Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fitness Outside and in

Right now, this very moment I am in that haze of soreness and apathy that comes from pushing the body just a bit too far.
Yesterday was cool. Rode the bike to work, worked for about 5 hours, rode home checked the web sites and then rode to play soccer. After 2 hours of that I rode my bike home the short way up the big hill. Now I am paying for this extra effort and I still have to do some work today and clean the house. I boiled the kettle about ten minutes ago and I forgot about it. Now that I think about it I also did the laundry..... that's waiting to be hung out. Oh good! now the dog wants outside.
(time passes)
Dog's out and I made cup of tea number 2. Did I also mention that because I was exhausted from over doing it that I had dinner late and went to bed after Letterman. Well now I have. Also there's no one to blame but me. Okay where is this all going you may ask. Ha! "you may ask".
Well fitness outside and inside seem different. Not that any spiritual discipline is easier than physical fitness but the next day after certainly is. After having a day of silence there is a cleanliness and a softness to the day and to yourself. After riding and running for 3 hours well the next day is hard to start. I know I've done a good thing for myself in both but the results are shockingly opposed.
Some of this could do with the fact that I have spent the last 3 weeks sitting in a car, sitting at a computer, sitting in a class and sitting watching television. Yet the effect after pushing the body, this day of apathy where I have to push myself to do anything makes me ask questions. Am I giving in to bad emotional habits when faced with pain? Is this more than just a come down from the endorphin high? Do I need to make a decision to be like Dory and keep on swimming?

Being grumpy or apathetic about the day because I over did it yesterday may not be a decent reason to give up and do nothing. I still need to do something and I almost have in doing this post. There are some easier things to do today like, putting out the washing.
I have no understanding why the repercussions from physical fitness are more taxing than the emotional angst for trying to find intimacy with God and failing. Perhaps we are spiritual beings with a physical exterior? Then again some people can run for 3 hours and not have any apathy the next day? Maybe there are a few decisions I can make to not responding to the drain I feel after over exertion the day before?
Not giving in to the apathy, just keep on swimming? Not in my own strength but in the strength that God provides. If I just try the Dory way on my own then I will eventually run out of whatever strength is left. In God there is the unlimited resource of His love which is wider than the universe. It is no quick fix as we often do not know how to give into God's love. Even if you do learn how to do it you may fall on hard times and old ways leading you away from His love.
I need to remember "Lord Jesus, help me!" and continue my day. That's my discipline into spiritual fitness which leads into God's universally wide love.
To finish on a high note here's a Paul Kelly song that reminds me of God's continual and persistent call through all time for all of us to give into His love. Get this in your head that God is calling you to give in to His love. Please do.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Surrender given and accepted

I ended the last post describing the drop off point into the depths of the love of God. The deep blue in which exists the totality of the almighty waiting for us to just surrender ourselves into it. The good news is that I have been able to surrender into that deep love. I had to be shown and led there like being taught how to ride a bike. Which is humbling and appropriate because pride of accomplishment would only taint it.

So how does one describe the experience of surrendering into the love of God? Firstly I can believe that this is NOT fully what surrender is. This is merely the first steps into something that will grow beyond. Probably the biggest surprise was that.... I really do not want to say the I got there because it is so much more than that. Yes I did the leg work and the praying and went to where the mystics and contemplatives advise us to go to. But, there is so much more that God and others have done to help me to this position.

I had spent that whole weekend and most of the week before praying only “Lord Jesus, help me!”. The exclamation mark is definitely needed. I was quite sure that where meditation and contemplation leads I had not gotten near the door.

But the contemplation of the saints is fired by the love of the one contemplated: that is, God. Therefore it does not terminate in an act of the intelligence but passes over into the will by love.” St. Albert the Great - Spiritual Direction & Meditation (48)

What St. Albert describes was a bit of a stumbling block for me as intellect and thought processes dominate my waking hours. I exist in my thoughts, in my mind. There are a thousand links being made between different facts and images every day in any mind and mine is no different . Sometimes I think mine is a bit more active than others. Being able to be still and know that He is God is quite troublesome if you cannot be still for more than a second or two. So the silent Saturdays , the not talking to myself Tuesdays and regular primitive prayer of “Lord God, help me!” Were a gradual acclimatisation to the silence required to place myself in a position to be still for more than a few minutes. One of the biggest helps was reading two books by Thomas Merton. Spiritual Direction & Meditation and Contemplative Prayer. In Spiritual Direction & Meditation Merton maps out the plan for the apprentice (or religious as Merton calls the beginner) to be guided by the experienced Spiritual Director much like the desert fathers with their apprentice or Christ with His disciples. The lessons are learned with the Director encouraging and assisting the apprentice pointing the apprentice to God and the path well trod into the established forms of Prayer, Contemplation and Meditation. Contemplative Prayer is more of a technical book a call for a redevelopment within monastic practice a call back to contemplation with action not just one or the other. However, the drops of wisdom in Merton's descriptions of Meditation and Contemplation are what made me realise that it was intimacy with God that I was being led into. An intimacy that I was very intimidated of.

I cannot discover my “meaning” if I try to evade the dread which comes from first experiencing my meaninglessness!

By meditation I penetrate the inmost ground of my life, seek the full understanding of God's mercy to me, of my absolute dependance upon him” – Contemplative Prayer (84)

...we should should let ourselves be brought naked and defenceless into the centre of that dread where we stand alone before God in our nothingness, without explanation, without theories, completely dependant upon his providential care, in dire need of the gift of grace, his mercy and the light of faith.” - Contemplative Prayer (85)

Being brought there not on on my own but being assisted there in front of the whole class was vital. With the lecturer (or as Merton would say Spiritual Director) just helping holding the bike steady enough to let me get my balance in this new light of faith. There was no way I can ever claim any of this as my own. Too many witnesses for me to ever try and tell anyone otherwise. I had been prayed for and have had similar experiences but these were fleeting and never did I think that I could return. I had no thought of meditation and contemplation. In fact I probably had way too many competing thoughts and God has waited till now in His time. My first thoughts after class were “So this is what that communion with God is. Gonna have to do this again (if he'll let me)”. Of course He'll let us back in again. Does not the lover call to his beloved always? Does not the father embrace the prodigal taking him back, putting rings on his fingers and clothing him as a true son? Is it easy, not all the time. There is a descent sometimes like closing your eyes on the downstroke of a swing and a return to the surface of active thought again as the dog barks or a car speeds past. This is something that is practiced and learned like riding a bike. It will change and grow as I learn to ride the surrender bike better.

To describe it factually would be wrong and sully such a divine residence with any analysis of feelings. I find myself describing it in riddles and metaphors such as “dunking my head in bucket and finding the universe”. Water and depths instead of sunlight describe the experience better for me at the moment. I expect change as God has never left me in the same place for very long.

"It is precisely the function of meditation in the sense in which we speak of it here, to bring us to the attitude of awareness and receptivity. It also gives us strength and hope, along with a deep awareness of the value of interior silence in which the mystery of God 's love is made clear to us." - Contemplative Prayer (49)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Silent Saturday 31/10/2010 and No Talking to Myself Tuesday 2/11/2010

Saturday began wet and raining no chance at all to do any of the lawn mowing I had planned to do. No television, no internet, no computer, no radio. Just the sound of rain on the roof and cars driving past. The dog and I were dry inside. I got to my painting preparing two canvasses and finishing one piece. I also continued my reading of Thomas Merton's Contemplative Prayer which became more and more enlightening about where I am when it comes to my relationship with God.

It seems God is just an omnipotent friend who I call for help from when the effluent hits the propellor. My noise internally and externally were boundaries which kept him from me until I wanted his help. In stripping away the external noise in the car and in the home I have come across the internal noise that is also there to stop God getting too close.

The way of prayer brings us face to face with the sham and indignity of the false self that seeks to live for itself alone..” Merton Contemplative Prayer

The sham of my own rapid stream of thought and noise that goes on searching for the next piece of amusement to dwell on is a barrier to any true silence. Any real prayer of the heart is impossible with this background internal noise.

Man's heart is far from him [God] when it is occupied in superfluous cares...” Peter of Celles in Merton's Contemplative Prayer
I last mentioned the use of Psalmody and recitation of Proverbs 3:5-6 and Ephesians 6:10 and that they have led to singing versions. Now thats all well and good but it's an amusement, a novelty and a distraction which leads in other directions of mirth and enjoyment. Such enjoyment is good and praise to God is a great thing yet another novelty is another distraction. This is supposed to be contemplation aiding me to get beyond the internal noise not adding to it another form of mirth.

The whole life of Christ was cross and martyrdom why do you go looking for rest and mirth” A'Kempis, Imitation of Christ.

So I have gone further back to a more primitive form of prayer which should not be given rhythm beyond inhale and exhale. “Lord God help me.” or “Lord Jesus help me”. Distraction in the form of rhythm, rhyme, melody is going to become another novelty right now and I have too many of them.

When I first tried silence I found the fear of silence was really a fear to not let God closer. I used the noise of television, radio, and the internet to block him out. This was merely the first level making space for him to enter. Now there is further and deeper closeness as Merton describes so well...

We wish to gain a true knowledge of God, our Father and Redeemer. We wish to loose ourselves in his love and rest in him. We wish to hear his word and respond to it with our whole being. We wish to know his mercy and submit to it in its totality. These are the aims and goals of meditatio and oratio." Merton Contemplative Prayer

Intimacy with God is what Merton is describing. Loosing ourselves in his love could be found in a ballad about lovers and thats an intimacy I have not experienced. I find myself once again staring at the next depth and fear of the unknown as before grows. I can delight in standing at the top of a mountain or a tall building, but depths scare me. Put me in the ocean looking at the drop off where the real sea begins in its depth and darkness. Where blue becomes darker and darker until blackness where anything can dwell in that suffocating darkness. Yet I am reminded that God is light and love and he delights in me as I should in him.