Soul development and loving God

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Soul development and loving God

Post by BethM »

So Geoff recently posted on his FB page one of his Quora answers on the 'secret' of becoming a Christian mystic:
The secret is that you cannot draw closer to God than your own love of God permits. And if you really try to love God with all your heart and soul, you will have these experiences because you are being filled with the Holy Spirit every time you reach out to God in Love. Yes, its that simple. Forget everything else you were ever taught. Just reach out to God in total love.
I found this VERY interesting, as I noted in a comment there a line from a foundational Christian mysticism text written in the 14th century -- The Cloud of Unknowing -- that has always resonated with me:
This is what you are to do. Lift your heart up to the Lord with a gentle stirring of love, desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts.
We know that there are those who have Divine Love in their souls who did not explicitly pray for it (e.g., Mother Teresa). And we heard from Augustine just on Friday that:
You may believe that it is in reading a book or having certain beliefs and ideas and words within your mind that this gift [of Divine Love] is bestowed. But in truth, this gift is bestowed because you have yearned it to be within you. This is the flowering of that seed within your soul that God implanted at your creation and God has nurtured thus far and is pleased that deep within you has been a response.
While explicitly knowing about and praying for Divine Love is clearly a good thing, if it's really a soul-to-soul prayer, then the actual praying the Perfect Prayer or its equivalent is not specifically required if one's soul is asking directly without the mind's specific awareness.

So it makes me wonder if the extent to which you love God is a proxy for the amount of soul development. No love of God? Little soul development. Filled with the Holy Spirit every time you reach out to God in Love? Lots of soul development.

But even if it's not, I'm wondering if praying to love God more would be helpful advice for those, like me, struggling with what "yearn with your soul" means in practice. I know what love of God feels like ... or should feel like. I think. I hope!

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Re: Soul development and loving God

Post by AlFike »

Good question Beth. Certainly something must motivate us to pray and if we are aware that God will bless us with His essence then we need to ask for it. In the beginning my prayers felt more mindful than soulful. even in this pathetic state of soul unknowing there were times when I felt a heartfelt response. So any way you chose to approach it, it is going to lead somewhere in time. Persistence and application is the only way to get there and there are no shortcuts, just sincere prayer. If you cannot feel those stirrings of the soul, as with me in the beginning, be comforted that your soul wants you to keep trying and asking for a breakthrough in your conscious connection with the Creator.
Geoff may be right with his advice to love God as that is always the highest and best stance, but when you are not sure what it is you are loving, there is a bit of a stalemate. Faith must come into play here, knowing and trusting that you are indeed going somewhere. Prayer is not wasted effort if it is more than just words. I suggest that in prayer you dig deep into your feelings, even if they are not pleasant loving ones. The power of feeling is a vital component to prayer. Releasing those inner struggles, doubts and torments to God, trusting that He will respond in Love and compassion, will at least bring something that you can feel and know as a real response. Prayer is always a two way conversation with God. God knows us better than we know ourselves and most of the benefits of sincere prayer come as we admit or reveal to ourselves those heartfelt longings and inner struggles that we all face on this journey. The dam bursts when we are vulnerable and true to ourselves gifting God with our full selves revealed and all cards laid on the table. This opens the door as this exercise in honesty reveals cracks in the soul where the Holy spirit can get in. Far too many souls take false comfort in rote prayer that is conceived and directed by outside forces rather than coming to God naked and vulnerable expressing our individual truth. A true prayer often has the ingredients of yearning, desperation and angst. When we can go there, we begin the process of healing and connection with the Divine. Its messy, human and often ugly, but truth must come before pride and pretension. We find our humility in such ways of revealing our souls to God and He responds only in Love and transformation of all that is not of love.
Endless journey,endless Love.

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Re: Soul development and loving God

Post by Eva »

Hello Beth,
The following may not directly answer your question, but still be helpful. The principles are from a book by Joan Chittister that I read some time ago and put the following summary on my website at ... rspective/. Some of what she says really resonates with me:

The following principles relating to prayer are derived from the ancient Rule of Benedict of Nursia who lived in the fifth century and left behind a great deal of wisdom. Prayer is the filter through which we view our world – it gives us a fresh perspective enabling us to perceive the presence of God in all things, the here and now.

Benedictine prayer, rooted in the Psalms and other Scriptures, puts us in contact with past and future at once, so that the present becomes clearer and the future possible. Benedictine prayer promotes a spirituality of awareness in that it is regular, universal, converting, reflective, and communal.

Regularity in prayer counteracts the notion that what we do is more important than what we are. Rather, it anchors us to our place in the universe, making us realize that we are small parts of a continuing creation in which we have a purpose. If we keep our souls tied to the consciousness of God, we won’t let seemingly more important things get in the way and will remain in perpetual prayer. The mundane will become holy and even boring tasks will contain God’s saving presence. Regular prayer is important especially when we are not in the mood, are busy, or feel too tired to pray. Ironically, this is when we most need to be spiritually recharged. When we feel like we cannot pray is the time to let God be our prayer – turning our bruised and fragmented selves to the possibility of divine transformation.

Universality of prayer means that prayer is not centred just in the needs of the one praying, but rather is anchored in the needs, wants and insights of the entire universe. It stretches us to become more Christ-like by seeing ourselves in the challenges and struggles of the whole people of God as expressed in the Scriptures. This broadened human consciousness makes us realize that we are not the centre of the universe, but rather a part of all humanity with both its struggles and promises. We are plunged into the feelings and forces of the cosmos and brought up bigger than ourselves.

Reflectiveness in prayer leads us to look at our lives in the light of the gospel, bringing the mind of Christ on the fragments of our lives. This takes time as one wrestles with the Word of God. Reflective reading of Scriptures makes prayer a real experience rather than the recitation of formulas. It draws us into the text and the text into our life. We join those in the past who too were working out their salvation and our hearts become steeped in the story of God in history.

The function of prayer is to change our own mind to conform to the mind of Christ. Contemplative, converting prayer sees the whole world through the eyes of God as a place where the sacred dwells, a place which those who pray can make better, a place where God sweetens living with the beauty of all life. Prayer leads and enlightens us, and makes us bigger than we are.

Communality of prayer means that those praying have a common purpose witnessing to one another, as well as to others, that God is God. Prayer needs to be both private and communal – praying for and with others of like mind. This facilitates our becoming better human beings.

In summary, we pray to see life as it is, to understand it, and to make it better than it was. We pray so that reality can break into our souls and give us back the awareness of the Divine Presence in life. We pray to understand things as they are, not to ignore, avoid or deny them.

Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), chapter 3.

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