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Joann Nesser

Reflections on the Spiritual Journey

Topics include spiritual formation, contemplative prayer practices, aging and spirituality.

Today there is a lot of talk about spiritual formation in religious circles, this includes ways of contemplative prayer. Unfortunately, when something becomes popular it often is offered as some kind of formula like ten steps to whatever rather than spiritual growth. The focus becomes doing the spiritual practice rather than the One whom we seek. Writers of scripture tell us of their experience with an unknowable God. For example, 1 Corinthians 2:9 "What no eye has seen nor human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love him," and Ephesians 3:14-21 where Paul is said to have prayed that we would "know the loved of Christ which passes understanding that you might might be filled with all the fullness of God." 

Our spiritual journey is one of falling deeper in love as we open more and more to this amazing love. A contemplative is one who is on a journey into deeper Love. All our spiritual practices are simply means to help us be open. A contemplative is one who is on this journey to love and uses whatever means God invites to help us on the way. The contemplative is one who, as the Buddhist would say, has woken up and from that moment is on a quest or journey to know the incomprehensible God of love. This is not a journey where we can learn about God with our mind or intellect but a journey within where we find the indwelling Christ in the center of our soul. This is a journey toward deeper awareness of this One within. As we seek deeper awareness we also experience a deeper awareness of our true self. Teresa of Avila and many other ancient writers tells us that to know God we must know ourselves. In other words, self-knowledge is necessary to know God. Then, the spiritual journey becomes one of discovery, the discovery of God and one's true self, not so much about performing certain practices. And yet....the spiritual practices God invites help us peal back the layers of all what is hidden that has become a barrier to our fullest experience of God who is Love and a reflection of that Love to the world. 

      Deep within us all, underneath all the hurts and wounds of our past, all our misconceptions about ourselves, all the affects of the culture we live in, is someone we know to be our true Self, the Real Me. Most of us have a glimpse of that person now and then but usually are unable for one reason or another to let that person come forth. We have fears of rejection, of making a mistake or disappointing someone because that true Self is not what we think they expect us to be. Often that true Self lies buried sometimes so deep we don't realize it ourselves unless something happens that knocks us out of our comfort zone and into an openness to explore. It is like the apostle Paul being knocked off his horse and blinded before he was able to see. He had to let go of his past beliefs of who he was to receive the invitation from God to become the person he was created to be.

     Do you remember a time when you knew God was real? Do you remember feeling the Holy, the Sacred or the Mystery we call God very hear to you and you sensed a feeling of being loved, deep peace or joy? It could have happened while walking to the mailbox, sitting by a lake or cradling a baby. It could have happened while singing a favorite hymn at church or listening to a particular song on the radio. It could happen while you are sitting in a fishing boat or taking a walk in a park. Many people have told me that it happened when they were on a retreat where they had a concentrated time to pay attention to their spiritual life. Others have experienced an intimate closeness of God through the death of a loved one. Do you remember times like these that led you to make a resolve to live differently and seek God's direction for the choices you make in life? The Buddhist would call this waking up. What happened?

     I want to say that all those experiences are invitations from God to come closer, to listen deeply and to discover a fuller more meaningful life. They are invitations to begin the journey to discover your true Self and the Spirit of God who is within you. These are invitations to pray. They are invitations to experience the unconditional love of God, to help us discover our best self and to make better choices for our lives. We have lost the meaning of prayer as the early Christians practiced it. A word like communion would better express what prayer meant to them. Another word might be relationship or intimacy to better express prayer as Jesus demonstrated it. When one thinks of words like communion , relationship and intimacy one also thinks of love. A good way to talk about prayer would be to say that it is the intimate communication one has in one's love relationship with God.

     God isn't waiting to condemn or punish but is like loving parent who longs to draw his or her child near and wipe away tears, bring joy and help that child have the best life possible. Jesus said, "Come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest." and the apostle Paul wrote, "What no eye has seen nor ear heard nor the human heart conceived what God has prepared for those who love God."

To live

in the joy of Love

without assurance,

without reasoning,

without anything

that can hold me up.

I can only let go

and float

in this faith,

knowing nothing

and yet,

knowing everything.

Here I am

at my age

wondering what

to do with my life.

I want harmony

I don't want strife

maybe I need

a wake-up call

to realize

what has always been

is not the All.

There is more beyond

the beginning birth

more than I can conceive

with this mind of earth.

This time of life

I am still a blank slate

able to do something

that might not be great

but will be a unique creation

that can only come from me

when my mind takes a vacation,

to relax and be open

to, I know not what

a mystery that only

Mystery can wrought.

God Beyond God

God beyond God, Self beyond self

The time comes

when we are invited

to let go

And enter the “cloud.”

The journey through

the interior castle

To the place

where Truth dwells

Is one of interior self-discovery

an interior confrontation

with all our “stuff”

This is important and necessary

for we won’t know God

without knowing ourselves.

We read and go to classes

to discover who we are

through the MBPTI

and the Enneagram

but there comes a time

when God invites us

into that ‘cloud of forgetting”

when none of that matters.

You have come to

know yourself.

God’s love has entered

the interior places to heal and renew.

There comes a time

to let go into Nothing

to melt into God

who is beyond description,


beyond comprehension.

To discover in amazement

that so are you

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