Words and contemplation...

From time to time the words we read and write unlock another part of the sacred mystery. Words alone, of course, have their limitations when it comes to spirituality. After all, this is the realm of experience and encounters, not explanations. There is a place, however, for careful descriptions of God's peace that passes understanding that can clarify or correct our quest for intimacy with the Lord. Poetry and some spiritual prose can illuminate in ways that offer "aha" moments.
I think of the late Karl Rahner who wrote that "the answer to the question, 'Who is God?' is always 'love your neighbor.' "Faith, as Northrop Frye concludes, is not developed by 'clogging the air with questions of the 'does God really exist?' type and answering them with equal nonsense, but in working in words and other media toward... a peace infinite in both its source and goal.... (such words help you) genuinely transcend yourself in a properly incomprehensible
unselfishness, so then you will know what is meant by God if if you were never to hear the word or name God." (Ralph Heintzman, Rediscovering Reverence: the Meaning of Faith in a Secular World)

I received one such incomprehensibly unselfish epiphany yesterday while reading Richard Rohr's Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. In a section entitled, "Four Assumptions About Addiction," Rohr writes:

Some form of alternative consciousness is the only freedom from (our false self) and from cultural lies. If the universal addiction is to our own pattern of thinking (too often 'stinking thinking') which is invariably dualistic, the primary spiritual path must be some form of contemplative practice, once just called 'prayer,' to break down this unhelpful binary system of either-or thinking... Praying is changing your operating system. When religion does not move people to the mystical or non-dual level of consciousness it is more a part of the problem than any solution whatsoever... it is largely incapable of its supreme task of healing, reconciling, forgiving and peace-making. When religion does not give people an inner life or a real prayer life, it is missing its primary vocation.
Now I have long known - and sometimes even practiced - various forms of "letting go" in prayer. Sometimes this is playing certain songs or types of music. At other times it has included deep Centering Prayer. Or sitting meditation that is grounded by praying the Psalms. I have known experientially that when I have cultivated a reservoir of grace through regular contemplative prayer, I am more at peace and better able to manage the challenges and stress of real life. When my inner life becomes more sporadic, my focus and presence in each day becomes less peaceful. 

Through prayer I have tasted and seen something of God's liberation experience, but until I read the words Rohr wrote I didn't comprehend why this was true - and now I do.  The contemplative path interrupts my own pattern of thinking long enough for the deep truths of grace to take up residence. As Fr. Keating says of centering prayer, it is sacred psychology taking place at a profound level. It is changing how we think and what we think about; it is building up a reservoir of peace within that can be tapped into whenever it is most needed. Prayer interrupts my addictive thoughts and gives me time with an alternative consciousness born of grace. Over time and practice, my old stinking thinking is replaced by gracious thinking. In another place Rohr puts it like this: what you resist, persists.
I give thanks to those who wrestle hard with language so that people like me might discover an epiphany - and grow closer to the One who is Holy.  Here's a poem the obliquely grasps this very truth:  A Life of Sundays by Rodney Jones.

Down the street, someone must be praying, and though I don’t
Go there anymore, I want to at times, to hear the diction
And the tone, though the English pronoun for God is obsolete—

What goes on is devotion, which wouldn’t change if I heard:
The polished sermon, the upright’s arpeggios of vacant notes.
What else could unite widows, bankers, children, and ghosts?

And those faces are so good as they tilt their smiles upward
To the rostrum that represents law, and the minister who
Represents God beams like the white palm of the good hand

Of Christ raised behind the baptistry to signal the multitude,
Which I am not among, though I feel the abundance of calm
And know the beatitude so well I do not have to imagine it,

Or the polite old ones who gather after the service to chat,
Or the ritual linen of Sunday tables that are already set.
More than any other days, Sundays stand in unvarying rows

That beg attention: there is that studied verisimilitude
Of sanctuary, so even mud and bitten weeds look dressed up
For some eye in the distant past, some remote kingdom

Where the pastures are crossed by thoroughly symbolic rivers.
That is why the syntax of prayers is so often reversed,
Aimed toward the dead who clearly have not gone ahead

But returned to prior things, a vista of angels and sheep,
A desert where men in robes and sandals gather by a tree.
Hushed stores, all day that sense a bell is about to ring—

I recognized it, waking up, before I weighed the bulk of news
Or saw Saturday night’s cars parked randomly along the curb,
And though I had no prayer, I wanted to offer something

Or ask for something, perhaps out of habit, but as the past
Must always be honored unconsciously, formally, and persists
On this first and singular day, though I think of it as last.


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