Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Theosis and the Center

Theosis and the Center
by Bill Ryan

"Meditation is returning to the Center and there finding the gateway to the Center of All." John Main

We live in a time when humankind can no longer afford to misuse religion to seek power and domination over others. The voices that seek an apocalyptic clash of religious superiority and exclusive truth claims through military violence cannot prevail. Now, more than ever we must seek to understand the "sapientia perennis," the perennial wisdom that is at the source of all authentic religious inspiration and the common ground of awakening to Ultimate Mystery that the great sages and saints across time and traditions have pointed to. Militant fundamentalism in the 21st century, armed with nuclear weapons, presents a threat to human survival and the survival of all creation. As we speak at least one U.S. presidential candidate is advocating the nuclear destruction of Mecca and other Muslim religious sites as an appropriate strategy.

Those of us who name ourselves as followers of Christ must also remind ourselves that in the name of Christ, a thirty years war was fought in Europe, decimating the population and infrastructure of entire nations, with countless acts of barbarity and brutality done for the sake of exclusive truth claims. We must also remind ourselves of the forced conversions of millions of indigenous peoples who were enslaved or murdered in the name of the cross of Christ. In similar ways other world religions have their own stories of inflicting violence and domination, and subjugation of others for the sake of allegiance to a creed. And today terrible civil conflicts continue in the name of religion in Iraq, between Muslim and Muslim, in India, between Muslim and Hindu, in Sri Lanka and Thailand between Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim.

Who Owns God?
Who owns God or the Ultimate? By any name or definition? Authentic religious inspiration should never be about exclusive pronouncements of allegiance to a "winning team" or the claim to have exclusive ownership of Divinity or access to God. Yet throughout time and history wars and persecutions have been about these exclusive claims for purposes of power and dominance. And yet, the mystics and saints remind us, though rarely we listen, that the real spiritual question facing a person on the journey is who owns us? Are we surrendered consecrated beings? Are our lives offered ceaselessly to the love of the Divine in service and healing to God's Creation, or are our lives possessed by the demons of our own obsessions for power, security, and greed in a vain attempt to escape the truth of the powerlessness of our own fragile and transitory passage in this life?

As the Benedictine mystic and teacher of contemplation, John Main O.S.B. has said, the solution is for us all to "return to the Center" and there find the gateway to the Center of all. For those on the Christian path by returning to the Center we can find the center of our own Faith, the Heart of Christ, and the central teaching of the human journey, the journey of Theosis, of the call to become transformed in Christ. To find and realize Christ at the Center we must journey to the Center, the "Deep Heart" of our deepest inner being, the sanctuary of the Beloved, and innermost dwelling place of Christ within us. As Jesus has told us in his Gospel teachings, the really good news is this: God is accessible, forever offered, forever present in the Inner Kingdom, and that our true worship and sacred dwelling of Communion with Him is not the building of bricks and mortar on the hill but Love's sanctuary at the Center. Our primary impediment is the mind's obsessions and the behavioral compulsions that flow from them. Abiding in the Heart in Prayer of the Heart offers us this freedom from such enslavement. The book, Pathways to the Heart- Sufism and the Christian East is about the common ground of our liberation in the God Mystery in the Heart as taught in the Semitic mysticism of Eastern Christianity and mystical Islam.

The Center and The Transformation of Theosis

One of the great contributions that Thomas Keating has made to the modern world is to synthesize the ancient wisdom of contemplative prayer and present it in modern terms. Among the teaching devices I received from him that remains helpful is a simple diagram. The diagram is a circle with concentric circles within. The circle is a metaphoric representation of the human soul or consciousness. Between the concentric circles are layers of soul or consciousness. The first layer near the outer layer or surface of soul is labeled as "ordinary consciousness." By this Fr. Keating means this is the layer that most human beings spend most of our time and focus in. It is a relatively unawakened state, based on the competitive separateness that dominates most social interactions, infused by the conditioning of the culture in which we have been socialized to live. The next layer is called "spiritual consciousness." For some this may be fleeting, for others it may be expansive and well developed. It represents the degree that our orientation to life comes from the interior life of God in contrast to a life dominated by egoic separateness and the values of the culture. Another circle close to the center is called "true self." This is the "unconditioned life" of our true identity and being as child of God, animated by the Divine Indwelling, the Imago Dei or Image of God within us. This is the outer layer of the "deep heart" or Center that John Main references. And deepest of all, beyond our intentional reach but still beckoning to us, is the Center of the center, the "Divine Indwelling." This is the seat of Christ's Presence within us. As Merton says, "it is not at our disposal," (Le Pointe Vierge) but those of us who are on the journey of transformative prayer, ever seek to bring our soul to the "disposal" or access of the Beloved's Presence within us.

The process of prayer and transformative life in God is to bring the entirety of the soul to be accessible, to be a "lit flame" of this Divine Fire within, to be a lamp of the Divine Light within. Faithfulness in a lifetime of growing communion and surrendered self to the Source within is what makes "Theosis" or divinization of our humanity, possible. This "Light Within," as Thomas Kelly calls it, is the common ground of all true religious inspiration. Our mutual reverence of it, our realization of Divine Life in ourselves and our mutual adoration of the Beloved in all human beings, can be the basis of healing the great religious divides that so afflict and torment humankind. It can also be the basis of an appreciation of the diversity in the world that honors differences while not trying to make them disappear artificially.

So much blood has been spilled between the Abrahamic Faiths who have common ancestry, over who "owns" God, over who is "chosen" and over who has the rights to possession and dominance over the historical sites of Jerusalem. Such delusion and such hatred stand in resistance to the Great Mercy that enfolds us all. What we all have is the common inheritance as children of the Most High. What we all have is the common challenge to become surrendered to that Great Mystery we so love and adore rather than seek to own or possess a fictional exclusive right over that same Holy Mystery. The sanctuary of the Most High is within each of us, in the "Deep Heart. Jesus said we need just come close to it, "as a little child." Why should bricks and mortar and stones be our obsession? In summarizing this simple Wisdom I recall the words of the Coptic hermit, Abuna Matta al- Maskin who stated: "Jerusalem the Holy is right here, in and around these caves; for what else is my cave except where my Savior Christ was born; what else is my cave but the place where my Savior Christ was take to rest, what else is my cave but the place where He most gloriously rose again from the dead. Jerusalem is here, right here and all the spiritual riches of the Holy City are found in this 'wadi.' (cell)." (Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom, p.92) The cave of the heart, the interior communion with Christ we open to in our daily practice of Prayer of the Heart, is the path to peace within us and peace between us.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Delving Deeply into the Jesus Prayer

Theophan the Recluse says:
"Delve deeply into the Jesus Prayer." Martin Laird speaks in his book Into the Silent Land of the use of the Prayer word as a doorway into the communion realm of Christ in every day life as well as formal silence. He advises us not to think of this as magic or as something mechanical, and he is right. I have written in my book, Breathing Yeshua, in the opening of the first chapter, " 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. " This interior opening then, of the heart, the center of our being, to surrender to and in Christ's Love is this doorway. The Jesus Prayer, as we delve the depths of it, leads us not into magical thinking, but into the very Heart of Christ, who is mercy. What arises in the mind as we try to approach this limitless Mercy that we know as the Christ experience, are all our resistances to surrender, to releasing from the mind's compulsions for control. If we think about our "mental obsessions" sometimes called demons in the desert tradition, they are all about the compulsion for control in some form or other. And we live in a universe where we have no control ultimately over external things, we only have the choice to give ourselves in love to God in life, and in each moment. What allows us to make this surrender is trust in the Realm of Mercy that we know as Christ. And the root word for Faith, Fidare, or Fides (Latin), is trust or to trust in, to be entrusted to. We leap then, in this praxis of Faith. We leap in longing for our true heart's desire. The Heart knows what we frequently do not know, in our souls too often dominated by culture and the ego-mind, that our heart's desire is Christ, our Beginning and our End, our Life's completion, our true Beloved. Our Heart knows that the false refuges of the mind offer no true solace or home, no strategy for control, and that there is only one true Refuge, to Abide in Yeshua's Love, as he has invited.

These are words of love, but what do they have to do with everyday, every moment existence, our practice of the prayer word? The prayer word, and most especially when our prayer word is the name of the Beloved of our Heart, is the homing pigeon, the anchor in what is real and true. It is the reminder of our continual bowing to our Beloved and the offering of our soul, our life, and all human existence as we know it, all of Creation's suffering to the Realm of Mercy. This is the only medicine for the healing of our obsessions for control. It is an every-moment practice.

I have a clear recollection pointing to this Realm of Mercy, coming to me from my earliest days in school. I grew up much of the time attending Roman Catholic parochial schools in a pre-Vatican II era. This was an expectation of all dutiful Catholic parents of that time, even for a single parent mother, as was my mother. I remember one of the prayer gestures given to me by nuns who taught me was this: -"When you are in distress, or when you hear of another soul in distress, when you hear an ambulance pass by, when you find yourself disappointed in life, when you find yourself discouraged, no matter what is happening to you or to another, when you think of the tragic things happening to people in the world, think of Jesus and "offer up" whatever it is, to that greater Mercy that is Him, because it matters, for oneself and for all."

Now at the time I don't pretend to have understood what precisely all that meant, but intuitively it seemed "right". It fit. No doubt there were some nuns, or some students who incorporated that practice as a form of magical thinking. But I did not pretend, even then, that my prayerful practice would necessarily change events or remove suffering from the world. Yet, it always gave me somewhere to go, and it fed the trust in the Greater Life, the Greater Mercy, the Greater Healing that encompasses us all. It was a true practice of Faith, then as a first, second, or third grader, and it is today.

Therefore it is important for us to look upon our practice of the prayer word in this way. It is a meeting of a contemplative prayer of union and a contemplative prayer of mercy (what we call intercessory prayer), for ourselves and for all God's creatures, all beings who inhabit our universe. When we truly let go of the mind's compulsion for control, and bow and offer our life and existence and everything in it, in love and givenness, in self-surrender and self-relinquishment, we become accessible to the God of Infinite Mercy who is total Self-Gift in Christ to us. There are practical teachings to be learned, yet this is not a mental technique. It is our lifetime of home-coming, and our Prayer Word is our calling out in love to the One who is our Home, as love beacon, and it will last until we draw our last breath and open to a finality of healing in the welcoming arms of the Divine Beloved who is the Source and Goal of our prayer. What was taught to me as a first grader has not changed. What I can do always is "offer it up." The "It" I am offering, I have learned, is everything in life. And I have come to know that there is a Greater who Offers and Receives in me. Our souls are the medium of this Eucharistic banquet of Life of God's Gift of Self to us and our self-giving to God. We are the consecrated bread and wine, lifted up in Christ, each moment of life and given, joined in the eternal wedding banquet and with the Bridegroom.

To me this what it means to delve deeply into the Jesus Prayer, or the true meaning of our prayer word.

Peace and Blessings to all,

Bill Ryan

Monday, March 26, 2007

Yeshua- Our True Conscience

Yeshua- Our True Conscience
By Bill Ryan

"The Kingdom of God is very near; change the direction in which you seek for happiness." Yeshua of Nazareth

Nightly Examination of Conscience-
The foundation of a truly moral life is a life given to growth in love, love of God and all Creation, as stated in the great commandment of Jesus. The purpose of conforming our life to God's Life within us, is not to create a perfected "self" that is worthy of a reward at the end of life. Rather it is to become a clear vessel of God's healing love in the world.

Before we retire at the end of the day, it is good to examine the residue of where we have been in our consciousness, choices, and behavior. Our conscience is the word we have for listening deeply in the Heart for the heartbeat of the Beloved and harmonizing our life and consciousness with the One Life, the I AM Life that is the Heart of Christ. Our failures and missteps, the acts and intentions that are disharmonious with the Heart of Christ leave an unquiet residue. By examining this residue each day, we learn from our suffering and lack of peace. An important measure of living the surrendered consecrated life was given to us by Yeshua in the teaching of the beatitudes. Those who are blessed and happy in the spirit are those who walk the path of giving their life over to seeking and finding refuge in what gives true blessing and happiness and the relinquishment what doesn't. The surrendered life is the life that is love-offering. Let us then focus on Yeshua's teachings as the means of finding our true refuge.

Our decisions regarding our thoughts, words, and deeds, in what we do, in what we fail to do, or avoid doing, are the pivot-point of our spiritual life. If prayer is the turning of the will towards God, then all of life is prayer. Most especially the process by which we decide what we shall do is prayer and points toward the fruits of our inner life of God, or lack of it. The fullness of spiritual practice happens when deep Contemplation meets the conditions of life in the present moment.

The Great Commandment
In the Christian tradition the great commandment of love cited by Jesus from the Jewish Torah is the basis of all moral discernment.
“ Hear O Israel, the Lord, our God is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the greatest commandment.” (Mark 12:29)

Here Jesus tells us the basis of the spiritual life is also the basis of our moral life. Relational life, of which the essence is self-offering love, is the ground on which we base all decision making and discernment in our daily life and prayer practice. He tells us that the way into this kind of life is one of continual conversion, a letting go of those misdirections and attachments of the mind that have taken the place of right relationship in love. This includes and begins with the activity of the mind where misdirection or sin happens. Jesus also tells us here in the Shema' that the vertical and the horizontal relationship are not separate. God is the one Self that we love, and that loves in us, both alone in solitude and in all the relationships of our human life. What gives injury or neglect to either affects the entire matrix of our relational life in God. Christ is the living spring in our Heart; Christ is the living presence in those beings we encounter in our lives. The symbol of the cross in a circle so often found in the Celtic tradition symbolizes the totality of the vertical and horizontal relationship of the communion paradigm of Christ.

Every-Moment Practice of Conscience
We have a daily practice of silent communion with Christ at intervals in the day. As we orient the soul toward this communion as ongoing choice we become increasingly aware of what opposes or injures this state of communion. Those thoughts, those words and deeds that are unloving, injurious, exploitive or cruel either in intention or effect become increasingly disturbing to our interior life in God. The more we practice the more attuned we become to those disturbances. At the end of the day the residue of that disturbance is likely to be accessible and noticed by us, a disturbance to interior peace. That is why our evening practice is a good time to review the day in a daily examination of conscience. We can note where we have caused injury and where we have neglected to love and serve as our heart's desire calls us.

Becoming Accessible and Open to Receive the Gift
There is no room for the guilt of judgment of our worthiness as a person. All life is sheer gift of God and our task is to become accessible to God, not to prove our worthiness. (Does the branch prove its worthiness to the vine? No, it only opens to receive the Life of the Vine.) That error only feeds the fiction of a perfected ego and creates a block in our complete acceptance and responsibility for what we have done or what we have failed to do, and to fully direct our energies toward contrition and conversion. Acceptance means accepting the natural sadness when injury is done to love. Those injuries can come in many ways, lies, betrayals, harshness, pridefulness and self deception, taking what isn't freely given, hurtful anger, abuse, a lack of reverence for personhood, and the lack of compassion for the needs of other beings.

True Contrition Arises Each Moment
True contrition comes from the understanding that life arises fresh each moment, and contrition allows us to drop the burden of the distant past, or even the previous moment and return to our heart's desire to be given to love. This is the freedom of conversion, and the wisdom that real repentance is re-directing our life towards true happiness, what we most want and desire. This is true metanoia, coming home, again and again and again, ceaselessly. We are all prodigal children, having dissipated and wasted the gift of our life essence, again and again. Yet the door is always open and the arms always welcoming us, a million times in the course of a day or a lifetime. The important thing is to return home to the Heart, and learn compassion from the pain inflicted on ourselves and others. The true wound is separateness, which heals as we harmonize the soul with unitive life of God within. We are not asked to create a separate and perfected worthy self. We are invited to come home and receive the gift of our belonging as true child of God. We will never create this perfected self, even if we try. We can always return to faithfulness, and return Home to God who is our Home, in this moment, in this breath.

Evening Reflection and Review
By examining the circumstance of the thoughts, words, deeds, and omissions we have made, we can learn from them and bring the fullness of our practice into that situation when it arises again, as it will in various forms. Our practice is always to observe the mind and to abide in the heart. When we are able to "see," to witness the arising of misdirected hidden thoughts and motivations, we can truly offer them up, and relinquish them to make space for our most essential desire, which is loving kindness or agape. The desert elders saw that true conversion must involve a praxis of freedom from addictive or destructive thinking patterns. Over time we cultivate Heart Presence as a ceaseless expression of Prayer of the Heart in daily life and activity, making each moment of life prayer.

Reflection on the Beatitudes- Yeshua's Guide to Self-Offering Love

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I shall not seek solace in creating, promoting, and defending images of self. My personality, my social persona, and most importantly the ego-self are not who I am, but creations of the mind. I will seek not to defend or promote what is not true. I shall hold lightly any mask I wear in this life, necessary as it might be at times. I shall be ready to lay it down. In my true spirit is essence of being, the freedom of nakedness. In my true spirit I can be utterly at peace to be who I am in Christ, and shall always be, simply child of God, child of the Universe. It is enough that I am loved into being. I need not justify, deserve, or aggrandize my existence. I especially shall not seek to be something more than another or that I truly am, especially to compete or belittle, to dominate or divide. "In this nakedness of spirit the soul finds its rest." (John of the Cross- Prologue- Ascent of Mt. Carmel) Help me to rest always in Your Heart alone in my heart.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
All of this passing life is impermanent. I shall not seek to hold on and hold fast to what is temporary and passing. Shall I insist that conditions, persons, and things remain fixed in my clenched fist so that I can have the deception of security? What I hold in my grasp, as dear and cherished as it may be, those people, relationships, roles, and conditions I love and desire, I shall offer and release when it is time. I shall accept the pain of grief and accept that it shall pass. In the continual release I shall seek and find the freedom to find my true Home and refuge, ceaselessly. And I shall deepen my trust that being Home in God is always enough, always sufficient. Help me to let go always into You.

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
I must remind myself that real strength and empowerment belongs in the commitment to act and live from the life of inner communion. The Communion Life is gentle and does not seek power over others. I shall not seek domination but healing and well-being for all. In this gentleness I shall seek real empowerment over my own self, my own humanity, my own gifts, and my own energies, my own behavior, the only power there is. I shall lay down any inclination toward retaliation or retribution for perceived injuries, and take pause, rest what in what is deepest, truest, and kindest for all, before I act. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:28) Help me to find my true security in your gentle Heart.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness.
Julian of Norwich has told us that we suffer spiritually because we rest where there is no rest. Indeed I hunger, I thirst to be one with you, to harmonize my soul with Your Heart in all that I do, in all that I wish for, in all that my soul becomes in this life. Let me seek only You and the action of your love and mercy in this life, and in the community of other beings. Let me always be disturbed by the disharmony and the disconnection and return to the life of Communion with You. I am happy when the One desire of my life is my only desire. It is Your desire, it is the same. As Marguerite Porete has said, "What you desire, Beloved, we desire. Tell me your desire nakedly.." This is uprightness. Help me to stand naked and unafraid, always before you, upright in the truth of my life, resting in the One Desire that is ours.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Too often my sense of justice and judgement towards others is a justification for exercising control and power. Too often I wish to retaliate for perceived hurts. I must learn to commit to the Mercy of Christ my outrage at the violence and injustice in the world. I must be willing to stand for mercy for all, especially those I don't like or don't agree with. I must be willing to stand in mercy for those who are powerless, beginning with my own powerlessness. Can I trust in Your mercy, that it is real and it is offered? Can I call on Yeshua's mercy each moment, and commit my need for healing and the healing of the world to Him as my every moment prayer offering. There is too much of "me" when what is needed is Yeshua's mercy. It is Home, and it is enough. Help me to find courage and heal my fear in Your mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
I am too often a house divided. Beloved, give me an undivided soul, a committed soul, a consecrated presence, a wholly surrendered will. Let my fist open to become only offering hands. Let there be no half measures, no avoidance of laying bare and laying down this life. Let my avoidance and my fear be opened to your touch, seen by your gaze, and receive the light and Fire of your given Life. Let my discipline be aflame with love alone, and not shaken. When I lapse, let me see it, and return home to my true desire. Let me not offer my soul to shallow substitutes or excuses, and to see them for what they are. Let there only be one Refuge in this life for me, in your Heart alone. Help me to know my lapses and find my way Home in You.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
What is the state of your Shalom? It is to always be in harmony with You, to be oned with Your Life in my life. This is the well of health. May I always be vigilant and watchful with my anger, and my righteous thoughts, with my frustration with obstacles, with my fear of powerlessness. I possess nothing and my seeking any other thing than to be what I am destroys peace. It is enough to be in You alone, your own offspring, a ray of Your Light, a lit flame of Yeshua's Fire. There is nothing to be at war with, no conflict to provoke, no enemy to vanquish, only my own humanity to tame and bring to be at peace in You. Here is my only peace. Help me invite your healing to those wounds of conflict this day I have inflicted or received and find Peace.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
I know it is human to desire approval, to be hurt by rejection, to fear retaliation and judgement from others, to stand alone when it is right and good and loving. Yet where is my freedom to be found? Too often I have denied the freedom of spirit, my true Home in You, my true belonging. Too often I have doubted in the truth of Your unceasing Love out of fear. You alone know me, You alone are my heart's desire. You alone are my true rest and belonging. Help me to accept and live the truth of Your freedom, and bring my fears and the wounds of my human existence to You, "Yeshua, the Christ, my love, my encircler, each day, each night, each light, each dark. Be near me, uphold me, my treasure, my Truth."

Christ as a light, illumine and guide me
Christ as a shield overshadow me
Christ under me
Christ over me
Christ beside me
On my left and my right
This day be within and without me
Lowly and meek, yet all powerful
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak
And the mouth of each who speaks unto me
This day be within and without me
Lowly and meek, yet all powerful
Christ as a light
Christ as a shield
Christ beside me
On my left and on my right.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Unified Life- Disciplined Life

Unified Life- Disciplined Life
By Bill Ryan

Change and Motivations
This past year motivated by health concerns and a desire for more energy and zest in my life, I resolved to embark on a program of increased fitness and substantial weight loss. Late stage diabetes runs in my family and I knew I was at risk if I continued to maintain or increase the weight I had. I have been healthy in the past and slimmer. I had been a distance runner on a daily basis, running in the occasional road race, including marathons (26.2 miles) until 1998 when I developed an injury. With a low thyroid condition and continuing to eat as if I were a runner, I gained weight to the point where I weighed 230 lbs. as recently as last March. With it problems of higher cholesterol, borderline high blood pressure, and occasional back problems began to plague me.

A past formula for conditioning involved running an hour every day. I resolved to make a serious attempt to make that a discipline in my life, combining it with a serious dietary change, I made a goal of returning to my high school weight of 180 lbs. After strengthening my legs with weight training I began with five minutes a day of very slow jogging on a treadmill. The treadmill is much easier on the knees and allows me to monitor my running style and speed and not have to contend with weather conditions. Each week I increased the time and distance by five minutes. I ran this each day of the week except for one shorter day. It was difficult and trying in maintaining the will and stamina to do this each day. In addition I found that a vigilant awareness and detachment of thoughts of eating or returning to previous patterns, or thoughts of giving up the daily discipline were essential.

Discipline is Commitment
Such a change involves an unraveling of previous habits, their associated thought patterns and the habit energy that sustains them. It was a great exercise in the necessity of discipline and faithfulness in any transformative process. In roughly five months time I lost 55 lbs. and settled into a daily pattern, initially of 65 min. or 7.5 miles a day running. I reduced that because of joint pain to 55 min. or 6.2 miles day (10 kilometers). I have come to a plateau of 175 lbs. Borderline issues of high cholesterol and blood pressure are resolved. I am taking a reduced dosage of thyroid medicine. My daily diet has changed significantly around a much healthier intake of protein, vegetables, and grains.Looking back I see how essential the moment to moment discipline is. At the same time I see how the motivations in life are powerful if we organize our will around them. When we learn to love our children, our spouses, our friends, we learn to orient, to commit ourselves to those purposes above the impulse or habit energy of the moment. At the same time I recognize how lacking I am in applying the same level of discipline to unify my life around the central motivation in life, the desire for oneness with God. By some measures the time I spend in formal practice is certainly high, yet the discipline is certainly not commensurate with the profundity of the Desire. Since we know that this singular desire is not of our creation, but it is the Beloved's desire for us, and it is limitless and enduring. Discipline is commitment. Why not be given to this discipline more profoundly in a discipline beyond the discipline I have given for the sake of health alone!

Lenten Spirituality
The discipline of giveness to the love of God, of ceaseless abiding and refuge in the Heart of Christ, this is the consecrated life. It is our heart's desire. Rather than the drama of self punitive measures of sackcloth and ashes, the spirituality of the season of Lent is a call to discipline, a call to the commitment of Love, a call to confront and transform the habit energies that hold our lives in constraint and bondage. In this way our life can be freely given, freely offered, an every moment love-offering to the One who offers Divine Life each moment, whose very nature is Self-Gift. The kenosis of Christ is not only our model, but it is Christ within us that makes this self-emptying, self-giving to the Source, the Father, the central dynamic of our human life. This circular self-offering manifested and present in the activity of the Spirit is the mystery of human existence and its participation in Trinitarian Life.

The Discipline of the Daily Rule of Life
" Tighten to nothing the circle that is the world's things. Then the naked Circle can grow wide, enlarging, embracing all." Hadewich of Antwerp

Students who come to me to learn Prayer of the Heart often begin with the question, "How an I fit the formal silent sitting time into my present life?" As they progress the question changes, "How can I make all of my life into ceaseless prayer?" This quote above from Hadewich addresses this dynamic in our life. The consecrated given life excludes nothing, it is all within the "naked circle" that is God. The goal of the spiritual life is not to accomplish anything, to attain to anything or any state, but to offer everything that we are and that we encounter to the infinite love and mercy of God. This is the consecrated life. The essential requirement of this transformation is commitment in the form of discipline and faithfulness. Just like the gradual incremental quality of my running program, our willingness to open and stretch and grow in Christ, each moment and each day. Like the hands outstretched, we may begin with a clenched fist. But gradually the clinging fingers unfurl and we find a loosening in trust, an emptying and freedom from the bondage of our habit energy of thinking, feeling, and acting, a relinquishment of our compulsions, our addictions and all that support them. Then we become the chalice of our Lord's Life received, consecrated, and poured out in love.

Our daily discipline must be incarnate. It must have form to be real. It is our covenant with the Beloved. Here are some elements of the Daily Rule of Life, reprinted from The Beloved is My Refuge:

Cultivation in the Garden of the Beloved-
As spiritual beings, humans may be compared to plants. The secret garden of our life in the Beloved needs to be watered and nurtured; it must be directed with supports, like a climbing tomato or bean plant needs a trellis or pole. Air and light and fertile ground are needed. A rule of life is a way of bringing together all those elements that will consecrate, nourish, protect, and sustain our life in God.

Elements of a Rule of Life:
The elements of a Rule of Life are the means of cultivating and expressing the garden of this relationship of communion with God.

Consecrated Silent Communion- To cultivate this communion we need established, consecrated times of the day which we set aside for the central relationship in our life, from which all relationships spring. The nature of that time of silent communion in formal sitting practice should be restful and restoring, but also giving. The essential need of those consecrated times is faithfulness. This is the watering of the garden.

Consecrated Reading and Reflection- We need to also give time to reading and reflecting about the God who is our heart’s desire. We should make of this a Holy Leisure, which is restoring and enriching. This is the fertilizing of the garden.

Consecrated Contrition and Conversion- Contrition and Conversion are ceaseless practice. Therefore it is essential to set times of gazing in the mirror of self-reflection each day. We do this not to judge or condemn or deem any part of our humanity unworthy. Rather we do this so that we be willing to look honestly and nakedly at all those elements in our life, in our actions, in our ethics, in our inner and outer life, which are not in harmony with interior communion with God. We look closely for those aspects of our daily life which lead us from our deepest intention of love, or worse, bring injury to this intimacy with God. This daily practice brings the freedom of contrition and release from all that impedes the love of God in our life. The grace of conversion is always being offered. We can only make ourselves accessible to it. This is the weeding and the tilling of the soil of our garden.

Consecrated Service/Work- The praxis of self-giving Love extends to all of our community, to all beings, to all Creation, -to love and serve God in the world around us. Each of us will do this uniquely with our own gifts. Without making vows of service of some kind, our Covenant of Communion with God is incomplete and defies the purpose of Prayer of the Heart, which is to bring forth the God-life of Agape into the world. This is true whether our service is peeling potatoes, weeding the garden, ministering to the sick or cleaning up the polluted waterways in our community. This service is the praxis of Ceaseless Prayer and the growing of the fruit of the garden.

Community Prayer and Liturgical Practice- This may be more readily attainable for some than others. We may need to be creative and flexible in finding our community of practice, whether local or long distance. We include the community of those who walk with us on the Prayer of the Heart path and the wisdom of those who have walked before. We are in the stream of God's Love with other followers of the Way of the Heart in the eternal Present. This is the flowering of the plants of the garden, outward expression of the life of Inner Communion.

Accountability- Vows of Practice- It is good to share our Rule of Life with at least one trusted soul friend or spiritual mentor. It is good to ask that person to pray for you, to help you to be faithful to your covenant and with whom you can discuss your covenant from time to time. This is the sharing of our garden with our soul friend, or Anam Cara.

Our "Rule of Life" or " Personal Covenant with God" are vows of practice. Our Vows of Practice are akin to marriage vows. They are serious commitments. At the same time we must cultivate the humility to accept that we will fail in our faithfulness at times. Yet we must not give into discouragement, but as in a marriage, return to our practice, our singular desire to give ourselves to Love. This singular desire is our life and the core of our vows of practice.

The Simplicity of this Great Interior Work-
Despite the value of having a formalized commitment to the "whole cloth" of daily practice and the disciplines that sustain it, we should never lose sight of the utter simplicity of this practice. Everything we do in our life, in our Prayer of the Heart practice is at the service of this one central desire, this singular intention which Jesus proclaimed in the Great Commandment. All disciplines and practices are at the service of this great work to which all humanity is called. The author of The Cloud of Unknowing states it beautifully in this way:
"For I tell you this, one loving blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you can do." (Johnston, p. 60)

May your Lenten journey be one of new life transformed by Love,
Bill Ryan