I’ve been noticing lately what happens inside me when I feel anxious or uncomfortable, frightened or hurt. Lord knows, there are plenty of opportunities these days to work with difficult feelings.
So, in my contemplative prayer, as I rest in God, I try to practice welcoming the physical sensations and emotional states that arise — whether I like them or not. This is no mean feat. But I’ve been practicing making space for whatever arises, so that I can also practice letting it all flow through me. The alternative is to tighten around or resist these feelings, as I would when I’m not paying attention (which is most of the time). I have it on high authority, though, that I am not the only one in this human predicament.
In any case, this idea of letting life flow through me has captured my spiritual imagination. (In fact, I have a special practice opportunity this very day as I attempt to pivot from watching the news to writing this reflection.)
And why resist life, when I could fill up my lungs instead, recalling and connecting to the Divine breath breathing in and through me? Why resist, when I could allow and trust that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), whether I can see how or not? Why resist when reality — as it is — is an incredible gift and (spoiler alert) comes with both joy and pain for everyone? Not just me.
When I clench my fists, shut down, hold my breath, and resist experience with all my might, it only closes me off from myself, from others, from my own creativity, from growing spiritually, and from being receptive to God’s intervention. In other words, tightening around difficult experience comes between me and possibility in the gift of my one precious life.
One thing I know: I want to know what it means to become fully human.
One thing I know: I want to know what it means to become fully human. And so, I practice, both in prayer and in moving through my days, especially in those moments when I feel a good clench coming on over some irritation or hurt. I practice taking a deep breath, softening inside, acknowledging and welcoming what is, and letting life flow through me. At times when the discomfort feels overwhelming in the moment, I will put a hand on my tender heart and repeat this mantra to myself: “I welcome my life as it is and let Life flow through me.”
It’s counterintuitive, I know, to make space inside for unwanted experience, but I’ve noticed that when I do, the pain will often dissipate, transforming itself into something I am willing to face. In the act of pausing a reflex to shut down, while actively holding my heart open, I become acutely aware that I am not alone in this. That I am accompanied, as in Psalm 145:18. That this is part of being human. That I have the interior resources to sit with discomfort and invite Love into whatever I am experiencing. And Love always comes. Love never lets me down.
That is not to say to that this practice is always enjoyable, but it does seem to be getting easier. Little by little, the ego steps aside, moves away from a stance of Why me?It’s not fair! How dare you? and I’m the only one dealing with this… One deep breath can signal a sacred pause to invite the true self to remember another place, a place that is deeper, a place of inner wisdom, the divine space inside, the gift of grace that each of us can access. When we invite the ego to move from center stage for a little while, we are making way for something real, expansive, reliable — something holy.
And why does it all matter? It matters because God is for us. Whether things are going well or badly for us in any given moment, we know this: God desires our flourishing. How do we know this? We know it from our experiences of God’s generous love; we know it from significant Bible accounts that shape our understanding of who God is; and we know it from the loving attention of many people who have blessed, supported, and enriched our lives since childhood.
Whether things are going well or badly for us in any given moment, we know this: God desires our flourishing.
As for me, I also know it because I practice looking for it — and so I see evidence of “God-with-us” everywhere. Somehow, I can see more goodness and feel more freedom when I open to the Giver and let the gifts flow through me. Even the ones that don’t feel much like gifts.
I invite you to practice the Welcoming Prayer this month. See if it opens you to welcome your life as it is. See if it helps you to let your God love you. See if it somehow enables you to bring more of your true self, intelligence, and kindness into the work of healing the world. No need to be good at it right away; I’m told this is a life’s work.
Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones is Trinity’s Associate Director, Spiritual Practices, Retreats, and Pilgrimage. Reach out to share your thoughts or say hello.
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