It has been more than a few weeks since I wrote of my personal process of healing about which many of you who may be reading this have read and kindly expressed your best wishes and hope.
All in all, things are moving, I think, in a pretty good direction. I have been spending more time with my children, even some one on one time with each of them–I even go regularly to therapy with one. Things between my wife and I seem to be going in a good direction as well. That being said, we have recently come to the realization that our youngest son may be placed on the autism spectrum and while that is its own difficulty, we are hopeful that if such is the case (and we are actually hoping it is) that he will be able to receive services he needs.
On a personal level, it seems I take 2 steps forward, 1 step back. I’ve been in therapy, attending my recovery meetings (though not as regularly these past few weeks), have been practicing chi gong almost daily, which has been of great benefit, and recently began to see a spiritual director, the experience of which this post mainly concerns.
So first off, what is a spiritual director?
In short, a spiritual director is a “position” within the Christian church by which an individual who has been trained in such capacity helps the advisee understand the manner in which God, through the Holy Spirit, works and has worked through one’s life. As an added bonus, the spiritual director I found is a retired psychologist with more than a few decades of private practice under her belt.
Upon our first meeting I told her I was not a Christian, but that I did believe in God, though what I believe about God is not entirely clear to me–which is a case of another matter–suffice it to say I seek deeper understanding and for the purposes of brevity, let’s just say I believe there are powers outside of me that are greater than me that also work through me.
Upon our first meeting, my spiritual director suggested I try Ignatian Prayer. This form of prayer is centered on taking a
passage from scripture and placing oneself in the story. This could be as a “silent observer” or can take the place of one of the story’s characters. The object is to insert oneself imaginatively into the story and learn whatever one is to learn from said experience. As a writer with a strong background in biblical times, this was especially fun for me and it was, thanks to my knowledge of the times, not difficult to place myself in the stories. For four subsequent nights I engaged in this type of prayer, first inserting myself into the same story through three different roles. On the fourth night, I, using a book I have which gives suggestions on stories to “enter” through Ignatian prayer, followed the crowds who followed Jesus on his way to Golgotha.
Shit it was intense and in the aftermath of my experience I wrote a little story, which I in turn submitted to Christian Flash Weekly. That story can be read here.
I saw my spiritual director again last week and upon this meeting (our second) she suggested trying out Lectio Divina. I was familiar with this form of prayer and must admit it had always intimidated me with its apparent time requirements and structure. She explained to me that such need not necessarily be the case. Essentially, Lectio Divina consists of four parts: the Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio.
The Lectio is where one reads a passage from the Bible. Reading is supposed to be slow and outloud so one may listen attentively. You read the chosen passage over and over again, until something grabs you. This can be a word or a phrase. Then you repeat that over and over again, which then leads to the next phase in the process.
Through the Meditatio one chews on the word or phrase like a cow chewing cud until that word or phrase sinks into your bones. This is the stage where you begin to discover the personal meaning of the text, begin to identify with it. As the Desert Fathers called it, this is the stage where the mind descends into the heart.
Third is the Oratio, the level of the heart, where one speaks to God, engaging, as it were, God in a conversation.
Fourth comes the Contemplatio where the conversation is reduced to silence and one sits, quietly and wordlessly, in God’s presence.
So I tried Lectio Divina that night and, picking a random page from the Book of Psalms, closed my eyes, let my finger wander the page until it came to rest on Psalm 97. I read the Psalm over and over again and found myself, there in the Lectio phase with these words:
“The mountains melt like wax before the Lord.”
After I proceeded through the next three phases, I decided to write down my experience in a new journal. Here is what I wrote (with minimal editing for clarity):
The metaphor to me is clear in reference to God’s power over the world, but also suggests the experience of things. But then there is what is hard has become soft. I consider all the things I have made “hard” in my life: people, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. I turn them into “things” and some things I turn into mountains.
These things I grab onto, things by which I have used to try to make some semblance of my life or attach meaning to so as to create my identity. And of course there is the hardness I have created of my heart and in hardening my heart I have sealed off what is inside and have made it all the much harder for God’s love to shine through, let alone enter.
There are those times I remember listening to certain Pearl Jam and U2 songs and could no better describe what I experienced than calling it a melting. And in those moments of melting I cried tears of joy for the love I felt and feel in those kinds of moments truly astounds and humbles me.
And as I sat there in my prayer repeating the verse over and over I felt a chorus in my heart, a solemnity there, coupled with a sense of excitement and joy in participating in the process. And as I sat there, my attention was drawn to the word “melt.” Even that which it seems impossible to melt–that is, a mountain–God melts.
I apologized to God for hardening my heart and realized it is of my own doing and I tell God I don’t want to do it anymore. It has caused a life of desolation and it is only in those moments where it is melted, in those brief glimpses do I gain an inkling of the person I want to be–a person who shares the love I feel in my heart in those moments of beauty and joy.
But alas I close it up again and harden it out of fear and return to a life of desolation. I tell God I need help and I ask God for help, for while I am the one who hardens his heart, I cannot do the unhardening, the melting, without help. I ask God how I can begin and hear there, deep in my heart, I already know how to begin–how to play my role in the process and it begins with what I already do, all the time, and often take for granted: breathe.
Ironic, perhaps, that one of the Pearl Jam songs that makes me cry in joy is called “Just Breathe.”
Breath, wind, spirit. They’re all the same word in Hebrew and Greek.
To move from my belly to my heart that power, that energy, that chi, and to use it to begin the process of eroding away that top layer of the mountain I have built around my heart, to begin to remove the rough edges.
And I sensed there as I sat in prayer it is a reciprocal process, for with breath and with moving it into my heart I feel a subtle warmth and while wind my erode, it is heat that melts. Wind and fire. Breath to feed the flames.
To melt, to melt. To soften, and melt.
And I ask God that I may remember when I create mountains out of things. May I learn to see when I do so that in seeing I may remember to breathe, and let the things I make into mountains melt.
Melting. Softening what is hard. Transforming that which (I thought) was immoveable.
Fear, worry, and anger are good indications, I learned, that I’ve made something into a mountain, so as I completed this journal entry, I wrote this prayer:
God, help me to see where I make mountains of things lest I act out of fear or anger.