A Few Words on Contemplative Prayer

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Today is Ash Wednesday and in the Gospel Jesus sends us His personal recommendation – “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret and your Father who sees you in secret will repay you.”  This is especially true when we know who we really are identified with Christ as St. Augustine makes clear, “Christians you are Christ.”  This is a free gift that is impossible for us to earn.  Our inner search for God is also the gift of Christ living intimately within us seeking and loving Himself through us and as our own True Self.  How can we seek rewards or repayment for free gifts!  God is unceasingly Present in us as us and the very center and heart of our prayer life is – To be “intuitively aware” or present to His unceasing Presence.  This is an awesome manifestation of Him loving Himself through us as we desire to simply hang out with Someone who loves us deeply.  The very desire to please Him when we show up daily for our Centering Prayer times is already pleasing Him no matter if we have any transcendent experiences or not. 

Per your letter, you would not even be faithful to your Centering Prayer times unless Christ was intimately present within you as the very source of your goodness desiring to please Him by just hanging out with Him present to His Presence.  If you fall asleep, it is an indication to me that you are like a little child secure and trusting in the loving arms of our Heavenly Father and “allowing Him to caress you” as our good Pope Francis suggests.  I’m sure our Pope realizes psychologists have proven that we are inexplicably prone to be negative about ourself and others.  Why do we choose competition before co-operation?  All we have to do is hear the news! 

The worst part of our “mistaken ego identity” is our reluctance to accept and embrace our God-given loveableness from the first moment He personally chose to create us in His own Image in our mother’s womb.  To exist is our most cherished Gift!  “We exist solely for this, to be the place God has chosen for His Presence.” (Thomas Merton)  Our existence (life) is a unique manifestation (epiphany) of Christ as we each continue His Incarnation on earth. 

We are always looking for tangible, concrete experiences or signs of God’s Presence.  The reason we don’t see Him whom we seek is because He whom we seek is so intimately Oned with us that He is the very deepest and truest you that is seeking and loving Himself within and through you.  When we think about Him we end up separating ourselves from Him as an object of our thoughts rather than the subject of our True Self.  As Fr. Keating said – God is more us that we are ourself.  Our Divine-Human Consciousness (being) is a participation in His Divine-Human consciousness where we are oned because God cannot be split up and divided.  He is wholly and Holy in each one of us! 

“Since our inmost ‘I’ is the perfect image of God, then when that ‘I’ awakens, he finds within himself the Presence of Him Whose image he is.  And, by paradox beyond all human expression, God and the soul seem to have but one single ‘I’.  They are (by divine grace) as though one single person.  They breathe and live and act as one.  ‘Neither’ of the ‘two’ is seen as object … Yet it is nothing else but the message of Christ calling us to awake from sleep, to return from exile, and find our true selves within ourselves.” 
– Thomas Merton 

How dearly Jesus wants you to be His – “One and Only Child” so you have a very personal and intimate love relationship with Him that is entirely unique and transcends your ideas about Him.  We are each entirely Dependent on Him for everything.  The only love we can give Him is the love He first of all gives us.  Christ wants us not only to accept but to love our Nothingness so we come to Him empty-handed and dependent entirely on His no strings attached unconditionally loving and merciful heart.  He wants us to use even our failings to come closer to Him by falling up into His merciful arms rather than fall down into guilt, shame and depression.  Christ’s Holy Spirit is like the Divine Air we are breathing in this present moment and loving us into existence day by day.  God is coming to us unceasingly disguised as our own life. 

Most of us have made our Christianity into more of a moral contest than what it truly is – an intimate union and love affair with God.  Former Pope Benedict told us in his (enclosure) that the essence of our Christianity is all about our personal intimacy with Christ and not about morality.  This is now confirmed by our good Bishop Robert Barron (see below) who quoting the Fathers of the Church realized that the heart of Christ’s “Good News” is our Deification = our participation in His Divine Nature where we are identified with Christ. 

“A tendency on massive display in our culture is the reduction of religion to ethics.  Very much in the spirit of Immanuel Kant, many people today feel that everything else in religion – art, liturgy, prayer, mysticism, the sacraments, etc. – finally  centers around and leads back to morality.  How often we hear some version of the following:  ‘Well, as long as you’re a good person, what does it really matter what you believe or how you worship God?’  

“Mind you, I don’t mean to speak, even for a moment, against upright behavior, but if you had asked one of the Church Fathers or medieval masters what Christianity is finally all about, they would definitely not have said ethics.  They probably would have said theiosis (if they spoke Greek) or deificatio (if they spoke Latin).  Both terms mean ‘deification,’ or becoming conformed to the divine nature.  An adage constantly on the lips of the Fathers was Deus fit homo ut homo fieret Deus (‘God became man that man might become God.’).”  – Bp. Robert Barron

Jesus is madly and personally in love with you like He is no other just the way you are as both sinner and saint.  You are His Child Oned with Him and loveable beyond your wildest expectations even when your negative “mistaken ego identity” does not want to be open to this purely unearned Gift of your “Divinization” which is your True Self = Christ living within you as you.  Waking up to and believing in this Truth is what our Lenten “Metanoia” is all about. 

Our best preparation for our Centering Prayer periods and more important to these times is our search for union with God by opening our “Intuitive Awareness” to God’s unceasing loving Presence no matter where we are or what we are doing.  This awareness is a different transcendent (metaphysical) dimension of our consciousness beyond our rational consciousness.  This is what Merton called our Pure Consciousness and is available to everyone just by being in existence and Oned with Christ.  You can be “intuitively aware” of God’s Presence even when you are having a conversation with a friend or listening to a professor in the classroom.  This awareness has nothing to do with your mind or thoughts and everything to do with our faith aware, aware, aware of both God’s constant Presence and love for us and our desire to love Him in return.  It is Consciousness itself which is the source of our rational consciousness.  Rene Descartes should have said – “I am (consciousness) therefore I think”. 

I’m enclosing these thoughts of Merton to how this consciousness applies to prayer beyond our thoughts: 

Sublime Fire
by Thomas Merton 

In practice, there is only one vocation: [Intimacy with God – Contemplative union].  Whether you teach, live in the cloister or nurse the sick, whether you are in religion or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection:  you are called to interior life, perhaps to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others. 

If the sublime fire of infused love burns in your soul, it will inevitably send forth throughout the Church and the world an influence more tremendous than could be estimated by the radius reached by words or by example. 

Saint John of the Cross writes:  “A very little of this pure love is more precious in the sight of God and of greater profit to the Church – even though the soul appear to be doing nothing – than are all other works put together.”

God loves you personally and uniquely like no one else.  St. Augustine knew God’s love for each of us is both personal and experiential – “God love each of us as if there were only one of us.”  St. Therese of Lisieux confirmed this truth and she trusted solely in the pure gift of God’s merciful Love for her and not on any of her virtuous experiences or goodness – “Our Lord is occupied particularly with each soul as though there was no others like it.” 

We never want to make Centering Prayer into a certain category of prayer or a bunch of techniques.  Prayer is an intimate love relationship with God.  When we wake up to who we really are identified with Christ our prayer becomes “someone we are” more than something we do.  Our True Self is identified with Christ who is unceasingly Present to us as our own presence and we desire to be awake to this reality and truth more and more until it dominates our “intuitive awareness” beyond our mind.  Often Centering Prayer becomes not only a segue to this intuitive awareness but the place where we wake up to it.  What a huge blessing Fr. Keating is for the human family for sharing his lifelong search and desire for union with God with us.  I’m sure he never expected his contemplative Trappist calling to increase into such a universal gift to the whole human family!

Our prayer is the most efficacious way to touch people’s lives interiorly where God delights to make His home as the very source of our goodness.  Now that Fr. Keating is home with God intimately awake to his Oneness with and in Christ where there “is no other,” his Spirit is also vitally alive in each of us.  Our mind does not know how this happens but our faith is certain that this is True! 

 


 

Thomas Merton quote

If any of your Keating group is interested, they can read pages 275-295 of Merton’s book “New Seeds of Contemplation” trying to grasp the mystery of True Self – False ego self.  They will know for sure why the Church never understood Merton and could never incorporate his experiential contemplative interpretation of Christ’s “Good News” into their Catechism and teachings.  Until God gifts us with the experience of His intimate Oneness with Himself (as Thomas Keating said – “There is no other”) will we ever understand the beauty of what our good God desires for each of us.  Merton felt that most of us will have to die and meet God face to face before we will “get it”!  Fortunately, you guys have God Himself attracting you to more and more time with Him alone in Centering Prayer, which is such an efficacious segue to contemplation.  But all of us will get it for sure because we are each Christ’s Image in our own unique way and He personally chose us each to be His One and Only Beloved!  That sounds impossible to our mind but it is the Truth.  We are each indispensable to Him.  We can’t do anything without God, but He created each of us personally in such a way that He needs us and can’t do anything without each one of us who play different roles in His plan.  He even needed people like Judas to fulfill His plan.  We are each so dear and loveable to Him in whom He sees His own Divine Image.  Each of us is His only Tight Squeeze or Beloved.  That means each of us has an intimate personal love affair with the Creator of the Universe and He can’t do without us.  Our good God has gifted us with an awesome mentor – Thomas Keating – to remind us that our generous unrelenting God has through the ages tried to convince all of us in His human family how personally loveable we are to Him as His One and Only Beloved or Tight Squeeze, but our ego’s are so programmed to put ourselves down or get on our case that we inexplicably run away and are slow to accept the free gift of our loveableness.  Our good Pope Francis is always encouraging us, “Allow Him to caress you.”  By accepting His unconditional merciful love for you, you in turn as Merton said, are returning His love to Him.  He is loving Himself through you.  He desires with desire to embrace and caress you as His most precious wounded child. 

We hermits here are so old we are not afraid to share what is in our heart as Truth Tellers.  Merton did that 60 years ago pointing to our identification with Christ as our True Self and we don’t think the Church knew what he was talking about.  If you are not a contemplative you won’t get it!  Keating and Rohr in their last DVD’s and books are Truth Tellers, but we see that what probably is more efficacious in influencing ordinary people on their search for God is someone like St. Therese of Lisieux (attached).

Therese has the contemplative message and intimacy with Christ in her simplicity of life.  Even the Church recognized her contemplative prayer as the most influential way to touch the lives of the whole Mystical Body of Christ (human family) when they made her a Missionary??  She was not only a Doctor of the Church but also Principal Patroness of All Missionaries and Missions equal to St. Francis Xavier, S.J. 

Listen to what Merton has to say about the Mystical Body of Christ and how valuable you guys are in influencing the human family.  We are each necessary for Christ to heal all of us through our Centering Prayer and intimacy with Christ:  

“When we are united with God in silence, our prayer and the grace that is given to us tend of their very nature to overflow invisible through the Mystical Body of Christ and we who dwell together invisibly in the bond of One Spirit affect one another more than we can ever realize by our own union with God by our spiritual vitality in Him.” 

Therese saw she had no goodness of her own that was not Christ’s own Divine Goodness abiding in the center of her being.  Everything was a gift (grace) and that’s why she loved her nothingness.  She trusted in God for everything.  That meant her good desires for the human family had to be Christ’s own desires and that He would fulfill them especially if she was free from desiring particular results.  She had no virtues or any goodness to give to Christ, but loved her nothingness and emptiness so she could depend entirely on the gifts that God so generously poured out into her heart from moment to moment.  We all have been programmed to accumulate virtues and to try harder to earn our loveableness by the quantity and quality of what we do for Him.  She knew her loveableness was a pure gift of Christ living intimately within her.  When we have an intimate love relationship with Christ, we will automatically see Him in everyone and become virtuous and loving human beings.  Our True Self recognizes the True Self of everyone else whether we like their personality of not.  True love is not about ego compatibility.  Even our enemies are truly loveable. 


Prayer works whether we see results or not.  God is pouring out His love for us in every situation and detail of our daily life no matter if it is weal or woe.  Fr. Keating’s contentment and Peace are born out of his complete conformity of his will with God’s Will.  That inner Peace is what heals even the bad stuff. 

Be assured we hold you guys close in our hearts where our good God delights to make His home.  There Christ’s Spirit is crying out within each of us holding all of us, aware or not, in the peaceful contentment of His loving Presence and our Happy Place ☺!

About this Author


 

In his letter to Contemplative Network, our hermit-monk friend never tires of reminding us that, whether we are aware of it or not, God is pouring himself and his Love out unceasingly into our heart of hearts in the midst of our brokenness and weakness.  God has a burning desire that we wake up to our unearned loveableness, just as we are, in our helplessness, with all our unfaithfulness.  The greatest Saints knew throughout their entire lives that they were unfortunately “faithful to their unfaithfulness”, yet infinitely loveable nonetheless.  We have to know from experience that unconditional Divine Love is different from conditional human love that has to be earned.  A reward-punishment God of the Old Testament of his very nature would have to be feared and, therefore, this God cannot and does not exist for the Saints.  For them, to “fear” God means to be in “awe” of him, who loves so generously and freely that there is no need to earn his Love with our virtuousness.  That doesn't mean we don't try to be virtuous.  What it means is that God doesn't love us if or when we transform our lives, but so that we can transform our lives.

Gandhi reminds us that –  The most efficacious way to transform the world is to transform ourselves first of all.  Everything begins at home within us.  And when we try to try and transform ourselves, we realize it is impossible for us to change without our merciful indwelling God moving us interiorly.  He alone is the only source of our goodness. 

We start behaving better when we realize how immensely loveable we are to our good God, even with all our failings and helplessness.  We cannot merely tolerate our brokenness, but have to love ourselves in our brokenness like God does.  The “hurting place” and wound within us that seems to separate us from our loving God can, in reality, be used as a means to draw us closer to him by attracting his tender compassionate, merciful heart to us.  We are precious to God in our brokenness and he loves our brokenness out of existence.  Punishing wounds doesn't work.  We only bleed more and try to put on band-aids to cover up, realizing they have no possibility of healing the gash of our wounded “egoitis” with its illusion of separateness.  This false part of our ego has immense difficulty letting go of its programming and falling in love with our Whole or True Self, which includes our weakness and broken ego.  It is constantly trying to earn God's love, which is  Grace = the free gift of God, loving each of us into existence at this very moment.  Although the false part of our ego is very sincere, it remains counterfeit and a mistake.  It will be with us on our death bed, but we have to keep trying to love it out of existence with mercy and compassion.  Then, we pass on that same mercy to the rest of the human family, who don't have a clue of how loveable they are to God in their brokenness. 

Unearned Love seems too good to be true for the false part of our ego, yet what is unbelievable is that we do not believe this beautiful Truth, so evident in scripture, that we are precious to God in our very brokenness.  It is Christ's primary message when he identified himself with us and became human, so that we could become Divine.  “For you to live is Christ” (St. Paul).  We are already Oned with the Father as Christ is Oned with the Father.  We only have to become awake to this intimate union.  It is impossible for God not to love us because we are him “by participation” (St. John of the Cross).  This knowledge is what heals us.  And in its ideal form, we call it Wisdom or experiential knowledge.  It is another way to express contemplation, which is experiencing intuitively our intimate union and love relationship with God beyond our rational consciousness and empirical ego. 

This experiential knowledge of our Oneness with God is like grasping him directly without gloves on, not as an object of our thoughts outside of ourself, but as our very own deepest True Self  =  God living intimately in us as us. (The Divine Indwelling – 2 Peter 1:4)  If we walked into a fancy restaurant and saw deranged people "chewing on the menu" where steak is listed, instead of enjoying the delicious taste of a juicy steak, we might think we are in the wrong place
!  Let's try McDonald's!  The words and thoughts about a steak are not the reality of a steak, which we can only know experientially by tasting the deliciousness of a steak.  So also, our ideas, words and thoughts about God are not God.  We only know God truthfully when we experience him intuitively beyond thoughts and words about him (contemplation).  We experience an intimate Oneness with him so that his Presence living in us as us is known without a doubt to also be – "Who we really are".  We are identified with him.  "I want you to be One with the Father even as I am One" (St. John).  "Taste and see the Goodness of the Lord." 

God emptied himself of his Divinity to become human so that he might awaken us to the Truth that we are already Divine at our conception, and as precious to him at our birth as we will be at our death, when we see him face to face and recognize how much we are like him as we gaze into his comely eyes. 

A precursor to this Divine Meeting and union is experiential contemplative love going on right “now” within each of us, if we are awake to it.  It comes and goes as it pleases, like the wind.  Our mind and ego has no control over making it appear.  Suddenly, a little glimpse, a foretaste, an intuition of how immensely loveable, valueable, important and precious we each are to God, just as we are, with all of our woundedness and daily failings.  We can do nothing to change this pure gift of Love through our mind, thinking it out of existence, or through the brutalities of our own will.  God is simply living in the center of our being as the Divine Light of our Life, and he will never be extinguished in his Timelessness.  As the Alpha & Omega, he never had a beginning and will never have an end.  Nor will we –  because, in him, “we live and move and have our being.”  God living in and as our True Self is what most efficaciously heals each and every one of us of our false ego-identity, making us aware of our Divinization and who we really are.  “I live, no longer I (ego), but Christ lives in me.” (St. Paul). 

Contemplation is an intuitive experience of our Divinization, which makes us aware of who we really are and who we are not (false part of our ego).  Knowing experientially who we really are pours the balm of compassion on the brokenness of who we are not, and heals its fragility and woundedness with mercy.  Trying to punish the false part of our ego only tends to allow it to dig in its heals.  We are precious to God holistically, and that includes the false part of our ego. 

Struggling to live out the ideals of the First Commandment to the full, by loving God directly and wholeheartedly, is simply what contemplation is all about.  It affirms what we already know deep down, that we are created for “God Alone”.  Realizing this enhances our love for others and creation. 

This contemplative prayer is not something we have or come by as a possession,  but someone we already are, as we uncover as hidden treasure within us a direct love affair with God, which he is initiating within our deepest consciousness constantly from moment to moment.  There is no way to “get it” because we already “got it”, and only have to awake to this awesome and unceasing love relationship that God is nurturing within us, as us.  We are already Oned.  “I want you to be One with the Father as I am One.”  This is Christ's primary purpose in showing up on earth to awaken us to our Oneness with him, with ourselves, with others, and with creation.  Unity  =  Love and equality.  Father Thomas Keating called this Divine love affair and Oneness  – “Hot Stuff”! 

So often we hear contemplative prayer experienced as a means or a way to love others better.  Loving others is one of the beautiful fruits of this direct love affair and personal intimacy with God himself.  However, contemplation is more importantly an “end in itself”, and not merely a means to obtain something else.  It is the experience of our Love union with God and, in loving God directly in this contemplative way, we are loving the whole human family in him, and moving them closer to God, which is the only reason they are in existence.  The human family is all inter-connected spiritually in the One Mystical Body of Christ.  Every cell in this Divine Body is brimming with God's own Presence and Light, which makes each of us extremely valuable and important for the health of the rest of the cells.  The intimate love affair of our union with God experienced in contemplation is at the heart of the “wellness” of the whole human family, who rarely have a clue of how loveable we are in our brokenness. 

In contemplation, God is real to us, not as an object of our thoughts or ideas, but as a subject of our experience.  What awakens in us is our intimate personal and spiritual union with God, who gives birth to the intuition of our loveableness beyond our wildest expectations!  Our worts, mistakes and daily failings are absolutely irrelevant to God in the face of this Divine Lover “communing” with us constantly, loving each of us into existence in this Present Moment. 

Centering Prayer — a contemplative prayer practice

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