In my my last post I ended by saying in order for men to have a “heart” connection with the love of God, we will need to learn to “receive” and “see.” For us to get “unstuck” so we can communion with God, that is, have a relationship beyond thoughts, perceptions and feelings, we are going to have to pay attention to our hearts. Heart is the innermost core of our being, the meeting place between ourselves and God. “The heart” observes James Houston, “is not to be identified with intellect, emotions, or will. Instead all three are held in balance. To be at home in the heart is to be truthful to one’s self.” It is in communion, a heart to heart relationship with God, that we experience love. The great spiritual tradition called it “knowledge through love.” Theophan the Recluse put it this way, “The principle thing is to stand before God with the intellect in the heart, and to go on standing before him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.” “To stand in the heart……is a relationship that springs from the deep center of our personality, where we can be directly in God’s presence, and open to divine love. The distinction between intellect, emotions, and will is no longer needed” (Houston). In the Cistercian tradition the emphasis is on finding our way back to the heart. We are explorer moving into the unknown, pilgrims away from home in search of our hearts. Heart is home. As Henri Nowen observes, “may of us don’t know our address.”
So I picture myself, standing in my heart before God. Can you picture this posture for yourself. What are your responses to this imagery. If you are anything like I was when I first read the quote from Theophan over 20 years ago, I was confused, frightened and very uncertain about such a practice. Why? First of all, I had never been exposed to the contemplative tradition. For me it had been mostly thinking the right thoughts and then trying to do the right things. This has been big in my life since I have been a pastor, “being paid to be good.” But I knew the “heart connection” was not there. Secondly, I didn’t want to be out of control. I had a need to understand and grasp what I was experiencing in this practice. Thirdly, was it biblical, or was I going to leave my ” Evangelical Lutheran moorings.” Some men reading this post have already crossed the threshold, having embraced some part of the contemplative practice. In the simplest terms, you are moving from your head into your heart. But my concern is for those of you, who are at the door of the threshold. Let me assure you that all is well with going into your heart. It is the way of Jesus. He tell us, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me” (John 15:4 – The Message). I needed that assurance for quite sometime.
So let’s say, you are at the threshold, or you have gone ahead but pulled back out of confusion or uncertainty. In this post I have three pieces of advice to give you, as I look back on my own experience. I will make it short in this post and come back to these points later. First, take some time to sit and listen. This might be difficult for you to do. What I am aiming at, is the need for you to hear the deepest desires of your heart. They are for God. There is the inner voice of God calling you home. You have gone so far away that the voice is rather strange and foreign. But it is the voice of God. So many other inner voices have been able to drown out the “still, small voice.” That is what you have to pay attention to on the contemplative path. Second, give yourself permission to” let go” or as the spiritual tradition says, “detach.” Let go of preconcieved ideas regarding your relationship with God and how it should work. If you are dissatisfied with your “connectedness” then you should be letting go. “Letting go” is going to be like “unlearning” certain assumptions you have had. Thirdly, if at all possible, find a fellow pilgrim who has been on the contemplative journey for awhile. It will be of great help. My pilgrim was, Hal Green in Des Moines, Iowa. I will be forever grateful for his guideance as I got on the contemplative path.
I will be coming back to the first two points I made in the past paragraph. That is all for now, since this has become a longer post than normal. One word of encouragement. When you move over the threshold, into the contemplative dimension, you will experience darkness. That is a normal experience to get used to. Don’t fear or worry about what you preceive to be darkness. God is allowing the darkness so that he can teach you and help you to unlearn some things. It is a time to learn new dimensions of trust. Isaiah give us this exhortation. “If you walk in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God” (Isaiah 50:11).