In preparing for this contemplative sermon this morning, two of the readings drew my attention – the words of Psalm 25 and the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Phillippians. This morning we sang Psalm 25 as the hymn Lord, I Gladly Trust. In this sermon, I would like to start with a few of the words from
Psalm 25 My God, I put my trust in you Show me your ways, O Lord And teach me your paths Lead me in your truth, and teach me He guides the humble in doing right And teaches his way to the lowly. Psalm 25 is a prayer for turning towards God in trust and opening to the truth that God has for us. These are the words of one who is searching and seeking. It is that stance of openness and yearning that is the contemplative path including all types of contemplative prayer, centering prayer and Christian meditation. “Teach me your paths” the psalmist says. When we pray with open hearts in contemplative silence, aware of our breath, in the Presence of God, with the Holy Spirit at work, we come to know the ways of God and the truth for us in a deeper way. “Lead me in your truth, and teach me.”
On the contemplative path when we intentionally make time to just be with God, there are insights about ourselves, our lives, and truths are revealed. There is a growing awareness that our ways of being, and our motives may not be as clear as we think they are. “He guides the humble in doing right.” These moments of awareness and guidance may come in the traumatic times in our lives, or so very quietly. Boris Pasternak was a Russian poet and the author of the much loved Dr. Zhivago. He wrote these words which speak to me: “When a moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.” As we take the time to be in quiet contemplation, we become more aware, more observant and open to what is going on in our life in the present moment. And we will come to know and see the Spirit at work in us and in those we meet.
Let me tell you a bit of my story. Back in 2004, I was asked to join Sounds of Silence, our Monday night contemplative prayer group. I really didn’t know how I would fit this commitment into my life. I had a successful career job that took me all over the province and meetings were my life. I had young teenagers involved in sports. But work was not going well, as I had a new boss. There was friction and I was stressed. I was on a treadmill for sure. My Blackberry at the time was my life and I was full up to the brim, having precious little time for my family. Well, there were whisperings that I was ignoring and then the knock came on the door. My job became redundant and I was out of work. I was totally devastated. For the next fourteen months, I looked for another job. It was a huge lesson in humility. No one wanted to hire me, not even for a junior part-time job. Fourteen months. At the time, one of my mentors said that one day I would thank that difficult boss as she was there for a reason. And you know what, I do now thank her for changing my life because I was given the gift of time and a blank sheet. It was a time of the unknown and learning what “let go, and let God” means. The universe was not in my hands and I couldn’t change it, push it or organize it. I had to surrender.
The real gift was that I joined our contemplative prayer group Sounds of Silence two weeks before I received my redundancy notice - truly the hand of God at work - and this contemplative path became my beacon. And it has been for 13 years. It is a home with a circle of soul sisters where I grow and learn in the Spirit as a contemplative disciple. And the journey continues. As the psalmist says, “Show me your ways, O Lord, And teach me your paths.”
The great teacher St. Paul in his Letter to the Phillippians has a lot to say about the path we follow on the Christian contemplative journey. He says, Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests but the interests of others. St. Paul is describing Jesus’ unitive and humble view of the world. Richard Rohr, a wonderful Franciscan writer, speaks a lot about this in his book Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer. The way of Jesus is inclusive and yet our North American culture promotes the dualistic mind of the egoic self that needs to get ahead to have more. We see it in the news every day. Dualism is rife with judgement, fear, separation, anger, power over, criticism and prejudice.
St. Paul’s words “being in full accord and of one mind” resonates with the indigenous word Namwayut that is used for the work of reconcilation in Canada. It means “We are all one.” Chief Robert Joseph, or Bobby Joe as he is fondly called in BC, is the Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada. He provides the same wisdom as St. Paul when he says, "I am driven by the word Namwayut...'We are one with others'. We are one humanity! One world! We are a part of Creation and are called to honor our interconnectedness that calls for peace, balance and harmony. To do this is to love 4 everybody and everything. Live Reconciliation day by day."
St. Paul goes on to say in his letter to the Phillippians: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. And he goes on to describe Jesus this way: he emptied himself (kenosein in Greek means to let go), he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Cynthia Bourgeault, an American contemplative, says this in her recent book The Heart of Centering Prayer “...the recipe for spiritual transformation is basically the same all over: surrender, attention, compassion. One way or another you will pass through the eye of the needle no matter what path you are on.
The theological basis for Centering Prayer lies in the principle of kenosis, Jesus’ self-emptying love that forms the core of his own self understanding and life practice.” In contemplative prayer, we are invited into this journey of letting go, of surrender, release and emptying, of softening, yielding, and accepting, of not clinging. When we are so filled up with the internal clutter of our self-image, judgments, resentments and expectations, we have no room to receive or allow the love of God to flow. Cynthia calls the contemplative work “inner aerobics” and in time, we will begin to have the mind of Christ within us, seeing more clearly with the eyes of Christ and feeling through his heart to respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love.
Is it time for you to engage in some “inner aerobics”? Maybe you already have. If not, I invite you to have a regular contemplative or meditative practice. Begin with a few minutes of silence each day, letting go and emptying your mind to rest in the present moment with God. Perhaps you may want to join Patrick on Wednesdays at 1 pm for Midday Meditation. It is a wonderful way to enrich your prayer life. For those who are experienced 5 contemplatives, please speak with Madeline Cooper about the Friday morning group. St. Paul concludes today’s reading with “it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Let us close as I lead you in a prayer of Letting Go (adapted from The Guided Life)
I invite you put your feet flat on the floor, your hands open in your lap and close your eyes. Dear God, In this moment, I let go of all thoughts and concerns as I focus on my breath. Letting go in this moment, I receive your loving presence around me and within me. Help me to let go when I am feeling overwhelmed, so that I may receive your peace. Help me to let go when I feel fear so that in fear’s place I may receive love and courage. Help me to let go of problems and challenges in order to receive your guidance and clarity. I let go and trust you. I will not fall. You will catch me. I let go and trust in the still, small voice inside of me. Help me not to struggle but to surrender my struggle to you. I gladly receive this gift of letting go and letting you lead me and guide me. Amen
By Alison Brookfield