Month Five. Fortitude to love myself, expands my hope and kindness
Looking for God’s Goodness in contemplation and prayer. The Narrow Gate of Contemplation
Who mentors you on how to live life? Research shows that we are influenced by those we surround ourselves with. As I was called to love, I’m realizing how important it is that I, the vine cling to love, the branch of Christ. If I’m to know pure love, I must be attached to love. This is the spiritual journey of becoming. The narrow gate of contemplation is a path to transformation, allowing me the gift of loving my whole self and bringing gentleness into the world.
In the Narrow Gate of Contemplation, Center for Action and Contemplation teacher James Finley describes contemplation as taught by the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing. This fourteenth-century work inspired the creation of Centering Prayer, and teaches a way of praying that involves surrendering our thoughts so that we can simply be in God’s presence:
Contemplation is a wordless resting in the presence of God beyond all thoughts and images. So, in contemplation, we’re not thinking of anything. We’re not thinking of anything, but we’re wordlessly resting in a presence beyond thought that’s intimately accessing our heart as we intimately access it, and we rest in the oneness. . . . How do we pass through the narrow gate [of contemplation] into God’s presence? This is what the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says we are to do:
Lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart. Do all in your power to forget everything else, keeping your thoughts and desires free from involvement with any of God’s creatures or their affairs whether in general or in particular. Perhaps this will seem like an irresponsible attitude, but I tell you, let them all be; pay no attention to them.
In the latest season of the podcast Turning to the Mystics, James Finley and Kirsten Oates discuss the challenge of this method of prayer and of “paying no attention” to thoughts. As soon as one sits in silence, the thoughts continue! Jim reflects:
Those thoughts are still there. See? You’ve been called to something beyond thoughts. Therefore, because you’re still accustomed to thought, we’re very bound up with our thoughts. That self that’s accustomed to thoughts, good thoughts, noble thoughts, the thinking self and all that it thinks, because we’re so accustomed to it, at first, it’s very hard. It’s a very strange thing. You have to sit long enough for it to catch hold.
How long do you sit? Let’s say you try it and go, “Wow. That was hard.” You try it again, four days later, it’s still hard. . . . I think it goes like this: first of all, there’s like this beginner’s mind. At first, you realize you’re getting acclimated. It can go on for weeks and weeks. It’s still difficult. Even though it’s difficult, you can sense in it a certain resonance. It’s difficult but there’s something here that’s quietly shining in the difficulty. I feel called to do it. That’s the important thing. . . .Let’s say you’ve been exercising for a while. So you go for a long run or a long distance whatever it is. It’s a certain point where it’s difficult and you want to get to that point where you’re burning off [energy] but even though it’s difficult, it’s not just difficult. There’s meaning in it. There’s meaning in the difficulty because it’s a transformative difficulty.
Weekly Reflection Summary: Gentleness.
Sunday. Face of Grace. Where along your path today have you seen the gentle face of grace?
Monday. My Blueprint. On what is the whole of your life built? Is your foundation strong?
Tuesday. Living for Mission. Have you found your mission and role in God’s divine plan?
Wednesday. Transformation. God is always true to His word, when I seek I find.
Thursday. Enjoying it. It has been said that life is for enjoyment. It is not a race to see how much you can get done.
Friday. Winning the Battle. We can win the spiritual battle of envy with kindness.