SOLITUDE: The need to be with God.

There are at least four themes of prayer that I have detected in my Lectio Divina. They are not the typical four types of prayer, such as petition, thanksgiving, praise, and reparation. I realized these four themes in my  sleep sometime before I woke up at 3:00 a.m. I had been thinking of Philippians 2:5, my purpose in life. Honestly, all I do is think about having in me the mind of Christ Jesus and all kinds of things pop up, things I would never have thought of on my own, unrelated to anything I had been thinking about before.

When I studied Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it struck me that spirituality is missing, unless you count self actualization as spiritual.  Needs are extremely important to us because the propel us forward to resolve that which is missing in our lives, and compel us to choose among values we think will satisfy our need. My assumption, unlike some of the secular humanists or some existentialists, is that the core of what it means to be human, to be fulfilled in our human nature comes from outside of ourselves. What does come from inside ourselves is recognizing the purpose for life and what my purpose is, within that larger purpose of life. I use contemplation to reach an understanding and a awareness of God that I could not reach through reason or science alone.

As a Lay Cistercian, trying to seek God with my whole heart and mind and strength and my neighbor as myself, I focus on five contemplative practices to help me communicate with the Sacred: silence, solitude,  work, prayer, and community. These five practices are golden threads that bind all my thoughts and needs of the heart together. They focus me, not on what I can do for God, but allow God to be present for me and that resultant activity is called good works. Remember, there are only good works, bad works, and no works. Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule have allowed me to transform to being more closely aligned to what God’s will is for me.  Like St. Paul in Philippians 3, not that I am there yet, but I realize the prize for which I strive.  There are four needs that I have discovered when moving in Lectio Divina closer to contemplation.

FOUR THEMES IN MY PRAYER

The four themes of prayer that are present in all my prayers are:

  • THE NEED FOR SILENCE AND SOLITUDE
  • THE NEED FOR INTIMACY
  • THE NEED TO LISTEN
  • THE NEED FOR HUMILITY AND OBEDIENCE

THE NEED FOR SILENCE AND SOLITUDE

Before I began to appreciate my spirituality in terms of the Cistercian heritage, I considered myself spiritual. That in itself should have triggered a warning that I was probably spiritual with me as the center of life rather than having in me the mind of Christ Jesus.  I went on my merry way, until I had to measure myself against the Life of Christ. What a shock that was! Here are some of the practical ways  I practice prayer.

EUCHARISTIC ADORATION –What helps me to move from self to God is God. But from my side, it is placing myself in a condition of silence and solitude so that I can be present to the Real Presence. I do that in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament every day, if I can. This form of prayer is not public prayer of the Church Universal, such as Eucharist or Lectio Divina, but is devotional, designed for the individual to be present to the One Who Is.  As a Lay Cistercian, I have committed remaining time on earth to one thing, to seek God. One of the ways I do that is by sitting in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I have no agenda, I don’t try to force meditation, I seek nothing from God. I just try to be in the presence of Being. Some of you will know of what I speak, some of you never will. Our parish is fortunate to have Eucharistic Adoration every day (Monday through Friday) from 4:00- 5:00 p.m.  Another parish in Tallahassee, Blessed Sacrament, has Eucharist Adoration twenty-four hours a day. How wonderful to have these opportunities to be present to the Real Presence!

MINI-LECTIO — I am not a monk but a Lay Cistercian. My life is full of last-minute interruptions and hardly an hour goes by where I don’t have something to do. I am keenly aware these days (I am retired) that I don’t have to fill up my free time with things, television, reading novels, and anything that will pass the time. For one  thing, any of these “fillers” won’t satisfy the longing of my heart to be with the one I love. I have developed a non-formal way of doing Lectio, having 30 minute snatches of Lectio during the Day, all tied together to my one central Lectio, which is Philippians 2:5.  It works for me outside of Trader Joe’s Market, when I have to wait for my wife to shop. It happens suddenly as I  must drive here and there, especially to visit the Monastery of the Holy Spirit on Lay Cistercian Gathering Day. It takes five hours to drive it, one way. It is attending Eucharist one-half hour earlier and doing Lectio. It may be just turning off the hateful news (you have heard of fake news), my term fo violence to my desire to love God with all my heart. Political parties will not satisfy the longing of the heart for silence and solitude, much less love. What happens most frequently in living out my life are unexpected situation where I can use Lectio Divina to reestablish with God, to be with the One who Is, to sit next to the heart of Christ in silence and solitude.

EUCHARIST — How can you have silence and solitude at the Eucharist with all the words being spoken? Silence and solitude is not the absence of sound or of people, but how your heart converts the grace and energy of God to you. If I cultivate silence and solitude, especially in the context of a community of Faith, then I think of the Word being proclaimed and celebrated. I join my heart with the love of Christ for the Father to give fitting praise and glory. I can think of no greater prayer than that of the sacrifice Christ gives to His Father, in reparation for the sins of all of us, and to celebrate the spirit of our adoption as sons and daughter of the Most High.

What are some ways you practice silence and solitude as you living out your remaining days?

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MY HEART NEXT TO THE HEART OF CHRIST

Prayer is lifting the mind and heart to God. Silence and Solitude helps us go within ourselves to feel the presence of Christ as welling as knowing about it.  There are two realms of prayer, just as there are two realms of being Catholic, that of the mind and that of the heart, both are one, both are distinct, both as needed. 

  • What are some of the characteristics of loving someone, spouse, children, family?
  • You want to be with them.
  • You want to do something that makes them happy. You think of them often during the day, at odd times and feel good.
  • You want them to be safe and sound and have a happy life.
  • You want them to realize your spiritual heritage and how wonderful it is to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.
  • You want them to know how to go to the deepest place in their heart where they will find that which satisfied their purpose in life.
  • You want them to be able to love God with all their hearts, the minds, and their strength, and their neighbor as themselves.
  • You want them to discover the joys of being in silence and in solitude (not alone) with Christ, heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul.
  • You want them to love others as Christ has loved us.
  • You want them to read Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule daily as the measure against which we measured.
  • You want to teach those you love the Real Presence in the Eucharist and the happiness that comes from being in the Real Presence of the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration.
  • You want them to have mercy on other as Christ has mercy on us, not judging others but not condoning sin and corruption.
  • You want them to be with you in Heaven.

List some additional characteristics you would like to add.

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THE NEED FOR INTIMACY

If silence means allowing the heart to grow deeper in itself, and solitude means carving our a time and place for lifting the heart and mind to God, then intimacy means wanting, even yearning for my heart to be next to another, in this case Jesus.  What seems like a foolish, juvenile need, is actually one of the most powerful of all human desires–the need to be with another. To put the idea in perspective, we are talking about more than physical intimacy, although it is that. Intimacy has to do with being one with another person or a group of persons.

TYPES OF INTIMACY

PHYSICAL INTIMACY–

My body is next to your body. or my body becomes one with your body. This is being physically present to another person, body touching body, holding hands, caressing, sexual intimacy with organ to organ, the two becoming one body. As a Lay Cistercian, community is an important part of growing from self to God. The context of community, or being physically present to one another is crucial in our quest for transformation because it is by being present to others that God the Holy Spirit can speak to our hearts. Mother and child, father and child, all require being present to one another.  The greatest gift and treasures we have are those who love us be present to us on special occasions, such as Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries. In the context of marriage, sexual intimacy produces love for the spouse and children for the family.

MENTAL INTIMACY — My mind shares something with your mind or my mind becomes one with your mind. Human animals, whom I call Spiritual Apes, know that we know. Why is that? Our collective knowledge has grown exponentially in the what, the why and the how of life around us. What we seem to lack is an appreciation of the hidden parts of our consciousness, the realm of invisible reality, the one where the heart makes sense out of all that is. This arena is the crucible in which the mind and the heart merge to try to make sense our of our existence. The six questions, in my own mind, that flow from this dialectic, are:

  • What is the purpose of life?
  • What is my purpose in life?
  • What does reality look like?
  • How does it all fit together?
  • What does it mean to love fiercely?
  • You know you are going to die, now what?

We don’t have an answer to these questions as much as we have questions that come from these questions. The way the human mind answers these questions depends upon the assumptions each person makes.  For example, some say God exists, so their assumptions in answer the questions will be different than someone who says, God is the center of all reality. So, how does intimacy fit into this discussion? Intimacy is not only being physically present to another, but also mentally present. Our collective intellect allows us to go places where the body could not go. Our lack of knowledge is very evident throughout history. When we become intimate with the ideas of others, we grow in appreciation of reality. We know more today than they did about hygiene and medicine in the Fifteenth Century. Our application of disciplines such as Physics, Chemistry, Math, Medicine, Engineering, Medical Research, Biology, to name only a few, have enriched us tremendously to date.  What is even more thrilling is what is yet to come.  We are only beginning our quest as a collective humanity. The mind can help us to grow in appreciation of even that which is mysterious and hidden, the values of love, and the meaning of life itself. In my poor attempts to find out the meta-questions of life, all I realize is that we are not yet at a level of sophistication where Science can let go of its Ego and accept that there are measurements out there that defy the physical universe. Love sounds so pathetic as a reason for reason, but it is probably no more ridiculous than saying that there is life out there.

WHERE IS EVERYBODY?

Have you heard of the Fermi Paradox? This is the question posed by the famed scientist Enrico Fermi to his colleagues who were talking about how there was life no doubt on other planets. Fermi asked the question, “Where is everybody?”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermi_paradox.

The paradox is with the lack of evidence that there is life out there versus the probability of it being there. A scientist named Frank Drake devised an equation on the probability that life might exist in other universes. It is called the Drake equation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation  It doesn’t solve the Fermi Paradox, if it will ever be solved, but does provide an excellent way to frame the debate on probability that life is out there.

Mental intimacy has to do not just with my mind but the whole concept of mental truth, the notion that truth is one, that we can probe it and poke it but never agree on it entirely. There is one reality, in my thinking, physical truth, mental truth, and spiritual truth. Each of these has its own distinct realities with their measurements and must come together to compliment each other. Our quest, both collectively and as an individual, is to seek truth  with all our hearts,  all  our minds, all our strength.  Sounds like Deuteronomy 6, the Shema Yisrael, and Matthew 22:37, the purpose for life. Mental intimacy on the larger scale is about oneness.

SPIRITUAL INTIMACY— My spirit is next to your spirit or my heart becomes one with the heart of Christ.our body. or my body becomes one with your body. My perspective is one of a Lay Cistercian, that is, my seeking God takes place in the contemplation of Being, in this case God. Physical intimacy has to do with being close to matter in the context of time. Mental intimacy has to do with being at-one in the mind about purpose and your purpose in life (th six thresholds of life as stated above). Spiritual intimacy has to do with love and God as the source of all love (Phil 2:5). Spiritual intimacy is not of this world, but comes from our being adopted as sons and daughters of the Father. Our abode is Heaven, not earth. Random thoughts on intimacy in the Spirit:

  • Our happiness comes from doing the will of God, not our own.
  • Our intimacy is enhanced, at least in my case, through the Cistercian practices (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community) in order to attain the chairisms (humility, obedience to God’s will, hospitality, having in me the mind of Christ Jesus, attempting but never quite achieving the tools of good works as found in Chapter 4 of St. Benedict’s Rule, preferring nothing to the love of God, loving others as Christ has loved us).
  • No one has intimacy in the spiritual sense without touching the heart of Jesus.
  • Mary’s heart touched Jesus most intimately.
  • The hearts of all the Saints proclaimed their intimacy by their love of Christ above all things, even death in the case of the martyrs.
  • The hearts of all those who seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and are content that all other thins will follow.
  • Those will be saved who call upon the name of the Lord and ask for mercy. That includes all of us, even though we are Catholic.
  • Everything God touches is intimate.

THE NEED TO LISTEN — An important part of prayer for me is listening. I had occasion to listen into a conversation my wife was having on the telephone with her sister, who lives in South Korea.  I did not know what they were saying since they talked in Hangul, but I was struck that the talking was non-stop on both sides.  How that happens is still a mystery to me.  It did remind me that I have to remember that, when talking to God, God is always listening and I may not be. Listening to the silence of God in your heart does not come naturally. For many years, I thought I was listening to God, but it was just my blithering in the background.

In my Lectio, I am reminded that, in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God.”  What a wonderful way to describe that which cannot be described, the Cloud of the Unknowing, the Mystery of Faith. God not only speaks a Word to create all that is, He is that Word. The Words of God, coming down to us through the Torah, the Prophets, the Apostles, and St. Paul, are God’s love letters to humans. They come from the heart, and not just any heart, but the Word itself. That Word was made flesh and dwelt among us to give glory to the Father. As adopted sons and daughters, we are graced with God’s own energy to be able to call God Abba, or Father.  Christ taught us what to say to the Father in Matthew 6:9-13. “Do not to babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words, they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them;your Father knows what you need before you ask him. You should pray like this:

  • Our Father in heaven,
  • may your name be held holy,
  • your kingdom come,
  • you will be done, 
  • on earth as it is in heaven.
  • Give us today our daily bread,
  • And forgive us our debts
  • as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us,
  • And do not put us to the test,
  • but save us from the evil one.”

This is a prescriptive prayer, one that is not spontaneous but given to us by the Master as one He Himself uses. There is nothing wrong in praying in common, such as the Rosary, the Angelus, the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, and even Lectio Divina. Listening means you prepare your heart to receive the heart of Christ through silence and solitude. Prayer is more than spoken words. It happens in the many ways we choose to seek God as we live out our existence, waiting for the coming of the Lord.

What are your thoughts about listening as part of prayer?  Do you listen appropriately at the right time? How can you reflect in silence and solitude on the love Jesus had for us by taking on the nature of one in servitude? Read Phil 2:5.

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THE NEED FOR HUMILITY AND OBEDIENCE — In prayer, there are always distractions, such as thinking about what was said on Fox News, how both the Democrats and Republicans put down, even hate, President Trump, and what goes on during  the next Top Chef food program? The list of distractions is endless. It is a struggle for me to keep focused on Christ, not at all an easy task and one that takes practice.

Two attitudes that help me to challenge this urge in me for mediocrity are humility and obedience, both of them scoffed at by modern purveyors of self over God.

Humility — St. Benedict has twelve steps in his Rule that deal with how to begin to have in you the mind of Christ, which I think it the ultimate definition of humility. (Phil 2:5-12)

My favorite way to see humility, as a practical way for me to approach God is this: God is unapproachable. To approach someone of a Divine nature with my human nature would be impossible. My neurons would be fried by pure energy (using 100% of His nature). In realizing this, I think of how gracious God is to want me as His adopted son. The only way to approach God is through Christ, the Mediator, the Circuit Breaker, the one who can transform me on earth to be able to live Forever in Heaven. As a Lay Cistercian, I approach God realizing that He is God and I am a sinner in need of redemption. I want to practice the Cistercian way of relating to God with humility and obedience to His will as lived out in my Lay Cistercian community and following the Cistercian Constitutions that are informed by the Rule of St. Benedict. It sounds like a mouthful but it is, as everything that has to do with God, quite simply. “I am not you; you are not me; God is not you; and you, most certainly, are not God.” —MFC

Obedience — This is an attitude that has taken a beating in the last forty years. The various pseudo-fulfillment movements tout equality of the sexes, not without some justification. The question is not, who is the best, men or women, but rather all are one in Christ and can be as good as they can be. The result is a confusion over equality and authority. The politically correct thinkers say “we don’t want people to have authority over our bodies, our minds, our wills.” The right to choose becomes more valuable than choosing rightly. Obedience, as one who voluntarily gives up their right to choose to someone who, correctly or not, speaks for Christ, is so out of tune with today’s self worshippers.

There is an interesting phenomena that pops up in the way the Church evolved from the Twelve Tribe to the Twelve Apostles. It is that there is one person (female  or male) who  is the spokes person for the  freshly minted Church, the Body of Christ.

  • Adam and Eve and the rest of us
  • Moses and thee Twelve Tribes of Israel
  • King David and the Twelve Tribes of Israel
  • Christ and the Apostles and Disciples
  • Christ as Head and we, the Body, as members are one
  • The fisherman Peter and the Twelve
  • One who wears the shoes of the fisherman and the Church universal (those in Heaven, those on earth, and those awaiting purification)
  • Bishop and Community of Faith
  • Abbas or Abbot and the Community
  • Head of the Family (male and/or female) and the family

It is a template for obedience, according to the Rule of St. Benedict. In this case, the Abbot is the visible person of Christ for the monks, and also all Lay Cistercians attached to the Monastery. Monks take a vow of stability, Lay Cistercians take a promise of stability to the Abbot with the local community of monks (or nuns, if they have an Abbas).

Read Chapter 2 of the Rule of St. Benedict. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/benedict-the-rule-of-st-benedict.

My reflections about obedience takes me back to Genesis, that archetypal myth about what it means to be human. Have you ever noticed that obedience is at the center of what the story is all about.  God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of Good and Evil (no apples here). Adam and Eve disobeyed God, a simple act of pride, but one with far-reaching effects. It took the obedience of Christ to free us from that one, Original Act of defiance, one that, even today, is at the very heart of why we are in such a mess in society. Christ who knew no sin became sin for us to free us from the dominance of sin. What he did not do was take away the effects of the sin of Adam. Even our redemption and freedom to choose Heaven once again did not free us from death, suffering, temptation to do evil, to commit disobedience to the will of God. We have so many excuses not to believe, chief among them being we want the right to choose, not only what is good for us, but to select what that good is, rather than having God as the center of our life.  People choose sin rather than grace. Read Galatians 5 on Christian Liberty. The big sin of disobedience is that we set forth what is good rather than listening to what God says. We, in reality, become our own god with ourselves as our center of reality.

Read Philippians 2:5-12, if you want an answer for the disciples of the Master on how to deal with obedience. It is humility. If God can empty himself, He who is God, so can we. Humility is the way to overcome the pseudo-thinking of idolatry. Obedience as the world sees it not the same as obedience of someone to a superior who takes the place of Christ in front of you. It would be impossible to follow such a person, any person, male or female, because Original Sin tempts us to reject anyone other than us as a source of truth. No one is as good as us in determining what is good for us. The problem is, secular thinking will not lead us to Heaven,  only to the glorification of ourselves as god.

Write down what you think about this idea: Do you think of your pastor as spiritual leader for your parish? Who is your spiritual leader? What type of spiritual guidance you do accept from your Bishop?

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