The great spiritual teachers always balance knowing with not knowing, light with darkness. In the Christian tradition, the two great strains were called the kataphatic (according to the light) or “positive” way—relying on clear words, concepts, and ideas—and the apophatic (against the light) or “negative” way—moving beyond words and images into silence, darkness, and metaphor. Both ways are necessary, and together they create a magnificent form of higher non-dual consciousness called faith.

The apophatic way, however, has been underused, under-taught, and underdeveloped largely since the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. In fact, we became ashamed of our “not-knowing” and tried to fight our battles rationally. Much of Catholicism and most of Protestantism became highly cerebral. God (who is really Mystery) became something you perfectly observed, a service you attended, words you argued about, or worthiness you worked for. But God was never someone you surrendered to.

In the capitalist West, the very word “surrender” is not to our liking. We are all about winning, climbing, achieving, performing, and being the best. In that light, contemplation and non-dual thinking (I use the words almost interchangeably) are about as revolutionary and counter-cultural as you can get.

you getWhen you don’t balance knowing with not knowing, you get  into the kind of religion and politics we have today which is very arrogant, falsely self-assured, can never admit when it’s wrong, and can never apologize because “I know!” According to the great spiritual teachers, ignorance does not result from what we don’t know; ignorance results from what we think we do know! Anybody who knows knows that they don’t know, especially when they’re talking about God! Medieval Catholic theology called this docta ignorantia or “learned ignorance.”

from  Beginner’s Mind, Transforming the World Through Contemplative Prayer, The Dance Divine: Exploring the Mystery of Trinity, and Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

emphasis mine

I believe that the combination of human action from a contemplative center is the greatest art form. It underlies all those other, more visible art forms that we see in great sculpture, music, writing, painting, and most especially, in the art form of human character development. When the external life and the inner life are working together, we always have beauty, symmetry, and actual transformation of persons—lives and actions that inherently sparkle and heal, in part because they can integrate the negativity of failure, sin, and rejection and they can spot their own shadow games.

With most humans, the process begins on the action side; in fact, the entire first half of life for most of us, even introverts, is all about external action. We begin with crawling, walking, playing, speaking. We learn, we experiment, we try, we stumble, we fall. Gradually these enactments grow larger and more “mature,” but we remain largely unaware of our inner and actual motivations or purpose for any of it.

Yes, there are feelings and imaginings during this time, maybe even sustained study, prayer, or disciplined thought, but do not yet call that contemplation. These reflections are necessarily and almost always self-referential, both for good and ill. At this point, life is still largely about “me” and finding my own preferred and proper viewing platform. It has to be. But it is not yet the great art form of the calm union between our inner and outer lives. We must go further.

You cannot grow in the integrative dance of action and contemplation without a strong tolerance for ambiguity, an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and a willingness to not know—and not even need to know. This ever widens and deepens your perspective. This is how you allow and encounter Mystery and move into the contemplative zone.

Adapted from Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World From a Place of Prayer, pp. 1,2, and 4.

emphasis mine

We clearly see the fluctuating nature of our journey in stages of consciousness. There is great wisdom within each stage, and also an inherent trap. Only as we trust and practice the task of each stage are we prepared to move forward.

There are different ways to name the stages of consciousness. “Spiral Dynamics” or Wilber’s “Integral Theory” is one of the most helpful for me, and it states the historical and common stages up to now in this way: the archaic (infant), the magical (child), the powerful (heroic stage), absolute truth (and conformity to the group that has it), individual success (organized rational world), pluralism (modern liberalism).

If we can get through these stages and are still ready to face the big death to our individualism and our superiority, we are poised to advance to what some call second tier consciousness (really the mystical levels) where we finally see the importance and usefulness of EACH of these stages and yet also transcend all of them at the same time! This could be described as the necessary path toward any greater capacity for love, freedom, and enlightenment….

from The Dean’s Address, Living Social Symposium, August 2013.

We belong to a generation that wants to see the results of our work.  We want to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made.  But that is not the way of God’s Kingdom.  Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results.  Jesus himself died as a failure on a cross.  There was no success there to be proud of.  Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life is beyond any human measure.  As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful, even though we cannot see their fruit.  The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who live after us.

What is important is how well we love.  God will make our love fruitful, whether we see that fruitfulness or not.

All great spirituality is about letting go.

The spiritual journey is a journey into Mystery, requiring us to enter the “cloud of unknowing” where the left brain always fears to tread.
A daily practice of contemplative prayer can help you let go and fall into the Big Truth that we all share, the big truth that is God, that is Grace itself, where you are overwhelmed by more than enoughness!

Unless we learn to let go of our feelings, we don’t have the feelings, the feelings have us.
Forgiveness is simply the religious word for letting go.

Letting go of our cherished images of ourselves is really the way to heaven, because when you fall down to the bottom, you fall on solid ground, the Great Foundation, the bedrock of God.

emphasis mine

When someone hurts us, offends us, ignores us, or rejects us, a deep inner protest emerges.  It can be rage or depression, desire to take revenge or an impulse to harm ourselves.  We can feel a deep urge to wound those who have wounded us or to withdraw in a suicidal mood of self-rejection.  Although these extreme reactions might seem exceptional, they are never far away from our hearts.  During the long nights we often find ourselves brooding about words and actions we might have used in response to what others have said or done to us.

It is precisely here that we have to dig deep into our spiritual resources and find the center within us, the center that lies beyond our need to hurt others or ourselves, where we are free to forgive and love.

Meister Eckhart said, “The spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition.” All great spirituality is about letting go. But we have grown up with a capitalist worldview, and it has blinded our spiritual seeing. We tend to think at almost every level that more is better, even though, as E. F. Schumacher said years ago, “less is more.”

There is an alternative worldview. There is a worldview in which all of us can succeed. It isn’t a win/lose capitalist worldview where only a few win and most lose. It’s a win/win worldview—if we’re willing to let go and if we’re willing to recognize that this, right here, right now, is enough. This is all I need. But that can only be true if we move to the level of being and away from the levels of doing and acquiring.

True religion is always pointing us toward being. At that level we experience enoughness, abundance, more than enoughness. If we’ve never been introduced to that world, we will of course try to satisfy ourselves with possessions, accomplishments, important initials after our names, fancy cars, beautiful homes—none of which are bad in themselves. They’re only unable to satisfy; and that’s exactly why we need more and more of them. As the Twelve-Steppers say, “We need more and more of what does not work.” If it worked, we would not need more of it!

from The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St Francis

emphasis mine

JC:  You titled your 3rd full length collection “Facing a Lonely West” can you tell us a little bit about how you picked the title?

HL:  I planned to call the book Escape Through Vance Tunnel, but when I was talking with Mike Thomas, a long-time friend and professor of languages and Great Texts at Baylor University, who had written a blurb for the book, he suggested Facing a Lonely West, which is the name of the book’s first poem….

More Here

Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift for others, especially when we have received good care.  As long as our wounds are open and bleeding, we scare others away.   But after someone has carefully tended to our wounds, they no longer frighten us or others.

When we experience the healing presence of another person, we can discover our own gifts of healing.   Then our wounds allow us to enter into a deep solidarity with our wounded brothers and sisters.

Nobody escapes being wounded.  We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually.   The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?”  When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed.  Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life.  His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.  As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

September 2014
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