Art: Week 2
The Psalms—like all great art—lead us to a truer image of ourselves, reality, and God. (Sunday)
When we work with our voice, we work with the core elements out of which the world came into being and through which it is sustained: breath, tone, intentionality, and community. These four elements can serve as sacred tools to explore the mystery of creation with something other than our minds! —Cynthia Bourgeault (Monday)
Poetry seduces you and entices you into being a searcher for the Mystery yourself. It creates the heart leap, the gasp of breath, inspiring you to go further and deeper; you want to fill in the blanks for yourself. (Tuesday)
Barbara Holmes draws attention to the many unsilent, embodied, and communal contemplative practices that can lead us into the gift of contemplation, union with God. (Wednesday)
When Miles Davis blows the cacophony that can barely be contained by the word song, we come closest to the unimaginable, the potential of the future, and the source of our being. —Barbara Holmes (Thursday)
[Kendrick Lamar’s rap album] “To Pimp a Butterfly” is protest [and contemplative] music because it is alive to its moment. —Sam Behrens (Friday)
Practice: Chanting Om
Chanting as contemplative practice naturally draws our focus to the present and embodied presence. The very physical act of breathing and forming sounds brings body and mind together. Chant has a place in many sacred traditions, from Gregorian melodies to Native American drumming to the polyrhythmic chants of West Africa. There are as many ways to chant as there are bodies and vocal cords. You may enjoy exploring different kinds of chant, or even creating your own, as a way of entering into contemplation.
Perhaps the simplest, most familiar chant is “Om.” In the Hindu tradition, Om is the original and basic vibration of the created world, the sound that holds all other sounds, the unity that embraces all diversity. The mantra is also called pranava in Sanskrit, meaning it infuses all of life and fills our prana, breath. Om represents the fullness of reality and encompasses all things; it has no beginning and no end.
You might practice chanting this single syllable alone or in a group, from five minutes to more than twenty, followed by a time of silence. Begin by sitting tall and straight so you can breathe deeply. Inhale, and on your exhalation, vocalize the three sounds of Om, AUM, on a single tone. Feel the sound moving upward with your breath: beginning in the bottom of your belly—aah; moving to your chest—ooh; vibrating your lips and nasal cavity—mm. Take another deep breath, and sing AUM again, slowly shaping the vowels and gently closing your mouth to a hum.
If you prefer, you can simply hum for as long as you’re able, lips barely touching and teeth apart, before breathing in and humming again.
Repeat the chant as many times as you wish, letting all other thoughts and sensations disappear. If you are distracted, return your focus to breath and sound and the way it feels in your body. When you are ready, let the chant subside into silence.
For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, Chanting the Psalms: A Practical Guide with Instructional CD (New Seeds: 2006)
Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, second edition (Fortress Press: 2017)
Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (The Berkley Publishing Group: 1996)