a journey

Dear …

During my morning sit, your question, ‘what is contemplative prayer to you?’ arose in me. I remember when first reading Cynthia Bourgeault 15 years ago (and Thomas Keating before her) prickling at the thought of ‘consenting to the presence and action of God’. At that time in my life, the idea of surrendering to power like that felt anathema, because of my relationship to power (feeling overpowered in an unhealthy relationship. Power DID things to me that were not in my best interest!) and because I was at last beginning to find and trust my OWN voice.  That softened gradually in me, as I came to trust that the presence of God with and in me was one of pure Love, and that surrendering to being Loved and being Love was a helpful thing! (of course, that also was the result of a few years of counseling and the presence of persons in my life who retaught me what Love really looked like)

For a few years, my experience of God was Lover. It was an amazing time of healing, a mystical time of Love healing and transforming me.  It was a mutual experience too, as I also found myself falling in Love with a God who begged to be understood in all of God’s vulnerability and powerlessness (at that time there were beheadings in the news) 

As I’ve mentioned before, when that experience of Beloved relationship between the two of us faded away into something Less distinct but somehow also More, it was difficult for me to find my way to prayer. That sacred word, which for me had been ‘Love’, I could no longer ‘feel’, personally, for me,  in the same way. I didn’t feel seen or touched (at times that had felt so very intimate and physical) It felt like just a word, not a presence. Maybe it all had just been my imagination? A psychologically healing exercise. 

It’s so hard when the words and images suddenly (or gradually) feel empty. Even when we know intellectually that ‘God’ is beyond words or concepts or feelings. I think I tried, in vain, to cling to the old for far too long, ‘trying to get the feeling again’. Then for awhile I think I actually abandoned (consciously, that is) even trying to approach God or prayer. I ‘just’ lived. Perhaps I let go? though it didn’t feel that way, it felt more like turning my back. Of course, I suppose we are never though.

And yet the earth was still teeming with sacredness (or with the Holy) and with Wonder. (When God is gone, Everything is Holy… the title of a book by Chet Raymo… felt about right to me)  I just didn’t know how to pray to/with that. Prayer, I guess, had been a personal experience of Love and this felt suddenly so impersonal. I felt small and inconsequential, immaterial and unknown in the midst of all of that, I suppose? I drifted to Buddhist meditation during that time period, I suppose, because it didn’t require me to consent in the same way. (Lovingkindness meditation could help me cultivate a loving heart, but it didn’t necessarily feel reciprocal, as if I were also being seen and loved.) The earth was where I got my feeling of being immersed in the sacred. (somewhere in here, I heard Robin Wall Kimmerer speak of the way the Earth loves us, which reminded me again of the feeling of belovedness and belonging)

Thus, I was surprised awake, when I attended a weeklong silent retreat with Jack Kornfield (in January of 2018?) and found him using  language SOOO bathed in Love, that it reawakened something in me , Re-Minding me I might say. It felt like my Oasis days again {I’d done SDSG in 2001-2003, attended almost every Returning to the Well retreat (they ended sometime near the end of the 2000’s, and they were lifeblood for me) and the Deepening Year in 2007}. After these ended, I’d felt adrift, unseen and without an anchor in Beloved community to hold me when I was lost in that Dark Night fog. *

I picked up the book, Awe Filled Wonder, that winter. It went along with me to the wilderness during our spring trip of 2018. In it I found an image of God I could feel again. Perhaps it met me in that Dark Abyss … reframing it as all-nourishing. It spoke of the oneness, the intimacy, I was experiencing in nature – where ‘the distance between the one who experiences and that which is there disappears and gives itself to him or her’. It spoke of the intimacy of communion with the Presence flowing through all beings, human included. My longing for Beloved community, in and with which I might be touched by the Presence of the sacred within the other, was affirmed. It spoke of kneeling, not before, but dwelling IN the Holy, when I sit to pray.. communing With. Communion seems to be the new feeling for me. Deep Belongingness is a close second.

All this to say, I think I am also a feeler 😊 It is a necessary component of prayer for me. I do endeavor to simply dwell with and within that feeling, however. To not be compelled to ‘do’ something with it in the moment. To let it simply nourish me and to trust that my allowing that within me has some effect— not just to/for me, but to/for the Oneness which I meet there, and in which I dwell with all that is. 

Oh… and sometimes afterwards?  I write!

*I have described this feeling to some to that of being in a canoe in a large lake when the fog is so very thick and heavy that you can’t see the shoreline even when you are 20 feet from it. You can’t discern water from sky ahead; it is one thick blanket. It’s really disorienting, because you can feel like you’re paddling straight ahead, but you’re not. There, you hae no but to hug the shoreline or risk getting completely lost. That means taking the LONG way out, into every bay and inlet, sometimes even paddling in the opposite direction of your destination. That sudden breaking through of the light is so reorienting.

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