Grace and Mercy

     In the 6th chapter about grace and mercy, I was mostly drawn more to the section about the interaction of prayer with God. It starts by revisiting the idea of the collective unconsciousness by starting with the psychedelics in the 1960s and moving forward to the field of quantum mechanics which soon helped come up with a “scientific” name for divine consciousness: the nonlocal mind. Nonlocal, “refers to a field that cannot be represented or measured in the typical space-time continuum… the human mind is an extension of the nonlocal mind-which is not simply localized in the body.” (pg. 203) What does this have to do with grace and prayer?

     According to Seaward, when we pray, we send our thoughts out as a type of energy, because all things are energy. Beyond that, that prayer also enters the nonlocal mind. So prayers don’t necessarily go from sender to godhead to receiver but instead go everywhere; as the author demonstrates through several studies where distance is made irrelevant. To this end, prayer is an effective coping technique for stress, but open-ended prayer vs. goal or reciting words (think rosary or the same prayer before a meal) appears to be the most effective; I wonder if this is because it is less about the self (ego) and more about the divine. As it explains later in the reading,“Surrender does not mean to give in or give up. ‘Surrender to the will of God’ is an invitation to work with, rather than in opposition to, the divine game plan. Think of surrender as flowing with the current.” (pg. 212) So rather than praying to God FOR something, or repeating a prayer on autopilot, in an open-ended prayer it is more thoughtful, immersive and gratitude filled. This could go back to the four processes; the repetitive prayers may be good for the “emptying” process of clearing your mind, but not for the “connecting” process of relating to the divine. 

     Do we not see this told to us by Jesus in Matthew 6:5-8“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees you in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Do we think that God needs us to repeat empty words again and again? That God does not know what we need before we ask? Jesus tells us to pray “to the Father” not in front of many, because if you are putting on a show, that will be your only reward, but in private, where it is clear your prayers are for God. And Jesus says “do not heap empty phrases” thinking we’ll be “heard for their many words” but gives us clear instruction on how to pray. Then we are given the “Lord’s Prayer.”

     But even here Jesus says Matthew 6:9-10 “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus says to pray LIKE this, not to recite this prayer repeated. Jesus is giving us instructions (because the disciples asked) on how to pray. So he’s saying, acknowledge God as your Father, praise his holiness. Pray that God’s Kingdom and Will be on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 11-12 “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Then Jesus says ask God to provide for your needs daily, to acknowledge that it is God and not you who sustains you. Pray that God forgives your sins as you have forgiven those who have sinned against you (loving all people and showing compassion). Matthew 6:13 “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pray that God help you to avoid the things that tempt you away from relationship with your heavenly Father, and protect you from evil.

     Jesus then goes on to remind them that if you forgive others, God will forgive you but if you don’t, neither will God forgive you. What is that about? Why would Jesus tell us that God forgiving us is contingent upon us forgiving others? I think this traces back to my reading in Cannato, where we must redeem all creation. Love everyone. Our salvation is found in loving each other and in God. Jesus, in forgiving and loving us and sacrificing himself for the world is the ultimate example of this. Perhaps that is why reciting prayers in front of many doesn’t impress God, or repeating the same prayer over and over doesn’t resonate in God’s heart the way Jesus’ instruction on prayer does. If we pray the way Jesus’ calls us to, we can’t help but enter into a deeper relationship with God and all those around us whom we have wronged or who have wronged us.

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Centering, Emptying, Grounding, Connecting

The fourth chapter of Brian Seaward’s Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water looked at the seasons of the soul and I found many of his reflections profoundly helpful. Centering, emptying, grounding and connecting are the four processes reviewed and are all deeply rewarding and necessary but also have challenges that accompany each of them.

Centering, or entering the heart and quieting the mind, is the first step and for some the hardest. It is creating a quiet space for the divine to speak into. “In the words of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’” (pg. 125) It is important to do this activity daily, even if only for a short time, to try to have a designated space, and to have it be quiet.

The second is emptying, where we let go and release those things we no longer need.  It can be thoughts, ideas, memories, etc. but they are weights that hold us down. Emptying out creates space for new ideas, insights, and growth. The author claims this is the hardest and often is accompanied by grief and avoidance. “Stressors are not so much a spiritual breakdown as opportunities for a spiritual breakthrough. Our moments of despair are the soul’s attempt to take that first step into the void.” (pg. 139) This is not a place to get stuck, as many do, but to rest in the momentary but profound freedom this brief emptiness offers. “When we understand and appreciate the balance, we can see how necessary the emptying process is to becoming whole.” (pg. 143)

Third is the grounding process, the space in which we are reminded of our basic connection to God; when we seek for insights from something beyond ourselves. Dreams and vision quests are paths used but there is always communication happening outside of these two things; it is often a matter of receptivity which is more a process then an outcome. “Just as you cannot push water uphill, you cannot demand enlightenment. Discipline and patience are essential in the grounding process.” (pg. 153) Another space you will find this is in moments of synchronicity, where we see that all things are linked and that the divine can speak to us through those ties. In other words, two events that might separately have no great meaning together speak a greater truth to us. This is, in part, what Sophy Burnham refers to when she, “…eloquently suggests in her acclaimed bestseller A Book of Angels, the voice of God has many mouths. Insights, inspirations, and revelations can come from relatives, friends and even strangers.” (pg. 157) To hear from God provides stability through the divine instead of our own foundations.

The final process is connecting, relationship. From the Apostle Paul to African Proverbs to Chief Seattle, our interconnectedness to each other and the world is impossible to deny. “From a Taoist perspective, when we see ourselves as separate from the whole, we not only distance ourselves from nature, we isolate ourselves from other people as well. In turn, this distance weakens our spiritual health and suffocates our very essence.” (pg. 161) As science began to recognize that we were all energy, Jung with Einstein formulated the idea of a collective unconscious, a universal mind. Later, in his autobiography, Jung noted that which he had labeled the unconscious could just as well be God. Shifting from grounding to connecting is found in both receiving and giving. Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and concentration camp survivor, “…wrote in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning: “We had to learn from ourselves and we had to teach disparaging men that it did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” (pg. 164) This communal, interconnected life we all share asks something of us, and we give to it, enter into community and this final phase, through and out of love and compassion.