Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Keating’
While doing some devotional reading and reflection on the Word of God this morning I recognized some similarities between some things I was reading and the attitude of my own heart. I was reading in 1 Samuel 5:1-12 where an account is shared telling how the Philistines had captured the Ark of God which represented the Presence of God amongst the Israelites. The part of the story that captured me this morning follows:
After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained (1 Samuel 5:1-4).
For the past several weeks I have been considering various aspects of “hearing the Voice of God.” My thoughts have wandered and explored many, many paths during this extended meditation. I’m certain that I have not finished exploring and I’m certain there will be many more discoveries along the way, but for now I am extremely grateful for the revelations the Spirit has shared with me as I’ve opened my mind and heart to God’s truth.
A few things that “jumped out” at me from the passage of text above was (1) the ark of God, (2) they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple, (3) the “felling” of Dagon, (4) “only his body remained…”
- The ark of God represented several things for the people of Israel. The ark represented provision, holding a sampling of the Manna God provided during the years in the wilderness. The ark represented power, containing the rod of Aaron as a reminder of some of the miracles God performed during the Exodus from Egypt. The ark represented promise with the stone tablets inscribed by the finger of God with His covenant law. The ark represented the very presence of God among his people…
- The ark of God is carried into Dagon’s temple and setup beside Dagon. Here is where my personal metaphor begins. The ark of God is representative of God’s Presence. The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians that we are God’s Temple… our hearts (soul; essence of who we are) are the dwelling place of God. I wonder… what happens when the ark of God (aka the Presence of God) is taken into my temple aka my heart.
- I think; just like Dagon, “I” am felled when put into the Presence of God. The Spirit of God enters into my life and my heart and both cannot “stand” and rule in the same place. If I allow Him, God will break me and crush me in order that He is established as the clear Ruler and only god standing in my temple. If I continue to “prop myself back up” time and time again, the Presence of God will be sent packing…away from my temple and out of my life.
- “Only his body remained…” There are several thoughts that sit with me from this statement and I’m still mulling it over, so my thoughts are a little raw at this point and not fully formed. The clearest idea at this juncture is that it is a good thing to see me face-down and broken before God. It serves as a reminder of my subordination and how I should remain prostrate before Him. It also serves as a warning that the Dagon-me is always present and eager to be propped back up as my object of worship; I should remain alert to this and walk in humility with this awareness.
As often happens, I was reading from a devotional book I’ve been working through this year and found a great word that helped to put this ark of God and temple of Dagon reading in a personal perspective. Thomas Keating writes the following:
Each time we consent to an enhancement of faith, our world changes and all our relationships have to be adjusted to the new perspective that has been given to us. Our relationship to ourselves, to Jesus Christ, to our neighbor, to the Church—even to God himself—all change. It is the end of the world we have previously known and lived in. Sometimes the Spirit deliberately shatters those worlds. If we have depended on them to go to God, it may feel as if we have lost God. We may have doubts about God’s very existence. It is not the God of faith we are doubting, but only the God of our limited concepts or dependencies; this god never existed anyway. Pure faith is the purification of the human props in our relationship with God. -Thomas Keating; Awakenings
I don’t know what you may read from this short excerpt, but it most definitely echoes a message walking hand-in-hand with the text in 1 Samuel 5:1-4 to me for today. I am constantly trying to make sense of who God is and how God interacts and operates in the world today. I am way too often prone to explaining God to myself through my own understanding. Most often this results in my very often attempting to confine God to my “logic box.” In effect, this will often prop me back up as the ruler of my temple. It is the business of God to shatter me as Dagon. I must end as the ruler of my world. Too often I depend on me to get me through the day; rely upon my own understanding; rely on my own provision; hack my way and build my own ladder to God… and He says “No!” I think I’m hearing what the Spirit would speak to me and I’ll consent and concede to leave my “head” and “hands” on the floor, so my heart might cross over the threshold into the mysterious and magnificent leadership of my LORD. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.
[09SEPT2011] Jeff’s Journal
The past few days have been tough ones. I don’t particularly like writing about this kind of stuff, but transparency and authenticity are friends of the Jesus Way. So, the last few days have been hard… they have been hard because my mentor, Jesus, is answering my prayers. What prayers; you ask? The prayers that matter the most…
Over the last year I have been in a rather intensive study of what it means to spend solitary time with the Triune God. I have been learning what things are important. I have been learning what it means to be stripped down to minimum in most every facet of my life; personally, materially, socially, religiously, and a few other areas that may not have named categories. Oh, I’ve got a ways to go to be completely stripped down, I’m sure, but I’ve definitely been on the way. I’ve described some of this “schooling” in other posts with some of it mentioned under titles of “waiting.”
I had hoped that our waiting might be coming to an end. I felt that God was “releasing” us from the wait following my time at the Pecos Monastery… and maybe He has… or maybe He hasn’t. I don’t know anymore. For the past couple months we (Laurie and I) have been exploring potential ministry opportunities; by this I mean full time positions. Up until recently, we had up to four different possibilities that we were either considering or waiting to see if they might consider us. Slowly, one by one, each of them have fallen off the radar. Now, during this time we have been faithfully praying together that God would only direct us to the place He intended and that we would not be distracted by anything that wasn’t of His orchestration. We have prayed diligently that we only want God’s will completely operating in our lives, no matter the cost. We understand and pray that God sees the intent of our heart and no matter what our flesh cries out, we pray “nevertheless, Your will, O God, be done in our family.” This is a very noble but risky and scary prayer, if it is heartfelt. It can be stratospherically costly too, but there is more…
In, or during, my time of waiting and my “stripping of self” I have come to realize or deeply believe that there is nothing more important than learning who Jesus is in a deeply intimate way. Along the way, I have realized the greatest hindrance to this is… well… me, and life in general. I have had some very somber and quiet moments spent in communion with God during the past year. It has been during these times that I have cried out in my purest words; “I only want You! I only want to be who You want me to be! I don’t care about anything else but You! Lord Jesus help me to become like You and do the things You want to do. Lord, whatever it takes, make me the child you destined before I was created.”
Most recently I have had this prayer ever on my lips. A couple weeks ago I read a chapter on Kenosis (emptying of self) from the book Poustinia by Catherine Doherty. The entire chapter was incredible, but a certain illustration stuck with me and I formed a prayer from it. She writes the following:
Emptiness is one aspect of kenosis. It involves the constant struggle with one’s imagination, one’s dreams, plans, desires, needs. A Russian staretz said that one should be like a rag doll which can be picked up by the hand, foot, or head, now thrown in the bushes, now hugged, now thrown in the toy box.
There is so much more she writes about this and it may difficult to comprehend where I’m coming from having only quoted a small piece from this chapter. She goes on to write; however, about this kenotic work in the spiritual pilgrim taking them to a place of holy indifference, free to be used or not to be used by God in whatever way He decides. I have been praying this as my prayer. The revelation God gave to me that literally changed my life was to be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). It is where the name of my website originated. This kenotic prayer has been with me in the teaching of Philippians 2:5-7, the great passage describing the kenosis (emptying) of Christ. The idea is not a new one to me, but for some reason the Spirit has renewed the fervor of my prayers for this work in my life. And, this is why the past week has been painfully difficult for me. As the hope for new work, as the visions for fruitful ministry, and as the dreams for a new chapter of life shared alongside my wife and family have crowded in my heart…the space for God and what He wants has been pushed to the corners. It can be and often is that easy and happens so innocuously. It is all couched in honorable and godly intentions, but it isn’t a holy indifference…and it isn’t self-emptying. If it were holy indifference, open only to the use or non-use of God, I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with the results of the past couple weeks.
I sincerely believe God is answering our prayers, by removing ministry options from our reach and our path. These “yes” answers to our prayers (yes, meaning God has done precisely as we have pleaded for Him to do) haven’t been met with true rejoicing from me. My words have said, “Thank You, God,” but my heart has been rather indignant and pouty…and quite honestly even bitter. I didn’t want to share the entries from my journal, but I was led to a quote from an ancient teacher, Mechthild of Magdeburg, today that convicted me of my lack of transparency. Mechthild writes the following:
“What hinders spiritual people most of all from complete perfection is that they pay so little attention to small sins… I tell you the truth: when I hold back a smile which would harm no one, or have a sourness in my heart which I tell to no one, or feel some impatience with my own pain, then my soul becomes so dark and my heart so cold that I must weep greatly and lament pitiably and yearn greatly and humbly confess all my lack of virtue.” -Mechthild of Magdeburg
So, now I’ll share a bit from my journal entries (Sept. 8-9, 2011)—
One begins to wonder how much “self” can a “self” hold. I suppose it is one of the darkest mysteries and curses of Adam’s folly and the fall of man.
“Take up your cross daily” Jesus said. It is no wonder… the “self” is infinitely regenerative without the cross… and even with the blessing of the cross it is only the surrender to “die” daily that keeps us from being overrun by the “self.” It is wanton in its insatiable lust for more of me.
Here I sit, not even five hours into my day and I have already done battle at least a half-dozen times (that I’m aware of) with my “self.” I have battled self-pity, pride, a selfish jealousy for my personal time, gloated over the failure of another, battled impatience, sloth, and criticized the success of another. I make myself sick, and these are only the things I am consciously aware of…and I still have twelve more hours left in the day. “Take up your cross daily,” He said.
I pray fairly regularly about becoming “more like Jesus.” I’m pretty sure I don’t have an accurate idea of what that even means most of the time. More journal writing follows:
I read about Him in the Bible and how He emptied Himself (Phil 2:5-7), and I read how my attitude should be the same as Christ’s. I pray for this attitude and I pray that God would help to train me in the ways of Jesus and when He does, I cry and complain with every drop of “self” that God squeezes from me…reluctant to let go of “self.”
I cry out to God for relief; I think physical pain would be an easier path and can understand why the ascetics chose the path they did to pursue holiness and self-emptying. I think it would be the easier road than this one that seems to tortuously strip the “flesh” off my soul…layer by layer. What an incredible paradox this relationship with self is. I hate to see the grotesque reminder of how far I am from becoming like Christ, but I still love my “self” so much that when pressed, I hate to let it go. …Thank You, Jesus, for the cross, but I never expected that I’d have to wear it for so long.
Even as I read again and write these words for you, I see so much “self love” that it makes my stomach turn. My words are steeped in self-righteous self-pity. Here I pray for God to help me grow into a place of holy indifference and as He begins the work, I sulk and complain as if my life were difficult when it is actually incredibly blessed. I am being tutored personally by the God of all creation. The Spirit of the Most High God has taken residence in my soul and begun the work of transforming my heart! Yet, I complain and lament over the process. Recognizing this helps me to understand the work is far from complete. I am also given a close-up view of the wretch I am, which might help me to be less judgmental of others whom I would like to think that I am better than… but not so much.
I have much to be thankful for. I am thankful that I have practiced spending time alone with God so He can show me these things. No, I don’t like to see the dark places that still inhabit my soul, but I am glad that Jesus believes I am strong enough to deal with them, see them for what they are, and confront them with the strength HE provides for destroying (crucifying) them.
Paul says, “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). Thus, according to his view, the passion and resurrection of Christ are going on all the time. They are always present and not limited to an historical moment. It was rather an historical moment which introduced the eternal values of the cross and resurrection into the whole of time. We participate in Christ’s divine life through baptism and the other sacraments. As a consequence, we must learn how to express the risen life of Jesus rather than our false selves in our conduct and relationships. To attain this union involves the transformation of our inmost being and all our faculties into the mind of Christ. This is the very fullness of salvation. The chief expression of the mind of Christ is found in the classical text of Philippians… “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…emptied…humbled…obedient…” (Philippians 2:5, 7-8). The Heart of the World -Thomas Keating
I know there is nothing more important than this work of spiritual formation and becoming like Christ. There is nothing more important than to sit at His feet and absorb instruction about the Way, His Way. I know there are people who would disagree with this, but He said “apart from me, you can do nothing.” I think becoming grafted into Christ and growing up into Christ requires more than an intellectual decision. Being with Him reveals the work that is necessary to bearing fruit for Him and His Kingdom. Until we are able to peer into the darkness of our soul and introduce the Light of Christ, we are unable to do real work in His Kingdom. And, so… this is my confession. My desire and prayer is still one thing: to become like Jesus no matter the cost to me… I’m diving back in for more.
Send your Light to guide us, O God, may we follow wherever it leads.
The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded (Psalm 64:6-7). You are the LORD, high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods (Psalm 97:9). I have said to the LORD, “You are my GOD; listen, O LORD, to my supplication” (Psalm 140:6).
We ask you, O LORD, in your compassion to increase your faith in us, because you will not deny the aid of your loving-kindness to those on whom you bestow a steadfast belief in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
“When you say ‘God,’ you don’t really mean ‘GOD,’ you mean your idea of God. Or to put it another way, you mean God as not God. I say that because whatever we say about God is more unlike who God is than saying nothing…All that words do…is to point in the direction of the mystery of the super-meaning of God…We must be prepared to expand our idea of God…It challenges our whole perception of reality. And let’s face it, the reality that we see is for the birds. It doesn’t exist. The way we see life is the tissue of our generic, educational, cultural, religious and whatever else conditioning. So we’re often seeing what we want to see and nothing else. God has to fit into the little universe that we’ve built for ourselves growing up—which I call the false self—and which basically has I as the center of the universe.” -Thomas Keating (from Who Is God?)
“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7 NIV)
This sort of commentary used to really get under my skin and annoy me. I think because I liked to believe that I knew God…and to be fair, in some respects I (we) can, and do…know God. We know God through Jesus, related through the Gospels and teaching of the New Testament epistles. We also know God as He reveals Himself through the Holy Spirit Who indwells true believers. On the other hand, we do not know God because He is infinite. The Apostle Paul writes that we “know in part” and one day we will see (and know) Him face-to-face (1 Corinthians 13:12). Until the day we know Him as He is (1 John 3:2), we run the risk, and are often guilty of, fashioning a God of our own liking as Thomas Keating states in his book Who is God. I suppose this was the reason for my aggravation; I didn’t like admitting that I was an idolater. I didn’t want to come to terms with the reality that the god I worshiped, much of the time, was a god that I had created whom I was comfortable with. In truth, as Keating states, he probably looked a lot like me…or who I wanted to be anyway.
I try not to do this anymore…worship a god I have fashioned, but I sometimes slip back into old habits. A god who is bigger than I can imagine and whose ways are much higher and different than my ways is often terrifying and uncomfortable to be around, much less even trust. I am learning though that the god I will often create is very little and has hardly any power and the better god by far is the GOD I cannot fully comprehend…and even more, even though an infinite and incomprehensible God can be scary, He has proven Himself good and trustworthy to me. Therefore, until the day I see Him face-to-face, I will trust Him with the things I know about Him as well as the things I do not know.
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I realize how little I have grasped this teaching. Sometimes it seems that with each day I awaken, I find a new way to renounce myself…or maybe it is more accurate to say… more of me that is in need of renouncing. I hate that. I think, in a make believe world, a utopian perfect world, the Christian walk would be a “finger snap” and “in the blink of an eye, we’d all be changed.” In the end, I believe this will be true, but until that end… if we plan to follow Jesus, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). As long as we are pilgrims, sojourners on this earth—on this side of eternity, I do not thing that it gets any easier.
The whole process of sanctification is an exploration in irony to me. When we talk about sanctification or maybe I should say; “When I talk about sanctification” instead of generalizing my thoughts…anyway… When “I” speak of sanctification, I most often think of the finalized state of “being sanctified.” I think of being purified and perfected in the nature of Christ. Actually, I even attach a glossy version of that perfection to the process itself, but I think that is glamorization more than what is truth. Jesus says “…if anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself” and “…my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross” these are not glamorous illustrations. These are illustrations of mortification; death, dying, and destruction of the “old self.” We move to the glorious by way of the disastrous or so it would seem.
I’ve committed myself to this process of being Christ’s disciple. It will be the very real death of me. Becoming the ultimate and eternal disciple of Christ will be my death. It is hard to realize those words, but it is true. Little by little, each day it seems, I am invited to “die a little more.” Don’t let me be misunderstood; I do have joy and I have great happiness in certain aspects of my life, but I would be lying if I said there weren’t challenges, doubts, disappointments, and other negative experiences clouding my vision on occasion. Dying to self isn’t easy…and I don’t think there is a “patch” for spiritual “pain-killing.” I think this is what it means to persevere and endure…pressing on in our faith. It makes sense to me that perseverance and endurance aren’t attributes that accompany ecstasy and bliss; I mean, who has to endure bliss? Does one have to persevere through ecstasy? No, I think not; however, I do think it is hard to cast aside our ambitions and surrender all that we hope for and aspire to as we abandon ourselves to the destiny God has for us.
I wonder sometimes if the entirety of my earthly journey with Jesus is the test. What if I spend the remainder of my life waiting? What if I spend the rest of my life preparing? What if I spend the rest of my life as a nomad? What if I spend the remainder of my life seeing dreams, visions, and opportunities…but always just out of reach? What if this is my life? What if this is my test? What if? Will I endure? Will I persevere…will I pass the test? Will I continue to deny self? Will I continue to wake up each day with a surrendered self, if I believe this is my journey…this is the substance of my spiritual walk? Yes. Yes, I will. If this is what God has in store for me, then it will be what is best for me. If the substance of my spiritual development and my journey becomes something worse than I could imagine, it will be for my own mortification and further need for me to renounce myself. The Father knows best.
When we work to surrender our own desires, world view, self-image, and all that goes to make up the false self, we are truly participating in Christ’s emptying of himself, as Paul described it. We are emptying ourselves of the false self so that our true self, which is the Christ-life in us, may express itself in and through our human faculties. And we can do this because he handed over his human life to the Father, and at the same time he handed over the Divine Spirit to the human family. Jesus said, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up is cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). What is this “self”? It is our thoughts, feelings, self-image, and world view. Jesus added, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it” (Matt. 16:25). That is he will find eternal life, the Christ-life, welling up within. The Heart of the World -Thomas Keating
My Prayer Tonight—
Well up in me, O Life of Christ, well up in me. Be strong in me, O God, be my Hope and my strong Tower. Guide me into the great desolation that there might be less of me and more of You. I pray, O Holy Son, that my consolation might be Your Holy Spirit burning the impurities of my faith away from my life. I surrender all: my desires, world view, self-image, and all that goes to make up the false self. I pray only You remain in what is me. Amen.
Book Review: 1012 Monastery Road
Author: William Meninger
Publisher: Lantern Books ISBN: 9781590560631
Three weeks ago I was sitting in the library of a monastery located in the high desert of Pecos, New Mexico. I was listening intently to a series of lectures from Father William Meninger who was teaching our class about the stages of spirituality. The lectures covered the seasons of the soul, developing maturity through the stages of the spiritual journey, and one of the most blessed forms of prayer as experienced through the union with God and contemplative prayer. At the close of one of the lectures I approached Fr. Meninger to ask him which of his books he would recommend to me if I could only purchase two (there were around six or more on a table available for purchase). He gave me his recommendations, one of which included 1012 Monastery Road: A Spiritual Journey.
I’m fortunate to have followed his recommendations because I was listening so intently to his speaking that I missed some of the points of his lecture in my note-taking. As I was reading 1012 Monastery Road I was overjoyed to find many of the points from Fr. Meninger’s talks detailed to the letter in his book.
The book is not very long at just under one hundred forty pages; there are eighteen chapters, none of them very long and this makes the book move fast…quick, and interesting. My attention was held from the moment I picked it up and I think I read it through in maybe three short sittings. I enjoyed reading it a lot as I relived the talks I had heard from Fr. Meninger just a few days earlier.
There were a number of highlights from the 1012 Monastery Road that appealed to me more than the story of the Snowmass Monastery itself (for which the book is named). One notable point, or points, came in the form of reminder about the aspects of prayer. This was simple and profound in light of how quickly we forget some of the most important aspects of prayer.
- Prayer begins with God, not with us.
- God not need prayer, we do.
- The listening element in prayer is usually the most important.
- Perseverance in prayer can consist in simply starting over once again, today!
Another great highlight came in chapter ten and the story of “John and Mary.” This is a metaphorical story that tracks the spiritual journey in the form of prayerful relationship between a human being and God. I thought this was a great example and copied as many notes as I could remember from the lecture I had first heard it…I’m grateful to have the full recounting in this book to compliment what I heard with my own ears.
A few other notable points from the book were Father Meninger’s teaching on Lectio Divina, contemplative prayer (as taught through the Cloud of Unknowing, and the importance of the Psalms as a means of prayer.
This was a great choice from a lot of books written by William Meninger; I’m glad he recommended it to me as one of his personal favorites. I learned a lot, remembered a lot, and will use it a lot in my future. Thank you Fr. Meninger for sharing your journey and your insights in 1012 Monastery Road: A Spiritual Journey.
Book Review: Intimacy with God
Author: Thomas Keating
Publisher: Crossroad Publishing Co. ISBN: 9780824525293
This was a book that I have enjoyed and learned much from, but it wasn’t without effort.
First, let me say that I rate Intimacy With God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer a very good book on the subject of centering (or contemplative) prayer. I think it shares and teaches legitimate tools (techniques) that can be used to help facilitate prayerful union with God, but I don’t think this book is a “how to” manual of sorts. I believe that centering prayer is not something that can be taught through step programs as such, but centering prayer begins with the Spirit of God drawing the person into this holy and sacred union. Disclaimer aside, it is a good book.
I mentioned it was not without effort for me to read and glean from the book; the first few chapters, from the introduction to chapter three, were very difficult reading for me. I realize the care that Thomas Keating was taking to provide a foundation and education before moving into the practice of centering prayer, but it was tough reading for me; I got lost with the flow of the writing and I misunderstood his points on several occasions. It was only through persevering through these introductory chapters that later chapters and more explanation helped to make sense of some of the earlier work. I make this observation in light of familiarity with Keating’s writing style (Open Mind, Open Heart; The Better Part; The Mystery of Christ; The Human Condition; and others) which I have easily understood. Chapters four through seven (Divine Therapy, Deepening the Experience, Guiding Contemplatives, and Lectio Divina: Listening to Scripture) were, by far, my favorites.
It is important to understand the context that Keating frames this book. He contends that centering prayer is entirely a work of God that we enter into. He also contends this is the highest, deepest, and most unifying expression of prayer with God, but it is not meant to be an exclusive expression. In this book and in other works of his he states the following:
What centering prayer is and is not: (1) it is not a technique but a way of cultivating a deeper relationship with God (2) it is not a relaxation exercise but it may be quite refreshing (3) it is not a form of self-hypnosis but a way to quiet the mind while maintaining its alertness (4) it is not a charismatic gift but a path of transformation (5) it is not a para-psychological experience but an exercise of faith, hope, and selfless love (6) it is not limited to the “felt” presence of God but is rather a deepening of faith in God’s abiding presence (7) it is not reflective or spontaneous prayer but simply resting in God beyond thoughts, words, and emotions.
I think the above quote from Keating is important information to know. Additionally, I think because of the importance and the effectiveness in developing the relationship with God centering prayer affords the Christian, they would be well-informed to read other works on the subject. Keating is faithful to provide several works for additional study in the appendices of Intimacy With God.
This is a good book and I learned a lot. I have realized and found a language for sharing this expression of prayer that I have found difficulty talking about before. I have also been encouraged with the some of the supporting practices I learned in the book. It will be one that I recommend although there are others on this subject I have enjoyed more.
Fruit of the Night of the Spirit (compiled from Invitation to Love by Thomas Keating)
See also The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
2. The second fruit is freedom from the domination of any emotion. This takes place not by repressing or unduly suppressing unwanted emotions by sheer willpower, but by accepting and integrating them into the rational and intuitive parts of our nature.
3. The third fruit is the purification of our idea of God, the God of our childhood or the God worshiped by the group to which we belong.
4. The fourth fruit is purification of what are traditionally known as the “theological virtues,” which are faith, hope, and love. Through the purification of these virtues one allows God to be God without knowing who or what that is.
5. The fifth fruit is the longing to let go of selfishness that still lingers in us and to be free of every obstacle that may hinder us in divine union.
Say “I will” to all that God asks… –Jean-Pierre de Caussade
How Do We Treat the Present Moment?
One of the primary disciplines I have tried to practice through the last half-dozen years in my spiritual journey is responsive awareness to the Presence of God in the present moment. What this means is not only verbal affirmation that God is near and God is present and God the Holy Spirit is within me, but the tangible obedient response to the reality of that awareness. Sometime, I think it might be easier to climb Mt. Everest in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops.
It is not as if the practice and responsive discipline to God’s Presence is impossible, it is the stark reality of all that competes with that practice for the prize of our attention. I wonder what this says about us. As Christians converse with one another, we often become more attuned to the Presence of God among us…yes, I know this attunement occurs outside the confines of conversation with other Christians, but it seems to manifest itself very often when Christians are in groups. They become more “responsively aware” of God’s always-there Presence. We will speak fondly of Him, to Him, and reflectively on how He is involved in our lives as well as the lives of others…even others who may not be in relationship with Him at the time. And, this is good.
I wonder though, about the moments we don’t live responsively attuned in this manner. When we find ourselves without the proverbial “Christian string tied around our finger,” I marvel at how easy it is for us to slip from responsive awareness of God’s Presence to tyranny-of-the-urgent, life-at-full-speed, auto-pilot. I know this happens in my life; less than it used to, but I think my awareness of the phenomenon taking place at all makes it all the more unsettling to me.
Thomas Keating writes about the practice of the present moment; “We settle into the present moment which is the only place God actually is. God is not in the past and not in the future. God is right now, totally present, totally available. Our best response is to be totally available to that presence. We surrender ourselves after the manner of Mary of Bethany. She gave herself to Jesus, recognizing in him the fullness of the Spirit and the manifestation of the Father’s unconditional love.”
I think my take away from this thought from Fr. Keating is our full surrender to God’s Presence and full attentiveness to His Word and full responsive obedience to what He asks of us in that moment. I think, speaking for myself, it is the times that I am more attuned to my own agenda and schedule that I miss this moment of God’s Presence. It is not that I am not aware that He is near… as I said earlier, I affirm that truth. However, there are times there are “bigger fish to fry.” (Gasp) Yes, I said there are more important things than being aware of God and saying “yes” to Him. Do I believe this to be true? I will say “not true” with my words, but I often will say “yes-true” with the way I lead and schedule my life. Oh, I will cloak my attitude of ignoring God with words that say I am “doing the work” of God, but in truth… more times than not, I am doing my own work disguised as God’s.
The reality is we miss being with God and doing with God in the moment He most wants from us; the Now Moment. I know I’m not alone when I say I tell myself that I will “set aside” time to be with God and do with God, but the more I give thought to this the more I think that attitude is presumptuous and arrogant. I’m reminded of what James writes to the church with the following words:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. James 4:13-17
I’m pretty sure every moment we choose not to practice the Presence of God in the Present Moment, we are choosing ourselves (arrogantly and presumptuously so) over God. I’m wrecked just thinking about the times that I have thought “I’ll spend time with God later” or “I’ll read my Bible later” or “I’ll help such and such later” and on and on and on. James reads my mail and says, “HAH! Who are you little man, You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow…” And again, we hear a similar thought from Thomas Keating with these words:
Purity of heart was the primary objective of the practices of the desert fathers and mothers. They called contemplation “pure prayer,” meaning prayer that is coming from a pure intention where the love of God is predominant. They did not seek for any reward such as consolation or enlightenment, or practice for the sake of motives that have their source in the ego, however devout. In point of fact the ego is not devout at all, though it likes to think it is devout and tries to hide behind a variety of religious facades. The spiritual journey is designed to put to rest these facades. But the false self is incredibly clever. Its desires are “worldly.” It wants security, affection, and esteem, and power and control, as substitutes for waiting upon God in loving attentiveness.
Where is it that God is not? What areas of our lives or the lives of others have we declared “off-limits to God?” There is nowhere that God is not. And, in the Grand Magnificence of God there is always only Now. We are the linear creatures we think in terms of past, present, and future… only us. I think for everything else that is part of God’s creation there is and always has been… only NOW. I think Keating is right; there is no past or present to God, only now exists and therefore… only now is important. What are we doing with our “Now” moments?
And so it goes… What stands in the way of our ability to treat the Present Moment with responsive and obedient awareness of God’s Presence is our ego. Perhaps… just maybe… the reason Jesus said if we desired to find life (in Him) we must be willing to lose our own life. We cannot enter into unbroken fellowship with His Presence without the loss of our own. Our ego is our saboteur. Our ego will always be our greatest stumbling block; not time, not urgency, not some need, not anything… our ego—ourself, that is the problem and that is why Christ calls us to the cross. This is the only way to practice the present moment with unbroken fellowship and completely responsive and obedient awareness.
So… How do you treat the Present Moment?
Book Review: The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living
By: Father Thomas Keating Compiled by: S. Stephanie Iachetta
Publisher: Continuum Int’l Publishing Group ISBN: 9780826433541
The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living is one of the devotional tools I selected for my reading this year. It is a collection of excerpts from the works of Father Thomas Keating. I have spent almost fifty days with it now and although I have not completed it, feel confident to voice my support for it and offer my recommendations.
I mentioned the book is a collection of excerpts; it is actually excerpts from at least ten published works of Keating. While I am familiar with Fr. Keating, I count this a great opportunity to become more familiar through some of his other writings. I freely admit that I have grown to appreciate his thinking and writing style as I’ve enjoyed this daily reader for the past few weeks. The structure of the devotional readings is as follows (this from the book’s back cover and Forward by George W. Hunt, S.J.):
“The book’s structure is both simple and elegant. Each day’s text begins with a line of prayer, a ‘prayer sentence’ that acts as both a theme and an invitation. Each closes with an appropriate, longer citation from Scripture that is a biblically based recapitulation of the theme. In between lies a brief reflection to inspire meditation, each an excerpt from the writings of the Cistercian monk, Father Thomas Keating…”
In as much as the book is described by Hunt, it is a success, at least to my thinking. While not every single meditation captures me with inspiration and thought provocation, there have been many that do. I look forward to the remainder of the year I will spend with this devotional piece and the introduction to more of the writing of Fr. Thomas Keating.