Anointing

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Anointing

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
— 1 Cor 2: 1-5 (NAB)

This Scripture passage calls to mind certain excerpts from the writings of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap.,  in which he tries to navigate the muddy waters of the topic of the anointing as understood and experienced in charismatic circles. I am not limiting the understanding of this concept here to one of the sacramental, nor to biblical exegesis.  I found these quotes several years ago and come back to them often.  I ponder how the anointing changes the game, and how we attain such an intimacy with God which allows Him to use us as vessels of His Spirit. 

“Anointed faith is what gives to a speech prophetic power. Let me try to explain how this happens when we preach about the crucified and the risen Lord. While the preacher is speaking, at a certain point, quite apart from any decision of his, he becomes aware of an intervention, as though a signal on another wavelength were coming through his voice. He becomes aware of this because he begins to feel deeply stirred, invested with a strength and an extraordinary power of conviction that he recognises clearly is not his own. His words come out as incisive, with greater assurance. He experiences a touch of that “authority” that all recognised when they listened to Jesus speaking. The listener is brought to a point of total concentration into which no other voice can reach: he too feels “touched”, and often a shiver goes through his body.

At a moment like this, the human speaker and the human voice fade out of the picture, to make way for another voice entirely. Someone has said: “The true prophet, when he speaks, remains silent” (Philo of Alexandria). The prophet is silent because, at that moment, it is not he who speaks, but another. God says to his prophets, poor sinful human creatures, “You shall be as my own mouth” (Jr 15, 19), and the thought of it makes his messenger tremble.

Of course, this doesn’t happen at the same level of intensity all the way through. There are special moments. God needs only one phrase, one word. The speaker and the listeners have the feeling that drops of fire mingle at a certain point with the preacher’s words and they become white-hot and shining. Of all images, fire is the one that is least inadequate when it comes to expressing this operation of the Spirit. So it was that at Pentecost, he showed himself as “tongues of fire” (Acts 2, 3). We read of Elijah that “he arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch” (Eccl 48,1), and in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, God himself declares, “Does not my word burn like fire, is it not like a hammer shattering rock?” (Jr 23, 29).

The best thing on an occasion like this is to ask God for a new anointing of his Spirit so that leaving this meeting each one can confidently say, with Jesus: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the afflicted.” (Lk 4,18)

What we need to do is simply ask for the anointing before we set out to do any evangelistic work.”
— "Faith Which Overcomes the World" by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa

 

This quote above touches on the power of kerygmatic preaching, such as Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, when the crowds joined  the apostles and disciples who previously were troubled but now boldly stepped out to propose a new Way of Life. It wasn't St. Peter's sophisticated eloquence, his edginess in communication, his persuasive rhetorical skills, his pedagogy or methodology of preaching or catechesis, nor was it his powerful biblical or apologetical knowledge that convicted the hearts of several thousands of passersby to ask: What now? If we are to believe that the conversions of Pentecost were the result of mass hysteria, or of some instant psychological empowerment enabling Peter to become the inspirational speaker of the day, or perhaps due to a brilliant marketing technique to make some people follow the new band of brothers, we would have to settle at least for a sudden remarkable transformation of a fisherman. Instead, we have to realize that this moment shattered everything the disciples understood previously. It enlightened their minds, and equipped their hands and feet to do what Jesus already told them to do. 

Three years of being discipled by the Son of God, and then seeing their Master's death and resurrection (which was witnessed also by the crowds) were not enough for them to cross from a fearful and circumstantial reading of the world to meeting the challenges of the culture. Only the self-giving of God and His decision to live on the inside of His beloved creatures initiated a concrete and experiential event which changed the history of the world. 

So where does this new understanding of the anointing come from? You will find it surprising, I think:

You who are named the Paraclete, gift of God most high, living fountain, fire, love and anointing for the soul (Veni Creator sequence).

And now we will see how the anointing, seen as a way of life or a quality of action, is grafted onto these biblical and sacramental roots. There is a very close relationship between this anointing and the sacramental one. Nevertheless, the two are not identical, because one belongs in the objective order of sacraments, while the other belongs in the subjective order of asceticism and mysticism.

How did this second or spiritual sense of anointing come to be accepted? (...)

A new phase in the development of the theme of anointing opened with Saint Bernard and Saint Bonaventure. In their writings the new, spiritual, and modern understanding of anointing became firmly established, linked not so much to the theme of the knowledge of truth as to the theme of the living experience of the divine reality. At the start ot his commentary on the Song of Songs Saint Bernard says: “A song such as this only anointing can teach, and only experience can enable you to understand it.”

(...) anointing is not something that is limited to the area of devotion; it is of interest above all in the area of contemplation. Bonaventure distinguishes between two basic forms of contemplation: an intellectual contemplation, whose goal is knowledge of the truth and that is based on the gift of understanding, and a sapiential contemplation, whose goal is an experience of and a taste for things divine based on the gift of wisdom. The latter is what he calls “the anointing”. He liked to say that the Dominicans tended to experience the first kind of contemplation, and the Franciscans the second. “One Order concentrates first on speculation and secondarily on the anointing, and the other Order attends first to the anointing and the secondarily to speculation.”

The meaning that Saint Bonaventure gives to the anointing comes across more clearly in what he writes at the beginning of his work “The Mind’s Journey to God”:
Therefore I exhort the reader, before anything else, to turn earnestly in prayer to Christ crucified, whose blood takes away the stain of our faults, and I do that lest he think that the reading alone will be enough for him, without the anointing, or that speculation will be enough without devotion, or study without admiration, consideration without exultation, effort without piety, knowledge without love, understanding without humility, or zeal without the grace of God.
This anointing, he says finally, depends not on nature, nor on science, nor on words, nor on books, but on “the gift of God that is the Holy Spirit.” (...)
— Fr. Cantalamessa’s “Come, Creator Spirit”, p. 162 - 169

If we think it is only about the crowds, only about the unbaptized, only about the streets, we might miss the point of training ourselves in following the Holy Spirit's presence under the times of anointing. How many times in the last year or so have you heard clear kerygmatic preaching under the anointing of the Holy Spirit? How many times have you released yourself to proclaim God's mercy in that way? 

It seems that a progression flows from St. Anselm of Canterbury, who famously quoted Credo ut intelligam ("I believe in order to understand"), taking a phrase from St. Augustine, to St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Credo ut experiar, ("I believe in order to experience") which is then carried by St. Bonaventure. For our post-modern world, it creates a link between what we call charismatic and mystical experience of God, firmly showing that the anointing, although sovereignly poured out on individuals and groups, and having its source only in God who is on the move, is firmly set within the context of people who are given to God in totality, even in the midst of their weaknesses and personal turmoil. 

If we are to understand the term “anointing” in a way that embraces the entirety of its usage, especially in the English-speaking world, following the spread of the Pentecostal and charismatic phenomenon, we need to take into account a still-later development of the term. Not only within the Catholic ambit, but outside of it as well, the terms “anointed” and “anointing” are used today to describe the way a person goes about doing something, or to describe the quality of someone’s preaching or teaching. (...) ... in the Pentecostal and charismatic use of the term it suggests the idea of empowerment and persuasive power of efficacy. A sermon is said to be anointed when the listeners are moved to recognize the work of the Spirit in it: a message that moves the hearer deeply, that ‘convicts” one of sin, that pierces the heart. And in this we come back to an exquisitely biblical usage of the term, found for example in the text from Acts where it says that Jesus was “anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38). (...)

The outward effects of all of this are seen at times in gentle calm and peacefulness, in delicacy, devotion, or in deep emotion, and at times in authority, strength, power, or ability to take command of the situation, all in keeping with the circumstances, the character of the person concerned and also the responsibility each carries for the work that must be done. The clearest example is Jesus himself who, moved by the Spirit, showed himself meek and humble of heart but also, when the occasion demanded it, able to act with divine authority.
— Fr. Cantalamessa’s “Come, Creator Spirit”, p. 162 - 169

Yes, the anointing is for extroverts and introverts because God made us to receive Him fully. It comes as the thunder, or in silence, as Elijah learned. It comes in the big stadiums and in the lepers' colonies. It comes as a holy anger demanding righteousness, or as quiet tears asking for healing.  

 
 
One characteristic of the anointing is that it confers a certain inward clarity that enables us to do what has to be done with ease and mastery. It is, in a way, like “being in form” for an athlete or “inspiration” for a poet: being in a position really to give of one’s best. Yet the anointing itself is something more than we will ever be able to tell in words. There is no mistaking an anointing when we are in the presence of someone who is experiencing it, but though we “see” it, it is never possible to find clear concepts or definitions to say what it is that we see, for it partakes, in fact, of the very nature of the Holy Spirit and of an order of being beyond our grasp.

The Dictionary of Spirituality says, “The spiritual teaching of Saint Bonaventure is suffused throughout with anointing and poetry.” One has intuitive grasp of what that means, though one cannot define it with concepts and words. (...)

The actual anointing does not depend on us, but the removal of the obstacles that prevent the anointing shining forth does depend on us. It is not difficult for us to understand what the breaking of the alabaster jar means in our own case. The jar is our own humanity, our “I”, often the arid intellectualism to which we cling. (...)
However, although our own effort to be surrendered, obedient, plays a part, it is not all that is needed. The anointing comes much more through believing, praying, and in humble simplicity asking for it. (...) What we need to do, simply, is ask for an anointing before we set out to do any work, any service of the Kingdom. (...)

There are times when we almost in a physical way feel the anointing coming upon us. Feelings are deeply moved, the soul enjoys clarity and assurance; all trace of nervousness disappears, all fear and timidity are gone. We experience something of the tranquility and the authority of God himself. Certain songs or hymns are particularly helpful in disposing us to be open to this anointing from on high. (...)
— Fr. Cantalamessa’s “Come, Creator Spirit”, p. 162 - 169

All artists are prophets. The ones who create under the anointing of the Holy Spirit are able to move, heal, and restore lives, communities, and societies. There is a difference between admiring a work of art, even in the beautiful classical form, which was created by an artist who was, as St. Paul describes, still in the flesh, carnal and not redeemed, and admiring a work of art created by an artist who is becoming spiritual and mature in Christ. The anointing which is growing within the spiritual artist will permeate not only the psychological and carnal sphere, but will cross into the core of a human being, resurrecting the dead, leaving the effect of experiencing God or of having a religious, spiritual experience. 

Contemporary praise and worship aims at creating an atmosphere where the anointing of the Holy Spirit will be welcomed, cherished, allowed to influence, and to bring transformative power. It releases its impact to those who are open to it. There is more to creating this atmosphere than following the standard prescription of fast praise, slow worship, silent adoration, and final receptiveness to the new creative word spoken to all in a prophetic utterance. (More about this point will come in later posts.)

And here is the last bit about the anointing the pertains to the clergy, and how ecumenism becomes a natural fruit of operating under the leadership and anointing of the Holy Spirit:

On every side we see signs of how vitally necessary it is, especially for the leaders of the Church, to live and work under this spiritual anointing in its twofold aspect of gentleness and strength. It would be a mistake for ordained ministers to count only on the sacramental anointing, received once only when they were ordained and not to be repeated, and which enables them to be appointed to lead, preach, and to teach. Ordination provides, so to say, the authorization to do certain things, but not necessarily the authority to do them. It assures the apostolic success. (...)

This bishop goes on to describe the effect that this anointing had on his diocese. Where before he had not known what to do for priests struggling with the problem of alcoholism other than to suggest to them that they go to a clinic for treatment, he now invited them into his home and prayed with them, and number were completely healed by the power of prayer. Where before at clergy meetings they had spoken of everything but evangelization and the real spiritual mission of the Church, they now all agreed that what the diocese most needed was renewal in the Holy Spirit. Ecumenism, which had been a kind of abstract doctrinal problem, became a living reality, and the various Christian churches in the area were drawn together in a new relationship and by new contacts.
— Fr. Cantalamessa’s “Come, Creator Spirit”, p. 162 - 169

Do you think your understanding of the anointing is too narrow?

When and how do you experience the anointing?

Join our FB Group to discuss this topic this week. 

 

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5 years, 11 months.

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5 years, 11 months.

I wanted to post this on Dec. 30th, right before Onething 2015 morning session with Audrey Assad, Matt Maher and Francis Chan but I did not finish the second to last paragraph. So here it goes, one of the stories where I can humbly acknowledge that I have not screwed up very badly in assertively prevailing in praying for what has followed as one of the most beautiful reconciliation and worship moments I have witnessed. It is very personal and I don't usually post such intimate reflections but sometimes I have to suck it up and just share things that are allowed to be shared.

In 2009, while on staff at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, during prayer, I received a desire which could be best articulated as a desire to see a united Body of Christ praising God together in the U.S., including Catholics. I have seen it done before in many nations were I lived. Growing up as a young adult in Poland, we Catholics would organize and invite Protestants, non-denom, and Pentecostals to join for the March for Jesus, joint street evangelization, conferences or prayer initiatives. Living in Russia, we saw hundreds and thousands of people from different Christian backgrounds coming to seek God's face, praise Him together and enter into deeper understanding of our callings and visions. And it wasn't a surprise for me to participate in similar gatherings even while living in the Middle East. Surprisingly, I have not been able to see many of the same in the U.S., since we moved back here in 2003. 

So, at that moment in 2009, not knowing any Catholics in the U.S., I googled "Catholic worship leaders". It did not take me long to pick which one I sensed would fit the vision that was crystalizing in my heart: Matt Maher. At this point, I didn't know any Catholics personally, except a group of homeschoolers in an online forum, I never went to any Catholic services since moving to the U.S. from Qatar in 2003. I had no contact with any Catholic parish, organization or priest.  

We were planning to go to TheCall in Houston for a prayer rally around the newest abortion clinic that was about to be opened. I had a sense to search for "Catholic events" in Houston during that weekend. I found two: a John Michael Talbot concert and Matt Maher playing during the Mass in a small suburban parish. I told Keith we needed to go to both. 

After the concert I briefly talked to John Michael Talbot, telling him how we were copying his tape recordings for years during Communism and how popular his music was behind the Iron Curtain. He was the first Catholic in the U.S. I encountered personally. 

After the rally we went to the church and that was my first Mass in the U.S. After Mass, we wanted somehow to briefly talk to Matt and we did, in the parking lot after everyone had left. We told him we were 'from IHOP' and 'from the Call'. I told him that I believed "he is supposed to play with IHOP and TheCall" some time in the future. When I was saying this, my brain was telling me: "This is the stupidest introduction I could make. The guy will think we are the weirdosmatics who claim daily downloads from God and try to prophesy over everything that is alive in a five yard distance." But my gut was sensing the kairos moment that no mishaps of words could blow away. Matt was moved, we were moved, we prayed and asked God to take us from this point of history to the next and we asked for Him to arrange the time. Or something like that. This happened in January 2010, in a parking lot of the Our Lady of Rosary in the suburbs of Houston. (I am recalling this meeting to the best of my memory). That was 5 years and 11 months ago. 

If you are into anything even remotely touching ecumenical dialogue, you know that papers, declarations and formal documents do not move people into trusting each other, they just open up the horizons and give a general way of entering into conversation, providing understanding, language and theological as well as historical background to further explorations. But the heart of ecumenism is in relationships which start when we see a similar trait of Jesus in another person who wants to love us as He does and whom we decide to encounter, hoping to discover similarities leading us toward His presence. Mutual honor, respect and learning from each other proceeds any theological discussion. So we left it at that and communicated every now and then, seeing if God was moving us toward something more concrete. 

Matt visited IHOP soon after (with Leeland) and I made them good scrambled eggs at 7 am, because spiritual life totally depends on it. Soon after, Matt's manager sent us Matt's CD and another young girl's CD, saying she recommends her music, or something like that. I listened to the first two measures of the first song on that girl's CD and suddenly I had the feeling that "she will make it big" and "she will do that unity thing with Matt". I looked at the name on the cover. It was Audrey Assad. It happened that I met her soon after and clumsily asked to pray for her, which she agreed to. In that moment the Spirit's voice was gently descending and the Unspoken brilliance of His creative power rested peacefully in that place. A call to trust was born. It felt like swirls of colors breaking from the prism while echoing the sounds of heaven. Enough said. Disclaimer: I am not that prophetic but this was quite hard not to hear. At this point I know you might think that I am making this stuff up, but I don't care. Something intensified for a moment, and then, as it usually happens, died. The vision went dormant, the expectation of a relationship between the Evangelicals/Charismatics and Catholics sort of died and life went on.

I feel disunity in the Church strongly. It is almost a physical thing for me; it is violent and the wound I experience is very deep. There are seasons where the only decent expressions in prayer are growling lamentations and I feel the torment of the hordes of hell raising the voice of triumph over earthly divisions, the claims of a Church victorious sound pitiful, and the norm is an unawareness of the lack of credibility of witness through becoming One Voice. Notions of unity are dismissed as naivete, and no one grieves or cries over this wound. To make people agree to come together as one requires an enormous amount of spiritual grit, endurance, discernment, assertiveness, favor, spiritual warfare, time, conversations, relationship building, failures, being misunderstood, being considered imprudent and plain crazy; it demands travailing, endurance, frustration, and waiting for peace where there is only crucifixion. It takes you through feeling stupid among the wise ones and it makes you look inadequate and foolish among the knowledgeable ones. This deal of 'becoming one' demands being open to the kairos moments of encountering God and His people and prayer and changing everything when He asks. No formula can deliver what God makes out of our weak efforts and no perfect planning or marketing will ever achieve what His wisdom anoints in a moment and among people He chooses as His own. The price for restoring the Body to become one is death in totality but Jesus' sweating blood is worth it all. 

Today at 9am, I will sit on a burgundy chair among 20,000 people and experience Jesus being worshipped by one Body when Matt and Audrey will lead the Onething2015 conference in praise and worship. I don't feel any closure to this story, quite the opposite. Let's see what happens. 




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An Intercessors-Eye View of Onething 2015

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An Intercessors-Eye View of Onething 2015

Prayer is an amazing thing.

In order to truly enter into Christian prayer, we need to understand ourselves as the anawim, as God's wholly-dependent children, aware of our need even to the point of being overwhelmed with the helplessness of it all, and yet trusting in the immense love of our Heavenly Father, and waiting on His good will. To pray is to give our hearts and our lives to God's unfolding drama.

Oh, how we have prayed.

As coordinator of intercessors, I asked a small group of mostly local fellow intercessors to pray for MajorChange, and for the Onething conference in particular. Several more joined in from across the country as the time drew close, including a community of Sisters. Twenty-five people committed to pray in the 12 hours leading up to the Wednesday morning session that could only be described as a break-through in God's purposes for unity in His church. But it is no coincidence that since the conference I have heard several times "I have been praying for something like this for years," "This has been an ache in my heart for decades." Just today, a man told me he had put it on his prayer list three years ago that the Majors would be able to pull this event together and make it happen. From a general ache to a specific vision, this has not just been the answer to a few prayers. It has been God imparting a desire of His heart into our hearts, and enfolding us all in the drama He intends for His church in this time.

I am quite certain that the story is still unfolding, and the seeds that were planted during the last week in December 2015 in Kansas City will bear much fruit which still remain to be even imagined by us. The ache of prayer will continue; day-in, day-out faithfulness will be asked of all of us; many needs will arise to be met. God is not done. Isn't it exciting?

With all of our hearts, let us tell God "yes" in every way, that we can participate in HIs desire to save those lost in darkness by means of His church, united in purpose and love.

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Draw me after you...

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Draw me after you...

I was baptized as an infant, had an early childhood of religious indifference, and after a short flirtation with threatening God I'd become a satanist, I gave my life to the Lord at age 10. I was once an anti-Catholic Protestant, and currently I am becoming a lay member of the Carmelites, an ancient order of the Catholic church, devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and dedicated to prayer and the mystical life. How does that happen, you ask? By the grace and mercy of God, I've had to learn to recognize the difference between my sin and God's holiness, and to seek Him alone. 

First, let me summarize for you how I see the core of what God is teaching me today. Then let me try to trace out for you some of how I arrived at this conviction. 

I firmly believe that the Christian life means living a continual state of conversion unto Jesus Christ, after we have accepted the salvation He won for us, until we reach perfect union with God. This work of conversion is a work entirely of grace, entirely a gift, but it is a grace and a gift with which a soul can and must cooperate. We have to say yes to God and do what is ours to do. This perfect union with God is something that we can and should enter into during this lifetime, but not all the saved do. We enter into it by a gift of God I'll call purgation. Scripture tells us that nothing impure can enter heaven (Rev. 21:27) and that our works will be tried by fire to remove what is worthless (1 Cor.  3:15). But we can't control or command our own purgation; God has to do it. We can either let Him do it as He wills in the course of our earthly lives, or we will have to experience it after this life is done and before we enter heaven. People call that purgatory. Everything I want is summed up in seeing the face of Jesus in heaven. Everything I hope for on earth has to do with living out the fruits of purgation and the holiness God works in me. Nothing is worth anything in comparison with the glory of being united, with all the holy ones, with the Blessed Trinity for all eternity. And the quest for eternal glory has already begun now. So Lord, whatever it takes, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I give you my yes.

Now, every church I have belonged to has been somewhere on the scale from diametrically opposed to what I just wrote, to uncomfortable and uncertain about how to teach it and train believers in living it. And I've been right there in the midst with them.

My grandmother's Lutheran hymnal and my catechism. 

My grandmother's Lutheran hymnal and my catechism. 

My first religious formation, after first giving my life to the Lord as a child, was in an ultra-conservative Lutheran setting. Here I learned to honor the Bible as the Word of God, to read and to memorize it. While I did this, though, I had a lot of sin in my life. I've always been an interior-oriented person, so these sins were the seething sort, like hatred, bitterness, pride, arrogance, judgment, grudges, and the like. The Lutheran teaching on sin did not help me repent or be cleansed of these sins. The emphasis was that all we do is like filthy rags, but that the Father imputes Jesus' righteousness to us. Sin was all handled in the eternal perspective and we simply lived with our inevitable corruption while in heaven God had a clean tally sheet with our name on it, our bill paid by Jesus. And I went on hating, being bitter, and so on. Occasionally in those days, Bible verses such as 1 Jn. 4:20 ("Whoever claims to love God but hates his brother is a liar") jumped out and startled me. But the conflicting theology left me more confused than convicted.

One summer during college, I met Christians who witnessed to me that the Holy Spirit could personally enter my life and empower me with Himself. They called this being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Once I cautiously read through all of the Scriptures and decided that they had the Bible on their side, for the first time I had to face down this entirely passive notion I had that God did everything for me. When I was convinced from Scripture that God would baptize me in the Holy Spirit, I simply got depressed that apparently He hadn't. I figured it must mean He didn't love me or I wasn't important enough. I sadly moaned prayers in the self-pitying and despairing style that was common to me. Then, a revolutionary thought came to mind: Ask Him. Maybe you don't have because you don't ask. I had to make an elaborate ritual of it that included meticulously finishing all of my schoolwork, buying a book and setting aside an entire evening to read it, but I accomplished all that within 8 hours of this revolutionary thought that I could ask God, and I asked. And when I asked, BAM, the floodgates opened, and I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. 

My Bible and a worship song from the time I I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.

My Bible and a worship song from the time I I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Immediately I sought out a new church to be among people who could help me understand what happened to me. The primary grace I experienced here was the release of years and years of hurt and sin during praise and worship. I learned to open my heart to God in the midst of other people, and I also began to be aware that God would speak to my heart. Gradually I learned to recognize the difference between His leading and my own confusion. This was something I could not do when I was isolated.

While still in a Lutheran college and attending that charismatic fellowship, God planted a seed that has had far-reaching effect. I had to write a paper for a very difficult class that was to count for 50% of my grade, and I had no idea what to do. The class was on Medieval and Renaissance philosophy. One day I paced the library stacks and begged God for some insight as to a topic. He answered with one word: "mysticism." I responded happily, "Ok, Lord! But, what is that?"

I researched St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of St. Victor, the Cloud of Unknowing, and others. I was captivated. Yes, I was a bit put off that these were Catholic authors because everything I'd ever learned about Catholicism concerned how it was wrong.  But these people... they wrote from an experience of loving God that left me with a pounding heart and breathless. At one point I just dropped my book on the library table and told the Lord, "If there is anyone left on the face of the earth who knows you and loves you like these people did, Lord, that is who I want to be with."

A few years later, the memory of that day in the library was the only thing that kept me from losing it as I talked with a friend I had deeply respected who had shocked me by becoming Catholic. I later had to face lots of ugly judgments, pride, and arrogance as I finally admitted to myself I had never once in my life read anything about Catholic doctrine written by a Catholic. My friend told me, yes, there are indeed people who love God like St. Teresa of Avila. They are called Carmelites. He gave me a little book about how to pray like a Carmelite. And I was amazed all over again.

I became a Catholic in 1993 in order to enter the world of mystics and saints, and I found the world of bingo, indifference, and sometimes outright scandal. Jesus had called me, though. The first time I had gone to Mass to actually be open to Him, He stunned me, shocked me, overwhelmed me, by revealing His presence to me in the Holy Eucharist. I knew I could not walk away from the Catholic Church without walking away from Jesus. He also spoke to me the promise that He is the Resurrection and the Life, and that all who believe in Him, though they die, yet shall they live. I wanted mystics and saints, but felt nothing but death in me and around me. But Jesus promised me life.

In the last two decades I've known purgations both slow and steady, and sharp and painful. God has also blessed me beyond belief with joy and the utter certainty of His love for me, and I've always seen Him provide everything I need, especially when I hardly realized what I needed. Together we have broken open and laid flat my hard crust of a heart, and He has indeed given me a heart of flesh.

My Carmelite scapular. 

My Carmelite scapular. 

It takes six years to become a Carmelite secular, and I have three years remaining in my initial formation. Part of the mission of a secular Carmelite is to teach God's people the wisdom of the saints I've mentioned, to help ourselves and others to grow in holiness and unto union with Christ. Every day I renew to God my desire to become His instrument, that He may teach His people holiness both through our words and hidden prayer. What other response can I have but to give all that I am to Him who has given me everything? 

Marie Hosdil blogs at Naru Hordo and this blog post first appeared there. 

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A Prayer for God's Lovers

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A Prayer for God's Lovers

When I was at hard at work one day, thinking on the spiritual work needful for God’s servants, four such spiritual works came to my mind, these being: reading; meditation; prayer; contemplation. This is the ladder for those in cloisters , and for others in the world who are God’s Lovers, by means of which they can climb from earth to heaven. It is a marvellously tall ladder, but with just four rungs, the one end standing on the ground, the other thrilling into the clouds and showing the climber heavenly secrets. (...)
— Guigo II, On Lectio Divina

Contrary to the quite popular belief, throughout history Catholics were never forbidden to read the Scriptures, and the last century provided enormous resources for biblical reading and study. While understanding and exegesis are very important, what people sometimes call "devotional reading of the Bible" doesn't really hit their heart with a full force, as it often stays on the level of 'inspirational' but doesn't elevate to encountering God. We do have a great heritage in that area, since from the very beginning the Church Fathers, Desert Fathers and monastic tradition were deeply immersed in praying the Bible, often daily, or several times a day, until the Word was alive and its fruits would spring from the hearts of its readers.

One of the forms of eating the scroll was Lectio Divina, first described by Guigo II, the Carthusian monk, who surely learned it from his predecessors. His simple idea is what is missing in many people's practice of reading and praying the Bible, since the main point of why God has left us His Word is to make it alive again through engaging our whole beings in its letters. Guigo, knowing how simple measures stick to memory, described the Divine Reading in four steps: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio, which is Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Contemplation, providing a sure way of going from the external to internal, from reading for knowledge and information to receiving God's Word charged with His actual presence into our lives and making our hearts gardens ready for all seasons of life. 

When the practice of Lectio Divina in a communal setting is done for years, the results are enormous. Among these are: ongoing personal conversion, increased awareness of the fear of God and His love, real bonding in the Spirit, and breakthroughs in every aspect of life (not to be confused with annihilating suffering). I was on IHOP-KC staff, on and off, for six years. One of the aspects of why I was drawn to move and stay at the Mission's Base was its principal similarity to the "HalleluJah" Catholic Community that I founded with several friends in my early 20's in Poland: frequent and deep individual and communal prayer, from which authentic conversion and all ministry flowed. Since then, wherever I visit any Christian community, my first question is always about their history and current personal and communal prayer life, as this is the measurement of a Christian foundation. 

In our early days, our small leadership team of my Polish community decided that prayer would always be the foundation and non-negotiable core at the base of all we did. We prayed daily at 6 a.m. for years, in the midst of our family, work, and school responsibilities. We also had one evening prayer meeting a week, retreats, Masses, services, weekly small groups, very frequent leadership meetings, street and parish evangelization, ministry to the poor, weekly all night prayer meetings, etc. with not even one paid staff for a long time, and almost zero donations. What was keeping us going was our passion for Jesus and everything that flowed from that relationship with Him. Intense love required intense response. Intense needs required intense dedication. Our hearts would not be able to burn without that sacred place that we cherished from the very beginning: prayer. All discernment came through prayer and fasting, until we agreed on where to stand. It was a unique place of true communion (koinonia - unity of hearts) which I had not seen since leaving to become a missionary to Russia, working with different non-Catholic groups for years. After seeing IHOP-KC's prayer room, I recognized the same principles, at least in the approach to prayer and allowing God to woo human hearts to the place where He dwells and where peace and harmony strip off all fear and resentment, boredom and hurt.

One of the aspects that felt familiar was the structure of prayers and how they were conducted.  A prayer leader and a worship leader alternately led the congregation into the presence of God. This was the exact way we developed our prayer meetings years before: praying the Bible combined with singing prayers. It was, in reality, Lectio Divina at its best. 

The Lectio Divina Ladder I used for teaching 9-12 year old. 

The Lectio Divina Ladder I used for teaching 9-12 year old. 

From my personal experience, teaching Lectio Divina is not obscure any longer and more and more people are familiar with the structure and the approach. However, I would suggest that there is a big different between knowing how to do the steps and fruitfully experiencing Lectio Divina as prayer. The aim for Lectio Divina is having contact, one on one time, with God. Contemplation is the peak we are climbing, and the whole process should lead there, beyond the human, to touch the Divine. After all, it's Divine Reading, not Human Reading. 

I've seen that often Lectio Divina will not progress past the slow reading of and meditation on the passage. And in group practice, meditation is exchanged for a mini-exegesis, preaching, or reflection. Some told me that if they go beyond that point and try to pray the Scriptural passage or phrase, and include their meditative fruits, they will end mostly in vocal or mental petitioning, because the prayers of adoration, blessing, or intercession are like climbing the Himalayas for us. In winter. When we come to the contemplative part, people stay cautious so as to not accidentally practice any kind of Buddhist or centering prayer or transcendental meditation techniques, because they have little idea of what contemplation means. If one mentions St. Teresa of Avila's prayer of quiet or infused recollection, they would have not the faintest hint of what those things mean. Yes, we can not systemize meetings with God but we can train our spirit to deal with distractions, to become more attentive, to conquer our disordered passions, to enter into the stillness where God's voice resounds, to learn how to say FIAT in the midst of crisis or uncertainty - and Lectio Divina is a way to enter into this realm of dialoguing with God who offers Himself all the time and is always ready to encounter us. 

... seek through reading, and you will find holy meditation in your thinking; and knock through praying, and the doors shall be opened to you to enter through heavenly contemplation to feel what you desire. Reading puts as it were whole food into your mouth; meditation chews it and breaks it down; prayer finds its savour; contemplation is the sweetness that so delights and strengthens.

Reading is like the bark, the shell; meditation like the pith, the nut; prayer is in the desiring asking; and contemplation is in the delight of the great sweetness. Reading is the first ground that that precedes and leads one into meditation; meditation seeks busily, and also with deep thought digs and delves deeply to find that treasure; and because it cannot be attained by itself alone, then he sends us into prayer that is mighty and strong.
— Guigo II, On Lectio Divina

If you've visited IHOP-KC's Prayer Room or if you've had a chance to watch the 24/7 streaming, you will recognize that some two hour prayer sets are concentrating more on intercession and some are called Worship With the Word. The second one seems almost a direct and modern version of Lectio Divina done right, a way that will revolutionize one's prayer life.  Here is what Guigo says about Lectio Divina and what you will find in the Worship With the Word sets: 

Reading, Lesson, is busily looking on Holy Scripture with all one’s will and wit. Meditation is a studious insearching with the mind to know what was before concealed through desiring proper skill. Prayer is a devout desiring of the heart to get what is good and avoid what is evil. Contemplation is the lifting up of the heart to God tasting somewhat of the heavenly sweetness and savour. Reading seeks, meditation finds, prayer asks, contemplation feels. (...)
— Guigo II, On Lectio Divina

If you watch any of these kinds of sets, you will recognize a certain pattern where the worship team has a time of entering into God's presence (all sing known songs), followed by introducing a Scripture passage (read out loud by a prayer leader), and singers picking up a certain phrase and singing spontaneously around that phrase for a while, until it sinks deeper. After few minutes, you will hear one of the singers creating a spontaneous chorus that the whole congregation can repeat together several times as a response to the Scripture read and then a time of communal contemplative moments happen: all sing, or instruments play, or someone brings forth an encouraging word in a song and then the cycle of reading starts anew, progressing through the given passage of the text. At the base of this kind of prayer is a desire to engage with the Word that is alive and offering our human fragility into the process: we prepare, educate ourselves and dive deep into the Word and then respond spontaneously whenever He moves within us. There is no pressure or hype in trying to create a spontaneous reaction, there is only waiting for Gods grace to stir the Word in our midst. Here's a visual help:

And so prayer rises to God, and there one finds the treasure one so fervently desires, that is the sweetness and delight of contemplation. And then contemplation comes and yields the harvest of the labour of the other three through a sweet heavenly dew, that the soul drinks in delight and joy.
— Guigo II, On Lectio Divina

If you are planning to come to the Onething2015 Catholic Ecumenical Track this Dec. 28 -31, you will be able to sing Lectio Divina and pray as a God's Lover in the Prayer Room which will be opened from 6am till midnight daily, parallel with the conference's events. 


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