Contemplative Prayer and Inner Crisis
JOHN T. SKINNER
The cry to God as “Father”
in the New Testament
is not a calm acknowledgement
of a universal truth about
God’s abstract fatherhood,
It is the child’s cry
out of a nightmare,
It is the cry of OUTRAGE,
FEAR, SHRINKING AWAY, when
faced with the horror of
‘the world’ – yet not simply or
but trust as well
all things are
possible to Thee……
I hear footsteps in the Garden
And I know the Lord is near
And He calls me by my name
Where are you hiding?
Where are you hiding?
Why do you hide?
I miss you My son.
And I answer more loudly than
I might have done
I feel naked and ashamed
I’ve sinned against You Father
And I’ve no one but myself
And he said you are not naked
You are clothed in the grace
of my son
Come and let me lead you
to where your journey will
Why are you hiding?
Why are you hiding?
Why do you hide from me
Why are you hiding?
Why are you hiding?
Why do you hide from me
When I love you so………
Transcript of Tape 1
If there was a time when prayer, meditation and contemplation were taken for granted, and part of our human experience, they are no longer. They are regarded as marginal, secondary or even unnecessary. Sadly, even those, among us who count ourselves as believers often have the same attitude. What counts is: ‘getting on; ‘getting things done’.
Our lives can be so motivated by activity, and you don’t have to ne mobile to be active. The mind, and our thoughts and concerns can have us ‘running all over the place. And most of the time, it is good legitimate activity. Providing our daily bread, or worrying how we are going to eat.’ Running our homes, caring for our family, friends and neighbours. Church fellowship and ministry. At other times, we end up just ‘killing time’ with the goggle box, the all demanding hobby, that ever present worry, or the pub! Sometimes out of boredom, sometimes as an escape. Many of us, have little or know time for ourselves and our loved ones, let alone God.
It is usually in a crisis, when the rhythm of our lives is disturbed, the way we have chosen to live is ‘upset’ that we suddenly realize that we have no inner spiritual resources to draw upon. Though it is not only a crisis that awakens us to our spiritual emptiness, we can be totally involved in the pleasure and responsibilities of our lives, and yet have a sense that something is wrong. Its as if there is a constant knocking at the door of our hearts, calling us to stop, listen and be still.
When we ignore this inner voice, then we and our relationships are in danger of breaking down.
Yet stopping is hard.
When we stop, we have to face the truth about ourselves, and our relationship with God, and perhaps the wife too! This can be very threatening, making us want to withdraw, hide or even strike out.
In every meaningful relationship there will be times when deep pain begins to emerge, when hurts rise to the surface. We can choose to hide from this, or we can learn to face it.
This will mean taking the time, creating the space, learning to listen, to wait and how to cope with the reactions.
My soul thirsts for Thee
and my flesh
yearns for Thee
in a dry and weary
land where there is
Voice which calls us beyond
scattered dreams, barren days
to receive and give of
May You kindle our hope
in the morning of life
may You bring us peace
with day’s end.
In the silence of prayer
inner freedom will sing
of more being, vision,
Though exalted our hopes
no less real shall they be in compassion, faithfulness
Spirit of God, be for us joy
healing gift of love
Spirit of God, He for us joy
Healing gift of love, creating a new heart
Longing to be spirit alive;
Very life of God be rooted within us. MONKS OF WESTERN PRIORY
My eyes, my eyes,
Have seen the King
My eyes, my eyes,
Have seen the King
The vision of His
Has pierced me deep
To whom else can I go?
My heart, my heart
My heart, my heart
He touched something
inside of me
That’s now reaching
out for him
And I know that I must go
How can I sing ‘The Lord’s Song’
In a strange and weary land?
Come away my love
Come away my love
Come away, come away
Look! Here he comes
Skipping on the hills
And leaping on the mountains
Come away my love …………………………… ANDREWS/SKINNER 1985
Transcript of Tape 2
Being the father of four children, I regard myself as a bit of an expert at delivering babies. Be calm and relaxed…just before and after the birth, that’s my advice.
Now I can already count here one or two people who know me, and will be listening to these tapes, having a good laugh at this point.
For they have seen me and my reactions around the time the stork is about to appear. To be honest I just go to pieces. The mixed emotions of excitement and tension make me totally absent minded. Linda, my wife usually ends up calming me down, especially in the delivery room.
For my parents, the birth of a child is marked by joy and pain.
For those of you who have had the privilege of watching and guiding a person who has been touched by God, and awakened to spiritual reality, the parallel with birth is obvious, and you begin to understand Jesus’ words: “You must be born again”.
There was one man whom God had awakened, came and knocked on our door. He was obviously someone who was used to being very much ‘in control’ of his life, and didn’t like being interrupted by God. He couldn’t eat or sleep properly, and was having difficulty doing his job. He kept popping in for several days, asking questions about God, Jesus etc. And raising all his objections to why he couldn’t possibly become a Christian.
One day all his arguments gone, and his defences down, he just broke down and surrendered himself to the Love of God. He chose to be born into God’s Kingdom responding to God’s call, and the Lord delivered him.
What a party there must have been in heaven! All the pain and struggle burst forth into life, and joy and peace flooded his whole being. For months after that he just couldn’t get enough of the Lord. His new found faith placed him in many trying situations, both at home and at work, but he had found life, and even in the difficulties he just kept choosing to live.
In spiritual birth, just as in physical birth no two babies experiences are the same .Some people are extremely difficult, others just seem to go easy.
Tape 2 (2)
Yet common to all will be that experience of joy and pain. What is important is that we actually choose to live, to say Yes to God and His Son Jesus.
This is the first call….come away my love
Without a definite response to this first call then we cannot make any
Spiritual progress….Unless a man be born again he cannot see theKingdomofGod.
If all this seems foreign to you, then take the time, begin to seek the Lord.
In all true spiritual development and discipleship, there comes a time when the wonder and joy that we experienced when we first came to the Lord gives way to periods of lesson learning and discipline, ‘When joy seems to be such a thing of the past never to be recaptured again.’
My eldest daughter Jayne, has just started to have the occasional nightmare. One night recently, she called me into the room to help and comfort her. She had dreamt that men had broken into our house and had taken Ben away. Now I am very good chasing monsters out the bedroom, but how can you chase something out that can actually happen?
That night, Jayne woke up to the fact, that outside the security of her home, which is her world and in which she finds her meaning, there is another world which is dark and threatening. That night we prayed, and asked the Lord to guide and help us through all the things in life we found difficult to understand. I felt she has taken another step in growing up, as a little girl, and as a little girl who loved God.
In all growth, there comes a time when we have to face honestly dark and shadow sides of life. When we, like Jayne, wake up in the middle of the night, and cry Father.
Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic monk and contemplative, speaks of two types of ‘night’ that come into our experience. The first is caused by our own wilful sin, our rejection of God and His plan and purpose for our lives. This often issues in moral failure and a painful breakdown in our relationships. To come out of this night, we must ‘return to the Lord’ to receive His forgiveness and healing, and seek to be reconciled with those whom have been hurt and wounded as a result of our choices. This is so important, for the past cannot be buried and hidden.
The second type of night is when God seems absent, and yet we can find no reason though we search diligently within ourselves.
Tape 2 (3)
Activities both sacred and secular, which once gave us meaning and fulfilment, now become dry and arid. Our hearts become restless, as if they cannot be satisfied. In this darkness God is calling out to us….’come away my love.’
In our ‘Christian Memory’ we carry the riches of the Gospel of Christ…. New life through sharing in Christ’s risen life…peace with God, the forgiveness of sin. This is our source of joy and celebration. Yet the place of our celebration is in the night, in a world where the love of God has grown cold, and whose seeds of selfishness and self destruction we carry within ourselves.
When we wake up in this night, then we will begin to call God’s name from the depths of our heart.
Contemplative prayer begins when we wake up in the night and call God’s name.
When we wake up to the fact that sin and evil are not just out there, but in our hearts, in our homes, in our relationships.
The call to come away, is not a call to withdraw from the pain of life. It is a call to face the pain, to struggle and protest, to cry out for God to bring to birth His life in us and through us.
To respond to God’s call, we will have to learn to listen to Him, ourselves and to each other. But first we will have to STOP, and create the space that God is asking to fill. In the weeks to come we will be considering what this means in actual practice.
Much afraid…A story in “Hinds Feet on High Places”
Questions for Meditation:
Does God play an important part in your life? Do you know what it is to be ‘born again’?
Have you a ‘nightmare’ in your life? What helped you?
Do you think Christians should be exempt from troubles and difficulties?
If you are in a difficult time now….what do you think God is saying to you through this?
Transcript of Tape 3
In our last talk, we said that contemplative prayer beings when we ‘wake up in the night and cry Father.’ When the Lord apparently seems absent from our lives. It will be our concern in these next tapes to look at how we can practically respond to the Lord in such a situation.
But first an aside. I realise there may be those who feel what we are saying is unbiblical, even depressing! Didn’t the Lord say, He would never leave us or forsake us? Didn’t He promise that we would triumph over every situation? Well yes He did, and I believe him with all of my heart. But I also believe that there are many Christians who fundamentally misunderstand the way in which the Holy Spirit works in our lives, and who often then end up disappointed or disillusioned.
Linda is going to read a quote from a book by Gene Edwards who makes this point more clearly than I ever could: ON THE TAPE
I have observed through the years that most Christians have
little understanding of the word ‘season.’ Our Lord is
a seasonal God: He comes, He departs. His faithfulness
never changes, but his seasons do. There are seasons
when the tree is green, there are seasons when it is dry
and seasons when for the life of us, the thing looks dead!
Now, does this mean you are serving some capricious God
who comes and goes by whim? Or, could it be that it is
only through SEASONS that true growth comes.
The Christian and the Lord’s body both need rain and sunshine,
cold and hot, wind and doldrums. Seasons of joy, seasons of
sorrow, times when the Lord seems so real its as if any activity
you undertake is a spiritual experience. Seasons of dryness
when things are so bleak that even a plateful of Sinai sand
would be considered a feast! And are not these seasons from
hand of God? He is taking you to that place where you
can be a man for all seasons. Where seasons don’t faze you…
even glorious ones. An old apostle put it so well to a
young man: “Be ready in season, be ready out of season”.
If we were to try and define contemplative prayer then we could
say its the prayer for all seasons!
Tape 3 (2)
Now on with the practical. If you are under pressure at the moment, Christian, Christian couple, Christian friends, then it could just be that the Lord is calling to you….calling you into His school of prayer, so He can teach you the prayer of the heart.
Now as we have said earlier, the first step in responding to God’s call is to stop.
About four years ago I had a spiritual picture that was to change the direction of our lives, one that made us stop…and take a look at where we were going. At the time I was seeking God for answers to a very trying situation that we were facing, and were finding it difficult to cope.
In this picture, I felt I had arrived at a crossroads, and before me were two roads. The first, was very fast, like a stretch of motorway. On this road, I was driving a very fast car, not unlike the one I owned, and it was full of passengers. A little way up the road was a high brick wall, impossible to get around. I turned to the passengers and told them about the wall, and said I would have to stop. “NO!” came the reply. “Don’t stop John we need you. Didn’t you promise to get us to our destination?!” Hesitating and not knowing what to do, before I knew it we hit the wall. I was the only one who was killed. Everybody else got out of the car, and thumbed another one down. As they were getting into the other vehicle I heard the driver say: “What happened to John?” Everybody said how good I had been, what a shame it had to end like this.
They then drove off.
The second road was very different to the first. It was long and slow, with no ways suitable for cars. It was difficult to see where it would lead, except wherever it was, you could not get there in a hurry. It was an unfamiliar road, with sights and scenery I had hardly seen before. I sensed it would need courage and commitment to walk it…but I was excited too.
What did it mean?
Well looking at our lives at that time, we were living in the fast lane. Ministry and the demands of a growing family meant we had little time for each other, and for the Lord. And, although God was blessing our ministry, we were totally exhausted, and spiritually dry. Yet we did not know how to stop, and perhaps were afraid to, not knowing what that would mean.
Yet in this picture, I felt the Lord was saying: “You have a choice. Stop. Get off the road you are travelling on…out of the fast lane….out of the fast car…and start walking the other road. Or…keep going, yes I will bless the ministry…but you will hit the wall”.
Tape 3 (3)
Now if you have ever been driving a car at 70mph and suddenly had to slam your brakes on to avoid hitting something, then you will know exactly how we felt at that time.
This is the first thing we do when we hear God’s call…we slam the brakes on. In practice, this means we acknowledge that through the pressures and trials of our lives God is calling us to stop, and create space for him to come to us. “Yes God I or we have heard You,” and say “Yes we want to stop”. One of the first things Linda and I had to learn was that the Lord was speaking to us, not to anybody else. Do you understand my meaning? Its so easy when the Lord has his hand upon us to either point at other people or circumstances. “If only the church, the vicar, the pastor was more lively I wouldn’t be in this situation”. “Its the wife Lord, the dog, the money, that unkind friend, the moaning relative…talk to them then I will be okay”.” …no its actually you I am speaking to!”
The second lesson we have to learn, is to ask the Lord, how to create the space to meet with Him.
As I said earlier, Linda and I did not know how to stop. So we asked God to help us. The answer came through Alan, a friend of ours. In the middle of a conversation, he suddenly said: “I think you should close your house for two days a week, and not see anybody, have some time to yourselves.” Great…how easy…why didn’t we think of it! Well it wasn’t as easy as we thought. How do you tell your friends and relatives you are not having visitors two days a week!? “Well actually we have an appointment with God”.
It wasn’t easy. Some people were very upset and hurt, others huffed. Yet the vast majority of folk were very supportive.
We felt guilty, especially when there were those who turned up on those days, with the “problem that wouldn’t go away” and we had to say: “Come back tomorrow”. Yet we knew, if the Lord had spoken, we had to trust Him to sort out the reactions.
What did we do on those days?
Well we were not on our knees praying for 24 hours.
We first had to learn to relax. For anybody, a person, a couple or group who are seeking to create space for the Lord, the need to relax comes first. There are so many ‘space invaders’ that would seek to get our attention, and stop us resting in God. Here are several we had to encounter:
1. The temptation to spend the time criticizing or judging others.
2. Letting the memories of past hurt and failure preoccupy us
3. Wondering if we would be better occupied doing more practical to sort out of
Tape 3 (4)
4. Fear…what will God say to us?
5. Guilt…what are other people thinking?
Now I do not want people to get the wrong impression about these times. And it will be wise to stress again, that we were not devoting 24 hrs to prayer on our knees. We still had the kids to care for, work to do and the house to run. What I am trying to describe, and it is very difficult, but I believe much closer to true praying, is an inner attitude of the heart, a heart desire to create space for God, practically worked out in the ESSENTIAL responsibilities of our lives. Can you hear this?
For Linda and I, those two days were our way of saying to God, “Yes we are available, yes we want to listen, yes You are more important than everything else”. Over the weeks we learned to relax, we learned what was essential in the things we had to continue to do, we learned to let go of the space invaders, we learned to be together with God and each other without a whole load of other distractions. There were times when it would have been so easy ‘to do something else on those days’ and at times it was very tempting.
Now stopping, and the way we stop will be different for everybody, but I believe the principles are the same.
1. We put the brakes on, acknowledge God
is trying to get our attention.
2. We ask HIM how to create the space to
come into our lives, and we are obedient
to what He says.
3. We learn to relax, to slow down, to
rest with God at those times.
4.We let go of the space invaders, that
would seek to distract us.
5. We avoid the temptation to give up,
even for good reasons.
Again I think this applies to individuals, couples or groups of friends who are seeking God.
And God will come.
After several weeks practising our ‘two day discipline’, we found that several things began to emerge in our personal lives, and in our marriage that the Lord wanted to touch, sometimes to heal, or strengthen, or discipline. On one occasion we ‘closed down the house’ for a month as the Lord began to do a deep healing in our lives that needed all our attention. Often spending many hours talking and praying.
TAPE 3 (5)
The ESSENTIAL responsibilities that the Lord has given to us, work, family etc. Provided the anchors that we needed, to root us in the practical realities of our lives, while inwardly we could concentrate our attention on allowing the Lord to do his work in us. They also saved us from the snare which accompanies all spiritual experience, the danger of becoming self centred and preoccupied which leads to spiritual deception.
It is hard to teach and communicate about the ‘inner life.’ Yet I hope some of you will hear bells going off in some of the things that have been shared….and that you may be able to respond to the first step in the call, to ‘Come away my love’ to stop, and create the space that God is seeking to fill.
Questions for Meditation
What season are you going through at the moment? Summer, spring, autumn or winter?
What do you understand by ‘creating space for God’?
What kind of ‘space invaders’ do you encounter when you pray?
How do you think you can deal with them?
Do you think God is calling you into His ‘school of prayer’?
If so, what should you do?
These questions can be applied to individuals,
couples, or Christian groups.
However, we must search our own hearts
for the answers.
1.LANDOF MY FATHERS 4. HEART HIS YOU LANDS
HOW I LONG TO RETURN OF THE SOUTH
TO TOUCH THY EARTH WHO HOLD MEN IN
ANDFIND AGAIN THY CAPTIVITY BY YOUR
SACRED PATHS EMPTY WORDSAND
WELLWALKED WITH THE WELLWORN MYTHS
GOSPEL OF PEACE WHO NEGLECT TOSEE
VEILEDNOWIN THE JUSTICE
SHADOW OF MEDIOCRITY FOR THE POOR, THE
2.WHAT MEAN THESE STONES 5. LOOKTO THE NORTH
WHICH BESET THY FOR LO YOUR REDEEMER
WHO IN TWISTED AGONY CLOTHED IN THE POVERTY
CRYOUT OF THE FEW
IN PRAISEANDSUPPLICATION WHO DARE TO SPEAK HIS
OF HIM NAME WITHOUT VANITY
ANDTHE RENEWAL OF ‘N A WHISPER LEST THE
THE FAITH EARTH SHOULD TREMBLE
THAT BLED TO SECURE HOLY, HOLY, HOLY
THEM THERE IS THE LORD
3.YET WE WOULDWALK 6.POOR OF YAHWEH ARISE
AGAIN THY SACRED PATHS TAKE UP THE ANCIENT
REPAIR THY ANCIENT RUINS MANTLE
RESTORE THY BROKEN ALTARS WHICHHASAWAITED
RAISE UP THE FOUNDATIONS YOURDAY
OF MANY GENERATIONS CLOTHE YOURSELF WITHIN
FOR YOU HAVE BEEN SET
AS A STUMBLING BLOCK
JOHN T. SKINNER 1985
that go ‘ouch’
Everybody needs to be someone.
Everybody needs to be free.
Everybody needs to be someone.
Why don’t you let me love you?
Take a look at everyone around you.
You can’t find another just like you!
You’re special in the eyes of Him who made you,
The Father, Son and Spirit look like you.
You’re special in the
eyes of him who made you!
Transcript of Tape 4 (wk4)
There was a little girl, who just couldn’t get to sleep at night. As soon as dad said goodnight, put out the light, and went downstairs; Monsters would appear in her room, from everywhere. From under the bed, out of the cupboard and through the window.
Up she would jump! Run downstairs, “Dad! Dad! The monsters are back”. Poor dad, he would the go through his nightly ritual. Out would come his long walking stick and off he would go, back upstairs with his little girl. “Look” he said, as he waved the stick under the bed, “There’s nothing under there.” “Look, nothing in the cupboard, and nobody could get through the window, it’s locked”. Now, the little girl would feel better, just for that moment, and jump back into bed.
But as soon as dad, put out the light, closed the door and went downstairs, guess what?! “Ah boo!” said the monster, as he jumped from behind the curtain.
Poor old dad. He just didn’t know how to cope with these monsters. But one night, a friend had come to visit the family, and she was an expert on monsters. So that night, when the little girl came downstairs, full of fright, the monsters expert asked dad, if she could help put her back to bed.
“Now tell me,” said the woman, to the little girl, once they were in the bedroom. “What do these monsters look like?” The little girl, though afraid to talk about them, just in case they could hear, was so very pleased someone actually believed her. “Well” she said, “the one in the cupboard is over six foot tall. He is all hairy, with little red beady eyes, and a big smile that would be funny, ‘cept his teeth are as big as your fingers. The two under the bed, they are always laughing at me, ‘cos they know I get scared, and the more I get scared, the more they laugh.”
“The one who comes in the window, he’s the worst of all. He can walk through walls and keeps appearing and disappearing. Sometimes, just when I think he has gone, he jumps out of nowhere!”
“Oh,” said the woman, “Do you know what they are called?”
“No,” said the little girl.
“Well, I think we had better give them some names. What shall we call them?”
The little girl thought for a while, and then said, “The big one in the cupboard, I think he is called HAIRY HOG, ‘cos he’s hairy all over and has little piggy eyes.”
“And the two under the bed I’ll call SAD and UNHAPPY because although they laugh all the time, they are not very funny at all.”
“The one in the window, he’s GHOUSTIE MONSTER, as he keeps appearing and disappearing.
Transcript of Tape 4 (2)
“Very good!” applauded the woman, “Now I will tell you what I think. It’s very cold in your room, and downstairs your dad has a lovely big fire on. I don’t think these monsters belong in your room, they would be better off downstairs with your dad, by the fire. What do you think?”
“Oh yes!” said the little girl, “send them downstairs.”
“Right” said the woman, “but you will have to help, because you know their names. Let us give them a shout and tell them to go off downstairs.”
“Hairy Hog” shouted the little girl and he suddenly jumped out from the cupboard. “Can you see him?” she said to the lady.
“Yes I can, I see what you mean about that smile.”
“Can you see him dad?” “Er…yes” said dad, just beginning to get the idea.
“Well Hairy Hog” said the lady. “Off you go downstairs and sit by the fire.”
And off he went. Sad and Unhappy came out laughing from under the bed, a right little pair of terrors they were. But off they went, when told, skipping all the way downstairs. Now Ghostie Monster was a little more difficult, as sometimes he would come into the room without appearing.
“Ah” said the little girl, as she shouted for the third time, “he is here”.
“Yes” said the woman, “he is a bit shy though, doesn’t want to come out into the open. Off you go Ghoustie Monster, go and join your friends downstairs.”
And off he floated.
“Is that it?” said the woman.
“Yes” said the little girl with a sigh of relief. “I hope you are happy with the monsters dad” and snuggled down into her bed, ready to go fast asleep.
Dad looked downstairs, and into the living room. “No it couldn’t be” he thought. Just for a moment, he thought he could see four sets of smiling faces, with shinning eyes, sitting at the fire!
We have said, that prayer is an inner attitude of heart, a desire to be with God, and to be centred in Him, even when we are occupied with the essential activities that are part of our experience as people. But there will be times when it is necessary to have time alone with the Lord, a time of solitude and quietness. Free from the distraction of responsibilities, and the ‘space invaders’ we talked about last week. Being truly alone, without distractions, can be very disturbing for some of us.
I remember the story of a Priest, who sought counsel from the famous psychologist, Carl Jung. The Priest was going through a breakdown and obviously needed help. Jung’s advice was this, “Spend eight hours working, eight hours sleeping and eight hours alone, come back in a week and tell me how you got on.” After a week the Priest came back very angry, he now felt worse not better.
Transcript of Tape 4 (3)
When Jung enquired how he has spent his time alone, the Priest informed him, that he would read, listen to music or just go to sleep. Jung’s response was that being alone, meant just that, without distractions. The Priest was horrified, “How can I be alone, when I don’t even like myself?”
Jung’s reply was quite pointed, “Yet you have the audacity to foster this person whom you don’t like, onto other people for 14hrs a day.”
The reason many of us find being alone with God, or our loved ones, so disturbing, is that we are afraid of what is going to crop up, like the little girl, what monsters may appear. At times monsters will arise, and it is important to know how to deal with them.
Lesson number one, is to acknowledge their presence. Not like ‘poor old dad’ to deny their existence; it leads nowhere. Next, is to give them a name.
What do they look like? How do they make you feel?
Giving them a name, also takes away a lot of the fear that is attached to them, and it helps us to determine what is disturbing us.
And finally, we face them, to send them out of our lives. To OUR FATHER, and the fire of His choice.
Now let us have a look at some of the monsters we may encounter. I stress again that we face them, not evade them, for in a mysterious way, God is using them for our good and healing.
All of us are prone to mood swings. Moods can be the result of the food we eat, hormonal changes, or the onset of physical illness. But what about those moods that have becomes an accepted part of our lives, an old friendly monster. ‘Anxiety attacks’, ‘Sulky times’, ‘Bad temper,’ ‘Withdrawal periods’ or the ‘just can’t be bothered times.’
Moods lead to a breakdown of our communication lines, not only with God, but with ourselves and each other.
How sometimes its easy to identify the source of our moody monster: trouble at work, disappointments at home, hurt from a friend or a loved one. We then have to take the monster to the Lord, let him have it, and ask him to heal the damage it is doing to our personalities and others too.
Yet sometimes it is more difficult to identify the moody monsters. Sometimes we are plunged into deep moods, which just don’t seem related to our present circumstances. I know of one man, who was occasionally haunted by the fear of death, a sense that somebody wanted to hurt him, usually at a time when something very positive was happening for him. He sought God about this, and after a period of time, came to the conclusion that as a baby, in his mothers womb, there had been the possibility that
Tape 4 (4)
he would be aborted. At the most important part of his life, birth, he felt threatened by death. This later proved to be true, and he was able to find healing, and get rid of this moody monster. This leads us to the second group of monsters:
Memories play such an important role in our growth as people. Our present sense of, or lack of identity is rooted, and nurtured in our memories. Psychologists have demonstrated over the last fifty years or so, the importance of childhood memories, and their effect upon the growth of a person into adulthood. Positive childhood memories can substantially help people to adjust to the pressures and demands of adult life. For many today, the breakdown of the family unit, means childhood memories are painful and difficult to recall. Parental attitudes, such as indifference or hostility, and in a growing number of cases, physical or sexual abuse, can leave a person damaged in adult life, making relationships very difficult.
Sometimes, there are Christians whose lives before coming to Christ, have been tarnished by outward acts of sin, that they find it difficult to forgive themselves, and the repeated assurance that God has forgiven them does not seem to help.
If a memory does keep coming up, and seeks attention, then name it, look at it. It will probably be necessary to speak to another about it. But please—and I can’t stress this enough, and indeed will talk about this more, at the end of the tape—choose somebody who is not afraid or shocked by monsters.
The word, ‘Occult’, which often has Christians jumping for cover, or reaching for their ‘demon hunting’ kits is a very simple word. It means ‘that which is done in secret, hidden, in the dark.’ In our experience, talking with people, we have never known a time when a secret has a positive input onto a relationship. If you have a secret, you always have the danger of being found out. We often all secrets by other names ‘little white lies’, ‘protectors from hurt’ etc.
Nevertheless, what you will find happens when alone with God or a loved one if you have a secret, it will ‘pop up’ a bit like the Ghoustie monster, and hinder any growth that may be happening. Sometimes secrets are very personal, affecting only ourselves. Something, that we did, something that happened to us, that nobody else knows about. Again, tell somebody.
Sometimes, we have secret sins, that we just don’t feel we can tell anyone. Again, tell somebody, find a Priest, and I don’t mean necessarily one with a dog collar. A person who can stand with you and for you in God.
Seen any monsters yet?
Transcript of Tape 4 (5)
I realise, that this talk is beginning to touch the more sensitive areas of our lives. I would like to stress that EXTREME CAUTION is required and a few simple guide lines to be followed if we are to continue on the inward journey.
1. Do not go monster hunting, searching inside yourself.
If you have a monster it will find you.
2. Do not start ‘beating up’ other peoples monsters.
“I always knew you were a moody old sulk”
3. Be patient with your monsters.
Especially old friends. It takes time to name them and send them to a new home.
But do be committed to this.
4. Be patient with other peoples monsters, there is nothing worse than a person
sharing a monster, only to be rejected or patronised.
Finally, just a word about ‘monster experts.’ Remember the woman in the story. If you have a monster, that is too big for you to handle alone, find a monster expert. By this, I mean a mature Christian who has faced some of his or her own monsters, who will not be shocked, and who knows how to help you name it, and guide you in getting rid of it. If you are unsure of who to ask, ask the Lord to guide you.
It is a well established tradition in the life of the church to have a spiritual guide. Linda and I go regularly to see a Friar, who helps us on our journey. But it doesn’t have to be a Priest or Religious. Just a person whom you recognise is not afraid of monsters.
Please do not now go on a monster hunt.
Questions for Meditation
Have you ever had to face a monster? Can you describe it? Name it?
How did you overcome it?
Do you recognise it any monsters in your life now?
Can you describe how they make you feel, react to people and situations?
Do you know any ‘monster experts’?
If so, would you go to them if you needed to?
NB. For groups.
Nobody should be made to feel they are
not making a contribution to the group
if they find these questions difficult.
Those who lean on
Monk ofPatmosto Br. Roland Walls
Transcript of Tape 5 (wk5)
Have you ever tried listening to a radio when it is not properly tuned in-static….whistling…strange sounds and voices? Sometimes trying to listen to God can seem just like that. We set aside time to pray, off we go, and after the first five minutes or so, our thoughts seem to be wandering off all over the place, chasing our present worries or concerns, or off we go playing with strange ideas that pop into our minds. Now we have already looked at the ‘monsters’ that can appear, and how to deal with them. How can we reduce some of the static, calm sum of the voices, and get ourselves into a place where we can hear God?
Firstly, lets say something about prayer. Prayer is the language, the expression of our relationship and commitment to God. It is the vehicle that we use to share our hearts with the Lord, and also to listen to his heart. Prayer is out language of love.
Yet when we pray, there are certain things which we take for granted.
1. God is there.
Now this may seem obvious, yet I think it is so obvious to us that we miss the profound truth that it contains. ‘That the Eternal God, who created the heavens and the earth, and sustains the whole of life…it is He to whom we are coming.’
I remember one important Bishop suggesting recently, that Christians were a little naive to believe that God was listening to all their prayers. He was almost suggesting that God would have some difficulty listening to us all talking at once. Well if God was a man that would be true, but He is not. The testimony of the scriptures, Jesus and the believing Church is this: God is there, He has spoken, He is listening, He is actively involved in the life of the world. So much so he knows when a sparrow falls to the ground, and how many hairs we have on our heads, in my case getting steadily less! Part of the way we get rid of some of the static, and get attuned to God, is to have confidence in our belief…God is there…He has spoken, He is listening. Lets read what St James has to say about this:
‘If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives
generously to all, without finding fault. But when he
asks he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts
is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
That man should not believe he will receive anything
from the Lord.
Let us believe, and have confidence, God is there.
Tape 5 (2)
This leads us to the second thing we take for granted when we pray:
2. God is personal.
If I was to ask you, ‘What is God like?’ what would you reply?
You may answer, God is loving, Holy, Just, True, or simply say God is like His son, Jesus. Okay, great, but how do you know? Where have you got your information, your knowledge? Now we may all have a different testimony as to how we came to know the Lord, but within each story there will two fundamental truths that are common to us all.
a) The witness of other believers (THE CHURCH)
In Romans 10 v 17, Paul says this:
‘Faith comes through hearing the message, and
the message is heard from the word of Christ.’
For most of us, faith in God began by hearing the ‘message of the Gospel’ from other believers. Somebody spoke to us, prayed for us, or we saw in them something which we recognised was true and right. This began a journey towards God, until we reached the point where we said ‘Yes, this is true, I commit myself to Him.’ Then we found ourselves in the company of believers, the church, and we began to learn the language of faith, at each stage making it ‘our own.’ Perhaps in our early days as Christians, we found it difficult to be very articulate about our relationship with God, yet we had an inner assurance that God has spoken to us. We will look at this in more detail later on.
b) the witness of scripture (THE BIBLE)
There are those who say, “If you want to know what God is like, just look the creation, that’s enough.” Now this is partially true, but it’s not enough. Creation may suggest to us that God is there, but it only gives us clues as to what type of God He may be, and how or if we can relate to Him. No, as Christians we say, if you want to know what God is like, then look at His son, Jesus Christ. And where do we learn of Jesus, in the company of believers, and in the scriptures. I cannot stress this enough, if you want to know God, then steep yourself in the scriptures. Read them everyday, digest what they teach in history, and the lives of men. The way in which he has spoken to us in Jesus.
You see, listening to God does not begin in a vacuum.
Tape 5 (3)
God has spoken to the world. From the beginning of time, throughout history, and especially in Jesus.
‘In the past God spoke to our forefathers
through the Prophets, and many times and
in various ways. But in these last days
He has spoken to us by His Son.’
Where do we have this record of God speaking?….In the scriptures. We need to read them, digest them and ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and ears to the Word of the Lord, for this is His work. Without the Holy Spirit doing this, then we will end up in the legalism and dogmatism of Holy Hill, a road that leads to death not life.
The witness of scripture will save us from following many unnecessary roads and voices. I would like to illustrate this with a couple of real life situations. (To save on copying I will limit these to the tape).
God will not contradict Himself. So if we believe God has spoken to us, and it is contrary to His nature, as revealed in Jesus and the scriptures, then it is we who are wrong.
But what about the grey areas of our lives, when we are seeking the Lord for guidance in a particular situation? Should we change our job, move house, follow a particular vocation? Again I would like to illustrate this from real life situations. (Again limited to the tape).
We need the witness of scripture, the witness and counsel of other believers, and our own inner witness before we set out on a course of action that could significantly change our lives. These are our anchors when the going gets tough.
So far, I have been trying to lay the foundations for listening to the Lord, the fundamentals, listening through getting to know Him, and having and growing in that inner confidence that we can hear him, in the church, the scriptures and in our own hearts.
I would now like to change direction, and look at another way in which I believe God speaks to us. The ‘other side of the coin’ if you like. Perhaps we could call this first section ‘Listening through knowing’ and this second section ‘Listening through unknowing.’
I would like to begin by reading a Meditation, which I hope will set our course, and lead us on our way.
Tape 5 (4)
‘Lord, I feel homeless
I can find no place or any people with whom I can make my dwelling.
I am surrounded by homeless, restless people
Searching for a place to rest their weary hearts.
I feel powerless.
I have no security or comfort to offer.
No ‘way’ or ‘plan’ or ‘programme.’
I feel vulnerable.
For the confidence and resources that I once shared, You have taken all from me.
My understanding is broken.
I have no theological or dogmatic security to offer.
That which was once sure, is now obscure, a shadow.
How I envy those who seem content with their vision and picture of You.
They crush me with their certainty.
And yet Lord, I seek a home
A place on Your breast,
Content only to listen to Your heart beating in travail for the world,
Secure in Your home, in trusting unison with You Father.
Help me lean on Your breast, and find a home for the lost
And the lonely You have placed in my way.’
I cannot think of a better image to convey the meaning of prayer, and listening to God, than ‘Leaning on Jesus’ Breast’. For it speaks to us of the paradox of our faith, the call to call security and the call to insecurity, the call to knowing and unknowing.
There will be times in our walk with the Lord when we feel that He has abandoned us. I have tried to communicate this all the way through this series of talks. When the confidence we had in Him, the sense of home, of vision of purpose lie broken at our feet. Like the early disciples who walked with Jesus, who drank in His teaching, who stood in wonder at His miracles, who marvelled at His authority….and then were faced with the stark reality of the Cross. In that moment, seeing Jesus crucified, all their dreams and hopes for the future died with Him. Jesus was dead, and they did not know what was to happen next. In that moment, all the wrong aspirations they had built on His words, all the wrong expectations they had about His Kingdom, all the fictions they had written about the way in which they would participate in God’s Kingdom, lay broken at the foot of the Cross.
Tape 5 (5)
‘The Word of God had to die to them
so that it could be resurrected in them.’
And it is the same for us. All the stories we write, the Kingdom we build, the programme we plan, the doctrine we devise, the denominations we defend the walls that we erect to keep us comfortable and secure, must be broken at the foot of the Cross.
This is the beginning of contemplative prayer, when we begin to seek God for Himself, not for the blessing He can give, the security we can know.
When we begin to listen to the concerns of His heart, the pain that only He knows. This may sound flowery, even poetic, but in reality and practice it is the call to give up all our temporal security. FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST. For some of us, this may mean going an uncharted path, for others a lonely path, or pouring all the love we have for Jesus into our present situation whatever that may be, exciting, mundane, disappointing, fulfilling.
Each one of us is called to carry out cross, mine will be different to yours. But whatever we are called to, let us begin to learn, to make space for the Lord, to hear His call ‘Come away my love’, to face our monsters, and for the love of Christ, to lay our lives before Him.
Let us find the time, to go into that quiet place, to be alone with the Lord, the wordless place, where it is not just blessing we seek, but the Lord Himself. Then let us carry the fruit of that quietness into the places that He would lead us.
You see, it is never the case the God abandons us, but rather He is calling to us to abandon ourselves to Him.
For joy comes in the morning.
Questions for Meditation
If you had to make a decision that would change your life, how would you go about it?
Do you know of a time when you specifically knew God was ’leading you’?
What things have you found helpful in helping you to read the bible?
Are there other believers whom you know you can trust to pray with you for guidance?
Have there been times, when praying, that words fail you, and you can only sigh, or even weep before the Lord?
If you are in a situation at the moment, which seems impossible, will you abandon yourself to the Lord, and let Him raise you up in His way?