In deep prayer God’s Presence becomes the reality and experience of our lives.
There are many disciples of Christ who can justly claim that they are indifferent to material possessions. They happily live in simple huts, wear rough woolen clothes, eat frugally, and give away the bulk of their fortunes. These same people can justly claim that they are indifferent to worldly power. They happily work in the most humble capacities, performing menial tasks, with no desire for high rank. But there may still be one earthly attribute to which they cling: reputation. They may wish to be regarded by others as virtuous. They may want to be admired for their charity, their honesty, their integrity, their self-denial. They may not actually draw people’s attention to these qualities, but they are pleased to know that others respect them. Thus when someone falsely accuses them of some wrongdoing, they react with furious indignation. They protect their reputation with the same ferocity as the rich people protect their gold. Giving up material possessions and worldly power is easy compared with giving up reputation. To be falsely accused and remain spiritually serene is the ultimate test of faith.
The brothers asked Agatho, “Abba, which virtue in our way of life needs most effort to acquire?” He said to them, “I may be wrong but I think nothing needs so much effort as prayer to God. If anyone wants to pray, the demons try to interrupt the prayer, for they know that prayer is the only thing that hinders them. All the other efforts in a religious life, whether they are made vehemently or gently, have room for a measure of rest. But we need to pray till our dying breath. That is the great struggle.”
-from The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks
Remember that if the mighty ones of this world are honored with noisy eulogies and public fanfare, I am honored by the silent and attentive heart, by a delicate sacrifice known to no one, by a secret surrender, a tender inner glance.
~from He And I by Gabrielle Bossis
There’s this quote I read in May that will not leave me alone. It keeps haunting me and following me around:
In order for humility to mature it must blossom into self-forgetfulness.
After decades of pastoring, counseling, and clumsy attempts at helping other people, I am coming to a not so obvious but compelling conclusion: Much of our helping is like hoping for first-class accommodations on the Titanic. It feels good at the moment but it is going nowhere. The big tear in the hull is not addressed, and we are surprised when people drown, complain, or resort to life boats. Most of the people I have tried to fix still need fixing. The situation changed, but the core was never touched.
But what is the core? And how do we touch it? What does it mean essentially to help another person? If we can find the answer to these questions, we are coming close to what the world religions mean by true ministry. It is absolutely unlike any other form of helping. It has many counterfeits and disguises. What Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, the saints, and the prophets are talking about is the Absolute Help, which alone is worthy of the name–the radical help that none of us can give to another. We can only point to it and promise that it is there. That is the first and final work of all true religion. All else is secondary.
Call it grace, enlightenment, peak experience, baptism in the spirit, revelation, consciousness, growth, or surrender, but until such a threshold is passed, people are never helped in any true, lasting sense. After the early stages of identity and belonging are worked through, real transformation does not seem to take place apart from some kind of contact with the Transcendent or Absolute. We now live in a secular culture that is largely afraid to talk about such contact except either in fundamentalist or vague New Age language. Neither is sufficient to name the depth or the personal demand of the true God encounter. What characterizes the trustworthy conversion experience is a profound sense of meeting Another, who names me personally and yet calls me to a task beyond myself. Therapeutic healing will always be an effect, but it is never the goal itself or even a concern. One’s own wholeness pales into insignificance in relationship to the wholeness one is now delighting in.
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Forget yourself. Think only of Him. In doing so, your heart will remain free and at peace.
It is essential to continually submit your will to God’s will and renounce every private inclination as soon as it arises–no matter how good it appears. You must want only what God has willed from all eternity. Forget the past. Devote the present to God. Be satisfied with the present moment which brings God’s eternal order to you. Attribute nothing that happens to you as coming from man, but regard everything, except sin, as coming from God.
-from Experiencing God Through Prayer p.28
If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire: if you want to be wet you must get into the water. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them. They are not a sort of prize which God could, if He chose, just hand out to anyone. They are a great fountain of energy and beauty spurting up at the very center of reality. If you are close to it, the spray will wet you: if you are not, you will remain dry. Once a man is united to God , how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die?
~ from Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.
A wall-eyed pike is put into an aquarium. He is fed for some days with little minnows. Then, in the middle of the experiment, a glass partition is placed down the middle of the aquarium so that the pike is now confined to one side.
Then the researchers drop the minnows on the other side. Immediately, the pike goes for the minnows, but he hits himself against the glass. He circles and hits it again. He tries a third time, but he is now hitting the glass a little less hard. After a few more times, he’s just sort of nosing up against the glass. He has a feeling he’s not going to get those minnows. Pretty soon, he just swims around in circles and ignores the minnows on the other side.
At that point, those doing the experiment take out the glass. The minnows come right up against the gills of the pike and he doesn’t even try to eat them.
The experiment ends when the wall-eyes pike starves to death. He’s convinced he’s not going to get those minnows, so there’s no point in wasting his time or hurting his nose again. That is the best image of cultural blindness I have heard. I wanted to weep when I first heard it, but I realized that the experiment is about human beings, not about fish. That’s much of the human story, people spiritually starving in the midst of plenty. They don’t know how to eat.
-from Job and the Mystery of Suffering by Richard Rohr
This is an amazingly accurate metaphor for us, I believe. Starving in the midst of plenty.
The incredible, overwhelming, ginormous truth that is ever hiding right out in the open is this–we already have everything we need at this, and at every, moment.
We can always turn to God.
Only the eyes of faith are able to see this.
There is always a great feast sitting on the table.
Whether we see it, eat it, acknowledge it, or not.
I hear Jesus saying to us, “You can turn to me at any time.”
The Bread of Life, which leaves you hungry for nothing more, is always on the table ready to be taken and ingested.
God is always available to the diligent seeker, who approaches in utter humility, with a contrite heart, empty of self. We are free and able to connect with Christ at any moment of any day, if we but desire Him. I mean, truly desire HIM beyond all else.
The energy of God is ever flowing all around, in, and through us. We may tap into it whenever we so choose. We may stop whatever we are doing and thinking at any point, and turn our attention fully to Christ and rest in Him. When your attention is turned wholly to one thing, it is, by default, turned away from all others. Turning to the one thing needed, turns you away from all that matters not.
Is there any greater gift than this?
Is there anything simpler?
Is there anything more essential?
Is there anything more hidden?
“You can turn to me at any time.”
We need nothing else than to turn the gaze of our soul upon God in focused attention, and all will be made clear, for perspective shall miraculously become “unwarped” from its off-center state. Such intense focus on Christ, which blinds us to all else, is peace indeed–and worth fighting for.
Your healing presence absorbed, dear Jesus, is everything. May all other activity and thought take its rightful, very distant, second place to this!
There is plenty of food on the table. Minnows are constantly swimming right up to your gills. You may partake whenever you choose. What’s stopping you?