Episode #4 : Imagination meditation on the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' robe, with Rae

SHEKINAMEDITATIONPODCAST#1 (3).png

(Rae here.)

We’ve been so busy with life but one of the gems right now is being able to guide meditation. I hope today’s meditation speaks to you.

Here’s what to expect in this episode:

*Ro and I have a short chat about life right now including rainbow salad, contact dance, city life, and being glad to be home. 

*I guide an imagination meditation based on the story of the woman who came and touched the hem of Jesus’s robe. (She was so brave.) (If you want to skip straight to this, it’s at 07:05)

Here’s the podcast on iTunes. 

Here it is on Youtube.

We have a Facebook page up if you want to follow us there.

Many blessings for the weekend. Love one another and remember that you are so, so loved.

Episode #3 of the Podcast! Imagination meditation on John 13:1-17 with Neil

IMG_2973.JPG

Hi everyone, this is Rachel. I hope you have had an excellent week!

The podcast is live on iTunes, so you can subscribe there if you like!

Here’s what to expect in Episode 3 of the podcast:

I tried something new this week and created this episode without any background music. We normally meditate without music. Let us know what you think about the difference. Music? No music? 

* Ro and I do an update of life around here this week, including uncles, camping dreams, housecleaning, and a quiet week.

* Neil guides us in an imagination meditation on John 13:1-17 (If you want to skip straight to this part, it’s at 08:34.) 

Enjoy!

The Youtube version is here :)

***

The podcast will always be free, but you can support us on Patreon.com and get extra audio each month. We're so thankful for your support, which helps our communities to offer this kind of meditation and other Christ-centered practices for free. 

Episode #2 of the Podcast! Psalm 119:25-32 with Chinua

Hi, Rachel here! Here’s what to expect in Episode 2 of the podcast:

* Ro and I do an update of life around here this week, including pita, a river of people, controlled fells, weeds like trees and bees with knees.

* Chinua guides us in a Lectio Divina meditation on Psalm 119: 25-32 (If you want to skip straight to this part, it’s at 07:33.) 

Enjoy!

The Youtube Version is here, if that is what you prefer. 

***

The podcast will always be free, but you can support us on Patreon.com and get extra audio each month. Thank you to new patrons: Alison, Maja, Kesselfam, and Susan! We're so thankful for your support!

Episode # 1 of the podcast! Psalm 32:1-5 with Ro

SHEKINAMEDITATIONPODCAST#1.png

(Rachel here.)

Well, this is exciting. We've been dreaming of offering recorded meditation for a long time, and here we are! In this episode:

  • We have a brief introduction, talking about a few things we've been up to around here.

  • I give a short introduction to some of the points of meditation.

  • Ro guides us in a Lectio Divina meditation on Psalm 32 :1-5. (If you want to skip straight to that part, it starts at 07:30.)

Enjoy!

The Youtube Version is here, if that is what you prefer. 

***

The podcast will always be free, but you can support us on Patreon.com and get extra audio each month. We're so thankful for your support!

Announcement: Our podcast is on its way into your earspace!

30631276290_6b54c75d99_o.jpg

Oh, hello! This is Rachel, stumbling out of the jungle of life to say HELLO and tell you about exciting things in our future. After years of dreaming about it, we are starting a meditation podcast, featuring guided meditation recorded specifically for the podcast or live from our morning meditation sessions at Shekina Garden.  

If all goes well and the creek don’t rise (quite literally, the Pai river is full to the brim) we will be sending Episode 1 of the Shekina Meditation Podcast into your airwave space (I don’t exactly understand how that works) on Friday! Yes, on Friday, this coming Friday. We will be posting weekly! All our podcasts will be totally free, but we do have a Patreon account set up if you want to support our communities through this venture, as well as get extra audio each month.

We hope that these recordings will be a resource for those who are interested in having Christ-centered meditation in their lives, either for personal practice or in small groups. And we’re so happy to share what we have learned about meditation in the presence of God. 

A Thin Layer

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. An extra bit of brilliance just before the light disappears, like a thousand invisible lamps being turned on at once. We were sitting in the sala at Shekina Garden yesterday, finishing up with meditation, bamboo leaves rustling in a strong breeze. Brendan began riding Nay’s bicycle in circles around the garden, testing it or something, I never did find out.  “It’s like the Wizard of Oz,” our friend Beau said. “And look, he’s riding a bicycle out there.” Brendan did make quite a sight, green and golden in the weird light, cycling on the grass. 

We were drinking kombucha and I felt the kind of happy settledness that meditation brings me. We lingered, the light keeping us there, our little conversations blinking on and off. We talked about light therapy and skateboarding, and then I told some stories about the Catholic shrines in Goa, out of nowhere, related to nothing. Snippets of memories. Leaf and I walked back over the bridge together, then lingered longer beside the river, talking. We meant to head in different directions, but we were caught there, talking by the river, as the light got dimmer and dimmer and finally it was gone before I even pulled away, my headlights guiding me along the narrow street. 

Earlier in the day we had looked at land, dreaming of a future with a bigger retreat center in it. Chinua is recording everything lately, every moment, so I drove while he held the video camera and we followed Brendan and Leaf on their red motorbikes, which are forty years old and aptly named Big Red and Little Red. It was all ridiculously photogenic—Brendan with his waist-length dreadlocks and Leaf with her brilliant hair on these old, beautiful bikes. They drove side by side and chatted. Chinua filmed it all. (Filmed? Is there a different word for that these days?) 

I left quickly when I realized I was late for my afternoon tea with my friend Rowan Tree. Ro and I ate cake. We ate too much cake, the pieces were twice as big as we thought they would be. I offered Chinua some when he wandered into the café later and groaned that he couldn’t go anywhere anymore without bumping into us. He looked at me suspiciously. We are competing to reach our weight goals, (people still ask me if I’m pregnant, nearly every day) and we have been known to offer each other food as a weapon because we both want to win. But I really just wanted him to enjoy the cake with me and eat it because it was too much. He took a bite and disappeared. Ro and I talked about learning Thai and how it can be an obsession, words tumbling over each other in your brain until you think you will go crazy. I was nervous about guiding meditation because I’ve been using up a lot of my courage lately and it seems to be finite, though rechargeable. I’m not usually anxious about guiding meditation but this time I was and Rowan Tree set me at ease as she clutched her stomach and groaned “I ate too many snacks…” 

We went to my house and I finished making dinner so it would be ready while I was away and Josh was watching the kids. Once the salsa was made and the lettuce was cut, we rode off to sweep the floor of the meditation space and put the mats out. Our friends began pulling up one by one on their scooters and the sunlight slipped further along the red floor as we settled in a circle and began. 

God is our refuge and strength.

Sometimes there is difficult work to do in community. I think this particular group of friends has fooled me away from my firm belief that community is a kind of suffering. I start thinking it is all fun and games and playing in the mud and get careless. But in talking about what really matters to us and digging to find each other and dream together, a wild fear of being seen or unseen, changing beyond recognition or being misunderstood can rear its head. 

A very present help in trouble.

Past days, memories and fears and stumbling, clumsy love can make me retreat into myself, can tempt me to isolate myself. Maybe you are the same. But as soon as we try to run from the knife of suffering, the iron of community, we give up on the depth and truth of love. It is the same in marriage, in parenting. We flinch away from pain, but suffering guides us to new depths of understanding. We learn more of what God is doing as he writes his story among us. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…

We sat in the circle together, our minds close and far away, and birds sang above us, and one shrieking cicada tried for all our attention. 

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. 

*From Psalm 46

This post was cross-posted at Rae's blog: Journey Mama.

A Day in the Circle

We have many people who have joined us here at Shekina in Thailand, friends who live the same dream: to practice following Jesus in a way that embraces those who want to learn more about Christ centered life. These past weeks have been a blur of joy and adjustment as we have welcomed two couples, and some adorable children who will stay here long term, as well as four pilgrims and beautiful family friends who are visiting for a month.

Morning. We sit in a circle and listen to the words of the day’s meditation guide, slowing into breath and the waiting, quiet expectancy for the Spirit of God. Some of us are new at this, some have been working in meditation for years. We are all the same together today though, this morning with the birds singing around us, a buzzsaw going through metal in the distance, a washing machine nearby whirring. The fields are full of flowering weeds or garlic. The hills are blue. God’s word pierces like a sword, washes like a gentle cloth on a hot face. 

A pharisee and a tax collector went to the temple to pray. 

All of us from different backgrounds. There are three children in the circle, two of them my own, grown enough now to join a grown-up (sit very still) meditation. Some people in the circle are emotional and even in tears. Some are more at peace, resting with familiar words that challenge and embrace.

The pharisee thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.

Josh is leading today. He speaks the ancient words slowly and with care. I find myself deep in the story. I find myself, as he guides us, sitting across from Jesus at a table. Jesus grips my forearms and speaks the words to me. 

The tax collector begged God for mercy. He knew his sin well. 

Every meditation is different. If all is well with the world, we may hover gently over the scripture, hearing the words as song. If life seems harder, we may dive down so deep it is hard to come back up. How many ways are there to hear a word? Certainly as many as there are people in the circle.

The humble will be exalted, the exalted will be humbled. 

A breeze picks up and it is chilly in the shade. Sharing time is deep, as we hear from one another, stories and hearts, minds full of questions. We do the work of faith, no matter where we are on the path to Jesus. We hear truth and and dig in, and the same story moves each of us differently because the Word is alive, though unchanging and Eternal. 

A meditation on Psalm 104

Recently, at Shekina in Pai, Chinua guided a meditation on Psalm 104,  introducing it as a hybrid meditation between Lectio Divina and contemplation of nature. He read the Psalm through and then we each chose something in the world around us to focus on and absorb, asking ourselves about how this piece of nature spoke about the attributes of God. 

First of all, what a Psalm!  It’s really long and I encourage you to read it. Here are some snippets:

He makes the clouds his chariot

He rides on the wings of the wind

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly

The cedars of Lebanon that he planted

In them the birds build their nests

The stork has her home in the fir trees

I will sing to the Lord for as long as I live

I will sing praise to my God as long as I have my being

May my mediation be pleasing to him

For I rejoice in the Lord

 

Sitting with the greenest fields and mountains all around us, with birdsong in my ears, these words washed over me like water. I felt lifted, as I always do, by scripture in this quiet setting where we only hear the words and don’t share our opinions on them (at that moment). The words themselves are full and strong and pure.

Then, for my contemplation of nature, I chose a small, purple set of flowers that grow on one of our trees. In thinking about what this flower spoke about the heart of God, I was filled with the strongest love. Flowers! I pictured flowers springing from the heart of God in all their delicacy and color. That he made these things which serve such a practical purpose (to spread pollen and attract bees and butterflies) and yet our eyes love them, that he made this partnership between us and the beauty of the world speaks of a great tenderness and love for beauty that goes beyond any of my own love or desire to create. How could I shrink in shame from a being who made flowers? He reveals his love for me in feeding the longing for beauty with something as lovely as a flower. How can that not fill me, enclose me? 

In our contemplation of nature mediations at Shekina, we often think of how the piece of nature that we are contemplating is like God and unlike God.  As we sat in silence, I thought of God, this eternal love and being, and how being eternal means that he is eternally young and eternally ancient. The flowers I held in my hand would only ever be young, then die and wither. But God, though his heart is young and rejoices with the blooming of each flower, also is ancient, with the wisdom of the ages and the understanding of every single happening on the earth and beyond it. The flower is not God, the flower did not make God, but something of who he is springs into the world every time a flower blossoms, and this blooming speaks of him, all around the world, every day. 

No cause for stumbling.

Every time we have a meditation circle, different thoughts and images come up, and I often write my experiences out. I'll take time to share some here, as we continue in meditation--both my experiences and the thoughts of others. The meditation I want to share about today was guided last month by Chinua at our space in Pai. It was a Lectio Divina meditation from 1 John 2: 8-11.

At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because he darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

While in silence, I had a very clear picture of walking in darkness. It was from 2006, when I was at the National Rainbow Gathering in Colorado, walking through the pitch black woods with a flashlight. I had a flashlight! But it was only a maglite and the little beam of light it produced wasn’t enough to distinguish a path from a non path in the woods. I very badly wanted to get to the Pop-Corner kitchen to eat lemon flavored popcorn but eventually I had to admit defeat and simply turn around to go back to my camp. I couldn’t get through the woods in the dark. The next morning, the path I had been seeking was perfectly easy to find. The sunlight made the forest a perfect place to be, I saw the way I needed to walk and I also saw the beauty of the Colorado aspens.


In meditation it became so clear to me, through this picture, that hatred blinds us. In hatred, perhaps of a difficult person, we cannot see the way forward, we can’t help but be lost. The love of God alone allows our path with a person to be illuminated, to truly know the way to walk, to walk in the light and not stumble around blindly in the wrong section of the forest entirely. Have you ever viewed someone with bitterness and found that every single thing that they do is distorted to be the worst possible thing with the worst possible motive? Likewise, the same actions viewed with love receive the benefit of the doubt, the person is seen clearly as a child who is loved and needs love, no matter how broken or misguided their actions may be. This verse is not about punishment, but about what hatred versus love does to the human soul. God sees in perfect love and wants us to see the same way.

Chin in America? When does that happen?

Here is is. I want to share Shekina Meditation, with as many people who will receive me, in the states, soon.

I just put a post on Facebook about how I want to go home to the States to do our practice with people. Doing a facebook update about something more complicated than "OMG, my cat just sneezed!!” is not as always easy so I also posted here.

Simply put, I want to demonstrate and encourage Shekina meditation with all who want to benefit from it. In my mind it's small groups, churches, bible studies, kirtans, gatherings, any place people have the open intention to further their spiritual growth. We have somtheing valuable to share.

If I get a robust response from facebook, emails and such I will make it a priority to be there. After all, it’s expensive to come all that way. I’m hoping for four weekends and some midweek time too.

IMG_2236

A photo I took way back in the 90s. Did I really live here?

But why would I come all the way there, literally half way around the world? I want some of you to do the smae honestly. We want people to come here and help us do this. It would be crazy, and wonderful, to imagine returning to Thailand with a 10 people wanting to come help us at some point.

I want people to be thinking and dreaming about it, but how can anyone even begin if they have no idea what we even mean by Shekina Meditation? Experience is the best teacher. We have brochures and blurbs, but you know everyone is selling something. Like good fruit, you have to really take it in to benefit from it.

Honestly it's a good moment, our center here is almost ready to open and the high season is coming. I want to inspire as any people to move more deeply into their spiritual life through meditation as possible. I want to build some momentum so that when my whole family comes in the spring, we can be taking the next natural step rather than the first.

Its easier for me to zip around when its just me, although almost infinitely more sad (insert heart wrenching pining sound) to be away from them. Rachel can manage with support, although it’s a stretch for us all. We really think it will be worth it.

I’m hoping to connect with people in Southern California, Northern California, and up in the Pacific Northwest. I have a mind to come to the Midwest as well, since Michigan is my home state, and we have a smattering of good people that we know in the region. Asheville is a natural stop too.

What are we offering? One hour sessions at a location of your choice. Rachel and I and the Shekina Center in Goa have been doing this for years with the help of many amazing people. It could be after church or during a mid week gathering. I will give a short but clear introduction into the practice and we will jump right in. I’m open to everything from circles of old friends to YWAM groups to your church cafeteria and everything in between.

So what do you say internets? Is this a meh or a woo-hoo? So when do we see Chin and Shekina Meditation together with you in the States? That’s easy, when you want it :)

Let me know in the comments!

It begins: building a new Shekina space.

Meditation center in progress.

When Chinua and I moved to Pai, it was with the intent of beginning a meditation community similar to Shekina in Goa. This past year has been a settling year. We’ve been learning language, getting to know people here, playing music, making connections-- doing all the things you need to do to get into life in a new place. I didn’t want it to take a long time and I’ve been very impatient at times, sitting on the bus trying to make it move faster with my knees and the muscles in my cheeks.


But sometimes we wait for God. He has his time and we don’t know what’s going on, but we wait. We looked and looked for what would be our own space, a place to gather, to be the place for our circles and meditation here. Sometime in May, a friend told us about a property for rent that he thought might be something we could use, a lot like what we’re looking for. I walked out to the property. Chinua was away for five weeks, and I remember the Skype call I had with him.


“I’m in love,” I said. I took Miriam out there and she loved it too. And Chinua, when he came, saw all the things we saw and more. We started dreaming.

The property is small, just the right size for beginnings. It’s for rent, rather than for sale, also good for beginnings. It’s close to town, close enough for people to walk out to us in no time at all, and yet when you walk out to it, crossing the river in the process, you enter a little space of quiet and you can see for a mile, all the way to the mountains. It’s lovely.

 

Meditation center in progress.


We signed a lease on June 15th.
We started building on July 2nd.


We’re making progress, and we’re so excited; planning and sketching, dreaming and comparing ideas. We talk about the feeling of absolutely everything. The words we use in designing are: simple, welcoming, sacred, artful. We ask ourselves questions: Can you see the doorway when you walk in? Will you feel drawn in? What does the way the buildings are arranged do to your headspace as you see them? It’s all important.

There were two buildings already on the property. We kept the kitchen (re-did the walls) but took down the bamboo hut, and now we’re in the process of building a large meditation/gathering space and a bathroom.

Meditation center in progress.


We’re nearly ready to begin here. And of course, the timing of God is perfect. If we had tried to do all this a year ago, without the amazing connections we have now, we’d be spinning our wheels. If we tried to do it without being able to speak Thai as we are now, we’d be incredibly frustrated. It shows me yet again: Wait, oh wait on the Lord.

Meditation Series Part Two : Lectio Divina

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.

Psalm 119: 103

Lectio Divina very simply means Divine Reading. Formally it dates back to the sixth century, when the practice was started by Saint Benedict. I personally think it predates Benedict, though, going all the way back to David singing his songs in his caves, and on into the Jewish tradition of reading or singing words of those same song for hundreds of years afterward.

The beautiful concept behind Lectio Divina is that drinking deeply of the words of scripture is a powerful practice all on its own. God, through the words themselves nourishes us. The divine words take root, they transform us from the inside out as we allow them to enlarge us. It is a very different practice from study of the bible, which requires more mental exercise, discussion, and logical thinking. In Lectio Divina we lay effort aside and let the words work on their own.

Traditional Lectio Divina is made up of 1. Lectio, or reading, 2. Meditatio, or meditation, 3. Oratio, or prayer, and 4. Contemplatio, or contemplation.

At Shekina, we practice Lectio Divina a little differently, simplifying it into the same format that all of our meditation takes. The guide begins with the preliminaries, leading the group into quietness and a meditative state. The meditation itself follows.

The guide has prepared a few verses of scripture to read. He may give a small amount of background information if he feels it is needed. This is kept very brief and simple: "These are songs that King David wrote when he was fleeing for his life, over 2500 years ago."

It is wise to read eight verses of scripture or less. Likewise, if you are practising in a group, it is a good idea to carefully choose your passage, keeping the different people in your circle in mind. If you have people who are new or fairly new to the Bible, keep to simple, clear verses, rather than anything heavy in theology.

Read the whole passage slowly to give a sense of the context of the verses, then read verses with a large amount of silence between them. Ideally, take three to four minutes of silence between each phrase or verse. You may repeat the verse halfway through the silence, as a reminder, or simply read the verse once. Whether alone or in a group, the guide should always have something to help them tell time. Four minutes can feel long or short to the guide depending on how much they have entered into the text themselves. The guide can't count on knowing when the time is up.

If you are practising Lectio Divina, keep these things in mind:

We process things in many different ways. Often, with scripture or ideas, we process them intellectually, in study or pondering. The practice of Lectio Divina is an opportunity to let God speak through the words themselves as we breathe them into us. Consider allowing the more creative parts of you into your meditation.

Let the words grow inside of you. Test how they feel, what they sound like, how they are shaped, what pictures they bring into your mind. And do not be afraid of silence, of pictures that seem to go down different trails. Lead your mind gently back to the words, run them through your heart, and listen.

Remember that meditation is an exercise of the spirit, just as healthy eating and activity is an exercise of the body. Meditation is not magic, as physical exercise is not magic. You don't do crunches for one day and wake up to find yourself with an abdominal six-pack. Some days you may feel as though you heard the voice of God clearly, or you realize something in meditation that you never knew before. More often, you are nourished by the Divine words, uplifted by the Presence. A lifetime of this nourishment will cultivate a healthy soul.

Lectio Divina is a quiet moment to come to the water, to drink deeply of the water of life, to go back about life refreshed.

If you practice in a group and utilize the talking circle, you may find yourself tempted to argue points of the scripture, or bring up everything you know about the passage. Try to concentrate your sharing down to the very essentials of what you experienced during meditation today. As the word is living, you will have a very different experience with it than you did ten years ago. Allow this to happen! Don't attempt to keep your experiences stagnant.

Some ideal first passages for Lectio Divina:

Psalm 23, Psalm 63: 1-8, Psalm 40: 1-5 and there are of course many more.

My friend Evan Howard has just co-written a book on Lectio Divina. I haven't read it yet, but Evan taught us what we know about meditation, and I can't wait to get my hands on it.  You can find the book, Discovering Lectio Divina, Bringing Scripture into Ordinary Life here.

 

Meditation Series Part One: The Order for Shekina Meditation.

Here I'll explain the form our meditations take. It works really well for us, and it's simple and lovely. (I'll be using parts of the Guide to Meditation that Cate wrote for us.) Shekina meditation is guided meditation, which we do sitting in a circle. In our communities different people take turns guiding, and the guide leads the people in the circle through each part of the meditation.

Shekina meditation has four main branches, with an optional discussion at the end. 

During the introduction, the guide will explain a little about our meditation. For instance, "Welcome to Shekina Meditation.  By use of the Holy Scriptures, we intend to create a safe place for the Divine Presence to speak. We have experienced and believe that God desires connection with us, and wants to visit us with wisdom and love.”

There may be other things that the guide brings up during the introduction. I sometimes mention that we are not alone in meditation. We are together as people, in our circle, and the Spirit of God is present in the room, the Divine Presence. The guide may give a short background on the scripture being read, if it is a scripture, without giving too much instruction into what the scripture means, since the point of the meditation is to be open and allow the Spirit to speak to each person.

The second branch of meditation is what we call the Preliminaries.

During the preliminaries, it is the guide's job to prepare those who are in the circle for meditation. We often arrive flustered and hot, straight from rushing from somewhere or (for me) from giving children their breakfast. The preliminaries take us past that and into a quiet space, ready for depth and silence.

*If you are doing this on your own, you should make sure to spend a good amount of time on preliminaries. I have arrived late at meditation and missed the preliminaries and the meditation was a totally different experience for me.*

The guide directs the people in the circle to focus their attention on the different physical and emotional realities of the moment.

She draws attention to breath. To sounds. To the fact that others are in the circle. She directs the people in the circle to take their cares and imagine putting them away for a while. To make a quiet space of expectation. She asks the people in the circle to slow their breath, to be comfortable, to relax their shoulders. She uses a lot of time to do this, silence and a calm voice.

This brings the circle into the next branch of our form. The meditation.

We always have content during meditation, and in the coming weeks I will introduce several types of meditation. This part of the time will usually run from 20 to 30 minutes, or maybe longer if the meditation involves moving around or going out and coming back (contemplation of nature, for example).

The main thing the guide (or you, if you are doing this on your own) needs to remember is not to be afraid of silence. The silence always feels longer for the guide! Others may just be entering into a dreamy vision or true depth with a scripture and a jumpy guide can rush the moment. Give a lot of space. Less is more. I'll cover this more in the different types of meditation.

The last branch of the meditation is sharing.

To us, sharing is an extension of meditation, as the act of sharing and of listening to one another is an act of love and receiving from one another. It is acknowledgement that we aren't doing this alone, that we are together, even in our silence.

For our sharing times, we have a talking circle, passing a talking stick, a tradition that we got from Rainbow Gatherings, but which dates back to many First Nations tribes. The talking stick is a simple way to honor the speaking person. The rules of a talking circle are simple. The person holding the stick is the only one talking, with everyone else listening. The stick is passed around the circle and each person has the option to share or pass freely. We allow the stick to go around the circle twice, in order to give people more than one chance to speak. And the guide always explains the function of the talking circle, then passes the stick in order to let the person to her left or right go first.

During the talking circle, each person shares what occurred for him or her during the meditation. We really try to honor the time, to continue our quietness by listening, and when we have the stick, by not commenting on, correcting or responding to what any person says. It is a time to share briefly and personally, not a time to teach or give a long exposition. One of the main values of Shekina Meditation is to form a space that is open for people of any amount of experience with the Christian faith, from none whatsoever to years and years, so it is important that each person feels safe, welcome, and honored.

When the talking circle is over, the guide may feel led to offer a short prayer, or not. It is up to her to decide. She may also feel that it is a good idea to take a few more minutes of silence before heading straight into discussion. It really depends on how the group is, and how the meditation has gone.

There is often a time discussion after the talking circle, time that is more free. This would be the time for people to weigh in with their opinions and experience. (Respectfully, of course.)

And there it is, the structure we have been using for years now. The wonderful thing about this structure is that we find ourselves able to use it in any context, in any place. It is versatile and ready for the moment.

Next in this series, I'll be talking about the type of meditation we practice most: Lectio Divina.

Practice

"What is your practice?" you may ask someone. Depending on who they are, they may give any one of a myriad of responses.

"Sixty pushups, then a five mile run, every morning."

"A pint of ice cream in front of the TV after work."

"Sundays at the park, on a blanket, with a book."

"Scales for an hour, then whatever symphony I'm currently learning."

"Kung fu on Mondays and Thursdays."

In Christian spirituality, practice is essential if we want to walk a constant path, if we desire to transform along the way. Spiritual practice is anything repeated in the life of a believer, in the effort to move along on the journey of knowing God.

It could be the prayer you speak as you walk into the kitchen in the morning.

It could be a time of meditation, daily, or weekly.

It could be lighting the candles with the family in the evening, singing a song of thanks.

There are things that spiritual practice on the Jesus path is not. Our actions can not change certain immutable realities about God. With my practice I don't bring him closer, manifest anything or create anything. With or without my input, God is scarily brilliant, burning with love, less changeable than gravity. He simply is what he is: incredibly creative being, made up of good and love and terrifying strength.

The bizarre part is that there is a connection between us and this incredible being. We enter his presence knowing that we are there because he desires it to be so. He desires the space and time to dwell with us, to be circling our hearts as we wait. His heart is touched by our focus. He loves us. Crazy.

Practice is not a manipulation of God, it is not an act of changing the course of the stars. So what is it?

To put it simply, spiritual practice is a way of tricking our hearts to throw open their windows, letting light into our inner cramped, stuffy spaces.

When you practise something, you show up. As you show up day after day and you do the same thing, hopefully in the same place, you make a new crinkle in your brain. Something begins to click. You sit and your mind says, "Oh! Is it this time again? Already? Well, okay," and you've made it a hundred times easier to meditate, or pray, or open your mouth and sing.

I think the first place I discovered this was in my writing life. I learned to sit in the same place at the same time every day. I sat down and I wrote, just started. Usually, good things came. Somethings stupid, boring things came. But sitting down in that specific place unlocked the little attic door where the writing part of me lives. Doing it every day made sitting down and writing less like climbing a mountain and more like opening a door and stepping onto the front porch.

Now I rarely ever go a day without writing at least a thousand words. The more I write, the more I am open to words, thoughts and sentences appearing to me throughout my day.

I learned it next with meditation. Cate built an amazing community space in Goa, where we first started practising Shekina meditation. Now, four years later, just sitting in that space, looking at the way the light hits the red floor, I have all these memories of what it means to meditate, to sit with God in silence, waiting for his gentle words. I am immediately ready for meditation, just by sitting down. It is practice. I have good days and stupid days, where I can't reign my thoughts in. But over time, the good days out number the stupid ones by far. And the more I meditate, the more likely I am to be aware of love surrounding me all day long, the more likely I am to feel the abiding wonder of God.

There are so many spiritual practices on the Jesus path. The practice of humility, of kindness, of thankfulness, of trust. The practice of prayer and of singing. The practice of beauty and of hospitality. They are practices because they do not come naturally, without thinking, unless we have become so accustomed to the practice that they are as easy as breathing.

We do it because our minds are wonderful and slippery, capable of holding far too much information and swamping us with random trivia when we desire to be silent, or in prayer. We have to find ways to harness all that energy, to quiet the senses and make silence possible in our lives.

It's like traveling down the same road, day after day, to get home. You drive almost without thinking, keeping your eyes out for skateboards and children, for turning cars, but not really considering your route. "Home" has become engraved on your brain. So years later, after you move across town, you may be driving home after a long day and realize, suddenly, that you're on that old road home, headed back toward the old house. Your long practice has not allowed you to forget it.

This is practice. Carefully tracing out the road toward home, then taking that road again and again.

One Man's Opinion

So what are people experiencing in Meditation? Wow, great question. heres an answer (randomly selected from a pile of perfect answers) from someone new to the practice...

Today was my fourth time experiencing Shekina Meditation. However, it was my first time experiencing an imagination meditation. Rachel led the meditation. She chose the passage from the gospel story where Jesus miraculously calms a storm during a boat trip across Lake Galilee with his disciples. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. At the beginning of the meditation Rachel led us to the shore amidst the crowds of people where Jesus was calling us to himself. We were encouraged to really experience being there. This was such a powerful experience for me. There was chaos on the shore—lots of people, and lots of commotion and confusion. Then I saw Jesus. He was amazing; I was enamored. Coming into his presence made all the chaos and confusion seem insignificant. He was so pure, strong and trustworthy. My soul was fully attracted to him. I felt peace. I felt safe. I felt fulfilled. I couldn’t even remember, let alone be bothered by the fact that a seemingly life-threatening storm was coming. I felt healing just by dwelling in this place where Jesus was. But then, we were led into the experience of the storm while crossing the lake. This experience was not so ostensibly pleasurable. I suddenly became confused. I didn’t understand why this was happening. The meditation became difficult at this point. But there was another breakthrough. I realized that the way I was feeling was similar to the other disciples in the boat. How quick we were to let our troubles and fears fog our minds, to turn back and doubt Jesus. But then Jesus calmed the storm, restored our faith and brought peace to our souls.



Let me say I’m not the type to have such profound experiences, which is why I was so surprised and thrilled that I had this one. I came to faith four years ago. For the first two years my doubts were based on intellectual struggles. I’ve pretty much dealt with those and now have a strong intellectual foundation for my faith. However, for the later two years up to the present, many of my doubts have more been based on not having enough of a fulfilling, personal, experiential relationship with God. Being that I don’t seem to be the type that’s wired for the more charismatic type experiences, I think I may have discovered a very powerful life-transforming spiritual discipline here with Shekina Meditation, especially through imagination meditation. It facilitates a personal encounter with Jesus, which in turn grows my relationship with him. All it takes is some time to sit down and imagine being with him. It’s so powerful because I know that it’s not simply fantasy imagination. I know that in doing this something real is actually happening. The Holy Spirit is present, truly ushering me into the presence of Jesus. Jesus is actually really ministering to me in this time. He’s renewing my mind and feeding my soul. I’m definitely coming back for more.

.....

Nice one! and also, here's a groovy icon. Although I don't  think they are sacred (sorry my earnest orthodox family!) and don't use them at all in my own practice, I love the artwork. And yeah, I think I get it, visual meditation.

icon

Shekina Meditation, like a block party, only quieter.

So here it is, a tidbit from a hebrew speaking person who has been coming to the meditation times with us. She wrote this in a shout out to some friends, and thought it was a good insight to share...

"Mmmm mysterious! Let me explain, for some days now I've been meditating on "shekina", which in the Hebrew simply means "to dwell" (shochen) Exodus 25:8 " ... Let them build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell (shocen) with them"

The letter goes on with more words from the Tanach and some seasons greetings, but the main point is right there. It's a good excuse to talk about part of the point, the reason behind of the whole thing, which might come in handy just about now.

It was something she said after the meditation jumped out to me like an indian cow on the highway. She mentioned that when she moved into new zip code in Israel, she had to talk about where she was and who she was, just a run of the mill newbie discussion with her budding hebrew skills.

Turns out she had to say the word for neighborhood (שכונה -Shechonah) and neighbor (שכן-shochen) alot. Did you catch it?  It comes from the same root word that we get shekina. A surprisingly common and familiar word to use for lofty God concepts, don't you think?

some hood

Dwelling, house, abode, living place. Dwelling meditation. Yeah, I like it.

So go with the thought, with the implications. God wants to live with you, in your hood?

Now that's something to meditate on. Often when we start, we invoke the hope and expectation that God would do just that, reveal the presence among us, like right then and there. True, its a sobering even high goal for a one hour circle on a rooftop, if you look at it one way.

On the other hand, anything less might just be a waste of time.

P.s. The newly minted "Bizaam! Insights" category could be full of stuff like this, and better.  You know, lightbulb moments you might get during the meditation time and in discussions after. Even juicy musings on the the topic by frequent flyers. So come on down, weigh in and let it loose man, we'll supply the pulpit.

Okay, pulpit is too strong. Look, don't get all preachy, nobody likes a know it all. Just say what you learned like a normal human being, ok? ;)