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An Enormous Freedom

In a dialogue about spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Father Thomas Keating (1923–2018) identifies the role of emotional sobriety in recovery:

Emotional sobriety is the same as detachment from our own ideas of happiness and also from our overdependency on the group to which we feel we belong, along with our cultural conditioning, education, personality traits, and emotional patterns.

In other words, all of these interior tendencies and outside influences added up to a false self based on our traumatic experiences from early life that we were trying to run away from . . . rather than face. Now, through the Twelve Steps, you face them all, and as a result they have been relativized. . . .

An enormous freedom has begun to be experienced, expressed in the ability to serve others. . . . We cannot do this without an ever deepening awareness of the motivation that lurks in our unconscious, since the unconscious energy is stored in the body and secretly influences our behavior and decisions. We have to find out what this is in order to be able to let it go. . . .

As we become aware of the shadow side of our personality and how much energy we put into programs for security, power and affection, esteem and approval, we realize that we cannot manage our own lives. In other words, the first step has become an experience even deeper than the original one. Only now it is not a desperate state of mind, but self-knowledge that has grown to include parts of our personality that we didn’t know because often we had projected the shadow side of our personality onto someone else. Now we are confronted with who we actually are with all our brokenness and our weakness.

CAC teacher James Finley poetically describes the encounter with God that supports our healing from addiction:

Can I join God in knowing who God knows me to be? Can I join God in seeing who God sees me to be . . . ? This is salvation.

In order to do this, I have to let go of my own present way of seeing things, and I discover I can’t. We’re afraid to lose the control that we think that we have over the life that we think that we’re living, and we’re addicted to what binds us. “Out of the depths I cry unto thee, O Lord!” [Psalm 130:1] This is the cry for salvation. . . . Is this possible, that I could place my life over into your hands?

Then the mystery of the cross is this mystery of being liberated from this deep addiction to the illusion of an ultimately isolated self that has to make it on its own. To realize I’m in the presence of the love that loves us and takes us to itself. Through that inner process of discipleship, or whatever we want to call it, we can come to . . . true sobriety, the peace of God that surpasses understanding.

References:
[1] Thomas Keating, Divine Therapy and Addiction: Centering Prayer and the Twelve Steps (New York: Lantern Books, 2009), 157–158.

[2] James Finley, “Mystical Sobriety,” Living School Alumni Quarterly, issue 3 (Fall 2019).

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), 2022, New Mexico, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 6 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: As we learn the art of detachment, we see the simplicity and truth of each passing moment: anger, resentment, excitement, a tree, bark, marbles in the dirt.

Story from Our Community:

I am a retired United Methodist pastor. After 10 years I left full-time parish work, went through a divorce, and transitioned from male to female. But the transformation that mattered most was coming to see myself as God sees me. I am grateful for the gifts I have received—empathy, insight, humor, music and art, social justice, and freedom of heart. My oldest son got into trouble and sought my help after being estranged from me. It was a revelatory event for me. I have now come to see how damaging incarceration is and have worked for the last six years on restorative justice.
—Sarah F.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

The Narrow Gate of Contemplation

CAC teacher James Finley describes contemplation as taught by the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing. This fourteenth-century work inspired the creation of Centering Prayer, and teaches a way of praying that involves surrendering our thoughts so that we can simply be in God’s presence:

Contemplation is a wordless resting in the presence of God beyond all thoughts and images. So, in contemplation, we’re not thinking of anything. We’re not thinking of anything, but we’re wordlessly resting in a presence beyond thought that’s intimately accessing our heart as we intimately access it, and we rest in the oneness. . . . How do we pass through the narrow gate [of contemplation] into God’s presence? [1] This is what the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says we are to do:

Lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart. Do all in your power to forget everything else, keeping your thoughts and desires free from involvement with any of God’s creatures or their affairs whether in general or in particular. Perhaps this will seem like an irresponsible attitude, but I tell you, let them all be; pay no attention to them. [2]

In the latest season of the podcast Turning to the Mystics, James Finley and Kirsten Oates discuss the challenge of this method of prayer and of “paying no attention” to thoughts. As soon as one sits in silence, the thoughts continue! Jim reflects:

Those thoughts are still there. See? You’ve been called to something beyond thoughts. Therefore, because you’re still accustomed to thought, we’re very bound up with our thoughts. That self that’s accustomed to thoughts, good thoughts, noble thoughts, the thinking self and all that it thinks, because we’re so accustomed to it, at first, it’s very hard. It’s a very strange thing. You have to sit long enough for it to catch hold.

How long do you sit? Let’s say you try it and go, “Wow. That was hard.” You try it again, four days later, it’s still hard. . . . I think it goes like this: first of all, there’s like this beginner’s mind. At first, you realize you’re getting acclimated. It can go on for weeks and weeks. It’s still difficult. Even though it’s difficult, you can sense in it a certain resonance. It’s difficult but there’s something here that’s quietly shining in the difficulty. I feel called to do it. That’s the important thing. . . .

Let’s say you’ve been exercising for a while. So you go for a long run or a long distance whatever it is. It’s a certain point where it’s difficult and you want to get to that point where you’re burning off [energy] but even though it’s difficult, it’s not just difficult. There’s meaning in it. There’s meaning in the difficulty because it’s a transformative difficulty. [3]

References:
[1] The Cloud of Unknowing; and the Book of Privy Counseling, ed. William Johnston (New York: Image Books, 2005), 40.

[2] Adapted from James Finley, Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate: Seeing God in All Things (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2010). Available as CD, DVD, and MP3 download.

[3] James Finley with Kirsten Oates, “Dialogue 1: The Common Life,” March 21, 2022, in Turning to the Mystics, season 5 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2022), podcast, MP3 audio.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, 夜 night (detail), 2017, photograph, China, Creative Commons. Unknown Author, Close-up of New Growth (detail), 1970, photograph, British Columbia, Public Domain. Chaokun Wang, 竹子 bamboo (detail), 2015, photograph, Heifei, Creative Commons. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Moonlight, dewdrops, the overnight growth of bamboo. Nature reveals the great mystery of the Divine in the cycles and patterns of life.

Story from Our Community:

I spent the night of January 30th [2021] alone with my 87-year old Mom, who had been released to hospice care 24 hours earlier following major palliative surgery. I was sleeping in the same room on the couch – more accurately, not sleeping, as she mumbled aloud all night. . . When I greeted her shortly after midnight to give medication, she didn’t recognize me and her fear was evident. It was a stunning, all-too-quick transition that heralded the brevity of the precious life before me. . . Around 6 a.m. I opened the CAC Daily Meditation: “Unknowing: The Inadequacy of Words”; how kind of you to offer that entire reflection just for me in that little living room. This particularly hushed my racing mind: “Mystery,” “mystical,” and “to mutter” all come from the Greek verb muein, which means “to hush or close the lips”.”
—Terri B.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Luminous Darkness, Deepening Love: Weekly Summary

Sunday
On the inner journey of the soul we meet a God who interacts with our deepest selves, who grows the person, allowing and forgiving mistakes. It is precisely this give-and-take, and knowing there will be give-and-take, that makes God so real as a Lover.
—Richard Rohr

Monday
You know only unbearable yearning. You have forgotten that the longing itself is the answer to the longing, that in the very crying out for the Holy One, the Holy One is pouring herself into you. —Mirabai Starr

Tuesday
Contemplation is nothing other than a secret, peaceful, loving inflow of God. If given room, it will fire the soul in the spirit of love.
—John of the Cross

Wednesday
I would not sacrifice my soul / for all the beauty of this world. / There is only one thing / for which I would risk everything: / an I-don’t-know-what / that lies hidden / in the heart of the Mystery. —John of the Cross

Thursday
Mystics experience a full-bodied embrace of Divine Love and acceptance, and then spend their lives trying to verbalize and embody that. They invariably find ways to give that love back through forms of service and worship, but it’s never earning the love—it’s always returning the love. —Richard Rohr

Friday
If we stay the course and go through this [dark night], we find our way deeper, deeper, deeper, and then we can see that at any given moment in these ways, through marital love, through parenting, through solitude, through oneness with the world, through silence, through service to community, through art, in any given moment, there can come flashing forth our unexpected proximity to this mystical dimension of union. —James Finley

Noche Oscura

In season three of CAC’s podcast Turning to the Mystics, James Finley and Mirabai Starr read “Song of the Soul” or “Noche Oscura” by John of the Cross. We invite you to follow the link below to listen to or read this poem shared in both English and Spanish by two modern day mystics and students of John’s teachings.

Listen or read the first time and allow the sound and images of the poem wash over you.

Listen or read a second time and allow your attention to be drawn to a word or phrase. Let it speak to you. Pray to God or journal about what it might mean to you.

Listen or read a third time. Sit in silence with God for as long as you feel drawn.

Click here to read the poem in the podcast episode’s transcript.

Reference:
James Finley and Mirabai Starr with Kirsten Oates, “Turning to St. John of the Cross,” March 8, 2021, in Turning to the Mystics, season 3 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), podcast, MP3 audio.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, Village Dwelling (detail), 1936, photograph, Library of Congress, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window II (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The house in the center image is shut against the harsh sun. It is closed and dark inside. Yet darkness can hold deep beauty and its own kind of light, creating conditions for healing and illumination. After our dark night we may be invited to gently lift the blinds.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

Transformed by the Dark Night

If something does not give birth to humility, and love, and dying to self, and godly simplicity, and silence—what can it be?
—John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, book 2, chapter 29

Although the dark night of the soul is a deeply personal experience, it has far-reaching implications for how we show up in our lives and interact with others with whom we live, work and pray. In the CAC podcast Turning to the Mystics, James Finley speaks of John of the Cross as a model for how the union of our souls with God in the dark night transforms our humanity.

When we look at the Spiritual Canticle and the light that shines out of the darkness and being married to God, mystical marriage and so on, [John] was really known for a sensitivity to the poor, his sensitivity to the sick. He was also known for his compassion. One of the friars writes in their journal, “When we go off on our little Sunday groups and small groups for our walk, we always hope John of the Cross will join us because he always makes us laugh.” The deep love he had for Teresa [of Ávila], this deep mystical friendship bond that they had, he was fully alive. At his death, the monastery that he went to, he deliberately chose one of the superiors who didn’t like him. On his death bed, he called the superior, “So whatever I did to contribute to the conflict between us, I want to apologize.” That’s how he died and it [was] said the superior came out crying. It changed his life.

So that’s the evidence of this [dark night]. It radicalizes, which I think is Christ consciousness in the world. It’s beyond the darkness of this world in a way that paradoxically radicalizes our presence in it to the holiness of life on life’s terms. . . . Sometimes I say to myself a little prayer in my advancing years, “God, help me to be the kind of old person young people want old people to be. Help me not just to talk like this, but help me to walk around like this and answer the phone like this and talk to my grandchildren like this.” We’re all trying to do our best here to walk the walk. [1]

Finley speaks of the fruit of our fidelity to the experience of the dark night:

If we stay the course and go through this, we find our way deeper, deeper, deeper, and then we can see that at any given moment in these ways, through marital love, through parenting, through solitude, through oneness with the world, through silence, through service to community, through art, in any given moment, there can come flashing forth our unexpected proximity to this mystical dimension of union. [2]

References:
[1] James Finley with Kirsten Oates, “Dialogue 1: The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” March 22, 2021, in Turning to the Mystics, season 3 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), podcast, MP3 audio.

[2] James Finley, “St. John of the Cross: Session 1,” March 15, 2021, in Turning to the Mystics, season 3 (Albuquerque, NM; Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), podcast, MP3 audio.  

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, Village Dwelling (detail), 1936, photograph, Library of Congress, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window II (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The house in the center image is shut against the harsh sun. It is closed and dark inside. Yet darkness can hold deep beauty and its own kind of light, creating conditions for healing and illumination. After our dark night we may be invited to gently lift the blinds.

Story from Our Community:

Dealing with a severe mental illness (OCD) and trying to make my way through the fog has been excruciating at times. However, the realization that Christ is in me, in my mess, and holding all things together has been healing. Knowing that I have always been held in the Trinity is a source of immeasurable comfort.
—Gary A.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Longing

One of the primary themes that emerges in the work of John of the Cross is the soul’s longing for God. Mirabai Starr describes this state:

It feels as if the most beautiful lover in the world had come into your life, wooed you with perfect poetry and electric kisses, promised you were the one, the one and only, and then disappeared in the middle of the night without a word. But this is a lover who will never leave you. . . . You know only unbearable yearning. You have forgotten that the longing itself is the answer to the longing, that in the very crying out for the Holy One, the Holy One is pouring herself into you. [1]

Through his poetry, John’s soul cries out to God:

Where have you hidden away,
[Beloved], and left me grieving, care on care?
Hurt me and wouldn’t stay
but off like a deer from there?
I hurried forth imploring the empty air.

You shepherds, you that rove
over the range where mountains touch the sky,
if you should meet my love
—my one love—tell him why
I’m faint, and in a fever, and may die. [2]

CAC teacher James Finley clarifies that not all longings for the divine will be experienced in such a dramatic or clear way. We can also pay attention to our own dissatisfaction with “the way things are.” Jim writes:

The longings that form the visceral energy of prayer are not necessarily felt and expressed in concrete and tangible ways that are easy to recognize. Sometimes—often, in fact—the longings of prayer are diffused and muted longings that one barely feels at all. What we notice is that we tend to be entirely too indifferent and uncommitted to the spiritual path. But in looking more closely, we can discern a sense of discontent with our apparent lack of zeal. The discontent belies a subtle desire hidden beneath the surface of an ongoing apparent lack of desire. . . . We pretend we do not care about what we, at some deep level that is hard to access, actually care about very much. There is, it seems, a deal that the heart makes with itself not to admit that it harbors a desire so deep it could not go on without that desire being fulfilled.

Whenever someone on the spiritual path shares with me their concerns about their lack of desire for and commitment to their path, I often sense the tender sadness in all that they share. The tenderness lies in the sincerity in which they obviously do care. For if they did not care, their perceived lack of caring would be of no concern to them. And the sadness lies in their inability to see how God loves them so in the midst of their real and imagined lack of commitment to God. [3]

References:
[1] Mirabai Starr, Saint John of the Cross: Luminous Darkness (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2022), 37–38.

[2] John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” in The Poems of St. John of the Cross, trans. John Frederick Nims, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, 1989), 3.

[3] James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco: 2005), 94–95.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, Village Dwelling (detail), 1936, photograph, Library of Congress, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window II (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The house in the center image is shut against the harsh sun. It is closed and dark inside. Yet darkness can hold deep beauty and its own kind of light, creating conditions for healing and illumination. After our dark night we may be invited to gently lift the blinds.

Story from Our Community:

Having helped others step from our life into the next, I thought I could handle anything. Then the night came that I stayed with my dying father. It seemed the unshakeable bond was broken. I now have a bond with those who stood helpless at the foot of the cross, with all the suffering in our world. Love never stops.
—Br. John

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Letting Go of the False Self

Ash Wednesday

CAC faculty member James Finley reflects on Thomas Merton’s teaching about the True Self and the separate (or false) self:

Our true self is a self in communion. It is a self that subsists in God’s eternal love. Likewise, the false self is the self that stands outside this created subsisting communion with God that forms our very identity. As Merton puts it,

When we seem to possess and use our being and natural faculties in a completely autonomous manner, as if our individual ego were the pure source and end of our own acts, then we are in illusion and our acts, however spontaneous they may seem to be, lack spiritual meaning and authenticity. [1]

In our zeal to become the landlords of our own being, we cling to each achievement as a kind of verification of our self-proclaimed reality. We become the center and God somehow recedes to an invisible fringe. Others become real to the extent they become significant others to the designs of our own ego. And in this process the ALL of God dies in us and the sterile nothingness of our desires becomes our God. . . .

Merton makes clear that the self-proclaimed autonomy of the false self is but an illusion. . . .

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love—outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion. [2]

Father Richard Rohr describes further how the false self lives disconnected from God and from what is ultimately real:

Our false self, which we might also call our “small self,” is our launching pad: our body image, our job, our education, our clothes, our money, our car, our sexual identity, our success, and so on. These are the trappings of ego that we all use to get us through an ordinary day. They are a nice enough platform to stand on, but they are largely a projection of our self-image and our attachment to it. None of them will last! When we are able to move beyond our false self—at the right time and in the right way—it will feel precisely as if we have lost nothing. In fact, it will feel like freedom and liberation. When we are connected to the Whole, we no longer need to protect or defend the mere part. We are now connected to something inexhaustible.

To not let go of our false self at the right time and in the right way is precisely what it means to be stuck, trapped, and addicted to ourselves. If all we have at the end of our life is our false self, there will not be much to eternalize. It is essentially transitory. These costumes are all “accidents” largely created by the mental ego. Our false self is what changes, passes, and dies when we die. Only our True Self lives forever. [3]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969), 86.

[2] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1972), 34.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 28–29.

James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God through Awareness of the True Self (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1978), 32–33.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Charlein Garcia, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Philippines, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Leaves (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Charlein Garcia, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Philippines, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The true self is deeper than our egos and eccentricities. At times mirroring the innocence of a child, it awaits our remembering. May we also open, with childlike curiosity, to our own transformation.

Story from Our Community:

I am halfway through reading 50 years’ worth of old journals. I can see the healing and the growth in the words, along with the repetition of the suffering! In the end, I think I get to who my true self is. I am connected to God and all living beings. That is the most important thing I must remember in the midst of suffering, which will surely appear again.
—Barbara J.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

You and God are Already One

In his podcast Turning to the Mystics, CAC teacher James Finley uses the teachings of Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) as a starting point to talk about intimacy with God:

Let’s say that we’re approaching Teresa for spiritual direction, and we’re coming to her saying that we want her to help us to deepen our experience of and response to God’s presence in our life, and we seek her guidance. . . . We’re turning to God and from this present situation of our busy-ness, and our limitations, and our confusion, and all the rest of it, and we’re seeking to know, “How can I enter into a deeper, habitual relationship with God, a deeper sense of God’s presence in my life, my presence in God? I want to learn to do that. I want to deepen my spiritual life.” . . .

We listen to [Teresa] then as she says to us, “You know, you’re seeking union with God, which is a grace to desire this.” And it is helpful to know, in the light of faith, that you and God are already one in the intimate and mysterious sense in which God is creating you as God’s self-donating love. God makes your very soul, that is, your very essence of who you are as a person created by God in the image and likeness of God, to be a relational mystery with God. That in your very soul, the very mystery of who you are and the very mystery of who God is are already intertwined. . . .

I think a way of maybe getting at this, too, is to say, when two people love each other very, very much, when we’re in love with and deeply love someone, we might say that in our love for them, we see their soul. That is, we see in our love for them, the preciousness of who they are, like the innermost depths of the gift and the miracle of their presence. . . .

Then they return the favor, by seeing that self-same preciousness in you. That is, in their love for you, they see through the appearances. They see this kind of indescribable preciousness of you that they’re empowered to see in you, through their love. You can see that they see you. You can see that you’re seen. This mutuality of seeing and being seen by and with each other in love, I think that’s why the Church speaks of matrimony as a sacrament. But a sacrament of what? It’s a sacrament that God sees you, that you’re God’s beloved, that God sees in you the God-given godly preciousness of you, in which the very depths of God, by the generosity of God, have been given to you as the very depths and reality of the mystery of your own soul in the presence of God. That God sees that. God sees that.

Reference:
Adapted from James Finley with Kirsten Oates, “Teresa of Avila: Session One,” June 22, 2020, in Turning to the Mystics, season 2 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2020), podcast, MP3 audio.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 1 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Jack Delano, View of crowd dancing to the music of “Red” Sounders and his band, at the Club DeLisa, Chicago, Illinois (detail), 1942, photograph, New York Public Library, public domain. Nathan Dumlao, Untitled, 2020 (detail), photograph, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: In the center photo we see two bushes, separate but entwined, touching and sharing space. Human intimacy requires us to come as ourselves, undefended, co-creating a space for connection. Friends, lovers, communities who share raw hopes for change: we welcome each other into the intimacy of authentic presence.

Story from Our Community:

I celebrate 50 years of sobriety today in Alcoholics Anonymous. My recovery is a miracle but it was not until I encountered the work of Father Richard in recent years did my spiritual life begin to thrive as my punitive Catholic background in my childhood had destroyed all belief in God. I am so grateful now for this spiritual connection/guidance in my old age. Thank you Father Richard and CAC.
—Helen C.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

An Intimate Sharing

Contemporary mystic and writer Beverly Lanzetta has thought deeply about how to live a contemplative life in the world. In describing prayer, she turns to Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) and Thomas Merton (1915–1968):

Teresa of Avila describes mental (contemplative) prayer as, “nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with [God] who we know loves us.” [1] We can imagine God as our intimate friend, with whom we share everything. We can talk to the Divine about our needs, complaints, and difficulties. We can ask for advice, offer thanksgiving, and make acts of faith or reparation for our sins. We can seek guidance for our children, or shed tears about illness and death.

Quite frequently, the most efficacious [way to] pray is found in darkness, emptiness. When we find ourselves simply open to the vast mystery surrounding us, when we center our hearts on an obscure faith, and are absorbed into the divine Presence. This is the contemplation of night, when darkness quiets the soul, and we surrender to unknowing. Thomas Merton prays:

Your brightness is my darkness. I know nothing of You and, by myself, I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. If I imagine You, I am mistaken. If I understand You, I am deluded. If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy. The darkness is enough. [2]

James Finley describes what happens inside us when we commit to such a path of prayer:

As you develop the habit of meditation, you will become more skilled in learning to enter more directly into a quiet state of meditative openness to God. Little by little you will experience yourself becoming more familiar with the inner landscape of your newly awakened heart. As your newly awakened heart is allowed to repeatedly rest in meditative awareness, it slowly discovers its center of gravity in the hidden depths of God. . . .

Since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), God’s ways are the ways in which love awakens you again and again to the infinite love that is the reality of all that is real. As you ripen and mature on the spiritual path that meditation embodies, you will consider yourself blessed and most fortunate in no longer being surprised by all the ways in which you never cease to be delighted by God. Your heart becomes accustomed to God, peeking out at you from the inner recesses of the task at hand, from the sideways glance of the stranger in the street, or from the way sunlight suddenly fills the room on a cloudy day.

Learning not to be surprised by the ways in which you are perpetually surprised, you will learn to rest in an abiding sense of confidence in God. Learning to abide in this confidence, you learn to see God in learning to see the God-given Godly nature of yourself, others, and everything around you. [3]

References:
[1] Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life, chap. 8, in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, vol. 1, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1976), 67.

[2] Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings, ed. Jonathan Montaldo (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), xiii–xiv.

[3] James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 33–34.

Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Sebastopol, CA: Blue Sapphire Books, 2018), 353–354.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 14 & 21 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Abel Marquez, Lady Praying, 2020 (detail), photograph, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with other images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Sometimes we don’t have the energy to climb the stairs or jump off the dock. Wherever we are in this moment: in community, in solitude, in joy, in sorrow, with motivation or with great exhaustion… God meets us here.

Story from Our Community:

After prayer and meditation, I often write to help me sort it all out. I find the practice to be very cathartic and it helps me maintain an awareness of the interconnected world. Realizing that the responsibility for my inner peace rests with me isn’t always welcomed. That forces me to surrender to a Higher Power and gives me the courage to see the shift of consciousness occurring within me.
—Terry L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Love’s Method of Communication

Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows has reflected deeply on the nature of prayer through her numerous books. Here she describes prayer as our inner “Yes” to what God seeks to do, which is always to love us:

Almost always when we talk about prayer we are thinking of something we do and, from that standpoint, questions, problems, confusion, discouragement, illusions multiply. For me, it is of fundamental importance to correct this view. Our Christian knowledge assures us that prayer is essentially what God does, how God addresses us, looks at us. It is not primarily something we are doing to God, something we are giving to God but what God is doing for us. And what God is doing for us is giving the divine Self in love.

[For Christians,] any talk of prayer, if we are to stand in the clear, pure atmosphere of truth, must begin by reflecting in firm belief on what Jesus shows us of God. Let us push straight to the heart of the matter. What is the core, the central message of the revelation of Jesus? Surely it is of the unconditional love of God for us, for each one of us: God, the unutterable, incomprehensible Mystery, the Reality of all reality, the Life of all life. And this means that divine Love desires to communicate Its Holy Self to us. Nothing less! This is God’s irrevocable will and purpose; it is the reason why everything that is, is, and why each of us exists. We are here to receive this ineffable, all-transforming, all beatifying Love.

CAC teacher James Finley likewise understands meditation and prayer as the opportunity to realize God’s constant love for us at all times:   

To practice meditation as an act of religious faith is to open ourselves to the endlessly reassuring realization that our very being and the very being of everyone and everything around us is the generosity of God. For God is creating us in the present moment, loving us into being, such that our very presence in the present moment is the manifested presence of God. We meditate that we might awaken to this unitive mystery, not just in meditation, but in every moment of our lives. [1]

Burrows continues:

Basing ourselves, therefore, on what Jesus shows us of God . . . we must realize that what we have to do is allow ourselves to be loved, to be there for Love to love us. . . .

The essential thing we have to do is believe in the enfolding, nurturing, transforming Love of God which is the Reality: the Reality that is absolutely, totally there whether we avert to It or not. Prayer, from our side, is a deliberate decision to avert to It, to respond to It in the fullest way we can. To do this we must set time aside to devote exclusively to the ‘Yes’ of faith.

References:
[1] James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 9.

Ruth Burrows, Essence of Prayer (Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring, 2006), 1–2, 3, 5.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 14 & 21 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Abel Marquez, Lady Praying, 2020 (detail), photograph, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with other images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Sometimes we don’t have the energy to climb the stairs or jump off the dock. Wherever we are in this moment: in community, in solitude, in joy, in sorrow, with motivation or with great exhaustion… God meets us here.

Story from Our Community:

Meditation has helped me focus on my life of prayer as I travel the difficult road of grief as a widow. It helps me face the day and encourages me in my work as a Christian Counselor. I have gained a better understanding of what I already believed about God, and I can look forward with hope.
—Rosaleen R.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Reading with the Divine Presence

Lectio divina is a contemplative way of reading and relating to Scripture and other sacred writings. The medieval monk Guigo II (d. 1188) names the four steps of this foundational contemplative practice:  

One day when I was busy working with my hands I began to think about our spiritual work, and all at once four stages in spiritual exercise came into my mind: reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation. These make a ladder for monks by which they are lifted up from earth to heaven. It has few rungs, yet its length is immense and wonderful, for its lower end rests upon the earth, but its top pierces the clouds and touches heavenly secrets. [1]  

James Finley has taught extensively on lectio divina and Guigo II. In the most recent season of his podcast Turning to the Mystics, he describes the intention to be present to God that underlies all lectio divina practice:  

We sit in prayer, renewing our faith that we’re sitting there in God’s presence all about us and within us, closer to us than we are to ourselves. And we’ve come here with no other intention, but a kind rendezvous with God, as a way to turn to God to help us to deepen our experience of God’s presence in our life. That’s why we’re there. It’s a moment of intimacy, of devotional sincerity, of deepening this union with God in prayer. [2] 

Finley explains Guigo’s instructions for transformative reading:  

The power of God’s words works as leaven in the heart, awakening us to a personal experience of the presence of God that Scripture reveals. Read in this way, the Scriptures are one long love letter from God. Each verse tells the story of the love that perpetually calls us to itself. . . .   

The first rung of the ladder is that of reading the Scriptures as a way of seeking God. Then, in the midst of a quiet, sincere seeking, there is the graced event of coming upon words that embody that which we seek. As we read, we come upon something of God’s presence in that which we are reading. And in coming upon that which we seek, we descend into the depths of our awakened heart, from which there emerge thoughts, images, and connotations that simply flow out, without being seized or grasped hold of in any way. . . .  

Daily meditation practice goes best as we learn to stand firmly on the first rung of the ladder to heaven. By this I mean learning to be attentive to God’s voice reverberating in a poem, a novel, the refrains of a song, a report on the evening news, or a conversation overheard in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. In learning to stand firmly on the first rung of the ladder to heaven, we learn to be receptive and open to God, uttering us into existence as we wash out a pot, or fix a broken gate, or slip off our shoes at the end of the day. [3]  

References:
[1] Guigo II, The Ladder of Monks: A Letter on the Contemplative Life, and Twelve Meditations, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1978), 81–82. 

[2] Adapted from James Finley with Kirsten OatesGuigo II: Dialogue One,” November 8, 2021, in Turning to the Mystics, season 4 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021) podcast, MP3 audio.  

[3] James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 82, 83, 87. 

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 17 & 20 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Warren K. Leffler, Civil rights march on Washington, D.C., 1963 (detail), Photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The Bible reveals the ongoing work of liberation by God and God’s people. It is a bridge to our understanding of God moving through the ordinariness of time and space. Just like this river: symbolizing the continuing story of the struggle for justice as it flows around and through this freedom fighter of the 1960s.

Story from Our Community:

I stayed stuck until I stopped using “me” as the starting point. The Bible says I should pray for the forgiveness I grant others (Matthew 6:12,14-15). Loving a friend is easy; loving my enemy is the measure (Matthew 5:43-48). The Kingdom is already here (Luke 17:20-22), and I can’t see it through my physical eyes (John 3:3). Putting these principles into practice was first humiliating and then humbling. I wanted others to be punished or corrected, but I wanted to get off the hook. “Forgiving” myself never transformed me. Giving forgiveness, and receiving it, has. 
—Christopher H.  

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.