I saw Jesus on the cross on a hill called Calvary~ Leonard Cohen, “Passing Through”
Do you hate mankind for what they’ve done to you?
He said talk of love, not hate,
Things to do, it’s getting late;
I’ve so little time and I’m only passing through.
Holy Saturday. We lay in wait. The bomb has gone off, the fire is out, but we sit amongst the ashes, feeling hellacious, not quite sure what to do next.
Being mindful tells us not to “react,” but we are alive, barely, and there are practical considerations to which we want to respond. It’s like dealing with the body of a loved one who has just passed. Rituals and traditions help us navigate uncharted territory. (Luke 23:55) I find us remainder men and women are quite lost without them.
When someone dies, especially suddenly, we experience this dynamic. We are not sure where to start. We are confused, faced to shift opposing gears, and often too devastated to stand up or string a sentence together. We need to breathe. Thank God this happens on its own. This is a gift God gives us: the breath of new life, new energy working through us, the automaticity of it. (We’ve all had the experience of messing that up, though. When under stress, I hold my breath.)
How we breathe controls how we feel. It regulates our nervous system and inspires us. (The word “inspire” comes from the Latin word “to breathe into.”)
Breath is simple and fundamental and crucial to our well-being. It is the first and last thing we do in our lifetimes. Ironically, the older we get, the farther away we drift from this natural process. My mother, dying at age 83, said over and over that she wanted to learn how to breathe. It’s really all we can do in times of crisis, hopeful that something bigger, maybe even something divine, will come through.
We also need to be mindful of our body’s need for movement. Vigorous yoga, a walk outside, playing basketball or paddle: all these things give our breathing rhythm. Movement sparks the flow of energy and breathing invites fresh oxygen, new life, and spirit to work its way through us. As Joseph Pilates said, “Change happens through movement, and movement heals.” ‘
One technique, called “TRE” (Trauma Release Exercise), activates and exhausts the major muscles in our bodies. As we do these exercises, we invoke a kind of shaking that emulates what happens when our bodies go into shock. This natural reaction to trauma is reflexive, and a good thing. We are literally “shaking it off” when we do this. It is far better than holding it in.
For me, a Holy Saturday scenario is what my meditation practice is for. It’s why I have all these different ways of being mindful in my (messy) medicine box, as my teacher calls it. Everything leads up to having tools to help us cultivate presence and a tiny bit of peace in the middle of crisis, and its aftermath. The easier practice of this, the proverbial shallow end, involves mindfulness and movement. We can also work our way into deeper-ended, more intense practices, like sitting meditation and contemplation.
In my mind, the hardest but perhaps most “lucrative” of my meditative ways is Centering Prayer. Thomas Keating so believed in its effectiveness, he described it as “divine therapy.” This silent, sitting meditation has no tools or aids — just a few simple techniques that encourage non-judgmental observation. Writer, poet, mystic, and scholar of contemplation Thomas Merton said:
“Your main interest is not in formal answers or accurate definitions, but at difficult insights at moments of human crisis. Such insights can hardly be either comforting or well defined; they are obscure and ironic. They cannot be translated into a program for solving all the problems of society, but they may perhaps enable a rare person here and there to come alive and be awake at a moment when wakefulness is desirable – a moment of ultimate choice, in which you find yourself challenged to the roots of your very existence.”
Zach Hancock, who practices, teaches, and holds space for Centering Prayer, shares some thoughts here.
And here is a quick overview of technique.
It feels appropriate to mention this form of meditation today: the harder stuff, considered and reserved for this hard day of the Lenten Journey. Hard and deserving of the most respect and consideration.
This contemplative approach of Centering Prayer is something I’ve had to work toward. I’ve experienced frustration and enjoyed the fruits of it. It is not for lightweights; it takes diligence and commitment. I am practicing both.
Our styles are all so different. Our medicine boxes are big enough for all kinds of tools, thank God. Our needs, though, are very much the same:
~ Quiet in the middle of chaos.
~ Tools to weather the storms of life, in which we all find ourselves.
~ Patience and perseverance, worn like life jackets, in this case for three days.
~ Faith that something bigger is working behind the scenes of our lives to satisfy our need for love and connection.
. . . And Peace.
People say “I want peace.” If you remove I (ego), And your want (desire), You are left with Peace.
~ Satya Sai Baba
Below is a video of a local peace rally in the Austin neighborhood of west Chicago after a friend of the organizers and fellow participant in the READI organization was shot and killed. The program is for working individuals, most at risk of being involved in gun violence, who hold jobs and participate in cognitive behavioral therapy. These Chicagoans are choosing peace over retaliation, operating in good faith to try to interrupt the cycle of violence. Wow. The victim had an 18-month-old son.