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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 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


Follow our blog.

May 072017
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Sep 082016
 

Quotes from Richard's Book

Sep 052016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 8/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of My Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway
Examining Our Vision
(Part 8 of 9)

 

What Will Prayer Ask Of Us?
The Call To Transformation

Sometimes it seems to me that we approach prayer as something designed to change God—to persuade God to do our bidding.  As I mentioned earlier, all to often our prayers sound like a todo list for God.  If we  pray for ourselves we are often just asking God do something for us, and even if we pray for growth or change we are asking God to change us.  We want God to do all of the work.

But then there is this from Romans:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Romans 12:2 (NIV)

Canon

Photograph by Winnie Southworth

This sounds more like we are being asked to grow and change, and there are very specific instructions for that growth and change.  A persistent commitment to prayer will call us to that growth and change.  It will call us to “the renewing of [our] mind”, and to discerning “his good, pleasing and perfect will” for our lives.  We can pray for God’s guidance and strength and courage, but in the end true prayer will call us to do the “work of the spiritual journey”—to receive that guidance and implement it into our active lives.  In the end this is work which we have to do ourselves.

At its heart Christianity is an inner path of growth and transformation out of which all else in the spiritual life grows.  The essence of that path is captured in these two verses from Romans.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world.  Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  Discern how we are called to live our lives.  The monastics call this path conversion of heart.  From a more academic perspective it  is called spiritual formation.  Our journey along this path is a lifetime journey.

Belief is not enough.  Baptism is not enough.  Prayer is not enough.  Fellowship is not enough.  Worship is not enough.  Service is not enough.  All of these and other similar activities are good and absolutely necessary parts of the spiritual life,  but they are not enough.  If the spiritual life is to reach its full potential ongoing personal transformation is essential.  That call to “be transformed”, and to “test and approve what God’s will is” must form the very foundation of our daily lives—the very foundation of our belief, our baptism, our fellowship, our worship, and our service, and thus of our prayer.

It is this ongoing “work of the spiritual journey” that is at the center of my own spiritual journey and all of my writing and teaching. There are valid spiritual Practices that facilitate this ongoing growth and transformation that I have come to call The Practice.

Butterfly

Photograph by Kate McFarland

It is spiritual practice—prayer practice that:

  • quiets the inner turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that typically drive our lives, and;
  • guides us to the ongoing discovery of who we most deeply are  and who we are called to be as unique spiritual persons, and;
  • facilitates the ongoing incarnation of those discoveries into the reality of our day-to-day active lives.

Said another way [a valid life of prayer] must ultimately lead to real growth and change—real transformation and conversion of heart.  It must ultimately lead to our active lives increasingly becoming an authentic expression of who we are and who we are called to be by that Mysterious Divine Presence that created us and  guides us and gives us strength and courage.   It must facilitate Choosing Authenticity.

That is what prayer is all about.  Ultimately that is what the entire spiritual life is all about.  I want to share some of my own experience and some of what I have learned so far through study and through my own practice.  It is my hope that it will challenge you to begin or deepen your own journey of growth and transformation.  If I can help just one person along this journey this labor of love will be worth it.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have I felt called in my prayer to growth, transformation, and conversion of heart?  What specifically have I been called to change in my prayer life, and in my active life?  How have I responded to that call?  In what specific area of my life to I feel called to growth and change now?  How will I respond?

Purchase Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough


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

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? (This Post)
The Call To Transformation

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…

 

Aug 292016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 7/9 of Reflection III: of that series titled What Is Prayer Anyway | Examining Our Vision.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of My Own

Reflection III
What Is Prayer Anyway
Examining Our Vision
(Part 7 of 9)

 

Praying Without Ceasing
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

Prayer is more than something we do from time to time, or at least it should be. In its most powerful form it is a way of approaching our lives. The call to ”pray without ceasing”* conjures up a vision of a monk walking along saying the “Jesus Prayer” (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!”)** all day long. As good a practice as this may be from time to time for some, this book does not envision that type of practice. The call to pray without ceasing calls us to be conscious of the presence of that Mystery we call God and be guided by that consciousness wherever we are and whatever we are doing. It calls us to take our daily time apart for prayer and reflection. Approached in a certain way prayer practices open us to that consciousness. In that time apart it also calls us to listen carefully to that still small voice within where that Mysterious Other we call God guides us and gives us strength and courage. In that listening it calls us to discover who we are, who we are called to be, and ultimately how we are called to live our day-to-day lives. The call to pray without ceasing calls us to incarnate those discoveries into the way we actually experience and live our lives—”without ceasing”. It calls us to live that sacred rhythm of discovery and incarnation in every event of our lives. In this way our entire life increasingly becomes prayer. This “pray[ing] without ceasing”—this sacred rhythm of withdrawal into prayer and engagement in our active lives—is ultimately a lifelong journey of growth and transformation and conversion of heart. That is ultimately what prayer is all about. In its most basic sense this is what prayer is. This is ultimately at the very heart of why we pray.

Henri Nouwen points out that:

A prayer in church, at table or in school is only a witness to what we want to make of our entire lives. Such a prayer only recalls to mind that praying is living and it invites you to make this an ever-greater reality. Thus there are as many ways to pray as there are moments in life. Sometimes you seek out a quiet spot and you want to be alone, sometimes you look for a friend and you want to be together. Sometimes you’d like a book or some music. Sometimes you want to sing out with hundreds, sometimes only to whisper with a few. Sometimes you want to say it with words, sometimes with a deep silence.In all these moments, you gradually make your life more a prayer and you open your hands to be led by God even to where you would rather not go.***

Prayer At Picnic

Image From http://www.bigstockphoto.com

There is more to this prayer without ceasing than having some time apart each day, as good and absolutely necessary as that practice is. If those times of prayer are to permeate our lives and make our lives more and more a prayer without ceasing, we have to open ourselves to that possibility. Regular time apart for prayer are necessary but still not enough. It is possible and maybe even likely that we can have those regular times of prayer without making the transition to prayer becoming a way of life. For that to happen with any consistently we have to change our attitude and our approach to prayer and to our active life. We have to change the way we are present in the events that make up our lives. We have to open ourselves to that growth and change.

Prayer often calls us to go “even to where [we] would rather not go”. Yet as Quoist put it, “Where shall I hide? I meet you everywhere. Is it then impossible to escape you?” If our image of God is big enough the answer to that question has to be a resounding “Yes, it is impossible to escape you!”, but then why would we want to escape anyway?

Question for Reflection

  1. Is prayer a regular part of the way I actually experience and live my life or is it mostly limited to my time apart for prayer? How might I might I make prayer more of an active part of my day to day active life?

____________

1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJV)

** Unknown Author, The Way of A Pilgrim and The Pilgrim Continues His Way, (New York: Doubleday, 1992). p. 21,

*** Nouwen, Henri J. M., With Open Hands.  (Notre Dame, Indiana, Ave Maria Press, 1972), p. 158.

 


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

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 (This Post)
Letting Our Lives Become Prayer

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

Richard’s Answer To Question # 4 View…

 

Jul 062016
 

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


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection II
Because We Must
The Call To Prayer
(Part 9)


Richards

Photo by Michelle Evans

Richard’s Answer To Question #3

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

 

 

 


It was Sunday morning and I didn’t go to church. The reasons are legion, but that will have to wait for another day. After my wife and son left to go I took a long slow walk around our neighborhood. As I walked I practiced attention.

I paid attention to what was going on in my body. I became aware of my feet falling on the pavement, and of my breathing. I began to count my breathing and to think of the sacred phrase I use in my time apart. Breathe in — “Lord”. Breathe out — “God”. My breathing became synchronized with the steps I was taking. I began to walk up an incline, and became aware of the subtle difference in the effort it took to take each step. I felt peaceful, much like I do when sitting in meditation in my time apart. When my mind would wander I would come back to my breathing and my sacred phrase.

Then I noticed the trees. I noticed that some of them towered over the houses in a way that was truly majestic. There were all kinds of different species, both evergreens and other leafed trees. Some looked healthy and some not so much. Some were dead or dying. I noticed the branches all interwoven with each other, and leaves that were all different shades of green. There was a slight breeze, and the tree limbs were swaying back and forth, especially in the upper branches. Sometimes my attention would return to my steps and my breath and my sacred phrase.

Richard Walking

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Then my attention spontaneously switched to the sounds. I could hear the slight breeze passing by my ears. My attention moved quietly between the sounds of locusts, crickets, and birds. Then I became aware of the sounds of sirens in the distance, and I wondered what the emergency was. Was it a fire, an accident, and illness, some kind of crime? For just a moment I wondered about the people involved. That concern became a kind of silent prayer without words.

Sometimes my attention switched to the houses and to the cars that came by occasionally. I wondered about the people in those houses and cars. I saw a young woman check her mailbox and walk toward the house. What were these people thinking? What were they feeling? What was their life like? And again that silent interest became a kind of prayer without words. Again sometimes my attention would return to my steps and my breath and my sacred phrase.

But then sometimes all of the images and all of the sounds would fade into the background and I became aware of just the silence behind the sounds and images. (See my previous post) Even the awareness of my steps and my breathing and my sacred phrase faded away. There was no need for even that practice. There were no thoughts, no emotions, and no impulses. There was no need for any kind of prayer. There was just the quiet and a deep sense awe. There was just the sacred presence of that Mysterious Other I call God, in the quiet, and in the images, and in the sounds. All that can be said here, all that needs to be said here is amen!


Other Posts in this Reflection:

(Part 1) Introduction View…

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

(Part 3) History   View…
Responding To A Call 

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

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

(Part 6) Self-Awareness View…
Accepting Responsibility

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

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

(Part 9) Richard’s Answer To Question # 3 (This Post)

Jun 292016
 

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


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection II
Because We Must
The Call To Prayer
(Part 8)

An Experience of Prayer
A Call to Depth

It is important to recognize here that we can have any of these experiences whether or not we have any kind of current prayer practice. We can have experiences of awe and wonder, suffering and loss, and self-awareness without any current involvement with prayer at all, and if we are open to it those experiences can call us to prayer. But those experiences can also grow out of our current prayer practice as well, and again, if we are open to it, they can call us to deepen our current practice. Our lives obviously can be out of balance and call us to a deeper sense of balance whether or not we pray.

Yet beyond all of that we can have experiences of prayer in its own right. All too often we approach prayer in such a way that we have no expectation of any real experience. We “say our prayers”—our to do list for God—and we go on with the next item on our own to do list. We have no expectation that the Mysterious Other we call God will respond, or even show up at all. What is worse we often actually have an expectation that God will not show up and thus we are not really open to any kind of direct experience at all. Yet in spite of all of that sometimes we can have profound experiences in prayer that break through our defenses and surprise us and call us in ways we cannot imagine. These prayer experiences can call us to deepen our prayer practice and grow and change in ways that surprise us and challenge our preconceived ideas about prayer.

Richard At Alter

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Many years ago in the early days of my practice I wrote this personal prayer, and it has stuck with me all these years. I still use it to begin my time apart.

Come Holy Spirit of God
Rise up in me.


Fill me with your presence.

Open me to your wisdom and your guidance

and your strength
and your courage.


Grant me the grace of your love,

Your peace,
and your joy.


Come with me into this special time

Go with me as I take on the rest of this day.

Richard N. Southworth

As I came to my time apart this morning I was stuck in my writing in just this section. I knew what I wanted to say, but I simply could not figure out how to say it. How does one write about prayer experiences without sounding sentimental or presumptuous, two things I wanted to avoid. As usual I began my time by reciting this poem. I stood in front of my personal alter with my hands extended and my palms facing upwards, and I began: “Come Holy Spirit of God, rise up in me…” As I finished the prayer I realized suddenly that the answer to my writing dilemma was in this prayer. In it I was praying for that Mysterious Other I call God to “rise up in me”. I was seeking to connect with my sacred inner being. I was seeking presence, wisdom and guidance, strength and courage, love and peace and joy. Essentially this prayer I wrote many years ago was a list of possible prayer experiences. This insight was itself one of those experiences.

It is beyond the scope of this reflection to examine each of these types of prayer experiences in detail. The crucial thing here is for us to acknowledge to ourselves that they are possible. That Mysterious Other we call God can and does “rise up in us” and offer us “guidance, strength, and courage”, “love and peace and joy.” Those experiences can be quiet and peaceful, or they can be profound and emotional. Our job is to be open and listen and to be obedient to what we hear.

That all said, how do we know that what we experience—what we hear—comes from that Mysterious Other? How can we be sure these prayer experiences are real? It is beyond the scope of this reflection to examine the discernment process in any depth, but let me say this. If you are “prayed up” as my wife likes to put it, if you are praying regularly, you know. Somehow deep inside you just know, and that knowing calls to us. Sometimes suddenly and sometimes over time an ever deepening prayer is born out of those prayer experiences.

  1. Have I had experiences in prayer when that Mysterious Other I call God was present to me and called me to deepen my prayer practice?

Other Posts in this Reflection:

(Part 1) Introduction View…

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

(Part 3) History   View…
Responding To A Call 

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

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

(Part 6) Self-Awareness View…
Accepting Responsibility

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

(Part 8) An Experience Of Prayer (This Post)
A Call To Depth

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

 

Jun 222016
 

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


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection II
Because We Must
The Call To Prayer
(Part 7)

Life Out of Balance
A Vision of a New Life

I cannot improve on these words of Tilden Edwards to describe the times we live in:

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.*

In the modern world these “driving, competing, confused desires and fears” often take the form of seemingly valid drives for what is sometimes called “the American dream.” We are driven to succeed in our jobs, own a larger home in a better neighborhood, and have a fancier car. We want our children to go to a better school, have all of the trendy clothes, and play on the right sports team. We race from one seeming imperative to another as we try to balance a myriad of jobs and family responsibilities, and in the end all of this becomes part of the turmoil in a way that is even more insidious because it is so much a part of the cultural imperatives that shape us.

I came home from work one day with my evening all planned. I wanted to look at the news, have a good quiet meal, do some writing, and go to bed early. I had no more than walked in the door when my wife told me that she was not feeling good and needed my help, and my oldest daughter called and wanted us to come over and order pizza with her and our grandchildren. When the evening was over I had not seen the news, had eaten pizza on the run, had not turned on my computer, and was late going to bed. None of these activities were difficult or negative, but I felt frustrated and grouchy all evening. The frustration and the grouchy feelings and behavior were driven by my own inner turmoil, and prevented me from enjoying helping my wife and kept her from getting the full benefit of that help. It kept me from enjoying time with my family, and it also prevented me from choosing to negotiate time for my own needs.

Schedule

Image by Richard Southworth

The turmoil created by these “driving, competing, confused desires and fears” seems to dominate our lives.  Much of our energy is consumed in the never-ending effort to meet their demands.  We are clearly motivated, and often driven, by these and other powerful thoughts, emotions, and impulses. Much, if not most, of the stress and the dissonance in our lives is the result of these powerful drives that seem to possess us and to have a mind of their own. Individuals or life events “push our buttons,” and we become ineffective, depressed, angry, or at times even violent. In spite of our best efforts, for many of us, these compulsive drives control much of our lives. Even those of us who seem reasonably well adjusted find ourselves surprised by the strength and power of these preconscious 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. On the surface we appear unaffected by the turmoil around us. But like anger or anxiety or fear, the numbness and indifference are themselves an expression of the turmoil. It is made up of its own compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses, and it both drives us and limits us in 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. Identifying and owning that hidden turmoil is crucial to the Spiritual Journey.

Unfortunately our involvement in church often becomes another part of the turmoil. Instead of helping to heal the turmoil it adds to it. Beyond going to church and Sunday School on Sunday, we gradually accumulate other responsibilities and activities that add to the list of things that we need to somehow balance. We join a committee, We become a deacon, we participate in a mission project. We go to Wednesday night supper and participate in a bible study. We join the choir, visit the sick, and we take our children to their activities. All of these things are essentially good things. They are what we believe we are supposed to do as Church members, but when taken to extremes and added to our other responsibilities and activities they

Image by Richard Southworth become part of what keeps our life out of balance. They contribute to the turmoil, and in my experience church teaching does little or nothing to help us manage the pressures of trying to balance all of the responsibilities. It just encourages us to ever more participation. In my opinion this is one of the reasons the churches continue to loose individuals and families. It just becomes too much and we walk away from church altogether.

The turmoil affects each of us individually in a thousand less overtly destructive ways. Every time I “lose my temper,” yell at my wife and children, give an obscene gesture to an aberrant driver, or say something hurtful about a coworker, I am acting in response to thoughts and emotions that are rooted in the turmoil. Whenever inappropriate, anxiety or fear prevents me from reaching my fullest potential the block is rooted in the turmoil. When my mind is so full of thoughts about my work that I find myself unable to give my full attention to a conversation I am having or to the book I am reading, the thoughts are being driven by the turmoil. Every time I overeat or go searching through the refrigerator because “I’m just really craving something!” I am responding to an impulse that is part of the turmoil.

For many, if not most of us, this compulsive, driven behavior has become such a “normal” way of life that we have lost even the awareness that there is another way of being in the world. And yet, if we pay attention, somewhere deep inside of each of us there is a “still small voice” that speaks to us of a different kind of longing—a powerful calling to a different kind of life.  We long for a life that is free of this destructive inner turmoil.  If we listen to that still small voice behind the turmoil, we discover at least a vague outline of a vision of a new life. We wonder if it is possible to really quieten the turmoil so this yearning and this deeper vision can become a reality.. We wonder if it is possible to actually live our lives in response to that vision. If we pay attention to that still small voice and take it really seriously, if we sit with the questions that voice raises, the call to prayer rises up out of the turmoil.

  1. What compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses tend to drive my day-to-day life? What destructive habits prevent me from living my life fully and authentically? Focus especially on situations where I feel pressured to do, do, do and just want to get away from it all Consider such things as anger, addictions, and violent behavior. Describe these issues in detail. What are the roots of that behavior? How do I feel called to respond?

____________

Edwards, Tilden, Spiritual Friend:  Reclaiming the Gift of Spiritual Direction. (Ramsey, New Jersey:  Paulist Press, 1980), p. 14.


Other Posts in this Reflection:

(Part 1) Introduction View…

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

(Part 3) History   View…
Responding To A Call 

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

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

(Part 6) Self-Awareness View…
Accepting Responsibility

(Part 7) Life Out Of Balance (This Post)
A Vision Of A New Life

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

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

 

Jun 152016
 

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


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection II
Because We Must
The Call To Prayer
(Part 6)

Self-Awareness
Accepting Responsibility

This calling to prayer can also manifest itself through a profound experience of self-awareness. When I threw the plate of food across the room that was a real moment of self-awareness for me. There had been all too many other such moments–all too many angry outbursts followed by fussing, cussing, and, maybe most importantly, indignantly blaming others for my reactions. This was different. There was the food and broken pieces of the dish all over the floor and the wall, and there were the looks from my family. And there was the silence that followed. That silence was deafening. My wife finally just got up and started cleaning it all up which somehow capped the experience for me. Something clicked in me. The self-awareness was palpable. The guilt was palpable. Somehow I knew this event was mine. I had to own it. I was responsible for this reaction, not the other people in the room—me! Somehow I knew this time I could not blame this on anyone else. But the responsibility went deeper. I was aware that I was also responsible for the effect these reactions had on the other people in the room as well. I do not know why this particular event brought this level of self-awareness, but it did. On one level I suspect it was because of the broken plate and the food on the floor and the wall, but there was something else. Something deeper. Something unexplainable. Something mysterious. Some would say that God intervened. Some would say that the time was just right and I was in the right place. On some level I agree with all of that, On another level I sense something more, something even deeper. In the silence of that moment prayer was born—prayer was deepened. In that moment I was called in a powerful way to pray in a deeper way. In that moment I was called to grow and change in a new and more powerful way. I was called to be transformed. That call—that prayer—is still active in me today. After some twenty-five years the anger still shows up from time to time, and still calls me to prayer. Someone once pointed out that we have a real awareness of sin when we become aware of how much we hurt others just being ourselves. This was such an experience. This experience of self-awareness was not only a call to prayer and transformation it was a major turning point on my spiritual journey.

Richard In a mirror

Photo By Winnie Southworth

It is very important to recognize here that the specific issues involved in this experience of self-awareness will be different for different people. In my case the issue was anger and the effect that anger had on my family. For some, the issue is substance abuse, extra-marital affairs, emotional or physical abuse, unavailability, etc. The possible issues are legion. This self-awareness does not always involve hurting someone else either. Sometimes it can at least seem to only affect the quality of our own life. It also does not have to be something blatantly serious either. It can be something as simple as watching too much television and not spending time with our loved ones, The crucial point here is that we become aware, suddenly or over time, of some behavior that is hurting others and/or ourselves. In the end it is becoming aware of something in our life that needs to change, where we need to grow and be transformed. It is becoming aware of a call to take responsibility for that growth and transformation. In that self-awareness prayer is born.

Yet, like the other experiences we have looked at, we can avoid this calling as well. We can choose to see it as a momentary event and fail to take it seriously. We can convince ourselves that there is nothing we can do about it. What is worse we can even pray about it, ask God to fix it, and continue to go about our lives as we always have, waiting on God to fix it. Essentially we can fail to take responsibility for the problem—we can remain unwilling to do the real “work of the spiritual journey”. In the end we walk away from the call to prayer and sometimes we walk away from God.

Question for Reflection

  1. Have I had an experience of self-awareness that called me to prayer and to growth and transformation? How did I respond? Describe the experience and the response.

Other Posts in this Reflection:

Other Posts in this Reflection:

(Part 1) Introduction View…

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

(Part 3) History   View…
Responding To A Call 

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

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

(Part 6) Self-Awareness  (This Post)
Accepting Responsibility

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

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

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

 

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