|Welcome to No. 15 of the Forum. We start
off with three valuable accounts of spiritual journeys. Hopefully they will inspire you to
make your own contributions to the Forum. You will also find the printed membership
directory, which will give you some idea of the diverse and interesting group of people
that make up the Forum. This will probably be the last printed directory because by
the time we get around to doing it in print, we are sure some of the information is
already out of date. We will continue, however, with the online directory.
A Contemplative Journey
As a child I was blessed with two gifts in particular, a burning compassion for the poor and a natural contemplative bent. I used to go into our neighborhood Catholic church after school just to sit in the presence of the Eucharist, bathed in the love of God and loving Him in return. Walking home after receiving communion, my senses would be hyper-charged and I would experience every flower as a bouquet placed in my path by my Beloved. Once I must have appeared so disoriented, pausing to gaze with delirious delight at all the shrubbery, that I was stopped by the police, who said that I was behaving in a suspicious fashion! I tried to explain to them that I was just a little girl on my way home from church.
However, when I was in college the modern feminist movement arrived and I became scandalized by my Catholic Churchs refusal to acknowledge the equality of women or to grant us control over our fertility. I also could not accept the Churchs condemnation of homosexuals. I felt that if the Church could be so tragically and destructively wrong about women and human sexuality, then it must be wrong about everything else, too, including the existence of God. As a result, I lost my faith. I developed a hatred for the Church as an oppressor of women, particularly poor women. I didn't hate God, but a terrible despairing grief set in over the loss of my great Beloved. Even apart from the errors of the Church, I could not believe that the God of love could exist in the face of the appalling suffering I saw in the world. I didnt blame God for this suffering, I just could no longer believe in Him.
I became a lawyer and began to live among the homeless and poor immigrants from Central America and to serve them out of compassion and a thirst for justice, though not out of faith. My work met with success, though the death of my spiritual life produced a terrible, mostly hidden depression which grew for about 15 years and which I believe would have cost me my life eventually. During this time I had some affairs and tragically, an abortion as well. I then got married and when in my thirties found a talented therapist who enabled me to begin to heal from some of the wounds of my life. I believe that this psychological healing was a prerequisite for the spiritual healing which then followed.
It was after I became pregnant for the second time that I had the first experience of the presence of God in my adult life. One day during a hypnotherapy session, and without any suggestion of this on the part of my therapist, I spontaneously experienced myself as a tiny infant resting on the breast of God, who was a most tender father. It was an ecstatic sensation, like those I had experienced in childhood. After that, from time to time I would be overtaken by this Presence at various times throughout the day. I rejoiced greatly at His return but I did not go back to church.
During my years of darkness I was struck by the spirituality of the people that I served from Central America. Some, particularly the young mothers, had unimaginably harsh lives. They lived in nightmarish slums where rats attacked their children. Yet they seemed to be sustained by an unwavering faith in Mary in her manifestation as "Our Lady of Guadalupe," who they believe appeared to a Mexican peasant with a motherly message of loving care. Also, their relationship with Jesus was intimate and familiar, as mine had been. I remember seeing them walk right up to the tabernacle and kiss it, something that no one ever would have dared to do in the Anglo churches of my childhood. All in all, these women seemed to have a superhuman strength in adversity. I marveled at this but could not understand it since I no longer could accept the reality and power of faith.
Then something happened which in retrospect makes me think of Augustine who said, "Were it not for the miracles, I could not have believed." My parents had a "childlike" faith and used to amuse me no end with their naïve and wild tales of miraculous shrouds, cloaks and apparitions. I had an educated intellectuals contempt for all these things.
But one day my mother sent me yet another book about a Marian apparition site. This time I opened it and read just one paragraph, which allegedly was a message from Jesus. The words were exceedingly tender and I felt as if a burning lance had been thrust through my heart. My being erupted into flames of longing. I cried for days and had an overwhelming thirst for the Eucharist. I felt that if I could not get back to it I would die. I sought out a priest, who fortunately didnt tell me to go through the long drawn out folderol of the modern RICA routine for returning Catholics. He simply heard my confession and welcomed me back. I returned to the Eucharist and now experience it as the authentic source of my real life a life that transcends mere physical existence His life itself shared with me.
After this conversion experience I had to endure a prolonged period of contempt and derision, bordering on hatred, from my husband, who was shocked by this sudden change in me. But over time he has reconciled himself to it, as he has observed me "coming to life" in a way that neither of us could have imagined before.
My life is extremely busy with work, family, and a new enterprise that God seems to be asking of me the formation of a group of interfaith professionals to serve the poor. So there is little time for contemplation, thought it still overtakes me, mostly when I am in nature. But my days are animated by a joyful experience of His companionship and by the feeling, quite simply, of being madly in love. I go to daily mass and have learned to play the piano again so that I can provide music for the service. I love to play Him love songs in his church home, though this has gotten me in trouble with the more sedate parishioners who prefer more traditionally austere liturgical music!
But most of all I love Him because of how I now can see Him present with the poor. In Jesus telling of the Last Judgment, He say, in essence, "When you saw the poor, you saw Me." That complete and unreserved identification with the poor, lice ridden, drug addled, homeless man lying in the gutter, is what makes me so helplessly in love with Him. He has not abandoned the "least" among us, but has completely identified Himself with them to the extent of saying, "When you look into the face of a homeless man, you look into My Face." This is the God man who has fused his identity with that of the poor, who has captured my heart in its entirety.
I can feel His Presence among the poor in a tangible way that I dont feel among other groups of people. Sometimes when I am with folks who arent poor I find myself looking around, feeling like something is wrong or missing. Then I realize that its Him that I dont feel the immediacy of His Presence the way that I do when I am with the poor. Now I understand that even though we, and the poor in particular, suffer terribly, He is intimately with us and all is in His hands and that this can be trusted.
I still believe that the Catholic Church is wrong and unjust in its positions regarding women and gays, though I have come to realize the tragic mistake that I made regarding abortion. But I will never again let the Churchs human decision makers separate me from my God in the Eucharist.
My faith now has a childlike quality similar to that which I used to despise in my
parents. After my return to the Eucharist I went to a site of a purported apparition of
Mary to thank her for her role in bringing me back to her Son. While I was there with my
four-year-old child, we asked Mary to bless our rosary and as we did so, its chain turned
to gold in our hands. These days I am particularly drawn to her image as Our Lady of
Guadalupe. I never tire of looking at it. It has a beauty that touches me deeply and
evokes for me all of her tender motherly compassion for the poor. Similarly, the image of
Jesus face that has been reconstructed from his purported burial shroud has
captivated my heart and I could contemplate it endlessly. For me it is the face of my
dearest Beloved, the source and end of all desire.
A Poetic Interlude
In the embrace of the first light, in the still heart of
This poem was taken from Richard W. Bachtolds book More Sacred Poems. If you would like a copy of this book send a donation to Richard at: 825 Lower Road, Gilbertville, MA 01031-9843.
After many years of dealing with unusual sensations in my leg and head (a whooshing tingling feeling like a tornado touching down in my right ear or around the top of my head, which comes usually in the middle of a sleepless night when I'm feeling overly warm), I discovered the material on kundalini from your website as well as from a book by Philip St. Romain on Kundalini and Christian Spirituality. I'm specifically wondering about sensations of tingling, bubbling and twitching that has been mainly in my left leg, which began around 1984 during a time in which I was "praying" for a man with skin cancer on his leg. I felt an energy go out from me to him (he didn't know I was doing this), but later (and it's probably just my imagination), I felt a tight gripping feeling enter my leg, followed by months of on again off again symptoms described above. They seemed especially strong when in church (I was attending Self Realization Fellowship at the time). It scared me, and I thought it was some evil force so I tried to expel it from my body, but the more I focused on it the worse it became. In recent years, I haven't given it much thought and it hasn't returned often, but if I "think" about it it always comes back, to a lesser extent than at first. Might this be kundalini? If so, why is it always in the left foot and leg? Should I try to bring it up to the spine? Or is it better to ignore it?
While I was raised with Christian Science and Theosophy from parents of these two religions, I only began to desire the spiritual life in high school with an increasing interest in meditation and nature experiences. In college I studied Eastern Religions, but without much discipline--just a lot of "oneness" experiences in nature and with music. One night in 1982, overlooking the Big Sur coast while in the hot springs at Esalen Institute, I had a "cosmic" experience of Oneness with God and all Creation, tears flowing freely for the first time in perfect joy at God's plan for me and the universe! That one night, with waves of ecstasy sweeping through me and my heart exploding with Joy, really set me on the spiritual quest.
The exact sequence eludes me, but from my journal entries it seems that the very next night I had an incredible experience that now seems like it must have been Kundalini. I was trying to sleep in a van at Big Sur, and in the midst of a dream where I was feeling empathy for a friend who I felt wanted to be alone to "find himself", I suddenly felt an electrical surge through my whole being, maybe coming down from the head but I'm not sure. It was kind of like molten lava flowing through me, with reddish colors, and a whooshing sound in my head like a lawn sprinkler or electrical discharge. I didn't know what to make of it, and it was gone in about 15 seconds. Perhaps, I thought, that this was some kind of new reality that I was meant to discover to bring it back to mankind. Presumptuous as this might seem, I was convinced that this was something that maybe no one on earth had ever felt before. Anyway, it returned again several months later, and then as I centered on the sound of the whoosh and the electrical tingles which seemed to flow through me or down from the top of my head, it began to come more and more frequently--often accompanied by weird hallucinations or out of body type experiences (I sometimes felt like I was in a wind tunnel and my (astral?) body was flapping up like a kite in the breeze). After a year or more of this, I became more and more interested in spirituality beyond mere phenomena, and started reading works such as Autobiography of a Yogi and Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation. I began to yearn for God in my heart, and began to feel an increasing sweetness of a personal relationship with a loving Source I called God. About this time, I got appendicitis and when recovering, I was overwhelmed by waves of love coursing through my being for hours on end for several entire nights in a row. Soon after this, I met a girl into Self Realization Fellowship who, through my relationship with her, introduced me more to God and, for better or worse, organized religion.
For the next several years following, I was seeking through many different groups for answers, while still finding the secret communion with God in nature and music, and in a certain lifting up of my heart and consciousness to that great Something I called Godthe source of many sensible consolations from this "unknown God". I found much to ponder from religions and spiritual teachers, however, and slowly began to go to organized religious services.
Through the Eighties, I read widely, while having occasional experiences of the "buzz" or "whoosh" in my head. Increasingly drawn toward devotional worship, I became a Charismatic Christian in the late eighties, and had come to feel that the electrical "head buzz" was negative, and of course because of the evangelical environment I was in, even wondered if it was demonic. When it came in the middle of the night, often during a dream or in the inbetween state between waking and dreaming, I found that I could make it disappear by attempting to move my jaw. In this "vibrational state", I was physically paralyzed, but totally conscious (even if it took place in a dream state I was totally conscious of the occurrence of this "third state"). If I could move my jaw (and this took utmost effort), the electrical whoosh would diminish and go away. On the other hand, if I "got into it", the whoosh would get louder and feel more all-engulfing, and if it came as vibrations (like the beat frequencies of a lawn sprinkler), the vibrations got quicker and quicker until it became like a virtual "humm". Often I felt it in my right ear and it was deafening, but sometimes it was like a vortex which at will I could make travel around my skull. If I let this vortex move down my face (in experimentation), it would diminish---If I guided it to my crown it would get very strong, and when guided to my right ear it was deafening.
Although I never associated the two experiences, there were occasional times, usually lasting only a few days, when I felt tightness, bubbling, tingling or twitching in my left foot and leg, but by this time I had learned to ignore it or simply "smile" at it so as not "to give it any power".
Religiously through the eighties and early nineties, I wavered between born-again Christianity, Yogananda's SRF, Christian Science, Vedanta, and Krishnamurti. Having been raised in two very different alternative movements (Christian Science and Theosophy), this is perhaps understandable. I just felt Truth was somehow beyond all of this, yet yearned for some kind of validation and fellowship. Unfortunately, much of my activity in the religious sphere at this time was mental, reading a lot of writings, and finding nature a real solace. After a failed relationship with a Vietnamese Zen woman, in the darkness of desperation I returned to born-again Christianity, but this time stumbled upon a group of "super Charismatics", part of a movement from Toronto, which was part of a renewal in which under the Holy Spirit's influence people would tremble, shake, fall, and make what were humorously termed "animal manifestations"--little yelps or groaning noises. Church began to feel like something between a Love-In and a barnyard, with hundreds of people jerking, rolling around etc. What captivated me to the movement was the rapture of spiritual ecstasy which was evident on many of the participants' countenances. I saw little girls and even babies in utter rapture, and felt the same was as the Fire or Rain of God was flooding the building with power and love. Under this "heaviness" of the Spirit, I literally could no longer stand up, and started to tremble and shake and literally feel "drunk in the Spirit". Nothing was mimicked or made up--it seemed like a sovereign work of God to ravish us. Not long after, I (along with many others in the churches experiencing this "Toronto blessing") began to get jerking muscles in the abdomen (they called it "cruches" where the body and head would go down like a chicken walking, which they attributed to "birth pangs" in the Spirit). All I know is that it was real to me and I felt God's joy and power like never before.
Unfortunately, all this didn't last. The movement became self conscious, with newcomers "fueling the fires" but the old timers, including myself, slipping into mimicry to try to reproduce in our bodies what had initially been a beautiful working of God. I had moved across the street from the Pentecostal church, which was having renewal meetings 4 times a week, and played in several worship bands, but inside I slowly became dry as a bone and ultimately became sick of just trying to "put on a show" so that we could convince ourselves that we were still "in the Spirit". I felt increasingly drawn to silence, and would even leave church after I played my set with the band (during the sermons) because the words no longer seemed to mean much to me. It all seemed like a bunch of hype to me after 2 years of late nights, 4 nights a week, trying to "get in the Spirit".
It was at this dark night point in my spirit that I stumbled upon a monk's hermitage in Big Sur...
I no longer felt anything from the long sermons, and even the music from the rock 'n' roll worship band that I was playing flute in often seemed like so much noise. It was in the midst of this environment that I discovered the writings put out by the Seedsowers Publishing House, which has republished--for a Protestant, largely Baptist audience--the writings of "quietists" Madame Guyon, Fenelon, Michael Molinos, as well as the writings on oneness with Jesus and His Father by the radical "house church" advocate Gene Edwards. I shared this material with some friends from the church, and we decided to meet with some "Gene Edwards fans" at the Limekiln Campground in Big Sur. One of our group happened to spy a cross on the side of the highway a couple of miles from the campground, and from it a road leading up to the New Camaldoli Hermitage, where we all fell in love with the peaceful joyful aura that hung around the place and the monks there. It all seemed so much deeper than the "three ring circus" that the church I was at had become! There were a number of "coincidences" in my life at that point which seemed to point me in that direction, so I became a Camaldolese Oblate and started reading many books on the contemplative life, and especially Centering Prayer which greatly helped me to learn the skill to release my soul from all of the mental attachments (both spiritual and worldly) which had meant so much to me before. When I was told that the only way to remain in the worship band was to be tithing 10% of my gross income to their church, I knew that God was telling me to move on.
Over the next two years I became more regular in my practice of Centering Prayer, discovered the joys of lectio divina, and spent more time in nature trying to sort out my direction. At this point, friend came into my life (a girl) who I became increasingly fond of as a hiking and church companion, and before long we were married! It was not easy for someone who had rarely had girlfriends, was an only child, and had never been married for 36 years, but it was meant to be. The same week we were married (December 1998) we bought a house (fixer-upper), and so a whole new set of priorities entered my life. My wife and I love to go hiking and worship God in silence, but between the house, our full-time jobs, and her school it has been more difficult finding the discipline for regular prayer, but we both know we need it. God needs to be our first priority, and we're trying to reserve some quiet time to be in the silence with God each day.
Although we still feel our first commitment must be a devotion to Christ's spirit as manifest in our hearts and lives, we both don't really feel at home at any organized church these days. We really don't have any ties any more to a spiritual community, although we seem to have found many kindred spirits at a nearby Vedanta ashrama (Ananda Ashrama in La Crescenta, CA) as well as the Self Realization Fellowship (who follow Paramahansa Yogananda as a guru but in their services devote time to quiet meditation, and place much devotional reverence on Christ.
So unfortunately I'm not really "grounded" in a fellowship group; however my wife and I do try to spend time each morning in quietness and a few spiritual readings. My wife is on an evening shift at a hectic medical center right now, so can't join me at the centering prayer groups, but I try to attend those weekly to encourage myself in regular practice of centering prayer. Probably because of the cares of the world in my life right now, I haven't given as much time to prayer as I know I should--but I'm finding encouragement from the groups I attend. Over the past several years, I have rarely experienced the kundalini phenomenon, probably for the same reason. Years ago when I became an active Christian I was counseled to avoid all psychic phenomena, and began to fear the "head whoosh" and "leg tingles" as distractions at best and demonic at worst. The "head whoosh" was never unpleasant to me, but when I became active in charismatic worship it seemed to go away and only return several times a year (usually in the middle of the night when in a dreamlike state). The leg feelings were always unpleasant, and early on I discovered that the best way to deal with it was to let it go. So that rarely returns, except when I think about it at which point it seems to immediately come back, until I let that go too (like letting go of thoughts in centering prayer!).
I've gone down more than a few rabbit holes and dead ends in my search. God always seems to be calling me back to the heart, where faith and love reside, and I know all too well the dryness in my spirit that comes through going after mere experiences. A lot of what I've explored through the years is more intellectual curiosity, as well as an attempt at a universalistic understanding of how the world's spiritual beliefs all tie in. Growing up with a Christian Scientist father and a Theosophist mother, and growing up among Jews, Christians, and various stripes of New Agers undoubtedly has something to do with my internal quest for synthesis!
Over the past few years, especially after discovering the contemplative life, I've tended towards simplification, with my heart feeling in the right place on long walks with my wife in nature, and in quiet meditation. I still have some internal conflict between a more active devotional/bhakti approach to God, and the apophatic approach with letting go of thoughts as in centering prayer and Zen. Some days, especially after long stressful weeks in the library, I feel a need to simply let go of everything, including images of God, and at other times I tend toward a more devotional way with God. I feel I need to seek the answers to where my path must lead inside my heart, and not always be trying to find the answers "out there" in books and sermons, where well-intentioned people desire to share their ways, yet it may not be right for me at this time in my life. In other words, I need to let the Spirit lead!
Another Spiritual Journey
I was surprised and interested to see this Web site. I stumbled on your site as I was researching a paper on contemplative prayer for my graduate studies in Theology.
Contemplative prayer and mysticism have become the center of my whole life since I am convinced that all people are called to union with God. For Christians this union occurs through Christ.
My own journey over the past 6 years has brought me to this conclusion. My journey seriously began in June, 1993 when I had an experience of God's presence that can best be described as 'every cell in my body vibrated with the knowledge of God'. This experience lasted for 2 1/2 years and changed over time becoming quieter ('low hum', 'remnant of heat')until it finally left the day after Easter, 1996.
I went through a dark night that has no comparison in my life. I had fallen in love with God in those 2.5 years and I was devastated when God's presence disappeared. They were a glorious 2.5 years that I shall never forget! I felt abandoned, alone, and heart broken when He left. Once God's presence left I got sick for 8 months with chronic fatigue syndrome.
The fatigue began to lift when I accepted my illness and gave my health to God. About this same time I had the insight that God was with me as a nothingness. I could only describe God as 'negative zero'. God was less than nothing and was the 'less than hole' I felt inside myself. Yet I suddenly knew it was God. Imagine my elation to know that I had not turned away or gone down the wrong path!
The dark night experience continued for about 2 years. It was not just the feeling of losing God, but the knowledge of my own weak and sinful humanity. That was devastating and only became bearable when I accepted my humanity and my nothingness before God.
About this same time I had an experience of what I believe was kundalini energy. I was very distraught one night to the point that a friend wanted to spend the night with me. I awoke at midnight lying on my stomach. Suddenly I felt something like static electricity running from my thighs up my body. It felt as if my body became cross-wise, vibrating static electricity. No longer did I have a sense of my body or skin and the bed. As the energy moved towards my head I simply became this vibration with no sense of my physical self. As this was occurring I also had noise in my head like water rushing down a waterfall. I literally could not hear and yet I distinctly remember hearing three knocks, like on a door. I thought I was dying and simply prayed Jesus' name over and over again as this was happening. I don't know if this lasted 5 seconds or 5 minutes. It just began to subside and then ended. My extreme anxiety was gone and was replaced by extreme fatigue. The next morning when I got out of bed I felt like a truck had run over me. Every muscle in my body ached.
After this occurred, each evening before bed or at prayer time (centering prayer or Liturgy of the Hours) I would get so wound up that I couldn't sleep or sit still in prayer. It was as if my nervous system was on high speed while my body was exhausted. I felt just like screaming or running. I called my spiritual director who figured it was kundalini and she gave me some body movement exercises based on Taoist movements. Amazingly this worked. After several weeks everything was back to normal in my life.
There has been much more but the bottom line of this all has been the journey to God. Truly I have died and risen with Christ. The dark night ended about 1.5 years ago and life is fine. I think that I may be in the unitive state but I have finally learned not to worry about the stages. The only important thing is to let God be in charge and to always say "Yes". The strange phenomenon or special little gifts from God are apparently given by God because a person needs them. It may be that people who don't experience any of this phenomenon have the faith or maturity to simply say yes to God without them. I may have needed more help because I have a strong ego and a scientific analytical mind. God didn't get me through my head though, He touched my heart and nothing has been the same since then.
I felt rather uncomfortable writing up my short story. One, it is so personal that it is hard to put it out on the airwaves and trust that other people will hold it as tenderly as I do. Two, I am a bit leery of Web sites and people who might log on just for a vicarious experience or something spiritually easy. There are no easy answers in the journey, but simply the trust in God that grows as we mature in our relationship with God. Much of my spiritual journey the past 6 years has involved unusual phenomenon but I am uneasy writing about this since it is not the essence of my journey, but simply the way the journey manifested itself in my life. My experience has been primarily "lights on" (see Ruth Burrows, Guidelines for Mystical Prayer) but that may only be because that's what God needed to get through my strong intellect. Who knows? I agreed with your warning about wanting spiritual or paranormal experiences. Experiences can lead to pride (I know) which is anathema to the journey. So I just printed an abbreviated version of the most important and compelling parts of my journey. It may help some people without them wanting these experiences.
The Editors Corner
We are fortunate that three more people have stepped forward and shared in a deep way their own spiritual journeys. They join the long line of contributors to the Forum, many of whom had to overcome a deep sense of privacy and reserve to do this. We thank them all, and consider what they have done a real act of Christian love which not only helps and inspires us now but contributes to the creation of a Christian spirituality of the future which needs as one of its foundations a deep sense of what people are actually experiencing.
Now some general reflections. It is a simple fact that people today, driven by a thirst for a deeper and more meaningful life look for it in a wide variety of places, and undergo an equally wide range of experiences, some of which are sought, and others spontaneously given. They include bodily sensations, which we have been often calling kundalini-like phenomena, visions, voices from the beyond and from the dead, strange tongues, prophecies, purported healings, and so forth. These experiences should not be identified with the essentials of the interior life. We need to go forward in faith and in love, often in darkness, with or without these experiences. The danger when we do have them is that we equate them with the spiritual life, itself, and therefore seek them out. This can lead to all sorts of difficulties, for there is no way to determine what part of these experiences come from God, and what comes from the deeper dimensions of our own psyches. We can be led down many strange roads that consume our energy and our hope. Nor should we identify these experiences with the experience of contemplation, itself. Contemplation comes through faith and love, and it is the dawning of Gods mysterious loving presence that works not through our normal faculties of the senses, imagination, intellect, memory and will, but wells up from the depth of the heart. Even here the illumination of contemplation can fade, and yet we must continue to believe in our loving union with God and go forward by faith and love.
Jim and Tyra Arraj
The Christian Prayer and Contemplation Forum is part of Inner Growth Books and Videos, LLC.
We have been printing contributions to the Forum anonymously, but if you wish, you can sign your contribution and indicate ways in which people can get in contact with you.