One’s own center

At the Methodist church where I walked the temporary Stations of the Cross, other demonstrations of meaningful items used by Christians throughout the centuries had been set out for display. The first is an Eastern Orthodox icon presented along with station two (in which Jesus is arrested). The small painting of a saint is rendered in rich hues of gold and red; I recognize the style immediately from the icons belonging to my Greek grandmother. To my eyes, it’s almost cartoonish in its simplicity with the big dark eyes and fingers pointing up. These are described in the accompanying text as “windows to glimpse the eternal in the present moment.” I never would have imagined they were meant to have such power. My grandmother kept one on a shelf in her walk-in closet. Was it her private portal to another world?

A few stations down, the minister has laid out a labyrinth, a replica from a medieval Cathedral. It’s painted on canvas and spread on the floor. I’ve seen these before; I’m thinking of one in particular that is embedded in the concrete in front of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Out of curiosity, I walked it one afternoon. I remember the city bustling around me as I tried to stay focused on my footsteps along the thin, twisty path. The text explains something I knew, that labyrinths are used for meditation and reflection, but adds a tidbit I had never considered: they encourage a “journey to one’s own center.”

Next, I encounter a couple of varieties of prayer beads. The text explains that these are “Anglican,” although other traditions use similar beads. A specific prayer is said while holding each bead and a person is meant to go around the strand several times. It reads, “Allow repetition to become a sort of lullaby of love and praise that enables your mind and heart to become quiet.”

I sense a common purpose among these items: to help a person step away from the ordinary way of looking at and experiencing life. The regular world fades; something everlasting emerges.

At station 11, when Jesus is crucified but not yet dead, I find the most peculiar demonstration. The minister has placed three chairs around the station, inviting to take a respite. A short tutorial explaining “How to talk to God” hangs on the wall. I take a seat because I’ve been curious about this exact thing. How does one talk to God? Is it just a matter of the little voice in my head having a conversation? (I think of my favorite Judy Blume title: “Are you there God, it’s me Margaret”). The instructions don’t advise anything like this; they say, “Listen to God’s presence in the events of our lives.” The text elaborates, but only slightly: “We experience Christ reaching to us through our memories. Our own personal story becomes salvation history.” Can this be true? Is God hiding in my memories? If I sift through my past, will I find Christ beckoning from the shadows? If this is what it means to talk to God, I decide sift through my memories in search of divine evidence. How far back would I need to go?

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18 thoughts on “One’s own center

  1. Jesus, who was God in the flesh said we must be born again to see the kingdom of God; we must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. The apostle Paul said that no good thing dwells in our flesh. In order for us to “see God”, we must be born of His Spirit. The natural man cannot understand the things of God. Bill

    • Corinna, Often a child’s only experience with prayer is to hear others “asking” God for things. I know that was true for me, and it took my well into my adult life to learn that “asking” prayers are only a small part of your relationship with God. The far better part is listening to God. That listening can take so many different forms–some of which you alluded to in your post. Why do so many religious traditions value meditation and contemplation? They know that listening is crucial. Of course, one easy and self-evident way to listen to God is to read the Bible but to read it with a real listening ear and heart. If you have not been acquainted with the practice called Lectio Divina, Google it and see what a wealth of material appears. There are a lot of ways to do Lectio Divina. You can do it by yourself, or in a group. It encourages you to let your spirit marinate, so-to-speak, in the Bible story, parable, or other reading, and let it work on you until it unites with your experience and your heart. You might read a parable several times, getting more and more out of it, asking yourself “Who am I in this story?”. Seeds of Hope by Henri Nouwen is also a wonderful book to use as a source of material to help open yourself to listening to God. These things provide bread for the journey.

      • Jan, I like the phrase about letting your spirit “marinate” in the word…..I’d take that to mean a sort of slow seeping in….That’s rings true with much of my own experience at being exposed to Scripture….Much of it just “washed off” all too often (mostly because my skull was too thick!).
        Corinna: a great picture hinted at throughout the Gospel accounts is that of children coming to Jesus….we are so like them, babbling all the way, anxious to tell him all sorts of stuff, and he just listens, all the while knowing what we really do need. I remember as a young Christian being often troubled about the “right way” to pray, whether my prayer was “spiritual” enough, or not selfish, etc. Now I know that it’s often mostly selfish, yet the Father hears us and listens like the most patient, loving earthly father that none of us ever had….Pour out your heart, don’t worry about form, and wait on his reply; in the meantime looking at Jesus’ relationship with and attitude toward the Father….

  2. if you expect your experience with “Churchianity” to configure with the Christianity of the inspired Word of the Bible, you will continue to be disappointed. The instruction book from our Father in heaven to his children here on planet earth doesn’t need to be embellished by the flavor of the month church. Our Father wants us to have a relationship with him and you and don’t need anyone else besides Jesus Christ who is our High Priest to communicate with Him. I’m afraid your journey like so many thousands before you will leave you with nothing but bad choices! Been there, done that.

  3. “Listen to God’s presence in the events of our lives.” — I wish I understood how this works.
    “…Our own personal story becomes salvation history.” — My inability to comprehend makes my head shake.
    Even though I am a lover of the abstract (I paint bold abstract art) and I devour such abstract writers as James Hillman and Joseph Campbell, I can’t make sense of this.
    But I always enjoy reading your posts, Corinna.

    • “listen to God’s presence” sounds rather mystical. I was thinking about your question, Gracie. There have been lots of events in my life (I’m nearly 65) that have been significant, events which beg for meaning, which of course makes some think of God and the bigger questions. For example, I was seriously wounded in Vietnam, and the next day, laying in a hospital bed, was the first time in my life that I began to question all the “stuff” I’d been taught in Sunday school–God had my attention. In Africa, where we served as missionaries, my language helper decided to give me his family name, which was “Donky” (God’s humor and the truth of my own stubbornness was not lost on me. Having to leave the mission field because of my personal failures as a dad and husband felt like God hitting the “donkey” upside the head with a 2×4 to get my attention. Understanding the truth of how God planned to adopt children and was passionate about it (from Ephesians 1:4) came at a time when I was despairing over what God really thought of me. Such things have become part of my own “salvation history”….It’s amazing how those past events play out in our lives at appropriate times….such were certainly “providential” in my own life…..Coincidence? the voice of God’s presence? However one thinks of them, they brought me to a crossroad and a road taken that I likely never would have had they not been presented to me…..and my life is the better for it.
      Corinna: You asked “how far back would I need to go?” That’s a good question to ask of God…you might find things brought to mind that you had never before considered in relation to your present journey…..Bon voyage!!

  4. Corinna, what are you really looking for? What do you want from this search and how will you know when you have found it? Otherwise, you could be floating from one thing to another and going in circles for some time. For every dozen churches you visit or people you talk to you will get a dozen different answers. Human reasoning and wisdom are limited at best and are constantly changing to adjust to new information. It’s all very stimulating but does it really answer the deep questions? Why not go straight to God and ask him yourself? He’s not far away and hard to reach. On the contrary, he has been with you all through your life and has been relentlessly pursuing you because he really loves you and desires a real relationship with you. Relationship requires communication, of course, so God is trying to make it easy for you to talk to him and to hear him talk to you. He is with you right now. He wants you to know he is real and he wants you to be able to hear him, so you don’t feel like you are talking to the wall. So find a quiet place and ask him to show you if he is real. And he will! Why? Because he can’t wait to. God does speak in noisy places too but it is easier at first if nobody is staring at you or you are being distracted. If you are truly seeking God, he will help you find him. How do I know this? Because if I can have a living, loving, joyful, fearless friendship with God, just like Jesus said we could, then you can too. Father God told me to tell you all of this. He really does love you!

    • Hi Julie, I appreciate your comment and the sentiments you express. I feel I am not quite there yet, though. I’m still struggling to wrap my head around God and what I might talk about if I were to go directly to the source. I realize that humans are flawed, and everyone has their own take on how this religion thing works, but I’m finding such beautiful bits of wisdom along the way. If and when I get there, I think I will have so much more to say!

  5. I totally agree that exchange of ideas and experiences with others is to be encouraged. I agree it is very stimulating and intriguing and part of our growth, not to be ignored. You will get there if that is what you really want. God wants to give you the desire of your heart. He is so beautiful, magnificent, filling the universe with his light and love and power, yet he desires to be a father to us. Wow! I can search him out for a life time but never come to the end of discovering all the wonders and beauty of his nature. He just enjoys revealing himself to those who are hungry, sometimes in words but sometimes by his presence. I’ve learned a lot about the Father by reading what Jesus said about him and by what Jesus revealed about his nature in the way he lived. I’ve also learned about him by sitting in restful silence and letting him wrap his love around me. Somehow he communicates so much without saying a word and later I realize that I have been changed by being with him. I encourage you to just dive in. All the preparation in the world will never get you ready for the ride of your life! Bon Courage!!!

  6. All of these comments are excellent. Corinna, you are drawing out some great wisdom here. You say here, “…what might I talk about if I were to go directly to the source?” And let’s add, as a flawed human being.
    That is the start. The Bible is God’s story. Look at God’s history, as well as your own.
    One of the books right in the center of the Bible is called Psalms. Your friend Martin Luther called it “A Little Bible.” The Psalms are personal, prayerful, penitential, prophetic, and recall history. In them you will see God defined and you will hear how flawed human beings relate to God. Here’s a few examples:
    Psalm 8, “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” He points out that God is creator of the heavens and earth, and then asks, “what are people that you should think about them, mere mortals that you care for them?” The writer explores that.
    Psalm 19 – God’s law (the Bible) revives the soul, rejoices the heart, enlightens, gives truth, and is more valuable than gold.
    Psalm 51 – God have mercy on me because of your unfailing love. Wash my sins away. I recognize that it’s against you alone that I have sinned. King David confesses after being confronted about his sin.
    *Psalm 139 – God you know everything about me… You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!
    Psalm 136 – Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his faithful love endures forever.
    So a first step might be to consider what these people talked about: God’s greatness as creator, God’s love and awareness of each of us, even though we are small and mortal, our need for forgiveness.
    As everyone has said here, Jesus will take your hand and open the way.

  7. I am intrigued that you were introduced to a labyrinth. I have never actually seen one in person, just in pictures. The labyrinth is a kind of substitute for going on a pilgrimage. Rather than going on a spiritual journey to Jerusalem or Rome, I take a walk through the maze built in the garden. The labyrinth is not a puzzle that we get lost in. It is a single path that we follow inward, and then outward. Like prayerfully walking with God into our own hearts and then out into the world. You can see my own reflections on my blog if you are interested: http://markmaki.blogspot.com/2012/04/labyrinth-and-pilgrimage.html.
    Happy Journey!

  8. Hi Corinna, I am enjoying reading all the different opinions and facts that people are giving, but I do have to add that you please not forget our Mother Mary, for without her unselfish YES to God, there would be no Jesus. She is a very important part of the journey. Talk and pray to her as well and she will guide you to her Son. Experience saying the Rosary, it is a beautiful prayer that I love and has brought me so much comfort. God bless you and keep on your faithful journey.

  9. I enjoy reading everyone’s post. A couple of years ago I took it on myself to visit several churches, Seventh Day Adventist, Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Calvary Chapel and several other denominations. There were times when I felt like I wanted to argue with them and others where I felt that I had something better but in each church the defining expression for me was, “a consciousness of faith”. It helped me put them all under one umbrella even though they thought of themselves as different. Everywhere I went there was a deeply felt consciousness of faith and it is what I’m finding here in Corinna’s blog. Whether it’s saying the rosary prayers or giving testimony about Jesus or Jehovah or “none of the above” it is easy to see how deeply people hold on to the faith of their belief.

  10. The book is “Are you there God, it’s me Margaret”. (I don’t add this to be picky, but because the title really fits with what you are doing/thinking about…

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