The Basics Of Deep Prayer
|Table of Contents|
Consistency: Page 2
Contents of the Chapter:
What Consistency Is
Why Consistency Is Necessary
The Boredom of Control
The Value of Time
The Vicissitudes of Life
The Crisis of Faith
Saint Teresa of Avila
Saint Francis of Assisi
The Blessed Virgin
The Disruption of Routine
As Saint Teresa of Avila emphasized, consistency is the first step towards deep prayer. The Church teaches us to pray every day, but this critical issue is usually lacking.
What Consistency Is:
In this section we will show what is required by consistency.
In order to be consistent (insofar as deep prayer is concerned), we need to spend some time each day to be alone with God. In fact, we need to strive to not miss more than three or four times a year. When a day is missed, more time should be set aside the next day (not that this would make up for the missed day). Two consecutive days should not be missed.
The prayer time should be in the morning, but it is better to get in a time consistently than to get in an inconsistent time in the morning. The morning prayer time is strategic because we need to order ourselves after sleeping. As examples of this, Saint Catherine of Siena did not like her associates to sleep during the day because she was afraid that they would lose what they had gained during the day. Saint John Vianney complained that he had to start over each day which is a common complaint among Saints. While we are sleeping, we lose the holy focus we gained the day before. The morning prayer time helps us restore our frame of mind.
It is usually easier to be consistent in the morning than at any other time of the day. As an example, how often does our phone ring at 5:00 A.M. verses 5:00 P.M.? Whether we answer the phone, is a personal decision.
Prayer is something that involves the whole heart, mind, and soul with all the available strength. The prayer time should not be counted unless the entire attention is given to God. As a matter of efficiency, it is tempting to pray while perfoming some mundane task such as driving, jogging, or washing the dishes. This temptation should be rejected. Even those with active ministries need a time to be alone with God. Our souls need a time to heal.
Many people can not find a time to be alone with God. For example, a mother might have several young children that require constant attention. Each case requires a unique solution, but as Saint Francis told Saint Clare, "Walk across the field, and you will find a path." In other words, when a solution is sought, an answer will be found. In the case of the busy mother, as she prays while watching the children both she and the children will adjust to this (although there may be some frustration and friction), and this prayer is sufficient for deep prayer to occur.
On the other hand, let us suppose that the mother's attitude is that no deep prayer can occur with all of these children at her feet driving her crazy. Therefore, she decides to pray while doing chores. By doing this, she might have profound religious experiences, but she will not progress into deep prayer unless God miraculously intervenes on a regular basis (basically, this won't happen because it violates the mother's free will). She can't find the path without walking across the field.
We often pray with the mistaken notion that God speaks after we have quieted our mind. God usually speaks, but our internal appetites prevent us from hearing (not the external noise). In other words, the external noise triggers the internal appetites, and we become victims of our environment. It doesn't have to be like this. Those of us with active ministries will have to become the masters of our environment if we are to be instruments of God in all seasons.
At first, the avoidance of distractions may seem nearly impossible, but as we build our relationship with God, the armor of God (as St. Paul puts it) shields us from forgetting about God. God will give us whatever we need to be Children of God wherever God leads.
Deep prayer involves the development of a relationship with a living being who controls all things. In the parable of the pearl (Matthew 13:46), Jesus demonstrates the importance of priorities. To get our priorities straight, we must set time aside everyday to be with God.
To paraphase Saint Peter, only God can save us, and we should take our salvation seriously by exercising our option to build a relationship with God by praying as deeply as we can every day. God expects this of us. We have an obligation to do it.
On the other hand, this process will not occur if God is not given priority over duty for a sufficient time on a daily basis because Faith is never the top priority. We must be willing to give up everything to obtain the pearl.
When we establish a consistent daily time where Faith has priority over duty, Faith will lead to Hope and Love. Then Love will influence our appetites and the pearl will become easier to obtain.
The prayer time needs to be long enough to stretch the spirituality of the pilgrim in prayer. As a rule of thumb, an effective prayer time would be between 35 and 75 minutes, but there can be many variables.
For example, attending Holy Mass and receiving Holy Communion before the prayer time, can make a prayer time that is half as long just as effective. This is particularly the case if the thoughts are controlled during Mass (keeping your thoughts on God during Mass is required by the Church). Since Holy Mass, Holy Communion, and a personal prayer time all bring separate but necessary ingredients into the spiritual diet, a serious spiritual pilgrim would do well to see if a daily regimen of attending Holy Mass, receiving Holy Communion, and then adoring the Blessed Sacrament can be establish. The adoration of the Blessed Sacrament can be complemented by personal preferences such as the Rosary or Scriptures.
When we are unable to concentrate, the prayer time will normally be less effective. In most cases, this can be compensated for by praying longer. For example, when we are sick, we might have to pray 3 or 4 times longer than normal before we reach the same level of composure.
Why Consistency Is Necessary:
In this section we will show why consistency is necessary to reach contemplation.
A person is a complex being made up of complex parts. The parts that make up a person are (at least somewhat) independent (even if they live in interdependent relationships). By independent, we mean that they make their own decisions, have their specific appetites, form their proprietary opinions, and are guaranteed their inalienable rights by God. For example, the Church's rules on birth control come from this area (most say Humanae Vitae, but it's not like Pope Paul VI invented rules against birth control. All parts of the body are human and have human dignity. It is wrong to use other humans solely for pleasure, the same applies to parts of our body).
The concept that all things are composed of parts extends to all things (proven by Aristotle but maybe earlier), but only humans have parts that form original or creative opinions (proven by Aquinas).
Throughout the course of scientific history, the proofs of Aristotle and Aquinas are ultimately confirmed. For example, Aristotle had several basic elements, but he said that these elements would be comprised of smaller elements. The discovery and development of atomic science proved how right Aristotle was. The discovery of cells and later DNA certainly verify how correct Aquinas was.
Modern science, Aristotle, and Aquinas all demonstrate that our identity is formed by smaller parts of similar intelligence who have their own identity. For the purposes of this book, the concept of an aggregate identity being formed by smaller but similar individual identity will be called intelligent recursion.
Since we are the aggregate of our intelligent recursion, we have to have consistency to advance to deep prayer. Massive amounts of intelligent independent parts will never amount to much without some form of civil order that allows the formation of a common consensus. For without cooperating parts, the whole will be compromised with indecision and confusion. As an example, it is a good thing we have all decided on the same rules when we are driving down the highway.
Imagine an army that had no methods, organization, or hierarchy. What chance would it have of winning? A competing general could probably win by simply convincing them to join the opposing army.
In fact, it can be shown that the entire human race is in the process of forming an aggregate being, but we haven't experienced any global self realization yet. No one can answer the question of, "Who am I?" in particular without solving this riddle of human identity in general.
We can speak of a national legacy, but a nation won't identify a race anymore than an arm will identify a person. The DNA will identify the person, but the DNA is equivalent of an individual. We are not a world of nations, we are a race of individuals.
It could be argued that a group of individuals could ban together to form a function for the race, but this is not a nation. Nations are primarily formed for protection (not service or cooperation). If all of this is not enough, a nation does not correctly identify the citizens. Sure, we call ourselves Americans, but America is not a race.
Even if America was a race, this characteristic would only demonstrate our lineage, but it would not show much of our intended function. The more parochial American idealist might argue that the proclamation of the "American Way" is the identity of Americans, but this way is similar to the Greeks, Romans, and Franks. Many of our laws mimic the English who borrowed from their European neighbors. To be sure, freedom is necessary to the survival of our race, but the concept of freedom did not originate in America. We Americans may have championed an idea, but an idea is not an identity.
We do not identify the cells in an arm as an arm cell. We identify them as blood, bone, nerve, skin, or some other form of cell. In a similar way, we are more accurate identifying ourselves as farmers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, or some other vocation than by identifying with where we live. Each engineer is very different than any other engineer. While our vocation provides a taste of identity it also falls far short of estimating either the identity or potential of the person. Since we are our recursion, we know that each cell in our body is different from any other cell, and we can not know the potential or identity of any cell in particular without knowing who we are as a person in general.
If we look to our identity as a human race, we find very little. Our identity as a person is more highly defined, and the identity of each cell is more highly defined than our identity as a person. Since we can not know anything without knowing who we are, we have shown that intelligence starts small and aggregates itself up.
This process is a natural occurence, but busy rigidly dictated lives can retard or even kill the natural order of things. If we are ever going to realize the potential of who we are, we will need an environment that nutures our identity. We can't let a trivial thought dictate our originality or restrict our personality (especially if the thought had an external origin). For example, we can't find time to pray, but we can find time for trivial electronic sedatives such as music, video, or games.
We are billions of small independent parts that are in search of a common interest. These parts are not of one mind, but they have a better understanding of their identity than we do. We must establish an environment that rallies our recursive population around a common Truth. As more of our recursive elements align along a common cause, we will gradually realize what they hold dear. At first, it will be fuzzy and inaccurate, but with the right environment, we will eventually realize it.
As the ancient Greeks pointed out (with their concept that we are made up of smaller and smaller parts to infinity and we make up larger and larger parts to infinity), the same process that occurs within us also occurs in the things we are a part of. In other words, we can take principles from larger levels of recursion and apply them to smaller levels of recursion. The opposite direction is valid as well.
At our level of recursion, the Church brings people of a single Faith together for common prayer at regular intervals. She requires weekly and prefers daily gatherings. The Church also gracefully fits the interval into the calendar to provide a common experience with greater levels of recursion.
In these gatherings, we remember the death of our Lord, and we celebrate His Resurrection. We are required to feel God's presence and invited to consume His flesh. By these examples, the Church teaches us about many things that should take place in our personal prayer times, because the Church is trying to accomplish the same thing on a global level that we want to accomplish on a personal level. Water is nearly the same whether it is drawn from a kitchen faucet or a mighty river. In the same vein, we are dealing with the same issues in our personal prayer times that the Church deals with across the entire human race.
It might be hard to believe, but we are composed of many living things who have their own ideas, opinions, and vices. We can use the wisdom of the Church who has nearly the same problem. From the bottom up, we know that many of the Church's methods came from individuals who were successful in their prayer time.
On a practical note, if we have a massive amount of independent parts, we will not have much organization without an imposed rhythm, and we need the organization to have the self control required for deep prayer. If a concert pianist wants to play at the top level, the pianist will need to practice every day. If a day is missed, the pianist will notice, and if two consecutive days are missed, the audience will notice.
Whole populations behave in a similar manner. For example, professional football has not always enjoyed the popularity that it has today. From its relatively small beginning, it has become a little more popular each year. At this point, most of the nation is mesmerized by the Super Bowl. If the Super Bowl was randomly held at different times and years, it would lose some (if not most) of its following because people would not see it as important.
Taking this down to a human level, if we were to awaken someone every morning at 5:00 A.M. for 100 consecutive mornings. We can be reasonably certain that the person would wake up at 5:00 A.M. on the 101st morning without our help.
A person who eats dinner every evening at 6:00 P.M. sharp, will tend to get hungry at 6:00 P.M.. In fact, it has been shown that people who have regular meal times weigh more than those who don't.
As a minimum, the Church requires it members to gather and pray once a week. When the Church prays together, the members reinforce each other's Faith. Since there are many different appetites in the Church, the common ground that is built by mutually strengthening each other's Faith, bonds the members. Hence the cliche, "The family that prays together, stays together".
Group prayer plants the seeds of Faith, and brings people closer together, but the individual must provide the environment for the seeds to flourish. Just as there are many appetites and wills in a group, there are many appetites and wills in an individual (from intelligent recursion). As Aquinas proved, we have no hope controlling our appetites or uniting our wills without prayer.
All good things work together. As our appetites and wills turn toward a common theme, we will develop a fire and desire that we never knew we had. In this, we will begin to find an inconquerable Spirit living within us.
With the use of consistency, the Church grew to what it is today, but if the Church did not insist on consistency (i.e., compulsory participation in the Mass and Sacraments), it would all be lost rather quickly.
The example of the Church shows us how we can have a very rich and rewarding life, but it will not happen or be sustained without consistency.
Group prayer and individual prayer need each other. For they are prayer at two different levels of recursion. Just as a body needs recursive material to makeup the body, so group prayer needs individual prayer to make up the group. On the other hand, if a small part of the body is separated from the rest of the body, it will not flourish like the rest of the body. In the same way (because it is the same thing), individual prayer will die without group prayer.
Many, if not most us, feel that the level of commitment which consistency requires is not possible for us. We are hurried people with busy lives and full schedules, but as the Bible would say, "Vanity, vanity, vanity, all is vanity". If the beginning of the day is not spent with God, the rest of the day will be spent in vain.
After we understand how important consistency is, some of us can simply decide to be consistent, but for most of us, consistency is more than a step away. God is patient. Consistency can be gradually established if we have a plan.
The simple way is the best. We set that old alarm clock to ring a little earlier. Then we drink some coffee, do some exercises, take a shower, or do whatever is necessary to get awake. I have never seen statistics on spiritual consistency, but morning joggers have a much better chance of keeping the routine than those who jog later in the day.
If we are not able to rise early and pray, we need a conversion of priorities which might come from a retreat or a vow. Before we become consistent, we must decide to keep trying until we become consistent.
It is best to get in the whole prayer time; but if we can't pray all of it, can we pray for 10 or even 3 minutes? If we are successful in getting our foot in the door, we might be able to invite ourselves in.
A common problem among us is to get up early to pray, but we fall back asleep during the prayer time. It doesn't matter how peaceful we feel when we wake; sleeping is not praying, and it does not constitute the consistency we need to advance in our spiritual journey.
There are several solutions, but some are better than others. We can pray with a posture that does not allow sleep. For example, it is difficult to sleep standing or pacing, but it might be difficult to meditate as well. In particular, pacing will usually stimulate distractions, but as we begin the spiritual journey, we are usually distracted anyway.
A painful sitting posture might be effective, but a couple of conditions need to be met: We need to be able to feel God in the pain, and the pain should not cause permanent damage.
If we are beginners, we might try reading the Bible, saying the rosary, or some other more active method to stay awake. As we advance, we will need to use meditation to launch into contemplation, and these methods will not be as effective. On the other hand, they can be mixed with meditation to get the same results as meditation.
An electronic gadget that sounds an alarm when we start falling asleep can also be effective. These devices can be found in many drug stores, and they were originally sold to keep drivers alert. They normally have a switch closure (usually a gravity activated mercury switch) when the head tilts down. This gadget tends to be the best solution for most people with this problem (highly recommended).
Another problem we have all had is sleeping too long. When we oversleep, we can't just skip the prayer time. We need to make some hard decisions and plans to get it in. It is a matter of having the right priority. We don't want to go so far as to get fired from our job, but we do want to skip meals and reschedule appointments to allow us to meet with God.
We may need to undertake some penance to call attention to our spiritual need. For some people, it might be appropriate to fast from food until the prayer time is over, and most of us will not want to read the newspaper or watch TV until we have had our time with God.
Sometimes we nearly establish consistency, but some sort of persistent interference keeps us from our prayer time. Relatives are a common culprit. For example, your mother comes for an extended stay. She has insomnia, and she wants to talk to the first person who gets up. She can't see how sitting silently in a chair can be construed as prayer.
Of course, there are a number of ways to handle these situations. The best approach is to simply be honest. We should tell them we are praying, and we prefer silence. If they can't or won't honor our wishes, we can be sneaky. For example, we can pretend to be reading something from work that is very important. If they interrupt, we can tell them we will be with them in a few minutes.
If we keep trying, nearly everyone will respect our wishes. Our relatives might ridicule us, but after they determine we are too much trouble to bother, we will be left alone.
Our lives and the world around us are far from perfect. While we might believe ourselves to be praying in some secret, sacred seclusion, we are actually making big waves with significant living forces. Some of these forces are evil and others are good. When we rock the boat, our lives are can be reordered in ways that we don't appreciate.
It is only natural to blame God for these divorces, bankruptcies, deaths, and other vicissitudes of life, but we can't let ourselves become so discouraged that we despair. If we are to be like Jesus, we have to be faithful to God until our death.
Without taking up the subject of constancy, we would like to look at the link between consistency and constancy.
The more we keep our minds on God, the more we will value consistency. When we do not have prayer times everyday, it will still be worth our while to get as many prayer times in as possible. With our intelligent recursion, these inconsistent prayer times will not take us on the spiritual journey, but they will build a prayerful background for us to work from.
For example, some of us are afraid to be alone with our thoughts. These inconsistent prayer times will be helpful with these fears. When our fears are holding us back, prayers of inner healing are especially appropriate. The spiritual journey will almost always begin with inner healing. Any grudges or bad feelings that we have for other people need to be resolved, and inner healing can be instrumental to this process.
Even when we don't have consistency, we can still long for consistency. To put this another way, the first step toward establishing consistency is wanting consistency.
The more that we practice constancy, the more that we will value consistency. In other words, if we are going to hang things on our walls, hang religious articles. If we feel that we have to watch TV, we should watch religious videos and stations. Each time that we are reminded of God, we try to remember to long for consistency.
All good things always work together; so any good thing will bring us closer to consistency. With this in mind, we should go to church every chance we get. We should exercise every opportunity to Adore the Blessed Sacrament. We should tithe and practice spiritual and corporal works of mercy. As we do these things, and others like them, we will begin to value consistency.
If we have something in our life that keeps us from praying, we might attach a discipline to it. For example, let us suppose a business man can not pray every day because his business would suffer too much. Assuming that he is in business to make money, he might begin tithing, then it would be easier to justify praying since 10% of what he is working for is going to God.
The key here is to take a look at the appetite that is more important than God (in this example money), and to try to do things that work on that appetite. Tithing or any alms giving will tend to make money seem less important to the person giving the money.
To put this another way, tithing will bring a person closer to consistency, and consistency will bring a person closer to tithing. When we stand before God in the Final Judgement, God will not be looking at the profit and loss statments from our businesses.
In a more general sense, any good thing (such as a kind word to someone who is down and out) will bring a person closer to tithing, consistency, and all other good things, and any bad thing will bring a person closer to bad things (and further away from all good things). For example, a failure to be charitable will bring a person closer to stealing.
All good things go together, and all bad things go together. We can use this concept to prepare a strategy to become more consistent in our prayer time.
For example we could prepare a personal inventory of things that we do as we go through the day. This inventory is not meant to be some sort of feel good or bad self reflection, rather it should be taken in an analytical, objective, or cold blooded sort of way. Once we have the list, we write down beside each listed item why we are doing it.
Each reason for doing something would be further processed to some attribute. For example, washing dishes could be associated with cleanliness. Watching television is usually associated with things that are not from God, but it sometimes has merit.
The key to this exercise is to think about what we do and why we do it. While society might approve of an activity, God might not (or vice versa). For example, Saint John Vianney complained that people often do well throughout their lives, but then, they fall on their sword of retirement. He has a point. We can't expect to spend the last 20 years of our life taking it easy and expect to be saved, because it gives our ungodly appetites too much time to become important to us.
Regardless of our current circumstances, we need to find a way to serve God by serving each other with most of our day. By reflecting on each activity of the day, we can determine where we can make improvements in our day. By making the day more uplifting, we can string together day after day where we are constantly improving.
The way that yesterday was spent will have a big influence on whether we will begin today with a prayer time, and yesterday's focus (or distraction) will carry into any prayer time we have today. If we reflect on the day's activities before we retire, we will eventually determine how we can make improvement; because God is going to honor any effort of this nature. For our part, our lives will gradually continue to improve to where are best prayer time will usually have been the last prayer time we had. It is impossible for it to occur in any other way.
Many books on time management will tell us to plan the next day before we retire. While some of this is okay, especially for things we need to do early the next day, we need to be careful to not let our agenda take priority over our identity. We are called to be participants in relationships (our identity), and we are not called to be automatons that are preprogrammed the night before to carry out some duty the next day (our agenda).
Most time management books our written for business people, but in any circumstance, we will do better by placing relationships ahead of time. There are only several ways to increase productivity, but worker productivity is only increased by making the worker more productive. A key part of worker productivity is to have the right person in the right job. For example, 80% of the sales will come from 20% of the salespeople, and 80% of the designs will come from 20% of the engineers. The corporate executive is not likely to hire the next productive salesperson or engineer without having a good relationship with the current people who are highly productive. Hiring is only the beginning of benefits that relationships offer.
The moral to all of this, is that we need a plan, but the plan should not be put ahead of either people or God. In fact, the plan should emerge from our relationships, but we should be careful to not plan during our prayer time.
In the words of Mike Tyson, "Everyone has a plan until they get hit." In other words, everyone seeks execution, and the plan is just the beginning of the execution. Our relationships play the primary role in how effective we are at execution.
Our relationships with others is no better than our relationship with God. We do our best, therefore, when we think about and relate to God during the day. This kind of activity makes us the most effective today, but it also leads us to consistency which opens the door to the infinite possibilities of the spiritual journey.
Inside each of us, there are billions of voices, opinions, attitudes, and other intellectual attributes vying to influence our consciousness. The eventual person we become is the product of these voices and our choices.
An intellectual attribute can only ascend to the consciousness through internal processes. In some cases, our basic instincts coordinate the internal processes so fast that it seems as if an external message or stimulus reaches our consciousness, but we always elect our thoughts. In other words, a sensual feeling might be so strong that we feel as if our free will is violated, but we always have control. For example if we touch something that is too hot, we might reflexively pull away. We can, however, train our reflexes which demonstrates the mastery of our free will.
The more we think or feel an internal process, the easier we can get to the same place the next time. This is why consistency is so important, and with the denial of appetites, the same phenomenon will have the opposite affect.
When the consciousness experiences an intelligence, the intelligence will gain more permanence if we act upon the intelligence. In a negative example, a lustful thought will cause some damage, but a sexual act will cause substantially more. In a positive experience, we could feel the presence of God, but it will have a greater effect if we act upon the feeling. For example, if the spiritual feeling prompts us to tithe, our spiritual feelings will come more easily after we tithe.
We will tend to gravitate towards those choices that produce the most delight. We might be tempted to think that the best feelings are sinful, but the denial of appetites should be much more than giving up sinful cravings.
Our penance should always have a death and resurrection theme. While we die to sin, we long for God. Too often, people deny sin and try to resist the temptation to sin again. This is usually a losing battle and always a lost war. The victory comes from our relationship with God (not from our will power).
While we should always resist sin, we should strive for a balance between spiritual delight and holy penance. In other words, the more we can feel God, the more penance we should do. When we deny sinful appetites, we leave a void in our delight. We need to have the relationship with God, to allow God to fill the void.
The amount of penance that we do should never be an achievement. The comforts we give up free us from distractions that cloud our feeling of God.
When we have a losing perspective, we see penance as losing something we like. We should have a prospective attitude towards penance that we would have if we were hoping to find something of great value.
For example, Saint Jean Vianney performed heavy penances for greater spiritual clarity to perform his vocation. We often hear of his extreme penances, but his sprititual advice on penance is more important for us to know. He advised people to not to do penance that would interfere with their work. When one of the ladies of his parish, Catherine, was told that she should not fast during Lent, she complained that he did penance. He told her he was allowed to do penance because it didn't interfere with his work. On other occasions, his parishioners told him that he should eat more, but he told them he did a better job in the confessional when he fasted.
Most of us have many secular appetites that hinder our spirituality. In fact, the lifestyle that many of us live is often inconsistent with the penitential posture that the spiritual journey requires. The category of desires that distract us from our duty are the ones we want to mine first with penance.
For example, many of us can not establish consistency because we can not find the time to pray, but the average adult American watches 4.57 hours of television each day (US Census Bureau for 2004). More than 9 people in 10 can find the time needed to establish consistency in prayer by watching less television.
In the tradition of the Church, prayer and penance usually go together. For example, how can we spend more time in prayer without taking time away from some other activity? Since penance is denying a desire, it is emotionally and physically uncomfortable, but the discomfort is a sign that the normal course of affairs has been upset. When business is not as usual, there is excess energy which can be used as an agent of change.
To put this another way, pain is the ability to change. Bodybuilders have to change their body to make progress, and they are notorious for coining the cliche, "no pain no gain."
Pain does not necessarily mean that we will change for the better, but it is the opportunity to change. The possessed man in the Bible, who had the demon named Legion, practiced regular mortification, but the goal was to get worse.
If there is a conscious effort (such as prayer) to get better, served along side the pain of penance, the normal course of affairs can be altered in a positive (and sometimes in a profound) way. Hence, the Church tradition has an exceptionally strong basis, and it has produced many Saints.
By taking this outlook, we can see some of the necessity for Jesus dying on a cross. The amount of emotional and physical pain could hardly be greater. Since He was both God and man, the sacrifice could negotiate a new reality between Heaven and earth, but the pain was necessary. Since we still remain in sin, our redemption needs to imitate the path of our Redeemer. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him. In other words, both penance and prayer our necessary.
In our hedonistic society, penance is often the magical missing ingredient that makes all the difference.
Some would argue (probably not a corporate manager) that change is possible without pain. For example, a 120 pound woman can go to 200 pounds with very little pain. In this case, there would be other things that are missed by gaining this weight, and the woman's health would not be as good which would cause her pain. We could still argue, however, that the pain wasn't proportional to the amount of change. Let's look at this kind of change in a little different way.
Within the cosmopolitan appetites of the busy market (portrayed above as normal recursion), the merchants tend to grow rich if the market is not disturbed (little change). The fat is just the recursion storing a little away for a rainy day. It is not represenative of a change of appetite. In contrast, the bodybuilder's extra mass came from perfoming work outside his body. The body reordered itself to achieve a new goal, and therefore, pain was necessary.
Voluntary poverty is a form of penance that helps us to deny appetites. While this penance might seem like repulsive insanity to many in our material world, the happiest people who ever lived, the Saints, practiced it in an almost universal way across many eras and cultures. The Saints would tell us that they did not want to be encumbered by things that were not necessary. After all, the extra things to us has the same impact that the fat has to the woman in the example above. There isn't anything specifically wrong with the fat, but if it is not used, what is its affect on us? The fat affects us in many ways.
Fat is like having too many possessions, and these things separate us from our neighbor which make us less responsive to the life that is all around us. When we are too rich our community does not pull together because another person's problem does not impact us. It is no longer our problem, and it becomes their problem. The impact on the community is to lessen it effectiveness (equivalent to the community's intelligence), and the same thing happens inside an individual who is too fat. Furthermore, people who live in dysfunctional communities are disadvantaged and less able. Lean, responsive, and empathetic communities are healthier and more capable.
When a society has too many possessions, it will not be as operative. People will care about each other less. There will be more of a momentum to maintain status quo. The needs of the underprivileged are less likely to be met. The rich will tend to get richer and die in (often from) their excess. The poor will suffer from want.
In these rich societies, the richer members have the higher rates of suicide which indicates they are not happy and adjusted. For we can not think highly of ourselves without thinking highly of others.
In modern society, the common technique is to exchange voluntary poverty with deductive poverty. This substitution prevents us from reaching spiritual poverty. This is sort of a play on words; so let's go back and explain each poverty.
Voluntary poverty is what we could see the Saints practicing. Two giant champions (although more than a hundred could be named) were Saints Colette and Clair who tried to get the Franciscan order to follow the ideals of Saint Francis of Assisi (the founder of the Franciscan order). The Franciscan ideal was to live the Gospel message in a way that the mendicant (sort of a spiritual beggar) did not hold much property either individually or in common. In this way, the Franciscan was completely dependent upon God (Who usually worked through the charity of others).
Deductive poverty can be found in modern man trying to justify his wealth. The deductive reasoning is taken from Jesus who said that no one could serve two masters. The modern man then theoretically assumes that God is more important to him than his possessions. For example, the modern man might imagine his house on the left and Jesus on the right. Then in this day dream he goes to the right (toward Jesus). Therefore, he reasons that his possessions have no hold on him.
We are much more complex than deductive poverty assumes. In the first place, we should not attempt to judge ourselves because we are not Jesus, and secondly, either possible outcome is dysfunctional. If the outcome is positive, it only reinforces our laziness and robs our initiative. As Jesus put it (at least several times), the self-righteous do not try to reform. If the outcome is negative, we have a better chance of turning back to God. We could never, however, condone a choice that elects possessions over God. For this choice displays a sheer poverty of faith, hope, and love. We will need to practice virtue to build the relationship with God that our salvation requires. It is foolish to practice deductive poverty.
We can be rich and saved, if we, among other things, meet the needs of the poor and avoid luxuriant living. As everyone knows, the needs of the poor are so great that no one could ever meet them, but we can be good stewards with our money. Then we are left with two subject terms: good stewardship and luxuriant living.
We can't be good stewards to the poor unless we stand in solidarity with them. We need to practice a caring empathy that disallows agnostic ignorance. As a matter of spiritual competence, we should give of ourselves along with our money. In other words, we should work for the poor as much as we care for ourselves, and we should practice the same due diligence in our giving as we do in our investing.
Luxuriant living exercises those appetites which draw us away from God. The appetites we indulge become the dominant voices within us. Is it any wonder that richer communities are more selfish? If we are rich, we can't be idle. We must have an active ministry that serves the poor to save us from luxurious distractions. As Saint Vincent de Paul put it, we must establish a goal of increasing the quality and quantity of service to the poor, and this goal can only be met through commitment and sacrifice. While luxuriant living will draw us toward deadly distractions, our service toward the poor will exercise those appetites that draw us toward God.
If we are unable to establish consistency, it is because we are distracted. After we establish consistency, the quality of the spiritual experience will be determined by how much we are not distracted. The lack of distractions is what a person seeks by entering into a cloistered monastery, but our internal appetites (not external events) are the sources of our distractions.
As far as deep prayer is concerned, voluntary poverty is optional, but internal or spiritual poverty is not. In other words, we can't go far along the spiritual journey while exercising the wrong appetites because we will have too many distractions. All of this will become painfully obvious as we try to incorporate the feedback system in the focus section. Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa of Avila are among many others who complained of the discomfort caused at the beginning of the prayer time as focus was being established.
Spiritual poverty (which is championed by many Saints but Saint John of the Cross stands out) is a step toward contemplation of God. When the person reaches spiritual poverty (in deep prayer), the only desire or thought is for God because there is a preoccupation with God.
These periods of spiritual poverty involve our whole being. It is an active exercise of virtue in our soul, heart, and mind. As in the "Song of Songs", it is a quietness that engages the divine relationship. Spiritual poverty is the springboard to contemplation.
Spiritual poverty is the opposite of being distracted. Deep prayer can't occur with regularity, unless we practice spiritual poverty. While it might be appropriate for God to meddle in our distractions in certain circumstances, our freedom would be violated by regular interruptions. We can't expect a relationship to be forced upon us against our will. Love must be freely chosen.
Voluntary poverty is an astute step towards spiritual poverty, but spiritual poverty actually demands the denial of distractions. Our possessions, aspirations, relationships, or any of many other things can distract us from seeking the pearl of great price which costs us everything we have. We were put on this earth to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and anything else is a lie that robs us our identity, happiness, and salvation.
How much money, esteem, comfort, or success we have has little to do with our happiness because we were not made for those things. When we go through the day, we should constantly question the motives behind our experiences and activities. As Saint John Vianney put it, the sinner should watch for sin as close as a fugitive watches for the police.
We don't have to change appetites to build consistency, but we do need to try to deny distracting appetites.
For many of us, denying appetites can be extremely burdensome as well. We should not pick a load that is so heavy that we can not carry it. It is better to try to reign in one or two or our more distracting appetites, and we should attempt to avoid any new appetites. The more complicated that we make our lives, the harder time we will have in building consistency. Simplicity is an attribute of God, while complexity is a sequel of sin. As we make our lives more simple, we our making room for God.
It is often overlooked, but a primary reason for failing to establish consistency is that we are too involved with our own life. Of course, if we don't establish consistency, most of God's vision for us will never be realized. Our actions can convict us of thinking more of ourselves than we do of God. It is no wonder that the Beatitudes play a central role in the New Testament message.
In theory, we should never compare ourselves to anyone else, but in practice we are always making comparisons. For many of us, our happiness is determined by how well we compare to other people. All of this is sheer vanity that distracts us from our calling. No comparison is either necessary or valid. We are not any better or worse than anyone else because we all share the same Creator.
When we awake in the morning and as we attempt prayer, we will have more distractions if we are worried about what we want. If our ego becomes more important than our spirituality, our entire prayer time will become a planning session for the day.
We hear God's calling through our ego. Without a sincere effort to reduce our ego, we can easily confuse the divine call with our own wants. It is also possible to mix the two together. While spiritual direction might help, there is no substitute for humility.
If we don't strive to put our relationship with God above everything else, we will have a difficult time with consistency because so many other pressing matters will confront us. We must decrease if we want God to increase.
A vital part of going into deep prayer is controlling distractions, and there are few distractions more annoying than anger.
When dealing with anger, people often quote Jesus turning over the money changers tables. The idea is that anger can be righteous. What Jesus did was to take action against an ongoing sin. He was not mad at the money changers; He was intolerant of the sin. He did not stomp off mad or apologize for His outburst; He stayed and defended his actions. Jesus saw His action as a Holy crusade. So, it is not very accurate to use this episode of our Savior's life as a justification of our anger unless we are on a Holy crusade, and in that case anger is not a problem.
As far as deep prayer is concerned, a better scripture passage is where Jesus tells us to leave off praying until we have reconciled with our neighbor. Anger can be like a festering sore, and it requires inner healing.
It is hard to imagine a person who would not need inner healing at the beginning of the spiritual journey. Deep prayer will natural bring about much of the needed inner healing, but we can speed this process by doing the inner healing separately.
In terms of anger, we will have to become reconciled with everyone before we go very far with deep prayer. Regardless of how bad the relationship was, we need to go back to the feelings of the relationship and feel God along with the relationship.
For example, a man may be angry that he was sexually molested by a relative when he was a boy. There would probably be many feelings that would need to be corrected by inner healing. In addition, the man would need to forgive the relative, and after carrying the anger for a long time, inner healing may be required before the forgiveness process could begin. The goal would be for the man to feel the presence of the relative and be comfortable with the feeling. Jesus gives us an inner peace, and we need some of His peace before we can successfully reach spiritual poverty.
Besides resolving our past anger, we must be careful not to become so angry with the present that it takes away our peace. Our goal is not peace, but we must be able to focus on God. It is easy to become so embroiled with an ongoing conflict that the conflict becomes our focus.
Consistency: Page 2
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