The Basics Of Deep Prayer
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This book is not about laws. I am not a lawyer.
This book is not about psychology. I am not a psychiatrist.
This book in not about science. I am not a scientist.
If you have noticed that the categories of denial are in alphabetical order, you have probably guessed that I am an engineer.
Why would an engineer write a "how to" book about contemplative prayer? Contemplative prayer is not only for those in a cloistered monastery. It is for everyone. In the past, monks were more successful at contemplation because they had fewer distractions, but there have been many contemplatives who had active ministries in busy places.
An engineer designs solutions to problems. In this problem, people wonder what God wants them to do. The only solution to this problem is to build a relationship with God through prayer and ministry. In recorded history, many people have succeeded in this. Their examples have some common threads which is the subject of this book.
The following method is not a hypothesis, theory, or opinion. Everything obeys a basic set of laws. When the witness of every Saint has a certain ingredient, then that principle is required. As such, the book doesn't detail a rigid recipe. The basics are guidelines can be incorporated into many different systems.
While I discovered these laws, I didn't invent them. In fact, most of them were known in medieval times. Many people have written a great amount about them, but no has ever distilled them into a set of basics.
Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross specifically address the basics of consistency and focus, and their teachings are among the most read in the area of contemplative prayer.
Saint Catherine of Sienna and Saint John of the Cross analogously allude to the role of love in deep prayer, but Faith and Hope have to actively support each other in a spiral engagement to facilitate love. Pope John Paul II wrote on this in his commentary of John of the Cross, and John of the Cross implies it. Saint Thomas of Aquinas directly states it but in a general way that does not mention meditation. When the practitioners (people trying to put this in practice) write on their experiences, however, it is difficult to find a practical determination that attempts to insert this critical objective into the prayer routine. We have the idea, intent, and rhetoric, but we lack the execution.
In the teaching of Saint John Vianney, we can find some excellent ideas on developing constancy, and Dominican and Franciscan spiritualities definitely develop the duality between vocation and prayer at a more advanced level.
Centering prayer, which has been primarily developed by the Cistercians in a more modern development, is good at focus.
Then, of course, the Church, itself, has a rigorous system of saving souls which seems to be more defensive than offensive. This is necessary because, as Aquinas says, people usually approach God through fear.
Of course, this list is only a small sampling of the resources available. With the exeception of Saint John of the Cross, there is not much of an attempt to tie it all together. This probably happens because the subject seems hopelessly broad.
As it works out, the system of requirements is very short. To be exact, four things are required to have great prayer times and a deep relationship with God. These requirements won't be easy to incorporate into our daily life, but at least we will know the shortest path to take.
These basics were developed through three primary avenues: practical experience (i.e, trying it out), systematic philosophy, and spiritual masters which included, among a number of others, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Therese of Lisieux, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Dominic, Saint Benedict, Saint Paul, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Saint John Bosco, Saint Colette, Saint Clare, Saint Joseph of Cupertino, Saint Martin de Porres, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Joan of Arc, and last but certainly not least Jesus and Mary.
The principle employment of philosophy was to determine why certain things were needed. For example, the ancient Greeks proved that larger things are made of smaller things, and the smaller things are made of still smaller things. This cycle continues indefinitely, and there is no smallest thing. The same is true as we go into larger and larger things. Aquinas added a significant corollary to this by demonstrating that the smaller parts were as intelligent as the larger parts that they made. From this, he draws the axiom that the smaller parts know the truth before the larger parts. In other words, everything is learned from the inside out. The truth may come from an external source, but it will not be understood by the larger part until the smaller parts understand it, first.
Our prayer methodology should be designed to address our composition. The Greatest Commandment does speak to this, and we use this as a springboard into this area. As Aquinas points out, the soul is the coordinating element. When the soul is properly disposed, a momentum can be built to build simultaneous prayers occurring in multiple or all parts of the body. While this might seem like a stretch to those who are not familiar with deep prayer, praying with the whole body at once is often given as a definition of contemplative prayer.
In the systematic philosophy of Aquinas or Aristotle, the difference between a living being and an inanimate object is whether it has a soul. Aquinas lists three different kinds of souls: vegetative, sensitive, and rational.
As the names imply, a plant would have a vegetative soul, an animal would have a sensitive soul, and a human would have a rational soul. The Council of Vienne of 1311 defined as an article of Faith that the rational soul is one with the vegetative and sensitive souls and is the form of the human body.
Aquinas is sometimes misunderstood because somehow people got the idea that a person had to be rational to have a rational soul which is clearly not the case. In other words, some modern philosophers assign the notion of soul evolution to Aquinas. In this theory, the soul is vegetative at conception, then evolves to sensitive, then to rational. This concept is given to Aquinas, but Aquinas never said it. On the other hand, Aquinas did say the opposite, over and over again.
As an example, consider the following quote from Aquinas.
"Since the powers of the soul are natural properties following upon the species, the soul cannot be without them. Yet, granted that it was without them, the soul would still be called intellectual or rational in its species, not that it would actually have these powers, but on account of the essence of such a species, from which these powers naturally flow."
In other words, while it is true that the rational act distinguishes a man from an animal, the essence of the soul is what makes a soul human not its rational act.
If this is not enough, Aquinas speaks to this subject many other times, but we will choose two, the final Judgement and original sin.
Since it happened first, let's start with original sin. Aquinas maintained (as did the early Fathers of the Church) that the soul gains it original sin from its father. As Aquinas points out, the semen would need to contain original sin, but only a rational soul can have original sin. The semen of men, according to Aquinas, then carries the nature of a human soul. The point is that by Aquinas not only the fetus but also the semen carries human nature. In other words, Aquinas proved that humans were always human which includes everything before, after, and the offspring of the sexual act. If there is still misunderstanding, Aquinas taught that the humans were always human. The semen was human even though it was no longer in the man, and before it fertilized the egg. At the instant of fertilization it was human, and the human was human from instant of fertilization until eternity. Aquinas doesn't directly state this, but you can use his principles to show that the semen which does not fertilize the egg, will die and go on to eternal life. As science has developed, we can see that the principles that were proved by Aquinas are a guiding light to understand molecular biology (but also any other subject). In other words, any part of a human will have human DNA.
This leaves us with the final Judgment. For the uninitiated, our souls are judged individually when we die, but our bodies are not judged until the end of the world. While we might not believe this, these concepts are articles of the Faith. Of course, Aquinas believed them. The concept of DNA was not around in the time of Aquinas, but Aquinas still proved that our smallest parts mix with others smallest parts all the time (which has been empirically verified in our age). Since our bodies are all mixed together, it is impossible to judge the bodies until the final judgment when mortal life has ceased. In this passage, Aquinas proves that DNA (and the parts of the parts of the parts ad infinitum) are humans with rational souls. For mere animals are not judged.
From these passages (and many others) it is clear that Aquinas would consider abortion murder. He would also consider birth control a serious sin because it is a chemical attack on human cells. Both of these practices are violent and will sew the seeds of violence in a larger setting.
As we have shown, Aquinas demonstrated the smaller parts had souls, and together, these souls create the soul of the larger parts. The confusion occurs in terms of time. It takes time for the smaller parts to organize, cooperate, and form a larger part. As Aquinas points out, they are still human even when they are not organized. When the organization does occur, it is so profound that it seems miraculous. Since miracles come from God, we could say that the organization is as if God infused an aggregate soul into the smaller parts. While the smaller parts were human (i.e, rational soul and human body) before the organization, the aggregate part gains its soul at some point before the organization occurred. No soul comes from Heaven to assume the aggregate soul, the organizational intelligence of the smaller parts comes from the aggregate soul. The organizational intelligence is in the nature of the smallest parts, and the natural intuition of the smaller parts is inspired by God. It is incorrect to say that the organizational intelligence is the soul. The organization flows as from an inspiration from God. For example, in the early Church, Jesus named Peter as the first pope. It shows that the initial organization is divinely inspired. The initial intuition is divinely inspired, but the ongoing organizational intelligence is not necessarily divinely inspired as in a supernatural fashion.
We don't say that the Church received its soul when Jesus selected Peter, but the Church did receive its soul within the womb of Mary. Neither Peter, Paul, nor the rest of us received our soul at this point, but our soul finds either life or anguish based on our relationship to the soul of the Church. We become the Body of Christ if our souls are in a covenanted relationship with soul of the Church.
The point to this is that the Church has a soul, but we do not say that the Church received its aggregate soul all at once. The soul of the Church develops and forms through divine inspiration and human cooperation.
As the Church develops, its powers as the Body of Christ grow, and these powers are demonstrated by the organizational qualities of the Church. When Aquinas say that it seems as if the soul is infused, he is saying that the organizational qualities have reached a point that the powers of the soul are demonstrated.
For without organization, there can not be rational thought which is the definitive power of the human soul. In other words, the organization is caused by the soul and is divinely inspired.
Aquinas also shows that within a fetus, this organization occurs before birth. In a broader statement, the organization occurs before a change in phases (where a new phase represents an entirely new kind of life), because the soul drives the phase change.
In terms of salvation history, Adam is the conception. We suffered a problem with the fall, but Jesus accomplished more than redemption. In the Divine Incarnation we see a new Eucharistic movement towards cooperation that allows the organization needed for the phase change. If we scale this, Jesus, among other things, is the infusion of the soul into the human race. Jesus established an organized movement (read the Church), but we can not say that the Church has grown to the critical mass needed for a phase change. We can, however, expect this to occur soon.
The naive might think that the Church is only one organization among many and the Church certainly is not a model of organization, but the Church is the only organization that attempts to bring about the phase change. While this might seem ridiculous to those who do not follow the logic, the Church does strive for a happy ending to salvation history.
Let's go back to the fundamentals. Every organization has a goal. For most corporations, the goal is to create wealth for the investors. The goal of most governments is to protect its citizens and provide other services. Most religions strive for inner peace and external righteousness, but the Church strives to become the "Body of Christ" which is more than a cute motto of some fraternal order.
By divine inspiration, the Church uses a spiraling strategy that seems to be bringing about massive change. Most of us see the Church as some organization that promises, through the Cross and Resurrection, eternal happiness or we see and organization that makes extravagant claims of happiness to raise money, but Jesus made the Resurrection more of a beginning than the end. Jesus feeds His Body to the Eucharistic community which opens channels of grace within the communicant. Empowered by the "Bread of Life" the communicant can elect to be a part of the "Body of Christ". In other words, the communicant can cooperate with God's plan to create an entirely different world. In this new world, we would no longer be disparate individuals who work for diverse causes, rather we would act as one body that is carrying out a greater mission.
The strategy starts with Jesus who feeds us with His own body. By responding to the new life within us, we build the Church, but we have to change before we can change the Church. The change needs to come from within, or it will not last.
While we might not be able to see the glory of Christ in world events, we can see the change. Every organization builds through a process of individuation and integration. The individuation is required for each part to understand what it is supposed to do. The power of an organization come from the initiative of the lowest levels. If the smaller parts are confused, they can not work with a directed energy. An organization also needs the lower level initiatives to complement each other, lest at best, the initiatives inefficiently repeat each others actions or at worst compete against each other to the detriment of all. In our day, the waves of innovation are an unmistakable sign of individuation. While effective integration has been spotty, once the process is known, the progress will be rapid.
The process takes time. From our perspective, we may not be able to see the forest for the trees, but let's not forget the system that is empowering the change. We can participate in the solution by setting time aside for deep prayer. It takes time for the process of deep prayer to occur within us, and it takes time for us to demonstrate the process to others.
Neither the Church on a global level nor the soul on an inner level dictate change. Both have to built from within to bring us to a happy ending. The development of the human race is determined by the execution of the Church, and within our own life, we will only be as successful as our souls. In others words, if our souls our lost, then we our lost. On a larger scale, the same can be said for the Church and the world.
The Church knows that regular worship is required, but do we heed the requirement? Our soul speaks to us as well, but can we hear it? The goal of deep prayer is to develop the soul into a working relationship with God and the Church. We will need regular worship to build the required relationship.
The soul defines a large part of what we are, so how can the soul not be in full control? The soul does rule the body as a dictator, but their are different powers of the soul. For example, reason which is a power of the soul is the ruler (if we can be considered rational) of the irascible and concupiscible powers, but the rule is more by a political command then an absolute order.
When a novice tries to be holy, there is often an attempt to make reason the dictator over the other powers of the soul which violates their free will. Holy progress must be made through evangelization and relationships. As Saint Augustine put it, God is approached by: "not by steps of the body but by the affections of the soul." The word, "affections", indicates that the various parts of the soul must be won from within (not ruled from without).
If we want to win the race that Saint Paul refers to, we must do more than bury our soul in a hole for safekeeping as the man in the parable did. The soul is increased by exercising virtue. There are three kinds of virtue: theological, intellectual, and moral. To quote Saint Thomas of Aquinas, "Accordingly for a man to do a good deed, it is requisite not only that his reason be well disposed by means of a habit of intellectual virtue; but also that his appetite be well disposed by means of a habit of moral virtue." As Aquinas expands this thought, he shows that a deed is worth nothing without virtue and refers to the passage from Saint Paul that nothing is accomplished unless he has love. From these concepts, we can conclude that deep prayer must be more than sitting still and listening. Deep prayer needs to build habits of virtue.
Let's look at this from an elementary and practical view. When we begin to pray, our thoughts often drift. Aquinas say this is from a weak soul. By focusing our thoughts during prayer we gain a habit of intellectual virtue. As this habit strengthens our soul, our concentration gets better which allows us to pray deeper. The concentration has merit if we do it to increase our love for God, or as Saint Gregory puts it, "contemplative life has greater merit than the active life."
Shakespeare was wrong. The question is not, "to be or not to be," because we are a being. We need to decide whether we are going to join the problem or participate in the solution. Without deep prayer, most of what we do will be remembered as vanity. To be a part of the solution, we must recognize and join the Eucharistic movement, and we must strive to strengthen our soul. The Eucharist feeds the soul, and deep prayer strengthens the soul.
While deep prayer builds habits of virtue, virtue deepens the prayer experience.
This book is a set of guidelines that will maximize the experience and minimize the path to deep prayer. Deep prayer is the development of a relationship, and since each personality is unique, there is no one exact technique that fits everyone. On the other hand, we all need to follow the same set of principles, because we are not that different from each other. The pages of the book do contain some exact techniques to give examples of how the guidelines can be followed, but the book strives to build a clear demarcation of what needs to be followed and what can be changed.
God's ways are not our ways, and as we develop a relationship with God, our journey is usually filled with surprises. For example, Peter thought Jesus would reclaim the glory of Israel, but instead it seemed as if Jesus intended to die a humiliating death.
This book can't prepare you for the devastating and painful personal losses your journey is likely to have. If you continue to believe, hope, and surrender in the Lord, you will one day see how necessary these losses were. The book can't exhaustively anticipate all the things that might happen, but it does try to give some examples of what has happened to others. In prayer and relationships, the lasting convenants are the most fruitful.
The basics of deep prayer come with a certain assurance of accuracy that those outside of engineering may not be familiar with. In science there are theories, hypotheses, and observations that leave room for interpretation and opinion. It takes a long time to discover a scientific fact and the context and extent of its function.
This book is not a scientific exposition, it is an engineering design. A competent engineer limits the scope and use of the design. The book is not a map of the spiritual journey; it is a vehicle that expedites our progress.
In engineering there are "open loop" and "closed loop" systems. We have an open loop when we do something without checking for the results. For example, if an officer issues an order but doesn't check to see if it is carried out, the order is an open loop command. If the officer checks to see whether the order or a series of orders have been carried out, we call this a closed loop command. In a similar way, a closed loop system samples the outcome and feeds it back to the beginning of the system which creates more stability in the system.
Throughout history, every effort has been made to make systematic philosophy a closed loop system. In other words, all parts of if fit together and form a "seamless garment". Every part can be used to explain and prove every other part. Euclidean geometry, Newtonian physics, and other methods also build systems using these techniques. Closed loop systems in science, mathematics, and philosophy reveal a higher truth with greater accuracy. Systematic philosophy give the skilled philosopher the confidence to explore the fundamentals of life. In this book we stand on these basic truths to demonstrate what is needed by deep prayer.
The basics of deep prayer that are presented in this book are accurate and exhaustive if enough latitude is given to constancy. Deep prayer is a time that we set aside for God, but we need to live our relationship through the rest of day. The time outside of deep prayer contains some specifics and many generalities, and it will impact the deep prayer experience. In fact, deep prayer must be lived outside the prayer time, if the prayer is to be considered authentic. The directives about how we should live the prayer experience, should come from several sources which include the prayer experience itself.
This book can never be the final word because the personal adaptation of the basics is critical. In other words, the book either succeeds or fails on a personal level. It makes no difference whether the book is accurate, if the accuracy is never implemented.
Many of us implement 1 or 2 of the basics, but there is a world of difference between a partial implementation and full immersion. As Saint John of the Cross points out, there is always a shortest distance between two points. By taking the shortest route, you can more quickly find the things you long for. When the basics are not followed, the ensuing spiritual journey is much longer and tortuous. By following the basics, we can reach places in days that often take years of unstructured wandering.
Many of us will feel some benefits of prayer from the beginning, but it is likely that these feelings will be erratic for some period of time. Deep prayer is likely to bring radical changes to our lives, and we will be tested in many ways. We need to decide if we are going to live for God or for ourselves, and we need to make an unwavering commitment to our relationship with God. While the cost can seem far too high, it is inconsequential compared to the reward.
To begin with, most of us our challenged to find enough time to pray. The prayer technique as proposed in this book requires a daily effort that will take at least 35 minutes but no more than 120 minutes of the day. One minute is better than no minutes, but any realistic plan will schedule a significant amount of time.
The overwhelming reason that people don't pray is that they can't find or take the time to do so, but by not praying, our whole life will be less than one percent of what it would be if we allowed God's inspiration to fill us. In other words, we our wasting nearly our whole life by not praying. This should be easy to see as you read through the book.
Then there is personal change which can be so overwhelming that it could be described as the vicissitudes of life, and it is common for people to get mad at God for allowing it. If we didn't need to change, we wouldn't need to pray.
We are all called to live and experience a deep relationship with God. This is why we admire beauty, strength, intelligence, compassion and the other attributes of God. For we are made in God's image, and in Truth we won't be happy until we are satisfied by God.
Too many people only experience God's attributes through nature, music, or some other indirect reflection of His majesty.
In this work, we want to show how to experience God directly. This direct relationship is not the same as being born again or Baptized in the Holy Spirit, but these events are a part of the direct experience.
Only four things are required to follow these basics. Once they are understood, the implementation of them is short and simple.
The proposed prayer techniques are meant to embellish our current and ongoing prayer techniques. They are meant to show us how to go further with our current technique, and provided that our current techniques are not patently weird and are meant to be meditative, they should be used in addition to the basics that are set forth in this book. It is important to build upon what we have already started; so we don't have to start over which is very difficult and wasteful.
The basics of deep prayer are necessary to establish deep prayer. If we are going to allow God to develop our lives, they must be followed. These basics should be seen as good proven practices that allow our being to cooperate with God.
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