On emptiness

February 20, 2012
Adam Klassen |

In the house that I am living in we have been trying to find times where we can worship together. When this group of people came together we were looking to be more than roommates, we were looking to live as a community with one another. Part of the basis of this was a mutual understanding that the faith we individually held is expressed through community. I do not want to give the idea that we all have the same faith, exact in understanding. Nor do I want to say that this was the only reason choosing for living together. But this communal understanding of faith was important to our coming together.

One way to explore this is to spend time in worship. Three times a week, after supper, whoever is at home gathers together to engage in a number of different prayerful practices. Beyond a mutual desire to have worship be a part of our weekly lives there was an interest to explore more meditative styles of worship. My favourite of these is the centring prayer.

Centring prayer is easy in concept and amazingly difficult in practice. For a pre determined amount of time (often around the fifteen minute mark) we sit in silence, with the goal of clearing our minds of all thought. The point is to open oneself to God, partly to listen, but also attempt to become empty before the creator.

There are a few tricks to actually accomplishing this. We each choose a single word, and when you feel your mind begin to wander, when a thought enters it, you focus on that word. It is meant to bring your mind back to its task of emptying. Needless to say I usually spend the entire time constantly saying my word as my mind attempts to fill itself with thoughts and ideas.

I find this difficult but deeply rewarding, and is by far the most effective way of settling myself I have found. As a relaxation method it is miles beyond watching television or reading a book.

Part of this is that in our society we are constantly being presented with information. We are always in-taking something. Whether that be music on the radio, emails, television, billboards, or talking with a friend we are always in the process of processing. In fact, I find it difficult to think of a situation in which I am not in-taking information. Centring prayer offers an alternative position, one of emptiness without the expectation of being filled. One of just trying to quiet the mind for a time.

It feels truly counter cultural. Challenging the idea that a creature of information is the only way of being. Perhaps there is something other than either in-taking or expressing information.

There are other ways to go about this than centring prayer. One that comes to mind is the practice of fasting. I admit to not being very familiar with this, but it seems to provide a physical expression of this emptiness. If centring prayer provides an intellectual emptiness, fasting is the physical side, of positioning oneself to be filled by the God of creation, rather than the gods of advertising and the industrial food industry.

I feel I am constantly failing at becoming empty when I try these things. Needless thoughts constantly find their way in. But success is not the point. It is the trying to find other ways of existing that is. Attempting to find ways of being that go beyond how the world tells us to be, looking for a way to tap into the strange divinity that is the God we worship. Trying to find ways into that upside-down kingdom.

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