Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Wednesday
Dec032014

FOUR WAYS TO WATER THE GARDEN OF YOUR SOUL, PART 1

By Teresa of Ávila

PART  ONE

[Note:  This excerpt from Teresa’s spiritual autobiography, Su Vida, is sometimes published under the title of The Similitude of the Watered Garden.]

All I can do is tell you what happened to me—as I have been ordered to do. If my confessor does not approve, he can just tear this up.

No matter how clearly I speak about contemplative prayer, it will remain obscure to anyone who has not experienced it.

1. The Garden: Let the beginner in prayer think of herself as a gardener who is preparing to plant a garden for the delight of her Beloved. But the soil is barren and full of noxious weeds. His Majesty Himself pulls up the weeds and replaces them with good seed. When the soul sets out on the path of prayer and service, God has already begun to cultivate her soil.

Like good gardeners, our job is to tend those plants with loving care, striving to get them to grow. We labor to water them so that they will not wither, but instead bud and bloom. Thus, they will emit the most sublime fragrance and giving our LORD great pleasure. This inspires Him to enter often into our garden and enjoy Himself amid the array of virtues.

Let’s see how this garden needs to be watered. It can be watered in four ways:

+  We can pull water up from a well in a bucket. This is a lot of hard work.

+  Or we can pump the water from the well. I have tried this method, and know that it’s faster.

+  Or, we can channel the flow of water through irrigation ditches. This gives deeper saturation of the soil and lasts longer. It’s less work for the gardener.

+  Or, the water may come directly from an abundant rain. Thus, the LORD waters the garden directly. This is the best method of all and takes no effort on our part.

You can apply these four ways of watering the garden to the four degrees of prayer to which the LORD has sometimes raised my soul. Maybe my metaphor of the watered garden does not work for you. If so, you can use my foolishness to have a good laugh.

Beginners in prayer are accustomed to a life of distractions. Practice withdrawing your attention from what you see and hear. In solitude, reflect on your past life. Your intellect will distract you. Meditate on the life of Christ, and your intellect will exhaust itself.

Here’s what we can do as beginners to advance on the path –

Everything good we do is with God’s help. Without His help, we cannot think a good thought.

Let us also help Christ to carry His cross. He lived with His cross all His life.

Do not let feelings of emptiness or distracting thoughts distress you or disquiet your soul.

Do you want liberation? Do you wish you weren’t always so troubled? Then, do not be afraid of your cross. You will discover how the LORD helps you carry it.

Then you will make joyful progress, and you will find blessings everywhere you look.

If your well is dry, then you cannot put water into it. But, never stop dipping your bucket. Later, when water is there, God will use it to multiply your virtues.

2. Lifting the Bucket: In this first stage of the spiritual path, the intellect is still an active participant, and you can accomplish a great deal through your own efforts. Keep Christ in your consciousness. Picture yourself in the presence of Christ. Thus, you can build up the fire of love. Keep Him close to you always. Talk to Him. Ask Him for what you need. Confide your troubles to Him. Rejoice with Him. Avoid prescribed prayers; use the words of your heart.

In mystical experience, the intellect ceases to function because God suspends it. But, in this first stage, do not take it upon yourself to shut down your mind. If you do, you will be left frozen and stupid. Do not presume that you can keep the soul busy and the mind quiet at the same time. That is ridiculous. When the LORD stems the flow of thoughts, He gives the intellect something to occupy and astonish it. When that happens, you will learn more in three minutes than you could in your whole lifetime through your own efforts.

3. Joyful Abandon: Walk with joyful abandon as you start on the spiritual path. Use good sense in everything you do. Take recreation regularly so you can return to prayer reinvigo­rated. Be confident. Don’t hold back your heart’s desires. Believe in the power of God. Be bold, and strive for great things. Initial determination is crucial. Move slowly. Use discretion. Follow the advice of a spiritual guide.

Your life of prayer needs to be built on humility, so the nearer we draw to God, the more we must cultivate this virtue. But, our own lower nature impedes us. Also, the spirit of evil hurts us when we want to pray. He tries to prevent our progress. He does this by deceiving us about the nature of humility. He makes us think that our desire to imitate the saints [prayer warriors] is delusional. The spirit of evil makes us think that our desire for self-sacrifice is self-serving. But, with God’s help, we are fully capable of detaching from the world, turning away from personal honor, and releasing our tight grasp on our possessions.

I have always had strong desires. So, I tried to practice prayer and live for my own pleasure at the same time. If only someone had encouraged me to soar to greater heights, I might have been able to manifest these desires. But such a guide is very rare. Most are excessively cautious. Unless a learned man practices prayer himself, all of his learning is of little help to beginners.

Seek solitude and silence. I have always been sickly, so I tend to let my health tie me down and keep my from full devotion. The spirit of evil put it into my head to worry about damaging my health with prayer. God cleared my thinking. “So what if I die? I don’t need rest; I need the cross!” Many times my health concerns arose from the spirit of evil or my own laziness. Since I stopped obsessing about my comfort and ease, my health has radically improved.

Bless You, O LORD, who has made me incompetent and useless!

We should occupy ourselves with gazing at Him who is gazing at us. We should keep Him company, talk with Him, pray to Him, humble ourselves and delight in Him. Remember: It is a privilege to be near Him.

4. The Pump: By pushing the handle of a water pump, the gardener gets more water with less effort. She no longer has to work continually, and she can rest a little. This describes the Prayer of Quiet, which comes when the soul is drawn into a supernatural state of interior recollection. You cannot attain this state of prayer through your own efforts.

With the pump, we also use the labor of the intellect to fill our bucket, but the water comes from a higher place and requires less work. The water of grace is closer now. The soul savors the sweetness of prayer more deeply. The other faculties are neither lost, nor sleeping, but they are suspended. Only the will is active. Without knowing how, the will has been taken captive. Joyful to be in the presence of its Beloved, it consents without hesitation.

Arriving at this place, the soul finds her cravings for worldly things falling away. No wonder! She clearly sees that she never could experience such sublime glory on earth. No wealth, no power, no honor or pleasure offers even a fleeting taste of such happiness. This joy is true joy.

Earthly things always have a no entwined with the yes. But in deep contemplation, everything is a yes. The no comes later when the soul realizes that the delight has passed, and she doesn’t know how to get it back. But even if she were to smash herself to pieces with penances, prayers and flagellations, it would do no good. The LORD decides when to grant her this delight.

This joy is bewildering to the soul. She feels as if she has found everything at once, but she has no idea what she has found.

I have so little time to give to writing. Therefore, His Majesty must come to my rescue. Living in a house recently founded, I am flooded with community duties, so I can never settle down to writing. But when the LORD gives me inspiration, the words flow clearly and easily. Then, writing is like sketching a model sitting in front of me. My only hope is to enter a state of prayer while I am writing. Then, I am not the one doing the writing. This happens to me often.

Your experience in prayer may be the work of God, yet the spirit of evil can transform itself into an angel of light. An inexperienced soul may not be able to tell the difference. So, it’s an intense relief to see yourself described in a book. It’s good to discover you are on the right path.

Is it possible that there could be a soul, O LORD, who has been blessed in the Prayer of Quiet, and yet goes right back to offending you? Yes, there is such a soul, who has done this, not once, but many times. I am that soul. Yet, Your boundless goodness has drawn out something worthwhile, even from my excessive wickedness.

My LORD, do not give up on this soul You have won through intense labor—this soul You have rescued again and again from the dreaded dragon.

There are times when the soul forgets all about the garden. Everything is dry. There is not enough water to sustain it. The soul cannot detect a single virtue inside herself. She suffers terribly because she feels that she has failed to water her garden. This dryness is also the will of the LORD. Only when the gardener surrenders her self-importance does God take over. If God chooses to withhold the water of grace, no amount of effort on your part is going to keep the garden growing. See yourself as nothing. As less than nothing. Then, your humility stimulates the garden to bloom again.

5. The Prayer of Quiet: The prayer of quiet is the beginning of all blessings. In this prayer, the soul experiences profound contentment and calm. It is a little spark of True Love that the LORD ignites in the soul. Since this is the farthest the soul has traveled, she thinks that she has nothing left to strive for.

In these times of quiet, be still. The will must understand that we cannot force God to do what we want. The will can speak words of love if they are rooted in truth. Stop your intellect from rustling up gratitude and praise. The intellect wants to conjure up images; the memory wants to store them. The intellect wants to compose pretty little speeches. Instead, the soul should realize that she is very near His Majesty. She should therefore ask for his continued blessing. Do not use noisy words, but pray for the spiritual community and intercede for others.

In the midst of contemplative prayer, education is irrelevant. Rather, you need to know exactly who you are. Theological concepts will only cool the fire of love in the will. In the prayer of quiet, there is no room for rational argument.

Remember, if we struggle to attain the prayer of quiet, it doesn’t work. We can discern whether this quietude comes from God’s Spirit or from our own devotional impulse. If from us, it will leave the soul feeling dry. If it is from the spirit of evil, it will leave the soul feeling agitated.

If she is a humble soul—more curious about the cross than spiritual rewards—she won’t pay attention to the comforts offered by the spirit of evil. When the spirit of evil notices that the soul humbles herself, it realizes it has lost the game. Then, it will stop bothering you.

The Beloved pointed to perfection when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” He is our example. When we walk in his footsteps and long to please Him, we have nothing to fear.

If His majesty has favored you with the prayer of quiet, I beg you, know yourself. Hold yourself in high esteem. Otherwise, you will be tempted to return to the slave-food of Egypt. If weakness, wickedness and misery cause you to fall, as I fell, bear in mind the good you have lost. Stand in holy awe. If you give up the practice of prayer, you will go from bad to worse. So, if you fall, get back up quickly. The LORD is with you.

Take care not to hide your talents. God has chosen you to be of service to others.

The growth of the soul is not like the growth of the body. Once a child becomes an adult, his body doesn’t shrink and become small again. But, the Beloved allows this to happen to the soul. This humbles us for our greater good.

Protect yourself against offending God. You may be so aligned with God’s will that you would rather die a thousand deaths than commit a single imperfection. Still, you will be attacked by temptations and persecutions. Then, pull out the first weapon of prayer: Remember that all worldly things pass away; only God remains. Thus, you can avoid spiritual error.

Here are some other signs of God’s presence in the prayer of quiet:

+ Your soul will not need to manufacture feelings of humility and unworthiness.

+ The LORD gives this gift of prayer so it goes way beyond our nice little rationalizations.

+ The quiet produces a revelation that totally undoes us.

+ Awareness that we are nothing is a gift from God.

+ God fills us with an intense desire to be changed and not to give up on prayer.

+ We long for Him, no matter how severely we are tested.

+ We are willing to suffer anything that comes our way.

+ We are certain that we will be liberated.

+ His presences banishes fear and replaces it with holy awe.

+ We are stirred by a love of God that is free of self-interest.

+ We crave solitude and silence so we may deeply savor his grace.

From the prayer of quiet, the soul clearly sees that the flowers in her garden have been given everything they need to burst into blossom. She firmly believes her Beloved is with her until she looks back and sees her own flaws. Then, she grows afraid. This fear can be a good thing. Remember the benefits you have received. That will do more to bring you back to God than reflecting on all the punishments of hell. It worked for me, wicked as I am.

Get yourself a wise and holy spiritual counselor. Then, if you have grown to the prayer of quiet, you may not have to weary yourself to the brink of death, as I did.

Some of you are concentrating so hard that you are going to sleep. Stand up. Give yourself a good shake. This will help you focus on God, instead of yourself.

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Source for these excerpts is Teresa of Ávila. 2007. The Book of My Life. Translated by Mirabai Star. Boston & London: New Seeds. The excerpts come from part two of the book, “The Four Waters,” chapters 11 to 21.

You can read parts two and three of this article, as well as a brief biography of Teresa, by going to the column on the right and scrolling up to the section “Santa Teresa.”

Note: The original Spanish title for this book, finished in 1560, was Su Vida. The Spanish has an intriguing ambiguity. It can mean either “Her Life” or “Your Life.”

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Purpose of this blog is to compile several books for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

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