CHRISTIAN PRAYER AND
Newsletter No. 11 June 1998
SPECIAL RENEWAL AND WEB SITE EDITION
WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN PRAYER AND CONTEMPLATION FORUM?
It is a network of people seriously interested in the Christian life of prayer and contemplation who share their questions, insights and experiences to help each other. This is a special renewal and web site edition of the Forum. The Forum is now online at our new web site. This issue will introduce you to some of the many features to be found on this web site, and it also asks to renew your subscription to the Forum.
THE PRINTED FORUM NEWSLETTER
We will continue to publish a free printed version of the Forum Newsletter, but you must renew your subscription in order to keep on receiving it even if you have only just begun receiving the newsletter. Fill out the form on the last page.
THE FORUM ONLINE
All the back issues of the Forum are now online. You can receive an e-mail notice when the new issue is published. Fill out the form on the back page.
FORUM MEMBERSHIP DIRECTORY
We will be updating the current Forum Membership Directory. If you want to be included, please indicate it on the form on the last page, and include your interests, if you want to. Also indicate whether you want to be listed only in the print version of the Directory, or in an online version if we create one.
The first part of the printed version of this Forum newsletter deals with this web site, and is not included here.
A Healing Ministry Nancy Lane
In 1984 I was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I happen to live with a disability so was asked to establish a ministry about disability. This ministry was designed to educate churches to be welcoming and inclusive communities of people with disabilities. In order to address negative and stereotypical attitudes, I attempted to speak to the universality of limitation, suffering, and difference. As I traveled around the country I discovered enormous suffering in people with and without disabilities. Much of this suffering was caused by people who wanted them to be "cured" and when they were not, had been pronounced as evil, possessed, sinful, or lacking faith.
These were issues that I had encountered too often. I had wrestled with these issues and their attendant questions in prayer, therapy and throughout my theological and psychological studies. I had learned long ago that healing of my disability (cerebral palsy) was not what I needed or even wanted. Rather, I often needed healing from the negative attitudes and responses of others and, like most of us, needed healing from the hurts that life may bring to any of us. My life experiences, academic studies, theological training, and long years of spiritual direction had also convinced me that healing was a process of transformation and required attention and discernment of one's spiritual journey to God. My research in the study of healing, suffering, psychology, and theology also reinforced my understanding of the Church's original purpose for confession, reconciliation and anointing in the healing ministry. Each has a role in allowing us to let go of pain, grief, and anger that destroys body and soul. I felt more and more called to a ministry of healing which incorporated all these aspects.
While studying in England in 1991 I read about several Christian Healing Centres (Church of England). These Centres were concerned with healing of the whole person - body, mind and spirit. I visited twelve Centres in order to learn how spirituality, theology and psychology were integrated for use in the healing process. The work being done in these Centres is extraordinary and is based on the use of the sacraments: communion, confession, absolution, laying-on-of hands, and anointing. Healing work also includes psychotherapy, spiritual direction, and other complementary therapies. However, they have found after fifty years of work that without confession the majority of people do not heal.
My goal is to found a Christian Healing Center with others who are committed to a life of prayer, transformation and healing. In the meantime, I have established A Ministry of Healing which currently provides two services: 1) therapy and 2) lectures, workshops and retreats.
1) Our ministry provides counseling to clients using Jungian psychology, sacred psychology and prayer therapy. Sacred psychology enables one to look at the wounds, betrayals, and "deep holes" of life and learn how to turn them into holy places of strength. We offer Spiritual Direction, healing prayer, anointing, and laying on of hands for those who request it. Our services are directed toward those who are seeking healing of body, mind and spirit and integration.
2) We offer three workshops on healing and a retreat for people living with disability. Our workshops use psychology (understanding the power of the mind, the effects of consciousness and unconsciousness), theology (how we understand God at work in our lives), and spirituality (how we are connected to God and Self) to understand how healing is meant to transform our lives.
Our workshops on Spirituality and Healing and Explorations in the Healing of Addictions explore the relationship between our spiritual health and faith in God and our physical and psychological well-being. This holistic approach reflects Jesus' ministry of healing, which was always concerned with the whole person and their transformation.The workshop on The Christian Healing Ministry in the Church is designed for people wanting to learn more about the healing ministry, churches wanting to start a healing ministry, or churches already involved in a healing ministry who want further training.
A Retreat on Disability and A Spirituality of Healing: This retreat focuses on the theological and psycho-spiritual aspects of living with disability, as opposed to suffering from disability. Using a format of talks, discussion, story-telling, and worship, we explore the dimensions of the psycho-spiritual journey when living with a disability. These include: the cycle of grief and depression in disability; expressing anger at God, self and others; the meaning of suffering and healing in the spiritual journey, including the suffering of God; understanding the connection between sexuality and spirituality and what it means to be embodied; finding God's strength in weakness; how transformation leads to healing and wholeness. We look at how healing integrates disability into the totality of our life. Each day includes a rhythm of prayer, meditation and guided visualizations.Anyone interested in an outline of our workshops may go to: A Healing Ministry, Website: http://ahealingministry.com/ E-mail: email@example.com
In Search of Lay Monasticism
I am a spiritual seeker with a Catholic Christian heritage, someone who still strongly embraces that heritage (while questioning some of its accretions and sclerosis). As part of the journey of seeking spiritual growth within that heritage, I was led to the life story and works of Thomas Merton. The Merton legacy, in turn, referred me to the monastic charism, and to its institutional manifestations within the Church especially the Benedictine and Cistercian traditions. I do not feel called to join one of these orders; discernment tells me that my vocation is amidst the laity. And yet I remain drawn to their monasteries, to their rituals, their history, their ways of life, and their ways of prayer (but again, as with Merton, not unquestioningly). While on retreat within their grounds, I feel a sense of hopefulness, a sense of connection, a sense of contemplation. In my daily life, I try to bring the substance of their Rule and their way of "conversatio" into my own surroundings. I am in touch with several "real monks" who sympathize and support my position. However, Id like to share thoughts and experiences with others who might consider themselves to be "lay monastics." After reading Sinetars Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics, I know that other people like me are out there. But where? Jim Gerofsky, 211 Lorraine Ave., Montclair, NJ 07043.
Mysticism, True or False?
In the early 70s I experimented with LSD and mescaline and with drug induced mysticism. These mystical experiences in many ways fit the Buddhist description in that I experienced myself and the universe to be one, there was the self-validating "Aha, now I've experienced enlightenment" reaction within me, and my experiences clearly reflected that of pantheistic mysticism. For example, when a friend asked me during one of these mystical experiences, "Who are you, Bob? " I answered, "I'm that book over there on that bookshelf'. He asked me again and I answered, "I'm that ash falling from your cigarette", and that was my experience at that time!
Something else was my experience at the time also. These experiences seemed so real that I gave up my belief in a personal God and became totally lost. Later, when I was confronted with someone who deeply believed in God I looked at her and said, "God is purely symbolic, isn't He."
Several years ago I read a book by Tal Brooke titled Lord of the Air in which Tal went to India to seek enlightenment and studied under Sai Baba, who claimed to be an avatar. Tal reported having numerous spiritual experiences, and reported on Sai Baba's spiritual powers, but later learned that Sai was sexually abusing his male disciples. Clearly something was wrong here. He also described the empty look in the eyes of many who were sincerely seeking enlightenment, but who failed to find the love of God in the process. I experienced that same spiritual emptiness and loneliness once when I was visiting a Zen monastery in California, trying to find enlightenment, but in my pride thought I could attain truth without openness to God.
From my experiences and reading I conclude that it is possible to have false mystical "enlightenments" which seem real, but can inflate our pride to make us think that we can attain Truth apart from God. These experiences can leave us more desolate and separated and lost from God, than before we began.
In interreligious dialog it is clear from a Vatican II statement on non-Christian religions that we are to respect and reverence whatever is good in other faiths and their spiritual wisdom. It is also true that God is sovereign and can infuse deep experiences of Himself even into folks whose doctrines and faith we may sincerely disagree with. Still, as Christians, I believe that in our efforts to be charitable in East-West dialog, we have failed to consider the possibility that a false and deluded "mysticism" may exist and can lead people astray as it did in my case.
The Catholic Church, of which I am a part, seriously studies reports of apparitions, visions and locutions to see if they be "Worthy of Belief" and to prevent false teachings from infecting the church. These kinds of phenomena are easier to examine than wordless mysticism in that there are messages reportedly given, and visions seen, the reports of which can be scrutinized for their content. Still, the results of mystical experiences can be evaluated, as: Does the person's practice seem to be leading them to greater humility, love for others and openness to God, or are they becoming more prideful, isolated from God and others, etc? Clearly, in view of many "new age" teachings being presented in our cultures today the need for more careful discernment of spiritual experiences should be evident.
The conclusion to my story: After returning to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Catholic Charismatic renewal, and several years of rediscovery and deepening of my Christian life, I was introduced to Christian Centering Prayer and have maintained contact with the Contemplative Outreach when time permits.
Robert Gravlin, 537 Rancho Lane, Florissant, MO 63031, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
1998 Seminar on Carmelite Spirituality. Celebrating the New Millennium: Carmel Faces the Future. June 21-27, 1998 at Center for Spirituality, Saint Marys College, Notre Dame, IN 46556-5001, tel. 219-284-4636. Fax: 219-284-4716.
Cistercian Studies Quarterly, founded in 1966, contains articles which combine historical and critical studies with contemporary writings on spirituality. The journal is dedicated to maintaining dialogue on such subjects as Western and Eastern monastic spirituality, contemplative lifestyles, ecumenism, issues concerning peace and justice and pastoral issues dealing with the many facets of religious and lay commitment to Christ. Cistercian Studies Quarterly, HC 1 Box 929, Sonoita, AZ 85637.
The Empty Bell is a sanctuary for the study and practice of Christian meditation and prayer. Its purpose is to learn the history and practice of the Christian contemplative path as rooted in the Gospels, and to explore its common ground with other ancient Wisdom teachings. It gives special attention to the Christian-Buddhist dialogue, and to artistic expression of spiritual insight.
The Empty Bell, c/o Robert A. Jonas, 105 Garfield St., Watertown, MA 02172. Tel. 617-924-3497. Fax: 617-924-1934. E-mail: RbtJonas@aol.com.
The Editors Corner
For those of you who are wondering whether you somehow dropped off the mailing list for the Forum when this issue was so long in coming, the answer is, you didnt. We were away from the forest, holed up in southern California in the mountains, east of San Diego, and almost on top of the Mexican border, spending the lions share of our time creating the web site that is announced in this issue. Since we had no experience with computers, the learning curve was steep, and for a while it felt like the only people we talked to were tech reps trying to sort out our computer woes. The result, however, we think you will enjoy. By this time we have stopped trying to predict when and how often the Forum will appear each year. Lets just say that it is still alive and well, and is looking forward to hearing from you.
Jim and Tyra Arraj