Practising awareness of the Divine

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Now that sounds unbearably pompous or over pious. But in fact it it is the name that the early Fathers of the Christian (yes there were also early Desert mothers too)  church gave to their meditation or prayer life.

The most well known was Anthony the Great, who moved to the desert in 270–271 and became known as both the father and founder of desert monasticism. The desert monastic communities that grew out of the informal gathering of hermit monks became the model for Christian Monasticism. The eastern monastic tradition at Mount Athos and the western Rule of St Benedict both were strongly influenced by the traditions that began in the desert. All of the monastic revivals of the Middle Ages looked to the desert for inspiration and guidance. Much of Eastern Christian spirituality, including the Hesychast movement, had its roots in the practices of the Desert Fathers. Even religious renewals such as the German evangelicals and Pietists in Pennsylvania, the Devotio Moderna movement, and the Methodist Revival in England are seen by modern scholars as being influenced by the Desert Fathers.

What was the attraction and how did such a spirituality survive so long and be seen as a valuable source by so many religious movements and bodies?

Well put simply the early fathers learned to sit in silence and create a space in the heart for the Holy Spirit, or God or whatever you believe in, to find a home in. When I used to commute from Kinston upon Thames to Waterloo and back each day on crowded and often smelly commuter trains I was able to use this simple technique to shut out the noise and rattle and crush and just begin to exist quietly in the eternal now of the spirit.

The Buddhists also do similar inner space creation. The way to empty the mind of the million and one thoughts that shout for our attention is to have a simple word or phrase we can silently murmur and use as a shield from the world.

I must be one of the worlds most impatient people yet I found after a few days I could alight from my train in a calm and tranquil state usually, not always but very often. Co-workers in the mornings noticed and the people I lived with certainly did too. I was calmer less argumentative and much nicer to be around.

Even now when my religious affiliation( as opposed to belief) is virtual non exist ant I still practice the awareness of the divine (or whatever). For such a small effort the result brings such great benefit. There are a few books and I know of some classes, but frankly if you can read and have patience to try, that is all you need. What word of phrase do I use? Well I took mine from the latin mass of Maundy Thursday because I liked the Taize hymn of the same name.

Ubi Caritas…or in it’s full name Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

But any phrase that is attractive and spirit centred works just as well. Come Holy Spirit, Jesus Love, I know a Quaker Lady who uses the words ‘Bright Crystal’. What works works.

I hope that anyone who feels anxious or uncertain or wants to reach out to the Divine might consider this ancient yet modern method.

I’ll just close by giving the translation of that hymn as I think is is so beautiful.

Copyright 2012 Edmund Preston.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Posted on 23rd August 2012Categories Mystical experience, PoetryTags , , , , , , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Things desired as essential

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Spiritual Questions
Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career
however humble;
it is a real possession in the
changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you
to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham,
drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.”

Max Ehrman

Posted on8th April 2013CategoriesMeaning and inspiration, PoetryTags,, , , , ,  Leave a comment

Image result for spiritual quotes

Serenity prayer

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Posted on15th October 2010CategoriesPoetry, ReligionTags,, ,  Leave a comment

Denise Levertov: The Stream & the Sapphire.

Denise Levertov wrote many poems with spiritual themes throughout her career. For example respect for nature and life, nothingness and absence, and despair with the world. There were also positive ideas and images about peace in death, wandering search, gratitude to give, wonder at mystery, and dance of delight.

It is as if she had been driven to ask spiritual questions out of a growing awareness of the tensions in the world and her relation to it.

Denise LevertovIn 1997 – the year of her death aged 74 – she brought together  a collection of 38 of these previously published poems in The Stream & The Sapphire, published by New Directions Publishing Corporation, New York.

Life of Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov was born in 1923 and grew up in Ilford Essex. Her mother, came from a small mining village in North Wales. Her father, a Russian Hassidic Jew, emigrated to the UK and became an Anglican priest after converting to Christianity. During World War II, she became a civilian nurse serving in London throughout the bombings. In 1947 she married Mitchell Goodman, an American writer, and a year later they moved to America.

Inner development of Denise Levertov

It seems that she valued her spiritual religious doubts and uncertainties as a way of finding a way through the maze of life. However in line with her inner development, her writing began to show the idea that nothingness and darkness were no longer things to doubt and agonize over. For example :

From St. Thomas Didymus

why has this child lost his childhood in suffering,
why is this child who will soon be a man
tormented, torn, twisted?
Why is he cruelly punished
who has done nothing except be born?
The twin of my birth
was not so close
as that man I heard
say what my heart
sighed with each beat, my breath silently
cried in and out,
in and out.

After the healing,
he, with his wondering
newly peaceful boy, receded;
no one
dwells on the gratitude, the astonished joy,
the swift
acceptance and forgetting.”

What was a nagging worry resolves into something positive.

Religious consciousness of Denise Levertov

During the course of her life her poems tend to shift away from constantly questioning religion to accepting it simply. And so later the content became more overtly religious as her own beliefs slowly developed from agnosticism, through constantly questioning religion to an acceptance of the Christian faith. She wrote that this was movement “incorporating much doubt and questioning as well as affirmation”.

As a developing religious consciousness began to be reflected in the poetry of Denise Levertov, I am reminded of what the philosopher James Pratt wrote. He wrote about an intuitive sense of a presence of a life greater than one’s own. This presence is said to be like a very happy feeling of being with another person although not actually being able to see, hear or sense that person.

She wrote about this mysterious presence in terms of its absence:

From On a theme by Thomas Merton

“Like a child
at a barbaric fairgrounds –
noise, lights, the violent odors –
Adam fragments himself. The whirling rides!

Fragmented Adam stares.
Gods hands,
unseen, the whirling rides
dazzle, the lights blinding him. Fragmented,
he is not present to himself. God
suffers the void that is his absence.”

Are we not also dazzled by the fast moving stimulating technology filled world that demands our attention so that we fail to notice the absence of God’s spirit within our soul? No wonder we are prone to despair at the pointlessness of it all.

She said:

“When I started writing explicitly Christian poems, I thought I’d lose part of my readership. But I haven’t actually. … This sense of spiritual hunger is something of a counter-force or unconscious reaction to all that technological euphoria.”

Christian faith of Denise Levertov

She also said:

“When you’re really caught up in writing a poem, it can be a form of prayer. I’m not very good at praying, but what I experience when I’m writing a poem is close to prayer. I feel it in different degrees and not with every poem.”

She compares religious faith with the ebbing and flowing of the tide.

From The Tide

“Faith’s a tide, it seems, ebbs and flows responsive
to action and inaction.
Remain in stasis, blown sand
stings your face, and anemones
shrivel in rock pools no wave renews.
Clean the littered beach, clear
the lines of a forming poem,
the waters fled inward.
Dull stones again fulfill
their glowing destinies, and emptiness
is a cup, and holds
the ocean.”

Whilst reflecting on the need to make the effort to focus her attention on God and what she calls God’s embrace, she also seems to be able to tolerate not knowing all the answers and accept the paradoxes of faith.

In her writing, to my mind, Denise Levertov, illustrates what the spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg maintained is true religious enlightenment. This is a gift of inner perception from God received by those people who:

  • humbly search for spiritual meaning
  • love what is true for the sake of truth
  • want to be truly useful in life
  • turn to spiritual values in precedence over the natural desires of life

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems