Part Three: Discerning God’s Will in Contemplative Prayer
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is presented as a woman of prayer and as one who treasured God’s word in her heart. A closer look at Mary’s prayer life reveals that she made use of two different methods of prayer in her relationship with God: common prayer and personal prayer. As a young girl Mary would have frequented the temples and the synagogues to pray with her parents. After the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph take the child to the Jerusalem Temple for the rite of purification (Lk 2: 22), and again Mary and Joseph take Jesus when he was twelve to the Jerusalem Temple for the Passover Festival (Lk 2:42). All these point to Mary who prays with her community. Besides this we also witness a Mary who is by herself in prayer (personal prayer). According to the Tradition, it was when she was in personal prayer, that angel Gabriel revealed God’s will to her.
When God chooses to communicate God’s will either for the individual or through the individual for the community, God seems to prefer the individual when in personal prayer than in common prayer. In the Old Testament, God called the prophets into the desert and revealed God’s will for the people in the silence and solitude of the desert. Zechariah was in prayer when angel Gabriel spoke to him. Jesus, at his baptism, was in prayer when the voice from the heavens declared God’s relationship to Jesus.
Like his mother, Jesus had used both the methods of prayer (prays with others in the Temples and the synagogues [common prayer] and in silence and solitude [personal prayer]). At important junctures in his life and before major decisions (his mission, choosing the apostles, strength to stay on course to do God’s will, acceptance of the Cross and to remain faithful until his last breath…) Jesus is seen alone in prayer. No wonder on a daily basis we see him retreating to quiet places to pray. Jesus’ claim that what he did and said was what he saw his Father doing and saying (John 5:9); a result of his union with his God through a life of prayer, especially personal prayer. Isn’t this true even in the case of other great religious leaders?
Participating in common prayer comes across as more of joining a faith based community to praise and worship God but it is in personal prayer in silence and solitude that we let God really speak to us in the depth of our being, where we let go of our attachment to the ‘self,’ seek a union with God, and where we align our will with God’s will.
Today, the biblical ways of God communicating God’s will through dreams and visions have given way (though God at any time can have recourse to them) to other ways of discerning God’s will: through a spiritual director, praying the Bible, talking with people of the same faith, taking a walk in nature, participating in a retreat and spending time in prayer and reflection, undertaking a pilgrimage, reading the lives of the saints, being part of faith based groups, leaving it to one’s superior to discern… All these and other wonderful spiritual tools are based on a relationship with God that presupposes duality and are useful to detect and perceive the movement of the Spirit to discern God’s will in one’s life.
On the contrary, in contemplative prayer using non-duality as an approach to God, the “self” not only seeks union with God but the mind enters into the sanctuary of the cave of the heart and it is transformed. In spiritual union the seeker and the sought are united and the mind is purified. While all the external spiritual helps can bring us to the threshold of God, in contemplative prayer, relying solely on God’s grace we literally lose ourselves in God who is ever present in us. Every form of spiritual help from outside is to point the way to the inner sanctuary where God becomes the guide, teacher, and master – the real Sadguru. Isn’t this what we encounter in Jeremiah 31:33?
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, declares the Lord:, "I will put my law within them,
and on their hearts I will write it; and I will be their God, and they
shall be my people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor
and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' for they will all
know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the Lord, …
Growth in spiritual life calls for courage to leave the familiar ground on which we stand and trusting in God alone we delve into the depths of silence to be alone before the Alone. In that presence before the Presence, the independent ‘self’ projected by the mind as ego grasps the truth that it does not have an independent existence of its own, its reality as the ‘self’ and its functions are always in the light of God who is ever present in us. And as communion deepens we make the words of St. Paul our own: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; …” (Gal 2:20).
Again isn’t this what St. Paul implies when he says, “Do not be conformed to the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2)? The mind will be transformed when we let the mind and the ‘self’ sink into the cave of the heart.
The words of Rainer Maria Rilke to the young Franz Kappus who was looking for guidance from R.M. Rilke are very meaningful.
You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you — no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; … This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer… Letters to a Young Poet. Trans. Stephen Mitchell
“Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night.” How true! To be alone before the Alone. In silence and solitude before God we will hear the still voice speaking to us. We will know in the depths of our being what we ought to do. But for this the “self” should long and seek a life of union with God. Out of that union will arise the transformed mind.
Let me conclude with a story from Tony de Mello:
A salt doll journeyed for thousands of miles over land, until it finally came to the sea. It was fascinated by this strange moving mass, quite unlike anything it had ever seen before. “Who are you?” said the salt doll to the sea. The sea smilingly replied, “Come in and see.” So the doll waded in. The farther it walked into the sea the more it dissolved, until there was only very little of it left. Before that last bit dissolved, the doll exclaimed in wonder, “Now I know what I am!
In prayer that is based on duality we are like the doll standing before the ocean, praying to God, singing hymns to God, and worshiping God who is out there. But in the non-dual approach to God, like the doll, by letting go of ourselves into the unknown and merging ourselves with the Presence we not only find our true ‘self’ but we let the mind to be graced as well. Can the transformed mind do any ungodly things?
Try to find the answer from your own lived experience with and in God.
To be continued .......
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