Monday, October 11, 2004

Jesus the spiritual teacher opens our mind to the spirit realm, away from the traffic of the senses - "Spiritual Development and the Gospel Narratives 8" by John Shea

My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


Our professor John Shea explained to the class that, like Jesus, we too must practice spiritual disciplines, if we are to become conscious of the presence of God all around us and in creation, as well as within us. Moreover, because our mind tends not to be spiritual and to go with all that we take in through our senses, spiritual disciplines and pondering the Word of God draws our mind beyond the limited vision and realities of the physical world in order to catch a glimpse of the "bigger picture". One such spiritual discipline is the practice of meditation, or of stilling the body, the mind, and the heart, so that we can find our way within to the place of our soul or spirit, which has been created by God with a capacity to be in union with Him.

To become conscious of my inner self, and get out of the heavy traffic of the senses, I pull in my consciousness and immediately become aware of my body in a way I wasn’t until now; so I may suddenly realize I have an ache in my leg, or that I am cold, and so on. I acknowledge the body - make any necessary adjustments to my posture to put the body at ease so it won't need to continue to seek my conscious attention - and pull my consciousness in further, and become aware of the mind, whose every thought wants me to identify with it, give it my full attention, or resist it.

I do none of that, but acknowledge each thought, and then simply let it go, and pull in further to the place between my thinking apparatus and my deep inner self, where there is contact between my spirit and the Spirit of God. Now this sounds simple, and in reality it really is, but it is not so easy to actually do. That's why it is called a spiritual discipline, requiring steady efforts to do it, without much regard for success or failure, but just to do it and be there, with trust that God is faithful and always keeps his appointments. Whether or not we actually sense anything go on within us really doesn't matter, since the Scriptures make it clear that God prefers to come in a silence and stillness in which we cannot lay hold of Him or manipulate Him the way we tend to do with things and people in the physical world. God is great and will not be used by us. He is sovereign and decides what is best for us. He loves us too much to allow us to sink into the illusion of  manipulating or having any "control" over Him. Seeking or taking control shuts down freedom, relationship, and any possibility of love. 

Normally, the mind wants to take hold of such a spiritual discipline and control everything about it in the same way it controls much of what we do all day long, with thoughts about what to do to prepare, what to do during, and what to do after, and more thoughts on how things seem to be progressing. None of that is relevant in the realm of the spirit. Whatever God wants us to know He will allow to stay with us afterwards as a lingering impression that won't go away. That is one way we can know what was real and from God, by what lingers persistently and remains for us to notice. Some of that may still be just from our own mind, heart, psyche, or body; so we need to learn and we can learn to distinguish where each thought, sentiment, or impression really comes from over time.

As I try to enter into this meditation and try to be still, the mind lets me release its many thoughts that come to me by the Word of God that I take in, which gives the mind truths to consider that capture its interest and stimulate it to open itself to more depth and abundance that it will find within, in the realm of spirit. As I employ this discipline regularly my mind opens more readily to my own spirit within, where it can draw Living Waters from the deep wells of Spirit within, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob's well.

The Pharisees exemplify people with minds closed to spirit. They are so identified with closed worldly thoughts of fear, insecurity, competition, influence, keeping records of sins and wrongs, and of course domination, that they cannot open themselves to the Spirit. Jesus calls their attention to their thoughts and offers them a more helpful set of thoughts. Much of our pain is self-inflicted from the deadly thoughts to which we give our whole attention, such as all the many considerations around providing a life for ourselves and our families, and all that is within us concerned about how we are doing or what people think of us, and so on. Spiritual teachers always situate themselves in tension with the person, to intrigue, shock, or cajole the mind to give its attention instead to a spiritual set of thoughts capable of drawing the mind inwards to the spirit place, whence it might draw from the wellsprings of spirit and life. The spiritual teacher Jesus doesn’t focus on what a person says, but on the person itself, and is always trying to open the mind to the spirit within.

Jesus knows what is happening, when we are into “mob think” and caught up in shallow worldly ways of self-sufficiency, power, initiative, competition, and domination. Jesus hears our unproductive thoughts and calls us beyond that limited mind (meta-noia) into the “game” of repentance and life. He acknowledges our painful situation or struggle and calls us to go beyond it into mission and bear fruit. Jesus cursed the fig tree without fruit and it withered, even though it wasn’t the season for fruit, to get everyone's attention with a clear statement that He, Jesus, is the gardener and also the season for fruit – with Jesus, the time to bear fruit is always now, today. He digs up our roots to manure them, but we must be aware that our time for bearing fruit is limited – we don’t have unlimited time - we need to wake up now to what the Spirit is saying to us in the depths of our soul.

There is only so much space in our consciousness; speculation, idle amazement, chronic worry about life or excessive fear block out thoughts that can lead to conversion and openness to spirit. As spiritual teacher, Jesus tries to wake us up, using whatever we are experiencing: troubles, illness, or even death, to supplant unproductive, closed minded worldly thoughts with productive, open minded spiritual ones. It's not that the world is bad, after all, it is God's own creation and handiwork. It's simply that there is the realm of spirit that suffuses and radiates from within all that God the Father sustains in being, and He has created us with an inner capacity to recognize the inner spiritual radiance of his presence in all creatures. St. Francis of Assisi was sensitive to this presence of God in creatures and called them "Sister" and "Brother".

Spiritual teachers either love the teaching and give it to us, or else they love us and set the conditions for us to discover the teaching for ourselves – Jesus uses both tracks. In this way we can understand Jesus’ “dueling of words” in the Gospels, especially with the Pharisees, at the service of waking people’s consciousness to truth and to his guidance to life in the Spirit. He draws us away from our inner web of anxious thoughts in the project of survival towards faith in our Father's love and confidence that God cares for us, notwithstanding the sensory “evidence” to the contrary, erroneously filling us with thoughts like "It's a jungle out there. It's every man for himself."

God is always present, the Spirit / wind always blowing, but we have to put up our sails to catch it. The open sail is deliberate, trusting prayer. In Matthew, prayer isn’t telling God our needs, since He already knows even more than we do about what we need, but consciousness of God’s graciousness. We draw our mind away from tomorrow thinking by meditating on the gift of being alive today, now. In God we draw from a fullness of abundance - the divine abundance that gives meaning and purpose to our spirit - even in the midst of poverty, pain, mourning or persecution; as Jesus taught in the "beatitudes" portion of his sermon on the mount. It is only by receiving from this abundance that we can engage in Christian ministry, because the ministry Jesus began and then entrusted to his disciples to carry on is a ministry drawing from the abundance of the Father's love for his children.

The spiritual teacher frees us from the domination and tyranny of our senses, which keep insisting that we are separate beings and that life is a competition for limited resources. As our spiritual teacher, Jesus shows us how to glide - buoyed up by grace like the swan once it hobbles off the land into the water - by freely choosing to waddle with difficulty off the land into the water of God's presence all around us.

Today is the time of beginning again, and we can recommit ourselves to the practice of various useful Christian disciplines like (1) observing the Lord’s Day as a Sabbath rest and celebration and letting this rest filter into each day, month, and year; (2) stopping the impulse to possess by actively receiving spirit from Jesus and practicing fasting and almsgiving; and (3) practicing meditation and prayer to seek the Spirit within, to be drawn where the Spirit wills, and to draw from the font of Living Water.

to be continued....


My purpose in these posts is to help spread the contributions of a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.


© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal  QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC

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