|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.
Table of Contents:
Questionnaire Responses: Two Responses to the Prayer Questionnaire Printed in the Last
1. What kind of prayer or meditation do you practice?
A. What do you do? Contemplative prayer using the Jesus
Prayer mantra ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a
sinner", or just "Lord Jesus"). Sometimes I turn this into a blessing
mantra ("Lord Jesus, bless [name]"). I carry the mantra around with me
throughout the day (pray without ceasing); sometimes it seems like the mantra "Lord
Jesus" becomes like a koan, similar to "Mu". Sometimes I do vocal chanting,
using the mantra taught by David Cooper based on the Hebrew name of God (each syllable
I alternate this and the Jesus Prayer. I find the vocal chanting to be a particularly quick and effective way to focus on the presence of God.
B. Do you have regular times for it? Sitting meditation either in the morning (after exercise and shower) or in the evening after work. Id like to do both, and sometimes miss both
C. A special place? Not much room in my apartment the bedroom. But I really like meditating in a quiet place outside, in the mountains near a river.
D. What are its effects on you? It focuses my mind, quiets down the chatter of the monkey mind; often a feeling of peace washes over me. Throughout the day I will be less prone to having my mind or emotions go off on a tangent without my noticing until Ive been dragged away from here and now. I feel more connected, to myself, to others, to God I find meditation is the central event in my life (practicing the presence of God), central even to the broader center of (communal) worship.
E. What happens if you skip it? I get unfocused, jumpier, more prone to negative thoughts and emotions. I become more depressed about the state of the world, how we are in bondage to sin
2. What got you started in your life of prayer or meditation? I first learned TM when I was a teenager (around 1974). Ive also practiced Vipassana meditation, and attended a Vipassana retreat in Barre, Massachusetts. Ive been practicing Christian mantra meditation for about ten years, but I still feel like a beginner.
3. How has your prayer or meditation changed over time? I have focused on the Jesus Prayer for several years, and have used the vocal chanting mentioned above for about a year. My practice has been more sporadic than I would like. I havent noticed any "progress" in my practice, except for the positive effects mentioned in 1D, no unusual sights, experiences (e.g. Kundalini), nor do I expect such experiences. I think Im becoming more and more aware that all we do is a form of prayer, a form of seeking Gods presence, but we, as sinners, often seek God in negative ways, away from his presence.
4. What expectations do you have for the future? What would you like to see happen? I would like to find myself part of a larger community of pray-ers and meditators, perhaps sit with a group. I think having a teacher would be most beneficial at this point. Most of all I want to become more and more aware of the presence of God, the actual here-and-now real experience of walking with my Lord Jesus Christ, the love and power of the Holy Spirit.
5. Do you belong to a particular religious tradition? Lutheran.
A. How has it helped your life of prayer or meditation? The emphasis on living out ones baptism has been helpful.
B. How has it hindered? There hasnt been much mention of meditation (even now!), and there is the past history, especially in Lutheranism, of looking negatively on mysticism.
C. How much have you looked outside your own tradition? I am very ecumenical theologically. I definitely regard the Church Fathers, St. John of the Cross, etc. to be a part of my "tradition", but also the current thought outside the Lutheran part of the church, i.e. Pope John Paul IIs writings, the Orthodox tradition, etc. I have also been involved with Vipassana meditation, and to a lesser extent, Zen. I have been reading about Jewish meditation recently, as well as Sufism.
D. What hopes and fears do other traditions inspire in you? It is a hopeful sign that meditation is a universal phenomenon. We may explain things differently, have different foundations and goals (and this diversity should not be dismissed, but celebrated), but we share, around the world, a seeking after God, a liberation from bondage to illusion, a centeredness in a higher "Self".
E. Have you ever switched your tradition and why? I was raised Presbyterian, but became Lutheran after moving to the South and finding the Presbyterian church in the south to be fundamentalist and even racist.
F. What are the good and bad points of your own tradition? See 5A and 5B.
6. What effectively taught you about the life of prayer or meditation?
A. Reading? This has been by far the greatest influence. The Bible, Cassian, John Main and Basil Pennington, David Cooper. I have read voraciously - but I need to practice more and perhaps read less.
B. Spiritual friends? Unfortunately my meditation journey has been alone. Having spiritual friends to share the journey with would be magnificent! (Although my wife is my best friend, she does not share the same interest in meditation).
C. Your own experience? My experience has taught me the necessity and beauty of regular meditation practice (but I have not been a very good student of that teacher!)
D. Going to your place of worship or meditation? I find a mutual re-enforcement of communal worship and individual meditation. The liturgy becomes more and more an aid to focus on the presence and work of God, which re-fuels my desire to pray and meditate.
E. A spiritual teacher or spiritual director? I wish I had one!
8. How does your life of prayer or meditation effect your emotions? I am more able to observe thoughts and emotions entering my mind, and can observe them before they hook me.
9. Have you ever had out of the ordinary experiences connected with your prayer or meditation?
A. Energy movements or inner lights or sounds?
B. Visions or revelations or communications from beyond? No.
C. What importance did you give to these experiences? I haven't had out of the ordinary experiences like these; I think being held in the loving arms of my Heavenly Father is enough!!
10. What lifestyle issues affect your life of prayer or meditation?
A. Time or the lack of it? I have the time, but sometimes (often!) I'll skip meditation. I'm reminded of the Buddhist monk who was a prisoner in a Viet Cong prison camp. He had all the time in the world to meditate, but always found excuses not to. This is my biggest hindrance.
B. Single or married life; children? No, actually I've meditated more since being married.
C. Work? Meditation seems to help my functioning at work, and work is not a hindrance to meditation but perhaps has a beneficial effect, although sometimes I'd rather go out into the desert with St. Anthony or John Cassian - I'm reminded by Merton that living in Western Civilization today is desert enough.
D. Diet, sleep, sexual activities, etc.? Improvement
in one fosters improvement in the others. Ken Fasano, E-mail email@example.com
1. What kind of prayer or meditation do you practice?
A. What do you do? A slow-motion hatha yoga practice is my primary practice, but I have been doing seated meditation comfortably for about two years. I always start out with a Hail Mary and Our Father, but then switch to Hindu empty-mind meditation or Buddhist "Lovingkindness" meditation depending on how busy my mind is.
B. Do you have regular times for it? I teach yoga one evening per week for one and one-half hours. I also tend to do an hour session by myself on the weekend. I also pray and meditate on a 45 minute two-way bus ride Monday through Friday, and do seated meditation for about 1/2 hour nightly before bed.
C. A special place? I have an altar in my living room and in my bedroom. I am also very comfortable on the bus.
D. What are its effects on you? I have received great blessings and grace.
E. What happens if you skip it? When I am lax with my yoga practice, my body gets stiff and achy. If I dont pray and meditate, I drift into my incarnational wounds.
2. What got you started in your life of prayer and meditation? Baptized Catholic. Very little support in the home for religion and other things. Had a very strong childlike love for the Blessed Mother. Lost my faith at 13 when my prayers asking for my mother to be healed were not answered. Continued to say a Hail Mary , Our Father, and a prayer to St. Joseph asking for my family to die in spiritual grace for almost 25 years.
Became an over-educated secular humanist and active volunteer. Was completely outer focused and out-of-body. Basically had a psychotic break at work and entered 12 Step recovery in 1990 to address my major Adult Child and codependency issues. Was really uncomfortable with the Higher Power concept.
Called on the Blessed Mother to protect and heal me in 1991. Started Kripalu-style hatha yoga in late 1992, taking a once-per-week class. Really like yoga and did postures at home. Learned to meditate in motion approximately a year after beginning yoga .
Did not realize I had become spiritual until reading Feminine Face of God in 1994. Was unsure of my religious affiliation. Was attracted to Kripalu Yoga Ashram in Lennox, Mass. which still had their guru, Amerit Desai. Went to Kripalus earlier Pennsylvania site with my yoga class, and was guided in a meditation there by guru Shri Swami Kripalvananda (Amerit Desais guru), who taught that "Love is the Only Religion", that my higher power was Jesus Christ. I came back from his temple firmly Christian!
3. How has your prayer and meditation changed over time? It keeps changing. I believe I have just been given Mother Teresas Prayer of Quiet. (I attribute it to her as she wrote about it first in her Autobiography of 1558-1561, although St. John of the Cross [her confessor and contemplative heir] wrote the beautiful poetry which memorializes the experience.)
4. What are your expectations for the future? I seek union with God and to serve him on this planet.
5. Do you belong to a particular religious tradition? I am a "recovering Catholic." I attend Healing Masses almost exclusively. My tradition is guilt and shame based and has most practitioners disown their own power and the God within.
6. What effectively taught you about the life of prayer or meditation?
A. Reading? Yes, very much so. Especially: 12 Steps for Self-Parenting, Mother Teresa of Avilas Autobiography, St. Therese of Lisieuxs Autobiography, Feminine Face of God, Patanjalis Yoga Aphorisms, Anthony DeMellos, One Minute; Wherever You Go, There You Are, and Nothing Short of a Miracle by Patricia Treece.
B. Spiritual Friends? Yes, very much so.
C. Your Own Experience? God has truly blessed me. (Someone said God gives you spiritual gifts to "hook" you. Im hooked!)
D. Going to your place of worship or meditation. Healing Masses are wonderful. I do not attend obligatory Sunday services.
E. How has your spiritual teacher helped or hindered you? I do not have a formal relationship with an embodied spiritual teacher, except for Mother Meera who is Divine Mother/Blessed Mother to me, and to whom I pray.
8. How does your life of prayer or meditation effect your emotions? I feel great. In my Lovingkindness practice, I ask to be free of fear, depression, anger and resentment, and to live in abundance, peace and joy. Its slow, but it works!
9. Have you ever had out of the ordinary experiences connected with your prayer or meditation?
A. Energy movements or inner lights and sounds? I have bodily kinesthetic experiences. If Im in a group, in the Spirit, I can get fuschia or violet third-eye color.
B. Visions or revelations or communications from beyond? I see nothing! I pretty consistently receive guidance from books.
C. What importance did you give to these experiences? I was given a healing charism which allowed me to remove pain for a short time from chronic ailments. I did pursue various training based on that charism. Now I believe I have what Im supposed to have and dont worry about manifestations. I do, though, ask for it all and believe I can have it all!
10. What lifestyle issues effect your life of prayer or meditation?
A. Time or lack of it? I am now trying to stay in a connected, meditative state at work while alertly doing cost-accounting in a focused manner!
B. Single or married life; children? I am single with no partner and no children. (My married sister with kids cant understand why I go on retreats, since my apartment is a retreat!)
C. Work? I am blissfully in a dead-end job which I am very good at, rather than in a demanding professional position requiring all my energy. Therefore, I am able to focus on my spiritual work on me.
D. Diet, sleep, sexual activities, etc.? I keep ignoring clear guidance about my diet. I feel better when I stick to a light vegetarian dinner, but I still feel compelled to eat a "balanced" American dinner which does not digest. Someone said positive habits can be developed in 30 days of practice. Hasnt been my experience. Sleep: I really need my rest and am sleeping 8 hours a night.
1. Should people be introduced rather indiscriminately to Centering Prayer ? 2. What kind of prayer is Centering Prayer? 3. In the practice of Centering Prayer there appears to be a deliberate and conscious reduction of the discursive activity of the faculties 4. The Centering Prayer movement talks about the Divine therapist, that is, God as therapist, and the unloading of the unconscious, and thus leaves the impression that certain psychological effects are an integral part of the Centering Prayer process 5. The Centering Prayer movement seems to have been significantly influenced by Eastern forms of meditation 6. What is the relationship between Centering Prayer and infused contemplation?
1. Most people who come to a Centering Prayer Workshop already have an established prayer life even though the forms of prayer may vary greatly from one person to another. Any of the practices mentioned could be a helpful preparation but we assume that the Holy Spirit has directed people to us and if this is something they are called to, they will begin a practice. We are here only to teach the method to those who come to us and help support their practice if they ask us.
2. Centering Prayer goes beyond words, thoughts, and feelings and in that sense is not what John of the Cross calls "meditation." Infused contemplation as I understand it, even if defined strictly as gift, goes beyond words, thoughts, and feelings. Centering Prayer aids in this movement beyond the faculties and fosters the disposition of openness and surrender to God. It also could be noted that the gift of contemplation is one which is already given (the divine indwelling) and Centering Prayer simply cultivates our receptivity to the gift and helps to remove the obstacles to our awareness of it. It is basically similar to acquired contemplation. Fr. Ernest Larkin, O.Carm., has an interesting article on the nature of Centering Prayer as halfway between discursive meditation and infused contemplation in the January/February 1998 issue of Review for Religious.
3. I am not familiar with this particular Jungian model of the inner life. The simplification that occurs in Centering Prayer is not sought but is allowed to happen as it will. There is no manipulation of the content or process of the mind. However the attitude of receptivity does allow the contents of the unconscious to arise in the form of thoughts, images, and sometimes physical movement such as twitches or itches. Very rarely do Kundalini symptoms appear even in the Intensive Retreats. Exercises are provided to balance the energies of the unconscious that may be released by the length of the periods of silent prayer. In ordinary life the short sessions of Centering Prayer provide a gentle and gradual release of unconscious material or other energies. The teaching of Centering Prayer is that we do not analyze the thoughts, feelings, images, etc., but we allow them to come and go. What is learned over time is an attitude of non-attachment to the contents of the mind and a deeper trust in the wisdom of God in moving through the difficult experiences that can sometimes arise during prayer. All models of reality are simply that - models. Even the best models cannot describe all of reality. Our attitude is to be faithful to the prayer and let God reveal reality in his own good time.
4. There is no clear division between the psychological and the spiritual except those created by the models of reality that we need in order to enlarge our understanding of certain phenomena. What happens on one level of our own personal reality has effects on every other level. The psychological experience of Centering Prayer is what happens or what we tell ourselves is happening in this growing relationship. It would be easier to deal with questions like this if the questioner had a practice of Centering Prayer to draw experience from. Purely theoretical questions about CP cannot adequately be answered.
5. CP Intensive retreats are not modeled on Zen sesshins. In terms of the number of hours each day devoted to practice, Zen sesshins sit for 10 to 12 hours or longer. In Intensive and Post-Intensive Centering Prayer retreats the participants practice Centering Prayer from 4 to 6 hours only. The antecedents of Centering Prayer are thoroughly Christian and include the "Prayer of the Cloud" as described by a 14th century English author, St. John of the Cross, St. Francis DeSales, St. Therese of Lisieux, and many others.
6. There is no way to accurately judge when a person has moved from Centering Prayer with its minimal effort towards consent and surrender to God's presence, to a state of infused contemplation where the Holy Spirit is fully directing the prayer or "praying us." There are some signs, but no distinct states discernable to ordinary human discrimination. Those who are faithful to the practice of CP gradually give up the need to know "where they are" and learn to surrender more and more to what God wants to have happen.
1. Concerning #1: The Western Christian tradition seems to presuppose some experience in discursive prayer before encouraging the practice of contemplative prayer. Christians with no previous prayer experience are not likely to be attracted to centering prayer. If they are attracted, I would think they need to be taught lectio divina as well as centering prayer.
2. Concerning #2: I think your description of centering prayer and contemplation in the context of the terminology of St. John of the Cross is accurate. Centering prayer is very simplified meditation, in John's perspective; it is not sanjuanist contemplation, which is purely infused knowledge and love. My own article in the Review for Religious, January, 1998, does take centering prayer as a bridge between discursive prayer ("meditation") and infused contemplation, but in the dichotomy of John of the Cross between meditation and contemplation it belongs in the category of meditation. In this view there is no room for "acquired contemplation," unless one defines the latter as a form of simplified meditation.
Fr. Larkin writes in his Review for Religious article called, "Today's Contemplative Prayer Forms: Are They Contemplation?":
"John (of the Cross) has no transitional form between meditation and contemplation; the pray-er is praying one or the other. He does counsel simple attention or loving awareness at the onset of the dark night. While it is tempting to identify this practice with our contemplative prayer, the advice applies to a different situation. The simple attention presupposes the presence of God's special action infusing light and love in a subtle way, at times so subtle that the divine action may go unrecognized. We are dealing with the beginning of infused contemplation in the strict sense. The three signs will validate its presence, and the person gives a loving attention that is passive, "without efforts... as a person who opens his eyes with loving attention." For John of the Cross, contemplation is pure gift and simply received; there is no room for active collaboration. John's contemplation is not the immediate horizon of contemporary contemplative prayer forms."
The relationship of centering prayer to the doctrine of St. John of the Cross is a critical issue since Fr. Keating has made his dependence on John of the Cross, especially his Living Flame of Love, clear. To say that centering prayer is not to be equated with St. John's meditation, that is, the normal working of the faculties of intellect, will and memory, seems to claim for it a passivity that St. John reserves for infused contemplation. Further, to say that centering prayer is basically similar to acquired contemplation is to further accentuate this problem because John of the Cross knew nothing about an acquired contemplation between meditation and infused contemplation. The doctrine of acquired contemplation developed after his death, and is a misunderstanding of what he was saying. See, also, the remarks of Fr. Larkin above, which I think are well founded.
The gift of contemplation should not be identified without qualification with the indwelling of the Trinity. Infused contemplation is, indeed, intimately connected to this indwelling, but it is an actual experience of it that takes place through the activation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everyone in the state of grace has the Trinity dwelling in his or her heart, for that is the central reality of sanctifying grace. But not everyone has a proximate call to infused contemplation, and thus has the gifts activated in the manner necessary for contemplation, and can therefore take up an attitude of passivity in relationship to this indwelling. Further, infused contemplation, when it grows past its delicate beginnings, is a state that is often discernable to the one who receives it.
I think it would be valuable if the centering prayer movement
could show what the relationship actually is between centering prayer and the doctrine of
St. John of the Cross. The Editors
Contemplation is rooted in the heart, in the center of the soul, in the depths of the spiritual unconscious. The human spirit is much more than ego-consciousness and our everyday awareness. It has ontological depths that are like a deep sea underlying the wave-tossed thoughts and feelings that make up our reflexive self-awareness. It is in these depths at the very root of the spirit that we receive and continue to receive moment by moment our existence from God, which creative act remains unknown to our ego-awareness. This gift of existence is intimately connected with the enlightenment found in Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, but infused contemplation is not that mysterious and beautiful experience. Within those depths exist the possibility of a deeper experience of God in which the limits of human nature are transcended, and by a free gift of God we share in Gods nature through the humanity of Jesus. This gift transcends the deepest natural ontological density of the soul and appears in those depths as the indwelling presence of the Holy Trinity. The very One who gives us existence and sustains us in existence moment by moment wishes to give us a super-existence, which is a share in Gods own life. This gift of the divine presence deepens the soul at its metaphysical center and gives it a new goal. Now it is not only oriented to God by the weight of its whole being, but in virtue of this gift the inner life of God is the inmost life of the soul. We are called to divine union.
This orientation to union, which is now the ultimate center of the human spirit, exerts a powerful gravity over all the dimensions of the soul. Our natural faculties are remote means by which we try to draw near and embrace more fully that union which has already begun. Why are they remote? It is because even though they have been altered by the fact of that union so that they no longer have purely natural goals, they still operate in a natural piecemeal way, which is the normal way of ego-consciousness. The intellect, for example, in its very root has received a seed of transformation in the virtue of faith so that its highest goal is no longer God as the author of being, but God as the Trinity. But it still operates in a discursive fashion in which it has insights and composes and divides the ideas these insights have given birth to in order to come to further insights, and so forth. But its whole way of proceeding which is entirely natural and normal to human nature is inadequate to grasp the nature of God. This is why St. John talks so emphatically about faith being the only proximate means of divine union. It is only faith animated by charity and illuminated by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and thus transforming the intellect, that can lead us to divine union. But this transformation of the intellect often appears to us as suffering and death. The intellect, indeed, all of ego-consciousness, wants to proceed as it did before, which is to use its natural activities to proceed on its way to divine union. It can understand leaving the things of the world for the things of God, but it cannot understand leaving its own connatural way of knowing and working and it is the same story with the other faculties of will and memory.
The dark night of sense is not ultimately about working with the faculties in ever more refined ways in the exercise of intuition and affect. It is about the faculties, themselves, radically failing in regard to the things of God when it is a case of the call to infused contemplation. Particular acts and particular kinds of knowledge are no longer adequate means of union with God as the spirit is drawn ever deeper. Once we take the perspective that divine union is rooted in the depths of the spiritual unconscious, this failure of the faculties appears inevitable, and the conduct that St. John urges us to adopt much more reasonable. If we are being drawn into the depths by the gravity of Gods presence, we must allow this to happen and meet this loving presence with our own loving attentiveness and receptivity. If we are not being drawn into those depths, we cannot abandon the working of the faculties. What is at stake is not whether we believe that God dwells in the depths of our hearts, and not even our desire to open ourselves as much as possible to union with God. What St. John is talking about is the experience of actually being drawn into those depths by Gods action. Or put in another way, it is the experience of divine union, and not only our belief in it. This experience, because of its divine nature and its location in the depths, cannot be accessed by anything we can do with the faculties. We can only prepare ourselves for it, receive it if it comes, and go on loving God as much as possible if it doesnt.
It is love that makes our union with God grow deeper, and love is something we can always do. Contemplation experience, or wisdom, is quite another matter. It is born out of that loving union, in that moment in which our wills become transformed by love and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and communicate to consciousness in some mysterious fashion a general and loving knowledge of that experience of union, itself. God has given us the ability to love. That is enough. We cannot coerce or compel the Holy Spirit into giving us the experience of that union, which is infused contemplation. And it is beyond our competence to answer the question why one person receives contemplation and another does not. Still less can we judge a persons holiness by their contemplative experiences.
But this does not mean that infused contemplation is some sort of accidental grace on the road to divine union. It is not. It is an integral part of that union which is a loving knowledge which radiates out from the center of the soul and should touch the natural faculties, themselves, and let them share in some way in that union which is the highest good of the whole soul. If we have not been given that gift, all well and good. We have been given the essentials and we can hope in the beatific vision of which contemplation is a foretaste. We cant demand infused contemplation, but neither should we downgrade its beauty and value as an integral aspect of divine union, itself. Still less should we give in to the understandable impulse to replace infused contemplation with a host of active or acquired contemplations so that in some way we can call ourselves contemplatives.
Jim Arraj and Tyra Arraj
Tyra has completed a number of video projects:
Shipping is $2.50 for the first item and $.50 for each additional item. (Send check to Inner Growth Videos, Box 37, Midland, OR 97634)
Jim has been putting together a draft of a book called St. John of the Cross and the Rediscovery of Christian Mysticism, which traces St. Johns teaching on the beginning of contemplation over the past 400 years and shows how it has vitally influenced our understanding of the contemplative life.
We will be travelling south to Baja California starting November and should be away most of the winter. Our son, John, is taking care of the office while we are gone.
Jim and Tyra Arraj
The Christian Prayer and Contemplation Forum is part of Inner Growth Books and Videos, LLC.
Response from Dan:
I just wanted to say that I liked what you had
to say at the end of the newsletter. From my reading of St. John of the Cross I tend to
think that if you are actively doing something (prayer,meditation, contemplation,
whatever) it is not contemplation as he is referring to it. He also says that there are
stages along the way but that he is writing about the deepest union that you can attain to
in this life because otherwise he would still be alive and still writing about it. He
didn't want to write the commentaries at first because in the writing he creates a
limitation for the literal minded intellectuals. My understanding was that when you ask
God for Union with him as Jesus prayed at the last supper for us, then you lead a virtuous
life and be open to God, keep your eyes on Jesus, don't look back and God will lead you
the rest of the way. An interesting book to read is by Brother Lawrence of the
Resurrection called Practicing the Presense of God which is published by
ICS (Institute of Carmelite Studies). The problem when reading St. John is that he
is writing to the Carmelite religious and he doesn't tell us about what they are taught.
He assumes that the reader is being taught by other experienced people.