Pray with Music: Audio Divina
For many of us, music is often a transcendent experience, lifting us above the worries and distractions of daily life. Consider using music as a doorway into prayer and cultivating your ability to listen with the ear of your heart. We call this audio divina, or sacred listening. You might begin with a selection of explicitly sacred music such as Mozart's Requiem Mass, or you might try this practice with a piece of sacred jazz, such as the title track from Deanna Witkowski's new CD, "From This Place." (Read an interview with Deanna Witkowski here.)
Prepare for your prayer by finding a quiet place and take some time to settle yourself into stillness and rest in silence. Become aware of the sacredness of this time you have set aside. Breathe in an awareness of God's presence, breathe out distractions and worries. Slowly allow your focus to move from your head down into your heart. See if you can visualize this movement of your attention and awareness shifting.
First Hearing: Listen
Play the piece of music once to enter into its landscape. Notice the sounds of the notes and silences between them, rest into the movement of the music. Be present to how it rises and falls in your body and imagination. Allow the music to fill you, breathing it in. Slowly become aware if there is a dominant sound or image or feeling that is calling to you in this initial experience. Allow a few moments of silence to follow and savor that image or feeling rising up in you.
Second Hearing: Reflect
Play the music a second time. This time while listening allow the sound or image or feeling that first called to you to draw you more deeply into the experience of it. Allow it to unfold in your imagination. Notice how the experience of listening to the music touches your heart. What memories does it stir in you? What are the feelings rising up in your body? What images are you aware of? Continue to listen with your heart and become more deeply aware of how the music is flowing through you and what is being evoked. Rest for a few minutes in silence following the end of the piece, resting in what has moved in you.
Third Hearing: Respond
Play the music a third time. This time focus on how your heart wants to respond to being touched. What is the invitation present in the unfolding of sounds, images, memories, and feelings for you today? How is God speaking to your life in this moment through this music? What is the "yes" within you that is longing to be expressed? If you feel comfortable, take a moment to express with your voice what you are experiencing in your body. It might be a simple sound or a line from a song or something you have created in the moment. What does your "yes" to God sound like this day?
Resting with God
Spend some time resting in silence and releasing the sounds, feelings, and images that are stirring in you. Close your eyes for a few minutes and rest in the stillness in simple awareness of God's presence. Allow yourself some time to simply be. Open yourself to a sense of gratitude for whatever has been revealed and offered in this time of prayer.
When you have come to the end of your prayer time you may want to play the music again and just experience it anew from the other side of this time. If you keep a journal, write down some reflections on your experience, making note of the music and what stirred in you.
Music has an incredible power in our lives that perhaps originates from our very heartbeat, that primordial life-sustaining rhythm. Over time as you cultivate your ability to hear in a deeper way, consider using other music you love and with which you are drawn to pray. Begin to notice how you listen to your life in a deeper way.
Christine Valters Paintner, Ph.D., is a Benedictine Oblate and the online Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery without walls offering online classes in contemplative practice and creative expression and pilgrimages to Ireland, Germany, and Austria. She is the author of eight books on monasticism and creativity including The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom (Ave Maria Press) and her forthcoming book The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Inner Journey (Spring 2015, Ave Maria Press). Christine lives as a monk in the world in Galway, Ireland with her husband of twenty years.