Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Mysticism

by Chris Mcals


The Presence of the Father


"God, you are my God; I love you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you." Psalm 63



The opening words of Psalm 63 are the cry of a soul who is consumed with longings for God, and they are the foundation of everything that you will read in these posts. The Psalms are a wonderful example of how the authors, especially King David, expressed their longings for God, as well as their cries for help whenever they faced a difficult situation.


Like the Psalmists of old, my purpose in this blog is to bear witness to the extraordinary ways in which God revealed His Love to me during a particular period of my life that spanned over several years. Although the Lord Jesus was definitely very much a part of my mystical experiences, it was God the Father of Jesus who, through the Divine Thunder of His glorious Presence consumed my soul, and conquered my heart.
I once asked a Priest why I predominantly felt the Presence of the Father rather than that of Jesus and his response was that Jesus always leads us to the Father as it is clear from the Gospel of St. Matthew where He says, "No one knows the Father but only the Son and anyone whom the Son wants to reveal Him." Matt 11:27.


Alone With My Books


Do you have any idea of how it feels when something very unusual is happening to you, and you have nowhere to turn for advice, since you don't understand it yourself, and wouldn't even know how to begin to explain it? 

The Internet didn't exist back then, so I couldn't just write a few words in Wikipedia, hoping to find something helpful that made sense of it all. I only had my precious books for guidance, some of which had been written by Saints for the benefit of their religious communities. They were wonderful books that I highly recommend, because they contain a wealth of glorious truths, personal experience, information and spiritual insights that transcend time and trends, but there wasn't much in them written specifically for the modern wife and mother such as I was.



Centering Prayer and Christian Mysticism


Some new, more contemporary books on Contemplative and Centering Prayer were just beginning to emerge in those days and of course I was eager to see how they related to the old classics that led to my first encounter with Contemplative Prayer. 


It was the mid-seventies and at long last we were on the verge of an exciting, vibrant revival of the ancient form of Contemplative Prayer and Christian Mysticism! This is something that we had already started to see early on through the prolific writings of a pioneering Trappist monk by the name of Thomas Merton, who lived and wrote for the people of the twentieth century.
Thomas Merton


Contemporary authors such as Pennington, Coombs, DeMello, Griffith, Clarke and many others soon became to emerge, and they became familiar household names to me as I eagerly started reading everything modern I could find about Centering  Prayer and Christian Mysticism, mostly because I wanted to understand what were these unusual, strange experiences that were happening to me. 


Of the many books I read about Centering Prayer and Christian Mysticism, quite a few stand out as being very insightful and inspiring. There is however one little book in particular, which is a compendium of three separate articles written respectively by Fathers Basil Pennington,Thomas Keating and Thomas E. Clarke, that keeps me going back to it for inspiration to this very day.


Finding Grace at the Center 


Although all three articles are magnificent, each in its own way, I always go back to the one written by Fr. Thomas E. Clarke's, entitled "Finding Grace at the Center." Incidentally, his article's title is also the title of the book I'm talking about. 


I honestly don't understand why the whole world isn't in a perpetual state of awe because of what Fr. Clarke wrote in that article. I especially appreciate his reference to the traditional symbol that looks at God as a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. I virtually highlighted most of what was printed in that article! 


I have certainly learned a lot from my books, and I also found them to be a very useful  source of reference for both my newsletters, and my Contemplative prayer group. 


Thomas Keating

Some years later I was fortunate enough to get in touch with a very kind Trappist Monk by the name of Fr. Thomas Keating, yes the same Fr. Keating who wrote "Cultivating Centering Prayer," an article that also appears in "Finding Grace at the Center." As of today, Fr. Keating has written several books (at least 20) that offer a deeper understanding of Contemplative Prayer and the Spiritual Journey, such as "Intimacy with God," "Open Mind, Open Heart," and many others, including "The Transformation of Suffering," where he explores the tragedy of 9/11.


By the time I contacted him he was the Abbot at St. Joseph’s Abbey, in Spencer, Massachusetts and had already started his Prayer Outreach movement by writing books on Centering Prayer. 


In 1982 Fr. Thomas Keating returned to St. Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado and in 1984 he co-founded Contemplative Outreach, Ltd., an international ecumenical spiritual network that teaches the practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina.  

Those who have read Fr. Keating's books, or who have watched or heard him talk about Centering Prayer in his DVDs or audio CDs, know that he is a remarkably holy man who is also very wise and deeeply knowledgeable in all things pertaining to Centering Prayer and Christian Mysticism. 

When I contacted Fr. Thomas by mail in 1982 he very kindly agreed to be my spiritual director, and despite the fact that he was a very busy man, he always found the time to write to me at length and in detail. We exchanged a large number of spiritual letters over the span of several years.



Intensive Centering Prayer Retreat in Snowmass, Colorado

In March of 1987, exactly ten years after I began having mystical experiences, I was able to attend one of Fr. Keating's first 10-day Intensive Centering Prayer retreats in Snowmass, along with some friends from my Contemplative Prayer group.

Father Keating was extraordinarily meticulous and detailed in his explanation of the various techniques that can be applied to the practice of Centering Prayer. For me it was a joyful occasion to finally meet him in person as I could clearly sense the presence of Jesus in him.


Aspen, Colorado
This man of God spent countless hours with our group, teaching us how and when this type of prayer originated in our Christian tradition, and how Centering Prayer (a method of introduction to Contemplative Prayer) benefits those seeking a closer Union with God. No one ever got tired of listening to him, and he also made himself available to us for one on one private talks.

During the 10-day intensive prayer retreat our group spent four hours of centering prayer a day interspersed with listening to Fr. Keating's teachings, taking leisurely hikes or drives along the snowy paths of the beautiful Aspen Mountains, and attending daily Mass with the Monastery Monks using unleavened bread for Communion, instead of the usual waffle. 



We shared two delicious community vegetarian meals each day, and even had enough time to enjoy some periods of solitude, if we wished. Keeping silence at all times was the only strict rule we had to adhere to, except during lunch and recreation. 


Space being limited, we all shared sleeping quarters, separated by gender, with the exception of married couples. My three friends and I slept in the same large room, which easily accommodated four single beds. Others slept elsewhere, but I was never curious to find out exactly where. What I know is that we were all very comfortable and happy.

Things have changed quite a bit, as they always tend to do, since those early beginnings. Today there are similar but shorter retreats available throughout the world, and there are even workshops on Centering Prayer and Christian Mysticism offered through the Internet.



A Spiritual Journey 


I must say that I'm very happy to have been there at the onset, when things were starting to happen, and above all I'm happy to have had Fr. Thomas Keating as my Spiritual Director for several years. From him I learned many valuable lessons about the Spiritual Journey that I had undertaken a few years earlier. Actually to be precise, I never actively sought to embark in this Journey, rather it was the Journey that took me in for the ride of my life.
Sunset in Snowmass, Colorado
So Why am I writing this? I'm writing this blog because I want to share with you how, at the age of 29, I suddenly found myself traveling a Path of which I knew nothing about, a Path I didn't even know existed. I was simply "swept in," and nobody was more surprised than I when it happened. I hope that, by reading about my mystical experiences, which is how the Lord swept me into the beginning of my Spiritual Journey, you will see why I address God's majestic Presence and Action as "Divine Thunder." 


Divine Thunder 


Although I realize that I can't talk about my experiences without trivializing them since I can't communicate the spirit that gave life to those experiences, I still believe that spiritual experiences need to be shared if they are to benefit anyone other than the recipient, and that's why, after over three decades of silence, I decided to write "Divine Thunder."


Fr. Thomas Keating





Did you like this post? Don't forget to scroll down to rate it. Your feedback is very much appreciated. If you have any comments or suggestions please don't hesitate to use the "Comments" box . Thank you.