BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE

Week Four: Desire and Divine Will

All Shall Be Well

In The Revelations of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich describes our desires and the divine will as these relate to prayer. God gives us what he wills us to have, and then he makes us yearn for it.

I’m pretty blown away by the idea that in prayer, we ask for what God already plans to give us. It’s hard to wrap my mind around that concept! Here’s what Julian says:

Christ told me from whom our prayers come when He said, “I am the Ground.” And we see how they come to life in the centers of our being when He said, “It is my will first that you have whatever it is, and then I make you yearn for it.” The second thing God wants us to understand about prayer is how we should carry it out. The answer to this is that we choose with all our mental powers to align our desires with the Divine Will; this is what He meant when He said, “Then I make you yearn for it.”

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No one sincerely asks for grace and mercy without already having been given grace and mercy.

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[T]he greatest acts of God have already been accomplished (just as the Church teaches), and as we meditate on this, we pray for the action that is already being accomplished: that God directs us while we live on Earth, so that God is enriched by our lives, and that we be brought to Divine Joy in Heaven. And then God will have accomplished everything.

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Our Protector wants us to pray for everything, whether in general or in particular, that God has laid out to happen. As far as I can see, the thanks, joy, delight, and worth that God grants us in return is beyond our ability to comprehend!

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Julian of Norwich (1342 – c. 1416) was an English visionary, mystic, anchoress, and writer. Read about her here.

I’ve been enjoying the Divine Revelations in a modern translation entitled All Shall Be Well.

For reflection:

Julian of Norwich Week 4

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE

Week 3: Prayer as a Way of Life

All Shall Be WellThe Revelations of Divine Love by English anchoress Julian of Norwich is our book of the month. In this spiritual classic, Lady Julian explains why prayer is a good and necessary part of life.

I am drawn to the ways Julian speaks of prayer, always emphasizing our radical dependence on God. I also like the two metaphors she uses in the first passage below – prayer is like an arrow and prayer is like a shelter. These metaphors seem so different, yet they work together to describe the gift of communing with God.

 

For prayer is like an arrow shot straight toward joy’s completion in Heaven—and prayer is also like a shelter that covers us with the knowledge that we can trust God to grant all for which we yearn. When we fall short of the joy that has been laid out for us, we are filled with longing; but as we cover ourselves with the knowledge of God’s love and with sweet thoughts of our Rescuer, then we are granted the gift of confidence in God’s firm integrity.

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For our part, we must take care to always lovingly choose prayer as a way of life. We may still feel as though we have accomplished nothing—but in reality (whether we can see it or not), we have. And if we do what we can and ask with constancy and faithfulness for mercy and grace, then all that we lack we shall find in God.

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Prayer makes the soul one with God. Our souls are like God in their essence, and they are connected to God with bonds of kinship—yet because of sin, our way of being is often not much like God’s. That is why we need to use prayer as an affirmation that our souls are aligned with the Divine Will. What’s more, prayer comforts our uneasy consciences and becomes a conduit for grace to flow into us.

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 Julian of Norwich (1342 – c. 1416) was an English visionary, mystic, anchoress, and writer. Read about her here.

I’ve been enjoying the Divine Revelations in a modern translation entitled All Shall Be Well.

For reflection:

 

Julian of Norwich - week 3

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE

Week Two: Seeking God or Seeing God?

All Shall Be Well

In her spiritual classic, The Revelations of Divine Love, English anchoress Julian of Norwich has some amazing insights about how we experience God. In one section of the book, Julian explores the tension between having God and yearning for God; between seeking God and seeing God.

Often these two states occur at the same time, she says. But it’s nothing to worry about. Julian makes the point that seeking God is our job, while seeing God is up to God.

 

All this made me realize that during this time that we suffer on Earth, seeking is as good as seeing. Leave your awareness of the Divine Presence up to God, in humility and trust, to reveal to you as God wants. Our only job is to cling to God with total trust.

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God is pleased when we seek the Divine Presence continually, even if from our perspective, we do nothing but seek and suffer. We see with clarity that we have found God only when the Spirit’s special grace reveals this to us. It is the seeking, with faith, hope, and love, that pleases our Protector, while it is the finding that pleases us and fills us with joy.

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When this [Holy] Presence comes to us, it comes out of the blue, with such speed that we are startled—and God wants us to trust and wait for this Divine Jack-in-the-Box. For God is utterly kind, and the Holy Presence welcomes our hearts with total hospitality. Blessed may God be!

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Julian of Norwich (1342 – c. 1416) was an English visionary, mystic, anchoress, and writer. Read about her here.

I’ve been enjoying the Divine Revelations in a modern translation entitled All Shall Be Well.

For reflection:

Julian of Norwich - week 2

BOOK OF THE MONTH: REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE

Week One: Clinging to God’s Goodness

All Shall Be WellIn the late 14th century, the English anchoress Julian of Norwich wrote her influential book, The Revelations of Divine Love. The book is based on a series of visions Julian received, and its stated purpose is to reveal the divine will, which is to love and know God. The Revelations has become a Christian classic for its unique theological and spiritual insights into God’s love.

In her book, Julian has many things to say about prayer. In the first revelation, Julian writes that prayer is more of an attitude than a set of techniques. I find this encouraging, because it means that we don’t have to approach prayer with a lot of bells and whistles. Clinging to the fullness of God is, Julian says, the “truest form of prayer.”

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What came to mind next was the way we pray: in our ignorance and incomprehension of love, we use many methods for asking God what we want. But I realized now that God is worshiped—and delighted—when we simply turn to the Divine One, trusting totally in that Unity* and clinging to Divine grace.

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Even if we were to practice all the prayer techniques ever used, they would never be enough to connect our souls to God with utter wholeness and fullness, for God’s goodness is the entire whole of reality, a unity that lacks absolutely nothing. By focusing our attention here—on the absolute Unity that never fails—we achieve the truest form of prayer.

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Resting in this Unity is the highest prayer, and it reaches down to our deepest needs. It brings our souls to life; it brings us more of life’s fullness; and our lives expand with grace and strength.

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*Note: In this edition of the Revelations, Julian’s word “goodness” is translated as “unity” to express the idea of the fullness of God, the way he encompasses every part of creation.

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Julian of Norwich (1342 – c. 1416) was an English visionary, mystic, anchoress, and writer. Read about her here.

I’ve been enjoying the Divine Revelations in a modern translation entitled All Shall Be Well.

For reflection:

Julian of Norwich - week 1

BOOK OF THE MONTH: BEFRIENDING SILENCE

Week Four: The Community of Prayer

Befriending Silence

Reading Carl McColman’s Befriending Silence, I found the two biggest takeaways to be the importance of living a life in community and a life of prayer. These two ways of life might at first seem like opposites. Contemplative prayer, after all, is often undertaken in solitude. If we happen to be writers, we spend even more time alone!

Yet McColman reminds us that prayer, even silent prayer, makes us part of a larger community. This is a gift and, for non-monastics, sometimes a challenge. Here’s what McColman has to say about community:

The Cistercian way of life rests on the idea that spirituality needs community.

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Monks and nuns enjoy the support of a community that prays together multiple times every day, where everyone is expected to take part in the liturgy in a public way. Those of us who are not monastics . . . do not have an abbot or abbess who will check up on us if we start skipping prayers, so we have to be truly intentional about our decision to make prayer a priority.

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Christian prayer always has a communal or social dimension to it, even when we pray in solitude . . . Prayer makes a difference in our lives, not just in terms of personal spiritual growth but also as a means by which we discover God’s love and compassion expressed for the world.

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When we pray for our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, our community and nation, as well as our adversaries, enemies, competitors and opponents, the space to slowly, gradually grow in compassion and love opens within us.

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Read more here.

For reflection:

McColman Week 4

BOOK OF THE MONTH: BEFRIENDING SILENCE

Week 3: Letting Go
Befriending Silence

In Befriending Silence, Carl McColman explores three kinds of monastic prayer that can help us today. In previous posts, we looked at the gifts of lectio divina and the Divine Office. We now turn our attention to contemplative (silent) prayer.

Contemplative prayer gives us much-needed peace and inner rest. When we pray in silence before God, McColman says, “The Holy Spirit invites us to gently set aside our attachments to our interior drama so that we might rest in God’s unchanging stability.”

Since it is mostly without words or particular agendas, contemplative prayer offers an additional benefit that can also be a challenge: letting go of our all-pervasive need for control.

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Contemplation challenges us not only as individuals but as a society because ours is a society that rewards assertive, take-charge, type A behavior, and we want to do spirituality in the same way.

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Think of it this way: every conversation requires both speaking and listening, otherwise it is one-sided. The Divine Office and other verbal prayers invite us to speak to God, while contemplation gives us the space to listen.

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Contemplative prayer fosters an inner spirit of acceptance and receptivity. It reminds us that we are not in the driver’s seat when it comes to prayer (or indeed any aspect of spiritual living). When we pray in silence, we actually embody humility in our prayer. We make ourselves available to God but without presuming to tell God what we want to have happen or what we think should happen. Rather, we shut up and let God take the lead.

Read more.

For reflection:

McColman - week 3

BOOK OF THE MONTH: BEFRIENDING SILENCE

Week 2: Baby Steps Toward a Life of Prayer

Befriending SilenceIn Befriending Silence, author and Lay Cistercian Carl McColman shares with us the gifts of Cistercian spirituality. Not surprisingly, many of these gifts center on prayer. “Artists paint, doctors heal, businessmen sell, and Cistercians pray,” McColman writes.

The monastic commitment to a life of prayer can inspire those of us “in the world” to make this gift an important part of our spiritual life.

[P]art of the gift of Cistercian spirituality becoming available to people outside the cloister is a challenge to pray, to seek intimacy with God every day–not in just a perfunctory way but as a meaningful part of each day.

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With prayer we express love of Christ, and it is also a gift, in a very mutual way; for prayer, like all spiritual blessings, is a gift from God. Yet when we pray, we give ourselves back to God. ‘Here I am, Lord.’

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There are several different kinds of prayer. Last week’s post touched on lectio divina, a way of praying with the Bible. Also important in monastic life is the Divine Office, the prayers and other readings marking the hours of each day. McColman believes that this liturgy offers a poetic and insightful prayer structure for everyone. Because the Divine Office can be complicated, McColman advocates starting small. He suggests the following practice based on the psalms, which form the heart of the Divine Office:

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Here is a simple, yet effective, way to begin a practice of daily prayer. Every day for the next five months, pray one psalm a day. That’s it. Each individual psalm can easily be prayed in a single sitting.

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Keep in mind that Jesus prayed the psalms. Jews and Christians of every generation have found inspiration, solace, hope, comfort, and challenge in this biblical prayer book. When you pray the psalms, you are truly partaking in a prayer tradition that spans the globe and the centuries.

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Don’t worry if you don’t ‘feel’ the particular emotion that is expressed in any one particular psalm. Your prayer is meant to operate on a deeper level than mere feeling.

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Read more.

For reflection:

McColman - week 2 (alt)

BOOK OF THE MONTH: BEFRIENDING SILENCE

Week 1: The Gift of Sacred Stories

Befriending Silence

In Befriending Silence: Discovering the Gifts of Cistercian Spirituality, Carl McColman shares what we can learn from an ancient monastic tradition. McColman himself is a Lay Cistercian affiliated with the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.

Befriending Silence explores eleven gifts from the Cistercian tradition. The chapter “Sacred Stories” diagnoses a problem: “Our society as a whole has forgotten who we are, and the consequences are devastating,” McColman writes. “[W]e have forgotten that we all are created in the image of God.” He goes on to explain how Scripture and other spiritual writings can help us live in God’s story and remind us who we truly are. Reading sacred story is a sacred tradition.

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God wants to remind us of the image we were created in—our true story—by helping us see with the eyes of love, feel with the heart of mercy, and think with the mind of compassion.

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The gift of Christian, Benedictine, and Cistercian wisdom and memory is that these timeless stories and teachings from the past provide the foundation on which we can build our own spiritual identity, our own sense of what it means to respond to God’s grace, in our time.

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For people of faith, reading can be a doorway not to greater control but greater surrender, a way to open our minds and hearts to the transfiguring and life-giving Word of God.

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Following the chapter, McColman explains the practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading, giving advice and guidance to those beginning on this path:

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Although lectio divina originated in monasteries and remains a core spiritual practice for monks and nuns, it is something anyone may learn, practice, and enjoy. By making lectio divina a regular part of your life, you participate in a practice that has nurtured Cistercians and other monastics for centuries.

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[L]ectio divina is like spending time with someone special. The purpose is to linger, savoring the time spent together.

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Remember, the purpose of lectio divina is not to gather more information but to seek God’s living word for your life.

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Read more.

For reflection:

McColman - week 1 (alt)

 

FEATURED BOOK: THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING

Week Four: Letting God Take the Lead

Cloud of Unknowing cover

The Cloud of Unknowing is a 14th-century treatise that offers instruction to beginners in contemplative prayer. Throughout the book, the anonymous author reminds us that God gives us the gift of prayer.

How heartening this is! When we remember that God’s in charge, we don’t have to think we’re going to master prayer or even be very good at it. Even when we’re bumbling through it, maybe our desire is enough, or at least a start. Maybe we’re always beginners.

 

Without God’s intervention, no saint or angel would even think to desire contemplative love. I also believe our Lord deliberately chooses lifelong sinners to do this work, perhaps even more often than he selects others who have not grieved him as much.

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Contemplative prayer is a gift, no strings attached. God gives it to anyone he wants. You can’t earn it.

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When understood properly, prayer is nothing but an intense longing for God, nurturing everything good and removing everything evil.

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[K]now that God is the one who stirs your will and longing, all by himself, with no middle man. Nor does he need your help to do this. Don’t be afraid of the devil, either; he can’t come near you.

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I’ve been enjoying the Cloud of Unknowing in a newer translation that renders the text in a modern English idiom. Read more here.

For reflection:

Cloud quote - week 4

FEATURED BOOK: THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING

Week 3: When You’re Distracted During Prayer

Cloud of Unknowing cover

The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th-century treatise on contemplative prayer, introduces a subject that plagues us all — distractions. Medieval mystics and other giants of the Church speak of distractions a great deal — obviously it’s a prayer problem that’s always been around.

The 13th-century Dominican theologian St. Thomas Aquinas said, “a man can scarcely say the ‘Our Father’ without his mind wandering to other things.” The same is true, perhaps even truer, of contemplative prayer. So if you have trouble with distraction, take heart! You (and I) are not alone. The Cloud author gives us these tips for dealing with those pesky stray thoughts:

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When distracting thoughts press down on you, when they stand between you and God and stubbornly demand your attention, pretend you don’t even notice them. Try looking over their shoulders, as if you’re searching for something else, and you are. That something else is God, hidden in a cloud of unknowing.

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When exhausted from fighting your thoughts, when you’re unable to put them down, fall down before them and cower like a captive or a coward overcome in battle. Give up. Accept that it’s foolish for you to fight them any longer. Do this, and you’ll find that in the hands of your enemies, you are surrendering to God.

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I also believe that when this attitude is genuine, it’s nothing but seeing who you really are . . . This is humility. The good news is that humility gets God’s attention. He’ll descend to avenge you against your enemies. Swooping in, he will snatch you up and then gently dry your spiritual eyes . . .

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I’ve been enjoying the Cloud of Unknowing in a newer translation that renders the text in a modern English idiom. Read more here.

Reflection:

Cloud quote - week 3