Category Archives: Visualizations

Sample #1 from ‘God Breathed.’

To order ‘God Breathed’ Click here. To find out about order, preordering, and get an excluisve offer for participating in a zoom-based exploration of the practices from the book, click here.

Chapter 6

I was given a small, almost silly gift.  It was a small magenta and orange porcelain possum with an opening in his back for a tiny plant.  Though I love nature I had never been responsible for a plant before.

For those first couple days the plant felt like any other little trinket that might clutter my desk.  But then I  noticed that its little leaves were a little browner, a little more brittle than they had been when I received the plant.  For a moment, my ambivalence turned to annoyance.  I would have to water it.  I didn’t have to water my stapler, or the mug which held my pencils.  This wasn’t just any little dust collector; this was going to take some work.  

Then I got worried.  I  found myself wondering just how much water I was supposed to give it.  And how often.  And what would happen if I got it wrong.  I am usually a pretty relaxed human being.  Suddenly I was tense.  People who were supposed to know about these things were frustratingly vague.  I followed their vague instructions as precisely as I could.  Have you ever tried to be precise about vagueness?  It doesn’t really work.

But it seemed like things went ok.  I don’t think I was imagining it when it seemed so much greener the next day.  That was around the time I name my plant.  Frank, it turns out, is the plant’s name.  Yes, I know that is silly.  No, I am not kidding though.  My plant’s name is Frank.

People talk a lot about the idea that you should never name something you’d like to be rid of.  That’s worth noting here.  It’s part of the testament of the power of a name.  If God’s name is the inhale and the exhale then in the act of identifying this is so, we grow closer to God.  Just like you don’t want to name that stray if you wish to not be heart broken if he leaves, so too we grow bonded to God as we realize that we have been saying God’s name all along.  So too, did I grow bonded to Frank once I realized that was the plant’s name.

Previously, we explored the idea that God identified Godself to Noah with some words that are sometimes rendered as ‘I am.’   The strangeness of the answer implies an almost-rebuke; God, it seems, is not the sort of being who has a normal name.  Later in the bible one of the interesting dynamics to follow, as Jesus faces off with demons is the importance of names.  Jesus often asks demons their names.  They sometimes seem to think the fact that Jesus doesn’t know those names means he has no power over them.  They sometimes mock and taunt Jesus with the fact that they know Jesus’ name.  

Names are important things.  Perhaps there is something about particularity in all this.  A related Buddhist concept is sometimes translated as thisness and thusness.  If I think of it as ‘plant.’  It is just the same as thousands of other plants sitting in a tacky little planter.  When I give it the specific name ‘Frank.’ now I notice the ways that Frank is different from all those other plants; he has four leaves clumped together here; she has a tendril circling around a portion of the ceramic there.  There is a yellow-ish spot at that place.

It might seem like this doesn’t quite apply to God.  After all, most of us don’t believe that there is a whole bunch of Gods to choose from.  It doesn’t seem like giving God the name ‘Yahweh’ separates God from a bunch of others.

However, it’s a little more complicated than that.  

I have lots of ideas of Gods in my head.  I’m not like an ancient Greek, really.  It’s not the case that I think a bunch of Gods exist, and this one is in charge of this thing, and that God is in charge of that thing.  But…. there is still a pantheon in my mind.

There is the idea of an angry bearded fellow in my brain.  He has been smiting folks left and right.  There is the idea of a primal force at the start of the universe who watches impassively.  He is wearing a white robe.  There is nebulous shadow figure, beyond all my words and descriptions, transcendent of everything.

The one I name YWVH has some things in common with each of those.  But not everything.  This God is as close as my breath; moreover, this God’s name is my breath itself.  The very nature of the action tells me some things about this God; this God is necessary for my life.  This God is mysterious but intimate with me.  This God’s name is unsayable, and yet it is always said.

Have you ever breathed with somebody?  Really breathed with them?

Sometimes, when I am having trouble sleeping, I tune into the rhythm of my wife’s breath.  I will try and time it just so, matching her inhales and her exhales.  When I do this, sometimes I can drift right off to sleep.  

Have you ever had someone talk you through a meditation?  When someone says ‘inhale…. Exhale’ it is hard for  to resist.  And so frustrating when their guidance isn’t at a pace that we find natural.  There is something so soothing about coordinating the timing of our breaths with others.

This next practice invites the practitioner to first breathe with those around us.  We then find ourselves breathing in relation to plants.  Gradually, the practitioner widens the scope of their mind’s eye, picturing the self in a larger and larger web of interactions.

I find that something happens to me as I picture scenes like this.  There’s a sort of parallel with watching a certain type of shot in the film.  It’s almost a visual cliche; usually the last shot in the movie.  It might start as a close-up shot, but then it pulls back, further and further, and with distance  we lose the details on the things that were just a moment ago so clear.  We lose the specifics of the individuals and see the whole neighborhood, pull up through the clouds, see the outlines of the  continent, and eventually even pan back and away from the planet itself.  

Because we are finite and limited, as we see the full outlines of the big picture, we lose the particular details we were able to entertain.  When we see the curves of planet Earth, we no longer witness the particular details of the tableau where we began.  We can’t see the specific people or scene where the shot began.  

We can take a wider view of nearly anything.  It doesn’t even have to be visual.  I can start by focusing on the work day of a particular person.  While I’m focused on this, I might want to  know about this person’s schedule, job description, and performance.  But I could take a wider look.  I could focus on how this person’s job interfaces with the organization he works for.  I could wonder about how the organization fits into the wider community where it is head quartered.  I could wonder about how the community functions within the wider society, and how the various societies interact with each other.

It’s easy to see the individual as the most relevant level of organization.  I can understand why most of the shots in a movie or designed to follow along specific people.    I suspect that this is because where we naturally identify with our consciousness, and therefore our sense of control.  I am composed of cells, and the cells make up tissues, and the tissues make up organs, and the organs make up organ systems.  The organ systems make up my individual self.  And my self is a part of a family.  And my family is part of a community.  And my community is part of a nation.  And the nation is part of a planet, and the planet is part of a solar system.

This description could continue onward, in either direction.  But I suppose you are taking my point.  The individual is just one level of description.  Because my consciousness is more or less in control of my own individual self it’s easy to see this as the natural level of importance.

A camera, or a visualization which lands somewhere else is an important reminder that there are elements which make up the individual that I identify with.  They are important reminders that this individual is a constituent of wider systems.  This is an important thing to focus on, a reminder.  In our practice below, we reinforce our experience of our connections with all the living things.

In the description below, I have tried to take on particular scenario of where a person might be, in relation to others.  It so happens that I live on the second floor of a 3-floor apartment building.  If you live in a substantially different area, it might make sense to alter the ways in which you are widening your awareness.  The main thing is that we begin by picturing ourselves and gradually widen our perspective to include an increasing number of people.  

Before the prior practice, we explored the idea that even if the visualization is not literally specifically true, there is still value to it.  As we explored our interconnections with the plant, we overlooked the fact that plant’s don’t literally exhale constantly.

For today’s practice we’ll engage in a similar act of symbolic visualization.  Of course, at any given time a person might be inhaling or exhaling.  At this exact moment, probably half the people you know are doing one.  Perhaps half the people you know are doing the other.  As stated previously, sometimes a person might coordinate the timing of their breaths with someone they are with. 

In the practice today, we’ll imagine that we are exhaling and inhaling with other people.  Literally, of course, this is probably not true.  But on a symbolic level, it helps us to remember.

Practice 6) Breathing With Other People
  1.  Release your concerns and worries for this time.  
  2. Take three deep breaths.
  3. Take a moment to consider where the nearest person to you is.
  4. Imagine that single person, breathing.
  5. With your next inhale, imagine that the two of you are inhaling together.
  6. With your next exhale, imagine that the two of you are exhaling together.  
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for as long as you would like.  Try to experience this breath that you are breathing together; don’t settle for the abstraction of breathing together in general.  Dwell inside this breath, right now, with them.  It is a unique thing.  
  8. In your mind’s eye, widen your perspective.  Come to picture the entire floor that you are occupying  Consider first all the other people animals present.  Breathe at least three full breaths with them.
  9. Now, think about the plant life within this area.  Imagine the ways that the plants breathe opposite the animals, each supplying the other with what they need.  Breathe at least three full breaths.
  10. Widen the picture in your mind, again.  Perhaps now, you will consider the living things within the building you occupy.  Breathe three breaths with all the animals and plants.
  11. Imagine the block you are living on: All the people and animals and plants in the buildings, all the people and animals and plants in between the buildings.
  12. Widen the range of your imagination this one last time.  Take in as a wide a vantage as you can, holding in your mind all the living things in this part of your town or city.  Love this interconnected web of beings as best as you can.
  13. Now, quickly!  Bring your mind back to just your own self, your body sitting in meditation.  See yourself.  But still connected.  Still part of that web.

To read a second passage from this book, click here.

Exercise 73: Whole Body Mystical Awakening

Background: Today marks something new for the Faith-ing Project. This the first spiritual practice on the site which I am merely reposting. None of this description came from me. My hope for 2021 is that this becomes an increasingly frequent practice here. A first step for a contemplative is to take a brisk jog through the sorts of practices that are out there. But I hope that you have the oppurtunity to take a deeper dive into traditions, practices, and communities. I am beginning with this practice because I have deeply benefited from Intergral Christian Newtork‘s WeSpace Groups, Sunday Services, and free standing meditations. I think you will too.

This meditation was written by Paul Smith. You can find his excellent ‘Intergral Chistianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve’ on Amazon.

This practice can take from a few minutes to an hour or more. You can do one part or several, or all of it. I (Paul) often take about twenty minutes to do it all.

Set your intention to open to the four goals of Whole-Body Mystical Awakening:

(1) expanded heart consciousness,
(2) mystical oneness,
(3) the spiritual beings present with you,
(4)  windows of spiritual knowing.

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1.      Start with your Heart

Move your awareness from your head to your heart. This is not being aware of your heart but being aware from your heart. To help, you can tap on your head, then tap on down your temple, jaw, neck, and chest. Continue tapping on your chest until you sense you have moved to your heart space. You can also place your hands on your heart which can increase the energy there. Your heart space includes your chest, back, arms, and hands. You may also think of someone you love to help activate the love flowing from your heart.

Deep in your heart center is an inexhaustible flow of love which is always there, ready to radiate outward. You may feel warmth flowing from your heart and bliss flooding your being.

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2.     Treat your Feet

Move your attention to your feet, making sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor. You may want to stamp your feet or wiggle your toes to help your consciousness move there. Think of roots growing from your feet deep into the earth, anchoring you in your body and your body to the earth, even the whole material cosmos itself.  Draw up energy from this grounding and centering that comes these spiritual roots which connect you with the transcendent oneness of all divine material reality.

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3.     Chummy with your Tummy.

Draw that grounding energy on up to your gut, your spiritual womb. Residing here is our intuitive self, with the ability to understand or know something without conscious reasoning.

This is the home of your core self, your divine identity, which is accessed not by conceptualizing or thinking, but by intuition and sensation. Rest in your spiritual womb by simply being. Be aware of anything that emerges from this area of deep spiritual knowing.

Jesus said from here flows living water or the awakened consciousness of our divine identity (John 7:37-38). The gut deepens into transcendence as we experience not only our own divine identity, but that this identity is the one divine identity of all.

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4.     Spread to your Head

On the way up to your head, pause in your heart space to soak in your heart’s radiating love. Then move up into your head space. You may notice your mind is unusually calm as your carrying the grounding energy of your feet and womb and the radiant love of your heart with you into you head space. Rest in the cleared stillness there are long as you wish. If you wish, you can move up out of your head space, spreading into the vast, spaciousness there. This is the transcendence of pure consciousness that is the mystical realm of the infinite divine.

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5.      Impart your Heart

Move back down into your heart space, this time becoming aware of the spiritual presences that are with you. This can be the motherly-fatherly presence of God, the Living Jesus, and other spiritual companions such as Mary or other saintly presences who are there to comfort, encourage, and strengthen you. Let them hold you and touch your heart. You can sense their presence, converse with them, and receive from them.

Then let your heart flow out to others that come to your mind, sending the energy field of love out to them as healing, light, and blessing. Finally, let your heart expand to transcendent awareness as it enlarges and moves to hold all sentient beings in its blissful, loving embrace

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6.     Devotion in Motion

Finish with devotion in motion by reaching down to your feet with both hands and feel the energy move up through your body like a flowing geyser until your hands are raised high in the air. You are a geyser of love and healing shooting up through and from you. It flows out to the world and universe becoming a part of the Kosmic groove you and others are cutting in fabric of the cosmos, co-creating with God new pathways to the continuing evolution of creation.

AND RIVERS OF LIVING WATER SHALL FLOW FROM THEIR INNER SELF.   — JESUS


Body Centers of Spiritual Knowing

Whole Body Awakening
Whole Body Awakening

The deep feelings of the HEART are retrieved through our awareness moving into the heart center with the chest, arms, and hands in contact with one another.

Our body energy field is accessed with our awareness sinking down to our legs and FEET, grounding and drawing energy up from the earth.

Our intuition and core identity are accessed with our awareness resting in our gut and contact with our hands on our lower abdomen or SPIRITUAL WOMB.

The impressions, images, and words that come to the MIND are accessed through contact with the head and forehead.

These physical areas are entryways into the depths of being present and their associated ways of spiritual knowing.

For ICN’s audio file recording of this practice, click here.

Practice 72: Oneness on a Winter Night

Background: Today’s practice is a visualization which builds on some on oneness practices. For examples of more oneness practices, click here and here.

It will be helpful, before practicing to bring to have choosen a small group of people whom you feel very safe and comfortable around.

The Practice:

  1. Find a relaxing pose. If you can comfortably manage it, feet flat on the floot and spine upright are ideal.
  2. Release your worries, stresses and concerns with your next exhales.
  3. Inhale all the way down into your hips.
  4. Exhale feeling your belly draw closer to your spine.
  5. Close your eyes.
  6. See yourself– and your friends– in a clearing on a cold winter’s night. Your breath comes out in clouds and a light dusting of snow covers the ground. You are dressed warmly, comfortably. There is a single towering pine tree in the center of the clearing. The outskirts of the clearing is defined by smaller trees and shrubbery. It is a ways beyond you. The moon is so bright! It illuminates the clouds which a gentle wind keeps slowly creeping across the sky.
  7. Form a circle around that central tree. Take your friends hands. Someone squeezes, and that squeeze comes around the circuit like a pulse. See yourselves and your friends. Their are smiles here.
  8. As you breathe, breathe with your friends. Feel the way you are inhaling together. Feel the cold, invigorating you in the quiet. Feel the way you are exhaling together. This is a connection.
  9. Connect for a while, just this. Feeling the closeness on the winter night. Seeing your breath.
  10. Now, connect to the great tree in the middle. Your exhales are the trees inhales. Perhaps the cloud from someone’s breath even lands on a pine needle. there is a symmetry here. Breathing with your friends.
  11. Give most of the time you have remaining to this connection. When you are ready, gently squeeze the hands on your left and your right.

Discovering the Essence: How to Build a Spiritual Practice is coming in November. Click the link for a free preview and more information.

Exercise 63: And now!

Background:  I suspect that the contents of this practice were inspired by James Finley’s understanding of Thomas Merton’s words, as expressed here.

This practice will ask you to relive a stressful experience.  It is wise to begin to think about that now.  Please practice discretion and self care as you select an event.  There is no need to choose something to distressing.

The Practice:

  1.  And now, bring to mind the feeling in your body at times of stress and busyness.
  2. And now, in your imagination, place yourself in a general sort of situation that might cause this feeling.  A meeting at work.  A difficult class.  An unwanted confrontation.  A procedure you would prefer to avoid.  Furnish your imagination with sights, sounds, and smells.
  3. And now! make it real.  Place yourself in an actual event like this that you recently experienced it.  Continue to use your senses.  Linger on this experience if you can.
  4. And now!  see a toddler.  The child is at play.  But the child is serious about, it too.  There are toys before the toddler.  This child is holding them carefully, turning them over, feeling them, listening to the sounds they make.  The child’s parents are sitting in a love seat.  The smile of the child’s father is only in his eyes.  His mother smiles with her lips though.  The parents are adoring the child.  Watch this scene for as long as you want.
  5. And now!  The toddler is you.  And you are the toddler.  All the things that felt so serious and important are the explorations the child was making into the world around themself.
  6. The mother-father on the love seat is God.  You can climb up there and sit between them, if you wish.  They will help you climb up.

 

Exercise 62: Being held by Silence

Background: This is a modified version of a practice which appears in Richard Rohr’s Just This.  

Their is much of value in the first several steps of this practice.  It might be that you are ready to work through to steps 9-11.  However, don’t rush into it.  It might take weeks, months, or even years.   The first 8 steps are quite a powerful practice on their own.

The Practice:

  1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Inhale.  Exhale.
  3.  Rest in the Silence.
  4. When you are ready, feel embraced by her.  Let the Silence flow over you.
  5. As sounds or distracting thoughts threaten to disrupt your practice, realize that the silence still exists, beneath the distractions.  Look for the silence beneath these things which rise up.  All that happens comes out of silence and will sink back into it.
  6. Inhale Silence.
  7. Exhale Silence.
  8. Continue to be embraced by it.
  9. At some point, you may just be ready to shift your vantage point.  This step is the optional one:  Shift the seat from which you see the world.  It began in the head, with thinking.  Feel this vantage point move down the physicality of your body.  Let yourself reside in the heart, now.  See the world from this place.
  10. Continue to dwell in the silence and bring it in.
  11. You will know that you are authentically occupying the heart space when you experience a clear vastness.
  12. When you are ready, release this practice.  Sit in a time of wordless wonder.

Exercise 60: To Begin a Journey

This practice originally appeared in the book Contemplating Lent.

An Audio version of this practice is available below:

Background: Visualizations are journeys that begin with the words written by someone else.  Often, these words are not much more than a setting.  The most successful experiences I have had with visualizations are the times I accessed some child-like imagination and playfulness and allowed myself to go beyond where those written words would have taken me if I had just stuck with the script.  Like most spiritual practices, it is wise to begin a visualization by reading through the entire description to get a big picture about what, specifically, is going to happen.  After that first read through, I will then engage the practice.

After reading through the whole thing, I recommend rereading a few sentences, then picturing what they describe.  Taking the suggestions about sensory input is a very important part of the process.  Do not rush through experiencing the temperatures, textures, tastes, and sounds of these words.   If your imagination takes you some where new, continue to ask yourself what it feels, smells, and sounds like where you are.

This visualization is written in a narrative format.

Today’s visualization is rooted in the fact that Jesus’ baptism occurred just before his time in the desert.  Great journeys are often begun in a ritual such as this one.  I hope that today’s visualization commemorates the beginning of your Lenten journey.

 

The Exercise:

Find yourself sitting at a table on the shore of a beautiful lake.  It is almost uncomfortably warm.  But a gentle breeze comes in carrying dampness and cooling it to a nearly perfect temperature.  The sky is so very blue.  If you would like, loved ones are nearby.  They do not have to be.

            You get up and look to the stone staircase.  This lead down and into the lake.  Over and around these steps is an elaborate gate, a sort of trellis.  Vines and flowers are woven into it.  The grass is soft under your bare feet.  You walk to the gate and open it. 

            The first several steps are above the water line.  The stones are smooth, but much firmer than the grass.  At the third step you find yourself ankle deep.  The water is only a bit of a shock.

            On the fourth step you look up to meet the gaze of a kind teacher.  It might be someone you know.  It could be Jesus.  The person might not be alive now.  And yet, they are here with you.  The teacher smiles.  You smile.  You are knee deep, now, in the refreshing water.

            When you are chest deep, you are next to the teacher.  The teacher’s arms are firm.  You trust them as you lean back and are, lowered all the way into the water.  There is some fear.  It is unnatural to be underwater, trusting in another.  The teacher, of course, lifts you back up. 

            “This is my wonderful child.  I am well pleased in them.”  Where are those words coming from?  You cannot be sure.

            This strange lake does not get deeper than this.  You are not meant to go back out the gate you came in, today.  Walk across the lake.  The teacher will come with you while you are in the water.  He might speak to you.  You might hear the words the teacher says. 

            This is the beginning of an adventure.  You will return to this shore you set out from.  But not today.  Eventually you reach that far end of the lake.  What waits for you there?  Will the teacher come with you?  Continue this visualization if you wish.

Contemplating Lent (1)

 

Exercise 59: Breathing This Breath With God

This practice originally appeared in our recent Email Exploration, “God Breathed.”  It brings together the concepts in exercise 58 and in exercise 49

Background: There are two important realities to hold on to with today’s practice.  Both of these have been explored in past emails.
The first is that God breathes in us, just as portrayed in the book of Genesis.  This act of breathe-in-us is in fact what makes us human; perhaps it is how we get the image of God in us in the first place.
The second is that each and every breath is wholly unique.  It never was, and never will be.
One of the implications of these two facts considered together is that it is not only each of our own breaths which can be said to be unique.  Each breath from God is a wholly unique experience.

The Practice: 
1.  Release your worries and concerns.  Note your breath.  
2.  Become present to this very breath with your inhale.
3.  Become present to this very breath with your exhale.
4.  Note the feeling of the breath as it comes in.  
5.  Note the feeling of the breath as it goes out.
6.  With the next inhale, note that this experience, this particular breath is different than all the breaths that ever came before.
7.  With the next exhale, note that this experience, this particular breath, is different than all the breaths that will ever come after.
8.  Continue this pattern.  Be present to this breath, here and now.  Note that the specific sensations are different than the last breath or the next one.
9.  Notice that the ‘you’ who is breathing this particular  breath is in some tiny way different than the ‘you’ who breathed that last breath.
10.  Notice that the ‘you’ who is breathing this particular breath is different than the you who will breathe that next breath.  
11.  When you are ready, bring to mind the reality that God is breathing this breath into you. 
12.  Bring to mind the reality that you are breathing this breath into God.   
13.  With your next inhale, receive a breath from God that is different than all the breaths God has ever breathed into anyone.
14.  With your next exhale, breathe a breath into God that is different than all the breaths anyone will ever breathe into God.
15.  With your next inhale, as you receive a breath from God, note that the wholly unique character of this very inhalation is a direct result of the interplay between God’s breath and yours.
16.  With your next exhale, as you breathe out a breath to God, be aware that the wholly unique character of the interplay between you and God.
17.  Continue this pattern until it is time to release it.  Then, spend some time in wordless union.

Exercise 58: God’s Breath, God’s Name

This practice original appeared in our Email Exploration, God Breathed.

Background: Recall that one way of understanding the “name” which is sometimes rendered as Yahweh is to see that these letters were meant to resemble the breath.  That is, God’s name is not a series of sounds like any other name.  God’s name is something quite different; it is the act of breathing itself.  For more information and a practice that focuses only on this idea, click here.
At the same time, God is said to have scooped up a handful of earth.  God breathed into it, and then it was a human being.  We can experience God’s ongoing breath as in us as an act of ongoing creation.  We can live in this reality that with each of our inhalations, God is breathing into us.  With each of our exhalations, God is recieving our breath.  For more information on this practice and a practice which focuses only on this idea, click here.

The Exercise
1.  Take a deep breath in.
2.  Exhale.
3.  Release your expectations and worries as you take 2 more deep breaths in and out.
4.   As you inhale, experience this as the first half of God’s name,
5.  As you exhale, experience this as the second half of God’s name.
6.  Repeat steps four and five for a few minutes.
7.   As you inhale, feel God breathing life into you.
8.  As you exhale, feel your breath going out into God’s lungs.
9.  Repeat steps 7 and 8 for a few minutes.
10.  Now, bring these two practices together: inhale.  Receive that breath from God, even knowing that this is the first half of God’s truest name.
11.  Exhale: breathing out a breath received by God.  This receipt is the second half of God’s name.
12.  Continue steps 10 and 11 for most of the time remaining that you had reserved for this practice.
13.  When you are ready, release your images and experiences.  Sit in a time of wordless union.

If you would like to try a practice which combines this one with an awareness of this present moment being the only one we have, this present breath being the only breath we ever breathe, click here.

Exercise 57: In God’s Womb

Background:  Much of my spiritual growth over these last few years has been around opening my mind to the reality of the divine feminine.  I suppose it was one of those, “When-the-student-is ready,-the-teacher-appears” things, that Phileena Heuertz’s Mindful Silence was so impactful to me.  In particular, she talks about a period in her life that she found it helpful to see herself as within God’s womb.

If you had asked me about being in God’s womb even a year before that, I would have found some made up reason to be uncomfortable with it.  The reality is that I had not truly made peace with the fact that both men and women are made in God’s image.

The exercise below was inspired by Ms. Heuertz’s experiences as portrayed in that book.  If you are going to read only one book about the contemplative path, it should be that one.  If you are going to read more than one book about the contemplative path, you ought to think about picking up one of mine.  🙂

On the subject, this exercise will appear in the soon-to-be-released Contemplating Lent.  Stay tuned for more details.

The Exercise

  1. Close your eyes.  Sit in a comfortable position.
  2. Take 3 deep breaths.  Try to fully empty your lungs with the exhales and fully inflate your lungs with the inhales.
  3. Imagine yourself dwelling in the womb of God.  It is a place that is safe, comfortable, and warm.
  4. Feel all your needs for food and oxygen being met through a cord that reaches into your body through your navel.  Know that you are protected in this place.
  5. Continue those deep breaths.  Luxuriate in the way you are being nourished and prepared for what is next.
  6. Take all the time that you need.
  7. God is within you.  Know that this is true.  Take a deep breath.
  8. Live in the paradox that even as you are in God, God is in you.
  9. God may be small, now.  But a divine spark is within.  See this spark as a child in a womb.
  10. Know that you are nourishing this God-spark.  It is growing strong and healthy in the dark mystery within you.
  11. As you continue to breathe deeply, and hold to the image that you are in God’s womb, cultivate this idea that God is also in your womb.
  12. Sit in this comfortable paradox, this warm, nourishing safe reality for as long as you need, today.

Contemplating Lent (1)

 

Exercise 56: An Advent Visualization

Background:  This advent, I have been filled with wonder at such a simple image: A pregnant woman, far from home.  She is traveling with her new husband because they have to.  There is no room in the human habitations.  She gives birth in the manger.  The child is something magnificent.

Because one of the sources of this image for me this year is an entire book, it is difficult to tie it into this practice.  Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this practice, I would like to quite heartily encourage you to check out the wonderful book of my good friend Jenn by clicking here.

This post contains the ingredients for many spiritual practices.  The description below is broken into three sections.  The first is an invitation to reading a number of different depictions of the entry into Bethlehem.  The second is a visualization walking the reader through the events.  The third is a series of reflections, meditations, and questions on these events.

I would recommend choosing only one element from each section for a session.  If this feels productive, you might return to this exercise and choose a second reading and series of meditations for your next session.  Less is more with spiritual practices.

There is a value in wondering about the historical details.  But not for this practice, today.  If it is easier, it would be just as helpful to imagine this scene occurring in a city today.  Perhaps, instead of a donkey, Mary rides in a sidecar of an old, broken down motorcycle.  Or her feet have swollen with the pregnancy and she is pushed by Joseph in a wheelchair.

The Practice.

Part A: Some Readings to Choose From

  1.  Release your expectations and stress with three deep inhales and exhales.
  2. Consider one (or perhaps two) of the following passages.  You may wish to read it more than once:   

Click here to read Luke 2: 1-20

Or, read this poem about the event:

If
you want
the Virgin will come walking down the road
pregnant with the holy,
and say,
“I need shelter for the night, please take me inside your heart,
my time is so close.”

Then, under the roof of your soul, you will witness the sublime
intimacy, the divine, the Christ
taking birth
forever,

as she grasps your hand for help, for each of us
is the midwife of God, each of us.

Yet there, under the dome of your being does creation
come into existence eternally, through your womb, dear pilgrim—
the sacred womb in your soul,

as God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is
His beloved servant
never far.

If you want, the Virgin will come walking
down the street pregnant
with Light and sing …

–St. John of the Cross, “If You Want” in Daniel Ladinsky Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (New York: Penguin Group, 2002), 306-307.

Or read this poem

Sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.

and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.

but then i think of feeding Jesus,
birthing Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
feeling lonely
and tired
hungry
annoyed
overwhelmed
loving

and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
honestly preached
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all.

because the real scandal of the Birth of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
to lead.

-Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

If you purchased the book suggested above, you might read the passage depicting Jesus’ birth in that book.  Jesus birth happens in chapter 11 of The Favored One.

Part B.  The Visualization

1.  Inhale and exhale 3 times.  

2.  Bring to mind the reading from above.  Sit with the images, thoughts, and feelings that might have come up from you.  When you are ready, imagine the following.  Try and do it from the perspective of one of the characters in the narrative: Pregnant Mary, Concerned Joseph, even The Donkey or a Jesus who has yet to be born.  Experience this scene with your senses.  

They have been traveling all day.  Are they tired and weary?  Is this faitgue tempered with fear or excitement?  What is the temparature, as they enter into a town that is bursting at the seams?  Imagine them coming into the town.  Are there numerous places that are full?  Are the Roman Solidiers standing by, ready to take a census?     Does the concern on Mary and Joseph’s face grow?  Hear the “clop” of the donkeys heels on the hard ground.  Feel the sweat on the scratchy fabric of the shirt.  

There comes a moment when it is clear that there will be no beds for this night, no roof that was made for people.  What are the feelings you experience at this moment?  Enter into the manger.  Imagine the smells that come to you.  What animals are present?  Are they eating or making their animal noises?  Are their flies?  Are their attendants of the animals?  How do they look at you, as you begin to move around the hay to make your shelter for the night?

Take the time you need to imagine the moments it becomes clear that the baby will be born here.  In this place, at this time.  Does the angelic visitation, and the promises made about this child feel close now?  The water breaks.  How do you feel?  How does your partner feel?  Does a midwife come into the picture?  Is their pain?  Medicine?  Joy?  Blood?

Imagine the first time Mary holds the baby.  How did Joseph look when he first held the baby?  When do they cut the cord?  What happens next?

3.  Continue this scene for as long as you would like.  Return to the readings listed in section A.   if you wish.  I would encourage you to return to a passage you read earlier and try out a new reading the next time you engage this spiritual practice.

4.  Sit with this scene and experience.  Let it penetrate you until it is time to release it.  When you have let it go, consider whether you will sit in a time of wordless union or if you will progress to section C.  Here there are some questions and meditations to consider.

Section C: Some Questions and Meditations

  1.  Inhale.  Exhale.  Bring to mind your experience of the readings in section A.
  2. Inhale.  Exhale.  Bring to mind your experience of the visualization in section B.  
  3. Inhale.  Exhale.
  4. Sit with any one of the following.  Your may wish to save a second or third question or meditation for the future.

I.  Return to that image of Jesus and Mary entering into the town.  Sit with it for a moment.  Now, make the town of Bethlehem your mind and heart.  See Joseph and Mary entering into this space.  What thoughts, feelings, or experiences are you having trouble welcoming?  What difficult realities are you struggling to accept?  See that their is a manger within you.  This is a small, forgotten aspect of your own inner self.  But it is all that you need.  Invite this formerly unwelcome aspect of your own self here.  Soon, Jesus will come into the world from this very space.

II.  See Mary’s belly swollen with life about to enter the world.  Christ is being born in you even now at this very moment.  Sit with this experience of Christ being born in you.   Feel it coming from elsewhere and entering into your world.  Don’t rush this birth.  Sit with what it could mean and how it might change you.

III.  Dwell in the stark, perhaps uncomfortable reality of Jesus birth.  It is no less paradoxical and extreme than any other birth.  Filled with pain and possibility, hope and agony.  It is bloody and scary, intimate and clinical.  Take your time to put together what you have known and experienced of human birth and realize that all this applied to Jesus, too.  After you have sat with this, consider what it might mean.  What does it mean about God?  What does it mean about Jesus?  What does it mean about you?  How does it alter your past?  Your present?  Your future?