no masks

I was thinking about a Merton quote this morning before saying Morning Prayer:

I need solitude for the true fulfillment which I seek – that of being ordinary.

A Search for Solitude, 27

In those moments of solitude and silence I have during the day, I wear no masks. When I am alone with God, I am truly me. All the pretence is gone. All my pain and suffering is laid open before the Heart of Jesus.

Yet that solitude and silence requires effort on my part. I need to slow down, take a breath, and be intentional about my focus. It is much easier to have my mind filled with the everyday – the worries, the hurts, and the constant need to be in control or at least seem to be in control. That moment of silence requires effort!

Rest in Jesus

Prayer was the very heart of the desert life, and consisted of psalmody (vocal prayer – recitation of the Psalms and other parts of the Scriptures which everyone had to know by heart) and contemplation. What we would call today contemplative prayer is referred to as quies or “rest.” This illuminating term has persisted in Greek monastic tradition as hesychia, “sweet repose.” Quies is a silent absorption aided by the soft repetition of a lone phrase of the Scriptures – the most popular being the prayer of the Publican: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” In a shortened form this prayer became “Lord have mercy” (Kyrie eleison) – repeated interiorly hundreds of times a day until it became as spontaneous and instinctive as breathing.

Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, 20

The repeating of a single phrase while breathing is a great way to pray. I find, especially at night, it is super relaxing but it also focuses me on Jesus. But what I really like about the above quote is that “sweet repose” and liturgical prayer live alongside each other. As it should be!

a rule of life

I have been wondering about revising my rule of life. I think it is too prescriptive rather than descriptive. So I have been reading a book about how to create a rule of life, Crafting a Rule of Life. I think I need to read the book with an open mind and not just look for validation. But the following from the introduction does very much say what I have been thinking:

A rule of life is descriptive in that it articulates our intentions and identifies the ways in which we want to live. And when we fall short of these intentions, the rule becomes prescriptive, showing us how we can return to the path that we have set for ourselves and recapture our original vision.

Stephen A. Macchia, Crafting a Rule of Life

I would like to be more descriptive in my spiritual life. For me, it can all become very legalistic and “against the Spirit”. I do not make myself more (or less) acceptable to God by what I do. The rule of life needs to grow out of a desire for holiness – to be transformed in Jesus. My rule of life needs to express a relationship that is beyond the rule not somehow encapsulated by it.

Also I am not a monastic. I am not called to the religious life. My rule needs to reflect my context. And it needs to actually work in my context. No good prescribing the whole sevenfold office when I struggle to pray ones a day.

So I am going to work on this for a while. I might share more about the process and maybe even the end result. Pray for me!

purification

I have been thinking (and reading) about the first step in the Threefold Path of mysticism: purification or purgation. (As an aside, when I googled it I got a lot of results for “laxatives”!)

This aspect focuses on discipline, particularly in terms of the human body; thus, it emphasizes prayer at certain times, either alone or with others, and in certain postures, often standing or kneeling. It also emphasizes the other disciplines of fasting and alms-giving, the latter including those activities called “the works of mercy,” both spiritual and corporal, such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless.

In essence, it is a step of negation – of stripping the body of its attachment to this world. And in a positive sense, it is a step of focusing on the things of God and, of course, on God Himself. All in a desire to experience the presence of God. Sometimes purification, in this sense, is a choice of the individual, sometimes it is due to circumstances. The aim is union with God and a fuller experience.

I am very encouraged by how God uses “darkness” to draw people closer to Himself. Often in suffering and pain, God reveals Himself to the individual. God reveals Himself on the cross and the individual is called to see Jesus in their cross and suffering. I am called to embrace my suffering and pain as a moment of revelation or experience of God.

God reveals Himself as Light in the darkness. And only in complete darkness can I only see Him.

I am grateful …

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Paul writes about his journey to Jesus. How is was far away but Jesus’ love overflowed for him. And he summarises it all but saying, “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord”.

I am anxious about the coming week. I am not sure what is going to happen. But, like Paul, I am grateful to Jesus.

sin?

… when [the Advocate] comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

John 16:8-11

The Holy Spirit will “prove the world wrong about sin, because they do not believe in me”. Kierkegaard would point out that sin here is the opposite of faith. I would dare to say that sin and faith are two sides of one coin we call “relationship”. One side is a relationship with Jesus we call faith, the other is a broken relationship with Jesus we call sin. Both express themselves in action but that is only a symptom: the relationship is the real issue. So sin is more about being outside of Jesus than having something missing within.

In the mission of the church, in the proclamation of Jesus, the way the individual sees “sin” is central – only thing more important is what the individual says about Jesus. I think we sometimes fall into an idea of sin that is too much like a law-court and too focused on actions. The reality is that the actions follow the relationship and everything done apart from Jesus is sin – even a great good.

I have to acknowledge that I live with both in my life. I try to have a relationship with Jesus but often my brokenness and distance from Jesus shows itself in my actions. And when I am honest about that tension in my life I am always driven back to Jesus as my Saviour.

Psalm 62

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.

Psalm 62:1

I wait in silence! I wait for God to “do His thing” in silence. This is not about me, it is about Jesus. Just shut up and let God be God – let Jesus reign in glory. Stop telling God what to do and just watch for Him in silence.

Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Jesus Prayer

I have been meaning to write about the Jesus Prayer. A couple of books I have been reading have reminded me that it used to be part of my devotional life. I have two prayer ropes that I find very helpful. As an aside, the prayer ropes have helped me with my depression. In the darkest moment just holding one is like a prayer for me. I know that does not work for everyone but it really has helped me.

The Jesus Prayer is often associated with Orthodox spirituality. I guess the Roman Catholic equivalent is the Rosary. In essence, it is the repeating of the name “Jesus” while controlling your breathing. The longer form can be used with one breath – inhaling on the first part and exhaling on the second. Now, from experience, allow it to be a natural breath otherwise you will get all light-headed.

One of the books that I have been reading has been the Ancrene Wisse – a rule of Anchorites. It recommends using the Jesus Prayer while getting ready in the morning. I have used it when I cannot sleep or when I am really stressed. But, since reading the book, I like using it in the morning while I get ready. I like the simplicity.

Anyone use it in their devotional life? Anyone have a prayer rope?

was SK a charismatic?

My Vicar shared this article with me (and I have been meaning to comment on it). Now remember, I am no theologian or philosopher – only an amateur enthusiast :

5 REASONS CHARISMATIC CHURCHES ARE GROWING (AND ATTRACTIONAL CHURCHES ARE PAST PEAK)

Read the whole article with an open mind. I think it makes some important points. However, as always, I think that most of the points are made by Kierkegaard some 200 years ago. Not as directly as the article but I think that a Kierkegaardian approach (what a horrible term) to Christianity (as against Christendom) would reach the same conclusions.

So… let me just put a few things out there. I think that the modern “charismatic movement” is a form of pietism which, in turn, is a protestant form of Catholic mysticism, which is a form of Desert Spirituality. I think that two points from the article are worth considering:

PEOPLE WANT TRANSFORMATION, NOT INFORMATION

Wow, could there possibly be a more Kierkegaardian idea. Kierkegaardian scholars would call it the “leap into faith” – passion for uncertainty that changes me. The article goes on to speak about “passion” over “polish” – yes, and yes!

TRANSCENDENT IS CONNECTING MORE THAN IMMANENT RIGHT NOW

Now here is my real point. I think that transcendence is the modern way to experience God. But transcendence assumes a “gap”. Whatever we call that “gap”, the individual needs to become aware of it first. Modern people seem to relate better to the completely “Other”.

So, here is a question that I have often considered: if Søren Kierkegaard were around today, would he be a “charismatic”? Maybe not the hands-in-the-air type but a person who values an experience of God over information about God?

Read the whole article and comment below!