I had an art professor in college who (pardon the language) would critique with the words, “Shit in, Shit Out”. It was a shocking statement cautioning our college-aged egos to the simple fact that if we put a minimal amount of time and effort into our work, what would ultimately come forth is, well… trash. I remember him assessing another student’s artwork and offering this as the first statement of a long lecture. Unfortunately, it was harsh honesty. This phrase has stayed with me for twenty years as I’ve navigated through life. It’s a whisper that comes forth when I want to take shortcuts or do half the job necessary.
Over time, this truism has evolved and meshed into other areas of life beyond the physical work I do. As I’ve lingered on this expression, I’ve found it to be a powerful consideration for my thought life. Whatever I’m putting into my mind to dwell on, either brings forth fruit or refuse. As an artist, I’m especially sensitive to visual material. Intaking news of violence stays with me for long periods of time. Movies with scenes of perversion are not helpful to my marriage. TV shows about odd phenomenon do not give me pleasant dreams. Reading too much “perfection” of others’ lives on Facebook haunts me. I’ve been called “sensitive” a time or two (or one hundred, haha), but for me, I need to tend carefully to the amount of media I watch, the books I read, the music I listen to and the people I spend time with. Where my mind resides ultimately becomes the fuel which I burn in my life.
Interestingly, even as I attempt to chew on good things for my mind, my thought life still struggles. Many a day, I find myself weighed down by negativity, difficulties and judgements. Where do I go from here? For me, this is where the practice of centering prayer has been a relief. Centering prayer is essentially a Christian form of meditation where, instead of attempting to empty thoughts, thoughts are lifted to God. It’s a time of sitting in silence, of being still. It’s a time of “be”ing present with God without “do”ing. God simply loves the human and divine in me as thoughts, wretched or beautiful, drift by. When I find that I’ve grabbed onto a thought and I’m sailing away with it, I simply breathe in, say “Yahweh” and come back to center. Stilling myself before God helps me to receive God’s love. Centering prayer may be new to you, as it was to me. It may sound unusual or unorthodox, yet, the more I practice, the more I desire it.
Philippians 4:8 confirms the importance of tending to our thoughts:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
This verse has become a favorite of mine. As each day begins anew, I long to fill my mind with the good stuff. It’s never to deny that bad things happen in the world, but simply to remember God is in every space of life. This is a truth I’m hopeful to pass on to my children. When either of my boys are struggling with difficult thoughts before bed, Philippians 4:8 is our go to. Then, we pause and reflect upon the day remembering a few of the gifts. Even if it’s been a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day”; we can find one thing to say “Thank you” for. It’s a simple way to focus on the good and a peaceful way to begin a good night of rest.
When doubt comes,
as it will —
When you are seized by fear,
feet planted to the ground —
When thrashing thoughts harass,
unable to get out of your way —
Call out to God.
Yahweh! Abba! Refuge!
Come back to center,
and be loved.
New to centering prayer but interested in learning more? Check out these resources:
• Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating
• Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault
• A few short videos can be found here