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This is a Chapter talk by Kathy DeVico, Abbess of Trappist Redwoods Monastery

2020.

True Self-False Self

I have been reading Bonnie Thurston’s book, Shaped ‘By the End You Live For’. She quotes material from Thomas Merton that I have not read before and you will hear more of these pithy texts in a moment.

I like to return to the ‘false self – true self’ dynamic that was important to Merton’s journey and to his understanding of monastic, contemplative life. Recalling our brief discussion several weeks ago I chose not to use the word ‘dichotomy’ in terms of the false self-true self relationship, so as not to give the sense that there is a split between these two realities. (However, one nuance of the word ‘dichotomy’ is contrast). Indeed, both are part of who we are. Through the false self we are immersed in illusion, in half-truths or untruths about ourselves and others. We don’t see as God sees or feel with the same heart as Christ. The false or illusory self sees the ‘mote’ or ‘sliver’ in one’s sister or brother’s eye but is blind to its own ‘beams’. It seems so much easier to criticize our neighbor than to put the gaze first upon our own heart.

Last week I noted that Merton said ‘prayer itself is obedience’, a profound insight and one that essentially means that contemplative prayer is surrender…surrender to the silence…surrender into an empty space, where we wait and listen with the ‘ear of the heart’ for God’s word of life. This same word ‘surrender’ is important also in the process of finding our true self.

Prayer And Identity Go Together

Let me throw out another traditional image to help us get a sense of ‘false and true’: ‘purity of heart’. This is our immediate goal on the journey and this immediate goal, ‘purity of heart’, always leans into the final goal, the fullness of God’s life and truth. Can we not sense when our heart’s intention is true? Another essential saying of Jesus that elucidates the process of finding our true self is the great paradox: ‘whoever loses his life, or whoever dies to his self, will find life or will find her true self’ (Mk 8:35).

To continue on this theme, here is another potent saying of Thomas Merton, which again he said or wrote about towards the end of his life: “Prayer and identity go together” (p.113). Have you ever made this connection: that our prayer helps to form and shape our identity, our authentic self?

We have heard the saying: how you pray reveals something of who you are. Our demeanor or inner attitude in prayer is mirrored in our active life. Prayer and how we live are to be one. This is essential for monastic life. We have the story in Luke’s gospel of the two men who go up to the temple to pray: one a Pharisee and the other a Publican (Lk 18:9-14). One prays for God’s mercy upon him a sinner, the other thanks God as he recounts all his good deeds and notes that he is not like this sinner here by his side. In this story Jesus gives two attitudes: one is humble and turns to God, the other is filled with himself.

So how do I pray? What is my interior attitude when I pray? Am I able to go deeper than all those murmurings? Prayer is an encounter with the One who said: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6). Within the silence of contemplative prayer, if we take a distance from our many thoughts and words that emerge in the encounter, we will meet the One whom we are seeking and we, as well, will meet ourselves in the truth of the God whom we encounter.

Resolving Our Identity Crisis

This Merton saying follows or builds on the previous text: “For us religious and contemplatives there is no identity crisis because our identity is found in our response to Christ” (p.114). The key here is ‘our response to Christ’. In other words, the more Christ-like we are in our actions, our truer self will be present. Our relationship with Christ faces us with those parts of ourselves that one could say are ‘false’ or inauthentic, aspects that keep us in the center and not God. Does it not seem ‘easier’ to listen to my many words and thoughts than surrender them and wait for the Divine word or the Divine touch of love and mercy? If we give ourselves to the One who we are following, the Way, the One who reveals Truth and compassionately shows us our ‘truth’, we will find Life, God’s life and our own true life.

Merton continues on the theme of ‘prayer and identity’: “The ground of identity is the sense of having been chosen by Christ” (p.114). This statement of Merton’s does not mean only a few are chosen. Every person is ‘chosen’, every person is called by God. This sense or experience of being ‘called’ becomes the ground of our identity. It becomes the foundation of our choice making in small and large ways. It puts us in relationship with God and sets up an on-going encounter with the Divine life, that becomes the source of our growth, our becoming more Christ-like in word and deed.

Fully Myself

And one more final text from Merton: “The real meaning of our life is to develop people who really love God and who radiate love…For that they have to be fully unified and fully themselves” (p.114). To be ‘fully unified, fully ourselves’…this is the journey we are all on: to become more unified and more ourselves, within and without,…The good news is that prayer is one essential practice that will bless each of us a little more each day with the gift of ourselves, our true selves, if we are present in the same ‘Kenosis’ as Jesus was in his prayer and in his life. Surrender, self-emptying purifies the heart and mind and gifts one with the Divine life, Christ’s life and truth. While self-knowledge is an important monastic value, it seems to me that it needs to be accompanied with prayer. The grace of prayer is that grace gets each bit of self-knowledge to stick, to root in our hearts and in our consciousness. In prayer, we meet a God that has ‘loved us first’ and continues to love us, continues to love our whole selves, our imperfect selves with both their weaknesses and strengths. No wonder that Merton says: “Prayer and identity go together.”

Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess

Bishop Roy Campbell, Jr., president of the National Black Catholic Congress, joins Matt Malone, Society of Jesus., for a special episode of ‘Of Many Things.’ They discuss racial justice and the church. https://bit.ly/30yU87Y 

 

This May, you can enjoy five days of holiday and spiritual retreat with Dr Micha Jazz from Be Still and Know on Premier Christian Radio.

As well as morning and evening gatherings for reflection and prayer, we shall both be available throughout the day offerng personal spiritual direction and spiritual coaching. We are also happy to host informal conversations on the challenges of prayer during the afternoon. In other words this is a retreat in which everyne can choose the rhythm that best suits their preference.

See details: https://www.springharvestholidays.com/feature-weeks/retreat/

Le Pas Opton offers four-star holiday facilities and quality accommodation in a Christian environment. The Be Still and Know retreat holiday offers the opportunity chance to explore your faith with the support of an experienced Retreat Guide.

Prayer, discussion, meditation plus time to relax in the holiday environment – a perfect combination for spirit, soul and body!

Here in the Oratory our grasp on prayer is improving through practice and reflection and we’re thrilled to see God at work. Prayer is always our response to God as well as our search for enriching God encounter. Join us as together we we seek God’s presence.

https://www.springharvestholidays.com/feature-weeks/retreat/ 

Micha & Jayne

It has been quite some time since I blogged. The reason being that Jayne and I have been praying about the direction both for our own ministry and that of the Oratory.

We have been clearly guided by God to focus upon our responsibility to live out the ministry of prayer and contemplation. We believe that God has underlined the importance of our call to oversee this home of prayer. It is our home and interwoven with all the regular realities of life is this call to contemplation and prayer.

Jayne continues currently to work three days a week in her responsibilities serving adults with learning disabilities. Micha continues his pursuit of the contemplative life and works with those seeking spiritual direction and spiritual coaching. many of these individuals find themselves at a cross roads in their lives and once more want to discern all God has for them.

It has also become clear that God is inviting us to discover more about our calling to live by the faithfulness of God. This will prove a challenge, yet we believe that given the times within which we live, there is a danger that confidence in God’s provision, God’s faithfulness is waning. There is a need to recover a rhythm of prayer and rediscover a God who both hears and answers our prayers.

Consequently, much of our work is moving towards encouraging prayer and intercession. This is not simply laying down the challenge scripture presents. It is organising very practical retreats and workshops in how to pray and encounter God. The vision is to see a people of prayer rise up throughout the UK to see their intercessions answered in everyday life.

Our next newsletter will carry more details of this and how individuals might themselves join with us in this call to prayer.

If you have thoughts or want to make contact please email stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com. God is stirring our hearts, and we are excited at what lies ahead. We know the challenges will prove great and the ground will be contested. yet, we have determined to journey onto the net stage of our journey in search of God’s heart.

Pray for us and this vision, small as a mustard seed yet ready to flourish and see Gods Kingdom break in to our time space world.

Be encouraged and God bless.

 

As many know, I broadcast a daily devotion, Be Still & Know, Mondaty through Friday for Premier Radio. I recognise many of us find it a challenge to find a few minutes for God everyday, and this is designed to help us navigate into that Godspace regularly. I’ve included a recent devotion below as a sampler. These devotions are available in print form direct to your front door, or on your favourite mobile device. They are also now available on the app. Podbean as well.

“Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.”  Psalm 25:7

I vividly remember my rebellious teenage years. I tried to break every convention because I could. I know I caused my parents grief, yet I was proud of my unconventional and disrespectful behaviour. My meeting with God at 19 radically changed the direction of my life.

When I have flashbacks to specific incidents from my past, attitudes towards others, actions that make me cringe and feel deep sadness, it’s difficult to accept that such feelings reflect my current response while God has forgiven me and moved on (Hebrews 8:12). At the very heart of forgiveness is completeness; that is, my debts, my wrongs are cancelled completely.

Often the greatest impediment to my spiritual formation, and hence growth, is me.

I’ve just changed my car after 167,000 miles and 14 years of faithful service. I originally bought it on a loan deal. Once paid, I did not give that debt a second thought. When scrapped, the car bore all the signs of road weariness with many a scrape and dent, something my daughter calls “urban chic”. That’s a phrase I can live with. So it is with my life. It carries the evidence of my past and has its own form of “urban chic”. No matter how I dress things up, my life is completely dependent upon God and his unfailing love. Without it, I would implode.

Forgiving myself and letting God have my past misdemeanours, as well as those misdemeanours done to me, is a challenge for each one of us. Yet as long as we hold onto them, revisit them and seek to repent all over again for them, we fail to appreciate and enjoy God’s unfailing love.

QUESTION

Are there events and memories that you are continuing to hold on to long after they have been forgiven?

PRAYER

Lord, what grace that you look on me through the eyes of unfailing love because of Jesus.

Out with friends the other evening, I was reminded of the power of small things. We sat in the pub garden enjoying the summer weather and the ending of another working week. As we talked and laughed together we consumed alcohol in a moderate fashion. I was thirsty having walked to the pub up a long hill in bright sunshine.

Over the long evening I consumed a total of three Peroni lagers, the summer enticing me away from my preferred real ales. I thought little of the liquids I was consuming only later to discover that they added two pounds to my weight. Now why on earth was I measuring their weight effect? Simply because as Jayne has a chronic health condition, we have radically reworked our groceries to establish a diet that supports her. Certain foods, dairy, sugar, wheat, all processed foods and so forth have been removed. We eat well off a limited range of foods.

One delightful consequence is the loss of weight that has accompanied this. It is an unintended consequence of our pursuit of health and well-being. Consequently I have joined Jayne in a weigh in, which is a lot of fun when the fat is falling away. Alcohol, which Jayne has had to give up completely because of its high sugar content, ‘sugared water’ as our GP describes it, is no longer a part of our at home routine. Yet, I still have a beer when out as I did that Friday. But when I can actually see the impact alcohol has upon weight, it is evident that it offers little apart from a mild relaxant.

I am now in a quandary; to drink or not to drink? I haven’t finalised that decision, although I’m not sure where my inner indecisiveness arises from. However, I have discovered the power of small things to have a significant impact upon us. A principle that can so easily be applied to many other arenas of our lives to good effect. The power to change I imagine will be a lot more difficult to implement yet will offer great, tangible benefits.

It has been fun to see a young England football squad bring an often cynical nation together and offer a moment of hope. Whilst eventually their inexperience and tiredness was cruelly exposed by an effective and clinical Croatian team, their heads need only drop for a moment. After all this is the greatest football success since 1990, some twenty eight years ago.

I recently attended a gathering of individuals interested in encouraging those moving into the second half of their life to lift their heads a go again. Called ‘Half Time‘, it seeks to mobilise individuals and couples to consider how to finish life well. It offers practical support in managing a personal change of focus, a shift of gears, to devote time and energy to explore how to move from personal interest to Kingdom interest.

As many will know I have worked for a number of years as a life coach supporting people to close the gap between what might be called their everyday life and their spiritual opportunity. It is now inappropriate to think of life as a threefold drama; education, career and retirement. We have a life expectancy of eighty plus years. Our children can expect even longer, for life expectancy increases by two years every decade.

I trust it will be my privilege to offer practical encouragement and support to this initiative because if we are to run the race of our lives effectively we must make a personal and deliberate investment of time and resources to ensure we order our lives and work out God’s calling effectively.

God never finishes with us; we all too often finish with God far too early.

England will return home after one final play off and begin their preparations for a new competition. They will do so with a new found confidence that they can succeed, enjoy widespread national support and with what I imagine will be a renewed appetite to become the most significant English soccer team since 1966. Do you still have an appetite to go again in search of your Kingdom significance? If you do write and tell me about it.

England’s soccer captain Bobby Moore, carried shoulder high by his team mates holds aloft the FIFA World Cup in this July 30 1966 file photo. England defeated Germany 4-2 in the final of the 1966 tournament played at London’s Wembley Stadium. (AP Photo)

As we consider a world in which the post WWII consensus is collapsing through age and inability to engage with the fruit of globalisation, we will do well to consider how nature abhors a vacuum.

Many in the church, especially Protestatnt Reformed and Roman Catholic, have a tendency to lean in the direction of conservatism, yearning for the stability of the past ahead of embracing the challenge transition offers with its many uncertainties.

If ever there was a destabilisation of the political, social and economic order it was through the incarnation of Jesus and the words he spoke. Often summarised as speaking truth to power, we sadly shrink away from the most obvious consequences of living and speaking in such a way. For Jesus it meant his destruction by the establishment and so the price tag has been set.

Maybe, the failure even of the Confessing Church in Germany to live by the woirds of Jesus in the turbulent years following the election of Hitler, often concerned more with internal conflict and disagreement than the main game played out across the world at the cost of thousands of innocent victims. Read, reflect as I am myself and consider how it is you live, in your innermost thoughts as much as by your public declarations.

“The role of the Christian churches in Germany from 1933 to 1945 raises many troubling questions about the perceived lack of action on moral issues. Many people wonder if Nazi atrocities might have been reduced or prevented if the Churches had done more to protest what was going on. This essay will look at the role of the Confessing Church during the Nazi regime to see what role it played. By studying the events of this time period that involved the Confessing Church, it can be shown that the Confessing Church did resist the Nazi government efforts to subvert it and, by preserving the truth of Christianity, prevented the total apostasy of the German Evangelical Church….”.

Farewell to Shadowlands

(This essay was written for History 285.6, University of Saskatchewan, 8 April 1999)

The role of the Christian churches in Germany from 1933 to 1945 raises many troubling questions about the perceived lack of action on moral issues.  Many people wonder if Nazi atrocities might have been reduced or prevented if the Churches had done more to protest what was going on.  This essay will look at the role of the Confessing Church during the Nazi regime to see what role it played.  By studying the events of this time period that involved the Confessing Church, it can be shown that the Confessing Church did resist the Nazi government efforts to subvert it and, by preserving the truth of Christianity, prevented the total apostasy of the German Evangelical Church.

The history of the structure of the German Christian churches goes back to the sixteenth century.  After the Peace of Westphalia…

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cloud_unknowingWe had a wonderful retreat day  in pursuit of the Cloud of unknowing.

A journey of exploring those attachments that might unnecessarily tether us and leave us earthbound even as our Spirit within yearns to discover and explore more of the life of God. Attachments that are both positive, yet run  the danger of obscuring God, and also negative in that they deceive us and delay our movement deeper into God’s heart of grace and full acceptance.

We faced the questions that for so long had remained unexpressed, carried as a burden weighing us down, invisible to all but ourself and God. And then took time in silence to consider such attachments and found creative ways to respond to the degree we felt able to on the day, whilst carrying the insights away to continue our meditation in the days to come.

We each sensed a sobering sense of God’s immanence and, whilst we dared to face ourselves in the questions God presented, we equally experienced an increased sense of God’s acceptance and peace in that God accepted us questions and all.

As ever such a privilege to journey with others as we waited and watched before learning to walk with less of a limp.

Keep in touch, we are a community that offers hope and sustenance to one another in the Way.

St Cuthbert’s is first and foremost a prayer house. We pray the rhythm of morning and evening prayer. We meditate with Lectio Divina. We contemplate with breath prayer and centring prayer. Indeed we also train people in the ways of prayer, meditation and contemplation. This latter through day retreats, longer journey’s of personal reflection and teaching points.

We receive many requests for prayer by email, letter and over the phone. Our pledge to hold someone in prayer for five consecutive days after which we pray as and when they come to mind. Today Premier phoned as a reader of Voice of Hope wanted to chat about a situation. I phoned back and spoke with Pauline, whose daughter, Sarah, has an MRI scan on Wednesday this week as the neurologists think she has Multiple Sclerosis. Pauline wanted to chat because of my own journey accompanying Katey through her battle with MS.

What comfort might I bring? It is a frightening consideration, and as with Katey whose mother also had MS, but of the remitting/relapsing type and lived a long life, so Pauline’s mother had also had MS. Whilst I don’t think it is officially listed as genetic, it does appear to run in families.Pray-Together

Listening to Pauline, her fears, her pain, her despair all stirred again within me. I empathised with her situation, more difficult as she suffered from fibromyalgia, constant pain throughout the body as well as severe fatigue. I sought to encourage and support her, whilst affirming as good her very human reactions. God knows us as God made us. We can never disappoint God – he knows us through and through. I also explained the journey ahead remains as yet unknown, so it is best not to imagine the future, especially ahead of any final diagnosis. We are to travel by faith, even as the very reality of our pain and despair ground us and suck all hope from our heart.

This is a journey we must make as community. Sadly too few churches it appears are capable of walking at the pace of their slowest, so keen are they to run ahead toward imagined future possibilities. God invites us to live well with what we have together, not to constantly be scanning the horizon for what lies ahead. Pauline, like so many in her situation, has a shrinking fellowship circle, unable to make church meetings that often and therefore increasingly isolated.

So in a spare moment pause and pray for Pauline and Sarah, together with Sarah’s husband Jeff. Also consider how many of the wounded are in your fellowship circle or have you, as I so often have, left them in your wake as you pursue God in the future at the expense of the Christ in your present?

candles

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