Monday, August 29, 2011

Contemplation VIII

An odd thing happened on a recent Saturday morning at a retreat I was attending. Following breakfast, I set off on a short multi-tasking walk, during which I caught up on incoming email and voice mail, there being no connectivity at the retreat center. (I like to think of this as less an addiction and more a life-sensitive triage -- after all, I answered only one urgent email and returned two phone calls -- but an honest self-examination might reveal a different reality.)

Then I returned to my room for a period of lectio divina and silent prayer. Opening the Bible haphazardly, I began to read the psalm I had opened to when I felt the Bible being gently pulled from my hands. I laid it on the floor beside me and immediately found myself enveloped within and without by the Presence in an all-consuming embrace that I believe is what the old mystics called union.

It was a brief encounter but, as always, powerful. It left me out of breath. I have overcome the urge to push away God's advance, and so I relaxed into it that morning, noticing only some difficulty in breathing, not an atypical reaction for me in cases of contemplative prayer and union, where I experience a re-awaking of the sense of a divine invasion that accompanied the hierophany that caused my conversion. I suppose it is still a bit of a fear reaction although of what there is to be afraid I have not the slightest idea.

From the pushaway to passive panicky breathing lies a significant distance trod in a relationship with God. Fortunately, God is also persistent in love. In sha allah, as the Arabs say, with time and more distance traveled together, I will develop the instinct to return the embrace. That is, after all, what I yearn to do.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Contemplation VII

Dark night or self-imposed dry spell? Sometimes it has been difficult to tell. I know there are times I throw up barriers because I sense a pending tasking that I do not want to do, am impatient for a fix that I think I can bring about rather than waiting upon God, worrying about something rather than letting go, or arrogantly thinking I may be important for some reason other than as a creation by God for God.

There has been one definite dark night that I passed through. Fortunately, I was able to recognize it for God prepared me for it by allowing me to support a friend through his dark night. I did not like my dark night on iota, but it was definitely a metanoic experience in which I learned the value of volition and belief.

Most recently, when I began again to experience a dry spell, I was once again emplacing barriers or experiencing the descent of another dark night. Either way, having arrived in Washington, DC after a short 5-hour red-eye trip and spending all day at the Pentagon in difficult meetings that ended in triumph for all present, followed by dinner with a colleague I had first met in Afghanistan, I was exhausted -- too exhausted for contemplative prayer (at least, for the lectio and meditation part). So, I flopped into bed with a cry into the desert, into which my prayers seemed to have been going as of late, asking God not to leave me in the desert but just to be with me for the night even if, perverse me, I felt too tired to communicate in any coherent -- or even nonverbal -- fashion. Suddenly, I felt encased in a warm, loving cocoon that I recognized as the Presence of God, snuggled in for the night, and opened my eyes, fully rested as the new morning light washed over me the next day.

The gift of that cocoon left me with gratitude enough to cover weeks (or more) of metaphysically sleeping on the desert if that is how it must be. Just as the setting sun is still in the heavens during the night, I know that God is with me in those (thankfully, few) moments when I do not feel His presence.

Perhaps I should not say "thankfully few" because those are the moments when God is trying to get me -- yes, perverse me -- to grow in faith. One day, perhaps, I will have gratitude even for the Absence, but I fear that is going to require considerably more maturation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Branch and the Birds

My prayer group recently watched a movie that really inspired contemplation. In English (the movie is subtitled), the title is Of Gods and Men. (If you are interested, you can watch the trailer.) In French, the original language, which I read and understand, the title is "Des hommes et des dieux" (Of Men and Gods). For some reason, I like the original title better. It is one of those rare movies that when it is over, no one has anything to say. You simply sit, reflect, and then depart, left to your own contemplation. I met one member of our prayer group the following day at noon Mass (happened to have a day off for some reason I don't recall now), and she told me that she was still in contemplation as a result of the effect of the movie on her.

Here is the description of the movie from the Amazon website:
Loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996, Of Gods and Men tells a story of eight French Christian monks who live in harmony with their Muslim brothers. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps through the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realize that they have no choice but to stay... come what may.
And here is a review that pretty much says all that I would say.

The monks at the Trappist monastery in Algeria seem almost to exist outside of time, so it may be a while before we recognize the 1990s as the setting for Of Gods and Men. And old traditions cannot escape new warfare in this stirring movie, based on a true story that happened at a remote enclave of peaceful, studious priests. These Christian monks minister to the largely Muslim (and very poor) villagers in their vicinity, a balance that is threatened by Algeria's Civil War. When nearby radical-Islamist insurgents begin killing foreigners, the monks must face a choice. Will they flee to safety--a perfectly rational and understandable decision that will leave the villagers without their only source of health care--or will they stay on, secure in their spiritual calling despite the possibility of abduction or murder? Director Xavier Beauvois makes an absorbing film from this question, and it's not at all difficult to understand why it became an unexpected box-office smash in France (and ended up winning the Cesar award for best film of 2010). The film is beautifully cast, and sometimes Beauvois simply trains his camera on the lined, weathered faces of his priests, as though allowing those lines to tell the story. Heading the cast is Lambert Wilson (of Matrix fame), who leads his men with an almost regal bearing, and veteran actor Michael Lonsdale, who quietly inhabits the role of the physician in the group. The film takes time out for quiet contemplation, as though understanding that the priests' suspenseful situation is only half the story. The wordless climax, which allows the men to be animated by the earthly pleasures of wine and Tchaikovsky, is something of a spiritual journey of acceptance all on its own. It's a moment you'll find very difficult to forget. --Robert Horton
The title of this post is in my opinion the core of the film's message. If you watch the movie or have watched it, you will see (or already know) the source of that phrase. I won't spoil it for anyone through explanation.


Comments welcomed from those who have seen it.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Tasked V, Moving on with Goliath

I have related through several posts the continuing saga of Goliath (see previous posts on Modern Mysticism or the story as a whole, including the paragraphs below, on 100th Lamb -- note that I may have changed some names between the posts on this blog and the chapter in the book, from which I took the story for 100th Lamb) and the spiritual warfare around him, including my being pulled into -- or, rather, pushed into by God. If the purpose of the task was to change Goliath’s behavior, apparently, it succeeded, no matter how poorly carried out, at least momentarily. Eduardo, who continued to attend team meetings, told me that the meetings improved and that Goliath is not the same person. Praise be to God if that is true!

In hearing Eduardo’s words, I felt a rush of love for Goliath and a great gratitude to God. I can lean on God, and I can learn to love those for whom I feel no natural affinity. And even if I fumble a task, God will use my efforts somehow to bring it to the desired closure.

One underestimates the tenacity of Satan, however, at one’s own risk. Our organization recently had a change in management, and, apparently feeling emboldened, Goliath reverted to his old ways. Satan seems to have gifted Goliath with the charism of deception so that those who do not know him well gravitate toward his dissemblance of meekness, allowing Satan’s purposes to be accomplished. Finally, I understand, at least in greater part, what is happening in our organization and why God pitted me (and, thankfully, a few other volunteers) against Goliath. There is a serious spiritual battle going on, not only among our local employees but also at higher levels of management. Satan is using Goliath as his local champion. Why? Because he can. Just as God can use me and others like me to combat Goliath.

I also understand now why God wants me to love Goliath. Goliath is not the evil one. Rather, he allows himself, likely unknowingly and, I would guess, not by desire, to be used by the Evil One. Clearly, loving Goliath and praying for him is critical to helping him loose himself from the bonds of Satan and to returning our organization to spiritual health.

I imagine our organization is not unique. Otherwise, I would have spent fewer pages relating the story of Goliath.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bear Witness to the Light

One of the blogs on my blogroll has disappeared. Well, disappeared may be the wrong word. The blog is still there, but no posts have been posted in nearly two months. Fr. John Sullivan, Springfield, Massachusetts, posted regularly on his blog, Bear Witness to the Light. He was a kindly priest as I found out in his responses to my occasional comments. After a full month of seeing nothing posted, I became concerned. It did not seem that someone who had posted regularly for seven years would close down a blog without a word. One would expect to at least a final, good-bye post, but Fr. John's last blog was simply a routine post in keeping with his other posts. Something seemed wrong. No matter how I added two and two, I was not getting close to four.

So, I did a little research. After all, in a former life (uh, career), I was a pretty good academic. Therefore, I know how to research. So, off I went in search of one missing priest. And I found him, well, sort of. It turns out that Fr. John was injured by the tornado that flattened Springfield in June. He suffered a separated shoulder and broken leg and required surgery. He will be in a rehabilitation facility for a while.

In addition, St. Michael's Retired Priest Residence, where Fr. John was living, was damaged by the tornado. In fact, a good part of it was reduced to rubble. So, even when Fr. John is released to another residence, there is a likelihood that he will not have a computer for a while. (Of course, this is quite secondary to his health.)

I also tracked down an address where cards can be sent:

Fr. John Sullivan
St Michaels Cathedral Rectory
86 Wendover Rd
Springfield, MA 01118

So, if you happen to also be a reader of Fr. John's blog, you might want to send a card to him! I am going to try to send this information to all his followers -- if I can track down there email addresses. I ask you to pass along the information to any of his blog followers you might know.

Whether or not you know Fr. John, have interacted with him in the blogosphere or not, I would ask you to pray for him. I am sure he can use our prayers!

posted on all Mahlou blogs