Over the past three weeks I have been writing a series on Hesychastic Prayer as taught in the Greek Orthodox tradition. Hesychastic is a strange sounding word, but it is essentially the Greek Orthodox word for contemplative prayer. If you have a moment, please see the last three posts for the introductory remarks on this subject.
For those people who have a lot of antipathy to organized religion or the image of God presented in 12 step programs I offer these suggestions:
Take the time to write out a description of the attributes of God you were taught, especially those aspects you find to be most troubling or confusing.
Then take the time to write out a description of the attributes of God you feel would be so attractive and inspiring that you would naturally feel comfortable offering your praise and love in silence from the center of your heart to this divine being.
For example, I have heard from many people who are members of 12-step programs something like this: “I grew up with the image of a punishing God and I thought God would not want to have anything to do with me. In recovery I have found a ‘higher power’ that is unconditionally loving. I have found this vision of God to be very helpful and consoling in my recovering from addiction.”
For me it was simple. The violence, cruelty, oppression, chronic poverty, injustice, famine, and natural disasters in the world proved there was no loving God. All the answers I heard from organized religion to explain such important issues tended to go like this. “The troubles in the world are not God’s fault, they are the fault of sinful humanity.” Another was that, “God has a plan for each of our lives although often we cannot see what that plan is.”
Believe it or not these answers are still given over and over again throughout the Christian world and in 12 step groups and many Yoga and New Age circles.
For me these kinds of answers were so frustrating and just plain stupid I could not possibly believe a loving God could be the power that created and sustained this life. After all if a three year old child is raped and then beaten to death, is this part of God’s plan for their life? Also, the suffering and death in the animal kingdom where most creatures need to kill and devour other creatures to live, does their suffering arise from Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God’s commandment?
My point is this: contemplative prayer in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition is initiated and fueled by the simple practice of making a conscious choice to love God and then following through on that choice every day. For those who have been exposed to teachings in God centered religions they feel are disturbing or dysfunctional this presents a major obstacle. The same is true for those who are simply confused by the cognitive dissonance of the image of a loving God and a world riddled with violence and suffering however otherwise beautiful this world may be at times.
For those who fit this description there are good alternatives. You can study the atheist traditions of Theravada or Zen Buddhism or some form of secular humanism or philosophy or science etc.
But if you feel that God does exist, or may exist, and you wish to find out one way or the other, and see if you can awaken a healing experience of communion with God that diminishes the suffering of your life you can try this:
Imagine an image or sense of God as perfect love, grace, and peace which is so beautiful that you are simple in awe of the splendor of the beauty of this immortal life.
Take the risk of setting aside, at least for half an hour here and there, all the good and rational reasons why you feel God does not exist.
Then see if by calling to mind a sense of God as perfect love, grace, beauty and peace you become freely willing to offer your love from the center of your heart to the divine, mysterious, reality people call God.
See if you are able to step back from the troubles and suffering of your life and the suffering of the world. Try to imagine that the perfect transformation of your heart and the attainment of liberation has happened and that indeed you will live forever in this state.
Do you find these practices begin to open up the heart chakra and/or the chakras of the abdomen, throat, and head? Do you find yourself at least in the early stages of a shift of your interior experience to increasingly more beautiful, deeply trusting, and peaceful states of communion and grace?
For those of us for whom faith in a loving God does not come naturally all this may seem quite foreign or even ridiculous. If I had not found deeply healing experiences of love, grace, beauty, and peace from these efforts. I would not recommend them to you.
What I did not know for many years, what I was not able to conceive of, is this: to awaken the experience of God I needed to get the ball rolling by praising and loving God in silent adoration in the secret chambers of my deepest heart. I could have learned this insight from Catholic meditation teachers but for different reasons I did not. Where I did learn it from was the ancient and modern Greek Orthodox teachers but this does not mean I will join their church.
Please let me know your thoughts and experiences. All constructive comments will be responded to and posted if you feel comfortable having them posted.
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” host of Meditationpractice.com
will at meditation practice dot com (spelled out to limit spam)