The Basics Of Deep Prayer


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Contents of the Chapter:

Nurture Relationships

The Mistake of Hiding

The Levels of Communication

The Goal of Agape

The Evangelism of Agape

The Covenant of Agape

Our Identity in Christ

The Egalitarianism of Christianity

The Command to Serve

The Necessity to Commission

Our Choice of Relationships
Nurture Relationships:

    Relationships will be the most important part of our lives, and of course, our relationship with God will be the most deciding factor of our happiness.

    Since relationships are necessarily emotional, it is hard to supply the stability of reasoning or logic to them. While some relationships will clearly take us towards God, other relationships will take us in the other direction. Sometimes we can choose which relationships we develop, but in many cases, fate just hands relationships to us that we can't walk away from. For example, we are expected to relate to our children.

The Mistake of Hiding:
    Relationships can make us very happy, sad, hurt, or comforted. We can (and often do) simultaneously experience agony and ecstasy in a relationship. When some relational experiences cause us pain, we look for something that will protect us from the pain. It is only natural to try to withdraw from pain, and the most common way to withdraw from a painful relationship is to not show our true self by putting on airs. We find these airs to be like a fort, and we get used to hiding in the fort.

    While hiding in the fort may seem like a safe and secure option, we are only fooling ourselves. So many of us have put on airs so much of the time that society expects us to act one way at work, another way at Church, and yet a different way at a party. All of this acting is only a vain disinformation project that deprives us of vital relational experiences. God is love, and God calls us to relate deeply.

    We can be so busy acting as if we were someone else that we can overlook our primary needs. For example, we can be looking so much for the desired reaction in others that we forget to focus on what our friends are feeling. As Jesus puts it, we must become like little children to enter into the Kingdom of God.

    Little children do not put on airs. We can look at them and see the person who they are. It is usually easier to feel the presence of a child than an adult because children do not hide themselves from us. Children often see through the airs that adults put on even when other adults might not notice. For the sophisticated airs of adults is an encumbrance to their intellect and other vital activities.

    As we put on airs, we might feel like we are at a slight disadvantage, but we are actually creating a crippling handicap. We often fool ourselves. We don't see these sophisticated airs as distancing ourselves from God, neighbor, and even ourselves. Therefore we lose our relational ability (from which we derive our intelligence) as we try to act sophisticated. In fact, even animals often have better relational skills than adults.

    In a true story, a man was unhappy with his dog. The man was thinking that he would punish the dog, and he went outside to where the dog was playing. The man tried to be real friendly, and called the dog to him; but the dog took off in the other direction at a dead run. This happened several times. If the dog was not in trouble he would come quickly.

    The man was an accomplished business person, and he often fooled other adults.

    Since the dog did not try to put on airs, he had better relationship skills than most humans even though he had extremely limited intelligence in comparison.

    The specific skill that the dog was exercising was the ability to feel the man's presence. Since the dog could feel the presence of the man, the cannine could ascertain some things that the man was feeling.

    This ability to feel the presence of a person in relationship is fundamental to the spiritual journey.

    Adults don't actually lose their ability to feel the presence of another person entirely, they just don't use this relational skill often enough because they can not put on airs while they are using it.

    In another true story, a man, who opened a print shop, had some difficulty with people not paying him for his work. He did all of the normal credit checks and took other precautions, but he would still have trouble with people not paying.

    As he became more experience, he did not do any credit checks or take any precautions, but he did not have any trouble collecting. He claimed that he knew when the customer would pay him from just being around the customer. He did not, however, know how he knew.

    Many of the Saints, who founded religious orders (e.g., St. Francis of Assisi, St. Benedict), loved their disciples so much that they always knew what their members were doing. This happens a few times in the Bible as well. For example, the time that Jesus asked the disciples what they were discussing on their way home (they were discussing who was the most important). Even though they did not tell Jesus what they were talking about, Jesus warned them about this attitude. So, He knew what they were talking about.

    Our ability to feel another person is a vital skill. We would be alarmed if we could not feel some part of our body (e.g., our foot or arm). Since we are the Body o f Christ, we should also be concerned, if we have no clue of what is happening inside another person.

    In a more cordial and relational world, we would all feel the presence of God and the presence of each other. A person's intelligence would be a measure of how well we could feel his presence, and the presence of personalilties that were the most attractive to an individual would indicate the vocation that the person was called to. It would be clear to us the vocation that each of us were called to because we could feel each others' presence.

    In many respects, sophisticated airs are synonymous with stupidity. As we hide behind these airs, our intelligence suffers from sophistication.

    Another way of stating this is that we are at our best when we are ourselves. The further that we move away from our identity or purpose, the less effective we become. Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, we have a greatness as long as we our true to our identity. We need to believe in the person God made.

    When we are born, we go through a phase of self discovery where we learn how to use various parts of our body. As we get older, we need to continue the discovery process by moving beyond ourselves into feeling the presences of other relational beings.

    As a body of beings, we haven't moved much beyond infantile ignorance, because we are paralyzed by egocentric appetites. The grass is always greener on the outside of the fort. Other people need to see who we are, we need other people to see us as we are, and we need to see other people as they are. As a people, God is urgently calling us foremost into the divine presence, and then, in a very vital sense, we are called to feel the presence of others as much as we feel ourselves.

    For many of us, it makes no difference whether we are called to this sort of perfection, because, as a matter of pragmatism, we can not feel the presence of either God or neighbor. If we could feel the presence of God, we probably would not have any difficulty establishing consistency. While we might not be able to reach our goal, we can, however, still take steps toward our destination.

    For example, we can gain a sense of who God is by (among many other things) studying God's laws, reading the Bible, or practicing religious exercises. In a similar way, every relationship can be nurtured by gentleness, caring, and giving, and at the same time, we can develop a better understanding of our neighbor by striving to communicate with them in a deeper way.

The Levels of Communication:
    Since relationships are a two way street, we can not dictate our desires or decisions to others, but we can subtly guide the relationship to a greater depth and expanse by communicating at a more meaningful level. By looking at the levels of communication (from sensitivy seminars; these were fashioned after some writings by John Powell), we can find the conversation that will help us and avoid the discourse that will lead towards shallow and narrow stereotypes.

    The goal is to stay in the higher levels of communication (i.e., levels 1 through 3).

    Level 4 takes us away from consistency and deep prayer because it encourages us to put on artificial airs of strength, importance, or other ego feeding nonsense. The ego reduces our chances of finding an egalitarian posture that is conducive to relationships.

    As one might suppose, level 5 doesn't have much of an affect on deep prayer.

    The following are the 5 levels of communication and a couple of examples each.
1. Feelings: We confess our feelings
a. Telling someone we like them
b. Describing our feelings of the mountains

2. Features: We describe ourselves
a. Discussing our Faith
b. Telling someone about our vocational

3. Facts: We discuss something technical or factual
a. Discussing a diagnosis
b. Promoting a course of action

4. Frivolities: We talk to pass the time
a. Gossiping about our neighbor
b. Talking about the game last night

5. Formalities: We greet each other
a. Saying hello
b. Answering with a cliche

    By trying to stay in the higher levels of communication (1 through 3), we will reduce some of our artificial airs which will help us move out of our fort. As we come out of hiding, we will begin to focus more on God and others, and in turn, our love will become more pure. By building these relational bridges, we are moving towards the Kingdom of God which is defined by agape.

The Goal of Agape:
    Before we look at the goal of agape, let's look at how this whole relational process ties together with agape. When we become more selfish by sinning or hiding, we also lose our ability to relate to God which is mediated through our soul. As we move closer to God, our soul becomes more free, open, and functional. The further we move from God, our soul is labored with many impure appetites that call the attention to impure activities. It is as if we bury our soul in a meaningless place, and our rational soul has little clout in our conscience.

    The parable of the talents applies to this process. If we hide our treasure, we will lose it. We can only become richer by investing our treasure. Our treasure is our ability to love. In this parable, if we don't invest our love, we don't go to Heaven.

    In other words, if we emotionally invest in others, we go to Heaven. It has to be this way, because Heaven is reserved for those who love. Before we get too comfortable with this, love means so much that it has little meaning in English, or (perhaps better) love means different things to different people. For its part, Heaven requires agape which is a purer form of love than the contemporary English meaning of love.

    For example, in the English translation when Jesus asked Peter whether Peter loved Him, Peter answer 3 times that he did. In the Greek translation, however, Jesus asked Peter whether Peter agaped Him, but Peter said 3 times that he philosed Jesus. After He questioned Peter's agape, Jesus told Peter to, "Feed my sheep" (tend His Church). In other words, Peter would need to agape Jesus to become a pope who could assist the Church.

    Let's take the easy part first. When Peter said that he philosed Jesus, he was telling Jesus how much he admired and respected our Lord. Philos is a fraternal or brotherly love. The members of a sports team might admire each other so much that they feel like a family which is philos.

    In Isaiah, agape is compared to the mother's consciousness and compassion for the baby at her breast, but the passage says that God's love for us is even more consistent than a mother's love.

    There is an insistence by God, that we need to agape Him. For example, in Matt 25 (The master told the foolish virgins, "I do not know you."), Luke 13 (The master tells those who are locked out of the house, "I do not know where you come from."), and John 10 ("I know my sheep and my sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know my Father."), Jesus places this consciousness or feeling of Him as a condition of salvation. John says that God is agape. From these things, we can conclude that our happiness is dependent upon agape.

    Agape leads to self control. Jesus said that if we agape Him, we will keep his commandments, and Paul tells us to resist sin by putting on the armor of Christ (which wouldn't make much sense except in the next paragraph he tells us to pray constantly). This reference to armor is also implied in Saint Patrick's Breastplate ("Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me," etc.). Saint John of the Cross tells us that major vices (he speaks specifically of sexual sin) are not overcome until we find our way into deep prayer where we feel God. Aquinas says that a longing for God is the only common element all our appetites have in common, and only a relationship with God can save us from them. Augustine says that our hearts will be restless (pulled to one appetite after another) until it rests in God. We can only avoid sin by feeling God.

    In the "Prayer of Saint Francis", Saint Francis of Assisi points out that Agape is important in everything (not just self control). In his mystical wisdom, Francis longs to be a channel of agape, and God tells Francis to rebuild His Church which is very similar to the order he gave Peter that was mentioned above.

    Among every other good thing, agape saves our soul, gives us control, feeds His sheep, repairs His church, and defines our vocations. From these things, we can certainly conclude that agape should be our goal, but we need a plan to reach our goal which is to know and love this presence of God. We come to know God's presence primarily by experiencing the full life of God's Church, searching for God in deep prayer, serving within our vocation, and participating in Eucharistic relationships. Since Christians are called to universal love, the importance of Eucharistic relationships are often overlooked, but we are more likely to experience agape in Eucharistic relationships than in any other way.

    There are many times where we show up at Church, but we bring very little away. It is extremely rare for us to find either deep prayer or our vocation. On the other hand, if we participate in small Church communities, we will get to know each other. Agape should be the goal of every relationship, but we are often ignorant of how relationships progress to our goal.

    While we understand the importance of empathy, politeness, compassion, hospitality, and other good relational traits, we often fail to wonder how God is expressed in each other.

    Many of us have heard how we should see Jesus in every one we meet, but the humanness of Jesus and the stereotypes of our society often render this spiritual exercise ineffective. For example, our stereotype of Jesus might be a compassionate man from the Middle East, and we might be unable to relate that image to a woman in Los Angles. The Jews worshiped God for many centuries, but they did not recognize Jesus.

    The Bible says that we are made in the image of God, and God can be expressed in ways other than what we think of Jesus. We can use the attributes (e.g., powerful, holy, perfect, beautiful, happy, intelligent, merciful) of God to help us meditate on who God is. It should be rather easy for us to find some of these attributes in every person, and the constellation of our attributes hint of our vocation. If we follow our vocation, we become instruments of the God of love on earth.

    External relationships (those that we have with other people) are not very different from internal relationships (those we have inside ourselves), and in fact, they often reflect each other. For example, if we are happy on the inside, we will tend to make other people happy (and vice versa).

    In the agape relationship, we draw the attributes of God out of a person, and others do the same for us. For example, while Peter may have philosed Jesus, it is clear that Jesus agaped Peter. Jesus said that Peter was the rock that the Church would be built upon. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and Peter reflected some of God's stability. Jesus declared Peter's vocation while proclaiming Peter's stability. Peter denied Jesus three times when Jesus was before the Sanhedrin, and Jesus questioned Peter's agape three times. With the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter must have begun to agape Jesus because he never vacillated again.

    When Mary was called to be the Mother of God, Gabriel called her blessed which is the only time in the Bible that an angel calls someone blessed. A few weeks later Elizabeth calls Mary blessed. In both of these cases, Mary is confirmed in her vocation, while both Gabriel and Elizabeth agape Mary by identifying her as blessed. Of course, the source of Elizabeth's agape was John who was inspired by God in her womb.

    We need to keep in mind that we are looking at agape (not vocational calls), but people are called in God's love which is agape. There is no requirement, however, for the vocational call to contain agape. For example, when Paul was called everyone was afraid of him. In another case, Moses was called because of his ancestry which God pointed out during the call and the Bible builds the same basis by giving the lineage of Moses and Aaron.

    It is commendable to feel the presence of another person, but agape focuses on feeling the attributes of God in the person's presence. While this might seem rather specific, with a little thought, we can quickly conclude that it can't be any other way. Many of us may protest that we can't feel the presence of another person, but in reality, we all do. For example, we showed how a smile is contagious, but the connection to other people can have a dark side (such as the hate and violence in a mob). Agape is either the love of God or a close relative, and it does not have a dark side. We can't have the pureness that agape requires without focusing on a characteristic of God.

    If we strive for agape in our relationships, we will be drawn out of fort. Without question, we will begin to emotionally invest in our relationships, and superficial relationships that center around level 4 communication will seem so unsatisfying. When we respect and honor the presence of God in other people, we are not far away from feeling the presence of God in our lives.

    In the secular world, it is popular to have the comforts of the friendship to be the objective of the relationship. As Christians, we have the opportunity to find much more in the relationship. Each of us was made in the image of God, and we carry the attributes of God within us. If our relationships accent our divine attributes, we will build the City of God upon a foundation of solid agape that allows the all important grace of God to flow through us like a mighty river.

The Evangelism of Agape:
    We are attracted to any of the attributes of God, and we loathe anything that is not from God. We are attracted to beauty, intelligence, love, generosity, happiness, truthfulness, and any other attribute of God. From the Bible, we know many of the early Christians were drawn to Christ by the way the Christians loved one another. If people are not attracted to the Church, then agape is not being used to accent the attributes of God.

    To put this another way, no one has been able to argue against the Church with any degree of intellectual honesty for the last 800 years, but the Church won't make many converts by winning an argument. As it is with all things, only God is attractive, and the Church is seen as attractive to the degree people can see God in the Church. There is no better public relations than the emotional rush of agape, and the attributes of God provide a perfectly consistent marketing theme that is always fresh and attractive.

    While God's attributes are satisfying, they are never filling. We can't have too much beauty, intelligence, love, joy, hope, or any other attribute of God. We never grow weary of any of God's attributes, they are always fresh and inspirational. With these features, the attributes of God enable permanent covenants. After Jesus agaped Peter by comparing Peter to a rock, then Jesus told Peter that the Church would be built on the immutable attribute of God.

The Covenant of Agape:
    The seeds of agape will never bear much fruit without taking root in a permanent covenant. Where is the witness of agape, if we do not believe and hope in the relationship? If we look at the fruit of either Peter or Paul whom were respectively commissioned by the Jesus and the Spirit, we can see that agape requires a covenant to bear fruit. All of us are called to vocation (where the type of vocations are as imaginative as God). If the City of God is not flexible enough to covenant these divergent calls, we can not expect the vocations to yield fruit. This fact is stamped into reality everywhere we look. For example, what fruit will eros yield without the convenant of marriage? After God called Moses, what fruit would the call have borne if the Israelites did not commit to following Moses? As Paul put it, all gifts are for the community, and (we might add) the community must accept the gift before it has value.

    As it is in the community, so it is inside us. We need to covenant that calling with God, but before this can happen, several things need to happen.

The Egalitarianism of Christianity:
    In Heaven, everyone knows each other, and as Jesus feeds us with His Body, we gain the ability to understand each other. Non-Christian communities are exemplified by rigid power structures that devalue individual identity and magnify state rule. These communities reflect very little of God's attributes. Civilization, wealth, and other needed attributes are sorely lacking. In the System of God, we find inspiration in the identity of individuals. The City of God is able to capitalize on individual inspirations because we hope and believe in each other as agape demands of us. Agape is initiated in the Eucharistic celebration.

    It might be argued that the process occurs in the market place which is outside the City of God, but the degree of the reflection is proportionate to the proximity of the Faith Community. In other words, the process starts with the Eucharistic Celebration and it is contagious. In our human nature, it doesn't continue unless it is continually fed. We find then that wealth centers around pockets of agape.

    In a top down fashion, wealth is moved from one country to another through the arbitrary manipulation of exchange rates (the relation of one nation's currency to another's), but these diabolic influences are only temporary setbacks for the City of God.

    God is not a hedonist, and we don't mean to imply that an individual who is holy will be wealthy (i.e., the heresy of the Reformation which was driven by money in the Church's treasury). We are trying to show that God's attributes flourish in an agape centered community. A holy person will have everything that money could buy plus a lot more, even when money is scarce. As Augustine or Paul would testify, money means little when compared to God.

    Agape extends to all attributes of God. For example, Aquinas showed how free armies defeat armies that are controlled from the top. In other words, the best soldiers have the freedom to use their best judgement. For example, the only American ace in the Vietnam war shot down MIGs (enemy aircraft) with such precision because he knew what they were ordered to do next. We could find many other examples from many other wars. Our point is that agape extends to power, but it only does if we hope and believe in each other.

The Command to Serve:
    Most Eucharistic communities have only a small understanding of what God is trying to accomplished. In the eyes of many people, the primary role of the Church is to save souls. While salvation is certainly central to our being, we need to be saved because we didn't love God enough to keep God's commandments. We definitely need to understand that Jesus did not come to establish a set or rules, practices, and traditions that if followed will save our soul. God is personal and relational, and a community of God needs to imitate God's qualities. The rubrics of the Church assist our salvation, but our salvation depends upon our relationship with God. Jesus is the Judge, and Jesus says (several times in the Bible as demonstrated above) that He will save those whom He knows.

    Jesus also makes it clear (again several times in the Bible, e.g., "thief in the night", "oil in the lamp") that the relationship with Him has to be maintained.

    Since Jesus feeds the Eucharistic Community with His Body and Blood, there is an acute presence of Jesus in the community. The Eucharistic Community is the Body of Christ. If the Eucharistic Community knows us, Jesus knows us.

    God is not concerned whether the Eucharistic Community knows our phone number, E-mail address, family members, work place, monthly income, or leisure activities. These are superficial facts that are similar to level 4 conversation. We have a unique calling in God. To save us from our sins, Jesus commands us to serve the other members of the Eucharistic Community with those attributes that define our vocational calling.

The Necessity to Commission:
    For its part, the Eucharistic Community can not love God unless it believes and hopes in God, but the City of God can not believe and hope in God unless it believes and hopes in us. For we carry the calling of God.

    Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our soul communicates these attributes of God to our body, but more importantly, the soul miraculously coordinates the attributes of God into our being as Aquinas points out. While we may not understand what our attributes are, the Body of Christ sees them through its faith in us.

    As our DNA identifies us, we identify the human species. Therefore, we are the recursion of the species. Inside our body, the fate of some cells may be different than others, but we don't think of each cell acting in a different way (although a little more thinking like this would be helpful).

    God has called the human race, and the Church knows the call. The Church has tried to embed the global call into the human family, but as the soul is not the only voice inside us, the Church is not the only opinion in the world.

    The evil inside a body can be so pervasive that every cell in the body is condemned to Hell, and it is no different with us as a race. In exemplary cases, every cell can be saved. In these extreme cases, it is easy to see how strongly we affect each other.

Our Choice of Relationships:
    Since love is the highest domain, our relationships can either be our strongest ally or greatest impediment. In particular, some avoidance is necessary when the friend strives to distract us from our goal, but evangelism is better than avoidance.

    In too many cases, we seek relationships with the rich, powerful, or famous, but we should seek relationships with those who are holy. Why should we expect our destiny to be any different than our ambition?

    Relationships are the keys to our destiny and fate. Jesus told us that we would be judged by whether He knew us. Then He said that whatever we do for the least of our brothers, we do for Him. Jesus specified the least of our brothers because He was concerned about our intent. We need to be trying to help people. The rich and powerful usually don't need our help. With so many others in desperate need of our help, what is our intent when we help them?

    The primary point in this passage is that we save ourselves by helping others. In other passages (some of them previously mentioned), we learn that we can not be saved unless God knows us. In other words, the Father calls us to serve one another, and God knows us only through the service we extend to each other.

    We are called to help others. If we engage in a selfish pursuits, we will be judged defective. We can only save ourselves by becoming the servants we are called to be.

    Grace is the key to our salvation. As the strongest current is in the main part of the stream, the most grace is in the most central part of the Church. To experience the strongest grace, we must be in the main part of the spiritual community. For example, bi-locations, stigmatas, and other supernatural signs almost always fall inside the central part of the Church. Only a few healings and other miracles fall outside the Church.

    Our response to God will have a significant impact on how our friends respond to God. In the history of the Church, many Saints knew each other. For example, Saint Bonaventure and Saint Thomas of Aquinas were good friends. Saint Dominic had a close relationship with Saint Francis of Assisi whom in turn was close to Saint Clare of Assisi. Saint Teresa of Avila worked with Saint John of the Cross, and the two of them knew other Saints as well.

    Since Saints are so rare, it is statistically unlikely that any one Saint would know another Saint, yet it happens scores (if not hundreds) of times. As a matter of fact, if we become a Saint, it is very likely we will know someone whom makes the heroic climb with us.

    Saint John of the Cross gave the analogy that a single piece of coal might catch on fire, but it will not burn to white ash unless it is close to other coals that are burning.

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