Monasteries of the Heart

Chant Anyone?

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When I attended Shalem Institute many years ago to get certified in group spiritual direction, I was exposed to practically every prayer form tried by seekers around the globe. All of them good.

We sat in silence. We meditated. We danced. We broke scripture. We gazed with icons. We dramatized. We centered. We imaged. And we chanted in a variety of traditions.

Over the years, I’ve tried a number of these forms, but always return to the chant.
I come by it honestly, of course, because I’ve chanted the psalms in the monastery for daily prayer since the age of 17, first in Latin and now in English.

After I visited Taize in France, I was enamored with its chants and used them for my personal prayer for years. Then I spend some time with Robert Gass and his beautiful “Enchantment” recording that expanded my chanting from the Christian tradition to Native American and Buddhist and ….

Now I’m drawn to the chanting of Krishna Das and spend about 15 minutes in the morning chanting along with his Hindu prayer, “Hare Krishna.”

I do the other Benedictine prayer, too—the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours and lectio-- but I must admit that chanting is the most fun. I like it because I don’t have to think when I chant; it’s almost effortless. It doesn’t have the “get it right” feel of other forms of prayer.

I just chant along with the CD and I—who collect words and insights like one obsessed-- don’t worry about words and what they mean and what insights they’re supposed to give me. I don’t try to understand anything. I just raise my voice in praise with the many names of God. I even prefer to chant in another language so that the words don’t trap me. Chant takes me out of myself.

And this particular Hare Krishna chant is so joyful. It makes me want to dance. Ah, there’s the rub. The day I ignore my copybooks and journals, close the “spiritual” books, and am free enough to get up and chant and dance in my prayer space—maybe, for me, I may actually pray for the first time.