If we deal with our seemingly complex earthly issues with an answer “from above”, we can come to a place far beyond ourselves which is the source of real healing. Mother Teresa would advise: “When you spend one hour a day adoring your Lord and never do anything which you know is wrong, you will be fine!” We tend to respond to questions from below with answers from below. This usually results in more questions and more answers – and often more confusion. A direct, simple answer from above can cut through the complexity of the issue, get to the core of our being, and quickly provide the needed enlightenment.
The human tendency is to worry about the future. Jesus advises to set our hearts on God’s kingdom – transferring our worries about family, friends and tomorrow’s work responsibilities to the things of God: truth, life and light. If we do this, worrying turns into prayer as we enter into communion with the One who is present to us here and now and is ready to give us what we most need. Our feelings of powerlessness become transformed into a consciousness of being empowered by the Holy Spirit. We cannot prolong our lives by worrying, but we can move beyond the boundaries of our short lives and claim eternal life as God’s beloved children. We may still worry, as this is inherent in our nature and the world we live in. However, when we keep returning with our hearts and minds to God’s embracing love, we’ll be able to keep our eyes and ears open to the sights and sounds of the divine kingdom.
There are many ways how to set our hearts on God’s kingdom and no specific answer will fit everyone’s needs. One way to move from the mind to the heart is to slowly and very attentively repeat a prayer. It can be, for example, the Lord’s prayer, St. Francis’ prayer, 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter), or the 23rd Psalm. Done over a period of time whenever convenient during the day, this has a healing effect. Worries will continue to distract us, but returning to the prayer, listening to the words of it with our whole being, will make the worries less obsessive and the prayer more and more enjoyable. And as the prayer descends from the mind to the centre of our being its healing power will become apparent.
The reason that attentive repetition of a well-known prayer is helpful in setting our hearts on God’s kingdom is that the words have the power to transform our inner anxiety into inner peace. While the words of the prayer may be a stark contrast to daily reality, we become aware that what we see around us is not giving the true story of our identity. We are not a part of the world ruled by the powers of darkness, but rather belong to the Good Shepherd. In his presence, we’ll indeed have all our needs supplied, wanting nothing. The deeper the words of the prayer enter into the heart, the more we become part of God’s people and understand what it means to be in the world without being of it.
Another way to bring our minds and hearts on the kingdom and get close to our Lord is contemplation of a gospel passage. Read a story about Jesus and see and hear it with the eyes and ears of the heart. We’ll discover that over time, the life of Christ becomes more and more alive in us and starts to guide us in our daily activities. The many passages we will have been contemplating over time will give us new eyes and ears to perceive what is happening in the world. The gospel will prove the uselessness of our worries and refocus our attention onto the kingdom.
The daily contemplation of the gospel and the attentive repetition of a prayer can profoundly affect our inner life. The inner life is like a holy space that needs to be kept in good order and well decorated. Prayer can make our inner room a place where we can welcome those who search for God. Through prayer and contemplation, pictures will appear on the walls of our inner room which will inspire and guide those who enter our lives.
To live a spiritual life, we need others who are walking the same path for mutual support. We are responsible to choose a spiritual milieu where we can grow and mature. We can choose friends, books, churches, art, music, places to visit and people to spend time with that collectively provide a milieu where God’s mustard seed in us can grow into a strong tree.
The above series of reflections is based on Henri Nouwen’s book, Here and Now, Living in the Spirit (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 1994), 75-82.
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