The normal rhythm of a day includes times when the joy of the day and the bright sunshine, blue skies, birds singing and beauty surrounds you. And then this fades and gives way to the shadows and fears of night and the unknowing of darkness. The ocean waves rejoice as they roll into the shore and then retreat back with apprehension as if being chased by some unfriendly warrior. On some days food tastes wonderful while on others the same food has lost its taste and pleasure. Welcome to the rhythms of life. This is how normal life is. Up and down. In and out. Light and dark. Take pleasure in all the aspects of life. Whether light or dark there is only one present moment. Here are some reflections from the readings of this week’s liturgies (helpful to look at the readings first);
A key phrase in today’s Gospel is, “Watch yourselves!” We then hear the injunction to forgive. How many times must I forgive the one who repeatedly hurts me. In Hebrew numerology “seven times” means eternally. Must we always forgive one who asks for forgiveness? Impossible. We then hear the apostles ask, ‘Increase our faith.’ At my CPE graduation I was given a mustard seed on a card and it is very tiny, and we had a mulberry tree which would fill this chapel. Our minds say to tell the tree to jump in the ocean is impossible. But faith is the opportunity to see and call on the impossible, and the impossible will obey you.
Obedience in Latin comes from “ob audire”, literally “listen to”. The Word calls us to interior awareness, to deep listening. It is in this space we observe the motivations of the heart and the obstacles that obstruct our capacity to see and hear. Yet if we are observant, we notice the movements of faith, the interior movements. Last Friday and Saturday I attended a symposium on Sacred Heart Devotion. A Jesuit theologian from the Gregorian University spoke of “faith as imagination”. I was struck by the link he made between the two as we normally think of faith as an intellectual assent; belief. Imagination, however is a gift that enables us to see the possibilities and dream of what we would dare not to think. In these possibilities God reveals himself to us.
So, let us seek him in simplicity of heart … for he shows himself to those who trust him.
What do I expect will come to me, when I do what is asked of me? What rewards?
Are our motivations ever mixed? Yes, frequently, is the truthful answer. Sometimes we know this to be so but often it is hidden from our awareness.
Examples: We hope that someone will like us. We hope someone will return the favour. We how for gratitude. We hope for flattery. In some way our ego needs to be affirm, acknowledged, recognized.
The souls of the virtuous are those who have some degree of awareness to choose to complete their duty regardless of the outcomes. Do you recall the old saying, “to be unknown and esteemed as nothing”? This is so unnatural for human beings. It takes a deliberate transcending of the self. We have to choose to forget ourselves and take up our cross – our willingness to give our lives for others. In Theory “U” it is said we have to move from an Ego-system to Eco-system – movement from self-interest to transcendence, even beyond fears, resentments and shame. We are encouraged as we hear from the first reading; “They who trust in him will understand the truth, those who are faithful will live with him in love; for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.”
Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The others, they got what they wanted and left. Only one sees beyond himself.
What do I expect will come to me, when I do what is asked of me? What rewards? God probes our actions and scrutinizes our intentions. For God knows better than us the intentions of our hearts, God sees what is hidden deep within us. God is impartial of persons. The Lord of All does not cower before any persons; cannot be manipulated by our attempts to gain flattery, praise or recognition. God knows who you are. God see the beauty of each creation within its own reality, and says, “it is very good”. God doesn’t need to affirm one more than another, recognize one over the other. God celebrates you as you are, as you were made according to the Divine image, and provides for all alike.
Yearn for God then and for what God says of you, this will instruct you and lead you. This is the faith of the Samaritan who was healed. He was opened to what transcended his own needs. He recognized the God who provided for him, saw the beauty in him, yearned for him to be whole. He is liberated not because his leprosy is cured but because he is liberated from himself. Look forward, therefore, to my words; yearn for them, and they will instruct you.
In the young Christian churches around Greece and Asia Minor, grew a type of monastic life known as Hesychasm, in which one sought divine quietness through the contemplation of God in uninterrupted prayer. Such prayer is often called ‘the Jesus prayer’. St. John Climacus, a Hesychast, wrote, “Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with each breath, and then you will know the value of the h?sychia – the divine quiet.”
Remember Genesis 2, when the Lord God formed man from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The spirit of wisdom has power to bring life. And in John 20 Jesus recreates humanity, when he appeared among the fearful disciples in the upper room and breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” One becomes present through awareness of the breath. This silent breath does not admit of observation. One becomes present to it in all things, thus in the Gospel Jesus says, “Make no move; do not set off in pursuit.”
One contemplates God in all things by presence to the breath. In the divine quiet one becomes attune to the pervading presence of the spirit within Wisdom. The first reading tells us all things are permeated by Wisdom. She is the breath of the power of God.
Theophan the Recluse in translating the Philokalia, one of the mystical works of the Eastern Church, describes this prayer: “Into the heart he descends: into his natural heart first, and from there into the ‘deep’ heart — into the ‘inner closet’ of the heart which is no longer flesh. Here in the depths of the heart, he discovers first the `godlike spirit’ which the Holy Trinity planted in man at creation, and with this spirit he comes to know the spirit of God.”
What a strange saying: “Anyone who tries to preserve his life will lose it; and anyone who loses it will keep it safe.”
When we “preserve” something we want to protect for our later use. We protect our lives from ill-health and death. But we cannot avoid death, so why do we do this. Perhaps we miss the point of life. Perhaps life is not something to be kept, preserved, sustained, but rather is something to be lived fully. We can be so concerned about preserving our lives that we never live them.
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Wisdom reminds us not to become attached to the works of God (including ourselves), but to seek the Source of the life in each breath, the Author of all creation. Otherwise we “fall victim to appearances”, and fail to be in awe at the one behind the appearance. If we are capable of acquiring enough knowledge to investigate the world, how is it we are so slow to recognize its Master in each present moment?
Jesus told his disciples, “Pray continually and never lose heart.” How do you do that? There are things to do. You can’t be praying all the time, surely? Work is work. Prayer is prayer.
In his 2012 Epiphany Homily, Pope Benedict says, “Praying without ceasing means: never losing contact with God, letting ourselves be constantly touched by him in the depths of our hearts and, in this way, being penetrated by his light.”
Awareness of my breath as Breath of God, is one way. I breathe in, for “Wisdom is a breath of the power of God”. I breathe out. Two movements but one moment of presence. As I work, or play, or study, or pray, I breathe unceasingly and i bring my awareness to this constant companion.
Prayer and work are just the same two moments of breath. Everything is One, not binary. A pathway opens up in us in this way, as we heard in the opening reading, “The Red Sea opened and became an unimpeded way”. Through our constant prayer our hearts “prepare the way of the Lord”, and we witness the wonders the Lord has done for us.