March 26, 2017 / TAMING OUR MONKEYS - MEDITATION / Sara Wolbrecht / Isaiah 40:28-31
My friends, when in your day, your week, do you take time to quiet your mind? Do you? In all honestly, I almost want to laugh at that question – one of those – yeah, right, kind of chuckles, because, finding quiet is hard. Time is precious – and even when I’m lying in bed in the morning or driving in the car – I feel like I need to be multi-tasking. I know it is valuable time for my mind to be actively working on all the things that need to get done, including actively talking with God in prayer – praying for myself, for those I love, for the world. But being quiet? Ha! In theory, yes, yes, yes, absolutely. But friends, I want to confess to you how hard and how seldom it feels possible to quiet my mind and be still. Anyone, on the front end of this conversation – want to join me in that confession?
Which is why, today, in our journey through practicing prayer this Lent, it is so so gooooood that we’re talking about meditation. Meditation is a practice of quiet. Practice, as in, something we shouldn’t just be naturally good at it – it takes practice. It is absolutely a practice of prayer – one that is used across various religious traditions. And what I’ve discovered is that there’s no hard and fast way to define meditation. It is most commonly recognized as - the practice of quieting down your mind, being attentive to your breath and present in your body. I love that n the last two weeks we’ve talked about our bodies (two weeks ago) and then last week, fasting – in many ways, meditation is pulling those two together: making space in our bodies to breathe. And paying attention to our thoughts and letting them go by without reacting to them. Just noticing them. Watching them go by like watching boats float down a river. Doesn’t that sound lovely?
Do you ever practice meditation like this? …Are you open to exploring what meditation might look like as a practice for you?
Well, if you’re on the fence about it, let’s just name something: meditation, is not only something that resonates with the Jesus story, and the life of God, what is clear is that science and research all cheer for meditation as universally awesome for the human condition. Studies continue to show how:
· Meditation reduces anxiety and social anxiety.
· Just a few days of practicing meditation improves concentration and attention.
· Can help with addiction.
· Short breaks for meditation can help kids in school.
· And also: meditation reduces activity of “Monkey Mind.” Do you know what I mean by Monkey Mind? I’m not talking about this guy… It’s the crazy jumping around – like a monkey – our minds do when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wandering from thought to thought. Which is typically associated with being less happy, as we do more worrying. Anyone else have an active Monkey Mind? Especially at like 3am? Right. Taming our monkeys seems like a good idea, right?
Science agrees: meditation – the stopping and quieting our mind – is recognized universally as awesome for our well-being, our physical AND emotional health. So why don’t we do it? Why don’t YOU do it?
Well, if your reason is that you don’t know how, or you’d never really thought about it, today is our day to start. We’re going to experience three ways to meditate, alright? We’re getting a triple dose of awesome.
Let’s begin the first one now. I will say that if you were here last week, then you know that we used our song of response (after the sermon) – do you remember what we did? As we talked about fasting, we fasted from song, so we sat in silence for four minutes. This method we’ll use now by first appearances could seem like we’re just sitting here in silence. But the whole point is to enter into it with intention. Let me walk us into it.
Friends, if you would please get comfortable in your seat, set anything aside. And turn your attention inward. Become aware of you. In this space. Close your eyes if you’d like to. Now check to see how you’re feeling. How does your body feel? What is the quality of your mind? Busy? Tired? Anxious? Grateful? See whatever you’re feeling as completely OK.
Now that you’re settled in, turn your attention to your breath. Just place the attention on your breath as it comes in, and follow it through your nose all the way down to your lungs. Try breathing in the word “love” as you take in the first breath, then “love” as you breathe out. One way to experience this is to receive our breath in as the loving flow of God, and our exhale as the flow of God’s love extended out to others. But our attention is on the breath moving in, flowing out, like the tide.
And as your mind wanders, simply come back to the word “love.” Your mind will wander. When it does, smile, and simply gently return to your breath. See each time that you wander off and then come back as an opportunity to return to God’s love in your breath.
When you notice thoughts and feelings arising, as they will, look at them with a friendly attitude. See them as friends, not intruders or enemies. They are a part of you, though not all of you. Be friendly and not harsh. Notice them with curiosity, watch them float by – like that boat on the river of your consciousness and choose to observe the thought with kindness, or return to your breath and the word “love.”
We’ll stay in this place of quiet, meditating, breathing, for a few minutes.
I invite you to stay in the space where you find yourself, with eyes closed if you’d like, let your brain not get too caught up in what I’m saying – but stay connected to your breath, for we will try another practice in a moment. How are you experiencing this? What we just did is the kind of meditation the creates space – like fasting. It is sparse, simple – it’s about opening and quieting, and befriending ourselves.
Why I think this form of meditation is so valuable, and wanted to be sure we tried it, is that being still and non-judgmental and curious like this, draws us deeply into ourselves to know afresh that the heartbeat of God is within us. We are attuned to God’s heartbeat in the quiet. We feel in our bones and breath, that we are made in the image of God, that the Spirit of God holds us and resides within us – we find ourselves – in those moments when we have wandered and choose to bring our attention back to our breath, that we are returning to the love of God. Feeling the embrace and heartbeat of the one who holds us. So this is one way to practice meditation.
Another form of meditation involves listening for that heartbeat that is in us, resonating in something else, something we meditate ON. We focus a little more attention outside of ourselves. Like on a piece of art, or a piece of scripture.
We will practice two forms of this simultaneously, now. The first is the practice of Lectio Divina – in our book Justin names this as the way to practice meditation this week – Lectio Divina. Which when I read it I did a little double-arm-pump of joy, because this is a practice that we use here, together on Sundays, a practice for listening for God in the bible.
For those new to it, Lectio Divina is Latin for “Holy Word” or “Divine Reading.” A practice that has been around since the 3rd Century, that involves repeating a section of the bible, listening for a word that gets our attention, then prayerfully holding that word, looking for connections to our life now – and what God is saying to us in it.
Which affirms how the heartbeat of God can be heard and experienced in this living, breathing ancient book we call the bible. Which is pretty amazing.
Alongside this practice, at the same time, we’ll also use a painting as a focus for our meditation. This painting was painted live, here, on Sunday evening, by Scott Erickson the co-author and artist from our Prayer book. So again – feel free to focus on it as a parallel experience to Lectio Divina, or you are welcome to close your eyes.
Our reading – you’ll hear – resonate with this painting – it is from the prophet Isaiah. In this season of Lent, when we’re examining who we are, who we’re becoming: wrestling with who we know God to be, is an important part of our journey. And prophets, like Isaiah, have this way of calling us out into who God is, beyond whatever box and limitations we try to place around God. (We’re using The Message version, so you’ll hear this passage a little differently than usual).
The first step in Lectio is READING. Staying in that place connected to your breath, attentive, our first time reading is to just hear the text. No agenda.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (The Message) - Sara
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
they walk and don’t lag behind.
Now this next time through, we listen for a word or phrase that touches our heart, that gets our attention. That’s what we listen for – one word or phrase. (You can look at your bulletin insert if you’d like to visually see it). Do not expect lightning to strike, just something that shimmers for you. When the word or phrase is found, gently recite it, repeat it and reflect on it during the silence that follows.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (The Message) - Sara
(Silence) If you are willing, I invite you to share out loud the word or phrase that has touched your heart. Just the word, no commentary yet.
…Thank you for sharing. The next step is REFLECTION. We each ponder the word that has touched our heart and ask where the word or phrase touches our life today. As we do this, do not be afraid of distractions. Memories or thoughts are simply parts of ourselves that, when they rise up during lectio divina, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of our self. Embrace those things that come up, listen to them. Continue to repeat your word while holding it in dialogue with God, listening for WHY this word grabs our attention today, as we hear the text again, this time read by Thomas, with silence after.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (The Message) - Tim
(Silence) We’ll have a chance to share what we’re hearing in a moment, after our final reading.
The third step is RESPONDING. The third and final reading is for the purpose of experiencing Christ "calling us to respond." What is God in this text or painting calling us to do or to become today or this week? God is always inviting us into transformation, into seeing our lives in a fresh way. How are we invited to be or to do or to see things differently? We listen for our response, as we hear the passage a final time.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (The Message) - Sara
And now we make space to share, for those who would like to. You do not have to worry about sounding smart or insightful or being articulate – you can be brief. I’ve noticed in my experience, our own willingness to speak up of how we’re experiencing God – God always uses it to speak to someone else. And in the week that we have had in our country, many of us are hungering to hear words of grace from God spoken by others – this is a great way to practice that. So let’s see together: what word/phrase spoke to you and what have you been noticing about it? Is there something speaking to you in the painting? How are you invited to respond? (For this part we’ll use a mic so that we can be sure everyone can hear).
…Thank you for sharing, friends. For sharing your experience.
I would invite you to also consider two specific responses – the first is to answer the question only you can answer: and that is what would it look like for you to practice meditation this week? To make time in one of these ways to stop, breathe, and connect with your body? When you first wake up in the morning, t lunch time. Mark it on your calendar, or set an alarm to remind you. To aid you in this, I’ve prepped a one page handout with more information and easy instructions on how to meditate 0 grab it on your way out today.
And second is a response for the next few minutes. Between now and when you come up to receive Communion, you are invited to write down a prayer: what is the one thing you pray for today – for yourself, or the one thing that is heavy on your heart for another person or our world. Please write down a short phrase that captures that – and then we’ll gather them during communion. These are prayers that will be prayed aloud, anonymously later after Communion, if you would like it prayed, so please write clearly knowing that intent.
As we finish our time in Lectio together, the fourth and final step of Lectio Divina is to REMAIN. To simply rest as the Beloved of God in the presence of God. To hold what we have heard spoken through the bible, spoken through each other, as a word of grace and hope for us. For God most certainly speaks through us as a gift with and for each other.
As we “remain” and finish this holy time together, let’s continue to hold this sacred space for each other as the band comes up. And let’s pray as we remain with God, together. Please reconnect with your breath – open your palms:
God, you do not come and go. You last.
You are Creator of all we can see or imagine.
You do not get tired out, you don’t pause to catch your breath.
And you know everything, inside and out.
You energize us who get tired,
Give fresh strength to dropouts.
We who wait on you get fresh strength.
We spread our wings and soar like eagles,
We run and don’t get tired,
We walk and don’t lag behind.
Thank you that there are so many ways in which you do this work in us – and thank you for practices like meditation, that draw us back to you – hearing your heartbeat in our own selves, hearing it pulsing through scripture and art – and in the words shared with each other – It is breathtaking to experience you in this way. And in all of it to hear a vibrant invitation to follow Jesus with this one wild and precious life we have been given. We do it now, together, by your grace and for your glory.