On Friday evening, Mtr. Melinda began by explaining that we are companions on the journey. She offered her stories as to fellow disciples.Mtr.Melinda talked about the Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th Century guide to contemplative prayer by an unknown author. The author states that our intelligence, though a reflection of the Divine, must be buried in the Cloud of Forgetting because it is corrupted by our humanity. The Active and Contemplative lives are complimentary paths. Often it seems to be God’s irony that an individual is made one way, yet called to the opposite path.
To be open to God and to the mystical experience of God, esp. in contemplative prayer, you need to open yourself and be genuine. According the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, we are never abandoned or left alone to face life so it is OK to be open and genuine.Plan making is not the mystical way. For that, surrender is necessary although what we surrender is different for each of us. We do not know how our life will touch someone else. We need to remain dedicated to our individual way of prayer in order to be in relationship with God. That is the start of the journey.
On Saturday afternoon, Mtr. Melinda continued her presentation by reference to Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 12:2 “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows.” She noted that the church needs to reclaim the mystical way of prayer, which is Contemplative prayer.Centering prayer is a way to draw closer to God. However, it is essentially a human effort, which can only go so far. In Centering Prayer we show up, get quiet, release distractions, and try to meet God. Contemplative prayer, on the other hand, originates with God’s effort when we surrender and become both humble and passive. In true contemplative prayer, God will come and ‘sweep the corners clean’ through God’s action, not our own. We will encounter all of humanity, both the good and the bad, in and through God.
Centering Prayer and Contemplative can be compared to two ways of getting water. The Centering way is like an aqueduct, built by human hands to get water someplace, while the mystical or Contemplative way is like a natural spring that takes no work. This is a gift and we receive it with humility.
Contemplative Prayer will allow us to begin to “share the Passion of Christ”, which is the Love for All Creation that our Lord felt, even in the midst of agony. We are called to join in that Passion. Perhaps that is what Paul meant when he stated, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24). In that sense we are called to com-passion…to sharing the Passion/the Love of God.In her final meditation, Mtr. Melinda returned to the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila, which she had mentioned on Friday evening. Melinda stressed that we have to weigh prayer experiences and visions against scripture, reason, and tradition. Prayer, esp. contemplative prayer, is a supernatural encounter with God, where we embrace the mystery of paradox and seek surrender instead of achievement.
Teresa of Avila says “we enter the Interior Castle through prayer and Grace determines the depth toward Divine union [we attain].” In the Interior Castle, we are each taught in the way we need to be taught.Human effort can take us through the first 3 levels of prayer are active (or ordinary prayer), starting with seeking God through Centering Prayer, Prayer practices, and Works. The fourth-seventh levels (mansions) in the Castle are mystical or based in Contemplative prayer. This is prayer that is put into us, rather than our work to try and make a prayer or do works. The soul travels through desire for Union with God, where the faculties are silent and the soul is in God. At the 5th level the soul is Betrothed to God and the highest level is spiritual union or marriage of the Soul and God.
Throughout the journey in the Interior Castle, the soul is drawn ever deeper into a desire for union and solitude to hear God in the soul. A good prayer is to ask, “Tell me the Truth in a way I can understand.” In moving deeper into mystical relationship and union with God, we move from discourse to listening and this happens through Grace.Mtr. Melinda noted that we cannot turn off our thoughts on our own, only God can make us silent inside. We cannot force this surrender, but we can allow God to teach us to ‘persevere without trying’.
In the depths (heights?) of Contemplative prayer, we experience spiritual delights as a byproduct of being in Union with God, but we cannot focus on them or they disappear. There is the danger of wanting to ‘languish in contemplation’. Although it might seem simple, contemplation is actually hard spiritual work and can take a physical toll.
The temptations we encounter can strengthen our souls when we listen to the Voice of God who is complete control of all things. In the end, we seek self-abandonment, to God, and accept God’s way for our life.
Mtr. Melinda shared the image of the Ecstasy of St. Terese by Bernini depicting her vision of Union with God. Teresa described the vision by saying, “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.”
Mtr. Melinda's meditations gave us all something to ponder and reassured us that mystical prayer experiences are not something to fear, but rather to embrace them in God's grace.