Baggage

I used to think that the main objective was simply to hear from God.

As I think about this objective now, I am imagining that my little toddler self, many decades ago, must have once simply wanted to be able to stand up with a little bit of stability.  At one point, it must have seemed to me that it would be so awesome if I could just stand up like the grown ups, with out having to hang or lean on something.  I imagine, at this time, that the idea of walking must have felt out of range; never mind running, or jumping, or skipping.   In fact, I would imagine that I didn’t have much of an understanding of the differences between these.

It is not that I see burning bushes all the time.  It’s not that I consistently can attribute to God.  Often, I have this sense that maybe this idea, or that idea, or feeling come from him.

Over the weekend, I had this moment of understanding that hearing from God is just the tip of the iceberg.  I was engaged in Lectio Divina.  A friend was walking several of us through this process of using the bible to allow God to encounter us directly.  The idea is that a passage is read repeatedly, and we might find a phrase or a sentence that seems important to meditate on.

I was so struck by the entering into this process that I hardly paid any attention at all to the bible reading though.  My friend Jason opened with a sort-of prayer, that we might have an open heart toward God.

And in that moment, I had this crystal clear realization that my heart is not particularly open at all.  I had an awareness of how guarded and tenative I am.  How full of my own agenda and foolishness I can be.  I had this understanding that if somebody starts off  with their baggage and agenda, the words we hear, the feelings we recieve, the verse we find ourselves focusing on will be filtered and experienced through this baggage.

I had been wrestling lately, with the act of letting go of my ego.  I can clearly see it’s presence.  But I had found myself wondering if I shouldn’t be giving more time and head-space to the idea of just reaching out to God and focusing on union with him.  The thing I experienced, last Saturday, was that all the time and effort I am spending, around letting go of my false self is pretty important.  Otherwise, I will be doing nothing but twisting God’s words and intent around for my own petty little purposes.

 

Some Relevant Lessons from a Dead Language

There are some things I was struggling with tonight.

My first instinct was to get up and past it.  This is a fine thing to do.  In me, this instinct takes the shape of finding words to describe my struggles and prescribe a solution.  This is the way of well-lit paths, the way of finding the paths that had been taken before.  This is all connected to this tradition in spirituality called kataphatic.

But I checked this first instinct.  

And I decided that I might embrace the fact that the reality of my situation, just like every situation, is wider, weirder, and more nuanced than any of the words that I might use to describe it.  Rather than navigating a straight line through my struggles, so that I might efficiently head to the outside, I decided that I might spend some time in this place.

This tradition is called the apophatic.  

At the most basic, this distinction is about words.  Will we pray using words?  Will we describe God using them?  Will we find them worthy signposts of all the things going on?  If the answer is yes, then we are planting ourselves in the kataphatic tradition.  

The modern church is pretty good, I think, in this area.  America is rather Kataphatic.  I think maybe this is all our inheritance from the enlightenment.  If my experience is reliable snapshot of the big picture, then it’s probably a little too good.  

My journey into contemplative practices has been about an embrace of apophatic practices.  Before, I would have given lip service to the idea that God is bigger than our words and categories.  Now, I try to live this truth by recognizing that even smaller, finite things are not so easily catalouged, named, and explained.  

As I live this reality, embracing the full complexity of things, I come to reject the simple prescriptions and the suggested remedies to things.   I want transformation more than solutions for myself, and I value solidarity over answers from those that I love.

There is an ancient practice that I think straddles the divide between the kataphatic and the apophatic.  This practice is called Lectio Divina.  (That’s the last Latin today.  I promise.)

A perhaps oversimplified way to approach Lectio:

  1. Spend some time clearing your mind.  Watch your breath.  Make use of a mantra if that’s your thing.  Maybe ask God to ready you and speak to you.
  2. Read a chapter of the bible slowly.  Luxuriate in it.   Take it slowly.
  3. Read the chapter again.  This time, look for something that seems relevant to where you are; words that God wants to speak to you.   I find that a passage of ten syllables or less is ideal.
  4. Draw your attention to that phrase, now.  Let that verse/sentence/etc. Be your mantra, as you continue your breathing practice.
  5. Put the verse away in your mind.  Return to something like the practice you used in step 1, clearing your mind and looking after a deeper-than-words union with God.

 

You know what’s been awesome?  People reading stuff at The Contemplace has been awesome.  Thank you for that.  

You know what would be even more awesome?  A comment.  Leave one below, will you?  A check in, a reaction, a thought, disagreement…   Let me know what you’re thinking about.