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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Prayer and the Welcoming Stillness of Place.

A few days ago I wrote fondly of the experience I had co-leading with Tricia a Listening in Christ Immersion Retreat at the CFR in Simsbury, CT. I noted it was a balm to my soul, and showed me how much I'm still suited for the "quiet journey" embedded in following Christ.

Because of a conversation I had yesterday, I realized I needed to say a bit about the reality of what years of prayer in a particular place seems to leave behind. I've noticed a curious numinal phenomena: places dedicated to prayer, set aside for the discipline of praying such as retreat centers, monastery's, prayer closets, worship sanctuaries, etc., manifest an environmental stillness palpable, as if in the air. If you take time to settle in such a space, the feel is unmistakably one of peace, an abiding quiet. an inviting sense of spiritual rest and welcome. The atmosphere is unhurried, with an order gentle and gracious -- a "light weightiness," if you will.

It seems to me hours and hours and hours of sojourning  with God in loving silence, listening, praying, worshiping in the heart, and reflecting on the ravishing beauty and goodness of God leaves a residue, or "fragrance" of the Spirit.and heaven's unity. It's feels to me akin to the Celtic notion of "thin places:"

"In the Celtic tradition such places that give us an opening into the magnificence and wonder of that Presence are called “Thin Places.” There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. A contemporary poet Sharlande Sledge gives this description:
“Thin places,” the Celts call this space,
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between the world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy."
                                                        Sylvia Maddox, "Where Can I Touch Heaven?"

However we try to characterize the experience, I know such experience is real, substantial; in these places the mysterium tremendum (the mystery wholly other) is also the mysterium inter nos (the mystery among us). I knew it in Simsbury, Nashville, Jemez, Boston, and Holyoke, in places set aside for prayer at one time, or on-going. Maybe I'm just sensitive to it, or I'm wired for such resonance.

All I know is such awareness elevates my spirit much in the same way helium in a balloon causes it to rise. I'm calmed and yet freed inside, at home, located and eager for the possibility of being near God with my guard down, receptive. Such places invite me to pray and listen. I don't see it as a battle or routine; it is an offering and a receiving. I sit with my Lord and he sits with me - friendship, but not among equals. His loving graciousness and peace open the way for such relating.

So, I'm curious what you think about this. Have you ever or do you experience what I do in such places? Do you think it's nonsense?

BTW: I hope you know I don't think prayer is dependent on a particular place for it to be real or efficacious. It's not and I don't. We are to pray everywhere, all the time . . . but I'm convinced there are these peculiar  "thin places" where prayer persisted, and the welcoming stillness abiding unlocks our hearts and opens our mouths to listen and pray.

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