Book of the Month: Thoughts in Solitude

Week Two: Transformation in Solitude

thoughts in solitude-mertonCan you make yourself more loving, holy, or virtuous?

I suspect that you could try, but Thomas Merton suggests that you’ll fail and feel quite bad about it. His alternative is far from flashy: solitude.

In solitude we can rest fully in the love of God and trust the rest to God’s presence within us. Merton writes:

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“If man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit. Everything must be elevated and transformed by the action of God, in love and faith.”

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“There is no hope for the man who struggles to obtain a virtue in the abstract—a quality of which he has no experience. He will never efficaciously prefer the virtue to the opposite vice, no matter how much he may seem to despise the latter.”

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“What is the use of praying if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?”

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Learn more about Thoughts in Solitude…

For Reflection

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Saturday Prayer

“Why should I want to be rich, when You were poor? Why should I desire to be famous and powerful in the eyes of men, when the sons of those who exalted the false prophets and stoned the true rejected You and nailed You to the Cross? Why should I cherish in my heart a hope that devours me—the hope for perfect happiness in this life—when such hope, doomed to frustration, is nothing but despair?”

-Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Featured Book: Falling Upward

Falling-Upward-RohrWeek Four: Second Half of Life Enlightenment

Falling Upward challenges us to stop seeking enlightenment. The more we try to create spiritual breakthroughs, the more frustrated we’ll become. We can only seek God and then take whatever enlightenment and breakthroughs result.

Religion can be healthy or unhealthy. While we begin our religious journeys by learning rules and facts, the deeper Christian experience is a union with God–Jesus called this abiding. Richard Rohr speaks of these two movements as the two halves of life. Both are necessary, but the first half of life can become toxic and unhealthy if it’s all we ever know.

Once we fail, doubt, and struggle, we are most ready to experience God on God’s own terms. Rohr writes:

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Any attempt to engineer or plan your own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it will be ego driven. You will see only what you have already decided to look for, and you cannot see what you are not ready or told to look for. So failure and humiliation force you to look where you never would otherwise.

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Many people are kept from mature religion because of the pious, immature, or rigid expectations of their first-half-of-life family. Even Jesus, whose family thought he was “crazy” (Mark 3:21), had to face this dilemma firsthand.

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By the second half of life, you have learned ever so slowly, and with much resistance, that most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot, and incites a lot of push-back from those you have attacked.

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“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” I learned this from my father St. Francis, who did not concentrate on attacking evil or others, but just spent his life falling, and falling many times into the good, the true, and the beautiful. It was the only way he knew how to fall into God.

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Read more…

 

For Reflection

Are you encouraged or discouraged to read Rohr’s thoughts on reaching enlightenment?

Take 5 minutes today to rest in God’s direction for your life.

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Featured Article: Steps Toward Experiencing God’s Presence

Pastor Ray Hollenbach writes frequently about the disconnect we experience between the promises of Christianity and the struggles that often become reality. How do we bridge the gap between the aspirations of our faith and the distance we feel from God.

Ray offers five first steps toward experiencing God’s presence, and I’ll highlight a few quotes from his post below:

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The first step in experiencing the presence of God is to take the Biblical witness seriously. We are told time and again that God is near—why does he feel so far? Worse still we’ve trained ourselves to dismiss the scripture as inspirational thoughts rather than a description of reality. To know his presence we must honestly evaluate whether our daily life matches God’s revelation of the way things really are.

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Second, we should order our lives in ways that allow us to experience his presence: we must train ourselves to recognize his presence. The spiritual practices of silence and solitude do not conjure up God’s presence; they help us awaken to God’s presence.

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Read the rest here…

 

 

Contemplative Profiles: 3 Unknown but Essential Mystics

Contemplative prayer isn’t an experience reserved for the “spiritually elite” or a few well-known masters. In fact, some of the best contemplative writers are still largely unknown, and contemplative prayer has been practiced for centuries by Christians who remain completely unknown.

Carl McColman offers a list with three mystics that everyone interested in contemplative prayer will want to know about. Here is a little sample of the larger post:

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[Walter] Hilton was born probably in the 1340s and died in 1396; little is known about his life, although it is likely he studied law at Cambridge before becoming an Augustinian priest. His writings, mostly in Middle English, were popular during his lifetime and the following century. Hilton reveals a keen understanding of the psychology of contemplative life, and (like The Cloud) reveals considerable talent as a spiritual directer in his work.

The Scale of Perfection concerns the ongoing process of inner transfiguration that marks perseverance in contemplation. Hilton follows the longstanding mystical tradition that understands the human soul as created in the image and likeness of God, and the contemplative life consisting of a gradual reformation of the soul, to restore the image that has been defaced by sin.

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John Ruusbroec was a prolific writer, usually composing his works in Flemish rather than Latin, in order to reach a wider audience. Today his best known work is The Spiritual Espousals, a luminous meditation on how Christ, the Bridegroom, unites human nature with his own, in a sacred marriage officiated by the Holy Spirit.

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Read more…

 

 

Featured Article: The Church Fathers on Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been a favorite of psychologists and behavioral researchers. In a purely secular sense, mindfulness simply means becoming aware of your thoughts or thinking about thinking. However, mindfulness has also been a part of the prayer practices of the historic church.

The early church and the desert fathers and mothers in particular routinely practiced a form of mindfulness that they used in conjunction with prayer. This practice has continued throughout the history of the church, although it has been called different things over time, such as the Ignatian Examen that I use each evening. Here is one analysis of this prayer practice and its Christian background:

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The early fathers of the Eastern Christian Church talked about the vigilance of the mind and heart [nepsis], which is similar to the cognitive-rational-emotive therapy technique employed by psychologists in helping patients to be ‘mindful’ and thus learn to control their thoughts and feelings. In response to this technique Beck (2011) writes that “. . . mindfulness techniques help patients nonjudgmentally observe and accept their internal experiences, without evaluating or trying to change them.”

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A vigilance and watchfulness of the mind and heart somewhat similar to the cognitive-rational-emotive therapy technique employed by psychologists in helping patients to be ‘mindful’ and thus learn control of thoughts and feelings is a frequent theme in the writings of the early Fathers of the Eastern Christian Church.

These early Christian spiritual teachers taught their disciples to develop nepsis, that is, to be wakeful and attentive (from the Greek verb nepho: to be vigilant, mindful)iii to that which was inside and around them. Thus, we also need to practice being completely “present” to our thoughts and surroundings.

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Read more…

 

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Featured Book: Falling Upward

Falling-Upward-RohrWeek Two: Moving Beyond Control

Contemplation creates a space in our lives for God to settle and perhaps speak without our intellects trying to control our religious experience. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr writes that the first half of life is particularly hostile toward contemplation because we are struggling to define our identities and beliefs.

However, many find that the boundaries we’ve devoted our first half of life to constructing are never as solid as we thought. This is where the falling comes in. Most importantly, this is where we can find true spiritual growth.

The loss of control over our spirituality can open us to new movements of the Spirit of God. Here’s what Richard Rohr has to say in Falling Upward:

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The very unfortunate result of this preoccupation with order, control, safety, pleasure, and certitude is that a high percentage of people never get to the contents of their own lives! Human life is about more than building boundaries, protecting identities, creating tribes, and teaching impulse control.

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Very few Christians have been taught how to live both law and freedom at the same time. Our Western dualistic minds do not process paradoxes very well. Without a contemplative mind, we do not know how to hold creative tensions.

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God has to undo our illusions secretly, as it were, when we are not watching and not in perfect control, say the mystics. That is perhaps why the best word for God is actually Mystery. We move forward in ways that we do not even understand and through the quiet workings of time and grace.

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Read more…

 

For Reflection

What are you trying to control today?

Take 5 minutes to surrender that part of your life to God today.

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Contemplative Profiles: Brother Lawrence

We best know Brother Lawrence as an unassuming monk who worked hard in a monastery kitchen doing menial chores. It was hardly a step up from his previous occupation in the army, which he only joined because he had grown up in poverty. While serving as a soldier he had a spiritual experience that eventually sent him to a monastery.

Lawrence spent his days contemplating the love of God while washing pots and pan, running errands, and cleaning the kitchen. I have personally benefitted from his writings since I’m the person who washes the dishes in our home, but his example of inviting God to join him in the simplest of tasks is a powerful reminder of how to practice God’s presence today.

This profile in Christian History includes the following quotes from Brother Lawrence:

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Lawrence writes, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”

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“We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king.”

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“As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before him, fixing my mind upon his holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from him. This proved to be an exercise frequently painful, yet I persisted through all difficulties.”

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Read more…

 

Featured Article: Christian Contemplation Leads Us to Community

There are many misconceptions surrounding contemplative prayer, and perhaps one of the most damaging has been the belief that contemplative prayer is self-centered or self-emptying, disconnecting us from others. However, the Christian contemplative tradition aims to make us more aware of God’s loving presence.

For Christians, God is a loving trinitarian relationship that we participate in because of our adoption by Jesus. Contemplative prayer helps us clear away distractions in order to be more fully present for God’s love, and once we have been impacted by God’s love, we are in a better position to love and serve others. In fact, the desert fathers and mothers were often sought out for their wisdom and advice. Their greatest ministry followed their solitude and contemplation!

In this featured blog post, Carl McColman shares how contemplation has become distorted in some circles as a purely individual pursuit and then offers helpful clarification:

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“Christian mysticism actually involves relationship in its most intense form — because it is a trinitarian expression of relationship: relationship with God, relationship with self, relationship with others. All three are necessary for Christian mysticism. For Christians, all three forms of love are necessary for contemplation.”

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“It’s a paradox: we retreat into the inner room (including the solitude of silent prayer) not to escape from relationships, but rather to deepen relationships: all relationships (with God, self, and others). When we directly cultivate our relationship with God (as we do during contemplative prayer), we are simultaneously cultivating our capacity for authentic care of self and compassionate love of others. We are called into the silence but then led out of the silence, a rhythm similar to all the great rhythms of life: breathing in/breathing out, the heart beating/resting; work and Sabbath, day and night, summer and winter. Life is an alternating current: and so is the mystical life. We sink into solitude only to be sent forth into relationship.”

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Read more…

 

Keep the Contemplative Writer Sustainable

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Friday Favorites

Each Friday I share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, then I’ll include it below.

Do you have someone else’s article or post to share? Join the Contemplative Writers Facebook group, comment on today’s post on my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter (@edcyzewski) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

30 Must-Read Articles if You’re Becoming a Minimalist (We’re moving this week, so…)

Students of Jesus (Just read what Ray writes. The End.)

How to Work Alone

6 Ways the Most Productive People Send Emails

Through Hell and Back (A fascinating profile of Rob Bell)

How to Break Your Addiction to Work

 

Keep the Contemplative Writer Sustainable

The Contemplative writer is ad-free and never shares sponsored content, but it is a lot of work to maintain. We rely on affiliate links from the books we share and the generous gifts of our readers. An automated monthly gift as low as $1 per month or a one-time gift of $5 goes a long way to sustaining our mission to provide contemplative prayer resources for our readers. Thank you!

Choose a recurring monthly donation:

support-patreon-orange

Make a one-time gift via PayPal (credit cards accepted!)


Donate Now Button

Learn more about how to support us.