My lenten practice this year is to be kind to myself, and in so, to better know God.
God is unknowable in God’s essence, but only in God’s energies. That is a tenet to which I have ascribed for not a short time—ultimately to say that one can “know God” is any unfiltered, unmodulated way is flatly wrong (since any of our thoughts, our filters, our metaphors, are ultimately created things). God is knowable only in the darkness between the things that God is clearly not.
In other words, God is audible silence and visible darkness.
I’m not sure why I’m on about this; I think perhaps that the cognitive and emotional effort with which I’ve been pressing into my pastoral, professional, and creative endeavors have been causing me again to ask “where is God in this?” It’s certainly not as though I am making the kind of harried “I MUST FIGURE THIS OUT” attempts at coming to know God that characterized my adolescence, and to be sure I’m quite comfortable with silence and darkness.
I want to be connected to the ground of being in a way that brings me into inner quiet and the balance that the intensity of my personality—a flamboyant enneagram Four with a strong 3 wing, a romantic achiever, a pursuer of ego projects—needs in order to be healthy. I angst a lot, and frequently I try to pass off my groundless angsting as prayer. To be sure it can be that, but I think my rambling and railing can ever-so-gently mutate into a kind of self-flagellation which has precious little to do with communing with the Uncreated Ground of Being and more in common with working myself into an emotional froth so I can feel everything, that is, so I can feel special.
This is the Four’s modus operandi, after all.
This isn’t bad; it too belongs, and it’s part of me, but it is without a locus of immaturity and an opportunity for me to grow. To wit, I want to pray well, and to pray honestly, and to pray in such a way that I am not demanding things of God—although the last time I ‘prayed extemporaneously’ it was as though I was God’s HR manager and I was giving the Divine a gentle but firm talking-to about areas for improvement. I think we have a precedent for this in the Psalms, at any rate, and I believe God can handle it.
But I want to cultivate a spirit of silence, a spirit of “integrity, humility, patience, and love,” as St. Ephraim the Syrian beseeches, “and let me see my own sins and not those of my brother.” I pray the daily office (not faithfully), I receive the Eucharist (not regularly), and I do my best to live at peace with my neighbor—though my loveable-yet-culpable pettiness shines through more often than not.
I’m attempting centering prayer, known better in the secular world as “mindfulness meditation.” I’m still too new at it to even pretend like I know what I’m doing, and I won’t even bother to rehash the practice here when the term be-Googled yields more information than one could possibly assimilate in several sittings, but my initial inclination is that it is cultivating kindness, in the very least to myself.
I learned the practice first from a seminar led by an Orthodox monk in my pre-death-and-resurrection days, but the practice has come back into my view through my recent quiet exploration of the mystics—Merton (via Richard Rohr) and Julian of Norwich, especially. It’s called the “prayer of the heart,” or “contemplation,” depending on who you ask, but the point is the same: to find silence and to be present therein.
Because the spirit of “integrity, humility, patience, and love” which I’m seeking is in as much to help be humble, patient, and loving toward my own person inasmuch as it is toward God and my neighbor. I can be phenomenally cruel to myself; I can say things to myself with ease which I would never dream of saying to another human being.
Can I love myself as God does? Most likely not. But to be able to be as gentle, patient, and kind towards myself—for I too am an icon of God—may be within my ken, inasmuch as I am called at obligated by my baptism to strive to be gentle, patent, and kind toward my neighbor. I will fail, and failure belongs as well.
At the very least, I feel zen’d-out, and by millimeters less dependent on my go-to coping skills of stuffing my feelings with drink and food while wallowing self-loathing because of the drink and food. And that’s a kindness, and a mercy.