The Hermitage of the Heart

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Part of "The Hermitage of the Heart"

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Okay, so we now have arrived at the third reflection, and I want to really continue the last reflection, because I really believe it's the sum, pardon me, and substance of the Christian life, which is nothing other than moving into the fullness of human life, which is unity with divinity. And so this process of dying into greater life, I want to explore more fully with you. So the way inward and the way of living within the mystery, the way of living also with depth in life and in touch with the inner as well as the external, the outer realities of life. This way inward to the heart, which is a way within God's


heart. As I'm suggesting, this way is beyond our own power, our own simple human power, and it's a way that's fraught with danger, for one can mistake lesser dwellings for the hermitage of the heart. One can think one knows one's heart and has arrived there, and yet all one is at is some dimension of the psyche, and one starts to build a home there. One can get trapped and stuck in layers of the personality and end up simply indulging self-centeredness. This is why I want to say more about the only safe path for us, which is the path of the Paschal Mystery. Now at every Eucharist we celebrate and participate in, what we are celebrating and participating in is this mystery, the Paschal Mystery, which


is the paradox, isn't it? The paradox of full eternal life through the death of limited human existence. Jesus rises into full eternal life, not only for himself, but for others and for the world, by descending into the human experience of the death of his human historical life. We take the word at the Eucharistic celebration, and the consecrated bread and wine, precisely we take it in, in order to remain faithful to the journey inward in and with Christ by the power of his Spirit. We don't only gaze from afar and wonder in awe, though we certainly do that at what Jesus has done and is doing, but we find our


lives caught up within that mystery and that dynamic of death and resurrection. There was someone at the Hermitage in Big Sur that was one of our workers there, and one time he asked me, he said, why do Catholics receive communion over and over again, sometimes every day? He says, does it wear off or something? And I chuckled, and yet I thought there was something to what he was perceiving. There is always that danger, isn't it, that we approach the Eucharist as if, as if it does wear off, and failing to realize the whole dynamic power of the Eucharist, which is precisely to teach us to learn how to abide within the Eucharistic presence deep in our hearts. The dynamic power of the Eucharist is precisely to lead us on


this inner journey, and so we take in the word, we take in the Eucharistic elements so that we might learn to find the presence not only around us but within us. Perhaps because that's the hardest place to find it or believe that the presence is within us. The whole journey is a movement from an outer listening and an outer looking to an inner realm, the inner realm of the heart. So that way we then can move outward again, enlightened in a whole new way, reborn. The word listened to and the bread and wine consumed brings our conscious attention inward to the source of who we are and the source of all fruitful activity. Precisely so that our outer life may become more fruitful and more enlightened. It seems to me that


true Eucharistic spirituality is deep interiority, a growing sense of the divine indwelling, that one's heart is a tabernacle. All true Christian spirituality, in fact, I think finds its goal in a deep interiority out of which flows a genuine, congruent, transparent exteriority. Without that deep interiority, the danger is we will view the Christian life simply from a moralistic point of view of do's and don'ts, right and wrong, and trying to acquire the techniques for the right behavior, and yet it is not consistent with our inner life. And so we tend to put on the Christian life as we put on clothing, and it does not really come from within. I think Jesus repeatedly, as recorded in the New Testament, attacked


at least that aspect of Judaism that focused too much on the exterior, and how things looked and appeared, and not enough on the interior dimension. I realize that Paul, in one of his letters, tells us to put on Christ, to put on the mind of Christ, to clothe ourselves with Christ. He's using, of course, baptismal imagery, the ritual of the baptism of the time when there was full immersion and the person stepped out of the water and was clothed fully in a full-length white garment. And I suppose that can be dangerous if we take that too literally, that to be Christian is to simply take and clothe the outer dimensions of ourselves so we look good, and we act good, yet we're not being transformed from within. Now, I mentioned before the way inward is through this process called dying. The one


who begins this journey is not the one who arrives, yet there is an inseparable relation between the two. The self we think we are, and that we spend the first half of life struggling to put together, must die to itself precisely so that the dying process becomes possible, enabling a dynamic of rebirth. When I say die, I don't mean kill itself. We don't commit an act of violence. We simply let go. We just have to let go of our grip on this self and this way of being myself in the world, and allow myself to be reborn in another way, and realizing this is a daily choice that I've given. It seems I always stand between life and death. I always stand between one way of experiencing life and living life and


another way, moment by moment, and grace is there confronting me and challenging me and inviting me to make the choice of Christ. To not seize the day, not carpe diem, seize the moment, but rather to die into the moment, to surrender into the moment. We must confront our resistance to join Christ in his dying into greater life, and there are many ways we resist. It might be our fear of the loss of control. Many of us, we have this imagining that our life would be utterly chaotic if we weren't in control. It might be our fear of the unknown, and so we avoid the unknown. We avoid not only what we cannot control, we avoid what we do not know. It might be of the darkness, because it is both unknown and beyond control. It might be of all that lurks under the surface of our ordinary consciousness


of death itself. Dying is the process of releasement from the narrow confines of my ordinary ego consciousness. This process of dying is very crucial for our transformation, for the transformation for our unfolding, and we must look at it, we must understand it, and reflect on it daily as Saint Benedict urges us. In the medieval monasteries of Saint Benedict, they even used to put a skull in the refectory to remind you of your death. I don't know if we have to do exactly that, but I think what, and I don't know if that's exactly what Benedict or only what Benedict meant, is just to realize you're going to die at some point in time. I would think the more important awareness is, remember, you're dying now. And I don't


mean when I say that our body is slowly dying. I mean that each moment of every day, I must keep the way of Christ, the way of dying into greater life before me. And that's why I think Benedict stressed obedience and humility. To surrender my will to be a certain kind of person and relate to life a certain kind of way, and to be humble, and to enter into another way of being. Benedict calls it running in the ways of love. Initially, it's the experience of the scripture, say, of walking like a tightrope, of walking through a narrow gate or a narrow road. That's what it feels like to our normal consciousness. But when we surrender into that spaciousness of the Lord, it's that broad road, and we can actually run in the ways


of love. It's no small wonder that our society avoids developing the inner life and paying much attention to it, because our society also fears death, which may seem like an odd statement to make considering how preoccupied we are with death in our news and in our media and our entertainment and movies, as well as in our crime and daily life. Yet, that's a clever tactic, Becker points out in his classic work, The Denial of Death. It's a clever tactic, because we view it outside of ourselves, and so we don't realize that the process of dying is intimate to myself. It's not good enough to watch from afar somebody else dying and getting it. I must watch that process in my own life and realize how intimate


it is for my own life, and my own growth into fuller life, and my own growth into Christ's life. We have all kind of clever ways of denying death. Some of them are cultural or taught by our culture. Others are our own personal discoveries and inventions. If we believe in an afterlife which is fuller than this one, then death is not one point in time ending our personal history. Rather, it is a process which has been going on since we were first conceived. In the second half of life, one especially joins one's waking and dying conscious life and all one's capacities and decisions to this process, recognizing its essential place in our spiritual rebirth. Dying is a process of going from less to more,


though it doesn't always feel that way. I think we tend to treat death as the enemy, the mean and gruesome intruder into our life as a stranger, when in fact death is a companion who's with us every step of life and actually provides more meaning to our life and more beauty to our life, because it is a reminder of how fragile life is and how precious life is. I think death is only an enemy to a self-centered, indulgent life. Then death is the enemy that intrudes and ends that self-centered, indulgent life, or to a life that is equated with all


that I have acquired and all that I have achieved, all that is mine. Well, of course, then death is going to take all that away, if that's what I've equated life is. But life is more than my self-centered, indulgent self, and it's more than all that I've achieved or acquired or accumulated. In the dying process, there's a kind of gap between death, between the letting go and the something more, rebirth, if you want to call it, much like the gap between our in-breath and our out-breath, which some meditation traditions encourage their practitioners to focus on, to enter into that space or that gap and to actually prolong it. This gap is actually filled with unlimited possibility for greater freedom to be God's love in us. These gaps are charged moments when Jesus


buried in the tomb descended into hell, your hell and mine, releasing all that is held captive there. We often, I think, do not reflect on the gap between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We tend to see it as a kind of a nothing day. There are no services until late that night leading into Easter Sunday morning. And, well, it's in remembrance of Jesus in the tomb, and so we're waiting. Nothing's happening. When really there's a lot that's happening on Good Saturday, on Easter Saturday, it's the gap moment that I'm talking about between the death, between dying, between the letting go, the surrender, and the coming into the fullness that we receive and enter into. It is actually a charged moment. I would


say that every form of dying, of letting go and selfless love, moves us into a gap, a charged moment, a freefall space, a tomb slash womb in which we touch the infinite loving possibility in us. Now, to that part of us that we're calling the inflated ego conscious self, all one might experience in that gap may be depression, may be a sense of loss, a sense of emptiness, of being nowhere with no thing. Yet this emptiness, which in reality is only the absence of one kind of existence, independent, isolated existence, this emptiness is pregnant with fullness, with another kind of existence, and another self in communion. This death is seething with underground life. I think every spring


we are reminded that what appears as death is actually filled with life, though hidden, waiting for just the right moment. If I may pause for a moment, I'd like to share with you something I wrote in my journal recently this Easter time. The passage from winter to spring has been a difficult one here, as late season cold and snow has been reluctant to release its hold. There are several weeks here where it was neither winter nor spring, but some in-between stage where the sap of life, perhaps still frozen and numb, has struggled to awaken as if from a wintry dream. All of this took place around Holy Week, but now the sap is free and flowing up from deep within Mother Earth and out in the tiniest of buds


and the most delicate of bulb flowers. The sugar shacks are busy with the maple syrup which is flowing fast and furious, for its season is short and its admirers plentiful. The meaning of the Easter mystery is given certain shape and color by where and how and with whom we live. This is certainly true for me here at Epiphany Monastery. It's like no other Easter I've ever known because I am different and the context of my life has changed. It's as if a certain part of our heart is awakened and revealed to us by that part of nature in which we find ourselves. Nature not only reveals aspects of God to us, but also parts of ourselves. We take the time to look and listen and be torn open. A broken heart is sometimes the best thing for us, like the hard frozen ground finally opening to the spring seed bursting forth with new life. The sap of life for us is the very blood


of Christ rising up from some deep place within our ground of being, flowing fast and furious for our time is short, is now, is today. No matter what our winter is like, hope springs eternal in us who know in the spirit the risen Lord. Each day we sit by the beautiful gate who is Christ, waiting for the waters of the spirit to be stirred and our healing completed. As I walk through these hundred acres of woodlands, marshes, and streams, the gospel is so alive and I rejoice in hearing this word made flesh. Each dawn now the newly arrived ducks and geese also join in this gospel proclamation saying, wake sleeper, rise from the dead, your salvation is near at hand. And so nature is constantly reminding


us of this mystery of the tomb and the womb, of life and death, and of life and death. From death, through death, of this gap between the letting go and the growth that occurs through that letting go, the new life. It is precisely these death moments leading to the climactic moment of physical death where that which is essential, original, pure, divine of our inmost nature is able to break through into consciousness. As the prophet Isaiah writes, and I will lure her into the desert and speak there to her heart. It is divine truth in us, our inmost essence, which is the key to understanding life and death. At


death and all its forms, the illusions and grasping distortions of the mind cease, even if for a moment. And in the gap, the empty desert, the boundless sky-like nature of our personhood is uncovered. This essential reality is the constant, permanent, creative, life-giving, loving background to all of life and death. It is God's spaciousness in us and around us. As the French philosopher Montaigne once remarked, we do not know where death awaits us, so let us wait for death everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave. That's the key, isn't it? That's what I'm emphasizing in this reflection. We must learn to practice death in daily life


as a source of a greater life for us. Therefore, we must take every opportunity to die. This is how we journey to the hermitage of the heart and ultimately into eternal life, a dying which is more than a reluctant letting go, but rather a releasement in love, with love, as love, for love. Perfect love is the core of our being, is the hermitage of the heart, is the reason of our existence. This perpetual receiving through giving, filling up through emptying, reflects a mystery. You see, I believe there's a kind of dying going on in God all the time, a letting go, a releasement, as God does not even hold on to God's own life.


Christ on the cross reveals God as love poured out, as love released. That's the key. As Jesus in the Gospel of John puts it, the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father. The Father has handed everything over to the Son, and the Son seeks to hand everything over to the Father. When the Son of Man is lifted up, he will draw all things to himself. Perhaps the deepest reason we fear death is that we do not know who we really are. We believe our limited historical accomplishing self is all that we are, rather than is one part of who we are becoming. We have identified ourselves too closely perhaps with this one dimension of the psyche. We don't know how to let go of the tight grip of the inflated


ego, even though so often it is choking the very breath of the Spirit within us. Our minds are much like the monkey whose hand is in the small hole in the coconut, grasping a very small treasure of a few jelly beans, yet unwilling to let go in order to remove the hand and be free. It's amazing how very little it takes for us to be trapped and imprisoned. What we have in our hands, in our grasp as human beings, always seems more important and more real and more precious than our freedom. Thus, like the monkey, we continually enslave ourselves when in truth we are made for freedom. It reminds me of that scene in the Gospel of Lazarus after he has died and Jesus returns and goes to the tomb and says,


Roll away the stone from the grave. And he calls out loudly, Lazarus, come forth. And he commands those nearby, as the white form is standing, all bound by white linen, Jesus says, unbind him and let him go free. So, what is the point of all this? The point is that we are not free. And so, in conclusion to this third reflection, let us make this dying process our way of life. Let us gain familiarity with it so that we do not see it as any kind of extraordinary thing in our life but the normal way of the Christian life. And let us seek to unite ourselves most importantly with Jesus so that our dying will be in his


dying and his glory will be our glory and his fullness of life will be our fullness of life. And so, the way inward to the depths of life and to the depths of my own life is through this letting go, this dying, this releasing kind of life. And there, I think we will find that our life is less goal oriented in the sense of moving from one point to another, from point A to point B, a goal in the sense of acquiring something, and is more a life of endless discovery, not achievement. As it is said in the Bible, a life of discovery is an exploration of discovery and not one of conquering territories and lands or claiming them for ourselves or someone else. I think we find then our life is less a straight line


of progression or progress and is more a dance and circular perhaps, and less perhaps a race in some sense and more a floating as we realize that we are within the mystery. The mystery is within us. Okay, I'd like to give you some reflection questions. So often when we start to let go and enter the dying process, we barely get going and we panic, much like the Israelites who left Egypt and weren't more than a day's march into the desert at Sinai, and they complained and wanted to go back to Egypt. And many people make the mistake of turning around, of going back when they're actually on the right track. When you do find


you respond to grace and let go, what is the experience like for you? Do you find you enter into a desert, a gap, a nothingness, and are tempted to return, that you've made a mistake, that you've taken the wrong turn? Another question might be, have you reflected much on the process of dying itself? Again, not merely the one's exclusively physical death, I mean the process of dying, of letting go of your controls. How do you experience letting go? Have you experienced these gap moments I'm talking about? What are they like? When do you find you are able to let go? When do you find that you are not able? What have been the times


of letting go that have brought greater fullness of life? When is letting go the most difficult for you? Okay, let me give you some scripture. John, the first chapter of the book of Acts, the gospel of John, chapter 12, 23-32. 2 Corinthians 3, 12-18. Ephesians 5, 14-20. Matthew 4, verse 17. Matthew 9, 14-17. The gospel of John, chapter 12, 23-32. 2 Corinthians 3, 12-18. And Ephesians 2, 21-22. Okay, and that concludes this talk.