My soul glorifies the Lord
My spirit rejoices in God my savior
The Lord looks on me a lowly servant
Henceforth all nations will call me blessed
The Almighty works marvels for me
Holy is God’s name
God’s mercy is from age to age
On all who are faithful
God puts forth an arm in strength
And scatters the proudhearted
Casts the mighty from their thrones
And raises the lowly
God fills the hungry with good things
Sends the rich away empty
Protecting Israel, God’s servant
The mercy promised to our ancestors
To Abraham, Sarah, and their children forever
– The Magnificat (Mary’s song from Luke 1:46-55), translation taken from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro.
Five months. That’s how long I have been practicing meditation and contemplative prayer. It has begun to transform me and the direction of my life. And, providentially, it has saved me as I struggle through balancing and trying to thrive as a student, as a social worker, as a father, as a husband, as a brother, as a son, as a member of my church community, as a thinker and writer, as an American, and as a follower of Jesus.
In addition to daily Centering Prayer, I have begun to memorize prayers, a combination of those taken from scripture (The Lord’s Prayer and The Magnficat) and those written by the people of God in the centuries since (The Apostle’s Creed and The Prayer of St. Francis).
Mary’s Song (The Magnificat) has become the foundational prayer I use as I fumble with the beads of a rosary. I found myself wanting to learn the contemplative practice of praying the Rosary, but I couldn’t bring myself to pray to Mary, so in an attempt to keep the spirit of the practice and make it something I could feel good about, I adopted Mary’s own words instead of words directed toward her.
These words resonate in my spirit. I savor the phrases, claim the promises, and tune myself to its key. I have begun using it as an intercession tool, a way to guide my prayers for other people. As I twist the beads on my rosary, saying first “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and then reciting the Apostles’ Creed, I align my spirit with the Holy Spirit. Then, I say the magnificat, deepening the focus of my soul. I confirm it with “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was, it is now, and it will be forever. Amen.”
Then the cycle of “decades” (ten-bead groups) begins. I pray the Lord’s Prayer, paying attention to each line. Then I recite the Magnificat three times. As I do so, I allow certain lines to grab a hold of me, spinning my soul around to peer at a idea, to let it take me. For example, as I say, “God fills the hungry with good things” I may think of God’s commands to feed the hungry, to provide for the poor, or I may think of how God gives good gifts to his children. On the last bead in the decade, I pause and say a prayer for whoever I have chosen for that time. I then repeat the Lord’s Prayer, three Magnificats, an intercessory prayer, and Glory Be four more times.
In this way, God’s word, God’s people, and prayers for others are all tools of the Holy Spirit to transform me as I spend 20-30 minutes on bead after bead and prayer after prayer.
As I come to the end, I complete it by reciting and internalizing each line of the Prayer of St. Francis.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Along with the Magnificat, this beautiful, powerful, prophetic prayer has been medicine for my wounded soul, inspiration for my parched spirit, and a mold for my imperfect will.
I find the time to sit with it most days twice a day. In addition to the end of my homebrewed Rosary, I breathe it at the beginning and end of my daily Centering prayer. It serves as both starting block and finish line as I spend half an hour focusing my attention and my will on nothing but God and whatever sacred word I’ve chosen to use as my focal point. Since Inauguration Day, I have said the word “hope” with each breath, needing the help of the Spirit to sustain it in me.
These two practices along with reading and listening to a steady stream of books has begun transforming me. They are the tools I use to prepare me to receive the work the Spirit has for me. They are the means of reshaping my brain, my spirit, and my mind to connect with God and conform to Christ.
I still plan to read more books and add more practices, particularly Lectio Divina and Ignatian Exercises. While I have found these particular disciplines powerful in my own life, each of us must find where God’s call lies and answer it there. Prayer and meditation are musts for spiritual growth and life, but what type and when and how are between each of us and God.
May you find your road to transformation of your spirit and the renewal of your mind.
* Here is what I have read, or listened to, so far about meditation and contemplative spirituality. Some of them were more helpful than others, and some of them are not written by Christians, but wisdom knows how to find the truth and the beneficial and integrate it while sifting out the rest.
- Douglas-Klotz, Neil – Healing Breath, The
- Douglas-Klotz, Neil – Original Prayer
- Eckhart, Meister – Conversations with Meister Eckhart
- Finley, James – Christian Meditation
- Finley, James – Meditation for Christians
- Finley, James – Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere
- Foster, Richard – Celebration of Discipline
- Foster, Richard – Prayer
- Ignatius of Loyola – Spiritual Exercises
- John of the Cross – Ascension of Mt. Carmel
- Julian of Norwich – Revelations of Divine Love
- Keating, Thomas – The Contemplative Journey, Vol. 1
- Keating, Thomas – The Contemplative Journey, Vol. 2
- Kornfield, Jack – Meditation for Beginners
- Kornfield, Jack and Daniel Siegel – Mindfulness and the Brain
- Merton, Thomas – Contemplative Prayer
- Newberg, Andrew – God and the Brain
- Newberg, Andrew – How God Changes Your Brain
- Rohr, Richard – Art of Letting Go, The
- Rohr, Richard – Everything Belongs
- Rohr, Richard – Falling Upward
- Siegel, Daniel – Brainstorm
- Siegel, Daniel – Mindsight
- Siegel, Daniel – Whole-Brain Child, The
- Teresa of Ávila – Interior Castle
- Unknown Author – Cloud of Unknowing, The
- Unknown Author – Way of the Pilgrim, The
Here are some I hope to read in the future:
- Bourgeault, Cynthia – The Heart of Centering Prayer
- Bourgeault, Cynthia – The Wisdom Way of Knowing
- Bourgeault, Cynthia – The Wisdom Jesus
- Brother Lawrence – The Practice of the Presence of God
- Catherine of Sienna
- Clare of Assisi
- Francis of Assisi
- Frenette, David – Path of Centering Prayer, The
- Gallagher, Timothy M. – Meditation and Contemplation
- Keating, Thomas and Basil Pennington – Centering Prayer in Daily Life and Ministry
- McHargue, Mike – Finding God in the Waves
- Merton, Thomas – Seven Storey Mountain
- Muldoon, Tim – Ignatian Workout, The
- Rohr, Richard – Immortal Diamond
- Rohr, Richard – Naked Now, The
- Rohr, Richard – Simplicity
- Unknown Author – Pilgrim Continues His Way, The
I was trying to think which of these I would recommend starting with first, but I think the answer to that would be different for each person. If you want my advice, ask me personally. Otherwise, I trust that if you are truly interested, you will find a way to find what is right for you. Prayer is a good way to start.
For more information on Centering Prayer and other forms of contemplative prayer, check out this site: Contemplative Outreach. While not necessary, I find useful a smartphone app to aid with Centering Prayer developed by Contemplative Outreach. For Android, you can find it here. For iPhone, you can find it here.