The Spiritual Practice of Welcoming Prayer and Building Bridges — Part 3

Len Delony1“The welcoming prayer is a practice of ‘letting go’ in the present moment in the ordinary routines of daily life.”

— Father Thomas Keating, “Open Mind, Open Heart,” p. 125

Last Sunday, Dr. Tim Bruster gave a wonderful Father’s Day sermon on “the only place you can live” — which, of course, is in the present.

As he quoted sages across the ages, he said, among other things, the present is an unrepeatable miracle . . . that life is on loan . . . and that we actually should live life while making a living. (Here’s the sermon.)

It seems that in our rushed culture we think of these sayings as only shallow cliches. We usually don’t awaken to the soulful wisdom that acknowledges that life is on loan and a gift to be treasured unless we “allow our souls to catch up with us,” experience vulnerability at a deeper level, and admit to ourselves when our life seems like it is on the edge. (Sometimes, what we treat as “depression” in our busy culture might be understood better as a “dark night of the soul” or a time that needs fuller attention in the present moment to discover healing and what is calling to our True Self from a deeper place within.)

I’ve mentioned before that my most significant learning experience (from which I am still learning) is from the vulnerability I felt from 1970 – 1976 while being treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and related complications. As a teenager, though somewhat numb to it all, I was aware that my life was on the edge. Through the years that followed, I became increasingly aware of a deeply felt sense that my life was a gift. When I remembered times of deep vulnerability, and awakened to a fresh sense of gratitude, I could see with more clarity a genuine sense of purpose and hear with compassion a calling to connect in the beloved community.

People sometimes talk about “the gift of cancer” (or other trying times they survived) because such difficult times became like a “wake-up call” . . . a time when they discovered a fresh sense of what is truly important and meaningful in life.

But such awareness doesn’t come easily in a life that is busy and overwhelmed with distractions. For me, to experience “the better portion” (Luke 10:42) in the present, there was much I needed to learn about the practice of letting go (and I still do, of course).

I am convinced now that we are all exposed to the same music of the present moment and don’t need a life-threatening illness in order to hear the ringing of a wake-up call.

And that is where spiritual practices such as welcoming prayer and building bridges come in for each one of us.

Spiritual practices can help us let go of fears and angers that distract us, and open our awareness to deeply meaningful present moments. At first we might feel more vulnerable as we allow ourselves to be more honestly and fully present to what is, here and now, and practice letting go of our ego’s desire to feel safe and in control. But we can be awakened in each present moment to the wisdom of the Spirit, to the deeper experience (beyond words) of love and grace, to hear God’s call through the ears of the heart, and trust more deeply the power of compassion we know in and through Christ.

Being and Building Bridges — Last Monday, about 15 people gathered in Room 350 at FUMCFW and spent two hours of learning about and listening to one another in the present moment. In this spiritual practice of Being and Building Bridges, we experienced moments of hearing stories and building soulful connections that was described as a “homecoming.”

It was very meaningful to all those who participated, so we decided to continue in three weeks, and invite others who are interested. We plan to meet on Monday, July 11, from 5:30 – 7:30 pm. Since the energizing and amazing Vacation Bible School will be going on throughout the church all that week with kids of all ages, we will meet in a different place to be announced later. Let me know if you are interested or have questions. Also, I posted links to some of the helpful “Bridges” guidelines in last week’s blog if you want to take a look.

Welcoming Prayer — Welcoming Prayer is a simple spiritual practice similar to the “second breath prayer” I have mentioned before. After some initial shock or vulnerability that might cause us to take a quick, short breath, pause . . . take a deep second breath . . . let it go . . . then welcome whatever is in that moment. [The ancient wisdom of this spiritual practice is being understood in new ways through recent brain research that points to the wisdom of “letting go” of the initial fight-flight-freeze-faint reaction (of the ego and amygdala) and instead, as a disciple, “decide to abide in God” and respond to God’s call (from the True Self and frontal cortex).]

Here’s what I wrote about it back in April, and here is a good, more detailed explanation by writer Phil Fox Rose I just found on the Web.

And here is a famous poem often associated with the welcoming prayer by the 13th century poet Rumi:

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture.
Still treat each guest honorably.
S/he may be cleaning you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Rumi

Grace and peace,

Len

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