THE ART OF SPIRITUALITY
THE ART OF SPIRITUALITY
I have excerpted some ideas about the great Mysterium Fidei, the Mystery of Faith, from my most recent book entitled, YOU JUST MADE YOUR PROFESSION AS A CATHOLIC, NOW WHAT? A Lay Cistercian reflects on ten exercises you need to sustain Christ in your heart.
It all began with me when I read Erich Fromm’s book about The Art of Loving. His premise is, you are not granted infused knowledge on how to love, you must learn it. Just like Faith, which you get at Baptism, but you must do something with it to use it as God intended, (Matthew 25:36) Where you learn it and how you learn it shapes who you are and what you become. In the same way, I reasoned, you must learn how to love in the spiritual universe. You get adoption of being a son or daughter of the Father which gives you the graces and energy needed to learn what it means to love others as Christ loves us. The Art of Spirituality, or How to Love as Christ loves us, has several characteristics. Here are just a few, based on a Lectio Divina meditation I had (Phil. 2:5). The Art of Spirituality means:
- Realizing that God gives you the gift of Faith but that you must actualized it by doing something with it. Adam and Eve wanted a free ride.
- The ability to approach the Mystery of Faith with Christ and learn how to love.
- You recognize that Church Regional and Church Local and Lay Cistercians is a school for learning how to love as Christ loves us.
- You practice seeing the Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ, the food you must eat to sustain the Art of Spirituality.
- You see with the eyes of Faith and listen with the ear of the heart (St. Benedict, Prologue).
- You realize there are two dimensions, both important but one is greater than the other: the realm of the mind and realm of the heart.
- Seeking the kingdom of heaven first, and realizing that everything else is second.
- You have a yearning or longing in your heart to sit on a park bench in the dead of Winter waiting for Christ to pass by.
- You look for ways to go into the place the late Stephen Hawking could not look, deep in your soul to contemplate on the love Christ had for each of us.
- You begin to see how all things fit together as one.
- You realize the importance of loving fiercely and begin to practice it for the rest of your life.
- You read the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 4, 5, 7 in the hopes you can become what you read.
- You look forward to contemplation on loving others as Christ loves us as you sit before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration.
- You seek to use the realm of the mind to help you open up your heart to sit next to the heart of Christ and just be.
- You use silence, solitude, prayer, work, and community to move from self to God.
- You realize that solitude can be external (you are alone) or internal (you search for meaning and purpose within you). The kingdom of God is within you.
- You don’t worry about others going to Heaven or not making it. You take responsibility for your own actions and seek mercy for you and others. (Matthew 25:36) “I am not you; you are not me; God is not you; and you, most certainly, are not God.” –Michael F. Conrad, Ed.D.
- You don’t learn what love is in five minutes. You can’t learn about love without people. You won’t learn about what it means to love others as Christ loves you without knowing what Christ showed us about how to love.
- God has a problem. We can’t go to Heaven and exist on that level without some help. The help is Jesus Christ. How we do that is to love others as Christ loves us. God takes care of the rest, so much so, that He made you an adopted son or daughter through Faith.
- You can’t sustain your Faith as a Catholic (old or new) without love. You cultivate love by serving others. You nurture love by loving your neighbor as yourself. Faith is tied ups inexorably with hope and love, and the greatest of these, because it is a product of Faith is love.
- You don’t learn spirituality overnight. It takes practice. Putting yourself in the presence of Christ takes spiritual muscles so you won’t wimp out and give in to your spiritual attention level (two minutes in most cases). How will you sustain yourself in Heaven for all eternity if you can’t watch with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane for a few minutes? The Apostles had trouble. You must build up your Faith just like you do your stamina when you go to the gym and work out. It is called prayer and it comes from God through Christ. The Art of Spirituality depend upon you to make it happen, you don’t get a free ride like Adam and Eve tried to do in the Garden of Eden.
THE MYSTERY OF FAITH
The Art of Spirituality is the first book of my three book series entitled, Spiritual Apes: Our Journey to Forever. (You can order this book from this blog in the STORE tab,) I had originally titled it, The Art of Spirituality, but changed it later. It uses the premise that Spirituality is an art to be learned and not an infused mindset where we don’t have any responsibility for our behaviors or how well we love others as Christ loves us.
As a Lay Cistercian, I appreciate the Cistercian spirituality that allows me to focus on Christ through practices and charisms that move me from my false self to my true self. Daily conversion of mores or morals is a key component of being a Lay Cistercian. We do that by being present to the one we love through Eucharist, through Liturgy of the Hours, through Lectio Divina, by meditating and contemplating before the Blessed Sacrament, through reading and reverencing Scriptures, by trying to become what we read in Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. These charisms, when practiced with Christ, also allow me to grow in humility, obedience to God’s will, stability in location, and place my heart next to the heart of Christ and then wait. You can’t believe how wonderful waiting for Christ is. Anticipation, longing and seeking Christ produces energy and grace in me. I don’t get this automatically, but must work to place my heart next to Christ. The results of Original Sin is, like Adam and Eve, we don’t get anything without working for our bread. No free lunch but the lunch is free, if that makes any sense.
The Art of Spirituality has, at its center the Mysterium Fidei, the mystery of faith, the cloud of the unknowing, the compendium of all that was, is, and will be. It is the pure energy of God, pure knowledge, pure love, resulting in pure service. The Trinity is the nuclear fission of spirituality. It produces more energy that it is. We share in that energy because of Christ, our mediator with the Father, our brother because we are adopted sons or daughters of the Father, with the Holy Spirit because we do in our sinful lives what Christ told us to do, to love others as He loves us.
The pure energy of God is unapproachable by any human, but Christ is our way, the truth, and the life, because he is both God and human and the only door through which we must pass to fulfill our destiny as human beings.
The reason we even have an art of spirituality is to approach the Father as Christ showed us. There is a mental component to this art where we learn how to do God’s will for us, and there is a component of the heart where we learn to love others as Christ loves us. I view the Art of Spirituality, in my case as a Lay Cistercian, as the way which is Christ. The truth is how I use Cistercian prayer, in silence and solitude, to approach God (The Mystery of Faith) and receive love and peace from Christ so I can pass it on.
SOME CRAZY THOUGHTS ABOUT THE MYSTERY OF FAITH
- We say it every time we attend Eucharist, the prayer of the Church Universal. It is the proclamation of “The Mystery of Faith” that accompanies the priest making Christ present under the appearance of bread and wine. What do we respond? “When when eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.”
- The ancient prayer of the Last Supper, the ultimate Thanksgiving sacrifice of the people of God to the Father through, with and in Christ in union with the Holy Spirit, is a mystery indeed. It doesn’t makes sense just with reason, but with faith informed by reason, it becomes clearer. Do you see the photo of the window and the glass at the beginning of my reflection? The mystery of faith is what is behind the foggy window. I can’t quite make it out, but know that something is there. Why is that?
- We are not made for heaven but for earth an even then for up to 100 years of age, if we are lucky, or, in some cases, unlucky. Everything we know has time and various configurations of matter. We can view the immensity of the universe, or look at the sub-atomic world of particles, yet the mystery of Faith is beyond our knowing (in the sense of defining).
- Science assumes that there is only one physical universe and we access it though our minds (physical and mental universes). We want to define matter and time with the ever-expanding toolkit of modern mathematics and physical plus other sciences. Defining means we can control what we define and discover what is true from what is conjecture. All of this is good. Science, in the sense of the scientific methodology is not somehow false. Quite to the contrary. The basis of science is wonder at what is, why it is, how it is. Is that all there is?
- The art of spirituality is about using measurements to describe reality that include physical, mental, and spiritual universes. This expands reality using assumptions that are seemingly at odds with each other. Science and Faith seems to be incompatible. The mystery of Faith means there is a reality out there we humans are unable to comprehend with out existing intelligence. It is a sign of contradiction to those who do not use the assumptions of the art of spirituality.
- With mere human knowledge, I will not be able to define the mystery of faith It see spirituality as a window but one where the light is off. I can’t make out anything or even know anything is on the other side of the glass.
- With faith informed by reason, I realize that mere human intelligence cannot begin to comprehend who God is. It took Christ to become one of us to give us very simple steps (love one another as I have loved you). We know what spiritual love is because Christ showed us. Using humility and obedience to God will, we can see what is on the other side of the glass, but it is murky or fogged up. We can see that there are images there but can’t quite make them out. Christ tells us there is something beyond the foggy window. He give us Himself in Eucharist to provide the energy to endure in this lifetime and live in the next. He is with us when we keep trying and fail to love with all our hearts, our minds and our strength and our neighbor as ourself. He makes all things new while we live so that we have a frame of reference on how to live after we die.
- Here is a thought that will knock your socks off. With human knowledge, the human intellect, the combined knowledge of all of us that have gone before us, those who are with us not, and also those who are to come, we could never define the Mystery of Faith. Why? The knowledge involved is pure knowledge, 100% of the divine nature, of the God who is, who is now, and who is to come. The Mystery of Faith is the cloud of the unknowing, awaiting our entry into Heaven where we shall see him face to face (with Christ’s help). This is why the picture you see at the beginning of this piece is so representative of me. I am the cup standing in the simplicity of the silence and solitude of my heart. I can see something through the foggy glass, but can’t quite see it. Heaven is when I can see the love that I have struggled to have in my mind face to face. No matter what my situation in life, love is my purpose, specifically Philippians 2:5. The most I can hope for is to sit on a park bench in the dead of Winter and long for Christ to stop by and be with me as I approach the Mystery of Faith. It is best not to worry about explaining or defining great Mysteries like Eucharist, The Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the seeming contradiction of a Church that is holy yet run by sinful humans, the first of whom was St. Peter.
- As the fox says to the Little Prince, in the book, The Little Prince, one of my favorite reads, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- “Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions. It is idle, having planted an acorn in the morning, to expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- “If you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
- “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
CONFESSION OF A WEAK MIND
As one who seeks to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5), with various degrees of success, am at peace with the mystery of faith being beyond my ability to know it all. Christ has helped me to begin to transform myself from self to God by placing my energies on what I can do rather than what will always be beyond my ability to define it and then move on to the next challenge.
I think about to my time at St. Meinrad School of Theology, in 1962, when I was angry with myself that I could not comprehend the mystery of faith–the Trinity. Can you imagine someone just beginning their spiritual journey even trying to grasp the depths of who God is? I was trying to do this with my feeble mind and human reasoning. Shades of Adam and Eve! It was a particularly hot day in September, one Indiana is noted for, that I decided to trudge up four flights of stairs to the chapel (located on the very top of the Seminary. I was angry with God, thinking that He made all of this theology stuff so difficult to know. I just stat there and tried to empty my mind (not a difficult thing for me to do then or now) of my anger and frustration. “Just help me a little bit, Lord.” I said. What must have been thirty minutes passed and no help. No revelation from Heaven. No burning bush of Moses with God giving me divine knowledge. No satisfaction that God answered my prayer, a sure sign of my pride and lack of humility. Immediately, I noticed that it was very hot in that upper chapel. I got up to leave and made a double genuflection (on both knees bowing profoundly as is customary before exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I got up and happened to look at the clear glass window high up in the chapel. My mouth dropped open in astonishment. High up in the chapel the light came into the window but there was something I had not noticed before. There was a diffusion of light spectrum colors from that light. In one second, I knew about as much of the Trinity as I was ever to learn. I realized that the Trinity was beyond my human ability to define it except through experiences that I have had, such as relationships between my parents and me. In that one instant, I knew that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were only representations for my mind to grasp what love is. In that one instant, I knew why Christ had to become one of us to show us how to love and to ask us to love others as he loves us (Philippians 2:5-12). In that one instant, it all made sense and I knew that I did not have to struggle to try to comprehend with human reasoning that which was pure energy, pure knowledge, and pure service. In that one instant, my heart was next to the heart of Christ with no assumptions on my part. In one instant, I knew that I would learn more about spirituality on my knees that in the classroom.
The Mystery of Faith is at the core of what we know as reality and all the reality that we can know. Humans minds are not equip to go there. We can approach that which is unapproachable (like moving into the Sun in the physical universe) only with, in, and through Jesus, who is the Son of the Father, the Lord of Creation.
Just as you must learn how to love, so you must learn how to love others as Christ loves us. We call that the art of spirituality.
Lay Cistercian practices and charisms come from frequent practice of trying to love.
St. Benedict formed the first School of Love and many monastic orders have used its Rule to help them focus on having in them the mind of Christ Jesus. (Phil 2:5).
If you don’t take your spiritual development seriously, like yo would your family, your work, your finances, don’t be surprised if you do not find love.
It takes struggle to practice the art of spirituality. We live in a condition called Original Sin, where the effects of the sin of Adam and Eve was death, working for your bread, disease, temptation to do evil instead of good, and struggle to perform practices consistently and conscienciously.
The art of spirituality is making all things new in your life…until you die.
You are responsible for your stewardship to Christ. If you just say you believe but don’t love others as Christ loved you, you will answer for it. Matthew 25:31-46.
The art of loving is part of the art of spirituality.
It is not the person who knows the most who will penetrate the Mystery of Faith but rather those who realitze that it is a cloud of unknowing in this life, and are okay leaving it at that.
You can only approach the Mystery of Faith as a human, but can appreciate it and receive its effects, if you sit on a park bench in the dead of Winter and long for Christ to stop by and share His heart with yours.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to 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