People want to believe in God. But some lose the struggle and faith simply slips away. When faith no longer seems important, people begin just going through the motions.
- Then deadening inertia plops down on the couch and absorbs the values of television and the sex and money culture.
- Then discernment gets compromised.
- Then life takes on a dull meaningless quality void of transcendence, void of religion.
- Then people are vulnerable to simplistic toxic varieties of religion.
- Then people are more vulnerable to fixations and disintegration.
- Then there is a hollow sinking feeling that needs to be filled with pornography, alcohol, and video game addiction.
- Then people forget what’s most important: our primary relationship with God and one another.
If we can’t connect to God as revealed to us and to our people by Jesus, then alienation takes on new power, disconnecting us from our souls’ depths and from our ancestors. If we cut ourselves off from the deep abiding memory of God preserved in our tradition, we soon become strangers in an alien land, forgetting where we came from and where we are going.
The loss of religion in our culture is staggering. At public ceremonies prayers are often given and they are sincere, yet they often amount to tokens—drops in the bucket of secularism. And many in our culture, void of deep authentic faith, seek invented forms of worship, losing themselves in addictions. football and gambling.
People are instinctively religious. And it shows in their devotion to television, sports, money, work, and sex. These are all indirect approaches to spirituality—fixations to fill the God-shaped hole. St Saraphim (D. 1853) stated, “in the times in which we live, we have reached such a degree of lukewarmness, almost everywhere, in the holy faith in Jesus Christ, such an insensibility towards communion with God, that really we can say, we have departed almost entirely from the true Christian life. “
Western civilization’s abandonment of historic faith is deeply unsettling. It is a travesty. For a Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky (D. 1881), observed in The Brothers Karamazov, “when people no longer believe in God, any and all horrors become possible.”
In his book, Behold I Do a New Thing, Christian author Kirk Hadaway says the church is primarily about personal transformation. The basis of transformation is belief in God, better yet, immersion in God. Fundamentalists know this instinctively, but their faith can be narrow and limiting. Secularists don’t know it and so lose themselves in surrogate faith like sports, chemical addiction, and other fetishes. All the while there is a nagging emptiness.
Reversing the Trend of Secularism
Mysticism is the sense of some form of contact with the divine or transcendent, often understood in Christian tradition as involving union with God. It can range from ecstatic visions of the soul’s mystical union with God and theosis (humans gaining divine qualities) in Eastern Orthodox theology to simple prayerful meditation on Holy Scripture. Mysticism played an important role in the history of Christian religion and emerged as a living influence in modern times. Mystic author of the early 20th century, Evelyn Underhill, defines mysticism as “the art of union with Reality. The mystic is a person who has attained that union in greater or less degree, or who aims at and believes in such attainment.”
My hope is that more open minded and educated people will arrive at a life giving, open-minded faith for our times based on personal experience and mystical theology. The taste of freedom that comes from mystical experience brings fulfillment like nothing else. It brings healing, deep meaning, and purpose.
Restoring / Increasing Your Faith
People often think mystical experience is only for specialists and ascetics. Not so. If centering prayer is practiced for two twenty-minute sessions a day and if a practitioner takes a weeklong centering prayer retreat yearly, Thomas Keating and numerous others guarantee results. The transforming grace of centering prayer has nothing to do with effort and is a God given grace. Yet discipline is necessary. We must show up and sit on our cushion or chair for the prescribed time. That is up to us.
One time Keating said, “you can’t expect to have a chance of winning the lottery unless you buy lottery tickets.” Likewise, God’s transforming grace won’t work its way through us unless we practice. Yes, a discipline of silent prayer requires stamina, but so does any worthwhile endeavor. There’s no substitute for regular practice. It is variously named non-monasticism, new-monasticism, or lay-monasticism. It’s a surprising development among tens of thousands of people across the United States and Europe who are serious practitioners of silent prayer but who are not members of a monastery or cloister.
The prophets placed overwhelming importance on the faithful remnant. This remnant is the few who make ancient scriptures relevant and accessible to each generation; the few who don’t settle for dusty hardback academic treaties, the few who don’t settle for cotton candy televangelists. We need faith that’s ancient and contemporary—faith that beams from the fiery eyes of Mystics—faith that’s anchored in Jesus’ primal essence. Are you one of the faithful remnant?
More about centering prayer, essential for increasing faith can be found in these posts:
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Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Healing the Divide; Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots by Amos Smith
Evelyn Underhill; Essential Writings