You make these Lenten promises and don't think too much about what they mean. So, at the start of Lent I thought I would discipline myself to blog everyday, which has got me into a habit of regular reflection and communication, and, as an unexpected and very satisfying side effect, led to an approximately 500% increase in my audience. I also stopped, as far as I could manage it, using plastic which had as one of its main results a drop off in my coffee consumption, which has got to be good for me, but you'll need to ask the planet if there were any other benefits. Almost as an afterthought I also looked at my daily meditation schedule.
I sit quietly every morning for about 30 minutes. I usually do this before breakfast when there are few phone calls and even fewer visitors so it has been easy, over the years, to make this a habit. I also try, and usually fail, to meditate every afternoon. My timetable is so erratic that this has been hard to establish as a routine, so it's a promise that is honoured more in the breach than in the keeping. On Ash Wednesday I stopped listening to the excuses presented by my chaotic diary and did it anyway, scheduling things around my quiet time and, if I was driving, as I often am at the appointed hour, pulling over and praying in the car. So, long story short, I effectively doubled the amount of meditation I was doing during Lent. And the results of this change have been the most dramatic of all.
The effects of meditation are a bit like those of going for a walk. Do it once or twice and the only noticeable results will be the inconvenience of fitting yet one more time consuming activity into your schedule. Do it for a month and things begin to change. Doubling my meditation has had two quite dramatic effects.
Firstly my Holy Spirit times, which are those periods when I wake in the night, generally around 2 or 3 am with my head full stuff of which is, for me anyway, new and exciting or challenging or puzzling or all of the above, have increased in number and in depth.
Secondly I have been confronted more and more with my past. Things which I had thought long resolved have resurfaced and reminded me that perhaps a little more work was required. These include ideas and realisations and intuitions about past events, but also feelings about those events. In most cases these have required no particular action on my part: some long forgotten bit of psychic detritus has been shaken loose from its decades long encrustation in my unconscious and is making its way out via my cognitive or affective consciousness. In one or two cases though, things have surfaced which will require some attention and I have made arrangements for the necessary spiritual direction.
The strange thing is that these inner events in my consciousness have been accompanied by the sorts of synchronistic meetings and confluences of events which are completely out of my control, but which happen at exactly the right time and make me realise that there is another, greater consciousness at work here. Centering Prayer is about surrender. I say my prayer word daily not as a mantra but as a kind of token to myself of my intention to consent to whatever God wants to do in me. My mind drifts and I say my word, to centre myself and signal consent, a hundred times in any half hour. So two hundred times a day I consent. So why should I be surprised when God takes me at my word, shows up and gently, tenderly but relentlessly continues to disassemble the self I have made to keep all that terrifying reality at bay.
This Lent is not yet over and already it has been the most profound, the most powerful of my life.