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Step 11: The Contemplative Mind

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 3

Step 11: The Contemplative Mind
Thursday, December 3, 2015

We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood [God], praying only for the knowledge of [God’s] will for us and the power to carry that out. —Step 11 of the Twelve Steps

The word prayer, which Bill Wilson rightly juxtaposes with the word meditation, is a code word for an entirely different way of processing life. When you “pray,” you are supposed to take off one “thinking cap” and put on another that will move you from an egocentric perspective to a soul-centric perspective. This new perspective is what Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell calls the genius of “thinking without thinking.” Francisco de Osuna said the same thing in the 16th century. When Teresa of Ávila read Osuna’s words, she understood what prayer was really about and began to practice contemplation.

I call the egocentric perspective “the calculating mind,” and I call the soul-centric perspective “the contemplative mind.” The first mind sees everything through the lens of its own private needs and hurts, angers and memories. It is too small a lens to see truthfully, wisely, or deeply. The contemplative mind is an alternative processing system that is actually a positive widening of your lens for a better picture. It is hard work to learn how to pray this way, largely the work of emptying the mind and filling the heart.

In early-stage praying, there has usually been no real “renouncing” of the small and passing self (Mark 8:34), so it is not yet the infinite prayer of the Great Body of Christ, but the very finite prayer of a small “body” that is trying to win, succeed, and take control, with a little help from a Friend. God cannot directly answer such prayers because, frankly, they are usually for the wrong thing and from the wrong self, although we don’t know that yet.

If you are able to switch minds to the mind of Christ, your prayer has already been answered! That new mind knows, understands, accepts, and sees correctly, widely, and wisely. Its prayers are always answered because they are, in fact, the prayers of God (John 14:14). True prayer is always about getting the “who” right. Who is doing the praying? Is it you, or is it God in you? Is it the little you or the Christ Consciousness? The contemplative mind prays from a different sense of who-I-am. It rests and abides in the Great I AM, and draws its life from the Larger Vine (John 15: 4-5), the Deeper Well (John 4: 10-14). Paul puts it this way: “You are hidden with Christ in God. When Christ is revealed—and he is your life—you too will be revealed in all your glory within him” (Colossians 3:3-4). Basically prayer is an exercise in divine participation—you opting in and God always there!

Step 11 emphasizes opening to God’s will. Thomas Merton said, “The will of God is not a ‘fate’ to which we must submit, but a creative act in our life that produces something absolutely new, something hitherto unforeseen by the laws and established patterns. Our cooperation consists not solely in conforming to external laws, but in opening our wills to this mutually creative act [emphasis mine].” I wish someone had taught me that when I was young. God allows us to be in on the deal. God’s will is not domineering but alluring and inviting, until it is somehow our will too.

The Divine Will is best heard and understood inside of a life narrative. It does not fall prefabricated from the heavens. Our willingness to be open to “conscious contact with God,” and to creatively work with the hand that life and sin and circumstance have dealt us, is our deepest prayer and truest obedience to God.

Gateway to Silence:
One day at a time

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 94-97, 102-103.

La soupe (The soup, detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902–03, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.
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