Monday, January 9, 2017

31. Dark Night of the Soul

There are times that we seek God, that we desperately need connection to the Spirit, but we cannot.  We go to the texts we have been to, we participate in the exercises we have found to be meaningful, we pray the significant prayers of our life, but nothing.   We obtain nothing. 

If we have some experience, we will know that the Spirit is not under the control of our whims and desires.  We are not a king that commands the Spirit’s presence and he appears.  And so if the Spirit doesn’t appear, we are not concerned.  At first. 

But as our need grows deeper and the time goes longer and we have not received the gentle touch of his presence, the comforting voice, we might wonder if the Spirit has left us.  Perhaps the Divine has abandoned us, even when we needed him most.  Perhaps we think the reality of our experiences never happened.

This is a common experience of everyone who has pursued the divine.  It is known as the dark night of the soul, when the soul feels that she is abandoned by the Spirit.  But what can we do?
First, we must remember our times and experiences with the Spirit.  We need to write down what we have experienced with the Spirit, so we can recall the reality of the Divine.  There are times when we would have failed to survive without the intervention of the Divine—write that down.  There were times when we felt the reality of the Spirit so powerfully—write that down.  We need to remember this, not to re-experience them, but so we don’t forget.

Second, we need to not fret.  This is almost certainly temporary, and we will reconnect with the Spirit in the ways we have experienced him before.  Let us rest in this knowledge.  If the spiritual exercises are fruitless, take a break from them.  You will know when it is time to take them up again.  Perhaps use this as an opportunity to take up other exercises described in this blog.

Finally, be aware of the Spirit.  The Spirit hasn’t abandoned you, he is just there in a different way than you are used to.  Keep your eyes open.  Perhaps a conversation, a walk in the woods, a text will awaken you to the Spirit’s presence.   Don’t give up on the Spirit, for he hasn’t given up on you, no matter how you feel. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

30. Breathing

"He can be well loved, but he cannot be thought."
-Anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing

The word “spirit” in both Hebrew and Greek is related to the word for “wind” or “breath.”  Just as wind can gently blow over us or tear up roots, so the Spirit can be nudging or powerfully disruptive to our lives.  One of the ancient texts says that when life comes into humans, it is the “spirit” or “breath” that enters our body.  To be a human of air, of hidden substance, is to be spiritual.

We can take time to be attentive to the most basic of gifts we have from the Spirit: our breath.  Breathe deeply in.  Take your time.  Then breathe out.  Consider with every breath that it is the Divine entering into the deepest place in our body, living there, giving us this life, and then exiting.  We live this every moment—in fact, our moments are measured by breaths—but we rarely give this daily ritual our attention.

Take a few moments.  Daily, even, just considering your breath.  Pulling the divine within you and then allowing it to be released.

During this time thoughts, concerns, issues will arise in your mind.  When I experience these, I imagine each uncontrollable thought as a page in a large, ancient book in front of me.  I turn the page, and the next sheet is blank.  And I return to focus on my breathing.

On the center of my life. 

When we find ourselves heading out of control, when our lives are chaotic and disturbing, we can take a moment, close our eyes and breathe.  Turn the page on our concerns for a moment.  Obtain life from the Spirit.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

29. Attentiveness

Let’s say that you gave your friend a gift.  Not just any gift, but something significant, something we had considered especially for them, something we think might even be significant for them.  We take some time to display it to them, wrapped, indicate that it is especially for them, chosen by us.  They unwrap it, glance at it, then set it aside and continue talking to us about their latest drama.

Wouldn’t we be frustrated? Wouldn’t we be tempted to be angry? We had gone to all our effort, but they didn’t care.

The Spirit has done the same thing.  He has given us today. All the events, all the scenery, all the food, all the people—they were especially established for us, this day.  It isn’t that the Spirit wants us to give thanks for every conversation, every bite of our breakfast, every moment of peace.  However, it might not be too much to ask for us to pay attention to what we are doing, to what we are saying, to what we are receiving.

This is another spiritual discipline.  To just focus on what we are doing.  To pay attention to our spouse when they speak to us.  To attentively listen to the music we are hearing.  To actually taste the food we are eating. 

We all multitask sometimes.  We have to.  We will be taking care of our kids while on the phone.  Someone will talk to us over our TV show.  Life happens.  But when we make multitasking our life… which is happening more frequently to us who live partly in cyberspace… we no longer experience anything.  Nothing is memorable, and the greatest events of our lives slip through our fingers, often without a memory.

It is a form of meditation to take certain events, certain moments and just pay attention to them.  Treat a moment in nature as a significant event, not to pass through quickly, but to remember.  Consider the smells, the sight, the feel.  Recognize that the Spirit is with you.  Appreciate his presence. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

28. Alternative Meditation

For some, the idea of emptying one’s mind might seem too daunting a task.  I understand, it is a difficult practice to master.  And for some of us, we are not in a place to easily empty our minds of what is going on around us.  We need to remember that the Spirit does not demand the same spiritual practice of everyone, and there is a path to the Spirit for each person.  We will be exploring many different spiritual practices, and we must choose the ones that make sense for us.

Another option of emptying one’s mind, is to narrow one’s focus to one phrase.  For instance, I  might repeat the phrase in song, 

Speak to me Lord, for your child is here, listening
Speak to me Lord, for your child is here, waiting

On the first phrase, I will breathe out, and on the second, I will breathe in, allowing my body rhythm to be wrapped around the prayer.  This one works for me for my usual gift of the Spirit is him speaking to my spirit.  

But other phrases can also be used, such as “Jesus, son of God, Savior, have mercy on me.”  Or make up a phrase of your own, “Cleanse me, heal me”, for example.

Just repeat the phrase, even under your breath, and whenever your mind wishes to explore the everyday troubles and concerns, just go back to the phrase, focusing on it alone. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

27. Your Meditation Gift

In that space of meditation, you may receive a gift from the Spirit.  It is not a special state of grace, nor is it your reward for reaching a spiritual plateau.  Rather, it is simply the Spirit meeting you so that he might meet your needs and the needs of those whom you know.

Some, in that place, might speak in tongues.  This is known by some as glossolalia, a form of speech that might sound like babbling or an unknown language.  It seems strange at first, but one gets used to it after a while.  It is the Spirit making a request of the Divine through you.  It is especially granted those who do not know how to pray, or what to say.  The Spirit then gives the gift of praying without conscious thinking activity, allowing the Divine to act, despite our ignorance.

Some might hear the voice of the Spirit.  In the deafening silence of the mind, the Spirit is free to speak and to direct.  To some, the Spirit might send a vision or dream (if asleep in the Spirit).  To others the Spirit might give a direct word. 

Whatever the case, the exercise is to keep listening, to not allow your concerns to overwhelm what the Spirit is accomplishing in you. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

26. Meditation

To meditate is to intently pay attention to something with all of one’s mind.  The spiritual practice of meditation is to intently listen to that which one cannot physically hear.

There are two spiritual practices commonly called “mediation.”  We will speak of the meditation of Scripture later.  Here, we wish to focus on meditation without an object.

This form of meditation is stereotypically considered to be in a “lotus” position, legs crossed. The most important thing is to remain comfortable and stable but still alert.  Sitting on a chair would work, or on the floor.  Laying down encourages one to sleep, which isn’t the goal of the practice.

The next step is to empty one’s mind, which sounds like one must take a broom, and sweep the cobwebs out.  But really, it is a waiting game.  You sit, and allow thoughts and worries and tasks to appear in your mind, but do not engage them.  Just let them go by the wayside, and do that with all the thoughts that appear.  Until you are left with nothing.

And in that nothingness is where the Spirit may dwell.  This meditation is obtaining the silence, not just of sound, but of the mind and soul. It is an inner peace where one might find that which no ear may hear, and no eye may see. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

25. Rest

“Humanity was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for humanity.”-Jesus

Perpetual fatigue destroys.  Should the stress of our everyday lives not kill us, the turmoil and chaos left in the wake of overwork and constant pressure leaves nothing but an empty quivering shell of resentment and pain.  This is not to say that there are not seasons which we must work past our limit—after childbirth, to support our families in poverty, to save the lives of those near death, for example.  But we must follow those seasons with deep, unqualified rest.

It is a misconception that some advertise that the Spirit is in opposition to the body.  The Spirit made the body, and loves the well-working flesh.  The Spirit created the body to be in balance, and that balance is peace, which the Spirit covets.  Part of that balance is labor, and part of that balance is rest.  The Spirit demands for us to rest, as much as he demands us to labor, for in that balance is health.

Health is not the most important aspect to peace on the earth—that would be love.  But the body that is unbalanced cannot love, for deep stress creates a body that is desperately trying to preserve itself, even at the cost of others. Generosity comes from well-being.

There have been times when the Spirit so desired for me to rest that I was led to a quiet room, in a comfortable chair, my eyes were drawn closed and, in the presence of the Spirit, I slept.  A deep sleep, that when I awoke I knew that the Spirit had never left me.  He was not offended by my rest, but created it for my sake.

There are times when we go to the Spirit and he asks us to just rest.  May we listen to that call.