Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You Can't Avoid the Dark Night By Redefinition

I went to see my Spiritual Director today. He had some cold hard truths to tell me about where I am in my current spiritual path.

For a while now I have been struggling with a new and for lack of a better term mystifying (interesting coming from someone who has such a fascination with mystics) prayer life. Me, the person who loves words, has been unable to pray with words or receive answer to prayer in words. What I do get when I pray is either great silence, or images. Neither causes me great distress, but neither gives me comfort, because I have no idea what to do with these images.

I am what you might call an idea person. Give me a topic and a sufficient amount of time and I can come up or brainstorm an entire notebook of ideas about that topic, so when I first started getting images in prayer I would immediately go into brainstorm mode and come up with 99 interpretations for what the image might mean. With no one to guide my mind's wandering or to help me sift through the processing (or so I thought) I was left confused most of the time until after the fact when suddenly I could see in hindsight how the image fit into what was going on in my life.

I could feel myself slipping into a lost state, and knew that God was trying to stretch me by this new form of communication in prayer, but somehow I was the one who wasn't getting the message; I was the imperfect receptacle. I kept thinking to myself, If I know that God wants to stretch me, and I know that it has something to do with the images, can I avoid the pain and loneliness of the Dark Night?

It was at this point that my wise Spiritual Director stopped me. "Don't you see," he said to me "that you are already in the dark night, just because you understand what it looks like and want to call it something else doesn't change the fact that your prayer is no longer consoling and life giving, but confused and causing you great pain."

That stopped me short. Here was that amazing mirror that good Spiritual Directors use. He held it up in front of me and helped me to see myself exactly as I am. No matter how rationally I think about where I have been, and where I need to go, there is no denying the pain and loneliness and confusion of where I am at this moment. No matter how many books I try to read on prayer or dreams or divine imagery I can't deny that where I am is in the Darkness.

What I do know is that what used to work for me doesn't any longer. What I need to do is learn to be comfortable where I am; with the images. If there is some meaning that is supposed to be attached to an image, it will come, if not, it isn't my job to try so hard to find it.

Teresa of Avila uses the imagery of prayer as water. You go to the well, and draw water from the well using a bucket. It is labor intensive, but it works. Eventually the well runs dry because God wants you to move to a different kind of prayer.

In the second form of prayer your fields are irrigated by a stream that runs near it, it is much easier to get the water this way, much less labor intensive.

God eventually sends rain onto the fields, and all you have to do for that kind of prayer is be present, and the water falls upon you, no movement on your part is necessary at all in this form of prayer.

And finally there is the water in the stream or ocean that surrounds you; this form of prayer doesn't just touch you, it engulfs you. You can fight against the water or you can rest in it, allowing your own buoyancy to keep you afloat and upright.

My Spiritual Director thinks there might be one more invitation. If God is the ocean. Then perhaps some of us are called to stop just floating, and to learn to totally let go, let God and be open to the total metamorphosis into an ocean dwelling creature who can be content to be totally submerged always and no longer need to breath air. Is that where I am in my prayer life, am I still fighting to breathe air and God is asking me to let go (die to self) and let God become even my breathing apparatus, so that I am totally engulfed in God alone? Am I being called to let my entire life "be prayer"?

This was what my Spiritual Director left me to ponder. This is my dark night, learning to totally die to self, learning how to breathe God alone, so that my life can be prayer. It is a staggeringly humbling thought.

Could it happen?


Monday, October 26, 2009

Mystic Monday: In a Cloud

Today dear children we are going to enter a deeply spiritual work that is at once simple and layered with complexity. This work is the 14th Century classic The Cloud of Unknowing.

Little is known about the author of this amazing work. It was written for someone, possibly a monk or hermit just starting out on his spiritual journey. Interestingly, the techniques that "the master" offers are ones that are being used today, such as centering prayer and meditation.

We cannot ever fully understand God or penetrate the Cloud that surrounds God, but as we strip away our need to gain knowledge, what we can do says the author is to send “sharp darts” of “longing love” — for while we may never fully know God, at least we are able to the best of our ability to love God.

One of my favorite passages from the book states how God perceives us:

It is not what you are nor what you have been that God sees with his all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.

Now that is a God of love that I can learn to love. God already sees us as mystics, we just have to learn to be content being in God's presence whatever that means. Who knew it could be that simple. Oh wait a minute, the author of "The Cloud of Unknowing" did in 1375.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

This is the Best Week Ever!!!

I am having a very Spongebob week.

Each time I think my week can't get any more surreal, something new happens that makes it just that much more strange and not ordinary. It all started on Saturday when the old adage that a good deed never goes unpunished was proven to be true when I cut my thumb trying to open a box while I was volunteering at the concession stand at the IU game. It was a pretty bad cut, and I thought it needed a butterfly, but the kitchen only had a first aide kit so I put a band aid on it and went back to work, but an hour later after having had to change the band aid twice I finally found the First Aid station in the stadium and the nurse there put a butterfly on it and that was exactly what it needed.

Then by Sunday when I took the gauze off it looked as though it was pretty bruised, and by Tuesday the bruise looked even bigger and I just felt wrong. It turns out that I have a pretty bad infection in the cut. Had the kitchen just sent me to the First Aid station in the first place I probably would have avoided the whole trauma and drama of the infection and antibiotics and all that mess.

Then on Tuesday we found out that my daughter lost her new cell phone. She swears that it has to be somewhere in the house, but she can't remember if it was in the pocket of her coat when we were shopping on Saturday. So we have to deal with that.

In the rush to get to school after spending all the time looking for her phone I forgot to bring a package with me to Indianapolis that I was intending to deliver to my supervisor to save on mailing it. It turns out that she was even at lunch that day and I could have hand delivered it to her. Each day since then I have forgotten to mail it too, so I still have that to do this week before I forget.

Then Tuesday in the middle of the night the same daughter got sick and woke up Wednesday with a sore throat which with all the H1N1 panic, meant she had to stay home from school and she was terrified that it meant that she might have to miss a week or more of school. She was really upset, and I couldn't console her because I didn't know the extent of her illness, because at the time she was just sick, but no fever which was a good thing. Still no fever, and a bit of a cough but I doubt since she has no fever that she has anything approaching H1N1. She doesn't even have the sore throat anymore, so I am thinking if she wants to go back to school tomorrow I will let her since she feels so much better today.

Then on Wednesday, while I was getting ready for my presentation for the RCIA in Terre Haute, the strap of my favorite purse broke. So now I have to go shopping, which is about my least favorite thing to do, so I can replace that purse because the ones I have in the closet are way too big for my needs anymore.

And my dear loving husband only gets to come home for the weekend before he has to fly back out for another meeting in Maryland, so I get to see him for less than 48 hours before he will be gone again. the last two times he has traveled this has happened and he was supposed to be traveling less now.

Oh well, the phone will either be found or we will replace the sym card and she will use her brother's old phone. I am tolerating the mega dose antibiotic pretty well without too awful side effects, and I will get to see my hubby for the weekend, so as the balance sheets go I am doing pretty well.

As my pal Spongebob says: This is the best week ever!.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who Really Creates Peace

Who except God can give you peace? Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart?

- Saint Gerard Majella (1725-1755)

h/t to daily blessings

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mystic Monday Christ's Hands and Feet Edition

Today dear children we are going to revisit our wonderful friend Teresa of Avila for a little inspiration concerning the job description of a Christian.

Teresa was a 16th century Carmelite nun who wrote the primer on the mystical life called "The Interior Castle" In it she describes the journey one must take to reach an intimate relationship with God.

What I wish to share with you today is a short poem that she wrote to help us to understand our mission as Christians.

"Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours, no feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which to look out

Christ's compassion to the world

Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Krazy Mixed up Week of Mine

I have had one strange week. Nothing has been simple or in the right place all week. Sorry I missed a Mystic Monday post, but I didn't even realize I hadn't posted one until this morning when my week got even stranger.

Anyway, to make up for it I am going to offer you today a quote from a man who just may be a mystic, but is most assuredly the only philosopher that I can read without my head feeling as though it will explode: Soren Kierkegaard. This particular quote is on Christians and biblical interpretation and offers a glimpse at the need of the human heart.

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you?

This is such a Kierkegaardian statement, full of empathy and humor that it breaks your heart to realize that he is actually seeing exactly what you are feeling.

Or is that just me?

h/t to inward/outward for the quote.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Not So Radical Obedience

I learned something really interesting about obedience in the last few weeks. It isn't enough to simply be obedient to the will of God if you are doing so grudgingly and letting everyone know how burdensome doing God's will is for you. This kind of obedience isn't true obedience. That kind of obedience never really leads to true peace.

If you grudgingly offer to do God's will. then let everyone know just how burdensome that effort is for you your submission to the will of God borders on back patting and vainglory.

God wants us to surrender, but God wants that surrender to be willing, self giving surrender. We have to make the decision, after looking at whatever situation we are faced with, and decide for ourselves that God's plan is right and follow it willingly, peacefully and humbly. Any other submission on our part really isn't true submission, but to some extent is a way to hold back some control on our part. In a way we are saying "I'll do this, but I won't like it." or "I'll go along with your plan but it is never going to work out." Either of these responses will in some respect have to have a negative effect on the outcome of our submission. At least that is what I have found in my own life.

True obedience takes a few steps: First I have to admit that God has a plan for my life; and whether I like it or not, God's plan may not look at all like the plan I have made for my future.

Next, I have to admit that no matter how much I want my life to work out the way I had it planned, even if what I am planning to do is something that I think might come to a good end or be good in the long run, to stick with my plan would be a form of disobedience to God's will.

I need to be willing to admit that God's plan is the one that I should follow, and follow it willingly, meekly and at least without grumbling to everyone who will listen ( and some who don't even care to listen) that I am grudgingly doing God's will, patting myself on the back the entire time.

When I follow these steps in my life, the obedience doesn't get easier, but the humility makes for a greater sense of peace. I begin to see that maybe God's plan makes sense. Maybe there is a way ahead of me that I couldn't even see because I was so determined to make my life work out exactly as I had it planned. At the same time it no longer matters to me what the world thinks about how my life looks, or how successful I may seem in the eyes of the world, because I know that I am doing God's will, and that is enough for me.

When we surrender to God's will, get that sense of peace that surpasses all understanding, then we can move into areas where we might not have gone on our own. We are more willing to allow God's plan to unfold before us and show us a way to live that is radically dependant upon God, and totally free at the same time.

What a concept.