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{Day by day in Lent 2017 I am building reflections suggested by coffee mugs in the Kellam kitchen cupboards. Today, an especially appropriate one for this season of prayer.}

“Interior Window” is the title of a CD by Bill Carter and his Presbybop Jazz Quartet. This mug carries the image of the CD and the theme of the music, an open window. I followed the band into the studio for the recording of the album (we still call them that?), and I produced a modest short “film” on the making of the album. It’s found here.

Bill is currently offering a kind of internet daily devotional based on the music of “Interior Window.” Participants find MP3s of each of the jazz compositions there, along with Bill’s introductions, videos of live performances, poetry and other written reflections, and gentle suggestions for journaling and prayer. He invited me to do some writing too.

One of the tunes I wrote about was the cut entitled “Refracted Light.” I won’t plagiarise myself here…much…but after writing what little I know about the bending of light through a prism, and rainbows, I mentioned a physics term related to the how/why of rainbows, something called “internal reflection.”

And that is certainly part of the vocabulary of a holy Lent, too. Internal, or interior, reflection. I guess in terms of one’s prayer life the term is almost redundant, isn’t it? What kind of reflection isn’t interior? Finding the space in one’s day, and the quiet, assuming the attitude of contemplation, entering into silence — being still. And remaining still. Here is the atmosphere where the spirit breathes, and refreshes, and restores, and where the heart reflects. Spirit…heart…define them as you will. And they will define you.

My many visits to Holy Cross Abbey in northern Virginia, a Trappist monastery offering hospitality to retreatants and seekers in both guesthouse and chapel, exposed me to prayer beyond words. I had grown up with the rote prayers of childhood, the wordy prayers of pastors, the classic words of liturgy and prayer books, and, of course, my own bedtime vernacular of God-directed vocabulary: petition and thanksgiving, not at all insincere, but routine and sleep-inducing. But the monks of Holy Cross, especially the then guest master Fr. Stephen, practiced interior prayer, prayer beyond words and times and places.

By that I mean that the monks prayed aloud and sang the liturgy, the offices, many times daily in the chapel. And probably said grace before meals, and led visitors in spoken prayers, but most of the time, the Cistercians of the Strict Observance as these Benedictines are known, simply were in a state of prayer. They prayed with the voice of the heart, not the tongue, whether baking Monastery Bread, riding the tractor over the farmlands, feeding the cat, or sitting in the chapel. Meditation. Contemplation. Entering the sacred silence and finding both comfort and power there.

I confess that I am not any good at it. For the monks, that is their vocation. For me, contemplative prayer is a challenge, something that demands self-discipline. And there’s the rub. I know what I have to do. (And please…this is not a prescription for anyone else.) I have to carve out the quiet space; maybe listen to gentle (and unfamiliar) instrumental music; breathe deeply at first, then relax; maybe tense every muscle and then relax again; find a mantra, a simple phrase to repeat until it repeats itself without my focused thought. Some Christians use the traditional “Jesus Prayer.”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I like:

Lord, bless me and keep me; make your face shine upon me.

Old words, but I like them. And then, move beyond the words to just be in the presence of God.  I am not a monk. This interior prayer will not follow me through my day, through every chore, every computer encounter, every drive around town. But, if I can summon the discipline and embrace the practice for some bit of time now and then, and then more often, it will restore the soul of this child of God.

Our church has a labyrinth laid out on the floor of the fellowship hall for the Lenten season. Children in the Sunday School will walk the labyrinth with the guidance of their teachers, and our adult class will join as a group in a week or two. Others will walk in solitude whenever they want. There are some printed resources there to provide help for the “novices” in that prayer practice, so they won’t feel as if the path is all wilderness. Our pastor reminds us that the design there on the floor is not a maze; the point isn’t to avoid getting lost. It is to be found, in prayer…interior prayer.

And maybe an interior window will open. And a Spirit-breeze will come in.

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