Two Mysteries

“God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew

what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”

― St. John of the Cross

When we come to truly believe that God is at work in the world we face two mysteries. The first is the pure reality that we can never fully define or explain God. The second is we cannot predict what will be expected of us as followers of this mysterious God.

The First Mystery

God is real but we find that reality impossible to pin down. For God is not tangible but beyond the tangible. God is real but not definable. God is present but never seen. God speaks but we never really hear the voice of God. The essence of God is the mysterious presence. This is the presence that guides us when are lost, comforts us in sorrow and strengthens us in weakness. John of the Cross and other mystics understood and embraced a God that did not give them all the answers. God is this overarching presence that allows us to feel and experience things that are beyond this realm. That mystery is what carries us forward to worship and adore our creator.

Two-Mysteries-Quote

When we are ready to embrace this mystery we can engage God as never before. God then become our partner in all that we experience. We can live with our doubts because we understand that doubt is a vital part of faith. I would venture to say that there is no faith without doubt. Embracing the first mystery allows us to believe.

The Second Mystery

God is not in the business of giving followers a blueprint of their lives. The mystic asserts that we would be very reticent to follow our creator if we had the full scope of what would be expected of us. The sufferings of life are not something we look forward to experiencing. Yet as followers, will will suffer. Some suffering will come as a direct result of following God. In all relationships, there will be some bad days. The mystic tells us these times and events must be a mystery. If we knew everything that would happen to us or be expected of us everyday, it would be impossible to face many of our days.

This second mystery involves our willingness to be believers without knowing exactly what is expected of us. This makes our lives unpredictable but none the less protected. This same God who does not allow us to know what our path will be us gives us the ability to go through every door and rise above anything that befalls us. In the midst of demands and struggles, God guides us, blesses us and makes us stronger. That strength compels us to become vessels of strength to others.


Prayer

Lord, you are the greatest of all mysteries. Your ways will never be totally known to me. My path will never be laid before me like a highway. I live knowing that no matter how winding and crooked my path may be you are always near. Your nearness, though it is a mystery, gives me comfort, strength, and joy.

Amen

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Ways to See God

Rev. Thomas pioneer of the Contemplative Movement died this past week at the age of 95. I share below some quotes from him.

Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.

God will bring people and events into our lives, and whatever we may think about them, they are designed for the evolution of His life in us.

For human beings, the most daunting challenge is to become fully human. For to become fully human is to become fully divine.

Nothing is more helpful to reduce pride than the actual experience of self-knowledge. If we are discouraged by it, we have misunderstood its meaning.

― Thomas Keating

There is no question in my mind that the best path to God is through silence. Prayer is not measured in the abundance of our words or the eloquence of our speech. Prayer is quietly listening to and waiting for the voice of God. The Contemplative Movement is about bringing this idea into the mainstream of Christian thought and spreading it beyond the limited boundaries of Christianity. Thomas Keating was a pioneer of that concept. Let me share a few ideas, with Keating’s help, about living the Contemplative life.

Silence is God’s Language

  God is not American or Chinese. He is God. The Creator is not impressed with our methods of prayer or our vain attempts to be holy. He is a God who speaks beyond words and we, as His people, must learn to listen and communicate beyond words. Silence is the language of God. Noise is the language of man. (The Devil?) My major calling of the last several years has been to search for silence in my life. In that search, I have come to understand more of God but realize that I have discovered I know less of God.

Pay Attention

When I was a boy my “report cards” often had a checked box that said, “inattentive in class.” My teacher’s method was to let me and my parents know that I was not listening to the message that she was trying to deliver. God has sent people into my life, and your life, for the purpose of teaching us about him and his intention for our lives. We often go through life inattentive of these vital messengers. In silence, we can hear them.

Becoming God’s Creation

Most of us would agree that God created us. The problem is that we immediately begin to try to recreate ourselves in the way that we see ourselves. We forget God as soon as we are able to think for ourselves. Being fully human is to acknowledge that we are created by and dependent on God. In realizing our dependence we become fully human and open the divine gate of our life.

Seeing as God Sees

We all agree that pride is a major problem in ourselves and in the world. Keating draws a correlation between pride and self-knowledge. There are many who see their weaknesses and become forlorn and depressed by them. That’s because we fail to understand the nature of God. God is the ultimate source of love and understanding. He wants us to see ourselves so we can understand him better. He has offered us a “way out” of self-centeredness and self-destruction. That way is to accept his love and understanding, and we can never do that do unless we see ourselves as we truly exist. Self-knowledge is not a road to ruin but a road to the riches of God.

These few points give us a basis to living life and becoming closer to God in that journey. Give some thought to them as you travel the pilgrimage that God has given you this week.


Prayer

Lord ,I so want to see you. Help me to find a path to you. Help not to flounder in my ways. Show me a way to listen and hear so that I may come to understand you and myself as well. Guide me to a quiet place and speak loudly to me.

Amen

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Living in the Kingdom

“Now therefore, my beloved, I beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to neglect your salvation, that this transitory life may not deprive you of eternal life, nor the skin of this corruptible body deprive you of the kingdom of light ineffable, nor a guilty seat lose you the angelic thrones of judgment. Truly my children, my heart is in wonder and my spirit in terror, that even when we were given the full freedom to become saints, we all take our pleasure like drunkards on new wine.”

—– Anthony of Egypt

Articles are written, sermons are preached on this elusive topic of salvation. Churches have formulas that are touted as the only way to God. In times past, and today, people are killed because they see the pathway to God differently. There are those who proclaim that we live in a time of “Christian Genocide.” I am not sure how far I am willing to go on that subject but I do think we are living in a time of tremendous exclusivism in religion that leads to horrible atrocities. The desert monk gives us some instruction that make the path to God very personal.

He urges us not to neglect our salvation. Religious fanatics who are engaged in eliminating others are forgetting that the main thing is how we personally relate to the kingdom of God. Does that kingdom live in our hearts.and minds? Is it real to you and what are you doing as a part Article-10.17.18--1of that kingdom? I would hardly think that God wants us to kill people who disagree with us.

Anthony asserts that our lives are transitory. He points to the tragic decision that so many make to neglect the eternal nature we all share.  We are part of the Kingdom of God, not just in the future, but right now. We are in the corruptible body that drags us down. This corruption causes us to believe that we hold ultimate right answer and all who see it differently are heretics.

We are given the freedom to become saints. The word saint comes with some baggage. By definition, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. That closeness is developed by Article-10.17.18rising above the corruption of this world. We cannot rise above this corruption and be obsessed with it at the same time. It is my firm belief that those who spend their lives condemning others simply condemn themselves. This condemnation is a result of our desire to be God.  They make the judgment, and thus, hand out the punishment.

We must not take pleasure in our own holiness but be constantly aware of our own corruption. The goal of the believer is to live in the Kingdom here and now. In order to live in the Kingdom, we must  have the heart of the King.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) Let us have the same attitude as the King. Our calling is to be  the light of the world and the one who offers hope to those who are hopeless. That’s what  “Living the Kingdom” means.


Prayer

Lord, give me the wisdom and knowledge to live in the Kingdom today. So often my own corruptions cause me to stray. The source of such corruption is sometimes a lack of self-esteem and other times just pure arrogance. Lead me away from both so I may be as you.

Amen

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Spiritual Direction and Healing the Soul

(Note: This is a reblog of an article by Lou Kavar. I thought it to be very informative and worth sharing. I will share some thoughts of my own on “Healing of the Soul” soon)

Spiritual Direction. It’s an odd term. It refers to a practice in which one person tends to another as a companion for the spiritual journey. The “direction” aspect of “spiritual direction” is what makes the term awkward. A wise spiritual director doesn’t direct anything. At best, an experienced spiritual director may make some observations about what form life is taking for the other. But someone shouldn’t be giving directions or advice.

Some people have tried using other words for “spiritual direction.” There’s spiritual friend, spiritual companion, spiritual coach or advisor, spiritual teacher …. all of which have their own problems. Conveying the dynamic of this process seems to elude all of these terms. It’s similar to trying to define spirituality itself: as soon as it’s defined, it becomes obvious that something is missing.

I don’t know when the English term “spiritual direction” was first used. In all my study, I’ve not been able to find a reference for that. But the actual process is found in every great religious tradition.

My understanding of the practice of spiritual direction is rooted in the Eastern Christian tradition. In the Eastern Christian tradition, spiritual direction traces its origin to the third century of the Common Era. At that time, the fathers and mothers of the Christian contemplative tradition sought refuge and quiet in the Sinai desert. From them emerged an understanding of what we today call spiritual director. The person regarded as a father or mother, abba or imma, was a person known for living a well integrated spiritual life. Others would seek out the wisdom of the father or mother. More often in small groups, but sometimes individually, the father or mother would offer perspective about the path of the spiritual journey. This process was understood to be one of healing.

Unlike many other approaches to spiritual direction common today, spiritual direction in Eastern Christianity is primarily known as the healing of the soul. Affirming that each person is at heart the image and likeness of the Divine, soul healing is meant to remove all obstacles that prevent the person from living fully in consonance with the Divine spark that animates each of us. From this perspective, spiritual direction isn’t just about prayer and spiritual practices or a set of exercises. Spiritual practices and disciplines do have merit in that they enable us to live into the truth of the inner light we carry. But the process of healing, of returning to wholeness, is the focus of spiritual direction. Healing and wholeness are the result of turning toward and reorienting ourselves to (Greek: metanoia) the Divine presence in us. In this process, every aspect of life is refocused to enable us to manifest the Divine light, to be transfigured into the image of God we were created to be. Healing is a movement toward integration from all the ways we each lead lives that are imbalanced or off-target (Greek: hamartia). This healing doesn’t come in an instant but is a process of growing into greater balance and harmony throughout all of life.

When I meet with others as a spiritual director, either in my study or by way of Skype, any aspect of life may be part of the conversation. For example, some people explore how the spiritual direction of life can be better integrated with work and career while others explore living compassionately in our complex world. In these conversations, my role is not that of a counselor or psychologist who identifies problems and establishes goals to solve those problems. Instead, my role is to be a reminder to return to the simple perspective of how the spiritual dimension of a person’s life gives form and shape to the other aspects of life. While only the person seeking spiritual direction can come to that kind of integration, it’s often helpful to have another ask questions or share perspectives on the process of integration. That’s what the fathers and mothers in the Sinai did when people sought their counsel.

While the spiritual dimension of my own life is rooted in the contemplative tradition of Christianity, many of those with whom I work in spiritual direction don’t share that same background. While some are Christian, some are Buddhist, and others describe themselves as spiritual but not religious or humanist. The metaphors for the integration of the spiritual dimension of life with the other aspects of life may differ because of our beliefs and practices. Yet, the essential process of healing the soul, of journeying with another along the process of wholeness, is very much the same.

Today, there’s a wide variety of perspectives on spiritual direction. Some follow a particular approach to prayer and spiritual practice, like the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, and others use psycho-spiritual tools, like the Enneagram. My approach is one of integration and is rooted in the tradition that understands spiritual growth and development as a process of healing and wholeness for all of life.

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There Is a Door for All

First, there are those who are called by the law of love which is in their nature, and which original good implanted in them. They achieve the true manner of life, because their souls are ready to follow the love of God. This is the first kind of calling.

Anthony newSecond, there are those who hear the written law testifying of the pains and torments prepared for the wicked, and of the promises for those who walk worthily in the fear of God. By the testimony of the written law, their thoughts are roused up to seek to enter into the calling.

Third, there are the souls which at first were hard of heart and persisted in the works of sin; and somehow the good God in his mercy sends upon such souls the chastisement of affliction, till they grow weary, and come back to their senses, and are converted, and draw near, and enter into knowledge, and repent with all their heart.”

—— Anthony of the Desert

Everyone who has ever lived has an inbuilt desire to discover the great unknowns of life and death. At some point in our lives, we ask questions that have no answers.  These unanswerable questions are usually pursued by venturing into the realm of the spiritual. The monk seeks to present reasons that people discover and satisfy their need for the unknown.

The first and the seemingly most noble is love. Anthony asserts that there are people who have a natural gift to love. He terms it the “law of love.” This law draws people toward a calling in Christ. They feel and see the love of God in action and are compelled to follow that law. Their motivation is one of a heartfelt desire to imitate Christ and to be His light for others.Anthony-10-10-18

The second is fear. I would venture that this is the “fear of the Lord” that is frequently referenced in scripture. These people see the might and majesty of God and quickly realize that they fall woefully short and cry out to God for redemption.

The third fear is distraction. Our world is filled with people who live busy and distracted lives. They meet themselves “coming and going” but something drastically changes. All of a sudden, often without warning, they hit a wall. Anthony calls that event a chastisement. That chastisement thrusts them into the presence of God and changes their lives.

These wise words should be taken seriously in our present culture. There are so many people crying out for answers that seem elusive to all. Examine what you are going through and I believe that you will see God showing a door that leads to peace. He invites us to walk through that door to experience His love and grace. God has a tailored invitation to all who seek Him.


Prayer

Lord, allow me to see and hear the message that you have prepared for me. May I discover the love that surrounds me and know that you are the source of that love. May I go through this day as one who is at one with you.

Amen

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There Is a Purpose After All

“When the demons see Christians, specially the monks, working joyfully and growing in the spirit, first they fight them with temptation, and by placing obstacles to hinder their growth, trying to inject evil thoughts in their minds; but there is no reason for fear from their temptations because their offenses fail instantly by prayer and fasting, specially if you have had armed yourself with faith and the sign of the cross.”

He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,” he even added, “without temptation no one can be saved.”

—- Anthony of Egypt

Most of us struggle with the concept of evil in our lives and the world. I wish that God would just straighten everything out and let us all live in peace and harmony. That would make things smooth and comfortable. How many times in your life have you asked the question, Why? We all want to know why we suffer, why do bad things happen to good people, why can’t I rid myself of this bad habit? what is the purpose? God, please let me see the purpose of my plight.

The first advice of the monk is to give us a way of conquering the temptations that perpetually plague us. October-3-Quote This much is clear. We will all face evil in our lives. This evil is not accidental but planned and intentional. The world is the domain of the evil one and he spreads his message to all of us. The good news is that we need not fear because we have the tools to battle this invasion of our being. Abba Anthony points to prayer, fasting, and the cross as our means of victory. Those of us who pray, fast and are signed by the cross will overcome. That is truly the “Good News”  of Jesus.

The monk asserts very strongly that without temptation it is impossible to be saved. Through our trials, we learn to rely on and live for God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is commonSatan-and-God to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Fascinatingly, we experience God’s power when we are tempted with evil. Our trials carry us to places we would never attain without them. It is through these times of testing that we taste the grace of God that eventually lands us in His Kingdom.

We all have cursed our time of temptations, but we also have been strengthened by such times. This strength carries us to new heights. Trials, temptations, and tribulations have a purpose after all.


Prayer

Lord, as I walk through these tough time help me to remember that there is a door on the other side. This door leads me to a life that is increasingly closer to your kingdom. Allow that realization to give me further strength as I make that occasional turn in the wrong direction. Let me be faithful to you in all that I do.

Amen

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Did You Find the Divine?

The only trouble is that in the spiritual life there are no tricks and no shortcuts. Those who imagine that they can discover spiritual gimmicks and put them to work for themselves usually ignore God’s will and his grace.

 

We must approach our meditation realizing that ‘grace,’ ‘mercy,’ and ‘faith’ are not permanent inalienable possessions which we gain by our efforts and retain as though by right, provided that we behave ourselves. They are CONSTANTLY RENEWED GIFTS. The life of grace in our hearts is renewed from moment to moment, directly and personally by God in his love for us.

 

True contemplation is not a psychological trick but a theological grace. It can come to us ONLY as a gift, and not as a result of our own clever use of spiritual techniques

 

 

++++ Thoughts from Thomas Merton


 

There are some fascinating words of Jesus in John 17: 23&24, “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Have you ever pondered on this passage? What does it mean to be one with God? Further, why are we one with Him?

The contemplative monk Thomas Merton had this to say about the passage. “The seeds of this perfect life are planted in every Christian soul at Baptism. But seeds must grow and develop before you reap the harvest. There are thousands of Christians walking about the face of the earth bearing in their bodies the infinite God of whom they know practically nothing.”

Life would be so different if only we recognized and nourished these precious seeds we bear in our souls. God has given each of us a small part of himself. After all, we are created in the “image and likeness” of God. The pilgrimage of a lifetime is to discover and nurture that precious gift God has given us. We discover this gift as we spend time with Him-fully open to His presence. We can pray, fast, meditate, worship and engage in sacred reading, all with the objective of allowing our master to complete this process. It is so very sad that so many people never allow for the development of the divine within themselves.


 

Prayer

Lord, help me to find you. Guide me to look in the right places with the right motive. Keep me away from selfish and vain journeys that I might say are a search for the divine.

Amen

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The Fine Line

St. Ammon of Nitria came to St. Anthony and asked him, “My labors are greater than yours, yet your name is widespread among people more than mine, why?” St. Anthony replied, “Because I love God more than you do.”

“If devils praised your asceticism, and called you ‘blessed’ do not listen to them, and do not deal with them, but rather make the sign of the cross on yourselves, and your dwellings, and pray. You will find that they will flee, as they are craven, and fear the sign of the cross of the Lord, as the Lord disarmed them, and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.” (Col. 2:15)

++++ Sayings of the Desert

There is a very fine line between being intolerably egotistical and being honest and realistic about our work. Working hard and faithfully does not automatically make you closer to God. To become close to God we mustego understand His love for us and all those around us. His love is not limited to the most productive or rich but also stretches out to all of His creation. The scripture says,”On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” Simply put, it is not what we do but why we do it. We can’t pick which part of God’s creation to love. One of the primary reasons that the monastics fled to the desert was to get away from the “business” of a state endorsed and empowered religion. A state, or even a popularly endorsed religion, easily becomes a culture/state driven religion. Somewhere God takes a back seat.

We can learn from the sayings of these ,men and women by taking heed to the things they offer about power and influence. Education is good, influence is good and all other forms of gaining favor with our fellow man are a vital part of being the light of the world. Such things allow us to influence changes  that lead to a more Christian reality. God would say that is good. He would also say that if it is not done out of love that it is worthless. There remains a fine line between ego, love and reality that only the Holy Spirit can sort out for us.

The Fathers and Mothers fled to the desert and worked this out by isolation from the world. We don’t have that option. Our calling is to live within the chaos of this -Mother-Teresa 9-19-18world and seek to love as God loves in the middle of our situation. Modern Christianity is facing some very tough times at the moment. Sometimes, I wonder if we will survive. When I ponder such thoughts one word keeps popping up –LOVE.  If we can model the love of God, all can be made well. Love succeeds where philosophy, theology, psychology and  other disciplines fail. We must love as he loves and share that simple truth with all we engage.


Prayer

Lord, teach me to keep my ego in check when I use the talents that YOU have given me. Give me the wisdom to use my knowledge for the good of all who you send my way. As I do these things may my heart never stray from an understanding of your love. In that understanding, all things are possible.

Amen

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God the Craftsman

Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so, we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or we labor in vain.

—– Anthony of the Desert

Blacksmith

In her play, “The Zeal of Thy House,” Dorothy Sayers imagines a stonemason working on an intricate carving for the chancel of Canterbury Cathedral. He then drops his carving tool and ruins the stone. This devastates him because the valuable and custom-cut stone is ruined. The designer, however, takes the toolStone mason church out of the stonemason’s hand and begins restoration. He brings forth out of the spoiled stone a new and different figure which has its own part to play in the Cathedral and then permits the blundering mason to complete it in all its glory. “So works with us,” concludes Dorothy Sayers, “the cunning craftsman, God.”

As I tell this story, I cannot shake the phrase from my mind: “The cunning craftsman, God.” In this situation, the word cunning does not mean some kind of craftiness or deceit. The word is taken in its purer sense indicating skill, wisdom, and ability. The phrase then really means that the Master artist God can take our awkward efforts and make something useful out of them. He takes our mismanaged lives, our failed efforts, our missed marks, our shameful deeds, our alien attitudes, our sinful lives and with His divine resourcefulness, He saves the day. He creates something new, worthy and wonderful that still has usefulness and beauty in the divine plan of things. We desperately need this type of assurance.

I joy in the fact that I can dwell in that state of assurance. God has promised to be with us always even in the lowest valley of our lives. he is always eager and ready to reshape and rebuild us.


Prayer

Lord, I open myself to you and ask you to reshape and restore me in the way that you intended when you created me. May my life be shaped, with fire if necessary, to resemble your beauty and majesty. This is my prayer.

Amen

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In Time of Trouble

While I was in trouble with my feet and very weak, some of the brethren came to see me and ask me to tell them something about the cause of my sickness. I think they had a double purpose, first to comfort me by distracting me from my pain and second to set me off talking about something profitable.

—Dorotheos of Gaza

I truly believe the monk’s assertion of the two fold purpose of any visit to those that are in need is very valid and weighty. When we comfort someone that is hurting, we have a tendency to turn them away from their pain, but more significantly we make them feel a sense of value. The monk was sitting in his cell probably thinking of nothing but the gout that caused him so much pain, but his day was interrupted with a joyful distraction. This interruption lifted him away from the routine of the day and gave him value to the brethren even in the midst of his pain.

Dorotheos gives us a very valuable lesson in his words. This lesson reframes the purpose of visiting the sick and lonely. When we comfort someone in need, we not only minister to them, but we give them an opportunity to minister to us. The brothers visited the monk in his time of suffering, and they gave him the chance to feel whole again. Dorotheos teaches us that we should never stop sharing and never stop serving. In this serving and sharing, God allows us to be disciples no matter what our condition may be.


I have always gotten great comfort from prayers of the Celtic tradition. Perhaps this one will mean as much to you as it has to me.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

You are the love

of each living creature O God

You are the warmth

of the rising sun

You are the whiteness

of the moon at night

You are the life

of the growing earth

You are the strength

of the waves of the sea.

Speak to me this night O God

Speak to me your truth.

Dwell with me this night O God

Dwell with me in love.

Amen


 

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