Thursday, April 3, 2014

Light of Easter

PALM SUNDAY MORNING

Robert Trabold


Lovely day – full sunshine
blue sky – no clouds – air
still cold – snow should
come tomorrow. Only crocuses
are blooming – purple – yellow.

Winter garden is quiet – still full
of brown – dull green colors.
Juice of spring is slow to come
this year.

I sit in quiet – feel
mystery of winter – spring – dull
colors but bright sunshine.

Feel mystery of Jesus – His life
death – resurrection.  Life has
many turns – up – down – backward
forward. These touched Jesus’
life – our lives
life of the world – with
violence – wars – hatred.

Let me sit in quiet -
quiet of Palm Sunday.
Sun is warm despite
predicted snow for tomorrow.
Spring will break through
give us lovely garden flowers.

Let Jesus’ resurrection break
through – give us hope for
for our lives – life of the world.

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LIGHT OF EASTERTIME

Robert Trabold

            As we enter into the Easter season, we pass through the time of Lent with fasting and penance reminding us of how Jesus suffered on the cross.  We then experience the feast of His Resurrection and we are called to share in His victory and the light of Easter morning which the holy women experienced when they went to His tomb. This passage of going from darkness into light is a symbol of our life in the world.  Certainly, we look around us and see the many injustices and violence and we realize that these things are what Jesus came to correct. The Christian churches share in this darkness and are having a hard time to adjust to the modernity of today.  They still feel more comfortable in the medieval way of thinking and acting as such and many of the church structures are dying and fading away. The de-Christianization of Western Europe continues on without abatement. In these United States, we see also the decline of many church structures; 30% of people under the age of 30 do not believe in God. This country is about 50 years behind Western Europe in this regard. Latin America and the Caribbean nations are quickly converting to the Pentecostal Churches and these are also spreading in Africa and many parts of Asia bringing a birth and rebirth of Christianity there. 

            All these changes in the churches and the world cause us confusion and concern but there is also a hopeful sign in all of this. Since the 1960’s in Western Europe and the Americas, we are experiencing the rebirth in Western Christianity of contemplative and mystical prayer. This rebirth happened when religious leaders of the West, like Thomas Merton, Thomas  Keating, the German Zen leaders, etc., discovered the Christian mystical prayer tradition that had been lost since the Reformation. It was a silent revolution that entered the churches. This reentrance of contemplative prayer was and is being led by ordinary men and women who live in the world making their living and raising their families. The many and different contemplative prayer movements are basically lay people who are living the silent and contemplative movement in their daily lives. They are building and participating in monasteries without walls. It is a silent revolution that is making its presence felt in the various Christian communities and is a source of optimism because through this prayer, Christians are encountering in a deep way the Lord Jesus who is ultimately the source of salvation for ourselves and the world we live in.


            When we get discouraged with the problems of our world which seem to be unsolvable and the immobility of many Christian churches to face the challenges of today, we know that through our prayer we are in touch with the source of redemption, Jesus. In our prayer life, we develop a deep relationship with Him who will transform us and we can be that light in the world which is so needed. Those fruits of the Spirit that the scriptures speak about – love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control, which we manifest in our lives will be noticed by the people around us. Hopefully they will show to our neighbors and communities a new way to live and act in the world. Through our contemplative prayer, we are participating in the silent revolution which can make a difference in the way we live. In this Easter season we remember the victory of Jesus and His Resurrection, the light and hope He brings to us. We need not be stuck in the darkness of our world and the stuttering of the Christian churches. We are faithful to our discipline of silence in meditating twice a day knowing that ultimately it will make a difference in our life and that of the world. Jesus brings us this light on Easter morning - our source of hope.


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Monday, March 3, 2014

Boredom in Prayer



DARK AFTERNOON

Robert Trabold

Winter time – cloudy – cool
days – rain – snow in the air.
Although predicted, no sun comes out.  Something draws me to
walk outside – I miss sunshine
but feel drawn to walk.  Cool damp
air wraps around me.  Keep on walking –
quiet of neighborhood touches
me – I feel something – deep –
mystery. 

Modern life – big cities –
full of noise – we have busy lives.
Today in the neighborhood –
silence reigns – mysterious – deep. 
One can say – silence
is empty – nothing there.
But walking slowly – listening –
feeling something is there –
mystery.
I have to stop once in a while –
look – listen –not to look – hear
sport’s racing cars.  Walking in the
quiet, I am in another wave
length.  Slowing down – listening –
I feel myself – my heart beating –
see winter trees – standing bare – at attention.
Silence prompts me to write this poem –
trying to put into words –
what seems to be nothing – silence –
mystery.

If I listen closely – stand still –
I feel a meeting – silence has a
presence – presence of the divine.
My life slows down – someone
else comes in.
Let me to be open to this meeting –
someone tells me – the Lord loves me –
watches over me – fills silence
with my gratitude.
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BOREDOM IN PRAYER


Robert Trabold


            Winter can be a difficult. In the Northeast of the United States this year, we have had a tough time with much snow and cold. Life becomes very heavy and we get depressed with the endless snow and bad weather. In our contemplative prayer and our fidelity to the discipline of praying twice for twenty minutes daily, the same kind of boredom and restlessness can enter in.  Despite the best of our intentions, we get discouraged with the feeling that we are not making progress in our contemplative path. We sit down to pray and we have endless distractions.  Our mind wanders all over the place. Spiritual things that used to give us much consolation now dry up. They do not have the same attraction for us. We are not satisfied with our prayer experience. We sense that we are not making progress and do not know what to do about it.

            This sense of dryness and lack of progress can be worse because we are living in the modern world with its possibility to always present to us new things and distractions. In fact, we are bombarded with so many things each day through the many channels of communication that we can be overwhelmed with stuff coming at us. Our cellular phones and other social applications can constantly bring us news, advertisements, conversations with people, etc. that there is no time for boredom. All these things are at our finger tips and easy to get. This is so different from our journey in prayer where there are times of boredom and dryness. We get used to have so many things at our finger tips and now in contemplative prayer, we sit in silence waiting to be touched by God’s presence. We have the sense that we are doing nothing so what is the use of all our effort. We are accustomed to do many things so that we can grow in life and be rewarded by our activities. Now we sit doing ‘nothing’ which is so different.

            We will carry these negative feelings during our life and have to see how we can overcome them with a vision of what is happening in our contemplative prayer. We go beyond them by realizing whom we are encountering in silence. We are approaching God who is source of all in life. It is not like meeting ordinary people in our social life. With our perseverance in prayer, we enter more deeply into the divine and grow in wonder about whom we are meeting. Our attempts to enter into this presence over the years become the paramount experience in our life.  This sense of importance then helps us overcome our disappointments with the dryness and the feeling of a dead end street. Despite the darkness and restless within us, this encounter with the divine is the experience which is central to us and gives our time on earth its direction and meaning. We are called to a relationship of love with the Lord. He is knocking at our door and wants to come into our life as our beloved. This love then is central to our life and overcomes the sense of wandering in our human journey. The Lord extends his hand and leads us on our challenging journey during the years. This invitation from the divine which we get in prayer is the way we overcome our dryness and boredom. We gently ignore these negative things and fix our intention on who is calling us. We will grow in wonder in what is happening in this deep relationship with God and try our best to answer with our fidelity to our discipline of silence despite the dryness and boredom through which we have to wander. We will overcome these negative experiences and walk faithfully and grow through the years in our love relationship with the Lord.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

GENTLE TOUCH




SILENCE – WOODS

Kilmarnock, Va.

Robert Trabold

What a trip – hundreds of miles –
visiting a cousin,  then poets’ workshop.
Turning of the wheels still resonate
within me.  At last, no more endless
driving – two days of peace – silence – meditation.
Quiet – stunning spot – water
Chesapeake Bay. Air is still – even
gentle breeze is silent.  Rich green pine
trees – those of Cézanne
stand at attention – do not move
enchanted by the sunshine – silence.
Such is our life – endless running around -
life in the big city. Many things to do –
 hopefully good. But like the long trip,
one has to slow down – stop!
Touch deeper down things!
My life is not exhausted by these busy
activities – good as they may be.
In quiet – silence – woods
there is a meeting – mysterious –
human touching divine – two
lovers meeting – holding hands.
Strange – silent meeting stronger than
all the noisy activity in the world.
Sacred silence is where my real life is -
more real than running
around the big city. My beloved takes
my hand – will lead me through
ups – downs of city life – helping me make
it a better place –lead the ship of
my life to a good – safe – final harbor.
                                                        
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GENTLE TOUCH

‘PRESENCE’ IN THE CONTEMPLATIVE PATH

Robert Trabold


I sleep but my soul wakes.
I hear my beloved who knocks at the door.
Song of Songs, 5:3




            At the heart of the contemplative journey is the sense and realization that a presence has entered our life. Without us necessarily looking for it, we are gently touched by Someone.  In the midst of our ordinary life and activities, in a peaceful moment of walking in nature or a visit to a quiet chapel or in other moments of pause, we experience this. It comes into our life as a robber in the dark of night unannounced nor sought by us.  Someone touches us at our center. As time goes on, we experience this presence more deeply and frequently, we feel that there is a deep sweetness to this advent and a desire on our part to experience it more. This presence revealing itself in my ordinary life is a mystery and has an uncommon element to it.  It appears at the center of my being, closer to myself than perhaps anyone can be or even closer to myself that I am.  On the other hand, despite this immanence, I cannot grasp it; there is an aura of mystery to it and it is something ineffable.

           
Contemplatives and mystics through the ages have written about this presence at the human center.  They were overwhelmed by it at the depth to their person and found with time that their whole life revolved around it. John of the Cross stated this well in the opening lines of his poem, ‘The Flame of Love’

O living flame of love
That so tenderly wounds
My soul at its deepest center:


It is a personal reality who is calling the contemplative to friendship.  We realize also that this presence has taken the initiative to reveal itself to us.  We did not look for it but in its own mysterious way, it has made its appearance.  It has touched us in the deepest spiritual sense. In experiencing this presence, mystics are living at the center of all religion, that is, in the mystery of the absolute reality and its being the true root of all human experience.  It is a reality transcendent to us and to the other things in the world but also immanent to us. The question of who God is and who we are become related because the presence is at our center. We cannot answer the question of our identity if we do not take into account this reality and its call to us.

           
If we quietly listen to this call, we see that we are being wooed by the Lord. He is at the center of our person because He loves us and wants us to love Him.  As Julian of Norwich so beautifully said, “God loves us and delights to be in our presence, He wants us to love Him and delight to be in His presence, and all is well.” John of the Cross stated the same in his poem ‘The Flame of Love’

In my heart where you secretly dwell
With your delightful breath
In glory and good will,
How soothingly do you woo me!

If we reflect on this verse, it stuns us that the divine is wooing us in our contemplation to a meeting in silence and darkness so that the Lord can entice us to love Him.  He reveals Himself to us and calls us to enter into the rapture of His love. As time goes on, we realize that we are no longer the center of our life with its desires and the importance of our ego; our life now is centered on the divine and we are subject to it. We realize that we cannot become our true self and grow into our true depth if we do not give ourselves to it. This whole relationship with the presence of God within us is a difficult one because we can never grasp the transcendent who is always beyond and transcendent to us. The mystics rightly say that we can know and experience the divine only in silence and the night. The center of our life and the question of our identity are related to the Lord whom we can never grasp but whom we can only desire.  As time goes on, the question of desiring God becomes paramount in our lives because this is how we can touch Him/Her.


            The advent of the presence of the divine in our contemplative path sets up conflicts within us.  First, it calls us to change and struggle against our selfishness and pride, things also afflicting all humans.  It is a hard struggle and one lasting all our life. Secondly, as the Lord’s presence grows to dominate us, we lose our taste for and liking for many things of life, such as, our work, hobbies, art, etc., and look forward to being in the quiet and silence of this presence. Thirdly, the traditional ways of our praying with many words and thoughts give way to a prayer where we quietly sit saying nothing or repeating our mantra. We are just there.  This is a big change and it will time for us to get used to it.  Also, we may lose our liking and interest in the more ritual and ceremonial aspects of religion and find that our religious and prayer life is centered on the quiet experiencing of the divine presence. All the above three changes impact on us and change our life as we grow in our contemplative path.


            In sum, this immediate but obscure experience of God’s presence in our life is the center of the contemplative and mystical paths.  This is what we are called to and how the Lord calls and reveals Himself to us. It is something we did not ask for but it came into our life.  Many of the mystics referred to the metaphor of the spiritual sense of touch to describe this advent. St. John of the Cross in his poem ‘The Flame of Love’ described it as ‘a gentle touch.’ The touch is real but it also a mysterious one because the divine is transcendent and ineffable to us. It encourages us to enter more into this mystery and presence.  The first two lines of the poem “The Dark Night” of John of the Cross sum up this desire:

On a dark night,
Afflicted and aflame with love.


            As a deer yearns for running water, so my soul thirsts for you, O Lord.
                                                                                                Psalm 42


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Thursday, January 2, 2014

CHRISTMAS SEASON

LIGHTED CHRISTMAS TREE

Robert Trabold


Dim dark room – full of mystery

Christmas tree

soft lights – varied colors

gentle yellow – clean white – stronger red – deep blue

a few twinkling ones -

light covered with mystery and silence.

I bath myself in soft light –

silence - quiet.

Beauty touches me – whispering the mysterious -

will not leave me.

I sit in the quiet – dreaming in beauty.

Someone is knocking at the door -

in the soft - gentle loveliness -

mysterious presence – my Beloved -

beautiful - good – more than the soft light of the tree.

He gives me hope – soft light of the tree

penetrates darkness.

My Beloved will not leave me alone in the night - cold.

He calls me to hope – not to lose heart.

Beauty of the lights is stronger than darkness.


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CHRISTMAS SEASON

Robert Trabold

            Living in the industrial world as in the United States, the Christmas season can be a mixed bag.  On the one hand, we are battered by our commercially orientated culture with its mania for Black Friday and the many sales that are being presented.  It is sad to say that as soon as Halloween is over, the decorations for that celebration give way to pictures of Santa Claus, red decorations in the stores highlighting what is on sale and Christmas candy. Radio, TV and the internet are flooded with news of sales. Retailers are competing with Amazon trying to outdo each other with discounts on the many items.
           
          While we have to live in the above, there is another current that is present in Advent and the weeks following the Christmas feast.  If we listen carefully to the nativity story, it is full of symbols of the night, light shining in the darkness, shepherds watching their sheep in the quiet of the night and mountains, angels appearing in the sky announcing and singing of a newborn savior, three magi arriving from afar and flowing a star in the heavens, child born in humble surroundings in a stable and laying in a manger. These symbols and stories lead us into another direction from the noise and clamor of the commercialism around us. The whole story is bathed in the darkness and night which are symbols of mystery and the unknown. But the night does not dominate all because there is light and angels appearing in the light singing and announcing good news. The shepherds themselves are marginal people to main stream society and live and work in the mountains exposed to the day and night and the vagaries of the weather. They lead their sheep high into the hills and can look vast distances into the beauties of nature. Angels are not human beings but messengers from another world who want to tell us something. Out of the blue appear three kings from faraway lands in the east. They are following a star in the heavens which is announcing the birth of a new king. Strange also is that  they find this child, a new king, not in the palaces of Jerusalem but born of a poor family and the baby is lying in a manger in a stable surrounded by his humble parents and the animals of the place. This Christmas story then in loaded with symbols and events which are quite different from the noise of our commercial culture. We are lead into another world of signs and mystery that is deeper from our ordinary life and wants to transform our way of living and that of the world.

            As we progress in the Christmas season, we are careful not to be overwhelmed by the commercial culture of our world but to step back and take a look at the deep symbols of the nativity story and to see how they want to orientate our life. This means that despite our many activities of this season, we take time out to experience the deeper meanings of this religious event and what it means for ourselves and our world. We enter into the darkness and the light that is shining in it. We slow down our activities as the mania for presents and gifts subside.  We are faithful to our two periods of contemplation each day so that we can understand more and feel the deeper meanings of the coming of Christ. We keep an eye on the shepherds who were marginal and poor people and because of their limited income did not have many things of the world. It is a signal that we have to cultivate a distance and indifference from material things and not let them dictate how we live. Our silent contemplation can help us achieve this goal. To enter in the deeper meanings of the nativity story, we need not be too busy. We look at our schedule and many activities and cut away what may been unnecessary so that we have time to breathe and absorb what the Christmas stories are telling us. This can be a challenge because we have many modern communication devices and these are always bombarding us with messages, some important, others not at all. We need a dimension of silence and quiet so that we can hear the hidden messages of the nativity. We cannot be too busy and so not enter into the other and deeper side of this lovely time.

            As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Christmas season is a mixed bag and we have to sort out what is really important. Our modern commercial world does not always make this very easy. We however have to try. The deep symbols of the nativity narrative are knocking at our door. Let us use the time of our contemplation which is one of silence and quiet and a reduced schedule to open ourselves to the messages that the baby Jesus wants us to receive at this time of his birth. We then orientate ourselves to the deeper meanings of our religious faith which will also help us lead a more authentic and deeper Christ-like life in the New Year.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent



DARK AFTERNOON - ADVENT


Winter time – cloudy – cool

days – rain – snow in the air.

Although predicted, no sun came out.  Something drew me to

walk outside – I miss sunshine

but felt drawn to walk.  Cool damp

air wrapped around me.  Kept on walking –

quiet of the neighborhood touched

me – I felt something – deep –

mystery.  Modern life – big cities –

full of noise – we have busy lives.

Today in the neighborhood –

silence reigns – mysterious – deep. 

One can say – silence

is empty – nothing there.

But walking slowly – listening –

feeling something is there –

mystery.

I have to stop once in a while –

look – listen –not to look – hear

sport’s racing cars.  Walking in the

quiet, I am in another wave

length.  Slowing down – listening –

I feel myself – my heart beating –

see winter trees – standing bare – at attention.

Silence prompts me to write this poem –

trying to put into words –

what seems to be nothing – silence –

mystery.

If I listen closely – stand still –

I feel a meeting – silence has a

presence – presence of the divine.

My life has slowed down – someone

else came in.

Let me to be open to this meeting –

someone tells me – the Lord loves me –

watches over me – fills the silence

with my gratitude.

---------------------------------



OUR CONTEMPLATIVE PATH



“My soul longs for the Lord more than
the watchman waits for the dawn.”
                    Ps. 129


Robert Trabold



WATCHMEN IN THE NIGHT: ADVENT

             In the Old Testament, the psalmist mentions that his soul yearns for the Lord more than the watchman waiting for the dawn. Watchmen, the security guards of the ancient cities, made their rounds in the night and were happy when the dawn came to end their work. On examining the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, we note that many important things happened at night.  The shepherds were tending their flocks and the angels announced to them the birth of a savior. Then, a choir of angels appeared and sang praises to the newborn. The shepherds went to the town of Bethlehem to visit the family with the child. The Magi, also, watched the stars in the night and then followed the special one in the darkness until it led them to Bethlehem

            I have been attracted by the phrase “watchmen in the night” as capturing the meaning of the contemplative path to which God calls us. It points to the mystery of this encounter since God is transcendent and an ineffable presence in our life. Our contemplative life is a response to this meeting. As John of the Cross mentions, in the dark night, God has us lose many attractions we have for our human activities, such as work, recreation, art, etc, and we are drawn to a peaceful resting in the divine presence. It is not something that we have control over but God gently touches us to want to be with Him/Her. This presence is different from others because we sense it at our deepest core – at our center. For this reason, there is no one so close to us as God. On the other hand, in other relationships such as friendship or marriage, the other person is always opposite to us.

            For all the above, contemplatives are called to grow in their inward journey and be sign to others who are also called to discover this way of interiority.  The mystics that are popular in history are ones often who have left behind writings and exemplary lives showing us the way to God.  John of the Cross’ beautiful poetry and the autobiographical and spiritual writings of Theresa of Avila are examples. By reading these works, we can get an insight into their interior life helping us on our path.

            Contemplatives living out their inward journey are a sign and ask a question to the world around them. Humans are busy with their life of work, family, education, etc. and the contemplative path being one of silence and interiority presents another dimension of life. It raises the issue of the ultimate meaning of our journey on earth with its contingency and temporality. The contemplative path points to a presence within us which is the ground of our being and the goal of our life on earth. We can be so busy in life with every day affairs that we lose sight of this or never discover it. It takes a reorientation of our life to become aware of this presence and make those changes so that we can grow in a relationship with it. God is not only present within us but also is active in the world and in the lives of all people. In beginning our journey inward, we will grow in sensitivity to the divine actions in the world. We are social animals living in societies with other people and need to realize how God is active in these groups making them more just and peaceful.


            Contemplatives are examples of ‘watchmen in the night’ signaling others to join them in this interior journey. As Psalm 129 says, “My soul longs for God more than the watchman waits for the dawn.” It is a difficult journey demanding changes within ourselves so that we can be ready to meet the absolute; we humans are selfish and proud and these are obstacles to growth in union with the Transcendent. In the contemplative path, God takes the initiative to meet and touch us and we have to sit in silence and listen and wait to see how the divine reveals itself and woos us into a mutual love.  We are not in control but God will do it in His/Her own way and time.

            As I mentioned in the title, contemplatives are ‘watchmen in the night.’ They live in silence and a presence hopefully helping others to be aware of a light and love within themselves. This presence of God who is transcendent but also so close to us as no one else is a mystery and so our relationship with the Absolute is in the night. As long as we live on earth, we will not possess God but only touch and taste the divine. For this reason, John of the Cross in his beautiful poem ‘In the Dark Night’ has to two lovers meeting each other in the night full of mystery and desire.


In a dark night,
burning with fires of love!



“I will seduce my love, lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.”
Hos. 2.16

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Inward Mystical Journey


INWARD JOURNEY


Summer day – warm and humid
but not oppressive.
Clear sun brightens up the
yellow blooming black eyed Suzie’s in the garden.
I sit in the quiet – notice my heart beat –
my breathing in and out -
pointing to a presence within me –
my Beloved.
Total mystery – otherness – that
my quiet heart beats point to.
My Beloved covers me –
embraces me – my whole body feels the touch.
I sit in mystery – so deep within me.
I say nothing – I let
my breathing highlight the presence.
In the ebb and flow of my life –
 in the years gone by – in the moments now -
in the currents and undertows that almost
did me in –
Someone was there – never let me go.
I bath myself in this love –
because of it, I did not get lost
in the crossroads and curves of the years gone by.
There were no dead end streets
but always an exit.
How lucky I am that Someone loves me!
Robert Trabold
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MYSTICAL QUEST:

INWARD JOURNEY

Robert Trabold
           
            If we examine all religions of the world, we see that spiritual seekers make pilgrimages and trips to holy places in order to have a special encounter with the divine. They make a special effort to travel far to a holy place and/or at a special time of the year and often at a great expense on their part. These pilgrimages and quests are external to us. In the spiritual life, however, there is also an interior quest and journey to encounter the divine within us and this usually takes place in the cultivation of mystical prayer by sincere seekers. (Underhill 3-4) The great mystics were not content to live in the day to day world and be absorbed with all its pressing and not so pressing activities.  They stepped back, reassessed their life, tried to go beyond the changeable things of the world and their human life on earth and touch the ultimate reality which in the West we call God.  The mystics believed that they could not be happy with just possessing the every day things which we humans need but wanted to have a relationship with the divine, the ground of our being, who alone can make us happy and give us the real goal to living on earth. It is an inward journey into our center and still point to meet God within, leading us also to a discovery of our true selves.
            Despite the various differences among the religions of the world, the basic structure of the mystical path is the same in all of them. It is an inner journey to the deepest level of consciousness to have an experience of the most interior being, the highest reality, the truth – God. This dimension and experience cannot be grasped by the intellect because it is beyond rationality but nevertheless resides in each person. Mysticism then is a way of knowing, a particular type of experience and state of consciousness. The goal is to have immediate contact of the deepest level of being, the ground of all beings in the world, to have an experience of and a union with it. For the mystic, this is a transpersonal experience because he/she feels also the unity of all beings in this encounter with the divine.
            In this experience, the mystic has the certainty to have reached the place where the person has his/her origin, for which he/she has such a great yearning and receives the answer to the question of “Who am I?” Life then has a new meaning and depth. This mystical experience is beyond the intellect and rationality and it also breaks through the boundaries of normal spiritual experiences. The mystic pushes to an encounter with the absolute, God – TOTAL BEING. This experience cannot be directly shared; it is inexpressible in that it lies beyond the rational sphere to which language belongs. The desire to articulate it expresses itself in parables, symbols, poems, negation, that is, to say what it is not.  Words cannot grasp the mystical experience but only point to it.
            The method of the mystical path is the inner journey which has three levels: the purgative, illuminative and unitive ways. (Wehr 35-36) In the purgative way, the mystic sees that he/she cannot remain the same. Life has to be changed and God helps the person see his/her many bad habits and sins and actively aids the individual to become more God-like. In the illuminative way, the mystic sees the world and life in a new way – a waking up experience, that is, leaving behind an old way of life and having the freedom and liberty to see things differently. The third step in this journey is the unitive way in which the seeker achieves a union with the absolute and in spiritual literature, this act is expressed in the image of a mystical marriage. This is the peak of the inner journey. It should be understood that these steps need not follow this chronology but can have a different sequence and perhaps occur simultaneously depending on the disposition of the individual and the will of the divine. Underlying all these three steps, there is also the need to cultivate the discipline of silence so that the individual can encounter God whose language is silence and quiet. This means coming to grips with our daily schedule, take stock of our many activities and letting go some them in order to make our life less busy and create spaces to encounter the divine. In addition, to grow in meditation and contemplation, we have to become aware of our posture, breathing, use of mantras, time allotment, etc, so that we can experience the transcendent at our center and still point and grow in union with it. The many contemporary contemplative and mystical prayer movements in our country can help us in the practical steps so that we can grow in this discipline of silence and contemplation.
            In the whole above process, the mystic becomes the illumined one who breaks through the deepest level of consciousness and lives out his/her life on this level – in union with God. The person is walking in an endless horizon, in union with all beings and loving all creatures; this is done in the understanding and wisdom of this experience of union with the divine. The mystic is an ordinary human but also no longer one because he/she is detached from the things of this world. The mystic also helps others reach this deep level and consciousness of the divine and as such is a catalyst of human development in the world.
            In our inward journey and quest to encounter the presence of the transcendent within us, we will then know and discover our true selves. As human beings, we are in a constant process to grow and develop ourselves. All our activities and relationships in our family, work, education, etc. work to make us hopefully more mature and capable people. In mystical prayer, we grow in a relationship with God within us. It lets us know that we are beings that can encounter God and very important it takes place within us at our center and still point; at the deepest level of our consciousness, we meet the consciousness of the absolute.  This presence of the divine within us is not strange and unfriendly because it lies in the depths of our heart and we experience the absolute as the ground of our being. We discover ourselves as capable of having this relationship with the divine and since this is a relationship of love, we find our peace and fulfillment in human life in this union with God. No earthly thing can satisfy this yearning for the transcendent on our part. This bond with God puts all earthly things that we are involved with in perspective; we realize the many finite and contingent things of the world can never really fulfill us even though many are good things and necessary for our human life. Because we are human beings open to the transcendent and capable of experiencing its presence at our center and still point, this is the most important thing helping us put all things into focus and not letting the many contingent things of life pull us in many different directions and possibly inflict harm on ourselves and others. We find our happiness and peace in fulfilling our ability to be open to the transcendent; we rejoice that we have this capacity and this is our true self and nature we must grow in through our years on earth.
            As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are many kinds of pilgrimages and quests in life; many are to external things and places around us but an important one for religious seekers is the inward journey to meet the presence of the divine at our center and still point, at the deepest level of our consciousness. This has been a quest that the great mystics throughout the ages have made and their writings are a testimony to this. Interestingly, this inward journey to meet God at our center is the meeting of love involving deep intimacy. This inward quest is also a journey to discover our true selves. We as human beings are open to the transcendent and can have a relationship with it. It is the definitive relationship in our life giving us a sense of peace and security of finding the reality that fulfills us, loves us and calls us to reciprocate in the same way.

Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1967.

Wehr, Gerhard. Die Deutsche Mystik. Koeln: Anacona Verlag, 2006.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Canadian Pilgrimage

 
 
SAINT BROTHER ANDRÉ
Oratory of Saint Joseph
 
He was a small man – not overly educated –
always delicate – precarious health.
He knew his weaknesses –
but always told people – he prayed without cease.
With the years, prayer overcame
weaknesses. People noticed something –
came to talk with him – shared
their problems of life – looked for advice.
Many came physically sick – Brother André
healed them. With time, many healings occurred.
He became known as a healer. Those healed, left their
crutches – medical wrappings behind.
Brother André had a dream –
he loved St. Joseph – wanted a basilica
in his honor.
For years, he travelled far and wide –
amassing funds for a basilica.
He never saw it finished – but
knew it would be one day.
It was completed after his death – I am sure
he is happy to see his dream
come true. Each year, thousands
come to visit and honor St. Joseph –
touch the tombstone of Brother André.
Newspapers estimate – one million people
came to his wake and funeral.
Brother André touched many
people’s lives – still does today.
Crowds come to the basilica – touch his
tombstone. He continues his work –
sign of life in a desperate world.
Robert Trabold
 
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CANADIAN PILGRIMAGE
Robert Trabold
 
 
            At the beginning of September, I had the opportunity to make a two week pilgrimage to Québec, Canada visiting the various shrines along the St. Lawrence River. It was a contemplative pilgrimage because I went by myself and not with a group; I tried to be for most part silent in my visits to the various shrines. I repeated my usual mantra and watched my breathing in order to touch God’s presence. In Québec city, I visited the burial chapel of Mary of the Incarnation, a remarkable and relatively unknown mystic who reached the heights of contemplative prayer. To me she was the Theresa of Avila of North America. I spent two days of silence there not saying too much because I knew that Mary knew all the problems that I brought on this trip and the problems of my world. I then drove to Trois Rivières where I visited the famous shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary who appeared there to several people in the 19th century. Over the years, the place became very famous and many people went there. The shrine was situated on the vast and mighty St. Lawrence River. The sky is very blue in that part of the world and makes the river also deep blue. For this reason, I have called this area Mary’s country because of the intense blue in nature. I was silent and felt God’s presence in the lovely setting of the church on the banks of the river. I spent many hours of silent prayer in the ancient chapel where the apparitions of the Virgin took place. I felt her presence acutely which gave me confidence that she was happy that I made such a long trip and would remember my concerns and the problems of the world and bring us more peace. The interior of the basilica on the grounds was very beautiful and the dim atmosphere from the deep red and blue stained glass windows gave an aura of mystery which led me into silent prayer.
            The last leg of my pilgrimage was five days spent in Montréal where I visited various shrines. I went to one of the most celebrated Canadian ones, the Oratory of Saint Joseph, which had the burial chapel of St. Brother André. The latter was a remarkable man. People came from all over the world to talk to him about their problems and he had the gift of healing them from their physically aliments. The church walls had many of the crutches that people have left behind upon their cure. At the time of his death, the newspapers reported that one million people came to his wake and funeral. I felt the power of this saint when I was in his burial chapel and touched with other people the marble of his tomb stone. There was an acute silence in that room which lead me to believe that Brother André was there and was aware of all my problems and those of the world. I did not say many words but just let the silence touch me and lead me into the presence of the divine. In contemplative prayer, silence is the language of God. I also had the opportunity to visit a lovely chapel devoted to St. Padre Pio, a modern structure and very beautiful in the interior. Like the Marian shrine in Trois Rivières, it was situated in lovely grounds which added to its sense of holiness. I was very touched by the statue of Padre Pio to the right of the altar and felt a great silence coming from it. He was a man like Saint Brother André who touched many people helping them with their problems and healing them of their infirmities. I sat there many hours in silence repeating my mantra and watching my breathing. I intensely felt the presence of the saint and Jesus. It gave me confidence that they have not forgotten us and would bring more justice and peace to our world.
            In making this pilgrimage to a foreign country and distant from my home in New York City, I was physically away from my daily life and concerns.  In this distance, a space opened up where Jesus then was able to enter into and was with me in silence. Prayer was not too difficult and although distractions never left me, I was able to rest in silence and meet the Beloved Jesus who was happy that I made the effort to visit these holy places in a distant land. He entered this space which the pilgrimage made and both of us met. It was presence meeting presence and I met Jesus, the Virgin and the saints in a special way.
            This intense encounter with the divine and the saints reminded me also that this journey would end after two weeks and that I would continue in the future my pilgrimage of life. I came back home and my life with all its joys and concerns were there. I realized that my years on earth were a pilgrimage and I was travelling on to my eternal home. The earth was not my true home but a temporary one. I hope that in my journey on earth, the encounters that I had with Jesus and the saints in Québec, Canada, will give me the strength and faith to continue on this trip. I need to be faithful each day to my practice of contemplative prayer and be active to make our world more of a place of justice and peace.
 
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