Theme:
Meeting Christ Within Us

Meeting Christ Within Us

Summary: Sunday, May 26—Friday, May 31, 2019

The goal of Christian spirituality is to recognize and respond to the continual interior movements of the Spirit, for the Spirit will always lead us toward greater union with Christ and greater love and service of God and others. —Richard Hauser (Sunday)

So many mystics seem to equate the discovery of their own souls with the very discovery of God. This will feel like a calm and humble ability to quietly trust yourself and trust God at the same time. Isn’t that what we all want? (Monday)

If you can trust and listen to your inner divine image, your whole-making instinct, or your True Self, you will act from your best, largest, kindest, most inclusive self. (Tuesday)

Many Westerners today are now reacquiring and accessing more of the skills we need to go into the depths of things—and to find God’s Spirit there. (Wednesday)

Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich (Thursday)

While God is transcendent, God is also immanent, and chooses to dwell within us. Contemplative spirituality helps us realize God’s presence within us. —Phileena Heuertz (Friday)

 

Practice: Centering Prayer
Centering prayer is a simple form of Christian meditation developed in the 1970s by three Trappist monks: Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington. Read Phileena Heuertz’s introduction to this practice and then take some time to walk through the steps:

Centering prayer roots us in divine love. It is a modernized prayer method based on the intuitive prayer rooted in lectio divina and The Cloud of Unknowing. It is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer—prayer in which we experience the divine’s immanent presence within us. Centering prayer is grounded in relationship with God, through Christ, and is a practice to nurture that relationship. . . .

Centering prayer complements and supports other modes of prayer—verbal, mental, or affective prayer. It facilitates resting in the divine presence. Centering prayer offers a way to grow in intimacy with God, moving beyond conversation to communion.

As Father Thomas [Keating] emphasizes, the source of centering payer, as in all methods leading to contemplative prayer, is the indwelling Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The focus of centering prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ. The effects of centering prayer are ecclesial, as the prayer tends to build communities of faith and bond the members together in mutual friendship and love. To practice centering prayer, follow these steps.

  1. Sit in an upright, attentive posture in a way that allows for a straight spine and open heart. Place your hands in your lap.
  2. Gently close your eyes and bring to mind your sacred word, image, or breath as your symbol to consent to the presence and action of God within you. Your sacred symbol is intended to be the same every time you pray. It helps to ground you in the present moment. It allows you to give your undivided, loving, yielded attention to God. Choose a name for God or an attribute of God like love, peace, and so on. You may prefer a sacred image instead or simply a mindful breath.
  3. Silently, with eyes closed, recall your sacred symbol to begin your prayer. As you notice your thoughts, gently return to your sacred symbol. Do this however many times you notice thoughts, feelings, or sensations.
  4. When your prayer period is over, transition slowly from your practice to your active life.

It is recommended to pray in this fashion for a minimum of twenty minutes, two times a day. Start out slowly with initial prayer periods of five to ten minutes, then work up to the desired length of time.

References:
Phileena Heurtz, Mindful Silence: The Heart of Christian Contemplation (InterVarsity Press: 2018), 158-159.

For more information on Centering Prayer visit gravitycenter.com/practice/centering-prayer.

For Further Study:
John Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation (Jossey-Bass: 2008)

Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019)

Image credit: Knot the One, by Karen Jacobs, 1993. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich
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Meeting Christ Within Us

God’s Temple
Friday, May 31, 2019

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  —1 Corinthians 6:19

I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. —Galatians 2:20

Phileena Heuertz is a dear friend, member of our Board of Directors, and co-founder of Gravity, a center for contemplative activism. In this excerpt from her book Mindful Silence she reflects on the gift of contemplation.

Kataphatic prayer comes from the Greek kataphatikos, which in essence means “with images or concepts.” . . . This kind of prayer utilizes our faculties for reason, imagination, feelings, and will. We use words, images, and feelings to communicate with the divine. In this sense, God is mediated through our mental and affective capacities.

Apophatic prayer comes from the Greek apophatikos, which essentially means “without images or concepts.” This kind of prayer lets go of reason, imagination, feelings, and will. And in this way, our encounter with God is unmediated. It is a naked mode of prayer—being to being or essence to essence without filtration through the thinking or affective mind. . . .

Apophatic prayer is rooted in the doctrine of the divine indwelling (Luke 17:21; John 7:38, 14:3; Romans 8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:15-20; Galatians 2:20). While God is transcendent, God is also immanent, and chooses to dwell within us. Contemplative spirituality helps us realize God’s presence within us.

The word contemplative derives from a root that means to set aside a place of worship or to reserve a cleared space in front of an altar. In Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, a contemplative stance is obvious. The Israelites cleared space for worship with the Ark of the Covenant and finally with their temple. Jesus honored the temple worship of his Jewish tradition but also tried to enlighten his people to realize that sacred buildings, rituals, and rules are meant to bring us into the awareness of the divine presence in us and in all of those around us.

Jesus drew our attention to the doctrine of the divine indwelling in a radical declaration that he himself was the temple (John 2:19). . . . Paul elaborates on Jesus’ teaching of the doctrine of divine indwelling by declaring that not just Jesus’ but our body too is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). How marvelous! The Creator of the universe resides within our being.

But unfortunately, we’re not very well acquainted with God-within. We’ve mastered the theology of God’s transcendence but have failed to embrace God’s immanence. There’s a part of us that doubts our deep connection to this divine love. Contemplative spirituality helps us overcome this disconnect. It’s one thing to have a “personal relationship” with the transcendent Jesus [or Christ]—much like a relationship with a friend or lover. It’s quite another thing to become one with Jesus, by growing familiar with his immanence (John 17:21). It’s from this oneness that enduring love of God and neighbor is possible.

Reference:
Phileena Heurtz, Mindful Silence: The Heart of Christian Contemplation (InterVarsity Press: 2018), 146-147. Learn more about Gravity at gravitycenter.com.

Image credit: Knot the One, by Karen Jacobs, 1993. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich
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Meeting Christ Within Us

Our Deepest Desire
Thursday, May 30, 2019

Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart’s desire. —Psalm 37:4

One of my favorite mystics is the English anchorite Julian of Norwich (1342–1416). After a serious illness, during which she experienced “shewings” or revelations of Jesus’ love, she wrote about the compassionate, mothering God she had encountered. Today’s meditation is longer as I want to share John Philip Newell’s beautiful summary of Julian’s visions:

She says that Christ is the one who connects us to the “great root” of our being. . . . [1] “God is our mother as truly as God is our father,” she says. [2] We come from the Womb of the Eternal. We are not simply made by God; we are made “of God.” [3] So we encounter the energy of God in our true depths. And we will know the One from whom we have come only to the extent that we know ourselves. God is the “ground” of life. [4] So it is to the very essence of our being that we look for God. . . .

God “is in everything,” writes Julian. [5] God is “nature’s substance,” the very essence of life. [6] So she speaks of “smelling” God, of “swallowing” God in the waters and juices of the earth, of “feeling” God in the human body and the body of creation. [7] . . . Grace is given to save our nature, not to save us from our nature. It is given to free us from the unnaturalness of what we have become and done to one another and to the earth. Grace is given, she says, “to bring nature back to that blessed point from which it came, namely God.” [8] It is given that we may hear again the deepest sounds within us.

What Julian hears is that “we are all one.” [9] We have come from God as one, and to God we shall return as one. And any true well-being in our lives will be found not in isolation but in relation. She uses the image of the knot . . . to portray the strands of time and eternity intertwined, of the human and the creaturely inseparably interrelated, of the one and the many forever married. Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. In Christ, we hear not foreign sounds but the deepest intimations of the human and the divine intertwined.

And for Julian, the key to hearing what is at the heart of the human soul is to listen to our deepest longings, for “the desire of the soul,” she says, “is the desire of God.” [10] Of course, many of our desires have become infected or overlaid by confusions and distortions, but at the root of our being is the sacred longing for union. It is to this deepest root that Christ leads us. Our soul is made “of God,” as Julian says, so it is grounded in the desires of God. And at the heart of these holy desires is what Julian calls “love-longing.” [11] It is the most sacred and the most natural of yearnings. The deeper we move within the human soul, the closer we come to this divine yearning. And the nearer we come to our true self, “the greater will be our longing.” [12]

How did we ever lose such massive, in-depth wisdom?

References:
[1] Julian of Norwich, Showings, chapter 51 (long text). See Revelation of Divine Love, trans. Elizabeth Spearing (Penguin: 1998), 123.

[2] Chapter 59 (long text). Ibid., 139.

[3] Chapter 53 (long text). Ibid., 129.

[4] Chapter 62 (long text). Ibid., 145.

[5] Chapter 11 (long text). Ibid., 58.

[6] Chapter 56 (long text). See Showings, trans. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Paulist Press: 1978), 290.

[7] Chapter 43 (long text). See Revelation of Divine Love, Spearing, 104.

[8] Chapter 63 (long text). Ibid., 146.

[9] Chapter 6 (short text). Ibid., 10.

[10] Chapter 43 (long text). Ibid., 103.

[11] Chapter 63 (long text). Ibid., 147.

[12] Chapter 46 (long text). Ibid., 107.

John Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation (Jossey-Bass: 2008), 67-69.

Image credit: Knot the One, by Karen Jacobs, 1993. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich
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Meeting Christ Within Us

Going to the Depths
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Christianity’s foundational belief is always incarnation. Yet Christians in the West have focused on abstract ideas instead of actual transformation into our own incarnate humanity. Now that very humanity has grown tired of disembodied spiritualities that allow no validation or verification in experience. Thus, many religions hide an actual agenda of power and control, obfuscating and distracting us from what is right in front of us. This is exactly what we do when we make the emphasis of Jesus’ Gospel what is “out there” as opposed to what is “in here.”

For example, insisting on a literal belief in the virgin birth of Jesus is very good theological symbolism, but unless it translates into a spirituality of interior poverty, readiness to conceive, and human vulnerability, it is largely a “mere lesson memorized” as Isaiah puts it (29:13). It “saves” no one. Likewise, an intellectual belief that Jesus rose from the dead is a good start, but until you are struck by the realization that the crucified and risen Jesus is a parable about the journey of all humans, and even the universe, it is a rather harmless—if not harmful—belief that will leave you and the world largely unchanged.

Many Westerners today are now reacquiring and accessing more of the skills we need to go into the depths of things—and to find God’s Spirit there. Whether they come through contemplation, psychology, spiritual direction, shadow work, the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs typology, grief and bereavement work, or other models such as Integral Theory or wilderness experience [1], these tools help us to examine and to trust interiority and depth.

One of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life came in 1984 during a journaling retreat in Ohio led by the psychotherapist Ira Progoff (1921–1998). [2] Dr. Progoff guided us as we wrote privately for several days on some very human and ordinary questions. I remember first dialoguing with my own body, dialoguing with roads not taken, dialoguing with concrete memories and persons, dialoguing with my own past decisions, and on and on.

I learned that if the quiet space, the questions themselves, and blank pages had not been put in front of me, I may never have known what was lying within me. Progoff helped me and many others access slow tears and fast prayers, and ultimately intense happiness and gratitude, as I discovered depths within myself that I never knew were there. I still reread some of what I wrote over forty years ago for encouragement and healing. And it all came from within me!

Today we are recovering freedom and permission and the tools to move toward depth. What a shame it would be if we did not use them. The best way out is if we have first gone in. The only way we can trust up is if we have gone down. That has been the underlying assumption of male initiation rites since ancient times but, today, such inner journeys and basic initiation experiences are often considered peripheral to “true religion.”

References:
[1] See, for example, Illuman, Outward Bound, Bill Plotkin’s Animas Valley Institute, New Warrior Training.

[2] See IntensiveJournal.org.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 114-115.

Image credit: Knot the One, by Karen Jacobs, 1993. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich
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Meeting Christ Within Us

The Voice of God
Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. —1 Corinthians 2:11-13

If you can trust and listen to your inner divine image, your whole-making instinct, or your True Self, you will act from your best, largest, kindest, most inclusive self. I would also like to add “your most compassionately dissatisfied self” because the soul’s journey invites us to infinite depth that we can never fully plumb!

Rather than consuming spiritual gifts for yourself alone, you must receive all words of God so that you can speak them to others tenderly and with subtlety. If any thought feels too harsh, shaming, or diminishing of yourself or others, it is not likely the voice of God but the ego. Why do humans so often presume the exact opposite—that shaming voices are always from God and graced voices are always the imagination? That is a self-defeating (“demonic”?) path.

If something comes toward you with grace and can pass through you and toward others with grace, you can trust it as the voice of God. One holy man who recently came to visit me put it this way: “We must listen to what is supporting us. We must listen to what is encouraging us. We must listen to what is urging us. We must listen to what is alive in us.” I personally was so trained not to trust those voices that I often did not hear the voice of God speaking to me, or what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature.”

Yes, a narcissistic person can misuse such advice, but someone genuinely living in love will flourish inside such a dialogue. That is the risk that God takes—and we must take—for the sake of a fruitful relationship with God. It takes so much courage and humility to trust the voice of God within. Mary personifies such trust in her momentous and free “Let it be” to the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:38). Don’t you suppose that Gabriel sounded just like her own mind? She never talks about such an angel again.

We must learn how to recognize the positive flow and to distinguish it from the negative resistance within ourselves. It takes years of practice. If a voice comes from accusation and leads to accusation, it is quite simply the voice of the “Accuser,” which is the literal meaning of the biblical word “Satan.” Shaming, accusing, or blaming is simply not how God talks. God is supremely nonviolent. God only cajoles, softens, and invites us into an always bigger field and it is always a unified field.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 87, 88-89.

Image credit: Knot the One, by Karen Jacobs, 1993. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich
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Meeting Christ Within Us

God Speaks
Monday, May 27, 2019

In a time when everything was being swept away, when “the whole world is becoming a giant concentration camp,” [Etty Hillesum] felt one must hold fast to what endures—the encounter with God at the depths of one’s own soul and in other people. —Robert Ellsberg [1]

To follow their own paths to wholeness, both Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875–1961) and Jewish Auschwitz victim Etty Hillesum (1914–1943) trusted in and hearkened to the voice of God in their deepest Selves. Many educated and sophisticated people are not willing to submit to indirect, subversive, and intuitive knowing, which is probably why they rely far too much on external law and behavior to achieve their spiritual purposes. They know nothing else that feels objective and solid. Intuitive truth, that inner whole-making instinct, just feels too much like our own thoughts and feelings, and most of us are not willing to call this “God,” even when that voice prompts us toward compassion instead of hatred, forgiveness instead of resentment, generosity instead of stinginess, bigness instead of pettiness.

But think about it: If the incarnation is true, then of course God speaks to us through our own thoughts! When accusers called Joan of Arc (1412–1431) the victim of her own imagination, she is frequently credited with this brilliant reply: “How else would God speak to me?”

The inner voice so honored by Hillesum and Jung is experienced as the deepest and usually hidden self, where most of us do not go. It truly does speak at a level “beneath” rational consciousness, a place where only the humble—or the trained—know how to go.

Late in his life, Jung wrote, “In my case Pilgrim’s Progress consisted in my having to climb down a thousand ladders until I could reach out my hand to the little clod of earth that I am.” [2] Jung, a supposed unbeliever, knew that any authentic God experience takes a lot of humble, honest, and patient seeking.

This is where embracing the Christ Mystery becomes utterly practical. Without the mediation of Christ, we will be tempted to overplay the distance and the distinction between God and humanity. But because of the incarnation, the supernatural is forever embedded in the natural, making the very distinction false. How good is that? This is why mystics like Hillesum, Jung, Augustine, Teresa of Ávila, Thomas Merton, and many others seem to equate the discovery of their own souls with the very discovery of God. It takes much of our life, much lived experience, to trust and allow such a process. But when it comes, it will feel like a calm and humble ability to quietly trust yourself and trust God at the same time. Isn’t that what we all want?

References:
[1] Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1998, ©1997), 521.

[2] From a letter to a pupil (April 9, 1959). See C. G. Jung Letters, Vol. 1: 1906-1950, selected and edited by Gerhard Adler (Routledge: 2015, ©1973), 19, n. 8.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 85-87.

Image credit: Knot the One, by Karen Jacobs, 1993. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich
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Meeting Christ Within Us

God With Us
Sunday, May 26, 2019

If God’s Spirit has truly joined our spirit, then we have every reason to trust the deepest movements of our natures. This trust becomes a key for all spirituality. The goal of Christian spirituality is to recognize and respond to the continual interior movements of the Spirit, for the Spirit will always lead us toward greater union with Christ and greater love and service of God and others. —Richard Hauser [1]

In this week’s meditations, I will be focusing on the importance of an inner life, a life grounded in contemplation, a life that searches for the hidden wholeness underneath the passing phenomena, a life that seeks substance instead of simply an endless preoccupation with forms.

The West—and the United States in particular—is fascinated with forms. We like impermanent things, maybe because they can’t nail us down to anything solid or lasting, and we float in an ephemeral and transient world of argumentative ideas. But this preference isn’t bearing substantial fruit. This culture seems to be creating people who are very unsure of themselves, who are grasping in every direction for a momentary sense of identity or importance.

The goal is to get people to a deeper level, to the unified field, or what I like to call “nondual thinking,” where God alone can hold the contradictions together.

When Christians speak of Christ, we are naming an ever-growing encounter, not a fixed package that is all-complete and must be accepted as is. On the inner journey of the soul, we meet a God who interacts with our deepest selves, who grows the person, who allows and forgives mistakes. It is precisely this give-and-take, and knowing there will be give-and-take, that makes God so real as a Lover.

What kind of God would only push from without and never draw from within? Yet this is precisely the one-sided God that many Christians were offered and that much of the world has now rejected. God unfolds our personhood from within through a constant increase in freedom—even freedom to fail. Love cannot happen in any other way. This is why Paul shouts in Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free!” (5:1).

God loves you by becoming you, taking your side in the inner dialogue of self-accusation and defense. God loves you by turning your mistakes into grace, by constantly giving you back to yourself in a larger shape. God stands with you, not against you, whenever you are tempted to shame or self-hatred. If your authority figures resorted to threat and punishment, it can be hard to feel or trust this inner give and take. Remember, the only thing that separates you from God is the thought that you are separate from God!

References:
[1] Richard J. Hauser, In His Spirit: A Guide to Today’s Spirituality (Beacon: 2011), 24.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 10, 11; and

The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 79-80.

Image credit: Knot the One, by Karen Jacobs, 1993. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich
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