Early on, Cyzewski describes two places in the Bible where God (the Father) speaks directly to Jesus. At the time Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist (at the start of his ministry) and when Jesus was transfigured, standing with Elijah and Moses.
Both times God emphasized his love and affirmation, saying "This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."
Cyzewski says we need to receive this same message to grow spiritually; to know that God loves us, unconditionally.
Cyzewski breaks down the Father's message to his son:
You are my child.
Whom I love.
With you I am well pleased.
Cyzewski says it's important to receive this because we can't give away to others what we don't have.
And through contemplative prayer we learn to be in the present moment with God.
It seems like these truths would lead Christians to a profound unity and love of each other and others, but Cyzewski says instead "it's far safer to treat people who disagree with you as threats, dangers and heretical outsiders."
This leads to "a perfect storm for anxious religious people who are always trying to outdo each other in their commitment and purity...We are so eager to be on fire for God, to make extreme sacrifices for God and to prove without using the word 'prove' that we are holy and worthy of Jesus' ultimate sacrifice on the cross."
Cyzewski suggests that much of the answer to relieving this spiritual anxiety lies in Contemplative Prayer.
When prayer isn't working, Evangelicals seem to think it's because there must be something wrong with them. They're focused on results and progress. But Contemplative Prayer teaches that God's love is always there and very little is dependent upon us.
Cyzewski quotes Francois Fenelon: "How can you grow in maturity if you are always seeking the consolation of feeling the presence of God?"
Contemplative Prayer begins by acknowledging God is present. It pulls us away from striving, fear and defending boundaries, says Cyzweski. It focuses on God's presence.
So what is Contemplative Prayer?
Cyzewski sites a Catholic tradition of Contemplative Prayer stemming from the Desert Fathers & Mothers, monks who fled to the desert to seek God. Most recently Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton and Brennan Manning were/are modern-day advocates.
At it's core, Centering Prayer consists of entering into God's presence by sitting down for 20 minutes or so, in a comfortable, upright position, closing your eyes and silently repeating a word that reminds you of a character of God (i.e. love, grace, mercy, forgiveness). When distractions come, and they will, you gently come back to repeating the word you have chosen.
It's simplicity is a bit deceiving. Cyzewski notes his own journey to remain silent wasn't easy. To sit still and enter into the presence of God, letting Centering Prayer do its work.
Other than a willingness to set aside the time, there really isn't a lot else you can do to make it work. Except be patient and practice.
However, Cyzewski suggests that there are a couple of things you can do to supplement Contemplative Prayer.
One is to read short passages of scripture, out loud, four times, using the Lectio Divina method, which consists of asking:
- What does the text say?
- What is God saying to me in this passage?
- What do I want to say to God about the text?
- What difference will the text make in my life?
Cyzewski says that the goal of the Lectio Divina method of reading scripture "is to rest in God's presence and let the (Holy) Spirit and scripture do its work."
"We read the Bible in order to be present to God," Cyzewski writes. "Prayer is the practice of becoming present for that love"
Another practice that Cyzewski suggests comes from Ignatius of Loyola's Examen who gave us a series of steps for reflection. They are:
- Become aware of God's presence
- Review the day with gratitude
- Pay attention to your emotions
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it
- Look toward tomorrow
The whole idea of the Examen, writes Cyzewski, is to "sift away our thoughts and emotions so that we can see the present moment with clarity It can also shut down ongoing loops of negative thinking, internal commentaries or mounting stress and anxiety."
On the importance of using the Examen, Cyzewski quotes Richard Rohr: "In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of the pain before we have learned what it has to teach us."
Cyzewksi quickly notes that the Examen also allows us to take a look at what has gone well, spiritually, in our lives. He suggests using the Examen first, along with reading from the Daily Office - a series of daily prayers - before moving on to Contemplative Prayer.
He also recommends getting rid of "digital distractions" (like smartphones and ipads) which he sees as "a far greater threat to Christian spirituality that any mindfulness practice that may allegedly resemble an eastern religious practice."
Cyzewksi describes the difference between solitude and action, and the place for solitude in building up our faith. He says "I can only surrender to the deep mysteries of God in the silence." It is in silence that we create the space for our truest self to emerge.
Cyzewski quotes Brennan Manning who wrote, "If I am estranged from myself, I am likewise a stranger to others."
When we become silent, writes Cyzewski, we remove ourselves from the noise around us and keep ourselves from contributing to it. "Silence can be a tool of transformation, freeing us from entanglements of slander, offense, arguments, deception and angry words."
Centering Prayer, writes Cyzewski "is not an out of body experience or spiritual epiphany," but it's intention is "surrender and connection with God."
Flee, Be Silent, Pray also includes a great discussion on what has been called The Dark Night of the Soul, which are defined as seasons of doubt and uncertainty. Evangelicals tend to avoid any discussion of spiritual dark seasons, other than to try to fix them. But from a Contemplative Prayer point of view, these seasons are a natural part of our faith journey. In fact, such seasons can help us face our false self, which Cyzewski calls "an image of ourselves based on our relationships, accomplishments and actions."
"We need intimacy with God," writes Cyzewski. "We need prayer. We need contemplation. We need to be united with Christ." And that's the whole point of Centering Prayer, the Examen and the Daily Office.