On the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, I facilitate a meditation/contemplative prayer group at the cathedral. This particular chapel is normally used for weekday eucharists and the 8:00 service on Sunday mornings; the altar is to the left of this picture, and usually there are about two dozen chairs set up in rows facing it. On Tuesdays I go in early to rearrange the room -- we move the heavy iron kneelers with a hand truck, and put down a plain white cotton carpet, set twelve chairs around it and move the others to the sides, and place a large candle - I bought this one from nuns in Mexico - on a low table in the center. After the daily office of Evening Prayer is finished at 5:45 pm, we turn down the lights and gather in this room; I usually give a brief talk or a reading or a guided meditation, and then we sit in silence for two periods of 20 minutes, with a brief break so that people who want to sit for a shorter period can leave. At the end we leave in silence, with a few people staying to help me put the room back into its normal configuration.
This week I had a little extra time beforehand, so I sat down and made a sketch, and then added some color later. One thing I'm discovering during this month is that I simply don't enjoy detailed, careful architectural sketching. Catching the feeling of a place is one thing, but I don't have the patience, inclination, or interest to do it perfectly. More power to those who do! (I didn't think I did, but now I know it for sure!) In fact, I'd like to try a charcoal or pastel drawing of this same space, to try to get the dusky ambience of it as the sun is setting.
During our meditation this week we had so many interruptions! There are the inevitable sirens and honking horns and loud voices from the street outside; the verger mistakenly turned the lights up when they should have been turned down; then there was a businessman, with briefcase and cellphone, who came into the church from the side door opposite us, couldn't get through the passageway to the back that leads to the diocesan offices, and proceeded to make a loud phone call expressing his annoyance and frustration to whoever was on the other end. Apparently he didn't see, or didn't look to see, that people were silently meditating across from him. One of us got up and helped him, gently ushering him outside and pointing him where he needed to go. In spite of all that, this week's gathering had a very good feeling: calm and deep, with a sense of the collective peace that sometimes comes from a group meditating together.
Interruptions are, as the Buddhists would say, "grist for the mill." They are the weeds in our practice, and one learns to be grateful for them, and for what they teach us. When I was beginning my own meditation practice, back in Vermont many years ago, it used to drive me crazy to hear the neighbor's lawn mower, or children's voices playing in the street. Now I'm rather glad that we don't meet in a retreat center set far away from "the world," but rather right in the middle of it, on the busy main street of a major city. Meditating in this sort of place teaches us that we too are part of the world, and the world is part of us. As Thomas Merton wrote: "One does not go into the desert to escape others, but to learn how to find them."