2016 Random Thoughts
The earliest of the four written gospels, the one attributed to Mark, does not begin with the stories about Jesus’ birth and infancy, but rather begins with Jesus as being about 28 years old and coming down from his home town of Nazareth (1300 feet above sea level) down to the shores of the Sea of Galilee, the lowest freshwater lake on earth (700 feet below sea level).
In Mark’s narrative, Jesus comes to those who will be his disciples and says to them, “The present moment is the right time. Change the way you think because the Kingdom of God is within you. Believe this ‘good news’ [Mk.1:15]. Although I love to read all of the gospels, I am particularly struck by this passage because I believe it is the central message of Jesus.
When I was a child, I used to pray for things I wanted to get or have happen. These were not all self-centered requests but my prayer was usually directed to a very far away God who sometimes didn’t seem to be paying attention. There was no question whether or not I believed in God for my mother and father were believers and so I readily became one, but rather the problem seemed to be where was this God to whom I prayed .
As a child I learned to believe He was in the tabernacle of my parish church so I would always look towards the sanctuary, or stare at the Eucharistic host, which after all I was taught to believe was the Real Presence, the consecrated body and blood of Jesus. Because of this, I was led to believe that our prayer could be focused upon a reality in space and time.
As I grew up, I began to focus upon a life which believed that all reality was spatial and temporal. My scientific pursuits taught me that whatever could not be sensed as having mass and occupying space simply could not be proven to exist and therefore I became a total materialist. I strove to understand the theological arguments of Saint Thomas Aquinas which were presented as proofs for the existence of God. These proofs, however, left me high and dry in my wish to “experience” God.
It was only my friendship with a man who has remained my spiritual guide for the past fifty years that led me to a much deeper experience with a prayer called contemplative or centering prayer. His name is Thomas Keating, OCSO, a retired abbot living at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass Colorado. He has written many great books on the subject, culminating with his recent Reflections on the Unknowable. His teaching, combined with the quote above from the Gospel of Mark, indicate to me that I have finally discovered where God dwells. God, or whatever name you choose to call God, Yahweh, El, or whatever, all of these are words stemming from ideas we have of the Transcendent Being. And all of these ideas are inadequate, for God cannot be understood by humans.
This Being we term “god” in the Christian tradition, is to be found within us. Thus the many words we use in prayer may or may not be helpful, but words ultimately fail. To pray to god, we should perhaps do as Jesus taught when he is recorded as saying, “But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen/ And your Father , who sees what you do in private, will reward you,”[Mt.6:6], and in Mark we see Jesus pray by example: “Very early next morning, long before daylight, Jesus got up and left the house. He went of town to a lonely place, where he prayed.”[Mk.1:35]
In centering prayer, we are taught to focus in the present moment, breathe and gently “flush” out the mental pictures that invade us and simply BE in the presence of God within us as Jesus taught. Try to do this for a half an hour or longer if possible, wherever and whenever you are.
Today, astrophysicists teach us that the entire cosmos sprang from a “point of no dimensions” 13.7 billion years ago. It is that point to which we face in contemplative prayer. Try it.
Do not worry about knowing God, or understanding God, rather simply ask for belief. This is what Jesus asked us:
"Believe this good news"