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 respond to. Like dealing with the body of the loved one that just passed. Rituals and traditions are guides which help us navigate uncharted territory. (Luke 23:55) I find us remainder men and women quite lost without them.
When someone dies, especially suddenly, but I’ve experienced all ways this dynamic. We are not sure where to start. We are confused, faced to shift opposing gears and are often so devastated, we can barely stand up or string a sentence together. We need to breathe. Thank God this happens on its own. I think that is a gift God gave us–the breath of new life, new energy working through us, and the automaticity of it. (Although I think we all have had the experience of messing that up; 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, but ironically the older we get, the farther away from this natural process we become. My mother, dying, at age 83, kept saying she wanted to learn how to breathe. It’s really all we can do in times of crisis, with the hope 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 get your breathing in a 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 your body. As you do these exercises, you invoke a kind of shaking that is the same thing that happens when your body goes 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 way better than holding it in.
For me, a Holy Saturday scenario is what my meditation practice is for, and why I have all thee different ways of being mindful in my (messy) medicine box, as my teacher calls it. Everything leads up to having some tools to help us cultivate presence and a tiny bit of peace in the middle of crisis, and its aftermath. The easier practices of this, the proverbial shallow end, involve 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 maybe the 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 which encourage us to non- judgmentally observe. Writer, poet, mystic, 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. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1r9cPxAP6GSpOh3kyZgG-pWZHuI9Opp9lY4xK_njoqbY/edit?usp=sharing
And here is a quick overview of technique.
It feels appropriate to mention this form here now; the harder stuff, maybe considered and reserved for this hardest of days of the Lenten Journey. Many be even the one that deserves the most respect and consideration.
For me, this contemplative approach of Centering Prayer has been something I’ve worked up to. I’ve experienced the 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 big enough for all of them, thank God. And our needs, for the following, are very much the same:
~ Quiet in the middle of chaos.
~ Tools to weather the storms of life, which we all find ourselves in.
~ 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, and will 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 with gun violence, who hold jobs and participate in cognitive behavioral therapy. These Chicagoans are choosing peace over retaliation, and operating in good faith to try and interrupt the cycle of violence. Wow. The victim had an 18 month old son.