3 Silence Practice Sermons

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Experiencing the One Heart Longing for Unity

(Given at Kamloops Unitarian Church, Sept. 21, 2014)

“Our love of truth can be understood as the holiest of gifts.  Our devotion to truth may be the means of our deliverance.” (Unitarian Church’s Opening Words)

These are powerful words. Words that we must contemplate. We must understand what is involved in our love of truth, and what comprises a holy gift. How do we participate in such a gift? A gift that we have all been given. We must also be willing to investigate what devotion to this truth looks like in our life. Not just what we have been taught through religious doctrine, but within our own heart, we must understand experientially what devotion feels like, what the energy of it is, how we react to it, or open to it.

The heart that yearns for God, is the most precious and powerful life connection we have. Stronger than death, more subtle and gentle than a falling leaf, more real than any reality or doctrine that we could ever believe in, more intimate than any lover, and as impersonal — and yet profoundly captivating — in its beauty, as nature.

But its utter simplicity can be complex, and even off-putting, to our habitual thought processes — if we try to figure it out from our intellect alone. The moment we think we “have it,” we lose it. In my last sermon here in February, I spoke about the practice of “not knowing.” It is vital that we become acquainted with the practice of Kenosis, or self emptying.

“Be Still and Know that I Am God” (Psalm 46:10) challenges everything we ever knew as a separate identity. It is destabilizing to the ego construct that we have identified with throughout our life. And it is through thought that we have learned this — the thoughts of the cultural paradigm, the religion, the family habits. We have become habituated to thoughts either in agreement to, or in opposition to, the status quo. Either way they are thoughts and have tremendous power in the world that we create together and as individuals.

Here’s a quote from J. Krishnamurti, ironically a man with a beautiful mind who tried to liberate people from their habits of thought. He always encouraged people to question, to find out for themselves, to discover in themselves an open receptivity to the Truth of who they are. This quote is from his book entitled Freedom from the Known:

If one wants to see a thing very clearly, one’s mind must be very quiet, without all the prejudices, the chattering, the dialogue, the images, the pictures–all that must be put aside to look. And it is only in silence that you can observe the beginning of thought–not when you are searching, asking questions, waiting for a reply. So it is only when you are completely quiet, right through your being, … then you will begin to see out of that silence how thought takes shape… If there is an awareness of how thought begins then there is no need to control thought…

(Silence with direction around thoughts)

Surrendering our personal opinions, biases, and strategies is challenging to learn. This surrender is a difficult for three main reasons:

  1. we have been indoctrinated into the rational scientific mode of thinking as the only way to be (Descartes “I think therefore am,” rather than “I am therefore I think.”).
  2. We do not understand the true meaning of surrender. The dictionary describes it as “giving over or handing over… typically on demand to an authority.”
  3. We do not have a healthy understanding of authority in a worldly sense, let alone in a spiritual sense. In spiritual circles that are identified with everyone being the same, a natural hierarchy is not honored. There is indeed a natural hierarchy of spiritual consciousness. Because we do not recognize it in our own consciousness, it becomes very difficult to recognize it, and honour it, in another.

This brings into question the whole dimension of authority and hierarchy. And we have to really examine what it means in a spiritual context. We are all created equally, but we do not access the depth Awareness of our Creator equally. Again, a paradox. We are created equally, but do not give equal value to that Unitive Consciousness that gives us Life. The Unitive Heart that awakens to our higher Consciousness. The surrender required is absolute, uncompromising, real, and incredibly challenging. Surrender is the only vehicle that allows for the deep listening of the Yearning heart. The Heart that wants to know Truth above all else.

I have spent my life defending against such a position of surrender. From the lens or worldview of my separate identity, surrender is very unattractive! I have learned to contract, to withdraw, to disengage but never to surrender. At any cost. And yet, this habit of contraction has been very costly. Not knowing how to let go, how to surrender, how to release the grip of fear causing the contraction, my life became much smaller than it would have been.

And even so, in spite of that, I continued to have dreams and mystical experiences that showed me a different reality — that knocked holes in my habit of contraction, my habit of hiding from the longing that lived relentlessly within my heart. This repeated and enduring onslaught into my defense system or false self (Fr. Thomas Keating), has gradually taught me, allured me, prodded me, opened me, into another way of understanding surrender, and its ally, devotion.

From this place, surrender to “that which Is,” God, Reality, the Absolute,  is an undeniable force of forgiveness and love. A force that surges through my body and mind like an incoming tidal flood. A power that lifts me beyond myself in ways previously unimagined. The Kabbalistic mystical tradition of Judaism calls it “The Blessing Force.” In Christianity, we might call it Grace.

The “safe reality” of my defended false self is referred to as “The Denying Force.” With the incoming flood of this Blessing Force, my defended habits, “denial of God” are literally carried out to sea. It’s rigid structure is softened beyond recognition. It is there, and yet, it is no longer the centre. The (previous) contraction is held by a Unitive consciousness that is far more vast than the fixed limitations of my self-concern. The longing is a call to open to That Which Is. It is a call that is challenging to hear through habits of fear and contraction. We need to practice and learn to be still, and attentive. We need to do this together in community — two or more will do.

We must have Faith that the highly reactive nature of our thought-habits, is not the final story. This is usually a slow process, the learning to take responsibility for our reactivity and to not project it onto another or an event we may become aware of in the news. There will always be people and world events to react to. That has always been so, and that will never change. What can — and I dare say — must change, is our habitual ways (i.e., consciousness) of relating to these people and events. We must learn not to be afraid to really look at how we think — at our habits of judgment, condemnation, criticism–all stemming from our fear of the other and a misplaced, misinformed perception of who we really are as divine beings.

In 1997, a book was released entitled The Four Agreements. (I had heard of this book, but did not read any of it, until I came across my mother’s copy this week.) In the introduction to the book, author Miguel Ruiz describes the Toltec knowledge as a rising from the same essential unity of truth as all the sacred esoteric traditions found around the world. 3000 years ago the founder of this tradition describes his first awakening experience with unitive consciousness:

Everything in existence is a manifestation of the one living being we call God. Everything is God. Human perception is merely light perceiving light — and the world of illusion, the “Dream,” is just like smoke which doesn’t allow us to see what we really are. The real us is pure love, pure light. I see myself in everything–in every human, and every animal, in every tree, in the water, in the rain, in the clouds, in the earth.

(Short guided Silence period)

Once we have experienced that one heart — that only longs for Beauty, Truth and Goodness, we release ourselves from much of what occupies our daily life, our ways of relating, what we talk about, who we talk about, and what sort of consciousness directs our actions. We must know, and not in a critical way, if we are coming from the grip of ego, with its false pride, arrogance, division, and fear.

Much of what we take for reality we have simply learned from those around us. And so much of this conditioning, you may not be surprised to learn, is cultural. In the Western cultures particularly, we are so encouraged to think of ourselves as individuals. This trend, combined with our widespread inability to know ourselves as something more than our thought processes, creates immense stress through competition with each other, the impulse to achieve at all costs–in whatever flavour that may come in: academia, sports, wealth, and yes–even spirituality. I could even say, that it is no less immune to this trend then any other discipline.

Here is a quote from Father Richard Rohr:

Most of us were not raised to understand that we are participating in something that is already happening. Rather, we were given tasks to accomplish individually and completely. This placed the entire burden on the single isolated person. That’s not participation. That’s perfectionism—thinking I have to do it all or that I can do it all (the American myth). I’m convinced that’s why we have so much of what we call negative self-image in the West—because of this impossible spiritual burden put on the separate individual. The Good News is that it’s not about being correct. It’s about being connected. When the Spirit within you connects with God’s Spirit … you are finally home. Now you know that your deepest you is God, and Christ is living his life in you and through you and with you.

While this is a profoundly simple practice, it is also profoundly challenging. We need like-minded/hearted people so that we can practice another way of communicating, another way to live together where we learn to trust ourselves, the other, and Life in ways we cannot currently imagine.

A Light begins to grow within us that reveals Life in a way we couldn’t see before. A boldness emerges within us that we are held by. We know experientially, simply, and humbly, that Life is very sweet and precious. That all that we seek individually in our busy separate lives finds its rest by finding its place within the recognition of our Unity.

I hope these words, the quotes, our Silent time together this morning has fed your curiosity more than your reactivity or defensiveness. I hope that you are invigorated by a willingness to lean into a new way of knowing yourself, others, and the world around you. We truly are in need of this–personally and collectively.

This kind of teaching has become my vocation in the last four years. I am dedicated to it in a way I never foresaw when I was working on my Master’s Research thesis “Surrendering to Silence: A Heart-Centred Practice.”

Since my last visit, I have been constructing a website that can be accessed either through lauramadsen.ca or silence practice.com.

The website contains monthly blogs, sermons, theological papers, and the opportunity to dialogue about what you read, through the comment section. For those on Facebook, I also have a Facebook group you can request to join. It is available for conversation and pictures posts that reflect stillness, and remind us of who we are in our Unity.

Namaste

 

Silence Practice as the Art and Science

of “not-knowing.”

(Given at Kamloops Unitarian Church, Feb.02, 2014)

Today I will be addressing Silence Practice as the art and science of “not-knowing.” It is an art because it flows as a form of Grace and becomes reality through awakening to the sacred potential within each and everyone of us. It is a science because we become aware of “divine laws” or a “radically ordered beauty,” as we learn to practice “being still and not knowing” with whole-hearted commitment.

My interest in Silence Practice was likely seeded many years ago. In 1959, at the age of five, on the wild and largely uncolonized shores of the North Shuswap, I experienced profound moments of “unitive consciousness.” The great stillness around me and within my heart and body spoke volumes. I experienced a place that not only felt “deeply good,” it held promises of eternal goodness.

At few years later, at age 12, I experienced the same intense and enlivening energy. This time however, it was in a Sunday school class. I am not sure why I was attending, as we usually skied on the week-ends on what is now known as Sun Peaks. All of the other children had dropped out, but the teacher and I continued to meet weekly. And every week, while reading the parables, I would experience a profound Truth that seemed to exist both within me and around me. My body would feel very light, clear, and spacious. And the room itself seemed to brighten with the same remarkable sense of uplifting promise. A Presence was palpable in the room and within my heart and body.

Did this mean I was a Christian? But I didn’t feel anything like this when I attended Church. Where did I belong with this sort of experience? What do I do with it? How do I talk about it? Well, I didn’t talk about it. I kept it to myself and began to read the Bible — Old and New Testaments. It took me 3 years of nightly reading. And more often than not, that same Presence could be felt within and without. From the ages of 12 to 15, I did not have much in common with my peers. I simply felt incapable of relating to what I saw as meaningless. For three years, I remained a “deeply happy loner.”

Joseph Chilton Pearce, in his book The Biology of Transcendence,1 refers to these teenage years as an important time for the development of poignant and passionate idealism. He refers to the teenager’s passionate expectation that “something great is supposed to happen” and his or her exuberant belief in “the hidden greatness within me.” I mention this because Pearce says that the brain is the heart’s modus operandi, or means, for transcendent experience. Referring to the heart as the greatest intelligence, Pearce claims that this “stage” would be a lifelong development if the teenage stage were to unfold. By some Divine play, it unfolded in spades for me and, as Pearce suggests, it has become a lifelong development and passion for me.

To this day, when I read Scripture, I feel “uplifting glimmers” in my heart. And on many occasions, a profound stillness. It is as though a wrench is thrown into my “conditioned mind,” and my heart and mind become one with what is, what life is, who I am, who we are. And we are glorious beings.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. (Teilhard de Chardin)

The experience of that reality is beyond definition. That is precisely what makes it so compelling: we are liberated in our willingness to “let go” of our knowing. In that “letting go” or “surrender” of our ideas, whether right or wrong, happy or sad, we discover something new. “Surrender and Alignment” is one of the five themes I developed in my 2011 Master’s of Theology Thesis: Surrendering to Silence: A Heart-Centered Practice. I will touch upon the other four themes briefly today, as each assists with the “not- knowing” aspects of Silence Practice.

What I do know in the deepest part of my being, is that life is far too short and precious for us not to be striving for alignment with this holy intelligence. It is seeded within each of us, and yet it demands our discipline, obedience, and deep inner-listening in order to be realized in our everyday life. It is my experience that we can help each other remember our sacred heritage, our ever-evolving genesis.

Life is an interplay between Divine Grace and individual effort. (Eknath Easwaran)

While Silence is available in every moment, it only becomes evident through Grace. However, the paradoxical nature of Silence Practice requires that we practice it as though nothing else in life mattered. We are called to “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, all [our] soul, all [our] mind, and all [our] strength.” (Mark 12:30)

I refer to this “one-pointed desire” as “Yearning” — the second of the five themes of my research thesis. When we begin to practice Silence in earnest however, we quickly come up against a strong internal resistance to it. All of our protective layering of opinions, judgements, and stories surface as they began as attempts to protect ourselves from further wounding. “Resistance and Suffering” is the third theme.

There is an ending to sorrow if one remains with it completely, holds it as one would a precious baby, holds it in one’s heart, one’s brain, stays with it. And you will find this extraordinarily arduous, because we are so conditioned that the instinctive reaction is to get away from it. But if you can remain with it, you will find there is an ending — totally — to sorrow. Which doesn’t mean that you become insensitive to it.
… the mind that
waits for an answer to come is non-mechanical, because the answer is something you don’t know — the answer which you know is mechanical. But if you face the question and wait for an answer, you will see that your mind is in an entirely different state. The waiting is more important than the answer. (Krishnamurti)

* Take a minute now. Look at your fingerprint. Look at your neighbour’s fingerprint. Acknowledge the sameness, acknowledge the differences. we are not analyzing we are noticing. The mind is available when it slows down enough just to notice. As the Buddhist remind us, we have access to “a no-conclusion mind.” It is a light touch. Just noticing is easy to let go of. Conclusions are heavy, and judgements even heavier.

With the simple practice of noticing the life within our bodies, our emotions, our thinking habits, we are developing the 4th theme of Silence Practice — “The Internal Observer.” As we work together at not-knowing, we release habits of compulsive knowing — which so easily separate us from knowing in a new and fresh way.

We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves. (Martin Buber)

 As we learn to focus by observing rather than attempting to change ourselves/the other/ the situation, something shifts. Through stilling ourselves, we make space for something new to emerge. As we individually cultivate an internal awareness of “not-knowing,” we facilitate possibilities for new ways of understanding life and new ways of relating to others. We must know our ourselves — through being honest about our deepest intentions and where we place our habits of attention in our daily life. It matters tremendously what we intend and what we pay attention to. Because it shapes our reality in this moment, and the next moment. Over time, like a pebble dropped in water, the waves of our present intention affects our future, the lives of others, and the life on the planet.

O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. (Psalm 34:8)

Unless we have been graced with a mystical experience, many of us misunderstand God as a fixed idea, a mythic “unmoved mover.” While this may be convenient for a group understanding or shibboleth, something that we view as “fixed” leaves no room for relationship. Relationship requires movement. Ideas only, with no direct experience, leaves God cornered into being a noun. Which leads me to the final theme, I called “Physical Responses.” The body is very much affected by an encounter with the divine.

The people in history that address God as a verb, have “Divine Juice.” The mystical poets have so much to offer in this regard. Rumi is probably the world’s most popular mystic. Why? Because his relationship with God is intensely alive. We feel the potency and divine life force in his communications. We feel also, his encouragement to let go of false ideas about ourselves.

Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself.

Out beyond the ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in the grass the world is too full to talk about.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. (Rumi)

Chant Exercise

Be Still and Know that I am God” Ps. 46:10 (call and response chant)
(Be aware of the response of your heart as though listening for the first time during our 5 minutes of doing this — followed by 5 minutes of silence)

I do not wish to fill you with more information, but rather a clean slate, or fresh breeze in which to know from. Our deepest knowing does not come from information. I believe us to be assailed daily with information. Too many of us no longer choose what we focus on, we passively allow our consciousness to be fed by the news or the latest entertainment. Our emotions and our thinking are frequently over-stimulated, leaving us prone to compulsive habits of reactivity and addictions large and small. When these habits take over we gradually forsake relationship with the depth dimension of the true self.

I am not suggesting that we protect ourselves from knowing what is going on in the world. But nothing new can be realized if we do not ever stand in the stillness — the depths of quiet. Einstein said it best; “A problem cannot be solved by the same consciousness that made it.”

A depth response is stimulated by sincere questions. Spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen distills the two central questions in life down to “who am I and how shall I live”? He says, it is the “not-knowing, but wanting to know … that evolves our consciousness.” A depth response awakens within us when we are leaning in, when we are listening deeply for what we do not yet know. We self-empty in order to know more deeply, more inclusively, less dualistically, and more generously. We create our reality through what we focus on and how we relate to each other.

When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.” (Martin Buber)

 Guided Meditation Exercise

Breathing. Be aware of the movement of the breath; how the air touches the nostrils as it moves in and out. How it expands the abdomen on the inhale, contracts it on the exhale. Observe the breath, the flow, the naturalness, the ease. What is the heart’s response to this movement, to your awareness of this movement?

Notice. Take a few minutes.

Now, still closing your eyes, be aware of your neighbour on the right. Be aware that he or she is also breathing — inhaling, exhaling. The rhythm of the breathing may be different than yours, but they breathe the same air, and their body makes use of the breath the same way — does the same amazing exchange of oxygen to carbon-dioxide. neighbour on the left — neighbour behind you — neighbour in front of you —

Now be aware of us all breathing together. What is the heart’s response to your awareness of this movement? Notice. Take a few minutes.

 Quotes for your Contemplative Pleasure

There are some things that can only be known experientially, and each generation must learn them for themselves. The “prayer of quiet” is a most simple and universal path. Of all the religious rituals and practices I know of, nothing will lead us to that place of nakedness and vulnerability more than regular experiences of solitude and silence, where our ego identity falls away, where our explanations don’t mean anything, where our superiority doesn’t matter and we have to sit there in our naked “who-ness.” (Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr)

There is a great security that comes from believing that we possess knowledge. Our theologies claim to know things about God; when we believe those things we call it faith, but it is a faith in our own understanding rather than a faith in something greater than our understanding. It is a divinity to be encountered and beheld in wonder rather than one to be known in the way our minds go about knowing other things. The great silence, which is the liminal encounter with the divine … [is] an attention to the omnipresence of God … not as a theological doctrine, but as the great silence that is present in every moment — but from which we are usually distracted by an overactive mind that refuses to wait in a humble unknowing … (James Danaher PhD)

“Be willing to be blind, and give up all longing to know the why and how, for knowing will be more of a hindrance than a help.” (The Cloud of Unknowing)

Be Still and Know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

 Bibliography

1 Pearce, Joseph Chilton The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street, 2002

 

Recycling

THE YEARNING HEART OF SILENCE: A DEVOTIONAL THEOLOGY

(Given at Canadian Memorial United Church in Vancouver, May 29, 2011)

 Good Morning. There is an old adage that says that we teach best what we most need or desire to learn. I am therefore, especially grateful for this opportunity. Thank you Bruce, and to all of you present at Canadian Memorial this morning. I have struggled with a few “I’s” competing to write this Sermon: everything from the “I” that wants to share my life-long spiritual journey with you in 20 minutes, to the “I” that wishes to present a dissertation on Silence and include little about my personal life.

Where the two dovetail nicely is within my desire for this Sermon to serve the yearning heart — yours and mine. In that sense, this Sermon is actually a prayer in that it is both communal and deeply personal. The yearning heart’s innate blend of divine and common intelligence simply knows through experience (gnosis) that we are not separate from love. It is not only what we are here for, it is who we are. John’s reading this morning speaks to that which lives within us, but is not visible “in the world.” It is a puzzling thing, that our own nature still remains hidden to most of us, most of the time — in Jesus time and today.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. (Rumi)

To “seek and find our barriers” to the yearning heart of Love takes courage, humility, grace, and a community of practitioners within which to practice. Acknowledging the barriers of our “unloving habits” is an activity we seldom embrace; and revealing the depths of our yearning is a “coming out” we avoid. Left to our own devices then, we might never practice Silence, which so effectively acquaints us with our heart. So, I thought that this morning might be a good opportunity to practice Silence within community: during the Sermon and the Sharing of the Peace.

In order to assist with the listening action required for this practice, please place your dominant hand upon your heart and close your eyes. This is not your physical heart, but the energetic heart or chakra, at the centre of your chest. Close your eyes and focus your attention there. Listen with your heart. The more you feel your heart yearn, the more receptive it becomes. Whatever you sense or think is okay, this is about being present with awareness, not about changing anything. We will now practice Silence for one minute (don’t struggle with your thoughts, just breathe into the heart) … We will practice this in ten minutes time, and again near the end of the Sermon.

Silence Practicedominant hand on the heart for one minute of Silence

The yearning heart is not to be confused with an emotional or sentimental heart. It is not warm and fuzzy and can frequently feel sharp and decidedly uncomfortable. Yearning and Silence practice are kenotic (self-emptying) actions. Silence requires a “letting go,” a surrendering of layers upon layers of cultural and personal identification that misrepresent or highjack our yearning capacities.

Yearning is an energetic flow that moves in a circular fashion. Letting ourselves release into this flow can be uncomfortable, because we have grown accustomed to identification, preferring to trust in our own “best ideas” of what love is and how we should express it (in the world). If we surrender into the flow or movement however, a boundless generosity emerges, that invites the deeper devotional aspects of Love to become known. Love loves Love. Love delights in Itself. It’s the spilling up and spilling over dynamic that Bruce mentioned in a recent Sermon. In fact, the Oxford dictionary describes devotion as “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause.”

For our purposes this morning then, devotion is the circular action of Love being devoted to Itself. And Silence, its best support. In John’s gospel reading, Jesus begins by emphasizing Love. He says that if we love him, then we will keep his commandments. He is not thumping Commandment laws down upon our stubborn heads, he is inviting us to respond to Love. Through Jesus surrender and devotion to Love, Love is made manifest within the response of our own yearning heart. I believe that he is actually teaching — then and now — through the transmission of love, which is received and given through the heart.

Receiving any ordinary invitation, requires some part of us to recognize (perceive) what is being offered. Then, and only then, can we make an intelligent response to that invitation. Jesus invitation has been understood by very few, because his invitation is esoteric or hidden from the world (of ordinary mind) — as he reminds us in the John reading. Jesus invites us into a different reality of being that transcends religion and ideology. He is the living presence or embodiment of divine love, and he offers it because that is what love does: offers itself completely. Love is devoted to love with a fierce singularity. Jesus was called “Ihidaya” (single one), which was later translated to mean “celibate.”

The commandments never were meant as an exoteric accumulation of symbols for us to live by. Only an esoteric (internal) teaching can transform, instruct, and ignite our heart, so that we can serve the “Spirit of truth” into which Jesus invites us. Jesus knows that we (and his beloved disciples) are going to be challenged by his invitation, so he promises an Advocate in the Spirit of truth. It seems that this Spirit of truth again, exists within a circular flow of transmission; an invitation and response. Jesus says, “the world will no longer see me, but you will see (perceive) me, because I live, you also live … I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you” (vs. 19 & 20).

According to mystical scholar and theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault, early Christianity spread like “wild fire,” not because of convincing Jesus stories, but because of this internal heart-transmission that circulated through the Jewish and Greek communities; igniting all the yearning hearts that perceived its call. Eckart Tolle compares the Guru-student transmission to “igniting dry logs.” The yearning heart is like dry timber waiting for that living spark of Spirit. Jewish Kabbalah refers to this energy flow of transmission as Baraka, loosely translated as Grace.

Silence Practice: dominant hand on the heart for one minute of Silence

From “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” the Christian West has become stranded in “I think, therefore I am.” (Bourgeault, Centering Prayer.)

Cultural and religious paradigms have both contributed to our distrust and ignorance of spirituality as a heart-centered practice. Christian wisdom-traditions recognize the ancient and sacred connection of Silence to God. Second and third century scholars like Clement and Origen, seeded the devotional commitment of the Desert Fathers and Mothers who, in turn, retreated from the expansion of Christian Imperialism in order to maintain this sacred communion. Centering Prayer advocate, Thomas Keating, refers to Silence as God’s first language. Thomas Merton, a Benedictine monk who dedicated his life to the monastic practice of Silence, said that we cannot be silent without listening. I would add, that listening deeply  is impossible without the steadying direction of devotion to our heart’s yearning. I believe that it is this intention of deep listening that distinguishes Silence practice from meditation.

Devotion carries with it simplicity and steadfast directionality: away from worldly distraction and its close affiliate, ordinary mind.  It is a kenotic, self-emptying action that allows space for deep listening. The practice of Silence enables the devotional action of continuous surrender to that for which the heart yearns. Traditionally, we have referred to this energy as God. What we name it matters far less than that we name it. By naming it, we provide a place and context for it — within our hearts and minds.

I regard Ken Wilber as the “Guru of Naming.” His work is crucial for clarifying and integrating an understanding of where we have come from, where we are headed, and why it might be a good idea to know about it. In Eye of the Spirit, he names evolutionary consciousness as a journey towards Spirit’s “shocking self-recognition,” as our consciousness unfolds from matter to body to mind to soul, and finally to Spirit. I do not think that there can be too much difference between this “shocking self-recognition” and Jesus exhortation to love, that we hear in John. I also chose the word devotion because of my experiences within a Bhakti or devotional tradition since 1998. It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. The ebb was low, the stage was set, my yearning was high. I accepted the invitation, but not without enormous resistance that is still alive and well today. As Bourgeault says in her great little book Mystical Hope, “we struggle against the very thing which will yield our heart’s longing.”

However, with the help of a few seismic mystical episodes, I experienced the Guru’s energy as alive and well within my own heart — like a candle flame that simply would not go out — no matter how many layers of resistance I heaped upon it. This was the unitive flame, the pearl beyond price, the eternal gift, AND it was alive within my own heart — for several seconds at least. But, a lifetime’s work is revealed in the transformative experience of our own being coming alive in love, the brevity of the time line is insignificant.

Does that mean that everyone requires a “Bhakti boot camp” to be initiated into a devotional theology? That is not for me to say. What I do know, is that within the depth of your yearning, comes a response. So stay with your Silence practice, you might be surprised. In Paul’s address to the Athenians, he assures them that God does not live in shrines, but can be known because he gives “life and breath to all things,” and we are his offspring. He says that God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (vs. 30). His audience was about as receptive to his use of language then, as we are now. Repent and command simply don’t go down well.

Before casting the teaching aside because of its offensive language however, we must first consider two things: one is the translation from the original Greek, and the other is the reality and authority from which Paul spoke. Bourgeault says that “repent” does not mean feeling sorry for doing all those bad things. She credits Marcus Borg with a workable translation of the original Greek word metanoia: it means meta, to go beyond (or larger) and noia (mind), which translates together as encouragement to “go beyond the mind,” or “go into the larger mind.” (What blessed relief critical scholarship can provide!)

Paul was on fire with devotion for the man who God “[raised] from the dead” (vs. 31). He spoke with the same authority and boldness that Jesus himself had. And yet, in Bible Study this week, Bruce pointed out that Paul never once quoted from Jesus teachings. I imagine that Paul’s brief mystical encounter with the risen Jesus, and three days of subsequent blindness, resulted in his radical heart-conversion that is possible in Love’s fierce presence. Saul went from being the most feared Christian persecutor to Paul, the most influential apostle to date. There is hope for even the most resistant among us.

Silence Practicedominant hand on the heart for one minute of Silence

A challenging conundrum guards the gates of the silent journey and its spiritual practice: it only begins where we end – or rather, where our conditioned self ends. Whether theistic or atheistic, we are trained to know ourselves and others within categories of thought, and therefore through judgement and differentiation. Our world continues to be a place where the paradoxically simple truths of devotional theology and practices are profoundly misunderstood. Within the simplicity of Silence practice, we can begin to find the devotional nature of our yearning hearts. In this quiet receptivity we draw Love to us, because “Love loves Love.” We become irresistible to Love’s grace and flow because that is who we are.

May your Yearning Heart be the compass that nurtures the grace and humility of Love’s path. 

Namaste

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