Catholic Things part 2

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Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, c. 1440

‘Pray Without Ceasing’

From ancient times the Church has had the custom of celebrating each day the liturgy of the hours. In this way the Church fulfills the Lord’s precept to pray without ceasing, at once offering its praise to God the Father and interceding for the salvation of the world. —Office of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship

Fanny McElroy

I, Fanny McElroy

When I, Fanny McElroy, first discovered The Brother Cadfael Mysteries, by Ellis Peters, I ripped through them like a scairt rabbit about to be et by a hawk, as Sister Alma Rose says her Daddy Pete says, or maybe it’s “a hawk after a scairt rabbit.” Anyway, I read them fast. And then there weren’t any more, because Ellis Peters died, so for the longest time I put off reading the final book, the twentieth, because I didn’t want to say goodbye to Brother Cadfael, a Welsh Benedictine monk living at Shrewsbury Abbey during the 12th century, but I found other books to read because I had become fascinated by all things medieval and all things Roman Catholic.

Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

Compline — Coronation of the Virgin

I loved Brother Cadfael’s irreverent way of being genuinely and truly religious, his painstaking cultivation of herbs for healing, his humor and his kindness. And the way he told the time not by the clock but by the Canonical Hours for Prayer — Matins, Lauds, Vespers, Compline, and so forth. Sister Alma Rose has specific times for prayer during the day, and if I am at her house when one of those times comes, we go into her chapel and pray together, and sometimes we pray out loud, sometimes we don’t, and she reads a psalm and we sing a hymn — harmonizing rather nicely, if I do say so — but the thing is, she always seems to know what she’s doing, I mean there aren’t any awkward “what should we do now?” moments. And now I know why.

The Liturgy of the Hours

Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

Book of Hours, Paris, c. 1410

One lazy summer afternoon I was sitting on the steps of Sister Alma Rose’s great green wraparound porch half-listening to Sister Alma Rose talking with Father Dooley and his sister Bernadette, who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and who is a willowy, fair-haired, freckled young woman who has, as she says, “quite enough money,” and her occupation is Doer of Good Deeds, and she would have become a nun, she told us, but she wanted to get married and have children, which she hasn’t, yet, but she’s only something like twenty-two, so she spends her time visiting the sick and does what she calls “healing prayer work,” and sometimes she takes in the homeless, temporarily, like mothers with children running from an abusive man, that sort of thing, not scary people or drug addicts.

Versicle: Poem on a Stick?

So I’m sitting there, drowsy with the sun and the hum of a summer afternoon, and I perk up when I hear Bernadette say “Compline,” so I get up from the step and go over to the green wicker table and sit in the one vacant green wicker chair and listen to Bernadette talking about the Liturgy of the Hours, which is also called the Divine Office, I have no idea why, but Catholics have funny names for everything, like antiphon and breviary and versicle, which is not “a poem on a stick,” as I suggested, and everyone laughed, which was very gratifying because when one thinks that one is being very clever, it’s good to know that others think so too.

The Hours of Jeanne D'Evreaux

The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreaux

I think that everyone was surprised by my fascination with such a dry subject as the Divine Office, which I had thought was something from long ago… well, which it is, but it is still practiced, or “celebrated,” as Father Dooley says, and he as a priest is obligated to “celebrate” the Liturgy of the Hours, but it is a joy to him, he says, and Bernadette also “celebrates” the Liturgy of the Hours, and Sister Alma Rose says that her daily prayer times are “based on” the Liturgy of the Hours. “Fanny McElroy,” she says, “y’all have been celebrating it with me for years,” and then she laughs and pours me a glass of Mr. Truman LaFollette’s incomparable lemonade.

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1410

Sister Alma Rose is not Catholic (she has referred to herself as “a Christian Jewish Buddhist,” probably offending adherents of all three religions, but she doesn’t mind — like J. Krishnamurti, she doesn’t mind much of anything, she says, and she is certainly the most serene person I have ever known, though in a crisis she becomes very exercised and shouts prayers to Heaven).

I am not a Catholic either, but there are many things I like about Catholicism, and here is one of them: For two thousand years or so, in spite of corruption and scandal and competition from other religions, and popes who had mistresses and children, and bishops who plotted royal assassinations, and so forth, the Catholic Church has inspired, comforted, counseled, educated, and healed. Irish monks preserved the knowledge from Roman and Greek antiquity by copying a huge lot of documents by hand (read How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, by Thomas Cahill).

Sister Alma Rose has told me about the vile perverted priests who prey on young boys, but I don’t think that those sick men’s transgressions erase all the good that the church has done. And I love the idea of Confession, and the Rosary, and having one’s own personal saint, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, with her woman’s wisdom and her tender heart, and, of course, the Liturgy of the Hours. And, basically, that Catholic worship has gone on uninterrupted for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Some facts about the Liturgy of the Hours

So I ask a thousand questions, and here is some of what I find out about the Divine Office:

It sprang from Jewish prayer practices (“Seven times a day I praise you,” it says in the Psalms)

It began rather simply, with reading or chanting psalms; reading from the Old Testament, the  Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and epistles; and canticles, which are basically hymns from the Bible but not usually from the psalms.

By the end of the fifth century, the Canonical Hours were — and this is a lot of praying and involves getting up in the middle of the night

  • Matins (during the night), sometimes referred to as Vigils or Nocturns, or in monastic usage the Night Office; it is now called the Office of Readings
  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn)
  • Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = 6 a.m.)
  • Terce (rhymes with “purse”) or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = 9 a.m.)
  • Sext (rhymes with “next”) or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = 12 noon)
  • None (rhymes with “John”?) or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = 3 p.m.)
  • Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”)
  • Compline (KOM-plin) or Night Prayer (before retiring)

Wow! Don’t you love it that the time for Vespers is “at the lighting of the lamps”?

The complete Liturgy of the Hours is contained in the Roman Breviary. Most of the pictures on this page are from personal breviaries made for wealthy people in the Middle Ages.

Très Riches Heures calendar page

Très Riches Heures calendar page

All hours begin with Ps. 69-70 v.2, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me,” and then the doxology:  “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

The Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer may consist of

  • opening versicle (a short verse said or sung by a priest or minister in public worship and followed by a response from the congregation) or (for morning prayer) the invitatory (Psalm 94)
  • a hymn, composed by the Church
  • two psalms, or parts of psalms with a scriptural canticle. At Morning Prayer, this consists of a psalm of praise, a canticle from the Old Testament, followed by another psalm. At Evening Prayer this consists of two psalms, or one psalm divided into two parts, and a scriptural canticle taken from the New Testament.
  • a short passage from scripture
  • a responsory (chant or anthem recited after a reading in a church service) typically a verse of scripture, but sometimes liturgical poetry
  • a canticle taken from the Gospel of Luke: the Canticle of Zechariah (Benedictus [Blessed be]) for morning prayer, and the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat: The “Song of Mary” from the Gospel of Luke, Magnificat anima mea Dominum = My soul doth magnify the Lord) for evening prayer

    Russian Orthodox icon, Zechariah

    Zechariah, Russian Orthodox icon

Nativity from an Antiphon

Nativity from an Antiphon

It looks complicated, doesn’t it? But I have to tell you, it is refreshing and renewing to drop everything at 3 p.m. or whatever because that is the time you have set aside for prayer. And if you’re not Catholic, you can develop your own structure for prayer and praise, as Sister Alma Rose has done, she created a sort of hybrid of the Divine Office, and Father Dooley says that’s fine with him, he encourages everyone to pray in the way that suits them best, as long as there’s no mutilation of poultry and stuff like that.

Well, you can buy the complete Liturgy of the Hours in four volumes for more money than I have in my piggy bank, which last time I counted was $97.13, I am saving for a school trip to walk the Appalachian Trail, but there are less expensive books, such as those that have only the Morning Prayer and the Evening Prayer.

There is much, much more to be told about the subject, but Bernadette had to leave to go back to Grand Rapids and her Good Works, which she does out of love and not to earn points toward Heaven or anything like that. So I will just tell you that I, Fanny, “celebrate” the Hours four times a day using the website DivineOffice.org, which has an audio version with beautiful music, and there are other websites with text versions. Sometimes I pray with Mama, and sometimes with Sister Alma Rose, and sometimes it’s just I, Fanny.

Even if you are not a Christian, you might enjoy this prayer discipline, which is principally made up of psalms anyway, though the references to Jesus Christ Our Savior might make you cringe, I don’t know. What I do know is that I need and enjoy discipline and structure in my prayer life, and for me, Fanny McElroy, the Divine Office is the beginning of that discipline and structure.

Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

Chant; Troparion; hook-and-banner notation

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Quickie

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The Empire of Alexander the Great, 4th century BCE; Jerusalem is shown just ENE of Gaza, lower right "corner" of the Mediterranean Sea; via Wikipedia

Civilizing the Nations

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Mother God

Marriage_at_Cana_by_Giotto

The Marriage at Cana, by Giotto

Sister Alma Rose Prays the Rosary and Other Snarfles of Information about Sister Alma Rose

I have decided to be Sister Alma Rose’s Boswell. Please do not snicker, it will make me very cross. Sister Alma Rose is an Exceedingly Remarkable Human Being, and almost everything she does is memorable, probably when she trims her nose hairs it is memorable, although (a) I do not know whether or not Sister Alma Rose has renegade nose hairs, and (b) if she does, I am not present when she trims or plucks or however one extracts nose hairs, and (c) I do not at all like the direction we are going here, enough about nose hairs.

Sister Alma Rose prays to Mary the Mother of Jesus

Rosary

Image via Wikipedia

Sister Alma Rose is not a Roman Catholic but she uses the Rosary in prayer, although not in the approved Roman Catholic fashion, which is very complicated and involves Mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous). My friend Pablo is a Roman Catholic, and he goes to Confession as often as he needs to, even when he has ordinary sinful thoughts, such as, “I could just kill Yolanda,” who is his older sister, and who is so annoying that there are times when I could cheerfully strangle her with her own Rosary, though I believe that that is not an approved Roman Catholic use of the Rosary, and anyway, I only think about it, I would never do it, so how can it be so wrong?

Confessional

Confessional; image by celesteh via Flickr

I have asked God in my prayers to heal me of my antipathy toward Yolanda, who floats around in a miasma of piety and has been known to wear as many as three Rosaries and has consigned Pablo to hell for (a) saying “shit,” (b) refusing to make and serve lemonade for Yolanda and her equally annoying boy friend, Hans, (c) and so forth; but, as I have said, Pablo goes to Confession, and the priest, who undoubtedly knows Yolanda and sympathizes with Pablo, gives him, I don’t know, ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers as his penance, and Pablo, who knows more than the priest does of the depth of his loathing for Yolanda, doubles it.

Pablo and I suspect that Hans and Yolanda have had Carnal Knowledge of one another and we wonder if she has been forthcoming of this particular sin in Confession; I say no, Pablo says yes.

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace

An Our Father is the Lord’s Prayer, truncated; Catholics use trespasses instead of debts, and then they quit and start over, if they are praying the Rosary.

A Hail Mary is as follows:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Madonna and Child, Pompeo Batoni, 1742

Sister Alma Rose prays the Our Father and the Hail Mary when she prays the Rosary, but the resemblance to Roman Catholic tradition ends there. As we all know, Sister Alma Rose’s spirituality is somewhat eclectic, and her praying of the Rosary includes a litany of her own devising. If there were any who dared criticize Sister Alma Rose, they would be strict and solemn religionists and Sister Alma Rose would not care.

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Yolanda has been heard muttering words to the effect that Sister Alma Rose is profaning the Rosary, which is silly, because there are no Rosaries in the Bible and a Rosary is an inanimate object with only so much power as the pray-er invests it with.

Sister Alma Rose Q & A

Pablo and I sat with Sister Alma Rose on her wonderful porch one Saturday afternoon in October, drinking Mr. Truman LaFollette’s delectable dark chocolate cocoa with marshmallows because it was a bit cool for lemonade. I had my notepad and a Rollerball pen in turquoise, and I asked Sister Alma Rose some questions and she answered them.

Me: Why do you pray to Mary the Mother of Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, one of the reasons that the Roman Catholic Church has elevated Mary the Mother of Jesus almost to divine status is that many of the peoples whom the Church was trying to convert in the early days practiced goddess worship, often associating the goddess with the earth—and even today we speak of “Mother Nature.” Those long-ago Christian missionaries knew that the better they could weave pagan and Christian traditions, the more likely the pagans were to accept Christianity.

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

Pablo — consigned to Hell?

I believe that women, in particular, need a feminine presence to pray to, one who represents the feminine attributes of our Father-Mother God. Some people are reluctant to pray to God the Creator; he is too big, he is unknowable. So they pray to saints and angels, who have been blessed with intimate knowledge of God and who will carry the people’s prayers to heaven.

Me: Thank you, Sister Alma Rose. Now then, how do you use the Rosary in a way that is different from how Catholics use the Rosary?

Sister Alma Rose: Well, Miss Fanny, as you know, I pray Hail Marys and Our Fathers using the Rosary. The circle of beads and the repetitive prayers are a form of meditation, the Our Father or Hail Mary being a mantra.

I would not say that I go into a trance, precisely, but rather that I let go of everything, worries and regrets and anxieties, until I feel purified and made ready to present my prayers to God. Then each bead becomes a prayer, first of praise and thanksgiving, then of petition or intercession—prayers for individuals who are sick, who are in torment, who grieve for loved ones, et cetera—and for myself, to ask God that my endeavors be not willful or prideful but loving and pure. And then I offer prayers of thanksgiving, that God has answered my prayers, knowing my need even before it was presented to him.

Me: Do you feel that you are using the Rosary inappropriately?

Sister Alma Rose: Prayer is never inappropriate.

And thus endeth my interview with Sister Alma Rose, and she proceeds to place two packs of cards on the table because she has promised to teach us to play bridge, because Pablo’s parents and mine play bridge together, and we think it is very grown-up, and it must be fascinating and intense because during bridge is the only time my father smokes cigarettes and takes the Lord’s Name In Vain.

Miscellaneous Playing Cards

Image by incurable_hippie via Flickr

 

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Miracle Needed Here, Thank You

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Light a Candle for Kristen

Image copyright MatthewBowden, www.digitallyrefreshing.com

Image copyright MatthewBowden, http://www.digitallyrefreshing.com

Sister Alma Rose’s goddaughter, Kristen, recently married “Hubert,” a disabled Iraqi war veteran who is on medication for PTSD. He now seems to have abandoned her and her three-year-old daughter and left them with nothing — not even their marriage certificate.

“I was just getting settled,” Kristen sobbed to Sister Alma Rose on the phone. To say that Kristen has led a tumultuous life is like observing that there are numerous people in China. Finally she thought she had found someone who would treasure her and bring stability to her life and her daughter’s, who were homeless until Kristen met Hubert.

The three of them had been together for eight months before Kristen and Hubert were married in Las Vegas. She has few if any material resources; she feels terrified and friendless; so y’all are going to have to pray for angels to comfort and guide her… and her husband and daughter as well. Please, y’all light a candle for her tonight, and send her “love vibes” every time you think of her. These things are important. These things are powerful.

Then y’all praise God and be thankful, knowing that his will for Kristen is already being done and it can be nothing but blessedness.

If one thinks of a miracle not as the breaking of God’s laws but as His own using of His laws, then the world is full of miracles…. His will includes unlimited miracles. It is for us to learn His will, to seek the simplicity and the beauty of the laws that set free His power. —Agnes Sanford, The Healing Light, on the miracle of prayerful healing 

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The Mysteries

jesus_6th_c_mosaic

A 6th-century mosaic of Jesus

When asked which is the “greatest” of God’s commandments, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”Matthew 22:37-39

Who Is Jesus?

Sister Alma Rose prays to Jesus. I have heard her. “O Jesus, have mercy!” she’ll say when there’s a calamity. But if you ask her if she’s Jewish, she says yes, she is, which is also what she answers when asked if she is a Buddhist, which I know because I was with her at Polly Ellen’s when she quoted from the Gospel of Buddha

Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

Painting of the Buddha at the Deer Park (photo by Kay Ess)

The deva said,

What is the greatest gain?

What is the greatest loss?

Which armour is invulnerable?

What is the best weapon?

The Blessed One replied,

The greatest gain is to give to others;

the greatest loss is to greedily receive without gratitude;

an invulnerable armor is patience;

the best weapon is wisdom.

…and Polly Ellen said, “Sister Alma Rose, are you a Buddhist?” and Sister Alma Rose said she was.

“But I thought you were a Christian,” Polly Ellen said.

“I am,” said Sister Alma Rose serenely.

Polly Ellen turned to me and said, “Fanny, do you know Jesus?”

I never know quite what to say when people ask me if I “know Jesus” or if I have “been saved.” The short answer is Yes, but I don’t think we’re having the same conversation.  I mean, I don’t think my “yes” means what the other person thinks it means.

I was sure that Polly Ellen and I weren’t having the same conversation when she asked me to give my “testimony.”

“Why don’t you go first,” I suggested, and could have bit my tongue off. Sister Alma Rose just smiled and settled a little farther back in her chair.

Polly Ellen’s testimony

Me, Fanny McElroy

Me, Fanny McElroy

Don’t worry if there are things you don’t understand about Jesus. I have been learning about who Jesus is all my life, and I still don’t understand. It is one of the mysteries, and that’s okay. Mysteries are exciting. Someday, all the mysteries will be explained. I don’t mind waiting.

Polly Ellen

Polly Ellen

When I was a little girl, I didn’t like Jesus very much. In fact, I was quite afraid of him. Most of what I knew about Jesus I learned in Sunday school. I went to Sunday school every week because I was a very serious little girl and I wanted very seriously to be good.

Even after my family stopped going to church, I kept going to Sunday school to learn how to be good. I asked my brother why we had stopped going to church as a family, and he said it was because Mom and Dad thought the minister at our church was a big poophead. This is not a word I think you should use. I’m just telling you what my brother said.

The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

The Sermon on the Mount, painted by Carl Heinrich Bloch (d.1890)

At Sunday school, the teachers would have us memorize a little piece of the Bible, and it usually was about something Jesus wanted us to do that wasn’t fun. “Give all your stuff to the poor and follow me.” “Love your enemies.” “Do good to those who hate you.” These verses were from the part of the Bible called the Gospel, which means “good news.” But I couldn’t figure out what was so good about it.

The Sunday school teachers said that Jesus didn’t want me to be selfish and that I should care more for other people, ALL the other people in the world, than I cared about myself. This was hard for me to understand, because I knew these Sunday school teachers, and they all lived in big fancy houses and had expensive cars, and also, they wouldn’t let black people come to our church.

Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

Cupola painting depicting Heaven and Hell, Il Duomo (begun in 1296), Florence, Italy

But still, I grew up feeling more or less guilty most of the time because I was selfish. The only good thing about it was that I was always nice to everybody, even geeks and nerds and people who smelled bad, and so I got to be Homecoming Queen because geeks and nerds vote too.

A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

A starving Biafran child in the late 1960s

By the time I was a grownup, I was sure that I was a horrible person and that God couldn’t possibly love me enough to want me with him in heaven. Sometimes I would start to feel happy, but then I would catch myself and remember that I wasn’t supposed to be happy, not as long as there was a single person in the world who was poor or sick or suffering in any way.

Now I am almost always happy. And I will tell you why.

Many years ago, I met a very wise woman named Margaret, who read Jesus’ words to me out of the Bible. She read from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotta de Bondone), early 1300s
Jesus at the Marriage at Cana, fresco by Giotto (Giotto di Bondone), early 1300s

“Jesus doesn’t want you to love your neighbor instead of yourself,” Margaret said. “He wants you to love yourself too. If you let him, he will fill you full of love — enough for yourself and the whole rest of the world.”

Then she read to me from Matthew, chapter 6, where Jesus says, “Do not worry.”

“Pray, and give your worries to God,” Margaret said.

And so I think that the Good News, which Jesus taught, is that you don’t have to be perfect. In fact, any time you want to, you can give your mistakes and your fears and your worries to God, and God will put love in the place where your fears and worries used to be, and God will guide you in the way that you should go, because God loves you and wants you to be happy. That’s why God made you in the first place.

* * *

By the time Polly Ellen finished her testimony, tears were rolling down my face — tears of pity, thinking of Polly Ellen making herself so unhappy all those years because she thought she needed to carry the weight of the world… tears of joy, because the Polly Ellen I have always known is like a merry sprite, shining and humming and dancing through life.

When Polly Ellen walked with us out onto her porch to say goodbye, I gave her a big hug. “I am so grateful for you, Polly Ellen,” I said, and she held me tight and a little bit extra long, and when Sister Alma Rose and I were walking up the hill toward home, Sister Alma Rose handed me her clean, ancient floral hankie, which had been very neatly mended in several places, and I wondered if Sister Alma Rose is the only person in the world who still mends raggedy old hankies and darns her socks.

* * *

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Meditation: Where to Start

Sister Alma Rose Q & A: How to Meditate

A wise man once said, “God is the most obvious fact of human existence.”
You, Ruler of Creation, are so big we can’t see
around you, so
we think we can’t
see you. Be obvious to us today, O God. Amen

Q: Dear Sister Alma Rose—I want to start practicing prayer-meditation. There are so many websites, and books, and videos, and CDs, I don’t know where to start. Can you give me a quick tutorial on the basics?

Buddhist Gardens

Buddhist Gardens

A. Sister Alma Rose can, of course, do so. She will not, at this time, describe the differences between prayer and meditation, particularly so-called nonreligious meditation, an oxymoron at which Sister Alma Rose turns up her rather astonishing nose, if she do say so herself.

Meditation is like pure Christianity in several ways. Y’all are born again every time you choose to be. Y’all let go. Let go of the past, let go of the future. Give them to God. Everything is Right Here, Right Now, and it’s all okay, it’s all fine, because it’s the only way it can be, right here, right now.

Begin meditation at whatever pace suits y’all: one minute, several times a day; a half-hour, twice a day; whenever y’all can steal some time away from the hubbub and find a comfortable, quiet place.

Some meditation instructors will tell y’all to take a shower or a bath first, to clean up your mess, to create a “special” place for meditation, to sit in a certain way, and to not fall asleep. Sister Alma Rose says: That’s all well and good, if you want meditation to become just another project, like going to the gym, rather than a way of life, a way of being. If Sister Alma Rose followed all those rules, she’d meditate maybe every third leap year. Sister Alma Rose has a planet to run. She can meditate on a city bus during rush hour.

Meditation step by step

Sister Alma Rose recommends y’all start with a simple breathing meditation. This is as basic as it gets. Breathing.

Jack Kornfield (a Spirit Rock image)

Jack Kornfield (a Spirit Rock image)

  • Get as comfortable as possible, in as quiet a place as possible. If y’all can get comfortable sitting with your back straight on a pillow on the floor, or on a chair, not slouching, with y’all’s head tilted slightly down, why, that’s dandy. If y’all want to lie down, for Dirty Gertie’s sake lie down.
  • Relax. Just saying the word relax to yourself is immensely powerful.
  • Close your eyes. Don’t scrunch them closed. Just an easy-and-relaxed closed.
  • Inhale and exhale through your nose, comfortably, rhythmically.
  • Get in the habit of inhaling from y’all’s diaphragm (or abdomen), so that your in-breaths are deep and lung-filling. Abdominal breathing is, in itself, relaxing. (If y’all can’t get the hang of it, place your hand flat across your navel and inhale so that your hand moves outward.)
  • Y’all are in a sort of porous cocoon of pure white light. You can think of it as your “energy field.” Sister Alma Rose sees it as God’s loving, healing light. Breathe in the light.
  • The more senses y’all engage during your meditation, the less likely y’all will get distracted. See the healing light being inhaled. When y’all exhale, feel the healing light permeate your body with warmth, like a caress: to the tips of y’all’s fingers and toes and the top of y’all’s head; through your skin, muscle, bone, all the way to your internal organs and every cell in y’all’s body.* Smell and taste the light. Hear the ebb and flow of your breath, like an ocean tide.
  • If y’all can’t manage all that, just let your attention rest on your breath.
    • Meditation author and teacher Susan Piver
    • Meditation author and teacher Susan Piver
  • Don’t worry if your mind wanders. If a thought or a feeling intrudes, notice it, but don’t follow it. Jack Kornfield suggests y’all bow to it. If you do get tangled up in thoughts and emotions, gently bring your attention back to y’all’s breathing. As Susan Piver says, it doesn’t matter if it’s been ten seconds or an hour. Don’t beat yourself up. Show lovingkindness to yourself. Do not get discouraged. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche reassures us that “the intention to meditate” is enough. If y’all genuinely intend to meditate, you can’t mess it up.
  • If y’all are distracted by pain or discomfort, let it be the focus of your meditation. Take your attention away from your breathing and settle it on your pain. Y’all do that, it’ll likely go away.
  • Try to meditate for a few minutes every day. Set a timer, if y’all want to. Gradually, steadily add to your time a bit, or to the number of times you meditate per day. But if a week goes by, or a month, without your meditating, y’all haven’t failed. Just start again. You get an eternity of second chances.

    The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

    The Joy of Living, by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

In a nutshell

  • Get comfortable and close y’all’s eyes. Relax.
  • Rest y’all’s  attention on the sensations of comfortable, rhythmic breathing, from the diaphragm, in and out through the nose.
  • If thoughts or emotions break in, notice them but try not to follow them. (Sister Alma Rose thinks of this process as a scuba diver’s watching through goggles as fish swim in and out of view.)
  • As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered, gently, lovingly bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Always, in meditation, treat yourself with love and gentleness. When you are through meditating, the lovingkindness will remain, and you’ll be kinder to yourself and others.

Other ways to start meditating

* Warming your fingers and toes is actually a common form of do-it-yourself biofeedback for relaxation. Use an instant-read thermometer or an old-fashioned mercury thermometer. Hold it between y’all’s fingers for a while, until it reaches your body temperature. (An instant-read thermometer will do so immediately.) Then focus y’all’s attention on the fingers holding the thermometer. Y’all can try to warm your fingertips, or y’all can just “notice” them. Either should do the trick. You’ll feel a tingling in y’all’s fingers—that’s the blood flowing in. The temperature recorded on the thermometer will rise.

When you’re stressed, y’all’s system goes into “fight or flight” mode and the blood rushes to your heart. By consciously directing the blood away from y’all’s heart, toward your extremities, y’all’s heart slows down and y’all relax.

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