Many of us have been struggling with questions about whether our contemplative prayer groups should continue to meet in light of the current situation and these decisions are increasingly being taken out of our hands as churches decide to close and social distancing is encouraged.
As someone who teaches on spirituality and digital media at General Theological Seminary and who has led prayer groups by video, teleconference, email and Facebook for a number of years, I’d like to offer some suggestions about the many ways we can continue to stay connected in prayer during this challenging time.
As Centering Prayer practitioners we already know something about staying connected to our centers. We also know that while it’s important to continue to practice regularly by ourselves in our homes, there’s something very powerful about practicing together in groups. Contact with others can be especially valuable if we want to stay connected to the part of ourselves that knows not only how to cope in this emergency but even how to flourish, continuing to feel gratitude and joy. The birds are still singing. We can still smile at each other. Even while our heads are filled with worried thoughts and complicated emotions, there is a still, centered part of us that wordlessly stays connected to God.
The prayer energy of others can help us access this wise part of ourselves that remembers who we are at the deepest level. This prayer energy can also help us to stay healthy.
People who are drawn to silence and contemplative prayer sometimes have a bias against the digital realm, associating it with noise and distraction. However I have tried all the following digital formats with many people and have found that they can be surprisingly moving and effective. Let’s use the amazing technologies available to us today to stay connected to each other and the most centered parts of ourselves during this crisis.
Here are a few suggestions, plus some thoughts about why it’s important to keep practicing, now more than ever.
- Email your group or prayer partner to coordinate your Centering Prayer times. Knowing that your group is continuing to meet can be comforting, energizing, and supportive, even when you are all in different locations. Before the start of the meeting you could even email the group a Lectio Divina passage and share your reflections.
- Practice Lectio Divina by teleconference. Services like “Free Conference Call” provide teleconferencing services free of charge. The participants are given an access code to get onto the private call. This can be a beautiful way to experience Lectio Divina, emphasizing the power of the human voice even when we are not visible to each other. Start with five minutes of silence or practice Centering Prayer on your own before getting on the call.
- Join or start a Centering Prayer group by videoconference. I have used videoconference to practice Centering Prayer with people all over the world. The ever-growing numbers of weekly groups in the Thomas Keating Chapel on Meditation Chapel are a testament to how satisfying and effective this format can be. Join one of these groups, or contact me to join my Tuesday or Wednesday groups at 7 pm EST, or experience a recording of a session here.
- Go here for tips on using Zoom to pray with others. Email Pamela Begeman if you want to start a group on Meditation Chapel or if you have questions. Formation and training are provided.
- You can also set up your own group using Skype or Zoom. Skype is free and very easy to install by anyone with a computer or phone and a webcam. I myself have moved to Zoom for most video meetings. Zoom is free for one on one meetings and for groups lasting up to forty minutes, and starts at $14.99 per month for unlimited group conferencing.
In the midst of a difficult experience sitting silently in prayer with our helplessness and vulnerability might be the last thing we want to do , yet it can be an opportunity to be present to all that is happening inside us and those around us at the deepest level. When we open ourselves to our pain and uncertainty about what is coming, we might finally be able to begin to let go of our illusion that we can fix everything. As Thomas Keating writes,
"To be powerless means to be absolutely helpless. . . . This, oddly enough, is the best disposition for the beginning of a spiritual journey. Why is that? Because the deeper one’s awareness of one’s powerlessness and the more desperate, the more willing one is to reach out for help."
I invite you to use your practice to hold all the different emotions that life is evoking in you right now. We may not know what to do with our fear, despair, irritation, rage, or uncertainty but we can offer them to God in our prayer, deepening our sense of trust and intimacy with the sacred, from which goodness and energy and guidance will flow into us, giving us the strength and sense of direction to take our next step. Don’t stop praying!
Lindsay Boyer is a spiritual director specializing in working with those who are uncomfortable with institutional religion; She is Contemplative Outreach coordinator for NYC and an adjunct professor at General Theological Seminary, where she teaches on digital spiritual practice. She is the author of Centering Prayer for Everyone, published by Cascade in May 2020.
Contemplative Outreach offers a free, donation-based weekly message that includes a weekly, live Zoom prayer group. Read more about The Word of the Week program here and sign-up at the bottom of the page.
Lindsay’s full article, “Prayer Groups in the Era of Social Distancing” includes more technical details and is available here.
You can read another one of her articles,“Contemplative Presence in the Digital Realm” here.