Thursday, March 3, 2011

Devotional Reading 030311

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning. It gave me good feeling to be able to run some errands at home before coming to office. Procrastination should be treated as some kind of chronic disease. It definitely involves changing one’s lifestyle or habit in order to heal procrastination. And we know that kicking a habit is not easy. I guess it is the same in developing a good habit too. Pray that you will not continue to give yourself excuse not to develop the devotional habit for your own well being.

No other function of the body is as sensitive to our inner state as our breathing. The slightest excitement produces a noticeable change. If one is worried about making a plane, rapt in watching a sunset or a new puppy, in communion with a loved one, or waking out of a peaceful sleep, the breathing is quite different. The idea of controlling it sounds strange to most Christian ears. Our “Christian” religious practice has been largely cerebral for so long that we have built up a sizeable tradition which scorns and rejects the body. We have almost lost any understanding of the relation of the body to the religious encounter.

Breathing is one internal function which the conscious mind can control with comparative ease. With a little attention one can learn to use certain muscles, making the breathing more rapid or slow, more shallow or deep, quite at will. Then by taking careful note of the muscle action when awakening from peaceful sleep, one can learn to produce almost the same effect by directing it consciously. This kind of breathing comes from the diaphragm. The chest barely moves, while the impetus comes from below in a slow rhythm of the abdominal muscles. This takes practice and discipline, but it is effective in quieting both mind and body.

The effect of controlled breathing is almost like communication with the less conscious parts of one’s being, saying to them: Simmer down and listen there is something beyond this turmoil. It is communication in action that often works when words merely ‘ go in one car and out the other, not even changing the cognitive mind. In essence the effect is to turn all the elements of one’s will toward stillness and waiting…Researchers in brain activity have learned that this breathing pattern goes along with alpha and theta wave activity in the brain, which is characteristic of our mental state in meditation. Again, simply learning to breathe in this way will often help a person to reach this state.

The ancient Christian traditions of Hesychasm stressed the use of the Jesus prayer and an imageless sense of God’s presence as well as awareness of breathing. The essential element linking these practices was the search for silence, for inward stillness. For centuries one form or another of the Jesus prayer has been used for this purpose. One form is simply to invoke the name of Jesus, using it almost as a mantra. Usually the longer form-“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”—is used, and not only at times of meditation. The goal is to repeat this prayer until it can be heard within oneself at all times, until it becomes an unconscious or subliminal turning toward the Christ. Beginning in the silence, constant repetition makes this prayer the underlying theme of all one’s activity.

Using the Jesus prayer is something nearly anyone can do. As one awakens and goes to sleep, one repeats this prayer; working on the job or playing, one repeats it; and in times of pleasure or of personal struggle, one keeps repeating the prayer over and over within oneself, like the beating of the heart. The hope is that not only the words t the presence and spiritual reality of Jesus will permeate every aspect of one s being. The underlying idea of this prayer is that somehow the reality of Jesus is tied to the name…If this kind of prayer can be used as a way of becoming quiet so that the individual is able to find a relationship with God and be reshaped by it, then this way has much to recommend it. Otherwise, using the Jesus prayer becomes an end in itself, often more like the devotional practices of Eastern religions than a truly Christian practice.

I found this practice to be helpful in calming down my brain activity and focus on Christ. It is important to recognize that this kind of spiritual exercise is only a means to help you enter silence. And as you enter the silence state of mind, you want to focus on Christ Jesus our Lord in meditation and prayer. So the practice of the little prayer of Jesus focus not on the means but the end. If you confuse the means to the end, which is attentive to the Holy Spirit who lives in us, this kind of spiritual exercise could become misleading and even dangerous – you are lost in the spiritual world of unknown. We are living in the information age that is filled with all kinds of distractions and temptations. If we don’t make intentional effort to focus our brain activities on God, we can be totally distracted in our spiritual sensitivity. I usually use this breathing exercise and method like Jesus prayer to calm down my mind before I meditate with the Word of God. While I am meditating on the portion of Scripture I follow each day, I either use a written journal or computer to assist my interaction with God. I found this process to be fruitful and refreshing. I hope you will take your devotional life seriously by developing some good habit in meditation.

With His eternal love for us,

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