Friday, September 23, 2011


It's not often that a spiritual director advises you to pray less, but that's what mine has done. And she's right, of course. There is a subtle trap that is always waiting for us in our spiritual lives:  we turn our practice into an achievement, set goals, steel ourselves to do more and more, push through, break barriers, all that stuff. It's all very commendable, of course, and makes us more proficient in the skills required but in the end our practice becomes just one more thing that I am doing. In other words, our practice, rather than being a way of dethroning the false self, becomes yet one more area where the false self can hustle around, pretending to run things, pretending to be all there is, pretending to exist.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who was very conversant with the need to give as a spiritual discipline. Rather than give a set amount each week, he would pray before he went to church, or while in church and ask the spirits guidance as to what he was to put in the plate, and usually his giving was well in excess of the Biblically recommended tithe. One week however, after entering the church with a large wad of high denomination banknotes in his pocket, and after his usual pre almsgiving prayer he heard the Spirit telling him this week's amount: 50 cents. He remonstrated and argued but the Spirit was very definite about this, so when the collection plate came around he put 50 cents into it. The plate was large, and brass, and his was the first offering  for the day. His single coin made a very loud clang as it landed, and sat there, obvious for all those around, as a reminder that we walk by grace, not law. The aim isn't to buy God's favour or work our way to enlightenment by the gift of large sums of money or large blocks of time. The aim is surrender, and working that pattern of surrender into the warp and weft of our daily lives.

So to help me do just that, for the immediate forseeable future, I  am contentedly, and in gratitude imbibing the minimum recommended daily  dose of centering prayer

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I have been reading Thomas Keating's Open Heart Open Mind lately. It's one of those books which gets festooned with yellow highlighted marks as every couple of pages or so I come across an especially good bit. Two of the highlighted passages in my copy are these:

Since the will is designed for infinite love and e mind for infinite truth, if there is nothing to stop them, they tend to move in that direction. It is because they are all wrapped up in other directions that their freedom to go where they are naturally inclined is limited.
-p 33

God's presence is available at every moment but we have a giant obstacle in ourselves - our world view. It needs to be exchanged for the mind of Christ, for his world view. The mind of Christ is ours through faith and baptism, according to Paul, but to take possession of it requires a discipline that develops the sensitivity to hear Christ's invitation: " Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone opens, I will come in and sup with him and he with me" (Revelations 3:20). It is not a big effort to open a door.
-p 34

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Blest Are The Pure In Heart

I am indebted to Cynthia Bourgeault for a subtle but profound insight into the Beatitudes. She points out that the heart, in Jesus time, was not thought of as the seat of the emotions, but rather as the organ of spiritual knowing. It was the heart which enabled the first disciples to recognize Jesus for who he was. When they headed off into the wilderness behind their enigmatic new teacher, they followed their hearts, not in the sense of taking some irrational and emotive action, but rather in the sense of following their deepest and truest intuitions. Their hearts enabled them to perceive deep truth inaccessible to the faculties of reason or affect.

Which suddenly makes a lot more sense, to me, of Jesus' words is Matthew 5, Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. He is not speaking about us keeping our emotions or our actions or our thoughts pure in order that we might somehow earn God's favor, but rather of us gaining clarity in our intuitions and thereby perceiving the Truth from which we are never really absent.

It is this clarifying of our perceptions that is the fundamental aim of meditation. What keeps our spiritual insight clouded is the same thing that keeps our reason and our emotions clouded: the unconscious and usually unsuspected residue of a lifetime of defending ourselves from real and perceived dangers. The only way we can stop our faculties from being continually clogged by this residue is to let go of all thoughts, all emotions, all intuitions, both good and bad, and let the deepest parts of ourselves free for a short while to turn to and follow the voice of God which continually calls us home.

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