The Thought Whisperer

A few months ago, after I had taken communion to a shut-in member in a convalescent hospital, I started back to my car parked in a remote parking lot. As I walked, I was suddenly confronted by  a most terrifying sight. A pit bull, squared off, was staring menacingly at me from the middle of the roadway.

Brooklyn-Street-Art-WEB-Beware-Dog-Copyright-Jenna-Duffy-MG_1152

Photo courtesy of yourhomesecuritywatch.com

My heart raced. My first instinct was to turn and run away. Instead of bolting, the thought came to me: “Stand tall! Make yourself big! Breathe in deeply! Relax!” I gave in to these ethereal instructions…

I made direct eye contact with the dog. I took in several breaths, and mercifully the fear began to lose its grip.

Emboldened, I made my stand before the dog. I became suddenly calm, and decided not to deviate from the direct path to my car. Strangely, I had no crippling thoughts about what might happen to me next. Instead I was fully present to that moment, continuing to breathe in deeply and calmly. Neither the pit bull nor I moved for what seemed like an eternal moment. I was able to maintain my ground, breathing deeply, standing erect. I was fully present, taking in the whole scene, not fixating on the intimidating canine.

Then, the dog simply walked away…

Suspended and perplexed by the epiphany of this unexpected calm and silent outcome, I continued the trek to my car and reflected on what had just happened.

Since that fateful day, I have wondered about the origin of these very thoughts that impelled me not to run away from the most feared breed of dog in urban America. I suspect that those thoughts arose from a number of sources, not the least of which was Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer.” About the time of the incident described above, I had been watching Millan’s hit TV show on National Geographic, titled “The Dog Whisperer.” Though his philosophy is disputed by some, Millan believes that dogs are pack animals. As such, a dog’s anxiety is roiled in the absence of a stable pack leader, one who maintains the pack’s essential hierarchy.

web-dog-whisperer

Photo courtesy of cesarsway.com

According to Millan, most dog parents are unaware of this fundamental canine reality, namely that a dog is hardwired to both seek and maintain its position in a pack. Dog parents have no problem extending love and affection to their pets; however, they may overlook their dogs’ need for the vital discipline that must come from the human pack leader. This healthy pack-leader relationship is what a dog must have to feel secure in its world. Millan refers to this discipline structure as “Rules, boundaries, and limitations.”

Also, Millan points out that dog lovers are not aware of the energy behind the words with which they communicate to their animals. He explains that the ideal form of this energy from the human pack leader should always be “calm and assertive,” which when communicated through voice or actions, is most essential  to getting a dog to respect the pet parent as the pack leader.  According to Millan, rather than training the dogs, he “trains” people to better understand and care for their dogs in a more holistic way informed by love, affection and discipline—all facilitated through the calm assertion of the human pack leader.

Millan cautions that dog lovers must also be mindful of the energy behind the words directed at their pets. If such words are embedded in fear and anxiety, their dogs will sense this unstable psychic presentation. He teaches that a calm, confident, pet parent generates the optimal environment for a dog’s happiness. “It’s not the words you say,” Millan avers. “It’s the energy behind the words.”

It was with this calm assertive energy that I held my ground and communicated with that threatening pit bull…

The Hierarchy of Our Inner Thought Life

One can apply Cesar Millan’s philosophy to many instances of life where hierarchies matter. Parenting is one such example. Children require both love and discipline from a calm, assertive, benevolent hierarchy. The child who gets only love and no discipline becomes emotionally crippled, not prepared for the demands of adulthood. The child who receives only discipline and no love is equally crippled. It is wise parents who take the lead and provide their children with both love and discipline.

As with dogs and children, an even more important hierarchy is your own internal thought life.  The point of this article is that when you fail to recognize the power of this internal thought hierarchy, you ignore it to your own peril.

The highest part of you is Spirit/Self. This is your true self. This is the self that you have lived with all your life. It functions to steer you in the right direction. It is the inner voice of profound intuition that is in contact with you and God. It wants the very best for you. Some call it conscience; others, the higher self. Reigning in the heart in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians call it Christ.

The True Self is confident. It is calm and assertive. The True Self is the Thought Whisperer, the power that desires to govern the inferior parts of the interior self in a calm, assertive manner. The more investment in this Self yields empowerment over the lesser parts of your interior life.

How-to-be-calm-and-assertive

“The True Self is confident.  It is calm and assertive…” Photo courtesy of cesarsway.com

What are the lesser parts of your interior life that must be led by you?

They are your emotions.

Every great religion identifies your emotional life as the enemy within that you must seek to master. Your emotional life is the very source of confusion and deception. It is the darkness that needs both light and enlightenment. Your emotional life is the deposit of all your pain that seeps out when anxiety roils in your heart. Christians call it the flesh, the sinful nature, the false self. When it usurps the lead, it creates enmity, bitterness, rancor, hatred, addiction, compulsions of every type, and slavery. It is a deep well over which you have no power. You can never be free of it. These very feelings and emotions have their own life and they must run their course. To repress them and pretend that they do not exist is to invite other surreptitious ways by which they create chaos in your life.

Though you may never master the lower self of your interior life, you can certainly allow the Thought Whisperer to govern it.

The language of the Thought Whisperer is calm assertion. It is the way of intentionality. Every moment that presents itself offers you the choice to be led by the Thought Whisperer or to be led by your lower self.

What are the signs that you are being led by your higher self or lower self?

Matthew Williams, MD, author of the blog Mindfulness, MD, can enlighten us in distinguishing whether we are led by our Higher Self (a.k.a. Thought Whisperer) or our lower self.  In an article titled “Neuroscience of Mindfulness: Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Mindfulness,” Dr. Williams speaks of the “Default Mode Network (DMN).” It is the state of inattention to the world around you. He calls it the state of daydreaming, being generally ruminative about life. As believed, it is not typically a productive state; such inattention and mindlessness can produce a confluence of negative emotions. Dr. Williams connects this state with depression, denoting that people with mental illness are dominated by the Default Mode Network.Matt Blog

However, the DMN is not all bad. It serves the good; but like every good, it can be a virtue or a vice. The DMN is a virtue in so far as it allows us to review our lives and thereby change the course of our lives. According to Dr. Williams, this is a well-balanced use of the DMN. The DMN wreaks havoc, however, when it is relied upon to escape the pain of life through a preoccupation with one’s thoughts and feelings. Such preoccupation is the wheelhouse of anxiety. This is the realm of the lower self.

To positively balance the DMN, Dr. Williams explains the role of the “Task-Positive Network (TPN).” The TPN directs your attention to the external environment. Instead of being inattentive to the external world, the person led by the TPN is engaged. She is present. She is mindful of her internal bodily states and exerts her will informed by intentionality. When you are mindful of your body in your environment, when you are attentive to the smells of a spring walk, when you focus on your conversation with your beloved, then, according to Dr. Williams, your TPN made that possible.

At a retreat last Lent, I counseled a retreatant whose psychiatrist helped her to get out of the depths of depression by helping her to make one little change a day. His goal was to get her out of the house into the fresh air. He began by encouraging her on the first day to walk to the front door of her home. The next day, she was encouraged to open the door and stand in the doorway for just a moment. A few days later, she took a step outside. Then she walked to the driveway. The next day, she walked down the street. Now she is running marathons. Here was the TPN in operation.

One of the tools of the Thought Whisperer, your Higher Self, is indeed the Task-Positive Network. The TPN marshals the powers of intentionality, attentionality, and mindfulness.

Described here are two strategies to engage the TPN, one being a quick access and one that takes more time to cultivate…

Quick Access to the TPN:

There are many methods that may be used to take immediate control over negative, destructive thoughts—all have in common the sudden shifting of awareness, thus derailing the negative thoughts coming from the false, unconscious self.

To continue our Cesar Millan example, when a dog unconsciously reverts to bad behavior, Millan uses a strong vocal cue, “PHSSSTTT!!,” to achieve what he describes as snapping the dog’s mind out of the very state that produced the bad behavior. Through the pack leader’s role and authority, the dog is brought back to the present and out of the compulsion of mindlessness.

Pack Leadership Technique 3- Establish rules, boundaries and limitations

“…when a dog unconsciously reverts to bad behavior, Millan uses a strong vocal cue, “PHSSTT!!…” Photo courtesy of cesarsway.com

For a fuller context on the topic of quickly accessing the TPN, again we turn to Dr. Williams and his article hosted on Psychology Today‘s online site, “The Dangers of a Wandering Mind.” He provides two such methods which serve to instantly regain a state of mindfulness:

The next time that you are walking into work, briefly pause and complete the Five by Five exercise. The Five by Five exercise entails taking mental note of five items as perceived by each of your five senses. The exercise will purposefully engage you in focused thought and help you reconnect with your surroundings.

Another exercise is called the Take Ten. At some point during your day when you are feeling particularly distracted, I would challenge you to pause and take ten deep breaths. The power of this exercise is proportional to the amount of focus that you bring to your breathing. Focus on the cool sensation at the tip of your nose as you slowly inhale, the neutral point between your inhale and exhale, and the warmth upon exhale. (There are many more exercises that use mindfulness to engage focused thought, and I would recommend that the interested reader enter “mindfulness exercises” into his or her search engine of choice.)

Cultivating  Fuller Engagement with the TPN Through Mindful Breathing:

Focused meditation on your breath, a practice historically employed through the ages by mystics, is the way the ancients employed the power of the TPN. Your intentional deep breaths funnel the powers of the TPN in any given moment, for your intentional breathing places you firmly in the moments of your life.

Mindful-Happiness_Breath-Meditation-Practices-JustBreathe

Photo courtesy of mindfulhappiness.org

The telling metaphor of intentionality, attentionality, and mindfulness is the breath. It is the access to the Higher Self. Your breath invites the Thought Whisperer to lead the disparate parts of your lower self—your emotional self, your fragmented self, your historic self, your false self, your lower, your inferior self–that must be led. In the book of Job, Job says, “The breath (spirit) of God is in the mouth.” God, as the source of empowerment, is in the breath.

Besides Cesar Millan, it was the very breath (Spirit) of God that quelled my anxiety in face of that pit bull. Breath (Spirit) was the Thought Whisperer that gave me courage, empowerment and enlightenment.

Would to God that we so discipline ourselves in practices that develop our own Thought Whisperer so that we may better deal with the “pit bulls” of our thought lives.

Principle 8 for Achieving Balance- You create the dogGÇÖs calm, submissive state

“…so that we may better deal with the “pit bulls” of our thought lives.”                                Photo courtesy of cesarsway.com

“…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 10:5

 

Spirit and Synchronicity

He's been there for me forever

“His death left a void in her heart…”

A member of my congregation wanted to share with our prayer group an experience that she found most comforting, but was hesitant for fear of what others might think. She is an elderly woman who lost her husband the year before. His death left a void in her heart, a void that even her adult children and grandchild could not fill.

Speaking haltingly, she told the prayer group that she had a dream about her husband. She looked at each of us as though seeking our affirmation before continuing, and opted to take the risk and share her experience:

“I saw my husband in the back of the church. He was smiling; his aura was brilliant. I was in the front of the church working in the pews like I usually do on Fridays, getting things ready for Sunday. He didn’t startle me, but rather, I felt a real calm. It gave me so much joy to be with him again in the church.”

That was all she shared about her dream.

She smiled nervously, awaiting a response from the people in the prayer group who had gathered that Vigil of Pentecost Eve to pray together.  She most certainly took a risk by stepping out of the box to share her experience with us.  This traditional, Lutheran woman deviated far from her comfort zone and, because of the nature of this mystical experience, she felt vulnerable.

Photo courtesy of jeffcarreira.com

Photo courtesy of jeffcarreira.com

In my experience as a pastor for 30 years, many people have confided in me this same type of experience and I have no doubt that they happen with frequency in traditional churches throughout America.  People are having spiritual experiences they cannot understand, and these experiences are deeply meaningful and spiritually impactful.

Not having the words or theological categories to articulate such experiences, some people feel like odd balls when they relate them to their communities of faith.

Bereft of the proper theological framing for the experience, many keep to themselves their brushes with reality, which are profoundly meaningful and even mystical.  They are inclined not to share such experiences with their pastors for fear that they may be judged as theologically unorthodox or doctrinally unsound.  Or, their experiences are so meaningful that they keep them from their pastors for fear that their well-intentioned, spiritual leaders might dogmatically explain away an experience that is deeply meaningful.

The experience becomes their special secret, confirming that God can do infinitely more than we could ever imagine.

This begs the question: how might a doctrinally-sound pastor respond to this woman’s story about her dream? The conversation could go like this:

“Your dream is interesting. Dreams are strange things, aren’t they?  Who can understand them?  Your husband is in heaven with Christ, assured of his victory over death through the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection is your assurance that your beloved is alive in Christ.  Don’t fixate on the dream.  Fixate instead on the objective word.  That is your assurance.”

Of course this is true. Indeed it is the word of God that informs the cultural and psychic context that makes that dream even possible for this woman.  The image of the church, oneness in Christ with her husband, and the joy of working in the church that has been the anchor of their lives were all prompted by the Word.  The dream is her subjective expression of what she knows objectively through the Word.

But could this conversation from a pastor rob her of her experience?

These subjective, mystical experiences happen more often than we pastors think, and here is the rub…

We pride ourselves in making everything nice and objective so that we can control it.

We are quite adept at handling the objective reality.  That’s our currency in traditional churches.  At the same time, however, our subjective experiences have no context in traditional churches. We concede this subjective sphere of our lives to late night dinners, demons, and two-bit pandering psychics because we are uncomfortable with the spiritual and mystical experiences that may arise from the subjective realm.

I shall never forget what happened during a retreat I conducted at a Southern California abbey for members of my church. I had just finished doing a Lectio Divina exercise with the retreatants.  Afterwards, I invited them to share what God conveyed to each of them in this spiritual exercise.  A young man commented on what he had experienced.  He said he saw the sun, bright and warm.  As he gazed on its brilliance, a dove emerged from the sun, descended and landed on him. The symbolism was obvious, informed by the John 1:4 text on which we had just meditated, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

It was a powerful experience for him and the other retreatants concurred.

However, later that evening, an avalanche of thoughts that discredited the experience hit the young man.  He got the impression that he was doing something illicit by entertaining such a vision.  It was as if he had betrayed his allegiance to the objective word of God.  His culture and tradition had failed him—not being broad enough to accommodate this type of spiritual experience. He felt vulnerable by stepping outside the box in the manner in which he did.

I consoled him by encouraging him to rethink his reaction. I helped him to understand that his experience was not a threat, but instead a place of inspiration. It was the place of art and creativity.  We would not have Bach’s cantatas without such a place of inspiration.  The visual art that inspires us and heightens our devotion to Christ comes from the heart, that very same place of subjectivity.

Why do we fear this kind of mystical experience?

Photo courtesy of atbowles.com

Photo courtesy of patbowles.com

We are adept at dealing with what we believe is the objectivity of our religion, namely Word and Sacraments; but we are less adept at dealing with the subjectivity of it, namely the spiritual center, which invites us to learn the language and the movements of the heart in addition to the head.

We fear the heart and don’t trust it; we believe that it is woefully corrupt according to Jeremiah.  Yet, the heart, the center of the subjective sphere, is where we, together with the Holy Spirit, wage battle against the concupiscence (proclivity to evil) that remains in the heart subsequent to Baptism. The daily dying to this proclivity through repentance initiates spiritual movements of the Spirit in the heart, which create beauty that informs worship and devotion to God.

We must be OK with dealing with the heart and its stirrings; we must be OK with the subjectivity of the heart, indeed the unique way that God communicates to us in peace, love and joy, the very contours of beauty.

When you engage in spiritual practices like contemplation that silent your inner self-dialogue and other people’s dialogues in your head, you make room for God to expand your experience of reality.  One of the benefits of contemplation is that you begin to pay attention to the life around you, which you are all too prone to ignore when you are only in your head.  By spending too much time in our heads and being beset by a multitude of thoughts, we miss out on life; we fail to see its deeper connections.

As your restless mental activity is gradually silenced through the practice of contemplation, you are empowered to see more.  The universe comes to life.  You can appreciate beauty in all its manifestations.

Synchronicity 

Synchronicity is the ability to meaningfully connect unrelated events, people and things. It breaks down barriers, it stirs things up—it wakes you out of your “dogmatic slumber.”

Photo courtesy of http://starrystez.com

Photo courtesy of http://starrystez.com

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) proffered the concept of synchronicity as a worldview to account for both the linear causality of the mechanistic world and the non-linear, non-causal world of meaning.  According to Jung, things can be causally connected; however, they can also be meaningfully connected.  Coupling Jung’s concepts with Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum psychics, synchronicity opens up the universe, making it come to life, making it a mysterious place that throws into doubt ironclad religious and scientific dogma.

Synchronicity gives you a glimpse into the world outside space and time, whose currency is meaning. It is in this resultant synchronicity that the causal world and non-causal world interlock and interpenetrate each other.

Synchronicity is best experienced and not talked about.  You know it when you see it.  Who hasn’t had the experience of thinking of someone and a moment later, that very person calls you on the phone.  Or, perhaps you had a dream that you forgot about in the morning that you remembered at the right time later on in the day.  At just the right moment, the dream gave you enlightenment about a situation that you were dealing with, yielding an “aha moment.” These experiences have a way of opening you up to other possibilities, breaking you out of the mechanistic linear world of cause and effect, from which vantage point we think that we might somehow control life.

Howard Thurman, the spiritual and theological mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King, relates the story of his ardent desire to attend college as a boy.  In the early 20th century, his impoverished African-American family could not afford such a luxury, as indeed most Americans couldn’t in those days.  To cover their shame of being poor, his family tried to steer him in another direction.  But he could not be deterred.  He decided to apply to Morehouse College upon graduation from high school. When he boarded that bus from his home in Florida bound for Atlanta, he had no idea how he would pay for a college education.

When he arrived on campus, surprisingly Thurman discovered that his tuition, room, board and all fees were paid in full.  His poor circumstances, his desire to attend college and the provision of the money were not accidently connected; they synchronistically became deeply and meaningfully related in Thurman’s mind and heart.

Meaning can be a powerful nexus among people, things and events. There need not be an explanation in terms of cause and effect…

Photo courtesy of beautiful.coolphotos.in

Photo courtesy of beautiful.coolphotos.in

Another Member’s Experience

I have a member of my congregation who lost her father when she was 5 years old, a vulnerable age.  She told me about an experience she recently had while watching a TV program about a woman who also had lost her father as a small child.  The woman spoke of the impact of not being raised with a father, how it skewed her perspective on men.  Strongly identifying with the woman’s story, my member was touched deeply; she couldn’t take her eyes off the TV.

All of a sudden, the TV turned off.  Even though it was a still and warm spring evening, a small gale of wind blew through her opened sliding door, and she felt it on her face.  Attached to her patio cover, there was a wind chime with a central clapper surrounded by five elongated chimes.  Rather than the usual way a wind chime rings, the capricious gale wind did not ring all five chimes randomly.  Instead, only one chime tone rang distinctively and repeatedly for several moments.

The cutting off of the TV, the small gale wind, and the repeated ringing of one chime tone were not causally related.  As she told the story to me, my member was able to give value and meaning to the experience by relating the circumstances to each other as a single orchestrated, synchronistic event.

She was able to recognize and appreciate the spiritual synchronicity present in her experience.

A disciplined practice in contemplation teaches you to appreciate both the causal world and the world of meaning by teaching you to live and rest in both by conditioning you to be fully open and available to both.  No dualism!

You learn to negotiate in the world of cause and effect and yet be open to the mystery of the world of meaning, which is foundational to beauty.

Your eyes get opened, and you see more connections in the schema where the spiritual world interpenetrates the material one.

In short, you achieve a spiritual synchronicity, and the vehicle that enables you to create meaning is the Holy Spirit.  You learn that what may seem like a set of random events instead becomes related meaningfully to you through the Holy Spirit.

On the first Pentecost after Easter, an outsider looking at the group of 120 disciples of Jesus in prayer would have felt the wind, seen the tongues of fire and the subsequent ecstasy, empowerment and boldness of that motley group of illiterate Galileans. However, without the Holy Spirit, the disinterested outsider would not have been able to meaningfully connect that random set of events as the profound transformation of Jesus’ disciples that would alter their tragedy-laden consciousness and empower them to change the course of human history.

The Holy Spirit meaningfully connects seemingly random events that are non-causally related, thereby luring us to be in conformity with Christ. Authentic spiritual experiences are made so by the Holy Spirit.

If a spiritual experience opens you up more to Christ and you become like him in a life informed by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, then that experience was tailor-made for you.  Who am I to dogmatically argue away such an experience that is deeply meaningful to you?

One of the many fruits of contemplation is that you give up the desire to argue and fight, insisting that things must go your way.  You come to see that God has the whole universe with which to communicate to humanity.  And, in God’s time, God can be most convincing.

The Spirit gives you eyes to synchronistically see.  Be open and ready to receive.

Pastor Tim in the sanctuary at St. Luke Lutheran Church

Pastor Tim in the sanctuary at St. Luke Lutheran Church

 

The Mindful Christ

The film Gravity is a spiritual tour de force.  Sandra Bullock plays the part of “Dr. Ryan Stone,” a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission to space.  The commander of her shuttle crew is “Matt Kowalski,” played by George Clooney.  While on a space walk, debris from an exploding, Russian satellite destroys the shuttle.  Dr. Stone and Commander Kowalski are the sole survivors of their shuttle crew.  They are completely alone in space.  They are tethered to nothing but each other, spiraling in the darkness of space.

I believe that Commander Kowalski is a Christ figure in the film.  He is curious, calm, centered and collected under pressure.  The veteran astronaut appreciates the beauty of the cosmos as though he were seeing it for the first time. In the end, like Christ, he accepts his death with equanimity, trusting that he would die into something bigger than himself.

"I believe that Commander Kowalski is a Christ figure in the film.  He is curious, calm, centered, and collected under pressure." Photo courtesy of http://gravitymovie.warnerbros.com

“I believe that Commander Kowalski is a Christ figure in the film. He is curious, calm, centered, and collected under pressure.”
Photo courtesy of http://www.gravitymovie.warnerbros.com

Dr. Stone, all alone, tries to get to the International Space Center and from there to the Chinese Space Center.  Facing one crisis after another, in a most poignant scene in the film, in a fetal position Dr. Stone cries, “No one taught me to pray!  I wish someone had taught me how to pray.”

“No one taught me to pray!  I wish someone had taught me how to pray.”  Photo courtesy of http://gravitymovie.warnerbros.com

“No one taught me to pray! I wish someone had taught me how to pray.”
Photo courtesy of http://www.gravitymovie.warnerbros.com

Amid all the technological wizardry, Dr. Stone’s spontaneous burst of human emotion reveals that the human heart has needs that the head will never understand.  Her cry is an indictment against a whole generation of parents who have taken a laissez-faire approach to their children’s spiritual development, not intentionally inculcating in their children spiritual traditions.  Many Christian parents have not even taught their children the Lord’s Prayer.

Dr. Stone’s cry indicts the church in the West, which has not taught people how to pray in a way that is enriching, in a way that would give them a sense of gravitas in the world, especially as they face life’s endemic pain.  Churches have been more concerned with institutional matters that keep them solvent and growing numerically.  They have been more obsessed with what to believe than how to live.  Christianity has long been a theologically-laden religion.  It is for this reason that it comes off as arcane and inaccessible in our postmodern world.

The preponderance of theology and right thinking has gotten in the way of living mindfully in the present with a sense of joy and satisfaction that every moment brings.  Christianity too often looks back at the fall of Adam and Eve and ahead to the end of the world, when everything will have been made right.  Too often we have forgotten about the dash between the beginning and the end.  That dash between the beginning and the end matters because God became a man in Christ Jesus.  That dash is validated by the incarnation of the Son of God.  How we live matters.  Jesus is not only Cristus victor over sin, death and the devil.  He is also Cristus victor over life.  He shows us how to live.

Can we emulate how Jesus lived?

I have recently come across a counseling method that has enriched my pastoral counseling and affirmed my long-held thought that everyone’s psyche yearns for healing and wholeness.  Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, combines the therapeutic model of family systems theory with the view that the mind, rather than being a single entity, is instead made up of various parts with their own viewpoints and ways of expressing themselves.  IFS therapy tries to understand how the various parts are organized to protect the psychic system from pain.

In the IFS model, there are three main parts that most people have.  First, there are the exiles.  These parts are informed by lingering pain, shame or hurt from childhood.  Second, there are the managers.  Managers are protective parts that keep the pain of the exiles from coming to the forefront of consciousness, so we can manage our daily lives and get through them with a semblance of order.  And, third, there are the firefighters.  Firefighters avoid the pain of the exiles through compulsive acting out.

Both manager and firefighter parts are protective in nature. Firefighters cause a variety of rash behaviors from drinking binges to inappropriate sexual behavior, or any other compulsion that tries to extinguish the pain of the exiles. In my case, when I feel pain surging in my psyche, my firefighter impels me eat a carton of ice cream. Firefighters try to keep the pain and shame of the exile parts from coming to consciousness.

Everyone’s mind is configured in such a way to avoid pain and trauma; however, there cannot be any meaningful and authentic spiritual growth without facing the pain that is endemic to being human in this chaotic world. To engage your own pain is what it means to pick up your cross and follow Christ, and in the IFS model, that is where the “Self” comes into play.

In the IFS model, Dr. Schwartz identifies the spiritual center as the “Self.”  The therapist’s job is to get people to unblend from their protective parts in order to allow the pain of the exile to come into contact with the healing compassion of the Self. Our parts with their various agendas are a source of so much mindlessness. Rather than responding mindfully to a given situation, too often we are instead reacting in one of our parts.  To the extent that we do, we are limited, not living fully from our true, authentic Self.

What does the Self look like?  It looks like a person who has been long engaged in mystical and spiritual practices.  It looks grounded and wise.  It has a definite personality, a modus operandi. The true self can be characterized by what Schwatz calls the “Spiritual C’s”: calm, curiosity, compassion, confidence, clarity, courage, creativity, connectedness, centeredness, capacity for choice and communion.  The Spiritual C’s are the product of a regular, disciplined spiritual practice that is authentic. They produce a mindful person, fully available in the moment to oneself and others.  The Spiritual C’s are what mindful people look like; it is how they live.

“Matt Kowalsky” in Gravity was the epitome of a person informed by the Spiritual C’s.  He was a most compelling figure as are all contemplative types.  Did Jesus look and live like a person informed by the Spiritual C’s?  Of course.  The Gospel of John reveals that Jesus had these qualities. Granted, you will not find a spiritual practice in the Gospel of John that would foster mindfulness, but you will certainly find the Mindful Christ with whom you are invited to come into communion and be conformed through the energy of his Spirit in the sacramental life of the church.

Jesus certainly faced threats to himself and his ministry with calm.  Unlike Moses and other prophets in the Old Testament, he did not get rattled.  He interviewed Nicodemus and calmly answered his questions.  He did the same with the woman of Samaria.  Ultimately, Jesus faced his own death with calm and equanimity.

Jesus approached the world with curiosity, which is fundamental to learning and an essential openness to the world that facilitates learning and gaining wisdom.  The precocious child Jesus was in the temple questioning the religious leaders and the experts of Torah.  He was curious about the things of his heavenly Father.

Jesus was the epitome of compassion, which is what he demonstrated to the thief on the cross who was crucified together with him.  While on the cross, he shows compassion to his beloved mother when he commended her to John’s care.  He especially showed compassion as a better Moses in John chapter 8 when he refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery.  In the Old Testament, the law was written in stone by the finger of God demonstrating its unyielding inflexibility.  In obvious contrast, Jesus writes his new covenant, the Gospel, in the sand of the ground.

As a mindful person, Jesus was confident.  Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus demonstrates confidence in his Father to give him what he needs in any given moment.  He was satisfied and could live confidently in every moment.

As the true light coming into the world, Jesus taught and acted with clarity.  People were amazed that he did not teach like other religious experts.  He had clarity of thought and motives.  He demonstrated clarity when he spoke about the relationship between sin, illness and misfortune.  Life’s setbacks can be occasions to experience the glory of God.

Jesus was courageous.  He never wavered from the consequences of where his commitment to his Father would take him.  Inevitably, his teaching of God as loving Spirit would ram him into conflict with the status quo.

Jesus’ teaching demonstrated his creativity.  He taught with parables; he used art to illustrate and communicate spiritual truths that would have otherwise been lost in linear, univocal language.

Jesus had connectedness to his Father and to others.  His teaching on the Trinity reveals God as an essential connectivity of the three persons to each other and to the world.  Jesus could speak profoundly of such a spiritual truth and, yet, in a down-to-earth manner enjoy the presence of people in whatever occasion brought them together.

Jesus had a center to which he was connected.  His centeredness was informed by his relationship with his Father.  He was fully grounded in his God and Father.

Being so centered, Jesus had the capacity for choice.  Having a centeredness through Self actually frees one up to choose without the flailing of the arms in high anxiety.

Finally, Jesus sought communion. He gathered around himself 12 men to mentor and with whom to have a constant communion.  He had other connections with people that afforded him profound communion, namely Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

In the Gospel of John, Christians are invited to come into communion with the Mindful Christ.  There are no standard practices leading to an increase of mindfulness and focus in life.  The assumption is that together with the Mindful Christ and his Holy Spirit, you will develop practices that would enhance mindfulness in your life, so that over time you will reflect the Spiritual C’s.  At the center of all such practices is the incarnation. God becoming human means that this world matters; your body is important.

Everything that supports your body is a gift from God.  All the extensions and connections of the body prove that you live in an interdependent world, at the center of which is God.  To be mindful means to be aware of yourself in your body, in the space and time in which you find yourself.

". . .together with the Mindful Christ and his Holy Spirit, you will develop practices that would enhance mindfulness in your life…" Photo credit: raynoah.com

“. . .together with the Mindful Christ and his Holy Spirit, you will develop practices that would enhance mindfulness in your life…”
Photo credit: raynoah.com

I believe that contemplation is most necessary for the development of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is one of the fruits of contemplation.  Over time, a regular practice and discipline in contemplation make you adept at ignoring thoughts and not running off on mental and emotional wild goose chases.  Granted, given the way that our brains are wired to produce thoughts, we cannot ever stop them. But, we can ignore them, making them as objective to us as the noise of the street traffic in the background as you read this.  We need to objectify our thoughts so that we do not identify with them.  This is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 10 when he encourages us to take every thought captive. Your true self in Christ has power over all such thoughts.  A disciplined approach to contemplation empowers you to discipline your mind.  You do not let it drift and split in a multitude of directions.  Anxiety comes on the heels of such splitting and cascading to worst-case scenarios.

Through contemplation you become adept at bringing your mind back from the far country of anxiety and grounding it in the moment in which you are living, to let thoughts and feelings flow through you, not clinging to or resisting thoughts or emotions. The fruit of contemplation is a more mindful life, more focused and engaged. Contemplation can so discipline your mind that when you are ready to deal with a thought or an emotion, you do so at your choosing, on your terms; you do it thoroughly so that you can be done with it.

Too often we are “in our heads.”  Being in our heads, life rolls by unnoticed.  It is a most liberating feeling to achieve the awareness that you are not your thoughts.  The Gospel of John invites us to become one with the Mindful Christ, to be born from above through water and Spirit.  Living with the Mindful Christ opens up possibilities to live the way that he lived, to live the abundant life of the Spirit.

There is no reason to carry heavy emotional baggage through life. That abundant life looks like the Spiritual C’s of Internal Family Systems.

The final denouement of the film Gravity finds Dr. Ryan aboard a space capsule she boards at Chinese Space Station.  Her return to the earth’s atmosphere is risky.  Her life is hanging precariously in the balance.  Dr. Ryan’s re-entry plunges her into a vast lake with a shoreline nearby.  She emerges from the space capsule, swims to the shore and crawls onto the ground in elation.  Now the ground and  gravity have become holy things for her.  She beholds the mud in her hands; she kisses it.

"Her return to the earth’s atmosphere was risky."  Photo courtesy of www.gravitymovie.warnerbros.com

“Her return to the earth’s atmosphere was risky.”
Photo courtesy of http://www.gravitymovie.warnerbros.com

She has gained a new appreciation for the mud even though it cannot compare to the beauty she had seen in space. Unlike Commander Kowalski and before her experience, she could never have seen and beheld the beauty of space.  Eventhough she was one of the few privileged to gaze upon such beauty, she was not mindful; she was not a contemplative; she could not see it.  She was focused more on how her knowledge could exploit the cosmos.  After her figurative death and transfiguration, she would no longer ignore life and the grace that each moment brings.  The barriers removed, she could now be mindful.

Why does it take a crisis to wake us to a mindful existence?  Often, God wakes us spiritually through a great love or a great tragedy.  The Mindful Christ is both a great tragedy and a great love.  He teaches us how to die as he accepts his imminent death with equanimity.  He especially teaches us how to live, being open to what God the Father gives us in every moment as a gift at which to wonder.

Living with the Mindful Christ, we become mindful in life and death, more aware of every moment as a gift of grace and an occasion to experience peace, love and joy.

Resource:  Internal Family Systems:  The Center for Self-Leadership: http://www.selfleadership.org

“Pencil Me In.” – God

An unknown author tells the story of the Pencil Maker who took aside a pencil before putting it into the box. “There are five things you need to know before I send you out into the world,” he told the pencil. “Always remember them and you will be the best pencil you can be.”

“One: You will do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in Someone’s hand.”

An unknown author tells the story of the Pencil Maker who took aside a pencil... Photo credit: www.startwoodworking.com

An unknown author tells the story of the Pencil Maker who took aside a pencil…
Photo credit: http://www.startwoodworking.com

“Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you’ll need it to become a better pencil.”

“Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes that you make.”

“Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.”

“Five: On the surface on which you are used, you must leave your mark. No matter the condition, you must continue to write.”

The pencil understood and promised to remember. It went into the box with purpose in its heart.

Of course the story is a metaphor of our relationship with God, our creator. The story illustrates a fundamental truth that Saint Augustine, the 4th century African church father, taught when he said, “God made us for himself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him.”

Humans realize their potential in relation to God. In contemporary terms, we are hardwired to be in a relationship with God. For Augustine, it is in relation to the Ultimate Good (God) who is the only Real Being (God) that we garner the virtues to avoid falling over the precipice of death and nothingness. Indeed each of us is the pencil, who needs to be held by Someone (Spirit), and it is in being held by Someone that we achieve our ultimate purpose in life.

contemplation 1

Contemplation, apophatic in nature because it uses neither words, symbols nor images, invites us to experience the love of God who is always near…
photo credit http://www.jagaro.net/2011/01/what-is-contemplation-insight-and-wisdom-part-3/

Practice of Christian Contemplation

This story certainly bespeaks our ultimate purpose in life: to be in a relationship with God in whom we find our rest. The story also works as a primer when introducing contemplation. Contemplation, apophatic in nature because it uses neither words, symbols nor images, invites us to experience the love of God who is always near. Many Christians suffer under the illusion that God does not care a whit about them. They somehow have the notion that God has bigger fish to fry in the universe, more important things with which to be concerned than us lowly, mud people. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Just as you have access to the world through your smart phone in the palm of your hand, so you have access to God. One hundred people in a room with smart phones would have full access to the internet, and by extension the world. And so it is with God. With God, you have all of God all the time. God is not a zero-sum game; God is not finite. Saint Paul said it best when he said that in God we live, move and have our being. Father Thomas Keating, known as one of the architects of centering prayer, says that God is ever-present—so much so that it is impossible to get away from him. Wherever you go, God is there.

Father Thomas Keating

Father Thomas Keating
Photo credit: http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/

First, note that when you do contemplation, you are resting yourself in Someone’s hand, the Holy Spirit’s hand, whose hand and total presence you received when you were baptized. Water comprehended by God’s word was applied to your body when you were baptized. The Spirit made you a temple of the Holy Spirit, wherein the Spirit resides. You got all the Holy Spirit as did all other Christians who were born from above of the Father’s will. In contemplation, you rest in this Spirit who is with you all the days that you traverse this vale of tears.

DSC00224

Photo credit: Jane Ann Munroe, taken at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Claremont, CA

Second, just like the pencil during contemplation you may experience a painful sharpening, a refining. As you sit quietly, the matters of the heart come up. This may be fear-provoking to some, for we do all we can to ignore our pain, to pretend as if it does not exist. Yet, it always comes out in other ways, sometimes embarrassing ways. I recall a woman at her husband’s funeral. Though at times she felt like crying at the funeral, she refused to do so. As she related, that was a sign of a lack of faith. She feigned a happy, calm exterior because she was confident where her husband was going. There was no need for tears, only celebration. We all marveled at her stoicism during the service. But, when we arrived at the grave site and assembled for the final rites, and when the pastor said, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from the dead. . .” the woman came undone: throwing herself over the casket, she cried a river of tears. Fully absorbed in her pain and grief and losing control, she cast aside the stoic pretense of herself. Had she been real, and expressed her grief and emotions at the funeral instead of repressing them, she would not have been caught off-guard and embarrassed by these repressed emotions. Contemplation gives you a time and space to deal with repressed feelings and pain. Welcome the painful sharpening in contemplation.

Photo credit: www.deviantart.com

When you sit in contemplation for 20 minutes…
Photo credit: http://www.deviantart.com

When you sit in contemplation for 20 minutes, all kinds of feelings crop up. Let them come. If you feel like crying, cry. When you feel anger, do not push it away. Let all feelings run their course; the trick, however, is not to fixate on them. You see them coming; you feel them coming; then you let them go. Frankly, there are two challenges to contemplation. One is sitting in silence for 20 minutes without moving. The other is dealing with the feelings that your psyche will inevitably bring up. You can never be free of thoughts and feelings. You can look at them and then ignore them. When you do this enough, the thoughts and feelings that haunt you will no longer do so. You can see your thoughts, feel them, and then ignore them in favor of experiencing God’s love in that 20 – minute session, in that space and time.

Third, you sit in love, for God is love in Christ Jesus. Your sins are forgiven in him. He thereby brings you into relationship with his Father. In Christ, you can erase the mistakes that you make. You can let go and let God. Guilt may crop up during contemplation; let it go. During contemplation, you may get distracted by the cares of everyday life. When you feel yourself being carried off by a guilty or anxious thought, let it go and return to the intention of sitting in the silence, in the love of God. Your only intention during contemplation is to experience God’s love in Christ Jesus in the Holy Spirit. When your mind takes you on flights of fancy, just return to the intention of basking in God’s love.

Photo credit: http://www.flcws.org/september_2012.html

What is inside you is your regenerated spirit where the Holy Spirit is housed….
Photo credit: http://www.flcws.org/september_2012.html

Fourth, contemplation reminds you that what is inside you is what is most important about you. What is inside you is your regenerated spirit where the Holy Spirit is housed. It shall never pass away. It is your true self in Christ Jesus that does not lie or deceive you. It speaks lovingly. Unlike the false self, it does not chastise or condemn you about past mistakes. It whispers peacefully, affirming and validating.

Fifth, the fruit of contemplation is often discovered in what you do after contemplation and how you live. The fruit of contemplation will be peace, love and joy in all that you do. The Pencil Maker told the pencil in the story, “On the surface on which you are used, you must leave your mark. No matter the condition, you must continue to write.” In all circumstances of life, you want the mark that you leave to be characterized by the peace, love and joy that contemplation yields.

Photo credit: http://sagesplay.blogspot.com/2010/06/jumping-for-joy-childs-play-and.html

The fruit of contemplation will be peace, love and joy in all that you do…
Photo credit: http://sagesplay.blogspot.com/2010/06/jumping-for-joy-childs-play-and.html

A Method of Christian Contemplation

15 to 20 minutes of measured breathing without moving your body will go a long way in getting you to rest in God’s love. If you are starting the practice of contemplation for the first time, start simply. Find a place where you can be alone and where you can sit in a comfortable chair. Set the timer on your smart phone to 15 or 20 minutes. Sit in the chair with your feet flatly on the ground and the palms of your hands turned down in your lap. Once you get comfortable, stay in this position for the duration of the session. Do not move. Without moving the rest of your body, slowly and methodically inhale and exhale full, measured breaths that expand your diaphragm. Fill your lungs without hyperventilating. Where you sense tension in your body, mentally tell that part of your body to relax.

http://sacramentalsightings.blogspot.com

Christian Contemplation is a method of prayer…
http://sacramentalsightings.blogspot.com

After sensing your body at rest, now listen to the sounds about you: the birds chirping, the rustling of trees, or children at play. Pay more attention to the sounds than the thoughts in your head. In fact, ignore the thoughts as you focus on the intention of being present in the moment, in the now. Once again, you can never get rid of thoughts, so do not fight them. But, you can ignore them.

Some people have the idea that contemplation is emptying your mind and giving it over to the demonic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Contemplation is not about flights of fancy, or astro projecting yourself around the universe. During contemplation, you are not looking for spiritual or theological insight; even those thoughts should be ignored. Contemplation invites you to be keenly aware yourself in the moment in which you are. Contemplation is about awareness of yourself in the space and time that God has given you.

Photo credit: Dr. Jane Ann Munroe, taken at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Claremont, CA

Photo credit: Jane Ann Munroe, taken at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Claremont, CA

When you find yourself caught up in the tyranny of the past or the future, return to the sounds that you hear while breathing deeply. In time, you may develop a sacred word. Your sacred word could be spirit, love, peace, or Jesus–whatever puts you in the center of God’s love. You will become so adept at using your sacred word that when you find yourself in moments of anxiety outside your designated time for contemplation, that word will bring into that anxious moment the peace, love and joy that you experience during contemplation. Your sacred word encapsulates your intention of resting in God’s love. When your thoughts or feelings carry you away, mentally say your sacred word to yourself. You may have to say that word to yourself as many times as you get caught up in a thought or feeling.

Your sacred word will become special to you, as it puts you in mind of God’s goodness and love…
Photo credit: Jane Ann Munroe, taken at St. Luke Lutheran Church, Claremont, CA

Your sacred word will become special to you, as it puts you in mind of God’s goodness and love. Commit yourself daily to this practice. Contemplation is an apophatic, spiritual practice that invites you to sit and rest in God’s loving presence. On its face it sounds easy. Like most good things in life that are good for you, it is challenging and takes discipline to maintain, but the long-term benefits are life changing.

A caution: westerners, a.k.a modern thinkers, will expect tangible and immediate results from a 20 – minute session. They will be tempted to judge contemplation’s effectiveness by what occurs during a session. The real fruits of contemplation will be realized in your everyday life after your time spent in contemplation. Slowly, imperceptibly, you find yourself responding and reacting differently to your life. Situations that would typically cause anxiety and stress will lose their tyranny, as you create a buffer zone where you can interpret situations and thus see life differently—a perspective from your true self in Christ. All this to say, don’t judge the progress of early efforts by what you feel during a specific session.

Contemplation is a holistic process. It is not merely a spiritual practice that is limited to a specific time and day in a ritualized form. It is a mindset that is created by your full engagement with your true self in Christ. In contemplation, you learn to be with that true self. After contemplation, you take that self with you into the world.

For Further Reading:

Keating, Thomas. Intimacy with God. New York: Crossroad, 1994.

Keating, Thomas. Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian ContemplationNew York: Crossroads, 1992.keating book

Keating, Thomas. Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the GospelNew York: Continuum, 2002.

McGinn, Bernard. The Foundations of Mysticism. New York: Crossroads, 1994.

McGinn, Bernard. The Growth of Mysticism. New York: Crossroads, 1994.

McGinn, Bernard. The Flowering of Mysticism. New York: Crossroads, 1998

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. New York: Image Books, 1990.

CrossFit Spirituality

"My middle-aged colleague joined a Crossfit gym..."Photo credit: www.crossfitatlanta.com

“My middle-aged colleague joined a Crossfit gym…”
Photo credit: http://www.crossfitatlanta.com

I have a middle-aged colleague who recently joined a Crossfit gym. Crossfit has become the rage, as Crossfit gyms are cropping up everywhere. On her initial visit, surrounded by buff guys and fit females, when asked about her fitness goals, she answered honestly, “When I’m 85-years old, I want to be able to get off the toilet unassisted!”

The secret to Crossfit’s success is that it works through the element of surprise...it tricks the body, keeping it off balance so that it does not get used to an established regimen....Photo credit: www.riverregioncrossfit.com

“The secret to Crossfit’s success is that it works through the element of surprise…it tricks the body, keeping it off balance so that it does not get used to an established regimen….”
Photo credit: http://www.riverregioncrossfit.com

The secret to Crossfit’s success is that it works through the element of surprise. By varying the workout daily, it tricks the body, keeping it off balance so that it does not get used to an established regimen. This element of surprise keeps the body on edge. When muscles are kept off-balance, they expend more energy, netting more effectiveness from the workout. Before a workout at her Crossfit gym, she has no idea what the workout is going to be, which tricks the body—clever beast that it is. By contrast, I have been doing the same repetitive, tried-and-true workout for the last few years. Long ago, I hit a wall as my body has gotten used to this regimen.  Apparently, the body needs a diversity of physical challenges to stay fit, to build muscle. This diversity keeps the body engaged so that it does not fall into an exercise rut.  If the body needs such diversity, so does the spirit.

…the Body of Christ is coming to appreciate the many and varied spiritual practices that we can cull from those stories that may enhance our spirituality. Photo credit: http://www.firstchurchwg.org

“…the Body of Christ is coming to appreciate the many and varied spiritual practices that we can cull from those stories that may enhance our spirituality.”
Photo credit: http://www.firstchurchwg.org

With greater communication across denominational lines and greater access to our various stories in Christianity, the Body of Christ is coming to appreciate the many and varied spiritual practices that we can cull from those stories that may enhance our spirituality. Spiritual theology recognizes two major categories of spiritual practices: kataphatic and apophatic. Both Greek words, kataphatic means spiritual practices characterized by words, images or symbols. Apophatic means spiritual practices not characterized by words, images or symbols. The liturgy, music, icons, statues, reading the scriptures, chanting the scriptures, studying and meditating on scripture are all kataphatic in nature. Contemplation, centering prayer, is apophatic.

God does things in a hidden way that we can never understand"...Photo credit: purchased on www.iStockphoto.com

“God does things in a hidden way that we can never understand…”
Photo credit: purchased on http://www.iStockphoto.com

Kataphatic spirituality derives from positive theology and apophatic spirituality derives from negative theology. Positive theology ascribes to God the virtues that we see in humanity but to an eternal degree. Humans are merciful, kind and intelligent. God is merciful but to an eternal degree. Negative theology refuses to posit what God is because God is utterly transcendent. It speaks of what God is not in relation to flawed humans who often take ownership of God to be an apologist for their tribe and culture. This is the source of religious evil.

The distinction between positive theology and negative theology is informed by the fact that no language or symbol can exhaust God. Martin Luther spoke in the same vein when he distinguished between the Deus Revelatus and the Deus Absconditus: “The Revealed God” and “The Hidden God.” According to Luther, we deal only with the revealed God in scriptures. And yet, God does things in a hidden way that we can never understand. God’s thoughts are not ours. There has to be a healthy respect for the transcendent God who reminds humanity that it is not the yardstick of universal value. God refuses to be humanity’s cosmic bellhop. This healthy respect is preserved by the distinction between the revealed God and the hidden God.

We need to experience God through images, words and symbols and we need to experience God without them....Photo credit: www.choose2befit.com

“We need to experience God through images, words and symbols and we need to experience God without them….”
Photo credit: http://www.choose2befit.com

We dare not set up a dualism when speaking of kataphatic spiritual practices and apophatic ones. This is a challenging thought for some Christians: we need spiritual practices that are both kataphatic and apophatic. We need to experience God through images, words and symbols and we need to experience God without them. Your relationship with your beloved is illustrative. As an example, you do not have to use words to experience the loving bond that you have with a beloved—you can talk, but you can also simply sit in your beloved’s presence and use no words at all and your bond would be just as vital and alive. That bond transcends words, especially your words, which sometimes are difficult to manufacture. This may be one of the many reasons that people turn off to prayer. They think that they have to say the right things to unlock God’s bounty, to get God’s attention. In contrast, the relationship you have with God is not limited or confined by words. This love, the grounding of the relationship, can be experienced with or without words. Western spirituality has been of the kataphatic variety. We have created great art, liturgies and systems of doctrine. We have not been as adept at apophatic spirituality.

Because westerners have so much trouble with apophatic expressions, Lectio Divina is an accessible entrée to contemplation. Lectio Divina is a hybrid of kataphatic and apophatic spirituality. It is difficult to get the western mind to sit for 20 minutes in silence; yet, this is just what the psyche needs. Lectio can initiate you into the discipline of sitting in silence. The Lectio Divina that I suggest is a model—it can unfold in many ways. However your practice of Lectio Divina unfolds, it must have two key elements: meditation on God’s word and contemplation, resting in the completed work of Christ, or resting in God the Beloved. Contemplation presents a greater challenge to us westerners, for the idea of sitting and doing nothing is counterintuitive to our cherished notion of multitasking and production. Here is a suggested method for newcomers to Lectio Divina:

The Practice of Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a Latin phrase meaning “Divine Reading” or “Sacred Reading.” It derives from the 5th century

Benedictine community. Its purpose is to foster a deep reading of the text, whereby one reads not merely with the head, but with the heart as well. Luther may have used this practice in his days as a monk. The German mystics who influenced Luther, Johannes Tauler to name one, certainly did. Lectio Divina provides a good entrée into contemplation. For further reading, see M. Basil Pennington, Lectio Divina: Renewing the Ancient Practice of Praying the Scriptures (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1998).

Getting Ready: Choose one or two verses to pray. With your feet flatly on the ground and the palms of your hands on your lap, inhale and exhale measured breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly, filling your diaphragm without hyperventilating. As you breathe, tell your body to relax. Where you sense tension in your body, tell that part of your body to relax. Throughout the Lectio, discipline yourself not to move except when picking up the Bible to read it and setting it down after reading it.

Step One: Reading (Lectio): Read aloud slowly and deliberately the verse(s) you chose. Read it seven times. Between each reading, pause for a few moments. This is scattering the seed of the word.

Step Two: Meditation (Meditatio)As you read, you were drawn to a word, a phrase or even an image. Continuing to inhale and exhale measured breaths, mentally say to yourself that word or phrase every time you inhale. In the case of an image, observe it as you inhale and exhale. This is implanting the seed of the word into the soil of your soul.

Step Three: Prayer (Oratio)Continuing to inhale and exhale measured breaths, ask God why you were drawn to that word, phrase or image. Dialogue with God. Ask questions and wait for God to speak through your inner voice. God may also speak in images. You may see a series of images that tell a story like a dream. What’s going on in your life that you were drawn to that word, phrase or image? This is harvesting the fruit of the word.

Step Four: Contemplation (Contemplatio): Continuing to inhale and exhale measured breaths, now rest in the love and grace of God. Be fully in the moment. Listen to the sounds of the environment. Get out of your head; ignore the thoughts of your ego. You can never be rid of thoughts, but you can certainly ignore them as you focus on stillness and peace where God’s love is experienced. The prophet Elijah heard God’s voice not in the wind and earthquake, but in stillness.

Photo credit:www.stperegrineshrine.blogspot.com
Photo credit: http://www.stperegrineshrine.blogspot.com