World mythology and religious literature is ripe with tales of darkness and pain. Joseph Campbell created a classic template when he wrote The Hero With A Thousand Faces, and one of the main therapies of reading this work, in my opinion, is the way in which it can reframe difficult experiences into archetypal adventures.
The idea that the presence of God is something I can practice never occurred to me until I stumbled upon Brother Lawrence's book, The Practice of The Presence of God. A lay brother in a Carmelite order in Paris, Brother Lawrence's writings were compiled posthumously. He was especially known by other brothers for his uncanny ability to see God in everything. The title phrase of his book also serves as a great summary of centering prayer, the contemplative life, and the Christian mystical traditional in general.
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.