What if you finally meet God, and God looks like your worst enemy? | America Magazine

Even more astounding, Aquinas speaks of the beatific vision as something utterly satisfying yet inexhaustible. Come life’s end, we will see God, but we will still not comprehend God. We will not “take God in,” as we say. It will not be like Toto, pulling back a curtain to reveal the Wizard of Oz pulling levers. Such a comprehensible God could be reduced to a mental concept. Remember St. Augustine: “If you can understand it, it is not God.” That applies in the afterlife as well.
— Read on www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/02/16/homily-seventh-sunday-catholic-love-enemy-242413

Speak this way about Christianity or Catholicism in shallow waters and you maybe deemed a heretic. We like certainty and authoritative declarations. Uncertainty is to destabilizing for some believers and definitely for certain religious denominations or preachers.

When we turn to the Priestly caste, by whatever title we bestow on them, in times of suffering or when our mortality is near its end, we don’t want uncertainty or insincerity. We want hope, consolation, and support. Sometimes we may want answers that cannot be answered by the best spiritual leaders in our community. Many priest fail here, not out of lack of trying, but out of over trying to help. They simply do not want to not deliver their faith in a manner which can bolster your faith when your tank is running on empty.

This is where you may enter that Dark night referenced by St. John of the Cross. Being alone with God or with an emptiness that is unbearable and seemingly timeless can be terrifying. Think of it as a spiritual crisis or spiritual reckoning disorienting you beyond intellectual and emotive imagination, just totally transcending your religious training, your philosophical reasoning, your human experiences to date.

No, we don’t all have to experience dark nights. Some believers can seemingly always live in the comfort of unshaken belief. Others have to journey into the dark and wrestle with the existential. And yet another group rides through life without a second thought of their origin or their eventual end.

The article drives home a humorous satire…getting to the holy gates expecting a creator defined by your upbringing and imagination…and being confronted by your enemy is God.

Defining and refining your spiritual beliefs is uniquely human as far as we know. I secretly believe elephants and dolphins may know somethings we don’t, but let’s assume we own the market on seeking living a spiritual life. All we truly have is how we treat each other now, with our brief life here on earth.

Contemplating life? Who are you anyway?

Who are you: Creator, Restorer, Messenger, Destroyer, or Bystander?

These actions for most of us require no evangelization, no debate or apologetics regarding religion, or public display of religiosity. Our message is simply how we live our lives and how we treat others in all we do. If we are living a spiritually coherent life we will naturally be great messengers of the faith without ever even uttering God’s name.

We are all messengers. How many of us are restorers? People who naturally or with great effort live the faith and help others to restore their lives in some “detail,” large or small, that brings them in closer proximity to God?

This question came to me a few days ago during spiritual reflection. A large emphasis of active Christianity is to be a messenger of the faith by first and foremost living the faith through everyday actions – not by evangelization.

Some of us may even be called to be creators in our own way to add to great gifts of inspiration for believers and unbelievers alike to get a glimpse of holiness or the way to holier lives. These are very special individuals with immense talent. Artist, Scientist, Writers, Priest, and people from all vocations adding master pieces of achievement that transcend human expectation and simultaneously ignite spiritual wonder. They are a rare breed.

Hopefully, if you are reading this post, very little of our time is spent being destroyers or idle bystanders. No doubt we are collectively guilty of both but hopefully, more often than not, moving towards divine living rather than away.

In my faith, we believe the days of prophets ended with Jesus Christ, the last Prophet, who was both man and God in one. Without anymore messiahs coming until the end of time – the refreshing and terrifying thought is, we are each one of us individually responsible to be messengers and restorers of Christianity, again, not by preaching, but by living lives that demonstrate spiritual cohesion without any expectation of return. Christianity (believers and a higher power) and transcendent human relationships are not transactional equations.

Just who are you today? Who do you want to be tomorrow and your remaining days? What do you have to do to be who you want to be now and forever….

We often here the word transcendent in relation to spirituality. In our humanity we are limited to transcending by courageous acts of love, selflessness, compassion, humility, and in rare cases greatness that exceeds the imagination. We transcend by how we treat each other, in good times and bad, over and over again, for whatever span of days we have the gift of breath.

I am, in my own mind, a little bit messenger and restorer with occasional weakness for bystander (idle) or even destroyer – living even in the smallest way, contrary to ideal divine life. If not always moving towards divine life we are moving away. The sad contradiction is moving towards a holy life need not be austere or be a terrible sacrifice. It should be joyful and inspiring with perhaps challenges of austerity and sacrifice when required. It is still not an easy road. We tend to want what we desire immediately and sometimes fail to examine the impulse for the new set shiny thing or the next desired accomplishment we have been pursuing. Neither desires may be bad in and of themselves, but often their priority is improperly ordered above other priorities more deserving of our attention.

A little contemplation and discussion with another may provide wisdom beyond measure.

I would like to believe I have had moments of transcending my humanness and rose above the fray of our collective ego driven consciousness. It does not take much to ignite my competitiveness or my fears, to summon my desire to win or desire to protect.

The challenge of balancing and integrating our instinctual drives and our collectivity humanity is on display everyday. What roles do we play to infuse our collective consciousness to be spiritually coherent? What role do you play at home, at work, at the voting booth, in the community, and at play?

Who are you anyway?

Pivot with Ignatius

Today I start a mini-retreat hidden within the folds of everyday activities and life. Visit https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/centers/iajs.html.

Two items may support you taking and at home retreat. The first is an at home 12 week Ignatious guided retreat app available free (bottom left) of page. The second is the free portal containing a mini library of Jesuit material.

Or for a more intense experience with a nominal cost try: https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/centers/iajs/programs/retreat.html. This online 12 week retreat offers three introductory online retreats next week and follow up meetings throughout the 12 weeks plus the guide you purchase. If you sign up – see you there! Message me so we can connect!

Mysticism

Friedrick Nietzsche, German Philosopher, declared “God is Dead” in the late 1800s. In the 1980s I would author opposing papers regarding this assertion. The earlier version would assert an atheistic worldview and render belief in a personal God futile. The latter version would assert the opposite, that religion was dead, having lost its way and become a dead letter rather than anything representing a guide to a truly holy life. Post enlightenment and today we are far removed from the desert fathers or the mystics of the early Catholic Church.

After reading an article in America Media this a.m. “This is your soul on Mysticism” I wondered if Mysticism and prayer was “dead” in Catholicism and Christianity.

Mysticism is not dead. About a third of Catholic believers will report if asked that they have had a “mystical” experience. That is a pretty high number given few of us have a disciplined “mystical” or “contemplative” prayer life.

The pandemic has provided us with increased isolation and an awareness of our mortality. Confronting the power of prayer now or deepening one’s prayer life is a positive pandemic opportunity.

I don’t imagine us walling ourselves off like Julian of Norwich though sometimes I wish I could live a hermetical life. Take a look at this article. How has the pandemic increased or decreased your connection to God? Perhaps a spiritual retreat is in your future.

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/12/17/mysticism-covid-19-julian-norwich-239506

Mystic or Cynic?

An open window view over a green backyard bracing for fall. The trees gently sway as I listen to a Catholic audio meditation regarding Lectio-divina. The reader ask me to listen closely to a few lines of scripture. After setting the passage and the scene my eyes close and listen, and a few lines in I hear and pay close attention to the following:

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

During that last line a wind blew in and back out closing and opening the door behind me and my eyes. I see the wind departing as the early fall leaves settle down.

The reader continues, did any word or phrase leap out at you? A mystic might say yes, the Holy Spirit entered my house and passed over me as you said, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. For most of us, it was just a breeze, no more.

The reader continues with guidance on lectio-divina as I watch the trees and leaves remaining still. The reader ask us to listen a second time, and I close my eyes listening to Christ words as written in scripture.

Again, a gentle breeze blows in and out, at that exact phrase “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” At no other time during my reflection and prayer time are the leaves disturbed or wind pronounced.

The mystic says you have your proof Joseph. The cynic says your eyes and senses deceive you and your imagination mistakes coincidence for spiritual consolation.

Spiritual consolation or Spiritual imagination? It is unanswerable. But both identified the phrase “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The contemplation that followed, the prayer and seeking understanding, followed by action is what is important. My personal struggles are not heavy relative to my brothers and sisters. My nations hypocrisy and moral failings are deeply concerning, but not imminently causing me great pain and suffering (except for the compassion and love I have for oppressed people of the world). And yet I feel my burden large and sometimes grossly unfair, fanned by righteousness and anger. My sin unveiled in an instant.

Without going into details, I have been given much to be grateful for, more than my individual merit and effort can account for given my limitations and grave errors over my life time. God has provided me a light burden, though at times, I felt the opposite.

Contemplatively, have I placed an undue burden on others? Do I expect to much from others to meet my expectations? Am I too quick to anger or to quick to judge when others fail me. Yes.

What I seek from God should I not be seeking to provide to others when I am able to do so?

At the end of the day, mystic or cynic, I have journeyed with Christ words and arrived at a raised consciousness of some traces of my spiritual sloth.

I am not called to disappear from the secular sphere of expectations, but I am called to know where that line ends between secular expectations and my Catholic orientation. There is a great terrain of higher demands for Catholics to live by that exceed secular law but should not be imposed on secular society. In fact, there is a great deal of Catholic values that my church and fellow believers hold to be true but do not ourselves demonstrate by practice (despite genuine effort and desire). My role calls for me to vote, to send a few dollars to political campaigns, and to have a reasoned and balanced voice. In place of anger, is sadness and compassion. In place of harboring negativity, harbor hope.

More close to home, double down on caring for others than chasing my own desires. Double down on the burden I place on others being light and when disappointed my response being compassionate and merciful. That is not to say to let go of expectations or responsibilities that others have, but to let go of justified anger and unnecessary drama.

In neither politics or our personal life are we called to be a door mat. We are called to be active and a living testament. That will place us with standing up for ourselves and our beliefs and shaping a dialogue of mutual respect and understanding.

One reading, one prayer, two breezes…..

https://youtu.be/Ciup-ygN0pg

The Teachings of Meister Eckhart: An Invitation to Experience God in Every Moment

The Teachings of Meister Eckhart: An Invitation to Experience God in Every Moment

I listened to this book via audible (amazon) authored by James Finley.  Now I have to go to the source – 13th-century mystic Meister Eckhart.  James’s handling of the mystic’s sermons served a ten-thousand-foot view of contemplative thought that polished some of my jagged edges in my spiritual practices.  His writings and thoughts were not free of controversy, making him even more attractive to some seeking controversy rather than spiritual harmony with God.

You need not go to the 13th century to find controversy – I advise against it as most will pay you no mind quoting a 13th-century mystic, which although quite relevant today, is still not considered a doctor of the church.  Pope John Paul II did quote this mystic though, and he has many Catholic/Christian believers that are inspired by his writings.

In 1985 the Pope, John Paul II, said:

“Did not Eckhart teach his disciples: ‘All that God asks you most pressingly is to go out of yourself – and let God be God in you’? One could think that, in separating himself from creatures, the mystic leaves his brothers, humanity, behind. The same Eckhart affirms that, on the contrary, the mystic is marvelously present to them on the only level where he can truly reach them, that is in God.”

His works are free on the web, and he has a society following him today.  As with all mystics I imagine, there is an issue of transcendence without having ever done the work of knowing any form or grounding of our spiritual direction.  There is always a danger of misinterpretation and spiritual unmooring when reading a complicated mystic, from a different century, who has lived a life immersed in prayer, that many of us may never come close to in our practices.   I could teach the basic mechanics of chess in about a day and perhaps, if you have natural talent, even provide some complex strategy and tactics that may give you enough confidence to play solo in amateur events.  It is doubtful though that you would be able to elevate your game beyond the literal and into intuitive knowledge and mastery at the level of the great masters of the game.   Try flying a plane after having flown a kite.

Today, there is a tendency to want to leap right into the deep end of the mystical thought without any firmament to support the great weights one may encounter – or even the ability to be open to spiritual revelation.  Worse yet some run off with a misinterpretation and act in truly evil ways under the premise of knowing the true word of God, but in essence, are suffering from ego-driven narcissism of the spiritual variety.  James Finley discusses a lectio-divino process of reading his sermons:  pray, read one sermon, pray again, read the same sermon again and highlight, pray some more, read commentary, pray more.  He did not say exactly this – but it is clear it is not light reading or light prayer that one comes to know Eckhart.

meister 2

https://www.eckhartsociety.org/

https://philocyclevl.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/meister-eckhart-maurice-o-c-walshe-bernard-mcginn-the-complete-mystical-works-of-meister-eckhart-the-crossroad-publishing-company-2009.pdf

We do not have eternity here in our mortal shells to come to know and act in concert with divine direction.   We will, in all likelihood, pass away like those before us in a state of spiritual imperfection.  We strive to be one with our creator nonetheless and count on God’s grace and mercy.

thank you

 

The Golden Ticket

Imagine that the world’s religious leaders announced a contest that Five Tickets would be randomly distributed in places of worship the world over this weekend.   These very special five people would receive an all-expense-paid trip ticket to tour and the greatest mystical revelation that has been kept secret for centuries.  The leaders of the major faiths have been given a revelation to select five people to gather together, and present them at a time and chosen the place, to experience a revelation of the secrets of the universe, man’s creation, and God.  Not even they know the revelation, but each has received identical directions to offer the contest to humanity.  A random drawing in places of worship this weekend.  And one of these five people would be chosen for a very special prize at the end of a week of staying in this secret place.

I imagine the places of worship would be filled this weekend with believers, atheist, agnostics, and media types, cynics, and just those that are curious.  The winners are selected already – but by the direction is given already if they are not in the service this weekend, alternates will take their place.   By Sunday at 3 P.M. the world will know the five selected for this spiritual journey, or if by the absence of the first selected, who won entry as an alternate.  By next Sunday the five will have a further revelation for the world, especially the one who wins the special prize.

ticketYes, this is the story of Charlie and Willie Wonkers Chocolate Factory.  Willie Wonker only called five and only one, after careful vetting for character flaws, would remain to the end – Charlie Bucket.  The bible tells us a similar moral fable; only it is lived out in history with real trials of men being chosen by God to receive revelation and then tested by the trial of human experience and perseverance required to live a holy life.

Alas, don’t hang me on the stake for using the word “fable.” Within our faith, we use the phrase “parables,” and in our theological lens, the great thinkers and leaders of the church sort out what is deemed historically accurate versus reality versus literary devices.  All I have to say on the matter is “all is not what it seems” on the surface, and thorough inquiry and discernment are required for any serious interpretation of the bible to hold reasonable certainty of true understanding.  We must not forget we are over two thousand years away from the lifetime of the historical Jesus Christ and the bible and the Gospels are the “living word,” not a dead historical text.  And yet, as some interpretations and revelations may provide new insight, certain fundamental truths remain unalterable and unchangeable in time.

Invitation to seek God:

avilla

But let us return to the invitation to the Chocolate Factory and the invitation to know God.  How are they different?

  • We each are given a golden ticket – if we are open to finding it. Once found, it comes with great responsibility, and each person’s ticket comes with individualized direction, expectation, and calling for action.  This ticket is existentially inside all of us and can be found, if we are open to God’s presence, through contemplative prayer as defined by God, and specifically prescribed for you.  No two tickets are alike.  Your calling is distinct and special.  No one can tell you what God has inscribed in your soul for revelation and direction. Willie Wonker gave away five tickets – God gives everyone a ticket to use or not use.
  • No one is absent of character flaws when viewed through the lens of God’s perfection. We bring them to the table as an intrinsic part of our nature, and while we seek perfection, we pray for God’s mercy and grace in light of our many imperfections.  Willie Wonker expelled 4 of the 5 ticket holders.  God will not expel you if you seek him out with true humility and ask his mercy.
  • We have a rich spiritual and theological tradition in Christianity the provides us both the tangible word of God (Gospels) and the existential mystical experiences of our rich contemplatives (Saints, Martyrs, Theologians). The first provides us grounding and teachings that we can hang our coats on, a foundation of morality and spiritual direction that gives us form and definition.  The latter keeps us humble by blowing away our sense of truly knowing the Godhead and being able to claim we are the sole owners of what is the proper way of holiness and oneness with God.
  • Wilie Wonkers land is a tale of humankind’s morality and teaches very basic shared values.  The bible’s tale is infinite in meaning and interpretation and is momentary and timeless simultaneously.
  • Our words and experiences cannot define the Kingdom of Heaven, the definition of Sin, and the infinity of the word Love with any certainty.  We have glimpses and scents of each from our subjective experiences and from what has been granted us by the summation of our intellectual capacities, human experiences, spiritual traditions, the word of God, and divine graces.  Our language is simply insufficient.
  • Our Science, although profound to our sense of our wisdom is inadequate.  In our narcissism, we claim greatness by visiting the moon and yet we 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty, 22000 children die every day due to poverty, and we are rapidly destroying the only home we have despite our science informing us we are doing so.    If only we had to just make chocolate.

Spiritual Hunger:

However, we remain hungry for these eternal truths are coded into our being, into our innermost depths.  If we are not attuned to them, we may go down the path of human folly trying to fill this void with synthetic human accomplishments or pleasurable distractions.  These things are not bad in and of themselves and are quite necessary for the betterment of humankind, but they are not divine and cannot fill the spiritual depths found in our souls.  To attempt to do so is to simultaneously corrupt the value of our accomplishments and pleasures and take us, farther, away from spiritual truth.

So, what is the Golden Ticket to knowing God, and where can I find it?  For Catholic, the way is clear, and the form and practices of religious beliefs are codified in the sacraments and church traditions.  Let me pause here and enter into heresy!  It is not enough that we are steeped in Church rituals, traditions, and practices.  History has taught us that our church and its leaders can be fallible. I will not detail our shared historical errors here, for they are well documented and common ammunition for the anti-Catholic crowd that feeds on believer’s moral failings, whether clergy or not. I will focus on the power and mystery of contemplative prayer.   This is where we take individual responsibility for testing our thoughts, beliefs, and actions against the God standard.

Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, and Mysticism:

Assuming a well-founded base of spiritual development and a sincere desire to live a holy life, seeking contemplation of the mystical saintly order is perhaps pure folly.   For most, I fear it is a form of spiritual grandiosity dialectically opposed to the humility required to be truly present with God.

A candidate for contemplation prayer is anyone with the desire to know God more deeply.  A candidate for the contemplative prayer of the mystical variety, however, is not attainable for everyone.  It is to use a medical term, contra-indicated and dangerous to recommend or guide one to pursue it if there is not ample evidence of proper preparation and a true calling by God to do so.

Yes, as elitist as this sounds, one cannot be a contemplative mystic and truly transcend the human experience without an invitation.  How many of us on reading this phrase might secretly agree with this premise for everyone else – but believe we can achieve this lofty goal by sheer determination and will-power.   We are, after all, generally good people seeking to live a holy life – or we would not be reading a spiritually oriented blog.  How could God not choose to grace us with spiritual consolations if we place ourselves selflessly at his mercy?

How horrible that I start with what most of us are not and never will be!  I start here to celebrate our imperfections, not as points of pride, but as a starting point of humility and pursuit of perfection that we will never achieve.  Who among us can follow in the path of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avilla, Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhart, and others?  Even amongst these, there is controversy and hidden danger of falling into spiritual distortions.     I am drawn to St. Ignatius and Ignatian Spirituality.  Of course, the original contemplative is Jesus Christ. Think of Jesus Christ preparation for his ministry and going into the desert or the many times he went off to pray with or without his disciples.

What I realize for myself is that I need the prayer of many different styles in my praying-hands-277x300everyday life as I require high maintenance to strive for living a truly spiritual life in our secular world.   Jesus Christ provided us a very simple guide on how to pray in the Gospel of Luke and Matthew when he provided us the Lord’s prayer.  Prayer, however, is not simply a recitation of rote words.  It is an on-going conversation that requires time, patience, and discernment.  Almost all prayer involves elements of contemplative prayer.   Freeman defines Contemplative prayer as involving the following elements:

  • Interiority: going into “our inner room” (Mt 6:6)
  • Silence: prayer is about brevity, simplicity, and trust
  • Calmness: freedom from anxiety and obsession with material things
  • Mindfulness: focusing on God’s Kingdom before all else
  • Presentness: living in present moment, free from fear of the future[i]

And yet we cannot force the outcome, we can only put our physical body and soul in a place where we can be open and receptive to God’s grace:

silent-prayer-and-contemplation-3-638

We all probably already are contemplative prayers!  Many of us practice Lectio-Divina prayer.  This involves scripture reading, followed by meditation and prayer – sort of a guided meditation allowing the spiritual imagination to find space and time to be present with God.  A smaller number of us may even get to experience intensive contemplative retreats where we can spend enormous amounts of time in perfect silence and adoration of God.  Even with these intense spiritual excursions, few of us have contemplative, mystical experiences that compare say to St. Theresa of Lisieux.  And most of us are not called to go live in a hermitage and spend our lives totally in prayer and adoration to God.

That being said, I truly believe Catholicism today is missing interior ownership of seeking the mystical life to guide our “civilian life” is all our secular affairs.  How many Catholics have read the “Cloud of the Unknowing.”  And how many Catholics could integrate this anonymous work into their faith without becoming lost in its anchorless mysticism?

Cloud of the Unknowing:

cloudOne could easily misinterpret the work as being fundamentally Buddhist as the writer speaks about the emptying of oneself.  They would be wrong as the emptying of oneself is merely a process of coming to acknowledge we are nothing without God.  I loved the visual in this work of sending intrusive thoughts to the Cloud of Unknowing beneath my feet and setting my gaze on the “Dark Cloud of Unknowing” as I set aside time to contemplate one word (Sin or Love).  How could I pray in this formless way without having a firm foundation and understanding of what it is I am praying to and seeking to join?

Our rich early Christian contemplative writers and even modern-day authors have a treasure chest of spiritual knowledge acquired from innumerable hours of reading, listening, thinking, praying, confessing, and receiving spiritual direction.   And yet we should still strive to grasp the “Fallen Nature of man versus the Glory of God.”  And yet again, all our striving is for not without divine activity intervening and providing us grace and mercy in all our actions.

Perhaps even furthering this depressive thought is that no matter how far we go with cleansing our sinful lives and living by holy virtues – “suffering will plague us unto death” and we will “never have complete security on earth.”  How would this work as a sales pitch for Christianity!  This classic Christian writing said just that in the 14th century.

Ah, secretly I want to be elevated in God’s graces, receiving constant consolations and graces, and perhaps even be called to a solitary life of prayer and adoration – even to the point of a vow of poverty and singular purpose in life.  And then God whispers in my ear, “you do not know what you are asking,” and I quickly agree as I think of the lives of the great saints and martyrs.  Yet I can still seek to pray and strive to be with God:

unkwing

But I am not off the hook of his calling.  I am not a Christian mystic of the saintly variety, but I am called to contemplative prayer.    This contemplative prayer is where I am to discern the intent of my every thought and action and realign them when they come up short of divine expectations.  And often this involves facing responsibilities and task I would rather not volunteer to do.  There simply is no end here on earth to injustices that require righting, service that requires workers, and suffering that requires prayers. threadContemplation and Action are intimately intertwined in my life – but the moment they are separated, it is not long before everything is unraveled for me and faith hangs in the balance.

But sometimes we don’t have to go far to begin.

This blog entry was interrupted by Saturday mass, and the Responsorial Psalm was simply stated: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”  The second reading deserves some contemplation as well.

IMG_2752

[i] https://blogs.sjcme.edu/theology/jesus-was-a-contemplative/

 

Radical Transformation: Part Two

Transformation In Christ, by Dietrich Von Hildebrand (Chapters 2 through 6):

After chapter one on Readiness to Change Dietrich dives into house cleaning:  Contrition, Self-knowledge, True Consciousness, True Simplicity, and Recollection and Contemplation! It has been about a month for me to traverse this material and attempt to reapply principles and practices revealed within these pages.  It is not an easy process as most of us have a fundamental belief that our spirituality and our intentions are generally aligned with being good.  A familiarity with prayer rituals, an investment in other people, a general intention to behave well, and an absence of atrocious behavior relative to others can leave one comfortable in blissful self-adoration, or at least not fully alive and receptive to the potentiality of God having greater or at least different expectations for us today.

If God were our employer, would it be good enough to ride the wave on what we have accomplished yesterday, to have good intentions, to lazily commit errors that we have identified in the past as requiring immediate and sustained improvement?

Thankfully God is not our employer.  I would have been terminated and Godless long ago if not for God’s infinite mercy and the saving grace of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

On Contrition:

The first action involved a trip to my spiritual director and a rehashing of prior sins, both recent and long ago.  A compelling need to place my imperfections before God and my spiritual director provided a base from which to seek and renew a process of seeking sanctification.  This step was taken pursue fluidity and continuity of my continued journey to seek proximity to God.  Dietrich describes our tendency to resist change this way:

“This tendency to self-affirmation and petrification, as opposed to the readiness for being transformed in all these points and for receiving the imprint of the face of Christ instead of the old features, is the antithesis to what we have meant here in speaking of fluidity.”

Contrition is an act that counteracts this tendency.  A conscious effort to clean house through informed and guided true penance:

“Turn away Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities,

Create a clean heart in me O God:

And renew a right spirit within my bowels,

Restore unto me the joy of Thy Salvation,

And strengthen me with a perfect spirit.”

On Self-knowledge:

The second action is to truly examine acquire the following:

  • Knowledge of any actions or behaviors that would offend God and
  • Knowledge of the “discrepancy between what we ought to be and what we are” including our metaphysical situation, our destiny, and our vocation(s)!

This is not a sociological, psychological, or philosophical knowledge – but an earnest examination of ourselves through the eyes of God, or at least as close as we can come to approximating his will and desires for us.

This is daunting.  It can be utilized to merely validate how good we have been or dive into the martyrdom of our long list of omissions, negative actions, missed opportunities, and regrets.  That is not the intention.  There is nothing that we may discover that God does not already know.  It is starting point or a re-engagement of our spiritual path.  It may require minor or drastic course altering’s in the now (temporary actions) or down the road.

On True Consciousness:

The pillar continues as Dietrich lies down foundational steps one on top of the other.  Achieving a mode of living in “true consciousness” where through the “conscious center of his soul a person comes of age morally and acquires the ability to utter the “yes” in the face of God which He demands of us.”

This is a steep hill as it is mode of living where everything is taken out of the mundane, out of the temporal, out of autopilot, and placed in the divine sphere – every thought, action and deed.  We all have different gradients spirituality.   I enjoy strategy games of chess and Texas hold’em poker.  How does my enjoyment and time given to these activities pair with God’s intentions? I am at the moment unwilling to give up either entirely as the first has been a life time hobby and the second a monthly social gathering.   For argument sake, let us say that through divine revelation or merely a recommendation by my spiritual advisor, that both these activities were deemed unworthy of any of my time.

Would I be able to disavow both entirely?   Would I be able to further develop my discipline to have such an “act of disavowal render the impulse in question nonexistent or to eradicate it; yet that the impulse is invalidated, as it were, and in a sense decapitated and deprived of its malignant potency?”     I presume I would struggle with this request from my human spiritual advisor but if I was so blessed with a vision of divine revelation they would not be hard to give up!

Our position in life, our strengths and weaknesses, our vocational calling will provide us guidance on how we direct out attentions.  What we attend to we become. How much do we attend to God’s presence and what if anything takes precedence over God?  That is not to say we are all meant to be cloistered Monks.  However, within our metaphysical position in life we do have to carefully discern our God-given minutes here on earth and how best to deploy their use in a conscious manner.

On True Simplicity:

Seventy-four pages in Dietrich bring us back to put it all together and decipher how to live on the “sacral sphere” as opposed to the “motley variegation of life.”  He states the goal this way:

“One supreme point of view governs our entire life and in subordination to that point of view all else is judged and settled.  It is the principle of conduct enjoined in the words of the lord”  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all things shall be added unto you.”  (Matt6.33)”

Or we can live on the flip side:

“The protean vastness of untruth, the maze of arbitrary and extravagant but witty errors and sophistries are considered with great interest – if only they divert the intellect from platitude and simplicity.”

Our intellects, important to guide our discernment of spiritual things and worldly matters, can easily be used to avoid the immense responsibility and obligations that come with living a spiritual life and seeking proximity to God.  Any number of human frailties can have us running towards the “cult of the abstruse.”  We see this every day in entrenched partisan politics. People run into their comfortable bubbles of ideological beliefs and utilize maelstrom intellectually dishonest strategies to defend their self-interest and position regardless of concrete evidence of the contrary.

Dietrich explores man traps and nuances of leading the simply life, more than I can enunciate here.  Suffice it to say “Metaphysically speaking, the higher an entity is, the greater its simplicity.  The soul is so simple as no longer to admit of a disjunction of form and matter.”

On Recollection and Contemplation: 

What is the difference? Recollection in my words, is freeze framing a situation and point in time.   We take control of our thoughts and our mind by slowing down the rapid-firing of neurological signals excited and engaged in current worldly concerns and pressures.   We become mindful of their presence but through recollection create the distance from our entrenched connection to and enmeshing of feelings and attitudes associated with human events.  From afar we can deconstruct and place complex situations on a table for deferment or right sizing against the backdrop of our spiritual orientation.  When we are able to “empty our soul of all current concerns and are no longer possessed by the things which fill our life” we can turn to contemplation.

Here is the rub:  “In order to recollect ourselves, we must shun everything that appeals to our craving for sensation.”  This seems rather unfair to me.  Has not my creator provided me five senses and a robust pleasure reception network to enjoy all that he has created?   Perhaps not all, but certainly more than my eye can see?     Dietrich takes us through the value of contemplation as when we are in true contemplation, with a focus on something greater than ourselves, something truly worthy of our adoration; we can come as close as we can to rest in the divine while still alive in our mortal skins.  The author in each of these chapters takes hard shots at my comfortable sense of Christianity, at my fragile practice of prayer, and at the lack of mental and physical discipline present in my life contrasted with seeking living a truly sanctified life.

There are roadblocks and always will be roadblocks.  The mystery here is God’s grace and mercy we seek to open our hearts to what is always within us, around us, and in proximity to our action and thought.  My journey is never-ending and is not a future place but being, truly being where I am right now.

Academically, philosophically, and theologically speaking this is an apparent truth of reality.  I cannot live in yesterday or tomorrow. Recollection and Contemplation in concert will and can inform our actions today and every day.  Action without either is highly vulnerable to answering to artificial hierarchies established by other men or by ourselves, unguided by a central and eternal uniting principle of diving guidance.

Talk about not creating obfuscation?  How is this simple?  He answers this from many vantage points.  For example, he says “First, we should consecrate every day space of time to inward prayer.”  Simple enough.  Leaving our worldly concerns behind he provides the following:

“I will forget everything that was, and is to come; nor think of what lies ahead of me.  Whatever I am wont to carry and to hold in my arms I will let fall before Jesus.  It will not fall into the void:  standing before Jesus.  I deliver it all up to him.  Everything belongs to him:  all burdening worries and all great concerns, both mine and those of the souls I love.  I am not abandoning them as I would abandon them in seeking diversion:  I know that in Jesus they are truly in a safe harbor.  When at his call I relinquish and abandon all things.  I am not casting them away; on the contrary, I am assigning everything to its proper place.”

There are many jewels in this chapter including the value of silence, solitude, appropriate rest.   At the end of the day these activities are primary to action, but nonetheless action is than required in all our activities.   The prose and elegance of his writings address the roller coaster of life and prayer.

So it is Ash Wednesday today.  A forty day pilgrimage begins.  Some devout Christians will sacrifice some element of themselves (actions, time, and commitments) and practice the prescribed attendance at Mass and perform various acts of fasting on specified days.

My spiritual director and I briefly discussed this Lenten period.   Without getting into the weeds of our discussions, here are some of his ideas and mine for lent that one can consider:

  • Prayer space and time: Establish a prayer space that provides you solitude and time without interruption.
  • A.M. prayer: Add a few extra minutes to your established prayer
  • Guided content: Consider reading daily scripture at the start of the day including commentary on the contest and meaning of the literary form.
  • Weekday mass: When possible add in weekday masses (Noon?) where the daily scripture can be revisited and of course the gift the Eucharist present.
  • 3 P.M. Pause: Set a bell or reminder for reflection at 3 P.M.
  • P.M Prayer: Consider the Ignatius Examen as a peaceful close to your day:
  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow.[i]

Where to start?  Today’s reading is as true today as it was when it was written, now is the time:

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”[c]

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor: 5:11 to 6:2)

May you have an enriching Lenten journey with fruitful recollection and contemplation!

Sacred

Addendum:  Check out Pope Francis message:

Pope Francis offers a “worksheet” for Lent: Check it out!

[i] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen

 

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