Two weeks ago I started a new quarter at Fuller, one that by all indications will be one of the busiest in matters of work load: hundreds of pages of reading per week plus 1 paper every other week, on top of everything else in life. The only reason I am even attempting to do this is that I know this period will last only 10 weeks.
A few classes ago, we were encouraged to develop a rule of life. This is a general plan of what spiritual practices you plan to do on a regular basis. It is a bit more involved than “I will try to read my Bible for 30 minutes everyday” to include also things like attitudes and postures you will pursue in that period of time. The thought of even having a “rule of life” in this quarter sounded a little insane. Yet, after a year in seminary, I come to understand the downsides of theological academic training – namely, it is rather easy to grow jaded with Scripture and prayer and a become annoyed with church in general (after all you’ve been wrestling with these issues all week long only to be revisited by it on Sunday). Even in a seminary that takes spiritual formation seriously like Fuller, some of that is inevitable. It was clear to me that having some rule of life in this period was not a luxury I could dispense with but a necessity. My family would thank me for it.
Obviously, the idea of doing a traditional Bible reading devotional was out of the question. A number of my assignments involve reading large portions of Scripture. The Daily Office, which has been my anchor for 2 years now, also seemed too reading-intensive for this season. Even the average spontaneous prayer seemed like a lot of mental work. Please don’t get me wrong, none of these practices are bad. I just realized that this was an unique season that called for something different.
That is when I decided to simplify my rule of life to 10-20 minutes of centering prayer on my week days. For the weekends, my only spiritual practice is to sleep in at least once. So far, this is week three, it has worked well. I found in centering prayer a true source of spiritual connection in a time of extreme busyness. If you are not familiar with it, the concept is really simple: sit quietly in a comfortable position and repeat a word (something like “Jesus” or “love”) whenever a thought comes to your mind. That’s it. The idea is that in that silence you will meet with God in ways that escape cognitive comprehension. In time of intense thinking, this is exactly what I needed.
Now, it has not been easy. The first times, I found myself waiting for my timer to go off. The very act of sitting quietly made me feel out of sorts. Eventually, as I kept on doing it, I came to actually dread the timer going off signaling it was time to end. Another challenge is this whole thing keeping thoughts at bay. Since you are not focusing on anything, thoughts come naturally. As this happened often, I used to get frustrated thinking I wasn’t doing right or wondering what good was it to even try. Eventually, I came to a point of accepting: I will give God the best I can in being quiet and that was sufficient. It turned out to be liberating, one of the few moments of my day when I am not under the pressure to get a good grade or do a good job at work. I plan to continue on this journey in this quarter. So far, I get the sense that centering prayer has been a way to stay grounded in this period. Yet, even if that was not the case, it doesn’t matter. The main point is to spend time with my Creator in silence. He deserves much more but somehow seems content to receive my offering.
For more information on centering prayer you can go here (They have an app as well that you can download which is what I use)
I leave you with the prayer that I read at the end of my centering prayer time.
O God, unto whom all hearts lie open
Unto whom desire is eloquent
And from Whom no secret thing is hidden;
Purify the thoughts of my heart
By the outpouring of your Spirit
That I may love you with a perfect love
And praise you as you deserve.
Prayer from the prologue of The Cloud of the Unknowing