A Prayerful Journey of Spiritual Growth and Healing
It is of immense help to explore the profound contemplative tradition within our Catholic faith and to understand that horizons within which spiritual development occurs. Ultimately, however, the Holy Spirit is the master of prayer and wants to be your guide.
The following eight exercises are offered as a means to place yourself in the school of the Spirit. They target particularly those challenging areas that thwart the progress of people who pray. They are labeled steps precisely because they build on one another. You may find them most helpful if you take each step in order, although you certainly may use them in any order you feel drawn. For some of the steps you will need a pen, paper and bible, as indicated. If you feel you would be nourished by more time on some point or another of the prayer exercise I invite you to pause the recording and give yourself and the Spirit all the time you desire. It would be preferable to not finish the prayer guide, than to rush through it. Without any pause the prayer guides are a total of 25 minutes. The essential text of the prayer guides are reproduced below for your convenience.
Topic 22: Step Six: Your Deepest Longing
Sit comfortably, in a way that allows you to be present and at ease. Close your eyes and take several long, deep breaths. Then rest in the natural flow of your breath and allow your body and mind to begin to settle.
Images or thoughts will naturally arise. Notice them passing and gently return your attention to the sensations. If feelings and memories arise, notice the sensations that accompany them: tightness, hardness, tingling, pressure, numbness.
When you are relaxed and feel settled, ask yourself, ―What does my heart long for?‖ Your initial answer might be that you be healthy, to lose weight, to make money and so forth. Ask again, and listen deeply, accepting whatever spontaneously arises. Continue in this way for several minutes, asking yourself the question, pausing and paying attention in an accepting and nonreactive way. Perhaps your answer will begin to deepen and simplify. Be patient and relaxed—with time, as you listen to your heart, your deepest longing will emerge. This longing might be expressed as the longing for love, presence, peace, communion, harmony, beauty, truth or freedom.
After a time, picture yourself in a beautiful place with Jesus coming to you.
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon (Jn 1.35-39).
The narrative of the first two disciples following Jesus to see and know where he stayed, to present themselves and to discover if they would be accepted, is so simple, yet riddled with intense emotion. Excitement, fear, desire, tentative trust, hope that risked disappointment, curiosity, and a myriad other motivations were tangled up with the decision to walk after the man John the Baptist had called the Lamb of God. The intense emotions are juxtaposed with the yawning stretch of the afternoon they spent together. ―It was about four in the afternoon‖ (Jn 1.39).
The gospel leaves no record of what occurred that afternoon. What did they discover when they found where Jesus lived? Was it a physical dwelling that Jesus showed them? Did he talk about himself, his dreams, his Father? Did he ask them questions about themselves? The psychological intensity of the reader of the gospel is, like that of the two disciples, swallowed up in the measured response of the Master: Come and see. The effect of the gospel narrative is to focus the eyes of our soul inward, to a vast, unending, path that leads progressively deeper into the ―yawning stretches‖ of our inner self. In a word, the effect of the narrative is to create a space in which to remain, to abide, an abiding which has less a sense of cohabitation as it does of inhabitation. Inhabitation presumes the direct action of God upon the person, the raising of the human creature into a supra-human world. Inhabitation means incorporation into Jesus, being inhabited by the Holy Spirit.
Let us go with the disciples as they follow Jesus, go with them into this space of intimate conversation and revelation with this own words. Augustine encourages us to ―Let your foot wear out the threshold of his door; arise to come to him continually.‖ And again, ―Let us come to him, enter into him, be engrafted into him.‖
It is difficult in a crowd to see Jesus. Our mind demands a certain solitude. It is as if Jesus were to invite us: Leave outside your coat and yourself, descend into yourself, go to your secret place—your mind—and hear what I have to say. For many of us this will require that we return to our inner self, for in the frenetic fragmentation of post-modern life we have wandered abroad, an exile from our inner homeland. When we again hear the ―noiseless speaking‖ of Jesus‘ voice, we will rejoice and hunger for more.
The two disciples who asked Jesus where he lived were drawn into the fascination of God‘s hunger for God‘s creatures‘ love and surrender. But the experience of God‘s presence is acquired by daily growth. It is by walking with Jesus that we grow and that we come to know our deepest longing.
The disciples ask a question: Where do you live? They have taken a step toward getting to know Jesus and seeing if they will be accepted as disciples and companions. The intense personal struggle to present oneself for possible acceptance by the Master is juxtaposed to the endless calm of Jesus‘ response: Come and see. Come and remain with me. The gospel does not state where Jesus took them. It leaves him absolutely free to take each disciple to a place known only to them. It also raises the stakes for the disciple. Is she ready to let herself be led? Is he ready to go where he doesn‘t have control?
For the disciple this place is within themselves where Jesus already abides and waits for them. Spiritual writers have always spoken of this journey which is at the same time a journey outward to God and inward to one‘s own reality—where both God and ones own demons live. Jesus is not satisfied with cohabiting the disciple‘s inner space. God wants to act directly upon the person, to inhabit her, to raise him above himself, to incorporate them into Jesus.
Intimate conversation with Jesus is not meant to deepen one‘s inner harmony and psychic peace. It is to be ―instructed in his precepts.‖ Conversation with Jesus is about change, finding the new, admitting one‘s ignorance, surrendering in obedience and humility, struggling with one‘s demons, yielding to God. Abiding is a prerequisite for receiving the truth: long pauses and spaces of time set apart simply to abide: abiding through art and music, abiding through doing nothing and watching the grass grow, abiding by gazing at God present in oneself, abiding by studying Scripture or through spiritual reading, abiding by time spent in developing relationships. Abiding comes in
many shapes and sizes, and gives us the capacity of hearing the noiseless speaking of Jesus‘ voice.
In order to inhabit them Jesus begins to reveal himself to his disciples. He has come to ―remake‖ them, and in order for them to be remade into authentic images of God, their self-identity needs to be rooted in truth. Jesus reveals the truth to his disciples. The truth is that God is Creator and Savior; we are not our own creators and saviors. The truth is that we are nothing and that Jesus came to raise us to God. The truth is that the power of sin and death have been destroyed by the death of Jesus.
Jesus attached his life and his fate to us and he asks us not to separate ourselves from him. We have been grafted on to him. The prominence of the image of the Vine and the branches is counterbalanced with the image of a baby. We are only able to nourish ourselves on the Vine—to be rescued from eternal nothingness—because the Lord of Life became the son of Mary, small, helpless, frail. The Vine at one time was dependent on a branch for his very existence. God risked allowing a creature to have total power over him, that we might learn that it is safe to let God exercise his power over us.
What delicacy and tenderness accompanies the descent of God to us for our salvation. God did not come in this manner in order to humiliate us, but to reveal to us the dignity of our humble condition. We try to escape our vulnerability and dependence, hide from ourselves and others our ignorance and sin. God gently picked up what we try to leave behind: our humanity. Jesus displayed for us what authentic humanity is called to be, urging us to let go of our grasping for power and security in order to discover that we are held and loved and safe in God‘s love. Henceforth the Way is defined as the way of humanity. The Way of lowliness. The Way of humility. The Way of vulnerability. The Way of silence. The Way of defenselessness. It is only in walking this way that we abide in the One who is the Love-Way.
This Way is the proof to us that we will never be judged, cast out, or punished. We have been already judged, and God has taken upon himself the consequences of our darkness and sin. Now there is only one Way left—even for God. The only Way is Love. God loves his Son and also loves the members of his Son‘s Body. God has signed the papers of adoption: God has written his name beside ours and given us his name. We are Jesus in God‘s eyes. We are God‘s dearly beloved one. Jesus is now all God can see when God looks upon God‘s creation. We have been made Jesus Christ.
What are you looking for—Jesus turns and asks us this question today, each today of our lives. What am I looking for? What am I longing for? What is my deepest desire?