by Pastor Doug Kings
I’m sharing this post again because it fits well with my sermon last Sunday. I wrote it three years ago during the pandemic lockdown. I had just returned from several weeks in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we had recorded Sunday services (at Christ Lutheran Church) and a series of “spiritual travelogue reflections”.
I had hoped to sleep in a bit, as I had gotten up at 4:30 the previous morning for the first of my two flights bringing me back to Florida. But no, I was awakened about that same time (which would have been 2:30 AM if I had still been in New Mexico) by a crashing thunderstorm over the Gulf.
I laid in bed for a while listening to it and then finally got up. I followed my usual routine (well not really as I usually take the dogs out but they are still in New Mexico) and made coffee, read the two daily devotionals I get emailed to me, and then set a timer (25 minutes) for my meditation time. The storm had cooled things down, so I decided it was comfortable enough to sit on our screened porch.
Genuine silence is always fleeting. So, the key to meditation, contemplation, centering prayer (pick your favorite term) is having a method to mentally step back from the distraction and return to silence. I have one but this morning, a different method was provided for me.
Having just travelled halfway across the country, and flying for the first time during the pandemic, my head was still filled with experiences and images from that trip. Also, the storm was still going but that wasn’t really a problem, until I started wondering if it would ever really rain. Thus far it had been little more than a steady drizzle. I knew it had been dry while we were gone. All this light and noise ought to generate more rain than this. We need the rain. Why doesn’t it…?
It came from behind me, in the garden bed. A tiny frog. Not the deep RIBBIT of a cartoon frog. Just a little chirp. But it was enough to stop the chatter and bring me back to here and now.
And that’s the goal of prayer: to be genuinely present right where you are, at this moment. When you get involved in the conversation in your head, you’re not here, you’re somewhere else. And it’s not now because you’re either reexperiencing the past or imagining the future.
On a few occasions I began thinking about what would be happening later that day and later in the week, all the tasks I had to accomplish now that I was back.
On other occasions I began thinking about things that had happened during my weeks in New Mexico, what Joe was doing, what I would do when I was there again.
I don’t remember how often it was but again and again this little unseen frog became my prayer partner, simply and persistently bringing me back to sitting in this porch, in the dark, with the rain and the flashes and the rumbles, here and now. The time flew by (it doesn’t always) and it was remarkably refreshing because after all the hurry up and wait and getting my bearings back from the day before, I now felt like I had genuinely arrived. I was here, now.
Thousands of books have been written about meditation, from every religious and spiritual perspective. Classes and seminars are taught. You can find YouTube videos. It can seem so daunting because we imagine it must be. “Am I doing it right?” we ask ourselves. Many of the books and teachers can be genuinely helpful, but—as they usually admit—they’re really all saying the same thing: Just sit and be still.
Do whatever helps you to relax (experiment and eventually you’ll establish your own practice). When thoughts come (as they inevitably do) don’t push them away or get into a fight with them. Just let them go—because they aren’t you. They’re like a fly on your arm; shake it and it will fly away. Yes, it will probably come back. Shake it again. Eventually it will give up. Discovering that you are not your thoughts (they will go away, but you will still be here) is one the most important revelations of meditation, and an enormous liberation.
One of the consequences of the pandemic is that most of us have a lot of time on our hands. And we’re approaching half a year of this! We can’t fill all that time with puzzles and projects, hard as we might try. Perhaps one silver lining of this cloud we’re under is that we are being given an opportunity to establish a new relationship with time. And what that really means is creating a new relationship with ourselves and with our life.
We often don’t like being silent and alone. There are those voices! Don’t worry about them. Stare them down and they’ll go away. They chatter about the past, which you can’t do anything about. Or they chatter about the future, which hasn’t happened yet. Life only happens here and now. That’s where we need to be because that’s where we are! And that’s where God is, “the one in whom we live and move and have our being,” as Paul says in Acts.
“Be still and know that I am God,” the Psalms declare. It’s so simple, but it takes practice. So, since you’ve got the time, spend a little of it just sitting and being quiet. Practice being you, here, now. And if you think it will help, find yourself a frog.
Blessings in your life and ministry.