Category Archives: Prayer
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.
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.
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.
Meditation is the latest of a series of spiritual practices that have surged in the past few year. Practices of meditation have been around for thousands of tears. These practices were usually limited to monasteries and groups that specialized in the practice.Wikipedia tells us that meditation can be defined as a practice where an individual uses a technique, such as focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. Meditation is practiced by all world religions and by agnostics and atheists. Why?
- Meditations relieves stress
- Meditation get us in touch with our inner selves
- Meditation demands for us to slow down
- Meditation forces us to live without noise
- Meditation is a way to get in touch with God
- Meditation improves our focus
- Meditation can make us healthier
Let’s take a look at what a few well known thinkers has said about meditation.
The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large. – Confucius
We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship. – C.S. Lewis
Divinely bent to meditation;
And in no worldly suits would he be mov’d,
To draw him from his holy exercise.
– William Shakespeare, Richard III Act 3, Scene 7
God’s first language is Silence. Everything else is a translation. — Thomas Keating
In the inner stillness where meditation leads, the Spirit secretly anoints the soul and heals our deepest wounds. – St. John of the Cross
Through the study of books one seeks God; by meditation one finds him –Padre Pio
The more we can give in our silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life. – Mother Teresa
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. —-Psalm 19:14
Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; As for me, I shall be glad in the LORD. Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain—–Psalm 104:1-34
My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word. May the arrogant be ashamed, for they subvert me with a lie; But I shall meditate on Your precepts. May those who fear You turn to me, Even those who know Your testimonies. —- Psalm 119:78-148
Lord, help me to find the time to dwell upon you everyday. May I be guided to a special place that is quiet enough to hear even a whisper from you.
The prophet tells us: “And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply, he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” (Luke 3:10-11) The crowd was speaking to John the Baptist about how they would live the Missional life. They were confused and waiting for the Rabbis to tell them what to do. Perhaps the Synagogue’s Missions Committee would set up a program so that they could “Plug-In”. Instead, John said: JUST DO IT!
What should we do? Do as the prophet said two thousand years ago. Share as you go, give your personal property away to those who are in need, live a life of simply caring about others. Caring becomes a way of life and the first thing you know it will be better to give than to receive.
OK, some action suggestions:
- Give something of your own to a person in need.
- Give food or help to a homeless person (it doesn’t matter WHY they are homeless).
- Give a smile or a kind word to a stranger.
- Pick up some trash in your neighborhood–just because.
- Volunteer at a park, zoo or hospital.
- Become a mentor for a child.
These are just a few ways that you can just do something Missional this week. The message -DON’T WAIT- just do it !
Lord, compel me to take action where it is needed and give me the ability to show your grace to the people I encounter.
For over a decade I have sought to establish a life as a contemplative in a very busy world. The first inclination for anyone who strives to live a contemplative life is to withdraw. My study of the desert mothers and fathers reveals that the overwhelming majority of them were hermits. Does that mean that we have to become hermits to be contemplatives? Is it possible for us to become hermits? Is it really necessary to become hermits? Most importantly, is it right to become a hermit? How then can we become contemplatives in the world in which we live? Let unpack those ideas.
Do we have to become hermits to be contemplatives? The initial evidence would certainly point us in that direction. Not only the desert monastics, but Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross and many other well-known contemplatives were hermits. Many of the modern contemplatives we study like Richard Rhorr, Thomas Merton and others have spent extended periods of time each year living as hermits. Almost to a person, these contemplatives would say that being a hermit is not a prerequisite for being a contemplative. Being a contemplative involves developing a lifestyle that allows us to be quiet and alone wherever we may find ourselves. The outer noise does not negate the inner silence. We can develop a contemplative state of mind regardless of our circumstances.
I would also venture to say that it is impossible for the overwhelming majority of people who read these words to even consider being a hermit. For most of us, it is impossible to spend 40 days living in the solitude of a hermitage. We have responsibilities and obligations that are very important that we must keep. God would not want us to abandon our families, jobs, and churches to live an isolated lifestyle. For many of us that would consider life as a hermit, it would not be a calling but an escape or maybe even an abandonment of our responsibilities. I cannot see any real evidence that God says that the only truly set apart contemplatives are living in a hermitage somewhere at the edge of the world. As a matter of fact, such a life would be the wrong thing for most of us to pursue.
I like the concept presented by Eckhart that contemplation is that soil that brings forth the harvest. As Christians, we are told by Jesus that we are the light of the world and we know that without light there is no life. Our Lord further tells us we are the salt of the earth and our presence both preserves and flavors the world. The harvest of the contemplative is to make a difference.
Let me make a few suggestions that might allow us to be contemplatives and people of action.
My contemplation journey has been greatly influenced by some key elements. They are:
My slow, attentive, mindful reading helped me make a profound connection with the words of the Desert Monks, Merton, Julian of Norwich and others. This mindful reading allows me to hear and cherish each word.
Several years ago I began to write my thoughts on this blog and other places. Since then, writing has become a practice that relaxes me and enables me to express those feeling that God has presented to me.
I found solitude to be an essential prerequisite to any contemplative period. Time alone in silence, even in a not so quiet place, became a respite for me away from the busy life I am leading. Solitude for me is being able to shut out the noise that surrounds me and be at one with myself. I found it relaxing, calming, and most of all, healing.
- Detoxing from the media
One thing I find necessary is that I must take some time each week when I don’t keep up with the 24/7 news. It may be a morning or evening when I read or write with no interference. These media fasts allow me to be more positive and responsive to the needs around me.
To deepen the contemplative process I make it a practice to go on retreat at least once a year. This is a good opportunity to get away from everything and spend some time in surroundings that are more conducive to opening up richer thought processes. Even when it is just a long walk in the park, I have managed to mentally reach a better place.
- Meditation practice
A time of pure silent meditation is a very important practice for the contemplative. The practice of Contemplative Prayer is a deep well of spiritual refreshment.
The monks of the desert advocated the concept of work and prayer. I have found that physical labor and practicing creative arts are avenues to the contemplative life. Whether I am working on a woodcraft project or restoring a rusted old tool, I am in communication with God. My work practices are some of my richest times of contemplation.
Contemplation can reap a rich harvest that creeps up slowly, unannounced and unexpected and brings such blessed peace.
Lord help me to plant the seeds of contemplation that will bring the abundant spiritual harvest.
- Why Do We Feel Good After Religious Retreats? (medindia.net)
- What it’s like to spend Christmas in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama (telegraph.co.uk)
Abba Carion said, ‘I have labored much harder than my son Zacharias and yet I have not attained to his measure of humility and silence.’
—-Sayings of the Desert
Very few of us would think of humility as a laborious task, yet the Abba speaks this word about himself. There are two distinct lines of thought in this very brief saying. First, humility is not only a sought-after state for the contemplative but is a lifelong labor. The second is the apparent unfairness of some people being rewarded even if they labor less than we do.
Humility is a hard task, and we must wake every day to the familiar words of the Jesus Prayer, “… have mercy on me, a SINNER.” Until we see ourselves as worthy of nothing but graciously gifted with His saving grace, we will never attain any sort of true humility.
Feeling cheated or let down by God is an age-old problem. So many times in our lives we have felt as though we have done all we can do, and we are still lacking. Exasperatingly, we are confronted with others who did less and received abundant blessings. The lesson here is that we do what we do out of love and worship of God, and not for reward from Him.
Lord, give me that grace to be able to labor for you without question. Drive away the tendency to think that I work harder than other and am somehow cheated. Let me take each task as a blessing that only I can achieve.
When we wish to suggest our wants to persons of high station,
we do not presume to do so
except with humility and reverence.
How much the more, then,
are complete humility and pure devotion necessary
in supplication of the Lord who is God of the universe!
And let us be assured
that it is not in saying a great deal that we shall be heard (Matt 6:7),
but in purity of heart and in tears of compunction.
Our prayer, therefore, ought to be short and pure,
unless it happens to be prolonged
by an inspiration of divine grace.
In community, however, let prayer be very short,
and when the Superior gives the signal let all rise together.
On Reverence in Prayer – Rule of St. Benedict
There are countless books written on prayer. How to pray? When to pray? Why to pray? Who to pray for? Nearly 1500 years ago the monk “Benedict “gave us a short paragraph that shed light on these questions. Let’s us look at his suggestions to his fellow monks, and I dare say, to us.
First, we are humble in our approach to people we wish to help us. We seldom get help when we are very haughty towards those who could easily help us. Benedict notes that when we approach persons of high station (money and power,) we do it with reverence and humility. Simply stated, our wants are wrapped with respect and deference. We do not approach people preaching at them about what they owe to others because they as so blessed by God.
Second, he reminds us that we owe abundantly more respect and deference to God when we approach Him. Let’s not go to God quoting the “ask and receive” verses that we find so handy when we need something. We tend to use these verses to force the hand of God. He will not be forced.
Fourth, prayer should have purity of heart and emotion bearing repentance. When prayer bears these characteristics, it is pure and worthy of the ear of God. Benedict suggests that prayers ought to be short and pure.
God calls for prayers that are reverent and non-attention getting.
Lord, remind me that you deserve my reverence and respect no matter how dire my present need may seem. Let me pray to you and learn to wait patiently for your answer. Relive me of the temptation to pray with many words to impress others and to wear you down.
Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.
Silence has many dimensions. It can be a regression and an escape, a loss of self, or it can be presence, awareness, unification, self-discovery. Negative silence blurs and confuses our identity, and we lapse into daydreams or diffuse anxieties. Positive silence pulls us together and makes us realize who we are, who we might be, and the distance between the two. Hence, positive silence implies a choice, and what Paul Tillich called the “courage to be.”
For over seven years we lived on a very busy city street. During that time I began to believe that silence was just a myth that is found in some far off place. I, like the German sculptor Jean Arp, began to believe that silence was passing into legend. Two and a half years ago I moved into a much quieter, though not silent, neighborhood. Once again, I enjoyed birdsong and could hear the sound of the wind flowing through the trees. It was as though I was rediscovering creation. Soon I realized that my new home has noise as well. Determined not to let my silence be taken away from me, I began to embrace the noise as a pathway to inner silence. That sense of silence acted as a catalyst for a new and stronger spirituality.
Merton refers to the damage caused by negative silence in “Love and Living.” My observation is the more we are surrounded by noise the more likely we are to fall into negative silence. I believe that it is caused by the constant awareness of that background noise that is always present. We become so frustrated by our inability to escape the uproar of humanity and position ourselves at the feet of the creator. We fight so hard to escape the uproar, we never find peace. The path remains elusive to us because we are concentrated on the negative. True silence is out there waiting for us to discover it.
True silence is positive silence, which is a time and a place of self-discovery. From that place we can be in the presence of God. The prophet Zephaniah says, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests. “I believe that only way to truly be before the Lord is in silence. How can we really hear God above the din of the world unless we clear our minds and focus on Him? The Bible, early Christians, medieval mystics, modern monastics and all other sorts of people in sincere search of God have a common cry -SILENCE!! This cry instructs us to find a quiet place and present ourselves to God. The quietness allows God to calm us, settle us and speak to us, and more importantly, for us to hear God.
No matter what your circumstance, try not to believe that the quiet place is a thing of the past. Take the time to hear your surroundings and listen to God wherever you may be. The throng of urban life doesn’t have to drive us into the negative silence of brooding and moping. Discover the glimpses of silence that God allows you. Try not to be frustrated with the sounds of His creation but to offer them up as part of your journey to your inner self.
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
If we would approach men who are in power with humility and reverence, when we want to ask a favor, how much more must we beseech the Lord God of all things with all humility and pure devotion? Remember that it is not for many words, but for the purity of our heart and tears of remorse that we are heard. For this reason, prayers ought to be short and pure, unless they are lengthened by the inspiration of divine grace. At the community exercises, however, let the prayer always be short, and the sign having been given by the Abbot, let all rise together.
The quote I use today is from the Rule of St. Benedict. This rulebook for the monastic life was written by Benedict around 530. Benedict created the rule at a time when the Roman Empire had collapsed in the West, and Europe was being overrun by barbarian tribes. Christianity in Europe appeared to be about finished. He gathered together some faithful men and women who wanted to preserve a remnant of the faith for the future. That scenario is eerily similar to our own day. Today’s Christians are out numbered and declining. We would do well to look to the wisdom of Benedict the monk and his rule of life. Using his rule I offer a few hints about prayer.
When we pray we should be aware of whom we are addressing. We would never presume to be demanding on someone who we respected and admired ,then how much more should we come to God with great humility. An attitude of humble prayer is not demanding or presumptuous. A humble prayer is prayed with the full awareness of who we are and who HE is. A humble prayer is reverent and respectful and presents itself in a spirit of devotion. A humble prayer is set forth in the form of a plea to a merciful God who loves us. Humility is a key factor is our prayer life.
Jesus said, “ When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.” Somewhere along the way we were given the impression that prayer must be fanciful or lengthy to be valid. This attitude has bred self righteousness in some and fear in others. Because of this attitude there are those who never want to pray and other who enjoy the platitudes that they receive for their “well said” prayers. We are urged to go to God with a pure heart and words that are real to us.
God is not impressed by prayers that are prayed for the sake of an audience and not really to Him. Most of us have experienced showy and lengthy prayers at a church or a study. We then ask ourselves, was that for God or prayed to impress us?
God cannot be goaded into answering prayer. Praying all night will not force God to answer your prayer. Benedict saw prayer as a normal part of your day. The monks prayed in the morning and then went about the work of the day. Later they assembled again for prayer and after went about their work. Prayer was not long and drawn out but a continuous part of their day.
Lord, lead me to a life of humility. Help me to understand how and when to pray. Protect me from my ego and let me see your love. Give me the courage to praise you wherever I am and to know that you are there.
- Sermon: When the World Is Against You, Acts 24 (grantspasschurchofchrist.com)
“Do we know what it means to praise? To adore? To give glory? Praise is cheap, today. Everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars, all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable—everything is constantly being “praised”. Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is “praised” with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcer, it turns out in the end that nothing is praised. Praise has become empty. Nobody really wants to use it.”
—- Thomas Merton from “Praying the Psalms”
Psalm 145 is called a Psalm of praise and it begins with these words, “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.” Many churches have what is called “Praise Worship.” When I was a young pastor our church had a “Praise Team.” Some sixty years ago Merton spotted the glib way that we used the word praise. He considered it overdone, sickening and empty. The praise word is even used more lightly in the church today.
Praise has become a style, a sound, a type of worship and in doing so has lost the true meaning of praising Go. We can praise God quietly or with enthusiasm. All too often we equate praise with some amount motion or practice. To praise God properly all of our attention must be focused on Him. Modern praise is many times like “distracted driving.” We are always looking for the next move and not focused on the main thing. We cannot be in two places at once. Our praise to God must be directed towards Him, and not done in such a way as to emulate the world. Our challenge is to rediscover what it means to praise God. Let me offer a few suggestions.
Make your praise undistracted by what others are doing. “Come to our church and find out what it is like to really praise God.” Have you ever heard that line? I have. You, I, all of us, must praise God in our own way. There is tremendous peer pressure to define praising God as doing it my way. God can be praised with shouts of joy, with extended silence and many other ways. Praise is not limited to a style or even a time.
Make your praise focused on God and God alone. Praise is the joyful recounting of all God has done for us. Offering God praise is, at its very nature, something we must do in our heart of hearts. Praise can be a part of worship, but it must more importantly be a part of you. We don’t go to worship to praise God, we are worshipping because we praise Him. All too often our worship is focused on praising the preaching, the music or some other part of the service and praising God is an auxiliary outcome.
Make your praise be more than the world’s praise. The world’s praise is done to lift up a person, a product or a performance. God doesn’t need that. Merton’s strong warning was for us not to fall into the world’s idea of praise but to make praise of God so much more. Praise of God far exceeds compliments, it is recognizing His might and glory. In such recognition we easily see the wonderful nature of God and His generous provision for us, His creation. Without Him we are nothing. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Keep that in mind when you praise God.
Make your praise part of your daily walk. Praise must be in your very soul.” Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens, you have made them bright, precious and fair.” (Francis of Assisi) As we come to see God in His creation each day, each step is an act of praise. Jesus gives us some advice, “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” As we grow to appreciate our daily blessings, praise will become a natural part of us.
Lord, help me to rediscover genuine praise of You. The world cheapens all things and draws attention to itself. That is the work of the evil one whom you cast from Your divine presence. Lord help me to center myself on praise of You in all that you have created. My praise is not defined by the world but designed by your spirit that dwells in me. Guide this day as I walk the paths of your creation. Might I see your touch everywhere I go and in everyone I meet.