In my Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5) today, I thought about how powerful energy must be to create what we know as the known universe (multiple universes is another discussion). These are just the thoughts of a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit that has been blessed to be accepted as a Lay Cistercian by the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist), Conyers, Georgia. Here is what comes to mind when I think of the energy powerful enough to create all that is.
The Art of Contemplative Practice
The Art of Contemplative Practice is taking the pulse of the universe, the throbbing of pure energy as time destroys the present reality, rendering it past but not forgotten, and, like a grand train on which reality rides from beginning to end, each of us hopping on for a ride of some seventy or eighty years, if we are strong.
The Art of Contemplative Practice is my awareness of this grand journey as I observe it with human nature, conscious of my human reasoning, and make choices that affect this journey with my free will to choose what is good for me.
The Art of Contemplative Practice is my moving from my false self, relying on their false words and meaning, replacing it with what God shows us is our center. The meaning of life in the World is good but not good enough to propel me to my next universe of evolution, the spiritual universe.
The Art of Contemplative Practice happens because I set myself up to sit in the presence of pure energy and then wait. I use Cistercian constructs or practices to achieve the charisms that come from such an encounter with the Sacred, i.e., humility, obedience to the will of God as personified by the Abbot, Abbess, or Lay Cistercian council members. That I even have to use such help shows me that I am still imperfect and in need of more and more transformation from me to Christ, but that is what I must use while I still live in the World, even though I began my journey to the Kingdom of Heaven at Baptism.
The Art of Contemplative Practice does not just happen by itself, by chance. It is the result of the pure energy of God overshadowing the Church Universal since its birth at Pentecost with the Second Advocate (Holy Spirit)sent by Christ to provide us with the pure energy we need to sustain that Baptismal commitment to be sons and daughters of the Father. Everything in the Kingdom of Heaven depends upon our being present in humility and true hearts to whatever God brings our way each day. Some days are better, but the Lord’s fidelity enables us to be faithful in the long run.
Part of what it means to address reality in all the simplicity of its complexity is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, Savior is our taking the time to place ourselves in the presence of that life-giving energy. John 20:30-31. We do that through reading God’s transforming Word in Scripture and being present to Christ in the Eucharist as he again gives fitting praise and glory to the Father in union with the pure energy of the Holy Spirit. That we even participate in such a mind-blowing event is astonishing, but that is how much God loves us, to reach down to humanity and lift us up each time Jesus, the only one who can approach the Father, takes us with him as friends. This pure energy is not to show others how powerful God is (one of the three temptations in the desert) but to extend to every human who ever lived the invitation to become one with He who has no beginning and no end. We need only to say, “Here I am, Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit.
All these thoughts led me to meditate that God overshadows various stages of reality with his presence, the pure energy that brings life to all it overshadows. The form that emerged from all this thinking led me to conclude that there are six questions that each human must ask and then seek answers to in whatever time he or she has remained while they live. They are:
THE SIX QUESTIONS AND MY ANSWERS
FIRST QUESTION: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF LIFE, ALL REALITY?
MY ANSWER: All matter, time, space itself, and energy, everything that exists, was overshadowed by a source of energy so powerful that we humans can’t fit into what we currently know of the physical universe with the mental universe. That which has no beginning or end created that which has a beginning and end with a Word. What was that Word? Yes! Nothing created everything, but not the nothingness we know from our human experience; this is the nothingness of a Being that does not exist in space or time as we do, nor does it have a language we can even understand. A physical universe is governed by the laws of nature (laws that exist whether humans exist or not). All life exists in this universe, its energy is astounding, and the distances of just our universe are mind-bending. All life lives in this physical universe, and even humans live in it, with one exception. We can reason and choose what we have reasoned. No other living thing has that ability except humans. Why is that? This is what I call the mental universe where only humans live, while our base is still the physical universe. The purpose of life must come from the one who created it. God’s DNA permeates all reality, drawing that which has a beginning toward an end somewhere in the future. In my view of what is real, divine nature is the only thing powerful enough to create both physical and human nature. The center of that divine nature is Love. Having realized that I can realize what Love is, I ask the question, what is the center of all that I can grasp? The answer comes from the Scriptures in two memorable quotes that link all reality into one purpose. Deuteronomy 6:5, the center of the Old Testament, and Matthew 22:36, the center of the New Testament, and thus, Christ’s own center.
SECOND QUESTION: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MY LIFE?
MY ANSWER: What is the purpose of your life within that purpose of life? The underlying question I ask is: What is the one center of my life that would make all other questions meaningless if I took it away?
Wait a minute! Why can I identify the most extraordinary power in the universe, the hypernova, which can obliterate matter and change its form, but it can’t know how powerful it is? Why can I know it, but it can’t know me? Who is more powerful? Is there a more profound reality out there, not instead of but in addition to the physical universe? What is the purpose of all life? My conclusion for me: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:36ff. It has taken me a lifetime of discerning Cistercian charisms and practices (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community) and various thinkers such as Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Merton, OCSO, Joel Barker, Martin Buber, Aidan Kavanaugh, O.S.B., St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, Carl Rogers, Carl Sagan, Steven Hawking, Enrico Fermi, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, to name only a few that have shaped how I look at what is, with what was, to peek at what is to come.
But there is a more profound step. Why do humans have human reasoning (in addition to their animal instincts) and the ability to live beyond the bounds of all other animals, using free choice? Within the purpose of life in question one, granted that I have aligned my dissonance with the resonance of God’s purpose, then what is my purpose for my time on earth? I get to use my gifts of human reasoning and choice to choose what I want as my personal center, one that determines who I am and what I want to do with the time I have to discover meaning. My choice is Philippians 2:5. “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” My approach to the Art of Contemplative Practice involves trying to seek God daily with that center. I must use the Cistercian practices and charisms to help me try and try again to reach my chosen purpose. The problem for me is Original Sin, which means my center is revolving, never staying in one place long enough for me to focus on it. As I use it, the Art of Contemplative Practice provides me with the tools to slow down my life enough to sit on a park bench in the dead of winter and wait for my heart to listen profoundly to pure Love sitting next to me. It has taken me a long time to achieve even a tiny growth from false self to true self. The problem is each day begins anew, starting from scratch.
I like the approach that Erich Fromm has to human Love. He says it is an acquired habit and demands focus and attention to achieve. I apply that to acquiring divine Love in me and find that pure Love from Christ is the only source that allows me to grow from my false self to my true self. This is where the Art of Contemplative Practice comes in. Practice does not just mean I must do it over and over to achieve a skill, but rather it is a process that becomes part of who and whatever I am. My center, my North on the Compass of Reality, gives me purpose as a human to know why I am here and where I am going.
My Lay Cistercian spirituality, rooted in the Rule of St. Benedict and practiced down through the centuries by Benedictine monks and nuns, Cistercian monks and nuns, and Carthusian hermits, and now by members of Oblates and Lay Cistercians, is how I practice my contemplative approach to life.
THIRD QUESTION: WHAT DOES REALITY LOOK LIKE?
MY ANSWER: I based my notion of reality on three universes, and I reasoned to these with the Holy Spirit’s help. The Rule of Threes, or one reality containing three distinct, separate functions or universes, is the template I use to look at reality. Does this sound familiar? It works for me because of the assumption I have made. What are those assumptions? Read questions one and two. All of these questions build on the one before it. My reflections on the Art of Contemplative Practice use the Trinitarian template.
One of the characteristics of the Art of Contemplative Practice is the unity and diversity theme. Everything fits together, not because I think it is so, but because it is so, I must adjust my assumptions to achieve resonance in all that is rather than dissonance. Here is a brief synopsis of the Rule of Threes that I wrote in a blog:
I woke up this morning at 2:16 a.m. for my usual bathroom break. Going back to bed, I usually do a mini-Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5). This time, my focus was on how God puts all these signs and wonders in front of us and how we often fail to link them to our destiny in life as an adopted son or daughter, living out what we have discovered about Love while on earth.
Do you see the photo of a cup in a window? I want to take you on a journey of mind and heart that will transport you, through your mind, to a place of mystery and suspense. It is like Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone. It is a journey of sign and sound using your mind and imagination. This zone is within us, informing all of our choices and striving to fit what we experience each day into some kind of meaning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzlG28B-R8Y
For many years I have attempted to come up with a way to look at the one reality that incorporates sciences, philosophies, literature about the human experience, and religion (as I know it). After twenty years of scratching my head in frustration, it finally came to me as I was sitting before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration. I kept asking God how these seemingly confusing and contradictory ideas fit together. It doesn’t make sense. I could not stuff what I know about science into the same shoe as my Catholic Universal faith. Like the Cinderella story, this shoe would not fit into the paradigm I had used to force one reality into another. The paradigm I was using states that everything fits together in one universe; if it doesn’t, you got it wrong.
The answer I received from somewhere at the edge of time was that it doesn’t fit together using the paradigm of one reality containing everything: the physical universe (humans are a part of this universe). I said to God, “Okay. It does not fit. So what does reality look like? How would you look at it?” Of course, this sounds completely crazy, but what came to my mind was this. You can change your paradigm but not reality. My paradigm is my way of looking at what is and asking what it is, why it is, how it is, and where it is? My template for looking at reality was God Himself (saying that God has no gender). Christ revealed to us that there is one God but three distinct persons, each with a separate function, each one complementing the others, each one necessary for the others to be One. God is One. Look at what Joel Barker has to say about paradigm shifts. I used these ideas to help me formulate an “out of the box” approach to spirituality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOXWSg_PyTQ
My paradigm that changed was: there is one reality but three separate and distinct universes, each autonomous, each with its own properties, and its own function. Do you need all three of them working together for humans to figure out how all these seemingly confusing ideas bump into each other? This is where I began formulating my way of looking at one reality in three dimensions or universes. Using this seemingly simple change of assumptions, all reality made complete sense (but it is still unfolding itself one day at a time). God told me in my meditations and contemplations that I should not overcomplicate things.
PARADIGM SHIFT: THE THREE UNIVERSES AND ONE REALITY
The three universes I settled on were the answer to three questions that I asked about reality.
THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE — This is the object of scientific inquiry where we seek what is real and true. It contains all that is, energy, matter, time, space, what is alive and not, and all theories of how and why things are. Animals, plants, and everything alive lives in this universe. The physical universe is bound by the laws of nature (as far as we know). All in this universe live with the assumption that their existence has a beginning and end. My question about the physical universe is: what is the most powerful object in the known universe? I had to go to Google and search for the answer. Turns out that it is called a hypernova. https://www.businessinsider.com/hypernovas-are-the-most-powerful-thing-in-the-universe-2014-9#: Humans could not survive the gamma rays from being too near this most powerful object in the physical universe. Think about this. Why can you look up the most powerful object in the universe, but it can’t look you up? Who is more powerful? Why is that? The physical universe is the platform for life on this planet. We live in the Goldilocks zone, not too close to the Sun and not too far away, but just right for life to thrive on the Earth. Why is that? Hold that thought for right now.
THE MENTAL UNIVERSE — Why is it that we can even study other living species on Earth but they cannot study us? Who is the most powerful person in this mental universe? Although animals do have limited intelligence and survival skills, although they follow the dictates of their nature (animal), only humans can ask the question at Five Guys: Do you want cheese on your burger or just plain? As far as we know, we are the only persons, even at the microbial level, to exist in the Physical and Mental Universe. Why is that? Maybe there is other life out there. Maybe other planets harbor sentient life forms. Maybe. Fermi’s Paradox comes to mind. He simply asked his colleagues, “Where is everybody?” Only humans live on this island of human reasoning and free choice. And remember, due to our advances in sciences and medicine and what it means to be a human during our watch of seventy or eighty years, we are able to discover what our purpose is and do something about it. Why is that? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD4izuDMUQA
Why, of all the species on our plant, do only humans possess the ability to reason and the ability to choose? Reason what? Choose what? Certainly, we use our human intelligence to look at the physical universe and ask questions about it so we can better describe why we are here. We can also use that same reasoning to look forward to what will be and choose whatever destiny we want.
What do we have so far? The greatest power in the known universe is a hypernova, but power must have another level of development, i.e., mental power. We can ask the questions of what composes a hypernova, and how it is presenting itself to us. Birds don’t worry about a hypernova, nor do aardvarks devise wonderful scientific instruments to study the heavens and seek answers to what is out there. Here comes question number three, “Is that all there is?” We, humans, are able to make choices that are consistent with our nature. Some consequences of our choices may be bad or good. It is what we choose that is good or bad for us and our destiny. There are two areas where we go to find out what is good or bad for us: 1. Our own independent reasoning and choices, and, 2. God tells us what is good for us.
Humans have reason for a reason. They have the ability to make choices over and above the natural order of things. Butterflies can’t make choices other than what is consistent with their nature. do this, nor can horses choose not to come into breeding season. God speaks to us through other people, through the writings of the prophets and scriptures, through the Church, but mainly to each of us in our hearts. Contemplation, specifically Cistercian practices and charisms in my case, is a way to access the heart of Christ and communicate through silence and solitude to listen with the “ear of my heart” (St. Benedict’s Prologue to his Rule). Is there a power, energy, pure thought out there that is not bound by space, time, matter or natural laws? This level would be more powerful than anything in the physical universe, more powerful than human thought in the mental universe. We call this energy God, one divine nature with three distinct persons. It took Jesus to reveal this to us and how it affects our relationship with a God beyond our abilities to grasp Him. Philippians 2:5-12 gives us the best rationale why God would become our nature–love. Remember, this is not human love, but pure love, 100% of its nature. Our brains cannot contain such knowledge, but that very God invited us to be a part of Him as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. We can only see the Father through Christ and His love for each of us. Heaven is God’s playground and if humans want to use it, they must follow God’s rules, not their own. Our whole lifetime of choices becomes one of trying to choose what Christ taught us. When we fail, as we often do, we seek mercy.
If our lifetime is one spent packing for the trip to Heaven, then what can you take with you in your one bag? In one of my Lectio Divina Meditations (Philippians 2:5) I had thoughts that my bag is that cup you see in the photo above. I take with me those things consistent with what God taught us. My heaven will be different than your because of the choices you made in your lifetime. Good choices go to Heaven, while bad choices send us to Purgatory or to Hell, the place where we can get it right the second time. If we reject God in his presence, like Lucifer did, we will live in Hell what the center of our life was. If, like Adam and Eve, we get a second chance to love others as Christ loves us, then God will judge us justly and compassionately as we await our purification. In Heaven, I can take with me love, hope and faith that I encountered on my journey. Is any of this true? We must wait until we meet Christ at the Throne of the Lamb to know for sure. Until then, we have the Hope that comes from the Holy Spirit that tells us to be faithful and keep seeking mercy for ourselves and give mercy to others.
Every human has the tools of reasoning and the ability to make choices. Like fingerprints, no two humans make the same choices using a lifetime of selecting what is good or what may be bad for them. What choices we make depends on how we relate to what is real for us and the values that we have assumed as part of what is meaningful for each of us. But where do we find out what is the truth? What is the way we need to journey to fulfill our destiny in the physical and mental universe? What is the meaning of life for us? Where do we find that out? The limitations of our human existence dictate that we only live for seventy or eighty years.
In my thinking about three universes, the third one, the Spiritual Universe, is couched in mystery and is unlike the other two universes (physical and mental). If the physical universe is the platform for humans to discover what is true, a way of life that is meaningful, and the fulfillment of what it means to be human, then the mental universe allows humans to use languages to uncover some of these mysteries. As we become more and more sophisticated in our mental capabilities, our languages begin to open up what had hitherto been closed to us, we know more at this stage or our human development than we ever did. The problem with seeing one unified theory of reality is the Tower of Babel effect, (Genesis 11 http://www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/11) We use the mental universe as the bridge-builder between what we can see and what we can’t see that is of meaning to us (e.g. trust, love, respect, caring). This mental universe of reason and free will allows us to approach the next level of reality, the Spiritual Universe. This third universe is the fulfillment of the first two (physical and mental). It contains the answers to questions that each and every person must answer correctly before they die:
There is a catch. You must have an invitation to enter it. The good news is that all humans have an automatic invitation due to the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. They may not even know they have it so they don’t use it. It is like a credit card that everyone gets at their birth. It is a gift from God, an invitation to become adopted sons and daughters of the Father, brother to Christ, with the energy of the Holy Spirit. All is takes is cashing it in (Baptism) and being open to the Spirit in their lives. The Spiritual Universe begin with Baptism. All those collective Baptisms and Confirmations are called by the name Catholic Universal Church (those still on earth awaiting deliverance, those Saints and saints in Heaven standing before the Throne of the Lamb, giving honor, power and glory to the Father through the Son with the energy of the Holy Spirit, those who, in God’s mercy get a second chance to proclaim Jesus as Lord and atone for their sins). All of us have access to the grace of God (energy) to seek God daily where we are and as we are. Each day must be a stand alone testimony to the love of Christ for us.
The Spiritual Universe begins with Baptism and God’s gift of adoption as sons and daughter. Christ gives us the way to go, what is true, and how to live life in such a way that we end up with Him forever as our Lord and Savior. As you have already experienced, it is one thing to be Baptized but quite another to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) each and every day. Left to our own sinful tendencies, we could not survive the onslaughts of Original Sin and temptations by the Devil, and would easily succumb to the seductions of the flesh (Galatians 5). The Spiritual Universe does not have an ending, unlike the physical and mental universes.
So, once we enter the Spiritual Universe, what do we do? The one rule we all have to attempt to complete is “love one another as Christ loves us?” As soon as we begin to understand what that means, it becomes clear that God has given us the Holy Spirit in one another to help us. Not only that, but Jesus told us that his grace is sufficient. An interesting thing about Faith and grace and God’s energy is that it can be lost. How can we sustain our love for others? Like any relationship, it takes communication between you and Christ, it requires you to have in you the mind of Christ Jesus every day. (Philippians 2:5) A particularly haughty Christian man once asked me in a condescending way, “Have you been saved?” I told him, “Each day for the past 24,984 days, I have been saved by the blood of the Lamb and I have tried to accept Christ as Son of God, Savior. Some days are better than others.” His jaw dropped open. Here are three things that I practice as part of my Lay Cistercian approach to spirituality (Trappist).
Every day, just as I eat food to sustain me and drink water to hydrate me, I try to practice humility and obedience to God’s will by doing Lectio Divina (Philippians 2:5), Eucharist (after COVID-19 is over), Liturgy of the Hours (www.divineoffice.org), and reading Scriptures in silence and solitude.
Every day, I pray at 2:30 a.m. to be with Saint Michael, my patron Saint and ask him to sit with me as I pray to the Father for mercy and a spirit of penance and reparation for my sins. I often do a mini-Lectio Divina in the morning. Do you know something? The Holy Spirit is up at 2:30 a.m.
Every day, I try to think of my life in a single day. Everything we know has a beginning and an end. With this attitude in mind, I seek God daily wherever I am, and as I am. It doesn’t matter what life experiences come my way. That in all things, God be glorified. –St. Benedict
The Spiritual Universe, beginning with my Baptism and lasting Forever, is the paradigm shift that I had to make and sustain. Life is not easy sometimes, but just because your road is rocky doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. Taking up my cross daily, I have Christ with me in whatever challenges face me. As I seem to progress in moving from self to God, I think I am less nervous and worry only about seeking first the kingdom of heaven. That works nicely for me. I sense a peaceful blanket that overshadows me. The peace that Christ talks about is not the absence of strife or conflict but rather the presence of Love.
Who is most powerful in the Spiritual Universe? It is pure love, pure mind, pure heart. It is a God so far beyond us that it took Christ, Son of God, to be our Savior, not only to tell us the truth, but to show each of us how to fulfill our destiny as human beings.
USING THREE UNIVERSES TO SEEK GOD
I use the Rule of Threes technique (one universe containing three, simultaneous universes of physical, mental, and spiritual) to help me look at and differentiate what the World says is true from what what the Spirit tells me. Look once more at the photo of the cup. What do you see?
PHYSICAL UNIVERSE: Look at the cup from the viewpoint of the physical universe. What do you see? Think about what you see, only the physical properties, colors, textures. Do this for ten minutes. What do you see.
MENTAL UNIVERSE: Now, look at the same photo of the cup from the viewpoint of reason and choice. What do you see? What can this mean? Who is the cup? What is the significance of the window? What lies beyond the window? Look at this photo for fifteen minutes. What does it mean from the viewpoint of just the World?
SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE: If you are the cup and it signifies who you are, what did you fill the cup of salvation with? How does this photo describe original sin? Is the window like looking at Heaven through a frosted glass? Where does all this take you Take twenty minutes just to look at it, close your eyes, then look at it again? Make it the only focus you have. Listen with the “ear of the heart”.
FOURTH QUESTION: How does everything fit together?
It is impossible to fit the square peg of scientific inquiry into the round hole of The Christ Principle. The assumptions of both universes are valid as they pertain to them but do not answer each other logically. I ask you to remember that this is just my perspective on reality.
These six questions must be answered in turn and have the correct key. This key happens after you know the correct answers to the first three questions. There can be many keys to unlocking The Divine Equation. Like is about trying to answer these six questions, and then the authentic key to unlocking the mysteries of Faith comes with the correct answers. I have unlocked my questions about human evolution (intelligent progression): “What does it mean to be fully human?”
The key I used was The Christ Principle. The first person I discovered to unlock these questions about what it means to be human was Mary, Christ’s mother. Think about it. In her case, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her to move her from human dissonance to the resonance of being fully human. She was the person who said YES to the invitation to be an adopted son or daughter for us. She was the person whom God favored, with being the first human in the new testament to be what nature intended. The rest of us must work for our bread (Remember the consequences of original sin in Genesis 1-2?) Mary went to the head of the line in those that would become the Church Universal. Mary is not God, but the Mother of God (Jesus). We honor her and ask her help (intercession) to allow it to be done to us as it was done to her by the Holy Spirit, just as I would pray to my mom and dad to put in a good word for me, a sinner.
Christ is The Christ Principle, the key, the mediator between humans and divinity, our advocate (with the Holy Spirit) to the Father. No one can see the Father but the Son, but we see Jesus when we use contemplative prayer and communal prayers of the Eucharist (food) and Reconciliation (making all things new in Christ).
Answering this question successfully opened up to me a rich meaning of Christ’s command to us: Love one another as I have loved you. Love is energy. The energy of God is the constant across each of the three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual).
As humans, it is my contention that our hearts search for the resonance that the dissonance of original sin caused all of us to inherit when we pass over from animality to rationality, whenever that was. St. Augustine’s famous quote (often what people remember most about his astonishing writings) of “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” describes the longing of the heart to sit side by side with God and just be who nature intended. The best photo I have ever seen about this longing and one which I admit is my favorite response to “Why I am a Catholic?” and, “What does it mean for me to me to be fully human and achieve completion as my nature intended?” is this icon of Saint Charles de Foucauld. Here it is. Just look at it for five minutes and ask yourself, “If this is Christ and me, what do I feel?”
FIFTH: QUESTION I ASKED: How can I love fiercely?
I am grateful to Erich Fromm (The Art of Loving) for pointing out that to love in the physical and mental universes, I must put Love where there has been no love before. Love is an art to be mastered. We must learn what we learn by learning the hard way. Knowledge is not infused. Knowledge is tied up with free choice because we choose what we think is good for us, even if it is not. Love is like that, too. I don’t automatically learn how to love except by trying out things and getting banged up when they don’t work. St. Paul offers a list of those things that lead to our spiritual bruising. (Galatians 5)
As one with adoption by the Father as one who inherits the kingdom of heaven, I am counseled to seek God every day. This is why Christ came to help humanity reach a level where it was able to fulfill the intention of our race, to be fully human. Like the observations of Erich Fromm on Love, spiritual Love must be acquired through dying to our natural inclinations of what Love is to make room for what Jesus tells us Love is. Love others as I have loved you is the only command coming from the Old Testament prescriptions of the Law. “Love is doing these rituals, much like the much-misinformed notion of doing good works, without having to expand it to include the heart.” Prayer is lifting your heart and mind to God with all your strength.
Here is what Love means to me. I refer to the Love that comes when I am in the presence of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
SIXTH QUESTION I ASKED: You know you will die, now what?
The sixth question is itself a question. If I know that I will die, and all matter in what we know in the physical and mental universes corrupts (dies), then somehow that is part of a pattern in which I must participate. I live in those two universes. But is that all there is for humanity, particularly for me? I must die, but using the Christ Principle, something wonderful happens. I am made an adopted son (daughter) of the Father at Baptism. I am baptized with the Holy Spirit, nourished on my journey of life with the Eucharist since I am not immune to the attacks of going off track for following false gods, and restored to new life each time I rechoose The Christ Principle as the center of my life, and provided with Viaticum when I approach the death of the body. All this is because of Jesus’ Love for each person. All of this is just for me so that I can continue beyond the death of the physical body to the inheritance that is the fulfillment of what nature intended humanity to be– eternal knowledge, eternal Love, and eternal service.
There is one catch, one rooted in the very fabric of what it means to be human. I am given reason for a reason and the ability to choose what I have reasoned. One of those quirky side effects of being human is that if I choose the Christ Principle as my center, it begins to slide off center as soon as I choose it. These are the effects of the corruption of matter and mind. This is the World in which I find myself. This phenomenon is called the effects of living in the World of corruption. Like every other thing, our destiny in the physical and mental universe is to die. We don’t control it. No human has the power to stop it.
But……. that is not God’s destiny for those who love Him (and love others as Christ loved us). God tells us through Christ that another option exists for those who choose it. As crazy as it sounds, you can fulfill your true destiny as a human by making a choice, by saying YES to something that your reason says can’t be true. By adopting us, God tells us, “Why don’t you come and live with me… in my house? I have lots of room and you will find rest from the worries and turmoil of the World.”
God says, “One thing you must do is get rid of your reliance on what the World says is a treasure (money, power, greed, jealousy, hatred of others) and instead fill your heart with me, of course as you have the capacity to hold me. Here is my pledge to you. I will send my son, Jesus, to show you how to move to this next level of your intelligent progression (evolution). What he will show you is the opposite of what your senses tell you is true. He will be the Christ Principle in each age so that you will have the opportunity to know that is true and then have the way of life that leads you to me. One thing. Like Christ, you must endure this World and its allurements of Satan until your natural death. As a way for you to begin preparing to live with me, I call you son (daughter) and share with you Jesus in the Eucharist and offer you healing for your soul in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Like Christ, you must die to your human self and rise to your adopted self. This is an act of your free will to do what I tell you, even though it is difficult now. Do you want to join me now?”
I answer the NOW WHAT part of this sixth question with my way of life as a Lay Cistercian. Each Lay Cistercian, like each human, approaches the Father only through, with, and in Christ, using the power (energy) of the Holy Spirit. My focus is on the answer to Question One above. Question Two is “there is nothing more important to me than to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus.” Each day. I do this by creating for myself a schedule (not one of the laws to complete but opportunities to place myself by choice in the presence of Christ on a park bench in the middle of winter and be near the heart of Christ.)
Here are sixteen practices I try to make habits in my life. They are also the challenge that I have to write a book and add PowerPoint slides so that I can create a YouTube for each of these sixteen. How do you know that these sixteen are the correct ones? I don’t. My purpose is fourfold:
Have a parental legacy for my daughter, who is, as yet, unable to receive how to love Christ using these sixteen. I write all these ideas so that, hopefully, someday, she might read them and know the supreme joy that I have in being a Lay Cistercian.
Have some of my ideas as an inheritance to the Lay Cistercian community of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist).
Have some of my ideas written down for the Tallahassee Lay Cistercian group (in the formation process).
Have some of my ideas passed on to the prisoners of the Florida Prison System.
THE ART OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE BLOG ON HOW TO INSTALL CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICES IN YOUR HEART, IN YOUR PARISH, IN YOUR COMMUNITY
THE ART OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE
One of the concepts that help me to grow in the capacity of Christ in my heart is that of the Church. I used to think of the Church as a body of rules and prescriptions I had to believe to make it to Heaven. Now, I see that as a kickoff point for what is an exceptionally sophisticated and ingenious way for Christ to take his command, “to love one another as I have loved you,” and make that accurate in each age for all races, for all genders, for all nationalities. What follows is an excerpt from my new book on The Art of Contemplative Practice: A Lay Cistercian reflects on a compendium of skills needed to move from self to God.
THE RANDOMNESS OF GOD IS GREATER THAN ALL THE INTENTIONS THAT HUMANS COULD CONCEIVE
During his lifetime, the era of Christ is characterized by God becoming human in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Humans were not going in the right direction in the Old Testament. They needed to be re-directed toward a more catholic approach to salvation, including everyone using the lessons found in the Christ Principle. Jesus came to save us from going in the wrong direction and gave us the WHAT about how to become adopted sons and daughters of the Father and inherit the kingdom prepared for us from before the physical universe existed. If Jesus is the WHAT, then the extension of his presence in the physical and mental universes is the HOW, or the practice of those Christ Principles, every day. The minefield through which all humans must pass is called Original Sin or how to control the human condition in each of us to rise to our potential as adopted sons and daughters of the Father and not descend into our animality past, which is not our nature. In this context, Christ founded his Church, the gathering of those who try to make the Christ Principle the center of their lives, to DO those activities that will enable them to fulfill their human potential. The unbroken link with Christ is the Church Triumphant (those who have died in the peace of Christ and now enjoy the Heaven that they have discovered on earth), the Church Militant (those still living and struggling to have in them the mind of Christ Jesus each day with the energy of the Holy Spirit as Advocate), and finally, those who get a second chance at redemption or anyone God chooses to give another shot at loving others as Christ loved us, the Church Purgative or Penitential. The Church Universal is only made up of living human beings, ones who have varying degrees of awareness of how to love God with all their minds, with all their hearts, and with all their souls, and their neighbor as themselves. This multi-dimensional Church has three bodies but only one head, consistent with the Holy Trinity’s template (one divine nature with three distinct persons). This template is one that I use to look at one reality from three distinct universes of conditions, the physical universe, the mental universe (only humans were raised to this level of existence), and the spiritual universe (God raises only those Baptized with water and the Holy Spirit to be humans who God adopts to live forever.)
As an individual human being, far-fetched as it may sound, you are the center of all reality. Don’t think of this center as the center of a bull’s eye on a target, but rather the purpose of all reality from when time began to when you were born in original sin. Everything that is, the physical universe, the fact that humans can reason and make free choices, the insertion of God into the human situation to help us with WHAT we should do to be with God in Heaven, and finally, the foundation of the Church as a mother to nourish me and protect me from the violence of the human condition, gives me a chance to live and fulfill my destiny as a human being.
As Erick Fromm writes succinctly in his book, The Art of Loving, humans are not born with Love; they must acquire it. Not all notions about Love lead to authenticity. Some lead to the corruption of the human person. We must not only master human Love, the purpose of being human but also master the art of loving others as Christ has loved us. Christ did not just come down and say, “Do this or that, then die, leaving us orphans. He showed us how to conquer our temptations and seek God each day. He also told his followers and those who would gather together to DO what he said that He would be with us as we journey on our particular and unique paths to that final gathering in Heaven. The Art of Contemplative Practice means doing those activities and behaviors that allow God’s presence to influence how we treat others and respect ourselves. The Cistercian way is how I have chosen to express this desire to be in the presence of Christ through Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Annoting of the Sick. I use this approach to spirituality because it is one with which I am most familiar.
THE CHRIST PRINCIPLE IS ALL ABOUT JESUS BEING THE CENTER OF ALL REALITY. THE CHURCH IS ALL ABOUT WHAT CHRIST CAN DO FOR YOU NOW AS YOU SEEK GOD IN YOUR DAILY LIFE.
The Church is the occasion for the Holy Spirit to overshadow you with Faith, hope, and Love if you know what is going on. Liturgy is a collective way that the Body of Christ approaches God the Father through, with, and in Christ in unity with the Holy Spirit. The Church is “doing” what Christ left us to practice. The Church is there joined together with God’s DNA that contains the building blocks of contemplative practice moving through each successive age just for me to be able to say, “Jesus is Lord.”
As I try to live my purpose in life to seek God each day (Philippians 2:5), I use the following six questions as a focal point to help me stretch beyond what is comfortable so that I can find deeper meaning in three areas where it takes skill to move forward. These six questions form the core or bedrock of my contemplative practice.
THE SIX QUESTIONS EACH PERSON MUST ASK AND ANSWER BEFORE THEY DIE
MASTERY NOW AND FOREVER
Your journey to Forever is just beginning when God accepts you as an adopted son or daughter. Like everything we do as human beings, it takes work. When you ratify your Faith, you begin to pack your bag for life with God forever. Love in the spiritual universe is not automatic; you must learn to love others as Christ loved us. The Church becomes the school of charity to help each and gatherings of individuals to love. I have chosen to express or make this Love real while I live with the Rule of St. Benedict, specifically with the Cistercian approach to contemplative practice. This book assumes that contemplative practices and skills don’t automatically appear magically from some invisible force like Love, contemplative practices, and skills. There is an art to contemplative practice that demands discipline and mastery. This mastery will never be fully reached in this lifetime of trying to love God with our whole minds, heart, and strength. It is the time that we take each day to seek God as life unfolds, using, in my case, Cistercian practices and charisms to make sense of reality.
One of my concerns about conversion is the “one time is enough” syndrome. The blood of Christ saves us in His sacrifice on the cross, so we get on the conveyor belt to behave, do what we want, then get off in Heaven. What is lacking in this approach is an appreciation of Original Sin and of humility and obedience needed to take up our cross daily and follow Christ as we meet Him each day. Being a follower of the Master is work, a daily battle against the ever-encroaching effects of Original Sin on our belief. Another of my concerns is that we don’t teach our members how to move from self to God each day, only an intellectual encounter with keeping the rules and obeying what the Church says is true. Don’t mistake that last statement as abandoning the role of the Church through the ages. “Outside the Church, there is no salvation.” I am saying that Christ gives us the WHAT and WHY to have in us the mind of Christ Jesus, but show us HOW. The Church should be the instrument or help us with good works to move from self to God. Refer to St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 4. https://christdesert.org/prayer/rule-of-st-benedict/chapter-4-the-tools-for-good-works/ Don’t forget these good works are not ends in themselves but are only tools that lead us to increase Christ in our hearts. Christ is the terminus of all that we do, not the Church. Our reformation must be to increase God’s capacity (capacitas dei) in us by using the help and prayers not just of me but in union with all those gathered together in one Faith, one Lord, one baptism. The local Church becomes the occasion where I meet Christ. The Church is a gathering of believers who help me and, together with me, move more and more towards the Love Christ expressed for us by dying on the cross for our sins.
The context in which we all practice these sixteen skills we call The Church. I love the analogy of the Church Universal as Mother. A mother protects her children from harm and ensures that they are fed, and their wounds and bruises are soothed. A mother knows the failures and faults of her children but is always there with them as they get up from their foibles and fallacies. A mother is a moral compass for their children to admonish them when they need it, expressing unconditional Love. The Church Universal is about sustaining how to love Christ through our heritage and authority from the Apostles. As an individual who has a limited lifetime to learn how to love as Christ loved us, I am the Church particular to transform first myself and then, through me, to those I meet in my brief lifetime. The Church can be compared to a mother who patiently nourishes me (and all of us that ever lived) with how to love fiercely and make sense out of the spiritual universe, which is the opposite of what the World has an assumption about purpose of life. Each of us can reason and the choice to do whatever we choose. Some of these choices are authentic, and some are destructive. The purpose of the Church Universal is to help me get to Heaven. (Baltimore Catechism, Question Number Six)
The Art of Contemplation is a way to look at the reality that uses help from God to nudge us in the right direction so we can open our hearts to the heart of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
ASSUMPTIONS DRIVE THE BUS
Behind anything we believe are multiple assumptions about what is true. Both you and I will have a different take on reality because we are unique. I like the saying:
Some assumptions I have in writing about The Art of Contemplative Practice.
I wrote all of my books as love letters from me to you, the result of my Lectio Divina meditations and contemplative thoughts that came from the Holy Spirit to me. I don’t speak for the Holy Spirit; I only listen to his television channel and watch whatever is presented. In that sense, I am a Scribe.
The Art of Contemplation is about my knowing what to choose to love as Christ loved us and practicing and receiving the charisms to place myself in the presence of God through Christ using the energy of the Holy Spirit to help me. All this is not about me but how I can make room for Christ in my heart.
I offer you sixteen skills I use to move from self to God. These skills allow me to sit on a park bench in the dead of winter and approach God by keeping my mouth shut (God always approaches me, although I don’t always feel His presence). I don’t always practice them perfectly, but I do practice them daily in some form.
THREE LEVELS OF MAKING ROOM FOR GOD
There are three levels of awareness of what it means to love that I wish to master before I die. It will take me a lifetime of trying to approach God by having in me the mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5) Trying is a prayer in itself.
LEVEL ONE: Mastery of what it means to love in the Secular World (RE: Erick Fromm’s, The Art of Loving. https://amzn.to/2XiMonP) Physical and Mental Universes
LEVEL TWO: Mastery of what it means to love others as Christ loves us. (RE: Learning to Love https://amzn.to/385zlfw) Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Universes aid in the Formation of Contemplative Practice. Continue to practice the sixteen skills of the Art of Contemplative Practice until you die.
LEVEL THREE: Mastery of the School of Love (RE: Developing A School of Love, https://amzn.to/3pOblUj) Spiritual Transformation from Self to God daily. We are becoming what we read in Scripture.
I use the following sixteen skills to help me master the three levels of spiritual awareness. As a Lay Cistercian, spiritual awareness in contemplative practice means I try to grow in my capacity to have Christ in me. It is seeking God daily, with no reservations, with no agendas, with no expectations. With Christ as my center and the Christ Principle in my life, I don’t have to worry about what I am to eat or drink, what I am to wear, or what situations happen to me that day. Christ is there. It is time I take to make room for Christ in my most meaningful heart, not just its attainment.
ASSUMPTIONS FOR THESE CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE SKILLS
SIXTEEN SESSIONS TO BEGIN THE ART OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE
What follows is a cryptic outline of the blogs I will narrate for YouTube. Contemplate practice is repeating going into your inner room, locking the door, and waiting.
OUTLINE OF THE ART OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE
I. FUNDAMENTAL CORE OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE
SKILL ONE: What is the purpose of life? Learn how to discover the meaning of life. Skill: How to be aware of God’s purpose for humanity?
SKILL TWO: What is my purpose in life within that purpose? Learn how to discover the purpose of your life within God’s purpose. Skill: How to choose a personal center within what God intends for humanity?
SKILL THREE: What does reality look like? Learn how to approach one reality using the divine gift of eyeglasses so you can see three distinct universes. Skill: How to see Jesus in three universes yet one reality. How to view the spiritual universe with Pauline duality: The World and The Spirit?
SKILL FOUR: How does it all fit together? Learn how all reality is centered on six cosmic paradigm shifts that lead to you. Skill: What are six paradigm shifts that happened in the cosmos, and what does that have to do with my contemplative approach to moving from self to God?
SKILL FIVE: How do I love fiercely? Learn how to love in three universes, discovering resonance and not dissonance in reality. Skill: What tools for good works does St. Benedict recommends in his Prologue to the Rule? How can I become what I read?
SKILL SIX: I know I am going to die; now what? Learn how to use contemplative practices to place you in the presence of God, where you seek to love others each day as Christ loved us, and how Heaven or Hell begins now, on earth, and continues after you die. Skill: How do you combine all six questions as part of the Divine Equation? How to interpret the six elements of the Divine Equation as you grow from self to God?
II. FORMATION: THE CONTEMPLATIVE SKILLS AND PRACTICES TO ALLOW ME TO GROW IN THE CAPACITY FOR GOD (Capacitas Dei)
SKILL SEVEN: What are Christ’s tools to live in a corrosive reality? Learn how the Rule of St. Benedict is a guide, an ongoing movement process to help you sustain and toughen your Faith amid a secular society without God. Just because your rocky road doesn’t mean you are on the wrong path. SKILL: How to see Jesus in Scripture? How to use the Rule of St. Benedict to grow into what Scripture invites us to become? (John 20:30-31)
SKILL EIGHT: Real Food and Real Drink that is a person. Learn how to eat the food for the journey to sustain you in your current struggle to have the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5). Skill: How to see Jesus in the Eucharist and Eucharistic Adoration and sit next to the heart of Christ in Love.
SKILL NINE: How to manage the effects of Original Sin. Learn the meaning of mercy and how to make all things new in your spiritual journey. Learn how to forgive others even if they don’t forgive you. Skill: How to make all things new with Christ?
SKILL ELEVEN: Learn how to use the various ways to pray with Christ through His Church to be present to God now and in Heaven. Skill: Lectio Divina and Liturgy of the Hours as waiting for the coming of the Lord.
III. TRANSFORMATION: USING THE SKILLS YOU HAVE ACQUIRED TO MOVE FROM YOUR FALSE SELF TO YOUR TRUE SELF (Conversio morae)
SKILL TWELVE: How to see Jesus. Learn how to sit on a park bench in the middle of winter and listen to Jesus with the “ear of the heart.” Skill: How to move from your false self to your true self.
EXERCISE THIRTEEN: Prayer links “the moment” with the Christ Principle. Learn what and how to pack for the journey to Heaven. Skill: How to Link each day to the death and Resurrection of Christ using the Golden Thread.
SKILL FOURTEEN: Learn how to use the five unique gifts you received at Baptism from your Father in Heaven to allow you to thrive as an adopted son or daughter of the Father. Skills: How to activate the five gifts that Christ gave us to grow in the capacity of God (capacitas dei): Silence, Solitude, Prayer, Work, and Community.
SKILL FIFTEEN: Learn how to use silence and solitude in Lectio Divina to seek contemplation to help you survive as a pilgrim in a foreign land while you wait to claim your inheritance as a son or daughter of the Father. Skill: Learn how to enter the one place no one wants to look and find fulfillment as a human being using silence and solitude.
SKILL SIXTEEN: How to seek God each day by conversion of life. Learn to see what Heaven will be like while you live and be aware of what Hell is like. Skill: How to live each day using all of these skills to grow to “have the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
Next step: Narrate a ten to fifteen-minute YouTube on each skill.
The Center for Contemplative Practice is a HOW TO dimension of living a contemplative lifestyle in the chaos of the World.
There are sixteen skills that I propose as the core habits for acquiring what St. Benedict calls the Tools of Good Works (Chapter 4 of his Rule). Skills are about HOW to do contemplation. Contemplation is about using Meditation to move deeper into an abandonment of thoughts so that you focus on being present to Christ and listening with the “ear of the heart.” My new book will be a “How-to” book on contemplative practices that I use.