In the early morning and in the late afternoon at the Desert House of Prayer, we are invited to an extended block of time together for centering prayer. At the close of the centering prayer, we walk slowly around the room and back to our chair. I found myself trying to keep my distance behind a woman who was walking extremely slowly and with various pauses in her walk. This was causing some awkwardness to my walking and some discomfort to my arthritic hip. I said to myself, “Tom, accept where you are. You don’t have to get back to your seat quickly. Just accept where you are.”
This is good advice to me not just when it comes to walking a circle in a prayer chapel. No matter where I am, I am so prone to be thinking about where I should be next, or what I should be doing afterward. I often fail to enjoy the moment because I am so driven by what else I could be doing or should be doing. I feel most guilty about this in conversation with people, when I should be giving my full attention to the person but am actually thinking about what else I should be taking care of.
Which leads to the second conversation I had with myself in that slow walk around the room…. I started off telling myself to accept where I was at the moment, but quickly it struck me that where I was had to do with the pace that someone else was setting. I needed to accept not just where I was. I also needed to accept the pace that woman was setting without trying to rush ahead of her.
I realize how important that piece of advice is in my life as well. In my calling to care for other people (whether in my family, my church, other involvements I have, or simply in interactions with people in general), I often find myself trying to get others on board with the pace I want to set. But when I try to get others on board with the pace I want to set, I stop caring for them and am actually simply interested in them coming around to my way of doing things.
I find myself greatly challenged by something Henri Nouwen wrote for February 8 in the daily devotional Bread for the Journey: “Care is something other than cure. Cure means ‘change.’ A doctor, a lawyer, a minister, a social worker—they all want to use their professional skills to bring about changes in people’s lives. They get paid for whatever kind of cure they can bring about. But cure, desirable as it may be, can easily become violent, manipulative, and even destructive if it does not grow out of care. Care is being with, crying out with, suffering with, feeling with. Care is compassion…. When care is our first concern, cure can be received as a gift. Often we are not able to cure, but we are always able to care.”
I want to learn to accept where I am as I am there. And I want to learn to adjust to the pace of others whom I care for, being with them where they are, rather than trying to get them to come over to where I am.
I guess sometimes God speaks to me in centering prayer differently than I was expecting!