Divine Dialogue: Communion with God—the Essence of Prayer


Prayer: Divine Dialogue

This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is his name: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” [Jeremiah 33:3].

To be in prayerful communion with God is truly a remarkable condition. It means that, through prayer, we have deciphered the code that hid sacred thoughts from our conscious life.

In this world, man finds remembrance of Allaah, praising Him and worshipping him, a delight that is incomparable to anything else. [Ibn Taymiyyah, Minhaj as-Sunnah, 5/389].

Prayer Is Connecting

Prayer can translate the signs of creation and the metaphors of the Ideal. Through prayer, we come to understand the secrets of Divine consciousness.

Prayer can connect the mind and body to the Divine Reality, reminding us that bodily pleasures and intellectual acumen do not offer ultimate self-realization.

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. [Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life].

We pursue the sacred because a longing within us seeks to connect with and experience the Divine Presence. It is this impulse to unite with our Creator, prompted by despair and hope, that ultimately produces change and correct our lives.

Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need: prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer . . . So begins a communion, a talking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer, yea, of existence itself in its infinite phases. [George Macdonald, The Word of Jesus on Prayer].

Knowingly or in unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously, we are all in a constant dialogue with God. The reality we perceive in our mind is simply a reflection of this dialogue.

Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Lord! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory!” [Qur’an 3:190-1]

Prayer Is a Divine Privilege

Communion with God often describes a prophetic or messianic state. However, this Divine privilege is a gift that the Almighty Creator also bestows upon the sincere and righteous worshiper who seeks Him with patience and perseverance.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Among the tribe of Israel who went before you there indeed were such people who held communion with God, even though they were not his Prophets. If ever there arose a person from among my people who would hold communion with God, it would be none else but ‘Umar. [Bukhari, Kitab ul-Manaqib].

Humanity lives in constant dependence on its Creator. This dependence produces a perpetual communication that extends beyond physical reality. It is the source of prayer.

Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. [Isaiah 65:24].

We may choose to deny or ignore this Divine Reality, but it is there nevertheless, nurturing, guiding and always encompassing our thoughts.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” [Jeremiah 9:22-24]

Inner Peace from Prayer

With God resonating in our hearts, we enjoy the comfort and tranquility that elude our physical existence. However, our failure to remember God causes anxiety and sorrow. Our turning away from prayer is the primary source of our misery.

We are not attentive to the Divine. We don’t hear, listen or obey. We turn our backs to the sacred. Our minds are distracted, our hearts hardened. We hear only the clamor of material existence.

O, how rare it is that the soul is sufficiently stilled to let God speak! [Francois Fenelon, Christian Perfection, p. 83].

Divine Broadcast

God is constantly broadcasting, but our hearts break the connection, turn to the wrong frequency. The broadcasting to our soul never stops. It is the pulse within every individual and the rhythm of the entire universe.

Wisdom is a holy communion. It is on this condition that it ceases to be a sterile love of science and becomes the one and sovereign mode of human rallying, and that philosophy herself is promoted to religion. [Victor Hugo]

While inner peace in the physical world requires our stillness, our spiritual life knows no silence. Our thanking and praising God punctuate our joyous moments. In grief, our cries for mercy and forgiveness are our refuge, and our only source of tranquility.

There is neither strength nor power save in God Almighty. It is God we implore—and whose answer we await — to watch over you in this world and the next, to shower you with His graces, outwardly and inwardly, and to make you among those who, when blessed, give thanks; when tried, persevere; and when sinful, seek forgiveness. [Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Al-Wabil al-Sayyib, The Invocation of God].

Speaking Sacred

God is always with us. It is we who are not always with Him, not remembering Him, not obeying, not thanking, not praising Him.

And your Lord hath said: “Call unto Me, [and] I shall respond to you!” [Qur’an 40:60].

We address God out of need. Our prayers are always asking for something. We ask, then wait for a response.

It is not often that we are the respondent, answering with obedience and gratitude. Rarely do we praise, thank, glorify and adore. We are not very good at that.

Real prayer is communion with God, so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours. What is needed is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts, and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him. [A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God].

We don’t speak “Sacred.” We don’t know the language of reverence. Our spiritual vocabulary is limited.

Moreover, we are too embarrassed to use the limited devotional language we know. Once we go beyond a few memorized phrases, our expressions of adoration sound awkward.

We need full immersion in a devout environment that gives expression to our piety, where sacred discourse constantly affirms the Divine Reality. We need devotional exercises to become spiritually fluent, to develop a strong reverential voice.

AND IF My servants ask thee about Me – behold, I am near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me: let them, then, respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way. [Qur’an 2:186].


Posted in Prayer, Worship & Spiritual Exercises | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Divine Dialogue: Communion with God—the Essence of Prayer

Mystical Echoes: Amplifying the Divine Silence


Divine Silence

. . . divine silence might just be an expression of God’s preferred mode of interaction, and that we need not experience his silence as absence … if we live out our lives in the conviction that God is ever present with us, and if we seek something more like communion with God rather than just communication. [Michael Rea, Divine Hiddenness, Divine Silence].

In mystical terms, Divine silence does not refer to the absence of God’s presence, nor to a silent or hidden God. It describes a sacred state which we cultivate to amplify our spiritual consciousness.

Divine silence is the medium in which communion is possible, the liquid in which our soul swims, the vacuum in which our spirit orbits.

We know well enough how to keep outward silence, and to hush our spoken words, but we know little of interior silence. It consists in hushing our idle, restless, wandering imagination, in quieting the promptings of our worldly minds, and in suppressing the crowd of unprofitable thoughts which excite and disturb the soul. [François Fénelon, Selections from Fénelon, p. 107].

When St. John of the Cross explains that “the knowledge of God is received in divine silence,” [St. John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, #26], he is not referring to the absence a response from God. He is describing the condition that prevails during Divine communion.

The spirit needs to be so free and so completely annihilated that any thought or meditation which the soul in this state might desire, or any pleasure to which it may conceive an attachment, would impede and disturb it and would introduce noise into the deep silence which it is meet that the soul should observe so that it may hear the deep and delicate voice of God which speaks to the heart in this secret place. [St. John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love, Stanza 3].

Inner Rhetoric

Often we hear ourselves explaining to others what we, ourselves, don’t really understand. Even more disgraceful is our effort to convince ourselves of what we don’t really believe.

A (person) may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent; that is, he says nothing that is not profitable. [Abba Poemen, 27].

Silencing our thoughts is not easy. Our intellect is always mumbling — muttering something indistinctly yet loud enough to keeps us from hearing. It distracts, diverts and disturbs us from the Divine.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “… whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should speak what is good or keep silent.” [Sahih al-Bukhari].

Spiritual Monologues

Immersed in our spiritual monologues and self-centered introspection, we forget what inner silence sounds like. Even while acknowledging our inability to comprehend, we continue quoting ourselves and rewording our shallow worldviews.

There is no worse screen to block out the Spirit than confidence in our own intelligence. [John Calvin].

By silencing our thoughts, we amplify the Divine silence that calls us to spiritual attentiveness. Dissonant thoughts become infused with pious apprehension as we muffle our mind and quite our desires.

There is hardly ever a complete silence in our soul. God is whispering to us well-nigh incessantly. Whenever the sounds of the world die out in the soul, or sink low, then we hear these whisperings of God. He is always whispering to us, only we do not always hear, because of the noise, hurry, and distraction which life causes as it rushes on. [Frederick W. Faber, Spiritual Conferences, p. 408].

Divine Language

Mankind convinces itself that its rational mode of expression is the highest form of communication. We reason that God should express Himself in our language of reason and be available for examination, and submit to our intellectual interrogation.

Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being, between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality.  [Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, p. 83].

We come to God in submission as obedient servants, dedicated devotees and diligent students. The hallowed space we enter when we surrender our will to our Lord echoes the Divine silence.

Everything in this universe is a mirror pointing to God Almighty, like an articulate language telling of Him, and a tune singing His Name. Human beings, things, and the whole of existence always reflects Him and bears witness to Him in their sounds and silences, acts and positions, in their beings and the fruits they yield. In their manners and stances they allude and point to Him. [Fethullah Gülen].

Tuned In to Divine Silence

We have to listen carefully to hear the Divine silence. It is an intimate tranquility easily disturbed by the clamor of daily existence.

Immersed in Divine silence, we no longer hear clanging desires. Disengaged from profane phenomena, we are invited into the private chambers of Divine servants.

The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. [St. Teresa of Ávila, The Life of St. Teresa, p. 267].

Through the Divine silence that prevails in our longing heart, our thoughts become still and we begin to hear in accordance with the amplitude, frequency and pulse of Divine communion.

Real prayer is communion with God, so that there will be common thoughts between His mind and ours. What is needed is for Him to fill our hearts with His thoughts, and then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him. [A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God].

“Tuned in,” we respond to the signs of God by our conversion to Divine servitude, to holy obedience, to the natural order established by God and the essence of contemplative communion.

We need the prayers of words, yes; the words are the path to contemplation; but the deepest communion with God is beyond words, on the other side of silence. [Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water].

These mystical moments of Divine silence are beyond our comprehension. However, when they recur, each is uniquely recognizable by the Divine signature that authenticates their broadcast.

This involuntary nature of the mystical experience highlights our submission, requiring that God remain our only path to true perception.

[God has said] … when I love him [devotee], then I shall be his ears with which he listens, his eyes with which he sees, his tongue with which he speaks, and his hands with which he holds; if he calls Me, I shall answer him, and if he asks Me, I shall give him. [al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi].


Related posts:

Further reading:

___________________

 

Posted in Mysticism, Divine Reality & Transcendence, Technology, Consumerism & Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mystical Echoes: Amplifying the Divine Silence

Divine Consciousness: How to Pray without Ceasing (2/2)


Pray without Ceasing

Since, then, we are thus, by the inevitable law of our being, surrendered unreservedly to the unsleeping observation of the Divinity, we cannot shut our eyes to the conclusion, that, every desire of the human mind, is a prayer uttered to God and registered in Heaven. [Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Ralph Waldo Emerson: Preacher and Lecturer by Lloyd Earl Rohler, p. 77].

Our understanding of our Creator defines the nature of our prayers. To pray without ceasing presupposes certain Divine attributes which facilitate ceaseless prayer, such as limitless access to an omnipresent, benevolent God.

I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. [Psalm 34:1, NLT].

While the God-consciousness of a faithful believer is the personal element of praying without ceasing, the Divine attributes are the eternal, invariable absolutes that permit our state of constant trust, gratitude and dependence.

Allah [God], responds to the plea of those who plead to Him and helps them….  He even gives prior to being asked and accepts even prior to being pleaded. He knows the need of those who are in need before they pray Him, and He, since eternity, knows all their needs, so He has provided them with means to satisfy all their needs … Since time immemorial, He knew in advance what they needed. He goes to the rescue of those who are in dire need of help, and He does not disappoint anyone who pleads to Him. [The Ninety Nine Attributes of Allah, #45].

Always Present

God’s mercy has provided an irrevocable license permitting all to approach Him. Our praying has no restrictions. We can pray to God at  any time, place or condition, for as long as we want. We pray with confidence that God is always available, that we can call on Him without an appointment, and that He will respond.

That God is everywhere allows us to pray in any situation, any place. We are at all times in the presence of the One whom we desire to touch, to reach, in prayer. We don’t have to go looking for God, as if God were somehow missing from our lives. [William H. Shannon].

The unity of our Creator means that we don’t distribute our prayers among different divinities. We don’t pray to one god for health, another for safety, another for prosperity, etc.

But the god of you all is the One God: there is no god but He: all things He comprehends in His knowledge. [Quran 20:98].

Never Depleted

God is not only Creator, but also Provider, Nourisher and Sustainer. We are created in a constant state of need and His sustenance is continuous, never depleted.

There is no creature moving on earth except that its sustenance depends on Allah. [Quran 11:6].

Our requirements for survival are provided for us, many of them without us even being aware of them. The autonomic nervous system, for example, acts largely unconsciously, regulating bodily functions such as our heart rate, digestion and respiration. Hold your breath for a couple of minutes and reflect on your vulnerable condition and unceasing dependence.

What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift? [1 Corinthians 4:7].

Absolute Power

Our prayers are responses to conditions, events and circumstances that produce profound emotions such as fear, remorse, oppression, etc. We pray not in despair, but in confidence that we can rely on God’s complete power, mercy and justice for security, peace and justice.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. [2 Peter 1:3].

When we pray, our mental state is one of hope, trust and obedience. Maintaining this consciousness in our daily affairs, this awareness of our dependence on the Creator, provides a continuing intimacy with God that defines a life of unceasing prayer.

I believe that God both wills and is able to bring good out of everything, even the worst. For this He needs people who are prepared to allow everything to be served for the best. I believe that in every crisis God wants to provide us with as much power of resistance as we need. But God never gives it in advance so that we will entrust ourselves. I believe that even our mistakes and wrongdoing are not fruitless and that it is no more difficult for God to cope with them than with our presumed good deeds. I believe that God is no “timeless fate” but, rather, that he waits upon and responds to our sincere prayer and responsible deeds. [Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters Papers from Prison].

All-Knowing

That God is “All-knowing” means that our thoughts, in fact, are prayers when immersed in the Divine Reality. God does not need our prayer to become cognizant of our condition. It is we that need to pray.

ALL THAT IS in the heavens and on earth extols God’s limitless glory: for He alone is almighty, truly wise! His is the dominion over the heavens and the earth; He grants life and deals death; and He has the power to will anything. He is the First and the Last, and the Outward as well as the Inward: and He has full knowledge of everything. [Quran 57:1-3].

That God is all-seeing means that when our grief is reflected in tears, when our countenance shows our pain, when our bowed head reveals our distress, indeed, we are praying and God is seeing us.

O our Sustainer! Thou truly knowest all that we may hide [in our hearts] as well as all that we bring into the open: for nothing whatever, be it on earth or in heaven, remains hidden from God. [Quran 14:38].

With God always aware of our thoughts, it is we who must remain aware. As with His omnipresence, it is we that forget that God is present with us at all times and knows our hearts. Our remembrance reestablishes the connection, bringing the Divine into focus, though He was always with us.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. [Psalm 39:2-4 (ESV)].

That God is All-hearing means that, in our daily life, the softest whisper, or a single word, or just an exclamation of anguish or pain, can convey more longing than volumes of textbook prayers.

Say: “My Lord knoweth (every) word (spoken) in the heavens and on earth: He is the One that heareth and knoweth (all things).” [Quran 21:4].


Related posts:

How to Pray without Ceasing (1/2)

Posted in Prayer, Worship & Spiritual Exercises | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Divine Consciousness: How to Pray without Ceasing (2/2)

Sanctity & Culture: Winners & Losers in a Dysfunctional Society


Sanctity in a Dysfunctional Society

… we [in modern society] make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful… [C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Ch. 1]

We exist as individuals, but live within the context of a family and a community. Our personal role, position and success are functions of the health, stability and prosperity of our society. In other words, we are limited in our potential and our accomplishments by the conditions prevailing in the community surrounding us.

… there is a cultural malaise that touches us all to one extent or another. I am referring to how completely we have become accustomed to the normality of dysfunction. The constant media stream of scandals and broken lives and mayhem of every sort elicits from us hardly more than a yawn. We have come to expect little else – even from our religious leaders … perhaps especially from our religious leaders. This overall life dysfunction is so pervasive in our culture that it is nearly impossible for us to have a clear vision of spiritual progress. Shining models of holiness are so rare today. [Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, Richard J Foster, Gayle D. Beebe].

The Culture of God

Religious precepts undergird the family and the society by teaching the virtues of cooperation, friendship, justice, and public-mindedness. Universal ideals of righteousness, justice and piety fortify the spirit of harmony and order by which we communicate, cooperate and unite.

But [when] two sit together and there are words of Torah [spoken] between them, The Divine Presence [Shekinah] rests with them … [Mishnah, Avot 3:2].

Just as an infant requires the nurturing touch and caress of the mother, so does a society require the touch of God. The Divine Presence in society provides the subconscious security necessary for stability and harmonious interaction.

A society without a sacred component suffers from communal psychoses. Human interactions deteriorate, relationships become dysfunctional, and enmity, hostility and disorder prevail.

Hold fast, all together, to God’s rope, and be not divided among yourselves. Remember with gratitude God’s favor on you, for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace you became brethren. You were on the brink of the fiery Pit, and He saved you from it. Thus does God make His signs clear to you, that you may be guided. [Quran 3:103].

Counterculture

The counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, with its political and intellectual radicalism, produced unprecedented upheavals in the perceived reality of many Americans. During this period, the society was unable to function effectively in most of its major components.

Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. [Matthew 12.25].

Significant components of the American society of that time were being challenged: academia, (Berkeley, Kent State, Columbia); religion (Scientology, Nation of Islam, Hare Krishna); the military (Vietnam War); politics (assassinations, Watergate); and, of course, personal values (“Turn on, tune in, drop out“).

In modern society, people are increasingly experiencing a new need for meaning…. It is difficult to meet the demands of building the future in a new context of an even more complex and interdependent international relations that are also less and less ordered and peaceful. [Compendium of the Social Doctrine Of the Church, 575].

Young people developing their life skills during this period saw the prevailing reality as purposeless, worthless and hopeless. Some adopted anarchistic attitudes from experiencing prolonged depressive conditions.

[They] who break their bond with God after it has been established [in their nature], and cut asunder what God has bidden to be joined, and spread corruption on earth: these it is that shall be the losers. [Quran 2:27].

Ironically, the youth who maligned that society became its elders — professors, clergy, generals, politicians and celebrities. Many of today’s values, ethics and morality reflect the dysfunctional attitudes of an earlier generation.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [Galatians 5:19-21 (ESV)].

Sacred Societies

Most societies consist of several subcultures simultaneously interacting, some growing, developing, other effete and degenerating. The Roman Empire illustrates this. As it declined, the Christian civilization was rising out of its ashes. While the old values, customs and religions of the Empire were dying, the new Christian community was developing and establishing itself.

The dying pagan society was materially prosperous but spiritual degenerate, while the rising Christians were persecuted but spiritually strong. Anyone with insight could have recognized which was dying and which was succeeding.

Today, a detached perspective is difficult from within our own subculture. We may have to be far removed in time and space to recognize who is winning and who is losing. Nevertheless, no one doubts that there will be losers and winners.

The integrity of the upright shall guide them, but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them, [Proverbs 11:3].

Spiritual Health

Spiritual health requires awareness and acceptance of a Divine Reality that transcends human understanding. Such a transcendent reality provides a perspective that incorporates timeless traditions common to all cultures. Without healthy ideals upon which to focus, our thoughts become disoriented and unable to format proper behavior.

If we grow up in a society devoid of wholesome standards against which to measure ourselves, personally and in reference to others, our social perspective is easily distorted. No one is available to represent optimum behavior. Our memories and our surroundings lack essential keys for healthy conduct.

O YOU who have attained to faith! If you pay heed to those who are bent on denying the truth, they will cause you to turn back on your heels, and you will be the losers. [Quran 3:149]

Consciousness continues into an apparently infinite journey. It seeks to extend into the entire universe. However, we cannot consciously perceive Ultimate Reality. All we can do is submit to its harmonious enshrouding. This is the mystical condition that dissolves individuality, perceiving only unity within a Divine Reality.

Nor is peace “simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day towards the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect justice among men”.[179] In the end, a peace which is not the result of integral development will be doomed; it will always spawn new conflicts and various forms of violence. [Pope Francis, The joy of the gospel, 219].

O Lord, we cannot understand our social condition without embracing Your all-encompassing Reality. Dissolve our illusions and delusions. Remove our arrogance, free us from the bondage of pride, and  open our hearts to Your Eternal, Divine healing.

In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, and that there might grow out of you a community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state!  [Quran 3:103-5].


Related posts:

Health, Culture & Conformity: Contracting Trending Diseases

Posted in Spiritual Elements in Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Sanctity & Culture: Winners & Losers in a Dysfunctional Society

The Life of Prayer: How to Pray without Ceasing (1/2)


Prayer, Awareness and Remembrance

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. [1 Thessalonians 5:15-19 (NIRV)].

We often think of prayer as ritual postures, memorized phrases and supplication in times of need. However, praying is also a condition, an attitude, a state of mind. When we are fully aware of our constant need and dependence on the Divine, we understand that we are always in danger, always vulnerable – and that our only salvation is God.

Reading is good, hearing is good, conversation and meditation are good; but then, they are only good at times and occasions, in a certain degree . . . But the spirit of prayer is for all times and occasions; it is a lamp that is to be always burning, a light to be ever shining: everything calls for it; everything is to be done in it and governed by it, because it is and means and wills nothing else but the totality of the soul … [William Law, A Collection of Letters. Ltrs-11-26].

To pray without ceasing does not mean continuous verbal invocations while in a supplicating posture. When our life reflects sacred devotion to God, all our actions are in fact prayers. When we are in remembrance of the Divine, we are praying.

[He said] that it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times; that we are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer. That his view of prayer was nothing else but a sense of the Presence of God, his soul being at that time insensible to everything but Divine Love; and that when the appointed times of prayer were past, he found no difference, because he still continued with God, praising and blessing Him with all his might, so that he passed his life in continual Joy; yet hoped that God would give him somewhat to suffer when he should have grown stronger. [Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life, Fourth Conversation].

Prayer Life

Our love and fear of God are often manifested spiritually, not physically. Attending religious services may be the traditional way of worship. However, any act of adoration, glorification, reverence and gratitude also shows that we have an unquestioning, uncritical love for our Creator.

Prayer is gratitude because gratitude is the primary form of adoration and adoration is, in the end, the only thing that counts because it is the form of human love most appropriate to God. All other loves serve this final love, which is prayer at its highest intensity. [Paul J. Griffiths, Pray without Ceasing].

Between scheduled times of worship, we can still remember God in thoughts, words and deeds. While working or playing, our hearts can still talk with God, in broken sentences and interjections, in silent cries and compassionate sighs.

When prayer is a struggle, do not worry about the prayers that you cannot pray. You yourself are a prayer to God at that moment. All that is within you cries out to Him. And he hears all the pleas that your suffering soul and body are making to Him with groanings which cannot be uttered. [Ole Kristian O. Hallesby]

We can pray in public or privately, in congregation or alone. Our prayers can be formal rituals or unrehearsed exclamations. They can be supplications for our needs, confessions of our mistakes, acknowledgement of our repentance and begging for mercy. We pray by thanksgiving and by thoughts, words and deeds.

If I seek, as I should do, God’s glory above everything, then if all my actions are meant to tend to God’s glory, I am continuing to pray, though I may not be praying with my thoughts or with my lips. Oh, that our whole life might be a prayer. It can be. There can be a praying without ceasing before the Lord, though there be many pausings in what the most of men would call prayer. Pray then without ceasing, my brother. Let thy whole life be praying. If thou changest the method, yet change not the pursuit; but continue still to worship, still to adore . . . be always in the spirit of prayer, and let the whole of your life be consistent with your prayer, and become a part of it. [C. H. Spurgeon, “Pray Without Ceasing”].

A Life of Trust

Unceasing prayer depends on an abiding consciousness that continually recognizes and acknowledges dependence on the Divine. It is the imbedded reverence manifested by prevailing, persistent, continuing submission to Divine Authority as the only response to the human condition.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, Uttered or unexpressed, The motion of a hidden fire That trembles in the breast Prayer is the burden of a sigh, The falling of a tear; The upward glancing of an eye, When none but God is near. [James Montgomery].

To praise God is to pray. Serving God and being humble is prayer. Desiring God and relying on Him for all our needs is prayer. Waiting patiently for Divine blessings and always trusting God’s promise is praying.

It is precisely the function of meditation to bring us to this attitude of awareness and receptivity. If it is true that the deepest prayer is surrender to God, then all meditation and specific acts of prayer might be seen as preparations and purification to ready us for this never-ending yielding. [Thomas Ryan, Prayer of Heart and Body: Meditation and Yoga As Christian Spiritual Practice].

We Never Finish Praying

Prayer is a continuing obligation — a commitment that we never renounce, we never abandon, never complete. It is not something with a finish or a conclusion.

We will be praying for the rest of our lives. It is a constant at the core of our faith, a ritual we never discard, and a power that will always be at our disposal.

Our human existence, to say the least, is dependent on necessities, like food, air, etc. However, we are not in control of even one percent of the entire process of, for instance, eating – from the growth of the wheat in the soil to its dependence on the sun light and heat, to all the digestive steps in our body. God Almighty is the One who makes the saliva glands work. God Almighty is the One who sends the food to our stomach, and it is He who sets and adjusts the mechanism…. A believer who says, “I ate,” actually is saying this figuratively and means to say, “I was fed.”  Fethullah Gülen 

Longing for God

Our desire for justice and equity manifests of our awareness of the Divine. Our virtues and righteousness — all our selfless actions are, in fact, prayers. Our intense longing for God is prayer.

All our capacities—reason, speech, volition, affection, and action— must be molded by the activity of prayer. Moreover, as prayer becomes central in our lives, all that we do becomes part of prayer. As the Benedictine motto has it, laborare est orare—to work is to pray. [B. E. Benson and N. Wirzba, The Phenomenology of Prayer, p. 2].

When we devote ourselves to pray without ceasing, we are simply making a commitment to a pious lifestyle devoted to God-consciousness and remembrance of the Divine.

Prayer restrains one from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of God is the greatest thing in life, without doubt. [Quran 29:45].


Related posts:

How to Pray without Ceasing (2/2)

Further reading:
Pray without Ceasing, by Paul J. Griffiths 
A Short, Easy, and Comprehensive Method of Prayer, by Johannes Kelpius

Posted in Prayer, Worship & Spiritual Exercises | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Life of Prayer: How to Pray without Ceasing (1/2)

A Rumi Belly: Ruminations on a Fasting Stomach

Rumi’s Fasting Stomach

What hidden sweetness is found in this empty stomach!
Man is like a lute, neither more nor less.
When the lute’s stomach is full,
It cannot lament, whether high or low.
If your brain and stomach burn from fasting,
Their fire will draw constant lamentation from your breast.
Through that fire you will burn a thousand veils at every instant,
You will ascend a thousand degrees on the Way and in your aspiration.
Keep your stomach empty! Lament like a flute and tell your need to God!
Keep your stomach empty and speak of the mysteries like a reed!  
[Jalauddin Rumi, Divan: Ghazal 1739, in William Chittick in The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi, p. 157].

 

Lazily we glide through existence, procrastinating and wasting time on our most frivolous passions. Stuffed with trivial, inconsequential fodder, our thoughts idle along, without direction, interrupted only by curiosity for the latest innovation and marketed fad.

Since the prophet said “Fasting is a protection,” lay hold of that, do not cast away this shield before the arrow-shooting carnal soul. [Mystical Poems of Rumi, p. 230].

Is not sobriety the alighting-place of every care? Is not joy banned in anxiety?  Fast, for fasting is great gain; the faster drinks the wine of the spirit. [Mystical Poems of Rumi, p. 287].

Must-win games, must-have toys, must-see shows, served as appetizers for must-eat meals, strike fanciful chords of ephemeral pleasures, quickly defecated from our stressful inner chambers.

“Be empty of worrying. Think of who created thought! Why do you stay in prison When the door is so wide open?”  [Rumi, in The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks, p. 3].

Fasting Energy 

At times, we must discipline our spirit as if it were a rebellious child insisting on having its own way. When we need enthusiasm for our soul, to revitalize it for sacred activity, fasting is the prod.

Drink not by way of throat and stomach, sleep not as the result of nights. [Mystical Poems of Rumi, p. 336].

We can easily become accustomed to comforts, and take God’s blessings for granted. We greedily consume our good fortune without appreciating it. Foolishly, we assume that we are owed our blessed affluence. Such spiritual ignorance and intellectual arrogance can greatly benefit from a fast.

Don’t spoil and fatten the ego by giving it the pleasurable experiences it desires, for this will only give it more power over you . . . Because when the “stomach” of the ‘commanding self’ [nafsul-amara] is filled and becomes comfortable, it becomes increasingly insolent and rebellious. Therefore, it is necessary to limit it to bran bread so that this ‘commanding self’ does not become strong, insolent, and rebellious. [Anqaravi, Commentary on Rumi’s, The Prince and the Christian Ascetic (Mathnawi V: 3480)]

Fasting Catechism

Fasting educates the soul. It rehearses lessons innate to our conscience, reminding us of our inherent compassion, hidden beneath layers of overindulgence and lusts. It calls to attention distracted thoughts stripped of emotions by extravagant yet insipid existence. Fasting drills us on a catechism of humility.

Fasting is as our sacrifice,
It is the life out of soul; let us sacrifice all our body,
Since the soul has arrived as guest.

Fortitude is as a sweet cloud, wisdom rains from it,
Because it was in such a month of fortitude
That the Koran arrived

When the carnal soul is in need,
The spirit goes into ascension;
When the gate of the prison is broken, the soul reaches the Beloved [Rumi, Ghazal No. 892 from the Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi, in Arberry, p. 138]

The emptiness of a fast detains our intellect, confines it and demands attention to the Divine. As awareness of the True Reality increases, we lament our separation from God and cry out for forgiveness. This cry accompanies the universal chorus of repentance that resonates only when we empty ourselves of arrogance and pride.

 Be empty of stomach and cry out, in neediness, like the reed flute! Be empty of stomach and tell secrets like the reed pen! [Mystical Poems of Rumi, p. 224].

___________________

Further reading:

Posted in Fasting for God, Purifying the Soul | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Rumi Belly: Ruminations on a Fasting Stomach

Fasting: A Personal Exodus into a Private Promised Land


 Fasting: A Spiritual Exodus

. . . Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein. And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage . . . [Deuteronomy 8:12 -14].

Our faith is not based on discipline or self-control. Discipline does not make us pious, compassionate or wise. Our faith is a personal oath to the Divine Reality, a spiritual contract.

… Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love. [Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 39].

However, without self-control, it is difficult to maintain the loyalty, integrity or morality that true faith requires. Many of the virtues to which we subscribe demand steadfast determination in the face of worldly temptations. We must remain resolute in our fealty and impervious to material influence that may weaken our devotion.

Be not neglectful of obligatory prayer and fasting. He who faileth to observe them hath not been nor will ever be acceptable in the sight of God. Follow ye wisdom under all conditions. He, verily, hath bidden all to observe that which hath been and will be of profit to them. He, in truth, is the All-Sufficing, the Most High.  [Bahá’u’lláh].

Fasting and Discipline

When we are unable to discipline our conduct, we often experience disappointment. Our procrastination can result in lost opportunities. Our inability to motivate ourselves can keep us from maximizing our potential. Distractions can derail us, so that we don’t finish what we start. In short, we find it difficult to be the person we want to be.

It’s not easy to satisfy an affluent mind. When we are physically satiated, we think and act in ways that reflect our comfort and security. A life of leisure can destroy our motivation to pursue higher goals. Glutted senses can deaden our desire to grow spiritually.

In our prosperity, we may see reality from a perspective that distorts our understanding of facts and situations. We may formulate opinions and reach conclusions quite different from those of an anxious, distressed or suffering person.

Fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in Him a source of sustenance beyond food. [Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, p. 166].

During a fast, our perception changes as we react to reduced glucose levels, and shift our energy source. Our body adjusts its mental processes and other functions that respond to nutrients. Our senses, the basic components of our worldview, adjust to reflect these new physical conditions.

The purpose of fasting is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things. [Ole Hallesby, Prayer, p. 114].

Fasting and Feasting

Our desire to remain in a perpetual state of festivity prevents us from initiating a fast. We prefer a life of entertainment and pastimes to a life of piety and devotion

Fasting produces a somber perspective. Most religions forbid their adherents from fasting on festive days because abstinence creates an unsocial state of mind, incompatible with the joyous nature of such occasions.

Catholic theologians determined that fasting during Easter and on Sundays is not compatible with the spiritual and mental states desirable on such days.

Accordingly the fasts appointed by the commandment of the Church are rather “fasts of sorrow” which are inconsistent with days of joy. For this reason fasting is not ordered by the Church during the whole of the Paschal season, nor on Sundays: and if anyone were to fast at these times … he would not be free from sin … [St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, 2a, 2ae, 147].

In Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) forbade the fasting on its two feast days.

Narrated Abu Sa’id: The Prophet forbade the fasting of ‘Id-ul-Fitr and ‘Id-ul-Adha (the two feast days) [Bukhari, Vol. 3, Bk. 31: 212].

Fasting against Social Excesses

The material congestion of a human society is a byproduct of its appetites. Without a foundation for discipline over its base desires, the society consumes beyond surfeit and becomes bloated in short-sighted thought and wasteful action.

The fire you kindle in your stomach is making your brain like a heated furnace . . . Your animal passions should be starved, not pampered and fed. The congestion of blood in the brain is strengthening the animal instincts and weakening spiritual powers. [Ellen G. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 102, para. 1, Physiology of Digestion, Letter 142, 1900, 156e].

A prosperous society easily falls into myopic introspection, finding great value in trivial matters. Enchanting trinkets encase the intellect. Distracting novelties delight the senses. Everywhere opulent ornaments, physical and cerebral, offer entertainment that disarms reason and numbs self-restraint.

The society’s congested intellect is reflected in its politics, economics, arts and sciences. Creative and intellectual thought becomes blunted by economics and stymied by conformity. The society falls in love with itself, cultivating the status quo, while its scientists, chairmen, celebrities and scholars pursue vanities with ornate decorum.

During the last three decades, obesity has emerged as a big public health issue in affluent societies. A number of academic and policy approaches have been taken, none of which has been very effective. Most of the academic research, whether biological, epidemiological, social-scientific, or in the humanities, has focused on the individual, and on his or her response to external incentives. The point of departure taken here is that institutions matter a great deal too, and especially the normative environment of the nation state. [Insecurity, Inequality, and Obesity in Affluent Societies, Edited by Avner Offer].

Temporary Renunciation

The call to fasting exposes our addiction to adopted secular lifestyles. It unmasks our enslavement to a physical existence we call “reality.” Although we attest to a Divine Reality, we find it so very difficult to detach ourselves from worldly pleasures for just a few hours.

When we undertake a spiritual fast, we choose to withdraw from several aspects of our physical existence. Seeking a connection to the Divine, we temporarily sever our connection to the material world and renounce ties to pleasures of the body. We set forth on a personal exodus, a solitary “hijrah,” a private ashram — to flee from anxiety and grief to peace and security, from the profane to the sacred.

Whatever ye are given [in this world] is [only] a convenience of this life: but that which is with God is better and more lasting: [it is] for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord: [Quran 42:36]


Posted in Fasting for God, Spiritual Elements in Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Fasting: A Personal Exodus into a Private Promised Land

Spiritual Fasting for Catharsis, Renewal & Purification

Fasting for Catharsis, Renewal & Purification

As for those who avoid the [truly] grave sins and shameful deeds – even though they may sometimes stumble — behold, thy Lord is vast in forgiveness. He is fully aware of you when He brings you into being out of dust, and when you are still hidden in your mothers’ wombs: do not, then, ascribe purity (to) yourselves. He knows best who is conscious of Him. [Quran 53:32].

Can food, or abstaining from food, make us more righteous or less evil? Does eating really affect our spirit?

The answer to these questions is probably a qualified “yes.” To the extent that food is the source of energy for our body, it can enhance or deter any conduct, good or evil. In addition, the functioning of our brain can be significantly altered by what we put in our mouth and send to our stomach.

However, merely consuming pure foods or abstaining from eating cannot purify our soul. Only the Divine Presence can do that.

What are the conditions under which the soul may experience the presence of God? In a word, purity. Consider Ephrem’s first hymn… “Fasting secretly purifies the soul / So it can gaze on God and grow by the vision of Him. / For the weight that is from the earth, bends it back to the earth. / Blessed is he who gave us fasts,/ The sheer wings by which we fly to Him.” [Ephrem the Syrian, quoted in Paradise and Paradigm: Key Symbols in Persian Christianity and the Baha’i Faith by Christopher Buck].

Physical Purification

Catharsis is often part of the purification process. It refers to ridding the body of internal impurities. The connotation is that we are removing foreign or objectionable elements to unclog a congested vessel. Physically, we use herbs and medications to stimulate bowel movement and help eliminate intestinal waste.

Purification can also come from filtration and exclusion. Preventing new toxins from entering our body can help prolong our purification. A fast gives our body time to discharge, naturally, the accumulated debris of prodigal existence.

In a religion sense, it means to free a person from moral or spiritual defilement. Thus, ritual states of purity demanded by religious ceremonies and sacraments often includes fasting.

Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.  [Didache 7.4].

Emotional Renewal

With body cleansed, the mind is next for purification. Excessive indulgence in worldly pleasures increases irreverent frivolity, disregard of sacred matters, and forgetfulness of our deeper aspirations.

Our reasoning process has to be attuned to the Divine frequency. Our tongue, our eyes, our ears must align with the Divine Order.

In as much as it is necessary to cleanse and purify the body, so necessary, or perhaps even more necessary, is it that the mind be cleansed and purified. All impurity causes diseases as well as irregularity in the working of the physical system. The same applies to the mind. There are impurities belonging to the mind, which may cause different diseases, and by cleansing the mind one helps to create health both in body and mind. By health I mean the natural condition. And what is spirituality but to be natural? [Inayat Khan, Vol. IV, Mental Purification and Healing, Pt. III: Mental Purification, Ch. I].

A spiritual fast can provide an emotional renewal. We often find ourselves immersed in business, academic or social activities that overwhelm us. We feel “fed up,” “can’t take anymore,” “sick and tired of it all.”

And now you know not that you have done anything amiss! You can eat and drink and be merry! You are everyday engaged with variety of company, and frequent the coffee-houses! Alas, my brother, what is this? How are you above measure hardened by the deceitfulness of sin! … O, how have you grieved the Spirit of God! Return to him with weeping, fasting, and mourning. [Collected Works of John Wesley, Vol. 02, p.94]

Keeping stressful spiritual pollutants from staining our sanctity is another form of purification. A reclusive retreat, for example, may provide isolation and offer refuge from debilitating influences by revitalizing our mind and renewing soul. The spiritual fast complements this form of catharsis.

… the purpose of the desire for outward retreat is to realise inward retreat, through which one can realize the benefit – the prophetic encounter — or something similar to it … The intimate ones – the prophets, their disciples, and the chasidim – would practice retreat in the Temple which contains the burnt offering altar and the incense altar … [R. Avraham ben HaRambam, quoted in Jewish Contemplatives].

Spiritual Purification

Our journey toward the Divine Reality must be with a pure heart. Fasting provides a reliable vehicle for such purification.

The purification process starts on a physical plain and continues through our emotions toward the heart. While therapeutic fasting purges the body and stimulates evacuation of the bowels, the spiritual fast is a laxative for the soul, inducing vomiting by the mind and providing an enema for the heart.

Be well assured that none can be illuminated, unless he be first cleansed, purified, or stripped. Also none can be united to God unless he be first illuminated. There are therefore three stages—first, the purification; secondly, the illumination; and thirdly, the union. [Theologia Germanica].

Many of our debilitating conditions start with perverted thinking and distorted emotions. The deviation that originates in our mind soon permeates our entire soul, leaving us in a state of overwhelming anxiety and grief.

The pure heart is the best mirror for the reflection of Truth. So all these disciplines are for the purification of the heart. As soon as it is pure, all truths flash upon it in a minute. [Sri Sathya Sai Baba].

Negative thoughts, emotions and desires have to be filtered, discarded or corrected. We must be freed from pride, lust, envy and other vices that stain our soul, to be replaced with Divine virtues.

At such times, we may need psychological and intellectual cleansing. Our perspective may have become clouded and we may have forgotten our most sacred beliefs.

Fasting relies on self-control which has recourse to the will and leads to the purification of mind and heart. St. Athanasius states: “Do you want to know what fasting does? … it raises the mind and purifies the heart.” [Synod of Bishops, XI Ordinary General Assembly].

We are usually healthier after fasting. We have relaxed the weight and burdens of immoderate consumption and digestion of food. Our body usually responds by being ready to face new challenges.

Spiritually, we feel an enhanced awareness of the sacred. The repentance and remorse that accompany our fasting act as an emotional release. Our conscience feels relieved after expressing heartfelt contrition and removing some of the stains from our soul.

We must not be astonished to see ourselves imperfect, since we must never see ourselves otherwise in this life. [St Francis de Sales].

After the fast, we often experience a feeling of self-assurance, renewed vitality and resoluteness. We have exerted a significant effort by fasting to please God. We completed what, before the fast, appeared a daunting task. We have revived our spiritual strength and our direction appears clearer.

We sense that a spiritual obligation has been fulfilled. With bolstered confidence and enhanced piety, we are ready for selfless service to our Creator.

Consider the human self, and how it is formed in accordance with what it is meant to be, and how it is imbued with moral failings as well as with consciousness of God! Truly he succeeds that purifies it, And he fails that corrupts it!  [Quran 91: 7-10].


Posted in Fasting for God, Purifying the Soul | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Spiritual Fasting for Catharsis, Renewal & Purification

Religion & Spirituality: Institutional Worship vs. Divine Intimacy (2/2)


Religion vs. Spirituality

Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? [Luke 6:46].

Imbued with sacred symbols and solemnity, providing sacraments and liturgy, our religion establishes guard rails as we travel toward the spiritual understanding.

Our doctrinal creed is traditionally prescribed. But, what is the measure of a religious institution? How do we come to adopt one organization over another?

O YOU who have attained to faith! Why do you say one thing and do another? Most loathsome is it in the sight of God that you say what you do not do! [Quran 61:2-3].

Counterfeit Religion

While our faith seeks sincere expression in a devout daily life, our religion remains far removed from outward action, ensconced in theological thoughts and rhetorical doctrines. Our institutional worship continues to be a conceptual and ritualistic imitation of devotion, not a living practice.

You want to mess up the minds of your children? Here’s how – guaranteed! Rear them in a legalistic, tight context of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do’s and don’ts publicly but hypocritically practice them privately… yet never own up to the fact that it’s hypocrisy. Act one way but live another. And you can count on it – emotional and spiritual damage will occur. [Charles (Chuck) Swindoll].

Our public persona may apparently prosper in self-deception and convenient virtue. Yet, within us, the darkness only increases and we are left tumbling through illusions and mired in dishonesty.

A respected holy man, being the guest of a sultan, ate less than he wished when sitting at dinner, and when he rose for prayers he prolonged them more than was his normal practice. He did both of these things in order to enhance the opinion entertained by the sultan of his piety.

O Arab of the desert, I fear thou wilt not reach the Ka’bah / Because the road on which thou travellest leads to Turkestan.

When he returned to his own house, he desired food to be laid out for eating. He had an perceptive son who said: “Father, hast thou not eaten anything at the repast of the sultan?” He replied: “I have not eaten anything to serve a purpose.” The boy said: “Then likewise say thy prayers again, as thou hast not done anything to serve that purpose.”

O thou who showest virtues on the palms of the hand / But concealest thy errors under the armpit / What wilt thou purchase, O vain-glorious fool, On the day of distress with counterfeit silver?

[Adapted from The Rose Garden (The Gulistan) Sheikh Muslih-uddin Saadi Shirazi, Book II, Story 6].
 

Institutionalized Religion

Can we rehabilitate our institutionalized religion? We do not often examine how well our inner spirituality matches our religious congregational affiliation. How well does what we believe inside align with what is happening in our external worship?

So I go to church, not because of any legalistic or moralistic reasons, but because I am a hungry sheep who needs to be fed; and for the same reason that I wear a wedding ring: a public witness of a private commitment. [Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season, p. 143].

Do we have to turn off all the lights to see the sky? Do we need protection from inflexible dogma and rival doctrines and denominations, all demanding exclusive access to our soul? Is it necessary to isolate ourselves and be alone to contemplate the Divine?

Seeing no light outside, in the prevailing darkness of modern religions, we may look inside to find our personal God, always present, always listening, always answering — but always private.

God is God: If He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will find rest nowhere but in His holy will, a will that is unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to. [Elisabeth Elliot, Through Gates of Splendor, p. 265].

We may seek refuge in seclusion trying to draw nearer to the Divine Reality. Deserts, forests and mountains call us to withdraw from society and live a solitary existence. However, our deeper feelings of love, charity and piety call forth our empathy for the suffering of others and our compassion to do something about it.

Help me, Lord, to remember that religion is not to be confined to the church … nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I am in Thy Presence. [Susanna Wesley].

A Religion Pleasing God

How then do we get our inner spiritual awareness to manifest itself? How do we move the Divine Reality from our inner consciousness to the outward reality in which we actively participate?

Make it a rule, and pray to God to help you to keep it, never, if possible, to lie down at night without being able to say: “I have made one human being at least a little wiser, or a little happier, or at least a little better this day.” [Charles Kingsley].

Dedication to the Divine requires that we adopt a spiritual plan of action, religiously implementing it every day, every minute — constantly asserting the good and rejecting the evil, remembering and obeying God.

He, who by good deeds covers the evil he has done, illuminates this world like the moon freed from clouds. [Dhammapada 173].

May God guide us to build our life with His pleasure in mind. May our religion inspire us to sincere Divine service. May we join in the common effort of living with kindness, compassion and justice.

CONSIDER the flight of time! Verily, man is bound to lose himself unless he be of those who attain to faith, and do good works, and enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth, and enjoin upon one another patience in adversity. [Quran 103:1-3].


Related posts:

Religion & Faith: Institutional Worship vs. Divine Intimacy (1/2)

Further reading:

The Distortion of Spirituality by John Ortberg

Posted in Prayer, Worship & Spiritual Exercises | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Religion & Spirituality: Institutional Worship vs. Divine Intimacy (2/2)

Religion & Spirituality: Institutional Worship vs. Divine Intimacy (1/2)


 Religion and Spirituality

What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, without works, is dead. [James 2:14].

Is there a difference between our spiritual and our religious life? How does our outward worship reflect our inner piety? Does our spirituality abide in our soul, while our religion dwells in churches, temples, mosque or synagogues?

Ideally, our religious institutions offer a way to express our inner faith communally. The rituals and symbols of religions engage us in sacred glorification and commemoration, presenting vivid reminders of God while offering pious guidance to our daily living.

To every People have We appointed rites and ceremonies which they must follow: let them not then dispute with thee on the matter, but do thou invite (them) to thy Lord: for thou art assuredly on the Right Way. [Quran 22:67].

Religion: Institutional Worship

Obviously, spirituality and religion should complement each other. A religion is the product of spiritual enthusiasm. A religious community initially owes its life to believers who share their spirituality.

Unfortunately, secular environments often pits organized worship against personal intimacy with God. Culture, affluence and livelihood are among the major influences distracting and distorting our spiritual consciousness.

The achievement of personality means nothing less than the optimum development of the whole individual human being … the vast majority of mankind do not choose their own way, but convention, and consequently develop not themselves but a method and a mode of life at the cost of their own wholeness … Only the man who can consciously assent to the power of the inner voice becomes a personality. [Carl Jung, The Development of Personality].

The essence of religion is worship, and the reason we worship is to come closer to God and to connect with Him. However, our modern perspective sees spirituality and institutional worship as distinct phenomena.

Matters of the spirit appear to reside within and affect us personally, privately, while matters of religion are outward and public, affecting family and social interaction.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment … Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. [1 Peter 3:3-4 (NIV)].

For many of us, religious rituals fulfill doctrinal obligations. They bring into actuality
the requirements of our faith and help us glorify and commemorate our Lord. Spiritual devoutness, on the other hand, provides the inner piety and God-consciousness that remind and connect us to what we find most meaningful.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. [Psalm 19:14].

Organizational Golden Calf

Officially prescribed and solemnly observed, our religious beliefs are voiced openly. We display them on holy days, in ceremonies and rituals. They are part of our cultural resume, defining who we are to the inquiring world.

More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether. [Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life/ U.S. Religious Landscape Survey].

The traditional role of religion is to provide a communal center for our spirituality. Clearly, our religion provides direction for our spiritual journey toward Divine awareness. However, when we find ourselves worshiping our religion instead of our Creator, we have adopted a man-made idol, our organizational golden calf.

When our emphasis becomes the Church more than the Lord, we have been reduced to worshiping the creation instead of the blessed Creator, and our faith has been reduced to a form of godliness which denies the very power of the gospel. [Rick Joyner].

Spirituality: Divine Intimacy

By contrast, if we pursue an ego-driven illusion of our inner spirit, we have rebelled from our Creator no less than did the accursed enemy of Truth.

Our spiritual path, which we find described in sacred texts and mystical literature, is very narrow. When we try to follow it in our daily life, it does not seem to allow more than one person on it at a time. And, we have to wear so many masks.

The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be – perhaps not ever – experienced as a sensation or emotion. The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system. Don’t depend on them. Otherwise when they go and you are once again emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too. But it won’t. It will be there when you can’t feel it. May even be operative when you can feel it least. [Letters of C. S. Lewis].

How do we make God’s heavenly will more in accord with what we do on earth? How do we actualize what is conceived by our heart to be the “right things to do?” In other words, how does our spirituality become active, manifested in a religion pleasing to God.

With what shall I come before the Lord? and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:6-8].

If our religion is to express the will of God, it has to manifest itself continuously. For us to be truly sincere, our religious life and our spiritual life must be one.

Be mindful of your duty [to God], and do good works; and again, be mindful of your duty, and believe; and once again: be mindful of your duty, and do right. God loves the doers of good. [Quran 5:93].


Related posts:

Religion & Faith: Institutional Worship vs. Divine Intimacy (2/2)

Posted in Prayer, Worship & Spiritual Exercises | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Religion & Spirituality: Institutional Worship vs. Divine Intimacy (1/2)