Pondering at Pecos:
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the place of “darkness” and “un-knowing” that, I think, is a place that God leads us into… especially during those seasons where we experience intense grief, pain, suffering, and other inexplicable life events.
It seems the habit of humanity is to try and find reason and understanding during these life occurrences that will help us to reconcile the horrors of pain (whatever that may be) and suffering (of any kind) with what we believe is a “good and loving” God. It is in the equation of this reckoning I believe we find some semblance or possibility of an answer, but let me qualify my response before I begin.
These things I am speaking are far above my ability to comprehend and I know all the details are still shrouded in the mystery and shadows of God’s movements, but I have been overcome with a divine peace as some of these ideas have clarified in my thoughts and reflections. I share my opinion here with humble hope that it may be helpful for others.
No matter how much we know or think we know about God, he is still beyond our ability to fully grasp or understand. Recalling instruction from the Old Testament Scriptures, it was God who commanded that man should make no graven image of him… and, while we may not hammer out sheets of bronze and gold sculptures of him, we do no less when we construct mental images, personifications, and other attributes of our own persuasion that detail who or what we believe God is or should be. Yes, it is true that God attributes certain personifications to himself as he reveals his nature to mankind, but I do not think that our personifications are limited to those shared from God about himself in the Scriptures. We have a shared tendency of adding attributes to his nature that make God into someone or something that is more easily understood and likable. While this may not be “idolatry” in the classical sense, it is very much idolatry in the spiritual sense. We’ve simply exchanged the “graven image” with our personal objectification—we’ve created a god of our own making.
Let me be clear, I do not believe this idol-making is from a sinister heart. I think we are sincere with our desire to seek deeper understanding and knowledge of God—and I believe this is the very reason God invites us deeper, to embark upon a journey into shadows, mystery, and uncertainty.
God alone knows the purity of our heart and he wants to purge us of every wrong and/or impure thought we have of him; Scripture teaches this is true. Therefore, it can, and often may be, during times of extreme grief, pain, and suffering that God drives us into the wilderness of our own soul, so we may be stripped of our false notions of him and find our true identity and absolute reliance upon him. We can remember from Scripture that it was God who drove the young Hebrew nation into the wilderness and it was also God, the Holy Spirit, who drove Jesus into the wilderness following his baptism. Both of these examples served a similar purpose, both were identity defining seasons, both were instances teaching the true nature of God, and both provided opportunity to `practice communion and reliance upon God.
Our wilderness experiences can be terrifying for us and they can also be our undoing. These journeys into the unknown and grievously painful places are the nexus where all that we know about God is tested and pushed to its limit. We enter into our “wilderness” with feet firmly planted on the solid foundation of all we know of Jesus, and we have our wilderness “survival gear” with us too… our Bible compass, canteen of holy water, and theology walking sticks firmly gripped in both hands—confident that we are prepared to battle any devils that would distract and disturb our knowledge of God.
Then, it happens.
(The following is a fictitious and allegorical scenario) The blue skies of our wilderness begin to cloud over when a prayer is not answered in agreement with what we had asked or the prayer was answered, but the outcome is not at all what we expected. Our wilderness trail becomes less smooth and what was flat terrain begins to incline, but we press on. The ground is still firm beneath us we still have all our supplies and theological walking sticks firmly in hand.
Pushing further into our wilderness slightly discouraged, but stoic in our faith nonetheless, we are met with another stunning blow when we witness tragedy strike close to home—perhaps a gruesomely ravenous terminal illness strikes the child of a close friend or we get news that a drunk driver has taken the life our pastor’s pregnant wife—and we wonder where, O where, is God in this moment. How could something so horrific have been allowed by God?
Dizzied and shaken, the skies of our journey grow darker and the direction we travel seems less sure as we begin to question our “compass,” but…the ground is still firm beneath our feet, we still have our supplies, and our theological walking sticks are still firmly in hand.
We are weak now, perhaps feeling as though we cannot take another blow. We tell ourselves that God “will never put anything on us that we cannot take,” and we press on thanking God for protection and somehow glorifying himself through all this suffering.
Then, it happens.
We experience a “Job-like”(Job from the Old Testament Book) atomic bomb getting dropped on our world. All is lost… word comes to us that a canyon fire destroys our home; all material possessions lost. We get word our wayward daughter who has runaway is found OD’d on heroin. An investigation into the drunk driving accident that had taken our pastor’s pregnant wife reveals it was our son who was that driver! If all this unbelievable pain is not enough, tests for our spouse’s migraines reveal inoperable and terminal brain cancer.
Our dark night wilderness is now pitch black, the earth that was once firm beneath our feet is no more, our compass and holy water are gone when they became too burdensome to carry due to the incline and difficulty of our trail. Now, in the black with no firm footing beneath us, we feel our hands being ripped from the firm grip we had on our theological walking sticks! We float in uncertainty, screaming and flailing trying to find an anchor, searching for light, begging at the top of our lungs for answers to all this madness. Terrified in the dark and the quiet, I no longer know what I believe about this god I had thought I knew.
It is here, in this moment, where we have been stripped of our false notions about God, that we are given choice. We can choose to turn and run from this great un-knowing dark or we can stay; we can stop flailing and trust the dark un-knowing. It is here, in this uncertainty where what we don’t know of God is made sure to us. The dark is God…the un-knowing is God. It is in this place where we are surrounded by God, embraced by God, and we know complete loving union with God…if we relax, and if we will trust, and if we will believe that He is good and wants our good. He desires for us to know him in the full…no false notions, no impure additives, and no contrived personal ideas and definitions of good. He desires for us to know him alone…and to love him alone, not our ideas of him.
I don’t think this is the normal path for every spiritual journey. I’ve obviously exaggerated the allegory to stress a point, but I’ve known people in my life who have experienced some of what I’ve shared and I’ve even experienced some measure of these illustrations in my own life. It is our nature to want to make logical sense of things we experience, but that may not be possible in our spiritual journeys. God transcends our logic and is beyond our ability to fully comprehend on this side of eternity. The Bible teaches that God made us for the express reason to share communion with himself, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Restoring our fallen nature to the place of eternal union and communion with him can be a complicated and sometimes painfully difficult process, but God will not be deterred in his efforts to bring us to the place of our destiny…no matter the cost. He loves us and wants us to know him, more than we could ever imagine.
Pondering at Pecos:
I read one time that “the soul is a wild animal.” That thought has given me much to think about over the years that I’ve explored that metaphor.
I think the idea of a “wild animal” can conjure different images from the “savage” to the “skittish” and perhaps every point in between—and I think the soul can be seen equally as diminutive, docile, destructive and/or even demonic depending on it’s condition and provocation. One not look too far in the annals of human history to find supporting evidence for these claims.
Many people, maybe even most people, seek solace and identity for their soul. I believe this is one of the primary quests for this life. You will often hear the words; “What is the meaning of life” and “I’m figuring out what I want to be when I grow up…” I think these words are probably more euphemisms for “soul solace” and identity affirmation than they are legitimate quests. The search for acceptance and affirmation prove this true, in my opinion. When people fail to find their affirmation and identity, most will resort to some means of self-medication or they will manufacture an identity for themselves…or they will choose to self-destruct. Of course, these are broad generalizations, but I believe them to hold a lot of truth. The complexities of the soul and the psyche are the playground of God and most mortals merely stumble and fumble their way through this mysterious land. And, this is the challenge. How do we help to heal our brother and how do we help to heal ourselves?
The past few days I’ve been in classes discussing addiction and bi-polar disorders, depression, and anxiety issues. I’m certainly not clinically qualified to speak professionally about these diagnosis, but I do have ideas and an opinion.
I have done quite a bit of reading and study from a spiritual perspective that leads me back to the same point of origin over and over again. I believe the great amount of soul disorder arises from the brokenness of humanity which stems from the break of man’s fellowship with God. Also known as “original sin,” this brokenness is responsible for every malady known to mankind. Since this “break” in fellowship with God, man has been searching for some form of reconciliation for his soul or escape from it. Perhaps this is an oversimplification, but I’ve already stated this is a mysterious subject and I admit I am over my head to even think about it, much less share an opinion.
I am of the mind that programs and medical intervention can only provide a certain amount of healing and restoration for the troubled soul. I don’t mean to mitigate programs or medical treatment at all with my opinions, so I hope that isn’t inferred in the sharing of my thoughts. I simply think that these options can only take a soul so far in recovering an identity.
I mentioned earlier that the soul might be seen as a wild animal and I think this is true, but I think more accurately the “wild animal” might be more like a white-tail deer. I used to live in an area where these beautiful and docile animals were plentiful. Observing them undisturbed in their environment they were calm and graceful creatures, but the snap of a twig or the scent of a human could send them in flight bounding through thistle and brush for fear of their life. Often, during hunting season, the pattern of disturbance for these timid creatures would escalate to the point that some deer might run themselves to death by resorting to uncommon behavior resulting in their demise.
A weak metaphor perhaps, but I believe the soul can be observed in similar detail. Through the fall of man and our invariable brokenness, we realize something is wrong… the scent of something unnatural surrounds us and we live under the umbrella of stigma of many shapes, size, and color. We don’t know what to do, so we disguise who we are creating false identity upon false identity with hopes we will find one size to fit every and all expectations that others have for us. Ultimately, we fail to find security in these false identities and we tire of the endless wardrobe changes that our life demands and we resort to self-medication or fleeing for our lives…
While this scenario may not be true for everyone, I think there is an alternative for those who have experienced this sense of tiring lostness. I think we can embrace our brokenness and turn to God. He is the healer and restorer for our souls and when we embrace this reality for ourselves, we can begin to be ministers of reconciliation for our brothers and sisters who have yet to find this comforting grace.
Allowing the troubled and timid soul the safe space needed to calm its racing heart, and to listen with empathy and compassion as that soul shares its story and fears provides a place that is sacred, where the divine mystery of God mixes with the brokenness of man’s soul and psyche to create healing and wholeness. This is deep healing—eternal restoration—that medication, therapy, and programs alone cannot touch. Yes, these interventions and man made elixirs are necessary and needful, but God…only God can tame a soul.
I’ve got a little break that I can pop in to provide a brief update on what’s been happening as of late. For those of you who do not know, I’ve been on retreat at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery this past week for a follow-up session in the School for Spiritual Direction which I attended last year.
So far, the session has exceeded my expectations (and I was sure it was going to be grand, so this is saying a lot!). I arrived a day early and was able to get very rested as I adjusted to “monastery time” moving into the rhythms of the Daily Office and the contemplative atmosphere of this oasis in the high desert. My cohorts began to arrive, trickling in throughout the day and night until we convened for our reunion meeting Sunday evening. Oh, what a joy it has been to catch up with these dear friends and hear their individual stories from the past year!
Our classes convened this week and have been wonderfully informative, evocative, and inspiring. The line-up of lecturers and subject material for the remainder of this week and next continues to promise spiritual and intellectual excitement; I am looking forward to each session with gleeful anticipation.
While the school itself is wonderful enough in its own right, I cannot help but say how life-giving the welcoming charism of this monastery is to me. The space to navigate the grace of the Holy Spirit abounds… the noises and rushing of the world outside these walls have been buffered from my soul and I can breathe deeply…my soul stretches and spiritual tension oozes from my pores. I am so grateful for my time here and I promise to share more in the coming days.
Monastic Notes (Pt.24—July 16th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 27—July 16th 2011)
Today begins the last day at the monastery; tomorrow I will leave. I don’t really know what I’m feeling at the moment…somewhat emotionless although I miss my family terribly. I’m ready to go home, but I have mixed emotions about leaving this community. There are aspects of the monastery that I’ve come to love and cherish and I know it will be difficult to find them elsewhere. I’m also nervous about the “next steps” in my life. I’ve had some semblance of knowledge about things that are looming on the horizon for most of the time in my life…I can’t say that I have this same sense of knowledge at this juncture. I think this is faith, to proceed with trust and confidence that God is leading. I do have a short list of things I feel God has instructed me to pursue upon my return. I feel as though I have a new understanding of the Apostle Paul’s statement about how “we see through the mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I don’t have a complete blueprint for tomorrow’s journey, but I have daily direction from my God who will take me there.
I believe and trust that the Lord has given me what I need to work with. I can trust all that He is; God has been faithful and good to me. I’m sure that taking the steps He is giving me will lead exactly where we are supposed to be. I feel ready and I can only assume in confidence that the places and players on the other side are ready too.
O LORD, come to my assistance; O LORD, make haste to help me.
Hear my prayer, O GOD; do not hide yourself from my petition. Listen to me and answer me; I have no peace because of my cares…I will call upon the LORD< and the LORD will deliver me. He will bring me safely back from the battle waged against me… Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous stumble. (Psalm 55:1-2, 17, 19, 24).
Commencement and commissioning mass is now complete, and I feel as though I have succeeded in completing the primary list of things I hoped to accomplish during my stay at the monastery. I look forward to the coming year with curiosity and holy anticipation, truly expectant of the great things God will do in our lives and ministry. Our follow up session at the monastery will take place in August of next year. We have not been given a formal “between session” practicum or assignment. In light of this, I have designed and prescribed my own continuing development plan and have given an outline to the SSD administrators. This will ensure my own accountability and help me to mature as a spiritual director.
Monastic Notes (Pt.23—July 15th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 26—July 15th 2011)
Our lectures are complete. It is hard to believe that four weeks have passed so quickly, but it also seems that I have gained so much more than a month of teaching and training. I am overflowing and cannot wait for God to “pour me out. We are scheduled for a special “Healing of the Family Tree” Mass this afternoon and I look forward to that time.
I sat with a friend during lunch today who shared with me that she “saw me in a vision with the oil of anointing running down my head and beard…” She gave me Psalm 133 to read.
1 Oh how good and pleasant it is, when the brethren live together in unity. 2 It is like fine oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard, 3 upon the beard of Aaron, and runs down upon the collar of his robe. 4 It is like the dew of Hermon that falls upon the Hills of Zion. 5 For there the LORD has ordained the blessing: life evermore. (Psalm 133:1-5)
Amen. And, Thank you, Sylvia.
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
“O LORD, come to my assistance; O LORD, make haste to help me.”
This is my prayer and this is truly the cry of my heart. It seems one thing I have learned through the years; the closer I have grown in relationship with my God, the more I am reliant upon His sustaining grace and guidance. I want only to be His servant and to respond obediently and submissively to the draw I have sensed to the deeper life spent in unbroken fellowship with His Presence. I don’t know what the future brings and acknowledge my feelings of helplessness with regard to how it may unfold. I honestly believe the past half-dozen years of Laurie and my life have been spent preparing for the next chapter of our lives, but I’m not sure where or what that chapter is. I look at our history and experience and see two people who are qualified and gifted to serve in a number of ministry positions. It is really hard to predict or project where we will land. Oh, I know if given a blank canvas that we could present a wonderful plan we would delight in pouring ourselves into, but that is not the path we have decided to pursue. We have agreed to seek where God would delight most in having us serve Him and His people. This is not an easy pursuit; our prayer is that He would protect us from making choices that would cause us to deviate from His best assignment…whatever and wherever that may be. For the moment, I know that God has given me a few “next steps” and this is the step of faith He tests me with now. Therefore, my faithfulness in pursuing these next steps and my completing them to the best of my ability will be my primary concern. Moment by moment…and daily obedience spent in His Presence is the prayer of my faith becoming manifest in my life. I know that living this out today is the key to tasks of tomorrow.
Thank You, O LORD, for your faithfulness to hear your servant and to speak to your servant. I am determined, by Your empowering grace, to praise You and worship You with my whole life. Amen.
A Prayer of Psalms—
I waited patiently upon the LORD; He stooped to me and heard my cry. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the LORD. Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God! How great your wonders and plans for us! There is none who can be compared with you. Oh that I could make them known and tell them! But they are more than I can count. In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure (you have given me ears to hear you). In the roll of the book it is written concerning me; “I love to do your will, O my God: your law is deep in my heart.” Be please, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make hast to help me (Psalm 40:1, 3, 5-7, 9, 14).
“O LORD, come to my assistance; O LORD, make haste to help me.”
Monastic Notes (Pt.22—July 14th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 25—July 14th 2011)
Today our lectures (actually lecture) came from Fr. Sam Davies. I mentioned him the other day in my journal when I had a couple of my belongings “blessed” by him. The topic of his talk today was “Healing the Family Tree,” but it was not what I expected from the title. I don’t know if it was just me or if everyone was latching on to the central theme of “healing” coming from forgiveness, but this is what I heard in a major way. The notes I took were not verbatim, but more of an interpretation of what I heard coming from Father Sam. The heading and notes in my journal are outlined as follows:
- Jesus is the source of all healing and all healing begins with forgiveness
- God’s Kingdom is a matter of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35)
- The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples (Our Father) includes indefinite and infinite forgiveness
- Jesus insists on forgiveness. He is fully experienced in His forgiveness extended to us by His death on the cross
- The verdict we pass to others, we pass to ourselves. If we pass unforgiveness, we will be not be forgiven. Likewise, if we pass forgiveness, we will be forgiven.
- Unforgiveness unleashes torture on us and others (fear, loathing, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, etc.)
- Forgiveness is divine, because it is first a work of God toward us and second, it is a work of God through us
- Forgiveness comes through the ministry of the Holy Spirit
- Forgiveness cannot be defined (or redefined) to mean a lack of hostility. Forgiveness embraces, reconciles, restores, and re-establishes love. It is truly loving mercy and cannot be redefined as anything less
- True mercy has no strings attached…mercy with strings is not mercy at all
- Confession is a non-negotiable if you want to get rid of the “soul trash” we are so want to accumulate
Father Sam’s lecture included much more than the above mentioned points, but these wonderful points on healing through forgiveness were the binding elements of the entire talk. A few more quotes from Fr. Sam that I found really insightful follow:
“If you are not aware God has done something, He may not have…”
“Lord, help me to love immensely and intensely.”
“What is impossible can become HIM-possible…”
Father Samuel Davies
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
This passage starts off with all kinds of wrong. It begins by telling us that Saul had expelled the mediums and wizards in the land, but as soon as he asks his servants to help him find one (medium or wizard) they know the exact address and location of a witch??? Seriously? Can we talk about fidelity and trust for a moment? Here are some people who are the closest to Saul in all the kingdom. They know he was trying to rid the kingdom of sorcery and those practicing it, but they know there are still mediums and wizards who remain and seemingly under protection.
The actions of Saul reveal his “fickleness” and double-mindedness when it comes to his relationship with God. Better said, I believe it reveals the true heart of Saul.
We can only assume, from Scripture, but it seems that the character of God is to welcome true repentance and sincerity of heart (an example is the repentance of Manasseh, the most evil king of all Israel 2 Chronicles 33:1-20). So, if Saul’s heart had been pure with full desire to trust God, perhaps God may have relented…we don’t know the answer to this, but we do know as soon as “impatient” Saul doesn’t “hear” from God—he forges ahead taking matters into his own hands and enacting his plan pursuing “what seems right” to him. This attitude was the reason the kingdom was stripped from him in the first place and it seems that Saul never learns the lesson nor turns (repents) to another way. Sad. How many of us fall into these same destructive habits?
“…So Saul disguised himself.” I think so much could be said about this, I don’t even know where to begin. We (humanity) do this, disguising ourselves, in our sin and we do it in our “partially committed” relationships with God. Only in completely “naked and unashamed” relationships are we free to not disguise ourselves… we are, after all, “naked” then and need no covering or “disguise.”
So Saul exalts himself above God by granting impunity to the witch of Endor—”no harm will come to you for participating in sorcery.” How can he say this? Only if he assumes authority over the person and precepts of God can he make such a promise to the sorceress.
The evidence of how far Saul misses the mark in his understanding and fear of God is shown in his actions and confession to Samuel. He says; “God isn’t talking to me anymore…” Samuel responds; “So, why do you ask me?” Samuel then goes on to explain to Saul that his own stubborn disobedience (which he continues to reveal) is the reason for God’s silence. The greatest tragedy of this entire narrative is that Saul never ever truly repents or has a real change of heart.
A concluding thought about Saul, Repentance, and “us”…
Repentance is not an intellectual decision. Repentance begins or is birthed in the heart. Repentance moves from the heart and wills the intellect to action. The heart moves the will to action and the result are fruits of repentance being exhibited in the life of the repentant soul.
Repentance that comes from the intellect will not turn the heart; therefore, intellectual repentance is not repentance at all. This type of “false” repentance results in hardness of heart and deluded conscience. It reveals the lack of surrender of self. This is most obvious in times of crisis when the self reverts to “survival mode” exhibiting the most primal attitudes in exhibitions of “survival of the fittest” and “fight or flight” behaviors.
Repentance is the ultimate act of surrender to the Person and will of God.
Monastic Notes (Pt.21—July 13th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 24—July 13th 2011)
A second great day of lectures with Fr. Meninger today with continued conversation in the Stages of Spiritual Development. We picked up where we left off yesterday after talking about the progressions and levels of a relationship. Today we discussed the “Levels of Love” described by St. William of Thiery.
- Attraction—given to men by God; God gives men desire for Himself; it is a grace and it is gifted.
- Clinging—a deeper level of love; we “cling” to God through distractions, disturbances, etc. (I especially loved the example used for this level by Fr. Meninger when he was questioned about disturbances and distractions drawing us closer to God. He described the way a child, who is in the arms of a parent, tightens their grip when someone tries to pull them from the arms of the parent).
- Enjoyment—”faith with feeling,” aka ecstasies; a type of joy experienced even in pleasure or pain.
- Union of Wills—the highest level/experience of love; when we cannot love any more, but to only experience the will or do the will of the other (in this case, God).
One concept that is unique to the Christian experience is the way God communicates with and reveals Himself to humanity; He communicates Himself primarily through the virtues of faith, hope, and love. The experience of relationship with God is made available through these virtues and proves the ultimate goal, union with God, both possible and worth pursuing.
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
I’ve been reading a book by Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart, one I’ve really enjoyed. There are great thoughts in it that help to shed light on the restlessness of our souls and why it exists. Additionally, I have gleaned inspiration from the book to develop a retreat program that is centered around this “restless and lonely” heart dilemma. A quote from the book triggered the following thoughts:
“The pain of stopping our pursuit of activity and entering alone and in silence to ourselves is the very experience of purgatory.” -Ronald Rolheiser; The Restless Heart
It is in this silence that God begins to reveal the false self(s) we have created for ourselves or the false self(s) we have been given and attempted to “live into.” It is in this silence that God reveals to us the places which need healing, surrendered, and matured… In all these revelations there is deep and difficult work; there is necessity for discipline and commitment. With this realization there is understanding for the fear that rises up in us when we approach or enter into this holy silence, but there is also infinite and divine hope; for it is God that draws us into this silence and it is God that embraces us in it. It is in this silence that the Master Creator-Healer-Restorer gently and lovingly restores His prized and cherished child—you and me. Trust and surrender to Him moves us ever closer to the ultimate fulfillment every human being desires, the rest and restored fellowship…eternal fellowship, with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—eternal reconciliation with our Triune Creator.
A Prayer of Psalms—
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O LORD, that I may keep your statutes. Hosanna, LORD, hosanna! LORD, send us now success. For He Himself knows whereof we are made; He remembers that we are but dust. Remember your word to your servant, because you have given me hope. This is my comfort in my trouble, that your promise gives me life. I remember your Name in the night, O LORD, and dwell upon your law. You only are my portion, O LORD, I have promised to keep your words. I have considered my ways and turned my feet toward your decrees. Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I have believed in your commandments. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. The law of your mouth is dearer to me than thousands in gold and silver. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be; world without end. Amen. (Psalm 119:45; Psalm 118:25; Psalm 103:14; Psalm 119:49-50, 55, 57, 59, 66, 67, 72).
Monastic Notes (Pt.20—July 12th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 23—July 12th 2011)
Today’s lectures were fabulous! I cannot begin to tell how wonderfully rich the teaching today was. I can only hope that my notes were sufficient to help jar my memory to help me remember the wisdom shared with us today from Father William Meninger. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to converse with Fr. Meninger after our lectures and discover the majority of the teaching material today can be found in two of his books (The Loving Search for God and 1012 Monastery Road), both of which I purchased.
The main subject of the lectures for today and tomorrow is on the Stages of Spiritual Development. The flow of the teaching was laser sharp and focused almost exclusively on “prayer” as the means of relationship with God. My understanding was that prayer, the engagement of and fluidity of it is the substance of all spiritual development as it relates to God. Others in the class may not have heard this…but it was my interpretation of the lecture. I’ll share my notes and you may judge for yourself.
- Every journey must have a destination point
- The destination point of the spiritual journey is God
- The end of the journey (the destination point) determines the nature of the Journey
- The end of the spiritual journey is God and it requires everything in us and of us. Likewise, this journey can only be started by invitation…
- The greatest gift God gives us is desire for Himself
- The goal of prayer is union with God
“The Journey is about our hearts finding rest in God.” -Fr. William Meninger
“Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you (God)” -St. Augustine
Fr. Meninger described the Contemplative experience (as it is understood in the Divinely supernatural sense) as follows:
- Begins with awe
- Is fueled by wonder
- Renders the seeker speechless
- The experience tastes for the first time real love (Agape)
- Real love (Agape) unites the seeker with the created and Uncreated (God)
- Real love (Agape) operating in the seeker-saint is catalyst for reconciliation and restoration of all things
- The full unifying power of Divine love flows seamlessly from God through saint-child of God to all things
We talked at length about the nature(s) of prayer (Kataphatic: according to form; via positiva and Apophatic: without form; via negativa). Kataphatic (aka Cataphatic) prayer will never bring us completely to God. It will point us to God, and is necessary for our spiritual development, but it will never bring us to Him. The prayer that points to God is not God. Prayer that uses form (words, objects, music, song, etc.) is all limited by our own intellect. You can only know God by “not knowing.” Here we discussed The Cloud of Unknowing and John of the Cross and the teaching embraced by those works that God can only be known through the release of our personal metaphors—God is infinite truth and infinite love, and this cannot be described, explained, or contained by any human description or terms. You cannot “know” God intellectually; although we use our intellect to “seek” God. What the mind cannot comprehend…the heart is capable of and will embrace. Where Kataphatic prayer falls short of being able to completely embracing God (because the intellect cannot fully comprehend), Apophatic prayer engages the will and attempts to embrace God “leaping” directly to His Presence in faith. The will does not have to comprehend God fully in order to embrace Him fully. Our intellect is drawn to truth. In as much as you can understand something, you can accept it… Our will (or heart), on the other hand, desires love—true love—God love (Agape). This is how God created us. When our will (heart) is confronted with love—even if that love is Infinite—the heart (will) can embrace it.
Fr. Meninger closed out our lecture today with (what I thought was) a beautifully explained progression of prayer as a relationship. He described it in the form of four levels and used a metaphor (John and Mary—meeting, courtship, marriage, lifetime together: found in his 1012 Monastery Road book). The four levels follow:
- Acquaintanceship—low depth; shallow; memorized prayer. The Language of Acquaintanceship is more memorized conversations like “small talk” and prayers read or recited from memory. It is important to remember we need these acquaintanceship tools! We must become acquainted before the relationship can advance.
- Friendship—intimacy develops; personal sharing. Communication begins to occur in the friendship stage and intimacy develops; feelings begin to be shared. This is where discursive meditation (rational thinking, logic processing, involves the memory intellect and will) begins.
- Affective (Affection)—physical; emotional; not a lot of words shared. Physical—Consummation stage begins; here there are not many words exchanged
- Love—contemplative. The Pinnacle of the Relationship Ladder; love (agape) is contemplative in nature. Here the participants enjoy one another’s presence in silence without expectation or need other than to bask in the presence of one another.
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
A Prayer of Psalms—
Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for You are my crag and my stronghold. My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge; You are worthy of my praise. Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD. Jesus said, “Have no fear little flock; for your Father has chosen to give you the Kingdom.” (Psalm 31:3; Psalm 18:2; Psalm 31:24; Luke 12:32)
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises… Psalm 47:6
Lectio Divina Readings—
Acts 14:15-17 Turn from worthless things to the Living God… In past generations He allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet He has not left Himself without a witness… (Therefore, turn to God).
Mark 4:23-25 NLT Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand… Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to (obey) my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening (obeying), even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.
Monastic Notes (Pt.19—July 11th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 22—July 11th 2011)
Personal Reflections and Recollections:
This begins the final week of the School for Spiritual Direction. In many ways it seems hard to believe it has gone so quickly, hard to believe even that three weeks has passed already. On the other hand, it seems much longer than three weeks have passed. I’m sure it will take more than a few weeks for me to fully decompress and begin to realize the fruits born from this experience.
I continue to wonder in semi-patient curiosity what God has in store for Laurie and I in the way of future ministry. I am positive it is something that will utilize the collective gifts and experience of the both of us, but I can see no clear direction for the moment. This fact alone tells me that it will be by the hand of God…where we go and what we do. I pray for this day to come without ceasing.
“O LORD, Open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”
“Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that—’they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen but not understand, so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’” (Mark 4:9-12)
The Mark passage represents a terrifyingly sad commentary on the condition of the hardened human heart. I don’t believe much has changed since the time these words were written. Jesus said there would not be many who follow the narrow path…and there appears to be few also who have ears to hear.
Feast of Benedict:
Today was the Feast of Benedict. The day itself was rather laid back. We had lectures, but they consisted primarily of our going over MBTI results (MBTI: Myers-Briggs Trend Indicator). For what it’s worth, I was trended as an I N T J (Introverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging). The trend more or less means that my personality style is “introverted intuition” with “extraverted thinking” or something close to that.
Our evening meal was “benedictilicious” with steak, shrimp scampi, baked potatoes, steamed asparagus, and several awesome side salads. Happy St. Benedict’s Day!
Monastic Notes (Pt.18—July 10th 2011)
(Pecos: Day 21—July 10th 2011)
Today was scheduled as day of silence and solitude or we could use the day as free time for sightseeing and field trips. I chose to spend the day cloistered in my room for prayer, Bible reading, and hearing from God. I spent most of the day and into the late afternoon reading, praying, listening… and writing out the “words” that were “speaking” to me. The following Scripture passages and prayers are what were recorded in my journal.
Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our God! How pleasant it is to honor Him with praise! Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning , is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
He is not impressed by the might of a horse; He has no pleasure in the strength of a man; But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who await His gracious favor (Psalm 147:11-12).
Thus says the LORD: “But this is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, the power, the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, who knowest our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion, we beseech thee, upon our infirmities, and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, mercifully give us for the worthiness of thy Son Jesus Christ our LORD; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in Your truth; knit my heart to You that I may fear Your Name. I will thank You, O LORD my GOD, with all my heart, and glorify Your Name for evermore. For great is Your love toward me; You have delivered me from the nethermost pit. (Psalm 86:11-13)
I give You thanks, O LORD, with all my whole heart; before the gods I sing Your praises; I bow down toward Your holy temple and give thanks for Your Name, for Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness; for You have exalted Your Name and Your word above everything. On the day I called, You answered me, You increased my strength of soul. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; You stretch out Your hand, and Your right hand delivers me. The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. (Psalm 138:1-3, 7, 8).
ME = Delighted and overjoyed – God knows me.
O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, You know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your Presence? (No matter where I am or where I go it is not too far from You) Your right hand shall hold me fast; even there Your hand will lead me. In Your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. Search me, O GOD, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139: 1-7, 10, 16, 23, 24).
Genesis 28:14, 18, 24-25 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. (I love this…)
Romans 8:15 All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing when I consider what awaits us. For in hope we were saved… But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it in patience. “…we wait for it in patience”
The “spiritual life” is then the perfectly balanced life in which the body with its passions and instincts, the mind with its reasoning and its obedience to principle and the spirit with its passive illumination by the light and love of God form one complete man who is in God and with God and from God and for God. One man in whom God is all in all. One man in whom God carries out His own will without obstacle. -Thomas Merton; New Seeds of Contemplation