by Deborah Lopez
In the Magazine this month, we’re looking at the experience of God in and through nature. In this piece, Deborah Lopez offers some thoughts and suggestions for centering prayer on the four primal elements.
Although I am an artist and also have a Centering Prayer practice, I have come to realize that not all people are “hard wired” to a sitting meditation through which to experience a oneness with God.
Over many years of practice in both meditation and the arts I am hoping that some gentle suggestions may inspire you to find your own path to experiencing God in your life.
Earth, this island home of ours spinning in the universe was certainly made by God. Whether or not you believe in the 7 days of creation literally or metaphorically, our earth home gives us so very much on which to focus, center and experience our gratitude for our “island” home.
Earth: In the early 1970’s, a book caught my attention. “Centering” was a study in centering on the ceramics wheel: building a vessel with clay from our beloved earth. Inspired by that book I took a ceramics class and soon found that I was more comfortable in hand building clay vessels. Reaching into a vat of wet, sweet clay, slamming it around to get out all air bubbles and carefully rolling that ball of clay into a long, snake-like roll was more to my liking than working on the wheel. Carefully winding each new coil onto the previous coils (or in the beginning, creating the base) was a focus and a centering all of its own. The focusing or centering process allowed me to experience a deeper peace than I was used to experiencing in my young, thought driven life.
Not everyone is going to run out and take a ceramics class. Therefore I want to share some centering ideas that are readily available to all. The first idea is one, which I have loved over many years. It is that while walking (whether in the city, suburbs or on the beach) set your intention towards God and Christ. Make the walk an intentional process of prayer without necessarily using words of prayer (or begin with words of prayer). As you walk you are seeking an earth treasure. Certainly the most easily found earth objects in my neck of the woods are rocks. I carefully seek the rock that speaks to me. Perhaps it is the most colorful or interesting or a rock that appeals for no real reason. Taking this home, washing it as one would wash Jesus’ feet, then drying and placing on one’s altar or in a place where your gaze will encounter it daily, is an ancient tradition with which to experience God and our heartfelt gratitude for our earthly home. Peter’s name is actually a nickname meaning something akin to “rocky”. On this rock His church was built.
Another “rock” oriented centering intention is to string beads into a rosary. There is, in fact, an Anglican rosary which is easy enough to Google. The beads you might love best could be semi-precious stones (true gems of and from the earth) or ceramic beads (made of that clay we just spoke of), and easily strung on a shoelace or if you are inclined to visit a hobby store, a piece of leather cord. With or without a cross or the Anglican version, with separating “other beads” (wood, pewter, silver or gold), the process of stringing prayer beads for yourself will be one of loving God, your desire to know Him better and gratitude for the earthy materials that God has made for us. We can, through process and intention, with no judgment as to the end object, be in the experience and presence of God.
Air: The Old Testament uses the word Ruach to mean God, breath and wind. When we want to walk, run or be still we are able, again, through prayer-felt intention, to invite the Holy Spirit to be immediately felt in our life. One exercise is simply to walk and count breaths, bringing your awareness to the precious ebb and flow of that breath. In quieting the mind in order to open a space for God to be presently felt, count each inhalation and exhalation as one breath. Or if counting is too much, simply notice how the wind stirs your hair, the trees around you and as Father Keating said, “Notice God waving at you”, through the breeze stirring branches of a tree or ruffling waves on the ocean.
Fire: When we are most distracted, it is sometimes because of hurts, resentments or “old business” that we have not resolved. God truly wants us to work through our emotional and mental obstacles, which prevent us from being at peace. One exercise that anyone can do if the desire (or pain of afflictions) warrants the exploration is to light a candle (you may say a prayer to ask for protection and the intention of turning the issue over to the Holy Spirit) leaving you eventually with peace. With your candle lit in a quiet place, made sacred with your prayer, begin writing with a pen or pencil on a separate piece of paper (NOT in your journal if you keep one). Write down what may be blocking you from your God-given oneness with the Beloved. Do not depend on a coherent writing but allow the feeling of the situation to well up (often with tears) and allow yourself to repeat the same word over and over; for example, it could be “help, help, help” or even a swear word that you would not normally use but which seems to fit the emotional release. Continue writing until there is a centering calm and sense of release and serenity. Do not re-read the writing. Rather carefully, in a fire-proof container, burn the paper on which you have written. As the paper (carefully contained) burns into ash an added clearing could be flushing the ashes down the toilet! The exercise can be repeated daily or weekly as long as is necessary to clear the issue.
Water: The last exercise was indeed a segue into the cleansing, nurturing aspects of water. For this centering practice, you may need to negotiate with your family in order to carve out some alone, uninterrupted time. If there are special scents that are meaningful and healing for you, by all means employ either essential oils (I am a big fan of rosemary and/or lavender) or scented candles. Once again I suggest you set your intention through prayer to use this time to feel God’s holy presence. Light your candles and draw a hot bath to the temperature you most enjoy. If you suffer from aches and pains, use Epsom salts to create an “ocean” of healing. Turn out all lights except for the candlelight and carefully (when your eyes have adjusted) submerge into this healing sea.
These simple suggestions do not preclude the rituals that you may already employ in your life with God. I look forward to exploring more possible ways of engaging the Holy Spirit in a series I call Spirituality and the Arts.
Deborah Lopez is an artist with an MFA in painting, also a teacher of that art for many years. She is a Certified Spiritual Director and Stephen Minister with an MA in Psychology. She lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and worships at St. John’s Episcopal Church. She was recently widowed and has found new healing through not only Centering Prayer but also the arts.
Image: my altar by Ann Fontaine