The Kittamaqundi Community has made a commitment to pray for peace during the Lenten season, the six weeks which precede Easter. This means that many of the individuals in the community have made a personal commitment to pray for peace every day, on their own, however and whenever they pray. But we've decided to establish some times when we can gather at the church and pray for peace together. There's no agenda for these gatherings, no "service" per se, just an opportunity to be in the same room as other people who are holding the same intention.
We had the first of these gatherings last Tuesday night. Three of us sat together for most of an hour and said nothing to each other. It was a profound and surprising experience of community.
One of the people who came last night said that she woke up that morning with the intention to pray for peace on her mind. She was delighted that she had remembered and sat down to pray. "I could not think of how to start," she told me with some embarrassment. "I started wondering if I should pray for Assad to resign or pray for him to join the peace talks. And then I thought of our own country and all the political vitriol. I tried to think of how to pray about that but I just found myself getting all worked up. Finally I had to stop and get ready for work."
"I couldn't wait to get here tonight," she said at we lit a candle and sat down in our rocking chairs. "I knew it would be easier if we did this together."
Sitting in silence with a group of people who are staying present to that moment--or at least making an attempt to do so--is noticeably different from sitting in silence by yourself. Why? It might be that a group exerts a kind of subtle peer pressure on each participant. We don't want to get up and leave because it would disrupt everyone else in the group. We don't want to look at our phone because we might get a critical look from a person sitting near us. Certainly one of the hardest parts about prayer or meditation is just getting ourselves to show up and stay with it, and other people help us do that.
But there is more to it. I have spent 20 minutes in silence by myself each morning, pretty much without fail, and miss the time when something interferes with it. But as much as I like my alone time, I know that it has a thinner quality than the time I spend in silence with a group. The best analogy I can think of is praying alone is like singing alone, and praying in a group is like singing in harmony with others. Except, none of us is saying a word.
Humans are social animals, and we cue each other emotionally all the time. We catch fear and anxiety from each other. We can make each other yawn or laugh. Could it be that we can help each other get quiet and listen for the voice of God? Can we catch that intention, that openness from each other like we catch so much else?