Newsletter #8
April, 1997

The Question of Christian Enlightenment
The Case of Bernadette Roberts
On Christian Enlightenment, by Philip St. Romain
Editors' Corner
A Response to the Prayer Questionnaire Printed in #5.
Open Membership Directory

The Question of Christian Enlightenment

It is the work of the Forum to explore the frontiers where today's attempts to renew the Christian life of prayer and contemplation meet the history of Christian mysticism, depth psychology, a new sense of the earth, and Eastern forms of meditation. As these dialogues advance they will give rise to new and even provocative questions. Let's call them open questions, questions that we ask without having a definitive answer in mind, questions that ought to be explored. This issue is devoted to one of those questions: Is it fitting that Christians try to pursue enlightenment in a Christian context? First, let's look at the question itself. Enlightenment means the goal that is pursued in Zen Buddhism, or in certain schools of Hinduism like Advaita. The phrase "Christian context" asks whether Christians might create another setting, a distinctively Christian one, in which to seek enlightenment, a context that might be quite different from the current situation in which they seek enlightenment in a Buddhist or Hindu context. . There are, in fact, several layers to this question. First of all, should Christians try to pursue enlightenment at all? Secondly, if they do, should they do it by practicing Buddhist or Hindu forms of meditation? Thirdly, should they create a distinctively Christian context in which to seek enlightenment?

In actual fact Christians who seek enlightenment for the most part do so in an Eastern context. They sit with a Zen group, follow the directions of a Buddhist or Hindu teacher, etc. How else could they do it? It is those Eastern traditions that are the containers that hold the wisdom that Christians are attracted to. But does this situation have to stay that way? Must one practice Zen Buddhism, for example, to reach enlightenment? The answer, I think, is a qualified no. There is no single path to enlightenment. There are many schools of Buddhism and even many schools of Zen. Zen Buddhists, themselves, admit that there are cases of spontaneous enlightenment even of people with no connection with Buddhism. But it is, of course, true that concretely it is within the Eastern traditions that this insight can be cultivated and raised to heights that are not likely to be seen in cases of spontaneous enlightenment.

Let's admit, then, that concretely Christians have had to go to Buddhism or Hinduism to pursue enlightenment, but the possibility exists that enlightenment can happen outside of those contexts. Back to our question. Is it fitting that Christians pursue enlightenment in an Eastern context, or should they do so in a Christian context? Christians have much to learn from Eastern forms of meditation, but there the experience of enlightenment comes wrapped in Eastern philosophy, or perhaps better said, Eastern reflections on the nature of the enlightenment experience, and these reflections may not be compatible with Christian belief. If Christians sought enlightenment in a Christian context, this problem would not arise.

But there is a deeper level to this whole question. Should Christians be pursuing enlightenment at all? The answer will depend on what enlightenment is. Let's look at the possibilities:

1. Enlightenment is equivalent to Christian prayer, and especially to Christian contemplation. Therefore Christians ought to pursue it.

2. Enlightenment is not Christian contemplation, but is some other kind of experience of the Absolute or, Christians would say, some other kind of experience of God. This second possibility could have different variations:

A. Enlightenment is an experience of the Absolute, but in such a way that it is tangential to the Christian journey and need not be pursued.

B. Enlightenment is an experience of the Absolute and is the flowering and fruition of a deep dimension of the human spirit which would prepare us in a very valuable way to go on to contemplation.

Let's make these issues more concrete by looking at the story of the students of the Zen teacher, Koun Yamada. Koun Yamada Roshi had a zendo in Kamakura, and he possessed a special openness to Christians which drew them to practice with him. Some of them eventually completed their training and became official Zen teachers. So for the first time in its history the Catholic Church had priests and nuns who were also officially sanctioned Zen teachers. But this remarkable development has not been given the attention it deserves, nor does it by itself alone serve to answer the questions about Christians and enlightenment. In fact, it embodies those very questions.

Yamada Roshi never made his Christian students feel like they had to leave Christianity behind in order to practice Zen. But this was not an attitude universally held by the Japanese Zen community, some of whom wondered if Christians could actually fathom the depth of the Zen experience. Perhaps this was allied to an attitude sometimes found among Buddhists that Christians are caught up in a belief system that fosters a kind of dualism because God is seen as distinct from creation and from the human soul.

But what is important here is the attitudes of Yamada's Christian students. They, themselves, could not agree, and still cannot agree, about the relationship between enlightenment and Christian prayer and contemplation. Some tend to identify the two, while others felt they are distinct. Obviously this is an enormously important question. If I think that contemplation is the same as enlightenment, then doing zazen becomes the equivalent of prayer, and I need not worry about enlightenment in a Christian context because Christianity and Zen Buddhism are but two paths to an identical goal. But if I believe they are distinct, then I must eventually take up the hard task of trying to see how they relate to each other. Then I will ask whether Christians should seek enlightenment, and if so, whether in an Eastern or Christian context. As I said before, this is an open question, and I invite your responses to it.

We will pursue this question by looking first at the case of Bernadette Roberts, and then at some remarks of Philip St. Romain.

The Case of Bernadette Roberts

There are many people who have been helped by the work of Bernadette Roberts, including any number of Forum members. These reflections are meant as an invitation to open a discussion about her work and how we ought to understand it.

Bernadette Roberts' The Experience of No-Self is a remarkable and valuable book. It is an account of an inner journey she went on after many years of trying to live out the Catholic contemplative life, a journey that ended in what she called the experience of no-self. But this very word no-self and an attentive reading of her description of her experiences reveal an inner structure and language that is much closer to Buddhist enlightenment than Christian mystical union, a fact made all the more interesting because the author was not trying to explain herself in Buddhist categories.

She will say, for example, "Where there is no personal self, there is no personal God." (p. 24) or God "is all that exists... God is all that is." (p. 31) The individuality of the object observed is overshadowed by "that into which it blends and ultimately disappears." (p. 34) What is is that which can neither be subject or object. (p. 67) God is not self-conscious (p. 75) and we must come to "terms with the nothingness and emptiness of existence" (p. 75), which seems equivalent to "living out my life without God." "I had to discover it was only when every single, subtle, experience and idea - conscious and unconscious - had come to an end, a complete end, that it is possible for the truth to reveal itself." (p. 75)

But if there is no self, "What is this that walks, thinks and talks?" (p. 78) The end of the journey is "absolute nothingness" (p. 81), but "out of nothingness arises the greatest of great realities."(p. 81) It is the "one existent that is Pure Subjectivity" and "there is no multiplicity of existences; only what Is has existence that can expand itself into an infinite variety of forms..." (p. 83) Our sense of self rests on our self-reflection and "when we can no longer verify or check back (reflect) on the subject of awareness, we lose consciousness of there being any subject of awareness at all." (p. 86) This leads to the "silence of no-self." (p. 87)

1 don't think it is necessary to go to great lengths to draw out Buddhist, especially Zen, parallels to these thoughts. There we will find talk of no-mind, and letting go of body and mind, and the question of who is walking, and the famous saying that emptiness is form and form is emptiness and so forth. Let's let one brilliant passage from Huang Po suffice: "When your glance falls on a grain of dust, what you see is identical with all the vast world-systems with their great rivers and mighty hills. To gaze upon a drop of water is to behold the nature of all the waters of the universe. Moreover, in thus contemplating the totality of phenomena, you are contemplating the totality of Mind. All these phenomena are intrinsically void and yet this Mind to which they are identical is no mere nothingness. By this I mean that it does exist, but in a way too marvelous for us to comprehend. It is an existence that is no existence, a non-existence which is nevertheless existence. So this true Void does in some marvelous way 'exist"'. (The Zen Teachings of Huang Po, P. 108)

Bernadette Roberts as a Catholic and someone relatively unfamiliar with Buddhism has rendered an important testimony to the universality of this kind of mystical experience. But inevitably, she has had to face the question of its relationship to her own Christian contemplative heritage, and it is here that her conclusions need a careful examination. Since she had a deep life of prayer in the Christian contemplative tradition before she went on this journey that ended in the experience of no-self, it is understandable that she will see this experience as the next stage in the Christian contemplative journey, and a stage that the Christian mystics like John of the Cross know very little about. (The one exception is Meister Eckhart, a predilection which is shared by D.T. Suzuki.) Thus she is forced to put the no-self experience at a level higher than the spiritual marriage described by John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and therefore place her own experience above that of the Church's mystical doctors. I don't think this interpretation is correct. This mysticism of the no-self, as well as Zen enlightenment, is not a supernatural mysticism that comes from grace and leads to an experience of God's presence and of sharing in His life. It is a very different kind of experience that attains to the absolute, to God, but through emptiness. (For details on this position see God, Zen and the Intuition of Being, and Mysticism, Metaphysics and Maritain, both by James Arraj.)

Just what Bernadette Roberts' experience of Christian mysticism was like is not a large part of this book, but it is striking that her no-self experiences began very young and it is possible they colored her practice of the Christian contemplative life. While she recognizes the differences between these two journeys, she regards "the second movement as a continuation and completion of the first." (p. 106) And she sees a possible progress of spiritual development starting "with the Christian experience of self's union with God... But when the self disappears forever into this Great Silence, we come upon the Buddhist discovery of no-self..." (p. 109) "Then finally, we come upon the peak of Hindu discovery, namely: "that" which remains when there is no self is identical with "that" which Is, the one Existent that is all that Is." (p. 109)

Given this kind of schema I can only surmise that the original Christian mystical experience that Bernadette Roberts is talking about is not that of John of the Cross at all, for what St. John is talking about is of an intensity and depth that it would be a completion of these Buddhist and Hindu experiences. It is an experience of what lies in the heart of this emptiness that in some marvelous way exists.

Once the no-self experience is placed above the Christian experience of union, then there is an almost irresistible movement towards reinterpreting Christian dogma in the light of this experience. This seems to be what is happening when Bernadette Roberts says, "and when I finally saw 'that' which remains when there is no self, I thought of Christ and how he too had seen 'that' which remained - a seeing which is the resurrection itself." (p. 131) Or "...even the seeing of the Trinitarian aspect of God is not the final step. The final step is where there is no Trinity at all, or when the aspects of God are seen as One and all that Is." (p. 132)

This approach immediately runs into immense theological difficulties which threaten to obscure the real contribution that Bernadette Roberts can make to Catholic thought. We can accept the value of her experience without being compelled to accept her interpretation of its relationship to Christianity. If she is experiencing what the Buddhists call enlightenment, then she can help us understand the nature of this experience, for she is describing it afresh and from a Western point of view and in a non-Buddhist language, and by doing so she can help us to deal with the difficult problem of how to relate Christian mysticism to Buddhist enlightenment.

On Christian Enlightenment, by Philip St. Romain

During the past eight years I have been experiencing a state similar to what is described in the Zen literature as enlightenment. In my journals, I have called it the "awareness state" or the "cosmic state." it may not be appropriate to call it enlightenment since that terminology belongs to the Zen tradition, and my own experience has not been validated or confirmed by a representative from Zen.

The term "Christian enlightenment" is, perhaps, sufficient nuancing since it acknowledges both the context in which this state has been developed and its similarity to the Zen experience.

My first experience of this was while taking a shower sometime in 1988. It was just a regular old shower - not particularly enjoyable. But at some point I "noticed" the droplets of water running down the wall and felt as though I had entered another world. There was nothing outstanding about these droplets, only that I found myself observing them in such a manner that they were immediately present to me. I use the words "I" and "me" here only as conventions of language, for what was most unique about the "experience" was that it was as though there was no personal, intentional self at all. Observer and observed had fused somehow; the droplets were dribbling "inside of me." Within a few seconds (I don't really know how long it was), my mind snapped into action and I began to try to understand what had happened. The experience vanished just as quickly as it had arisen.

During the days and weeks that followed, this sort of thing happened again and again. I would be talking to someone, walking, working in the garden, and then all of a sudden, I was immediately present to what was happening. All boundaries seemed to disappear, and with them all fear. I did not know what was causing this to happen, although I sensed that it had something to do with the deepening of my prayer, and the activity of the energy I was calling kundalini in my brain--especially in the third eye.

Having experienced contemplative prayer many times through the years, I noted similarities between this new experience and contemplation. There were distinctive differences, too, however. Whenever I experienced contemplative prayer, there was absolutely no doubt that I was in God's presence. The silence was of varying degrees, sometimes so deep that the mind could not even think, other times a bit more shallow, as in the prayer of quiet. I felt as though I was being grasped from deep within by God, and was being drawn to deeper union with God through the energy of love. This new experience was similar to mystical contemplation in the depth of mental silence and in the clarity of perception which ensued. It was distinctly different, however, in that there was no sense whatsoever of a relational union with God through love. In fact, it seemed as though God disappeared completely (or else "I" disappear); it is difficult to describe this nonduality, but that is one of its primary charac teristics.

After a year or so, I had learned how to "tune in" to this state, and how I fell out of it. No operation of the mind or will could produce it; what was called for was a certain shifting of my awareness from the particular to the general, then the state came in and of itself. It was never the same in depth and clarity; the condition of my body, mind, and intention seemed to account for something of its intensity and clarity, but not its manifestation. In time, I came to see that this state was, in fact, always there, and had always been there. It was the "background consciousness" out of which all my experiences of intentional consciousness had arisen. Everyone has it, only most people take it for granted and don't know how to tune into it.

In particularly intense experiences of unity, I have a sense that the one who is looking out of my eyes is looking out of everyone else's eyes, including animals' and even plants'. Plants have no physical eyes, of course, but it seems, nonetheless, that they are apertures through which awareness views reality in the space-time world. This overwhelming sense of unity does not annihilate one's ability to relate to others, nor to fulfill one's responsibilities. Quite obviously, it provides a qualitatively different context in which individual life is exercised. Individual life is real, and this is seen clearly. It is not separate from other lives, however, nor from the awareness which "sees" through all reality.

Several other positive characteristics of this state deserve mention:

absorption in the present moment; the past can be remembered, and plans can be made, but without nostalgia, anxiety, or other interfering emotions.

benevolence toward all creation; compassion toward all forms of life; after beginning to experience this state, I gave up hunting.

deep serenity and subtle bliss; other emotion, - even positive ones - disturb the state.

sense of having a body through which one acts in space and time, but of possessing a consciousness that greatly exceeds the boundaries of skin and bones.

there is no memory of what it was like when it is gone; it leaves no impression on the brain, no affective trace whatsoever, except a vague recollection that things were more clear; and yet, strangely, it is "missed," although the mind cannot produce what it was that it misses.

immediacy of attention and objects present in field of attention.

This last characteristic is a highly distinctive one. It is what I noticed when I first saw the droplets of water in the shower. By immediacy of attention, I mean that whatever comes into the field of attention is present without triggering a mental reaction of any kind. There is no movement of the mind to relate the perception to a previous one, nor to a particular intention we may be working out of. What is seen (or heard or touched) is present to one without distortion, as though reflecting off of a spotless mirror within one's being. In this state, it is possible to know an object "as it is," rather than for any kind of meaning imposed on it by the mind. There is a natural delight in encountering anything in this manner. Even the simplest of things - a leaf, or blade of grass - can be a source of deep mystery and wonder.

Learning to tune into the background awareness is the next step, and it is here that some very specific disciplines can be helpful. The simplest and most effective way for me is to let go of all ideas concerning "who I am," and to look out of my eyes as though they are windows into space-time reality. I then simply note that a being is peering out of these eyes, and I rest in this awareness of the fact "that I am." Sometimes, I will also note that the observer is greater than the body, and I experience that this is so - that my body is part of my being, and that my being goes out beyond my body. The mind can suggest these simple disciplines, but what happens after that is not in any way created by the mind. Before the simple awareness "that I am" a being whose boundaries are virtually limitless, the mind is struck dumb, for it has no sensory perceptions upon which to operate. Its conceptual understanding of God and soul is such that it does not shut down the experience by generating anxiety or confusion, but I wish to make it clear that the awareness state is not like other roles or identities created by the mind to accomplish a certain task. It is, instead, an experience of being-here-now: nothing more, nothing less.

Another prayer and meditative practice that I use is, with eyes closed in a quiet place, to simply be present to God in the moment, consciously surrendering to God all thoughts and desires that make any claim on my attention. This is similar to Buddhist vipassana meditation, only it is done in a relational context. By letting go of everything with the intent to be present to God more deeply, the mind and will are calmed. If the grace of mystical contemplation is given, I enjoy it. If not, I rest in the deep silence of cosmic awareness with eyes closed. There is boundless tranquility, and sometimes I see brilliant blue and purple lights, which energize the mind and heart.

But what to make of all this from a Christian context? After all, I was not (and still am not) a practicing Buddhist. Even though I had read about the beliefs and practices of other religions for years, and had made a retreat on Zen, my coming to this experience was in the context of Christian spirituality. I had heard of enlightenment, and had an intimation of what it was - thanks in large part to the writings of Thomas Merton. But I had never expected to experience it, and had certainly not set the realization of it as the goal of my Christian life. It appeared spontaneously, and whenever it did so, I endeavored to learn what I could about from whence it came, and how it went. That I could eventually tune into it at will distinguished it from mystical contemplation, whose comings and goings I could not control, even though I desired it greatly. It was, to me, an experience of the "natural" order. But what kind of experience was it? A good one, for sure: there was no doubting that! Yet finding confirmation of this experience in the Christian literature has not been easy. The overwhelming concern there seems to be with mystical contemplation.

I will not pretend to have a completely satisfactory philosophical or theological explanation of this experience. To say that it is natural, for example, does not in any way imply that it is not also an experience of God. The identity of the "observer" is a great mystery. It is clearly not the intentional Ego, and yet it is very familiar. That it leaves no impression in the personal, affective memory also makes me suspect a transpersonal origin; so does the experience of the observer looking out from all of creation. It is difficult to attribute this to any kind of individual self, and so increasingly, I tend to think of it as Christ, who has bound himself to me through his incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension so that my life and all of creation now unfolds in him. The absence of fear and the benevolence toward all is also testimony to the presence of the Love which knows no anxiety and wishes the best for all. Between Christ and my deepest self, from which my individuality springs, there is no separation. So it seems, at least.

And yet, as I have related, mystical contemplation is a different encounter with Christ. In contemplatives experiences, I sense that Christ is sharing with me his own inner, Spirit bond with the Father. In mystical contemplation, one is brought into the inner life of God - a life which is present to the deep Self, but which the Self cannot penetrate. Even in the state of cosmic awareness, where other people are seen in clarity and freshness, the inner life of another remains an inaccessible mystery. I might see the other clearly and know my spiritual connection with him or her, but the other must reveal his/her inner life to me for me to know it. Cosmic awareness cannot penetrate into the inner life of another person, much less God. Mystical contemplation is such an experience of God, and so it is a supernatural grace rather than a natural capacity.

In my view, there is no conflict between the two states. Even though they are not the same kind of experience of God, they can co-exist in a person, and even enrich one another. Mystical contemplation can help to open one to cosmic awareness, and cosmic awareness can provide the optimal conditions for opening to mystical graces. The role of faith, here, is extremely important. Cosmic awareness does not annihilate Christian faith in any way. When in this state, there is a disinclination to seek God through words, symbols and rituals, but faith preserves an openness to receive communication from God (Who is not a concept). One is content to simply rest in God as the Ground of one's being, but this does not imply a resistance to mystical grace. If it should happen that the Ground wants to erupt, or to communicate something of Itself, there is no boundary to obstruct It. This openness to a mystical relationship with the Ground is a contribution of Christian faith, and it is in no way diminished by cosmic awareness. Faith transcends all states of consciousness, and continues to be one's primary stance toward God even in the state of cosmic awareness. For this reason, there is no reason whatsoever for a person of Christian faith to denounce Eastern experiences of enlightenment. Nor, as I have shared in this brief report, is it really necessary to turn to the East to come to enlightenment. As the Buddhists say, we are already enlightened! We just need to learn how to wake up to this fact. That we can do so within the context of Christianity is, perhaps, an affirmation not sufficiently appreciated thus far.

Editors' Corner

You may have noticed that this issue is late. We have been sending out the Newsletter roughly four times a year, and at that pace #8 should have,come out in the middle of winter. But nature has a way of taking charge up here. We left the forest towards the end of October to attend the American Maritain Association meeting in Phoenix that, incidentally, gave us a chance to visit the Kino Institute and interview Ernest Larkin, O.Carm., on Christian spirituality. We then went to San Diego county because we are looking for land in order to build a place to live in during the winter season. After enjoying some delightful weather and searching for land in the far eastern part of the county where you would never believe you were just an hour's drive from San Diego, we decided to come home for Christmas. We had left one of our snowmobiles out of the forest and started to come up the snow-covered road. Unfortunately, someone had been there before us, tearing up the road in a 4-wheel drive vehicle, which made it very hard to snowmobile. And when we did reach untrammeled snow it was wet and heavy and difficult going. Finally, worn out, we reached home, only to discover that a wind storm had snapped a ponderosa pine in two, and dropped it on our roof. Two branches were sticking right through the living room ceiling, and the whole roof was threatening to give way. We may never have gotten the Forum out then, anyway, but this is certainly a good excuse! We repaired the roof and then skied five miles to the highway, and took off for sunny Baja California, Mexico. As we write this the roads are still closed by 2 feet or more of snow, and we have been snowmobiling out every ten days or so.   Jim and Tyra Arraj

A Response to the Prayer Questionnaire Printed in #5.

I never had a relationship with God, or experienced His love, until about five years ago, when I had a conversion experience that literally changed my life. Any praying I had done before then had been from rote or read from a prayer book. All that has changed!

1. I pray daily. Usually I spend two fifteen or twenty minute periods in Centering Prayer, but if I am especially busy it may be just one period. I also go to Mass daily, and spend about ten minutes in the morning and evening reading the psalms for Lauds and Vespers for the day. During the day I often talk with God informally - at work, while driving, etc. - as I would a dear friend, which is what He is!

I have tried other types of prayer, i.e., lectio divina, the Jesus prayer, etc., but the types above seem to fit me best, at least for now.

2. I rarely miss Mass; it is just a great way to start the day. If I do not do the Centering Prayer, and/or the Psalms for a day, I try to get back to it the next day. I am just more peaceful and centered with prayer as a regular part of my life. I used to think a person prayed because that's what God wanted, but I want and need to do this for myself. No matter what, I do have "informal" conversation with God throughout the day.

3. The most important effect of my prayer/meditation is that all aspects of my life are centered more and more on God, rather than on myself. Throughout my life, I have wanted to be in control of myself, situations, and others. Praying helps me remember God is the center of the universe, not me! I now know that I am not my own "do-it-yourself" project, trying to figure out what changes to make next, and trying to make them happen by sheer will power. No, God leads me step by step, very gently and lovingly, to discover whatever it is I have to face next about myself; all I can do (and sometimes I need help doing even this) is be willing, just a little, and He makes the changes possible. I know that after almost five years I am more peaceful, loving, joyful, accepting of myself and others, and less angry, judgmental and controlling. It's not an either/or situation, rather, a continuum, and I know at least I am moving in the right direction.

4. 1 am not sure what "extraordinary graces" means. I do have a very real, pervasive sense of God's presence that is very comforting to me, especially when I am experiencing fears, worries, doubts, or anger. I know He is there, and loves me anyway. Often, especially in the beginning, there were a lot of tears, mainly of joy, and occasionally from a deep sense of sadness, loss or grief.

5. 1 cannot say that I have experienced negative or unsettling emotions as a result of prayer. In the beginning I often had doubts about what was happening. I would tell myself I was not praying, just talking to myself; I wasn't really a different person, just the same old one wearing new clothes. As time goes by, I have far fewer periods like that, they don't last as long, and soon I am back on the right track. I've learned to trust God and my experience of Him.

I did have some worries when I first read about the "dark night." It sounded dreadful, like a deep depression that sometimes lasted a long time. I really don't know if I have experienced such darkness or not. I have had periods of doubt, confusion, anger, etc., but nothing profound, and I have given up worrying about it.

6. No physical sensations, just peace.

7. Visions? No, not if you mean I think I "see" God but I have developed a very active imagination in which I picture Him in that sense. It is a very powerful, and healing, way of praying for me. Sometimes these"pictures" happen almost spontaneously and sometimes I consciously work at them. Often I write them down.

8. 1 was born and raised Catholic, and went to Catholic schools for ten years. This was back in the mid-40s to mid-50s, before Vatican II, so I learned a lot of things that were negative about myself, God, and relationships. God was presented as remote and judgmental; I was sure there was no way of pleasing Him, just as I could not please my folks. I went through the motions of practicing the faith until I was thirty, when I was divorced. I was very angry, at my ex, at God for letting this happen to me, at myself for proving once again I was "not-good-enough" and at the Church for reinforcing that feeling, so I didn't go to Church for fifteen years and didn't send the children either (something I very much regret now.) I started going to church again eight years ago. I'm not really sure why, as I was still angry and could not fully participate due to the fact I was in an "invalid" second marriage. My conversion happened in a car, not in church, and was the start of my spiritual journey, my prayer life, and relationship to God. It proved to me He had been with me and loving me all along even though I had pretty much ignored Him. Then I knew He was not to be found only in or through any church. So on the one hand the Church has hindered my relationship with God and my prayer, but on the other hand, the foundation that was laid when I was a child gave me something to return to. There is much in the church I love - the sacraments, sacramentals, music, art. The best way to sum it up is to say I don't let the institution get in the way of my prayer or my experience of God. I have to trust that.

9. 1 had a priest as a spiritual direction for several months when I was part of a two-year Spiritual Companioning program a few years ago. He was helpful for the first three or four sessions, but then I disagreed with something he said, and he seemed to get angry and feel threatened. I was confused at first, and thought I must be wrong; he was the expert, and what did I know? But I knew that what he was saying did not fit my experience and I had to trust that. The main thing I learned was to trust God to direct me. If I misunderstand Him, He has ways of letting me know.

Four years ago I returned to school to get a Masters in Counseling, even though I didn't know what I'd do once I got it (I graduate next month), obtained an annulment from my first marriage, and changed jobs. I now work as an advocate in the marriage tribunal helping others with the annulment process. I really felt God calling me to do these things.

Open Membership Directory

Some people have let us know they regretted not being in the Open Membership Directory in #7. We will be doing another one after a while, especially if you let us know that it was of some use to you. But you must check the Open Membership Directory box on the form. This time the Forum is going out to about 350 people, so the Membership Directory lists only a part of the total membership.

Copyright 1997