Interlude: House of Peace, performed by Steve Bell, on the Burning Ember album
Did any thoughts interrupt the peace of your meditation this morning? I’m not talking about the mind wandering, I’m talking about a thought that marched right in and went, “Hey! Did you forget this?!” One morning this spring I had a whole trio of these intruders:
- Did you forget Sarah’s doctor’s appointment yesterday?
- Did you forget to write that check for Sarah for school?
- Did you forget to turn your phone off, so it won’t go off in the middle of meditation?
Unlike other kinds of thoughts, worrisome thoughts like these hit me where it hurts. Being responsible and reliable, being a good mother, being courteous to others — these things are very important to me. For my conscience to pipe up and ask me if I’ve forgotten something — well, it’s like a tiny fire-alarm, punching my adrenaline — but what does it expect me to do? Leave the building?
I could pull my phone from my purse, check the calendar and take a note to reschedule the appointment if I need to, send a text to my daughter so she can let me know about the check, and then power off my phone. … Nope. Not gonna happen. It’s going to make too much noise, and disturb the people around me, not to mention completely wrecking my own meditation.
Alternatively, I could let the thoughts take over, and spend the rest of the meditation session worrying about something that I’m not willing to do something about. Yeah, no. Worrying requires hanging on to thoughts, and meditation is about letting them go, right? Well, yes, but these are important thoughts — I need to do something.
The answer is actually very easy. The tiny punch of adrenaline has made it unpleasant, but each little problem, each worry, each mini-guilt-trip, is an opportunity to practice another dimension of prayer, to leave the problem with God. Rather than trying to let these thoughts drift downstream as unimportant — they’re Not, I can set them at a stream-side altar. “God, these are things I care about. Please take care of them for me.”
This meditation time is all about reconnecting with God, letting go of the thoughts and busy-ness, learning to relax and trust that Presence that lives inside us all. As Paul says to us in his letter to the Philippians [4.6]:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
A favorite poem of mine, “Inspiration” by Henry David Thoreau, puts it another way:
What e’er we leave to God, God does,
And blesses us;
The work we choose should be our own,
God lets alone.
When we meditate, our thoughts can unwind in unexpected ways. We’ve stopped doing whatever we were doing before — just for a little while, and though our intent may be communion with God, thoughts — and worries — drift — or march — into our minds. Our task is this: do not hang on to them, do not worry about them, just let them pass, and if need be, lay them on the altar in our mind, and be thankful for this time we have with God.
Delivered at Resurrection Catholic Church, Aptos, California, on May 13, 2017, and at La Selva Beach Community Church, May 16, 2017.