Archive for the ‘faith based’ Category

By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

I remember being startled, and at the same time intrigued, as I read a short essay written by Alan Watts titled, “Wash Out Your Mouth.” It is contained in a book called, “The Gospel According to Zen.” The short piece deeply challenged me. It used something I hold very dear as a Christian, the precious name of Jesus, as part of a metaphor, to make its point. At first I was put off by what the essay was suggesting. I found it unsettling. Yet, at the same time, I sensed that it contained a powerful lesson. It pointed out a characteristic about Jesus and the way in which he communicated as he is depicted in the Gospels. It is an undeniable characteristic, and its implications something that I could not ignore. The message of the essay suggested a strikingly different aspect of what it means to be a disciple of Christ in a way that I had never considered, a challenging, yet very interesting, aspect.

The Watts essay makes sense in that the Gospels depict Jesus as always pointing to something beyond himself. Jesus describes himself as being, the way, to that something. “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). But what is, the “something” beyond himself that Jesus came to reveal to us? That, “something,” Jesus intimately refers to as his “Father,” and he invites us to do the same. The Father is no less than the omnipresent, incomprehensible God, the source of all life and goodness, the Higher Power in life, or the Universal Creative Life Energy. Becoming aware of “the Father’s” presence in our life is “the fullness of life” that Jesus refers to. “I came that you may have life and have it to the full” (John: 10:10). All of Jesus’ teaching, through the many parables found in Scripture, and his own example of how to live, are intended for the purpose of helping us to see the presence of God in ourselves, in others, and in the created world.

The Gospel narratives describe Jesus as being someone who is not self-absorbed but rather a person who is incredibly free from self-interest or glory seeking. The Jesus depicted in Sacred Scripture is not hung up on himself. This observation supports the lesson contained in Watts’ essay. Yes, Jesus wants us to come to him, however, our relationship with Jesus is paradoxical. For when we sincerely go to Jesus, he gives himself to us, however, we receive much more than we ever imagined, for Jesus reveals to us the Father. Jesus said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). Watts’ article encourages us to do what Jesus himself is asking us to do, to look beyond (or through) Jesus, to what Jesus came to reveal, the presence of God already in, and around us.

I thought I would share the essay with you. Some may find it blastfamous. Others, through openness of mind and heart may be able to move beyond what might be an initial negative reaction to the metaphor. Realizing that the author intends no disrespect, and accepting what the piece has to offer, some readers will find their spiritual journey enriched. I hope that is true for you. I invite you to read the essay for yourself and to share your thoughts!

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Wash Out Your Mouth” By Alan Watts,

Christian piety makes a strange image of the object of its devotion, “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The bearded moralist with the stern, kind and vaguely hurt look in the eyes. The man with the lantern, knocking at the heart’s door. “Come along now, children! Enough of this horsing around! It’s time you and I had a very serious talk!” Christ Jesus our Lord. Jeez-us. Jeez-you. The Zen Buddhists say, “Wash out your mouth every time you say ‘Buddha!'” The new life for Christianity begins just as soon as someone can get up in church and say, “Wash out your mouth every time you say ‘Jesus!'”

For we are spiritually paralyzed by the fetish of Jesus. Even to atheists he is the supremely good man, the exemplar and moral authority with whom no one may disagree. Whatever your opinions, we must perforce wangle the words of Jesus to agree with them. Poor Jesus! If he had known how great an authority was to be projected upon him, he would never have said a word. His literary image in the Gospels has, through centuries of homage, become far more of an idol than anything graven in wood or stone, so that today the most genuinely reverent act of worship is to destroy that image. In his own words, “It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) cannot come unto you.” Or, as the angel said to the disciples who came looking for the body of Jesus in the tomb, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen and has gone before you …” But Christian piety does not let him go away, and continues to seek the living Christ in the dead letter of the historical record. As he said to the Jews, “You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life.”

The Crucifixion gives eternal life because it is the giving up of God as an object to be possessed, known and held to for one’s own safety, “for he that would save his soul shall lose it.” To cling to Jesus is therefore to worship a Christ uncrucified, and idol instead of the living God (Alan Watts, “The Gospel According to Zen“).

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Have you ever wrestled with a personal issue and felt as if you wanted someone else to make a decision for you? That’s how I was feeling.

By Charles W. Sidoti, From: “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time”

Thomas Merton once compared living a spiritual life to standing before a field of fresh fallen snow that you must cross, his advice: “Walk across the snow and there is your path.” Being a trailblazer through the fresh fallen snow, as Merton puts it, involves walking your own unique, untrodden path. As good as Merton’s advice sounds, it can be difficult to put into practice. Many of us would much rather walk familiar, well-trodden paths. Yet it is precisely the walking of a unique, untrodden path that each one of us, individually, is called to do in our life if we truly desire to grow in our relationship with God and others. Reflecting on what walking your own unique path would mean in your life can make all the difference in the world.

In considering how to follow Merton’s suggestion, it is necessary to realize that it involves a paradox. None of us walks through life completely alone. We live out our lives among other people. We have all heard the saying, “No man is an island,” by the great Christian poet John Donne. Hopefully, the relationships we have with others are mutually beneficial in helping us to grow and develop. On the other hand, it is also true that we are at times quite alone. Our personal moments of loneliness remind us of this truth in no uncertain terms. Taking the first step onto our own field of freshly fallen snow involves realizing this paradox and accepting it into our life. Just realizing and accepting that these two things, loneliness and our feeling of being connected with others, are a natural part of life can be helpful. There is a natural rhythm that exists between these two feelings, and at different times one of the feelings is dominant.

It is very helpful when we discover the relationship between our aloneness and our connectedness with others because the two work together in our lives. The relationship was explained to me in a most interesting way on one of my visits to the Abbey of the Genesee, which is a Trappist Monastery and retreat house located in Upstate New York. During a conversation with my spiritual director, Brother Anthony, I asked his advice about something I was dealing with at the time. I remember wanting him to just tell me what to do about the situation. Have you ever wrestled with a personal issue and felt as if you wanted someone else to make a decision for you? That is how I was feeling.

His answer to me contained wisdom. He very kindly said, “Chuck, you know its kind of like making a loaf of bread. You can find a recipe in a book and follow it. You can ask others about how they bake theirs, learn about other interesting ingredients and get advise about how others do it. But in the end, everyone must bake his or her own loaf of bread.”

After this conversation, I realized that I would not want anyone else to bake my loaf of bread – make my decisions, live my life. It is our involvement, our interaction with life, and the decisions we make that keep life fresh and alive. Once we reach the age of reason, no one can really make a decision for us. When you think about it, would you really want them to? Our lives are unique, just as we are, an therefore our relationship with life is meant to be unique. Seek out the wisdom others have to offer, yes, but realize at the same time the precious and exciting opportunity you have in your life to bake your own loaf of bread.

Connecting Point: Can you see a rhythm in your life between feelings of aloneness and a feeling that you are connected to others? Sometimes it is the aloneness part that needs attention, so that aloneness may eventually evolve into the positive state of being, called solitude. You can do this by seeking out a little bit of time alone each day just to be quiet or pray. Through this time, you will discover that you are never really alone.

PrayerGood and gracious God, place gratitude in my heart for the gift of life. In times of difficulty, I don’t always see it as a gift. Sometimes it feels like a burden, especially in times of loneliness. Help me to make decisions that will lead me to the peace that you desire to give me. Place in my heart the desire to bake my own loaf of bread – with you. Amen.

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Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” – Traditionally Published

 

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Grasping a concept or idea intellectually is one thing: having it become a real part of who you are is something different.

By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

I once heard it said,”Scripture contains the word of God in the way that the acorn contains the oak tree. It is all there, but its presence is made known to us little by little.” Living at God’s speed means accepting that my understanding of the way God works in my life will come to me in God’s time.  Sometimes the proverbial light bulb goes on in our heads and we learn something instantly, but most of the time real learning (spiritual growth) takes place slowly, over real time, as our life unfolds. This is especially important to understand in regard to the reading of sacred Scripture.

I had an experience I would like to share with you that might help to illustrate this point. I facilitate the operation of what is called the Relaxation Channel at the hospital where I work as a chaplain. The Relaxation Channel is a closed-circuit television system that is operated within the hospital. The channel is programmed with relaxing and spiritually oriented videotapes offering patients an alternative to commercial programming.

In setting up the system (prior to DVDs and digital technology appearing on the market), I had to make arrangements with a vendor to make copies of the original program tapes. The copies would then be run in a bank of VCRs that are used to run the channel so the original tapes would not get worn out from constant use. In all, I was was asking the company to copy about one hundred tapes, which I did not think would take very long at all. Having one hundred tapes made would provide enough copies to run the channel for about 5 years.

I imagined the vendor putting the original and the blank tape into a machine, then a button would be pushed and, zip, the tape would be copied in seconds. I figured the turn-around time to have the copies made would be a couple of days at the most. I was wrong. Making each individual copy would take two hours – the actual running time of the original tape. The vendor explained to me that every copy had to be made in real time.  The recording process was not zip as I had imagined.

This experience was a real eye-opener. It is a good illustration of the way God’s lessons (often found in Scripture) are revealed to us. God’s word becomes part of who we are – in real time – in real life, though we sometimes wish it were otherwise. It is through the interaction with life and the people in our life that we learn the really important lessons. It isn’t just a matter of reading it in a book. Even if the book is the Bible, experience with life matters. Here is another story:

Indeed there is a story about an intellectual youth who felt he could learn everything from books. He read about the stars and became an astronomer, he read about history and became a historian, he read about swimming and drowned. Some things we can only learn by wading in slowly, from the direct experience of the ocean lapping against our body. To enter this process directly is to participate in the healing we took birth for, is to become fully alive. – Stephen Levine, Healing Into Life And Death

The meaning of this story is not that you can’t sit in solitude with your Bible or some other spiritual book and gain valuable insight. If course you can. What it means is that some of the things that you read about will only be integrated into your life through your active participation. That is how God chooses to work. Scripture, if it is affecting us in a healthy way, if it is to be a source of lasting inner peace, will direct us to find God revealed within the created world, especially in our relationships with others. Usually this happens slowly, over the course of many years, in the everyday situations of life.

Connecting Point:  Grasping a concept or idea intellectually is one thing: having it become a real part of who you are is something different. The latter takes active participation in life and is realized in real time – God’s Time.

Prayer:  God of wisdom, grant that I may give sacred Scripture and other spiritual writing the respect that they deserve. Help me to read with humility, allowing the knowledge you bless me with to move from my head to my heart, that it may truly enter into my life. Amen.

This article is from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time.” A Traditionally Published book.

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The whole point of practicing a religion or of having a spiritual outlook toward life is to help us to connect spiritually with God, other people, and the world around us. 

This article is an excerpt from, Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Timewritten by Charles W. Sidoti and Rabbi Akiva Feinstein

My father, Charles B. Sidoti was one of the most peaceful people I have ever known; he was also one of the most hospitable. On good terms with everyone, he always greeted people with a friendly smile. Everyone liked my dad. I think it was because he made them feel comfortable.

I recall times from my childhood when we would be on an elevator together or standing in line waiting our turn to get into some type of event. Dad would often initiate a conversation with someone standing nearby. He felt comfortable enough to speak to a total stranger just to be friendly. He would make a comment about the weather or some current event. Often the conversation included a corny joke and laughter. Most people responded to him so well that I would eventually have to pull at his hand to get him away from the person he was talking to so we could get to where we were going. In his own simple way, Dad was able to achieve almost instant familiarity with strangers by breaking the silence that so often keeps us apart. It was a sincere and natural form of hospitality that I try to emulate in my own life.

Much of our time is spent in close proximity to other people. Things like going to school or work, shopping at the grocery store, or going to a place of worship. All of these things bring us into close contact with others. Yet much of the time, we only really engage with those we already know or happen to work directly with. We may greet a stranger, but often that is just in passing, a fleeting acknowledgment while we continue on our way to something or someone else. To a great extent, this is completely natural and perfectly fine. We cannot expect to actively engage and interact with every stranger we walk by or happen to cross paths with. But it is worth some self-examination as to how open or closed we are to receiving strangers into our life. There is a strong spiritual implication found in the way we relate to strangers.

The whole point of practicing a religion or of having a spiritual outlook toward life is to help us to connect spiritually with God, other people, and the world around us. Genuine hospitality is one of the keys to authentic spiritual growth in that it helps us to connect with other people. Practicing hospitality leads to the expansion of our conscious awareness beyond our own familiar environment, reaching out to others in their world and welcoming them into ours.

People respond to hospitality. Have you ever experienced a day when you felt so good inside it showed on your face? Maybe something really good happened to you, or something you had been looking forward to was about to happen. For whatever reason, on that day you had a smile on your face, a distinctive glow about you, and you cheerfully greeted others. On such a day, the world seems to be a friendlier place. It isn’t your imagination; there is a reason why you experience the world differently when you feel good. Recall the old adage “Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.” Often dismissed as trivial or trite, most clichés actually contain a kernel of truth that can direct us to an important life principal. This one certainly does. When you feel good, you give off positive vibrations that people perceive, and they are therefore naturally drawn to you. When you are angry or otherwise feeling bad, you give off negative vibrations, and people are naturally repelled. Think about it; Do enjoy being around someone who smiles, is friendly, open and welcoming? Or do you like to be around someone who is often very intense, complaining, and frowning much of the time?

Important spiritual insights can come from all parts of life, even from the animal world. On my way to work one morning, I observed a bumper sticker that creatively focused on the importance of communicating positively with others. It said, “Wag more, bark less.” I instantly thought of a dog, as you most likely did. This simple statement contains a great truth that can be very helpful to us if taken to heart. Dogs have a way of winning people over. Not all people of course; there are some people who simply don’t like dogs, and it is okay if you are one of those people. But by and large, people like dogs. The reason is that dogs communicate unconditional love in the friendly affection they naturally give and so freely convey to humans. Dogs relate so well to people that they are used for therapy in hospitals and nursing homes. Petting a dog, or simply being around one, has been shown to lower blood pressure and lift the human spirit.

When a dog wags its tail in our presence, it is communicating with us in a visible and powerful way. It is conveying its inward happiness in a way that we instantly understand. Most often we respond by petting the dog or speaking kindly to it. The opposite happens when a dog barks or growls at us. It is conveying its displeasure, again in a way that we instantly understand. We react by moving away or by protecting ourselves in some way. As humans, we do the very same thing, just differently. We, like dogs, express our inner feelings in a visible way that others instantly understand. We do it through our facial expressions, body language, and speech; and they have the same powerful effect as the dog wagging its tail or barking.

In large part a dog’s hospitable nature is built in; they are hardwired, pre-programed, to be friendly. Compared to people, dogs are simple, uncomplicated creatures. But that does not mean we cannot learn a valuable lesson from them. For some humans, like my father, hospitality also seems to come naturally. The rest of us have to work at it. Learning to practice hospitality can be challenging.

One reason it may be difficult for us to reach out to others is that in our human brokenness, caused by past hurts or rejections, we may have come to believe that we have nothing to offer. We may believe that our attempts to reach out to others will be rejected. The truth is otherwise. This world is full of people who would love and welcome your expression of hospitality. It may take courage, and yes, there is always the risk of rejection. Not everyone responded favorably to my father’s hospitable nature, but most people did. There is certainly a risk involved in reaching out, but the benefits you stand to reap make it a risk worth taking.

God is hospitable. If it is true that hospitality is vital to human interactions and relationships, it follows that it would be an important part of how God chooses to relate to us. It is clear in many places in the Bible that God acts with incredible hospitality toward human beings. For instance, the book of Genesis (17:1-24) tells the story of Abraham, who at the age ninety-nine undergoes circumcision, and needless to say, has a very difficult healing period. Though he likely received many human visitors to help comfort him in his pain, the Bible tells us that he was visited by none other than God. In the story, God does not simply bestow a blessing, or even send a miraculous cure, but instead graces Abraham with a personal visit.

More than a moving story, this becomes the basis for the biblical commandment to visit the sick. Sacred Scripture is filled with examples of God’s hospitality toward humankind and all of creation. In Judaism, Rav Dimi Of Nehardea, in the Talmud, said: Hachnasat orchim, Hebrew for the welcoming of guests, “is more important than study, or even the worship of God.” The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy once commented on the command to welcome the stranger:  “Love the stranger and the sojourner, Moses commands, because you have been strangers in the land of Egypt.” In Christianity, Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of God-like hospitality for us to follow. We can draw enormous personal benefit by finding ways to imitate God’s hospitality, found so often in Sacred Scripture, in our daily interactions with others.

God’s hospitality is not only found in the pages of the Bible, but is readily visible in the way the world is created. Sure, life is difficult and full of challenges, but it is also filled with things that did not have to be made so good, so tasty, so enjoyable, for any other conceivable purpose than to show God’s divine hospitality to the world’s inhabitants.

So much in this world seems to have been tailor-made for human enjoyment. The way something is created (designed) often expresses the hospitality of the creator. Consider something as simple as a banana. The potassium, other nutrients, and the relatively few calories found in this fruit could easily be provided in a tiny, tasteless berry that you could pop into your mouth. But instead, God wanted to put a lot more into the package. It is made not only to be healthy; a banana has a lovely sweet taste that does not have to be there. Next, any eater of a banana would need to know when it is ripe, so included in its packaging is a “high-tech” color sensor that tells you, to the day, when it is ready to be eaten. If you don’t have a plastic bag to protect your food when you toss it into your knapsack on the way to work, a banana has a built-in carrying case. It can be eaten by anyone from a baby to an adult human or a hungry monkey, due to its ease in being mashed up our cut into bite-size pieces.

There is a beautiful Christian song, written by Dawn Thomas, called “That’s How Much I Love You.” It’s like a love song by God to us, about how all the beautiful things in creation were made out of God’s love for us: “The mountains fair, the beautiful oceans are there to remind you I can satisfy your every need. That’s how much I love you, that’s how much I want you to know that you are my child, and you mean so much to me.” Max Ehrmann’s great poem “Desiderata” explores the individual’s place in creation, but it concludes with advice about the need for happiness:

“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

Do the best you can to put this advice into practice by reaching out in hospitality to others, in your own unique way, even though you may be hurting inside. This won’t solve all your problems, but it will not add to them in the way having a bad temperament or openly displaying a bad mood often does. When we “wag more and bark less,” feelings of isolation and separateness slowly begin to lose their grip. People respond to us differently because we are more pleasant to be around.

Connecting Point: Nurturing a spirit of sincere hospitality within yourself can be very helpful in discovering the wonderful person God created you to be. Hospitality is very much an attribute of God. Growing to be more God-like, acting in union (more often) with God’s creative love and welcoming spirit, can only lead us closer to God, to others, and to all of God’s creation.

Prayer: Gracious God, Creator of all that is, help me to hear and respond to your welcoming call, your gentle embrace in my life, and to respond with that same love toward others. Give me the courage to reach out to other people, in their world, and to sincerely welcome them into mine. Help me to realize that everyone I meet is truly my brother or sister and you are God of us all. Amen.

Living at God's Speed, Healing in God's TimeA TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED BOOK

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Disenfranchised Grief is a term describing grief that is not acknowledged (or is trivialized) by society.

By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

At the hospital where I have worked as a chaplain for the past twenty years I was recently consulted to visit an elderly, chronically-ill patient.  I was informed by the referring social worker that the woman,”Lost her husband last week.”

The woman shared that her recently deceased husband spent twenty years in prison.  As our visit continued she further revealed that her husband had been in prison for the murder of her son.  The patient shared with me that she did not leave the marriage.  She waited for him to get out of jail and for he past five years cared for him at home until he died of cancer.  This was an experience of chaplaincy that I will never forget; it is also one of the most beautiful examples of inner-healing I have ever witnessed and been privileged to have a small part in.

Disenfranchised grief is when your heart is grieving but you can’t talk about or share your pain with others because it is considered unacceptable to others.

Disenfranchised grief is hidden grief.  Often, it is never revealed.  Some, for fear of not being accepted, take their painful secrets to the grave with them.  As a chaplain I strive to create a sacred spacean environment where the other person feels safe to share what they are experiencing inside and find acceptance in their vulnerability. I try to create a space where the person feels confident that they will not be judged, but listened to, and accepted for who they are.

The following are just a few of the countless examples of loss that may be experienced as Disenfranchised Grief: 1) A miscarried or aborted pregnancy, giving a child up for adoption 2) Loss of gay or lesbian partner 3) Rape or sexual assault 4)  Loss of a pet 5) Retirement  6) Loss resulting from suicide 7) Divorce 8) Families of incarcerated individuals.  9) Loss of a grandchild 10) Any grief that exceeds society’s preconceived time limit for grieving.  To find many more examples and additional information on disenfranchised grief click:  https://www.vision.org/visionmedia/grief-and-loss/disenfrachised-grief/2202.aspx

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Check out “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” – By Charles W. Sidoti with contributing author Rabbi Akiva Feinstein – A Traditionally Published Book

 http://www.amazon.com/Living-Gods-Speed-Healing-Time/dp/158595831X

Listen to my live workshop presentation delivered at the 2017 Annual Conference of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains annual conference in Santa Anna Pueblo New Mexico.

The question and answer period of my workshop is very lively and even gets a little “dicey.” I welcome your feedback and comments after you listen to it!

Evidence of God’s presence is within and all around us.  One common barrier to our experiencing it is our tendency to become lost in our own imaginations.

By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

As a young child I remember a picture hanging on the wall in my grandfather’s house.  It showed Jesus standing outside a door and patiently knocking upon it.  This picture is often accompanied by a caption taken from Sacred Scripture, “Behold I stand at the door and knock…” (Revelation 3:20).   I realized at that time that the closed door represented the door to my life, the door to my heart.  I knew it was about letting God in, and yet I did not know how to put the wisdom that the picture represented into practice.  I remember thinking to myself even at that young age, “I will be happy to open the door…but where is the door?”  As an adult, reflecting on words of Rumi,

 “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”  (Rumi – 13th-century poet, Islamic scholar, theologian and mystic).

brings me back again to that image of Jesus and the meaning of that closed door.   The picture of Jesus knocking outside the door relates directly to Rumi’s statement because it relates to whatever barrier we may place between ourselves and love.  It relates to whatever barrier we place between ourselves and God, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  The question I remember asking as a child, and which remains relevant today, is “What does it mean to open the door of my heart to God?’’

In saying that our task is not so much to “seek love” but rather to work to remove the barriers that keep us from experiencing love, Rumi is describing the work of the contemplative life, which is to grow in the awareness of God’s presence.

Evidence of God’s presence is within and all around us.  One common barrier to our experiencing it is our tendency to become lost in our own imaginations.  In our imagined isolation and self-sufficiency we have learned to see life through the eyes of what famous Catholic writer Thomas Merton calls the false self. This is the barrier, the door, between us and God.  Seeing through the eyes of this false self we do not realize that the things in our life, the people, the miracle of simply being alive, and the entire created world are the ways in which God comes to us.  These “things” are the tangible presence of the Living God.  We need to die to the worried, preoccupied false self and learn to see with new eyes.  Jesus spoke of this death and rebirth when he said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

Removing the barrier of the false-self involves spiritual work.  It involves the spiritual discipline of prayer and true humility to acknowledge our faults and to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.  It involves asking for God’s help to remove the falseness that stands between us and the realization of God’s love.

The Contemplative Connection:  While talking to his fellow monks about searching for the presence of God in their lives, Thomas Merton once said, “We have what we seek. We don’t have to rush after it.  It was there all the time.  If we give it time it will make itself known to us.”

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 This article is a sample of my new book “Simple Contemplative spirituality.”  Click below to view  and / or  purchase  on the publishers website:   http://vesuviuspressincorporated.com/simple-contemplative-spirituality/

A Traditionally Published Book