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terça-feira, 28 de outubro de 2014

Don Attilio Negrisolo. La persecuzione contro Padre Pio

Risks of Spiritual Practice

Dec162010

Picking up from the previous post, I want to address two common challenges with spiritual practice: The first is discipline and the second is misunderstanding the value of experiences.
With regard to discipline, in observing my own practice and the practice of others, it’s obvious that consistency and persistence can be  huge challenges.  Quite frankly, I believe a central part of this problem is our wanting easy, low-cost, instant gratification. It might be a little reductionist, but it sometimes seems to me that we regard spiritual practice more like a form of entertainment than a way to greater awareness, wholeness, integration and depth of being in ourselves, in relationship with God, and in our presence in this world.  Many of us also want our experiences to be intellectually or emotionally profound, and perhaps even socially or materially tangible.  Any practice that doesn’t seem to fulfill these wishes can quickly be judged as unproductive and worthless, and then we flit off to something different; we can also imagine ourselves as having already “advanced” beyond the need for that practice.   It’s so easy to ignore how often the great saints and sages have asserted the value of commitment to even the most basic practices.  It has even been said that it’s in persisting through boredom with a spiritual practice that we begin to gain the most significant, yet often most subtle, benefits.  Said another way, the most important experience can sometimes simply be the doing of the practice itself.
It might be obvious that we’ve already begun considering how confusion about the value of experiences can be inherent in our judgments about the value of a practice.  Plainly stated, the value of an experience, and therefore the practice that facilitated it, is not necessarily measured by its immediate magnitude. Another aspect of this confusion is in taking an extraordinary experience too literally; there are countless stories of visionaries who have brought horrible suffering to themselves and others because of knee-jerk reactions to their own inner experiences.  Strong desires can lead to mistaking an experience as a direct contact with something that the experience actually only represents.  For example, a flash of light experienced in the depths of meditation may reveal something to us about the presence and action of the Spirit, but it does not necessarily mean that the light was the appearance of a particular spiritual being.  Similarly, just as the on-screen image of a movie actor is not the actual character portrayed, or even the actual actor, so too can dreams and visions about spiritual beings be far removed from actual contact with them.  Even the images of these words are not the actual forms on the computer screen, let alone the actual thoughts in my mind, but are your mind’s perception of the words and the thoughts behind them.  Another potential confusion is taking the magnitude, frequency or total number of one’s experiences as an unquestionable sign of spiritual “progress.” Such an attitude is dangerously self-aggrandizing and a highly volatile fuel for wish-fulfilling delusions.
So, is there some way to minimize these risks without turning spiritual practice into nothing but a heartless drudgery or abandoning it all together?  Yes, to begin with, it might already be apparent that one guideline I’ve found valuable is paying careful attention to the overall integration and harmony of the soul’s different aspects and functions.   Of course, this guideline is itself based upon a very deep, broad and persistent practice of honest self-awareness and caring self-acceptance.  Said another way, it is the practice of being lovingly present with oneself, and thus becoming increasingly aware of the very fluid interconnectedness within us – head, heart, and gut.  Along with this practice of presence, all the great spiritual traditions recommend the mindfulness and application of certain virtues.  In Christianity we traditionally rely on the four cardinal virtues – prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice – and the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and especially charity (oragápēspiritual love, “the greatest of these“).  But it’s very important to understand that the practice of the virtues is not about forcing one’s external behaviors to conform to some predetermined model of perfection.  The object here is not to build up some new facade in the place of being more consciously whole; in fact, the virtues are first and foremost internal processes. When incorporated with the practice of loving self-presence,  they shed significant light on the ways one is at odds with oneself, suffering from psychic fragmentation and compartmentalization, while also pointing out paths toward greater integration and harmony.  Being fully present with ourselves and working with these virtues doesn’t provide a foolproof guarantee that we won’t make mistakes, yet it can reduce the risks in making them.  When we do make mistakes, these guidelines can help us lovingly embrace them as learning opportunities and thus become even more meaningful experiences in our spiritual lives.  Beyond these very significant experiences, the practice of presence and the virtues may also facilitate a deepening awareness of something in ourselves other than thinking, feeling, sensing and doing – something quiet and still, and at first seemingly tiny and insignificant, yet more vast and powerful than we can comprehend, let alone control.
For many of us mystics, awareness of this other within ourselves is both fascinating and frightening – fascinating in its penetration into a very deep mystery of the soul, and frightening in our awareness of the comparative smallness and powerlessness of that part of us we most often identify as “me”, or what we commonly call the “ego”.  One risk associated with the fascination is confusing such an encounter with the mystical union we desire. A risk with the fear is the ego coming up with all sorts of excuses to avoid accepting and adjusting to the greater reality, including quitting a practice because we’ve realized how much it has been motivated by serving the ego; sometimes that’s just a sign that the practice is actually working!
Finally, with spiritual practice, like the rest of life, let’s acknowledge that there is no way to eliminate risk; even in retreating to avoid some risks we fate ourselves to take others.  So the question I’ll leave you with is this: What risks do faith, hope and love call upon you to take?

Agape

segunda-feira, 27 de outubro de 2014

The Heart of Love

Nov112010

Welcome to the Way of the Heart!
I’d like to begin this blog with a spiritual practice that can be used to directly engage the mystical Way of the Heart.  The Heart of Love is a method of meditation and prayer that works with the most profound and powerful teachings of Jesus:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like it, that you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
As you have done to the least of these my brethren, you have done to me.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
It takes very little reflection to know this method involves everything taught in the quote above: Love for God and our fellow souls is at once the motive force, the immediate sentiment, and the practical aim of this work.  It makes use of our human intelligence in the most graceful and subtle of ways – an internal cultivation of love that stimulates a more living and visible operation of hope and faith in our relationships with others.  It puts the Way of the Heart into immediate practice.
This method is developed through four phases.  It is recommended that the first phase be practiced alone for at least a week, and then each phase can be successively added over a period of several weeks until you are finally practicing all four phases in each sitting.  Once a working familiarity has been developed with each phase, then the practitioner may place more or less emphasis on various phases, and even rearrange them, as desired. Some people might find this method suitable as the mainstay of their regular devotionals and inner work, while others might prefer to use it less routinely.  This method is an excellent practice for anyone who wishes to serve in spiritual healing, for it helps in keeping one’s soul open to the flow of higher energies and tends to infuse one’s healing prayers with the special sweetness of selfless love.
Phase One: The Heart of Love Received from the Exemplar
It is always advisable to begin and end such work with a mindful ritual such as lighting a candle and perhaps some incense, and crossing oneself. After settling into a centered and peaceful state of meditation, offer a prayer of submission to the Divine Will, expressing your desire to know and serve it through love.
Next, call to mind the image of someone you consider to be a great historical embodiment and exemplar of love.  For many Christians, Jesus will be the only suitable figure, though others may be attracted to another, such as Mother Mary, St. Francis of Assisi, or Mother Theresa.  Imagine this person standing in front of you with a loving smile.  See within his or her chest a flaming heart, radiating love out through the whole body in rich hues of pink, ruby and golden light, like a splendid sunrise.
Feel the warmth on your face and chest. Let yourself respond emotionally to this great soul’s love, smiling in return.  Imagine your exemplar reaching out to cup your heart in his or her hands, and the flames of love flowing into and igniting your own heart. If you feel moved to weep with gratitude, or smile or laugh with joy, allow that to happen as you continue to meditate upon this person as an embodiment of Divine Love, a living vessel through which God loves the world, including you.  To accept this love is itself an act of love for God, for the exemplar, and for yourself.  You may speak with your exemplar if you wish.
In your meditation, consider that to ancient people the heart was not merely symbolic of emotions, but was also the seat of intuition, inspiration, beauty, peace and harmony.  There is much to discover here about the nature of love, which includes far more than our feelings of affection and sympathy.
When you are ready to end the meditation, simply let the image fade.  Offer a final prayer of thanks and return your consciousness to the external world, though now infused with an elevated awareness of love.
While most people report this exercise to be positive and uplifting, some people may also find themselves challenged by various kinds of discomfort with the work.  For example, feelings of unworthiness, guilt or shame may arise.  It is important to simply be aware of all our feelings, both pleasing and uncomfortable, accepting them as indicators of deeper processes occurring within our hearts and minds.  In effect, they present us with opportunities to learn more of what we really believe about ourselves and our relationships with the Divine.  In response to such observations, it is important to remember that accepting the infinite grace of Divine Love is not about using the head to strategize a path toward righteous worthiness, but is rather about simply opening the heart to the immediate fact of God’s freely given mercy and affection.  With this understanding, where we find self-condemning thoughts and feelings of self-loathing, we have the opportunity to practice acceptance, forgiveness and healing of our own humanity, as well as truly nurturing ourselves toward more virtuous living.
Phase Two: The Heart of Love Shared with Those We Cherish
Proceed through the previous phase and just past the point where your heart is ignited by the exemplar.  Allow the image of the exemplar to fade, and in its place imagine someone among your friends and family with whom you share a deep bond of love.  Perhaps this is someone you know to be in extra need of receiving love at this time. See him or her smiling in the warmth of the pink, ruby and golden light radiating out through your body.  Imagine yourself reaching forward to hold that person’s heart in your hands. See and feel the flames of your heart flowing through your arms to ignite his or her heart with love.  Speak with this person if you wish.  Meditate upon the love you have shared, how it has been expressed between you, and how it might grow.
When you are ready, allow that person’s image to fade. If you feel moved to do so, allow the image of another cherished friend or family member to arise, and then repeat the entire process.  You can continue through as many loved ones as you wish, eventually ending the meditation as before.
As with the previous phase, this can be a very touching and joyful exercise, and yet it can also prove challenging.  In focusing on your love for another, you might discover areas of uncertainty or sense something lacking.  For example, you might realize that in some way you have not been as expressive of your love and affection as you might be.  This could be due to various fears or inhibitions for either or both of you.  You might also discover you have resentments, frustrations or other negative feelings about the individual that seem to prevent you from more fully and freely loving him or her.  As you practice the exercise with different people in mind, you may become more aware of how your love differs from one person to another.  With some people your sentiments might be more affectionate, with others more appreciative or admiring, while for others more compassionate or sympathetic.  In any case, this phase of the Heart of Love can help you learn about how you feel, think and behave in your relationships with loved ones, and thus provide you with many opportunities to refine your ability to love each person in your life in a way as unique and meaningful as he or she is.
Phase Three: The Heart of Love Shared with Those Who Challenge Us
Work through the first two phases, and now begin extending your love toward someone you feel has mistreated or offended you in some way, or someone you have difficulty trusting.  Give just as freely and energetically to this soul as you did in the second phase. Meditate upon the many pearls of wisdom in loving those we may not find easy to love. Reflect on what it means to love someone you do not necessarily like.  Ponder how you might manifest love for this person more outwardly. As before, repeat the process until you are ready to end the meditation.
Phase Four: The Heart of Love in All
After working through all the previous phases, meditate upon the universe as existing within the Flaming Heart of God, the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Recall that your heart is aflame with that same Divine Fire, and that it is actually a spark of that Divine Fire, as are all the hearts of God’s children.  Allow all the implications of meaning, virtue and action to flow freely through your heart and mind, with neither resistance nor attachment, but with awareness, acceptance and love.

Deep Within the Well of this Heart


May072014

Love incited by something external
Is like a small lamp
Whose flame is fed with oil,
Or like a stream fed by rains,
Where flows stop when the rains cease.
But love whose object is God is like
A fountain gushing forth
From the earth.
Its flow never ceases,
For He Himself is the source of this love
And also its food,
Which never grows scarce.
It’s been several years ago now, but after meditation on those words, and a moment of contemplative stillness, I wrote the following poem:
Deep within the well of this heart,
sliding down in the silent darkness,
sinking into the caverns of spirit,
I found You, Beloved One,
the hidden waters,
a mighty rushing in the stillness.
There at Your edge,
where I might have plunged
and fulfilled the fantasy
of a supreme union,
I found instead
the fear of oblivion in You,
and upon this halting
I piled remorse and shame
for my self-judged unworthiness.
Still I dipped a begging hand
into Your ceaseless current,
washed the tear-stained dust
from this mask of sadness
and sipped a drop of Your cool purity.
Such sweet wine You are,
Beloved One,
for this single taste
bestowed an unimagined sobriety,
a joyous awakening to the memory
that this resistance to Your fullness
is among the greatest gifts from You.
In these depths,
all things left within me
that had seemed to interfere
with my dream of perfection
were revealed as channels
for a unique upwelling
of Your goodness.
You created me to be Your lover,
my Beloved.
By Your will we are two
who are nonetheless one.
Never let this be undone
so long as there are others in this world
who thirst for You.
There are many things we could draw out of these two poems, but today my focus is drawn from the very first line of St. Isaac’s work.  So long as we think of God as something or someone entirely separate from and outside of ourselves, external, I believe we are missing a vital point of St. Isaac’s mystical statement.  For those of us who have been  in traditional religious institutions, a great deal of our spiritual thoughts, sentiments, and practices have indeed been incited by something external.  Our attempts to love the Great Mystery we call God can often be almost entirely directed by doctrines and authorities urging us to relate to God as anything but present within our own souls and those of others.   So it is that many of us are led into the recurring misery of feeling that God is separate and distant from us, unresponsive to our prayers and devotions, and that we must therefore be far too corrupt to merit God’s thirst-quenching love.  Yet, it is possible to break free of this psychospiritual tyranny and rediscover the presence of God as Love within us.  But it would be an incomplete understanding of St. Isaac to think this means we should turn all of our attention within, giving our time and energy only to that inward experience.  To accept that the Kingdom of God is already within us begs the further realization that it is within everyone else and all of creation, just as Jesus taught.  In that realization, our love for things external to us, certainly including other people, is directly connected with cherishing and serving God, or Love itself.  Finally, my poem ends with a kind of Christian Bodhisattva vow, a commitment to not make the spiritual life about trying to escape from the world’s suffering, but rather to accept the fact of our presence in this world, and to answer the call to transform that presence for the good of all.

Il Sacerdote: chi è? come ce lo aspettiamo?

Shrine to the Holy Sophia

Shrine to the Holy Sophia


Welcome to this shrine to the Holy Sophia, personification of the Divine Wisdom, the Comforter, Counselor, and Paraclete who is always with us, the Holy Spirit which became one with Mary and conceived the Christ.
Please enjoy this beautiful song, Caritas Abundat, by Hildegard von Bingen, as you contemplate the images and words below.
http://earthstation1.simplenet.com
Holy Sophia, Divine Wisdom, You were brought forth as the first of God’s works, before the Creator’s deeds of old; You were formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. Then You were constantly at the Creator’s side.  You were filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in God’s presence, rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humanity.  Now, we Your children, listen to You; for blessed are those who keep Your ways.  We listen to Your instruction and become wise; we do not disregard it.  Blessed are those who listen to You, watching daily at Your doors, waiting at Your doorway.  For those who find You find life and receive favor from God. (Proverbs 8:22-23, 30-35)
black-madonna2
For in You, Sophia, is the spirit of understanding: holy, one, manifold, subtle, eloquent, active, undefiled, sure, sweet, loving that which is good, quick, which nothing hinders, beneficent, gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power, overseeing all things, and containing all spirits, intelligible, pure, subtle.  For You, Sophia, are more active than all active things, and reach everywhere by reason of Your purity.  For You are a vapor of the power of God, and a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God, and therefore no defiled thing comes into You.  For You are the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of God’s goodness. For You are more beautiful than the sun, and above all the order of the stars; being compared with the light, You are found before it. (Wisdom 7:22-26, 29)
Mary Eternal Virgin
Under thy protection we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our needs, but from all dangers deliver us always, Virgin Glorious and Blessed. Amen.
(This prayer, known in Latin as “Sub tuum Praesidium” and first found in a Greek papyrus, c. 250 AD, is the oldest known prayer to the Virgin.)
BlackMadonna_8
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee.  Blessed art Thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of Thy Womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, bless us now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.
 Holy-Spirit-Dove-Window
In our weakness we turn to you, trusting that You are here to help us.  So often we don’t know what to pray for, but You always pray for us in ways too profound for words. (Romans 8:26)
burning rose 2
Oh, fair immaculate rose of the world, rose of my dream, my Rose!
Beyond the ultimate gates of dream I have heard thy mystical call:
It is where the rainbow of hope suspends and the river of rapture flows—
And the cool sweet dews from the wells of peace for ever fall.
 
And all my heart is aflame because of the rapture and peace,
And I dream, in my waking dreams and deep in the dreams of sleep,
Till the high sweet wonderful call that shall be the call of release
Shall ring in my ears as I sink from gulf to gulf and from deep to deep—
 
Sink deep, sink deep beyond the ultimate dreams of all desire—
Beyond the uttermost limit of all that the craving spirit knows:
Then, then, oh then I shall be as the inner flame of thy fire,
O fair immaculate rose of the world, Rose of my dream, my Rose!
(The Rose of Flame, by William Sharp)
Rosa Mystica, ora pro nobis.
Maranatha
Agape
Amen