A few years ago I began a mid-week Bible study with this question: Who taught you how to pray?
“My parents,” someone offered. “We prayed at the beginning of every meal when I was growing up.”
“My mother taught me,” someone else said. “She would kneel down beside my bed with me every night and help me say my prayers.”
A man in his 60s pointed across the room to a man almost 90. “He was my Sunday School teacher when I was 10 years old. He would pray at the beginning of every class and then call on one of the boys to pray at the end.”
The responses went on for 15 minutes until I interrupted with another question: “Each of you has shared who taught you how to talk to God,” I observed, “what I would like to know is who taught you how to listen for God?”
The room went silent.
My answer would be Father Thomas Keating with his book Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel.
I had been intrigued by Christian meditation all of my adult life. Reading Thomas Merton got me interested in the practice of silence, but I didn’t know how to do it. When I was in seminary, meditation was occasionally encouraged, but those offering the encouragement seemed to imply that I would know how. I didn’t.
The famous preacher, Gardner Taylor, gave a series of lectures at my seminary and several students got to have a meal with him. I asked Dr. Taylor, “What is the single most important piece of advice you could share with aspiring preachers.” He told us, “I learned altogether too late in my ministry the importance of sitting silent before God. Now, the first thing I do upon entering my office every day is to sit in silence for 20 minutes.”
Inspired by his testimony, the next morning in my little office I set my watch’s alarm for 5 minutes (I figured I would start small and build to a full 20 minutes). Silence was so foreign to me that I looked at the watch 40 times before the beeper finally went off.
It would be awhile before someone showed me how to be silent in the presence of God. That person was Thomas Keating.
I was introduced to him almost twenty years ago at the end of the last Servant Leadership class I attended in DC. Gordon Cosby pointed to a stack of books and with a twinkle in his eye said, “If you’ll take one of those books and work with it, you will save thousands of dollars in therapy.” The book was Open Mind, Open Heart and it changed my life.
I’ll tell you about that on Sunday.
Here are two other groups you might find interesting. Two summers ago I attended a Centering Prayer conference, sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation. There I was introduced to 12 Step Outreach, a community of people in recovery who advocate using Centering Prayer as a means of achieving Step 11 (Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out.)