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Jun 012016
 

This post is part of a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the fourth section titled Reflection II:  Because We Must: The Call To Prayer.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection II
Because We Must
The Call To Prayer
(Part 4)

Awe And Wonder
A Call to Mystery

This calling manifests itself in our lives in different ways.  Maybe the most obvious way is through experiences of awe and wonder.  We look up at the night sky on a clear night and we see thousands upon thousands of stars.  We realize the vast amazing wonder and mystery of the universe.  We sense with amazement our tiny but wondrous place in it.  We look into the face of an infant and realize with awe and wonder that it is a part of us and yet it is somehow unique from every other being in this vast universe.  We are awestruck wondering what this tiny writhing potential might become.  In the face of these and a thousand other wonders, questions rise up in us, sometimes just perceptibly and sometimes powerfully,  and they call to us.  Where does it all come from?  What does it all mean?  Where do I fit into the vastness of this great universe?  What does my life really mean?  Who am I called to be?  How am I called to live my unique life?  How do I know?  How is it even possible to know?  Even if I knew, how is it possible to actually become that in a world that is so full of its own demands, its own agenda for our lives?  How do I connect with that “something” that is behind it all—how do I connect with that Mysterious Other we call God?  For some these questions rise up in a specifically Christian context.  For others they rise up in more secular terms, or in the language and symbols of other religious traditions.  However they are phrased, these questions call to us profoundly, and the only satisfactory response is prayer in some form.  Ultimately the only satisfactory answer is to sit quietly in the face of the awesomeness of it all and listen.  In that moment prayer is born in us.

Rachel As A Baby

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Yet in our culture experiences of awe are not all that frequent.  The dictionary defines awe this way:

An overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.

How often do we even use terms like reverence, grand, sublime, extremely powerful?  These words point to something beyond our routine experience.  They point to something beyond our knowledge and understanding. They point to something that spiritual writers across religions have referred to as mystery.  Again the dictionary defines mystery this way:

Anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown.

It is that sense of something that is unexplained or unknown that lies behind the feelings like reverence,  grand, etc.  It is that sense of mystery that makes those feelings? overwhelming.  To experience awe and wonder we must be open to a sense of mystery, and for many of us that sense of mystery has been lost.  If we are outside at night at all we are usually on a mission.  When we look up into the night sky we see the many stars and the moon, if we are paying attention, and if those heavenly bodies are not hidden by too much light pollution.  Yet science has given us just enough of an explanation for all of that to satisfy us.  We may see the beauty, but not necessarily mystery and awe.

With all of our busyness our minds are too full for us to even look beyond that.  With all of our technology we can find answers, such as they are, to most all of our questions.  But even beyond that it seems that we no longer think really deeply about much of anything.  We accept the easy answers provided by the culture, the church, and Google, and thus seldom even recognize the unanswered questions and the mystery that comes with those questions.  That sense of awe and wonder escapes us.  In the process we miss the opportunity for that call from the Mysterious Other we call God.  We miss the call to prayer.

  1. Have I had an experience of awe and wonder?  Describe that experience in detail.  What was my reaction?  What questions arose in me as a result of that experience?  What was my response?

Other Posts in this Reflection:

(Part 1) Introduction View…

(Part 2) Why Do We Pray View…
Seeking Satisfactory Answers

(Part 3) History   View…
Responding To A Call 

(Part 4) Awe And Wonder (This Post)
The Call To Mystery

(Part 5) Suffering And Loss View…
Another Call To Mystery

(Part 6) Self-Awareness View…
Accepting Responsibility

(Part 7) Life Out Of Balance  View…
A Vision Of A New Life

(Part 8) An Experience Of Prayer View…
A Call To Depth

(Part 9) Richard’s Answer To Question # 3 View…

 

May 112016
 

This post is part of a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the first section titled Reflection II:  Because We Must: The Call To Prayer


Daniel In The Sun

Photo by Sandra Marrs

 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection II
Because We Must
The Call To Prayer
(Part 1)

Introduction

There is an inner spirit to human life.
It lives at a very deep level of our lives and functions quietly.
So much so that it may not even make itself known unless deliberately allowed and encouraged.   Nevertheless—
It is the fundamental guide to an individual life and provides the basis on which we make our way
The spirit looks very deeply for value
That matters,
That motivates,
That creates positives,
That frees authenticity,
That gives life power.
This spirit transcends religion
And seeks beyond the confinements of a belief system.
The spiritual needs and deserves enhancement through
Nourishment, time, care and stimulation.
The life and journey of the inner spirit is the true journey of life.

William Roberson

It seems to me that the simplest answer to the question “Why do we pray?” is the most profound.  We pray simply because that “inner spirit” Roberson speaks of so powerfully calls to us—and “we must”.  That still small voice—that inner spirit inside of us, calls to us, and prayer is the only meaningful response.  We must listen, and we must respond.  We pray because we are responding to that sacred inner voice deep inside of us.  We can run from that voice.  We can deny its sacredness.  We can even deny it’s very existence entirely, or we can settle for some psychological explanation.  The call is still there, waiting for us, pressing us, calling to us, whether we are paying attention or not, demanding a response from us, often when we least expect it and even when we least desire it.  Left unattended to, this inner calling sometimes imposes itself on us in myriad ways, some positive and some negative, some inward and some outward.  In one way or another we all respond.  Spiritual masters throughout history and across traditions have taught this, and I have learned the truth of it from personal experience.  It is ultimately our choice whether our response or lack thereof leads to growth and service, to apathy, to deformation, or sometimes, to violence.  Listening to this sacred inner voice and living our lives in response to that voice is the very essence of what spirituality and prayer are all about.  It is what all true religion is all about, or at least should be.  It is what being fully human and fully alive is all about.  Consciously choosing our response to this inner call and being obedient to that call will determine the very direction and the quality of our life.  Choosing to follow that voice intentionally is ultimately what true “conversion” is all about.


Other Posts in this Reflection:

 

(Part 1) Introduction (This Post)

(Part 2) Why Do We Pray View…
Seeking Satisfactory Answers

(Part 3) History   View…
Responding To A Call 

(Part 4) Awe And Wonder View…
The Call To Mystery

(Part 5) Suffering And Loss View…
Another Call To Mystery

(Part 6) Self-Awareness View…
Accepting Responsibility

(Part 7) Life Out Of Balance  View…
A Vision Of A New Life

(Part 8) An Experience Of Prayer View…
A Call To Depth

(Part 9) Richard’s Answer To Question # 3 View…

Apr 132016
 

This post is the fourth in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the fourth section titled Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 5)

Traditional Models
What Do They Really Mean?

The Trinity

The basic explanation for what God is for Christians is in the concept of “The Trinity”. The dictionary defines the Trinity this way:

Also called Blessed Trinity, Holy Trinity, the union of three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in one Godhead, or the threefold personality of the one Divine Being.*

Maybe if I were a Christian theologian, this would be helpful, but I am not a theologian and this is not all that helpful to me personally. It raises more questions for me than it answers. As a friend of mine put it, “trinity is even a conundrum to many theologians and lots of preachers”. It is beyond the scope of this reflection to try and unpack this complex theological explanation, and yet its very complexity points to something extremely important to our discussion here. Just maybe it points in the general direction of an answer. Clearly it attempts to move us away from God made in the image of man.

Mighty God

Photo by Winnie Southworth

At the same time we all too often seem to be able to talk about the Trinity while still giving God the attributes of humans. Maybe the real message for our discussion is simply that we do not know and we cannot know the answer to this profound question—What is God, or even Who is God? Maybe the best we can hope for is the realization of the awesome mystery behind this great universe. Maybe that realization provides a much more palatable foundation for prayer than any of our traditional explanations, including the more technical theological explanation of the Trinity.

God The Father

That said, picking up on the so called first person of the Trinity image one of our most common images for God is God the father. We often refer to God as a loving, caring, and forgiving “Father”, or even as Abba or “daddy”. Initially that sounds good, but sub-consciously that image inevitably, even if pre-consciously, gets caught up in our relationship with our own earthly father. What if our father was absent? What if our father abused us? What if he was cold and distant? Even if he was an otherwise a “good father” he is still often seen by his children as a disciplinarian who was always telling us what to do and what not to do, preventing us from doing many of the things we wanted to do, punishing us when we were “bad”, and rewarding us when we were “good”. All of this becomes a part of our attitude toward God as father whether we are aware of it or not and it all seems very natural. It is part of what father is for us. Beyond the father image we get from our childhood, God the father is often presented in much the same way in what passes for church teaching today. The truth is the term has become almost cliche today. For this image of God the Father to work it needs to be brought into the “divine therapy” of our prayer and unpacked. We need to be clear what it means for us personally.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does “the Trinity” mean to me personally? What does “God the Father” really mean for me personally? How does that square with my other attitudes and beliefs about God?

____________
Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.


Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Mar 232016
 

This post is the second in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own. It is the second section of Reflection I: Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 2)

Is There A God?
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Is there really a God? Dare we even ask that question? If we are a “believer” might not serious questioning of our attitude toward God call that belief itself into question? Even if we accept that God exists, might not serious questioning of our attitude toward God call us to change all kinds of other things in our approach to God? Are we really willing to open ourselves to that possibility–that challenge? On the other hand if we are a “non-believer” might serious reflection on these questions call that decision into question as well? All too often we accept a “pie in the sky when I die” and/or a vaguely defined King on a throne in the sky image of God and do not look any further. Some of us just accept a mechanical universe as well, again without looking any further.

When I first heard that one of my favorite authors, Jacob Needleman, was writing a book about God the working title was reported as Who Is God? I looked forward to reading this book. Some months later, when the book actually came out, the title had changed to What Is God?* At first glance I thought that was strange and even a bit shocking. As I delved into this excellent book, I began to realize why the title had changed and just how important that change was. Before we can even begin to reflect on our attitude toward God we have to honestly look at the even deeper question of what God is for us. Is God a “person”? Is God a “spirit”, and if so what does that actually mean? Is God somehow to be found in consciousness itself? Is God in a way we cannot fully understand, the very substance of this awesome universe—the “stuff” that gives it its being and its energy, that gives us our being? We often say that “God is love”, so is God somehow to be found in love itself, and if so what does that actually mean? On the other hand is God a Divine Mystery that simply does not fit into any of our categories? Is God inside of us, outside of us, or in some mysterious way in all of creation? How we answer this question—What is God?—is foundational to the whole spiritual journey and to the attitudes we have toward that Divine Mystery, the universe, other people, and ourselves. It is critical for us to look at these questions seriously, and bring them into our prayer.

Each religion has some explanation for that ultimate reality some of us call God. Even an atheist in their very denial of the reality of God makes basic assumptions about the ultimate reality that is behind this awesome universe. I have my own understanding which I will share later in this reflection, but the important point here is that each of us needs to reflect seriously on this question ourselves and take it into our prayer.

Native American Chant

Native American Chant* | Photo by Winnie Southworth

All of that said, regardless of how we answer the question, What is God?, in the end we are still left with the original question: Who Is God for us? What attitudes are we to have toward this God? Whether we come to the conclusion that God is like a “person” or we come to realize that God is not like a “person” in the normal sense of that word, we still need to discover our attitude toward that Divine Mystery. I want to make an important point here. I realize that, when asked if God is a person, many or even most of us would reply instantly, “No of course not!”, but there are deeper questions even here. Are we acting as if God were a person? Are we talking about God as if God were a person? Are our attitudes toward God limited by and based on preconscious assumptions that God is a person? Is our approach to prayer based on those same preconscious assumptions? How might our approach to prayer be different if those assumptions were to change?

Question for Reflection

  1. Is there a God? What is God for me? Who is God for me? How do I know? Am I open to bringing these important questions into my meditations and prayer? Am I open to the possibility of my answers to these questions being transformed and growing ever deeper?

____________

*Needleman, Jacob: What Is God?,  (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009)

** Native American Chant used in a retreat attended by Winnie Southworth a number of years ago. Origin unknown.


Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Mar 172016
 

This post is the first in a coming series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the opening section of Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


TheUniverse

Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/1996/01/image/a/

Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 1)

Introduction
The right attitude toward God is essential to one’s progress on the Spiritual Journey.*
Father Thomas Keating

One of the most foundational questions that we can bring to serious prayer is the God question itself. Is there a God? What is God? Who Is God? These questions need to be a central part of our meditation and our prayer. We need to cultivate an openness and even a deep desire to discern and to continually deepen and transform our understanding of God, and our attitude toward God. That understanding and attitude determines, at the most basic level, how we approach our prayer, and ultimately how we approach our entire life.  If we do not believe in God we still need to stay open to the possibility of new insights and understandings of the origin and functioning of this wondrous universe.

The dictionary defines prayer as:

a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.**

Clearly if our goal in prayer is communion with God our understanding of what or who God is and our attitude toward God matters. That said, it seems that these foundational questions are often ignored or avoided, both in our individual lives, and in many of our churches. All too often we accept the canned answers and vague understanding from our childhood and the answers given to us by our culture, our churches, the theologians, and the philosophers. We often say our attitude toward God is based on scripture, but our interpretation and understanding of scripture is informed by those same sources. We accept these canned answers or the lack thereof and fail to even bring these deep critical questions about God into our consciousness much less into our prayer. We avoid what may be the most important questions of all. On the surface we avoid or ignore these questions because we think we know the answers, but it often goes much deeper than that. We do not bring these questions into our consciousness or our prayer because we are afraid of what we might discover.

____________

Keaton, Thomas, Video The Spiritual Journey:  Introduction:  Attitudes Toward God, (Contemplative Outreach, St. Benedict’s Monastary, Snowmass, Co., 2006)  http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org.

** Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.


Posts in this Reflection:

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Jul 232014
 

Reflection IV:  Building A Relationship With God

Petition, Praise, Adoration, Communion, Conversation
Part 2

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You are encouraged to read Part One before proceeding.

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Questions for Reflection

  1. In what ways are these classical types of prayer a part of the way you live your life?  In what ways are they perfunctory or “performed merely as a routine duty; hasty and superficial”?
  2. Is going to church and sunday school, reading your bible, and saying your prayers enough?  How do these activities affect the way you actually experience and live your life?
  3. In what ways do you sometimes approach prayer as magic?  Do you sometimes ask God for a specific outcome?  Do you leave the space for God to “say no”, ask you to respond, and/or offer you guidance, strength and courage to face the situation?
  4. Is your prayer sometimes a monologue?  In what ways do you “keep on babbling like pagans” when you practice these classical types of prayer?  Do you regularly “just sit there” and be silent and listen?  Do you need to spend more time in silence?  What would it take for you to do that?
  5. How is “giving it up to God” a part of your practice of these classical types of prayer?  Is that balanced with an openness to the possibility that God might offer you the guidance, strength, and courage to respond yourself to some of the things you pray about?
  6. When you pray do you listen to that still small voice within for places where you need to grow and change?  It what way are you being called to grow and change now?
  7. Are these classical types of prayer a part of a broader prayer life that includes such practices as centering, reading, meditation, and contemplation?  How do you feel called to grow in your prayer life?

Richard’s Answer to Question 1:

  1. In what ways are these classical types of prayer a part of the way you live your life?  In what ways are they perfunctory or “performed merely as a routine duty; hasty and superficial”?

As far back as I can remember I have had a toxic reaction to these classical types of prayer.  Even as I have been teaching and writing about prayer I have, until this book, mostly avoided even the use of the word prayer.  I typically have used terms like “my practice” or “my time apart” to refer to what was essentially my prayer time.  I have also avoided saying these types of prayer in public.  Not all that long ago my minister asked me if I would say a prayer to start a meeting, and I said something extremely awkward like “No, I don’t do that”.  Even the embarrassment of openly refusing to pray in a church meeting was less traumatic for me than actually saying a short prayer to start the meeting.

So how does a person with a master’s degree in spiritual formation who writes and teaches about the spiritual life find praying in public to be so traumatic?  What is it about these “classical things that have been said about prayer” that bothers me so much that I do not even want to use the word?  It is one of those types of gut level reactions that makes me want to find some major traumatic event in my past that I have suppressed.  If that is true, in spite of a lot of personal reflection and some therapy, it is still suppressed.  I cannot even point to a series of specific minor negative experiences with prayer that bother me.  It is more of a general thing.  I think it is tied to the fact that contemporary religion in general and contemporary Christianity in particular has never worked for me.  These “classical things that have been said about prayer” are so identified with that contemporary Christianity that they bring up all of the rejection and the emptiness I have experienced over the years in church.  When asked if I would say a prayer to start a meeting it was as if I was somehow being asked to join the opposition—to become a part of the very thing I have always railed about.

I also think that the way these classical types of prayers were presented to me in my church experience over the years is also part of that toxic reaction.  I would not have had the language or the understanding to express it then, but on a deep preconscious level I was reacting to the very things that I have talked about in this reflection.  On some level I was aware that all too often prayer was presented as a kind of magic and as essentially a monologue, as something we were required to do to avoid the fires of hell.  On that preconscious but powerful level, I rejected those ideas.  Maybe my strongest reaction came from my observation that these kinds of prayers did not seem to make much difference in the way many people lived their lives.  It has always seemed to me that all too many of us go to church and say our prayers, and continue to live the way they always have.  All of that was confirmed powerfully by the fact that I tried those classical prayers in my own life and they essentially did not work—they did not change the way I experienced and lived my own life.  They were not enough.  I went into this spiritual journey a very angry person, and this classical approach to prayer simply did not make a difference.  Albert Einstein once defined insanity as “preforming the same behavior and expecting different results”1.  I ceased the behavior and rejected it.  As best I can understand it this is the root of my toxicity toward “these classical things that have been said about prayer”.

It is said that nothing quite helps you understand a subject more than writing and teaching about it, and that is absolutely true here.  As I have studied and written and taught about the spiritual life it has forced me to take an ever deepening look at many things, and prayer is no exception.  In fact prayer may very well be the most difficult subject for me.  When I first started talking about this book the title was going to be “The Practice”, again avoiding the word prayer, but on reflection I realized that if I really wanted more traditional people to read the book, and I do, I needed to connect it with something with which they were familiar.  Clearly prayer was that connection.  Making that connection has resulted in some of the most difficult thinking and writing I have done.  I still have something of a toxic reaction to these “classical things that have been said about prayer”, but I have a much deeper understanding of their importance their deep meaning, and how they fit into “The Practice”.  In their own way they are now an important part of my “prayer life”.

I remember some twenty years ago at one church I attended the minister would always start his public prayers by saying “Come holy spirit of God, rise up in us”.  After that all kinds of other prayer would follow.  I remember this line as the first public prayer I ever really identified with, and it became the first line of an opening prayer I wrote to start “my time apart”:

Come Holy Spirit of God.
Rise up in me.
Fill me with your presence.
Open me to your wisdom and guidance,
And your strength and your courage.
Grant me the Grace of your love,
And your peace, and your joy.
Come with me into this special time,
And go with me as I take on this day.2

After twenty years this is still “Richard’s Prayer”.

____________
1 Although alternately attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, can Confucius, the first known appearance of the statement in print is in the 1981 version of Narcotics Anonymous.
Southworth, Richard N., Unpublished Document, circa 2004

Jul 192014
 

Reflection IV:  Building A Relationship With God

Petition, Praise, Adoration, Communion, Conversation
Part 1

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Image to be added when available.

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All the classical things that have been said about prayer are true—petition, praise, adoration, communion, conversation.  But one’s notion of God and divinity has to be sufficiently empty, and its mystery sufficiently accounted for, or else prayer becomes exploitation of the divine.  Prayer only makes sense in the paradoxical presence of both human pain and desire on the one hand, and divine infinitude on the other.1
Thomas Moore

Petition, praise, adoration, communion, and conversation.  These are the “classical things that have been said about prayer”.  To these I would add confession, penance, and forgiveness.   These are the things that most of us have been taught about prayer in sunday school and church.  For most of us these are the things that come to mind when we are asked the question, “What is prayer?”  They are the things that we think about when we are called to build a relationship with this Mysterious Other we call God.  They are the very essence of the traditional answers to the question, “Why do we pray?”  As Moore points out they are all true.  They are all a central part of what prayer is all about.  It is beyond the scope of this reflection to explore each of these types of prayer individually.  The question for us here is how we approach these essential aspects of prayer.
In the end prayer is not just something we do.  Prayer is a way of life.  These “classical things that have been said about prayer” are an integral part of that way of life.  Outside of that way of life they become perfunctory, “preformed merely as a routine duty; hasty and superficial”2.  It loses its depth.  It becomes a dead ritual.  We find ourselves just going through the motions.  We run the risk that our prayers will become “exploitation of the divine” as Moore put it.  Maybe most dangerously we run the risk of these classical types of prayers becoming a substitute for prayer as a way of life.  We come to believe that we have met our obligations to God and nothing more is required of us.  As I talk about the spiritual life with some church people I often get some version of the question “I go to sunday school and church, I read my bible, and I pray.  I don’t need this?”  These rituals have become so ingrained in many of us that we do not see the need to go further.  Taken seriously prayer calls us to go deeper, much deeper.  Henri Nouwen has put it this way:

Therefore a life in prayer is a life with open hands where you are not ashamed of your weaknesses but realize that it is more perfect for a man to be led by the other than to seek to hold everything in his own hands.

Only within this kind of life does a spoken prayer make sense.  A prayer in church, at table, or in school is only a witness to what we want to make of our entire lives.  Such a prayer only recalls to mind that praying is living and it invites you to make this an ever-greater reality.  Thus there are as many ways to pray as there are moments in life.  Sometimes you seek out a quiet spot and you want to be alone, sometimes you look for a friend and you want to be together.  Sometimes you’d like a book or some music.  Sometimes you want to sing out with hundreds, sometimes only to whisper with a few.  Sometimes you want to say it with words, sometimes with a deep silence.

And sometimes you want to utter prayers of petition, praise, adoration, communion, conversation, confession, penance, or forgiveness.

Nouwen continues:

In all these moments, you gradually make your life more a prayer and you open your hands to be led by God even to where you would rather not go.3

Approached in a certain way “all of these moments” lead us into an ever deepening relationship with that Mysterious Other we call God.  If we are willing, these moments, over time, will allow us “to be led by God even to where [we] would rather not go”.  But again, how we approach “all of these moments” makes all of the difference.

I want to say something about what prayer is not.  True prayer is not magic.  I know this statement sounds redundant.  Of course prayer is not magic.  We all know that, right?  I took a class in religious studies in college called “Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft”.  All through the semester, as we talked about different religions and different religious and magical practices, one underlying question permeated the discussion:  What is the difference between true religion and true prayer and the practices we call magic and witchcraft?  We wanted to know how to distinguish between the two.  The clear answer that emerged was that with magic and witchcraft, when the practitioner preforms the ritual correctly—when they “prayed right”, god or the gods had to respond positively.  They had to comply with the request.  They had to do what was asked.  If the gods did not “answer the prayer” it was because the practitioner did not preform the ritual correctly.  With true religion—with true prayer—God could say no, as we put it.  But in true religion and prayer God could also call us to grow and change and see the subject of our prayer differently.  As a quote I saw recently said, “I am tempted to ask God why he allows so much pain and suffering in the world, but then I am afraid God will ask me the same question”.  In true prayer, God may very well call us to respond ourselves to the things we bring to prayer.

How much of what we have been taught about prayer, how much of our understanding of prayer, amounts to magic?  How often have we prayed for some specific outcome and then been disappointed when that prayer was not “answered”.  How many times have we felt guilty when the outcome we requested did not happen the way we asked? How many times have we complained that our prayer did not “work”?  All too many of us have been taught that when our prayers are not answered it is because we did not have enough faith or it was a result of some sin we committed, or there were not enough people praying.  Whenever we approach prayer in this way we are in effect thinking of it as magic.  Whatever else true prayer is or is not, it is not magic.

But this tendency to approach prayer as a kind of magic leads to an even deeper problem.  It prevents us from hearing God’s actual response to us.  If the only acceptable response to our prayer is that God will fulfill our request we will not listen for any other response, and we will not hear what that Mysterious Other wants from us in the situation.  We will not be able to develop any real relationship with God, and our lives will not be changed and transformed the way that Mysterious Other calls us to change and grow.  We will not discover who we are called to be, and we will not be able to incarnate that calling into our active lives.  Said another way, our lives will not become an authentic expression of that deep calling.

Sometimes when our prayers are not answered we simply conclude that God just said “no”, or “I guess it just was not part of God’s plan”.   This may very well be true, but it misses the point.  We are still essentially treating prayer as magic.  All too often there is still that unspoken sense that it is somehow our fault—that our faith was not strong enough, etc.  All too often we have said our prayers and not really been silent and listened for God’s response.  Our underlying expectation when we prayed was that if we had enough faith, if we “prayed right” God would grant our request.

Prayer is also not a monologue.  It is not just us talking to God.  It is not just us taking our pain, and our needs, and our desires to God.  It is not just us praising and worshiping God either.  It is all of those things, but it is infinitely more than any or all of them.  As Moore put it, “Prayer only makes sense in the paradoxical presence of both human pain and desire on the one hand, and divine infinitude on the other”.  When we approach prayer as a monologue we fail to honor that “divine infinitude”.  We limit our ability to have any kind of meaningful relationship with God.  We limit God’s options.  All too often we in effect “say our prayers” and go on with our life, leaving the rest up to God.  We absolve ourselves of any responsibility.  We ignore even the possibility that God might speak to us—that God might call us to respond ourselves to the situations we pray about, or that God might call us to see the situation differently, and/or to grow and change ourselves.  There is almost a cult around the idea that we should “give it up to God”, and in all too many instances that becomes a copout.  As someone said, “hold it up, don’t give it up.  Yes, it is a good thing for us to take our problems, concerns, and needs to God, and in certain cases, to let them go and “trust in God” to deal with them, but there is more to it than that.

We will talk in detail in other reflections about openness and listening, but if our prayer is to be more that a monologue we must approach it with openness.  We must stop talking and take time to listen.  Jesus put it this way:

6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.4

These are pretty harsh words.  A pastor friend of mine told me that when he prepared a manuscript for a sermon the last line was always a note to himself that said “Now. Sit down and shut up!”  This is good advice when we pray.  Yes, it is good to “say our prayers”, but then we need to “sit down and shut up!” and listen.  Sometimes it is good to do that right from the start.  As one writer put it, “Don’t just do something, sit there”5,  or in this case, don’t just say your prayers, sit there.  Be silent and listen for that still small voice within that guides us and gives us strength and courage.

I was at a hospital some time ago with two sisters.  Their father was dying.  They had been praying for him to live.  When it became clear that this was not the likely outcome, one of them acknowledged that he was very likely dying, and said, “I don’t know how to pray now!”  She looked at me, as if for some kind of guidance.  I responded, “Maybe it is time to pray that his passing is easy.”  In a sense that advice was good.  It was in fact time to accept that he was dying, but what I wish I had said, was a more gracious version of “Maybe it is time to just ‘sit down and shut up’ and listen for God’s guidance, connect with God’s strength, and God’s courage to face the reality of the situation.

In all of these classical approaches to prayer—petition, praise, adoration, communion, and conversation, confession, penance, and forgiveness—we need to be absolutely certain that our expectations are not magical.  We also need to be sure that we are open and listening carefully for a response from that Mysterious Other we—listening for the murmurings from that still small voice within where that Mysterious other, if we are paying attention, speaks to us and gives us guidance and strength, and courage.

It is precisely here that we are called to spiritual growth, transformation, and conversion of heart.  We cannot just will ourselves to be silent, and open, and to listen and to hear that still small voice within.  We have to develop the ability to be silent both externally and internally.  We have to learn how to discern that Still Small Voice within.  In the end these classical approaches to prayer must be an integral part of an overall life of prayer that includes  a discipline of spiritual practice and spiritual living that permeates all aspects of our lives.  As Nouwen put it, “Only within this kind of life does a spoken prayer make sense”.  Only within this kind of life can we avoid these “classical things that have been said about prayer” from becoming magic or perfunctory monologues.

Jesus offers us a very short and simple example of how we should pray.  There is no temptation to magic here, and there is no babbling:

9 This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”6

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Questions for reflection and a response to one of the questions by Richard will be posted in another post.

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1 Moore, Thomas, Meditations:  On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life, (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1994), p. 69.
2 http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/perfunctory?s=t
3 Nouwen, Henri, J. M., With Open Hands, (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1972), p. 158.
4 Matthew 6:6-7 (NIV)
5 Boorstein, Sylvia, Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There: A Mindfullness Retreat, (New York: HarperCollins), Title.
6Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

Jun 132014
 

Reflection III:  Opening To The Divine Mystery

Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
Part 2

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You are encouraged to read Part One before proceeding.

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Questions for Reflection

  1. Is there a God?  How do I know?
  2. What is God for me?  How do I know?
  3. Who is God for me?  How do I know?
  4. What is my image of God?  What is the origin of that image?
  5. What are my attitudes toward God?  What is the origin of those attitudes?
  6. Do I have my own answers for each of these important questions?  Where did they come from?
  7. How comfortable am I with my answers?
  8. How comfortable am I with the questions themselves?
  9. How comfortable am I with the mystery that still surrounds my answers?
  10. How open am I to growth and transformation of my understanding of God?

Richard’s Answer to Question 2:

2. What is God for me?  How do I know?

My spiritual Director once asked me “Who is God for you?”  I responded that “God is a Mysterious Other that permeates the universe, including me.”  She then asked me, “Is that enough?” I responded, “It is the only thing that is enough!”  That is still my answer today, and it is still enough.  I have some ideas beyond that, but in the end this is all I really know, and best I can tell, it is all that is possible to know.

First let me say that I do not believe that God is a person or anything like a person.  For me it just makes no sense to think of God as a person.  It raises too many other questions for me.  If you try to see God as a person you are immediately faced with the question of where this “person” resides.  If we try to answer that by saying that God is in “heaven” we essentially beg the question.  Where is “heaven”?  And how does this “person” interact with each of us individually as we claim?  How is that possible?  Many of us blow those kinds of questions off with an answer similar to “because ‘he’ is God”.  For me that again begs the question, “Is God a person?” and prevents us from looking at that question in a deeper more open way.  It also leads us to start assigning various human attitudes to God which in the end leads us to all kinds of problems.  For me it is much more honest to “just say no”, God is not a person.  At least then we can be open to the possibility of a deepening understanding of God.

In the end I believe that God is to be found somehow woven into the fabric of creation itself, into consciousness itself, and into “the force” that creates, animates, and guides the entire universe including us.  I believe that through spiritual practice and specifically through prayer we can connect with that Mysterious Presence and receive guidance, strength, and courage from that “force”.  I believe that our job, if we choose to accept it, is ultimately to connect with that force and to live our lives in response to that force.  Said another way, we are called to listen to our own sacred inner voice, discover, how we are called to live our lives, and to incarnate those discoveries into the way we actually experience and live our our lives.  As the monastics put it, we are called to divine union.  Ultimately this is why we pray.

I want to be clear here.  I realize that this explanation, much like the God is a person explanation, raises more questions than it answers, but for me it seems a more honest approach.  I remain open to deepening my understanding, and even to changing it completely.

Yet, beyond all of this reasoning and all of this speculation about what God is or isn’t my understanding is ultimately based on personal experience.  Jacob Needleman starts his book, What Is God? with this story:

Out of the corner of my eye I saw that my father was still looking up. And so I kept my gaze upward, noticing the stars, some of which formed into constellations whose names I knew. Imitating my father, I kept my gaze upward, just looking.
And suddenly, incomprehensibly, all at once, despite the heavy summer air that always absorbs most of the starlight–suddenly, as if by magic, the black sky was instantly strewn with millions of stars. Millions of points of light. Millions of worlds. Never, before or since, have I seen such a night sky, not even in remote mountains on clear nights. It was not simply that my eyes had become normally adjusted to the darkness; it was as though an entirely new instrument of seeing had all at once been switched on within me. Or, as it also seemed, as though the whole universe itself suddenly opened its arms to me, saying to me: “Yes, I am here. See, this is what I really am! Do you like my beautiful garment?” …
My eyes stayed riveted on the millions of stars, the millions of tiny stars with hardly a black space between them.
I wondered about my father, but I didn’t dare turn my head to look at him, afraid that these millions of worlds might somehow not be there when I turned back to them.
I don’t know how long we both continued to sit there, silently. But finally, speaking in a voice that I had never heard from him before, he said:
“That’s God.” 1

In a very real sense that is my God too.  It reaches past all of the science, all of the reason, all of the culture, and all of the religion to personal experience.  In these and other similar experiences (See Page ???), in times of silence and solitude, and yes, in times of prayer, the Mysterious Other I call God is just there, present in a way that transcends all of the questions.  In the end God is simply a presence I experience in those special times.

For me God is that mysterious presence.  I find that mystery absolutely fascinating and exploring that mystery excites me and gives my life meaning.  That mystery is much more fascinating and exciting than all of the more traditional answers.  Precisely because the “God question” is such a profound mystery I am open to all of the awesome insights provided by science, by reason, by the all of the cultures of the world, and all of the religions of the world.  I am open to all of the fascinating “answers” provided by all of those sources.  Because I can see so many wondrous possibilities I look forward with anticipation to new discoveries, new insights, and to an ever deepening sense of that Mysterious Presence in my life and in this awesome universe.

In the meantime I am still very comfortable with the answer I gave my spiritual director years ago.  “God is a Mysterious Other that permeates the universe, including me.”  and “It is the only thing that is enough!”

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1 Needleman, Jacob: What Is God?, (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009) p. 5-6.

Jun 032014
 

Reflection III:  Opening To The Divine Mystery

Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Part 1

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Image to be added when available.

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The right attitude toward God is essential to one’s progress on the Spiritual Journey.1

Father Thomas Keating

 

One of the most foundational questions that we bring to serious spiritual practice—to serious prayer—is the God question itself.  That question needs to be a part of our  prayer.  We need to cultivate an openness and even a deep desire to discern and deepen and transform our attitude toward God.  That attitude determines, at the most basic level, how we approach our life in general, and how we approach our spiritual life and our prayer life in particular.

The dictionary defines prayer as:

a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.2

Clearly if our goal in prayer is communion with God our attitude toward God matters.  That said, it seems that this foundational question is often ignored or avoided.  All too often we accept the canned answers from our childhood and the answers given to us by the culture, the church, the theologians, and the philosophers.  We often say our attitude toward God is based on scripture, but our interpretation of scripture is informed by those same sources.  We accept these canned answers and fail to even bring these deep critical questions about God into our consciousness much less into our prayer.  We avoid what may be the most important questions of all.  On the surface we avoid or ignore these questions because we think we know the answers, but it often goes much deeper than that.  We do not bring these questions into our consciousness or our prayer because we are afraid of what we might discover there.  Is there a God, really?  Dare we even ask that question?  If we are a “believer” might serious questioning about our attitude toward God call that belief itself into question?  Even if we accept that God exists, might not serious questioning of our attitudes toward God call us to change all kinds of other things in our approach to God?  Are we really willing to open ourselves to that possibility–that challenge?  On the other hand if we are a “non-believer” might serious reflection call that decision into question as well?

When I first heard that one of my favorite authors, Jacob Needleman, was writing a book about God the working title was reported as Who Is God?  I looked forward to reading this book.  Some months later, when the book actually came out, the title had changed to What Is God?3 At first I thought that was strange and even a bit shocking.  As I delved into this excellent book, I began to realize why the title had changed and just how important that change was.  Before we can even begin to reflect on our attitude toward God we have to honestly look at the even deeper question of what God is for us.  Is God a “person”?  Is God a “spirit”, and if so what does that really mean?  Is God somehow to be found in consciousness itself?  Is God in some way we cannot fully understand, the very substance of this awesome universe—the “stuff” that gives it its being and its energy, that gives us our being?  Is God somehow to be found in love itself?  On the other hand is God a Devine Mystery that simply cannot fit into any of our categories?  How we answer this question—What is God?—is foundational to the whole spiritual journey and to the attitudes we have toward that Divine Mystery, the universe, other people and ourselves.

Each religion has some explanation for that ultimate reality some of us call God.  Even an atheist in their very denial of the reality of God makes assumptions about the ultimate reality that is behind this awesome universe.  I have my own understanding which I will share later in this reflection, but the important point here is that each of us reflect seriously on this question and take it into our prayer.

All of that said, regardless of how we answer the question, What is God?, in the end we are still left with the original question: Who Is God for us?  What attitudes are we to have toward this God?  Whether we come to the conclusion that God is a “person” or we come to realize that God is not a “person” in the normal sense of that word, we still need to discover our attitude toward that mystery.  I want to make an important distinction here.  I realize that, when asked if God is a person, many of us would reply instantly, “Of course not!”, but there are deeper questions here.  Are we acting as if God were a person?  Are we talking about God as if God were a person?  Are our attitudes toward God based on preconscious assumptions that God is a person?  Is our approach to prayer based on those preconscious assumptions?  How might our approach to prayer be different if those assumptions were to change?

The basic explanation for what God is for Christians is in the concept of “The Trinity”.  The dictionary defines Trinity this way:

Also called Blessed Trinity, Holy Trinity, the union of three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in one Godhead, or the threefold personality of the one Divine Being.4

I am sure that, were I a Christian theologian, this would be helpful, but I am not a theologian and this is not all that helpful to me personally.  It raises more questions for me than it answers. It is beyond the scope of this reflection to try and unpack this complex theological explanation, and yet its very complexity points to something extremely important to our discussion here.  Just maybe it points in the general direction of an answer.  Maybe the message for our discussion is simply that we do not know and we cannot know the answer to this profound question—What is God?  Maybe the best we can hope for is the realization of the awesome mystery behind this great universe.  Maybe that realization provides a much more palatable foundation for prayer than any of our traditional explanations, including the more technical theological explanation of the Trinity.

Thomas Keating makes a distinction between what he calls the “Western Model” and the “Scriptural Model” of Christian spirituality.5  I am sure that some would question the distinction between western and Christian, but his descriptions of the two models, whatever we choose to call them, is instructive for our purpose.

For Keaton, in the western model we as humans are outside of God and God is outside of us.  Said another way we are out here in the world and God is up there “in heaven”.  With this model all of our efforts are self-initiated and directed at pleasing God.  External actions are more important than internal intensions.   Our efforts are directed toward completion of the various rituals and responsibilities.  We initiate these actions.  God then has an obligation to reward us when we are good and punish us when we fail.  The emphasis is on reward and punishment both in this world and in heaven or hell as the case may be.  We do external works to obtain merit—to “be saved”—in order to require God to respond positively.  In its most narrow sense, we seek to avoid going to hell and assure our place in “heaven” in the afterlife.  The extreme view of this is expressed in a church sign I saw once that said, “Use SonScreen to avoid eternal burning”.  Sheesh!

to Keaton, in the scriptural model we are in God and God is in us.  Interior motivation is more important that external actions.   Our job in this model is to listen to God, and to respond to God rather than focusing on our own self-initiated actions and projects.  The emphasis is on our journey to unite ourselves with God and to love God, love ourselves and love others right here right now.  Jesus put it this way:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, [and to] love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.”6  Obviously if we are to love our neighbor as ourself we must also love ourselves.

Christian scripture tells us:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”7

Those of us who call ourselves Christians are familiar with this passage.  Most of us can quote it almost verbatim.  That said, our basic attitudes toward God often seem to assume it is the other way around: God made in the image of man.  We act as if God were a person like us up in heaven, wherever that is.  I have often joked that I grew up with this image of God up in some grand control room pushing buttons and leavers controlling the entire universe including each of us.  As I became something of a “techno junkie” I jokingly wondered what kind of computer system God used.  On one level I was joking, but the truth is it is not far from the image of God that I grew up with.  Sadly, that “joke” still works.  People still understand where it comes from.  Jokes like this are only funny when there is some truth behind them.  When we think of God as a person it raises all kinds of deeper questions which need to be brought into our reflections and prayer as well, but again, we avoid those questions like the plague.

Picking up on the so called first person of the Trinity image we often refer to God as a loving and caring “Father”.  On first blush that sounds good, but sub-consciously that image inevitably, if pre consciously, gets caught up in our relationship with our own earthly father.  What if our father was absent?  What if our father abused us?  What if he was cold and distant?  Even if he was an otherwise good father he can still be seen by his children as a disciplinarian who was always telling us what to do, preventing us from doing many of the things we wanted to do, punishing us when we were “bad”, and rewarding us when we were “good”.  All of this becomes a part of our attitude toward God as father whether we are aware of it or not.  Beyond the father image we get from our childhood, God the father is often presented in much the same way in what passes for church teaching today.  For this image of God the Father to work it needs to be brought into the “divine therapy”8 of our prayer and unpacked.  What does “God the Father” really mean for us personally.

Then there is God the policeman and judge.  I spent sixteen years as a police officer.9  Yes, part of my job involved helping people—reaching out to them when they were hurt, in trouble, or suffering in one way or another.  That said, in the end my primary job was what a friend of mine likes to call “chasing the bad guys” to investigate crime and arrest people who violated the law. Those crimes ran the gamut from relatively minor traffic violations to murder, rape, and robbery.  When I arrested these “violators” I would ultimately take them before a judge whose job was to determine their quilt or innocence and mete out the appropriate punishment.

Much of the way Christians talk about sin makes God out to be both policeman and judge.  The attitude toward God from this perspective is that God sits up in his control room, watches us, and keeps track of our sins, judges us, and mets out rewards and punishments.  All too often it seems that when bad things happen in our life we then blame it on our sin, and believe God is punishing us for that sin.

The dictionary defines a tyrant as:

a cruel and oppressive ruler:  a person exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way.10

With that definition none of us would overtly refer to God as a tyrant, and yet it seems that we often attribute attitudes and actions to God that, if done by us humans would be seen as tyrannical.  We do this while at the same time contending that God is all loving and all caring.

When my granddaughter was about three years old she stopped calling me “Daddy Dick,” a family tradition, and just started just calling me “Dick”.  Had I disowned her and punished her because she did not call me by the “right” name I would have been considered to be acting like a tyrant:  “exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way”.  My family and friends would have been all over me for being so mean.  I love her, and frankly I do not care what she calls me as long as she calls me.  Beyond that it is absolutely clear to me that the change actually indicated that our relationship and her love for me was growing more mature.  Would not this “all loving and all caring” God be at least that loving and caring?  And yet some of us have no problem taking the position that God will send people strait to hell to burn for eternity for calling God Allah for example, never mind that many of these people live essentially loving and caring lives.  Might not such a loving God be more interested in our inner attitudes and outer actions than in the name we use.

The problem here of course is not really the name we use for God.  It is the claim of exclusivity for our particular beliefs about God and our particular understanding of God.  It is the belief that our own particular religion, our own particular denomination, and even our own personal “belief system” has all of the right answers.

The problem here is the belief that God will reject and punish us if we do not ascribe to a certain set of beliefs—that God will send us to to burn in hell if we do not profess those specific beliefs before we die, never mind whether or not we can understand those beliefs or not.  Some take this to the extreme of claiming that God will send us to hell even if we have never been exposed to those beliefs.  Is not that the very definition of being a tyrant—a prime example of “exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way”?

Some years ago I had a discussion with a very traditional Christian friend of mine about what it means to be a Christian.  I finally asked her, “What is the bottom line for you?”  She replied, “You have to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he died for your sins!”  I then asked her what she meant when she said that Jesus was the Son of God.  I half jokingly told her that when I said Mark was my son it meant that my wife and I had sex, she got pregnant, and at the appropriate time Mark was born.  I said that I was pretty sure that was not what she meant when she called Jesus the Son of God.  She replied in an incredulous tone, “No, of course not!” When I pushed her on what she did mean she actually stuttered trying to find an answer, which she never did.  This requirement to believe that Jesus was the Son of God was a central point for her, and she had absolutely no idea what it meant.

We did not even get to the questions about the meaning of the statement that we must believe that Jesus died for our sins.  Is it not tyrannical to require a blood sacrifice by one’s own son in order for me to forgive other people for their sins, not to mention downright cruel?

My point in sharing this story is not really to challenge the belief that Jesus was the Son of God or that he died for our sins.  That is a whole other question.   My intent in sharing this story is to encourage us to consider seriously the implications of our beliefs.  In this case does it make God a tyrant to require us to give assent to a certain doctrine, whether or not we understand it, or whether or not we have been exposed to it, in order to prevent eternal damnation?  It seems so to me.

All of this begs the question we talked about earlier, ”What is God?”  Does it even make sense to attribute these types of attitudes, these types of requirements, and these kinds of actions to God at all?

Confucius is reported to have said “True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know”11.  The truth is that we cannot know fully what or who God is.  We can have ideas and opinions, but we cannot know.  Thinkers from every era, culture, and religion have taken their shot at describing what or who God is.  Atheists have tried to deny that God exists at all.  Some have argued for a single God, and some have argued for multiple gods.  All of the theology about the Trinity is only the Christian version of that effort.  In the end the atheists cannot prove definitively that God does not exist anymore than the theists can prove definitively that God does exist.  The possibilities between those two extremes are legion. If we can let go of our own assumptions and opinions those many possibilities themselves are awe inspiring as well.  And maybe, just maybe, we could begin to put an end to all of the violence and wars that comes from the many controversies that grow out of that debate.

For us to truly recognize the powerful awesomeness of God we must first examine the often narrow, unreflected, and conflicting images  and attitudes we have toward God.  We must take those images and attitudes into a prayerful discernment process that includes what we have learned from science and reason, and from the culture, and from religion.  We cannot blindly accept the answers provided through any of those sources.  But in the end we must take all of that into our prayers and reflections and seek our own answers.  We must have the courage to listen carefully and repeatedly to our own sacred inner voice that, if we are open, speaks in the deepest part of ourselves.  We must find our own answers there to these foundational questions of the Spiritual Life.  Is there a God? What is God?  Who is God?  What is our image of God?  What are our attitudes toward God?  Our answers to these foundational questions will guide the way we pray and the way we live our lives.  The crucial thing here is that ultimately our answers are our own answers and that those answers are open to revision and an ever deepening understanding as we continue on our journey.

In the end finding and deepening our answers to these questions must become one of the reasons why we pray.

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Questions for reflection and a response to one of the questions by Richard are in another post.  Go there…

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1 Keaton, Thomas, Video The Spiritual Journey: Introduction: Attitudes Toward God, (Contemplative Outreach, St. Benedict’s Monastary, Snowmass, Co., 2006) http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org

2 Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.

3 Needleman, Jacob: What Is God?, (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009).

4 Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.

5 Keaton, Thomas, Video The Spiritual Journey: Introduction: Attitudes Toward God, (Contemplative Outreach, St. Benedict’s Monastary, Snowmass, Co., 2006) http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org

6 Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

7 Genesis 1:27 (NIV)

8 Keaton, Thomas, Video The Spiritual Journey: Prologue: The Psychological Experience of Centering Prayer, (Contemplative Outreach, St. Benedict’s Monastary, Snowmass, Co., 2006) http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org

9 For more information see Southworth, Richard N., Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough

10 Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.

11 https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/497572-true-wisdom-is-knowing-what-you-don-t-know

May 232014
 

Reflection II:  Because We Must

The Call To Prayer
Part 2

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You are encouraged to read Part One before proceeding.

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Questions for Reflection

  1. In what ways do I sense that my life is or is not authentic?  In what ways do I sense that I am “denied the right of legitimate self-expression”?  In what ways do I feel called to grow and change?  
  2. Do I currently pray?  Why?  Why not?  Describe my current prayer practice.
  3. Am I aware of an inner voice that calls me to pray or to deepen my prayer life?  When I pray do I listen for or expect a response?  What would that response be like?
  4. Have I had an experience of awe and wonder?  Describe that experience in detail.  What was my reaction?  What questions arose in me as a result of that experience?  What was my response?
  5. Have I had an experience of suffering or loss?  Describe that experience in detail.  What was my reaction.  What questions arose in me as a result of that experience?  What was my response?
  6. Have I had deep questions about the Mysterious Other I call God, about the universe, about life, and/or about my own life and calling rise up in me?  Describe the experience.  Describe the Questions.  Describe my response.  
  7. What negative compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses tend to drive my day-to-day life?  What destructive habits prevent me from living my life fully and authentically?  Consider such things as anger, addictions, and violent behavior.  Describe these issues in detail.  What are the roots of that behavior?

Richard’s Answer to Question IV:

4. Have I had an experience of awe and wonder?  Describe that experience in detail.  What was my reaction?  What questions arose in me as a result of that experience?  What was my response?

My first experience of real prayer clearly began with experiences of awe and wonder on evening walks on a golf course near our home.  As I have written elsewhere:

… we lived in a subdivision bordering on a golf course.  Several times a week I would take long walks on the golf course at night.  I would often stand on a knoll looking over the golf course and the many lights and buildings beyond.  I would see the lights from houses and wonder what the people were like and what they were doing.  I would also listen to the sounds of the traffic in the distance and wonder where people were going in such a frenzy.  Periodically I would hear sirens and air horns from emergency vehicles and wonder what the emergency might be, who was in trouble, sick, or hurt.  More than any of that though, I would look up into the night sky at the moon and the stars and the clouds and contemplate the awesomeness of this vast universe and my small place in it.  It was here that I was absolutely certain of the presence of a Mysterious Other I called God in this universe.  It was also here that I was just as certain of my own relationship, however tenuous it seemed at times, with this Mysterious Other.  It was here that I knew without a doubt that I must continue on this quest.

Clearly true prayer was born for me on these walks.  It would not be a stretch to say that my conscious spiritual journey really began there, standing quietly on a knoll looking out at the world and the universe.  At the time I could not have recognized that fact, but it was in those quiet walks that I really began to seek answers to the profound questions that call us to prayer.  It has taken years of reading, study, and practice to develop, but it clearly began on that knoll in the quiet of the evening as I stared out at the wonder and awesomeness of this life, this world, this universe—and yes, of this Mysterious Other I call God.

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