I. The first time I tried Centering Prayer, I did it wrong. The teacher warned us we might hear outside sounds — buses, car horns, construction — and to keep an open heart because life is never quiet in the way we desire. She rang the meditation bell, and I closed my eyes. Within minutes, I heard dishes clanking from the nearby kitchen. I knew it was the white-haired church volunteer. She was preparing our noontime snack. I imagined baby Jesus in the kitchen with her. She gave him a bath in the stainless steel sink. She dried him with white cotton tea towels. She anointed him with olive oil. He got a little older. She opened jars of herbs for him to smell. Each time a plate smacked the table, Jesus giggled. They took water glasses off the shelf and set up an artist corner. Jesus dipped brushes in the glasses and made little paintings. When I opened my eyes, it was time for our snack. I saw the church volunteer in her apron, speckled with water, and I was overcome with gratitude.
II. The second time I tried Centering Prayer, I did it wrong. My husband downloaded the app on my smartphone, so that I could practice anytime, anywhere. I clicked the icon, and the bell rang. I kept my eyes closed for twenty minutes and repeated the word, create, until I saw hundreds of things creating. Petals unfurling, flowers blooming, children emerging from the womb, trees rising skyward, fingers on piano keys, enemies embracing, wounded creatures standing for the first time with their scars. No, no, no, someone said. You are supposed to pick one sacred word, a holy word, and just focus on that.
Oh, I said, No one ever gave me instructions. Is there a list somewhere of sacred words? Besides, it was all so beautiful.
III. The third time I tried Centering Prayer, I did it wrong. By then, I was too captivated by images and words that dance to discipline myself into picking a solitary sacred word. Maybe one day I will have this ability. For now, I am smitten by getting it wrong. Too enamored of surprise. A noisy tableware devotee. Oh, the danger of young love!