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Set Free from the Pit, by Centering Prayer and the Truth
I was overwhelmed by constant, intense, thoughts and feelings of fear. At the time, I believed that if I was just ‘right with God’, or, became a ‘better Christian’, these worrisome and fearful thoughts would certainly disappear. So, I tried harder. I purchased more spiritual books, attended more worship services, and prayed more frequently. I was living a devout/religious life. But, the fearful/condemning thoughts, along with their corresponding bodily feelings, just further intensified. My mind was racing at light speed and my body felt like it was in a constant state of electrocution. Where was God? Why did He abandon me? The cries and laments of the Psalmist really hit home.
Major anxiety set in, and soon thereafter, depression as well. Serious and life-threatening physical illnesses developed. I began thinking that if something didn’t happen soon, death would inevitably result. I was so deep in ‘the pit’, I could no longer see any light whatsoever. I then happened to come across some writings of St. John of the Cross while surfing the internet. Reading chapter ten of Dark Night of the Soul, was a definite life changing moment for me. It felt as if St. John of the Cross had written chapter 10 just for me. I learned that God was drawing my soul from the life of sense, into the life of the spirit – that is, from meditation to contemplation.
Then soon thereafter, and somewhat miraculously as well, I came across a large box of old cassettes that I had accumulated over the years. They were given to me by my deceased Father Walter, who was in charge of Fr. Richard Rohr’s cassette tape ministry while living in Cincinnati during the1980’s. One tape series especially peaked my interest. It was titled: “Christian Contemplative Prayer” by Rev. William Meninger. Rev. Meninger talked about how when we grow spiritually, we move more and more from a discursive prayer life (our doing), to a more contemplative prayer life (God’s doing), similar to the writings of St. John of the Cross and other saints. In Rev. Meninger’s ‘centering prayer’ method, he talked about how people ought to spend 20 minutes, twice a day, in silence, stillness, and solitude; To be still and know that God was God.
This was a very hard teaching for me to accept, for I had always felt that I needed to be in control and ‘to do’. At first, I was only able to ‘be still’ in mind and body for a few minutes. And then, with patient perseverance, not worrying about how I was doing and just being faithful to the practice, God’s initiated healing energies began to flow. It was a slow process, but, I started coming out of the dark night and into the light. Or, redeemed from the pit, as the psalmist wrote. I’m very thankful to God for: leading me to the writings of St. John of the Cross, for my deceased father for making copies of those cassette tape talks by Rev. Meninger, leading me to the ministry of Contemplative Outreach.
My sacred word? Union . . . consciously and willingly consenting to God’s presence and action in my life, and offering my blind awareness of my naked being to Him. This led to an increased sense of union, unity, and oneness with God. Yet, I still needed help as to how I ought to best handle the flesh/false self-initiated fearful thoughts/feelings that entered my conscious awareness. So, once again, I turned to sacred scripture for help. I was led to 2 Corinthians 10:5, where the Apostle Paul said how we are to ‘hold our thoughts captive unto the obedience of Christ’. I was to stop and take a moment (live in conscious awareness) and gently discern, and gently confront if necessary, thoughts/feelings to see if they were consistent with scripture (the truth) or not. During my struggle, I hadn’t been doing this, for I was too pre-occupied with becoming holier, more spiritual, and more religious, thinking that if I was, they would just naturally disappear. Therefore, the un-confronted fearful thoughts and feelings had free reign and became strongholds. Paul’s words were a major revelation to me. They taught me that if I held a thought/feeling captive, and discovered it to be a fearful one, it was initiated not my spirit/real/true identity, which is hidden in Christ, but by my being’s flesh/false self nature. It also meant that in many cases, I am not what my being often initially thinks/feels. This was an amazing revelation to me and brought instantaneous healing, joy, and hope.
This was the beginning of my being transformed by the renewal of my mind. At first, my flesh, screamed back at me, as once described by Joyce Meyer. Being the perfectionist that I was, in the beginning I became a bit exhausted holding my thoughts captive. This is where learning about, and the practice of contemplative/centering prayer, was a life-saver to me. For not only did it reveal/assure God’s indwelling presence and action within me, it slowed down the constant stream and onslaught of negative thoughts. If I happened to find myself faced with an extremely intense, persistent, flesh/false self induced fear, my true/conscious/spiritual self simply and gently would acknowledge its normal reality, and tell our indwelling and owner (1 Corinthians 6:19) God, who knows our thoughts and feelings: “Lord, you take it. My times are in your hands”. This is similar to the definition of peace, as described by spiritual writer and author William Barclay: “Peace is that tranquility of the heart, which is derived from the conscious awareness (not necessarily a thought or feeling), that our times our in God’s hands.
There are six powerful scripture truths that I learned during this time: 1) nothing can ever separate me from God’s love (I’m justified by faith), 2) never will God leave or forsake me (God is omnipresent), 3) I’m never condemned by God (God’s mercy is infinite), 4) the God dwelling within me, is greater that he that is in the world (God is omnipotent) 5) God owns me and is causing all things to work together for my good (God is omniscient), and 6) Restoration WILL happen (God heals). My being’s flesh/false self/nature will still think, feel, or act out in my being at times(sin). But, I take courage in knowing that even the apostle Paul did things that he didn’t want to do. But since he did not want to do them, it wasn’t he that did them, it was his being’s flesh/false self(sin) that lived in him. While he was forever not-guilty or condemned, he cautioned his readers not to use this new found freedom as a free ticket to satisfy the desires of the flesh/false self, but, to serve one another in love. I remind myself each day that: “the God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory in Christ, after we’ve have suffered a little while, WILL himself restore us and make us strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:9-11)