SPIRITUALITY FOR PET OWNERS

The  following blog is excerpted from my book, What Happens to You When Your Pet Dies: Spirituality for Pet Owners. See section in Books.

You can lose a pet in an accident, or it can run away, or you may have to terminate its life due to illness or old age.

We care so much for our pets so much, that it is difficult when we lose them. It is almost unbearable to give permission to terminate your pet’s life. That is your human side showing itself. Why is that?

Are we humans instinctively protecting life? We are the prime species of animals on earth. We are bonded with our pets by our common ancestry. The reason we hate to have our pet put to sleep is our deep, innate respect for all life. It is part of our spiritual blueprint. We don’t put our old human grandparents to sleep when they get old. Why not? When I was a boy, our family has had to put several dogs, some cats, and two horses to death. It was not easy. Maybe we felt guilty because our animal companions always gave us their affection readily. Our pets were part of the family in a very real sense. When they ran away, we got depressed. Why is that? It is easier to lose a pet to an auto accident than to have to make the decision to put it to sleep. Why is that? We grieve for our pets as much as we would for a family member. Why is that?

Our pet is one of the family. When it dies, we grieve as though we have lost a member of the family.

Pets do not live in the human world. They live only in the physical world. Everything in the physical world lives, procreate, survives and then dies.

If humans lived only in the physical universe, like our animal friends, I would have no problem with assisted suicide or even genocide. Who cares? You live, you breed, and you die. The default for our species is life, not death. For humans, we have a choice to be merely human, living only in two universes of physical and mental, or we can choose to live…Forever.

It’s that pesky, spiritual universe that keeps getting in the way. When your center is pure knowledge, pure love, pure energy or service, life is not yours to give or take. It is yours to discover and sustain.

When an animal dies, our relationship with them dies, too. We cherish them in our minds…Forever. We can be closer to our pet than we are to family members. Why is that? Is that bad? What are the limitation of that relationship?

Pets are not human. Only humans live in the mental world. This is the world of reason.

Why is it that we have such a love for animals and make some of them our pets? We share the physical world with all living things. Do Aardvarks prepare your annual taxes? Of course not, you get an accountant. Why do humans have the ability to reason whereas aardvarks simply eat, sleep, procreate, and die? Our pets are not human. Pets cannot respond to you as human, even though we speak to them as though they were our bosom buddies. We tell them our most intimate thoughts, those we would not even share with our spouse, and all they do is give us unconditional affection in return. Pets respond to us according to their nature, not ours. Pets cannot form a human relationship with us. That would have happened between God and humans, were it not for The Master helping us connect with the spiritual universe. Pets don’t go to Heaven, because they are not human. But, because you are spiritual, you can take all of your animal friends to Heaven with you, if you link them to God’s will. Do you know how to do that? It is as simple as wishing it to be so. Everything you value prepares your framework for the life to come.

We take care of pets because we also come from animal stock.

Humans are animals PLUS the ability to reason. We know that we know. We are spiritual apes, in one sense, the result of billions of years of evolution. How else can you explain our lack of development, our sinfulness, our fixation on hatred, war, and power? Human animals are capable of much, much more. We are in the process of maturing as a race. We are just infants in our collective maturity. As an individual, you live not only in the physical world but also in the mental world. Your pet only lives in the physical world. Way down deep, you take care of your pets because you come from the same genetic stuff. You have well over 98% of DNA in common with Chimpanzees. You are not an animal in the same way a possum is. So, what makes you so special? God! We still act like animals sometimes. That tension is called temptation, and we fight it as long as we are breathing. Humans are spiritual apes. Deny it, or affirm it, the fact is, we developed from animals, but with a BIG difference. God gave us reason and free will and made us in His image and likeness. When looking at that helpless kitty at the Animal Shelter, you naturally want to protect it and take it home with you. I do.

We are sad when a pet is sick or in trouble.

We are the care-giver for our pet. We feed it, nurse it when it is sick, spend time loving it by brushing its hair, talking to it, touching it. You must remember that you did not lose a pet, because it was never yours to begin with. You were just the care giver. Your pet is free to be itself. Your pet is not human, even though you grieve for it. Pets can grieve for their companions, but with a difference. Your animal friend can’t put death into any type of perspective. It is only a loss. There is no hope. Humans are the only ones who are not free to be animals. Ironically, it is freedom and choice that are the characteristics of being human. When your pet is sick, what does it do? It is difficult to heal itself. Humans can heal animals. When our pets have cancer, and need surgery, we have the technology to help them. They need our friendship. One of the good things about being spiritual is, we can take our pets with us to Heaven. Heaven is like a containment area God makes to give us a reference point. It is populated with those experiences we linked to God’s will, while we were on earth. That includes all our pets and life experiences that are consistent with who God is.

 

 

Reflections on Losing My Pet

Losing a pet reminds me of my animal heritage. Pets share my early roots, my stock, my genes, and my heritage. Pets are not human, but of all the life forms, they make me reflect on my humanity more than any other. Button is my pet, but she has never once jumped up on my lap. My wife is the mommy cat. I am useless, unless she wants to talk to someone. She is pure Himalayan, and so independent, I’d swear she is a perpetual teenager. My wife and I have cared for Button and has raised her from a tiny kitten, covered in fleas. Button was actually depressed, when my wife went out-of-town for four weeks. I took her to the Vet for signs of depression. When Button is sick now, we are there, just as we would be for our daughter. My wife and I acted according to our nature, caring for the lower species. Buttons is not human. She responds according to her nature — she responds to kindness, the need for food, stroking, and especially kitty treats. We cried when we lost Buttons. Buttons won’t know she is dead. We buried her after linking her with God’s will to our journey. I hope there are no kitty litter boxes in Heaven.

That in all things, God be glorified.  –St. Benedict

 

WHAT IS YOUR CENTER?

The following excerpt is from my book entitled, For Behold, I Make All Things New: A Lay Cistercian reflects on mercy, forgiveness, confession and penance to grow in faith, love, and service.

I can remember it very well. I stood as high as my little toes would allow and had mom measure how tall I was. Since 3rd Grade, I stood there solemnly every year on my birthday and got measured. I could see the lines growing up and up, until my last measurement, in 8th Grade. My crowing achievement was to actually see that I was taller then my mom. Measures are ways to predict time and direction, as well as growth in the spirit, if you have the correct measuring stick. Here is one way I use to tell if I am with reality.  This is what I wrote in my book.

  1. WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MY LIFE? Within the framework of God’s plan for us, it is good to know what your plan is. This is called a center. It is not centering prayer, for those familiar with this approach. Each person has one center that fuels their behaviors, attitudes, and aspirations of meaning. If you have six or seven principles of life, you can have only one center, the capstone of all the others. In step one above, the purpose of life, you accepted what God gave you as the purpose of the human race. In this second step, you must choose your personal center and how you will implement God’s purpose in your life. If you have not done so, write down the one principle on which all others depend (it may be a phrase, a short scripture passage or a saying). My own personal center is Philippians 2:5.

(Write a short center statement here.)

Here are some ideas about how to choose an authentic center. Your center should…

  • be immutable (does not change from whim to whim)
  • be something that helps you get to Heaven.
  • give you the energy to overcome the lure of the world (i.e. power, money, pleasure for pleasure’s sake, lording it over others less fortunate).
  • make you more like Jesus and less like you.
  • be so deep in its wisdom that it would take a lifetime to attain, if at all.
  • be uniquely your own and freely chosen.
  • be something you fall back on when you have a crisis in your life.
  • be the bedrock of all your actions and behaviors.
  • be strong enough to get you to Heaven.

Your purpose of life is the measuring rod to see how you close you are to God’s purpose.  If you choose a center, you will have difficulty maintaining it, if it is authentic. The reason is original sin. Think of not cleaning or dusting or cutting grass at your house for two months. No laundry, no washing dishes, no fixing spills,  just let nature be natural. If we let our human nature go, it would be like your house. This is living in two universes. Without a purpose that is linked to God’s reality, you have no way to overcome the effects of original sin, no way to clean up your house. As a Lay Cistercian I try to follow the practices and charisms of those before me, so that I can free myself from the effects of original sin.

That in all things, God be glorified. –St. Benedict

 

THRIVING IN THE PRESENCE OF PURE ENERGY

The following description is a synopsis of my forthcoming work, whatever you want to call it, entitled THRIVING IN THE PRESENCE OF PURE ENERGY: A Lay Cistercian reflects on invisible reality, The Mystery of Faith, and Eucharistic Adoration.  It should be completed in September, 2017.

 

You may not have heard of Mrs. Murphy, the fictional centerpiece of the late Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh’s writings on sacramental theology. He was a monk, Professor of Liturgics at Yale University, and died in 2008. In 1964, While attending Aidan Kavanaugh’s lectures on sacramental theology and reality at St. Meinrad School of Theology, all of us met Mrs. Murphy, although I confess I did not realize the profound meaning she held back then. Now, I am merely a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit, lucky to even comment about life around me and certainly not an eloquent apologist for any approach to liturgics. In this book, Mrs. Murphy looms large as an archetype of us all, an Adam and Eve for relations with the Sacred. Let me use a quote from Fr. Aidan to give you a sense of his eloquent thinking. https://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/2007/02/10/remembering-aidan-kavanagh/

 “The liturgical assembly is thus a theological corporation and each of its members a theologian. . . . Mrs. Murphy and her pastor are primary theologians whose discourse in faith is carried on not by concepts and propositions nearly so much as in the vastly complex vocabulary of experiences had, prayers said, sights seen, smells smelled, words said and heard and responded to, emotions controlled and released, sins committed and repented, children born and loved ones buried, and in many other ways no one can count or always account for.” (On Liturgical Theology, Chapter 7)

If I understand Father Aidan’s thinking even remotely, it is that the local church is established by Christ to enable its members to communicate and give glory to a God we cannot see, to make sense out of everyday struggles and trials with those we do see, and to find meaning and purpose with a world gone mad with its own importance. In the simplicity of loving our neighbor as our self, within the sacramental and non-sacramental context of the local assembly, the Mystery of Faith, we find purpose, pure energy with the source of all reality, and how to love with all our hearts, our minds, and our strength. God will not leave any of us stranded or without food to sustain us on our journey. If our purpose is to be with God…Forever, then the invisible God needs some way to communicate with those who call him Lord and give them food for the journey and the ability to make all things new, over and over. The context in which we find what we need to make sense out of all of this is the local church, linked by heritage and practice to the Apostles. It is the way to touch the invisible God in our midst, it is the way we claim our adoption as God’s children.

Mrs. Murphy represents an ecclesial everyperson, an archetype  like that of Adam and Eve, but one that touches the Sacred through the sheer fidelity and simplicity, fierce love with an unseen and invisible God, but one that is the center of all reality.  God did not leave the security of the One to be the object of study groups and biblical-theological exploration but to touch each and every one of us and, due to the sacrifice of Christ, allowing us to touch back, using the only ways we can possibly touch pure energy without having our neurons fried, through Eucharist (community) and seeking love in the most natural, daily life experiences. –Michael F. Conrad, Ed.D.

 

Wash Me and I Will Be Whiter Than Snow

Sometimes God wait for us on a bench in what may seem like impossible conditions. In contemplation, I realize that there are three levels of awareness I must master.

Good — I wait for God to meet me because I made the appointment with Him and I have something to ask or need help

Better- I wait for God to show up for my appointment, although I did not get a confirmation back. I just want to meet Him as an old friend.

Best: I wait for God to show up with no agenda, no words, no thoughts, no petitions, no hope for my glory. I don’t know if God will show up or not, but I HOPE. In truth, God never left me.

God meets me in snow and rain, in heat and in cold, in Summer, Winter, Spring, or Fall, in the morning and the evening.

 

 

REFLECTIONS ON THE SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE

 

 

The following reflections come from one of my Lectio Divina Contemplations.

Have you ever heard of the phenomenon about pole reversal, which states that our North and South poles have sifted over the billions of years earth has been here?  How this came to me, when I was in the midst of a Lectio Divina contemplation on Phil 2:5 is a mystery, but there it was. I looked it up on Google,

https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/2012-poleReversal.html

My assumption is: when you enter the spiritual universe (voluntarily, of course) there are two sets of meaning. That of the world (everyday activities) and that of the spiritual universe. Another way to put that is, you can either live in two universes (physical and mental) or three universe (physical, mental and spiritual. All three universes have different yerdsticks with which to measure reality. It would be a mistake to think you can use the same measurements to measure visible reality as you do to identify invisible reality.

Every so often, more common in geological time than you might think, the North and South poles reverse. Down is up and up becomes down. I believe that is what happened with the coming of Christ, but with three universes, not two. It occurred to me that the same thing might happen in the spiritual universe. This universe interfaced with the physical one at the moment of creation and with the mental one when Adam and Eve, our progenitors, first knew that they knew.

In my book, The Woman Who Changed Time: Spirituality and Time, I talk how Mary changed time itself (spiritual time, Christos, not physical time, Kronos), when she resonded to God’s invitation, “Let it be.”  This was one of the times when the spiritual poles reserved themselves, and what was up became down. In other words, the gates of Heaven were opened by the unconditional sacrifice of the Son to the Father.

The spiritual universe has no beginning and no end. It is Heaven, the Garden of Eden before the Fall, and the Kingdom of Heaven after Jesus paid the price of redemption on the cross.  Redemption comes from a Hebrew word that means, go to the pawn shop and redeem that which you pawned. In this case, Jesus paid the price for Adam and Eve’s pawn ticket and got us out of debt.  The problem is, we all inherit the effects of original sin, i.e., we suffer, die, must work for our food, and have temptations to do what is evil, although we, ourselves, are not evil, just wounded.

Based on these assumptions, it comes to mind that there are three times that the spiritual universe turned upside down, up becoming down and down becoming up.

  1. THE CREATION – God made everything with a Word and it was all good. Physical time and the laws of physics and science applied to matter. Everything evolved according to natural laws.
  2. THE CREATION OF HUMANS—God made humans to live in a place of perfection, not the physical world of time and matter, but Adam and Eve chose not act their nature. Genesis story tells of how they were thrown out of perfection into an imperfect world, still good, still sustaining life, but now they had to work for a living, there was pain, there was death and disease, there was sin, they were no better than the animals in terms of sexuality and instinct to grab power and dominate others. This is the same world we know today, people wanting to be their own center, no appreciation of God’s laws, only what makes them happy. No one can tell anyone what to do.
  3. THE RE-CREATION OF MATTER AND TIME THROUGH SPIRITUALITY—Jesus, both God and human, rescued humanity from just living on earth and dying, that which they had in common with all living things, Now the purpose of life is to prepare to live with God…Forever. The price Jesus paid for that caused the poles to flip, but with one big difference. Now, the secular world stayed the same but you had to choose to be spiritual, thanks to Christ enabling all those who believed to be adopted sons and daughters of the Father. The effects of this spiritual polar reversal were; everything from the secular world stayed the same, all laws remained in effect. What changed were the new spiritual laws. The way to get to Heaven was to do what Jesus did and to act as He taught us. Up is now down and down is now up. Peace that the world gives is not the peace that Jesus offers. The rule of opposites now influences you, once you have chosen to have God as you sole center and not false gods.  If you want to lead others, you must serve others. The Beatitudes now enhance the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:34 become the purpose of life. The language of the Kingdom of Heaven is one of forgiveness and mercy. We must struggle to die to self to become more like God.

We are created in God’s image and likeness, so we are not intrinsically evil, but merely tempted to do evil.  With God’s energy, we chose our true self over our false self, but it is always a struggle. That is why, like St. Peter before us, we say we are disciples of the Master then turn right around and do evil in His sight.

The Effects of spiritual polar reversal are:

  • We can depend on just saying we believe in The Master, without working to ensure that we have the energy and endurance to make choices to do what is right.  In many cases, the world’s values are diametrically opposes to what Christ wants us to do.
  • We need the grace (energy) of God to sustain us so that we can make the right choices. We are tempted to choose what is right over what is convenient. These choices are what the world tells us is good for us verses what God says we should do.  Often, what God says is difficult, as in taking up your cross daily to follow Him. Just because the road is rocky, doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. Read Galatians 5.
  • You know you are in the spiritual universe when you realize that everything in that universe is opposed to the physical and mental universes you live in with your body.  In my book, Three Rules of the Universe, one of the rules I call The Rule of Opposites. You guessed it. What is up in the physical and mental universes, is actually the opposite in the spiritual universe. It is ths sign of contradiction and one what you know you are in the Kingdom of Heaven. Examples:, if you want to be the greatest, you must be the least and serve others; you must die to self to be reborn to life; you must let your light shine on the stand and not put it under a bushel basked; the Virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and the greatest one, Philippians 2:5-12. I use this verse as the purpose for my life, and I have never been dissappointed. In fact, all of these books are the result of just sitting down and writing what I hear in my mind and heart.
  • If it is easy, it probably isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven.  The good news is, because we are not adopted sons and daughters of the Father, we have footprints in the snow in which to step so as not to fall into the waters of sin and failure.
  • We are pilgrims in a foreign land, when we look around to see what is meaningful and what will get us to Heaven. Many will say, “this way” or “that way” is the path to righeousness. There is no roadmap other than The Master, who says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
  • As an aspiring Lay Cistersan, and a pilgrim in this foreign land we call earth, I am called to seek God through silence, solitude, pray, work, and community. Using the Cistercian charisms and practices, I have a way to plough through life to attain my goal, each and every day: to love God with all my mind, my heart, and my strength and my neihbor as myself. (Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:34).
  • Christ, our Master, says he will make all things new. Through mercy, forgiveness, confession, and penance, I hope to pick myself up from my imperfections and sins and carry my cross daily. I have help in that. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

I have tried to apply my personal center, Philippians 2:5, to ideas like polar reversal and spirituality and time.  Forgive this broken-down, old Temple of the Holy Spirit for his musings.

That in all things, God be glorified. –St. Benedict

10 FACTS ABOUT LAY CISTERCIANS YOU MAY NOT KNOW

While Cistercians have been around since the mid-10th century, and before them Benedictines from the time of St. Benedict (c. 540) and before them various monastic strains, Lay Cistercians are a very recent movement.

There are two types of Cistercians that trace their foundations to the 10th century, regular observance and strict observance (Trappist), formed after the French Revolution. You may want to look them up for yourself.

Regular observance. https://www.cistercian.org/abbey/

Strict observance: http://www.ocso.org/?option=com_content&view=article&id=52&Itemid=62

  1. Lay Cistercians are a very recent movement.
  2. Lay Cistercians as a group are accepted by an abbot/abbess, their spiritual superior and guide. They do not exist apart from a monastery but are not part of it.
  3. Lay Cistercians have an International Association of Lay Cistercians. http://www.cistercianfamily.org
  4. Lay Cistercians usually have a two year novitiate for discernment purposes, followed by three years of Junior promises made each year in front of the Abbot/Abbess. At the end of that time, the professed Lay Cistercians vote on the candidates for membership. If accepted, they make final promises. Monks take voews. Lay Cistercians promise to be faithful to the Rule of Benedict and have stability to this monastery. This is a solemn occasion with promises make in writing in front of the Abbott in the context of the Eucharist.
  5. Lay Cistercians commit to attending a Gathering Day once a month, during which time they pray together and learn about the Rule of Benedict and Cistercian charisms and history.
  6. Like others in the Benedictine family, Lay Cistercians follow the counsels in the Rule of Benedict. I like Chapter 4 in particular. I read it every day, or at least a part of it. Although it is only a tool and not the end result, I try to be balanced in my approach to life by using it as a guide for behavior, along with the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.
  7. Some monasteries, like Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, in Conyers, Georgia, have auxiliary members in places too far away to attend the Gathering Day each month. These auxiliary groups have their own agenda and meet once a month. They make the annual retreat and profess their promises before the abbot, Dom Augustine, OCSO. The monastery and Lay Cistercians also have an ecumenical group in Atlanta, GA., composed of Episcopal, Presbyterian, and other denominations.  They also meet once a month, make the annual retreat, follow the Rule of St. Benedict to seek God, and profess their promises before Dom Augustine, OCSO.
  8. Some Lay Cistercians are associated with monasteries of Trappistine nuns. https://www.mississippiabbey.org/Monastic-Associates
  9. For a list of Lay Cistercians worldwide see:  http://www.cistercianfamily.org/communities.asp?language=english&order=group
  10. If you wish to delve deeper into Cistercian spirituality expressed by Lay Cistercians, look at the documents on the website for International Lay Cistercians: http://www.cistercianfamily.org/documents.asp?language=english#  The International Group (English, Spanish, and French) meet every three years.

Check out the website of Carl McColeman, professed Lay Cistercian from Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Ga.  He has written several excellent books on mysticism and gives retreats you won’t soon forget.  www.carlmccoleman.net

That in all things, God be glorified.  –St. Benedict

HOW TO ENTER THE REALM OF THE SACRED

What might seem like an Indiana Jones fantasy adventure to enter the lost or forbidden realm of the Sacred is indeed the most simple, in keeping with everything about God. You simply go there. Contemplation is seeking God within you, among other places. Close your eyes in a place of silence and solitude and wait.

There are several ways I use to be in the presence of God. One of them is receiving Eucharist every day that I can, another is just sitting in Eucharistic Adoration and waiting for God to sit down with me, another is using Lectio Divina as a step-by-step way to reach the stage of contemplation.  Here is how I use Lectio each day for at least thirty minutes. Every day!

The question I get most often is, how can I enter this realm of the Sacred and find the peace you are describing. Here are some ideas to try:

  1. Find a place of silence and solitude.
  2. Learn to wait for God to show up, no matter how long.
  3. Use Lectio Divina as the four steps to reach contemplation.
  4. Read a selection from Sacred Scriptures, no more than one sentence, maybe even one or two words. My eight words are in Philippians 2:5.
  5. Meditate on this sentence. Resist the temptation to move on to another sentence. Over and over, think about what is there, say it over and over and over.
  6. Pray about this sentence that you may gain humility and the ability to see with the “ear of your heart,” as St. Benedict writes in his Prologue to the Rule. Now that you have prepared yourself to be in the presence of God, wait.
  7. Contemplate means to sit on a park bench waiting for God to walk by and sit down with you and have a conversation. This level is about feeling the energy transfer from God to you. I call this transfer by the name of peace, joy and love. It is real and abiding. Don’t think of time. Don’t think of results. Don’t ask God for favors.
  8. Praise to Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, both now and forever. The God is , who was and is to come at the end of the ages.–Cistercian Doxology

LEARNING POINTS ABOUT MERCY, FORGIVENESS, CONFESSION AND PENANCE

The following list is from my book, For Behold, I Make All Things New.  (see Books in this blog)

1. Whenever you use God’s energy, through contemplation or through penance, something wonderful happens inside you.
2. Penance re-aligns your spiritual purpose with God’s.
3. The template for self direction is: God tells you what is wrong; you know what is wrong; you are tempted to either do your will or God’s will; you choose. There are consequences for your choice.: death for your false self, and life for your true self.
4. I have noticed, since being allowed to follow the Cistercian way of life, that change does happen.
5. All humans are destined for Heaven, but not everyone will make it there.
6. Our Master came to SHOW us how to get to Heaven.
7. Everyone has a path in life. Just because your road is rocky, doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. Walk the path of your destiny.
8. In your life, there are four doors through which you must pass. Do you know what they are and what each means? 9. Contemplation is being present to God without condition, without wanting something, without reserve, loving with all your heart and just waiting for what God has to say. There are no words. 10. No one goes to the Father except through the Son. How does this affect your relationship with God? The purpose for The Master coming to earth was to glorify the Father. What is your purpose?
11. Do you have a practice of doing penance?
12. Don’t worry if other have mercy or not. You are not God. Be content to continuously seek God’s mercy on you every day.
13. Reality is made up of both visible and invisible reality. Science does a good job with one of these.
14. Why do we need to convert our human self toward being like more like Christ?
15. Confession of our need for God’s mercy is part of asking for forgiveness of our own sins. Penance not only makes reparation for our sins but asks to make all things new.
16. Fast and pray that you not enter into temptation.
17. All humans, but one, have only one nature, human. One human, Jesus Our Lord, had two natures, both human and divine. Mary, his mother, had only one nature. She was not God, but the Woman Who Changed Time. 18. Being a disciple of Our Master is not easy. If it is, you may be on the wrong path. 19. Faith is not just an individual profession of faith, it is also being faithful to how Christ taught us to pray, asking for the food to sustain us from temptation and forgiveness when we do not love.
20. All humans are destined for Heaven, but not everyone will make it there. God will decide who goes there, not you (unless you are god.)
21. What you live on earth will be your frame of reference in Heaven. There is a caveat. Your frame of reference must be the same as Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)
22. Temptation tests us against the false promises of Satan to be like God. Genesis is the architype myth of the human condition and the promise of Hope. It is the same for you as it was for Adam and Eve.
23. Look at the human race as fulfilling its destiny. You, too, have personal destiny that is Heaven. You won’t get their without struggle nor without God’s help. Not all paths lead to Heaven.
24. The purpose of life is to know, love, and serve God in this world, so that you can be happy now and in the next level of reality, Heaven.
25. Life is about packing for the trip to Heaven. Only the rich get to Heaven. You must make sure that you take God’s riches and not your own. What are those riches? Read Chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict. It won’t be easy to get to Heaven without God’s help. Read Matthew 11:28-30. With Christ’s help, your burden is light, even when you struggle to love God with all our self. 26. Obedience to God’s will is the most difficult choice you will have to make, and not just one time, but each and every day. As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I make a conscious effort to ask God for enlightenment as soon as each day begins with Morning Prayer. http://www.breviary.com As the Lord’s prayer states: Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
27. Read Psalm 95. How true it is, even today.

28. Beliefs are those truths we hold with our minds. All beliefs have assumptions. Those assumptions differentiate a Protestant from a Catholic, and a from a Muslim. You should be free to hold any belief system you choose, but know that only one of them can be correct. God is one. Truth is one. Assumptions must not be in conflict with each other, in terms of the assumptions you hold to be true. All humans are destined to be with God in Heaven. Depending on your assumptions, you may believe that people must agree with your assumptions and interpret and the Scriptures as you do. Don’t make yourself God. Read Genesis 20. Heaven is God’s playground, not yours. God is the ultimate judge of all those who live…Forever.
29. You make a bad confessor for yourself. Know why?
30. Yesterday does not count for today. Today is where you live. Love in the now…Forever.
31. God takes care of those who believe in Him.
32. As one who aspires to be a Lay Cistercian, silence and solitude in the midst of a secular world, whose default is original sin, allows me to enter into the sanctuary of my heart and wait for Christ to speak to me when He is ready. Read the beautiful Psalm 148. How can the Sun and Moon praise the Lord? They are not alive. When you have the mindset that sees the Sun and Moon as praising God by being what they are, you open yourself to the symphony of being, all praising God. You praise God, too, by being what you are: an adopted son or daughter of the Father, destined to live…Forever. You praise God by being your nature, the nature destined from before the world was.
33. Hatred and love cannot live in the same room together. Hatred is a way of de-valuing others and yourself. It is not the same as not liking the personality of someone. Hatred means you wish them ill, you can’t stand to be in their presence and you despise their key values. Hatred kills you. Mercy means you value others.
34. Mercy means we must be compassionate towards those who disagree with us or mistreat us or speak ill of us because of Christ. Read Matthew 5. Mercy also means we don’t condone sin, if that person to whom we have shown mercy goes against God’s will. Read John 8:1-11. Remember, sin means missing the mark set by God and not achieving the purpose of Life. Read Deuteronomy 6:8. (You will read these, won’t you?
Pray as you can and when you can. Prayer should be simple, not complex. Prayer should allow your heart to rest alongside the heart of Christ Jesus in silence and solitude.
35. Marriage and Holy Orders are relationships of fierce love that overshadows our faults and gives obedience to God’s thinking. Read Matthew 22:34.
36. Fierce love is love and forgiveness for those who hate you. Fierce love is the love God has for us, in us. There is no place for sin or hatred in the presence of this kind of love. It is the most difficult to achieve because it contradicts our instincts—to hurt those who hurt us, to strike back at those who bad mouth us and call them name, to seek revenge on those who have harmed us.

My life as a poem.

What follows is a poem about my life. It is, as yet, unfinished, but the elements are all present.

 

My Life As A Poem

I sing the song of life and love…

…sometimes flat and out of tune

…sometimes eloquent and full of passion

…sometimes forgetting notes and melody

…sometimes quaint and intimate

…often forgetful and negligent

…often in tune with the very core of my being

…often with the breath of those who would pull me down, shouting

right in my face

…often with the breath of life uplifting me to heights never before

dreamed

…greatly grateful for the gift of humility and obedience to The One

…greatly thankful for adoption, discovery of new life of pure energy

…greatly appreciative for sharing meaning with others of The Master

…greatly sensitive for not judging the motives of anyone but me

…happy to be accepted as an aspiring Lay Cistercian

…happy to spend time in Eucharistic Adoration

…happy and humbled to be an adopted son of the Father

…happy for communities of faith and love with wife, daughter, friends

…mindful that the passage of time increases each year

…mindful of the major distractions of cancer and cardiac arrest

…mindful of my center and the perspective that I am loved and must

love back with all the energy of my heart and strength, yet failing

…mindful the energy I receive from The One in Whom I find

purpose and meaning…Forever.

 

To The One who is, Who was, and Who is to come at the end of the ages, be glory, honor, power and blessings through The Redeemer Son in unity with the Advocate, Spirit of Love.

 

From The One who is, Who was, and Who is to come at the end of the ages, I seek hope that His words about the purpose of life are true, that He is the way that leads to life…Forever.

 

With The One who is, Who was, and Who is to come at the end of the ages, I seek the fierce love so I can have in me the mind of Christ Jesus, my personal purpose in life and my center…Forever.

 

“That in all things, may God be glorified.” –St. Benedict

Fermi’s Paradox

You have heard of Enrico Fermi, physicist, haven’t you?  https://www.space.com/25325-fermi-paradox.html He was having lunch with his friends one day and the subject was life outside of earth.  He simply asked, “Where is everybody?” What may or may not be a paradox, depending on who you ask, is a valid question. Based on computations like the Drake Equation, the odds are that there is life out there. But wonder if the opposite is true? What if we are the only ones out there? What are the implications? Think of it! We have no proof that there is even an organic molecule outside of earth’s protective shell. Frankly, I myself believe there must be life out there, due to the sheer numbers of planets in the “safe zone” (not too hot, or not too cold). For a moment, let’s just assume that there is no other life out there.  Here are some things I think about, when I think of life on other planets.

  1. Humans are not designed to travel into or live in outer space. We evolved here on earth and will find it very difficult to spend extended periods of time in space.
  2. To travel in space, should we have the technology to do it, would demand several lifetimes to reach a world that we haven’t even discovered yet. We don’t know the long-term effects of living in space on aging or how the organs would adapt to weightlessness. Humans don’t live long enough to reach the stars. Why is that?
  3. If sentient life does exist, does it have free will? The history of how each culture treats each other is not encouraging, if you use earth as an example. Will they have sophistication and religion. Will they have males or females?  Will there be marriage and families? Who knows?
  4. If there are no other living creatures other than earth, why is that? Is there a super creature that make all of reality? Did he sprinkle star stuff throughout the universe which took root on just our planet?  Don’t know!
  5. Is there life on other universes other than our own? Do we go to that universe (Kingdom of Heaven) when we die? Did someone from that invisible universe be made a human so he could tell us how to get to this place? Will humans perish from the face of the earth because of misuse of natural resources? Will they descend into playing games, such as, my god can beat your god?
  6. I wonder a lot.  Here are some of my wonders…
    1. …wonder if a higher power made only humans to receive the ability to love unconditionally. Why is that?
    2. …wonder if, out of all the species on the earth, humans are the only ones who have the capability to love. Why is that?
    3. …wonder if the most powerful energy in the universe is invisible to the eye but can be seen with the mind and the heart, i.e., love. Why is that?
    4. …wonder if this pure energy became one of us in order to show us the way to another universe, one that is beyond the physical one in which we now live? Why is that?
    5. …wonder if earth itself is a space ship traveling through time so that humans can reach their full potential to be enveloped and protected..Forever, in a blanket of loving relationship with the source of all energy?  Why is this?
    6. …wonder if there is not only a physical time in which all matter must reside, but a spiritual time that has no beginning nor end and we are headed for that reality when we die. Why is that?
    7. …wonder if I am just a broken-down, old Lay Cistercian, seeking to find time to fill out his last days, or, are there discernible patterns of thought and energy that transcend our physical universe to include a spiritual one, invisible yet real? Now that is a question I like to wonder about. I am reasonably sure I know what these patterns are. They have been in front of us for centuries.

 

Reparation: Why waste your time praying?

Prayer is all about lifting your heart and mind to God.  There are lots of reasons to pray.  Here is one reason that probably goes unnoticed.

Think about this!  You are driving down the highway at 80 mph, clearly above the 70 mph limit, when you realize you are on a road with which you are not familiar. Rather than slow down, you reason that you should speed up to get to a place where you can turn around. Suddenly, a deer darts out in front of your car and you swerve to miss it. The momentum takes the car off-balance and it leaves the road and crashes into a bunch of small trees and bushes. You end up hitting a large tree and barely escape without killing yourself, but the person in the passenger’s seat is killed and your friend in the back is badly wounded and bleeding.  In the moments that follow, you find yourself in complete silence, and also in shock. Some people arrive and finally an ambulance comes to pick you up and take you to the hospital. You have five broken bones and a broken nose, but you will live. The two other passengers are not so lucky. They are your best friends, out for a nice ride to keep from being bored before going off to college to study law.  There is something else the physician tells you. Your blood alcohol level is way over the limits for normal driving.

THINK ABOUT THIS. All of our actions have consequences, the results of our choices. Some choices have good consequences and some have bad ones. Sometimes the results of our actions don’t show up now but pop up later on in life, or maybe even never at all.  Our actions are not created in a vacuum and can affect others even after we die.

Now, let me take you on another adventure, a mythical but real one that happened a long time ago.  You are being interviewed for a position to head a large garden. It is the vast estate of a man of means who owns everything as far as you can see. You will be his managers. He wants you to take care of it and see that the animals, the plants, and fish all have what they need to live their lives in happiness and peace. As he takes you around the garden, he points to one tree and says that it is a special tree, his prized possession. He warns you not to touch the tree, for if you do, you will die. The you look at each other, amazed, and walk on. Having given them the grand tour, the owner gives you a chance to freshen up, for it has been a long day. While resting,  a swarthy looking woman approaches you and asks if the owner has told you about the poison tree. You say that he had.  She goes on to say that, “he tells that to everyone because he doesn’t want you to be like him, powerful and rich.” She just laughed and walked away. Curious about the stranger’s statement,  you want to take another look at the tree. It is a normal looking tree with low hanging fruit, ripe and luscious. You reaches up and take fruit from the tree and eat it. And… time changes from that moment on. You can read Genesis 3 to see the consequences of this act of disobedience. The results are what we live with even today.

Here are some of my reflections: both cases were of people who did something that they should not have done.  In the first case, it was putting many people in harm’s way by reckless driving and drinking, In the second one, by deliberately disobeying the admonition of the land owner and seizing forbidden fruit.

In the first instance, the driver killed two people, and totaled the car. He said he was sorry to the judge and was let off with a light sentence. Yet, his life was changed forever. He would not go to law school, college, if at all, was years off while he paid his debts. It would seem that saying you are sorry for what you did would be enough, but then there is this: the car is wrecked, lawsuits pending over wrongful death, jail time, monetary ruin for him and possibly his family.  To put it another way, if you steal $210,00 from me in fraud, and get caught, then say to me, “I am sorry,” what is there remaining that you owe me?  The $210,000.  Reparation is the debt that I owe for the wrong that I committed. It is more difficult when the wrong is invisible or happened many years ago.

Let’s look at the second instance, the one where Adam and Eve represent all humans. The offence was doing something that would result in death, but what death. If this was the original sin, an archetype of what it means to be human, death for all humanity was the result, not just for Adam and Eve. Reparation means someone had to recreate the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, the tree of life, and apologize to the owner of the garden. Since we are talking in mythical terms, someone had to become Adam and Eve to pay a price for the offense. That is why the term redeem, in Hebrew, means to go to a pawn shop and buy back that which was hocked. Jesus had to be man, to satisfy the debt of Adam and Eve. Jesus had to be God to be able to return to the Father with our apology and give him his rightful glory and honor. Even though Jesus paid the price of his own death, willingly, we all have to live with the effects of the original sin of Adam and Eve. Christ paid off the debt that humanity owed by giving his very life as ransom. (Philippians 2:5-12)

We live in a time-limited universe. We will die. We suffer pain. We endure the temptations to, once more, be like Adam and Eve and eat of the forbidden fruit. The wily one still prowls about seeking whom he may devour. We sin, we get up, we say we are sorry to God, but there is something missing. The $210,000. Jesus doesn’t owe it, we do.

Prayer is lifting the heart and mind to God. We can make amends for our past offenses and sins in reparation. With humility we can continue to ask God for mercy and forgiveness. Reparation means to repair that which was torn or broken. Reparation is not forgiveness, but is the result of our sins and, like Adam and Eve’s sin, the consequences of our faults and failings. We should acknowledge that the evil we do is ours, as St. Benedict says in his Rule, Chapter 4, but the good we do belongs to the grace of God.

We pray for our parents and family, our friends and faith companions that they be loosed from their sins. There is no conveyor belt that I get on to get to Heaven. It takes work, just as Adam and Eve had to work after their fall. (Genesis 3) I know that Christ draws all things to Himself. I pray reparation petitions for the whole Church as well as for individuals I have place in my Golden Book of Life, to once again make all things new through, with and in Christ to the glory of the Father, in union with the Holy Spirit.

That in all things, God be glorified. –St. Benedict

Carving out solitude for Contemplation

The big problem with contemplation for those living in the world is the static that comes from being bombarded with all kinds of interests and projects competing for our time. Face it.  There will never be a good time for contemplation (unless you carve out a space for you to experience silence and solitude). Silence is not just a place where there is no noise, but a place where you can focus your spiritual energy on Lectio Divina, or reading from Cistercian authors.  Solitude means you find time for yourself, even in the midst of community activities. I like the idea of carving, don’t you? Here are eight tips or ideas that you might find useful in devising a contemplative system in the world of noise and competition for your time.

  1. Make a sacred space at home.  Create a small table on which you place scripture, Rule of Benedict, Cistercian authors you are reading, rosary, pictures of mom and dad, family pictures, and some sayings that speak to your heart.
  2. Create a golden, virtual book. This book is in your mind and heart, but it also attached to the heart and mind of Jesus. In this book you place all those for whom you have been asked or desire to pray. See yourself writing your name in golden letters. The file cabinet is God, so you won’t have to go to the trouble of remembering all the names of people throughout your lifetime for whom you said you would remember. Each day at Eucharist, or Morning Prayer, simply think of those who are in the golden book, living and dead, and ask God to be merciful on you and them.
  3. Make a holy hour.  Typically, this is a period of time when I go to the chapel at Good Shepherd, Tallahassee, and pray in reparation for my sins and the sins of my Church, read Scriptures, and pray the Divine Office. The Blessed Sacrament is present but not reserved, i.e., not exposed on the altar in a monstrance with six candles around it. The term for this is Eucharist Adoration, which I will get to shortly. Holy hours can be made in State Parks, waiting for an appointment at your physician’s office, or even in the parking lot at Trader Joe’s grocery.  I fill my holy hour with meditation, reading, listening to CDs on spiritual topics, and thinking about how fortunate I am to be able to see Christ is daily events.
  4. Attend Eucharistic Adoration outside Mass. This is a semi-formal event at parishes in the chapel or church, where anyone can come and go, sitting in front of the Real Presence of Christ. People usually sign up for an hour of adoration (remember, we only adore God, not churches or people). Good Shepherd Church, Tallahassee, Florida, has an hour of Eucharist Adoration every weekday from 4:00 to 5:00 pm. Blessed Sacrament Parish, Tallahassee, Florida, has 24 hour Eucharist Adoration with every hour filled with at least one person who is a sentinel before the Lord, waiting for His coming again in glory. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/eucharistic-devotion/
  5. Make a schedule of activities you will do every day or every week, with the proviso that life must be very flexible. Don’t go overboard.
  6. Begin with small steps and small accomplishments.  Don’t try to be a professed Lay Cistercian (minimum of five years discernment) in your first year. Do one thing and try to be persistent and consistent. You will find even this is fraught with temptations to do something, anything else that is more meaningful.
  7. Get the support you need to be contemplative from your spouse. I travel from Tallahassee, Florida to Conyers, GA (outside of Atlanta) once a month for what is called a Gathering Day. We have community prayer together plus three classes on the Rule of Benedict, Cistercian authors and formation (taught by Cistercian monks).
  8. Pray as you can, says Brother Michael, O.C.S.O., one of our instructors in Junior Formation Class at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist). http://www.trappist.net  Prayer is lifting the heart and mind to God, so don’t be too wordy with God. Contemplation is about carving out a space where you and God can sit down and have a heart-to-heart. Literally, your heart against the heart of God. I know, God doesn’t have a heart, but Jesus does.  –uiodg

A Lay Cistercian reflects on moving from self to God

There are many lessons I have learned about trying to be spiritual in my lifetime.  Here are a few.

  1. Spirituality, i.e., moving from self to God, is a lifetime process. I marvel, when talking to people who have said they left the Catholic Church because they did not find in it what they were seeking. The question of sincerity aside, the words of G. K. Chesterton come to mind, “The Catholic Church has not been tried and found wanting, it has never been tried at all.” This lifetime process is not one of time, as in, when I was young, I knew less, and now I know more. It is about growing deeper in Christ Jesus, of course, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The words from Scripture echo in my mind: Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24.The process of living has to do with the process of dying to self so that God can grow.
  2. There are at least five Catholic Churches in me.  I have a book entitled Six Thresholds of Life, in which I detail the six areas or thresholds through which I have passed. I have also noticed five levels of spiritual awareness, based on the Gospel of John 1:1.
    1. I am present to hear the Word from Scriptures at Eucharist and at Liturgy of the Hours.  It takes an act of the will to go to Eucharist, and when you get there, to stay focused on the Word. Most Catholics live just on this level of spirituality. It is like the rocky soil in the parable of the sower. (Matthew 13:5) There is a little growth but the seed does not grow because there is no ability to move deeper into the mystery of Christ. For me, contemplation is one way that I have found to grow deeper, to die to my old self, to seek God in all things new. The soil of God is limitless.
    2. I take that Word into my mind and heart and pray the Word. Prayer is lifting the mind and heart to God. In the first level, the individual lifts the mind to God. In the second level, both mind and heart are focused on doing God’s will and giving glory to the Father. In this level, I am not only physically present for the Word to envelop me in God’s energy, I am spiritually present with my heart, seeking to love God with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength. Contemplation helps me to focus on not just the love I have for Christ, but the love that Christ has for me. (Phil 2:5-12)
    3. I share the Word.  Loving God with all our hearts is a goal to which I aspire. The next level is to love our neighbor as our self. (Deuteronomy 6, Matthew 22:34) This deeper level of spiritual awareness means my contemplation must involve five practices with other Lay Cistercians and those in my faith community in Tallahassee. (Silence, Solitude, Pray, Work, and Community) I am a seed in God’s soil, but I find myself in a Garden, once with flowering plants and lush greenery, one with all those who have been marked by the sign of faith and have died, those who still live and strive to move from self to God, and those who await the Grand Gardner and to smell the flowers. Faith is not just an individual act of belief, but is also the soil into which all those who wish to be like Christ must nourish and persevere. This is the Church universal, the Church one, the Church apostolic, and the Church holy.
    4. I contemplate the Word. As one who has tried to focus on a contemplative approach to reality (looking inward in silence and solitude), rather than an activist role, how I choose to seek God is through daily Eucharist, meditations on the Rosary for my intentions, Liturgy of the Hours, to include Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline, plus adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.  It I am truly on this fourth level, the important thing is not that I do certain practices and get results, as much as I try for consistency and perseverance in being in the presence of God and just waiting.
    5. There are no words that are able to communicate with the Word. The results of this level are peace, joy, love. It is feeling the presence of the Spirit as you sit in your chair.  This level is not about me, nor my giving glory and praise. It is about sitting next to God and receiving energy, much as you would do if you sat in the presence of the Sun and felt the healing warmth of its rays on you. I have only partially been at this level of the Church. St. Paul wrote about it.  “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Corinthians 2:9)
  3. If there is any lesson life teaches, it is that you don’t get anything unless you work for it. That includes spirituality. Some churches hold that you don’t need to work for your faith, just believe. That goes against Genesis where God told Adam and Eve that they would have to work for their food and would die. (Genesis 3) The condition of original sin is important because presents us with two very different views of reality: one has us as the center of all reality, the other has God as the center of all that is. That is why we have to die to self (the false self of the world) and choose our true self (the true self that comes from God). Spirituality is a lifetime process of being tempted to choose us over God.  Sounds like what Adam and Eve faced, don’t you think?

4 Life is like a cross-word puzzle. I had a Lectio Divina reflection on this idea. When you enter the spiritual domain or universe, you are given all the pieces of the puzzle of life. Some of those pieces you fit into place as you grow older and wiser. Some pieces are not of this puzzle and won’t fit.  You won’t know which ones to use unless you get some help. Christ gives you help in this, but will not help you with the puzzle. If you follow Christ and his ways, you will find the truth and the life, or which pieces of the puzzle are true and which are false.  You still have to take a lifetime to fit the pieces together to see if they fit. The picture of the puzzle is the center you have chosen for your life.  It is the reward for which you have taken time to see what fits together. It is the purpose of your life.

If you want to read an excellent book on Cistercian spirituality as expressed by Lay Cistercians, read Carl McColeman’s book, Befriending Silence.

HOW DIET REMINDS ME OF CONTEMPLATION

Although I try mightily, I am constantly tempted to stop any attempts at contemplation. This is like a runner who must find a mental challenge, as well as the physical one of running the distance. In one of my Lectio Divina meditations, I found myself thinking about why it is so difficult to focus on being in the presence of God. I think the reason has to do with original sin, the condition in which all humans find themselves. Spirituality is the act of raising us up beyond this natural default of our nature, to attempt to think about invisible reality. Spirituality, much less contemplation, is not natural. It takes work, it demands focus, it requires energy, and not the energy you get from working out at the gym. I think of that when I am driving the five hours (one way) from Tallahassee, Florida to Conyers, Georgia, once a month. My wife keeps haranging me that I don’t need to travel to the Lay Cistercian Gathering Day at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery. I can pray anywhere. Why waste money we don’t have (actually we do). This is taking up the cross DAILY to follow Christ, being tempted that all this God stuff is irrelevant.  Even when trying to move from self to God by using the Lectio Divina method, contemplation is always with its temptations to do something that is profitable, that will make a difference, that won’t take so much wasted time. Contemplation is an illusive treasure and demands my full attention.

Contemplation, in a manner of speaking, is like a diet. Your physician tells you that you need to lose weight. Now comes the hard part. What diet will you choose, or, if the physician gives you one, will you take it seriously? Based on my own feeble attempts to diet, here are some observations of how a diet that applies to contemplation.

  1. I won’t diet unless my reasons for doing it outweigh my reason for not doing it (laziness). Cancer, cardiac arrest, and diabetes are three good reasons for me that outweigh not doing it, and even then, I am tempted to take the low road.
  2. No one should diet by themselves. They need the support from community, family and friends.
  3. I will be tempted, almost every minute, to abandon my goal and eat the forbidden fruit. Makes you sympathetic with Adam and Eve, don’t you think? Doing contemplation is just like that. There is no winning the prize without struggle and practice/failure/practice.
  4. The prize is worth the time you take to master it. Ask anyone who has lost weight and not gained it back; ask anyone who has even come close to catching a glimpse of the love of Christ through contemplation, and they will tell you.
  5. Failure is not a waste of time, when you try so hard. What is real failure is losing your will to diet and giving up totally. Because we exists in a condition of original sin (we have to struggle to do what is right), contemplation is not automatic. It takes work, time, and acceptance of our human frailties.
  6. There are many diets out there, all claiming to be “the one” to save you and help you lose weight. They probably all work. There are many practices out there to help you reach your purpose in life, contemplation being only one of them. To do diets and contemplation justice, you need to perform them consistently and persistently.
  7. . Diets are only tools to help you reach your goal. So too, contemplation is only a methodology to place you in a frame of mind to meet the source of all peace, joy and love. The end is not contemplation but being one with the One.

 

A Lay Cistercian Reflects on the Practice of Contemplative Practice

As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I would like to share with you some of the practical and real ways in which I pray, using silence, solitude, work, prayer, in the context of community. These reflection are my own and do not reflect any official monastic or Lay Cistercian opinions. I am just a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit who is writing down what I receive in contemplatio. Here is what I try to do consistently and persistently every day.

  • Establish a schedule of prayer and work each day. I am fortunate to begin with the Morning Offering as soon as I wake up (I say the one at the last page of this book), try to attend Office of Readings and Morning Prayer (Liturgy of the Hours) at 7:40 until 8:20 a.m., recite the Rosary at 8:25 a.m. until Eucharist at 9:00 a.m., do various chores at home, do Lectio Divina, write my books or blog in the morning, Holy Hour sometime around Noon, take a nap, more writing in the afternoon, do chores, go to Premier Gym for a swim or exercise, attend Evening Prayer (Liturgy of the Hours) at my parish of Good Shepherd. It took me several years to develop this schedule. It is very flexible. I don’t always do these, but my intentions are to do so.
  • Once a month, on the first Sunday of each month, I attend the Gathering Day at Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, GA. It is mandatory that we be present, so that we can create a Lay Cistercian community of spiritual practitioners who share their experiences on how to apply contemplation to daily living with each other and receive formation from the monks. I don’t always make all the sessions, but I have committed to try to be there to join in communal prayer and sharing of spiritual insights.
  • Begin each day with a Morning Offering followed by dedicating this day to the glory of the Father through Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. Then, dedicate each day to a cause or some intention you have. What follows is what I do, but your intentions might be different.
  • Eucharist is food for the journey and not just any food. Even though I live in the physical universe, it is also the spiritual universe that composes my reality. To live in the physical universe, I need water and food to sustain my body. Likewise, to love in the spiritual universe while on earth, I need spiritual food to receive God’s sustaining energy. This spiritual food is from God and allows me to see what is unseen physically, and hear what I cannot hear physically. This spiritual food is God. How wonderful!

HOW I USE THE CONTEMPLATIVE APPROACH TO SPIRITUALITY

 The following pages are samples of the horarium (hourly agenda) I use to organize my day as a Lay Cistercian. I must tell you that I am retired and have time to devote to the practice of how to love as Jesus did. Not everyone has the great opportunity I have to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and Rosary in the parish. If I don’t keep it, no big deal, but it is an anchor.

My Center: Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus. –Philippians 2:5

Five or Six Practices to support my center: These are Cistercian charisms and practices.

Silence—When I think of silence, I think of lack of worldly noise. But, it is more than just lack of external noises, like television, children playing, going to work, and traveling in a car. For me, I try to be conscious that all these sounds give glory to the Father through the Son, in union with the Holy Spirit. I try to make a space where I can reflect on my center with some degree of privacy. Silence of my heart helps me sustain the other Cistercian charisms and practices and so grow in fierce love.

Solitude— Solitude, for me, means carving out a space and quiet time to focus on how to have in me the mind of Christ Jesus.

For the Cistercian monks, solitude means carving out a time and space that permits them to focus on loving God with their whole heart, whole soul and whole mind without external distractions. For the Lay Cistercian, we also concentrate on fashioning a little prayer nest but we live in the secular world and therefore embrace all the distractions as part of our prayer to the Father. St. Benedict says, “That in all things, God be glorified.”

Prayer—Prayer is lifting the heart and mind to God. As a Lay Cistercian, I actively put myself in the presence of God using prayer, both public and private. Even if I sometimes feel that prayer is repetitious and rote, I have noticed that the more I try to grow deeper using prayer, rather than fighting the externals, the more peace there is in my spirit. It is resting my heart in the heart of Christ that helps me love fiercely.

Work—Work as the world sees it is a means to make money. Work with a spiritual approach is transforming the ordinary tasks of the day into those that give glory and praise to the Father. Work is prayer, if offered up as praise and glory to the Father.

Community—Lay Cistercians gravitate towards communal gatherings to refresh the soul and to transform themselves deeper in the mind and heart of Christ Jesus. Even though there is great distance between us, we link together as one in our commitment to each other because we are all linked through the mind and heart of Christ Jesus. Sharing Christ with each other nourishes the Spirit in me.

 

THREE THINGS GOD TOLD ME ABOUT CANCER , WHEN I SAT NEXT TO HIM IN CONTEMPLATION

If  you think I am some kind of religious fanatic, let me assure you that I am not. What this blog topic is about is ten days of contemplation using the Lectio Divina method. I didn’t always have success at waiting for God, which is what contemplation is all about. I didn’t spend all day fixated on how I would get angry if God did not talk to me. Now, that would be a fanatic. As an aspiring Lay Cistercian, I try to do Lectio Divina (lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio) for at least twenty minutes a day. I only profess to be a beginner at this, so many times I don’t contemplate more than twenty minutes. I am growing, imperceptibly, to a deeper practice, but it takes time. The Lectio Divina stages, or rungs in the ladder, are based on Guido II’s steps to enter the inner self through contemplation. http://www.umilta.net/ladder.html
The key here is doing Lectio every day without fail, even if all you have to show for it is the time you put into it. This reminds me very much of a book I read called The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, particularly as it refers to the advice the fox gives to The Little Prince on the meaning of friendship and the time it takes to develop it. I recommend that you go on-line and read the chapter. http://www.angelfire.com/hi/littleprince/framechapter21.html
Once you have read it, do you see any similarities between taming and contemplation? Isn’t that a beautiful explanation of invisible reality and the power of persistent contemplation? It works!

Just like the Little Prince, I waited each day for God to be with me, not just in my mind, and my heart but my whole self. (Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22:37.)

Read two important quotes from The Little Prince.
“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.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

It is the time I took in contemplation to be in the presence of The One who is beyond cancer, and has conquered death, that is important. There is no wasted time in contemplation. I said it once more, so that I would be sure to remember.

• Contemplation is part of a five-step process. I don’t just jump into contemplation right away.
• Contemplation is all about feelings not the mind, like being wrapped in a warm, security blanket with The One.
• In contemplation, no words are spoken, no thoughts to drive my personal agenda, and no images in my mind to explore how the lectio (Phil 2:5) would look.
Lectio is about reading the Word.
Meditatio is about how that Word impacts my life.
Oratio is asking that the Word be made flesh in my life.
Contemplatio is waiting for God to share His energy with me on how to love with all my heart, all my mind, and all my strength.
Actio (recommended by Pope Benedict XVI) is doing what God instructs me to perform.
THE THREE IMPERATIVES FOR CANCER PATIENTS
While in contemplation, here it what came to me, without my leading God, so to speak.
1. Don’t be afraid. That is exactly what happened to me, when I began to rationalize all the possible worst-case scenarios about dying. I had lost control of my life, not realizing that I never did have full control over it, My thoughts went to the times in Scriptures when angels appeared to Elizabeth and then Mary (Luke 1:13, 31). They sought to calm down Elizabeth and Mary. How would you react, if you saw an angel standing before you? Don’t be afraid, they all said. I think that statement is significant because it shows how sensitive God is to our feelings. This statement just popped into my hear, out of the blue. This is not just the intellectual statement of not being afraid, it is the warm feeling that everything is as it should be and I am going to be alright. All this happened in an instant.
This first statement is the perfect way God would approach me. A gentle way, one which takes into account my wild rides of emotion and intellectual instability when facing serious illness or death. Don’t be afraid is what God would say to us as He meets us for the first time. He did that to me. But there is more…

2. I am with you. God’s response to me in the depths of my being was: Don’t be afraid. I am with you. This was not just any I. This was the only I there is, as in, I AM THE ONE WHO IS. If God is with me, I thought, who can be against me. All of this happened instantaneously.
If you don’t hold to all this God business, you have your family who is with you as you confront the cancer phase of your life, you until you die.
I find it a strength in my struggle to believe all this, that someone who lives in three universes (physical, mental, spiritual) is my friend, even to the point of making me an adopted son. If you have a friend, you want to be with him or her, want to be close to them, to share the joy and happiness of their presence. That is the way I feel about God communicating with this broken-down, old Temple of the Holy Spirit.

• God with me means I can live whatever time I have to the fullest.
• God with me means I can share with family and friends that death is not the end, but a door to be opened.
• God with me means I am humbled by the fact that Jesus became one of us, suffered (like those who have cancer) and died so that we could live…Forever as adopted daughters and sons of the Father.
• God with me means I can sit in silence and solitude and wait for God to approach me when He wants, knowing that I am valued.
• If God is with me, who can be against me, even with cancer or cardiac arrest.
• If God is with me, life is good, even if my road is rocky; at least I know I am on the right path.

But there is more…

3. Good and faithful servant, come share your Lord’s joy.
My contemplative experience gave me great joy, which may seem like an oxymoron. How can you have joy, when you have cancer? How can you experience fierce love, when you know you will die, maybe sooner than later, but you will die. Remember there are two meanings for joy: the worldly one, and the spiritual one. In the worldly one, joy means, among other things, happiness with your family, contentment that you have run a good race with your life, and the satisfaction that you are leaving the world a better place than you found it (if that is so).

Joy, in the spiritual sense, is a sign of contradiction. It means you have happiness with your family, contentment that you have run a good race with your life, and the satisfaction that you are leaving the world a better place than you found it (if that is so). Plus, you look forward to continuing that joy with your loved ones and your positive experiences of what life is all about, in Heaven…Forever.

In my contemplation, I had feelings of great joy and contentment, that I was on the right road, and that the words of Jesus to all of us were true, “Come, Good and Faithful Servants, share your Lord’s joy.”

FINALITY
There were three parts to my contemplatio, all experienced with great security, joy and peace. Compared to anything I will face during the rest of my life, even should it be the end of the world, I am with someone who will lead me, if I sit silently and alone in the silence of my heart.

The scary thing for me is, I know that I have only scratched the surface in contemplating the riches God has given us. As St. Thomas Aquinas, probably the greatest mind to explore how we interact with God, is said to have written before he died, “I can write no more. All that I have written seems like straw.”

When I deal with cancer or cardiac arrest, or any other ailment, I will always keep my experience of the three in mind:

a. Don’t be afraid.
b. I am with you.
c. Come, share Your Lord’s Joy.

THE JESUS CODE: ENTERING THE REALM OF ENLIGHTENMENT

If you are fortunate enough to attend a retreat at Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Ga., in the silent dining room, you will find a sign on the table that reads, “Silence spoken here.” Likewise, if you are committed to seeking God, you will need learn the language of love using the language of silence and solitude within you. To do that you need the code Jesus gave us.

If you have read the reflections I made on perspective, you know my thoughts about living in two universes verses three universes. Living in two universes is not bad, it just is not the whole scope of reality. I think of this, when I hear physicists and astronomers announce with great confidence that you can’t see God, therefore God does not exist. Of course you can’t see God. God doesn’t exist here, in the same way that you do. God doesn’t use words to communicate. He is the Word, three persons of pure energy, the energy of Love, as Teilhard de Chardin wrote. It is into this universe that the human race is propelled and how each individual is compelled to confront the totality of all reality and figure out the mega question: is earth a big spaceship hurtling through space and time towards a universe  composed of pure energy with just the right atmosphere to allow us to live for seventy years, or eighty, if we are strong, according to Psalms? Think about that! We are rapidly moving towards a universe where all of us can live in perfection, consistent with our human nature, and never die. It all goes back to the underlying meaning of the Genesis myth, that marvelous drama about who we are, why we are, and where we are headed.It details how we are imperfect yet called to live in absolute perfection, not according to our human nature, but God’s nature—pure energy. In this universe to which we are all aspire, termed Omega by Teilhard de Chardin, there is only The One, there is no two. There is a tick but no tock. Heaven is God’s playground, and if, by some chance, we figure out the code God left us, over thousands of generations and millions of years, and use it to the best of our ability, it will unlock how to live in absolute love (the language of perfection), absolute trust (faith) and absolute service (energy)…Forever. For me, this is called the Jesus Code, or how to speak the language of God by doing what he revealed through Jesus and acting now as though we were already with him. Christ gave us the key to unlock the mysteries of three universes. No all keys fit the lock, only ones that Jesus forged by his death on the cross.

Doesn’t that blow your mind? We are moving relentlessly through time in the direction of Omega while not moving in space. What Jesus did was to show us where to find the key and how to interpret the code that unlocks the doors of eternity. It is within each of us and we can access it through silence and solitude, if we choose. Some will unlock the secrets of reality, many will not get it, many more will not even care, calling the whole effort a feeble attempt by some minds to coerce the rest into believing as they do. Those who have struggled to discover the way, know the truth, and, as they begin to live the life prescribed by God to live in the presence of pure energy, are not phased by three universes because they know what awaits them. St. Paul says, But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (KJV)

For me, I discovered the key when I was in 8th Grade at St. Francis Xavier Grade School, Vincennes, Indiana in 1950. Of course, it took me the rest of my life to learn how to use the code to open it. I learned how to access my inner self through contemplation and receive the source of energy that sustains me, even with cancer and cardiac arrest (2007).

Seeking God in Daily Life

The morning is dark and lovely with the silence that comes with listening with the ear of the heart (St. Benedict’s Rule, Prologue) to the insights and love only God can share.  The cool air of the third day of Spring smells fresh and with just a hint of flowers about.  My lectio divina (http://lectio-divina.org/index.cfm) for today, as it has been since 1963 is: Have in You the Mind of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:5)  It is my purpose in life, the reason why I get up in the morning and drag these old bones out of bed.  I have found, to my utter amazement, that my encounters with God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, using just these eight words, produced over thirty books, with five more on the drawing board.  I just write what comes into my head.

This blog is the attempt of a broken-down, old temple of the Holy Spirit (with lots of cracks) to share some ideas.  Four years ago, at the age of 72, I was accepted as a Lay Cistercian novice by the abbot of Holy Spirit Monastery at Conyers, Georgia (Trappist). I still aspire to turn my life toward God’s will each day, taking up the struggle to choose the good verses the faux temptations of the secular world that seek to derail me from my purpose. It is a daily struggle to take up my cross and keep myself focused on the prize, as St. Paul says.  I have chosen and been selected as a member of the Lay Cistercian family associated with the monks. (www.trappist.net/lay-cistercians).  I don’t promise you lofty ideas that change the world.  These practices and charisms of Cistercian spiritual have changed me, however, and that I can share with you.  My style is personal and meant to be from the heart, so you may find these ideas a bit fragmented–just like life.  I don’t care what your religious affiliation is or even if you don’t have one.  My own heritage is Roman Catholic and for that I can only give thanks to my parents for handing on to me what they themselves received.

It is my hope that some of these ideas find a home in the ear of your heart and help you discover the meaning of love.  “That in all things, God be glorified.” –St. Benedict

 

How contemplative prayer helped me with cancer.

The following excerpt is from my still unpublished journal on You Know You Are Going to Die, New What?  Three Questions You Must Face Head On

 

Sometimes is it easier to write down your thoughts before you attempt to express them with others. As a cancer survivor of Leukemia, CLL type, that is what I did and I thought you might like this non-intrusive way of organizing your thinking about the fact that you may or may not die as a resut of cancer, some other like-threatening illness. or AIDS.

 

              Whether you have some faith system or no faith system at all, you have a value system, know it or not. That is your default system of what you hold as your center. Only you can choose what you place at your center, be it money, fame, fortune and glory (as Indiana Jones said in The Temple of Doom) or nothing at all. Before you accuse me of flying under false colors, I will tell you that I am a Lay Cistercian (Trappist) member of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. Although it has influenced my view of reality, I am not trying to make you this or that. I don’t care. I do care about contemplative practices of silence and solitude and conversion of my life to the purpose I have selected. I do care to share with you some reflections on how contemplation helped me secure a North on my compass when I learned I had cancer. I hope that you can apply at least one or two ideas to your situation, given that you know you are going to die soon. I do care that you have an opportunity to write down YOUR thoughts and feelings as you confront yourself and the situation in which you find yourself.

There are three questions that I asked myself, upon learning that I had cancer. I used contemplation (going into the rich interior of my inner self) to seek peace, purpose and forgiveness all within the silence of my own heart. While it is true that you are diagnosed with cancer or some other life-threatening illness as an individual, you can be sure you don’t have it alone, as soon as you allow your friends to share in your diagnosis and how you assimilate it into your way of thinking. Cancer is always a family disease.

The first part of this workbook, I will give you my take on the three questions that I faced. No apologies. It is what I did, not what you did or will do. In the second part of this book is a journal so that you can write down your answer to these three questions. No one needs to see what you write, unless you share it with them. I encourage you to do so. I will read it, if you want me to do so.

  1. AM I GOING TO DIE?

 

This is the big, elephant-in-the-room question, the so called question everone knows but no one wants to talk about. It is classic avoidance and we all do it. After all, who wants to die? Who wants to be told they are going to die? It affects both patients and physicians. Physicians are petrified because they don’t know how their patients will accept it; patients are stunned when they hear the “C” word and begin playing an endless loop of doomsday scenarios in their minds.

The question is not, nor will it ever be, “Am I going to die?” Name one person you know who will not die? I can’t, except for two persons, but that is the subject of another set of assumptions for another workbook. I received a phone call from my primary physician, Dr. Judith Lewis, M.D., Internal Medicine, one day in September of 2014, stating she had reviewed my WBC count (> 20) and wanted to make an appointment for me with an Oncologist, Dr. Robert Tetreault, M.D., in Tallahassee, FL.  She said to me, “Y ou know what we are talking about, don’t you?” I said, “Yes. You are telling me I probably have cancer but you want to make sure with a bone-marrow biopsy.” I thought is was nice that she called me. I hung up and had no thoughts in my mind, which some say is normal, but I did fall back on my center, the set of values and meaning that give worth to my life.

Each of us has a center, one which we alone can choose, based on what we value as meaningful in our lives to that point. When there is trauma and urgency, such as when you are told you are going to die, prisoners get religion all of a sudden, those about to die, want to confess to a Priest, if they are Catholic, people think of their value system, as their life moves before their eyes. You may have experienced this. If what we have selected as our center is substantial and meaningful, we stand on the solid grounds of our humanity, if our center is like Jell-O, we don’t do so well with the news that we are going to die.

Here are three lessons that I learned,  when confronted with my mortality.

Lesson One: Keep life simple. Your center is the one ground of your being. The default emotions and feelings, when someone says you are going to die, can be like Kubler-Ross’ five steps of grief:

1 – Denial.

2 – Anger.

3 – Bargaining.

4 – Depression. Also referred to as preparatory grieving. …

5 – Acceptance.

See Google for “Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages”

Not all centers are capable of sustaining you as you work your way through these five stages of grief, let alone provide you with what you need to move to the next stage of your life. When I was told I had cancer, it was like saying, “The world will end in ten minutes.” I don’t remember being depressed or angry, when I actually found out that I had a football-size mass of CLL cells in my liver. Not good. The worst part for me was not the chemo-therapy, the liver biopsy, twelve sessions of at least five hours apiece, but the MRI and PET scans. I am severely clostrophobic.

 

2.  Lesson Two: You die yourself, but you don’t die alone. The family goes through the stages of grief with you. If your family sees you as a defenseless victim they will never raise the one question I need to hear about my dying and what that would mean. Unless someone from the outside (a friend, minister, rabbi or priest) brings this up, it probably won’t be addressed. Every time you meet together, there is the great unspoken taboo that needs to be addressed. What I learned is, it is my death they are talking about, so I must bring up the subject and address it head on. I could not do that unless my ground for walking was concrete and I was in control of my dying well. I don’t control that I will die, but I can control how to die well.

I had my wife and daughter accompany me to the Oncologist, Dr. Tetreault’s office for the results of my tests.  I wanted them to know what I know and not begin conjecturing or playing the “what if” game. It worked out well, in terms of them knowing what I know. In terms of the type of lymphoma, it was CLL type and there were a bunch o these cells in my liver the size of a football. I had to have a liver biopsy to see what was going on.  Like most non-medical types, I had no idea what that meant, although I did know a little about liver functioning. Modern research in oncology is fantastic and I was given a newly approved drug.

Lesson 3: Be realistic. You know you are going to die, but you have the opportunity to die well.

In the next installment, I will discuss the impact of using Cistercian contemplative spirituality as a way for me to gain control of my life. I cannot control my death.

 

 

 

 

 

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