Abiding in God's Presence

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So, we've talked now about liturgy, again the vertical thrust upward. This is one little way to present it, and like always, it has its limits, and then the practice of the presence of God, which takes the same prayer and extends it throughout the day. Today, we want to talk about a third dimension. I put it in a kind of a dashed line to suggest it's going into a whole different dimension then, and that's taking special chunks of time out every day, hopefully every other day at least, just for myself and God. This isn't exactly liturgy, because this tends to be alone in silence. This is the prayer our Lord talks about where you go into your inner chamber and you close and lock the door. In our time, you also unplug the phone and turn off the beeper and all those things.


This is what's sometimes called, in terms of family dynamics, this is quality time with God. This is unlike the practice of the presence of God, which is God with me as I'm doing these things throughout the day, kind of like God beside me and we're working together. But this is more sitting down and face-to-face, the silent quality time. By the way, any deep personal interrelationship wants all three of these dimensions, wants the moments to kind of celebrate and liturgize relationships, maybe birthday parties and meals out, et cetera, and then wants the working throughout the day together, but also wants this quality time, also the relation with children, for instance, wants all of this. This third is perhaps in some ways the hardest to sell. To really be faithful at taking a chunk of time, 10, 20, 30 minutes a day, and just being


with God in that time, a very personal time, very deep, and can develop so it's very silent and quiet and mysterious. I think we immediately come up with two objections to dedicating this type of time to God. Either they come up with us consciously or unconsciously. One is we just don't have the time. Some of us already have a very busy schedule. We're going to add 10 or 20 or 30 minutes a day to that, just to sit there in silence and there's not an evident immediate payback. It's not like cleaning the kitchen or preparing the report for the boss or something. Why? You know, time is precious. Time is money, as Henry Ford said. So, I think the deeper problem behind this, which is really a rationalization, is fear.


You know, if I sit down, I get in touch with all those kind of darker areas within, then I have to encounter the living God. That's really pretty scary, unless I have all kinds of defense systems. So I'm not sure I want to do that. Regarding the not enough time, of course, we all are equally wealthy in that regard, at least. We all have the same amount of time each day to dispose of. You know, 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day. It comes up to 1,440 minutes a day. So, for instance, if I resolve to spend at least 10 minutes a day with God, that's a little over one half of one percent of the day. Ten minutes out of 1,440. You know, is God important enough for me to spend less than one half, I'm sorry, a little


more than one half of one percent? Suppose I really get wildly generous with God and dedicate 20 minutes a day. Well, again, that's a little less than one, I'm sorry, a little over one percent a day, one percent of the day to God. So it's something to ponder. Where are my priorities? Where is God in my list of priorities? Where is my direct, deep relationship with God? There's a fun book I picked up in the airport. They have these books for businessmen and businesswomen. One was How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Lockhane. And he's one of these efficiency experts. And sometimes, as Jesus says, the children of this world are wiser than the children of the kingdom. His main thing is, yes, time is valuable. We all have the same amount of time.


How we budget our time is really who we are, is our order of priorities. Except that, if we list our order of priorities, what's most important in my life? Say put an A to the things that are absolutely most important for me, and a B for the things that come after, and C for the things after that. You'd think he'd say that we budget daily, or at least weekly, the most amount of time for the things that are most important. And then the next amount of time for the things that come right after that, etc. He says through surveys, etc., no, it's just the opposite. We give the least amount of time to the things we would really, in our deepest moments, confess are the most important. Why is this? Here he does a little psychology. He thinks also it's fear. You know, put your money where your mouth is, put your time where your deep commitments are. Well, we're afraid to, for fear that doing that, our deepest commitments won't give us


the payback, or we won't be there in a serious enough way or something. So we tend to put off the things that are most important for us, and we do the little things. You know, well, I can always rearrange this section of my desk. I can pray tomorrow, you know, this kind of thing. So I can, you know, this kind of thing, I can do a nice game of golf or whatever it is. That's not way up in my order of priorities, but it's a way to fill out the time in a way to avoid what's really important. And so he says, what we really need is the guts, the courage to not only seriously work out our order of priorities, but then to invest our time and our energy proportionally, giving a significant amount of time for what is really important for us. And that's what really requires the courage, he says, to work out our order, our deep order


of priorities. He suggests, here's a businessman going on a retreat and taking four or five days praying about it and thinking about it, and what really is my list of priorities. But then again, he says, once you do it, invest the time to go after what's really important. So if prayer, that is to say, if communion with God, if union with God is important, well, then invest the time. So this particular modality of prayer, of setting special time aside for God every day, maybe even 10 minutes, 20 minutes, if that requires a little over half of one percent of the day of the time or a little over one percent of the day, we should be able to find that time. About the fear thing, this fear of entering into the presence of the living God, well, work through it.


You know, don't avoid it. Don't run from it. The only way to deal with fear is to courageously, lucidly work through it. Some other objections to doing this kind of thing. The basic one is, what if I don't feel in the mood? What if I don't feel particularly spiritual at that moment? Isn't it just kind of pharisaical? Isn't it false for me to sit down and put myself directly in a one-to-one relation with God, however that form that takes, if I'm just not there, you know? It's interesting. But that, again, is basing our prayer on our feelings. And again, in our very therapeutic age, we want to know what we're feeling. We want to respect that and honor that. We don't want to disdain our feelings. But we don't want to make our feelings necessarily the criteria for our action, unless we're talking


about the most deep affect, like love and hope and things. But not just a kind of, I'm not in the mood, kind of thing. This then, this discipline, requires us to ascend the inner mountain, so to speak, get in touch with those higher faculties, like my reason, like my wisdom, and like my will, and say, whatever I'm feeling, in faith I believe that there is a living God, the all-compassion God. This God is present. This God wants to commune with me. I'm going to will to sit down, or kneel, or whatever, and give this time to God. So what it is, is an exercise that also makes me more aware of myself and how multidimensional I am, and to go with the higher faculties, not just go with the higher priorities, but the higher faculties. This is this little design, which lots of the mystics, in one way or another, presuppose.


Again, within each of us, there's kind of a holy mountain, a kind of Mount Sinai. Every now and then, we should ascend that Mount Sinai. At the foot of the mountain are all these towns and villages, and all the hustle and bustle there, and noise, and we're usually at that level, and that's the level also of the senses that put us immediately in touch with all that, and that's wonderful. It's a great gift of God, hearing, and seeing, and feeling, etc. As St. Gregory the Great says, the senses take us outside of ourself into what's all around us. And if I just go a little higher, there's the imagination, where I don't have to go outside myself at all. It's all within me, and I can imagine that I'm off in Italy already, and at the chapter, or visiting Florence, and I can make it pretty real for me. And someone like Ignatius Loyola uses that as a powerful form of prayer. I can imagine myself at the side of Galilee, and with our Lord as he preaches the Sermon


on the Mount, etc. But then I can go higher, even to the thinking faculty, and think about Christ as Lord, Christ as my Alpha and Omega, God is my All, etc. And in the light of that, I can go into what's sometimes called the cloud at the summit of the mountain, where things are no longer so clear. I leave the senses below, I leave the imagination below, I leave the clear and distinct thoughts below, and there I'm just willing in faith and love to plead to God. So again, whatever mood I'm in, however wild my imaginations are going, however wild my thoughts are going, if I can, to some extent, acquire all that, that's the Hezekiah kind of thing, then I can ascend into the mountain. And so in praying this particular form of prayer, say I'm going to give 15 minutes a day to


God, I go into my room, I close the door, unplug the phone, and I'm there with God, then I ascend the mountain. Well, again, this gives me a much fuller experience of myself, of my capacities, of my incredible inner resources, than if I just stay locked into the level of my senses and emotions down there. If I do this with some regularity, once every other day, or even once a day, then what builds up is a habit, a habitus, which is to say the repetition reinforces this, and that makes it easier in those days where I really don't feel like it. This is a good habit. So another advantage of the prayer, if I do it regularly, is that it reinforces itself. I may have bad habits, well, reinforce some good habits, so that's another motive to do it. And then it just strengthens my will, strengthens my faith, the more I do it.


I exercise my faith, I exercise my love. So this is a form of prayer that's just good for me, but besides that, it puts me in direct communion at a very mysterious level with the living God. So it's not just kind of a therapeutic or self-realization series of benefits from this. Putting me in direct communion with God, it'll have even the most natural of good consequences. Here's a fascinating book out, it was a best bestseller some decades ago. It's still up there, and the basic documentation holds. It's by a famous neurologist, an MD who works in the area of stress, Dr. Herbert Benson, called the Relaxation Response. We're all tense, we all live in a very tense society. How do we kind of come to a deeper peace, a quiet?


Well, again, there's that quote from St. Augustine, You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and we are restless till we rest in you. When we abide in God's presence, also in this particular modality, we finally rest. And this doctor, this MD, says, also to his astonishment when he first discovered this phenomenon, this is a way of quieting the tensions and the stress that is much deeper and much more effective than popping a volume or taking an extra highball or something like that. He says this really works, what he calls meditation prayer. He encountered it in the kind of the Eastern forms where you sit down and you quiet yourself and you get in touch with your breathing and you just are there. But he acknowledges this certainly works in the Christian forms of contemplative prayer.


What it does is it heals us in terms of our nervous system. So I think we need all the motivation we can find to do this kind of prayer. This is a powerful one. This is going to help us calm down at the deepest level, find this inner, deeper peace. He says that just we know something about tension now. We know that we're kind of instinctively, genetically programmed to deal with any perceived threat in a given way, that any animal deals with it in this way. That's the famous fight or flight response. Once my antenna, is that the word I'm looking for? My radar system. Yeah, is aware of, uh-oh, there's a threat approaching me, whatever that be. Then immediately, this isn't my thoughts or my pondering it through, this is the involuntary


nervous system says, threat, either size it up, stand up and fight it or flee it. So that's the way it is. That's the way, you know, Bobcat will do if a deer is perceived or something like that. Now, the problem is in our very civilized society, very often on the unconscious level, at least, we perceive threats and we get this alarm and we know that we either have to fight or flight and we can do neither. The boss walks up and just wants to see the work we're doing. Well, I can't slug him and I can't run away, you know, so I just smile and I'm very gracious and meanwhile, instead, so he says, this is the basic cause of lots of our current problems, it's just civilization, that in fact, when we're confronted with lots of threats, we don't fight, we don't, you know, start punching out and we don't run away.


We're there, we work with it, but meanwhile, our whole system is, well, there's something about just sitting down and closing your eyes and entering into God's presence and being quiet with God that helps us move beyond all these knots we're tying up in our stomach and throughout our whole system because of this stress. So it's an interesting kind of motivation. What's the literature out there? Well, there's lots of Christian literature. Unfortunately, our churches have gotten so hyperactive that we've lost contact with our more contemplative tradition, so often our parishes, etc., are perceived as very active places with all these groups and activities and bingo and that sort of thing. So one of our monks, his young nephew, wanted to get in touch with the mystical and the contemplative, so he took off for India. He just didn't even know there's a Christian Catholic contemplative tradition.


So when he came back, my friend started giving him, you know, The Cloud of Unknowing and John of the Cross and Eckhart and all this literature that's the classic Christian literature for contemplative prayer, for mysticism. So often we have to rediscover this and also witness to this whole area for ourselves and for others. So suppose with all this I've sold you, or suppose you're already doing it, giving 20 minutes or half an hour or an hour or whatever, just a few tips. We're all beginners in this area. How do you do it, so to speak? Well, there's what's called the remote preparation. Before you even go into your room and close the door and sit down, or do it in the chapel or whatever, it's the basic ordering of your life, doing good things, living in faith throughout the day. Brother Lawrence says, when you go in to pray especially, do you find you're distracted?


You find it's very difficult? Well, ask yourself, have you been praying throughout the day? If you have, then this moment is much easier. It's kind of like a relief. I can now do with full attention what I've only been able to do with partial attention up to now. And it's also invited and nourished by liturgy. A very rich liturgy is such that afterwards we just need some silence and just to absorb it all. So the remote preparation is, you know, live justly, be kind to others, keep your life in some kind of order, live out of faith, and pray. And then at that moment, when you come into the inner chamber, then it will be the more fruitful. What do you do? Well, this is one way to go at it. One way is the sitting posture, which is according to the whole ancient Eastern Christian orthodox.


You sit in a very comfortable way, but straight up, and close your eyes. Well, let's leave them open for a while. You might want to start this prayer in a more, what's sometimes called, cataphatic way. Cataphasis is affirmation. This is more through images of ideas, imaginings, etc., the whole area of these levels within. And this is, again, the Ignatian method and lots of other methods. So I might want to have the Bible in front of me, maybe the book of Psalms there, to utilize that or go slowly through the reading of the day for the Mass. I want to maybe say the Rosary, something like that, something that will occupy directly my senses and imaginations and thoughts. I might want to have a beautiful picture of Christ or Mary or whatever, something that


brings me into a deep, prayerful space in front of me, a crucifix, obviously. I might want to have incense. Some might prefer to kneel. Some might even prefer to lie down. That's permitted, just so you don't go to sleep. So this is the first, and have a holy space, if possible. Maybe a holy corner, as the Orthodox say, where you do have the crucifix or the icon and maybe a candle and maybe a flower or something like that. Be there. And then the second thing is really be there, you know, just come back into this room, come back into my body. Be aware that I am here and set aside all the concerns of the day. They'll probably come back to me during this period. They'll come back the more, depending on how long the period is and how lively imagination I have or memory.


Memory is also up there. So just offer all that to God at the beginning. I'm not going to be able to maintain total and complete peace and union with God in this period. I'm going to be distracted. Maybe I'll be distracted a great deal of the time down here. In any case, I will this time to God. I will this time to listen to God, to be with God, with my whole being. And then if it be, again, a reading of a passage of scripture or if it be going through a devotion or whatever, fine. If it feels comfortable to move into a more quiet, silent space, all these spiritual masters say, go with that gently and in faith and be there with God in the silence. And there's a great theological basis for this. We sometimes think I can only communicate with God if I'm saying things, if I'm imagining


things. That's not true. I've got to be thinking godly thoughts or feeling godly feelings. God so transcends our thoughts, so transcends our feelings, that we are closer to God in a deep, mysterious silence than we are through the most sublime words. Here's a article on the negative way, which is, by the way, the apophatic. The apophatic goes into the way of negativity, not negativity in an attitude towards others or myself or life, but as saying that any idea about God is more limiting than it's illuminating. Any feeling about God is more limiting than it's revelatory of who God is. Now, I need these thoughts and I need these images because I'm also body and I'm also


mind, etc. But I should be very aware of their limits and very aware that if I move into the cloud at the summit of the mountain and if I'm just there with God in the mystery in a way that I can't explain to others, I can't explain to myself, that is a deeper communion with God than the most eloquent phrases or the most sublime passages even from revealed scripture. So this article starts out with the Fourth Lateran Council stated that between the creator and creature, no similarity can be expressed without including a greater dissimilarity. So this is Catholic doctrine for those of you who want to be orthodox and not slip into some heresy or something. So if I state God is father, God is father, but God is more unlike any father we've ever


known than God is like a father, then I want to say that, but then I want to go beyond it. That's the thing. It's not denying the truth of it. It's affirming the truth, but acknowledging it's a very limited truth. And so if I'm drawn beyond that into just silence, if I say God is mighty warrior, God is mighty warrior, it's revealed in scripture, but God is more unlike any mighty warrior I've ever known, whether it be in a Hollywood movie of marines or whoever, you know, a boxer or whatever, that if I can go beyond that, you know, God is rock, God is friend, God is spouse. Scripture presents us with a whole series of models, as does the Christian tradition, as does art, etc. I have a beautiful image there of Jesus, wonderful, but the risen Christ is more unlike that even


icon, even aspired icon, than like, that if I move again beyond into the aquaphatic, into the ineffable, into the mystery with a capital M, I'm moving deeper into God. I'm not just kind of getting into weird stuff. St. Thomas Aquinas was very aware of this. You know that at the end, he didn't finish the Summa. He had some mind-blowing experience, and his secretary said, Thomas, why don't you finish? And he says, no, but I've experienced as such that the whole Summa seems just a straw to me. So, they quote here St. Thomas Aquinas, the human mind can attain only that God is, not what God is. So, I do know that God exists, and again, I can come up with certain so-called perfections, God is eternal, and God is loving, and God is all-knowing, etc. But again, God is infinitely more unlike knowing, in any way of knowing I know, that proceeds


from subject to verb to object to syllogism, etc. Or God is more unlike anything else, presence. God is all-present. Fine, I've got that all wrapped up. Now I know about God. Well, do I? I know our way of being present, but God's way of being present is so different. Yes? Paul Tillich and Meister Eckhart, they talk a lot about the concept of God above God, the God that we know. Is that what you're basically talking about? Precisely. Eckhart can use categories so paradoxical that he ended up getting condemned by Holy Mother Church. Now the thing is, now the Dominicans are insisting he was illegitimately condemned, and they're trying to get him cleared, and they want him canonized.


But yeah, he uses this paradoxical language to break us beyond logic. The Zen tradition of the Koan is like that. We can think, and we can feel very secure in our thoughts, or we can feel and really like our feelings. But the God beyond thought and feeling, so one way to put that paradoxically is the God beyond God. Well, John Oakes calls it nada. Nada. That's right. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. That's the way to go to God. Not through this feeling, not through that thought, not through... But it's not the nothing of the nihilist. It's the nothing of the all, of the fullness. So this brings us into paradox, total paradox, and just total silence, you know. So if we feel again drawn up the mountain, even if we feel it's a very subtle attraction


and at one level, all the noise is continuing, etc. Slowly, slowly, we become aware that we have different levels, and so that there can be noise on one level, and yet we're aware that on a higher, more subtle level of our awareness, there is a maybe very fragile communion with God there. One spiritual writer of our own time, George Maloney, uses the example of the, oh, say, 20-story apartment house, and I'm up in the 20th story with a deep, close friend, and we're just sharing, maybe even in silence. Well, down on the street, they're working on the street, and they've got all the noise going. That's down many stories. Well, if I'm a very nervous person, I can get agitated by that and run down and want to tell them to be quiet. Or if I've got enough a hold of the situation, I can say, but my friend is always here, and


I'm up here on the 20th floor, not down there, so let them make that racket. I'll be up here. So more and more, we kind of learn these smarts. We learn this ability to abide with God, at least for periods, in the cloud, in this space of the ineffable, whatever is the noise, maybe the hurt, the fear, the confusion, or the joy, the enthusiasm on these other levels. Distractions can come also in the guise of angels. For priests, you know, who have to think about a sermon for next Sunday. In this moment of silence with God, all these brilliant ideas can come up. So, well, this is more important than just silence with God. No, being silent with God is more important. And then the brilliant intuitions will come afterwards. Or at most, if you're really terrified that you'll lose lifelong, have a little piece


of paper there, just immediately jot it down, and then immediately go back. But you'll discover that the most amazing things come up in this period of silence, but to not be overwhelmed by them. I am not this distraction. I'm not this feeling. However sublime, however whatever. I'm not this insight. I'm not this theological syllogism or anything else. I'm this person yearning to just abide with the living God in this area of silence and mystery. Any questions, comments about that? Yes? Would you say that it's not a good idea to have no thoughts? Or if there's thoughts, to not worry about it? If there's no thoughts, that's good? Well, this is an extremely delicate area, and it's good to have a spiritual friend or


director with whom you can share. Because thoughts are certainly not bad, depending on what the thoughts are of. But suppose there are wonderful considerations of, you know, the gospel, and suppose one in fact isn't yet being drawn into the cloud. So you shouldn't just repress the thoughts with violence and just sit there in dumbness, you know. This is called the heresy of quietism, that all this below is bad, so I'm just going to repress it and be there in this kind of blank nothing. That's not it either. It's then to kind of climb the mountain step by step. So if it's still at the level of clouds and consideration, discursive thought as they say, that's leading to God, fine. Again, if there's some kind of awareness of, now I'd like to rest a while, now I'd like


to give it a little peace. To not be terrified to do that for fear you're lapsing into. To go beyond when you feel any kind of subtle attraction to go beyond. If there's not even any awareness to go beyond, at any level, then to stick with the thoughts. Yes? Father, what happens when you reach like a spiritual dryness? Well, and also this has to be very carefully discerned. Sometimes our dryness or aridity or sometimes that's our fault. You know, how am I living the rest of my day, etc. If I'm all involved with the stock market all, you know, 18 hours a day and then I go in my inner room and I expect suddenly to be with God, I might find some distraction there and aridity, etc. On the other hand, if my life is basically together and I'm basically journeying in faith,


then something like dryness can be a great journey upward. It can be a great maturing moment. It's like in the interpersonal relationship of spouses. You know, the whole romanticism of the honeymoon is over. You're starting to see the reality of the situation, the reality of yourself and your own limits. The other person and their limits, though that doesn't obtain with God. But then, again, you do have your will, you do have your faith, you do have your love. So just persevere, I think. So two exhortations in moments of dryness. Be sure that you've got your basic life together. Also in, you know, doing good for others, ministry and service, etc. And then, at the level of faith, live the life. Therese of Lisieux is a wonderful... She had all these spiritual unctions and enthusiasms when she was a girl and she made all these


lists of all these acts she was doing for God. All of them. So many every day, etc. Almost as soon as she entered the cloister, she went into this dryness, this aridity. She said beforehand, when she was still with her family and in school, she couldn't imagine anyone really being an atheist. She thought they'd have to make an intentional act of bad faith because God and God's love and God's goodness is so evident. After she went into this dryness, she felt very close to atheists and she had a real struggle with faith itself. Now, here she realized with her strong Christian courage... Now, this was moving into a more mature level of being with God. She shouldn't try to force herself back to all these unctuous feelings and all these always being assured of God's love and all this.


So, it needs some careful discernment, but it's very possibly a move, what John of the Cross talks, a move into the night. Oh, blessed night. For him, the night, the darkness, which is again another way to talk about the apophatic, is a way of liberation. Because I have certain lights from my emotions and senses and feelings and thoughts, etc. They let me see at that very creaturely level. But as I move into the cloud, to use that image, or as I move into the night, that's scary. But if I persevere in faith, then that can be a much deeper... There's a book out by the Jesuit, which is When the Well Goes Dry. And, of course, John of the Cross is the classic there. Or the author of The Cloud, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, says, what are you


doing when you're in the cloud? I don't know. Where are you? I don't know. What's it all about? I don't know. I can't possess God with my thoughts. But I can possess God with my love. Love is that which goes out beyond me and cleaves to the other as other. So the love enables me to self-transcend. Whereas my thoughts, even again my most sublime thoughts, or not to mention my feelings and all that, keep me with me. Another way to put it, we talk about the true self and the false self. We go much deeper into the true self as we ascend the mountain. And that's also the area, again, of our own poverty, creaturehood. We're not in control there. It's very scary. To go into the cloud, one has to surrender. One can be more or less in control if one's emotional and thought life are somewhat in order.


I saw another hand. Yeah, just what you're saying, I think it's Reinhardt, I'm not sure, but a part of one of the prayers that he said is the fact that we are trying to please you in fact does please you. And what you're saying is that as long as we're trying to reach this point, it doesn't necessarily say we're ever going to reach it, but the fact that we're trying to reach it in fact does result in us pleasing God. Yeah, and you could go even farther. If there's the will in faith to love God, I am loving God. That's a substance of the love of God. Whatever I'm feeling, however I'm feeling the inadequacy of that. If in the darkness of faith I'm cleaving to God, then I'm cleaving to God. And this is however unworthily, however much noise is on the lower levels, etc., etc. So the intention is all in faith.


When the throne of the cross walks in a way, do we seek the giver or the gift? Yeah. We want ecstasy, rapture all the time. We may withdraw that deliberately to see whether we'll sit it out without any ecstasy whatsoever. Yep, yep. All these gifts, some of them are wonderful, you know, great spirit of unction or prophetic voices or reading of whatever they be, you know. I can proclaim a word that just leaves everyone astonished, whatever it is, but that's not worth anything compared with just that moment in the darkness, in the poverty of being with God. You know, Teresa of Avila, that was a hard many years, wasn't it? Oh, yeah. Teresa of Avila. Yep, yep. And John of the Cross went through this incredible dark night, yeah, of nada, nada, nada. Yes. I kind of would say it's like meeting someone for the first time, you have to talk a lot,


not understand, talk about the weather and things, and then getting to know someone, you don't have to talk as much unless they're your spouse or your friend, and there's really nothing to be said, just enjoy being together. And then if I'm not a person or don't feel them at all, then just be committed to sitting there and, you know, being together for the long haul. That's right. That's the analogy, that growth of intimacy on the interpersonal level. At first, silence is very scary and a threat, and it's a sign things aren't going wrong, things aren't going well. If I'm with the other person just at the beginning, we're trying to get to know each other. If there's long chunks of silence, we're not able to get it together. But at the end, after years and years of friendship, we can just be silent in peace and joy or in anger or in sadness or whatever. That's the thing.


And that's because we're image and likeness of God, that's because each one of us is mystery at our deepest core. So, as we get more intimately into friendship, we're able to share it, that deep level of silence, more and more. And to acknowledge the mystery, we think of mystery like an Ellery Queen mystery novel, you know, you get the clues and you've got to come up with the answer by the end. But this deeper sense of mystery is that it's just so overwhelming that we'll never have an answer. And that's not scary or that's joyful. It's like a little kid who's just awestruck and joyful in the immensity of creation or the sky or the number of birds or whatever. So, we want to come back, unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the kingdom. So, it's getting beyond the things we can manage and the things we're in control of


to surrender, to being with the mystery, to being in the silence. That's what this kind of prayer is all about. And it's so important because the other forms of prayer, certainly liturgy, can be, you know, we're in the midst of words and gestures, but they're all means. In the practice of the presence, also there, there can be moments just of silence. I don't know what happened there. But in that moment between opening the soup can and pouring it into the bowl, I was with God. Well, that's fine. You know, I don't have to articulate it in words. Let it be that way. Then there's a final help in this that I want to just briefly mention, and maybe you know a great deal about, but that's the famous prayer of the heart or prayer of Jesus, monologistic prayer, which comes out of the desert. It's very early, very Christian, though it has its non-Christian parallels in Buddhism


and Hinduism, what's called the mantra prayer. But it's a short word or phrase quietly repeated over and over gently, not intensity. The rosary is a form of this. We had one of the leading spokesmen of this kind of prayer from the Eastern Church give us a whole series of talks on the Jesus prayer. He insists there's not just one formula you have to use. You can use just a formula that works for you. It might just be, my Lord Jesus, or it might be, have mercy on me, or it might be, God, my love, or whatever. Just quietly repeat. I use a Trinitarian formula, which I have for years, just Jesus, Spirit, Father. If you want, you can coordinate this with the breathing.


The breath is a very mysterious part of us. It's linked up just with our life. It's that primordial moment of life when God breathes into us. It's tied into the Holy Spirit. It's at the involuntary level. It just goes on whether we're thinking it or not. But we can make it voluntary. It's a kind of a bridge activity. So if I slow down my breathing, I'm probably getting calmer. If I'm breathing like that, I'm probably a little nervous. But if I can slow it down, so, for instance, I just combine with the in-breath, Jesus Spirit, who lead me into the mystery, and then in the out-breath, Father, or Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. That's the full Eastern Hesychast form. But if I say that during the day, it can be a kind of a golden thread throughout the day,


just in brief moments, Jesus Spirit, Father. When I don't want to even go to the whole effort of coming up with an eloquent prayer or something, just pray that. Or particularly when I'm sitting, if I just start repeating this prayer quietly, this occupies the senses and the imagination and the thought. It kind of keeps them busy. A very early bishop of the Eastern Church, Diadochus, he said, we've got to kind of give food or nourishment or like giving gifts to a kid to keep them busy or something. And if I say something like the prayer of the heart very quietly, this can calm and keep these lower faculties busy. And then I can ascend into the cloud. When I'm in the cloud, the time might come when I don't want to repeat the prayer at all. Fine. It's just a means. It's not an end in itself.


Just let it go. But then when I find, uh-oh, I'm caught in a distraction again, not to bash my head because with guilt I've been distracted. No, just gently come back to recollection, regathering, also through the gentle repeating of this prayer, the Jesus prayer. Some of us should see where this, this is just a reminder, a prayer rosary, prayer beads. In any moment, in any place, I can come back to this few words and they can again help me ascend. This is very much in the Eastern Church, again called the prayer of Jesus or the prayer of the heart. It's there in the Western liturgy, Western literature. If you read The Cloud of Unknowing, one of the methods that the author says is, again, take a short word or phrase and just quietly repeat it again and again. Not that, again, it's going to put me into some kind of hypnotic state


or the more I say it, the better or something like that. But it's a gentle means, a gentle vehicle for calming the lower faculties so that I can move into that deep silence. Again, if I do that daily, St. Teresa of Avila says, if I give 15 minutes a day to this kind of prayer, it'll absolutely transform my life. There's no way that I won't be quite a different Christian at quite a different depth. So this is the invitation. Any last questions about this third dimension then of the way we abide in God? This is a way of really going into the depths of God as beloved, ineffable mystery. Any other questions, comments? I have a comment. I attended Father Joseph Long's seminar on meditation a couple months ago or a month ago.


And then in between yours and his, you were here at a time when they had a kind of a mini-seminar with the Buddhists. I would have sure liked to have had yours first, and Long second, and then the Buddhists third. I think Brother Gabriel was in all three of them too. But if you and Father Long do this again, and Brother Joseph do it again, maybe you could have yours first. There's all sorts of fine literature out there now in the Christian tradition. For instance, there's the whole John Main current that's called Christian meditation. They have these meditation groups all over the world. They go into prisons. They teach prisoners this. This is a way of staying sane and in a deeper way united with God, even in all the chaos of prison or on the army front or students or teachers or whomever.


So anything by John Main or Lawrence Freeman on Christian meditation. Meditation sometimes means, again, this more discursive thought where I start with a consideration. But in this tradition, it's more moving into the silence. Then there's the whole centering prayer tradition with Father Basil Pennington and Father Keating, etc. As they say, that's just as they say. That's just the cloud of unknowing repackaged. Instead of using the image of the cloud, using the image of the center. Going from the periphery where things are so spinning and noisy to the deep still center. So the literature is out there and it's very supportive. Again, it's a way to add real depth and intimacy to our relationship with God. Other comments? I thought I'd just end where we began with the 15th chapter of John.


In my end is my beginning. And then just again with the resolve to do it. Whether it be throughout the day, whether it be more focused and present in liturgy, whether it be in this form of prayer, be there, abide. And then with this commitment to pray for each other and to pray for all those all around the world who are seeking in a more ongoing way to abide with God. And after the chapter, we might just leave in peace and give us some silent time. And Jesus said, I am the true vine and my father is the vine grower. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine.


Neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit. Because apart from me, you can do nothing. As the father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.