Q: What is being welcomed? What if I don't feel "welcoming" … it seems like I can't even "feel and sink into" the sensation if I'm not able to welcome?
A: “Welcome what you are experiencing this moment in your body as an opportunity to consent to the Divine Indwelling.” That’s the official wording of the third movement of the Welcoming Prayer. We are welcoming our own interior feelings, reactions, body sensations -- what we are experiencing and feeling in the tissues in any given moment. Here are some examples from my own life:
Just after Sunday morning service as we are switching gears to go to what is next in the day, a colleague makes a statement based on wrong information as if it is indisputable fact. Instantly I have a flash of annoyance that arcs through my chest and comes out as a curt reply. What I welcome is that flash in my chest. Further what I welcome is a sense of shame at being short with my colleague. What is that sense of shame in my body? It’s a hangdog, droopy feeling of shrinking into myself. These are examples of welcoming on the go. All is passing by quickly but through practice I am able to notice the sensations as they happen, welcome them, let go and embrace the moment as it is.
Another example: I overhear a heated political discussion (not hard to do right now, right?). I’m not even involved in the conversation, but I notice how my stomach clinches up into a knot. I welcome that clinched up feeling as I continue to set up chairs for a meeting.
Another example: All afternoon I am absorbed in making a flyer on the computer. I haven’t moved in what seems like hours as I focus intently on the screen. Finally I pay a little attention to my body that I have been ignoring all this time and realize I need to go to the bathroom. I stand up but can’t straighten up because of severe pain in my hip and back. I welcome the pain in my hip as I’m walking away from my desk. When I return to my desk and notice my back is still hurting, I welcome the pain in my back, the stiffness and discomfort.
I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about all I have to do in the next week. You might call it anxiety but what I am experiencing is a burning that seems to be moving up and down my sternum. I lie in bed, let myself fully feel the burning, sinking into it.
In each case, before I welcome, I sink into the feeling and allow myself to feel fully whatever I am experiencing, even if it’s something I might consider unpleasant or experience as painful. At first, our mind may observe and take note of what is happening. This observing and noticing is pretty much an objective stance. When we sink into what we are experiencing in the moment, we shift our stance from objective to subjective so that we are truly feeling our feelings from inside our body, not outside looking in.
When we welcome whatever we are experiencing in any given moment, like our return to the sacred word in Centering Prayer, our “welcome” in Welcoming Prayer is a sacred word that symbolizes our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. Each feeling in Welcoming Prayer, like each thought in Centering Prayer, is an opportunity to return to our consent to God. So whenever we welcome, implicit in that welcoming is our consent to the Divine Indwelling. That Divine Indwelling is always bringing compassion to us, is always loving us into being. At the moment we turn around and welcome instead of doing whatever else we usually do—ignore, repress, resist, react, fight and struggle—in that moment of welcoming we join God in God’s compassion. I can’t give you quantifiable proof but I can give you lots of experiential evidence that in that moment of welcoming we are brought a little closer to healing, wholeness, and holiness.
– Cherry Haisten, member of the Welcoming Prayer service team