Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dark Cloud of Unknowing

If you've read this blog even just a little bit, it's easy to pick up that I struggle greatly with my ability to have faith when it comes to knowing God. The truth is, it has been a long time, maybe years since I have clearly felt or heard the voice of God in an irrefutable way. Radio silence. And yet I cannot seem to abandon Him, or is it He won't abandon me? Either way, I find myself in a holding pattern. A frustratingly long holding pattern. I haven't known how to proceed. How do I keep praying without doing it out of mere obligation and guilt? How do I read the Bible without disintegrating into a quivering heap of questions in the corner of my room? How am I to relate to my Christian friends who ARE hearing from God?

As I've been slowly savoring my way through The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, a desire has sprung up in me to begin practicing contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer is a discipline in silencing the self in order to make room to just be with God. Contrary to my original hopes, it's almost never a spiritual experience. It does not promise an encounter with God, it does not promise my questions answered. Contemplative prayer is a call to relinquish all control...something which I unfortunately hold onto, white knuckled. "God can only be met in emptiness, by those who come in love, abandoning all effort to control, every need to astound. The presence of God may, as often as not, be perceived as an absence. God is revealed in what others may blithely disregard as a barren nothingness."

Sam Keen, a noted author and philosopher, hits the nail on the head when he says:
A psychoanalysis of chatter would suggest that our over-verbalization is an effort to avoid something which is fearful- silence. But why should silence be threatening? Because words are a way of structuring, manipulating, and controlling; thus, when they are absent the specter of loss of control arises. If we cannot name it, we cannot control it. Naming gives us power. Hence, silence is impotence, the surrender of control. Control is power and power is safety.
At the heart of contemplative prayer is a deep longing for God alone. This is hard. I come to God in prayer with frantic requests for my friends, for me. I tell Him what I want from Him. Ironically, despite the fact that my petitions are mostly selfish in nature, the thing I want most is just Him. I talk and talk and I ask and I ask because hearing my own voice is at least better then hearing nothing at all. But at my core I only want Him; sometimes so badly that sometimes it's a physical ache. Far from making me apathetic, His silence only makes me long for Him more. My mind may only grasp at the edges of God but my heart beats fully, painfully for Him. Belden Lane continues in Solace...
"A dark cloud always separates the believer from her deepest desire, a God beyond the reach of human reason. It is a frustrating darkness through which the mind cannot see, yet it serves to intensify the longing for that which is loved. The only way the thick cloud can be pierced is by a 'sharp dart of longing love,' by utterly forgetting oneself in the quest for what is loved above everything else....The ego is relinquished, along with its constant flow of chatter and illusion of control, so that love may happen. Love, after all, is the only way God can be known." soon as I move into my new house and get my own room again (and turn it into my "hidey hole of peace and tranquility"), I will begin the practice of contemplative prayer. I don't know what to expect.  In fact, I think I'm going to try and have no expectations at all. I'm ready to meet with God, even if that means silence, in a place bigger than the pitiful space I've carved out for Him.

Have you ever practiced contemplative prayer? What happened/didn't happen? 

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