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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


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Apr 302016
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Apr 272016
 

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 7)

Exclusivity
Our Way or the Highway?

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 and all other answers, or even all other ways of expressing those answers are just wrong.

The problem here is the belief that God will reject and punish us if we do not ascribe to the “right” set of beliefs—that God will send us to to burn in hell if we do not profess our 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 almost 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. She was trying to convince me that I should take a more tradition approach to Christianity, and both of us were challenging each other back and forth rather sharply but also in a friendly caring way. I finally asked her, “What is the bottom line for you?” She replied quickly, “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 after 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, as it is for many others, and she had absolutely no idea what it meant as I suspect is true for many Christians.

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 to forgive other people for their sins, not to mention downright cruel?

World of Faith

A World of Faith Image from http://www.bigstockphotos.com

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 that is beyond the scope of this book. My intent in sharing this story is to encourage us to consider seriously the implications of our beliefs. In this case does it not essentially make God a tyrant to require us to give assent to a certain doctrine, whether or not we understand it, and whether or not we have even been exposed to it, in order to prevent eternal damnation? It seems so to me. Again is not this idea in conflict with the idea of a loving, caring, forgiving God, something that is a basic tenant of Christian belief as well? And does not this line of thought raise a thousand other similar conflicts and questions as well? Are we open to considering those questions. Are we open to bringing those questions into our prayer?

  1. What are my basic religious beliefs? What do they really mean? What do I think about people from other religions or denominations who believe differently than I do?

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

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

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

 

Apr 232016
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Mar 302016
 

This post is the third in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the third 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 3)

Models of Christian Spirituality
Seeking Divine Union

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

For Keaton, in the western model we as humans, and for that matter all of creation, are outside of God and God is outside of us and outside of creation. 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 toward pleasing God. External actions are more important than internal intensions. Our efforts are directed toward completion of the various rituals and other responsibilities, and, I would add, professing the right beliefs. We initiate these actions. God then rewards us when we are good and punishes us when we fail to live up to those requirements. 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”—so that God will respond positively. In its most narrow sense, we seek to please God and avoid going to hell and to assure our place in “heaven” in the afterlife wherever and whatever that is. The extreme view of this is expressed in a church sign I saw once that said, “Use ‘Son’ Screen to avoid eternal burning”. Sheesh!

Divine Union

Photo by Brian Hill

For 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, seek God’s guidance, and to follow that guidance in our day-to-day lives rather than focusing on our own self-initiated actions and projects. The emphasis is on our spiritual journey and to unite ourselves with God and to love God, love ourselves, love others, and to love this wondrous universe—right here right now. The monastics refer to this journey to unite ourselves with God as seeking Divine Union. (More about that is a later reflection.) 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.”** Obviously if we are to love our neighbor as ourself we must love ourselves as well.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do I sense that God is inside of me or outside of me? Do I sense God judging me or guiding me?

____________

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

** Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)


Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

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

 

Nov 072015
 

Every year my wife goes away for a week or so to visit her family.  I love my wife, but as an introvert I love being alone, so I value this alone time.  One of the things I have noticed is that for the first couple of days I tend not to actually do anything much at all.  I spend a good bit of my day just sitting, taking walks around the neighborhood, and thinking about nothing much.  To use Iyer’s language, “Going nowhere”.  Doing this time I seldom write or check my email, or even meditate.  Sometimes I have felt guilty about that.  With all of this free time one would think I would make better use of my time.  Iyer has given that “practice” a name:  “The Art of Stillness”.  In the process he has authenticated my experience.  In this video he makes the case for taking:

A few minutes out of every day
A Few days out of every season,
Or even, as some people do, a few years out of a life,
In order to sit still long enough to find out what moves, you most.
To recall where your truest happiness lies,
And to remember that making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.

He reminds us that:

In an age of acceleration nothing can be more exhilarating that doing slow,
In an age of distraction nothing is more exhilarating than paying attention,
In an age of constant movement nothing is so urgent than sitting still.

ListenReflect

 

 

The place that travel writer Pico Iyer would most like to go? Nowhere. In a counterintuitive and lyrical meditation, Iyer takes a look at the incredible insight that comes with taking time for stillness. In our world of constant movement and distraction, he teases out strategies we all can use to take back a few minutes out of every day, or a few days out of every season. It’s the talk for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the demands for our world.*

Please add your comments and experiences below.

____________

* From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUBawr1hUwo

Jun 172015
 

I have not posted anything here for about six months.  There are a lot of “reasons” behind that.  I had rotator cuff surgery back in December.  It went well overall, but for a while it affected my ability to focus.  For a time I was on pain medications.  Much of my time was taken up with daily physical therapy, sometimes at the Physical Therapy facility and often at home.  There was also some kind of emotional thing that went with it that made it difficult to concentrate.  Most of that is over now, and in the end all went well.  I also have not done much writing on my book during that time either. At first blush all of this seems more like excuses than reasons for not taking care of my writing which is extremely important to me.

MistOverLake

Photo by Drexel Rayford

All of that said, my spiritual life has not been on hold during this time.  Some old and very deep questions were churning inside of me.  After a number of years of significant personal growth I have felt stuck—called profoundly to go deeper without the insight about where to go or how to even discern what the call was really about.  One of the major question in all of this had to do with my relationship with organized religion in general, and church in specific, an issue which has plagued me throughout my spiritual journey.

I was also stuck in my writing in a way that made it impossible for me to continue.  It was more than what we writers call “writers block”.  I read some of what I had written over and over again.  On one level it seemed to say what I wanted to say, but something important was blatantly missing, and I was unable to discern what that was really.  I knew that it had to do with the questions about my spiritual life and my relationship with church, but I had no idea what was really missing.

All of this together left me with what a number of writers have called a “dark night of the soul”.  I experienced all kinds of feelings and emotions.  Sometimes lonely and bored.  Sometimes tired, frustrated, and angry.  Sometimes blaming it on family and friends, especially my wife causing our relationship to suffer  My practice was reduced to what I called maintenance mode.  It kept me more or less in check, but it didn’t motivate me hardly at all.  It has been a painful time on my journey.

I read several books during this time, two of which bear mention here.  The first is The Power of Now:  A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle, and the second one is A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating A Personal Spirituality In A Secular World by Thomas Moore.  Both of these books address those major issues and struggles in my own spiritual journey in powerful ways.  They showed up one after another at just the right time.  They are life changing events for me.  They will require much study, reflection, growth for me going forward.  They address both my sense of being stuck and the missing link in my writing.  I know that I will look back on this time as a major marker on my spiritual journey.  I am excited about my journey for the first time in a long time.  There is much to do, and I am ready to get on with my journey and with my writing.

Stay tuned for my next post.

Richard

 

Aug 232014
 

Recently I was going through some old files and came across the following piece I wrote back in the 1970’s.  The quote is presented unedited.

Someday I would like to talk to Jesus of Nazareth.

I want to ask him if he is angry about the way his life has been portrayed.  I am!

I want to ask him if he was really God, or what seems more wondrous, a spirit filled man struggling with life.

I want to ask him if he died for my sins, or what seems more wondrous, because he tried to live life fully.

I want to ask Jesus if the God he knows was some kind of sadistic tyrant who required blood sacrifices, or what seems more wondrous, a consonant spirit who speaks in our heart, and calls us forth. Mine is!

I want to ask Jesus if he was celibate or what seems more wondrous, a passionate sexual being who made gentle and lusty love with a woman he loved.

Someday I would like to talk to Mary the mother of Jesus.

I want to ask her if she is angry about the way her life has been portrayed.  I am!

I want to ask her if her son Jesus was really conceived by the Holy Spirit, or what seems more wondrous, by a wild night of passion with her husband.

I would still like to have that conversation.  All of the questions are still valid.

Aug 122014
 

This is maybe the best overview I have heard or read of the “Liturgy of the Hours” practiced in many monasteries.  The practice is sometimes called by other names, such as “the Daily Office”, “the “opus dei” or the “work of God”.  It consists of the monks meeting some seven times a day for prayers.  While it is difficult, if not impossible, for those of us who live active lives outside of a monastery, we can learn much from the teaching.  Fr. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, of Mount Angle Abbey not only share the importance of the liturgy to the monastic life, but provides great insights into the importance of regular times of prayer for anyone on the spiritual journey.  We all can learn much from studying these ancient practices.  Read, Reflect, Enjoy!

Fr Jeremy Driscoll, OSB explains the Liturgy of the Hours. Composed of Psalms, canticles, antiphons and prayers, the Liturgy of the Hours finds its historical roots in the ancient and venerable prayer of the synagogue.
Youtube

May 212014
 

Reflection II:  Because We Must

The Call To Prayer
Part 1

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Image to be added when available.

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Praying is no easy matter.    It demands a relationship in which you allow the other to enter into the very center of your person, allow  him to speak there, allow him to touch the sensitive core of your being, and allow him to see so much that you would rather leave in darkness.    And when do you really want to do that?   Perhaps you would let the other come across the threshold to say something, to touch something, but to let him into that place where your life gets its form, that is dangerous and calls for defense.1
Henri J.  M.  Nouwen
It seems that the simplest answer to the question “Why do we pray?” is the most profound.  We pray simply  “because we must”.  A still small voice 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 existence entirely, or we can settle for some psychological explanation.  The call is still there, waiting for us, pressing us, calling us, demanding a response from us, often when we least expect it and 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.  It is ultimately our choice whether our response or lack thereof leads to growth and service or to deformation and 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.  It is what being fully human and fully alive is all about.  Choosing our response to this inner call and being obedient to it 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.

This calling manifests itself in our lives in different ways.  Maybe the most obvious way is through an experience 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 has 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 answer is prayer.  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.

This calling can also manifest itself through an experience of suffering or loss.  We face the death of a loved one, or we face serious illness, or we face our own impending death.  We lose our job, our home, or a family member or close friend commits suicide or becomes involved in drugs or alcohol.  Our spouse tells us they want a divorce.  We experience some kind of physical or emotional abuse.  The specific examples are legion, but whatever the event is, it leaves us torn apart inside.  We begin to question the very foundations of our lives.  We no longer see the world as a safe place for us.   Sometimes we just sense that our lives are being wasted, that time is just passing us by, and that time can never be recovered.  Just as an experience of awe can lead us to ask those seemingly unanswerable questions, an experience of suffering or loss or aimlessness can raise those same questions, albeit in a different form.  Where does this suffering come from?  Why is this happening to me now?  What did I do wrong?  How am I called to live my unique life in the face of these painful events?  Even if I knew, how is it possible to live that in the face of these realities?  How can that reality, if in fact there is a Mysterious Other, allow all of the pain and suffering that I see all around me to happen?  Again, ultimately the only satisfactory answer is to sit quietly in the face of this pain and suffering and listen— just be present—and in that moment, when we finally sit quietly and listen, prayer is born.

Yet, if we are perceptive, if we are paying attention, if at some point we wake up from the sleep of our ordinary life, this calling can simply rise up in us for no apparent reason at all.  There may be no particular experience of awe or wonder.  No unusual experience of suffering or loss.  Nothing dramatic at all.  This calling can just rise up inside of us uninvited, and even unwanted.  The questions themselves call to us in the very depths of our soul and demand answers, or at least they demand that we struggle with them.  Again, prayer is born in all of its own awesomeness, wonder, and yes, suffering.

Yet this calling, left unacknowledged and unattended, can also manifest itself in all kinds of destructive ways.  Left unattended to, this calling often leads us to restlessness and boredom,  anger and aggressiveness and to violence, addiction and all manner of other anti-social and destructive behavior.  Adrian van Kaam rightly pointed out that:

When a person is denied the right of legitimate self-expression a deep inner rage develops in them which can permeate their life.2

It is that sacred inner voice that reveals to us who we are and who we are called to be.  To the extent that we fail to listen and respond to that inner voice we deny ourselves even the possibility of that “legitimate self-expression” van Kaam speaks of so profoundly and opens us to that resulting incessant rage in all of its various expressions.  That rage may rise up in different ways in each of us, but rise up it will.  In one way or another that inner voice will be “heard”.  In its mildest forms it can show itself as restlessness, dissatisfaction and boredom.  In its extreme it can result in suicide and violence, including such things as mass killings and war.    If we “wake up” at some point and listen to that rage in all of its various forms, prayer can be born here as well.

Just as the questions can rise up in us in different terms and symbols, prayer, wherever and however it is born in us, will express itself in different forms, in different traditions, in different symbols, and in different languages.  It may find its expression in specifically Christian terms, but it also may find its expression in terms and symbols from other religious traditions such as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or even in secular terms that we do not normally think of as prayer at all.  That said there are foundational principles that cut across these different traditions that, if followed, will lead us to live more authentic and consonant lives.  We will speak of several of these foundational principles in this series.  If those foundational principles are not followed, “prayer” itself can lead us to dissonance and all kinds of destructive and violent behavior as well.  We have to look no further than the seemingly endless violent acts performed by people who believed that they were led by God.

We can trace this call to prayer all the way back to the earliest days of human existence.  Archeologists have found paintings on cave walls and the remains of all kinds of ritualistic  activities going back thousands of years indicating early human responses to this inner call to prayer—this call to relate to something deeper than ourselves and yet a part of ourselves long before there were organized religions per se.  In more recent times all of the varied cultures of the world have developed innumerable responses to this call.  In states that have tried to suppress it, it has continued to survive, sometimes in the underground, and sometimes in open defiance and rebellion.  The holocaust is only one blatant example.  Admittedly some of these developments have been questionable—even destructive and violent, but many of them have also been passionate and life giving.

Whatever else that can be said about the vast array of religious practice we humans have developed over the centuries, it seems clear that there is a deep inner call in us to connect with something deep inside of us and all around us—a call, the only response to which is prayer in all of its challenges, in all of its complexity, in all of its different forms, and ultimately in all of its beauty and sacredness  as well.  In the end we pray because we must, but that sacred inner voice calls us not just to pray but to go further.  It calls us to  go where we sometimes are hesitant to go.  Prayer, if we take it really seriously, calls us to change, to growth, to transformation, and to conversion of heart.  It calls us to live truly authentic lives.  Prayer calls us to live our lives differently, and to be present in the events of our lives in a whole new way.  This change and growth—this movement toward authenticity, is the thing we long for in the deepest part of ourselves, but it is also the thing we often fear the most.   We long for it because it calls us to become the very essence of who we were created to be—of who we really are.  We fear it because, intuitively we know it will change us in ways that we cannot even imagine.

Make no mistake, true prayer taken seriously is hard work.  It is The Work of the Spiritual Journey.   As we shall see, it is more than having a relationship with that Mysterious Other we call God.  It is more than the traditional approaches of praise, adoration, communion, conversation, petition, penance, and forgiveness.  It involves all of those things and much more.  Prayer, in its deepest sense, also involves solitude, listening, discovery, and incarnation.  In the end it involves something the monastics call Divine Union.  In the next several reflections we will take a look at each of those topics.

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

____________
1 Nouwen, Henri J. M., With Open Hands (Notre Dame, Indiana, Ava Maria Press, 1972), p. 12.
2 Comment made in a class by Father Adrian van Kaam, CSP, the founder of the Institute Of Formative Spirituality at Duquesne University, circa. 1986.

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