I am excited to share my Monk in the World Guest Post on Abbey of the Hearts. Christine is the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a Benedictine oblate, and the author of 8 books on monastic spirituality and creativity, as well as a poet, photographer, spiritual director, pilgrim guide, and teacher.
Learn more about Christine at Abbey of the Arts. Feel free to visit many of Christine’s wonderful books.
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God offers us both rich and diverse contemplative practices. Let me share two diverse contemplative experiences: Quaker Silence and Won Buddhist Temple Worship.
In March of 2014 I decided to experience a Quaker silent service. The church I attended traced its roots back to 1699. The meeting house I sat in was built in 1823. The service had no minister. I sat in silence with 100 others. We sat for one hour in a simple room. It had only benches, windows and wooden floors.
On three different occasions, three individuals broke the silence with a thought that Jesus wanted them to share with the community. (Quaker silence is filled with holy expectation. The Quakers anticipate and expect that Jesus will show up.) Then back to silence.
I heard the rain gently hit the windows. I listened to human sounds: coughing, sniffing, breathing. The wind blew outside despite the indoor silence. The wooden floors creaked. I heard my thoughts. Sometimes I had no thoughts, just the spaces between thoughts. The meeting room was a container filled with peace, love, community.
Of course God is in the noise too. It feels good to be silent. We need silence. It nourishes our souls. When we are silent we are naked before God. We empty our mind of its thoughts and emotions. We let God’s loving gaze shine directly upon us. I do this as part of my daily centering prayer sit but have never done so in solitude with a group this large.
At the end of the service we prayed for one another. We greeted each other and passed the peace. We are meant to have silence. Silence with our God. Silent in community is powerful! We need silent community! I enjoyed my Quaker experience. I must do it again.
Won Buddhist Temple Worship
In May of 2015, I visited the Won Buddhism of Philadelphia Center. It was an amazing experience. Before I entered the temple area, we removed our shoes. I like this idea. The first thing I do when I enter my home is take off my shoes. It makes me feel comfortable. It relaxes me.
At the Buddhist center I too felt at home. I was relaxed. We began the service with a five- minute chant. I have never chanted for five minutes straight. t seemed like it would be an eternity. It was not an eternity. Before I knew it we were done. It relaxed me and helped me get ready for my next experience.
From the chant we moved to a twenty five-minute silent meditation. I knew that this would not be difficult. I practice centering prayer for twenty minutes, twice per day. I close my eyes when I sit.
The silent meditation that I was asked to participate in was with my eyes open. We were asked to gaze with eyes partially closed while we looked down the bridge of our nose.
Similar to centering prayer, we were told to just let go of all thoughts and ignore any itches. Let them pass. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was easily able to meditate with my eyes open. The time passed quickly.
We moved from the silent meditation into a walking meditation. I had never done a walking meditation before. There were fifteen of us. We formed a circle that was approximately fifteen feet in diameter. We were instructed to walk slowly. Our walk was extremely slow.
The movement from when I placed my left heal down, rolled it until my toes finally touched the ground was three to five seconds before I performed the same action with my right foot.
It took some time to adjust to this very, very, very, slow pace. I needed to focus on how to maintain my balance. Within a few minutes I felt at ease and became very comfortable with this pace. I actually began to enjoy it.
Like the sacred word in centering prayer, each step I took during walking meditation was a sacred step that opened me to God. We only walked one full circle. I do not know how long it took. I can say that it was a wonderful experience.
I was at peace. I had entered the spaces between my thoughts. I was in the pure presence of God. I could have walked much longer. I will need to practice walking meditation again. If you haven’t tried it, I highly encourage it.
My Buddhist Temple experience taught me that contemplative prayer, the pure presence of God can be found in chanting, silent meditation, walking. God is everywhere.
God waits for us to meet Him in the practice that best suits us. I am certain that there are many other forms of contemplative prayer that I can practice to meet the pure presence of God.
J Brent Bill, Holy Silence
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