A Lay Cistercian reflects on moving from self to God
There are many lessons I have learned about trying to be spiritual in my lifetime. Here are a few.
- Spirituality, i.e., moving from self to God, is a lifetime process. I marvel, when talking to people who have said they left the Catholic Church because they did not find in it what they were seeking. The question of sincerity aside, the words of G. K. Chesterton come to mind, “The Catholic Church has not been tried and found wanting, it has never been tried at all.” This lifetime process is not one of time, as in, when I was young, I knew less, and now I know more. It is about growing deeper in Christ Jesus, of course, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The words from Scripture echo in my mind: Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24.The process of living has to do with the process of dying to self so that God can grow.
- There are at least five Catholic Churches in me. I have a book entitled Six Thresholds of Life, in which I detail the six areas or thresholds through which I have passed. I have also noticed five levels of spiritual awareness, based on the Gospel of John 1:1.
- I am present to hear the Word from Scriptures at Eucharist and at Liturgy of the Hours. It takes an act of the will to go to Eucharist, and when you get there, to stay focused on the Word. Most Catholics live just on this level of spirituality. It is like the rocky soil in the parable of the sower. (Matthew 13:5) There is a little growth but the seed does not grow because there is no ability to move deeper into the mystery of Christ. For me, contemplation is one way that I have found to grow deeper, to die to my old self, to seek God in all things new. The soil of God is limitless.
- I take that Word into my mind and heart and pray the Word. Prayer is lifting the mind and heart to God. In the first level, the individual lifts the mind to God. In the second level, both mind and heart are focused on doing God’s will and giving glory to the Father. In this level, I am not only physically present for the Word to envelop me in God’s energy, I am spiritually present with my heart, seeking to love God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength. Contemplation helps me to focus on not just the love I have for Christ, but the love that Christ has for me. (Phil 2:5-12)
- I share the Word. Loving God with all our hearts is a goal to which I aspire. The next level is to love our neighbor as our self. (Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 22:34) This deeper level of spiritual awareness means my contemplation must involve five practices with other Lay Cistercians and those in my faith community in Tallahassee. (Silence, Solitude, Pray, Work, and Community) I am a seed in God’s soil, but I find myself in a Garden, once with flowering plants and lush greenery, one with all those who have been marked by the sign of faith and have died, those who still live and strive to move from self to God, and those who await the Grand Gardner and to smell the flowers. Faith is not just an individual act of belief, but is also the soil into which all those who wish to be like Christ must nourish and persevere. This is the Church universal, the Church one, the Church apostolic, and the Church holy.
- I contemplate the Word. As one who has tried to focus on a contemplative approach to reality (looking inward in silence and solitude), rather than an activist role, how I choose to seek God is through daily Eucharist, meditations on the Rosary for my intentions, Liturgy of the Hours, to include Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline, plus adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. It I am truly on this fourth level, the important thing is not that I do certain practices and get results, as much as I try for consistency and perseverance in being in the presence of God and just waiting.
- There are no words that are able to communicate with the Word. The results of this level are peace, joy, love. It is feeling the presence of the Spirit as you sit in your chair. This level is not about me, nor my giving glory and praise. It is about sitting next to God and receiving energy, much as you would do if you sat in the presence of the Sun and felt the healing warmth of its rays on you. I have only partially been at this level of the Church. St. Paul wrote about it. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9)
- If there is any lesson life teaches, it is that you don’t get anything unless you work for it. That includes spirituality. Some churches hold that you don’t need to work for your faith, just believe. That goes against Genesis where God told Adam and Eve that they would have to work for their food and would die. (Genesis 3) The condition of original sin is important because presents us with two very different views of reality: one has us as the center of all reality, the other has God as the center of all that is. That is why we have to die to self (the false self of the world) and choose our true self (the true self that comes from God). Spirituality is a lifetime process of being tempted to choose us over God. Sounds like what Adam and Eve faced, don’t you think?
4 Life is like a cross-word puzzle. I had a Lectio Divina reflection on this idea. When you enter the spiritual domain or universe, you are given all the pieces of the puzzle of life. Some of those pieces you fit into place as you grow older and wiser. Some pieces are not of this puzzle and won’t fit. You won’t know which ones to use unless you get some help. Christ gives you help in this, but will not help you with the puzzle. If you follow Christ and his ways, you will find the truth and the life, or which pieces of the puzzle are true and which are false. You still have to take a lifetime to fit the pieces together to see if they fit. The picture of the puzzle is the center you have chosen for your life. It is the reward for which you have taken time to see what fits together. It is the purpose of your life.
If you want to read an excellent book on Cistercian spirituality as expressed by Lay Cistercians, read Carl McColeman’s book, Befriending Silence.