This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Wrecked and redeemed

Sara Dick

When I first began working as a pastor, someone asked me what was most surprising to me about my new job. After a moment’s thought, I replied, “How much I need to pray.”

I was on a sabbatical this summer and, looking back, it seems all roads led me to deepen and expand these truths about prayer and myself.

Those first, difficult weeks at home have become a blur of distress in hindsight. Oh, I had made plans for my sabbatical, plans about which I had been very excited. I’d made plans to travel to other countries and other states. But in the end, even my most modest plans needed to be set aside.

As the Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote 230 years ago,
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

By July, I felt wrecked. But, thanks be to God, I was not left with “nought but grief an’ pain.” A door opened to allow in a little space and light.

In late July, I gathered my supplies for a week-long silent retreat: prayer book, journal, Sing the Journey, colored pencils, coloring book, Madeline L’Engle’s book A Wind in the Door, good chocolate, stationery, addresses, and stamps. Most valuable, though, I brought along the intention of being mindful.

Once on retreat, my intention for mindfulness led naturally into a practice of centering prayer. It was almost easy because of the twice-daily times for common prayer at the retreat center and the enthusiastic encouragement of the director there.

One morning, after prayers, in the retreat center’s small library, I picked up Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Late in the second chapter, I came across a passage describing the practice of mindfulness:

[Y]ou must allow the [mind’s] muddy river to flow unheeded in the dim channels of consciousness; you raise your sights; you look along it, mildly, acknowledging its presence without interest and gazing beyond it into the real of the real where subjects and objects act and rest purely, without utterance.

I laughed out loud, recognizing a divine conspiracy where I found one. What had begun as helpful advice became an avalanche of encouragement to pray, hurtling me down down down to the base of the mountain where there was nothing to do but wait in stillness on God’s good Word.

Six years ago, I attended a centering prayer retreat, but I didn’t need prayer then like I need it now. Other spiritual practices sustained me then: prayer with friends, meal and bedtime prayers, walking meditation, memorizing Scripture, worship, yoga. I still do these things.

This morning, my yoga teacher encouraged us students to prepare for what she called “the extreme edge of mono-tasking”: the final resting pose, shavasana, usually translated as corpse pose. More than 15 years of pretending to be dead—sort of—at the end of each yoga class helped prepare me for the deep stillness of centering prayer.

Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10a).

Back at my first real encounter with centering prayer six years ago, I wasn’t ready for such naked proximity to the divine or to my own mind. It might have undone me before I was, recently, so completely wrecked. And ready.

I’ve joined a centering prayer group that meets weekly, and I try to practice centering prayer twice daily. Some days it’s herding cats to try to focus my attention, and the time in prayer feels like a joke. But the longtime practitioners of centering prayer say it doesn’t much matter what happens in any one time of prayer. Prayer is a gift from God, they say. The benefits to the mind, body, and spirit come from the practice, no matter how muddy the mind.

Many of you reading this have been at mindfulness and prayer much longer or more efficiently than I, or maybe with more avalanches to propel you into spiritual growth. The sages promise us a yield of golden fruits—generosity, connection, prayer, humility, mindfulness—through God’s abundant mercy.
Here we are, so many of us, praying for our lives, redeemed.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
(Psalm 40:1-3a).

Sara Dick is pastor at Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kan.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!