Tag Archives: Centering Prayer

Thing of Beauty: Hothouse Flowers. Seeing With the Eyes of God

Seeing life as beautiful, the ordinary of things as things of beauty, is a wonderful fruit of the spiritual life. To live a human life something like this is to be living from the spiritual core of a human life. To be human is to be spiritual. We cannot help this, even if we don’t give the world ‘spiritual’ to these experiences as many do.

Seeing life as a thing of beauty is the result of a shift of consciousness. We come into a space of being where self-consciousness is forgotten – if even for a moment – and we become centred on someone or something outside of ourselves. We discover, through experience, the way in which God sees all the time. Divinity has ‘self-emptied’, or forgotten its own life in the ongoing act of loving that is Creation. That’s what love does. Christianity says God is love, so God is like this all the time – simply seeing the beauty of all.

Thomas Merton, 20th century spiritual writer and mystic, tells us the story of an experience like this:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream….

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

This song is coming from the same place as Merton’s experience, that place of the gift of divine sight – a ‘super-ordinary’ way of seeing that is open to all.

It is ‘truth sight’, seeing things as they are in all their imperfect splendour, their ‘broken holiness’ and knowing deeply, intuitively, that all is beautiful, glorious.

It is living life with love-sight, far enough away (in that moment) from the noise of our inner lives and seeing life with the eyes of the heart.

It does not exclude the problems of the world as if we are seeing somehow naively, or choosing to ignore the pain and suffering that continue to happen within and around us. This way of seeing embraces all this and experiences beauty even while accepting the deep paradox of beauty and suffering existing together. And so seeing beauty can become a two-edged sword: it can possess us, and then compel us into compassion. Beauty mysteriously present to suffering can draw us into living a life that serves the transformation of suffering into a plain-sight seeing that is life fully alive in glory.

“A thing of beauty is not a thing to ignore”. Once in touch with our contemplative hearts – the ‘no-place’ of our deep communion with God – we are seeing, in our own human ways, with divine eyes. We have forgotten ego and the illusion of separateness. Life is within the consciousness of Christ. This is Christian enlightenment.

A Christian contemplative prayer practice, whatever it may be, is about the realisation of this Christ consciousness within life. Globally there is a recovery underway in contemplative seeing and living. Christian contemplative practice is but one aspect of this recovery. The recovery is being documented in songs like this one from Hothouse Flowers.


Meditatio House: The Siren Call of Spiritual Delight.

Just before evening meditation begins at Meditatio House, we listen to a reading from one of the many masters of Christian spirituality. Currently we are making our way through a book called Prayer by Swami Abhishiktananda (see the recommended links to find out more about Abhishiktananda). During one reading recently these words struck me:

So long as in our prayer we continue to think and feel, to treat God “in relation to ourselves”, it is certain that we have not yet entered the innermost “mansion” of the Interior Castle – according to the imagery of St Teresa of Avila. Those whose aim is God never stop short at anything whatever that is thought or felt, no matter how exalted or uplifting it may seem to be.

Teresa of Avila writes about two kinds of union in her book The Interior Castle. One union she describes as a betrothal, a kind of engagement to God. This betrothal is the kind of union that can also become a separation.The union at this point is young and somewhat changeable. During this time, however, there can be experienced what Teresa describes as a joy “greater than all the joys of earth, and greater than all its delights, and all its satisfactions..”. These are profound experiences which are the fruit of this young union, much like the experience of falling in love.

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My life had been a story of isolation and rejection. I had isolated myself to protect myself. I had been rejected by my peers as too different. Into my twenties I began to experience certain consolations of the soul, as if God was attempting to fill a void within me. As time went on, and as my contemplative practice began to slowly shape itself, there would come experiences of great joy, of being filled by a Divine love that has its being in everything and everyone. 

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If the Divine has gifted us with this experience of joy (an experience which can be the fruit of any contemplative practice), then this is when we need to be wary. Such is the nature of the experience that it can become something which we long for more than the Divine life itself. This joy, this satisfaction, is not God. It is a gift of God’s presence and action within us. It’s as if the experience becomes a kind of siren call of delight which the ego can use to keep us in this state of temporary and changeable union, in a state of attachment to our emotional life.

If we are to accept the above words of Abhishiktananda as an authentic statement of the mystical way, if we are to “never stop short at anything whatever that is thought or felt, no matter how exalted or uplifting it may seem to be”, then it is a part of the contemplative journey into God (a thoroughly human journey) to leave these experiences behind. They are not to be desired, even if they keep happening. The mystical, the contemplative way, is about arriving at another kind of union, one that is not changeable and subject to the whims of an insecure ego.

The Divine seeks from us a union that Teresa names as a marriage. This is simply a matured, stable, and largely conscious communion (common-union) with the Divine life. It is the union of which  Abhishiktananda speaks, the union which can be found at the centre of the soul, Teresa’s innermost mansion.

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There was a reason the words of Abhishiktananda had struck me so strongly: I had fallen for the siren call again – a very human thing to do. Who doesn’t want to feel that they are loved? The desire to have these experiences of joy sat just below the mantra as it sounded. It was splitting my attention between it and the mantra. Whilst ever this split was happening I was not fully engaging the meditators journey into an ever more stable communion with God. Through Abhishiktananda‘s words I was  being asked, once again, to leave behind the siren’s call. I went back and re-read Abhishiktananda. More words made an impact:

Yet it [the soul] is for ever incapable of reaching him [God], so long as it is not ready to leave itself behind and to be immersed and lost in the abyss of God himself. Then only it understands that silence is the highest and truest praise…The soul itself is then simply silence…

Silence. I had forgotten the true landmark of God. Not thought, not word, not image, not emotion. Silence. It’s abyss. The absence of everything so as to be filled with nothing, the no-thing of God. It was time to re-choose my way into silence once again. Time to re-focus on the mantra.

Boughton Aluph to Kings Wood8

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Teresa asserts that any desires for “consolations or favours” from God are no more once this “innermost mansion” (or room) of the soul is reached. This is because once attention is in this innermost mansion there is the most direct experience of the Divine that any human can have – one that is devoid of the desires to have the experience because the experience is happening. Teresa continues:

He [the Divine] and the soul alone have fruition of each other in the deepest silence. There is no reason now for the understanding to stir, or to seek out anything, for the Lord who created the soul is now pleased to calm it ….

All that is left is a silent “happy companionship”, a companionship being experienced without reason, that is, without the mind attempting understanding. All is silent. This experience awaits the practitioner of an established contemplative practice. It is an experience that is itself a Divine gift. It is not about ‘clocking up’ enough meditation time for this to happen, although there does need to be a certain preparedness. This preparedness happens when it happens. All we do is keep faithfully returning to our mantra, our prayer word, our breath – whatever is used in the great pilgrimage to the centre of the soul, that still point within where the Divine waits in silence.

Andrew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Art of Almost: Wilco. Falling Short Is Falling In

As human beings, we make an art form out of falling short. Our practical living is often an almost. We are made to enter fully into a life of other centred loving, and yet, who can say they have ever consistently done this? We fall short in the art of love.

There is restlessness within us for the meaning and purpose which a truly loving life can give us. This restlessness can be in tension with a myriad of inner and outer diversions which can draw us away from our greatest happiness: a uniquely passionate life growing in the expression of Love. This greatest happiness is what Jesus called the Kingdom of God, or the Reign of Love. He died being faithful to its vision and his living of it.

I watch Wilco perform this song and questions begin to stir in me: Why do I fall short? Why do we all make an art of it? I hear the dissonance and the frantic energy of the music – the sound of my own frustration and fear. I feel the ache of sadness in the vocals. It all takes a hold of me and I remember my own art of almost, the everyday ways I gloss over the sacredness of human contact. I walk through life fearing the ways others will cost my ego a death to its own preoccupations and self-concern.

The fear is ego’s fear. The death to egoism it fears, however, can make way for the ego’s rising. This rising takes the form of ego’s graceful growth into the ways of Love.

This ego-fear of the loss of self-centred autonomy and control struggles with the deeper and emerging realisation that any commitment to the expression of love does involve an ongoing death to our own egocentric ways. The mystery of it all is that we are happiest when ego is forgotten and perception is at love’s other-centred service. A forgotten ego is a risen ego.

Yet in this struggle between egoism and Love we turn from love too often. It is all there for us this life of Love, ready and waiting for us to become one with it without the loss of who we most deeply are. We hear the “faint ole’” of this love in our hearts and lives, and yet still work against the grain of it. This is part of the human journey. But is this all there is? Turning from Love will be what ultimately defines us? We are nothing but dust and to this dust we shall return – right?

Perhaps the art of almost has a richer palate, a broader spectrum of reality and possibility. Maybe falling short is only part of the story. There is something else: a falling in. As the song says “I could open up my heart and fall in.” Fall into what? Fall into the life of Love already waiting for us.

Deep within the simple and silent mystery of the core of us, deep in the spirit, we don’t need to fall in because we already are in – fully. This is a natural part of being human; the only way Love could have made us. Our being is being in Being. Our basic problem is that the rest of our humanity, our psychic and relational lives, is not faithful to, nor expressive enough of our being in Love. We have forgotten it and often work against it. Our woundedness covers it. Egocentricity distracts us from it. This is the human condition according to Christian spirituality.

The Christian season of Lent is about growth in seeing, acknowledging and accepting the reality of this ‘almost’ condition in our lives. And it is also about something else: the facilitation of a ‘falling’ into the Love life within and among us.

A question for Lent and beyond is: What can we do, practically in the living of life, that will enable the healing and transformation necessary for us to fall just a little more into the life of Love that we are already a part of?

If you have given up something for Lent, say chocolate, in what way is this helping your consciousness to be more grounded in the Love at your core? If you are fasting from, say television, then how is this helping you to become aware of the life of Love within you and all?

Perhaps this time of the year is a good time to commit to the experience of some kind of contemplative practice? A couple of possibilities from the world of contemporary Christian spiritual practice are Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation. Both these forms of contemplatively focused prayer facilitate a growing attention to, and living out of this core of Love. They do it through the practice of re-focusing attention away from the ego and into the Love at our core.

Falling into the Love Reality within us is a human art form – an art form of increments – which is highlighted during Lent and encouraged all our lives. As we grow in this art form our almost is revealed as the potential and the place of our falling in. We begin to experience our falling short in life as an important part of the experience of our falling into Love. Only grace can move us beyond our almosts, making them part of how Love reveals itself in the world through us. For this to happen we need to humbly accept our reality as creatures. Ego-centricity fades in the humble realisation of our creaturely and limited context. Divine Love then uses this realisation, grounded in humility, as the foundation for a life of loving we did not think possible. This is what grace alive within us does.

In time our ‘almosts’ lessen in severity and consequence while our ‘falling into’ deepens with growing trust and faith. In grace our almost and our falling become one as we experience a compassion not our own. This compassion moves in and among us with greater insistence. This compassion is the life of God inviting loving action.


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