Any spiritual journey is, if authentically embraced, a journey towards truth. Significant truths often come to us in pieces, rather than all at once – and that is what is happening with me when I consider a question recently posed.
In Beholding Trinity Through Relationship: Deep Calls to Deep, An Intimate Journey With God, Neil Fraser takes us on a journey that uses a simple-on-the-surface structure – with results that are stunningly rich and complex. This is a book that you could read and reread, and then discover something new about the contemplative path each time.
There seems to be a certain kind of death and rebirth that occurs in adulthood, perhaps at multiple times in different forms. Some astrologers refer to something similar when they speak of "The Return of Saturn." From a lesser adult self-sense (perhaps what Thomas Keating refers to as the false self), we suffer and emerge into a higher, more authentic Self.
In Ambition Addiction, Benjamin Shalva recognizes that some amount of ambitiousness is healthy, but there are tell-tale signs when your desire to achieve success can turn into a destructive disease. These touchstones served as good guides for me; in fact, the lessons in this book are such that anyone who sometimes stresses out about the fast pace of 21st century life could benefit from reading it.
One's perspective goes under water, in a sense, when as Subjects we realize so much of our perception is subjective. This continues to cycle as the mystic ascends stages. What Ken Wilber calls the "higher self" in the causal state-stage and what Christian mysticism speaks of in terms of a couple of dark nights overlapping The Illuminative Way, or Illuminatio, is a realm of encounters with archetypes, which serve as the base, or core, of the entire Time-Space Matrix.
It was an autumn afternoon at Vassar College. I had stayed up the previous night writing a paper. I turned the paper in at an office across campus and began walking back to my dorm room, eager to rest. Soon, it would be nightfall. The cold wind blew across my face. Leaves fell along my path. Gothic architecture merged into the shadows. Tombstones in the nearby cemetery reflected the last vestiges of sunlight.
It was my junior year at Vassar College, and Christianity was not a part of my life. If anything, it was somewhat old, tattered, and worn - like an ugly shirt associated with bad self-esteem. Something to ignore and not use - at least for now. At the same time, feelings had begun to ferment under the surface, a new sensation of aliveness that had been absent for awhile. Some vague emotional flow had been restored and sought regeneration.
The Protestant reformation had a valid point in its rebellion against the practices it perceived to be idolatrous. After all, there is no God but God, and no earthly things - whether people, statues, or cathedrals - can substitute for the Eternal and Infinite nature of a God that always eludes the conscious understanding of our finite minds. Everything in this world remains imperfect, and it's good to be reminded of that.
I recently met Celeste Barnard through social media and I’m sure glad that I did. I offered to review her book, Reflections: 31 Daily Devotionals, and so she sent me a copy to read. Although I was engaged from the start by her down-to-earth, easy-to-read writing style, I was completely hooked when I read the second devotional.
It's been my experience that the vast majority of monastics and vowed religious tend to frown upon the cultural craze of self-help teachings. Much in our society is based on 'getting things done,' 'winning,' and becoming more 'efficient;' it is understandable that truly disciplined contemplatives might think true spirituality is being overlooked. Simply staying 'available for God's grace,' or 'resting in Being,' should be the emphasis, some think. The spiritual life is not a race.
Maybe Reason is grossly over-rated. Maybe any great mind attempting to make sense of the world has a deep-seated control complex, and the greatest works of scientific and philosophic discipline are nothing more than a terrible two-year-old demanding his toys, just using more sophisticated language to do it.
It's only natural in a society that relies primarily on "evidence-based research" to doubt all things supernatural. A generalized acceptance of God's existence and the teachings of the church may reside one's conscious thoughts, but we usually don't walk around day-to-day expecting the miraculous. So when it does happen, it can be quite a shock. Even startling. And this prayer works miracles.
I've found that using the Jesus Prayer throughout the day can be a simple, contemplative practice that has a powerful effect. The prayer goes back to the Eastern Orthodox spiritual fathers, whose collection of texts, The Philokalia, outlines many mystical practices used by hermits of the early church.
Going into deeper states can reach a point, and usually many points, where our own "mental picture" of God starts to seem as if it is in need of a new architecture. In fact, this is central to the journey of contemplation, for we are traveling through spaces within God and through God, and yet, as the old saying goes, it often appears that we live "without God" too. One of the gifts of the contemplative journey is the increased presence of the indwelling Spirit in our daily lives.
Our own individual subjectivity when approaching the experience of God is inevitable. While many would like to define "correct experience" vs. "wrong experience" in regards to Christianity (prophet vs. heretic), it doesn't necessarily work according to our-own-will-presented-as-God's-will, which is what presentations of theological beliefs are likely to elicit. Like gravity, it is certain we will shape our own faith walk through our own individual psychology.