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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

 


Jul 102017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book


Jun 182017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

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


May 142017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 6/9 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 6)


Prayer
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

As we saw earlier, the dictionary defines prayer as:

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

This definition captures the essence of the way we typically approach prayer. We tend to focus on “supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.” These are all valid and even necessary ways we communicate with God. They are all an important part of what prayer should be, and yet they all focus on our approach to God. If we are not careful this focus can cause us to miss prayer’s deepest meaning: “a spiritual communion with God”. The dictionary defines communion as:

the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.**

It is this “sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings” that is the very essence of prayer for me. It is not enough for me to communicate with that Mysterious Other I call God. “Supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession” is extremely important, but it can take us only so far. What I seek is what the monastics call Divine Union. I want God to communicate with me too. I want God to actually lead my life. I want God to actively provide ongoing “guidance, strength, and courage” for my routine day-to-day interactions with the people, events, and things that make up my life. I want real communion with God—real day-to day two way communication. Nothing else is enough.

Let me be very clear here. Someone once said, “we do not need to listen to God because God has already communicated everything he had to say in scripture”. I simply do not believe that is true. When my wife read this statement she said, “So does that mean that God is dead and there is no holy spirit?” That seems to be a reasonable conclusion to me. Scripture, and other people’s commentary on scripture, can only tell me how the writers of both scripture and the writers of scripture commentary related to God. It can help clarify goals and practices, but it does not and cannot provide real two-way “communion”—real “sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings”. It ultimately does not and cannot take us to Divine Union. It can call us and lead us toward a deeper communion, but it is not that communion, and it is not near enough.

Then how does this communion take place? How does Divine Union actually happen? How does this Mysterious Other actually communicate with us and provide “guidance, strength, and courage”? There is a place deep inside of us I have come to call the Sacred Inner Being where this relationship—this communion can happen. One of the most profound goals of prayer in specific and the whole spiritual life in general is to discover, acknowledge, and develop an ongoing relationship with that Sacred Inner Being. It is here that we can develop real communion—a deep, ongoing, two way relationship and communication with God. It is precisely here that this Mysterious Other can provide us with that ongoing, day to day “guidance, strength, and courage” so central to living a spiritual life. It is here that divine union can happen. That Sacred Inner Being is always there. It is always available to us. Always! We have only to be open to it.

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.

Two People Talking

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Listening to that sacred inner voice is not enough. If we are to experience true Divine Union we also have to be obedient to the “guidance, strength and courage” that comes to us through that Voice. We have to live our lives in response to that Voice. This is the very essence of what spiritual maturity is all about—learning to listen to our Sacred Inner Voice and be obedient to it in all of the myriad interactions we have with the people, events, and things in our day to day lives.

As a recent personal example, I have been looking for, or better said, wishing for, a really good life coach. I had convinced myself that I would not be able to find one that would really understand me, or as my grandson’s then girl friend once put it, that “really gets me”. I do not fit the traditional molds. I am not a traditional Christian. I am a strong introvert in a primarily extroverted world. And I am certainly not into the traditional culture.

So I am sitting in a group meeting I participate in. Everyone is engaged in small talk and I am wanting to be at home in my room. There is a woman there who I had never really connected with, but I did know that she was a coach. She started talking about something I was interested in, and I realized she was someone I could talk to. That said the introvert in me was resisting asking her about the coaching. As I was about to leave that Still Small Voice that I have come to trust “said to me” “Richard, you should really talk to her about coaching, and you should do it now”. The resistance in me was palpable, but I was “listening”, and I knew I needed to be “obedient” to the leading of that Sacred Inner Voice, so I walked up to her in the group and asked her about the coaching, something I would normally never even consider. We met a week later and really hit it off. It was clear to me that she really did “get me”, and we developed a coaching relationship that is really special to me.

If I had not been listening, and if I had not been obedient to what came to me I would still be complaining about not being able to find a coach that “gets me”. Let me be clear here, there was no audible voice that “spoke to me”. It was simply that “Still Small Voice” that rose up from that deep place in me that I have come to trust. It was just a clear awareness of what I was called to do, and I was listening to it, and I was obedient to it. I trusted it, and I knew it was guidance from that Mysterious Other I call God. (More about how we “know” and come to recognize and trust that inner voice later.)

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you recognize that Sacred Inner Voice in your life?  Does that voice sometimes speak to you and provide you with guidance, strength, and courage?  Do you trust that guidance?  Are you obedient to it? 

____________
* Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.
** Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, 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 View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer (This post)
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

(Coming Soon)

Developing  A Way of Life
A Guide To Live By

Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life


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Feb 272017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Nov 212016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 2/9 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 2)


Developing Attention
The Power of Focused Attention

As I am fond of saying, sometimes too often and at the wrong time, “attention is everything!” Focused attention is at the very heart of the spiritual life. Without this focussed attention it is impossible to find the emptiness and the openness serious spiritual practice and serious spiritual living requires. Without that quietness and that openness it is impossible for us to listen to our own sacred inner voice where that Mysterious Other we call God speaks to us and gives us guidance, and strength, and courage.

Clearly that attention and openness is a huge challenge in our culture where multitasking is a virtue, and even an expectation. Focusing our attention at best seems impossible, and at worst seems to be almost nonsensical. Modern technology lets us take our work home with us and our personal life to work with us. Our smart phones, our iPods, our tablets, and our computers beep, jingle, and play music to let us know when we have received an email, a text message, an appointment reminder, a phone call, or when a friend has just posted something on a social networking site. When we hear those beeps and jingles, often on multiple devices at the same time, we are obsessed with answering them, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing, including when we are talking to someone else. We seem to think that if we don’t respond instantly people will complain or think we are rude. Sometimes even the people we are with will challenge us if we do not respond to those beeps and jingles. It is an understatement to say that our lives are fragmented and our attention dispersed.

I was sitting in a restaurant the other day, and a woman and her teenage daughter set down at the next table. The girl had her mobile phone in one hand and ate her breakfast with the other. I never once saw her put the phone down or even speak to her mother. As she walked past my table it was obvious that her attention was glued to a social media site. She was still holding the phone up in front of her as they walked out of the restaurant. Clearly her “focused attention” was on the phone and not on her relationship with her mother.

Even when we sit down to take our time apart we often bring all of this busyness with us. We find ourselves filled to overflowing with thoughts and reactions to past events and anticipations and plans for future events. We even bring our smart phones with us into our prayer time, anticipating its beeps and jingles. The very real questions and concerns that should be brought into our time apart are often lost in the jumble of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that fill our minds and our bodies as we seek to focus our attention on our prayer and listen to our sacred inner voice where God often speaks to us.

Looking out over the mountain

Photo by Winnie Southworth

I wrote part of this section while my wife and I were on a weeks vacation in a mountain cabin overlooking the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. We were miles up a rough dirt road literally on the side of a mountain. Yet the cabin was still equipped with a telephone, a television, and an internet connection, and I had of course brought my iPhone, my iPad, and my laptop with me on this “retreat”. What is interesting to me is that for the first two days I found myself doing almost nothing. I sat in the hot tub, I read some, but I often just set on the porch enjoying the view. It was wonderful, but I felt guilty. A big part of me thought I should be writing or taking care of a dozen other projects I brought with me, or at the very least, thinking about something important. I had to repeatedly give myself permission to, as one writer put it, “Don’t just do something, sit there”. Winnie and I both had to give ourselves permission not to turn on the television, and not to fill our days with visits to local attractions.  We often experience much the same thing when we sit down for our time apart. We are almost afraid to turn off our technology, even for our prayer time. We feel guilty closing the door to our room and asking our family to honor our time apart. We feel anxious setting aside our projects and even our leisure activities.

Without focused attention it is impossible for us to develop the openness necessary for us to really listen, especially to the deeper messages that can only be perceived when we are really open on that deeper level and to the call to growth and transformation that can be found in what we read, and what we hear, and in the events that make up our lives.

The following story is taken from a blog post I posted several years ago:

I often take walks around the neighborhood in the evening as a part of my spiritual practice. They might be called a type of “walking meditation”. One of the discoveries that has come from these times is something I have called “the silence behind the sounds”. Maybe it would be more descriptive to call it “the silence out of which the sounds seem to arise”, but then that would be too many words. Like many of the discoveries that come from the spiritual life, words seem to fail to really grasp the experience.

It has been a family joke that my maternal grandmother would often do a kind of silent whistle as she went about her daily activities. It wasn’t really a whistle. The only sound you heard was her blowing air out and sucking air in. It never quite rose to the level of a whistle. Unfortunately I have inherited that “gift”, and my family often gives me a hard time when they catch me doing it.

A couple of weeks ago I realized that I was doing this “whistle” as I walked around the neighborhood, and I realized I was doing this quite a lot. Harmless enough you might say, but from the perspective of spiritual practice it was a distraction that needed to be acknowledged and released so I could find that interior silence and openness that is so important to the spiritual life. So I began to treat this “whistle” like any other distraction that comes up in my time apart. I introduced my sacred word, and then I found myself synchronizing that sacred word with my steps and with my breathing. Each time I found myself “whistling” I would return to this sacred rhythm.

As the “whistle” began to subside I became aware of all kinds of other sounds I had not even noticed as I walked about the neighborhood with my whistle. There were different birds and insects singing their songs. As I acknowledged and released each of those I noticed the sound of a jet passing overhead, and the background of traffic on a highway in the distance. Then there was the sound of a car passing me on the street, and some children out late playing in a yard, and a couple of dogs barking. I noticed individual houses, each with different lights on, and some totally dark, and I wondered about the life stories behind those windows.

I noticed the sound of my feet on the pavement, and that caused me to stop and be still. I looked up in the sky. There was no wind. There were trees silhouetted against the evening sky and clouds floating slowly and silently by. I gradually became aware of the stillness and the quiet. All of the sounds were still there. The sound of the traffic, the birds, the people. I was somehow aware of all of that, but it faded into the background, and the silence and the quiet behind it became “audible” and “visible” in a strange sense. We often talk about sounds penetrating the silence, but here it was the other way around. The silence seemed to actually penetrate the sounds, and their presence made the silence all the more powerful. And yet, and yet, the silence also made the sounds more audible, and the houses, and trees, and cars more visible. In a strange way I could see and hear the silence, and the objects, at the same time.

This has become a spiritual practice for me–this seeking the awareness of both the silence behind the the sounds and objects and the sounds and objects that rise up out of that silence. Might this just be an experience of that Mysterious Other we call God, present in the silence and in the people, events, and things all around us? Suppose we could live in that awareness? In the end isn’t that very awareness what spiritual practice is all about–discovering the silence and the quiet behind all of life, and at the same time discovering that all of life rises up out of that silence and quiet? What if that practice actually became the way we experienced all of life? What would life, lived in that awareness, look like? What would it feel like? My experience walking about the neighborhood calls me to seek that reality.*

This event is an example of “The Power of Focused Attention”. In it I discovered that I could choose to listen to the things I passed as I walked, to the many sounds in the environment, or I could choose to listen to the silence behind it all. Each of those options offered me the opportunity to listen to that Mysterious Other that can provide that guidance, and strength, and courage so important to our prayer life and to our active life as well. Attention really is everything.

Question for Reflection

  1. When you sit down to pray are you able to let go of all of the thoughts, emotions, and impulses from the busyness of your day and focus your attention on your time apart? When you are with someone else are you able to focus your attention on your relationship with them? Are you able to listen attentively to The Mysterious Other present in either situation?

____________
http://www.turningaround.net/?p=366


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

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Attention Is Everything (This Post)
The Power of Focused Attention

(Coming Soon)

Developing Openness 
Becoming Vulnerable 

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 # ?


 

Sep 122016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 9/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway
Examining Our Vision
(Part 9)


Richards

Photo by Michelle Evans

Richard’s Answer To Question #4

 What is your prayer life like today?  In what specific ways do you feel called to deepen your prayer life?

 

 

 


When one becomes an expert in some field, and especially when one presumes to write a book on a particular topic to help others in that area, there goes with that at least some expectation that one will have that part of their own life in some semblance of order. That expectation becomes even stronger when one dares to write or teach about the spiritual life in general and about prayer in specific. At least it seems so to me.

Yet I have often said that if I could live even a tenth of what I know about the spiritual life, I would be a saint. I am not a saint! I am not any kind of a saint. I am closer than I was twenty-five or thirty years ago. I am even closer than I was last week. But I am not a saint. In the end I can’t really live anywhere near what I know about spiritual formation and prayer. Truth is some days I am not at all sure that I know that much about these complex topics at all. Yet I still feel a strong call to share what I have learned.

I am retired, and in that sense I am mostly free to set up my prayer life however I want—or better said, however I feel led by that Mysterious Other I call God. In response to that freedom I have told myself that I could take my time apart pretty much whenever I wanted. I have convinced myself that I could go into my room and close the door and pray any time I felt called. What I find is that this theory has put me in a kind of maintenance mode. In this maintenance mode I often do not feel “called” on any regular basis and when I do feel called it is mostly when I feel stressed or upset for some reason. In this mode the times when I do “take my time” the process is abbreviated. I often go in my room, sit down, and go straight to contemplation, skipping things like centering, reading, meditation, and prayer. I often sit for twenty minutes and just get up and go back to work. This is good, but it is not near enough. It mostly keeps me on even keel, but it does not always lead to that growth and transformation and conversion of heart that is so central to what I know to be real spiritual formation—real prayer.

What is worse is that for some time now I have been having trouble sleeping. I tend to wake up at four or five o’clock in the morning. I tend to blame that problem on getting older, and keep trying to go back to sleep, often with little success. Sometimes I play games on my mobile phone or read on my iPad. Might this not be that still small voice calling me to take some serious time apart? Might it be coming-out of the monastic call that has been so important on my journey? Whatever else it might be it is clearly a gift— an opportunity for me to take that time and use it wisely. I am reminded of this reflection by Henri Nouwen:

“In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.” [Mark 1:35] In the middle of sentences loaded with action — healing suffering people, casting out devils, responding to impatient disciples, traveling from town to town and preaching from synagogue to synagogue — we find these quiet words: “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there”. In the center of breathless activities we hear a restful breathing. Surrounded by hours of moving we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heart of much involvement there are words of withdrawal. In the midst of action there is contemplation. And after much togetherness there is solitude. The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn.

Sitting At Sunrise

Photograph by Brian Hill

I know that the secret of my own spiritual life is “hidden in that lonely place” where I go to pray. I know that I need to get out of maintenance mode. I need to get up “long before dawn” and go to my lonely place and pray there. And I know that I need to take the time to formally center myself. I know that I need to read and study. I even know what I need to read and study. The Rule of Saint Benedict was central to my practice for years, and I need to make it a part of my time apart again. I know that I need to take time to reflect yet again on those readings, and then ask that Mysterious Other I call God to guide me and to give me the strength and courage to take this into my active life. And yes, I need to sit silently and listen for that still small voice within. I know all of that. I teach and write about all of that, but I do not do it regularly. Why do I hesitate? What do I fear? For me, Marianne Williamson answers the question well.:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

“Lord God, come to my assistance. Make haste oh my God to help me”.


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

Introduction View…

What Is Prayer Anyway?  View…
Seeking a Deeper Understanding

Prayer Is Not Magic View..
It Is No A ToDo List for God

Prayer Is A Relationship View…
Prayer Is Not A Monologue

The Foundation of Prayer View…
Stillness, Quiet, and Silence

Types of Prayer View…
Expanding Our Vision of Prayer

Praying Without Ceasing  View…
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

What Will Prayer Ask of Us? View…
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 (This Post)
What Is your Prayer Life Like Today?

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