach, FL; Dinner at Makenna Golf and Beach Resort, Maui, Hawaii; Julia reading at church Christmas pageant; Linda at Box Canyon, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Linda at Rocky Mountain National Park, CO