Instead of going to Curves to work-out this morning as I usually do, I decided to walk in the conservancy. The prediction is for thunderstorms later today, making a walk later a possible problem. Besides, I felt pulled by birdsong. I was there early and only passed one huffing and puffing jogger as I strolled easily, stopping occasionally to pinpoint the locations of the tweets, chirps, trills and honks. I've noted this spring how I hear sandhills frequently, almost every time I walk out the front door, but only rarely see them. Maybe this morning.
The skies didn't reward me with sandhills, but instead with a red-tail hawk soaring, swooping, almost swooning in his love of the early morning softness. I pay attention to hawks. They are one of my totems. Hawks are messengers, visionaries, reminders of the bigger picture and the ability each of us has to look deeply within for the inner light that guides us. I pay attention to hawks, and this one chose a sky-path over the springs in the conservancy. I followed, realizing what I most needed to do this morning was to sit in my own silence and open to the spiritual practice of centering prayer.
Centering prayer is a contemplative practice of opening to God, consenting to God's presence within, finding repose and resting in God, and moving beyond thoughts, images, and emotions. Centering prayer requires intention and patience and practice. There is a reason spiritual practices are called just that!
I've walked to the springs before and stood at the railing, watching with fascination the bubbling from the bottom of the shallow water and the forming of spirals, temporary labyrinths. I told myself to bring my journal here and sit and wait and allow whatever needs to be expressed to come bubbling forth. The hawk told me to be here today. I sat on the bench, set the timer on my i-phone for 20 minutes, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and offered my intention to rest in God. Of course, many thoughts appeared. I am overloaded with thoughts, but I kept returning to the sacred word I have found as my touchstone for centering prayer. Again and again--and again--I return to the sacred word, resetting my intention to rest in God. Sooner than I expect, the harp music of my i-phone timer plays. The 20 minutes are up, and I head back towards home and my plan for the day.
Was it a "successful" time? Yes, because I practiced and accepted God's invitation to open, but was there a moment of experiencing union with God? No, not really. There have been moments during centering prayer or doing T'ai Chi or walking a labyrinth when I have felt God's presence almost tangibly, but the moment I recognize it, it is gone. That knowing is seductive and hard not to grasp greedily. Today, however, was much more about intention, following the hawk, and trusting that the space I create within myself through this practice allows healing to occur. I have no idea what the fruits will be, but Father Thomas Keating, the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement and author of Open Mind, Open Heart, The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel says, "God is patient and waits for the right moment in which you are ready for the insight that will free you."
Oh, and by the way, as I turned toward home I spotted two sandhills retracing the hawks highway.