By Dick Russo, Sunday Assembly member
On Feb.12, 2021, Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM., in his Daily Meditations wrote: “The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a general process of surrender to that moment.” He went on to say that…Barbara Holmes, author of Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, called the moment of awe “Joy Unspeakable…we are not headed toward a single goal. We are on a pilgrimage toward the center of our hearts. It is in this place of prayerful repose that joy unspeakable erupts.”
I love the image of joy erupting like a volcano spewing forth lava, the fire of love. I feel most fortunate to have had such an experience!
After serving six and a half years as a priest, I entered what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.” It lasted more than 15 years.
After leaving the priesthood I worked as a job counselor for the State of Wisconsin’s Job Service for seven years. But something was missing. I wanted to enrich people’s lives. That was not the job in which to do that. I had an educational background in counseling, but wanted to do more. I switched to Social Work, got my degree, and entered a training program to become a psychotherapist. In the first group session of a Gestalt training seminar the leader said that we were all in the helping professions and that if we didn’t nourish ourselves we couldn’t help others. “How do you nourish yourself?” I didn’t have a clue! In the seminary we were taught to “be all things to all men!” Nourish myself? Not a clue! TOTALLY FOREIGN CONCEPT!
Fast forward 10 years. I was in another psychotherapy training group called Self Accepting Training (SAT). SAT is defined as “experiencing yourself in the moment without self-judgment, self-criticism nor self-evaluation.” The founder of SAT used to say that the mind can play tricks on us but “the body does not lie. Listen to your body.” The therapist presenting the seminar asked me to say some words and just experience my body. The words she gave me, I later discovered, were a Sanskrit mantra. I was about to ask, “what the hell does that mean?” when she said, “It means, I honor the divinity within me.”
The instant she told me the meaning I experienced the eruption! Energy began to shoot throughout my entire body! I began to shake violently! My lips and limbs were buzzing! I began to sob uncontrollably! And it all felt wonderful, as if I were in a cleansing shower of Grace! I lost track of time, but the shaking must have lasted anywhere from a half hour to 45 minutes?
When I finally stopped shaking the therapist said, “You had quite an experience of God”. My agnostic self-replied, “That wasn’t’ God!”
“What was it?”
“She, “What’s the difference?”
I had no answer! But as the days unfolded I began that “pilgrimage toward the center of our hearts.” I began that pilgrimage 35 years ago through daily meditation.
St. Paul teaches, “Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (Cor. 6:19) and “In this body lives the fullness of divinity.” (Col 2:9. both Jerusalem Bible). Just imagine for a moment what the world would be like if we lived each moment with the awareness that God lives in us just as we are! And if we lived with the recognition that the same is true for every single person! What would happen if we “saw” God in ourselves and everyone we met? As the song says, “What a wonderful world it would be!”
I remember as a child that my sister and I would give up candy for Lent. Our father would go to the Italian American club to play cards and collect his winnings in candy for us. As soon as the clock struck noon on Holy Sat., we would dive into the candy bag! Today the practice of “giving up for Lent” still exists. I wish to invite you, instead of giving up, begin or continue, as the case may be, your own pilgrimage to the divinity that exists in your heart.
Take even just 5 or 10 minutes every day to sit quietly. Imagine your heart as a temple with God (however you imagine God) or Christ sitting there. Just watch your breath going in and out. Focus on the space between the breaths, where the inhalation stops and the exhalation begins. Then again where the exhalation stops and the inhalation begins. Meditation sages teach that it is in that space that divinity exists. It is there that peace, stillness and tranquility reside. You may find that you want to add a minute a day as the days go by. If your mind begins to wander, very, very gently bring your awareness back to your breath.
If we take the time to visit our hearts, I suspect our “Alleluia” on Easter Sunday will have much greater meaning. I suggest, for assistance on your journey, reading Fr. Rohr’s Daily Meditations. And/or read James Finley’s (occasionally a guest homilist at Holy Wisdom) Christian Meditation. Another book that I have found to be very helpful is Swami Muktananda’s Meditate.
It is my hope and wish that we all experience “Joy Unspeakable” through the practice of meditation this Lent and then the mystery of divinity within as we celebrate the Resurrection of Easter!