A Weekend with St. Teresa de Avila
The first weekend of April 2017, Contemplative Outreach of NM once again welcomed Susan Komis to Albuquerque. Last year Susan led us through the Spiritual Path of St. John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz). This year she shared with us her study and reflection about St. Teresa de Avila and Teresa’s written work, The Interior Castle. Prior to this retreat weekend I had spoken with a couple of friends and found, to my surprise, that they had not heard of St. Teresa of Avila.
St. Teresa was a 16th century Carmelite nun and Spanish Mystic. She was later canonized a Saint and Doctor in the Roman Catholic Church. She initiated the formation of Carmelite monasteries that were referred to as Discalced, meaning “barefoot.” Basically, she wanted the Carmelite sisters of her day to return to a life of simplicity and prayer.
Her Spiritual companion on this mission was Juan de la Cruz, also a Carmelite, and many years younger than her. His written works may be familiar; The Ascent of Mt. Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul, among others. Teresa had an intimate relationship with Jesus and is often referred to as Teresa of Jesus. The Interior Castle was her last and most profound work.
During this weekend, a group of 30 folks journeyed together through the Mansions of, The Interior Castle. There are 7 Mansions and each brings one closer to the Center where God, the Beloved, dwells. After an introductory day of learning about Teresa’s life we participated in a candle ceremony, facilitated by Susan Rush, where each of us entered the Castle to begin the journey. The key to the Interior Castle is Prayer. During the weekend Centering Prayer sustained us in our journey. There were many reflections and prayers shared by the retreatants.
Here is a special poem shared by retreatant Maryjane Giesler, a resident of New Mexico. DMT
Susan Komis is a Teacher and Spiritual guide from St. Louis, Missouri
Susan Rush is a Spiritual Companion and Chaplain from Santa Fe, NM
The Heart Whisperer
By Maryjane Giesler
You hover near my ear forming words of love,
enumerating your mercy in tiny syllables,
so I won’t be frightened, so I will talk to you, so I will come to you
on broken knees.
You move into my heart with suitcases of love
and unpack Yourself in a small white circle
to activate God inside of me and encapsulate my center.
You initiate the endless spirals for me to want you! And the more I love you,
The more I want you.
This longing builds
and spins circles and forms curlicues along those tiny whispers
creating a vortex and escalating into a tornado of peace.
So whisper that I can be with You, and You can grant me the center that
Difficulty in Doing a Second Sit
Q: I have had numerous people tell me that they have no difficulty carving space for the first sit of the day, usually in the morning. But once the day gets going it is most difficult to find time for the second sit. I myself find the second sit difficult to find time for or even to remember. One solution I have heard is to do a longer sit in the morning. But it seems if I do that I am not replenishing myself later in the day when I feel tired and worn out. I have suggested to people that they find a place at the lunch hour where they can sit in silence. At one time, I would visit a small historic chapel during my lunch hour and practice CP. Of course I am aware of God's presence with me during the day and that is pure gift. So, Fr. Carl, I was wondering if you have any solutions to offer folks on the "second sit" question?
A: Thank you for your question and thank you for the creative ways you have been able at times to enter into the second period of Centering Prayer. Praying the second sit later in the day is a recommendation – a guideline not a rigid rule. We recommend one sit for maintenance and two for transformation. Not that transformation doesn’t happen with one sit, but it is useful to recharge our reservoir of silence after a day engaged in life. You mention the need to recharge as well.
I have never been able to get into the routine of the second sit later in the day. So for years I make time in the morning for a 40 minute period of Centering Prayer. When possible I will on occasion enjoy a sit later in the day. I have trusted that the Lord would understand the rhythm of my life. God help me - I am a morning person.
Your thoughts about using the lunch period and going to a local church are helpful. I know someone who informs their staff that they have an important call at 2pm and are not to be disturbed for 20 minutes. At our CO Butler office we set aside time each afternoon for Centering Prayer but sometimes the day gets away from us too. Folks have shared that they make time as soon as they get home from work at night, before doing anything else. Some have created space just before they get ready for bed, preparing for the night like they prepare for the day. That is not a bad idea although it may make you too alert to sleep; you would need to experiment. Some who travel or commute are able to pray on trains, airplanes and in airports. It’s a very portable practice!
So there are so many ways of making time, but you have to be realistic. The important element is your intention to be with God by praying two periods of Centering Prayer a day. Just do the best you can do under the circumstances and in spite of your humanity. Prayer is a relationship not boot camp. As we know, any relationship almost always needs adjustments while reaching for the ideal. Start each day with the intention that today will be the day for craving out time for the second sit. Be surprised.
I would like to hear from our readers with their recommendations on this very common issue.
A Prayer for Living ~ A Prayer for Dyingby Susan Rush
A wise person once said, "Find a spiritual practice and do it as if your life depends on it." In my case, that practice is Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is a prayer of intention, a prayer of consent, a prayer of surrender. It is a prayer that allows us to touch the Divine Ground of our Being, a prayer that helps us see our true self and get a glimpse of the Love that lives within us and in all creation. It is a prayer for living and a prayer for dying.
One comes to the practice of Centering Prayer with only one intention - to consent to God's presence and action within. Because of that intention, commitment to the contemplative journey through a daily practice of Centering Prayer involves more than just setting aside time to pray; it also means opening ourselves up to a conversion of our will and total transformation.
When we first start Centering most of us are amazed at how busy our minds are. The silence we long for eludes us. We can't hear God. But as we continue to practice - time and time again letting our thoughts go and returning ever so gently to our intention - we realize that this is all an Ultimate Mystery and requires a graced trust. With committed practice, gradually we are able to embrace the Divine Dwelling within us. There is a knowing, a conviction, that we are with God. If we stay faithful to the practice, our false self begins to be dismantled and we live more and more from our center, from that Divine Ground of Being, from our true self. We are transformed. As the beloved Thomas Keating, who has spent his life conceptualizing and teaching this prayer form, wrote, "By consenting to God's creation, to our basic goodness as human beings, and to letting go of what we love in this world, we are brought to the final surrender, which is to allow the false self to die and the true self to emerge. The true self might be described as our participation in the divine life manifesting in our uniqueness."1
In Centering Prayer, we consent to God's presence and action within. In dying, we consent to God's presence and action with in. It is the very same consent, the very same desire, the very same surrender. We do the prayer in life - we become the prayer in our dying. Our daily Centering Prayer practice provides a training ground for that final letting go into Divine Life, that final surrender into the Divine Mystery. Many of us are afraid of dying, but what if we were able to embrace the idea that our true self is mingled with the Divine Holy One? What if we fully realized that death can never reach the inner Self? What if we believed with Thomas Keating that "through grace we open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing-closer than consciousness itself"?2 Would we still fear the end of life?
A contemplative prayer life is about a relationship with our Divine Source, the Unfathomable. It is an attitude of the mind, an orientation of the soul. I believe that the best way to prepare for death is to live our lives fully immersed in the prayer and its nudge to serve others. I believe that if we do that, the full force of God's love and compassion will light up our lives and our deaths. Through the practice of Centering Prayer, our outer veneer, our false self, gets stripped away. We practice dying. We learn to detach from this world and are able to surrender, to release our grasp a little bit each day, and to experience the Truth within us - that Love lies at the very core of our being. Only then will we understand what the Psalmist meant when he wrote, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou art with me."3
The Guidelines for Centering Prayer
- Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within.
- Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God's presence and action within.
- When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so gently to the sacred word.
- At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
As we practice Centering Prayer, we pass through ordinary levels of awareness, to spiritual awareness, to our true self - within which we find the Divine Presence. This mysterious process of transformation is illustrated in Fr. Keating's Levels of Awareness diagram, shown above. I believe these are the same levels we pass through as we move through the process of dying. Just as we have the opportunity to dismantle our false self and welcome our true self through Centering Prayer, we also have the opportunity to become more of who we really are as we move into end-of-life issues. We get clear about our desires, where we want to expend our energies, what we love, and who we want to have around us. In Centering Prayer, we learn to embrace our basic goodness and understand that we are intended to be happy and fulfilled, to love and be loved. As we die, we have the opportunity to become love.
In our final days or hours, I believe we open ourselves to the Ultimate Mystery, who we know is within us, just as we do in Centering Prayer. Through the ages, a number of ascetic practices developed to help the spiritual pilgrim draw closer to the Holy One - practices like silence, solitude, fasting, and the examination of conscience. I have observed many people who are in the process of dying gravitate toward those same practices, whether or not they've been schooled in them. Many stop talking hours or days before they die. The dying draw inward. Many do a life review, often asking the big life questions like, "Have I loved well? Have I made a difference?" Many stop eating - a sort of purification and retreat from the world in order to draw closer to the Divine Presence.
Death is never very far from life. With the impermanency of life upon us, we can prepare for death right here, right now, by drawing closer to the Divine Presence as we live - with intention, surrender, and love. Death, like life, is a pilgrimage, a journey into the Unfathomable. The more we welcome this great mystery into our lives while we are living, the more able we will be to gracefully welcome our movement from life to the transcendent.
I once heard a patient say that her dying process was an "ego-ectomy." The contemplative life through the practice of Centering Prayer can be an ego-ectomy, too. We come closer to our dying every day of our living, so let us live our lives to the fullest, for God's sake. Let us do our spiritual practice as if our lives depended on it - because they do. Let us welcome our ego-ectomy through the dismantling of the false self now - in life - in order to experience each day as a sacred gift. Let us do our life review every day so we will have the energy and space for those final I Love You's and those precious final blessings and thank you's. Let us embrace the sacred wonder of life and of death. Let us steward the mystery that is before us and within us.
1 Keating, Thomas, "Invitation To Love": The Way of Christian Contemplation. Rockport, MA: Element, Inc, 1992, p. 48
2 Keating, Thomas, "The Method of Centering Prayer," brochure, Butler, NJ: Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. 2004. p.1
3 New Revised Standard Version of The Holy Bible, Psalm 23. Verse 4
4 Keating, Thomas, "Intimacy with God". New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1994, p. 67