Today, I sat in meditation on a wooden bench at a Quaker meeting for worship. There are different sects of Quakerism, but I belong to one where people sit in Silence and speak out that Silence. I was pretty physically tired, the drowsiest I’ve been in sitting meditation.
Meditation Poem #18
the deepest silence cannot
hold the infinite emptiness
The Buddha’s last words to “be a Lamp unto yourself,” and some translations of the Bible has Jesus saying “kingdom of God is within you.” We don’t have to look far for wisdom. Quakers believe that each person has the Divine Light within them, and part of sitting in silence is to truly listen and nurture that inner Light.
Buddhism makes sense to me on a practical way that sometimes my own Christian faith does not. It asks us to trust our experience that there’s no other authority or teacher than what’s happening right now, Charlotte Joko Beck beautifully captures this idea:
There is only one teacher. What is that teacher? Life itself. And of course each one of us is a manifestation of life; we couldn’t be anything else. Now life happens to be both a severe and an endlessly kind teacher. It’s the only authority that you need to trust. And this teacher, this authority, is everywhere. You don’t have to go to some special place to find this incomparable teacher, you don’t have to have some especially quiet or ideal situation: in fact, the messier it is, the better. (16, Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck)
So this is what I have been trying to do as I keep coming back to my practice. My meditation practice deepened about 6 years ago, but my daily sitting practice shifted with the birth of my daughter 3 years ago. I was no longer able to sit first thing in the morning…but I’m slowly reestablishing my daily sitting practice.
I am trying to work with the messiness of my life. There’s a lot I can learn from Buddhism as a Christian. The Christian monastics also live this reality of authentically encountering life, but for them they are encountering Christ in each other on a daily basis in community. What good is prayer, if you can’t love the brother who burnt your lunch?
Centering prayer and meditation seem similar and yet the intentions are very different. However, I personally find both practices deeply enriching and help me live a spiritual life as opposed to just believing in it as a theory.
Evagrius Ponticus, an influential desert monastic, writes that we should “seek out places that are free from distraction, and solitary. Do not be afraid of the noises you may hear. Even if you should see some demonic fantasy, do not be terrified or flee frm the training ground so apt for your progress. Endure fearlessly, and you will see the great things of God, His help His care, and all the assurances of salvation” (V1:35, Teachings on Asceticism and Stillness in the Solitary Life).
I am not a monk that lives out in the desert. I live in the 21st century as an urban dad. I work as a chaplain to pay my bills and child support, and spend time with my 2 year old daughter.
However, I do identify with Evagrius’ words. My separation and upcoming divorce in a month has been a wilderness experience of my heart. I struggle to return to the inner cell of my heart to rest in the deep silence of peace and serenity from my Higher Power, or what Quakers call Divine Presence.
I have struggleded not loose myself in fantasy and anxiety of the future or wallow in what could have been different in my past. Grief is hard and “enduring fearlessly” as Evagrius suggests has been diffcult. But I have been doing the best I can to let go and let God, and trusting in a hope I do not understand or believe at some moments. All I can do sometimes is take a tiny step forward, and for now it’s enough.
I am not sure what great things I’ll see, but so far it’s enough to see our daughter happy and growing up in two loving households.