This summer at Forefront Brooklyn we're hosting monthly nights of prayer and meditation called Centering. Last week several members of our community met up in my home where Katie Knipp Willis and I led us all through an hour of meditation, journaling, silence, and prayer. It was a great night of calm and focus during a busy, hot summer.
Below is the transcript of the exercise we led everyone through. We encourage you to take the time to follow this prayer practice on your own time. You'll need a quiet space and a journal or document to write in.
You can also RSVP to join Ben Grace as he leads our August night of Centering and takes you through different practices of prayer on Tuesday, August 16th.
Centering: An Exercise in Prayer
In lieu of all the events going on in our world over the past few months, we encourage you to take some time to sit in silence and reflection, to ask yourself some personal questions, and contemplate over who God is calling us to be as his people.
Allow yourself to find stillness amidst the business of life. Meditation is a practice of listening. Listening to our own thoughts and listening to God. Prayer is the talking part of our dialogue with God, and meditation is when we listen to Him. How often do we forget to sit still and listen? Like a lake, if the water is constantly churned up, the water will be murky, and you can’t see anything. But when the water is still, you can see to the bottom. Right now, give yourself that time. Allow the events and thoughts of the day to fall away, and open up to a place of quiet contemplation.
As you continue to read, you’ll find a mix of scripture reading, guided meditations, and quiet reflection. At some points your mind will wander, it’s natural, just bring your attention back to the present moment. When emotions arise, let them, when images or memories pop into your mind, notice them. Take your time to read and reflect and write down anything that comes up as you move through this post.
The most important thing to remember is to be gentle with yourself. You're not working towards or striving for anything. You're learning to just be - to just listen.
Let’s begin by relaxing and centering ourselves. Make sure you’re nice and comfortable in your seat, and just begin to notice your breath. The inhale, filling the lungs, the exhale, letting go. Breathe in deeply, and as you breathe out, let go of any thoughts or worries that you might be holding onto. Take another one, breathing in your day, your week, your year, and then exhale, letting it all go.
Feel the ground beneath your feet and the chair underneath you, supporting you. Notice the places on your body that are making contact with these supports. Allow your skin, muscles and bones to soften and relax into these grounding surfaces. Release any tension in your shoulders. Feel the spine long and at ease. Allow the head to be gently supported by the neck.
Open your senses. Take another deep breath in, noticing the smell and air passing through the nose and into the body. Allow your ears to open, letting sounds and words wash through you. Soften the eyes. Release the jaw and relax the tongue inside the mouth. Notice any sensation you may be having inside the body - tingling in the hands or feet, heart beating in the chest, the energy buzzing inside the body. Whatever is there, be present with it.
Open your heart, and feel it from the inside out. Gently listen, simply letting everything be as it is.
As you read the following passage, take a moment to observe what in God’s word catches your heart’s attention. Is there a word or phrase that resonates with you? Allow yourself to simply dwell in the word as you listen. Turn your thoughts to God and quietly enjoy being in God’s presence.
A Reading from John 16: 5-15:
The Work of the Holy Spirit
“But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.
“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’
Journal Exercise #1:
Now take a deep breath and turn to your journal. Write about anything that came up as you've been reading. Below you’ll find a couple of questions you could journal about if you choose. Allow yourself to take as much time as you need to reflect as you write and sit quietly, listening to how God is speaking to you through his word.
What in your world and the world around you has recently felt like it is unjust, or spinning out of control?
Trust that by asking for God’s voice, and quieting your mind, God can speak to you, and send you His guidance. Take a few minutes to listen, and then write what you hear.
A Second Reading from John 16: 16-24:
Sadness Will Be Turned to Joy
“In a little while you won’t see me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see me again.”
Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does he mean when he says, ‘In a little while you won’t see me, but then you will see me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? And what does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”
Jesus realized they wanted to ask him about it, so he said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see me, but a little while after that you will see me again. I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.
Journal Exercise #2:
What words or phrases stuck out to you? Or what thoughts or images came up in the passage. When did your mind wander, and what did it wander to? Write down what you noticed. Here are some more questions you can answer as well.
What does joy look and feel like to you?
If nothing stood in your way, how could you bring about joy in your circumstance? In our community?
What healing do you want to ask for?
A Third Reading from John 16: 16-24:
“I have spoken of these matters in figures of speech, but soon I will stop speaking figuratively and will tell you plainly all about the Father. Then you will ask in my name. I’m not saying I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God. Yes, I came from the Father into the world, and now I will leave the world and return to the Father.”
Then his disciples said, “At last you are speaking plainly and not figuratively. Now we understand that you know everything, and there’s no need to question you. From this we believe that you came from God.”
Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Journal Exercise #3:
One last time, take your journal, and write about anything that came up. And here are some more questions you can answer as well.
Notice what is in your way for moving forward. What ways do you feel stuck?
In what areas of your life are you seeking peace?
In what ways do you feel or hear God calling you to make a change in yourself or in the world around you?
Feel your feet, and feel the support of the ground. Feel yourself rooting yourself into this world, this earthly plane. There is work to do, and feel the support of the earth, giving you strength to do it. Imagine what that work looks like in your life. Feel the support growing for you, and that grows your energy, your drive, your fire for justice.
Now feel that strength traveling up your spine, you sit taller, but without tension. Your heart opens more bravely to face upcoming challenges with love and compassion- no small feat. You feel your heart growing stronger, larger, more capacity to love and heal.
Lift out of the neck and brow, and then picture light flowing out the top of your head. Feel this lift, this light releasing you from being attached to any fears, any preconceived outcomes. This light travels to a vision of God- picture in your imagination the Source of Light, and you pour out your burdens to this source, it receives it, supporting you. Feel the anchor of the earthly plane supporting you, feel the anchor of the heavenly plane, supporting you.
“I prayed a prayer and I prayed out loud that night. I said, “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause we represent is right. But Lord I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage.”
... And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for justice, stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even to the end of the world.” - Martin Luther King Jr.
Breathe and reflect in this place. Close your eyes and sit in silence for a few moments.
By Travis Eades
Oh God, because you are with us, we stand with courage.
As chaos spins around us, we know that you are with us.
We are prone to wander, but not you. You are steadfast in your love.
We know that we are not alone in our trials.
You will not leave our side.
Your love stands firm,
and our fear is overcome.
Oh God, because of the courage and hope that we find in you,
we know that our calling is not only to stand for ourselves but to stand for justice and mercy for others.
As you stand with us, we are called to stand with those who find themselves oppressed or marginalized by the injustices of our world.
Those who have felt the flames of hatred, racism, violence, and inequality of all forms
Those who have been cast as outsiders by religious fundamentalism
Those who have been left out, looked past, and let down by those who claim your name
Those who have been promised grace and only been given shame
Those who have been declared free by the system, but only experienced systematic oppression
Those who have tried to quit, over and over and over, only to relapse again and again
Those who have bought into the lie that they are defined by the labels that are imposed on them
Because you stand with us,
We stand with them.
Because you are with us
We are with them.
Because we are them
We are with them.
Because of your love
We pray that we can be love.
Allow us now to name aloud the people and things that are on our hearts and minds tonight:
(free prayer is welcome here)
May we be the hope that we have received.
May we be the strength that we once needed.
May we be the hands that lift the burden from the oppressed.
The mouths that speak out for the voiceless.
The eyes that see those who are invisible to this world.
The feet that walk toward reconciliation.
The defenders of the weak.
The providers for the poor.
Everything that you are for us,
May you be through us.
May we be the presence of joy amidst sorrow, the hope that overcomes the world,
Because you are with us.