March 20, 2020
18 Cry aloud before the Lord,
O walls of beautiful Jerusalem!
Let your tears flow like a river
day and night.
Give yourselves no rest;
give your eyes no relief.
19 Rise during the night and cry out.
Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him in prayer,
pleading for your children,
for in every street
they are faint with hunger.
Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord. For some of us, this feels really easy. If you are a verbal processor, you might be pouring out your heart like water to anyone and everyone who is in the room. For some people, though, the idea of pouring out your heart in response to grief feels foreign and even wrong. The British speak of “keeping a stiff upper lip” in the face of adversity and some of us, British or not, have accepted this as the best way to grieve. I’ve also seen people who are a waterfall of words specifically to avoid issues of grief.
Today I’d like to recommend a way to cry out to the Lord that requires very few words—or in some cases, none at all. As a part of our Lenten series, let’s turn our attention to the concept of centering prayer. Sometimes called contemplative prayer, it’s a prayer practice that can be traced all the way back to the “desert fathers” of the third century. Centering prayer has at its foundation, this verse from John 3: “This joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Centering prayer brings this mindset to the forefront even in our prayer life. We attempt, even as we pray, to bring less of our perspectives, prejudices, opinions, and desires to the conversation. Instead we focus on listening and being in God’s presence, allowing him to increase in us and through us. In doing so, our desires and perspectives can be transformed to align more closely to God’s. In this way it is critically different from meditation which focuses only on the emptying of oneself. Centering prayer invites us to empty ourselves so we might be more fully filled with the presence of God.
This form of prayer is a useful way to combat the temptation of achieving transformation through effort or intelligence. True, there are aspects of our pursuit of God that do rely on our mind & effort. Similarly, we are blessed with wise counselors, pastors, therapists, and mentors who can help show us the way. But we have to acknowledge that there are many things Christ alone must do for us. We are incapable of doing them ourselves. For some of us, that can feel hard to believe. But I can list numerous friends and church members who have seen their lives transformed almost solely through the power of prayer.
There’s no perfect way to do centering prayer. You may be one of the lucky few who can sit quietly in the Lord’s presence and feel his breath fill you with hope and joy. For many of us, we need help staying focused. Try repeating the Lord’s Prayer slowly and thoughtfully several times. Or, pray the Jesus Prayer, praying “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” as you inhale, and pray “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” as you exhale. If you are in a season of profound grief, try repeating these words from Lamentations 3.
I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
Don’t analyze or evaluate. Instead, sit with God and believe that as we open ourselves to him, he continues the slow work of transformation in our hearts and minds.