WHAT DO YOU SEE?
Being on the far side of 77 years of age, and an AARP member for many years, I look out on all that is around me and just marvel at all the good things I see happening Like baggage, I carry around the virtual suitcase of a lifetime full of seeing and learning what it all means. Don’t get me wrong, I see the bad things out there too, such as the political infighting and senseless shaming of those in both political parties all for nothing. I don’t watch the political news anymore. I see the rise and fall of people around me, in my own sphere of living, some through inauthentic existence (money, drug, orgiastic living), as Eric Fromm says in his book, The Art of Loving. I see that many people love each other and are, with varying degrees of success, trying to find meaning and purpose in their lives. I see that love is one of the reasons I can look out for the sum of my life and say, “Getting 50% correct ain’t bad!” Eric Fromm puts it like this: “Love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.” As a retiree, life for me is about discovering what is beneath the surface of what I have taken for granted all these years.
Let me take you on a short journey based only on the photo that you see before you. I will ask you three questions leading to three levels of awareness. I have made this journey and answered the three questions as best as I can. Like the Mystery of Faith, I dare only approach the reality as a process of knowing, loving and serving God.
QUESTION ONE: WHAT DO YOU SEE?
For the next five minutes, look at the photo of the cup. Write down only what your senses tell you about the picture, nothing more. On a piece of blank paper, write down everything you see in that picture. Every detail, no matter how small. This is the level of physical reality, or as I like to term it, a physical universe. In this universe, what is real is only what you can see, what is. There is no interpretation. All matter, time itself and all life lives on this level. remember, write down only what you see with your eyes.
QUESTION TWO: WHAT DO YOU SEE?
This level of awareness involves looking at the cup with your mind and your senses. We are using the physical universe here to move deeper into reality, a place where only humans can go. Animals and plants can’t follow us here. We have reason for a reason. It is to discover the meaning of what is and ask why, how, when, what, and where.
It doesn’t sound like much until you ask the right question. Take some time to find a place of silence and solitude. For ten minutes, look at the photo of the cup and think of yourself as the cup. Think of the window as your life. Think of the what is in your cup. Is it full? Full of what? Think of the window as your life and you look at reality through that window that is foggy. What is on the other side of the window?
In my case, my cup is full of my life experiences. I studied for a doctorate in Adult Education from Indiana University. At the time, I was a Roman Catholic priest, and my colleagues did not think me smart enough to get a doctorate in Adult Education. Not only did I receive a full scholarship, but I also taught several courses on the Faculty as an Adjunct Associate Professor. I went on to become a US Army Chaplain for five years. I decided to get married, had a child, and became an instructor for various State of Florida Departments teaching management and participation skills. Most of my life, from the viewpoint of the world, or society, has been a failure. All my background did not insure me fame nor fortune and glory. I have never made a good salary nor been a successful businessman that you read so much about. As far as the world counts success, I failed at everything I set out to accomplish in life. All of this is in my cup. In writing down my thoughts based on my Lectio Divina (Phil 2:5) eight words, I have written blogs and over 51 books (and still counting). These are books that no one reads, but that did not deter me. I write because I must, as part of my Lay Cistercian work (silence, solitude, work, pray, community). Along the way, I was accepted by the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery as one who tries to convert self to God using Cistercian practices and charisms. I also discovered six thresholds of life that answer six questions all of us must answer before we die. They are:
In my cup are my health issues. I suffered cardiac arrest (2007) called the Widowmaker and was diagnosed with Leukemia (CLL type) in 2014. My cancer is in remission, and the only health problem is, I am getting older and forgetful, plus slowing down physically.
QUESTIONS THREE: WHAT DO YOU SEE?
With this level of awareness, you see with your heart. For me, this is the deepest part of the spiritual universe, within me, accessed through silence and solitude and focus on having in me the mind of Christ Jesus.
My latest, and I don’t say last, venture is to be a Lay Cistercian. https://www.trappist.net/lay-cistercians. This is a community of men and women who come together to seek God through the practice of Cistercian practices (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community) and charisms (love, humility, obedience to God’s will, hospitality and contemplation). We attend monthly meetings at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Georgia, called a Gathering Day. You can read more about Cistercians at https://cistercianfamily.org/ This is a group of farmers, nurses, retirees, physicians, State workers, couples, and, of course, me. We all focus on trying to convert our lives to being more loving and peace-filled by using Lectio Divina. This is an ancient practice in the Catholic Church and contains four steps or stages. First, Lectio or read a word or sentence from Scripture and read it over and over. My Lectio for the past forty years has been these eight words, “have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:5) Secondly, Meditatio or meditate on it for at least twenty minutes. Next, Oratio, pray that God opens your heart to the goodness contained in what you just read. Fourth, Contemplatio or contemplate on this reading.
I bring up Lay Cistercians because this approach to reality informs how I look at the six thresholds of life (above) and gives my life meaning. The central rule, if you want to call it that, is to love God with your whole mind, your whole heart, and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. The Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 22:37) and tough love for a world that values only itself as god. When I ask myself “What do you see?” as this third question, what I see is informed by my search for love and through contemplation as a Lay Cistercian. Contemplation seeking to find the meaning in life within you, the one place all of us are afraid to go.
I look at this third question, as, hopefully, you will do, with the sum of whom I am, of what I have become. As a Lay Cistercian, what I see in this picture is as follows, my reflection.
There are five levels of awareness about Christ that I see, when I look with this third level towards the Mystery of Faith. They are exerpted from my latest book entitled, The Place No One Wants to Look: Six questions every human must ask and begin to answer before they die. Everyone must ask and answer these six questions. They are the six questions that atheists and believers alike must answers. The conclusions will be different. These six questions have multiple layers of meaning within them. One way to look at this complexity is to look at what happens when we approach the Sacred, the Mystery of Faith, the Trinity, sitting on a park bench and waiting for Jesus to drop by for a chat.
FIVE LEVELS OF SPIRITUAL AWARENESS
Almost every Sunday, except my Lay Cistercian Gathering Day on the first Sunday of each month, you will find me at the 8:00 a.m. Eucharist, at Good Shepherd Community, Tallahassee, Florida. The Church floor plan is laid out like a fan. I sit in the very last bench in the middle, in the Handicapped section. Read Luke 18 and the story of the Tax Collector. I am the Tax Collector in my Church, an outcast, a broken-down old, temple of the Holy Spirit, someone forbidden to conduct a religious education class or lead a retreat or take a leadership role in the community, someone who cannot read Scriptures during Eucharist, someone forbidden to have a direct ministry and someone who is a sinner. I only sit in the very back of Church in the Tax Collector’s bench, where I dare not look up to Heaven and proclaim over and over, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.” That is enough for me. I write all these ideas down because the Holy Spirit is the water gushing through the garden hose of my life and I can’t seem to turn it off.
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
“9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I have noticed that sitting in the very last pew of Church has an advantage. You can see people who come to Eucharist who do so because it is like the Elks or Moose Clubs. You can tell who pays attention or not. (I don’t pay attention to the readings or homily all the time, either).
One of the big temptations is refraining from casting judgments on the motivation of others by their outward demeanor. Don’t you judge those inside the Church as to leading an immoral life and let God those outside the Church, says St. Paul in I Corinthians 5:13. As a Lay Cistercian, aspiring to move from self to God, I notice in myself five levels of spiritual awareness. All are based on the Word (John 1:1 ff). These apply only to those inside the Church, God judges those outside the Church.
LEVEL ONE: SAY THE WORD — At Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary, listening to the Scripture read at Holy Mass, and reading Scripture, I read the word. Remember the Word is God’s word, not your’s. It alone can cause transformation of your Spirit. This is a level where we are distracted by cell phones, looking at what other people are wearing, making judgments in our minds as to who is holy or not. If you don’t banish these temptations, it is difficult to move to the next level. It takes work to focus on Christ. This is the Church of the Mind, Each time we pray, we always start at the beginning.
LEVEL TWO: PRAY THE WORD – If you hear the Word and do nothing about it, you are like an orange tree that can’t bear oranges. This level is one where you hear the Word of God and pray it. Prayer is the realm of the Heart. You go from your mind to your heart in most Cistercian practices and charisms. Praying, in its purest form, is lifting the heart and mind to God. Praying the Word is taking that Word, an idea, a sentence or a word and using it to link your heart to the heart of Christ. Only you can do that, but you can’t do it without Christ. In the context of community, where two or more are gathered in my name, our Lord tells us, he is there. Remember, it is not how much you read Scripture or how many Hail Marys you say, although that is certainly Level One, it is what you do with the Word to make it flesh in your world. The temptation is to think that prayer won’t do any good, or that all you have to do is ask God for favors and your needs and He must answer you. God knows what we need and He does answer our prayers but not in the way we might expect or in the timeframe we try to impose on God. This is the Church of the Heart. You play in God’s playground now. If you want to use the sandbox, you must know the rules, love God through prayer, and serve others as Christ loved us.
LEVEL THREE: SHARE THE WORD –Growing ever deeper, you hear the Word, Pray the Word, but in the context of others, or the Body of Christ, the Church. This level realizes that the living Body of Christ, particularly the level of your assembly or local community of faith, has other who share their Word with you. There is only one Word. There is only one Lord. When you link up with the Church, you are open to the Holy Spirit coming down on you with the gifts you need to survive in this world, one that does not recognize Christ, one that wants to be God, just like Adam and Eve did. This is the Church of the Mind AND the Church of the Heart, the openness to the Holy Spirit. You will know this level when you reach it. This is the Christ who appears to those on the road to Emmaus and revealed himself to them in the breaking of the bread. The disciples related in Luke 24:32, “Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” This is the level where you have discovered the pearl of great price and are willing to sell what you have to possess it. Each of us must discover the purpose of our life, what makes sense of all the chaos. My purpose is Philippians 2:5,”Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” That is it. It is the spoke in my wheel, the way in which I, as a Lay Cistercian, will practice loving God with all my heart, and mind, and strength and my neighbor as myself. (Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:37). (Matthew 25:31-46)
LEVEL FOUR: BE THE WORD — The purpose of a monk, and therefore for Lay Cistercians, according to one of our Junior instructors, is to change from self to God. The status quo or just maintaining yourself in spiritual awareness is not acceptable. The monks have a fancy word for it, “capacitas dei” or making room for Christ in your heart.
LEVEL FIVE: ENJOY THE WORD — This is the level on earth where Christ actually sits down next to you on the park bench. He does not have to sit there. Your heart races with adrenaline, your senses are all peaking at the same time, your dendrites are synapting like 4th of July fireworks. You are flushed with a happiness you have never experienced for more than a nanosecond before this. You do not speak to Christ, there are no words needed, God’s language is silence and solitude. You don’t have to worry about what Christ looks like, no images or thoughts are adequate. This is a feeling, at the deepest level of who you think you are as a human. It is the fulfillment of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it is the living Resurrection sitting next to you. I must admit that I have only experienced up to Level Four and perhaps only a glimmer of Level Five. What I experienced was peace beyond all telling, and hope beyond my expectations. St. Paul says we see through a glass darkly, but then we will see face to face. My hope is this. I don’t care about anything I have learned about the purpose of life as compared with knowing Christ. With St. Paul, I say:
“More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ.”Philippians 3:8
This is the final level of feeling, of knowing, of being who you were meant to be in the Garden of Eden, which Adam and Eve spoiled for us. Christ makes all things new in us each day, through Cistercian practices and charisms of humility and obedience, of silence and solitude,
The product of the five levels of awareness are realizing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit in your heart and possessing the fruits in your heart.. Like any product, they are meant to be lived, not read. What is different with this level is that it is not just for a second, it lasts for as long as you are in it. Joy is the ultimate product of any contact with Christ. John 15:11 states: “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
Heaven is a Mystery of Faith, a state of being where you live what you discovered while you are on earth that is authentic love. It is living the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit to the extent that humans can possibly do so, 100% of our nature, the maximum potential for our minds and our hearts, with Christ as the nuclear fusion (100% of His Nature) to fuel our joy. Christ is the mediator between human and divine nature, otherwise, we would have no chance to approach the Mystery of Faith.
THE FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Joy of Being in God’s Presence
When you sit on that park bench and are in the presence of God, you become what you sit next to, since this is God. You are not God, but assimilate the fruits of the Holy Spirit in your heart. You cannot not be a better person as you move from self to God, not by anything you did, but because Christ loves you and,hopefully, your fruits are that you love one another as Christ has loved you.
Galatians 5 states it most succinctly, “22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
Note below the seven gifts the Holy Spirit spelled out below and write down your thoughts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_gifts_of_the_Holy_Spirit
LIST OF GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
“The seven gifts are enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3 and conform to the Latin Vulgate , which takes the list from the Septuagint. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and descriptions outlined by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica, the seven gifts are as follows:
Comparisons and correspondences
St. Thomas Aquinas says that four of these gifts (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel) direct the intellect, while the other three gifts (fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) direct the will toward God.
In some respects, the gifts are similar to the virtues, but a key distinction is that the virtues operate under the impetus of human reason (prompted by grace), whereas the gifts operate under the impetus of the Holy Spirit; the former can be used when one wishes, but the latter operate only when the Holy Spirit wishes. In the case of Fortitude, the gift has, in Latin and English, the same name as a virtue, which it is related to but from which it must be distinguished.”
Are these gifts of the Spirit and fruits that come from the Holy Spirit just empty musings of old men and women from the past, long dead and forgotten? Do these gifts exist today in your life? If not, how can you resurrect them through the Holy Spirit.?
Are these gifts of the Holy Spirit gifts that God gives us, similar to what Zeus is said to have given Perseus? How do these gifts help you to overcome the Kraken of life (Satan) and defeat the enemy (your false self)?
Have you learned how to reach true joy using the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Have you grown in Christ Jesus or are you still the same, old, tired self with you as your own god? The difference is not only dramatic, but thrilling.
Following ancient Cistercian practices, I place myself in a position using silence and solitude where Christ can have influence over my heart and move me from my false self (seven deadly sins) to that of my true self (seven gifts of the Holy Spirit).
I seek God. God does not seek me. He does not need to do it because He is. I seek the charisms of humility and obedience to God’s will. I seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit to enliven within me that which, by my own efforts, I cannot achieve, to move from self to God.