By Rev’d Canon Deborah Parsons
One of the joys of the Summer has been dipping into the Ways with Words Festival at Dartington Hall. Picture the scene. The buzz of stimulating speakers on topical issues. Leisurely lunches, al fresco. A browse of the bookshop followed by a post-lunch snooze, reclining in a deck chair on the lawn, book nestled in lap. Convivial conversations interspersed with ribbons of music drifting on the breeze. My idea of heaven.
One of the talks I attended was called “Beyond Mindfulness.” The speaker, Linda Blair, reminded us to BREATHE. To bring our awareness and attention to our breath. So obvious, yet so difficult. How often do we remember to take a conscious breath?
“There’s no such thing as multi-tasking,” she said. “It’s not multi-tasking; it’s switch-tasking and flitting between tasks, like a butterfly, is very unproductive.” Focus and intention is everything.
And so it is in our prayer life.
A hiker in the Himalayas asked the Sherpa who was carrying his bags, why he paused so often. He answered, “I’m just allowing my soul to catch up with my body.”
Often, in the Bible, we’re instructed to pause and to notice. “Consider the lilies of the field.” (Matthew 6: 28); “Behold the lamb of God” (John 1:29); “Set your minds on things above not on things below.” (Colossians 3:2) In other words, pay attention!
In Holy Communion, when the Table is prepared, we hear the words, “Be present, be present Lord Jesus Christ. Make yourself known in the breaking of bread.”
When we’re present, fully present, we’re more likely to notice the needs of the world: The addict who’s desperate for love; the young parent at the checkout who needs three pairs of hands; the widower in the cafe who’s starved of conversation; the teenager who doesn’t know how to vent frustration. In moments like these, a timely word; a smile; a gesture; an act of kindness can make the world a kinder, more loving, just place.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans (12:2) he says: “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
In our busy 24/7 lives, it can be hard to pause, hard to be present amidst the clamour of everyday life. Regular practice of contemplative prayer can help us to let go of the egoic mind, if only for a moment and to remember the deeper foundation in which we are always held: The unconditional love of Christ. That state of unitive consciousness reminds us that we are not separate. We are one.
Jesus regularly set aside time to pray. It’s what sharpened his vision, clarified his calling and enabled him to be the perfect blend of word and deed. However, like any discipline, it has to be practised in order to become habitual, like regular trips to the gym.
If you’d like to practise being present, why not join the Cathedral Contemplative Prayer Group? It runs on the second Monday of each month from 2.30-3.15pm in St. John the Baptist Chapel. It’s taking a holy pause in August but will be starting again in September. All are welcome. For more information, contact: Christine Rapsey or Canon Deborah Parsons.