Practicing awkwardness

March 6th, 2019

Rich Lewis is a spiritual director as well as a teacher and practitioner of Centering Prayer. On his blog, Silence Teaches Us Who We Are, he writes,

"When I center I feel like I walk into God’s house. I drop off all of my excess baggage at the front door. I sit in God’s living room. God has a special chair for me. I am invited by God to sit and rest. It is here that I am loved, healed. It is my special time with God. No one can take this time from us. No words need to be said. We are two friends who need each other. I need God’s love and healing. God needs my action in the world during my non-centering times."

This beautiful sense of the comfort and safety of the divine living room may be possible for someone who has visited often and for years, but what about those of us making our very first visits?

As I wrote in my last post, the awkwardness of feeling off balance and out of place is prime territory for the upbuilding work of the Spirit in our lives. We have the opportunity to experience this awkwardness when we serve our neighbors. Luckily, in Centering Prayer we have another training ground for these encounters.

As Lewis says, in Centering or "Contemplative" Prayer we are invited by God into a living room. For Lewis, God is a close friend, a confidant, a healer, someone who needs Lewis as much as Lewis needs God. Showing up in God's living room again and again has created between Lewis and God a relationship of mutual trust and support. Simply put, Lewis has come to this friendship by continually investing in the relationship.

Sitting quietly with an old friend is one of the beautiful gifts of life. But we don't start out there.

Beginners in Centering Prayer often have visions characterized by monk-like repose. Entering into silence, we might find the still, small voice of God. In the Cloud of Unknowing, we might find the heart of Christ, the love that sustains the universe and sustains us all.

Or we might find that our nose whistles and our butt hurts. We might fixate on the loud clock across the room. We might wonder if we really did lock the door when we left home. We might think even more potentially embarrassing thoughts than these.

What we might find is awkwardness. We even have a ready-made phrase for where we start: awkward silence.

We know that our silence will not always remain awkward, however. Whether we are investing in relationship by regularly returning to prayer or showing up week after week to serve our neighbor, gradually the silences become easy.

Action and contemplation exist in a mutually self-sustaining dance. Even (or perhaps especially!) when we feel awkward in Centering Prayer, we are sustained by love and equipped with experience which we take with us into the awkwardness of relationships with our neighbors. Likewise, our awkward encounters in the service of Christ gently teach us the vulnerability we must carry with us into centering, so that we can really become friends with God and not just acquaintances.

The more we invest in these relationships, the more we show up in prayer, the more we encounter the poor, the more we show up in community, the closer we draw to God and the closer we come to relationship with our true self as it is sustained by God. Awkwardness is there not to be avoided, but to show us where to be present, when to be silent, how to listen, and how to keep showing up.

So go forth, be awkward, and let your relationships multiply in it.

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