The Influence of the Major Themes of the Contemplative Living Module on My Life
By Gail Chung, August 2014
This past year has been an amazing spiritual journey for me. It is as if God had taken me by the hand and led me on a delightful journey of discovery and insight. He placed a pair of God-lenses on me and gave me the opportunity to see the world as He sees it. My goodness, the world appears so different seen through the eyes of God!
These God-lenses revealed to me the breadth as well as the depth of the magnificence of God’s being. It allowed me to see the depth of human suffering, the depth of God’s love for all humanity (and for me personally despite all my scars and warts), and it has given me a glimpse of the true self that He created me to be. It is exciting to have had a glimpse of the heavenly realm and to have had an opportunity to see the world through God’s eyes.
God revealed to me a new life ahead of me, a new way of living, a better way of living. It is a kind of life I believe he intended for all of humanity except sin got in the way and ultimately distorted our vision. How wonderful it is for God to have taken me on such a journey! This journey cleared my distorted vision and injected hope, light, and a newfound sense of faith, love and joy into my life.
I am incredibly grateful to God for having taken me on this journey. It is a journey that I hope all Christians will experience at some point in their Christian walk as this type of encounter with God is a life-changing experience and will undoubtedly deepen one’s faith and rejuvenate one’s love and passion for the Lord.
There is no doubt that I was drawn to the concepts presented in this course right from the start and I soaked everything up like sponge. The concepts were new but resonated well and gave me a desire to dig deeper and engage myself more fully with the practices of contemplative living.
The key concept of moving from the head to the heart and opening my heart to what God may want to show me has had a profound effect on me. It introduced a new way for me to experience God and this has helped me grow spiritually in leaps and bounds.
I had always felt that there was something missing in my spiritual life but I wasn’t able to put my finger on it. I was committed to God yet there was still a longing for more, but more of what?
The “Living from the Heart” course from Soulstream was my first introduction to a contemplative way of living. I believe this course helped me put together what it was that I had been searching for all these years, although I didn’t know it at the time. Living from the heart literally helped me experience God in a profoundly different way.
The contemplative prayers and practices helped me move closer to attaining the deep desire that I had in my heart, the hunger for a deeper union with God and a desire to live in the fullness of God every moment of every day. I truly believe that experiencing God from the heart rather than predominantly from the head provided the missing link that allowed me to experience God that much more fully.
The Christian experience for me now feels fuller, richer and is more wonderfully alive in Christ. It is an incredible feeling; exciting, fulfilling and overflowing with joy, warmth, love, acceptance, freedom, knowledge, insight, wisdom and bountiful blessings.
Having a close personal relationship with Christ is like having a close friend/ mentor/counselor at one’s side every moment of every day. Knowing about God intellectually and experiencing God on a personal heartfelt level are two totally different experiences. We need both but for a Christian to have one without the other or to have too much of one without enough of the other is living a Christian life that is unbalanced. The experience is shortchanged and woefully incomplete.
How has my life changed after having taken this course?
The biggest change is that contemplative living has altered my perspective on life in general. Being has become more important than doing or achieving. Relationships are far more important than completing tasks. Being able to be present (to God and to others) and being able to live in the moment is a huge gift and a tremendous blessing to everyone that I am with. Spending time with God, hearing his voice and experiencing his presence every moment of every day is now a top priority in my life. These are pretty significant changes for me!
I have discovered a new way of experiencing God and this has led me to a new way of living. The practice of contemplative prayer has deepened my relationship with God and this is all very exciting! I now crave time alone with God. I miss it when I can’t or don’t carve out the time to spend with HIm. God has taught me so many lessons over the past several months. It is exhilarating to be able to hear his voice so loud and clear and to be able to see Him working in my life and in the lives of others.
I have made a conscious effort to slow my life down and work on pruning activity in order to carve out more time and space to meet with God on a more consistent basis. This has not been easy. I often feel like I have to wear an imaginary harness so God can pull back on the reins when I get too busy or too carried away with activity. Slowing down is difficult for me. There are just so many things that I want to do! I had been working on slowing down for the past 3 years in response to an inner voice from God. I had initiated the process but God had to intervene in order to really get things going as I just wasn’t able to do it on my own. God slowed life down for me by allowing a recurrent illness to take hold and by plunging me into a spiritual winter that lasted several months.
This new way of life that I had found required a major shift in my attitude, values, outlook on life and work and it really tested my faith. It required that I almost become a different person. I discovered that God’s way of life is totally counter-culture to the life that I had been living. God’s way of life made sense but it was hard to make it work in this culture. Contemplation helped me identify some of the challenges and the contemplative practices helped me stay on track. I look forward to the day when I won’t need that harness anymore as this new way of thinking and the new way of living will have become so ingrained that it will just feel normal.
My spiritual rhythm of life has evolved since having taken this course. I have started to integrate some aspects of contemplative living (centering prayer, lectio divina, examen of consciousness and monthly spiritual retreats) into my daily/weekly/monthly spiritual rhythm. These newly learned practices resonate well and have helped me grow and experience God more deeply.
I am especially grateful for the gift of centering prayer. This has truly changed my life in a dramatic way and has given me an entirely new perspective, knowing and experience of God as well as a deeper understanding and knowing of my true self. Silence and solitude is where I was led to experience God to the fullest degree. I found the more time I spent with God in silence and solitude, the more I was able to hear Him and experience Him in my daily life. Centering prayer also taught me the practice of surrender, first my thoughts during prayer time, then my attachments, then ultimately my entire life as an offering to Him. Holding on tight used to be my pattern but surrendering to God has given me a new sense of freedom.
Lectio divina has given me immense pleasure in reading the bible. I have to admit that scripture reading had always been difficult for me as I felt I didn’t really understand the bible very well, at least not to the depth that I thought I should. Lectio divina has engaged me with the scripture in a way that I had not experienced before and has given me understanding on a much more personal level. I take great pleasure in hearing God’s message and invitation to me every time I engage in this practice.
The examen of consciousness, though difficult to do without falling asleep before completion as I do it at night while in bed, gives me the pleasure of recalling the day’s activities and the opportunity to thank God for his multitude of blessings each and every day. It also gives me practice at searching for Him in the mundane activities of daily life and thereby helps me learn to recognize His presence in my life. It is a delightful experience to see him disguised in so many different forms, often humorous ones. This practice teaches me to recognize God’s footprint in all of life and in all of its diverse and interesting forms.
Life gets busy. Marriage, children, pets, work (paid and non-paid), charity work, caring for aging parents/relatives, maintaining friendships, and engaging in a hobby or two for recreation and stress relief leads to a very full life. It is easy to see how one can get carried away with activity and lose sight of where God fits in with all of this. This is why a monthly retreat with God has been so beneficial. This is typically a day (or longer if possible) when I unplug from the usual daily activities and spend much of the day in silence and solitude. I will engage in contemplative prayer, in scripture, in reading Christian books, in nature and more often than not, in some sort of physical activity like a run along the beach, a hike up the Grouse Grind, or a swim in the outdoor pool at Kits. The day is totally focused on God and is a day that is incredibly restful, relaxing and rejuvenating.
Where do I see my life heading?
My vocation is in the process of changing as I enter a new stage in the course of my life. Discernment and decision-making in the Ignatian tradition has been invaluable in helping me learn to listen well to the Holy Spirit, to discover what makes me tick, where my passions lie, what my deepest desires are and what direction to head towards. The Holy Spirit has revealed what there is to reveal and it is now up to me to discern the direction that He is leading me toward and be obedient to His calling and prompting in my life.
I have come to believe that it is best to let God be in charge of all things in life, especially the important decisions. It leads to much better outcomes! I have also come to learn that my job is simply to approach God with humility, a sense self-emptying, openness and an offering of self. If I follow His promptings and be obedient to His calling then I won’t need to worry about being good enough, smart enough, adequately equipped, or having all the right answers. All I need is to be able to hear God, to live by faith and obedience and He will provide the rest. It’s as simple as that! But in reality this is a lot more scarier than it sounds!
I have also come to realize that my work in life is to simply do what God calls me to do and to do it well, no more no less. Yes, God has given me multiple choices and the opportunity to go my own direction and to do my own thing but I know from experience that God’s ways are always better than my ways. If I am able to align my desires with God’s plan for my life then things typically work out better. The trick is to be able to figure out what God’s plans are for me and be able to see how I fit into the big picture.
Discernment is so important and the need to be able to listen well in order to discern God’s voice amongst so many others is essential in helping me follow the right path so I don’t travel too far off course and away from God, take on work that I am not called to do, or wear myself out by doing other people’s work and never get around to doing the work that He had assigned for me.
This is where the discipline of daily prayer comes into play as prayer is our primary way of communicating with God. I am so thankful for the introduction to so many different forms of prayer. I now have a wide smorgasbord to choose from which is helpful as discursive prayer has always been a challenge for me. I am just not articulate or good with words. Now I have many forms to choose from and can select and use one that resonates well rather than push through with something that is difficult for me to do.
There are many more things that I’ve learned and benefitted from by taking this course and I could fill the pages of an entire book but I will stop here as these are some of the major themes. I feel tremendously blessed by having had the opportunity to be introduced to this material and to learn what contemplative living is all about. It has in essence changed the way I live my life. It was no accident that I ended up in this course.
With time as I allow these concepts to sink in and with consistent practice at integrating some of these newly learned prayers and practices into my daily rhythm of life, I look forward to getting to know God on a much deeper level. Digging deeper reveals a much bigger God to discover, to experience, to marvel at and to share.
The ability to go deeper was precisely what I was lacking in my own Christian journey and a deeper personal experience of God from the heart was what I was missing out on. I recognize that this journey of discovery may take a lifetime or longer to complete. I may never get to the end of it in this lifetime but oh what a journey!
As I sit with God daily in silence and solitude and as I open myself to His divine therapy, I look forward to being made new in Christ, a transformation to Christ-likeness that only God can accomplish. My desire is to be able to use what I have learned to serve in whatever capacity God calls me to. What good is it if I keep all this goodness to myself! There is a whole world of broken people out there who could really use a good dose of God! My ultimate desire is to help other Christians in their quest for a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with God.
This spiritual journey has been incredibly exciting thus far. I have made my decision to follow Christ wherever He takes me even if it is uncomfortable or not anything like what I had expected. I am still learning to discern his voice. I do not know what God has in store for me in the future but am happy to live in the present taking one day at a time and seeking His guidance and His presence in everything I see, hear and do. It is enough for me (for now) to just hang out with Him doing absolutely nothing but getting to know Him (and myself in the process) and simply enjoying His presence.
Letting go of the need to know, the need for control, the need for success and the need for achievement has been difficult but I have discovered that surrendering to God is truly the only way to freedom. I think this is one of the most important lessons I have learned thus far.