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Q: On a recent Contemplative Outreach silent retreat I had my first encounter with the theme of contrition. I felt a little tickled because I knew that I was being much harder on myself than the Lord, who didn't seem as concerned as I.
I have never said confessions because I'm a Protestant, and yet, I felt led to talk to one of the priests about my guilt and shame over a behavior pattern I have that alienates and harms others and myself. Still, I left the retreat feeling unclear about what to do to release the shame I feel. I also left clear that this behavior, like a hairstyle that's gone way out of style, just isn't me or my essential being. Bottom line: I want this behavior to stop, to no longer take hold of me in moments of egoistic insanity. Could you kindly comment on this? I'd like to ask for a "fix", but I don't think that's how this works.
A: There is short range answer and a long range answer or 'fix'. The short range answer is asking the Spirit to help you break through the hold that this psychological level has on you. One of the fruits of Centering Prayer is that it moves us beyond the surface and psychological level of our awareness to the spiritual level of awareness; in short, seeing with the eyes and mind of Christ. At one psychological level, your mind is saying “How could I have done this?! Will I ever learn … ?” Along with this thinking always comes a generous dose of guilt and shame. Now, if we look at this state of consciousness from the mind of God, God is saying instead, “Now I have her full attention! She is beginning to realize she cannot do everything herself. Try My Mind for a while and see what happens … Trust Me! I forgave you 2000 years ago; reap the harvest of My love and forgiveness. I see you are sorry; come to Me and free yourself of your critical mind … and take Mine. After all, did not My good friend and disciple Paul tell you to 'put on the mind of Christ'?”
The long range answer is to take on the practice of the Welcoming Prayer. (See the website on Welcoming Prayer for more information if you are not familiar with it.) This practice, known as “consent on the go” will help you work with this issue, as well as many others, as you go about your daily life.
In the meantime, thank God for the grace of seeing more clearly. It is called the gift of wisdom.
– Fr. Carl