Still at Will’s here in San Diego. Probably be here for another 3 days. We’re cleaning out his garage and sorting through his Dad’s workshop as he passed away last year.
Will and I were at this coffee shop last night watching some live music after having dinner with his Mom and Grandma. He had a little book by Thomas Merton about prayer and meditation sitting on the table. I read about half of it as we sat there. Merton was a monk explaining how to separate oneself from the world, renouncing material possessions in order to focus on prayer and meditation. The place was loud, so I didn’t get it 100% but a few things really stuck out. First, he was talking about meditation and how people have to be careful doing it. He talked about interpreting feelings incorrectly. In a nut shell, feeling bad during a prayer time, i.e. lonely, anxious, or other unpleasant emotions can’t be chalked up to a lack of connection with God. And… feeling good during a prayer time does not necessarily mean that the time was good. In fact, he warned that without a mentor or someone to talk to about things from time to time, it’s common for people to imagine all sorts of strange delusions that are not from God at all. It made me think of the Jehovah’s Witnesses I spoke to in Armenia last year. They were quoting scripture to me left and right, totally convinced, and willing to prove, THROUGH THE BIBLE, that Jesus is a son of God, and a god, but created by the Father and therefore not equal to him. They hang it on Colossians 1:15, where it says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” In their words, he was created and therefore cannot be equal to God. It’s scary that we have the capacity to sit with the Bible, pray, and cook up some half-cocked cult.
The other thing that Merton pointed out, was that a person who wants to pray and be intimate with God must ALWAYS see himself as a beginner. The second I think I am “far along” or an expert on the subject, I have lost the way. How often have I had a good prayer time and let my ego come on the heals of it telling me something great about myself, puffing me up with spiritual pride? When I think the most of myself is probably when I am at my worst.
This morning, I continued with my regular reading of Matthew and there it was again. The disciples came to Jesus asking him who was the greatest in the kingdom. They were all about being better than each other. Jesus uses a child for the example. “…unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2. Children are at the beginning. They are always learning, always growing. They are asking questions about everything, soaking up information and experience like a sponge. This is the position a person needs to maintain if he wants to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says it, “…unless you turn… you will never enter…” hmmm.
Then, he talks about the importance of groups in prayer. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20 I need to pray with others in addition to my solo prayer times. This comes right after he tells them how to confront a person who has lead himself astray. “Take one or two others…” and confront him. These are two lifelong lessons I need to keep learning over and over. 1) Stay connected. Checks and balances will keep me from turning myself into a total lunatic. 2) Ask questions. Be teachable and willing to be wrong. Go back… or come forward to being like a child.