The Human Condition - 6
The Greek Fathers called this process deification. God has called us through the gosdpel into an adventure of faith, hope, and love that involves being introducted to the inner life of the Ultimate Reality, whom we call God in the Christian tradition. The same same unconditional love that moves in God is moving in us by grace, supplanting the human ego with the divine "I," We begin to manifest in daily life not our false selves and prejudices, but the infinite tenderness of God, the concern of God for every living thing, especially for the needy and the poor.
Without profound purification, how far can social action have a false self, too. They need to know the dynamics that are at work withib them. Otherwise, social projects may fall apart, or they will suffer burnout. "Where are you?" is, indeed, a question of great magnitude. Are you still at the age of one or two, where your emotional program for security is the chief energy that determines your decisions and relationships, especially the relationship between God and you? Are you soenamored with your religion that you have a native loyalty that cannot see the real faults that are present in a particular faith community? Do you sweep under the rug embarrassing situations and bow to the security or esteem needs of the commun ity?
All human history is under the influence of the false-self system that easily moves from our hearts into our families, communities, and nations and then afflicts the whole hum, an race. God invites us to take responsibility for being human and to open ourselves to the unconscious damage that is influencing our decisions and relationships.If psychologists and psychiatrists would be in dialogue with the insights of St. John of the Cross and those who experience the dark nights, there could be a marvelous symbiosis of treatment. We are not sick just because of some physiological pathology. It is not just a question of sin either; it is a question of the human condition, for which none of us is initially responsible but, on becoming adults, we are not called to be responsible.
How do we cultivate any friendship? By spending time together with those to whom we are attracted. There are stages of building any relationship, beginning with getting acquainted, which is a bit awkward; through friendliness, which is more pleasant; to friendship, which is a commitment; to various levels of union and unity that restore the state intimacy that was lost symbolically in the Garden of Eden. Here we are under the influence of unconscious drives of various intensity that in turn influence our decisions and relationships with other people and foul them up. We have to begin to take the trail to truth. This is what the Gospel invites us to do. We donn't know much about the prayer life of Jesus. St Paul urged his disciples to pray without ceasing. Contemplative prayer is a deeping of faith that moves beyond thought and concepts.
One just listens to God, open and receptive to the divine presence in one's inmost being as its source. One listens not with a view of hearing something, but with the view to becoming aware of the of the obstacles to one's friendship with God. Contemplative prayer starts modestly, but as soon as it begins to reach a certain intensity, it opens us to the unconscious. Painful memories that we have forgotten or repressed begin to come to consciousness. Primitive emotions that we felt as children and that we have been compensating for may come to consciousness.
How should we handle these afflictive emotions? By facing them, by feeling them. Feelings that have been repressed have to be allowed to pass through our awareness once again in order to be left behind for good. Most of the time, they don't need psychotherapy; they just need to be evacuated. We might say that we are suffering from acute psychic indigestion, a nausea of a psychological character that is interfering with our mental health and all our relationships.
In contemplative prayer, the rest we experience is so deep that it allows the inner defense to relax, and the body, with its great capacity for health, says, "Let's get rid of these emotional blocks once and for all." The psychic nervous system may explode in primitive emotions or intolerable memories. For a few minutes, you feel that you would rather be in hell. But then it is over.
Some problems, admittedly, are so serious that one needs psychiatric help. It is important that there be teamwork between spiritual guides and psychological professionals. If we are talking about the health of a human being, we are not just talking about the body or even the emotions; we are talking about a whole range of human potential, including spiritual health. These aall have to be treated at once if we want to get well. This is what contemplative prayer does. But it doesn't act alone. Its fruits need to be worked into daily life.
Contemplative prayer begins to make us aware of the divine presence within us, the source of true happiness. As soon as we begin to taste the peace that comes from the regular practice of contemplative prayer, it relativizes the whole unreal world of demands and "shoulds," of aversions and desires that were based on emotional programs for happiness that might have worked for children, but that are, in fact, killing us. "Where are you?" God's question to us never changes. In some cases, life has been so tragic that we are not free to decide where we are. But the power of divine grace, especially as it is experienced in contemplative prayer, opens us to the unconscious and introduces us to a world of unlimited possibilities that are unknown to us now.
Every human pleasure is meant to be a stepping stone to knowing God better or to discovering some new aspect of God. Only when that stepping stone becomes an end in itself-that is, when we overidentify with it- does it distort the divine intention. Everything in the universe is meant to be a reminder of God's presence.
God is existence. In everything that exists, God is present. The greatest reality is God's presence. The problem is that we only access that presence to the degree that our interior life is attuned to it. Hence the importance in the Christian tradition of listening to sacred scripture, which is much more than just listenin g to its literal meaning. It is sitting with the text in the presence of the Holy SDpirit and allowing the Spirit to deepen our capacity to listen.
That in no way denigrates the value of the literal;listening simply doesn't stop there. The external word of God in us. When that happens, we become, in a certain sense, the word of God. The presence of God begins to be felt very gently. As it becomes stronger and more pervasive, it initiates a gradual return to the state of intimacy that the story of the Garden of Eden describes in mythological form. ( Mythology is not untruth; it is simply an attempt to speak the truth in a symbolic way that points to a reality beyond words or concepts.)
The Gospel introduces us to divine therapy for the illness of the human condition in the form of contemplative prayer, which addresses not only the distortions of our conscious behaviour, b ut also the dynamics of the unconscious. Contemplation provides us with the courage to face the second great question of the spiritual journey: Who are You?
Reference: The Human Condition - Contemplation and Transformation: Thomas Keating