Our contemplative prayer group met for the forth time on Tuesday. Our intitial reader from R.Somerset Ward’s book gave a reminder and a warning of how easy it is to allow temptation to have its way with us. It was a good, insightful reading to prepare us for the temptations which will come as we seek to stay on the contemplative path in an age of instant gratification and over emphasis on the individual.
To take a journey on the contemplative path is to experience God in a very intimate and powerful way. Sometime these encounters can bring a person into a incredible state of consolation. Other times these encounters can give us intense assurance and confidence.
Our enemy knows how to use these things to make us over confident and complacient about maintaining our alertness, awareness, and attentiveness to the works of faith we are called to grow and excel in as we travese the desert of modern living.
I am thankful for how our group grasps the words offered to us as we prepare for our time of silence, inviting and allowing God’s Spirit to work on our hearts and souls as we seek to anchor our minds to the good of giving ourselves to this time.
The crowd said to Jesus, “What sign can you do that we may believe in you?”
As I read these words I remember a manipulative phrase that some males of my generation used to use as tool of guilt seduction upon unsuspecting girls, “What will you do to prove you love me.”
The kind of beleif that opens up the bakery of heaven to us is not one based on demands or manipulations. It is the belief of given faith that grows from a covenant, a commitment that surrenders rather than seduces.
In worship, I gather with others who join with me in a time of confession, an act of admission, that we are sinners who sin and are not worthy on our own to receive from God the bread of life. We do not ask for signs. We ask for forgiveness. We then bow and come to the altar where we are given the bread of life and the wine of the new covenant. We than thank God for these gifts that have been transformed into the very presence of the one who keep our souls from starving and our spirits for the thirst in this desert, this dry wilderness we call our lives.
Jesus’s ansestors ate manna given by God. We eat the sacraement. They were heading to the promised land upon this earth. We are heading to the promised life of all eternity.
Signs made by human beings can fade, fall, or even mislead do to the changes of this world. Much better is to trust in the One who alwasys knows the way.
Your whole life has been thrown into turmoil. You have been removed from your position that you love due to lies and political power plays. You have no support from the leadership of an organization that is supposed to back you. You have been set up to be the sacrificial lamb. You have made sacrifices for the people you are seeking to help and all they do is stab you in the back. You are forced out of your home. You lose your primary source of income. You are 64 years of age and no one seems willing to hire you. How do you feel? You are hurt! You are angry! How do you feel toward those who seem to be the cause of your pain?
Thoughts begin to fill your mind. They are there when you are awake and follow you into your dreams. These thoughts are not nice. Some a filled with wishes of tragedy. Some are self-destructive. Some of the thoughts are filled with ideas of vengeance, of ill thoughts, bad thoughts. But, here is the problem:
“But love your enemies” (Lk. 6:35 NRS)
“bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Lk. 6:28 NRS)”
Your faith is meaningful. Your faith is the center of your desire. Your faith is important, yet your faith and you desire to be obedient is in a struggle with your mind. You want to pray for those who were instrumental for your pain, but, when you are not on your guard, when you are going through the activities and actions of your life, those thoughts come back again and again.
Your practice the pattern you learn: Repent, Rebuke, and Replace over and over, but still the challenge is there.
Do not despair. God knows our struggles. Contemplative prayer does help!
It was through prayer that the following illustration came into my life. It was a series of questions I believe came from God’s Spirit working in my life. These are the questions that helped me.
- How do you love someone when you are hurt.
- Who hurt you? Why did this hurt?
- Why do you think they hurt you?
- Do you think that they carry any hurt? Can you know if they hurt.
- How do you feel when others are hurting and living with a pain?
- Can you pray for those who are hurting?
- Your hurt is likely part of a chain of pain. Do you want that chain to continue through you?
- Do you think God experiences pain? Does God experience the pain of others?
- Do you care about the pain God must experience?
- Do you understand God knows your pain and feels it?
- Does God want to ease pain in the lives of people? Can God heal the pain?
- Can you, will you, draw a better picture and perspective from these questions?
After this, the thoughts came less and less and the peace grows stronger every day. I am discovering new and wonderful ways God uses bad intentions by others for good in my own life. Thus, faith increases. Amen.
The work of contemplative prayer can be quite a challenge for even the most seasoned servant to maintain a high level of commitment. This world does not value silence. Silence is a place where thoughts have power and reflections painful as well as productive.
Notice I used the word work. How is it work to just sit still, focusing on your breath, seeking to simply let thoughts drift by while you willing seek to be in the presence of God, hoping that being in the presence of God will bring about an intimate union?
It is work to be committed to this task. It is work to not let your thoughts and often unconscious reflection dominate your time and prevent you from your goal of awareness. It is work to be patient. It is work to tolerate the misunderstandings of others and the hostility that can arise from those who are intimidated by individuals who want to travel the apophatic way.
Again, as our group gathered, I came with the expectation of entering the world of giving God permission to permeate my soul. I came to join with others to journey through the desert to the mountain where God’s still small voice could be heard. I came knowing the enemy would be there, but I came with a felt assurance that comes when those of like mind and desire join together on the road less traveled.
We had our first visitor today. A lady who definitely had the air of a seeker. My heart when out to her. She had not been to this wilderness before. This would be a new challenge. I prayed silently that the Lord would bless her this day.
The thing about the contemplative way is that it is hard, spiritually, mentally, and at times, even physically hard. We were going to spend twenty-five minutes in silence. This was only our third meeting. Five minutes in silence can seem like forever when one first begins on this path. Questions can arise with spines like cactus. Thoughts can startle us like a coiled snake ready to strike. The quest for God, the waiting, breathing, and focusing can make us feel parched, wanting the water we believe is there, but where?
I know we have people come and go. We are not salespeople. Our task is not to build up numbers by bodies. We are to be faithful. We are to be committed. We are to be still and know that God is God and trust that the work done in silence will produce life more in line with God’s will and a relationship with God that is an intimate love for which we were created.
Tuesday was the second meeting of our contemplative prayer group. The reading from, to Jerusalem, by E. Sommers Ward, was a reading in encouragement and excitement about the adventure we have joined in together. It spoke of the vast possibilities of where this journey can take us.
On any given journey, there will be days experiencing new wonders, of advancing toward our goal of the mountain of God, but also days of needing to hunker down. Days of renewing our supplies, and/or days of rekindling motivation. Ward likely shocks most of his readers when he makes the claim someone who does not spend close to two hours in pray a day is likely not a true Christian.
Time and commitment to love are in reality the things that we can give to God. When we are asked to give God everything, we are not being called to give God all our material possessions, they already belong to God and God’s created order. To choose to give God our time is to give God our mind, thoughts, and presence. To give God our commitment of love is to honor and cherish in sickness and health, prosperity and poverty, joy and sadness the Lord our God. The later is a commitment that is alive. It is a commitment that either grows into the deepest of intimacy or stagnates into a dead faith.
Our group wants to among those whose life is a journey of seeking. A life of moving toward and giving to God. They have experienced how difficult life can be and have embraced the truth that our purpose is above all to love our Lord with all our being. They also understand how challenging this relational journey can be. This will be a journey of deeper hope.
Today, a joined with a group of five to begin a journey, an adventure into the depths of God desire for a relationship, a true, intimate encounter with humans beings as God intended from the beginning.
Some of my fellow travelers have experienced difficulties in life and understand this journey will be challenging. The others are aware of the challenges we likely will face and believe as I do the journey is worth the effort. I believe this small group has what is the most important character trait to accept the challenges we will most certainly face if we are to reach the top of the mountain.
So, each Tuesday we plan to gather and focus on wisdom that speaks to us from the past to help us go deeper into the desert that leads to the mountain where God speaks. I will seek to guide the group through the initial desert to the base of the mountain. When we reach the base, the Holy Spirit will be our primary guide as we seek to ascend to the place where God will is more easily discerned and our fellowship joins the divine dance which is the Trinity.
One this our first gathering, as we said the prayer to the Holy Spirit, I felt the need to change the way I have lead groups in the past. Instead of my leading the final part of the prayer, I ask the group to continue reading with me. This group is different than others I have led. This group has a spiritual maturity to it. This group is willing to join me in the priesthood of believers and fully participate in this journey/spiritual adventure. This will be a wonderful group to join with and grow with.
Several weeks ago I walk to the front of the church before the altar and had my priest make a cross of ashes on my forehead and remind me that I am mortal. From ashes, I came and from ashes, I will return.
It is one thing to be reminded of your mortality through a ritual of grace and quite another to reminded by the words of your doctor that if you do not go to the hospital now, you will die. When facing the possibly imminent demise of your mortal body, the reality of death has the power to call you to think about the journey of life you have traveled. It also can remind you of how far you have to go.
Death is no longer my enemy to be feared. Death no longer can force me into denial. I have an assurance, a confidence that comes from God who loves me no matter how much I have been the prodigal in my life.
I am slowing moving toward the state of being an old fool and that is what I most hope to obtain. I am still struggling to fight against attacks from my past. I still must catch myself and repent of thought and work to replace them with acts of penance and love. I still am letting go of things however I am enjoying more and more the true happiness of contemplation and the sweet consolations of the whispers of acceptance God sends my way.
Tomorrow, I will likely leave the hospital. My brush with pneumonia and sepsis is passing and I am again able to breathe without struggle or pain. I am thankful to my doctor and the wonderful hospital staff who helped my body fight this fight. I am thankful to my priest who came, anointed and prayed. I am also reluctantly thankful to Brother sickness for giving me the time to allow silence and rest give me an opportunity to contemplate on what is important. Amen