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Dec 262017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 5/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 4)


Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

There is a false dichotomy that shows up in much contemporary Christian teaching.  In its broadest terms the question is “Are we saved by works or are we saved by Grace?”  That broad question is beyond the scope of this reflection , but in the context of the spiritual life the question becomes “are we transformed by work or we are transformed by Grace?”

I do not remember where I heard this story, but it goes something like this.  A man was caught up in a really bad flood.  He finally had to climb up on his roof to keep from drowning.  He prayed for God to save him.  After a bit a rescue boat came along and offered to take him to safety.  He refused, saying that God would save him.  A while later another rescue boat came along and offered to take him to safety.  Again the man refused saying that God would save him.  Still later a helicopter came and offered to take him to safety, and again he refused help insisting that God would save him.  Eventually the water continued to rise and the man drowned.  When he got to heaven he asked God why he did not save him as he asked.  God replied, “I sent two boats and a helicopter, what more did you expect me to do?”  Some time we seem to assume that true Grace involves some kind of magical intervention in which we have no part.

Like the man on the roof some would argue that once we have given our heart to God, and once we have we have been baptized, once we have asked God to transform us, all we need to do is wait for that transformation to happen.  The expectation seems to be that God will somehow “zap” us and conversion of heart will just happen.  There is no work for us to do.  Others would argue that it is our job—our work—to deal with our “sin” and live like God has commanded.  It seems almost that the only Grace that is involved here is that God will somehow “be with us” as we struggle to overcome our sinful nature.

Ultimately I would argue that this is a false dichotomy.   It is not work or Grace that transforms us.  It is both work and Grace.  Through Grace that Mysterious Other we call God offers us opportunity after opportunity in our everyday lives to grow and change and be transformed.  Our work, if we choose to accept it, is to accept those opportunities and do the often hard and sometimes even painful work of the spiritual life to bring about that ongoing transformation and conversion of heart with the Grace of the guidance, strength, and courage that is available from that Mysterious Other we call God

In the rest of this reflection we will look at some of the ways Grace calls us to change and grow and be transformed—some of the “opportunities to practice” as I like to call them,—and the work that is required of us to respond to those opportunities.

These “opportunities to practice” can show up in all aspects of our day to day lives.  Maybe the most obvious place is in our own inner turmoil—in our own compulsive thoughts, emotions and impulses that arise in the various events of our day.

That turmoil  can show up in our relationships with our family, with our friends, or with our acquaintances.  It can show up as we deal with our own or others health issues.  It can show up in events involving the loss of someone close to us, or in the loss of a job, or other similar situation.  That turmoil can show up as we deal with apparent evil or other destructive events.  It can also show up in just the minor frustrations of every day life.  The turmoil is most powerful when it is accompanied by what Fr. Foley referred to as “the Grace of remorse”.

But it is not only the negative events in our lives that can provide the Grace of opportunities to practice.  It can come in the form of a challenge offered by a spiritual friend, a spiritual director, or a life coach.  The Grace of opportunities to practice can come from any event where we recognize that we need to grow and change or where we recognize that we have not been authentic.

Coachings

Photo taken by unknown library patron

I met with my coach yesterday and spent a lot of time complaining about all of the things that prevented me from having time for my spiritual practice and my writing.  She suggested that I needed to be more assertive in protecting that time.  She suggested that I needed to be more willing to turn off my phone and  say “no” to the various intrusions that tend to prevent me from spending the time I need for those activities.  As she put it I needed to be more willing to take care of myself.  This discussion was clearly an incidence of “the Grace of an opportunity to practice”, and I know without a doubt that I need to do the real spiritual work of responding to that opportunity.  So I got up this morning, took care of my morning responsibilities, told my wife I was going to my room, turned off my cell phone, put on my noise cancelling earphones, and took my prayer/meditation time, and began working on this piece.  After a while I took my computer and went out to lunch.  After a few hours I essentially completed this piece which I had been struggling to get done for weeks.  I responded to the Grace offered by my coach’s suggestion.  I engaged in the spiritual work that Grace called for, and there was change and growth.  If I continue to do that work going forward I know that it will result in ongoing transformation and conversion of heart.  Why do I have to learn this lesson over and over again?

Sometimes that Grace comes in the form of our own sacred inner voice—our own sense of inner calling.  If I am “prayed up” as my wife likes to call it—if I have been really true to my commitment to regular spiritual practice—that Grace and opportunities to practice can rise up in me as simply a sense of knowing and a sense of calling.  One of the most recent examples of this was the sense of calling that I needed to find a coach and then the sense of knowing that I needed to respond when life presented me with a specific opportunity.  There was no turmoil or direct challenge in either event.  There was just a deep inner calling and knowing that I have come to trust.  I “just knew” that I needed to respond to these opportunities to practice.  I did respond and the growth and conversion of heart that has resulted has been powerful.

So what is this “work of the spiritual journey” that the “Grace of opportunities to practice” calls us to?  First of all it requires that we pay attention as we go through the events of our day—that we notice the turmoil that arises in the events of our day, and that we are attuned to the messages and the sense of calling that come from our sacred inner voice.  Then it requires that we take those messages into our time apart and ultimately into the reality of our daily life.

One of the ways we sometimes avoid both the Grace of opportunities to practice and the necessary work those opportunities call us to is  to say that the problems that arise in our lives are the result of evil or the work of “the devil”.  We fail to take responsibility for our lives.  We fail to consider the possibility that the issues that arise in our lives are actually Grace that calls us to do the spiritual work we are called to do.

The message here is that real transformation and conversion of heart comes from a balance between Grace and work.  I do not deny the possibility that the Mysterious Other we call God can at times reach down and transform us suddenly and even without our participation, but on a day to day basis, we must be open to the Grace of opportunities to practice, and then we must be willing to do the real spiritual work that Grace calls us to.

Question for Reflection

  1. How have I experienced the Work v. Grace dichotomy in my life? Identify and describe in detail a recent event or series of events in my life that could be interpreted as the Grace of an opportunity to practice. What growth, change, and transformation might that “opportunity” be calling me to? What spiritual practices might move me toward that growth? Am I willing to begin that work with the help of the Grace of available from that Mysterious Other?

If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart: (View)
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
Introduction

Conversion of Heart (View)
What Does It Really Mean?

Divine Union (View)
Letting Go Of The Ego

Work v. Grace (This Post)
Finding Balance

(Coming Soon…)

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed


Follow our blog


Oct 162017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 3/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 3)


Divine Union
Letting Go Of The Ego

As I said earlier:

It is through prayer and spiritual practice that we can learn to quieten our ego driven turmoil and be attentive to that Sacred Inner Voice we so often ignore. As we learn to recognize the source of that Sacred Inner Voice in our prayer—in our time apart—over time it becomes a part of the way we approach and live our active lives. That Voice will more and more speak to us in the events of our day. It will provide us with that“guidance, strength, and courage” we need. Over time that voice will lead our lives and we will experience true Divine Union.

Divine Union is the ultimate goal of Listening Obedience. It is at the very heart of the conversion process. It is the goal of the whole spiritual life. In Divine Union I am called again and again to let go of my ego—to let go of those compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that typically drive all my actions and all my reactions to the people, events and things that make up my daily life. In Divine Union I am called to continually be guided by that Sacred Inner Voice where that Mysterious Other I call God—in the traditional language the Holy Spirit—regularly speaks to me and offers me guidance and strength and courage as I go through my day. Divine Union is when that Sacred Inner Voice actually guides all of my actions and reactions—guides all of my thoughts, all of my emotions, and all of my impulses—in all of the routine nitty-gritty events of my day-to-day life. It is a very high standard. I cannot live there, but reaching for it—questing for it—gives my life it’s meaning.

In Henri Nouwen’s description of “that man” Nouwen points out that:

In everything he says and does, he seems to have a lively vision before him which those who hear him can intimate, but cannot see. This vision leads his life. He is obedient to it. Through it he knows how to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Many things which seem of gripping immediacy hardly stir him, and he attaches great importance to some things which others simply let pass.

This is a description of a person living in Divine Union. This is a person who is listening to their Sacred Inner Voice, and is being obedient to it. The “vision that leads his life” comes from that Sacred Inner Voice. His life is no longer driven by his ego—by his compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. This is a man who has truly acquired the “mind of Christ”. He is a classic vision of a spiritually mature person.

Let me be very clear here, we do not become “that man” overnight. We do not arrive at “Divine Union” because we took the “aisle walk”, though it may very well begin there. The truth is that in the end we do not “arrive” at Divine Union, we journey toward it. As Fr. Foley points out this journey toward Divine Union—this journey of conversion of heart—is a life long journey. The journey begins in earnest when we commit ourselves seriously to the spiritual life and to spiritual practice and prayer. It begins again each time we discover that “something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life.”, to again quote Fr. Foley. It begins again when we feel “the grace of remorse”. The journey toward Divine Union is truly a lifelong journey.

I want to make a distinction here between guilt and “the grace of remorse”. In much contemporary Christian thought we equate guilt with sin—with some scriptural or theological principle we have violated. Then we all too often let ourselves off of the hook by saying we are forgiven for those sins. We avoid the call to growth and transformation implicit in the situation. We sidestep the hard spiritual work of conversion of heart. The “grace of remorse” comes from deep inside of ourselves—from our soul—from our Sacred Inner Being. Remorse may in fact have its roots in some “sin” we have committed—from some scriptural or theological principle we have violated, but not necessarily. “The grace of remorse rises up from inside of us when we are not living up to our own internal beliefs and commitments—when we are not living authentically. We may very well be “forgiven” for our perceived sin in the contemporary sense, but the only really satisfactory response to the “grace of remorse” is personal growth, transformation, and conversion of heart. The only really satisfactory response to “the grace of remorse” is the hard spiritual work of real change in the way we actually experience and live our day-to-day lives. This is the movement toward Divine Union.

This journey toward Divine Union is not always an easy journey. It is often very hard spiritual work. It is often even painful spiritual work as we over and over again discover ever new places where we need to grow and change. It can be especially difficult when we discover yet another “cherished” personal trait that needs to change, and yet another ego driven response that needs to be released.

Divine Union

Image from www.bigstockphoto.com

Just this morning as we were preparing to go to church I found myself frustrated at a family member who seemed to me to be trying to run the universe including me. I found myself sniping at him repeatedly. Yet, at the same time I spontaneously found myself more and more aware of that Sacred Inner Voice calling to me. I sensed that Grace of remorse for my responses. I did not have to stop and meditate. I did not have to pray. No one had to call my attention to it. Someone did remind me, but it only served to strengthen what I already had sensed from deep inside myself. That Sacred Inner Voice had already inserted itself in the midst of my reactions, and I already knew I needed to be obedient to it. Divine Union was at work in me.

The quest for Divine Union has been and continues to be the single most rewarding quest of my entire life. Other practices have brought significant growth and change and transformation. They have laid the groundwork for this quest for Divine Union. None have brought the depth of growth and change and transformation that comes from Divine Union. Other practices allowed me to change behavior. Divine Union allows me to change how I am present in the events of my life—how I actually experience the people, events, and things in my life. Divine Union takes the Spiritual Life to a whole new and powerful level.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have I ever experienced Divine Union? Have I ever had that Sacred Inner Voice insert itself spontaneously into my actions and reactions to the people, events, and things in my day? How might I build on that experience? How might I begin, or begin again. to develop an openness to Divine Union in my day-to-day life?

If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart: (View)
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
Introduction

Conversion of Heart (View)
What Does It Really Mean?

Divine Union (This Post)
Letting Go Of The Ego

(Coming Soon…)

Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed


Follow our blog



Sep 042017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 2/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 2)


Conversion of Heart
What Does It Really Mean?

What does conversion of heart really mean? As Fr. Foley points out:

The word “conversion” usually brings to mind someone leaving one religious tradition and joining another, or perhaps joining a religious tradition for the first time.  Often it is seen as a singular, perhaps even dramatic event.

For many of us Christians conversion brings up an image of what one pastor friend of mine has referred to as the “aisle walk”. One gets up at the end of the service on Sunday morning, walks down the aisle, professes belief in Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior, and gets voted “in”. Then one is baptized. Then the “conversion” is complete. After that we engage in bible study, various forms of worship, and sometimes service. As part of those activities we often talk about developing the “mind of Christ” or “becoming like Christ” and the like, but there is seldom any focus on what it really means to do that, or how we are to accomplish it. There is no real accountability for actually making that happen in our lives. We talk about it, and sometimes we are even passionate about it, but all too often that is pretty much as far as it goes. We never get to the real hard spiritual work of developing the “mind of Christ” or “becoming like Christ”. We settle for believing in Christ without any real focus on actually “being” like Christ.

But as Fr. Foley points out:

the Hebrew-Christian scriptures present a different image.

In this image the “isle walk”  is only the beginning of what is a life long journey of growth and transformation. It is the commitment to that journey. It is the commitment to the real and often difficult and very personal inner and outer work of that journey. “The Way”, as early Christians called it, is hard work. It involves prayer and spiritual practices that help us to develop and ongoing relationship with that Mysterious Other we call God. It involves allowing that Mysterious Other to continually lead our lives, and to guide us as we go about the day-to-day events of our lives. It involves letting go of the ego driven thoughts, emotions, and impulses that often control and drive our lives. It involves doing the often very difficult work necessary to actually change many of the actual thoughts, emotions, and impulses that have become the very foundation of the way we live our lives, some of which we have come to believe are part of who we are. And maybe most important and most difficult of all it involves changing the way we are actually present to all of the people, events, and things that make up our lives. All of this is of the very essence of “the Way”. It is of the very essence of the meaning of Christian “conversion”. The “aisle walk” is just the very beginning of this conversion process. It is our commitment to the lifelong conversion process.

As Fr. Foley put it:

Yes, conversion is a process–not a single event.

Conversion is truly a life-long process. It is of the very essence of the Christian life. Things like bible study, worship, and fellowship, at their best, are facilitators of that process.

I have actually done the “aisle walk” three times over a number of years to meet the requirements of some of the churches I joined. As I am fond of saying, “It never took”. It was never enough. It never changed my life in any significant way. It never really changed the way I was present to the real people, events, and things that actually made up my day-to-day life. In short I it never led to any real “conversion” in my life.

Richard and Grandchildren

Photo by Winnie Southworth

As just one example, my natural approach to routine conversation is to be very direct and very blunt—to call “a spade and spade” as the saying goes. If I think something the other person says is wrong my natural response might be to say something like “Now that is really stupid!” or even “what the f***”. In some environments that works. For example I once worked in an environment where that was pretty much the accepted approach. I have a couple of friends where it is also an acceptable approach, and I love it. In both cases we all understand each other. We know that in the end we all care about each other. We know that these relationships are a safe place to relax and just “be ourselves” or so it seems.

And yet in the end it does not work in my other relationships. People are offended. People avoid conversations with me. It is easy at this point to make arguments like “people shouldn’t be so d*** sensitive”, or “get over yourself”. But those reactions are a part of the same mindset and typically make the situation worse.

But again to quote Fr. Foley:

In this understanding, conversion begins every time I become aware that something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life.  This “something” need not be bad; in fact, it might be something very good: a job, a cause, a relationship, an activity.  The giveaway that it has become too central is that I am not free to lessen its importance in my life.  As good as it may be, it has enslaved me.  When that awareness is accompanied by the grace of remorse, the process of conversion has begun–or begun again.

Clearly this course and often offensive way of talking has taken too “to central place in my heart and life”. Just as clearly it has negatively affected my relationships, especially my closest relationships, and many other aspects of my life. In many ways it has prevented me from following the leading of that Mysterious Other in my life. It has prevented me from becoming fully “that man” (See Page??) which is so important to me. As I have looked at the truth of all of that recently, the remorse Fr. Foley spoke of has risen up in me. The conversion process has begun. Now the spiritual work of that conversion process begins.

Let me be clear. I have come to see that not only does this growth and change need to happen in those situations where it is clearly destructive, but it also needs to change in those relationships where it is seemingly accepted and even enjoyed by others. It needs to change in all of my relationships and in all of my reactions to the people, events, and things in my life. Even there it is a place where “something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life”. The call to conversion of heart here is clear.

Question for Reflection

  1. What “other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life”? When I reflect on that do I sense a sense of remorse? Am I open to the possibility of conversion of heart? Am I willing to do the spiritual work necessary to facilitate that growth?

If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart:
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
Introduction

Conversion of Heart (This Post)
What Does It Really Mean?

(Coming Soon…)

Divine Union
Letting Go Of The Ego

Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed

 


Aug 072017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 1/9 of Reflection V: of that series titled Conversion of Heart | Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection V
Conversion of Heart
Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough
(Part 1)


 

Labrynth

Photo by Winnie M. Southworth

Introduction:

The word “conversion” usually brings to mind someone leaving one religious tradition and joining another, or perhaps joining a religious tradition for the first time.  Often it is seen as a singular, perhaps even dramatic event.  But the Hebrew-Christian scriptures present a different image.

In this understanding, conversion begins every time I become aware that something other than the love of God has taken the central place in my heart and life.  This “something” need not be bad; in fact, it might be something very good: a job, a cause, a relationship, an activity.  The giveaway that it has become too central is that I am not free to lessen its importance in my life.  As good as it may be, it has enslaved me.  When that awareness is accompanied by the grace of remorse, the process of conversion has begun – or begun again.

Yes, conversion is a process – not a single event.  The Latin origins of the word reveal that it literally means, “to turn around.”  The act of turning around only points me in a new direction; but I am still standing where I was before.  Real conversion occurs as I begin, and then continue the journey of a new way of life and toward a new destination.  The Christian life is just such a journey: repeatedly becoming aware of how I have strayed from the path of the Gospel, and thus my need to change direction, a little or a lot, and return to “the Way” (as the earliest Christians called it).*

Rev. J. Patrick Foley, Ph.D.

When I was a Special Agent with the state police another Agent and I were working a really complex fraud allegation at a government agency.  We had reviewed dozens of boxes of documents and interviewed a myriad of people, some several times.  At one point when the investigation was pretty much complete we found ourselves sitting in a conference room staring silently at all of the boxes, reports, etc. for a a pretty long time, kind of overwhelmed.  Finally the other agent looked at me for a minute and said quietly “So what does it all mean?”

It seems to me we are at a similar place here.  We have talked about dozens of different aspects of prayer and the spiritual life.  We have talked about who and what that Mysterious Other we call God is and is not. We have talked about a myriad of different approaches to prayer, and quoted several different authors.  We have considered many reasons why we pray or why we do not pray.  We have talked about many of the different ways we approach prayer.  In the last reflection we talked about the importance of listening to that still small voice within where God gives us guidance, and to our presence in the events of our active lives, and we talked about how important it is to be obedient to what we hear.  So, as my colleague said, “So what does it all mean?”

What it means for me is that just saying our prayers is not near enough.  It brings me to the conclusion that, after all of the questions, topics, and reflections, in the end prayer is, at its very core, about personal growth and personal transformation, and what the monastics call conversion of heart and Divine Union.  Anything short of that is simply not enough.

____________

* Foley, Rev. J. Patrick, Ph.D., Conversion | Turning Around, guest blog post on this blog on May 25, 2012 http://www.turningaround.net/?p=229


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series.

Conversion of Heart:  Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough (This Post)

Introduction

Coming Soon…

Conversion of Heart
What Does It Really Mean?

Divine Union
Letting Go Of The Ego

Work v. Grace
Finding Balance

Care of the Mind, Body, and Spirit
Seeking Wholeness

Healing Old Wounds
Letting Go Of The Past

Becoming Authentic
Incarnating Our True Self

The Real Reason We Pray
To Be Transformed

 


Follow Us.

Jun 262017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 9/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 9)


Richard’s Rule of Life
My Commitments

Richard’s Personal Mission Statement

I aspire to live a holy life.

I aspire to live that holy life in the midst of my daily activities as an individual, a husband, a father, grandfather, and as a citizen in this world as it is, and as it will become.

I aspire to be in constant awareness of the Mysterious Divine Center I call God; in myself; in each person, each event, and each thing that makes up my life, whether it appears to be good or evil.

I aspire to participate in the holy life with these people, events, and things based on the directives and guidance that flows out of constant awareness of the Mysterious Divine Center.

In light of that divine guidance I aspire to give shape and form to my life and world in a way that will bring an ever increasing consonance, wholeness, and holiness to my own life and that of those I touch.

In the pursuit of this holy life I aspire to challenge myself and others, but also to respect their freedom while being true to my own life call.

Richard Southworth

I want to be this person! In the very depths of my soul I long to be this person! This mission statement is in my previous book, Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough, which was published back in 2011, and it actually predates that time. It is still valid for me today. It is still a good description of the person I feel called to be. I know that I can never fully be that person, but I can move in that direction. Longing for it, striving for it, reaching for that vision gives my life its meaning. Seeing the “just perceptual difference” as I grow toward that goal motivates me to continue on this often difficult journey. This vision calls to me in the midst of all of my other activities, in the midst of happiness and joy, pain and suffering, anger and violence, and it permeates my thoughts and reflections. The vision is the very essence of who I am as a person.

In order for me to continue to move toward becoming that person I need to make specific commitments and hold myself accountable for those commitments. I need to write those commitments down. I need to take the results of my discernment practice and write them down into what is often referred to in the spiritual literature as a“Rule of Life”. I realize that it is impractical to think that I can, or even should, do all of this all of the time, but I am committed to striving to moving in that direction. I am also committed to paying attention of what works and what does not work and making reasonable adjustments as necessary.

My Practice: I am committed to maintaining a regular spiritual practice.

My Practice

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) I am committed to one complete time apart every day as early in the morning as practical to include reading three psalms out loud (3, 51, & 95), reading a section from Preferring Christ, and a twenty minute silent contemplation.

(2) I am committed to a twenty minute silent contemplation sometime in the middle of the day.

(3) I am committed to a daily practice with Winnie in the evening to include at least Centering, Reading, Meditation, and a twenty minute silent contemplation.

(4) I am committed to taking some silent time, without any other practice, sometime each day.

(5) I am committed to reviewing one section of this Rule regularly 
 as part of my practice.

Self Presence: I am committed to paying attention to the way I am present in the events of my day.

My Presence

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Specifically I am committed to monitoring my compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses and to letting go of those thoughts, emotions, and impulses when appropriate.

(2) As a part of that I am committed to monitoring my speech to include both the content of that speech and the tone and delivery.

(3) When I am unable to do that I am committed to withdrawing from the event and taking time apart until I can.

 

 

 

My Presence: I am committed to being fully present in the events of my day. I will strive to be “that man” as described by Henri Nouwen or as I have come to call him “Abbot Richard”.

My Presence

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Who is this man? He is a person who has a great deal of attracting power for those around him. Those who meet him are fascinated by him and want to know more about him. All he comes in contact with get the irresistible impression that he derives his strength from a hidden source which is strong and rich. An inner freedom flows out from him, giving him an independence which is neither haughty nor aloof, but which enables him to stand above immediate needs and most pressing necessities. He is moved by what happens around him, but he doesn’t let it oppress or shatter him. He listens attentively, speaks with a self-possessed authority, but doesn’t easily get rushed or excited. In everything he says and does, he seems to have a lively vision before him which those who hear him can intimate, but cannot see. This vision leads his life. He is obedient to it. Through it he knows how to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Many things which seem of gripping immediacy hardly stir him, and he attaches great importance to some things which others simply let pass.*

Henri Nouwen

My Family: I am committed to supporting my family and to deepening my relationship with each person. Specifically I am committed to:

My Family

Photo by Sandra Marr

(1) Spending time with each of them on a regular basis.

(2) Participating in family events enthusiastically while taking care of my need for quiet and solitude.

(3) Engaging is discussion and speaking my truth in an appropriate manner when I sense that I am called to do so even when my “truth” conflicts with others.

(4) Offering guidance and wisdom in an appropriate manner even or maybe especially when it is difficult or not received well.

Church: I am committed to maintaining my relationship with Walnut Grove Baptist Church for the foreseeable future. Specifically I am committed to:

Church

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Attending Sunday School and Church with my family one some Sundays.

(2) Staying home on those days when my need for quiet and solitude is particularly strong. I will do that without guilt and without apologizing for my decision.

(3) Engaging in discussion and speaking my truth in an appropriate manner when I sense that I am called to do so even when my “truth” conflicts with others.

(4) Being open to opportunities to speak, teach, or serve in ways that are consistent with my ministry goals and objectives.

 

My Ministry: I am committed to sharing my experience and knowledge of spiritual formation and the contemplative lifestyle with others.. Specifically I am committed to:

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Finishing and publishing my second book, tentatively titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer Of Our Own.

(2) Maintaining my blog Turning Around,

(3) Considering the place of both in person and online teaching and speaking in my ministry.

(4) Developing and implementing a marketing plan, including specific goals and objectives, to include my first book titled Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough, my second book tentatively titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer Of Our Own, and my blog Turning Around.

 

(Written in June 2017)

____________

Nouwen, Henri J. M., With Open Hands. (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1972), p. 132.



If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer View
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Developing  A Way of Life View
A Guide To Live By

Obedience View
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life (This Post)
My Commitments

(Coming Soon…)

Another series:
Reflection V
Conversion of Heart

Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough


Follow Us

Jun 142017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 8/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 8)


Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Few of us have the courage to burn—to be totally called, awesomely marked, thoroughly spent, and imperiously sent. The divine summons is ignored, the human vocation is dodged, and the eternal banquet celebrating the final love affair, is postponed because we are so fearful. Ignorance and fear have plagued us from the beginning until now and are responsible for our multiple idolatries.

William McNamara, O.C.D.

McNamara has captured something extremely important here. Few of us have the courage to burn. All too often the divine summons is ignored. Ignorance and fear often plague us. In our context here, many of us have bought into the idea that the Mysterious Other we call God no longer speaks to us personally. Divine Union, so important to the spiritual life, is not even something to be sought after. Said another way, we have all too often come to believe that there is no “Sacred Inner Voice” (or, as my wife put it, no Holy Spirit) to trust and listen to and be obedient to—no opportunity “to be totally called, awesomely marked, thoroughly spent, and imperiously sent”. We have bought into a system where reading and studying scripture and trying to abide by all the dos and don’ts we learn through that process is all there is. We can ask God for help, but there is no real expectation that God will reply—no expectation that God will actually provide the “guidance, strength, and courage” we need.

If we do consider the possibility of God speaking to us through that sacred inner voice the question of being able to trust that voice is often overwhelming. We have only to listen to the evening news to find countless examples of people who have done absolutely atrocious things and claimed to be following God’s leading. We are also well aware of some of the strange things that sometimes go through our own head as well. We cannot bring ourselves to even consider the possibility of “Listening Obedience” to that Sacred Inner Voice—to the Spirit—or of distinguishing that voice from all of the other “voices” that float around in our heads. We have no clue how to really do that, thus “the divine summons is ignored”.

The term often used in much of the spiritual literature for that process is discernment. Adrian van Kaam has referred to the process as seeking consonance**. I like “seeking consonance” because it focuses on the goal where discernment focuses on the process. The dictionary defines consonance as:

agreement or compatibility between opinions or actions.***

In van Kaam’s model, consonance consists of three primary principles: Congeniality, Compatibility, and Compassion. Competence, Commitment, and Balance, are also talked about as supporting principles. All six of these principles are necessary to the discernment process. We will look at each of these principles briefly.

Richard in Church

Photo by Winnie M. Southworth

I sense that I am being called by that Mysterious Other I call God to redefine my relationship with church — I believe that Still Small Voice—the Spirit—is leading me to rethink my commitment to church. Generally, I have learned to recognize and trust that voice, but in this case, I want to be sure I am doing the right thing. To use van Kaam’s model, I want to be sure that this choice is really consonant.

What exactly do I do? What would the discernment process look like for me to consider all of the different possibilities? Do I quit church completely and focus on developing “a religion of ones own”**** apart from church? Do I let go of my relationship with church as a major issue in my life, go to church when I feel led to, and stay home when I feel led to, and not worry about it? Do I let go of my struggle to find a church that works better for me? These and other options rise up in me every time I think of church. Clearly for me that Still Small Voice—that Spirit is calling me to change my relationship to church and I need to respond to that. Yet that voice, as I have perceived it so far, is not nearly so clear about what I should actually do. It is very clear to me that voice is calling me to the discernment process—calling me to seek consonance. What is the consonant answer to these questions? What is congenial, compatible, and compassionate. How does competence, commitment, and balance play into this?

Congeniality: Congeniality is all about being authentic—about being who we really are. Is the guidance I seem to be receiving an expression of who I most deeply am and who I believe I am called to be or is it some ego driven issue? Is what I am considering here the right thing for me personally? All other things aside, and if there were no conflicting issues what is the right thing for me as an individual? Let me be clear, this question is not the same as what do I want to do. It is better expressed as what am I called to do by that Mysterious Other I call God? How am I called to change and grow and be transformed?

I have been to many different churches in many different denominations over the years, some traditional and some not so much, and a few that were downright weird. While I found something that worked for me in some of them I have never felt at home in any of them. I am not, and never have been, a traditional Christian. I do not necessarily buy in to all of the traditional doctrine. I am either bored and/or uncomfortable in most Sunday School classes and with much of what goes on in church in general. Church, as I have experienced it, is not really congenial for me personally.

I know without a doubt that I need to define a relationship with church that is congenial for me. If I am going to continue to attend church, at the very least, I need to find a way to make peace with that. I need to define a congenial way of doing that.

Compatibility: Compatibility calls us to move beyond our own needs and desires and consider seriously the environment we find ourselves in. Is the action I am considering consistent with the rest of my life? Here I have to let go of my own personal needs and desires and consider other things in my life that will be affected. Where I live, how I support myself and such. What else in my life will be affected by the decision I am considering here? It has been said that compatibility is about choosing our battles. Is it worth it?

Church is what church is. I know that I cannot “fix” it. Maybe I could have some impact, but as much as I sometimes would like to, I can never hope to make it over into my image. I know I need to let go of that. It is not the answer. It is not really even part of the answer. I also know that I will never find a church that really is compatible for me. I have tried that without success way too many times over way too many years.
There is also the issue of family. My wife and son both want to go to church, and my wife is involved in a service group there which is good for her. I also have a granddaughter who likes to go with us. When my then eight year old granddaughter decided she wanted to go to church she called me and asked if she could go with me to church. For most things she calls her grandmother, but for this she called me. I feel strongly called to support her in that. I know that they all want me to go with them.

What about the other people at church. I was discussing the possibility of quitting church with my friend and Catholic priest Fr. Patrick Foley one day and he responded: “The church needs both your presence and your discontent.” That adds another whole dimension to the compatibility question.

Compassion: Compassion is all about caring for both ourselves and others. It is about considering both congeniality and compatibility equally. On the surface it seems that having compassion for me personally and having compassion for my family are at odds with each other. On the one hand going to church does not seem congenial for me. On the other hand not going does not seem compatible with the needs and desires of my family. Then there is my friend’s statement that “the church needs your presence and your discontent”. All of these things are important, and they are all important to me personally. The call to growth here is strong, but what would that look like? How am I called by that Mysterious Other to resolve the apparent conflict?

Balance: What is called for here is balance. Balance calls me to look beyond the extremes. It calls me to avoid either/or thinking. It calls me to look for solutions that address both my need for congeniality and and my need for compatibility. Yes, one possible answer here is for me to follow my need for congeniality and just quit church. Sometimes our call to congeniality—our call to authenticity—really does call us to disappoint people that are important to us. Yes another possibility is for me to let go of that need and focus on the needs of my family and the church—to recommit myself to church without constantly wondering if I should quit. But these are not the only two possible answers. What happens when I consider seriously reaching beyond the extremes and seeking balance?

First of all, I can choose not to go some Sundays when my need for quiet is particularly strong (congeniality), and choose to go on other Sundays when I sense a strong need to support my family (compatibility) or when there is some need at church that needs my attention. But my coach brought up something even deeper here, and even more difficult to face up to. I sense in all of this “noodling”, as she likes to call it, a clear calling to change my attitude toward church. I need to see it radically differently, and that calls for some serious spiritual practice. Beyond that, I sense a deeper calling to move beyond accepting or rejecting what is and work toward creating something that, on some level at least, works for me and that might possibility be of service to others. Figuring out what that might look like is beyond the scope of this section.

Competence: Competence calls me to consider whether or not I have the knowledge, experience, and expertise to actually do what I feel called to do. I know how to do the spiritual practice necessary to change my attitude about church. I have engaged in that practice for years and made some significant and successful changes in other areas of my life. I have a masters degree in spiritual formation, and I have worked before to create something new in church. I can do it again if I really am called to that endeavor.
If that were not the case, if there was knowledge, experience, and expertise that I was missing, that would not necessarily mean I was not called in that direction. It could very well mean that I needed to do whatever was necessary to develop that knowledge, experience, and expertise.

Commitment: When we have worked through this process and we have clarified what we believe that still small voice—that Spirit—that Mysterious Other we call God wants us to do. Where does listening obedience call us to go from here? Commitment calls us to actually make it happen in our day to day life. It calls us to clearly articulate what we feel called to do and then make a real commitment to discover what that means. It calls us to turn that calling into actual goals and objectives and to track those goals and objectives over time. It calls us to take those goals and objectives into our examination of conscience practice to be sure that it actually happens.

On the one hand obedience and commitment call us to stay the course. It calls us to, as someone put it, “fake it until we become it”*****—until it becomes a natural part of who we are as a person. That said the process is not over. We need to be constantly open to the possibility that the Still Small Voice will call us to make adjustments to our commitment or even change the commitment over time. Even if the basic commitment stays the same, if we are open some individual goals and objectives may need to change over time. Some things will work and some things will not work over time. What is congenial, compatible, and compassionate may very will change over time due to changes in our life situation. What that Mysterious Other wants for us itself may change. We need to be open to those changes and willing to make the necessary adjustments and changes in our lives.

Passion: Passion is about having “the courage to burn—to be totally called, awesomely marked thoroughly spent and imperiously sent” as McNamara put it. It is about listening carefully to the “divine summons” and being passionately obedient to it. It is about being passionate about the discernment process—about seeking consonance and what we discover through that process. It is about being passionate about “listening obedience”.

 

All of this should be approached as a part of our spiritual practice—as a central part of our prayer practice. We should ask that Mysterious Other we call God to provide the “guidance, strength, and courage” so important to that process and then we need to be open to the response.

I think is important to note here that the Mysterious Other we call God speaks to us in many different ways and through many different people, events, and things. The Spirit often speaks to us through our Sacred Inner Voice, our life experiences, our life circumstances, our family, our friends, our acquaintances, and even perfect strangers. We need to “listen” and be “obedient” to the guidance that can come from all areas of our life.

The actual result of this discernment process will be part of “Richard’s Rule of Life” in the next section.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Identify something in your own life where you feel called to grow or change. Consider seriously each of the topics we have talked about—congeniality, compatibility, compassion, balance, competence, commitment, and passion. Write down the results of your reflections in each of these areas.

____________

McNamara, William, O.C.D., Mystical Passion:  Spirituality For A Bored Society, (New York:  Paulist Press, 1977), p. 4-5
** Van Kaam, Adrian, Formative Spirituality, Volume Three: Formation of the Human Heart, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1986), pp 1-21
*** 
Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.
**** 
Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World,  (New York:  Penguin Group (USA) LLC), 2014
***** 
Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World,  (New York:  Penguin Group (USA) LLC), 2014




If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer View
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Developing  A Way of Life View
A Guide To Live By

Obedience (This Post)
Seeking Consonance

(Coming Soon…)

Richard’s Rule of Life


Follow Us.

May 262017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 7/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 7)


Developing A Way of Life
A Guide To Live By

We have talked about a lot of important things: Attention, Openness, Restraint of Speech, Apatheia, Communion with God. All of these are complex and interesting issues. Thinking about them and even understanding them is not enough. All of them call us to change and growth and transformation. How do we take what we are learning into the rest of our lives? How do we make them a part of how we live our lives—how we relate to the myriad people, events, and things that make up our day-to-day lives? We can and should ask The Mystery to guide us and help us but that is not enough. In my experience The Mystery seldom just reaches down and transforms us. In the end we have to do the very real spiritual work of listening to that guidance and being obedient to it.

Making this happen is not easy. It is counter cultural and often even counter what we have learned in our church experience. It may sound redundant but the very first step is for us to consciously decide what we are really committed to do. It is not enough for this idea to float around in the back of our mind or even in our prayer time. It is not enough for us to say that we will try. As Yoda put it, “No! There is no try.  Do or do not. There is only do!”* What is required here is for us to make this journey absolutely central to the way we live our life. How do we do that? How do we get past “try” to “do”?

The first step is for us to make the commitment to follow this path. But even that is not enough. We need to actually speak that commitment to those closest to us. We need to ask at least one person to hold us accountable. In an ideal situation that person could be one (or more) of those closest to us, but if that is not possible or if it does not work for us for some reason, we may need to find a spiritual director or a life coach to hold us accountable. That accountability is crucial.

For any of this to work we need to be clear about what it is we are committed to. It is not enough for us to say, “I am committed to live a spiritual life”, or even “I am committed to growth, transformation, and conversion of heart”. We need to be clear about exactly what we mean by those terms, and at least some of that needs to be a part of what we communicate to those close to us and what we want to be held accountable for. It is precisely here that the rubber meets the road—where our commitment becomes real. It is here that we develop real measurable goals and objectives that we can hold ourselves accountable for and be held accountable for. It is here that we can begin to know where we are successful and where we are falling short.

Photo by Richard and Winnie Southworth

I want to suggest here that these commitments and goals should actually be written down. Some of the spiritual writings refer to this process as developing a “Rule Of Life”. The classic example of a rule of life is “The Rule of St. Benedict” It was written centuries ago for monks living in a monastery and it has guided Benedictine monasteries all over the world and still does. It has to be adjusted to work for individuals in the modern world, but it can offer us effective guidance as we develop our own “rule”. I highly recommend a careful and slow reading of Norvene Vest’s Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict. Vest takes us through each section of “The Rule” and offers commentary on how it can apply to modern life. She also offers her own personal reflections on each section. It has been a central part of my own spiritual practice for decades and continues to be.

We will go into more detail in a later reflection about spiritual practice and integrating that practice into our active lives. For an example of a rule of life see my own rule at the end of this reflection.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What is your current spiritual practice?  What are your current commitments to change and growth and transformation?  What new commitments do you need to make in these areas?  In your overall life?  Have you ever written them down into a personal rule of life?  Are you willing to do that?  If you have done that do you need to update that rule now?

____________
Best Master Yoda Quotes | Star Wars I-VI https://youtu.be/80sMfx7WhIs
**  Vest, Norvene, Preferring Christ:  A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict (Valyermo, California, St. Andrews Abbey, 1993)



If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer View
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Developing  A Way of Life (This Post)
A Guide To Live By

(Coming Soon…)

Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life


Feb 202017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 5/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 5)


Attention to Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses
Seeking Apatheia

New versions of the old beast seem to rise from the murky, tempestuous sea of our time with relentless steadiness, with vast armaments, wars, famine and disease, earthquake and flood, with political and social oppression, bad jobs and no jobs, unresponsive and entrenched bureaucracies, brutality and callousness, family and social disintegration, with environmental rape, with trivial, mind-numbing consumer diversion.

Inside us, driving, competing, confused desires and fears bounce us from fleeting pain to fleeting pleasure, making us ever restless, causing us to seek ever more and other there, rarely content with enough here.  That is man becoming without being, adrift without a compass, revolting in revolt, falling through in blindness calling it rising, or in darkness calling it damned.*

Tilden Edwards

The turmoil and violence that we see internationally, in our country, and in our communities ultimately has its roots in the inner turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that drives each of us as individuals. Together they form what is traditionally called the ego. Our ego expresses itself in a seemingly endless myriad of “obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning.” Recognizing, acknowledging, and accepting responsibility for our own inner turmoil is the first step, and often one of the most difficult steps, on a journey toward wholeness and holiness. If we can quieten that inner turmoil, even for a moment, and listen, we will encounter a deep yearning for a new way of life.

It is important to note here that all turmoil is not made up of intrinsically negative things. Sometimes it is created when we overextend ourselves with essentially positive things like taking our children to school, church events, and social events. If we are a working parent, we can get overwhelmed trying to balance work and family relationships and other responsibilities. In one way all of this is good, and yet it can create its own turmoil—its own series of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. It can create its own cycle of “obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning”. We can feel trapped in the seemingly endless series of ego driven demands and needs and desires, however good and even necessary all of these things may seem.

For many of us—even most of us—the turmoil resulting from these “driving, competing, confused desires and fears” seems to dominate our lives.  All of our energy is consumed in the never-ending effort to meet their demands.  We are clearly motivated, and often downright driven, by these and other powerful compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. Much, if not most, of the stress and the dissonance in our lives is the result of these powerful ego driven drives that seem to possess us and to have a mind of their own. Individuals and life events “push our buttons,” and we become ineffective, depressed, and often even mean and violent. In spite of our best efforts, for many of us, these compulsive ego driven drives rage inside of us and control much of our lives. They impact our marriages, our relations with our children and other family members, and our work relationships. Even those of us who are reasonably well adjusted frequently find ourselves surprised by the strength and the power of these preconscious compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses.

At times this turmoil takes the form of a kind of numbness or indifference. We seem closed to the people, events, and things in our life, including those closest to us. On the surface we appear unaffected by the turmoil around us. But like anger or anxiety or fear, the numbness and indifference is just another expression of the turmoil. It is made up of its own ego driven compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses, and it both drives us and limits us in very powerful ways. This numbness and indifference can also be an unconscious, yet powerful, defense mechanism that distracts us from the drives which often seem overwhelming. Boredom is just another form of this turmoil. As Mary Michael O’Shaughnessy, OP has put it: “Boredom is anger worn thin.”

Identifying and owning that hidden ego driven turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses and the unique ways it expresses itself in our individual lives is crucial to the Spiritual Journey. It is a crucial part of what spiritual practice and prayer is all about. The movement toward the healing of the ego is the very essence of the conversion of heart that is so central to the Spiritual Life.

From this perspective the first goal of the spiritual life is a state referred to in Greek as “apatheia.” “Apatheia means, literally, “without emotions’—or, more precisely freedom from emotions.” It is telling that there is no English word that accurately translates the Greek word apatheia. In fact the concept is very difficult to even describe accurately in English. Typically we use the word apathy. According to the dictionary apathy refers to a “lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifference,” or to a “lack of emotion or feeling; impassiveness.” Even though the dictionary refers to apatheia as the root of the word apathy, the definition misses the deepest meaning of apatheia and assumes that apatheia is a negative state, essentially equating it with not caring about the important things in life.

The Revolutionary is not a person who doesn’t care or who is “impassive,” and yet, as Nouwen points out the revolutionary person:

is moved by what happens around him, but he doesn’t let it oppress or shatter him. An inner freedom flows out from him, giving him an independence which is neither haughty nor aloof, but which enables him to stand above immediate needs and most pressing necessities.**

Quiet River

Photo by Richard N. Southworth

It is the freedom from his own inner turmoil—from his own compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses—that places Nouwen’s Revolutionary squarely in the state of apatheia.

For much of my life I was filled with a strange combination of anger, boredom, and anxiety. These strong emotional reactions filled much of my life, and drove both my inner and outer reactions to the people, events, and things that made up my life. Something happened in my life that I did not like, and I felt angry. Life failed to provide something I wanted, and I felt bored. Faced with a difficult task, I was filled with anxiety. Once those reactions set in I was locked into a series of patterned, often destructive responses—a series of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. There was no freedom of choice, and at times only an iron will prevented me from becoming abusive and physically violent and allowed me to perform most necessary daily responsibilities with reasonable effectiveness. The effort was exhausting and added to the turmoil.

When my therapist told me that it was not possible to actually heal the destructive emotional patterns and the best I could hope for was to learn to manage it better it seemed to confirm my personal experience. She and I were both wrong.

As I have discovered and implemented my personal spiritual practice the conversion of heart I sought began to happen. More and more I have found myself in situations that in the past would have generated strong destructive emotional responses, and the responses did not come. I do not mean here that I was better able to control or manage my responses. I mean that I did not feel angry. I did not feel bored or anxious. As a result of these changes I have experienced a great freedom—“a great freedom from (my) emotions.” More often now I find that I am able to choose my responses to the events of my life in a way that is almost indescribable. In this state of apatheia I am much more aware of, not only my own inner calling, but also the needs and desires of the people around me. Without the inner turmoil I am much more able to live my life in response to that inner calling, but I am also much more able to respond to and care for those around me.

The development of apatheia—this freedom from my compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses—is one of the immediate goals of spiritual discipline including prayer. It is the very foundation upon which transformation takes place. Without apatheia I am so full of my own ego, so full of my own thoughts, emotions, and impulses that I cannot even hear “the divine summons” much less respond to its call. Apatheia leaves me open and available, not only to the divine summons, but to the rhythm of life itself. It is the very essence of what it means to be open.

When we quiet our compulsive thoughts we open ourselves to the gift of inner silence. We allow ourselves to move beyond words. When we quiet our compulsive emotions we allow ourselves to move beyond mad, glad, sad, and scared. When we quiet our compulsive impulses we allow ourselves to move beyond basic needs and desires. Apatheia offers us the possibility of moving beyond our habitual responses. It offers us the possibility of freedom from the inner tyranny of those habitual responses to the people, events, and things in our daily lives. Each of us have different combinations of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. In my case it was, and all too often still is, anger.  So many of the examples I use relate to anger, but it is important to recognize that your struggle may be something entirely different like overeating or drinking or pornography for example. The possibilities are legion.

Much, if not most of our struggles in the spiritual life ultimately involve letting go of the ego. Richard Rohr is reported to have said about spiritual practice, “don’t expect people to rush to a practice the ultimate goal of which is the destruction of the ego”. He is right on that point, the destruction of the ego is a major part of what the spiritual life is all about—of what prayer is all about. If we are unwilling to face up to that ego we cannot progress but so far in the life of prayer.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses drive my life? What are the consequences of those drives in my daily life? Am I willing to bring those destructive responses into my spiritual practice—into my prayer?

____________
* Edwards, Tilden, Spiritual Friend:  Reclaiming the Gift of Spiritual Direction. (Ramsey, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1980), p. 14.
** O’Shaughnessy, Mary Michael, ???
*** Needleman, Jacob, Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery to the Centre of Christian Experience. (Rockport, MA: Element, Inc., 1980), p. 137.
**** Excerpted from American Heritage Talking Dictionary. Copyright © 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia (This post)
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

(Coming Soon)

Self Presence
Attention to Our Presence In Events

Prayer 
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Answer To Question # ?


Follow our blog.

Jan 162017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 4/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 4)


Attention to Our Speech*
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

When my granddaughter was about five years old she spontaneously exclaimed to my wife, “Wherever I go there is light!” When I texted this to her mother her mother replied, “And talking!” It seems that could apply to many if not most of us. Wherever we go there is talking. Whenever there is a silent moment someone feels an obligation to fill it with talking. We cannot listen and talk at the same time. We cannot be “just open” and talk at the same time.

Most monks take a different approach. Very few monks take a vow of silence these days, but many do practice a discipline referred to as restraint of speech. In many monasteries the monks eat their meals in silence. There is also what is called the great silence which begins after evening prayers and ends after breakfast. Other periods of silence are often built into their daily routine and times of prayer. These times of silence permeate the monastic day and help the monk to stay centered and focused. Those of us living in the busy, noise filled modern world could benefit greatly from such regular periods of silence built into our day.

But the discipline of restraint of speech means much more than that. Dennis Okholm puts it this way:

When words were necessary, Benedict** exhorted them, they [monks] should speak rarely, briefly, directly, and simply; speech that was malicious, gossip, tasteless, or destructive was forbidden. As Columba Steward explains, “The issue becomes more clearly one of stewardship. Language is a gift that can be used thoughtfully or thoughtlessly, humbly or proudly. Someone constantly aware of the presence of God will know when and how to speak.”***

If we think that working periods of silence into our busy schedule is difficult, it is a cakewalk compared to this type of restraint of speech. What might it mean if we considered restraint of speech as a spiritual discipline in our day to day lives?

In our culture our days are filled with words. We are often the antithesis of this call to speak rarely, briefly, and directly. We are prone to speak often, at great length, indirectly, and complexly. We have an opinion about just about everything, and we do not hesitate to express it. My wife and I have had a habit of engaging in conversation our daughters and grandchildren call bickering. The discussions begin innocently enough. One of us says something, often not even addressed to the other. The other responds, and we are off. These conversations occur all too often and last way too long. They clearly could not be described as either direct or simple. Since my retirement these types of conversations have become even more frequent.

We have often tried to analyze the conversations in an effort to limit them, and we generally only succeed in blaming each other and setting off another round of bickering. As I was reading what Okholm was saying about restraint of speech, I realized that all of the blaming aside, this was the real issue. The vast majority of these conversations were totally unnecessary. I was very often speaking when I simply needed to be silent. At other times I needed to listen to what my wife was saying and only comment when I had something useful to add to the conversation and then not to defend my position when we have different opinions. Were I to do that I would speak much more rarely and briefly. If I were to then only speak my thoughts directly and simply the conversations would be brief and there would be little opportunity for the bickering my grandchildren talk about to even begin.

Thinking back I recalled that, as the manager of a health insurance company Special Investigations Unit I developed a reputation for going into negotiation sessions and resolving disputes between the investigators who worked for me and the providers that were being investigated. I would go into these meetings with very little information, sit in silence, sometimes for a fairly long time, and listen to the discussion. In that silence I would often begin to see where the real underlying differences were that were not being addressed. Still not speaking, I would formulate what I wanted to say, wait for an opening, and make a short statement or ask a question that often turned the conversation in a new direction and led to a resolution of the dispute. My comments and questions were generally brief, direct, and simple. I had more than one Investigator ask me after a successful session how I was able to do that. I had no good words for it then, but in truth it was through restraint of speech. I was able to be silent and listen and think, and then I was able to speak briefly, simply, and directly. I did not feel obligated to enter into the discussion until I had something useful to say, and then I was often able to be silent again and let the investigator and the provider work toward a solution with a different focus. The discipline of restraint of speech calls me to do the same thing in other areas of my life. If I can practice that restraint of speech in my relationship with my wife the bickering would almost certainly stop.

Being Quiet

Photo by Mark Southworth

In this world of stand up comics, talk shows, and twenty-four seven news programs we have almost lost the meaning of malicious, gossip, tasteless, destructive, or forbidden speech. It often appears that this type of speech has become the norm. Any attempt to restrain this type of language, even in our day to day conversation, will almost immediately lead to an assertion of the right to express our opinion or to a reference to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

For many of us, any real honest look at our daily lives from a spiritual perspective would reveal much speech that would be categorized as malicious, gossip, tasteless, or destructive. Were we to commit ourselves not to speak anything that fell into these four categories we would clearly speak much more rarely and much more briefly. Many of the jokes that we tell, the teasing that we engage in, and the little smart remarks that we make on a daily basis would also be eliminated. When I look back at the bickering that goes on between my wife and I, much of what is said in those conversations would fall into one of these categories as well.

As Steward points out, language is a gift that can be used thoughtfully or thoughtlessly. Someone once said that when we finally realize how much we hurt others by just being ourselves we have a pretty good understanding of what sin is. When my wife and I bicker we are using language thoughtlessly, and in the process we often hurt each other. The cumulative effect of this thoughtless behavior keeps our relationship from being fully the great gift that it can be for us. It also hurts others around us and teaches the same bad habits to our children and grandchildren.

Like most destructive behavior in our lives restraint of speech is ultimately an issue of humility. Am I humble enough to “speak rarely, briefly, and directly?” Do I care about others enough not to speak anything that is “malicious, gossip, tasteless, or destructive?” Am I willing to pay careful attention to what I say and use language thoughtfully or will I be proud and arrogant and ignore how my speech hurts those around me and keeps me from being the person I am called to be? Said another way will I be driven by my ego or will I follow that sacred inner voice where that Mysterious Other guides me. The choice is ultimately mine.

Steward puts it in perspective when he says, “Someone constantly aware of the presence of God will know when and how to speak.” This places the discipline of restraint of speech right where it belongs: squarely in the midst of the spiritual life. The very essence of the spiritual life is developing this constant awareness of that Mysterious Presence we call God in the midst of our day-to-day life, and if we do that, restraint of speech becomes a natural part of that process. As Steward points out we become stewards of the great gift that language is in our lives.

So what does Restraint of Speech have to do with prayer? First of all we should apply it to prayer itself. It seems to me that whenever we pray “there is talking”. Whenever we are talking in prayer we are not listening. We are not open to any response from that Mysterious Other we call God, and that is a central part of what real prayer is. Yes. we should take our concerns to God in verbal prayer—in talking. But then we should be silent and listen for a response.

I was talking to a minister friend a while back, and he told me that whenever he wrote out his sermons at the end he would type “Now sit down and shut up!” Most of us could benefit greatly from adding that silent line to many of our conversations. The Discipline of Restraint of Speech combined with the call to pray without ceasing calls us to take that same logic into the rest of our lives as well.

Question for Reflection

  1. What might it mean if we considered restraint of speech as a spiritual discipline in our daily lives? What if in our day to day lives we were to “speak rarely, briefly, directly, and simply; [what if we avoided] speech that was malicious, gossip, tasteless, or destructive”?

____________

 * An earlier version previously published on my blog Turning Around, January 30, 2008 View…

** A reference to The Rule Of Saint Benedict, a monastic rule used in Benedictine monasteries and often seen as the basis for monastic life.

*** Okholm, Dennis, Monk Habits for Everyday People:  Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Brazos Press, 2007), p. 40.  The Columba Stewart quotation comes from:  Stewart, Columbia, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998), 51.


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Attention Is Everything View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech  (This Post)
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

(Coming Soon)

Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses 
Seeking Apatheia 

Sacred Presence  
Attention To Our Presence In Events

Prayer 
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Richard’s Answer To Question # ?


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Nov 282016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 3/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 3)


Developing Openness
Becoming Vulnerable

Jacob Needleman quotes Metropolitan Anthony Bloom as saying:

In prayer one is vulnerable, not enthusiastic…You must be not enthusiastic, nor rejecting—but only open. This is the whole aim of asceticism: to become open.”*

Could this be true?  We should not be enthusiastic when we pray?  We should not be rejecting? Maybe it makes sense that in prayer we should not be rejecting, but we should not be enthusiastic either?  We should be vulnerable?  We should be only open?  This seems to be counter intuitive.  It seems to go against everything we have been taught in church.  And what does it even mean to be open?  In what way are we closed?

The dictionary defines openness this way:

receptive: ready and willing to accept or listen to something, for example, new ideas or suggestions.**

When we pray are we really open?  Are we really “receptive”.  Are we really “ready and willing to accept or listen to … new ideas or suggestions?”  Are we really “not enthusiastic nor rejecting—but only open” as Metropolitan Anthony suggests?  Are we really vulnerable when we pray?  Do we even feel called to that openness and vulnerability when we pray?  Do we even consider listening to be a part of what we do when we take our time apart—when we pray?

Thomas Moore has described modern life this way:

Early Christian monks went out to live in the desert in order to find emptiness.  Modern life is becoming so full that we need our own ways of going to the desert to be relieved of our plenty.  Our heads are crammed with information, our lives busy with activities, our cities stuffed with automobiles, our imaginations bloated on pictures and images, our relationships heavy with advice, our jobs burdened with endless new skills, our homes cluttered with gadgets and conveniences.  We honor productivity to such an extent that the unproductive person or day seems a failure.

Monks are experts at doing nothing and tending the culture of that emptiness.***

Openness

Photo by Teresa Parr

In this busy environment is it even possible to be “only open”?  And what about Metropolitan Anthony’s reference to asceticism as the means to becoming open?  Asceticism has a bad name in our culture today, and we should avoid getting caught up in that debate.  For our purposes I think we can be true to Metropolitan Anthony’s   meaning by rephrasing the statement this way:  “One of the primary aims of all spiritual discipline:  to become open.” And for me it would not be a stretch either to say: “One of the primary aims of all prayer:  to become open to God—to listen to God.”

All that said what specific spiritual practices might best help us to develop that openness and vulnerability?  There are many, and as the statement implies “all spiritual discipline”and all “prayer” can help us develop that openness and vulnerability, but maybe one of the most effective practices is the practice of Lectio Divina or “divine reading.”  Lectio Divina is a practice developed in the monastic tradition as an approach to reading scripture.  As Robert Hale, OSB explains it:

What precisely is the method of lectio divina? Basically, it means that we should read the Rule as we would meditate upon Holy Scripture or a spiritual classic. This means that we should first study the passage very attentively in order to grasp what is there. But then we should go on to meditate on it at a deeper, spiritual level, in our hearts. Even then, we are not halfway through the adventure. We need to go on to pray the text, to render it a vehicle for worship. And finally, we need to enable the text to lead us into a yet deeper level of contemplation of the ineffable God.****

Lectio divina calls us to reach beyond reading for information, which is our typical approach, and to be open to it on a much deeper level.  It calls us to meditate on the text and even to pray the text.  But even that is not enough.  Lectio then calls us to open ourselves to divine guidance in silence and in quiet contemplation.

Although lectio divina was developed initially for approaching scripture it is also a method of approaching any spiritual text.  When we take this practice into our active lives it becomes a method of approaching all aspects of our lives.  It calls us to “read” the events of our life in much the same way.   Essentially lectio divina encourages us to be open to all aspects of those events.

Question for Reflection

  1. When you sit down to take your time apart—when you pray—are you really open to the guidance, and strength, and courage that comes from that Mysterious Other we call God?  When you pray do you really listen for that input? Do you allow your prayer “to lead us into a yet deeper level of contemplation of the ineffable God?”

____________

Excerpt From: Jacob Needleman. “Lost Christiantiy.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/hyyvv.l
**  Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
*** 
Moore, Thomas, Meditations:  On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life, (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1994), p.
**** 
Vest, Norvene,  Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary & Workbook on the Rule of Saint Benedict, (Valyermo, CA, 1990), p. vi


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Attention Is Everything View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness (This Post) 
Becoming Vulnerable 

(Coming Soon)

Attention To Our Speech 
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses 
Seeking Apatheia 

Sacred Presence  
Attention To Our Presence In Events

Prayer 
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Richard’s Answer To Question # ?


Purchase Choosing Authenticity

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