The Path of Descent

March 23rd, 2020 by JDVaughn Leave a reply »

The Path of Descent 
Monday, March 23, 2020

The CONSPIRE 2018 conference focused on the Path of Descent as the Path of TransformationSuffering is universal experience occurring across space and time, revealing the “big T” Truth that going down, going through, and going into the unknown can be powerfully transformative. In the meditations this week I will be sharing the wisdom offered by my fellow teachers at the CAC, whom I also call my friends. I hope you will trust their insights as you seem to trust my own. Today, Mirabai Starr shares a breathing practice and a reading from John of the Cross (15421591). Don’t hurry through it with your intellectual mind; allow it to do its work in your heart and body as well.   

Welcome to the descent. As we slip down deeper and deeper, I invite you to remember . . . that it is not in perfection that we reach the divine, but through the gateway of our mistakes and our suffering. . . .  

Let’s take three deep breaths. I invite you to breathe all the way in and hold your inhalation for a while, for as long as you can, holding that inhalation before letting it all go and holding the exhalation. [Do this] three times at your own pace, paying attention to every nuance of your breath as you inhale, hold, exhale and hold, noticing especially the empty space of the out breath.   

As you breathe, feel your attention pouring into the container of this moment so that you fully inhabit your own dear body in this precious moment. [You have] nowhere else to go, nothing to accomplish, [you are giving] yourself the . . . gift of being fully present and resting right here. 

From Dark Night of the Soul (Noche Oscura del Alma):  

The divine is purifying contemplation, and the human is the soul. The divine lays siege upon the soul in order to make her new and to make her divine, stripping her of habitual affections and attachments to the old self to which she had been reconciled. The Divine disentangles and dissolves her spiritual substance, absorbing it in deep darkness. In the face of her own misery, the soul feels herself coming undone and melting away in a cruel, spiritual death. 

Man says, the soul feels as if she herself were coming to an end. David calls out to God: ‘Save me, Lord, for the waters have come in even unto my soul. I am trapped in the mire of the deep. I have nowhere to stand. I have come unto the depth of the sea, and the tempest has overwhelmed me. I have labored in my cry. My throat has become raw, and my eyes have failed while I hope in my God.’ [Psalm 69:24] . . .  [1] 

We abandon the self-improvement project and instead surrender to the Holy Fire. Allowing your breath to be the touchstone of your meditation and contemplation, allow yourself to rest for a few minutes in the stillness. 

The Path of Descent

Suffering in Solidarity
Sunday, March 22, 2020

I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life. —Etty Hillesum [1] 

The “cross,” rightly understood, always reveals various kinds of resurrection. It’s as if God were holding up the crucifixion as a cosmic object lesson, saying: “I know this is what you’re experiencing. Don’t run from it. Learn from it, as I did. Hang there for a while, as I did. It will be your teacher. Rather than losing life, you will be gaining a larger life. It is the way through.” As impossible as that might feel right now, I absolutely believe that it’s true.  

When we carry our own suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. It is just as hard for everybody else, and our healing is bound up in each other’s. Almost all people are carrying a great and secret hurt, even when they don’t know it. This realization softens the space around our overly–defended hearts. It makes it hard to be cruel to anyone. It somehow makes us one—in a way that easy comfort and entertainment never can. 

I believe—if I am to believe Jesus—that God is suffering love. If we are created in God’s image, and if there is so much suffering in the world, then God must also be suffering. How else can we understand the revelation of the cross? Why else would the central Christian logo be a naked, bleeding, suffering divine-human being? The image of Jesus on the cross somehow communicates God’s solidarity with the willing soul. A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us—much more than just for us, as many Christians were trained to think. 

If suffering, even unjust suffering (and all suffering is unjust on some level), is part of one Great Mystery, then I am willing to carry my little portion. Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), a young, Dutch, Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, truly believed her suffering was also the suffering of God. She even expressed a deep desire to help God carry some of it. How many people do you know who feel sorry for God and want to “help” God within us?  She has a stronger sense of the Divine Indwelling within her than most Christians I have ever met: 

And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. [2] 

Such freedom and generosity of spirit are almost unimaginable to me. What creates such altruistic and loving people? Perhaps this season of disruption will offer us some clues. I certainly hope so.   

Summary and Lamentation Practice for a Time of Crisis

Saturday, March 21, 2020
Summary: Sunday, March 15–Friday, March 20, 2020

Because Jesus is always listening to God and experiencing God’s presence, God is continually teaching him. (Sunday)

Prophets must first be true disciples of their faith. In fact, it is their deep love for their tradition that allows them to profoundly criticize it at the same time. (Monday)

It is by focusing their attention on, and becoming fully aware of, the political, social, economic, military, and religious tendencies of their time that prophets are able to see where it is all heading. —Albert Nolan (Tuesday)

For me, the word mysticism simply means experiential knowledge of spiritual things, as opposed to book knowledge, secondhand knowledge, or even church knowledge. (Wednesday)

Globally, we’re in this together. Depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love. (Thursday

We’re all subject to this crisis. Suffering has an ability to pull you into oneness. (Friday)

Practice: Lamentation for a Time of Crisis

Intelligently responding to the Coronavirus demands that we access resources of physical, emotional and spiritual resilience. One practice Christianity has developed to nurture resilience is lamentation. Prayers of lamentation arise in us when we sit and speak out to God and one another—stunned, sad, and silenced by the tragedy and absurdity of human events. Without this we do not suffer the necessary pain of this world, the necessary sadness of being human.

Walter Brueggemann, my favorite Scripture teacher, points out that even though about one third of the Psalms are psalms of “lament,” these have been the least used by Catholic and Protestant liturgies. We think they make us appear weak, helpless, and vulnerable, or show a lack of faith. So we quickly resort to praise and thanksgiving. We forget that Jesus called weeping a “blessed” state (Matthew 5:5) and that only one book of the Bible is named after an emotion: Jeremiah’s book of “Lamentation.”

In today’s practice, Reverend Aaron Graham reflects on the elements found in prayers of lament. I hope that you will find in his words and in the text of Psalm 22 a way to voice your own complaints, requests, and trust in God, who is always waiting to hear. 

We need to be reminded that our cries are not too much for God. [God] laments with us. In fact, [God] wants us to come to [the Divine Presence] in our anger, in our fear, in our loneliness, in our hurt, and in our confusion. 

Each lamenting Psalm has a structure;

  • They begin with a complaint. . .that things are not as they should be.
  • They turn to a request. God, do something! Rescue me! Heal me! Restore me! Show mercy! 
  • Laments end with an expression of trust. Laments end with the reminder that God is setting things right, even though it often seems so slow. It is right for our laments to turn towards a reminder that God is in control and about the business of righting all things made wrong. [1]

Consider praying these words found in Psalm 22, or choose another passage of lament. Before you pray, ask God to speak to you. 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame (Psalm 22:1-5). 


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