Experience

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For my dear friend and teacher, Jeffrey S. Brooks.

A quote from Saint Isaac the Syrian (pictured above):

Do not seek the advice of him that is not thy fellow in behaviour, though he be very prudent. A layman who has experienced things is more to be trusted than a sage who speaks on the basis of theoretical knowledge but without experience.

What is experience? Experience is not this that a man goes and touches things, without acquiring knowledge concerning their advantages and their defects and without remaining with them during a certain time. How often the faces of things give the impressions of defect, whereas within them is found matter full of advantages. In the same way are to be judged things of the opposite aspect.

This is one message that has gotten through to me, loud and clear — with many thanks to Jeffrey.

Speculation and blind adherence to dogma are one thing.

The words of the wise who have attained through rigorous and skillful practice… this is quite another thing.

Choose wisely, or spend years chasing your tail.

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Wise Words from a Modern Christian Mystic

Some quotes on Waking Up, from Anthony de Mello, SJ:

Spirituality means waking up. Most people, even though they don’t know it, are asleep. They’re born asleep, they live asleep, they marry in their sleep, they breed children in their sleep, they die in their sleep without ever waking up. They never understand the loveliness and the beauty of this thing that we call human existence.

***

Most people tell you they want to get out of kindergarten, but don’t believe them. Don’t believe them! All they want you to do is to mend their broken toys. “Give me back my wife. Give me back my job. Give me back my money. Give me back my reputation, my success.” This is what they want; they want their toys replaced. That’s all. Even the best psychologist will tell you that, that people don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief; a cure is painful.

***

Waking up is unpleasant, you know. You are nice and comfortable in bed. It’s irritating to be woken up. That’s the reason the wise guru will not attempt to wake people up. I hope I’m going to be wise here and make no attempt whatsoever to wake you up if you are asleep. It is really none of my business, even though I say to you at times, “Wake up!” My business is to do my thing, to dance my dance. If you profit from it, fine; if you don’t, too bad! As the Arabs say, “The nature of rain is the same, but it makes thorns grow in the marshes and flowers in the gardens.”


There’s a Methodist church here in Boulder that offers a Wednesday night meditation class, and they are reading de Mello. For a Catholic friar living in India, he sure liked to talk about Awareness and Sadhana… which is a good thing, of course.

God Has Names

Most modern Bible translations just use Lord, God, or Lord God… but did you know that the original Hebrew has all sorts of Old Testament names for that which cannot be named?

Here’s a list:

I’m working with the Jehovah (should be “Yahweh”) Rapha name at the moment. Here’s more on that one.

I wish all translations would just give us the original names, but you know they’re trying to enforce the “One God in Three Beings” concept, so they whittle it down and give us the whitewash treatment.

One translation that comes through, however, is the New Jerusalem Bible, which is the official Catholic English version in Europe.

Guess which version just leaped to the top of my reading list.

UPDATE:  Here’s another list, this one including Greek names from the New Testament.

True Prayer

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I’ve not been real big on prayer during this lifetime.

It always felt either like: 1) talking to myself in my head while pretending an invisible God or Person was listening to me, a minuscule human being amongst 5 billion others on this tiny third stone from this tiny star on the far edge of a small galaxy in a universe filled with countless super-galaxies; or 2) talking out loud in a roomful of people, reciting memorized formulas that, no matter how hard I try, never feel like they’re coming from the heart — mine or theirs.

On the other hand, I’ve always thought that there’s something to prayer, if by “prayer” we mean “communion” with the Infinite. In this sense, meditation can be prayer. Singing can be prayer. Nature walks, art, poetry, love-making, dish-washing — it can all be thought of as prayer.

The Orthodox tradition, with its Jesus Prayer as an all-day meditation or mindfulness exercise, has always intrigued me. So, I was not surprised to stumble upon an exposition on prayer from the Orthodox perspective — a perspective that resonates in me, a lowly ecstatic contemplative whose hunger for God diminishes not:

There is a story told in the Gerontikon, the sayings of the desert Fathers, about a visitor who goes to see three monks. And they talked all the afternoon. Suddenly the visitor realizes that the sun has set. “It is time for vespers;” says the visitor, “it is time for us to pray together.” And the monks answered, “But we have been praying together all the last four hours.” Prayer, in their experience, was not just occasional but continual; not just one activity among others, but the activity of their entire lives. It was a dimension present in everything else that they did. St. Gregory of Nazianzos says, “Remember God more often than you breathe.” Prayer, ideally, should be as much part of us as our breathing.

Sometimes people talk about having a “prayer life,” but is that not an odd phrase? We do not have a distinct and separate breathing life; we breathe as we live. But how are we to attain prayer of this kind: all-embracing, ever-present, prayer of the total self?

That brings me to another question: What is prayer? Evagrios of Pontos says in a famous definition, “Prayer is communion of the intellect with God.” So Evagrios sees prayer as an activity of the intellect (nous). Nous, like pathos, is a word that is hard to translate into English.

Another writer of the fourth century, contemporary with Evagrios (in Syria rather than in Egypt), the author of the Spiritual Homilies attributed to Macarios, has a slightly different approach to prayer. “It may be,” he says, “that the saints sit in the theater and watch the delusion of this world, while with the inner self, all the time, they are speaking to God.” There we see, as in the story I told from the desert Fathers, that prayer aims to be continual; not so much something we do from time to time, but something that we are all the time.

Also, we see from the Spiritual Homilies of Macarios that prayer is something that goes on in the inner self (o eso anthropos). This is a biblical phrase, used for example, in Ephesians: “May God according to the riches of His glory, grant that you are strengthened with the power of the Holy Spirit in the inner self so that Christ dwells in your heart by faith” (3:16-17).

There we see that the inner self is associated with the indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit. And also we see in Ephesians that the inner self is identified with the heart. So for Macarios, prayer is something that we offer with the inner self, that is, with the heart. Where Evagrios emphasizes the intellect, the Macarian Homilies emphasize the heart (cardia).

These two approaches are combined in a definition of prayer given by the nineteenth-century Russian writer St. Theophan the Recluse. “To pray,” he says, “is to stand before God with the intellect, in the heart, and to go on standing before Him day and night until the end of life.” So, prayer is something that goes on with the intellect in the heart, and it is continuous. St. Isaac the Syrian even says that the saints are praying while they are asleep. Sometimes when I am lecturing, I notice that members of my audience close their eyes. But then I think that perhaps they are saints, and though they are sleeping, they are also listening.

[…]

C. G. Jung, in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recalls a conversation he had with an American Indian, one Ochwiay Biano. [Mr. Biano is also known by the English name “Mountain Lake.”] Ochwiay Biano said,

“How cruel the whites are: their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by holes. Their eyes have a staring expression. They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something, they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want, we do not understand them, we think that they are mad.” I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad. “They say they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why, of course. What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.

“We think here,” he said, indicating his heart.

Now, Ochwiay Biano is coming very much closer to what Scripture and much of the Patristic tradition meant by the heart.

[…]

Mark the Monk of the late fourth or early fifth century (also known as Mark the Hermit or Mark the Ascetic) gives a particular explication to this theology of the heart – a sacramental application. He says that through baptism, Christ and the Holy Spirit enter the innermost secret and uncontaminated chamber of the heart. By virtue of our baptism there is an inner chamber, a central shrine within us where grace dwells and where evil cannot reach. Mark believes that from our baptism there is a point or spark within us that belongs entirely to God, that is the pure glorious God in us. “By the good treasure of the heart,” says Mark, “Scripture means the Holy Spirit who is hidden in the heart of the faithful” – hidden through baptism.

So the aim of the spiritual life, according to Mark, is that we should become consciously aware of this secret presence of the baptismal Christ Who is already in our hearts, mystically. The Christian journey, for him, is a journey from baptismal grace, present secretly in the heart, to baptismal grace, experienced in the heart with full conscious awareness.

[…]

Where have I heard this before?

Oh, yes… in just about every contemplative tradition known to humanity, that’s where.

I know that, from the Traditionalist perspective, it is important to choose a Path and stick to it, so as to benefit from the religious Mystery embedded in that particular Path. I understand the wisdom in this perspective and want nothing other than to honor it.

At the same time, when I read the concluding paragraph in the collection of snips above, I am reminded that there really are many, many Paths leading to the same place.

We should celebrate this fact, rather than always seeking to convert everyone else to our particular perspective.

Metaphysical Treatment

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Charles Fillmore, American mystic….

Thanks to commenter Michael (a different one) for sharing his experience of healing through a power beyond his conditioned range of resources. I’m talking about a personal union with Christ, and one man’s road back from the depths of suffering. Check it out here.

Michael offered two scriptural references from the Gospel of John, and I thought it would be interesting to see how Unity founder Charles Fillmore interprets these passages (in this case, from his book Mysteries of John). This is sort of how I now approach the Bible, always looking for the “inner” meaning behind surface words and themes. I hope to be able to do this sort of thing without referring to someone else’s take, but for now, why don’t we all open our minds to what Fillmore has to offer?

The first verse is John 3:8. Fillmore lumps it in with the preceding verses, and I’ll transcribe his entire interpretation here:

3Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

4Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew.

8The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

The Pharisees refused to be baptized by John. They did not consider that they needed the repentance that he demanded. They thought they were good enough to take the high places in the kingdom of God because of their popularly accepted religious supremacy. Many people refuse to deny their short-comings. They hold that they are perfect in Divine Mind and that it is superfluous to deny that which has no existence. But they are still subject to the appetites and passions of mortality, and will continue to be until they are “born anew.”

The new birth is an uncertainty to the intellectual Christian, hence there has gradually evolved a popular belief that after death the souls of those who have accepted the church creed and have been counted Christians will undergo a change. But in His instructions to Nicodemus Jesus makes no mention of a resurrection after death as having any part in the new birth. He cites the ever present though unseen wind as an illustration of those who are born of Spirit. The new birth is a change that comes here and now. It has to do with the present man, that he may be conscious of the “Son of man,” who is the real I AM in each individual. “And no one hath ascended into heaven, but that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven.”

This chapter of John contains some of the vital truths taught in Christianity: the evolution of man from natural to spiritual consciousness, and the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the divine pattern for all men who are seeking the way of life.

Christianity teaches the complete law of evolution as compared with the partial exposition of the law made by Darwin and associates. Christianity describes God as Spirit creating by a process comparable to the mental processes with which we are all familiar. “God said,” and thus God created that which was to appear, God planned man and the universe, and through His word projected them into creation as ideal principles and immanent energies acting behind and within all visibility. But we should remember that Spirit could not emerge from the formless into the formed without creating relations, which necessitated laws operating through man and all things as essential factors in an orderly universe. Thus even God becomes subject to His laws or commandments. God the universal Spirit first appears as spiritual man. The next step in evolution is the appearance of the idea of spiritual man in the natural or Adam man. This man was primitively identified with an infinite capacity for expansion. When he recognizes his identity as being that of his source, Spirit, he expands in divine order and brings forth only good. When he deserts his spiritual anchorage and gives attention to external experiences and sensations, he falls into a world in which a diversity of results obtain that he calls good and evil. Thus man eats “of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In these few words is summed up the fall of man from an Edenic state, where he had the constant inspiration of creative Mind, to a consciousness of matter and the desperate struggle of personality for existence.

The natural man must evolve into the spiritual. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”

We are told here that “the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light.” World chaos results from the lack of spiritual light. We may plan peace and achieve it, but if this peace is not based on divine law, evolving love, and that law incorporated into the pact of peace as well as into the minds of those who sign that pact, we shall have no permanent peace.

Wow — that last bolded line could be the theme for this blog, dontcha think?

In his story of rescue through Christ, commenter Michael (according to my insight, maybe not so much his own) chose a conscious communion with Christ, who, just as in my own childhood experience described in the previous post, appeared to him as an actual person, rather than a character in a book. To me, this is spiritualization personified, and Michael is an inspiration to all who seek the Source of their existence.

Now… John 15:26… and again, Fillmore lumps this verse in with surrounding verses, followed by his metaphysical interpretation:

17These things I command you, that ye love one another.

18If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

19If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

20Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

21But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.

22If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.

23He that hateth me hateth my Father also.

24If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

25But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.

26But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

27And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.

The Comforter or Holy Spirit is the law of God in action, and when thought of in this way it appears to have personality. From the truth the Hebrews got their conception of the personal, tribal God.

The functions ascribed to the Holy Comforter or Holy Spirit or Spirit of truth imply distinct personal subsistence: He is said to speak, search, select, reveal, reprove, testify, lead, comfort, distribute to every man, know the deep things of God, and He can be known by man only through his spiritual nature.

(See John 14:25-31 for further interpretation.)

Again, there’s this notion of spiritualization leading to deliverance from fear, from unknowingness, from annihilation in the Void — which is to say, the deeper we descend into our transformative journey to full union with Infinite Spirit, the more obvious our challenge to keep moving forward, to keep diving deeper — until, at a certain point, we have no choice to but fully, absolutely surrender to God, despite our gravest suspicions that death (or worse!) may result.

In a sense, we do die… but are reborn as spiritual beings, firm in our knowingness that Life cannot die, and that it does, in fact, flourish in and through us forever.

Something to Shoot For

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Inside Sinaia Monastery….

These folks have put a lot of thought, experience and wisdom into their concept of monasticism, and it makes me want to run back into the “contemplative cave” immediately:

The 12 Marks of a New Monasticism

Moved by God’s Spirit in this time called America to assemble at St. Johns Baptist Church in Durham, NC, we wish to acknowledge a movement of radical rebirth, grounded in God’s love and drawing on the rich tradition of Christian practices that have long formed disciples in the simple Way of Christ. This contemporary school for conversion which we have called a “new monasticism,” is producing a grassroots ecumenism and a prophetic witness within the North American church which is diverse in form, but characterized by the following marks:

1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.

2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.

3. Hospitality to the stranger

4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities
combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.

5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.

6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the
community along the lines of the old novitiate.

7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.

8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.

9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.

10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.

11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.

12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

May God give us grace by the power of the Holy Spirit to discern rules for living that will help us embody these marks in our local contexts as signs of Christ’s kingdom for the sake of God’s world.

Lots of good stuff in there — and these are Baptists! I’m pinching myself….

My major beef growing up a preacher’s son was the fact that my church life did not include a systematic practice for the direct realization of “God.” For me, it was all about memorizing scripture, enduring Sunday services, pretending I was someone who I really wasn’t, and a continuing alienation from those who would banish me to the fires of hell for not conforming enough to their fear-based, sexually-stultified, mindless attempt to keep God in their little box. No meditation, not even so-called “contemplative prayer” — just the occasional “Rocky Mountain High” at church camp, soon to be deflated when “real life” commenced back home.

Now, after many years studying and practicing Eastern forms of spirituality, I find that I’m not the only one hungry for access to the original “mustard seed” of Christ’s teachings — much of which must be understood in its esoteric or “inner,” symbolic meaning, if it’s to be understood at all. This inner teaching is, in fact, very “Eastern” in terms of its contemplative component — and now we see all sorts of efforts, such as The 12 Marks of a New Monasticism, offering a path for contemplatives who’ve broken out of their religious straitjackets and found themselves in need of the direct experience of… THAT….