I like reading Zen stories, which always lead me to search my soul. This account captures my heart:
"Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?" the disciple asked the holy one.
"As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning," the holy one replied.
"Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?" said the disciple.
"To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise," answered the holy one.
The story illustrates a question for us: Are we asleep when opportunities to do good, to make a difference in our life and of others come our way? Are we asleep to recognize God's abiding presence and love for us every day?
Jesus himself asked this question to his disciples at Gethsemane before his arrest: "Why are you asleep?" (Luke 22:46).
I did not know that I was "asleep" until I participated in my first spiritual retreat. I did not realize that my mind was preoccupied with words -- nonstop words. I missed many things in life, missed meaningful encounters because my mind was somewhere else.
My spiritual director at the retreat asked me to learn to focus on my breath. I thought, "Oh, piece of cake!" But what did I know? It took me five years to at least experience a tiny bit of that awareness.
Every time I focused on my breath, my mind would wander recklessly. My spiritual director patiently listened to my babbles and finally would say, "Go back to your breathing." This happened again and again.
I wondered when would she assign a scripture text for my reflection. There was no spiritual-ity in my breath, I protested inwardly.
A day came when I heard a gentle voice -- "that is God's breath!" Wow, God breathing in and on me 24 hours a day, every minute, every second and I was not aware. It is true --- Emmanuel, God with us!
Awareness is spirituality. It is prayer.
"Prayer does not change God. It changes us," a saint once said.
If we are "asleep" and not aware of what we are about in life, no change, no growth is possible. When we train our mind to focus, we heighten our awareness and recognize our gifts and limitations. We are awake to celebrate successes and learn from our failures.
I thank God for waking me to experience the reality of his love. I thank my spiritual director for accompanying me patiently in this spiritual journey. Those five years were well worth it to take the initial step to the longest journey inward to find myself ... and there to find God.
-- Onie Mision-Reed is the director of Pastoral Care at Lourdes Health Network in Pasco. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.