This past Wednesday, I had the privilege of presenting my thoughts on contemplative spirituality to some of the inmates of Wakulla Correctional Institution-Annex. This is part of a series I am writing on the Foundations of Contemplative Spirituality, using what I have gained so far from Cistercian monks at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Georgia. I was asked to conduct a series of sessions on Contemplative Prayer. Having written 67 books on the subject, and donating them to as many prisons who will have them, they are my reflections as a Lay Cistercian on how to seek God where you are using contemplative charisms and practices.
All of these thoughts come as a result of my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) meditations and sometimes contemplation.
So far, we have had four sessions in the series of twelve (one per month). I would like to share with you some of the lessons or take-aways that I am presenting to the prisoners. Here are my thoughts:
Everything that is or was has a beginning or an end, be it the “big bang” or you life. Why is that?
The most powerful energy in the universe is the hyper-nova (at least that we can detect), yet we know about hyper-novas and they don’t know about us. so, who or what is more powerful? Why is that?
Animals, plants, all matter, has a beginning and an end. What happens between that span of time we call reality? Why is there life on the earth and not an organic molecule anywhere else?
Of all that exists, molecules, gases, Neutron Stars, animals, plants, only the human species knows that it knows. Why is that?
why do humans have the ability to reason and to make choices beyond the natural law? Every other living thing is tied to nature and humans seem to have some collective purpose down the road. What is that?
We humans live or seventy or eighty years, then die. Our collective contributions in science and trying to make sense out of what the world thinks is meaningful gives us a past history where we can say this or that is meaningful. Is this our destiny? Is there anything more to life than here and now?
When you think of it, we don’t live in the past, nor do we live in the future. The past, with its choices of good or bad, defines our future. Humans have the ability to reason what is good or bad and then choose it. No other living thing can do that. Why is that?
As an individual you have the power over the NOW in your life. You have reason to be able to select good from evil for you, then choose a direction.
SKILL ONE: Learn to see reality in three’s: the physical universe, composed of you and everything NOW or in the past. It is our platform for the next universe, the mind. Only humans live in this universe because only humans know that they know. Why it that? Then, there is the logical conclusion to all of this, the spiritual universe. This is God’s playground. Everything that is can be seen in terms of these three universes.
SKILL TWO: Building on three universes, we go deeper. There are two dimensions of reality: THE WORLD, (composed on two universes, the physical and the mental). We take meaning from ourselves and what we think is good or bad, influenced by our upbrings from mom and dad, society, etc… THE SPIRIT, or those who use their reason and ability to choose to go deeper into reality to be able to listen profoundly to what God tells us is the purpose of life and how we can be fully human. Another way to think of it is, we only get to Heaven, not because of any works or money that we have, but only by invitation. We call that Faith, for lack of a better term, but it actually is God accepting us as his very own adopted sons and daughter and inviting us to share in the purpose for which Adam and Eve were created (Genesis 2-3) but then lost it through pride.
SKILL THREE: You must live each day as a complete lifetime, which means you start every day at zero. Contemplative thinking means you use charisms and practices to help you and God are friends and you listen profoundly to what is said to you (it means you listen and God talks to you through Christ and the Holy Spirit) and then make it happen.
SKILL FOUR: If you are a room, you must make space for Christ to visit you. Are you are spiritual horder? What does your room look like? Have you thrown away all those things in your past that have been bad choices and poor judgements? You don’t want to ask God into your room with it being full of garbage. The World and its false promises of power, fame, fortune and meaning lead us astray. We must struggle to clean out our room and make it presentable to Christ each day.
SKILL FIVE: If your room is cluttered, you must make the effort to transform it by putting in good works and getting rid of the garbage. What is garbage? “The seven Heavenly Virtues are Chastity, Temperance, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Kindness, and Humility and they oppose the Seven Deadly Sins of Wrath (Anger), Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony.” This process of transformation is ongoing and demands much fortitude and strength of will. Only with the help of Christ can we hope to sweep clean our room of its clutter and prepare the way for the Lord. Faith alone can help us to overcome the effects of Original Sin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wG4VF0jU568
Cistercian writers, as found in The Cistercian Way, written by the late Dom Andre Louf, O.C.S.O., speak of a false self (the Seven Deadly Sins) and a true self (the seven Heavenly Virtues). Each day, we must struggle to “have in us the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) St. Benedict, in his Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict gives us the tools of good works to help sweep out our room of its clutter. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/
“20 Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way;
21 the love of Christ must come before all else.
22 You are not to act in anger
23 or nurse a grudge.
24 Rid your heart of all deceit.
25 Never give a hollow greeting of peace
26 or turn away when someone needs your love.
27 Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false,
28 but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”
Skill Six: To clean out your room, transform yourself from your false self to your true self. Each day, pray Chapter 4 with the aim of becoming what you pray. Every day! The key here is to become what you pray. Believe me, it is not easy to sustain this prayer every day. At first, I noticed no difference and Satan kept telling me that you are wasting your time. I kept think of what St. Benedict said to do, “20 Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; 21 the love of Christ must come before all else.
As time went on, I noticed slight but definite behavioral changes in how much I was at peace inside. This is not the peace the World gives. Peace of Christ is not the absence of conflict but the presence of love. The road to transformation is challenging and not all can persevere in continuity. To those who do, you receive the reward of Christ saying to you, “Come, share your Lord’s joy.”
Skill Seven: Learn the skill of profound listening. Profound listening is using silence and solitude to place yourself in the presence of Christ, asking the Holy Spirit to be with you,
Skill Eight: Pray as you can. Contemplate as you can. Stay grounded in Christ in all things.
More to come as the inmates and I explore what it means to seek God where you are using Cistercian charisms (humility and obedience) and practices.
Glory 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