Friday, November 05, 2010

Sunshine and mosquitos and nothingness

I've been nursing a bizarre stomach virus today. As the day has wore on, I've continued to feel better. (There's nothing like illness to make me thankful for my good health.)

At about 5 p.m., I decided to go outside. The sun was shining so beautifully and I know full well of the physical and emotional benefits of sunshine, so I thought I might pass some time with my books and journal in my swing by the garden.

The swing had already been taken over by shade, so I parked in a patio chair across the way, my back to the sun. I began to read the latest chapter of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas of Kempis. Every time I read from this book, I feel at once inspired and intimidated. His devotion to his faith in Christ is nearly unfathomable.

Next I picked up my journal. My spiritual formation teacher requires that we keep a journal. I have been pretty good about writing in it daily. Mostly, I use it to record my experiences of the various spiritual practices that we are given as assignments, about which we are required to write a short reflection paper. Currently, we are practicing breath prayers and contemplative prayer. The breath prayers are very natural for me; in fact, I found myself absent-mindedly lapsing into them during several quiet times this week. They seem to refocus me on God's presence.

Today I decided to combine another practice with the breath prayer. I was doing an exercise from Ernest Wood's Concentration in which one stares at an object, looking through and beyond it really. I have this bookmark that is square-shaped with vertical lines each in a different, bright color. (My younger daughter made it years ago.) This bookmark has become my favorite object to use for the concentration exercise, as I like watching the colors blend and separate and multiply and move as I stare through them.

Recently, I was sharing this practice with my spiritual formation teacher, telling her of the "sensation" I've had of falling into nothingness while I do this exercise and then pulling myself back. It puzzled me, why did I resist? Why couldn't I just let go?

I was thinking about this some more today and realized, God is in my mind, his presence is there, but I drown him out with all my thoughts and noise. This concentration exercise, which blots out my thoughts and silences the voice within, does not lead to nothingness but to what is left when I am removed -- God. Yes, that must be it; and that must be why this particular exercise is so soothing, so comforting to me.

Today, as the colors danced and shifted and moved and disappeared, I didn't feel as if I was falling into it so much as I was becoming a part of it. In other words, the separation between me and "it" was not so profound. I felt myself blending in with God's presence; being absorbed by it; joining it. It was like the comfort of a soft blanket about my shoulders. I didn't want to leave it; I wanted it all; I wanted always to be just there.

As I scribbled in my journal about this realization, I felt satisfied; content that I had reached a new level of understanding. The rays of the sun kissed the back of my head and filled my body with its warmth. That warmth felt oddly familiar ... a great deal like the supposed "nothingness." Of course, in God's creation, we would expect to find him there.

I smiled, rubbed my stomach to sooth its raw churnings and batted away the mosquitos that were beginning to make a nuisance of themselves. The cool breeze was picking up. So I gathered up my books and journals and headed back inside.

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