In my retreat ministry I travel all over the country. Frequently I’m in airports. A few years ago I began to notice something unusual in airports: rocking chairs! Not just one or two, but sometimes dozens of rocking chairs all in a row. Most of the rockers are painted white, but some are mellow brown or even brightly colored. I’ve seen rocking chairs in airports in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Harrisburg, Boston, Miami, and Dallas. I did a little research and learned that over 100 airports all over the world now have rocking chairs. Why?
For one thing, airports are not very pleasant places. They tend to be crowded and noisy—with people scurrying hither and yon. A rocking chair, as someone has said, is “a pause button in a hectic environment.” It’s an oasis of peace in a sea of bustle. Traveling these days can cause anxiety. It can also try our patience. But sitting for a few minutes in a rocking chair can help calm the most anxious and impatient traveler.
My ministry also takes me to retreat centers all over the country. Most of these places have rocking chairs too. I’ve seen rocking chairs in bedrooms, on porches, in chapels, in front of fireplaces, out on docks overlooking a lake or the ocean. People who operate retreat centers must know that rocking chairs are conducive to prayer and contemplation. It’s easy to understand why this is so.
Many of us were probably rocked as infants. The gentle back and forth rhythm of the rocker imitated the rhythm we experienced in our mother’s womb: the beating of her heart, the movement of her body, the pattern of her waking and sleeping. Being held and rocked as infants reassured us that someone was taking care of us. We were not alone. And everything was going to be okay. Perhaps rocking in a rocking chair as an adult helps us to reconnect with this “blessed assurance.”
When we rock in a rocker, our body is occupied. This means we are less likely to fidget. At the same time our minds are set free to explore, to ponder. When we rock back and forth, says poet Hilton L. Anderson, we are in touch with the “gentle flow of time… Measured in each rocking creak.” She adds, we relax “in the metered now.”
The gentle back and forth motion of the rocking chair invites us to talk with God.
Back and forth…back and forth…back and forth I go…
While staying in one place, I am moving still… I am letting go.
In my rocking chair I am at one with the basic rhythms of life:
back and forth…up and down…in and out…around and around.
I feel the thumping of my heart…I sense my breathing in and out…
And effortlessly I find myself praying:
O God of All Time, calm me…calm me… Reassure me of your presence…
your arms enfolding around me… Give me a deep sense of your care for me…
and remind me of your promises: “Everything’s going to be okay.”
Amid the rush of daily living, when I feel splintered into little pieces,
call me back to my rocking chair…
Where, back and forth…back and forth…I rest in your timeless love.
The song I chose for today is from Taize. As many of you know, Taize is an ecumenical community in France. The monastic community there welcomes people of all faiths to join them in their prayer services which consist of meditative singing, liturgical readings, and periods of silence. (Young people seem especially drawn to Taize.) The songs consist of only a few words sung over and over again. This song is St. Teresa of Avila’s “bookmark.” In Spanish the words are, “Nada te turbe, nada te espante,” which mean, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you.” The prayer goes on to say, “All things are passing… God alone is changeless… Who has God lacks nothing… God alone suffices.” To me this type of praying seems fit for a rocking chair.
Do you own a rocking chair? Do you ever use it to relax, think, or pray?
Does anything else in this reflection or song speak to your heart today?
PS: Thank you for your prayers for last Saturday’s retreat day at the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Spirituality Center in Cincinnati, OH. We explored four signs of a healthy adult spirituality: wonder, courage, playfulness, and hope. Once again I was impressed and inspired by all the participants. It was especially gratifying to meet some individuals who know me mainly through this blog!