Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Sr. Antoinette Traeger O.S.B. exclaimed with determination, "The only thing I could do was sit and breathe." Antoinette Traeger, a partner in Prayer of the Heart ministry and an 80 year old monastic spiritual elder, spoke a simple and deep wisdom in response to a challenging moment in her life. Sometimes in life we realize to sit and breathe, to be with the experiences of life with wholehearted presence and loving intention, is all we can do; and it is sufficient and complete. My wife, Jeanette, a Zen meditation practitioner, has a calligraphy on her wall "Sit and Breathe" to remind her in a similar way of her spiritual practice.
Our inner spiritual work turns on the tension of the mind's compulsion for control and the freedom of the heart's willingness to open and surrender in love. We can learn to breathe and both receive and give ourselves in love to the "I AM," Who is Love, Who offers Itself to us eternally. Our mind agendas always fall short and are filled with faulty assumptions. In every moment the one thing we can do is "sit and breathe." In contemplative Buddhism this has long been the mantra. In Christianity this "I AM" in life is revealed to us with fiercely personal intensity in the face of Jesus and oceanically in the universal Heart of Christ. In contemplative Christianity and the tradition of the Prayer of the Heart the one thing, the central thing, we can always do, is "sit and breathe Yeshua." To sit and breathe Jesus, or Yeshua, in the Aramaic, is to sit and inhale in receptive presence and adoration, and to exhale in the self-offering Agape that is Christ. To breathe Yeshua is to unite our life with His life in us, each moment of life. This is not an ideal to aspire to, but a practice to be actualized and lived.
In the Christian tradition this practice of uniting ourselves with the inner Life of Christ in prayer word and breath comes to us from the desert fathers and mothers of early Christianity. In his book on Christian Contemplation Brian Taylor speaks of this development in Christianity:
"However, at some point these desert contemplatives began to use the name
of Jesus as their invocation. In the fourth century text, The Life of
Anthony, by Athanasius of Alexandria, there was already a practice of
invoking Christ in a repetitive prayer, even linking the breath to its
repetition, as if the one who prayed was actually breathing Jesus: 'Anthony
called his two companions...and said to them, "Always breath Christ. ' " (Taylor, p.73)
We know this practice as the Prayer of the Heart. When Christianity was a vital movement and not yet an institution, the ancients of the early centuries fled the towns and cities of North Africa and the Middle East to realize the simplicity and singled hearted life of the Kingdom to which Yeshua invites us in the Gospel. The Good News proclaimed by Yeshua is that God is accessible to all, and our call in this life is to become wholly accessible to God. Hence there is something we must do to become single hearted; to live a life wholly consecrated to God.
From this desire for the singular, undivided life came the word "monos" and the creation of the monastic life. The early men and women monastics were intent on realizing a life consecrated to union in Christ. They lived as hermits and as cenobites, or in communities. They gathered around teachers or guides who were called "abba" or "amma", spiritual father or mother. The desert ammas and abbas sought to give their lives completely to prayer both in solitude and silence, and in activity, and to guide others to the same singular life of the Heart. Sr. Antoinette is a modern descendant of these followers of Christ, a true Amma of the desert tradition. Her simple wisdom is their wisdom too.
The term that the ancients used for this inner transforming work of union with Christ was "Purification of the Heart." They did not intend that the Heart or spiritual center was unclean, but rather that our life, our will and consciousness, needs to be undivided or purified in its orientation to the singular purpose of the Heart, communion with God in Christ. Therefore the goal is to be undivided, wholly committed, fully consecrated to Christ in all things.
Like all of us the ammas and abbas realized that the primary impediment to the undivided life is the divided attachments and culturally conditioned purposes of the mind. When they went into the desert seeking simplicity and commitment, they brought their mind and its incessant thoughts and traffic with them. Therefore to be fully given and to rest in communion with Christ in the Heart they realized they must find a freedom from the mind's tyranny. These seekers formulated a simple schema in their prayer life. They understood that a person thinks about God in the prayer of the mind; a person speaks to God with the prayer of the lips; and a person experiences God in the silence and interior communion of the prayer of the heart. To assist in this process of anchoring in the Heart or spiritual center they understood that using a prayer word in alignment with breath was most efficacious. They chose a word or phrase from the scriptures. And for many the most powerful word of all was the name of the Redeemer Christ, Jesus, or Yeshua. Over time for many in Eastern Christianity the form of the Prayer of the Heart most commonly known was the Jesus Prayer. An expanded form of the Jesus prayer ("Lord Jesus, Have Mercy.") was used by many based on the Gospel exclamation of Bartimaeus, the blind man. "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me."(Mark 10:47) Various forms of the Jesus prayer have been used through the centuries, but the simplest and most easily aligned with the breath is the holy name of Jesus or Yeshua. Again Brian Taylor speaks of this ancient tradition of inner communion with Christ:
"This rich and focused tradition is perhaps the only specific, practical
teaching about contemplative prayer in all of Christendom that has been
handed down faithfully and precisely from master to disciple, remaining
intact over sixteen hundred years. In this sense, the Jesus Prayer/Prayer
of the Heart tradition is more akin to the way in which Buddhist or Hindu
meditation is handed down from generation to generation than it is to
anything comparable in the West.
The use of the Jesus Prayer and the teachings about contemplation that
surrounded it spread from master to disciple through the deserts of Egypt,
and then came into prominence in the sixth century at the well-known and
ancient monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai, established by Emperor
Justinian I in 527. In the fourteenth century the center of the Yeshua
Prayer movement moved to Mt. Athos, Greece.
…In our day, Mt. Athos and to a lesser degree, St. Catherine's
of Sinai, continue as centers of practice of the Jesus Prayer."
Prayer of the Heart was understood then and now to be the way we anchor our attention (awareness) and our intention (will), fully in the Heart of Christ. This practice takes place during formal times of prayer in silence and sitting. The Prayer of the Heart is also a practice that is ceaseless. It takes place throughout the day, in the midst of activity, with a habitual and ongoing return to the name of Yeshua in moment to moment presence and self-offering love, in all that we do, in our natural inhalation and exhalation of the breath. This way the invitation to a life of ceaseless prayer from Yeshua and the apostle Paul is seen as both possible and desirable for all. All who breathe can breathe Yeshua.
We have an expression of reassurance in our culture when a person is fearful; we say "Breathe easy." When we are in the middle of life, breath is a way that we re-orient to abiding in the present moment when our consciousness has been captivated by memories of a painful past or a dreaded imagined future. When we can root and ground in the present moment we can live where God lives, in the present eternal moment.
"In the seventh century, John Climacus advised: 'Let your calling to mind of Jesus be continually combined with your breathing and you will know the meaning of silence.' " (Taylor, p.73)
Indeed to breathe is to breathe Life, and a powerful word for God in the Jewish tradition is Ruach, or Life-Breath. To breathe fully with attention and intention is to participation in the flow of the Spirit God who is our true Life. This is our antidote to the mind's compulsion for control and fixation with past pain and future possibility. To breathe Ruach, or Life- Breath, is to breathe Yeshua, and to root and ground in what is real and true. Actualizing this Truth of the Christ Life is much beyond any relaxation technique.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Christ the Master
Icons are wonderful ways in the Christian tradition of communicating spiritual realities without the mediation of conceptual thought, using visual image instead. To gaze upon the icon without analysis or discursive thought can be a way to receive a more direct intuitive contemplative communication. In a recent retreat I used two icons written by Brother Claude OSB of Mt. Angel, Abbey in Oregon. One of the icons is a representation of the ancient Christ Pantocrator image and illustrates Christ pointing with his right hand to the heart and holding the Torah in his left. Together the gestures speak of the origin of spiritual authority, Divine Love in the Heart of Christ.
The Heart in the tradition speaks to what is essential, what is the true Spirit within us, the life of God within us. And for us it is the Heart of Christ who manifests the Heart of the Divine. For Christians the Heart of Christ is the anchor and source of authority. The Heart of Christ is the Life of the Master, and it is the Heart of Christ that guides us and holds us accountable to the authority of Love. In relational life all of us need to be held accountable to an authority that is higher than our own ego, and we need a Life and Power that is ultimately trustworthy. In the spiritual life we need to find our only sure guidance and a refuge to which we can fully surrender. Certainly if we’ve lived long enough we have learned through bitter experience and error that our own ego-mind is not a very good guide in life. We also need a personal experience of God to encourage and support us and open us to the power of love in the spiritual life. Both of those aspects of Christ the Master and Christ the Companion are manifested in my altar icons and are central to the Christocentric character of Prayer of the Heart practice.
Breathing Yeshua- Actualizing Christ
I’d like to share some thoughts with you about Prayer of the Heart practice and these aspects of who Christ is in our journey into God. I’ll start with a basic understanding of what the language of Prayer of the Heart practice is. Practice here means “praxis” and that means to actualize, to express what is real, what is ontologically real, to actualize it in our humanity and in our human life. So the Prayer of the Heart practice is an actualization of the essential truth of our human life and its ontological unity with Divine Life. It’s very important to think beyond any notion that this is a kind of method or technique. Prayer of the Heart practice is an actualization, manifesting and making real, what is already a hidden truth. Prayer of the Heart is a Way, a path, and we are people of the Way. Whatever we do as method is simply a "way" to become accessible to what is, to the "Isness" of the "I AM." For Christians Yeshua the Christ is this Way.
For a Christian the Divine mystery is revealed both in the personal and the individual historical Yeshua and in the risen and mystical universal Christ. The nature of God is both intensely personal and intimate, and oceanic and all encompassing. Both are true. We are human and in a human face we find the ultimate mystery approachable. In Christ our mistaken illusion of a barrier disappears and we enter into the life of the Trinity, the Christ life, consciously and intentionally in this human life. Our praxis of the Prayer of the Heart, therefore, is uniting our life utterly with the life of Christ so that our humanity is wholly infused and alive in Christ, a state of complete and utter receptivity and self-gift in love. This is the consecrated life that Yeshua reveals to us and invites us to. The Prayer of the Heart is the actualization then of this consecrated life of communion in Christ. It’s not just sitting down in silence for 25 minutes once or twice a day. It’s every moment and every breath of every day.
The next question may be, “That's well and good, but how do we live this life, how do we make it real?” One way to express this directly and without abstraction or analysis is maybe to hold our two hands out in front of us. When we do this, the palms are outward and upward, open and empty, and they release everything in their grasp. They are ready to receive the gift of God’s own self, the Christ life. They are ready to offer in Christ our human life. This simple expression, this simple metaphor, this simple actualization, is the meaning of our existence. It is the meaning of the Eucharist that we celebrate ritually. This is the ontological reality we live, and we can live this reality consciously and intentionally in the praxis of Prayer of the Heart.
Prayer is this same release into Divine Reality and the receiving of the Divine Reality into our life. Like the woman at the well we are invited to awaken and to receive the gift of God and all we must do is open and receive. Yeshua said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10) In the personal Yeshua we can approach the Giver and in His Life, the Life of the Christos, we are given the Gift of God. The universal and oceanic Living Water rises up within us, and infuses our human life. Yeshua says again, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. Abide in me as I abide in you. I am the vine and you are the branches.” (John 15:1) We are one, one plant, one being in Christ. The teaching here, in this and in all the metaphors we use in Christianity about the mystical body of Christ, is that each one of us possesses the potential to be a unique expression of the Life of Christ.
The Nature of Our Surrender
The teachings of Yeshua are simple but hard, and that’s why He called it the "narrow path," because most avoid it. The ego-mind resists this level of trust, this level of kenotic self-emptying, this level of release from self-absorption and control. In many different kaleidoscopic ways, Yeshua keeps pointing to a central truth. He proclaims: "Follow me…Give up everything…..Become as a child.. " He invites us to become simple, naïve, trusting. "Love God with all of your being. Love your neighbor as yourself." In the Beatitudes Yeshua challenges us that in our letting go, in the diminutions of our ego-self and its layered attachments, we truly become free.
In His example and His teaching He invites us to become gentle and release from self-absorption. What He exhorts us to do is to follow Him, to let Him be the Master of our heart, and will, and help us relinquish from the bondage of the ego-mind. We are taught it is in our self-giving, in the relinquishment of the ego-mind, the consecration of our self to Christ, that we find ourselves and uncover our real freedom. Yeshua invites us to come to Him and release from our heavy burdens.
There are the trials of life of just surviving. However, the biggest portion of our burden is our own self-absorption and all the fear that arises. Yeshua says that uniting with Him is the way we lay our burden of separateness down. “Take my yoke (union) upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.” He whispers to us that we will find rest, a rest that comes from letting go. “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30) Yeshua gives us a warm and intimate invitation. At the same time there is a caution there, that yoke or union with Him is a also a discipline. It is a discipline to be accessible to God, to be given to Christ. That inner work of kenosis has to happen. To find this interior freedom an unburdening of self has to happen.
An essential task to even begin on a spiritual path and to stay faithful is to acknowledge and accept there is an authority, a Reality, a Life that is higher than our own ego-mind. There is a Will to which our own private, personal will is accountable. There is a Love to which we bow and give endless adoration and trust. Without this we can go nowhere. Without adoration and trust our ego becomes a god unto itself, and we become entrapped in a life of hopeless idolatry and self-absorption. This consciousness of separateness and self-idolatry is the source of suffering and every evil in the world. The consciousness of self-absorption without limits and without submission and without accountability is what the modern consumer-prosperity-culture holds as an ideal. And it will bring only misery, evil, and suffering for all.
In the letters of Paul are frequent references to the teaching that Christ is Lord. We have to remember what a revolutionary statement that was in a time when only Caesar was deemed Lord. To embark on the consecrated transformed life we must continually choose a greater Life, a greater Love as sovereign over our life. For those who are on the Way of the Heart the Divine Beloved in the Person and Life of Christ must become the true Master. How do we let Christ be the Master in our daily practice? This is the important question we ask ourselves. His invitation is that we will find ultimate freedom, joy, and belonging in his yoke. And of course the other meaning of yoke is "joining" or "union." It is the yoke of self-relinquishment, the relinquishment of the ego-mind, and all its self pre-occupation, fear and grasping. The hand that offers in love cannot open when it is clenched.
St. Paul spoke of this Life of Christ within us as the "Great Kenosis."(Phil. 2:6) Kenosis is the hand that opens, releases, extends, and offers. In our praxis of the kenosis of Christ we learn to lay down our weapons of self-defense and separateness. We may recognize them as our frequent rationalization, our reactive criticism of others, our avoidance of seeing the truth of our self-absorbed thoughts and actions. In kenosis we find the freedom to dwell in the Heart of Christ and find our belonging. In kenosis we find we are free and at peace, to receive criticism, to receive disappointment, and even to receive failure. In the freedom of kenosis we are free lay down our life, especially the habitual patterns of our conditioning. We are free to relinquish the life long conditioning, mental formations, and habit patterns that feed our self-absorption, and prevent us from opening to the Unconditioned Life of Christ that is our true Life.
The Open Handed Life
In the beatitudes Yeshua invites us to cease from grasping, to live the freedom of the open handed life so that we can receive mercy, peace, and fullness of life. When the hand releases from everything, only Essence remains. And to open to Essence is to open to Christ and bring to our own life the reality Paul described in Galatians: "I live, not I, but Christ lives in me." Christ is the Master who invites us to "Lose your life, so that you can find your (real) life." (Matt. 10:39)
In our practice of Prayer of the Heart we continually ask, "How do I let go of grasping, how do I release from the compulsions of the ego-mind? " This release into the freedom of Christ begins with our "cultivation of attention," to see when we are grasping with the mind, insisting on our rights, our opinions, insisting that our agenda in life be the first and only priority? This means seeing the thought forms in our minds and seeing the ego-self attach to them. And in each moment of consecration we learn to release our humanity, our human thoughts, our human desires, and our human attachments, to the will of the Master. This consecrated attention becomes Presence and Adoration. Equally we bring our cultivation of intention to each moment of life. We release from all motivations but one, our heart's desire to be one with and to ceaselessly offer all that we are in love and self-gift to the Master, Yeshua, our Beloved.
Endless Conversion to the Master
The life of open-handed offering to Christ is a life of endless, ceaseless conversion. In this offering we find an interior act of willingness to see the injuries we may inflict on our own souls and on those nearby. This ceaseless conversion leads us to return to Christ the Master to say "You know that I love you, help me to follow you." To receive and accept our sorrow and let it be the means of continual conversion is our yoking and "oneing" with Christ.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Christ the Companion
Paul Romans 8:38-39 " For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus, our Lord."
The Way of Devotional Love
It is a great support to have a spiritual director or a contemplative teacher who helps us be accountable to develop a daily spiritual practice in our life, to keep showing up day in and day out. The truth is any relationship withers if we don’t give the gift of our time and the fullness of our attention and our intention. If we really want to develop a friendship or a love relationship, what do we do? We spend time. We make a point to "clear the deck" and everything else is placed out of the way. We create a sanctuary of consecrated space where we can just be with our beloved or our friend. What we intend is this: "I'm just here. I just want to receive you and give you the gift of my self, my presence." This self-giving with God, is the communion we long for. In the same moment this total presence and gift of self requires a letting go in total trust. In the previous chapter we discussed this word in the tradition for letting go, we call it "kenosis." Kenosis makes us present and ready to walk with Christ, our life-long companion.
We have become a culture that is involved in narcissism to the nth degree. In this consumer society we have come to worship the delusion that completion in life comes through a kind of private, personal fulfillment of possession or taking what we think we need from outside of ourselves. " If I just have this, if I just have that, if I just have the right relationship, if I just have the right job I’m going to be fulfilled." So one's life becomes a frenzy of getting the right kind of things, or the right kind of relationship, or the right kind of experiences. And heaven help anyone who gets my way! That’s self-absorption, that’s narcissism; and that kind of pure self-idolatry is the source of every evil in the world.
The spiritual author M. Scott Peck has called evil malignant narcissism. What Yeshua is asking is just the opposite, not private, personal fulfillment, not self-fulfillment, but self-transcendence through self-giving love. He invites us to go beyond the confines of this self, this illusion of a separate self. We do this self-release and self-offering with these empty hands. The hands that grasp so tightly must unclench and release from the things that we cling to as God substitutes for our private, personal fulfillment. Instead, Yeshua says, "Come, enter into the stream of Divine life beyond the confines of our self-made self." This is the Realm of His Heart, the Kingdom of His all- encompassing Love. In doing this we don’t lose our true self. We find our true self, we find our true spirit in the Heart of Christ. In this self-offering the hand opens and offers all that we are in love, making us ever receptive, present, able to receive the gift of God, God's own Self in Christ, our life companion. If we are frightened and grasping, if we're holding on, if we're self absorbed, we're not there. We're not accessible. And to be accessible to God's Self -Giving is the whole purpose of a spiritual practice.
In retreats I frequently place on an altar another icon drawn by Brother Claude. In the icon Yeshua is seated, extending his arms around the beloved disciple, John. John is extending his hands forward in a gesture of offering to Christ. A blue color of divinity extends from Christ’s mantle and envelopes the shades of it around the apostle, John. The blue of divinity and red of humanity become intertwined in this embrace. The icon expresses a delightful intimacy. Often in the Celtic tradition the apostle John is the apostle who is seen as possessing the authority of Christ because he listens and hears the Heart of Christ, his head on the Savior's chest. The beloved disciple is a symbol of ourselves who walk and live in the embrace of Yeshua. In this image we see our opening to receive Christ's divinity and the self-offering of our humanity. Our self-emptying makes us receptive and accessible to receive the fullness of Christ, and to give the fullness of our life to Him. This is a life of companionship and intimacy with Him.
A Life of Companionship and Communion with Christ
Prayer of Consecration
In the Hindu tradition there is a stream of spiritual practice called Bhakti Yoga. Yoga means connection or communion and Bhakti Yoga is the devotional practice of communion with the Divine. Devotional self-giving love for Christ is a powerful aspect of Prayer of the Heart. There are different ways of cultivating devotional love. Among them is a daily prayer of consecration. The Prayer of Consecration is a way that you express in words, your love commitment daily to Christ. The essence of the prayer in your own words is " I love you, Yeshua, and I give myself to you." This is not unlike the love commitments we renew with out loved ones when we say, "I love you." The words that you would use must be your words coming from your own heart and your own experience through your own expression. It is both powerful and transforming at the very beginning of the day as you sit down to do your silent Prayer of the Heart, to say, “O, Beloved, Christ, I give myself to you. Take my life and make it yours.” It establishes us in our intention of devotional love. This praxis connects our Heart's desire to its true completion in Yeshua. To find intervals throughout the day where we can repeat that prayer re-anchors us in that intention. Returning to our Prayer of Consecration grounds us again in our very motivation for living. "Why am I here? What am I doing? What is all of this for anyway?" When we are in full harmony with our central purpose, our life becomes powerful and purposeful. Our practice pulls us out of the unconscious inclination of the mind where we coast along the lines of least resistance and comfort; and it re-anchors us in aliveness in the Heart of Christ.
The Holy Name of the Beloved
Human beings have had a practice across traditions of a reciting the name of the Beloved One. This is especially true in the monotheistic traditions, Christian, Jewish, and Moslem. In the Christian tradition we personalize the name of the Holy One using the name of Jesus or Yeshua. When you are really in love with someone in a relationship, powerfully in love, the name of the one you love is powerful. It connects you. So invoking the name of your beloved brings up the desire that you have to be one with him/her, to give yourself in love. For that reason the ancients discovered that communion with Christ and transformation in Christ arose through invoking the name of Yeshua in silent prayer and in the midst of activity throughout the day. This invocation synchronized with breath became a central expression of Prayer of the Heart. It can find liturgical and joyful expression in chanting in groups or alone as well.
Another way to cultivate devotional love is icon gazing. Icon gazing is not intended to be a way to engage the imagination and think wonderful thoughts about Christ. Rather it is a way to let go of the imagination and receptively receive the self-communication that Christ offers to you through the icon. Icon gazing is an intuitive, receptive process, and naturally the communication will not be experienced the same for any two people. We use the visual image of Yeshua to go beyond image to the transcendent experience of the mystical Christ. In the Gospel Mary of Magdala, upon encountering the risen Christ, says, “Master.” She is admonished to not cling to the form or the image. Yeshua says, “Do not cling to me.” He seems to be saying to Mary and to us, " Who I am is much deeper and truer than this form." The mystery of Christ is much bigger than our ideas of Christ, our images of Christ. The mystery of Christ is Divine Life itself. Therefore in this practice, like Mary of Magdala, we release from emotion and imagination to a sacred and empty receptivity to receive Christ’s self-communication to us through the icon.
Conversation with Christ
Another form of daily companionship is our inner conversation with Yeshua. Sometimes it takes the form of words. Often it is a wordless conversation. We share the experience and the challenge of our daily life with Christ. We know we have a place of unconditional acceptance and wisdom where our life is brought daily and offered.
Sanctuary and Protection in Christ
All of us need to find inner safety and protection when we feel at risk, physically or spiritually vulnerable. How we find ultimate security when life is filled with threat or risk is an essential interior movement in the spiritual life. How we find protection from temptation and spiritual fears is how we take refuge in Christ our Companion. Prayer of the Heart is the growing discovery of the experience of inner sanctuary and protection in Christ. All of us have the need to experience protection because the world is often a difficult and dangerous place and there are forces and experiences that are injurious to our spiritual nature. Some prayers in the ancient Celtic folk tradition express this protection in Christ in that they are encircling prayers. They speak of being encircled and shielded in the love of Christ. Here is one about shielding others:
May those without shelter be under your guarding this day, O Christ.
May the wandering find places of welcome
O, Son of the tears of the wounds of the piercings
May your cross this day be shielding them
Here is an encircling prayer of protection for oneself:
My Christ, my love, my encircler
Be near me, each day, each night, each light, each dark
Be near me; uphold me, my treasure, my truth
These kind of prayers or just invoking the name of Yeshua or a short prayer of protection, such as, "O, Yeshua, you are my refuge and my strength. O, Yeshua, shield me from harm." are excellent forms of guard of the heart practice. Guard of the heart describes an ancient practice of protection of our spiritual center. When we do spiritual practice of inner transformation in Prayer of the Heart in many ways we become much more sensitive to the world around us. We become more open to people around us, to the feelings, the thoughts, the energies around us. Thus we have to take more responsibility to take care of our spiritual nature and to protect the heart from what is negative, intrusive, or violent. Guard of the Heart (Ryan, p. 84) is a needed aspect of Prayer of the Heart practice, and prayers of protection with Christ, our ceaseless Companion, are an essential aspect of our daily practice.
Restoration and Consolation in Christ
Yeshua said, “Abide in me." In other words, “Rest in me. I am your refuge. I am the one who will restore you.” So give restoration time with Christ each day, of letting everything else go to be with Christ to restore your soul. For some lighting a candle and reclining on the floor in your prayer space with the intention, “I want to be with you, I need to be with you,” will bring the peace and healing we need for the day, a peace the world cannot give.
Inner guidance with Christ
Most of us think that we have to know what we ought to be doing in our lives. We have to be in charge and competent all the time. We think we ought to be "on top of it" and we push our agenda about what is supposed to happen. If we really want to be open to receive guidance, particularly spiritual guidance, we have to have something the Zen people call, “don’t know" mind. A “don’t know” mindset means that you accept you really don’t know. If you don’t know, that means you are open to be surprised. It means you’re willing to let go of your agenda and surrender to the love and will of Christ. I saw an older lady in her mid-eighties not long ago who thought she might be close to death. Later she was told that maybe she wasn’t close to death because her cardiac surgery was successful. She said, “Darn it, I don’t know what to do. I thought I was preparing for death and now it looks like it’s not going to happen. What am I supposed to do?” So I started talking to her about “don’t know mind” and she thought that was just great. When we really want guidance, we ask because we don’t know. We ask from receptivity, from trust. Yeshua said, “Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you, ask and you shall receive.” (Matt. 7:7) He didn’t suggest we ask and take the advice when it compares favorably with what you already have in mind. So letting go of our agenda, letting go of our expectations is difficult inner work because of the mind's compulsion for control. The fullness of trust and refuge in the One in whom we abide and find our true Life is a different direction, a direction that takes us to surrender and Home.
Communion with Christ the Life-Long Companion
In this companionship the great, great blessing is that we are never alone. We are never abandoned; we are never unloved; we are never rejected. Christ is the Faithful companion who says, “I am with you always.” (Matt. 28:20) No exceptions exist here. He promises, "I am with you always." Personal intimacy with Christ alone opens us to intimacy with Christ in all Creation. "All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being was Life and the Life was the light of the people. ´(John 1:3-5) It doesn't get any more intimate than this. Gregory of Nazaianzus says, “Christ exists in all things that are." (Ryan, p.31) When we are personally intimate with Christ, we are in communion with Christ in all things.
Laurence Freeman O.S.B. the great teacher of Christian meditation says this about union with Christ in a lifetime of companionship, “The Kingdom which Jesus taught and embodied in his relationship with us liberates us from individuality as separateness into individuality as indivisibility. In the Kingdom we pass from psychological isolation to spiritual union. It is the end of individual history as we imagine it. The breaching of the wall of the ego is an eschatological moment and end of time and an entry into timelessness. But we experience it in time and therefore it changes the way we live in time. The sorrow inherent in knowing myself as being only and forever just 'me' yields to welcoming a new identity gained in a sharing of being. On one side of the wall of the ego, individuality means merely separateness. On the other side the meaning changes to union. All relationships from the most intimate to the most impersonal are transformed by breaking through the wall of the ego. …. Here, through this aperture in our egoism, at this frontier of our identity, where the question, ‘who am I?’ becomes a pure experience of Reality.” (Freeman, p. 235)
We recognize the presence of the risen Christ is the experience of our true identity. That unitive experience of awakening to the risen Life of Yeshua as one's own Life is an experience of being always home. Wonderfully this experience of oneness with Christ is summarized in St. Paul to the Galatians (3:29): “You are all one person in Christ Jesus.”
Joyfully, amazingly, we are never alone.
Friday, June 08, 2012
Bringing Forth the Mind of Christ
From Self Consciousness to Christ Consciousness
Talking about Prayer of the Heart is always audacious because we are trying to find language for a practice that makes us accessible to a Reality beyond words. The practice itself is not a concept. It is not a technology that produces results. You experience it by doing it. A simple gesture or a hand expression can best express the life of consecration more so than a thousand words. We bring our hands together in bowing adoration, we extend our hands open before us in love and self-offering. In this is the totality of our life of communion in God.
To bring forth the mind of Christ, the totality of Prayer of the Heart is expressed in the inner movement of bowing and offering. Whether we are in silence or in daily life activity, this is what we do ceaselessly in Prayer of the Heart. There is little over which we have control in life. Yet we can bow endlessly and offer ceaselessly. This we can always do whether we feel it or not. It can be, it must be, an act of continual willingness to bow in presence and adoration and to offer in love and self-giving. To do this is to receive and to bring forth in our own consciousness, the Mind of Christ Jesus in the same way St. Paul proclaims in his letter to the Ephesians, “Let the same Mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” In our present world, change will only happen when Christians are able to bring forth the Mind of Christ in their own life and in their humanity. This must of necessity involve the practice of kenosis, or self-emptying, so that Christ can live fully in us, the goal of Christian life.
Christ consciousness is the human mind transformed in the unitive love of Christ. In the Prayer of the Heart we learn to abide in the heart of Christ while our human mind and consciousness is so infused and transformed in this communion that our consciousness or soul becomes the vessel of the Mind of Christ. This is the work of a lifetime. Over time transformative grace infuses our own human mind with the Consciousness of Christ. We embark on a lifetime of transition from self-consciousness, from self-absorption, to Christ-consciousness, Christ-absorption. Our life in the Way of the Heart is, as the mystics describe poetically and lyrically, to be thus absorbed. We lose ourselves in the abyss of Christ. Yeshua promises if we lose ourselves in Him, we will find ourselves, our true Spirit, our true identity, our true Mind. Thus is the nature of transformation in Prayer of the Heart.
In recent years there has been an explosion of research and knowledge on the workings of the human mind. In this work when we talk about mind, we’re not just talking about the biological mechanisms of the mind, of the brain, and perceptual and cognitive apparatus. When we speak of the mind in the spiritual sense, we're talking about consciousness, the totality of the extent of our awakening and awareness of ourselves and the world. We are speaking of soul. Consciousness inclines us to respond in certain ways or not respond in other ways. If we look around us it is all too apparent that human consciousness in the world is broken and afflicted by the human condition. Yeshua and the great teachers of spiritual traditions say the way we experience the world, ourselves, and others is filtered and flawed, and results in unneeded suffering. When we have a soul, or consciousness, that is based on absorption in a separate self, suffering and evil is perpetuated. When we have a soul based on awakening to unitive love and communion with the entire universe in God, we perpetuate love and grace. Our consciousness is affected by the conditioning and influences in our society of consumerism, addiction, and pervasive self -absorption. Those who “have” never have enough. More is always required and demanded. As a result so many persons in our culture draw themselves into a life of frenzy where their true priorities of the heart are forgotten. They complain there is never enough time and that they are over-stressed with the requirements of getting all the things they need and the experiences they hunger for, and they must work excessively to pay for it all.
The Shrunken Self-Centered Soul- Source of Evil, Source of Suffering
Therefore we must look in this mind, in our consciousness, to understand the origins of spiritual suffering. We’re accustomed to looking around and proclaiming that the problem with our personal suffering is "out there," when the source of spiritual suffering is to be found in our own consciousness. Yeshua Himself said that the source of sin, the source of spiritual suffering, begins in the mind and in our thoughts. He asks us to look in our own mind where the source of sin and cruelty in the world find their origin. In our mind is to be found the engine and motivation of endless wars and endless injustices that fuel war. Intractable injustice occurs in a world where some have too much and most don’t have enough to meet basic needs.
To be a mystic is to also be a prophet. Those two modes of being are not disconnected. Yeshua is the supreme mystic and prophet who confronts the world with His unitive vision and asks us to look at our self absorbed viewpoints. He calls us to leap from our private self preoccupation, as if to say, "In your separateness you have forgotten who you are. Find yourself in Me. I am the Heart of Creation.”
In the United States two percent of the world consume seventy percent of the essential resources of the world. Yet we are a society fueled bv fears of the affluent not having enough, while too many of us genuinely go without essential needs. We’re organized around a consciousness of desiring more, needing more, seeking more, with worry and haste that makes family life, marital life and spiritual life nearly impossible. We fight wars over the control of resources to make possible this way of life, a way of life that is unsustainable and only causes more suffering. Communally and individually, we injure those in the way of our compulsions and we grasp at perceived wrongs and the desire to retaliate.
Violence therefore is a product of the mind, both personally and collectively. We might ask, how can this be? We are ontologically in our being already united with God, already children of God in our true spirit, the mystics have proclaimed throughout time. So what is the problem? Why do we suffer spiritually and morally, and why do we create suffering for others? This is a vital question to consider. If we look closely at the condition of human consciousness, is it not a pervasive state of self-consciousness, a prison of self-absorption for nearly all? In this instance we are speaking of the illusory self, the separate self, the mind of separateness and isolation. This is the mind that creates sin and suffering. It is the mind that creates an idolatry and worship of the self-created self. To worship and build a life devoted to this separate self is a blasphemy and desecration of our essential belonging in the universal Circle of the Divine Beloved, the "Allaha," or essential Unity we call God, the Abba from Whom all things arise.
Purification of the Heart- The Singular Life
The Gospel of Thomas says, "Many are standing at the door, but only those who are singular will enter the place of union."(Logion 75) The gift of the Abrahamic Faiths is the gift of monotheism. God is One. There is one God and we are one in the one God. All existence proceeds from the one God. Thomas Merton says that all evil, all sins come from a betrayal of the first commandment of Moses. All sins in some sense are forms of idolatry in that we seek outside of God for what God alone can give. The Judaic tradition understands sin as " missing the mark." Yeshua proclaims to us that to find completion in life seek all in God, and give all to God, our Source. He invokes the Torah in proclaiming the great commandment of Love in the Shema', “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One." Yeshua says (paraphrase) "You shall give all of your being in love to the One God.” He is telling us to do what we most want to do, to be given to this singular desire, our heart's desire. What we desire most deeply within us in our own hearts is to give ourselves to the love of God in entirety. In Yeshua we find our heart's desire.
We may ask, what keeps us from being singular or undivided, from attaining what the ancients of the desert called "purity of heart"? I trained for a number of years in the Zen Buddhist tradition. The Buddhist religion offers important wisdom teachings to the world and among them is its analysis of consciousness. The first Noble Truth in Buddhism is the existence of spiritual suffering. And the second noble truth of the Buddha is that the sources of suffering are craving. The historical Buddha wasn’t talking about physiological cravings; he was talking about misdirected spiritual craving or longing. The craving outside of the Divine Oneness, that is, craving or seeking outside of God, and our oneness in God causes spiritual suffering. This craving arises, he said, from the illusion of a separate self.
In Christian terms we would understand that illusion as the sense of alienation or that we are cut off or separated from God. The Garden of Eden story in Genesis speaks to this experience of feeling expelled or apart from God. In Christianity we think about religion and spirituality in relational terms. Too often we project onto religion our own human relationships that are so broken themselves. Therefore we project upon God this dysfunctional parent who we must please and appease so we can avoid getting punished and cut off and condemned. The trust and surrender to be wholly given and singular in our consecration to God escape us. We remain too often locked into the separateness and the misdirections, the addictions, which afflict our society. Hence we are inclined to seek outside of God, what God alone can give. In the words of the Country and Western song, we are always "looking for love in all the wrong places."
The historical Buddha also said, in connection with this craving that human beings are locked into something that in Sanskrit he called "tanha." Tanha means the seeking for private personal fulfillment. The emphasis here is on “private personal fulfillment," the idea that somehow we can through our own devices and our own self-sufficiency be fulfilled. Even more so we adhere to the consciousness that there is an isolated self, that can be fulfilled. If we think about how pervasive that idea is in the world and in our own minds, it is startling. Too frequently we even use religion for a kind of private, personal fulfillment. We look solely for what comforts or consoles the ego, what will “make me happy” and give me a sense or proprietorship over God. We may try to "cut our own deal" with God in exchange for our private consolation. This is the broken afflicted soul that Christ came to heal in us. The Way of the Heart is not about “self fulfillment;” it’s about self-transcendence, freedom from the tyranny of the small ego-self and coming home to the Heart of Christ. Yeshua said that evil or sin begins in the mind. So there must be a transformation of mind or consciousness. What is the nature of that transformation and how do we actualize it in our spiritual practice? That's what we need to focus on.
The teaching of Yeshua and St. Paul and the desert monastics is that the work of life is to bring forth the Mind of Christ in our own soul. To transform our own soul, our own consciousness, in the Mind of Christ, is a lifetime of givenness to the Heart of Christ in the consecrated ceaseless practice of inner communion with Christ. Christ consciousness is the mind of compassion, not the mind of self-fulfillment; the mind of communion, not the mind of self-isolation or self-absorption. The Mind of Christ is “Agape," self-offering Love, not self-seeking desire or consuming, grasping attachment.
Awakening In Christ
The Way of the Heart therefore must come through self-emptying, self-kenosis, a paradox for our culture. In the Gospel Yeshua promises that the relinquishment of this separate self is the way to awaken and leap into the One Self, that is Allaha, that is Elohim, that is Yahweh; the One Self from Whom all life, all existence, all Creation arise. Yeshua the Christ is the personal point of contact, the revelation of this One Self in which "we live and move and have our being." Communion with Christ is communion with the Abba, the Allaha, with the Oneness That Is.
This awakened living out of the state of communion with Christ is the state of being in the Kingdom. While we often think of it as an intensely personal state, it is also intensely oceanic. When Yeshua was asked, “Where is the Kingdom?” He used an Aramaic word that means both “within” and “among", as both are true. So, it would be a mistake to say, “The Kingdom of God is only ‘within’ me.” It would be more in harmony with the Gospel to say we are in the Kingdom and the Kingdom is in us. So in Christ may we wake up! Wake up! Wake up to the Kingdom!
Actualizing the Kenosis of Christ
Kenosis is a term from the Greek, which Paul used in Ephesians to refer to the life and spiritual development of Yeshua and therefore ourselves. And the risen Christ continues to actualize kenosis within us if we are willing. In our release from the consciousness of a separate self we offer ourselves in totality, our life, our humanity, all of our consciousness, into the essential Unity which Yeshua knew intimately as Abba. In the Way of the Heart we understand kenosis as ceaselss bowing and ceaseless offering. Kenosis is not self-negation. It is self-offering and self-surrender in Love in our communion in Christ.
There is nothing wrong with this little self that we have, but it's not who we are. It’s a fragile little thing and we need to take care of it. We’d all be in big trouble if we didn’t have an ego in this world. It’s a vehicle. It helps us get along. God made us to have an ego. It helps us to survive. We need to care for it, but it must be a servant and not the master. To awaken in Christ is to uncover our true Master and our True identity.
Ego-mind, is a necessary construct, a creation of our brain we need in order to have a self in the world. Without an ego, we have no sense of boundaries. This boundary, however, is arbitrary and is shaped by history and circumstance. It is inventively formed into the shape of psyche and personality but this is no eternal soul, this ego. We are inclined spiritualize our ego and turn it into eternal soul. It is not our true identity, it is not who we are. Thank God. Our true spirit or heart lies hidden in the bosom of Christ within us. Our true spirit is the Imago Dei, the fire of Divine Life, within us, waiting to flame up in us and expressed in this human life as lit candles of the Light of Christ.
Mind like Water
In this practice of endless bowing it is vital to cultivate the practice of attention. The Zen people talk about this practice of attention and wakefulness as “mind like water.” Water flows. It doesn’t attach to anything. It moves around all obstacles and it doesn’t attach. It keeps on flowing. That is the quality of mind; the quality of attention that we want to have in both our formal sitting practice and in our daily practice. The mind of prayer, the mind or consciousness of kenosis, we might say, is the mind of the water of spirit, the water of presence, terms that have been used in the Christian tradition. Water of Presence is the innate quality of Divine life, which emanates from deep within us. When we open to it, we are accessible to it. We make ourselves accessible to it, first of all through our sitting practice of abiding in the heart and observing the mind. In our observing the mind and the actions and reactions of the mind, we observe the thought forms which our human minds create and the organization of the ego self. In learning to see it we find freedom to release and abide in the depths of Christ in the heart.
Why We Practice
A participant at a Prayer of the Heart retreat asked once, “Why? Why are we doing this practice?” A good question. Why are we? Since we are already children of God, why bother with all of this? Very important. Those who have walked in this Way of the Heart say we do it because Christ wants to live in us. Christ wants to be fully alive in us, and we are happiest when that happens. And we are most alive and most human when we consecrate our lives to that transformation.
In order for that to happen, it takes a praxis, or a liberation from the transitory self-created self, in order for Christ to live in us fully. So the real work of soul-making is the work of transformation of consciousness, realizing and receiving in our own human consciousness, the Mind of Christ. The praxis must begin with a core commitment of a consecration of our entire will and humanity – and that is the inner work to be done.
Therefore to do this practice is to continually release from every attachment and misdirection of our attention and will, to return to our true Home in the Heart of Christ in our own heart. This Christians know and understand as communion with Christ. In this self-transcendence and freedom of self-release we must bow to the One who is Home and who is greater than the little self. Ceaseless bowing is the healing balm to the wound of separateness and the compulsions of the ego-mind. Ceaseless bowing requires us to be awake in Christ's Presence. Ceaseless bowing takes us to the inner tabernacle of adoration.
In the icon of Christ in Gethsemane His prayer posture is one of being awake while his friends sleep. At a moment when his own human self might want to run away from the horrors and fears that await him, He is awake. He is fully there. He is open and trembling, and frail and fragile, just as we are. Yet, isn’t it often in a crisis that we are most alive, most awake, most in the middle of life, most attending and accessible to what’s happening?
In our Prayer of the Heart sitting practice of observing the mind and abiding in the heart we give our attention fully to presence. We let go of the traffic of the mind to live out of the past and to let go of the anxiety of a self-seeking future which is never here. We give ourselves to presence to make an ongoing act of bowing in Faith and adoration that God is the fullness of Presence in the eternal here and now. Therefore liberation from the mind requires us to be able to observe at first. That’s why it is so important. Attention, wakefulness! "Be awake!" Yeshua says, “Be awake! "You know neither the day nor the hour. Be awake. Keep your lamps trimmed so that you don’t miss the bridegroom.” In Him we find true liberation from the unconsciousness and dormancy of the ego-mind.
The Sin of Unconsciousness
Humanity’s great sin is that we are not conscious, we are not awake to the way things really are. We are too often reacting from the habitual and unconscious patterns that come to us from our own past. If we consider all the horrific things that happen in the world, they are the acting out of unconscious and old patterns. Sadly we are acting out too often the past patterns of cruelty and violence. If we look in our families and ourselves, the things that happen that are cruel, that are uncaring, they are the unconscious acting out of old patterns. Too often we have chosen not to be awake.
To be awake is to see the ego-mind and find freedom from it. We do this in cultivating an interior space of quiet or a state of called hesychia. This is the state of interior silence that we create in our sitting practice. It is the necessary base from which we bring our practice into daily life. Without this interior stillness we are easily caught up in all of the painful actions and reactions of relationships that happen in the middle of life. Daily silent prayer of inner communion with Christ is essential for this freedom and transformation. Without our daily practice inner silence, the quiet dissipates and we are drawn into habitual patterns of reaction. Things come at us and we react unconsciously rather than connecting with the reservoir of interior peace and communion with Christ in the heart. The Life of Christ within us allows us to be at peace and to respond with the intention of love and gentleness, kindness and wisdom.
The growing space of our silent prayer practice allows us to sink into a quiet in which the busy mind goes on, either in greater or littler degrees, but we experience it subjectively as having no interior impact. It washes over us as if it were a leaf carried by the breeze. The traffic of the mind can be turbulent or relatively calm but it matters not to the contemplative practitioner. We remain anchored in our practice of just “seeing” thoughts from a growing center of calm as if it were the eye of a hurricane that remains calm in the center. Of course, when I say that, we’re all somewhere in a continuum of interior quiet. Sometimes we’re there and sometimes we’re not there, but we can always come back. Metanoia is always possible. Returning as the prodigal child is always possible a million times in the course of a day to this interior space of hesychia.
We don’t have to be identified with our pain and our reactions and our wounds and our unfinished business. We don’t have to be captivated by the compulsions and the defenses that go with it. In so doing, we can actually make a choice to cease from injuring the relational life between ourselves and others. That is a huge choice. In that choice we break the cycles of habitual violence and habitual pain that occur in human consciousness in society. It all starts with our inner bowing and releasing, and in that inner peace and space we are able to receive the Mind of Christ.
When we speak of endless bowing in Prayer of the Heart, we are not just speaking of the physical posture involved in bowing, but rather the interior movement. Certainly physical bowing in the privacy of our prayer practice is desired and appropriate. Maybe we even should do it more often in the middle of life. More outward bowing in Christian life and practice would help us to recognize the holy Presence of Christ in ourselves, in others, and in the world around us. Perhaps as time goes on bowing can become a more appropriate expression of our interior life in Christian community. Bowing is acknowledging inwardly in reverence the truth of every situation, giving reverence and surrendering, giving homage to the One who transcends and the One who is our refuge in every situation. It is the praxis of the first and the greatest commandment in every situation in life. Bowing releases us from our identification with the limits of the ego-mind and the little self and engages us with our life of communion with Christ. In this spaciousness and emptiness we are released from our involvement in the confines of the habitual patterns of the mind traffic and re-enter again and again this great spaciousness of Christ's Presence.
Bowing is the perfect practice of monotheism, of taking refuge in the Holy One of existence in every circumstance of life. That means bowing in our relationships, inwardly bowing to the people in our life whom we too often de-sacralize. In our routinized patterns of life we forget who we are and who they are. We forget that that Christ, Holy One, is present and alive in them and in us. If we were to inwardly bow to our spouse, if we were to bow to our children, to our friends, how our practice of reverent love might grow towards them!
We can bow in the middle of conflict. In the middle of conflict with our loved ones or strangers, we become the most angry and the most hurtful. At that moment bowing cuts through the self-absorbed concern and into the greater concern, which is the Love of Christ that encompasses us all. We can connect within that spaciousness and the greater concern to not injure love. In that moment of bowing the whole conflict, the whole interaction, can shift in you and in the person with whom you are in conflict.
The issue is not whether to be in conflict, but how to be in conflict. We can bow to the greater concern and Presence of Christ in that circumstance. This doesn’t mean we ignore our genuine need, but so often what gets addressed and pursued as genuine need really isn’t. Rather it’s what I “want” in order to be comfortable, and that’s different than what I truly need. When a conflict is escalating, is precisely the moment when inwardly bowing may lead conflict to de-escalate when the other in the conflict senses respect and concern.
We bow in our Holy Leisure receiving in gratitude, receiving without grasping, the pleasures of life and leisure that come our way, the time that is given us. Sometimes we bow in our fear. Fear is the most dangerous of all because, when we are given to fear, we contract, we defend, and sometimes we attack. "Pre-emptive war" takes place on many, many levels in our world. We bow to the deeper refuge who is Christ in our hearts and the fear loses its power over us.
We can bow in our injuries. We need not deny our pain but we also need not hold onto and nurture the sense of injury and identify with victimization. We bow in such a way that we respect both the hurt and the need for healing. All of us have desires to retaliate when we are hurt or injured, and we may bow in such a way that we release our grasp from a desire to hurt in return. We can also bow when we find ourselves in guilt and shame from wrongs committed and thereby release from preoccupation so that it doesn’t keep us from living fully into the present. True contrition releases us from guilt and shame. True contrition and conversion, true sorrow helps us awaken and open to the Life of Christ ever arising anew as the Living Water in the eternal moment. We bow in sorrow and the freedom of contrition; we bow in the peace of forgiveness.
To bow in gratitude in our need and in our human fragility is valuable practice. Our need is always great and our nothingness is always present with us. In those moments when we are most aware and most in touch with our need and our emptiness are the moments when we may be most accessible to all that God wants to give us of God’s self. In nothingness we realize both our lack of expectation or entitlement, and our need. In the nothingness of our kenosis we realize that all is gift, and we are receptive and open to God's Self-Gift in Christ.
Over time our human mind becomes more and more a servant of this greater spaciousness, freedom, and Love that is the Mind of Christ. Less and less we are consumed by the ego-mind's compulsion to be a master and God unto itself. Our human mind is really happier and its inherent insecurity healed, when it is the servant rather than the master. When we realize the real false god that we too often worship, we can then throw down the tyranny of the altars we have built to our ego’s obsession for control.
In the spaciousness of endless bowing the space for Christ's Agape to be born and to live in us becomes not only possible but inevitable. Endless bowing leads to endless adoration and endless offering and endless consecration. Meister Eckhart says this about the moment of our spacious receptivity, “God must act and pour himself into you the moment he finds you ready. Don’t imagine that God can be compared to an earthly carpenter who acts or doesn’t act as he wishes, who can will to do something or leave it undone according to his pleasure. It is not that way with God. Where and when God finds you ready, he must act and overflow into you. Just as when the air is clear and pure, the sun must overflow into it and cannot refrain from doing that.” (Mitchell, The Enlightened Mind, p. 114) It’s an astounding statement. It goes against all of what many of us have been taught about the nature of God. But what Eckhart says is the nature of God is self-giving, over-flowing love Whose nature is to give of Itself to all creatures, all beings. When they are ready to receive there is no whim of choice. Simply, God must give of God’s Self. The gift of God's Self for Christians is Christ. Christ is ready always to pour into our human mind and consciousness. In my years as a spiritual director I’ve found that statement to be proven true again and again and again.
Ceaseless bowing and Ceaseless Offering are not separate and distinct interior movements, but together make the praxis of communion with Christ in silence and in activity. The inner work of prayer takes an ongoing effort on our part to make straight the way of the Lord. We make our life and humanity utterly accessible to God’s life and grace by releasing from every attachment and misdirection that impedes. In our bowing endlessly and releasing from our self-attachment to thoughts we prepare ourselves to be a vessel to receive God’s presence and Self-gift in Christ. This praxis leads to what the desert abba, Evagrius, called the state of "apatheia." (not to be confused with apathy) Apatheia is a state of freedom from compulsion. Evagrius Ponticus of the fourth century says in his Pratikos on Prayer, “Now this apatheia has a child, and the child is called agape. Agape is the progeny of apatheia. Apatheia is the very flower of Ascesis." (Ponticus, p.14) This spaciousness, this receptivity is the condition in which the Agape of Christ arises within us. Apatheia is one way of stating the quality of openness, which makes love possible.
Bowing and offering go together. We bow in adoration, in love, in reverence for the essence of life and love in Christ who is greater than our ego-self. And we offer in love. We bow and we offer. Our offering is our humanity, our thoughts, our emotions, our efforts, our failings. Most of all, the consecrated self is our offering. Our ceaseless prayer is "Into you I commend my spirit, into you I commend my life. "
We offer control. The serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous is a wonderful prayer. It has great, great wisdom. Control is the thing we have the most trouble really giving up. It’s ego's greatest obsession, and greatest compulsion. The truth is we have no control, the most difficult thing to accept because the ego-mind stakes its security on having control. Our journey into the Heart of Christ takes us from the tyranny of the ego's compulsions for control to finding ultimate security in Christ alone. This alone will heal our fear and give us true security.
What we can choose to do at all times is to offer ourselves in an act of consecration in Christ to the One in whom every condition, every circumstance, every wounded and broken and dimension of life is not beyond redemption and healing. This we can always do, when we can do nothing else. In every circumstance we can "Breathe Yeshua." This offering includes especially our own broken and wounded minds and psyches. There is not one among us who isn’t wounded and broken in some way. No dark place in our own psyche and our own consciousness is beyond redemption. Those are the places in the most need of offering to the Light and Healing touch of Christ. They are the places we’re most ashamed of, most afraid to look at, where there is the most pain.
What holds us back too often from our offering is the judgment of unworthiness. If your own child were to offer a cut or wound or a place that was in need of healing, would you turn away? Of course not. Such self-judgements of unworthiness hold us back from making our complete human self an offering.
In our daily practice there are many ways we make this offering. Our silent prayer is an offering, a gift of self in each breath and invocation of the name of Yeshua. In our devotional prayer we offer ourselves. In our intercessory prayer, we offer the people, the loved ones, the situations in life; we offer them all to the Holy One in Christ because we know we have no control. We fear and we worry about what will happen and what will become of them. We worry and fear for our country and the world and the people in places of violence. There’s nothing we can do except offer all beings and all conditions to the mercy of Christ. When I do intercessory prayer, I say hardly anything. I simply hold that situation before the Love and Healing Mercy of Christ with this intention, “Here, I offer this to You. I give it all to Your Greater Concern and Healing Love.”
In our daily practice we make the offering of consecrated space, time and intention in our homes and daily lives. In daily life we can make the offering of doing what we do with full presence (bowing) and with love (offering), whether it be eating, whether it be conversation, whether it be service, whether it be walking, whether it be washing your hands. Each act is done as presence, as adoration, and as offering in the love of Christ. That is where the practice meets the road.
In every circumstance we know that we can’t always fix things; we can't always change them. We can always and in every moment of life do the best we can in love and make that our offering. We place it on the altar and find peace that it is enough, because it is enough. That is the practice of pure Faith. This is "Breathing Yeshua" each moment of life, trusting that doing the very best we can in love is enough. I didn’t really understand this central truth until the day arrived when had to confront my own rage and helplessness with my dying son's illness. There was nothing I could do to stop his suffering. There was nothing I could do to change the outcome. But there was one thing I could do. I could do the best I could to just walk with him in those last days and be the best father I could be, and love him the best I could, and that was enough. That is "Breathing Yeshua."
That offering is “the little way” of Terese of Lieseux, it is “the little way” of Lawrence of the Resurrection, it is “the little way” of our Buddhist brother, Thich Nach Hanh. They have all taught us that this is the wisdom of living. The little offering of loving kindness each moment is how we release from our ego’s agenda and its bondage and return to the Mind of Christ. In this way we awaken and find ourselves in the Heart of Christ and that find we were never outside of Christ. We find that our own body is Christ’s body.
Let me share a reading of St. Simeon of the tenth century who came into that same insight:
(Mitchell, The Enlightened Heart, p.38)
“We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens in our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ.
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly whole seamless in God’s Nature)
I move my foot
and at once he appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seems blasphemous? --
Then open your heart to Him.
and let yourself receive
the One who is opening so
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body.