November 5, 2015

An Essay By Barbara Altamirano: "Prayer and Meditation"

Barbara Altamirano is a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature whose work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Journal, Living for the Whole Family, The Majellan: Champion of the Family, and Pittsburgh Parent among others.

Prayer and Meditation

I recently listened to a book on CD that contained a presentation by two spiritual authors, Marianne Williamson and Wayne Dyer. During this talk, Marianne repeatedly “harped” on two words: prayer and meditation. During the question and answer part of the presentation, the answer Marianne offered to many in the audience was to ask her own question. “Are you spending time each day in prayer and meditation?”
    Her insistent tone and the repeated asking of this question put at least some on the defensive. There were many different responses. Some admitted no, they didn’t, some said yes, a little, some implied they didn’t understand why she was asking the question. One very talkative woman said, “Well, I talk to God all the time.” The audience laughed as Marianne answered, “Okay, but are you listening to Him?” I’ve heard it said that prayer is the way we talk to God while meditation is the way we listen. Perhaps that’s what Marianne meant. But regardless, it was clear Marianne considered prayer and meditation to be vital not only for spiritual growth but as a means of helping us through our personal struggles.
    But why are prayer and meditation so vital? I believe we can bring our problems and struggles to God at any time and place. I don’t think God refuses to listen if we haven’t been regularly praying and meditating. It’s never to late to start a relationship with God and our problems often trigger a need or desire for that relationship. After all, when everything in our life is going great, we may not feel a need to reach out to God. But when things turn bad, and they do in everyone’s life at some time, then there is often a sudden need for comfort, or for some reassurance that you’re not alone in your struggle. That there is some force at work, helping you, nurturing you, and bringing you strength and hope.
    However, I think the reason Marianne was so insistent on the need for prayer and mediation is that if you have been praying and/or meditating for some period of time, you will have begun to develop your relationship with God. And so your connection to God will be more apparent to you. So too will be the source of comfort and strength that has always been available to you. This comfort will be more accessible because you’ve been working on finding it.
    My pastor frequently talks about the importance of relationship building with God. I can remember him talking about that topic since he first came to our church some twenty years ago. Back then I didn’t really understand what he meant. I wondered how does one have a relationship with God? Clearly it’s a different kind of relationship than a parent, sibling, friend, or spouse. How can you have a relationship with a being you can’t see? With an entity that you may wonder even exists since you have no concrete proof of God’s existence?  
    This is why prayer and meditation are so vital. Because through these two exercises you gain actual experience of God’s presence in your life. Without them, it’s easy to think that God is not active in your life or even that God doesn’t exist. But when you have a practice of prayer and meditation, you start to realize that God is very real; that He is a part of your very being. You begin to understand He has always been there and always will be.
    Either of these two exercises practiced alone will bring you closer to God. However, practiced together they are even more powerful, perhaps because it is true that prayer and meditation are like talking and listening. Perhaps it’s because meditation clears our minds of the everyday clutter, worries, and unimportant thoughts we all have, enabling us to truly hear God. I’m not suggesting you will hear some loud voice from heaven or see angel wings during meditation although some have experienced these things but rather that as your mind becomes less cluttered, you can more easily separate the inspired thoughts from the mundane or even destructive, self sabotaging ones which we all have from time to time.
    I am also not suggesting that with prayer and meditation all of your struggles will go away. They won’t, most likely. However, you will find that you can more easily handle the twists and turns of your life. You will eventually find that you have a center of peace and tranquility that cannot be disturbed no matter what problems are happening outside of you. It’s been described like the calm at the bottom of the sea, how that calm is not disturbed by what’s happening at the surface. You can find this calm within yourself and it is from God. It is your God-like essence, or your bit of divinity that is a part of who you are as a human being.
    I am not saying you can always access this part of yourself easily or that you’ll never get pulled away from this center. Finding your peaceful center takes work, and even more work is required to remain there, especially during times of grief and struggle. But knowing it is there and attainable can give you hope. And when you experience this inner peace briefly, then you begin to know that you can experience it more and more with practice. Prayer and meditation help you find and keep this peaceful center and that in turn helps you manage life’s ups and downs with grace.
    Marianne may have been “harping” but it was harping about two practices that can have a powerful and healing affect on our lives. So if you haven’t tried them, see what they can do for you in your life. They are practices that are well worth the effort. 
~Barbara Altamirano

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