Tag Archives: contemplative

The Contemplative Way as a Practice in Death

by Drew Jackson

In William Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure, it was Claudio who said, “Death is a fearful thing.” These words resonate with each of us in one way or another. We all have fears associated with death. Like the child who is afraid of the dark, we fear what we cannot see. We fear that which we cannot know for certain. Fear of the unknown causes us to have great anxiety at the thought of death.

Will the process be painful? Is there any life after death? How will I be remembered when I’m gone, if I’m even remembered at all? These are just a few of the questions that race through our minds when we are confronted with the thought of our own death.

Not only do we have fear of the unknown when it comes to death, but we also fear the loss of control. Death is the ultimate surrendering of control. It is the final act of letting go. This, however, is what causes us to fear because we like to grip tightly to life. We fear death because we don’t want to lose life. Yet it was Jesus who said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

This is the great paradox: that life best lived is lived as a series of losses, a series of deaths. Death is not meant to be a one time event at the end of life but, rather, a daily experience by which by which we learn to continually embrace the unknown, step into mystery, and release the need to control. The last words that Jesus breathed out as he hung on the cross were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” However, we know that this committing or surrendering of the will to God, this death, was not just a one time act but, it was a moment by moment practice throughout the life of Jesus.

The practices of contemplative spirituality, such as silence, solitude, and stillness, make space for us to learn this type of surrender in the midst of our daily lives. Thus, the contemplative way is a practice in “death.” If you have ever witnessed the moment of death you know that death is ultimately silent, still, and alone. The practices of contemplative spirituality prepare us for this. The contemplative way thrusts us into the beautiful struggle of embracing the unknown and losing the need to control.

In silence and solitude we confront our fear of the unknown because we are forced to come face to face with ourselves. We fear what we cannot see or discern, and most of us live without being able to see what lies beneath the surface of our own lives.

We often drown ourselves in noise and busy ourselves with activity because we don’t know what we will discover if we are left to our own selves and our own thoughts. Yet it is when we come to see ourselves that we learn what must metaphorically, die. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “I die every day.” The death he was referring to was the death of what he often called the flesh, or what the mystics call the false self or the shadow self. When we adopt contemplative practices as regular parts of our lives, we are taught how to welcome death to our false self, instead of resist it.

Both Scripture and nature teach us that death is the pathway to life.

Jesus said in John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Without death there can be no life. Learning to practice death through contemplation teaches us what it looks like to live, and live fruitfully. The fruit that results from death to the false self is rarely, if ever, for us, but it is for others to experience life. The Apostle Paul speaks to this when he says in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “death is at work in us, but life in you.” This is the story of the Christian gospel, that death for Jesus meant life for the world. When the gospel becomes a lived reality in our lives, we practice death so that others can experience life.

To some, pondering death seems morbid, but Scripture teaches us that in doing so there is wisdom to be found. This is because pondering and practicing death teaches us how to live. Death shows all of us that we are finite and have limitations. When we learn to practice death through contemplative practice we develop the ability to see our manifold limitations. The practices of silence, stillness, and solitude help us learn that we cannot control everything, and they invite us to practice death by embracing our limitations.

William Shakespeare famously said in his play Julius Caesar, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” In making comment on this quote in his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway says: 

(The man who first said that) was probably a coward…. He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he’s intelligent.

I stand in agreement with Hemingway in saying that wisdom is found in learning to die many deaths. Contemplative spirituality invites us to be those who can say, “every day I die a thousand deaths.” This is wisdom. This, indeed, is life.

Death and resurrection are not reserved for the end of life. Both realities are meant to be experienced every moment. The practices of contemplative spirituality are given to us as gifts that lead us into dying a thousand deaths each day.

As we learn to practice death by way of contemplation, death at the end of life is no longer a fear, but is received as the next logical step. Death is no longer an unknown for us because we already know that life comes through the process of death. We will have lived that reality each day.

At the end of life we will no longer fear the loss of control because we know that the loss of control leads to true rest in God. As we learn death through contemplative practice, we experience afresh what life is like connected to the Source. Contemplation teaches us to die to the desire to go our own way, and to embrace the continual invitation to return to God.

All that death is, finally, is a return to the Source, our final return to God.


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Drew Jackson serves as the Associate Pastor at GraceWay Community Church. He is also a part of the Lausanne Movement. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with his wife Genay, and their two beautiful daughters Zora and Suhaila. 

Gravity’s Contemplative Activist in Residence

September 15, 2016 – February 15, 2017 

From September 15, 2016 –February 15, 2017 Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism welcomes Chiraphone Khamphouvong as our Contemplative Activist (not) in Residence (CAIR).

The CAIR program supports leading, innovative activists who desire a sabbatical for personal, professional, and spiritual development. CAIR is for bold and courageous leaders who have forfeited the American dream to actively dream of a better world for all people.

For Chiraphone, the CAIR fellowship includes a series of retreats, spiritual directions sessions, enneagram sessions, and mentorship meetings to support her evolving vocation.

As a child, Chiraphone escaped a civil war in Laos, became a refugee in Thailand, and eventually immigrated to the United States. Her familiarity with crisis and hardship led Chiraphone to a life of service in more than 35 countries. Her service work has focused on dignifying and sustainable community development in the private and public sectors of society.

Chiraphone began her service in the Peace Corps in South Africa’s post-Apartheid, where she CK Angkor Window_BWvolunteered as an Education Resource Worker training 600 educators in 28 schools. Most recently, she served as World Relief Cambodia’s Director for Partnerships and Resource Development—the very organization that originally helped Chiraphone and her family find refuge in the United States.

Now at an unexpected crossroad, Chiraphone desires space to process her years of tireless service to discern the next step in her vocation. Chiraphone is making sabbatical specifically around the themes to remain, reflect, and reimagine.

Chiraphone hopes for a better world for all people and, therefore, values Gravity’s emphasis on integrating contemplation and action to help realize that better world. She’s grateful for the opportunity to find restoration through CAIR’s programs and services.


 

 

Following my Children to God’s Heart

by Mindy Durias

I am pretty new to contemplative prayer, but not new to faith.  I have spent more than half of my life seeking God and learning about Him. But two years ago I was introduced to contemplative prayer.

To be honest, I struggled with it at first.

I found that there were obstacles in my own heart and mind that got in the way of me embracing solitude, silence, and stillness before God.

  • Fear that I wasn’t doing enough, a wrong perception of what I was doing;
  • Doubt that there would be any benefit, anxiety wondering what might be stirred up.
  • And most of all doubt that with my busy life raising five kids I could make room for this way of spending time with God.

However, I was so intrigued by the idea of it that I continued thinking and reading about it, even sporadically trying out a few different prayer practices.

I did not realize it at the time but I was saying “yes” to God.  Even with the inconsistent time I spent in contemplative prayer, God was clearing away all my fears, doubts, wrong perceptions and anxieties.  God was introducing Godself to me in a new, very personal way.

After the first year of getting my feet wet, I began considering how I might share this with my children.

I have five children, ranging in ages from four-fourteen years old. I had just begun to recognize the treasure that contemplative prayer was becoming in my own heart and was curious if this way of praying would be possible for my children to engage in.

From the very beginning, I was apprehensive. This was unlike anything I had done with them before. We had sought to understand scripture together, prayed, memorized scripture, talked about God and created opportunities to serve Him.  But this was to be totally different.  I realized that contemplative prayer would not be teaching them more about God, but it would be introducing them to God.

Lectio Divina, meaning “divine reading” or “sacred reading” is an ancient practice of praying the Scriptures. This was the first contemplative prayer practice that I taught them.

Day after day, I was amazed by how quickly they were able to enter in.  It dawned on me that they did not have the heavy burden of anxiety, fear, and doubt that I carried coming into contemplative prayer.  Nor did they feel compelled, as I so often do, to interpret the text they were hearing.  Their hearts were ready to receive God just as God is.  

In truth, as I led them in Lectio Divina and heard them respond to the living Word of God spoken to them, I was humbled.  They would say things like, “I hear God saying I love you, I am with you, don’t fear, you are mine, you belong, rest in me, you do not have to try harder…”  My own heart was healing as they affirmed these things which, as it turned out, I really needed to hear.

They were enjoying Lectio Divina so much that I decided to teach them Breath Prayer. Known as the “Jesus Prayer” or “Prayer of the Heart,” early practitioners would repeat to the rhythm of their breath the phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” In time, the prayer was shortened to, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” or simply, “Jesus, mercy.” These words, or other similar words of your choosing, are repeated silently within.

Being a completely non-verbal way of praying, I was curious how they would do.  Once again, they jumped right in!  Yes, they had things that would distract them from time to time, mostly things in their physical bodies-the pulsing energy of a child that I wish I still possessed.  But much less so than I would have thought.  I realized that as children they don’t have the on-going to-do list in their head shouting at them to be productive.  During Breath Prayer, they were not  wrestling in their minds with the demands of life.  This, too, served as a teaching tool for me.

For several months, we would do Lectio Divina followed by Breath Prayer.  To be truthful, it was not always great.  Not because of them, however.  In hindsight, I can see that  the days when it was particularly difficult for us to enter into contemplative prayer usually were the result of where I was at.  I was setting a negative, rushed, closed, tone to our time.  If they were struggling to engage in the prayer practice that day, it was because they were following my lead. Such is the mirror of parenting.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to teach them Centering Prayer. This prayer practice is grounded in a relationship with God, through Christ, and is a practice to nurture that relationship. It facilitates resting in God. Centering Prayer offers a way to grow in intimacy with God, moving beyond conversation to communion.

I thought this to be a challenging step to take, simply because I had heard that it can be the most difficult of contemplative prayer practices. It requires a letting go of yourself that I was not certain children could appreciate or understand.  However, I felt that we were all ready to give it a try.

We had practiced listening to God through His word and responding in faith with Lectio Divina.  We had quieted ourselves and connected with God’s constant presence and grace towards us in Breath Prayer. It seemed we were ready to at least attempt to be still and sit for an extended time with the divine presence that dwells in each of our very hearts.

I spent a few days introducing Centering Prayer to them, allowing them time to think about it and to ask questions.  We began slowly.  First sitting for five minutes, then eight, then ten.  Currently we sit for eighteen minutes.  When we debrief after our prayer times, I regularly hear words like, “Centering Prayer is my favorite,” or  “Was that really fifteen minutes?  It seemed like two!”

What I am realizing is that children have no trouble at all resting in God’s presence.  They have no preconceived notions of what God should be like or expectation for God to speak.  They are comfortable with God’s silence and just love the chance to curl up in God’s lap and be held.  They are comfortable with the lack of need to do anything or say anything in these contemplative prayer practices; because they feel no need to perform for God or say anything to please God or others.  They do not have any deep wounds that they are concealing from God or fear that God will not love them just as they are.

Oh!  If I only I could be more like my children!  Isn’t this precisely what Jesus taught?  That we should become like little children–who are neither afraid of God nor doubt God’s all encompassing love and acceptance. I am certainly seeing with fresh eyes that to become like a child is not a digresson. It is a progression toward intimacy and union with God.


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Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

 

there are no dead ends, only a clearly defined path

Walking the Labyrinth

by Kathy Mansfield

 

 What is the Labyrinth?

The labyrinth is not a maze. The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool—a single path of prayer and meditation leading to a center and returning back. Unlike a maze—there are no dead ends, only a clearly defined path.

Labyrinths are thought to enhance right brain activity. Whereas a maze is constructed to be a left-brain puzzle.

A maze can have more than one entrance and numerous choices along the way. The walls are usually high so as to block one from seeing the way out. Mazes were developed as a source of entertainment. Labyrinths are tools for spiritual renewal.

Walking the labyrinth is a form of contemplative prayer that can bring one closer to God, and to self. Because it utilizes the mind, body and soul, it can help with healing, grief, forgiveness, gratitude, prayer and creativity. 

The labyrinth journey quiets the mind as it removes us from the distractions of daily life. In so doing it allows us to reflect, receive, and be renewed.  The inward and outward turns, symbolize our path through life and our spiritual journey. We appear to reach our destination, only to find that we still have a long way to go

“The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. …We [people who use and work with labyrinths] are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition that is insisting to be reborn.” 

-Lauren Artress, Walking the Sacred Path

 Why Walk the Labyrinth?

For some, walking the labyrinth is a way to relax and to meditate, but for others, it is a highly spiritual experience.  For these people, modern day pilgrims, the walk, the journey to the center and back, is a metaphor not only for their journey through life but for their faith journey. On the labyrinth they learn to trust God, to seek His wisdom, and to hear His voice. It is a way to reconnect with our inner Spirit, to go within, to hear the voice of God.

 The world surrounds us. Noise and busyness, abound. Finding time to be still and seek God is becoming harder and harder. The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool that can help us “reconnect” to the Spirit within and to feel God’s presence in the midst of this chaotic world. The labyrinth is truly a gift to us from the past.

What Can the Labyrinth Do for Me?

I once stood in wonder as I observed a young girl who was walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in June 2009.  As I watched her journey into the labyrinth, barefooted, I was amazed at the reverence with which she took each step.  Much to my amazement, when she arrived at the center she started to pray each petal of the center rose.  She got it!

How could such a young girl know how special, how mystical, the Chartres labyrinth is?

I could sense her connection with God, and I could imagine a ray of light illuminating her face; God shining Divine light down from the heavens on her because her prayer was so humble, so intense, so pure, telling her, “My daughter, with you I am well pleased.”  I felt voyeuristic watching this deeply personal and spiritual moment, yet I could not take my eyes off of her until after she had completed her walk.

Later, after I was finished writing in my journal, I saw her with her grandfather at the exit. Had he shared the secrets of walking the labyrinth and praying the center with her?  I do not know.  However, I do know that this image of  “The Girl Praying the Center” is forever etched on my mind.  I will never again walk the labyrinth without thinking of her and her Divine connection. As Thomas Keating once said,

“A single moment of divine union is more valuable than a long period of prayer during which you are constantly in and out of interior silence. It only takes a moment for God to enrich you.”

-Thomas Keating

Don’t you long for this too?  To feel God’s presence in your life once again (or perhaps for the first time)?  The labyrinth, an ancient, spiritual tool, can help you do just that. All it takes is a few minutes of your time.  Are you willing to take the first step?   As St. Augustine said,

“Solvitur Amublando – It is solved by walking.”

Kathy Mansfield is an Advanced, Certified Veriditas Labyrinth Facilitator. She trained under Lauren Artress, the founder of Veriditas.

As a facilitator, Kathy offers monthly walks to the formerly homeless in Charlotte and has seen the impact this type of spiritual practice has on those that have faced difficult situations in their lives. She has seen their transformation of spirit.  Kathy also facilitates walks for her church, women’s conferences, retreats, retirement communities, survivors of domestic violence, and for whomever calls her and asks for her help.  Kathy works with several groups to help them determine what type, size, style of labyrinth to build.

Kathy is also an artist, a photographer that uses her photos to create meditative moments.  She also creates Gratitude Beads that you can carry with you throughout the day. Every time you are feeling grateful for someone or for something you can pull one of the beads forward. At the end of the day, you can look at your Gratitude Beads and be reminded of all of your blessings.

If you would like more information or are interested in Gratitude Beads, email Kathy at  Heron39@aol.com.

Charlotte Labyrinths, Spiritual Labyrinths | Labyrinths in Charlotte, NC