Relax in Prayer: “Don’t try too Hard”

SFDS quoteby Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

I hyper-extended my knee during prayer this past week. The experience has left me wanting, wondering, and takes me to the center of my reflections on what it means to pray well.

I was off to a rocky start Tuesday morning. Was I running late? Was I anxious about the flow of the morning? Concerned about my responsibilities in attending to – or providing for- some festive, post-prayer-party atmosphere? Who knows. I just know I was a bit off in my rhythms.

We were celebrating five years of Centering Prayer at St. Jane House on Tuesday, along with Director Brian Mogren’s recent Human Services Award. It was a party — a joyous occasion.

I wore a short skirt, and taking my place in the circle of 17 or so other festive-centering-prayer warriors, I all of a sudden got self-conscious.

“What if I flashed someone across the circle?” Ugh. The thought of it took me outside myself, and then inspired a conscious physical correction. “I”ll just cross my legs and all shall be well.”

More easily thought and said than done.

When we pray at Centering Prayer, there’s a universal invitation to position yourself in an open stance. You take a seat. You relax. You soften your gaze. You open your palms and plant your feet firmly on the ground. You take a deep breathe. You let Love pour through you in each inhale and exhale. You take up your sacred word and let this guide you in clearing your mind completely, and letting God have all your thoughts. If you are in a really blissed-out place, or lucky, you have more than 3 seconds of an awareness that Love permeates all things and is the author of all that is good and true and is in charge in this world. You are forgiven and held and know compassion and calm.

But if you cross your legs, and hyper-extend your knee during centering prayer, this bliss is not easily yours.

Sometimes, I think this sort of hyper-extension is true for all of us. We are simply working too hard at prayer;  we are getting too self-conscious of what may be exposed; we are afraid to be truly vulnerable with God. And so we protect ourselves. We cross our legs, so to speak, and avoid all openness with our Creator.

Or not. Maybe some of us are more perfected in the art of prayer — more relaxed in age, experience, development, or practice. I think the sisters are pretty good at prayer, actually. They are my role models. But I know that they would resent this sort of praise or idolizing to a point. They would attest, “Ah, Melissa, we are all human. We all have times of darkness or difficulty in prayer.”

My point is: How do you pray? What is your prayer life like these days? Where do you find yourself in the art of relaxing, giving yourself over to the divine, offering up words of thanks or request or praise? Or simply showing up, presenting your heart to God? 

I’ll close with these sage words from our co-founder, St. Francis de Sales:

“When you come before the Lord, talk to Him if you can. If you can’t, just stay there, let yourself be seen. Don’t try too hard to do anything else.” 

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