On Tuesday of this week, Pope Francis asked if everyone in every country, regardless of their religious faith or otherwise, would pause and come together at eight o’clock, to meditate and pray for the health of the world.
Two things struck me about this call from the Pontiff: the need for prayer, especially when we are troubled and afraid, plus the notion of pausing and staying in the moment, in order to concentrate fully on what we are engaged in.
During these long days of fear and uncertainty, as we face an unseen enemy, Prayer and Meditation have the potential to become twin pillars of support, albeit unlikely ones for many people. Both of these can often be neglected and disregarded in the busy flurry of activity and time-keeping, which underpins the lives of most of us.
In the Here and Now
In the past two weeks, the way we live our lives has undergone some drastic changes. No longer can we come and go as we please, or exercise those choices that we used to take for granted. In fact, our senior citizens have been asked to ‘cocoon’ at home, and the rest of us are advised only to go out for shopping and prescriptions. The Government is cracking down on the movement of people with the result that there is a greater Garda presence on our streets.
For many being confined indoors is very difficult; we have to be here so what do we do now? Well, it is, of course, an opportunity to do those jobs you have been putting off for what seems like ages. And now that we do ‘have the time’ it is a chance to tackle tasks with care and attention. Having lost a lot of what we usually focus on, frees us to give ourselves fully to ‘chores’ we might otherwise avoid. Clear out that drawer; go through the contents of that box; you never know what you might find!
I listened to one woman talk about how thinking up ways to amuse her young daughter, she decided to do some baking, something they had not done before. As the house was filled with the aroma of the cakes and the little girl became absorbed in it all, her mother observed how she too got involved in the experience of the moment. Normally her lifestyle would not allow for this kind of activity.
Whatever we are doing it is really important to engage fully with it; otherwise, we may become worried and distracted by the constant barrage of news, some of which can be negative. It is important not to become overwhelmed by the current events; now more than ever let’s take one step at a time.
Calm during the Storm
It is perhaps ironic that the monks and nuns in orders like that of St Benedict are living by choice the sort of ‘enclosed’ life that many of us are forced into living at the present time. The focus of their day to day activity is prayer, which we greatly need now.
As the COVID-19 outbreak got worse, Archbishop Eamon Martin suggested that the Irish people, especially those who are feeling worried and frightened, should pray St Patrick’s famous breastplate prayer, where he invites Christ to surround him with a ‘force field’ of protection. Christ with me, Christ on my right and left. Christ beneath me and above me, behind and before me. There is a lovely sense here of being enveloped in the love of God. He also said that we are being reminded of the fragility of human life and of our dependence on one another and on God.
Part of the monastic ritual is to have more appreciation for moments of calm and silence and this, of course, facilitates prayer.
Prayer and Meditation
Prayer is quite simply talking to God. It can be audible or silent, private or public. All prayer should be offered in faith (James 1:6), in the name of the Lord Jesus (John 16:23) and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26).
Too often we lose sight of how simple prayer is really supposed to be. There is a lovely story of the man who sat in the Church every day but never seemed to be praying. He had neither book nor beads, he just sat in silence. When asked about this he explained that he just liked to look at Jesus in the Tabernacle and said, “Jesus looks at me and I look back. He knows I love Him and I know He loves me”.
Christian Meditation is another way which can enable us to stay calm and in the moment. Meditation is a mental exercise that involves relaxation, focus, and awareness. Many think of it as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration.
Christian Meditation is the process of deliberately focusing on specific themes such as passages from the Bible and reflecting on the meaning and the context of God’s loving presence. It is not that we empty our minds, but that we fill it with God. “I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.” (Psalm 119:15)
A good way to really immerse yourself in the moment is e.g. when thinking on the Miracle of the Loaves, imagine you can smell the bread and taste the fish.
One of the benefits of Christian Meditation is an expectancy of God’s goodness. As people of faith, we must trust in God, all the more so during these days when we might at times feel tempted to despair.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan