As we reflect on seeing Christ within ourselves and others, I wanted to introduce another prayer practice that I find helpful in this endeavor. It is a type of prayer that, whenever I engage in it, reminds me that my life is held by the all-enfolding presence of the loving God and that even on my worst day, if I pause and pay attention, I will find God present in, with, and through my whole life. It also reminds me for each of the major groups of folks who people my life that the same is true, so I ought to both be kind to them and open to the presence of God within them.
This is a way of praying based on Psalm 46:
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present[a] help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city;[b] it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.[c]Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.[d]Selah
I begin by centering my attention. For some people this is best done by focusing their attention on a relaxing image in their surroundings, even a religious or spiritual piece of art. For me it is helpful to close my eyes as I reflect, if I am not in a situation I have to keep them open.
For many people, it helps to find a comfortable place to sit. As I do my time of meditation and prayer to begin my day usually as I am either walking my dogs, hiking, or running on the treadmill, I usually get my body in a rhythm of movement that I can continue with very little focus before I begin.
I then begin, in a focused way, to breathe in slowly, hold my breath with intention noticing its feel in my body, and breathe out slowly so that I pay attention to the movement of air out of my lungs. Focusing on either my body’s stillness or the sensations of its movement, I pay attention to my breath and how it feels for awhile.
Then I quickly do what is called a body scan, where I pay attention to how each major area of my body feels from the tip of my head to the tips of my toes, pausing to notice and more deeply experience any key points of pleasure, pain, and tiredness. Normally as I do this practice, emotions, memories, and concerns arise in my mind. Rather than casting them off, I pause and take in each, savoring the pleasure and noticing the discomfort with a focus of self-compassion.
When this feels complete, I begin to use a phrase based on Psalm 46 in breath prayer: “Be still and know that I am holy. Be still and know that I am God”.
The way I like to do breath prayer is, in step with my breath, to say this prayer word for word focusing on the feeling each word evokes. I will first say the whole prayer together in time with my breath – “Be still and know that I am holy. Be still and know that I am God”.
Then, in rhythm with my breath, I say the prayer one word at a time, so that I begin with “Be”, then add on each word until I recite through the whole prayer. Here is an example:
“Be. Be still. Be still and. Be still and know,” and so on.
As I say each new word, I focus on the feelings, thoughts, images, and memories that each word brings up, sitting with them and noticing what they bring to mind.
When I finally say the whole prayer again, “Be still and know that I am holy. Be still and know that I am God,” I move to another prayer I’ve shaped out of this practice.
I think acknowledge God’s presence in me and in others around me.
What I do is then say “I am still, and I know that You are holy. I am still and I know that you are God” as a prayer to God.
Then I begin to use this refrain to recognize God’s presence as surrounding and enfolding me and each of the important groups of people and living things in my life, much like a mother’s womb surrounds her unborn child or the elements of air, heat, water, earth surround us all. Here is an example of how I might shape such a time of prayer:
“I am still and I know that I am holy. I am still and I know that I am in You, God.
I am still and I know that my partner is holy. I am still and I know that they are in You, God.
I am still and I know that my family is holy. I am still and I know that they are in You, God.
I am still and I know that my church family is holy. I am still and I know that they are in You, God.
I am still and I know that my coworkers are holy….”
You see the pattern. As I go through each group of people, I pause and pay attention to images, memories, feelings, and names that come to mind. If I remember a concern I have for someone in these groups, I take a moment to realize that they are held in God’s hands and, if the concern is affects my relationship with them in a fearful or anxious way, I remember God also stands around and between us in our relationship.
If there is something I think of I would like to see this made evident with, I will also list off that request for God’s response to that need in prayer as a part of this. For instance, I have several friends struggling with health concerns right now and when I pray “I am still and I know that my friends are holy. I am still and I know that they are in You, God”, I always pause both to remember God holds them in embrace through their struggles, and I specifically list off their names.
I don’t just include people but also remember to include my pets and the earth including the natural areas around me in my time of meditation and prayer. Lately I have chosen to begin to add the group of those who annoy me and who feel like adversaries, since I think they are often the ones I have the hardest times acknowledging as ones bearing God’s presence.
When I am in a significant romantic relationship or partnership, I will also add a number of the groups important to my partner, as a way of remembering how life-giving and important these people are to them. For instance, “I am still and know my partner’s family are holy … I am still and know my partner’s friends are holy…” For me, at least, that acts as a check against our romantic ideas that those we love and date or partner will become just like us. It reminds me that, as Kahlil Gibran’s classic poem says, two trees cannot grow under the same shadow, and whatever love may form between me and another needs to include the breathing space where we can both spread out our branches and let down our roots in life-giving ways.
I always conclude this part of prayer with the phrase “I am still and I know that it all is holy. I am still and I know that it is all within You, God. I am still and I know that you are Holy. I am still and I know that you are God.”
Then I go through this process again, with a simple reversal of a phrase. Instead of saying “within You, God” I say “You are within” them, “God”.
Here is how that works with the phrases I said above:
“I am still and I know that I am holy. I am still and I know that You are in me, God.
I am still and I know that my partner is holy. I am still and I know that You are in them, God.
I am still and I know that my family is holy. I am still and I know that You are in them, God.
I am still and I know that my church family is holy. I am still and I know that You are in them, God.
I am still and I know that my coworkers are holy….”
As I go through each group, I pause and try to pay attention to what names, faces, feelings, and memories of experience come to my awareness. I try especially to focus my mind on ways God has showed up in my life through people in each of these groups that day or week.
For instance, this morning, I thought about the ways some wonderful conversations last night with someone led me to feel held, loved, and embraced in areas I had not realized I was feeling alone and how that reminded me of God’s grace and care.
A few weeks ago, I remembered a friend who stood with me as a family member faced a health crisis in ways that helped me discover God’s strength to love and be present with them in ways I couldn’t on my own. I remembered with gratitude how their humor taught me to see the grace in suffering in new ways.
I have had mornings I remembered the ways in which my dogs excitedly begging me to be walked and played with call me to embrace the health in my body and the beauty of God’s earth, each of which are ways to experience the grace of God.
I always conclude as I did before, with “I am still and I know that it all is holy. I am still and I know that You are within it all, God. I am still and I know that you are Holy. I am still and I know that you are God.”
I often close this with the Lord’s Prayer, but have been experimenting with closing with the “Jesus Creed” – “The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Amen.”
I hope hearing about this prayer practice of mine helps you find ways to let your spiritual practices open you more to your deepest self and the gifts others in your life, both stranger and friend, bring.
And I would love to hear from you about spiritual practices that help you see and embrace the presence of the living Christ in those around you, other living creatures, and yourself.
Your progressive redneck preacher,