Prayer and Contemplation on a Rainy Day

As I write this, everyone else in the house is fast asleep, well, perhaps with the exception of one cat. Otherwise, even the ducks and herons are silent this morning. The rain and gloomy clouds might have something to do with it, a perfectly dreary day. But there is something unbelievably comforting about having a cat beside me as I look out the window onto to the Havel river. It is flowing.

Focus and definition of prayer ©MTHerzog 

It was just two weeks ago that we struggled with frozen rivers and streets here in Berlin, with no spring in sight. Everything on the river seemed to have come to a standstill, with life as we know it put on hold. That is what the last few months seemed to be like, a state of paralysing suspended animation that drove me to the brink. I forgot was that beneath the frozen surface, life goes on, and that all the currents that flow within and around me are what keep me alive – and grateful.

It is all a matter of perspective, introspection and the correct guidance – knowing when to use or change them thereby adjusting your life accordingly. A dear friend pointed out a sentence in a previous blog entry, and asked me to explain how is it that I learned to meditate in India and to pray in Thailand. I’ve written before about my wonderful Jesuit mentors who taught me how to integrate various elements from other religions to deepen my own Catholic faith. I adopt and adapt to the meditation techniques from Hinduism and Buddhism and centre myself, silence the inner turmoils, and shut out the noises in my head. It was all about quieting the body in order to silence the mind and find a path, a moment to communicate not only with God but with my own soul. It takes years of practice to attain the silence, and there are some days I still find it impossible, which is always a warning signal that something is terribly wrong.

Find your centre and flush out the noise ©MTHerzog

Recent psychotherapy sessions have reminded me that I don’t need a quiet meditation room to find silence, and I can just as well meditate on the bus or in the train. The important thing is to be aware of the surroundings and learn to focus on less. Just like a camera – a good photograph is not one that captures everything at one go, packing as many colours and people into it. Rather, the lens guides you to find the focal point and then it is up to the photographer to handle the lighting, exposure and definition.

Focus and definition in photography are the make or break of an image. Mess with either of them you will have ruined the shot and perhaps even the opportunity. Those of us who are into street photography never get a second chance unlike those who work in more controlled environments. In the same manner, focus and definition of prayer is what makes all the difference in my conversation with God and whatever higher power in the universe I choose to communicate with. I remember my mother and a few other spiritual mentors telling me to be specific in my prayers. I questioned this for many years until I realised the wisdom of it all – the power of prayer is in the focus and the definition of of your supplications. Don’t just ask for luck and money said Fr. B, but be specific about it – you want luck in the next project presentation and money for the upcoming school tuition or insurance payment for example. When I pray to St. Anthony of Padua or St. Jude I also have to be quite clear about what I need help finding (St. Anthony) or one particular problem that needs resolving (St. Jude). Channelling prayer and intention in the same direction is no different than adjusting the focus and the light in the camera.

monk on the beach2
On being specific and humble in focusing prayer ©MTHerzog

In Thailand, the Buddhist monks taught all about combining humility, service and prayer in spite of all the odds. Powerful prayer, strong faith and spiritual growth don’t happen overnight nor do they fall from the sky. Good photography skills take years to develop, and both prayer and photography are skills that cannot be bought at the shop around the corner or ordered online, no matter what Instagram or facebook will tell you. Owning a camera does not make you a photographer! I needed to go deep into myself to find the spark that lit and led the path, and I aim far from emerging from the darkness. But there is much to be learned in the shadows – how to appreciate the light, for example.

Thailand also taught me how to let go. That is another aspect about prayer that we often forget. Most of us pray in order to cling to something or someone, but there are inevitable moments when you need all your strength to let go. The monks showed me the importance of surrendering, knowing when to embrace humility and walk away, find kindness and gentleness down another path, and let the tiredness of the feet dictate when it is time to give up.

So as I look back out onto my river, I celebrate that the river is flowing again, and this Easter I will celebrate more than one resurrection.

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