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Notes from Sanctuary

‘And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst’ Exodus 25:8

Have you ever wanted to deepen your interior life through contemplation? Have you ever wondered what St. Paul meant by clothing ourselves with Christ? Do you seek to empty yourself of all things outside of God, so that this emptiness can be filled with God’s transcendent presence?

Hello! Your summer intern here! I want to capture what we accomplish together over the month of August in contemplation at Saint Mary the Virgin. Together we shall seek to learn how to love our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength.

A heart given to God loses nothing of its natural affection—on the contrary, this affection grows stronger by becoming purer and more spiritual. [1] 

In the first week, we began by 'priming the canvas' so to speak. Silence and breath as a gateway to silence was explored.

"The atmosphere of solitude is silence. We live in a world that seems to flee silence. It is an age of words. We are smothered by them, buried in them, bombarded by them on all sides. So much of our culture is media-driven. And the media are full of words. So often words make no deep impression upon us, because there are so many and because they arise not out of silence but out of busyness."[2]

For contemplative prayer, we need the wordless contact with reality that comes with silence. Silence is especially the “language” of the contemplative. Thomas Merton wrote: “The solitary life, being silent, clears away the smoke-screen of words that man has laid down between his mind and things. In solitude we remain face to face with the naked being of things. … When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other people, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality” [3].

Working with the breath can be a gateway to silence – a portable silence that we can engage anywhere within the world. So, we began this short series on contemplative prayer by entering into silence with each other.  In our collect for peace we say, ‘by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, may we perfectly love thee.’ Yes, inspiration can mean to conceive a creative idea, a wonderful story, a plan for a garden or a song – however, it does also mean to breathe – to inspire – and when we are inspiring the Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit is inspiring us as we mutually indwell inside that love of God. ‘By the inspiration of God’s Holy spirit' we can learn to nestle into that rhythm of God’s unending love for us.

Below is the structure of our practise together on the 1 August. I will continue to post the structures of our practises on the St Mary's Blog.

1 August Practise 

So get comfortable, whatever that means for you. For some this means to have our feet firmly planted on the ground, to ensure that our back are supported and that we are not straining our necks, our shoulders, our wrists, our hands, our chest, our stomachs, our hips, our thighs, our ankles, or our feet.  

Some of you may notice the aroma in the air. Some, when they enter into contemplation prefer to allow their eyes to close. But others of us can have a little trouble with this. Having our eyes closed can make us dizzy or bring up unpleasant memories or thoughts. In the Baptistery, we can just let our eyes glaze, allow our eyelids to heavily drape and regard with a loose focus, the Baptism of Christ window or the candle.

Next, I’m going to bring our attention to our breath. Just breathe naturally and notice the air coming in and out of your body. Notice the air as it comes up and in. Coming up and inside the bone of your nose. Feel it in your throat. Feel it spilling into the top of your lungs. See if you can perceive and trace the sensations of the breath filling all of your lungs.

Our lungs, begin just under our collar bones in the front and reach down to above the hips in the back. And when you exhale, notice how temperature has changed. The air leaving your body, is slightly warmer and it seems to be leaving on the outer rim of the nostrils. The air when you are breathing in, may now seem cooler as you breathe in. Warmer as you breathe out. Just notice this. See if you can trace and chase the breath in your body. Feel it on the back of your throat, feel it around your teeth, around your tongue. See if you can feel it all around your lungs. We will continue on breathing in this way for a few minutes, just noticing the breath coming in and out of our bodies – moving us and us moving the breath.

I will ring a bell at the end of one minute.  

(Bell)

We can wiggle our toes a little, tap our finger tips, and run our tongue along the edge of our teeth – waking back up into a less meditative state. Ok, that was wonderful.

Now – we do the same, but we will now gently engage a discipline. We will do the same – I will guide us into it, but then we will do 3 minutes of silent breathing. Now the discipline is, is that when a thought enters your mind; a planning thought, a worry thought, a thought from the past, a thought about the future, a guilty thought, a naughty thought, a joyful thought, a fearful thought, a sad thought or any kind of thought – just very gently touch your heart and focus back on your breath. If you don’t want to touch your heart, just say silently, kindly and gently to yourself like you are speaking to a puppy, back to the breath. It is completely normal to fill the time when you are beginning with these redirections. Completely normal and expected. Shall we begin?

If you choose to make use of this practise, I would suggest beginning with 1 minute, then 3, then 5 and then up in increments of 5 - up to 45 minutes. Stay tuned for further posts!

This image of the temptations of Christ is what the Book of Kells was open to when viewing it in Ireland after a significant milestone in my Christian journey.

The temptations of Christ are described in the Gospels of Mathew (4:1-11), Mark (1:12-13) and Luke (4:1-13). 

Peace,
Katherine  

[1] Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and T. N. Taylor, The Story of a Soul (London: Burns and Oates, 1912), 143.

[2] William H. Shannon, Thomas Merton’s Paradise Journey: Writings on Contemplation (Tunbridge Wells, Kent; Cincinnati, OH: Burns & Oates; St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2000), 91.

[3] Thomas Merton. The Inner Experience. Cistercian Studies, n.d., 85-86.