Stories of People Today Trying to Live
the Christian Contemplative Life
: II


I am 47 years old, married with four children, and I've been praying contemplatively since 1977 with the spiritual guidance of Fr. Thomas Keating, the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement in the U.S. Back then you didn't hear much about Christian contemplation. My teachers were St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila and also, to a large extent, Sri Ramakrisna through a book I picked up in a library. When I began sitting in 1977 almost immediately, and over a period of several months, I began experiencing a recurrent, overwhelming sweetness in my soul which was always absorbing and energy draining, and which always deprived me of my appetite for food or drink. Sometimes I'd be flooded with an indescribable joy and often there was within me what I used to call an ongoing party. I wouldn't know how else to describe it. This party was all spiritual and it would appear spontaneously and independently, as if in the background of my consciousness. Sometimes it would be hours before I would stop and acknowledge its presence! Then there were the all-consuming, burning longings for God the Father which caused me to long for death with all my strength. On several occasions I, too, experienced a burning furnace within my heart, but this was a very sacred experience, not a mere physical one. The Fire within me was a Living Fire, no doubt about that! It was always felt in my heart or soul, and once it opened what felt like a wound on one side of the lower part of my heart. By themselves these experiences would have been just that: experiences. The main thing about them is that they always brought me a sense of God's Presence and of His utter, loving desirability. In short, I fell in love with God.

I also experienced pressure in my head later on. I even went to get a cat-scan, but the doctor could find nothing wrong. This only lasted a few months and it didn't bother me much, perhaps because I don't pay much attention to the body. What I couldn't help noticing, though, is what follows.

It began a few months after the onset of the experiences I have described and I would call them the other side, or their negative side. Delight was experienced as oppressing anguish of soul, the sweetness and the party turned to tears in my heart so that the impression was that of being wrung out like a wet cloth. I moved about as if the weight of the whole world was upon my shoulders, drained of energy, relentlessly pursued by this awful pain in my soul which took from me the ability to concentrate while dimming my consciousness of the external world. When in that state I only wanted to retreat into solitude and cry because the interior pain demanded tears, but I often couldn't even to that due to my four small children who needed my constant attention. I have had those experiences many times over a period of several years. They would always come gradually and leave abruptly, and if a curtain were suddenly being lifted.

One particular experience that leaves me baffled to this day has to do with a strange light flashing before me while in prayer. I saw it once a month with my eyes opened or closed, and each time it appeared to come nearer until once it seemed to explode on my face as it entered my head. This startled me so much that I opened my eyes immediately. I felt somewhat violated and puzzled, but there was nothing I could do. One month later I saw the light exit my head, and it then looked much dimmer and transparent. I believe this is the first time I have ever mentioned this experience to anybody. I just naturally assumed no one would be able to interpret it for me.

Comment: The fact that you saw the strange light flashing, whether your eyes were open or closed, might point to the origin of the light being connected with the activation of the visual part of the brain. Things like this can happen during kundalini -type experiences. The activation of this energy, i.e., the pressure in the head and various feelings of electrical currents, and so forth, can also have optical side-effects. Philip St. Romain's book Kundalini Energy and Christian Spirituality discusses some of these experiences.

Forum Member: For the past 10 years I've been wandering through desert and dark lands and my feelings of love for the Father have become more interiorized to where I am often not aware of them. Now I am able to think of things other than God, whereas for many years I could think of nothing else. Prayer is an almost constant wasteland and I am faltering. I don't think I can hang on anymore. Sometimes, however, I surprise myself when I find I can still cry for God and tell Him how much I miss Him. Then I realize that I am not at all over it. I still love Him just the same as I did back then, perhaps even more, because by now I've built a relationship based on selfless and unconditional love. But prayer is often experienced as unbearably tedious and empty. Frustration for being unable to discipline my mind always accompanies my prayer. But then to me prayer is only a means to the end. I don't really care what it takes, whether it's contemplation, Zen, yoga and what not, as long as it gives me God the Father.

There is another thing I have noticed. I am a Jesus person, yet every time I experience the Presence of God it's always the Father I experience. I don't say this with the least regret, because the Father is wonderful, utterly desirable, and powerful. He impressed His power upon me in a way that was always overwhelming. Why is it that Jesus Himself eludes me? I have confessed Him in front of unbelievers, and I love Him. I don't know why it is the loving Father Who comes to me rather than Jesus. I love the Father, but I feel I have lost touch with Him. If I didn't find some way to distract myself and go on living I don't think I would want to live anymore, because He is my life, and He is gone. However, even though I am counting the days, I still can't bring myself to pray for death because I see that I am still needed here.

Comment: One possibility about Jesus "eluding" you: the whole purpose of Jesus in His Incarnation was to draw us to the Father. Could it be possible that the closer you get to Jesus, the more you share in His being, which is to lift everything up to the Father? If that were the case, then you would tend not to be looking at Jesus the closer you drew to Him.

You should certainly consider writing a spiritual journal or autobiography if you do not already do so. This, of course, is not to become overly self-absorbed, but simply as an aid in exploring what is happening. There are vast interior universes that we travel through on the spiritual journey, and they comprise psychological as well as metaphysical and spiritual dimensions, and it is often very difficult to sort out what is going on. The same energy that can be devastating to the soul if it takes on a negative face, or tremendously elating if it takes on a positive one, perhaps is calling us to avoid both the negative and positive faces which are often ways of us reducing it to the small dimensions that the ego can comprehend. It is almost as if we become schooled in making the ego transparent to these energies that are much greater than itself. In the final analysis it is faith which, as St. John of the Cross says, is the proximate means of our union with God, and we have to hold to that faith through all the highs and lows.

Forum Member: This morning I have been attempting to analyze my present attitude towards God, and I saw that He is now asking for a "personal" direct response from me. My first reaction was one of denial. I didn't want to have to deal with it. Too much pain. I began to cry, and as I wept I understood I had been hiding from God all these years. True, I have been doing everything by the book as far as love is concerned, but I had withdrawn my heart from Him to protect myself from further pain. I understood the Lord wants to heal me at that level now, by deepening my trust in Him. In my mind's eye I saw a swirling concentric spiral signifying the ongoing process of healing, growth and deepening of one's personal commitment to God.

Consciously I am making attempts to be open to God, to say YES to Him, but I can see that at a deeper level there is a lot of resistance to the degree of pain, disappointment and rejection I suffered all those years. And there is also this nagging voice within me telling me none of this is happening, God is not asking for a direct relationship, I am making it all up, it's just my imagination. It wants me to ignore the whole thing and go on with life as always. So Faith is also being exercised to a great extent.

I would like to know the truth. It seems to be that now He wants a more "personal" involvement from me and this mere notion makes me want to run away in fear. I need help. I am afraid to give Him my heart again. I could cut myself into pieces for Him and it wouldn't hurt as much! He is asking me to come out of hiding, to lay my heart bare once again, and all I want to say to Him is just let me be! I don't want to leave the ordinary path. Love in action can exist independently of experienced Love. It is possible to love God indirectly, like most people do. Why does He have to mess with me? I don't want to be "played" again, to lost control of what I feel and what I think. At the same time I want to say YES, because I do love and trust Him. I just don't know how.

#1 Response: You say you are repelled by emptiness. The true emptiness is a total void of "things/thingness." Only in such an emptiness of all "things" can God who is Nothing (NO THING) be encountered as He is. So be patient with and grateful for emptiness. In the middle of it begin developing the frequent flexing of your Faith/as Christ. Since this Faith is Christ, you are not alone in the emptiness. Christ will lead you to eventually know the emptiness as the fullest of all fullness -- all which is or can be emerges from it -- through Christ, who is your constant companion, Whom you can "call up" whenever you wish through this simply internal motion/reflex of Faith.

While nailed to the barn door (for years) baking in the sun and being internally scraped clean with a wire brush I learned what faith really is, and what it is for. This is not the faith of, "I believe in..." This is Faith as a tremendously powerful inner muscle which can be "flexed" whenever we choose. With each flexing the muscle becomes stronger. What is the muscle? The deepest reality of this internal, spiritual muscle, with which (and only with which) we can cling to Reality and continue to move forward and grow spiritually in the dark night of the spirit is that it is, in the fullest truth, CHRIST HIMSELF.

John of the Cross referred to the Night of Spirit as the "Night of Faith." This is what he meant. In this night we are of necessity stripped of all that is other than God. But, the great secret is that God remains (in total darkness for the most part) as the spiritual reflex and muscle which we can use whenever we wish in the middle of the desert. Simply to grasp, to cling, to reach out with our fullest strength from our center is to "activate" the Spirit of Christ within us. The act by which we do this IS THE VERY PRESENCE OF CHRIST!

#2 Response: The story of this journey embodies a familiar pattern in Christian contemplative experience: an initial period in which the graces of God flow abundantly like sweet water given whenever and wherever it is desired, then followed by a long period of night so difficult and perplexing it can feel like there is no spiritual life left.

But our Forum member clearly brings out the psychological dimension of such a journey, and this is what I would like to focus on. On one level this encounter with God is like falling in love. At the beginning we can be overwhelmed with a wonderful sense of wholeness and completion, which can often be followed by disillusionment and pain. Things are not like we thought they were. We feel betrayed and abandoned. So at one level it is easy enough to understand that we can feel this way about God, as well. But there is a vital difference which introduces us to a deeper level of things that is rooted not in the failings and fickleness of the one we love, for we would be loathe to attribute these attributes to God, but which are connected to the very nature of contemplation.

When we begin the spiritual life, how else can we relate to God than through our normal channels of thinking and feeling, sensing and intuiting? In short, we use the natural faculties of the soul, and they can feel flooded with God's presence. But the infused contemplation that John of the Cross is talking about by its very nature cannot come through these faculties. They are simply too limited to receive it. It has to be given in the very center of the soul, or we could say, in the depths of the spiritual unconscious. But if it is given in those depths, that does not mean it will always be perceptible to the ego. Therefore, the loss of our former way of relating to God through our faculties can feel like the loss of God without qualification, and this is true even if contemplative graces might be present in the depths of the soul.

The way that contemplation comes into the soul has important psychological ramifications. It is only reasonable that if an event like God's presence in a new way in the depths of the soul takes place, then it will have a profound effect on the natural psychic or psychological energies of the soul. Is it not possible that the soul will now have a new center even from the point of view of psychic energy which will now appear to be flowing out of the ego, leaving it listless and even feeling dead? Then it can seem like all the spiritual life that the soul possessed has evaporated. The ego then feels hurt and resentful, for it doesn't understand why it should die. It takes all this personally! Then it is faced with two possibilities. It can cling to its resentment about being abandoned, or it can try to understand that the nature of contemplation itself can demand the soul being turned inside out, as it were, and with that understanding, let the old sense of hurt go and try to relate to this new center. As Response #1 so carefully points out, this relating takes place by faith, which is often a very stripped and naked faith, but very real and fruitful nonetheless.

One final qualification. I don't mean to imply that every loss of the initial sense of consolation and presence of God can be attributed to the beginning of infused contemplation. If that were so, John of the Cross would not have needed his three signs to begin with, and the other possible reasons for this darkness represent another area well worth exploring.


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A Response to the Prayer Questionnaire

1. What is your manner of prayer/meditation?

One hour of the Vipassana, one hour of prayer, voice work speaking to and listening to Higher Essence or Self. God?

2. What consequences if you miss prayer/meditation?

It is like missing a shower or tooth brushing. I feel incomplete - half here, something missing. Not as sharp or aware as usual.

3. What are the usual effects of your prayer/ meditat ion?

Depends on how well I connect. Even if I sit for an abbreviated time it is better than not sitting.

4. Have you experienced what you would consider extraordinary graces?

Yes, amazingly wonderful states, very full feelings, oceanic stuff, transcendental visions, Christ, etc.

5. Have you ever experienced negative or unsettling emotions as a result of your prayer/ meditation?

Not really. Well, there has been stuff that came up, but by sitting with it and really looking at it it always resolves itself into bliss. Stuff like fear, sadness, anger, but they are just emotions and they always pass if you stay with them closely. At the time the desire is to quit and get up, but the trick is to stay with them. This is also true during the day when stuff bothers you. You stick with it, check it out, look carefully. Attention.

6. Have you experienced energy movements, inner lights, etc.?

Sure. Some just light visions, others very profound and life-changing, the never-forget versions. More than just visions, really real experiences. They are problematic to explain. I am not sure where some of these experiences come from. Not from the earth plane, yet... not sure.

7. Have you ever experienced communication with God or other spiritual beings?

Yes. I am convinced at times that I am a channel. Of what? God, other beings, other dimensions? Hard to say, certainly. Something other. Very profound and life-changing. Not directly, but indirectly, I notice changes during the day - more compassion, understanding, or efforts in that direction. More attention and gratitude. It seems the visions are interesting, and very pleasurable and immensely satisfying. But the real effects are during the day. Otherwise it is like going to the movies. If it sticks then I know I was into something deep and true.

8. Are you part of a particular religious tradition?

Raised Catholic, abused spiritually by German nuns. Ugh! Spent five years in a Hindu ashram after doing two years as a freak trying to find God through drugs, LSD, grass, etc. Found the ashram had as many problems as the Dominican nuns did. Dropped out of "seeking", became a college teacher, an artist, found Vipassana to be a safe nonreligious meditation form, and evolved my own practice and found my own way, which has been really great.

9. Do you have a spiritual director or teacher?

As you can see from the above, I pretty much burned out on teachers - the nuns were mean and nasty - the Hindu guru was a womanizer and undeveloped personal- ity-wise. I am very leery of teachers. Mostly I find guidance in Buddhist-psychological literature. I have little or no personal guidance or friends who share this - except my wife especially my wife!

10. How does your lifestyle effect your prayer/meditation?

I work part-time, and I am able to devote two hours to sitting, and more time to reading and walking peacefully in a small town. Married with a wonderfully supportive wife and friend. Pretty much have set my life to be supportive of my spiritual practice. Or have tried to do so. My wife was very ill for a few years and found my practice so helpful. It needed to be modified, but still, it was very important. I feel that if my life changed in such a way where I had less time it wouldn't matter at this point. Although I hope things remain with time being available for practice. I would much rather have time than $. We do art, eat lightly, sleep - I like sleep. The more I sit the more I need to be rested in sleep. When I lived in an ashram we thought six hours was enough sleep. Nuts to that. I get a good eight and can sit much more concentratedly. I was always falling asleep at the ashram. No alcohol or drugs. I have reconnected to my two children and have a very nice relationship with my children and grandchildren. My wife and I do stimulation groups for people who live in convalescent hospitals - probably one of the most important components in our life-service.

I still have not been able to approach a church or a "Christian meditation group." just too much old junk around "Catholic." But I have more and more personal contact with Christ-Jesus-images-visions in my prayer meditations. It is disconcerting to have such difficulty with organized Christianity and to be visited with such strong Christian images even though I practice a form of Vipassana and prayer. Blessed Mother - Jesus on the Cross - nails -crowns of thorns - wounds the whole bloody suffering that Jesus went through, yet very peaceful and much bliss. I am shocked yet feel blessed. My rational anti-Christian self says, "Yikes!" while a strong part of me is at peace. I feel somehow the collective unconscious is being tapped into. When I lived in a Hindu ashram and studied there, my meditations were never visited by any (well, maybe occasionally) Hindu images. I put in long hours but not much of a feeling of contact with God. Now it is so much different. So full of Christian (of all things) images and presence. Believe me. I am not complaining. It is wonderful. I have no one to share this with.

It is funny when I meet Christians. They seem so unspiritual - not funny. Sad. But I believe things are changing and maybe I have been looking in the wrong places.


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I never had a relationship with God, or experienced His love, until about five years ago, when I had a conversion experience that literally changed my life. Any praying I had done before then had been from rote or read from a prayer book. All that has changed!

1. I pray daily. Usually I spend two fifteen or twenty minute periods in Centering Prayer, but if I am especially busy it may be just one period. I also go to Mass daily, and spend about ten minutes in the morning and evening reading the psalms for Lauds and Vespers for the day. During the day I often talk with God informally - at work, while driving, etc. - as I would a dear friend, which is what He is!

I have tried other types of prayer, i.e., lectio divina, the Jesus prayer, etc., but the types above seem to fit me best, at least for now.

2. I rarely miss Mass; it is just a great way to start the day. If I do not do the Centering Prayer, and/or the Psalms for a day, I try to get back to it the next day. I am just more peaceful and centered with prayer as a regular part of my life. I used to think a person prayed because that's what God wanted, but I want and need to do this for myself. No matter what, I do have "informal" conversation with God throughout the day.

3. The most important effect of my prayer/meditation is that all aspects of my life are centered more and more on God, rather than on myself. Throughout my life, I have wanted to be in control of myself, situations, and others. Praying helps me remember God is the center of the universe, not me! I now know that I am not my own "do-it-yourself" project, trying to figure out what changes to make next, and trying to make them happen by sheer will power. No, God leads me step by step, very gently and lovingly, to discover whatever it is I have to face next about myself; all I can do (and sometimes I need help doing even this) is be willing, just a little, and He makes the changes possible. I know that after almost five years I am more peaceful, loving, joyful, accepting of myself and others, and less angry, judgmental and controlling. It's not an either/or situation, rather, a continuum, and I know at least I am moving in the right direction.

4. 1 am not sure what "extraordinary graces" means. I do have a very real, pervasive sense of God's presence that is very comforting to me, especially when I am experiencing fears, worries, doubts, or anger. I know He is there, and loves me anyway. Often, especially in the beginning, there were a lot of tears, mainly of joy, and occasionally from a deep sense of sadness, loss or grief.

5. 1 cannot say that I have experienced negative or unsettling emotions as a result of prayer. In the beginning I often had doubts about what was happening. I would tell myself I was not praying, just talking to myself; I wasn't really a different person, just the same old one wearing new clothes. As time goes by, I have far fewer periods like that, they don't last as long, and soon I am back on the right track. I've learned to trust God and my experience of Him.

I did have some worries when I first read about the "dark night." It sounded dreadful, like a deep depression that sometimes lasted a long time. I really don't know if I have experienced such darkness or not. I have had periods of doubt, confusion, anger, etc., but nothing profound, and I have given up worrying about it.

6. No physical sensations, just peace.

7. Visions? No, not if you mean I think I "see" God but I have developed a very active imagination in which I picture Him in that sense. It is a very powerful, and healing, way of praying for me. Sometimes these"pictures" happen almost spontaneously and sometimes I consciously work at them. Often I write them down.

8. 1 was born and raised Catholic, and went to Catholic schools for ten years. This was back in the mid-40s to mid-50s, before Vatican II, so I learned a lot of things that were negative about myself, God, and relationships. God was presented as remote and judgmental; I was sure there was no way of pleasing Him, just as I could not please my folks. I went through the motions of practicing the faith until I was thirty, when I was divorced. I was very angry, at my ex, at God for letting this happen to me, at myself for proving once again I was "not-good-enough" and at the Church for reinforcing that feeling, so I didn't go to Church for fifteen years and didn't send the children either (something I very much regret now.) I started going to church again eight years ago. I'm not really sure why, as I was still angry and could not fully participate due to the fact I was in an "invalid" second marriage. My conversion happened in a car, not in church, and was the start of my spiritual journey, my prayer life, and relationship to God. It proved to me He had been with me and loving me all along even though I had pretty much ignored Him. Then I knew He was not to be found only in or through any church. So on the one hand the Church has hindered my relationship with God and my prayer, but on the other hand, the foundation that was laid when I was a child gave me something to return to. There is much in the church I love - the sacraments, sacramentals, music, art. The best way to sum it up is to say I don't let the institution get in the way of my prayer or my experience of God. I have to trust that.

9. 1 had a priest as a spiritual direction for several months when I was part of a two-year Spiritual Companioning program a few years ago. He was helpful for the first three or four sessions, but then I disagreed with something he said, and he seemed to get angry and feel threatened. I was confused at first, and thought I must be wrong; he was the expert, and what did I know? But I knew that what he was saying did not fit my experience and I had to trust that. The main thing I learned was to trust God to direct me. If I misunderstand Him, He has ways of letting me know.

Four years ago I returned to school to get a Masters in Counseling, even though I didn't know what I'd do once I got it (I graduate next month), obtained an annulment from my first marriage, and changed jobs. I now work as an advocate in the marriage tribunal helping others with the annulment process. I really felt God calling me to do these things.

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What is your manner of prayer/ meditation?

I have many different ways to pray and/or meditate. Mainly, I try to keep God in mind constantly throughout the day. I talk to God, ask questions, maintain a casual friendliness - both to remind myself that God is always with me and also to show my sincerity, my openness in wanting to be closer to my Creator and his will for me. At times, I sit on our back porch and appreciate all that is growing in the yard, all that is alive, and try to feel my connection to it. I notice the sky, the clouds, the breeze and remember that God was in the silence, not in the blowing wind. Often I read books to expand my knowledge of theology, contemplation and mysticism - really many subjects I consider spiritual. I have learned a great deal from Zen, particularly Tibetan, and am grateful to Thomas Merton for leading me in that direction.

What consequences do you experience if you miss prayer/meditation?

I find that I am tenser, angrier, have drifted back into the "ways of the world" that are, for me, so negative.

Have you experienced what you would consider extraordinary graces in prayer/meditation?

I consider the calming of my agitated heart a grace that I have experienced. Also, I have received insights that I also consider extraordinary (for me, at least). I have felt emotional healing. I have heard music. Not seen, but felt a compassionate presence. Once, I felt a stroking of my hair. It was in the Intensive Care Unit where my father was, very ill. It happened three times, although I stood up and looked around between each event to see what could be causing it.

Have you experienced communications with God or spiritual beings through visions or locutions?

I have experienced one vision - a gift, I believe, from God and my grandmother. She had always said she would come back to visit me (and I asked her not to) after she had died. She had always prayed a great deal for the poor souls and encouraged me to also. About three years after she died I awoke in the middle of the night (I don't know what woke me) and, lying on my side facing the open closet, I saw a glow in the back of the closet. This jarred me completely awake because at first I thought it -was a fire. Propped up on my elbow, I stared at the nearly human sized, oval-shaped glow. It was bright, gold and silvery rays. It didn't move toward me, but as I continued to stare, dumbfounded, I had a mental flash that this was Grandma. Another mental message told me not to be afraid and I wasn't. I'm not certain how long the radiant spectacle lasted, a minute, two minutes, but for the rest of the time the only message, and it was strong, definite, was love. Everything was all right, had always been so and would always be so. When the vision finally faded, I cried myself to sleep, but the tears were of joy. Whenever I feel doubt, feel alone, I remember that glowing visit. I cling to it as the proof I had hoped for and was blessed to receive.

Are you part of a particular religious tradition?

I was born and raised Roman Catholic in an old-fashioned traditional and somewhat strict household. My surrogate grandfather (actually my great-uncle) was a very devout diocesan priest. Two of my first cousins entered the convent and a third cousin became a priest. Other relatives were in a contemplative order. Religion was always important to my family. But it was also pre-Vatican II. The emphasis was on sin and penance, our unworthiness and guilt (especially as a female). My Catholic heritage actually hinders me in some respects, while of enormous help in others. The Church does not seem to want any of its members to personally experience God, although it acknowledges that saints of the misty past did so. The Church treats all its members as small children, but women as very treacherous small children. With Merton's permission to read about Buddhism and become more ecumenical in attitude, I discovered possibilities unknown to me. He gave me permission to explore and I have. I will remain a Catholic, although not a by-the-book one. I trust my inner voice more now than ever in my life. Heck, I used to ignore it or think it was the devil!

I do not like rote prayers or the rosary, but the Mass is almost always a moving experience. The parishes I have been a member of over the years did little or nothing to inform my faith or provide opportunities for growth. It was nearly impossible to acquire information on meditation, mysticism, Merton, or anything. I've had to hunt it out on my own, and often without the approval of our parish religious. (Do they doubt my ability to comprehend it?)

Do you have a spiritual director or teacher with whom you share your experiences in prayer/ meditation?

Yes, I have a spiritual director whom I am very fond of. He is a Jesuit, very learned and gentle, with great patience to put up with me. But, he is a mixture of very traditional (he is in his 70s) and up-to-date. He does not like me reading Merton or (especially) Zen, so I no longer tell him about it. He encourages me in some ways, but discourages in others (you're not ready for John of the Cross" - or even the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius). Yet, he likes some of my insights and tells me he uses them in sermons.

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1. What kind of prayer or meditation do you practice?

A. What do you do? Contemplative prayer using the Jesus Prayer mantra ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner", or just "Lord Jesus"). Sometimes I turn this into a blessing mantra ("Lord Jesus, bless [name]"). I carry the mantra around with me throughout the day (pray without ceasing); sometimes it seems like the mantra "Lord Jesus" becomes like a koan, similar to "Mu". Sometimes I do vocal chanting, using the mantra taught by David Cooper based on the Hebrew name of God (each syllable chanted 5x):
          "Ya" - "Ha" - "Va" - "Ha"
          "Yo" - "Ho" - "Vo" - "Ho"
          "Yu" – "Hu" – "Vu" – "Hu"

I alternate this and the Jesus Prayer. I find the vocal chanting to be a particularly quick and effective way to focus on the presence of God.

B. Do you have regular times for it? Sitting meditation either in the morning (after exercise and shower) or in the evening after work. I’d like to do both, and sometimes miss both…

C. A special place? Not much room in my apartment – the bedroom. But I really like meditating in a quiet place outside, in the mountains near a river.

D. What are its effects on you? It focuses my mind, quiets down the chatter of the monkey mind; often a feeling of peace washes over me. Throughout the day I will be less prone to having my mind or emotions go off on a tangent without my noticing until I’ve been dragged away from here and now. I feel more connected, to myself, to others, to God… I find meditation is the central event in my life (practicing the presence of God), central even to the broader center of (communal) worship.

E. What happens if you skip it? I get unfocused, jumpier, more prone to negative thoughts and emotions. I become more depressed about the state of the world, how we are in bondage to sin…

2. What got you started in your life of prayer or meditation? I first learned TM when I was a teenager (around 1974). I’ve also practiced Vipassana meditation, and attended a Vipassana retreat in Barre, Massachusetts. I’ve been practicing Christian mantra meditation for about ten years, but I still feel like a beginner.

3. How has your prayer or meditation changed over time? I have focused on the Jesus Prayer for several years, and have used the vocal chanting mentioned above for about a year. My practice has been more sporadic than I would like. I haven’t noticed any "progress" in my practice, except for the positive effects mentioned in 1D, no unusual sights, experiences (e.g. Kundalini), nor do I expect such experiences. I think I’m becoming more and more aware that all we do is a form of prayer, a form of seeking God’s presence, but we, as sinners, often seek God in negative ways, away from his presence.

4. What expectations do you have for the future? What would you like to see happen? I would like to find myself part of a larger community of pray-ers and meditators, perhaps sit with a group. I think having a teacher would be most beneficial at this point. Most of all I want to become more and more aware of the presence of God, the actual here-and-now real experience of walking with my Lord Jesus Christ, the love and power of the Holy Spirit.

5. Do you belong to a particular religious tradition? Lutheran.

A. How has it helped your life of prayer or meditation? The emphasis on living out one’s baptism has been helpful.

B. How has it hindered? There hasn’t been much mention of meditation (even now!), and there is the past history, especially in Lutheranism, of looking negatively on mysticism.

C. How much have you looked outside your own tradition? I am very ecumenical theologically. I definitely regard the Church Fathers, St. John of the Cross, etc. to be a part of my "tradition", but also the current thought outside the Lutheran part of the church, i.e. Pope John Paul II’s writings, the Orthodox tradition, etc. I have also been involved with Vipassana meditation, and to a lesser extent, Zen. I have been reading about Jewish meditation recently, as well as Sufism.

D. What hopes and fears do other traditions inspire in you? It is a hopeful sign that meditation is a universal phenomenon. We may explain things differently, have different foundations and goals (and this diversity should not be dismissed, but celebrated), but we share, around the world, a seeking after God, a liberation from bondage to illusion, a centeredness in a higher "Self".

E. Have you ever switched your tradition and why? I was raised Presbyterian, but became Lutheran after moving to the South and finding the Presbyterian church in the south to be fundamentalist and even racist.

F. What are the good and bad points of your own tradition? See 5A and 5B.

6. What effectively taught you about the life of prayer or meditation?

A. Reading? This has been by far the greatest influence. The Bible, Cassian, John Main and Basil Pennington, David Cooper. I have read voraciously - but I need to practice more and perhaps read less.

B. Spiritual friends? Unfortunately my meditation journey has been alone. Having spiritual friends to share the journey with would be magnificent! (Although my wife is my best friend, she does not share the same interest in meditation).

C. Your own experience? My experience has taught me the necessity and beauty of regular meditation practice (but I have not been a very good student of that teacher!)

D. Going to your place of worship or meditation? I find a mutual re-enforcement of communal worship and individual meditation. The liturgy becomes more and more an aid to focus on the presence and work of God, which re-fuels my desire to pray and meditate.

E. A spiritual teacher or spiritual director? I wish I had one!

8. How does your life of prayer or meditation effect your emotions? I am more able to observe thoughts and emotions entering my mind, and can observe them before they hook me.

9. Have you ever had out of the ordinary experiences connected with your prayer or meditation?

A. Energy movements or inner lights or sounds?
I've sometimes had the experience of my "self" not being bounded by my body, but rather seeming to fill the room.

B. Visions or revelations or communications from beyond? No.

C. What importance did you give to these experiences? I haven't had out of the ordinary experiences like these; I think being held in the loving arms of my Heavenly Father is enough!!

10. What lifestyle issues affect your life of prayer or meditation?

A. Time or the lack of it? I have the time, but sometimes (often!) I'll skip meditation. I'm reminded of the Buddhist monk who was a prisoner in a Viet Cong prison camp. He had all the time in the world to meditate, but always found excuses not to. This is my biggest hindrance.

B. Single or married life; children? No, actually I've meditated more since being married.

C. Work? Meditation seems to help my functioning at work, and work is not a hindrance to meditation but perhaps has a beneficial effect, although sometimes I'd rather go out into the desert with St. Anthony or John Cassian - I'm reminded by Merton that living in Western Civilization today is desert enough.

D. Diet, sleep, sexual activities, etc.? Improvement in one fosters improvement in the others. Ken Fasano, E-mail


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1. What kind of prayer or meditation do you practice?

A. What do you do? A slow-motion hatha yoga practice is my primary practice, but I have been doing seated meditation comfortably for about two years. I always start out with a Hail Mary and Our Father, but then switch to Hindu empty-mind meditation or Buddhist "Lovingkindness" meditation depending on how busy my mind is.

B. Do you have regular times for it? I teach yoga one evening per week for one and one-half hours. I also tend to do an hour session by myself on the weekend. I also pray and meditate on a 45 minute two-way bus ride Monday through Friday, and do seated meditation for about 1/2 hour nightly before bed.

C. A special place? I have an altar in my living room and in my bedroom. I am also very comfortable on the bus.

D. What are its effects on you? I have received great blessings and grace.

E. What happens if you skip it? When I am lax with my yoga practice, my body gets stiff and achy. If I don’t pray and meditate, I drift into my incarnational wounds.

2. What got you started in your life of prayer and meditation? Baptized Catholic. Very little support in the home for religion and other things. Had a very strong childlike love for the Blessed Mother. Lost my faith at 13 when my prayers asking for my mother to be healed were not answered. Continued to say a Hail Mary , Our Father, and a prayer to St. Joseph asking for my family to die in spiritual grace for almost 25 years.

Became an over-educated secular humanist and active volunteer. Was completely outer focused and out-of-body. Basically had a psychotic break at work and entered 12 Step recovery in 1990 to address my major Adult Child and codependency issues. Was really uncomfortable with the Higher Power concept.

Called on the Blessed Mother to protect and heal me in 1991. Started Kripalu-style hatha yoga in late 1992, taking a once-per-week class. Really like yoga and did postures at home. Learned to meditate in motion approximately a year after beginning yoga .

Did not realize I had become spiritual until reading Feminine Face of God in 1994. Was unsure of my religious affiliation. Was attracted to Kripalu Yoga Ashram in Lennox, Mass. which still had their guru, Amerit Desai. Went to Kripalu’s earlier Pennsylvania site with my yoga class, and was guided in a meditation there by guru Shri Swami Kripalvananda (Amerit Desai’s guru), who taught that "Love is the Only Religion", that my higher power was Jesus Christ. I came back from his temple firmly Christian!

3. How has your prayer and meditation changed over time? It keeps changing. I believe I have just been given Mother Teresa’s Prayer of Quiet. (I attribute it to her as she wrote about it first in her Autobiography of 1558-1561, although St. John of the Cross [her confessor and contemplative heir] wrote the beautiful poetry which memorializes the experience.)

4. What are your expectations for the future? I seek union with God and to serve him on this planet.

5. Do you belong to a particular religious tradition? I am a "recovering Catholic." I attend Healing Masses almost exclusively. My tradition is guilt and shame based and has most practitioners disown their own power and the God within.

6. What effectively taught you about the life of prayer or meditation?

A. Reading? Yes, very much so. Especially: 12 Steps for Self-Parenting, Mother Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography, St. Therese of Lisieux’s Autobiography, Feminine Face of God, Patanjali’s Yoga Aphorisms, Anthony DeMello’s, One Minute; Wherever You Go, There You Are, and Nothing Short of a Miracle by Patricia Treece.

B. Spiritual Friends? Yes, very much so.

C. Your Own Experience? God has truly blessed me. (Someone said God gives you spiritual gifts to "hook" you. I’m hooked!)

D. Going to your place of worship or meditation. Healing Masses are wonderful. I do not attend obligatory Sunday services.

E. How has your spiritual teacher helped or hindered you? I do not have a formal relationship with an embodied spiritual teacher, except for Mother Meera who is Divine Mother/Blessed Mother to me, and to whom I pray.

8. How does your life of prayer or meditation effect your emotions? I feel great. In my Lovingkindness practice, I ask to be free of fear, depression, anger and resentment, and to live in abundance, peace and joy. It’s slow, but it works!

9. Have you ever had out of the ordinary experiences connected with your prayer or meditation?

A. Energy movements or inner lights and sounds? I have bodily kinesthetic experiences. If I’m in a group, in the Spirit, I can get fuschia or violet third-eye color.

B. Visions or revelations or communications from beyond? I see nothing! I pretty consistently receive guidance from books.

C. What importance did you give to these experiences? I was given a healing charism which allowed me to remove pain for a short time from chronic ailments. I did pursue various training based on that charism. Now I believe I have what I’m supposed to have and don’t worry about manifestations. I do, though, ask for it all and believe I can have it all!

10. What lifestyle issues effect your life of prayer or meditation?

A. Time or lack of it? I am now trying to stay in a connected, meditative state at work while alertly doing cost-accounting in a focused manner!

B. Single or married life; children? I am single with no partner and no children. (My married sister with kids can’t understand why I go on retreats, since my apartment is a retreat!)

C. Work? I am blissfully in a dead-end job which I am very good at, rather than in a demanding professional position requiring all my energy. Therefore, I am able to focus on my spiritual work on me.

D. Diet, sleep, sexual activities, etc.? I keep ignoring clear guidance about my diet. I feel better when I stick to a light vegetarian dinner, but I still feel compelled to eat a "balanced" American dinner which does not digest. Someone said positive habits can be developed in 30 days of practice. Hasn’t been my experience. Sleep: I really need my rest and am sleeping 8 hours a night.


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1. I practice Christian Contemplation for one hour every morning and a shorter time every evening when possible. In the a.m. I always use my office in my own home, but it's only for convenience. So long as its private and comfortable, place for me doesn’t really matter much. My contemplation is without any mantras or thought, but is Christ centred. It fills my whole being with the presence of God, a loving awareness which often intensifies as one goes deeper. I just feel so full of the love of God that I often find myself telling Him " I love you God". Afterwards also I have a wonderful feeling of being full of the presence of God which lasts throughout the day. If I skip morning meditation it really makes not too much difference.

2. I had a mid-life crisis about 12 years ago, and turned to meditation to try and sort myself out .

3. After about 6 to 8 months I found sometimes I arrived after about 30 mins. of meditation to a stillness which was wonderful. I thought it a good time to pray, and used to say the Jesus prayer a few times. After that I began to have religious experiences, usually at time of prayer, perhaps at Mass. This intensified gradually and through major dreams, visions and inner voices when I was asleep, I found that I was being led into a closer relationship with God. This was most important when I look back because I had great conflict at home from my wife at the change in me, i.e., spiritual reorientation, etc. This has deepened gradually over the last 10 years, and in the process all my Chakras or centres have been opened up.

4. I for the future just am so happy to see and feel a deepening relationship with Jesus. It gives me a feeling of oneness with the whole world.

5. I am a Catholic and a member of the local Secular order of Carmelites. This religious tradition is everything to me, as it was Jesus who led me and thank God still does on this Journey. It is a Journey of LOVE. I found the writings of the Carmelite Mystics, particularly St. John of the Cross, most reassuring and helpful. I feel that the Catholic faith does NOT encourage in Ireland young people to practice Christian meditation. With other traditions and meditation I have heard of other people not of the Eastern cultures through meditation, awakening this Kundalini and having much suffering. I feel one should in these matters stick to one's own culture.

6. I was really taught by being led by the love of Christ always going deeper in his holy Love. I found a spiritual director very useful at the outset. I like to meditate in the Church sometimes, but am happy enough anywhere where there is "no interruption".

7. My spiritual director, a Carmelite contemplative monk, was just great and most reassuring. I know, though, the wrong one could do great harm.

8. It has made me more contented and less worldly.

9. Yes, indeed. All my centres were gradually awakened. At the very outset I was told I was going on a Journey to the Center of the World, and was being looked after. Also once only I had a vision of Christ's passion. I had very many major religious dreams where I was told sometimes prophecies or things relating to my inner journey. I also every night have Light or Glow around the upper part of my body or head when anything spiritual is in my thoughts or if contemplating my abdominal breathing takes over which I can't really explain in a letter. Also I am sensitive to my Body energy or Kundalini force. All the time I can hear a very faint hum or buzzing sound. All of these experiences I have found most positive and never frightening. At the early stages I found "shadow dreams" scary, that's all. I think one has to be able to use discernment with these experiences, and when I look back in time I can see them in sequence, and then it all fits like a jigsaw.

10. Time for meditation/contemplation is most important, also being in good health, also consideration for one's spouse. As far as sex goes, I found the sexual energy is largely converted into spiritual energy, but that was gradual after about halfway through the awakening process.

I hope this is of help to someone.

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