With God, without an agenda:

Just sitting, as we are, where we are

without an agenda

The seemingly relentless pressure to be conspicuously “doing” and “performing” in our daily life, can very easily carry over into how we approach meditation, the prayer of stillness and silence.

Many of us will have been taught to think of prayer as something we do, towards God, for God, another thing on the list of things we must “perform” to be in the right place with God. But this is a wrong view, a symptom of the heavy yoke of self-justification and an unnecessary burden that Jesus teaches us to put down.[1]

Prayer is not primarily something we do, but what God does, within us, and for us.[2] To paraphrase St. Paul, we do not know how to pray as we ought and we don’t need to, because the Spirit prays on our behalf[3] within the living temples that we are.[4]

We do not know how to pray. “Now that seems to me an enormously encouraging remark,” wrote the Dominican, Herbert McCabe.[5] “It is encouraging because it is quite common for someone to feel that she or he personally is the only one who doesn’t know how to pray. Well at least we have one of the greatest saints in history with us. Paul too did not know how to pray. But notice that he didn’t expect to…”[6]

There are many ways to pray, and we will all pray in different ways at different times, but ultimately these are all ways for us to participate in what God is doing — which is nothing else than ceaselessly giving us the gift of himself as the Life of our life. God is the Ground of our prayer, the depthless soil from which our prayers arise and in which all prayer is rooted.

In meditation, our practice is to be with God without any agenda. We just sit, as we are, where we are.

We rest from thinking about God, and allow ourselves to be with him.

We rest from thinking about our life, and allow ourselves to fully inhabit it.

It is not necessary to fill our mind with thoughts about God to be with God, not even one. We don’t “think” our way to realising our foundational union with God, but by releasing every thought that obscures this simple truth. To begin the journey to the depths of this union, advises the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, it is enough to simply lift up our hearts “with a humble stirring of love.”[7] No thoughts are needed, “for a naked intention directed to God is fully sufficient, without any other goal than himself.”[8]

A friend of mine who is a school teacher, told me how she had found peace in the simplicity of meditation.

“At first,” she said, “each time I sat to meditate my head would fill with thoughts about whether I was doing it right. After several weeks of this, I woke up one night and it struck me: I wasn’t just worried about not being good enough at meditation, I was worried about not being good enough at anything, I was worried about not being good enough at Life.”

After a few minutes of silence, my friend continued, “Then I remembered Jesus’ words, ‘Come to me, all who toil and are burdened, and I shall give you rest,’ and I decided to trust this. The next time I practiced, I looked at these words for a few minutes before I began. I realised that I could simply be here, just as I am; that I could let go of my burden of worries and rest in God, without having to do anything in particular.”

“I can’t explain it. And I don’t mind not being able to! When I try and talk to people about it, I say it’s a little like stepping into a vast, gentle river. I let my worries go, lift up my feet and lay back in the water, trusting it will support me.”

“When I meditate now, I don’t think about what I need to do, or where I want to go. I’m quite happy to rest there, and let the river carry me wherever it wants to go.”

[1] Matthew 11:28–30.

[2] See Essence of Prayer by Ruth Burrows OCD, Paulist Press 2006, chapter 1, for a bracingly clear and uplifting teaching on this point.

[3] Romans 8:26–7.

[4] 1 Corinthians 6:19.

[5] God Still Matters, Herbert McCabe OP, Continuum 2002, page 215.

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works, trans. A.C. Spearing, Penguin Books 2001, p.29.

[8] Ibid.

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