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Discovering Centering Prayer in New Mexico
It is Autumn. As I make the daily drive North from Rio Rancho to Santa Fe I am aware that Brother Sun rises later and later. No matter how many times I make this drive I am continually amazed at the beauty of the rolling hills; sometimes brown, sometimes orange, and then gold, depending on the height and direction of the morning light. A herd of horses grows larger each day, with colts interspersed among the protective adults. Horses graze and run freely on the pueblo lands, another reminder of God’s abounding love for all creation. I am reminded that many years ago as a young Novice I found God in the forest of green pine trees at our Motherhouse in Long Island. It was then that I practiced the Jesus Prayer. Once each month I would meet with a small group of women and we would chant the prayer, Jesus Christ Son of God have Mercy on me a Sinner, or variations of the same. After the chant we would sit in silence. As a young Sister of St. Joseph I sought after solitude amidst the emotions and turmoil of life. I would often go to our house of prayer for weekends just to spend time in silence and soak in the beauty of nature.
I was trained in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and came to know his Nineteenth Annotation, which speaks of individuals who cannot go away for an extended retreat but who pray daily and extend the fruits of that prayer into their daily lives. St. Ignatius centuries ago knew that the “common” people needed a way to bring prayer and contemplation into their daily lives.
I cannot say how I was introduced to Centering Prayer. But it happened after I moved to New Mexico from New York and had spent a number of years uncertain of my spirituality and searching for an inclusive Catholic Church. I am happy to say I found both. Contemplative Outreach NM provided a local Centering Prayer group, weekend retreats and day retreats throughout the year. I thank God that I found Centering Prayer and my current Spiritual Director before things started to happen in my life. During the last four years I have journeyed through the loss of my Father, of my precious dog and one year of Clinical Pastoral Education, learning about myself all over again, unloading everything, not realizing that I had so much to unload. I have emerged as a thinking, breathing, praying, loving human being, knowing that the Divine spirit lives in me, and that my knowledge of this Divine spirit is ever expanding. I fell in love for the third time in my life only to realize that I had fallen in love with myself, with the Divine, the Beloved. She and I are one, separate but one as is the Trinity. I recently spent a weekend alone at my home. I was feeling a bit lonely, but it was not that gnawing, empty loneliness that I have felt in the past. I was reminded of something a very wise woman once told me, “Solitude is the friend of Loneliness.” When I first heard this it sounded good, but that weekend I embraced it. I embraced the solitude knowing that God the Divine spirit was at the center of my loneliness, the center of my being. The weekend became a mini retreat, with prayer and chores around the house as well as spiritual reading interspersed. For the past few years I have worked hard at Centering Prayer. I have also been challenged to go deeper. Now, I understand that all I have to do is be still. The Divine spirit does the rest, always waiting, always loving, always ready to impart her grace. The grace, the love, the presence is always there. I only need to sit and say yes. As a young Novice I often would go into the woods and walk with nature to experience the love of God. One day my Novice mistress said to me, “You should spend more time in the chapel.” In the tradition of St. Francis I have always found God profoundly present in nature. Now, as I practice Centering Prayer daily I find God in my heart. I have not given up experiencing God in nature. But I have found God in my heart, in the depths of my Spirit. To experience this richness of God’s profound love is much finer than Gold, much deeper than the most passionate kiss.
There is a line in the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” where St. Francis is out in the wilderness re-building the San Damiano Church. Bernardo has just returned from the Crusades and comes looking for Francis. He approaches Francis amazed at his poverty and the diligence of his work laying one brick at a time. “How are you Francesco?” he says. “I am very well Bernardo, and you?” Then Bernardo talks and St. Francis listens, well into the night. And the dance goes on. We pass the legacy from one to the other. We bring the fruits of our silence and solitude to the marketplace. And we say thanks to all who have taught us, those who have sought the silence before us, those who walk with us, and those seekers who will follow us. Oh, how does one express the profound love of God? By sharing the silence, the lessons learned, the love discovered. I pray each day that I may extend the fruits of this prayer to those most in need.
Rio Rancho, New Mexico