Monday, January 04, 2010

Help in helplessness…

Non-dual thinking is not the avoiding of dualistic thinking.  It’s using it as far as it can get you, but also recognizing its limits. You need dualistic thinking for clarification, for making important and necessary distinctions; because we’re not saying that everything is perfect, or everything is beautiful. In fact, non-dual thinking gives you a greater subtlety and sharper discernment to see how common evil is and how goodness is sometimes hidden, and how common goodness is and how evil is sometimes hidden.

Once I get my own agenda out of the way (through practice of silence, solitude, self-observation, and letting go), I don’t just see blatant evil or perfect good, I actually see things with greater clarity, with their own complexity, and often with my own complicity.

If we can get our narrow politics and our self-serving anger out of the way, in fact we’ll see like never before the depth of the problem, the depth of the need, and the depth of the suffering on this earth.

Richard Rohr, adapted from the webcast Exploring the Naked Now

I have all too often observed this principle at work in my own life. To the extent that I neglect the practice of silence, solitude and contemplation, I find myself prey to all that is weak and shallow in me, and blinded, at least partially, to the agony of all that has been made (Romans 8:18ff).

I think this is partly why the Jesus Prayer has called to me so strongly all my adult life. Its words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, confess the helplessness I feel in the face of my own shallowness, and my complete dependence on Jesus. The other side of this, of course, is best expressed by Br. Ramon SSF, in his now sadly out-of-print pamphlet Praying the Jesus Prayer (Marshall Pickering 1988):

It is difficult to speak of the aim or goal of [contemplative] prayer, for there is a sense in which it is a process of union which is as infinite as it is intimate…

But there are some things which we can say, which are derivative of that central core of ineffable experience. We can say that such prayer contains within itself a new theology of intercession. It is not that we are continually naming names before God, and repeating stories of pain, suffering and bereavement on an individual and corporate level, but rather that we are able to carry the sorrows and pains of the world with us into such contemplative prayer as opens before us in the use of the Jesus Prayer. God knows, loves and understands more than we do, and he carries us into the dimension of contemplative prayer and love, and effects salvation, reconciliation and healing in his own way, using us as the instruments of his peace, pity and compassion.

(For more on this last point, you might like to read my earlier post, Ostrov.)


  1. My God numbness has been thawing somewhat of late. Which is nice. From my contemplation I find that part of that numbness has been purely and simply anger that he has not done what I wanted him to do. Part but not all. The majority of that numbness I have no idea about.

    I have been taking a rather more Buddhist approach to things over the past few weeks with my centreing prayer/meditation/contemplative prayer habits (how delightful it all is, how it all blends in together). Last night I was doing a visualisation sort of meditation which involved seeing the negative elements of a particular person as embodied by dark smoke coming out of their body. At the same time I was imagining my self-centredness as a black rock in my heart. As I breathed in their dark smoke, it entered into my body and dispelled the black rock. Two for the price of once, haha. It may sound a bit whacky perhaps but it was lovely and it had me in tears. Those sorts of meditations for me are a particularly heartfelt way of praying.

    Sometimes in the past I have physically felt the pain of another as I have prayed for them. That has been pretty amazing too.

    I don't quite get the Jesus prayer thing, to be honest, Mike, but I really enjoy reading about your experiences with it.

    Prayer is an amazing road trip that you go on within the confines of your own body. Pretty amazing :)

    Happy New Year, Woolman!!

  2. I love the idea of you thawing gradually. Mind you, the idea anything thawing is pretty attractive at the moment (-8C this morning)!

    Interesting about the Jesus Prayer. People often don't get it. I think that's partly because it really is a prayer, not a technique, or a mantra, in the Vedantic sense, and as such it is susceptible of being answered - will be answered. But you have to pray it to know that.

    There are many good introductions to the Prayer online, but one I found recently and thought very good is Patrick Comerford's.

    I guess some are called to this way of prayer, and some are not. Bur even the ones who are called have to try it, and persevere with it for a while, to be sure. Somehow, with me, I knew that call, but it took a few years till I knew why!

    V Happy New Year to you, too, Sue Down Under!