February 11, 2018

The first session for this week, which is actually Session 9 of the retreat, is entitled Prayer as Relationship.  Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler discusses the relationship that is developed as one sits in silence with God.  She says " We are called to “Be still and know that I am God.” Being still is the main clue … it’s a little secret … of how to be in relationship with God."

Fitzpatrick-Hopler notes that our lived experience is usually 'doing a lot, moving around, thinking, talking, hoping, dreaming, but always wrapped up in ourselves and our own thoughts."  But with Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God" we have a better understanding of how to be in a deeper relationship, to be still, so that we can Know God.  

She gives the progress of relationships that we have with others.  "Each level of relationship moves with your commitment and your consent to take the next step. As we go from acquaintanceship to friendliness and then movement into friendship or that trusting relationship which is a little deeper and a little bit more of a commitment. As we move into the intimacy, a very deep commitment, one of oneness or being, being together. We think again of being still."

Fitzpatrick-Hopler discusses how we grow and mature and how our relationships change and we are changed through our relationships.  This is a great paragraph that moves to the next point she makes so I'm just going to copy the whole thing here. 

"So, in that inner room what are we doing? We’re being still and we’re getting to know God. And we are getting to know ourselves in relationship with God as well. We learn how to be with God. We learn how to be with ourselves. As one of the benefits of it, in a sense, we learn how to be with one another. We learn how to be with one another in love as well. There is a lot of training that goes on in this inner room. And it all happens in the silence of transmission. The heart to heart experience of being one. The willingness to allow ourselves to open. To open and say yes from the very moment we enter."

She concludes with her belief that learning how to be in relationship with one another is something that we are called to learn on this earth, perhaps the one reason we are here and we learn how to be in relationship through being still and coming to know our God.  Fitzpatrick-Hopler says "And, we get out of the way of ourselves and we allow God to train us in what true relationship is."

The Second Session for this week, or Session Ten, is Father Keating talking about types of prayer and the benefits of centering prayer for us.  He lists the types of prayer as follows "The idea of prayer as relationship emerges as the essence of the practice, which can then be expressed in many different ways. The classical ways of praying are petition: asking for things; adoration: responding to God’s transcendence and goodness; and responding in gratitude to the good things we receive from God or the good things we hear about in scripture. A desire to express trust or love in this mystery that is laid before us in scripture or in some other way. Prayers are any of these things."

As he describes centering prayer, he relates the experience that will happen for us as we continue in this practice of silent prayer.  "Little by little we enter into prayer without intentionality except to consent. Consent becomes surrender. And surrender becomes total receptivity, as this process evolves. And total receptivity is without effort—it is effortless. It is peaceful. It is free."

When we pray in silence, in what is named centering prayer, Keating helps us to know, "All judgment, all that kind of reflection, is not appropriate for the time of Centering Prayer, which is a time of sharing one’s pure being with God. It is not time for action. It is a time for receptivity. It’s a time for consenting to whatever IS at this present moment. It is an exercise of the present moment; of being with God totally in the present moment."

And lastly, Keating reminds us of how wonderful God believes we are and we come to know this as we get to know God.  He explains, "All you have to do is stop being who you think you are and you couldn’t be more delightful . . .You don’t have to create the beauty—you’ve got the beauty. You don’t have to create the freedom— you’ve got it. You don’t have to create the image of God in you—you have it. You don’t have to win over God’s love—you have more than you know what to do with. You don’t have to become more beautiful because nothing could be more beautiful than your own, particular uniqueness."

Nice, right?  How come more people are not flocking to learn more about this wonderful prayer?  

No resources listed this week.  Take care-Anne



February 4, 2018

This Week's first session featured a young Father Keating explaining two different models that explain people's views of God, the Western model and the Scriptural model. 

Individuals who perceive within the Western Model see God-as- outside-of-self and the self-outside-of-God and external acts are more important than are interior acts.  Here is more aspects of the Western model of Spirituality: 

1. The self-initiates all good and God rewards us.  2. Reward is in heaven rather than love of self and neighbor here and now.  This was manifested by external works.  3. Getting guarantees of future rewards rather than receiving love of God in this life and serving others in need

The Scriptural model is almost 180 degrees from the Western model.  Characteristics of the Scriptural model follow: 

1.  Internal actions more important 2. Self in God and the Spirit of God within us. Emphasis is on listening and responding to the Spirit 3.  Emphasis is on effort and the journey to unite ourselves and to love God here right now. 4.  God is in us through trust and faith and love.  This cultivates love of God here and now and not in the future.  This model is not interested in the future. 

Father Keating believes the Western Model is an immature model of spirituality.  He sees this model as seeing God as Judge and being afraid of God.  He prefers people understand that the "fear of the Lord" actually implies great Trust in the Lord.  He notes that the "Fear of God=Have a right relationship with God and that is Trust and Responsibility.  This grows in the service of God" and one feels more united with God and desires to serve others.

Father Keating wants us to "Trust in God and don’t be anxious about the future. "  Centering Prayer helps us to trust in God as we "Rest in God."

The Second Session of the Week focused on the traits of the Spiritual Journey.  As we work through our journey we are always wondering Who is God?  Life is a mystery to us, but our brain gives us the capacity to have a relationship with God. 

Keating notes, “That brings me to just point out, that in the spiritual journey, there is a time for different spiritual experiences. It follows a certain order; it’s not entirely chaotic, although we may experience certain parts of it as that way.”

Often, there is a community, exoteric worship that occurs.  Then devotion to saints, then angels and then a brotherly attitude toward Christ.  A sibling relationship.  Then move to a spiritual marriage and more like an intimate relationship.  Then the Trinity, closeness to each of the aspects of the Trinity.

This is a love that is being given all of the time.  A divine river that flows between the three aspects of the Trinity.  One enters into the flow of divine life.  One’s life needs to be flexible to change.

Keating relates that we eventually become aware “So, mysterium tremendum is a factor, you might say, in the process of surrender—surrender to a mystery that is not understandable to us—but seems to be calling us or determined to share with us the beauty, goodness, freedom, compassion, forgiveness of God as something totally gratuitous.”

This requires us to have a 180 degree shift in how we relate to God.

“Traditionally meditation in its conceptual form, which we call contemplation, mostly in the Christian tradition, is perhaps the easiest way to access the spiritual level of our being or the Ground of Being out of which we came.”  This is the divine energy of creation.   Everything is carefully balanced.  As we live we go through this process and it happens to us; we don’t do it, but it happens to us.

Resources: You may wish to read Chapter 2, "Attitudes Towards God" from Intimacy with God by Thomas Keating.

I loved this week's offerings because it helped me identify where I am on the spiritual journey.  I have experienced many of the aspects that Father Keating talked about and so enjoyed realizing I am one of many on the same path.   -Anne

January 21

January 21, 2018

Session three and four of the Spiritual Journey presented through Contemplative Outreach and Spirituality and Practice are a return to the beginnings of our centering prayer practice.  Session Three provides an excellent meditation by Julie Saad, taken from her reading of Open Mind Open Heart, as an entrance into our 20 minutes of quiet of Centering Prayer.  She reminds us “Deep prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and feelings—our whole being— to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts, and emotions.”

As we settle quietly, we open ourselves to the spiritual level of our being.  Saad reminds us “We surrender to the attraction of interior silence, tranquility, and peace. We do not try to feel anything, reflect about anything. Without effort, without trying, we sink into this Presence, letting everything else go by.”

And Saad takes from Keating’s Open Mind Open Heart in this meditation “This Presence is immense, yet so humble; awe-inspiring, yet so gentle; limitless, yet so intimate, tender and personal. I know that I am known. Everything in my life is transparent in this Presence. It knows everything about me—all my weakness, brokenness, sinfulness—and still loves me infinitely. This Presence is healing, strengthening, refreshing—just by its Presence. It is nonjudgmental, self-giving, “A Meditation” from Open Mind, Open Heart Page 2 of 2 seeking no reward, boundless in compassion. It is like coming home to a place I should never have left, to an awareness that was somehow always there, but which I did not recognize.”

In addition, in Session Three and Four, a video by Father Keating is also presented.  In the video, The Method of Centering Prayer, Father Keating provides a teaching on the Four Guidelines of Centering Prayer:

The Four Guidelines for Centering Prayer

 1.    Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within.
2.    Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within.
3.    When engaged with your thoughts,* return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
4.    At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes. 

*Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections.

This is the suggested method we follow as we sit in prayer.  He emphasizes that Centering Prayer is a relationship with God, so the method is suggested, and not rigid, just as we would experience in any relationship with another.  Keating goes through each of the four guidelines and emphasizes the divine presence and action within which we consent to as we sit Resting in God. 

Keating encourages us to have a positive attitude toward our thoughts as we pray.  We will have thoughts and when we notice them, let them come and let them go with a smile.  He says “This prayer is totally non-violent” which gets a laugh from the audience. 

He addresses our difficulty with thinking while in prayer and says “The whole thrust of the prayer is to stop thinking. This doesn’t mean you’re not going to have thoughts, but notice this delicate distinction. We’re not going to think about the thought. You can have all the thoughts in the world go by, and they won’t interfere with the prayer. It’s only when you start thinking about the thoughts, feeling, that you interrupt your original intention of just being totally open to God, and that calls for some response to reaffirm your original intention, and to get back to where you started.”  This is when we return to our sacred word.

Keating illustrates the level of our awareness with a chart showing the top of a stream, which is our normal way of thinking, when “We’re kind of absorbed, or dominated, in our ordinary psychological life, by the objects of events and people, and our emotional reactions to them.”  Then as we sit in prayer we are able to let go of the thoughts that go by at the surface level of our awareness and we begin to go deeper.   In time, we are able to let go of the thoughts easier and we are able to open ourselves to deeper levels of our awareness, to our “spiritual level” which, according to Keating “you’re really not aware of most of the time except at the peak experience, or when life, or tragedy, or something brings you to that place.”

Keating teaches “The purpose then, of the Centering Prayer, is to move from this level to this level. And indeed, not to stop there—because the human being has greater depths than that—but to move even deeper, to the level of the true self, which is our participation in the divine life, and the Divine Presence itself as the source of our being at every level.”

In the next video, Keating goes over some things that may happen while we sit in centering prayer.  He discusses how our bodies hold past memories and emotions that have not been processed during our normal activities of daily living.  He says “You may also notice a few physical symptoms that are surprising the first few times you do this, like a little pain somewhere in the body, or an itch, or a twitch, or a tick. This is simply some little emotional knot stored in the body from earlier times that is close to the surface of your awareness and that uses this rest just enough to unwind the knot, so it appears as a little discomfort.”

Keating goes a bit further noting “The body is the storehouse of emotional undigested material or emotions that were not processed, so it’s the place where unprocessed grief is lurking.”  This is called a psychological-evacuation process which we may have avoided because “Thinking is a marvelous way of not facing the real issues of life. . . but that constant interior dialogue, it’s like a wall of protection against the unconscious.”

He concludes with “When this is broken down regularly by two periods a day, you gradually develop the habit of listening to the body a little more and, sure enough, the body begins to tell you what’s there and it’s unbelievable what’s there waiting to be processed.”

After listening to the videos I was curious about what people would contribute in the Discussion.  The retreatants discussed difficulty with sitting down twice a day for centering prayer and making time for two sessions of the prayer.  They also wrote of the frustration of “thoughts” during the prayer time and others wrote about the experiences of personal unloading of the unconscious during the prayer and their experiences.   One of the retreat directors wrote in the discussion that she “so resonate(s) with the title of this session, ‘Trusting the Process.’ To Trust the One who brings me TO the feeling/thought/situation/body sensation will see me THROUGH the feeling/thought/situation/body sensation is a core issue for me. “

I hope you enjoyed the summary of this week’s Spiritual Journey.  -Anne



January 14, 2018

I am honored to be the “educational coordinator” for Central Illinois Contemplative Outreach (CICO).  As part of my responsibilities, I am participating in the online yearlong retreat “The Spiritual Journey, Formation in the Christian Contemplative Life” offered by Contemplative Outreach in conjunction with Spirituality and Practice.com (https://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/2018-spiritual-journey-online-program?utm_source=CO+Constituents&utm_campaign=d1ecd578ff-Nov+enews_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b11e0b2045-d1ecd578ff-309497573&mc_cid=d1ecd578ff&mc_eid=897f7434f4).

The reason for this blog is to share with the CICO community the ideas and resources I am learning about as I take part in the “Spiritual Journey” retreat.

The online sessions of the Retreat are posted twice each week and my plan is to summarize the main points of the retreat offerings and to give you the resources recommended.  In this way, I hope to provide you with ideas and resources for your own “spiritual journey.”  

The First Session

The first session focused on orientation to the retreat online site, a “how to” guide for retreatants, showing how to log in, how to maneuver through the retreat links, and how to join the discussion group that serves all the retreatants.  It also asked all of us to post an introduction of ourselves and an intention for the year.

There are over 300 people taking this online retreat, from countries such as Ireland, Norway, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the good ole USA.  Amazing.  The shortened version of the intention I posted is “to learn.”

Father Keating shared a blessing for the retreat and noted, “God’s divine therapy speaks directly to our needs as our individuality and personality is developed.”  Part of Father Keating’s blessing was “Dear Lord, I believe and trust in your incredible love for me that heals the wounds of a lifetime - body, soul, and spirit - and which calls us into a share of your divine life, even in this world.  May this course we’re taking . . .  help us to face what needs to be healed and also create the longings in us for deeper and deeper communion and union with yourself, dear Lord. “ 

Mary Dwyer, one of the retreat directors, gave a 10-minute video on “What is Centering Prayer and How Do We Do It” so you can see the retreat is for people in all stages of their journey. 

The Second Session

The Second Session provided a video of Father Keating discussing “The Pursuit of Happiness.”   It was an excerpt from an interview “Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ” by Betty Sue Flowers talking with Father Keating.

Keating begins with the powerful message, “Happiness or the desire for happiness is itself an infallible sign of God’s presence.”  He notes that we pursue what we perceive as our “needs” by going in the wrong direction, through our false self because this is the only way we know how to satisfy the longing for “something more.”  We don’t realize that we are trying to satisfy our desires for safety and security, affection and esteem, and power and control with methods that will not fulfill these desires but they are the only methods we know.   When failure is the end result, this is the beginning of “repentance” or “changing the direction in which we look for happiness.”   We must be willing to alter how we usually think.

Flower asks Keating, “Then how do we get to the prayer, ‘Thy will be done,’ which really does, then, enable us to see the help that is already there?” 

“By Silence” he affirms.  And not through our efforts, but through the grace of God.  Keating says that we think we can find happiness through our own efforts, but instead,  

"Effort is designed not for success, but to find out that that it doesn’t work.  That’s its chief contribution to the spiritual life.  Now, as soon as you let go of this, even a little bit, a crack occurs in our consciousness and some of the divine presence insinuates itself. The purpose, then, of silence, is to give an opportunity for the longing for God to break through the crust of the false self and our            defense mechanisms so that we can be motivated by that hunger and that love to pursue the transformative process untiringly.

From this perspective, it’s easy to negotiate the entire spiritual journey, because all you have to do is accept it. It already is. It’s been done. It’s accepted. It’s been communicated to us. It’s put into our hands. It’s put into our mouths. It’s poured into our souls by the Holy  Spirit. And the only request is to let God love us this much with this much absolutely free and undeserved and unmerited gratuity."

Additional resources suggested for this week:

1. The brochure “The Method of Centering Prayer”

2. Open Mind, Open Heart, the Introduction and chapters 1, 2 and 9 from the 20th Anniversary edition, or the Introduction and chapters 2, 4 and 10 from older editions. 

I hope this week’s summary provides you with the assurance of God’s Great Love for Us.

-Anne Colloton