The Basics Of Deep Prayer
|Table of Contents|
Consistency: Page 3
Focus: Page 2
Contents of the Chapter:
The Need to Focus
How to Focus
Yin and Yang
The Need to Focus:
After we have established consistency, our next step is to reach spiritual poverty during each prayer time. As Jesus said to Martha, we are nervous and distracted about many things, and as in the "Song of Songs", we need to grow quiet to experience a close encounter with God. Of course God is not limited to this environment. God would, however, ultimately override our free will, if we kept experiencing God above our nervous distraction. Since we can expect God to respect our free will, we can, therefore, conclude that our focus will determine our success or failure on this next step.
By using our common sense, we can conclude we need to focus on God during our prayer time. If we showed up for work each day and let our thoughts drift from one thing to the next, the quantity and quality of our work would suffer. We can't expect our prayer time to be that much different than every other part of our life.
Prayer times will advance faster if they do not randomly wander wherever our fantasy takes us (such as in talking to God with whatever pops into our mind). It could be argued that the purpose of the prayer time is to build a relationship with God, and a relationship can't be reduced to a formal structure. While this attitude is certainly prayer, a formal structure addresses the issues and problems we are dealing with much faster. When God establishes relationships, He usually does so with a formal structure of a covenant. We find theses covenants in both the Old and New Testaments. To be in relationship with God, we are given a series of steps. In the New Testament covenant, Jesus established the sacraments and Church, and He even went so far as to choose the first pope. God knows we have many appetites in our intelligent recursion, and structure is needed to bring these in line.
Before we look at the reform we need, let's take a look at who we are. Aristotle (or perhaps someone before him) proved that everything is made up of smaller parts, and Aquinas demonstrated that the smaller parts would have to have the same nature and intellect as the larger parts. Modern science has born out the accuracy of these proofs. We therefore are billions of small things that have their own ideas, opinions, appetites, and free wills. It has been philosophically proven and scientifically verified.
We are made up of certain DNA. This DNA will identify us, and the DNA itself is made up of even smaller parts that haven't been discovered. We know that DNA communicates in an intelligent fashion by passing RNA. Since we find both identity (the DNA identifies the person) and communication in our DNA, we can easily show that our intelligence flows from our DNA which was proved by Aquinas (he didn't call it DNA). As shown by Aquinas, if we are comprised of DNA, then our DNA has same problems that we do.
DNA is passed from generation to generation. The DNA carries sinful appetites that we call original sin. While Baptism gives us the grace to overcome original sin, it doesn't take away the appetites. If it did, no one would commit sins after they were Baptized or at least not very often. Children of Baptized parents have original sin because Baptism doesn't remove the appetites. DNA couldn't have orginal sin and the propensity to commit more sin unless it had a free will. Only intelligent beings have free will. DNA is not just a blue print that is passed from generation to generation, it is an intelligent living being that has its own free will which can and does sin.
As Aquinas pointed out, we can't be much different than our parts. The parts which constitute our being would bear our identity and traits. In other words, the smaller parts would have the same appetites as the larger parts. We can't be different from our DNA. We can't become better people unless we can get better DNA. While we might think that we are stuck with the DNA that we have, it is easy to show that the DNA changes all the time. We can't learn, forget, or experience without our DNA respectively learning, forgetting, or experiencing. We change and adapt, and our DNA changes and adapts along with us. We are unique, and the DNA in one cell has a different identity than the DNA in any other cells. We draw our free will from the fact that the DNA in each cell has its own free will. We have many different appetites, and so does the DNA in each cell. We are the composite of our DNA, we can't expect to be different from it.
Any system of prayer has to work across the DNA in billions of cells with all of their different personalities, if it is to work for each of us individually. In a large organization with many different personalities and agendas, we can only make progress by working together through an organized structure, lest the work of one group being ruined or contradicted by another group. The organization will need a direction, objective, and a plan to be organized. The focus in our prayer time needs to become these things for us.
The organizational plan can not simply be marching orders for mindless pawns. The DNA has its own free will, and we derive our intelligence from it. Our system of structured prayer needs to be one that draws out the genius from our DNA. Genius only occurs in an extreme minority of our DNA. We need to find a way to let the genius speak.
We can often find what we are looking for by looking deeper. Any change that debuts on the outside, is already old news on the inside. As molecular biology, nuclear physics, and many other disciplines have shown, the best predictor of the future or diagnosis of the present is to examine what is happening at a lower level of recursion. The phrase "central intelligence" is an oxymoron. For example, in the market place it has been proven (at a tremendous cost) that centrally governed economies are a stupid way to do business. In fact, Aquinas proved that freedom at the lower levels produces the strongest aggregate military. Within this proof, Aquinas effectively proves that everything happens from the inside out.
Let us reduce this philosophical concept to a more specific example or ramification. As a people, we don't say that intelligence of mathematics comes from the masses of people who are ignorant of mathematics. We know instead that basic mathematical principles were the contributions of Pascal, Newton, Pythagoras, and others. Inside each of these brilliant minds were a few strands of DNA which advanced the mathematical ability for the whole human race. As they are being realized, all concepts start as an extreme minority of an extreme minority and avalanche through the population. Our prayer times need to facilitate this process. If the whim of the mob always runs roughshod over the thoughts of the minority, the little that we have will be taken away from us. Without the discipline of free speech and individual rights, democracy is an ignorant and ugly tyranny.
Before the voice of the minority can be heard, the din of the crowd must be reduced if not silenced. Then a single topic is introduced as the focus of discussion. Order must be held, so only one person is speaking at a time. Within a discplined structure, the genius of the extreme minority can become common knowledge to the masses.
Jesus did not go to the marketplace to pray, He instead went to desolate places where all was quiet and He was alone with God. We need to follow our Lord's example in this. If Jesus, in His perfection, needed quiet time with God, we, in our sin, have an even greater need to feel the presence of God. We begin to pray like Jesus prayed by going to some desolate place where all is quiet and we are alone with God. In other words, we won't get regular and sublime results from unstructured and inadequate discipline.
In our stillness, we introduce the presence of God. We know what the presence of God feels like because it has been witnessed to us by Jesus, Mary, and the Saints. While admittedly these witnesses are in the extreme minority, we want the concepts they represent to ripple through our being in the same way that all intelligence is realized by the masses. As Jesus put it, the mustard seed is the tiniest of all seeds, but it can grow into a Faith that moves mountains. Our young Faith needs to be nurtured in a relationship that is fed by discipline and virtue.
Why does a God, who cares about us so much, seem so inaccessible to us? Before the fall of Adam, God visited with Adam each day. By cherishing curiosity more than God and eating the apple, Adam violated the relationship he had with God. The apple gave Adam the knowledge of right and wrong. This knowledge made Adam self conscious. Then Adam hid from God, so God would not see him naked. Adam was too self conscious to relate to God, and as sons and daughters of Adam, we still make the same mistake. We are too nervous, upset, anxious, interested, and absorbed in our self consciousness to feel God's love for us. In other words, God doesn't hide from us, we are too absorbed in our humors and affairs to feel God.
Of course, our mistakes are not limited to a strategic flaw. With a little searching, we could find many other things wrong with the picture. All good things go together. If we mess up in one area, we can expect many other (actually all - this is the concept of good and bad) things to be affected in a negative way. On a brighter note, the reverse is true as well. If we do well in one area, all other parts of our lives benefit from it. As proven philosophically by Aristotle (ranking of domains) and mathematically by Einstein (theory of relativity - I doubt that he understood the philosophy) all things are connected together through our relationship with God; so when we mess up in one area all things about us begin to unravel.
We are still making the same choice that Adam and Eve made. By choosing knowledge over love, Adam lost paradise. Across thousands of years, we have gained many appetites that keep us away from love, but we haven't completely forgot the love of God. A part of us still knows the divine. When we experience, beauty, truth, discipline, order, or any of the attributes of God, we can still feel what paradise was like.
The focus in our prayer time is an attempt to reverse the mistake of self consciousness that has been made all through the ages. In our prayer times, we focus on feeling the presence of God rather than following our wills, emotions, or thoughts.
To put this another way, God did not hide from Adam, but after Adam sinned, he hid from God. Adam was too self conscious to relate to God. If we are to reverse the embarrassment of sin, we need to concentrate on building a consensus to feel God. As we feel God, we will realize that God doesn't condemn us in our embarrassment, He saves us from our guilt.
The sacrament of reconciliation is a good way to get past the embarrassment of sin, because we remember our sins and ask for forgiveness. While we will receive grace with the help of this sacrament, we may not consciously feel the presence of God which is what allows us to build an appetite for God. In other words, the sacrament of reconciliation is a necessary start but not necessarily the finish.
We still need to be able to relate to God by feeling God's presence. Within each of us, there is an extreme minority that still knows God. We feel the presence of God by giving this small part of us our attention. In due time, the appetites of the small minority will ripple through our being and become common knowledge to the masses that make each one of us. The masses still won't have a personal experience of God, but at least we have opened the door of a possible relationship which leads to paradise.
The purpose of the focus is to quiet the competition for the consciousness. We all know we need to be quiet in church, so we can hear the Word of God. When the church is not quiet, there are many conversations about many different things. The few people, who are praying, are probably distracted. The process is no different inside of us. The quiet helps us to pray.
In our culture, we seem determine to let our attention drift. Television, radio, and other electronic sedatives enforce the notion that focus is no fun. Movies and in some cases books also set the theme of undisciplined focus. We do try to concentrate or focus at certain times at work or school, but even at these moments of focus, a part of our body overrides another part. This becomes tiring after several hours, and we relapse into the recreational activities that have no focus.
While suppressing a certain part of ourselves might seem successful in the short term, it is a poor strategy for several reasons. The following reasons are not exhaustive, but they serve to illustrate that suppression is unhealthy.
We can't expect to be at our best when most of our energy is spent on keeping another part of us at bay. The conflict is similar to 50 men rowing a ship. If 24 row the wrong way, it will take another 24 to offset the wrong rowing. The ship is operating at 4% of its capacity. If 8% percent of our work is maintenance, we can expect for everything to become worse with a 4% effort.
It is hard to give God our love when we are uptight and tense. One of the more common phrases from the Old Testament is God complaining that His people are a "stiff necked people." If we have "stiff neck", we are probably tense. Stress and tension come from one part of our body trying to rule another. If every part of the body was doing as it pleased, why would we be tense? On the other hand, happiness is not found by indulging the appetites. Since we can not let our appetites run amok and we can not enforce order, we are left trying to preach (not enforce) the Word of God. In other words, our job is to explain to each appetite in our body how it can have a relationship with God, but we can not demand that our appetites love God because love must be free. When faced with the temptation of ungodly appetites, we tend to work against our free will by demanding compliance which introduces a competition for the consciousness. One part of us screams for one thing and another part is yelling for something else. The thought that reaches the consciousness is the one that has won a yelling match. Of course, this is a very intense environment, and we can not expect God to be screaming to get through which would only make everything worse. To hear the voice of God, we need to turn our appetites to God through persuasion (not by enforcement).
Within a competitive environment, the thought that reaches the consciousness tends to be a hard, driving, and insistent thought. Even when the thought is holy, there is a good chance that the winning thought is too much of a control freak to listen to God. The love of God is a relationship not a discipline. Another word of advice that is repeated a number of times in the Old Testament is, "If today you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts." The goal of the focus is spiritual poverty which has a strong sense of humility in it. To reach spiritual poverty, the ego that is driving the consciousness turns the keys over to a different kind of consciousness where humility and obedience are predominant. These attributes are not love, but they take us to the place where we can be receptive to a relatitionship.
God is more likely to speak to the poor and unfortunate than to the current ruler. God goes to where the need is the greatest. If the thought that presides over the consciousness does not respect the rights of the rest, we will not profit fully from what God said to the least among us.
By respecting the rights of all, the competition for the consciousness will become less. We will begin to draw our intelligence from more varied and diverse sources. Respect decreases the tension of competition and increases the intelligence that comes from cooperation. We gain respect by informing rather than enforcing.
Relationships require two way communication. Besides informing others, we need to listen. We are not likely to know what God has said unless we listen to the poor and unfortunate. Besides receiving this communication, we need to be poised to be inspired by it, lest God speaks to us in vain.
In many ways, we are like Mary and Martha. While Mary was listening to Jesus, Martha was nervous and upset about many things. Martha did not ask Mary what Jesus told her, she only asked Jesus if He would send Mary in to help her. In fact, Martha thought Jesus was less than considerate because He allowed Mary to listen to Him!
It is no better for one part of us to take a superior and ruling position over another part of us inside our body than it is within society. Overriding the will of a certain part of us is a violation of the minority rights. The minority needs to be involved in the works of the majority before the minority can find their own worth and identity.
Contemplation requires spiritual poverty. In spiritual poverty all parts of us are seeking the same thing, God. We can never reach spiritual poverty when we are war with ourselves. Spiritual poverty is achieved by winning the cooperation of all parts. To put this another way, our will is the aggregate of many smaller wills. If these wills are not with us, they are against us. We gain little benefit by resolving the conflict through force. Our best chance is to launch a campaign that is designed to win the will of the masses. Spiritual poverty comes through cooperation rather than conflict.
While it is often masqueraded as something else, the will is intrinsically linked to the predominant appetites. An appetite is a desire or tendency in some part of ourselves. The appetites of one cell have an affect on the appetites of the next cell. The congruence of appetites forms a more public opinion among groups of cells. These opinions work their way into the consciousness. The conscious thoughts then form the will, where the will is similar to public policy. Of course, policy can be opposed, and with our fallen state, the will is never set in stone.
To restate this in a more classical sense, the will is the rational appetite. The will rules the sensitive appetites, but through a sort of political command (as Aquinas puts it). The sensitive appetites are broken into irascible and concupiscible. Thirst, hunger, sex, and other appetites which have a biological component are grouped into concupiscible area. "All the manifestations of the sensitive appetites are called passions. There are six passions for the concupiscible appetites: love and hatred, desire and aversion, joy and sadness; and five for the irascible appetites: hope and despair, courage, fear, and anger (Summa Theol., I-II, Q. xxiii, a. 4)." (from New Advent).
Before the fall of man, these appetites led us to God, but since we have sinned, we can no longer be so certain. All appetites are influenced by habits, and some habits are sinful. It takes a large amount of time (perhaps 40 years) to convert the habits and appetites. While we can't expect immediate results from deep prayer, we can get success by practicing successful strategies. To demonstrate this with a negative example, we need to resist temptation at the first opportunity. We can't enjoy the temptation for as long as possible and hope to turn away from it at the last instant. As Jesus pointed out, the enjoyment of the temptation is a sin by itself.
Sin can only feel good by indulging a sinful appetite. Years of sinful habit by ourselves and our ancestors have twisted the appetites to long for something sinful. To become holy, we must change the habits, but our will power will not be able to do so. Since these appetites are the tendencies of our intelligent recursion, we can't escape them, because we are no more than our parts. Jesus said that for man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.
We begin to correct these bad habits by taking a solemn vow to reject them in our Baptismal vows. In Baptism, God also changes the character of the appetites to be more receptive of the Divine relationship. Baptism gives us a chance, but it is only the beginning.
The Baptismal vow is an attempt of a holy will, but most of the work still lies in front of us. By fully participating in the Church, we gain the graces that will definitely help, but we know from experience that many sinful things still remain within us.
As we begin deep prayer, we need to remember our ongoing struggle. Our will is not strong enough to save us, but it is strong enough to establish a relational strategy with our Saviour. As we have strong experiences within holy relationships (especially Jesus and Mary), we will begin to have the power to change some of our sinful habits which in turn correct our appetites. For sure, the power is from the relationship and not from our will.
When we focus to reach spiritual poverty, these same unholy appetites distract us from our quest. The prayer solution is no different than the stategy we deploy to save our souls. In other words, we strive to reach spiritual poverty by stimulating our relationship with God. We will never reach spiritual poverty through concentration because the will does not have absolute control over the sensitive appetites. Spiritual poverty can only be reached through our relationship with our God. To be more precise, spiritual poverty occurs when our sensitive appetites begin to long for God.
From above (the quote from Aquinas), we know the sensitive appetites are engaged in holy pursuit when we have a passionate prayer time. To put this another way, we know we are beginning to have success when our prayer times become more passionate. We have all experienced something similar to this; when we are the most passionate, we are the least distracted.
Passionate prayer experiences occur when the sensitive appetites voluntarily join the holy will in the quest for spiritual poverty which begs the question of how we encourage the sensitive appetites to volunteer. We don't want to be too quick to assume that we appeal to the sensitive appetites through the senses, because sensitive appetites are a feature of the soul. On the other hand, the soul is not divorced from the senses. Our key is that the sensitive appetites longed for God before the fall and still primarily belong to their intended function. This is why music, nature, and other sublime experiences often take our minds to the spiritual realm. With the exception of diabolical influences, humans are universally attracted to certain sensual experiences that relate to one attribute of God or another, and even in diabolical cases, the original intent seeks a divine attribute. With these things in mind, we know that we can petition the sensitive appetites with practical techniques and supernatural practices. The practical techniques are the subject of the focus, and the supernatural practices will be left to the section dedicated to virtue.
How to Focus:
"Give me your undivided attention." How many times have we heard that? Unless God is speaking, however, it is actually impossible because the sensitive appetites only have a common (but not exclusive) longing for God. Of course in our prayer time, an undivided longing for God is possible, and we call it, "spiritual poverty." In this section, we cover techniques that we can use to persuade our sensitive appetites to participate with our holy wills as we pursue spiritual poverty.
The "Beginning Tactics" are not necessarily things that we graduate from; they are practices that don't require any experience.
Meditation is a very large category that involves a number of different things such as personality, simplicity, timing, and history. While this list is not exhaustive, it does give us some objectives to work with with.
Personality: As we pursue spiritual poverty, we will want to find meditations that work for us. The Church has a rich history of meditations that include the Bible, Rosary, Eucharist, icons, and many more specific meditations such as inner healing, saintly devotions, spiritual exercises, and the Jesus prayer. We want to keep sampling different meditations until we find one that works for us. The more that we find to our liking the better our chances are. The meditations can be mixed together, and we can invent our own. Picking a meditation is similar to buying a pair of shoes; we need to find what we like and then own it. As we practice our meditation, it should become a part of us.
Simplicity: As we progress in prayer, the meditation will necessarily need to become more simple. We want to be still like Mary and not distracted like Martha. Nearly all meditations can be simplified. For example, if the rosary is our meditation, we would gradually work towards meditating on one mystery per day. If we read the Bible for a meditation, we can gradually work toward meditating on a single sentence. While this might seem rather boring if we are beginning, we need to keep in mind that the passion does not come from the content. It comes from the relationship with God. As our appetites become familiar with God's presence, we won't want all the distractions that remind us of God, but we will want some simple meditation even after we are in spiritual poverty.
Timing: We are all one body. We feel what other people feel, and it is very important to pray to the same feeling as the rest of the Church. In other words, the meditation should fit well into the calendar of the larger Church. For example, if our meditation involves the mysteries of the Rosary, we wouldn't want to do a Nativity meditation on Good Friday. In fact, we would want to spend some time to make sure our meditation is in harmony with the rest of the Church on any given day.
History: Our meditation is a tool that we use to relate to God. We want our relationship to grow each day, and our meditation should reflect this growing relationship. In her perfect state, Mary was a master of relationships, if there ever was one. She reflected on past events that were important to her relationship with Jesus. As she grew in her understanding, she began to know Jesus in a deeper way. We can follow Mary's example by remembering our past meditative experiences to add to our experiences each day.
As we begin the spiritual journey some meditations are nearly universal. The following two categories are very common, and they make popular retreat topics.
Asset Privation: Jesus covers this theme in the "Pearl of Great Price" parable (Matthew 13:45), but let's add an analogy. The theme involves surrending all that we have. In our material state, we are like living in a diseased oasis. We are not dead, but we are not thriving, either. To become healthy, we have to leave the oasis, and head for verdant mountains. We have accumulated emotional baggage at the oasis, and to make it across the desert to the mountain of the Lord, we are going to have to leave it behind us. The following two meditations speak to this analogy, but of course, we could find many other themes.
Sanity: This is clearly a "let go let God" meditation. Many times we verbally commit to God, but within our emotions, we set conditions that makes our oaths little more than formalities. When things don't go our way, we complain that God has deserted us. In reality, we have some sinful appetites, and we can't expect to feel good all the time. We are not in the Garden of Eden anymore. As we develop a personal relationship with Jesus, we often (perhaps usually) ask ourselves if we would give up everything for God, and we can be sure that we are being prompted by the Holy Spirit. We usually start with material possessions and work our way towards health issues. For many of us, one of the last things we want to offer up is our sanity. God wants friends who are going to "stick tight" and keep the Faith. We should consider this meditation a covenant with God.
Family: If we want to give up everything for God, we will also have to give up our family. This does not mean that Jesus wants us to abandon those who depend on us, but it does mean that our foundation needs to be built on our relationship with God. Familial relationships are God's way of creating and nurturing life, but God needs to be our central relationship (not our family). The strongest relationships are those based in agape; and no relationship is based in agape, unless it is based in God. As Saint John puts it, "God is agape." A relationship, that is based in agape, can never be lost, and therefore, God is not in a relationship that fear causes us to cling to.
Inner Healing: During the early phases of deep prayer, we almost always go through an inner healing process. Since we have many good books that cover inner healing, we don't need to spend much time on it here, but we do want to emphasize the affect of inner healing on the spiritual journey. Jesus said that, before we approach God, we need to be at peace with others. It is unrealistic for us to expect to be a channel of God's love when we have these outstanding issues with other people or within ourselves. Inner healing shows us how to get past these impasses.
Childhood: If our early years were less than perfect, we will probably need to drop some of the baggage that we are still carrying from that period. We can get so used to carrying it that we can forget we have it or remember why have it. It is possible or even likely that we don't remember issues from our childhood, although they may be nearly dictating the way we live today. For example, some emotional trauma that we suffered during birth could be causing severe headaches on a daily basis, and after we deal with this trauma, the headaches disappear. We can go through inner healing with other people, but deep prayer will certainly cause these issues to surface. How we deal with these issues is well covered in other books, but the fundamental is to go through the experience with either Jesus or Mary. We feel their presence while we relive the problem. We know we have some problems if we experience fears or agitation as we try to meditate. If we want to drop the baggage, we will have to face the problem.
Family: As we grow closer to others we become more vulnerable to them, and in most cases, the members of our family can hurt us the most. For these reasons we often need healing in our family relationships. All of our problems have the same solution. We revisit some of the more disturbing events, and feel the agape of Jesus or Mary as we relive the times that trouble us. Since we have often spent a large amount of time with our family, we can probably expect that the inner healing will take regular sessions over several months. The time it takes is well spent, because the process is a very liberating experience which will make our family relationships stronger and healthier.
Enemies: Of course, God forbids us to have enemies, but we are likely to suffer from resentment, anger, and other types of emotional distress which are the sequel to social conflict. We can be sure that this emotional baggage will be too heavy for us to carry on the spiritual journey. Inner healing helps us to past these issues, but it might be helpful to put a different twist on it by sorting through the reasons that we dislike our enemy. If the bad feelings come from an injury, then the normal presence of Jesus or Mary at the time of the injury will be good. In other words, the same exercised we used in other areas. In many cases, the dislike comes from real or perceived personality flaws in the other people or in ourselves. For example, we might dislike the person because they are fat, lazy, or (God bless us) all of the above. On the other hand, we might have the problems and dislike someone else because they don't suffer from them. In either case, we should not give up hope. We should pray for person who has the problems. If we pray with confidence, we will feel like we are in control of the situation and helping someone. These feelings indicate that we are on the road to recovery.
At the beginning of the spiritual journey resident demons will sometimes protest in a vehement way which makes the focus all but impossible. For our momentary purposes, let's break the possession into two catergories of lower and upper possession. For the most part, if we have a personal relationship with the demon, it is an upper level demon. When we have lower level demons, we seem to have a bad side; but we are not sure why it happens. If we have upper level demons, we are unlikely to attempt the spiritual journey. We would need to find a very good exorcist to get rid of upper level demons. The possession of the lower levels, which includes the occult, can be cast out by most priests by using the triple rites of exorcism. If we seemed to have been possessed from birth, we will need to be unconscious during the exorcism. We are often tempted to play the exorcism card too fast. Those of us who don't need exorcism are usually the ones who seek it. If we need exorcism, it is likely that we would be able to explain how we came into possession. If we practice sin (e.g., sexual prostitutes, drug dealer) on a regular basis or the occult even experimentally, we would have a good chance of being possessed. In terms of the spiritual journey, we won't get very far while we are possessed.
Consistency: Page 3
Focus: Page 2
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