How could we make Holy Week special? My husband cannot make the 3 p.m. Good Friday service as feeding time is 3:30 p.m. There was no way either of us could take in the beautiful Holy Thursday ceremony then stay for a holy hour or two afterwards as we had for so many years before. By 8:30 p.m. we are each longing for the comfort of bed and sleep. How else could we make this most holy week of the year a time of deepening of our relationship with the Ultimate Reality after following each step year after year? One gift was assured; we would go for 11 am mass on Easter Sunday, without a doubt! Yes, this was a different year. Yet, we were at peace because of our Centering Prayer practice.
Over 30 years ago we were introduced to Centering Prayer in a hotel in Central Florida. Fr. Thomas Keating had come to present it to the leaders of the Charismatic Renewal of Florida. It was before Contemplative Outreach, before Open Mind Open Heart was published. How blessed we were to have been invited into this most life-changing way of relating to God so early in its offering.
The Lord knew we needed it! We had been married for 10 years at the time of our introduction to this life-saving prayer. Many already thought we were crazy. I married a widower with four children and had six of my own. Yes, we had 10 children from seven to 17 years when we joined families, and even though they began leaving one by one a few years later, it was not an easy path. But then, that is another story for another time. Let’s fast forward to now. From the original 10, we have 20 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. We have a rich, loving family with grace flowing in all directions! Then it happened.
John has always been a gentle soul, strong, more silent than me, a wonderful “leaning post.” Turning 88 on his last birthday, he was physically strong too, playing tennis three times a week in a men’s group up until it happened. He had been having trouble swallowing. After several procedures and tests, it was determined he could no longer swallow any food or drink without producing the danger of life-threatening pneumonia. Bone spurs prevented the food and drink from entering his esophagus and surgery was much too dangerous. The only solution was a tube in his stomach. This means four feedings a day, which includes crushed medications that he was already on for his heart problems.
This is where our over 30 years of Centering Prayer practice come in. Even though our lives have changed quite a bit -- no more going out to dinner, traveling across the country visiting members of our family, a diminished social life, including giving up our Wednesday evening Centering Prayer group and the one we led on Tuesday afternoons -- we are so at peace! Each day unfolds gracefully. A kiss follows each feeding, and he is most grateful for the care he receives, which makes it all the more pleasant for me. We sink into our Centering Prayer after the morning feeding.
And as this year's Holy Week approached, we wondered how we could make this time more special without our usual services at church.
An idea came! We started Palm Sunday by watching once again the lovely DVD on the life of Fr. Thomas, A Rising Tide of Silence. We next decided to make a retreat week using the most appropriate series, The Gift of Life, Death & Dying, Life & Living, one or two segments each day ending on Holy Saturday.
Yes, it was a very different Holy Week. Thoughtfully and prayerfully each day absorbing the segments of The Gift of Life brought new insights. Sharing these with each other brought more spiritual intimacy than ever before. Getting this quiet introverted man to open up about his innermost thoughts had never been easy. But the slow quiet pace of this retreat and his present physical struggles gave him permission.
It was with a greater depth of gratitude in our hearts that we treasured the Easter Sunday liturgy and were thankful for the great gift of Fr. Thomas and Centering Prayer in our lives.