Getting to a New Level
Text: Romans 8: 26-27
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
I remember as a kid vacationing with my family – I’m not even sure where we were – but there were some locks on a river that helped the barge traffic move from one level of the river to the other level of the river. We gathered at a look out point high above the locks where we could see the ships come in and then be raised to the new level of water behind the dam. It was a fascinating process and I loved watching the water pour into the compartment that held the ship and remembering being amazed at the power of the water to lift the ship up to the new level. We also got to see at least one ship move downstream, where it came into the locks at the high level and was lowered easily to the lower, downstream level of the river. For some reason, this made quite an impression on me – I must have been all of five or six years old – but I still remember the scene.
Last week during the church council meeting we had a brief discussion about spiritual disciplines and how sometimes we need to help each other to remember to pray. Some accountability to one another is often a good thing. I did make a comment however about the idea that you cannot not pray. In other words, we are communicating at all times with the Divine – everything we say and do and think is all prayer. If the Divine Spirit resides within us, and is a part of us, then all that we do, all the time, is a form of communication, or prayer, with that Divine Spirit. So the question really becomes one of intentional communication.
This idea of intentional communication brings me to the point where I want to now take a look at meditation. Meditation in my mind is different from prayer because it is a little like the locks on a river. Think about this; locks are designed to take you to a different level. Consider that for a moment….what does it mean to be taken to a different level spiritually? Have you ever been there? Can you describe it? What made you aware that you had arrived at a different level?
I want us to take another look at this idea of the locks on a river. For the sake of this metaphor, let us consider the external world to be the full side of the river – this is the reservoir behind a dam. We are full of all the things the world throws at us-all the stress, all the stuff that floats down the river of life collects behind the dam – the dam in our metaphor is our minds, our anxieties, our fears and our thoughts. Consider all of the financial news or political news or any news for that matter we have received in the past few weeks and visualize all of that information piling up behind a dam in our heads.
The mind is a bit of a dam. It stops a thought as the thought passes through and tends to analyze the thought. We hang on to it; we store it away for future reference. We stop thoughts all the time and we receive information constantly. Soon, there is a virtual reservoir of stuff built up in our minds.
The spirit level operates outside of the mind. It is internal to be sure, but it is a completely different level – spirit represents a completely different part of our humanity. And it is difficult to access – mostly because of our minds – we want to try to reach the spirit level intellectually – and that cannot be done. In our locks metaphor, the spirit level represents the river of life that flows downstream after the dam; a new level, with new life and energy.
We are the boat. How does the boat move from high up in the reservoir to down in the downstream river? The answer is that a boat must move through the locks. The boat enters the locks that are filled to the same level as the reservoir. But then as the gates close behind the boat, the water begins to drain from the lock and the boat floats on top of the lowering level of water until it matches the downstream river level. The gates re-open and the boat is free to move down the river at the new level. Meditation works like the locks. We need a process by which we can empty ourselves of all the things our mind has dammed up; there is a great reservoir of thoughts and fears and anxieties and “should haves” that are locked into our heads. Meditation is the process that allows the emptying of all those things and then brings us to a new level of spirituality.
Let’s take another look at the scripture I read a few minutes ago. This is the apostle Paul writing to the church in Rome. Keep in mind that most of the Romans were Greeks and they had Greek Gods. Greek Gods are powerful and mighty and as a rule not very quiet; Greek Gods are boisterous and rowdy and tend to call a lot of attention to them. If this is the kind of God you are accustomed to, imagine how hard it was for the Romans to identify with something like the Holy Spirit. That still, small voice deep within you that helps you connect with the Divine. I can understand how they could be confused – how is something this quiet, this small actually a God? Can you hear the questions?
It is important for us to remember that when Paul wrote a letter to a church, like the church in Rome, normally we believe he had been contacted first by the church and had been asked a series of questions. The letters that we have in our New Testament are the answers to the questions that people asked.
So as we look again at the scripture, we can only imagine what the questions were, but the answer is clear; we don’t even have to pray with words, all we need do is to focus on the Divine and with sighs that are too deep for words, we begin to empty all that has piled up behind the dams of our minds. That, for me, is meditation. And when we have found the space to empty a few things, then the Spirit of God fills that space with new ideas, new found excitement and joy, new connectivity to the Spirit and a new understanding of our relationship with God.
All of this is much easier said than done, however. I will tell you that meditation takes practice and discipline. To simply be quiet before God can be a difficult task, to shut our minds down and allow the locks to empty and move us to a new level can be difficult, but it can be done. One way to get started is to simply find a phrase that you can repeat; this helps to keep the mind occupied as you become quiet. One of the phrases I like to use comes from the prayer of St. Francis; “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.” I can repeat that in my mind, or out loud, perhaps whispering it to myself and I can begin to empty everything else that needs to be cleaned out and allow the Spirit to enter.
When you first begin, you may want to try for only 2 or 3 minutes. Then move up to 5 minutes and then 10 and then 15 and so on. It won’t take too long and you will be able to comfortably meditate for 30 minutes or more without any trouble. Remember, meditation is not talking to God; meditation is making space in your mind so that God can talk to you.
Go in peace, go with God, and go meditate. Amen.