Q: I am new to the contemplative practice but read a book by Fr Thomas on the subject of contemplative prayer. I was introduced to a book by Pastor Richard Foster called, Celebration of Disciplines which had some chapters on contemplative prayer and silence which has sent me on a journey because this is was not something I was ever taught throughout my church tradition.
Fr Thomas was talking about the energy of anger and the energy of sex. He said something like, “the suppression of these emotions is never healthy.” A lot of the Christian teaching I have heard has taught that these feelings should be denied. I would like for someone to help explain these things in relation to contemplative prayer please.
Leslee: Thank you for sharing your beginning steps on the contemplative journey. I was so happy to see your reference to Richard Foster’s Celebration of Disciplines as it was the first place where I saw the words “Centering Prayer.” Just like you it launched me into the journey to Love. At the same time this call to develop a deeper relationship with God brought questions about the tradition I was grounded in. I hear this time after time from folks who are drawn deeper into relationship with God through Centering Prayer. One of the beauties of Fr. Thomas’ teaching is the marriage of his experience of God and his grounding in his Catholic faith, with the science of human growth in consciousness and his curiosity of other faith traditions. His words may sound like nothing we ever heard before. Yet, we find his books in our hands. Perhaps the Spirit brings them to us just when we need them. Sometimes, reading his books or watching his videos over and over gives us a glimpse into what we seem to be experiencing.
When Thomas talks about the human condition, he sometimes brings up fear, anger and sexual energy. As you noticed suppression of these emotions can never be healthy. This is supported by science. The more we hold in our bodies, whether consciously or unconsciously, the sicker we become. Fr. Thomas himself encouraged us not to resist these thoughts, to have a friendly attitude towards them, even the most dreadful ones before letting them go and allowing God to transform them into life-giving energies through Centering Prayer.
In the Christian Centering Prayer practice, which is a precursor to the pure gift from God of contemplative prayer, we consent to God’s presence and action within and in doing so we give all of ourselves (that includes all our human energies), our healing and our transformation over to God. Our prerational and mostly unconscious emotional programs for happiness such as our need for security/survival, affection/esteem and power/control, rule our emotions most of the time. As we notice them and recognize their need for healing, it is an invitation to explore and discover for ourselves which of the emotional programs is triggered by our fears, anger or sexual energies; it is a way to welcome God’s healing of our own particular emotional programs activated in our life.
As we let go of these unconscious motivations, we become the person God sent us into the world to be. We can then live out of our true God-given nature rather than the one we created for ourselves. The fruits and gifts of the Spirit that God gifted to us become enlivened to serve our community. If we hold onto our false motivations we aren’t living out of our own truth in relationship to God. That is not to say that God is not with us during our false motivations as God is always with us and within us reaching out for an ever-deeper relationship.
Praying with others on the contemplative path is a good way to support your own journey and help you recognize the energies at play in your life. There is a large network of Centering Prayer practitioners online on the Meditation Chapel where you can find others on this journey to love.
You can also find a local Centering Prayer community that offers workshops in support of Fr. Thomas’ teachings on Centering Prayer and the human condition here.
During this time of social distancing many workshops are being offered online so check out the online calendar of events at https://dev.contemplativeoutreach.org/events/
In celebration of your newfound prayer practice, I invite you to hear from the beginning of Fr. Thomas’s book Open Mind, Open Heart: “Contemplative Prayer is the world in which God can do anything. To move into that realm is the greatest adventure. It is to be open to the Infinite and hence to infinite possibilities. Our private, self-made worlds come to an end; a new world appears within and around us and the impossible becomes an everyday experience.” May your steps be open to the infinite possibilities!
Peace be with you.