Rocking Chair Prayer

by Melannie Svoboda SND on March 14, 2016

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?

Rocking chairs at a busy airport.

Rocking chairs at a busy airport.

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 werocking chair porch-1034405__180 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.

Bedroom at St. Joseph Retreat Center, Cohasset, MA.

Bedroom at St. Joseph Retreat Center, Cohasset, MA.

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:

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St. Mary by the Sea Retreat Center, Cape May, NJ.

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!

 

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen March 14, 2016 at 3:56 am

I own a rocking chair and I use it every day in my 20 minutes of meditation. Very calming.

Thanks for the reminder about how soothing rocking can be and how it helps us focus on the Spirit.

Kathleen

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Mary Ries March 14, 2016 at 5:10 am

I found comfort in the words from the poem ” Everything’s going to be OK” as well as the words from the Taize song “let nothing disturb you”. I am worried about a situation at work and this was a “reminder to me to “let go and let God”. I have rocking chairs in the house but haven’t sat in one for a long time… I forgot how much I loved to rock ( and swing ) as a child!!!

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Susan March 14, 2016 at 8:13 am

I’m going to be taking a very long trip at the end of this week and have been feeling a bit anxious! I will make a point to seek out any rocking chairs in the various airports I will be traveling through and pray the comforting words from the Taize prayer. Thank you for your perfectly timed blog!

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Mary Therese March 14, 2016 at 9:12 am

I’m reading this as I sit in a recliner that gently rocks. It’s nice to start each day with the Word of God and gentle rocking. Thanks for such comforting thoughts today Sister Melannie.

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Anne March 14, 2016 at 9:35 am

I, too have a rocking chair in my prayer room. I like to look out the
window and rock while praying and thinking at the beginning of my day.

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Pat March 14, 2016 at 9:43 am

Rocking chairs have always been a part of my family. We are all avid readers and the favorite place to sit and read is the rocking chair. Even now when I have dreams about my father, who died many years ago, he is sitting in the rocking chair in our living room. They speak to me of love, comfort and safety.

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Mary Schneider March 14, 2016 at 10:18 am

I wonder, does God see all of us in our rocking chairs and as we pray or meditate, say/think “rock on”. I love rocking chairs of all sizes, shapes, cushioned or not. Thank you for this lovely article.

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Steve Henry March 14, 2016 at 10:33 am

Rocking chairs and porch swings. I remember them both. The porch swings go back to the 40’s and 50’s when nearly every house had a front porch complete with a swing. Uncle Ted and Aunt Anna’s house had a swing that greatly refreshed my spirit as a kid. I still yearn for those moments of meditation rather than medication.
Steve Henry

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Sister G March 14, 2016 at 11:40 am

I can relate! My rocking chair is my prayer chair. Even as a child, I remember thinking about my vocation in my grandma’s green rocker. I find it easy to prayer in a rocking chair. I try to have one in our house chapel when I can. In good weather, I prefer a swing, but rocking chairs work year ’round. I have one of those folding lawn chairs in a bag that is a rocker, so I can take it with me. Thanks for sharing!

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Pat March 14, 2016 at 11:42 am

Thank you, Sr. Melannie! I’m reminded of the rocking chair in the home where I grew up. It’s still there in my parent’s bedroom, both have been gone many, many years. I may ask my sister if I may have it to use in our home. God bless you!
Pat

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Moe March 14, 2016 at 11:56 am

Thanks for Saturday!!! It was so fun( I won the green ice cream scoop)no one took it from me Ha ha Moe

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Debbie March 14, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Sr. Melanie,
I have been a fan of your writing for some time now and today’s reading just made me smile. I love rocking chairs and I am rocking away in mine as I read right now! Rocking chairs have always been a source of comfort and I seek them out wherever I go! This lent I have been rocking and reading your book Habits of the Soul. I have read this book during lent since 2009! Thank you sister for being part of my rocking prayer!
God Bless,
Debbie

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Patty March 14, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Thank you, Sister.

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Julie Teder March 14, 2016 at 2:29 pm

I have the rocking chair that was my Dad’s. The wings on the back of the chair wrap around you and makes me feel as if Dad’s arms are embracing me. The chair is also very relaxing. I love your blog–wouldn’t miss it for anything. Thanks so much.

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Kathy March 14, 2016 at 2:43 pm

Thanks again, for a touching meditation. I love rocking. When I was a child, my favorite chair at my grandparents’ house was their rocking chair. We didn’t have one in my house, so it was always a treat. When my husband and I were engaged, he bought me a rocking chair for Christmas , and that is still my favorite place to sit in our house. It is very comforting.

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Tom March 14, 2016 at 7:17 pm

I am a glider-rocker person myself, remembering the one on my grandparents’ porch.
I was intrigued that the poet referred to the “creak” of the rocking chair as being the measure of time. It reminded me that I have spent way too much of my life trying to eliminate creaks and squeaks, thinking of them as irritants rather than markers of the flow of life.

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Thomas D March 14, 2016 at 8:30 pm

Dear Sr Melannie, I enjoyed this post very much! It rings true. I don’t have a rocking chair, but I do have a very comfy chair in which, at least twice a week, I take 20 to 30 minutes of quiet time, to de-clutter, to “be still,” to let Divine Silence work itself in edgewise, as it were. So once I saw the words “chair” and “prayer” juxtaposed, I knew that I’d like what I was about to read! Thank you kindly. Thomas D

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Stephanie March 15, 2016 at 12:10 am

We bought a rocking chair when our daughter was born (almost 30 years ago) and I would sit with her in the chair and rock. Even when she was older and could barely fit in my arms anymore (her legs sprawled over the arm of the chair) she would want to sit on my lap when she was ill and couldn’t sleep and we would rock together until she fell asleep. We gave away the rocker when we moved across the country. I haven’t thought about that in a long time. Thank you for the post, it was a nice reminder. I had heard a similar prayer, “All things change…only God remains,” and I have prayed that often in times of despair.

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Betty Gregg March 15, 2016 at 10:15 am

Sister Melannie,
I was at the retreat in Cincinnati on Saturday, March 12th. It was wonderful! I was thrilled and honored to be able to meet you! I look forward to your Sunflower Seeds blog each Monday. They are so down to earth and very insightful. You certainly convey a zest to look for God in everything both in your blog and at the retreat. May God continue to bless you in your journey to help us transform ourselves to be the people God wants us to be. Many blessings.

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Annie March 15, 2016 at 2:57 pm

If you ever go through BWI, I can let you know about an out-of-the way place with some rocking chairs and peaceful quiet.

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Michelle K. March 15, 2016 at 4:53 pm

When I was pregnant with my daughter my grandmother gave us money for a crib ( but another family member lent us a crib) so we used it for a rocking chair. I remember searching for just the right chair that was comfortable for both my husband and myself! It was one of the best furniture buys we have ever made.

This reflection also made me realize that our church is missing a very important piece of furniture – a rocking chair, or two or three, in the family room; and this should include child size rockers as well. I remember when the church in which I grew up was doing renovations and my mother insisted that there should be at least one rocker in the newly enlarged family room.

I moved away from my childhood home city and never used that rocking chair but I know my sister used it with her 4 children.

Now I live in a small town and the one thing I notice is many woman (of varied ages) standing during mass rocking back and forth. I hope they have comfortable rockers at home. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a row of rocking chairs instead of a stationary pew in the church!

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Kim March 16, 2016 at 7:49 am

Thank you for your encouraging words. I am going to go sit in my rocking chair right now (where I have not sat for years)…God is good

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Joanne Bennardo March 16, 2016 at 7:37 pm

Thank you, Sister, for choosing this beautiful song. Its solemn setting, focusing on the crucifix, icons, and Joy of the pray-ers, drew me in. It speaks of the glory and adoration of God, Creator and Savior, offered by his beloved children, gathered as one in love and hope.

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Sharla April 20, 2016 at 6:59 am

Thank you Sr Melanie! I have been saving this until I could have the time to really let myself sink into it. This morning was it. I’ve had a very hectic couple of weeks and this was exactly what I needed right now. I rocked and closed my eyes and felt so calm. Now I don’t want to go to work – I will just rock all day 😉

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