Variations on "Scala ad Caelum" J. Page
"In Christ There Is No East Or West"
Near as I can tell, if you ask three people who meditate about their practice, you’ll get four different answers! So here’s a fifth point of view…
If ‘prayer’ is ’me talking to God’, am I doing all the talking and not doing any listening? To me that’s where ‘meditation’ comes in – setting aside time to just listen. That might be to God’s ‘still small voice’, or it might be to the unconscious/collective unconscious that seems to be a lot smarter than my conscious self. I’m not sure I can tell where one leaves off and the other begins.
One impediment to ‘listening’ like this is that my mind is constantly chattering to itself. (Take a moment to observe your own consciousness and you’ll see that this is so.) In Buddhism this is known as the ’monkey mind’, endlessly jumping from one thought to another. So then, how does one achieve some inner peace and quiet? A consensus view is that trying to force your inner dialog to shut up doesn’t work – that’s a lot like “don’t think about pink elephants!" Instead, the consensus view is when one of these thoughts arises, just gently escort it from your mental premises and try again. Another point of view is to repeat something simple and appropriate to yourself — at least that’s an improvement over ‘monkey mind’ and a step in the right direction.
Permit me a temporary digression..
“The Cloud of Unknowing" is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. One of its interesting ideas is the ‘one word prayer.’ The idea is that if, say, you’re in a theater and you see a fire starting, you wouldn’t stand up and say “I’m observing combustion taking place in my proximity so I would urge you to exit the theater by the nearest available exit." Instead, you’d just yell “FIRE!" The idea is not that there is anything wrong with longer prayers, but that distilling your prayer down to just one or two words has its own power. (For example, "HELP!" Or "THANK YOU!")
Permit me ANOTHER digression (sheesh!)…
The Latin Mass — the standard service of the Catholic Church – goes back to about 190 A.D. (long before there WAS a Catholic Church), and in the course of its evolution has been in continuous use until Vatican II (1962) when the Latin requirement was dropped. Nevertheless, even our own service here at SBD 1st Pres has much the same structure as the almost 2000 year old Mass. Curiously, not all of the Latin Mass is in Latin – the first section, the "Kyrie Elesion" ("Lord have mercy", pronounced KEY-ree-ay eh-LAY-ee-son) is in GREEK! It would seem that even by 190 A.D. the "Kryrie Eleison" was already so established that they left it in Greek – it is that old and venerable.
The Kyrie is very much in line with the so-called “Jesus Prayer", particularly popular in the Eastern Orthodox Church. A typical version of it is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," and the idea is to repeat this over and over under your breath all day. (Taking “pray without ceasing" very seriously!) This prayer goes back to the 5th century and the Desert Fathers and Mothers who retreated into the Egyptian desert to live as Christian hermits. To me it seems like the "Jesus Prayer" is very similar to the even more ancient Kyrie Eleison, except that the Kyrie Eleison is a two-word version of the longer Jesus Prayer.
So that’s what I do. In tackling my ‘monkey mind’, I for one need the help of something to repeat to myself. So I sit, and as I inhale I think/say under my breath "Kyrie", as I exhale "Eleison". Mindful that as I do so I am part of a tradition that goes back millenia, and embraces a Christianity that predates and supersedes any notions of Catholic vs. Eastern Orthodox or Protestant – if not other religions as well. After all, that we all need mercy is something on which we can all agree.