Whenever I read or listen to the Star Trek theme, “to boldly go where no one has gone before,” I always think of the one place where I don’t like to go– inside me. As a Lay Cistercian following the practices of Cistercian spirituality, going inside me is the goal each day. That is called the contemplative approach to spirituality. Contemplative monks and nuns go so far as to seal themselves off from the world so that can seek God within the boundaries of a monastery. In an age that favors making the self into God, going inside yourself to seek God may be hazardous to your health. What if you don’t come out? I fear what I cannot control or manipulate–what is within.
My fears are several in number: fear of the dark, fear of the demons that exists within me that I have not yet exorcised, fear of being alone, fear of going to Hell. There are probably others that I have hidden in the recesses of my soul that may pop out at any time.
I told you that going inside me every day is what I strive to do. I didn’t tell you that the act of going inside self is not an easy one. Here are some reasons I have discovered in my Lectio Divina of Phil 2:5.
I don’t like what I find. Unlike Lutheran teaching on the self, I don’t think of myself as rotten and corrupt in my nature, saved with the grace of Christ as syrup is poured over burned pancakes to make them taste good. I am wounded by the effects of Original Sin, but redeemed by the act of Christ on the cross and strengthened by faith in my Baptism and Reconciliation with the Father. I am an adopted son, one who, like the prodigal Son, has not always loved God with my full heart and soul, and strength, but one who continues to lead the Life of Christ according to the contemplative practices of Cistercian spirituality. God gave his Only Son for me that I might have life now, and hereafter. (John 3: 26-17) In am responsible for what I find inside me, but not content if I do not have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5). What attracted me to the Lay Cistercian approach to spirituality was its emphasis on emptying self to seek God. As St. Benedict says, “that in all things, may God be glorified.”
Each of us must exorcize our demons to free ourselves of thinking that we are God. When Jesus cast out the demons he would ask their name. Some of our personal demons may be alcohol misuse, sexual fantasy, corruption of the spirit by thinking that I, like Adam and Eve, are God, envy, lust, hatred, mental illness to some degree, and generally, those ideas and behaviors that corrupt the spirit as found in Galatians 5.
Here is the point. If what makes me what I can become is inside, if I must get rid of what I don’t like about myself is inside, then there must be a way to go inside the one place that I fear to enter and at least address those deficiencies that keep me from seeking God to my full potential. Not that I will ever finish the race in this life, as St. Paul alludes in Philippians 3:7-16, but I will seek to run the race as a Lay Cistercian, dutifully carrying out the practices of Eucharist, Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, Reading Scripture and Reconciliation of my Baptismal commitment of making all things new. These are not ends in themselves but lead to a conversion of heart and transformation from self to God. This happens in the deepest part of me, a place where there is neither darkness or light but of enlightenment and love, a sanctuary of my heart which needs daily conversion.
My default is self not God. I live in a world that is touched by the effects of Original Sin. That means this is an imperfect place, one in which everything dies, everything rusts, everything eventually corrupts. My default is not God but me. I must transform myself through good works, those found in Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule, the Tools of Good Works. Why good works? Well, think about it, there are only good works, bad works and no works. Which ones do you want to do? More importantly, these are the good works that will transform us from self to God. They are the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, living out Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule and doing Christianity. Forget about buying your way to Heaven through doing good works. We can’t buy our way into anything, even being a Democrat or Republican. The fact is, unless you do what Christ commands us, even if you have faith, you will be cast aside. There is only one command: love one another as I have loved you. Read the text from Matthew 25 about good works and how we will be judged?
The Judgment of the Nations
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
I live in a world that does not recognize the teachings of Christ. The default of the world is self not God. There is a constant battle within me to choose self rather than the will of God. Cistercian spirituality stresses contemplation about what is really important in life. And what is that? I wrote a book about it entitled Six Thresholds of Life. You can access it on this blog under Store.
Can you answer these questions?
The answers to these and all questions that are important may be found in your mind and in your heart, if you place your heart next to the heart of Christ.
Keep seeking God. Don’t forget to look within.