As I was considering the call to return to being a ruling Elder at GPPC, my first response was reluctance and I started stressing out about the time and effort it would take and what good things I would need to give up to make space for this added responsibility. At the same time I was discerning this call, I was cleaning out drawers in my office at work in preparation for the new dean. In one of the drawers I happened upon one of Richard Rohr’s daily meditations from 2013 that I had squirreled away. The name of the meditation was The Brilliant Cloud of Unknowing. My attention fell on the last part of the meditation:
In summary, you cannot grow in the great art form, the integration of action and contemplation, without (1) a strong tolerance for ambiguity, (2) an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and (3) a willingness to not know and not even need to know. This is how you allow and encounter mystery.
A willingness to not know and not even need to know, this line called to my mind my active prayer. A prayer that was laid on my heart in 1994 and which, with a lot of practice over the years has worked its way into my subconscious. The teaching about the active prayer is to choose one that is not more than five to nine syllables, and that you can easily synchronize with your heartbeat, like: Be still and know that I am God. Committing it to memory is a way of being reminded of God’s love with the spontaneous bubbling up of the prayer in times when you need this reminder. One of the many fruits is that in the repetition, the prayer may eventually tape over the negative messages that accompany one’s upsetting emotions – those messages of not being good enough, or wise enough, or deserving enough. It does take a lot of practice for the prayer to work its way into your subconscious and in the first and second year I would frequently forget to practice and so, to help me remember, I wrote my active prayer on 2 x 4 cards and put them everywhere – on the mirror of my bathroom, on the dashboard of my car, on my desk at work, on my computer desktop, in my wallet, over the sink where I washed dishes, as a bookmark, next to my bed. I tried to practice every night as I was falling asleep and while I brushed my teeth or took a shower or drove to work. And now after years of practice, at the least expected times, the prayer rises from my subconscious and prays itself.
As I read Richard Rohr’s words and my active prayer emerged from my subconscious and began praying in me, immediately (as scripture likes to put it) all my reluctance and stressing fell away and I felt at peace with the decision to accept the call to ruling Elder at GPPC.
April Swofford was born in Gainesville, FL. As her father was in the Air Force, she grew up in Florida, Texas, Alaska, New York, Ohio and England. After college April joined the Peace Corp and lived in Brazil for 7 1/2 years. In 1992 she was ordained an elder at Park Lake Presbyterian Church in Orlando Florida. In 1994 she embraced the spiritual disciplines of Centering Prayer and the Active Prayer. In 1997 she graduated from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education and joined the Richmond Hill community and worked as the retreat coordinator until 2002. 1n 1998, she was commissioned by Contemplative Outreach LTD to be the Richmond area coordinator and to teach Centering Prayer and began offering classes and retreats. In 1999 she completed the RUAH program at Richmond Hill. Currently April works for Union Presbyterian Seminary in the office of the academic dean. She is still actively involved in the leadership of the Centering Prayer community of Richmond. She and her dear friend Cindy Bowers have made a home together for over 15 years, share two adorable granddaughters and have created for each other a soft place to fall.