As I become more like Christ and less like me, I appreciate the notion of Oneness. I am beginning to be aware that more is not necessarily better when it comes to prayer. At all times, I try to keep a healthy balance between the mind and the heart, which has not always been true for me. What follows is the result of my Lectio Divina on Phil 2:5, where I try to reach contemplation on the Oneness of God. As you might imagine, I did not even come close, but close enough that I will try again and again.
Like St. Paul, I don’t ever think I will achieve perfection or attain, much less sustain, a contemplative level of spiritual awareness in my lifetime. Like St. Paul, I strive to run the race, out of breath much of the time, sometimes with the temporary leg cramps of unbelief, impatient that I cannot achieve what I set out to possess. (Philippians 3)
What seems like a very murky and diffuse goal, i.e., to love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself is profoundly simple at first glance, but contains all the wisdom of the Prophets, Christ, the Apostles, and Church Fathers and Mothers to help us find meaning and a purpose for our life. Whatever God touches is One, concentrated orange juice that humans cannot drink without adding the water of God’s energy to make it drinkable for us. This is renouncing oneself so that we can possess that which is unknowable and unattainable in this lifetime, loving God with all our hearts. As sons and daughter of adoption by the Father, we have Christ, our brother, our Savior, our Master to show us how to approach the Father in a way that we don’t fry our neurons from contacting pure energy. Christ is our Mediator, Mary is Mediatrix with her Son, and the saints proclaim that being one in Christ Jesus means that in this fragile lifetime of trying to find meaning, it is possible to love, maybe not with ALL your mind and heart, but with more of it than you could achieve without having in you the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5)
When I say communicating with God in prayer, I mean approaching the Sacred, containing Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, There is only One God, but also God is One in His Nature. Christ, as we hold in the belief of the Church, contains humanity and divinity. The four centuries after Christ found the Church is turmoil over the question of who is God, who is Christ, who is the church. In its search for what is Oneness, the Catholic Church struggled with all types of heretical views about Christ. That they came through that bloodbath can only be due to the Holy Spirit and Christ’s words, “…and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against you.” Matthew 16:18
With God, there is no Two, only the One. We humans can’t even comprehend what that might be. God lives only in the Now. There is no past nor is there a future in Heaven. That makes it difficult for us to grasp what Heaven is because our whole experience with life is one of past, living the now and anticipating the future. Prayer is a way to communicate with a God that is so far beyond us, that even with our sophisticated science and technology, we don’t have a clue how we live after death, except that Jesus told us not to worry, he would take care of us.
An old man in Vincennes, Indiana asked me one time, when I was getting a hair cut at Bloom’s Barbershop, what the difference was between an atheist and a priest (I was a seminarian at the time). I don’t know why, but I told him one has Hope there is a hereafter and one does not. Typical for the old man in question, he asked me, “Which one?” We all got a big laugh out of that question. As with many of life’s situations, there is a core of truth to everything. In this case, Hope in its simplicity contains multiple layers of complexity.
God is so complex that all that is, is contained in the Now, the One. We can just begin to roll back the veil of unbelief when we think of One God yet Three Distinct Persons, the template for all reality. Love is a person. Hope is a person. Faith is a person. All are one in God yet distinct. Jesus left the security of the Oneness and became one of us, haiving to die of his own volition to make reparation with God for the sin of Adam and Eve. I hold that the mythical story of our human nature is much more real than being historical. It goes beyond mind and spirit to tell us that we are not part of the Oneness of God. We can, however communicate with God because of Christ. He is the only one who can communicate with The One because he is The One. As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, I seek God through silence, solitude, work, prayer, and in community. These practices help me to focus on God instead of me, to stop talking and begin to listen, to push out of my mind all words, idea, and cares of the day. “It is only with the heart that one sees rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye,” says the Fox to the Little Prince.
The time I take wanting to be in the presence of The One is prayer. My struggles with trying to focus on Christ in the midst of all the temptations of life is prayer. I have grown ever appreciative of Lectio Divina because of the simplicity of just using one phrase (Phil 2:5) over and over and the astounding complexity of what comes out of such encounters with Christ in union with the Holy Spirit. Prayer is lifting both mind and heart to God. The simplicity of God is the simplicity of prayer, being in the presence of Being.
We have a record of those who have listened to the heart of Christ in the Saints. There is a lifetime of reading you can do on the results these holy men and women had when they stopped talking and just listened in the silence and solitude of their hearts. Read the following passage written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux and get a feel for the texture, the tone, and scope of his contemplation.
“Admit that God deserves to be loved very much, yea, boundless, because He loved us first, He infinite and we nothing, loved us, miserable sinners, with a love so great and so free. This is why I said at the beginning that the measure of our love to God is to love immeasurably. For since our love is toward God, who is infinite and immeasurable, how can we bound or limit the love we owe Him? Besides, our love is not a gift but a debt. And since it is the Godhead who loves us, Himself boundless, eternal, supreme love, of whose greatness there is no end, yea, and His wisdom is infinite, whose peace passeth all understanding; since it is He who loves us, I say, can we think of repaying Him grudgingly? I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my strength, in whom I will trust’ (Ps. 18.1f). He is all that I need, all that I long for. My God and my help, I will love Thee for Thy great goodness; not so much as I might, surely, but as much as I can. I cannot love Thee as Thou deservest to be loved, for I cannot love Thee more than my own feebleness permits. I will love Thee more when Thou deemest me worthy to receive greater capacity for loving; yet never so perfectly as Thou hast deserved of me. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in Thy book all my members were written’ (PS. 139.16). Yet Thou recordest in that book all who do what they can, even though they cannot do what they ought. Surely I have said enough to show how God should be loved and why. But who has felt, who can know, who express, how much we should love him.”
Praise be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology