I spent many years trying to find God, and then it turned out I was taking the wrong strategy. Whatever I did end up doing must have worked because things are happening to me that I’ve only heard described in mystical literature and by Jesus. Stress has quit being unpleasant, but it couples with daily activities so that living is no more or less emotional than using a treadmill which changes angle and speed on you without warning. It becomes an issue of whether you can do it or not, not whether you should buy into your faulty societal programming that any time there is stress you as a human “naturally” experience anxiety and other problems.
In an abstract way, it seemed the problem is, I was fooled my whole life into thinking I DID have to find God. Turns out all I had to do was sit down, shut up, learn to take breaks from my usual consciousness stream and I would recognize that God was right with me the whole time, waiting His turn at my mind and heart like a gentleman, never bullying in where He is not welcome. Something clicked, (ok, “click” was not necessarily over just a few seconds but a few months) and now I can no more describe what it feels like in a satisfactory way then I could describe what it feels like to pet a cat. I can throw some adjective around, try to find experiences with commonality to appeal to empathy, but somebody is not going to get the experience of feeling the cat from my description. They may understand it enough they might recognize it when they feel it, but until they do feel it they can’t fully appreciate what I’m talking about.
I love the analogy of opening our eyes and opening our ears. That’s a little bit what it felt like; my ears, eyes, heart, and mind were all working together without fighting each other, and WOW what a difference it made. I feel humbly qualified to claim I’ve had a small taste of what Christ meant by having ears and eyes, but can’t hear or see – which only became self-evident after it wasn’t the case anymore. I feel like Elisha’s servant:
2 Kings 6:14-17
he sent there a strong force with horses and chariots. They arrived by night and encircled the city. Early the next morning, when the servant of the man of God arose and went out, he saw the force with its horses and chariots surrounding the city. “Alas!” he said to Elisha. “What shall we do, my lord?” Elisha answered, “Do not be afraid. Our side outnumbers theirs.” Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes, that he may see.” And the LORD opened the eyes of the servant, and he saw that the mountainside was filled with fiery chariots and horses around Elisha.
I’m happy that you do contemplative prayer, because you already doing all this and I’m here to tell you it’s all true. These things do work, and convincingly to the extent it really quits being faith and becomes sight at some point. “They” say you can’t rush the process, but as an engineer, I love experimenting with my thoughts and feelings to see what I can do to “fix” and “improve” the current software iteration my brain is running on. For example, when I started contemplative prayer, “they” talked about some people who practice Contemplative Prayer for many years, feeling and noticing nothing, then it starts to in. Sorry but I have neither the faith nor patience for that. I was thinking more of praying and then immediately after prayer, or within a few hours at least, I would notice some improvement. So I did everything I could to apply my background as an out of work engineer who hasn’t lost passion for design, to the problem of accelerating the process. I love it when I’m told something I wish to do can’t be done!
As I continued that effort, it finally started working and now I couldn’t go back to how I was if I wanted to. And I don’t want to, except for a bit of nostalgia now and then, and vicariously through others whom I’m trying to help see what they can see. Right now I’ve never been happier in my life. I was happy yesterday, and I don’t know if right now is better, but it certainly is no less good. I have no reason to think my prayer for another good tomorrow will be refused, although of course it may – and now I know that when I suffer is when God is able to do the most in me. When I’m not suffering my ego likes to take over things (it is a fair-weather friend) because it thinks it can and should run everything, so I am less sincere about wanting His help. Funny the ego runs and hides when times get tough. That’s why I like the idea that the instant the ego starts to falter, there is now a better backup system to take over.
You are right that the real test of prayer is not what you experience during prayer, but how you think, feel, and act outside of prayer. Maybe I’ll add some reflections on that aspect later; for now I need to post this and get a couple errands done.