Christian meditation

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” — St. Julian of Norwich

This was revealed to St. Julian by Jesus in a vision, and recorded by her in her Revelations of Divine Love: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” These words have been of great comfort to me in times of stress and anxiety.

Meditation practice can reduce, but doesn’t erase, anxiety. In fact meditating makes us more sensitive to what’s going on within us, both emotionally and physically. When we meditate we feel more. Meditating can also lead to us being more present with those feelings, so rather than than avoid or bury them we experience them full-on. In these ways, meditation can cause our anxiety to be stronger!

If this sounds like bad news, it should be balanced by the fact that meditation also gives us the ability to stand back from our anxiety and to befriend it, so that it becomes less threatening and is less likely to lead to worry.

(What’s the difference between anxiety and worry? I see anxiety as being an initial unpleasant feeling in the body, produced by parts of the brain that are not accessible to conscious awareness. Worry, on the other hand, is where the mind responds to this initial unpleasant feeling with a succession of “what if” thoughts, that again and again turn toward what we’re anxious about, and in doing so intensify our anxiety.)

Sometimes I can be with my anxiety mindfully. I can accept it. I can recognize that I don’t have to turn it into worry. And to prevent my mind getting caught up in worrying thoughts, I can keep myself grounded in my experience of the body. I can especially be aware of sensations low down in the body, like the movements of the belly or sensations of contact with the ground, my seat, or whatever else is physically supporting me. I can relax the physical tension that accompanies anxiety and worry by really letting go on the out-breath. I can offer my anxiety (or the anxious part of my mind) reassurance and kindness. I can say to it, “May you be well; may you be happy; may you be at peace.” The point here is not to make the anxiety go away, but to be a compassionate presence for it while it’s in existence.

But there are times when I turn to those words of St. Julian (or of Jesus, depending on your perspective).

One thing they remind me of is that all things pass. I’ve had intense worries in the past. I remember one time being in utter despair because of financial problems (although really those fears were more to do with concern that I wouldn’t get support from others). I even had some suicidal thoughts, although I knew I had no intention of following through on them. But where are those particular financial problems now? The debt I was struggling with at that time has just gone. (I may have new debts, but they are new, and not a continuation of the same problem I had before.) Where is the isolation that I feared before? That’s gone too. Where is the anxiety I experienced in the past? It’s no more than a memory, and not even a very vivid one. I can recall feeling despair, but in recollecting it I feel compassion for my old self rather than falling into despondent once again. The past is gone. Memories are just thoughts. They’re like dreams or mirages.

So even though there are things going on in my life right now that prompt anxiety to arise — health concerns, housing concerns, financial concerns — I know that from the perspective of my future self they too are going to have a dream-like or mirage-like quality. And so I can remind myself, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Julian had been concerned with the question of sin: why did God allow it, since if he hadn’t then all would have been well from the beginning. The reason is to do with sin, pain, and faith. Sin, she tells us, is another kind of mirage: “I saw not sin: for I believe it hath no manner of substance nor no part of being.” She did believe that the experience of pain was real, however, even if it was impermanent. “Nor could sin be known but by the pain it is cause of. And thus pain, it is something, as to my sight, for a time.”

The value of pain, in Julian’s view, was that it could cause faith to arise. It causes us to reach out to God. Had we not had sin, and therefore not had pain, then we would, in some sense, have been god-like. And so God allowed sin.

Buddhism doesn’t use the word “sin,” but it does say that our pain is caused by spiritual ignorance. And one key manifestation of this ignorance is that we see things that “hath no manner of substance” as being real and substantial. And as in Julian’s view, it is pain (dukkha) that impels us to seek happiness and peace — that drives us toward awakening.

Julian’s view of “sin” was quite remarkable, and it would be misleading not to point out her belief that because God allowed sin to exist, he therefore shows no blame to any who shall be saved. We don’t, after all, choose to have spiritual ignorance, or to be born with sin.

To Julian, “all shall be well” because we’ll find God in heaven. To me, “all shall be well” not just because pain will pass, but because we’ll awaken to the nature of reality, and will see that pain itself (such as the pain of anxiety) “hath no manner of substance.”

Anxiety isn’t just dream-like or mirage-like when we look back on it from the future. It has those illusory qualities right now, whether we see that or not. Right now, when we look closely at our anxiety, we’ll see that it’s not really there. It’s just patterns of sensation in space. When we can see our experience in that way, then “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

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Christian Meditation sidesteps ego for cosmos

Matt Gardner, Prince Albert Daily Herald: The idea of Christian Meditation might seem firmly rooted in traditional, even archaic, notions of spirituality and healing. But looks can be deceiving.

Facilitating an introductory session on the topic Tuesday evening at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library, retired teacher/librarian Sheila Soulier used the technological advances of modern science to illustrate the benefits of meditation.

“They’ve put (people) in MRIs and discovered they can watch what’s happening in your brain while you’re meditating,” Soulier said. “So while you’re meditating, the part of your brain that … controls this whole ego thing relaxes and the part of …

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Law professor to speak about Buddhist meditation and Christian spirituality

University of St. Thomas law professor Susan Stabile will present the lecture “Adapting Buddhist Meditation Practices to Christian Spirituality” at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, in Quad 264 at Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota.

The lecture is sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and is free and open to the public.

Drawing from her book “Growing in Love and Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation,” published this month by Oxford University Press, Stabile will explore common values that underlie Christianity and Buddhism and how interreligious engagement can offer mutual enrichment for people of both traditions, giving special attention to how Buddhist meditation practices can enrich Christian spirituality.

After the program, Stabile’s new book will be available for purchase and signing.

Stabile holds the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, where she also serves as a fellow of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership and offers retreats and other programs of spiritual formation for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Raised as a Catholic, Stabile devoted 20 years of her life to practicing Buddhism and was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun before returning to Catholicism in 2001. She is a spiritual director, trained in the Ignatian tradition, and one of the leading scholars in the United States on the intersection of Catholic social thought and the law.

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Children find meditation a blissful experience

Matt Bowen: Silence dominates here.

It’s noon in room two at St Paul’s Catholic School and noise is everywhere else – the four walls are ablaze with colour, art and slogans; outside, the Ngaruawahia sun is laced with the din of schoolyard kids in play.

Inside though, not a sound – the children are meditating.

The class of 14 six-year-olds is sitting in a close circle on the carpet with teacher Judy Craven the centrepiece on a chair.

Her eyes are closed, too.

The kids sit cross-legged – hands rest either on knees with thumb and forefinger touching or in laps with fingers interlocked …

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Prayer versus meditation? They’re more alike than we realize

Doug Todd (Vancouver Sun): You could call it a religious war of words, with the West Coast serving as one of its most intense battlegrounds.

The bid to win hearts and minds pits Buddhist meditation against Christian prayer, with meditation, especially so-called “mindfulness,” seeming to be gaining ground.

It’s been the focus of more than 60 recent scholarly studies. It’s being embraced by hundreds of psychotherapists, who increasingly offer Buddhist mindfulness to clients dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s been on the cover of Time magazine.

Even though polls show there are 10 times more Christians in the Pacific Northwest than Buddhists, the forms of …

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Labyrinths, a walking meditation

Last week, I had a profoundly spiritual experience that you might want to try for yourself. I walked the labyrinth at the Brecksville United Methodist Church.

Labyrinths are a series of winding paths that you walk. They lead to a center where you pause to contemplate or pray or rest, and then you walk back out to the beginning. A labyrinth is meant to be a walking meditation.

 

I went with no expectations; I just wanted to see what it was all about. But when I began to walk the labyrinth, I couldn’t help but think about the journey of my life: where have I been, where am I now, where am I going? Why am I in such a hurry?

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According to the website lessonsforliving.com, the labyrinth “is a metaphor for life’s journey … the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are.”

Labyrinths can be very simple structures or very elaborate. Some are made of stones or snow or chalk, and some are laid in marble or grown out of hedges. The one that I walked last week is printed on a gigantic piece of canvas and is brought out for special occasions.

Labyrinths have been used in many cultures around the world for thousands of years and have been called various names, according to GraceCathedral.org.

Whether you’d like to quiet the mind, meditate, celebrate or contemplate, a labyrinth walk might be just the thing. During my labyrinth walk last week, I was so caught up in my thoughts that I was almost in a trance. Without realizing it, I completed the labyrinth and walked right out. This abrupt ending also made me think about the journey of life, and I had the desire to run back in.

If you would like the experience of walking a labyrinth, there are a surprising number of free resources available. I’ve included some links below, but call ahead to verify hours.

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Matter of Faith: Meditation, prayer can help find God

In many Eastern traditions, and growing in popularity in the Western world, more and more is being written about meditation. And some of us are at least thinking about meditating – especially as we hear Western medicine voicing its value with some physicians even writing prescriptions for meditation. The practice is being given credit for better health, relaxation and even lowering blood pressure.

Similarly, there is a discipline called Centering Prayer, a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. While Centering Prayer is attributed to the Rev. Thomas Keating, all faith traditions – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – practice some form of prayer; with Quakers and Buddhists honoring the silence.

In our world of technology and the use of cell phones, radio, CDs, TV and the Internet, silence becomes more and more difficult to find. Silence between two or in a group of people can even make us uncomfortable. Today, there is less time in our busy lives…

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to experience the power of an inner world.

Winter, with leanings to hibernation, is probably the best season to “awaken” to that world. Wrapped in fleece, watching a fire makes the journey inward a bit easier. It is our head that gets in our way. While solitary meditation brings inner peace, group meditation has proven to change society as evidenced in a drop in the crime rate in Washington, D.C. during research using large numbers of people meditating at the same time with that intention.

My first experience with group meditation was at the Christine Center in Willard, south of Thorp, where I believed I had booked a long weekend of rest and relaxation. When registering I was asked if I’d like to join others in a retreat experience for just an extra $25. I said, “Sure.”

I found out after I arrived I had signed up for a four-day silent retreat – a form of meditation that called for no writing, no reading, no music the entire time, alternating between sitting and walking meditation with a one-hour morning lecture. Of course food and sleep rounded out the days. It was an incredible experience to just be with my thoughts.

The word center contains the word enter. Brian Luke Seward in “Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart” connects the center of the labyrinth to the experience of centering ourselves in prayer and meditation. He writes, “Walking the labyrinth – as you walk from the entrance of the circle’s perimeter through a gentle maze of smaller concentric circles to the center, a divine stillness quiets the soul and a transformation takes place to prepare you, the student, so that the inner teacher will come. With the word center, like the path of the labyrinth, there is an implicit invitation to enter the heart.”

If the spiritual path is truly 12 to 14 inches from the head to the heart, then look no further than the meditating/centering process to get you there.

McKinney is a pastor at Unity Christ Center in Eau Claire. Matter of Faith, a column on faith and ethics, is printed periodically.

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Not your everyday worship: the legend of the labyrinth

Contrary to popular belief, labyrinths are not used to get one lost and confused – rather, their purpose is to find answers and to meditate on religious issues. Two of the 109’s churches, St. Stephen Presbyterian Church and the University Christian Church, use labyrinths as methods of worship.

That fact is, according to Mark Scott of St. Stephen, the labyrinth is an extremely ancient form of meditation that has roots in paganism and is used as a form of worship in many historically aware churches. The design of labyrinths at St. Stephen and the University Church can both be traced back to the famous Notre Dame Chapel in Chartres, France.

Scott, St, Stephen’s minister of music and organist, is a fierce proponent of labyrinth. He says its ability to help sort out one’s life problems and commune with the God is a type of therapy and worship that would benefit everyone, Christian or not.

“It’s symbolic along the path of life and reminiscent of the times and trials in one’s life. It’s a visual reminder of the non-visual,” Scott said.

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The winding paths of the labyrinth are meant to be walked quadrant by quadrant. Participants meditate on any issues they are experiencing in life and offer these up to God. After walking the main section or quadrants, the meditator or questioner stands or kneels at the center or main floret or rose of the labyrinth and then exits.

“It’s supposed to be a journey,” Scott said. “It makes you slow down and think. You’re supposed to take your time walking. It’s a very esoteric, ecumenical type of thing.”

St. Stephen has two labyrinths — one indoor, one outdoor.

The outdoor labyrinth is in the form of a garden path and is flanked by benches and a vista of downtown Fort Worth. Scott says it was funded by a church member and like the indoor labyrinth, was a gift given in memory of a loved one.

The indoor labyrinth is an 11-circuit Chartres-style labyrinth actually painted on an enormous piece of canvas fabric and is rolled out on various holiday occasions and when led in a labyrinth worship facilitation by church member and trained labyrinth facilitator and clinical psychologist, Carol Stalcup.

Stalcup visited Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to be trained by Lauren Artress, the woman charged with starting the revival of labyrinth worship in the early ‘90s. According to the training Stalcup received, there appear to be three stages during one’s walking of the labyrinth: the releasing of cares and distractions, the receiving of enlightenment or encouragement, and returning to the world in union with God.

Stalcup says facilitators are trained to deal with people’s differing reactions to the labyrinth and also sometimes encourage people to journal about their experiences to better understand them.

“Some people are deeply moved and there are tears, they have a profound experience and come out lighter, happy, and thoughtful. For others, it’s simply another form of prayer and not as dramatic. It’s different for everyone and the labyrinth is not meant for everyone.”

Constantly making turns and twists in connection with the direction of the labyrinth is something that Stalcup says is currently being scientifically tested to determine whether it helps tap into the left and right hemispheres of the brain. She says it could be a scientifically proven neurological calming process.

Stalcup is a believer in what she terms embodied spirituality: that humans can disconnect their bodies from their emotional and spiritual lives. She believes the labyrinth is the perfect conduit for doing so. She calls walking the labyrinth a form of “body prayer” and emphasizes the positive connection between body movement and one’s ability to connect with a deeper part of oneself.

Stalcup said she wishes all could experience the benefits of walking the labyrinth. She says she is such a devoted follower of labyrinth worship because each experience is different and unique, and she loves the diversity.

“I have walked with different communities of friends and with groups of strangers, I have walked solo walks and lingered a long time. I’ve danced the path, sung, prayed, created body prayers, listened to music, smiled, laughed, been surprised by tears, felt deep awe, felt lonely, felt reassured, solved a problem,” Stalcup said.

It is her favorite form of worship because of the various forms of spiritual experiences one can have.

“I have experienced what I believe to be profound spiritual experiences, but am always caught by surprise,” she said. “Somehow, though a walk may not move me to tears or bring me to dance, I always feel as if the time I spent on the labyrinth was a special moment outside of linear time, outside of my usual way of being.”

Stalcup said being a regular walker of the labyrinth has “directly impacted my discernment of God’s presence in my life, in others, in the world. Those discernments stay with me, sustaining, encouraging, nourishing and leading me to more gratitude, wonder and connection with all of creation.”

For those with difficulty walking or without access to a full-size labyrinth, there are finger or stylus labyrinths, which one can follow with a finger or pen-like utensil and employ the same meditation/worship philosophy.

The UCC’s website for its labyrinth ministry describes using the labyrinth as a way “to enhance spiritual growth, experience transformation, enter into an intimate and inspiring relationship with God and one another, and share the path in the spirit of love, reverence and respect for each one’s personal journey.”

UCC’s labyrinth is also a hand-painted, roll-out canvas. They were bought from the same company and are the same traditional Chartres design.

The labyrinth of Chartres is famous for its location, age and size. It was inlaid in the Chartres Cathedral floor in 1205 and contains only one pathway, which is 954 feet in length. The center of the labyrinth purportedly once had a metal plate with figures of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur, figures from the classical Greek mythology of the labyrinth on Minos.

The Chartres-style labyrinth employed by both churches has a circular pattern with a rose or floret design in the center. According to Stalcup, the rose symbolically can stand for human love, enlightenment, Christ, and God’s love for the world. The rose traditionally has six petals which represent the six days of creation; Stalcup encourages her “walkers” to step into each petal and as they leave the central rose, to imagine themselves returning to the world in union with God.

While many churches utilize the practice of worship with the help of labyrinths, the practice is actually an ancient one the church may have borrowed from pagan or nature-based religions.

“Christians were kind of the late kids to the party,” Scott says with a laugh. “Even down to the holidays, Christmas was made Christmas because of the winter solstice. Easter coincides with the spring equinox.”

Above all, Scott says, he wishes all to know St. Stephen’s outdoor labyrinth is intended for the entire community, religious or not.

“Sure, it’s a labyrinth with a Christian take, but anyone can come use it. With the benches all around, the beautiful garden, the glorious view — we want anyone and everyone to be able to use and enjoy it.”

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Christian meditation for children

From the Independent Catholic News.

There is much noise and little silence in our children’s world today. Yet children have a natural capacity for meditation and research shows that teaching them to sit in stillness and silence encourages creativity and calms their behaviour. With benefits like this, why are we not teaching the spiritual practice and recognised life-skill of meditation in our schools, promoting balance and growth of the whole child?

A Seminar on Tuesday, 7 December from 9am – 5.30pm Regents College, in Regents Park, London, will discuss the impact of meditation programmes now being taught in schools and look at how this practice can become more widely available.

Dr Cathy Day and Ernie Christie, Directors of Catholic Education in Townsville, Australia will lead the seminar. They have created and implemented the world’s first Christian Meditation programme for all 30 Catholic schools in their diocese. Meditation is part of the curriculum and the daily life of teachers and 12,000 children in their schools.

Jonathan Campion, a British consultant psychiatrist has evaluated a schools meditation programme and will speak about its psychological impact and benefits.

Fr Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk and Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation will describe meditation as part of the prayer tradition and set it in the context of our pluralist world.

Further workshops are being held in Kerry (8 December), Belfast (10 December), Milton Keynes (13 December), Brentwood (14 December) and Birmingham (15 December).

For more information see: www.wccm.org.

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A hunger for depth

Shirley Lancaster: Today’s search for a meaning is not so much ‘spirituality lite’ as a quest for authenticity in a culture obsessed with the trivial

Spirituality today, less bound to religion, is part of everyday life. A person’s spirituality might be expressed in listening to Bach, walking in the countryside, doing voluntary work or comforting a friend. We talk of a spiritual dimension to athletic excellence or great art.

And a common yardstick for evaluating spirituality is not a bad one: do our spiritual values or practice make us better people? Are we more forgiving, kind…

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