Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Necessity of Prayer and Meditation

(A very busy week. I have a BEC workshop tomorrow with the clergy of Kalookan diocese, then attend the Summit on Good Governance, then be one of the speakers for the recollection for priests organized by the Clergy Discerment group. I look forward to spend time in solitude, silence and prayer. Ten more days to go, before I leave for Cebu and spend time alone in my "hermitate" in the mountain of Buay for a month followed by a BEC workshop. I am sharing here my column which will be published in the CBCP monitor.)
The Necessity of Prayer and Meditation
“I’m just too busy with my work, I don’t have time to pray.” “I really want to pray but when right time comes, I am just too exhausted to do it.” “Anyway, my work is my prayer.” Or “I have already gone to Mass and joined the community in reciting the Divine Office, so that’s enough.”
These are the usual excuses of many priests, religious and lay people for failing to find time to pray and meditate alone. Yes, our work or ministry can be so demanding that it depletes our energy. We do so much - preaching and teaching, conducting evangelization seminars, forming Basic Ecclesial Communities, caring for the sick, the poor and the needy, working for peace and justice, protecting the environment, etc. We get tired and feel the need to relax. So when we have free time we spend it watching TV or the movies, surfing the internet and checking our Facebook, or going out with friends for a drink or a good meal. We don’t feel the need to pray or meditate.
Besides reminding us of our responsibility to care for our neighbor in need and do penitential acts, the Lenten season is the time that we are invited to spend more time in prayer. We are called to follow the example of Christ who went out to the desert or up the mountain to pray in spite of his busy schedule preaching the Good News and responding to the needs of the poor, the sick, the hungry and possessed by evil. Well, there is actually no need to climb Mt. Apo or Mt. Banahaw or go to the arid and sandy hills of Ilocos. The desert and the mountain symbolize the time and space that we need to set aside for silence, solitude and prayer. We just have to find our own sacred space and time for this.
Why is this necessary? Unless we find time for this, we will burn out. Without this, we cannot sustain our life’s journey, our ministry, our mission. We get exhausted, we deplete our energy. The TV, the movies, the internet and other forms of relaxation are not enough to revitalize or recharge us. It is during the time of solitude, silence, prayer and meditation that we are truly energized by the ultimate source – the Triune God. Thus, this keeps us in touch with the source of our energy, power and dynamism. The time we spend in prayer and meditation deepens our intimacy and friendship with God – with the loving Father, with the risen Lord and with the Spirit that empowers us for mission.
Besides the spiritual effect, it also benefits our body and mind. It even changes our brain according to some neuro-scientists who have done studies and experiments using functional MRI on those who pray and meditate (including Catholic nuns using Centering Prayer). We enter into state of relaxation and healing. It brings about stress-relief. High-blood pressure can go down through regular meditation. In their book, “Your Mind at its Best” Doctors Biebel and Dill report: ‘It has become an undisputed fact that prayer and meditation actually alter the brain in ways that promote physical, emotional, cognitive and relational health.” Dr. Andrew Newberg also illustrates “how spiritual practices like intense prayer and meditation improve memory, cognition, and compassion while suppressing undesirable responses like anger, depression and anxiety.” Prayer and meditation activates the anterior cingulate of the brain that is identified with the capacity for empathy and compassion and which develops a sense of peace and comfort.
Thus, if we want to be more effective and long-lasting in our work and ministry, we have to spend time in prayer and meditation. We should do this not only during Lent but as part of the rhythm of our life –daily, weekly, monthly, and longer periods.
Of course, we cannot spend our entire life on top of the mountain or in the desert. We need to continue our journey and mission, but we need to regularly spend time on top of the mountain. What is important is to integrate action and contemplation, praxis and prayer. This is what a holistic and integral spirituality is all about.

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