Contemplatives like me have a profound need for beginning the day in the inner sanctuary, and yet my compulsions send me in a million directions each morning. The mind fills with potential activities from the moment I awaken. It tells me I could begin the day by starting the laundry, reading a book, journaling, writing more of my next book, eating breakfast, checking emails, which means writing emails, beginning my pastoral contacts, planning our next classes for the School for Contemplative Living, etc.
There is really no end to the drive to get after it from the moment my feet first hit the floor. And yet what I really need first is to access a deeper place in me than all of that hyper-activity. What I need is to begin the day seeking wisdom for how to live this life at the Source of wisdom. And what would really help guide my day would be to find the place where wisdom dwells first thing.
So how do I locate the place where wisdom dwells when I really need it, when everything depends on it? And how do you? Wishing for wisdom never seems to work. Just wanting it doesn’t bring it! And meanwhile my mind is bombarded with a thousand different thoughts. It’s a runaway mind train that skips from one subject to the next constantly. Ever have that?
Maybe we can just return to a fancy church every time we need wisdom, as though God only resides in the temples we build. Or maybe we can just open the bible and randomly point to a scripture whenever we need some wisdom. Many people believe God’s word ended when the “canon” of the bible was closed. So does that “point and read” thing every really bring God’s wisdom? Contemplatives begin the day searching for where wisdom dwells.
We can’t avoid, or divert, or stop the runaway train that is our minds, at least not for long. Neither can we stop the flood of emotions, urges, beliefs, images, memories, yearnings, or just plain old thoughts that make up the daily activity of the mind, even when we really long for a deeper wisdom. The mind is always going to do what it does.
But a great Quaker teacher named Thomas Kelly says that’s okay, because there is another consciousness beneath that runaway mind train where “the soul ever dwells in the presence of the Holy One.” Paul says in a letter to the church, “The secret of the ages is this, it is Christ in you.” And Fr. Richard Rohr says there is another stream of consciousness beneath the usual stream of random twists and turns in everyday consciousness, a subterranean stream he calls “Christ-consciousness.”
Where does wisdom dwell? In the stream of Christ-consciousness beneath the runaway mind train of daily thoughts. That means the wisdom I seek is down in my inner sanctuary. And because Christ is in you that means the wisdom I seek is within you too. If wisdom already dwells in both me and you, how do we access it when we really need it?
In A Testament of Devotion, Thomas Kelly says “a practicing Christian must above all be one who practices the perpetual return of the soul into the inner sanctuary.” He goes on:
“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.”
He says the world might smirk at this practice, but mature spiritual seekers “know that the deep level of prayer and of divine attendance is the most important thing in the world.”
So then how do we dwell in that deeper wisdom “and live the life of prayer without ceasing?” Kelly says the first step is that we need a daily practice and so “begin now, as you read these words, as you sit in your chair, to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet and glad surrender to Him who is within…Walk and talk and work and laugh with your friends. But behind the scenes, keep up the life of simple prayer and inward worship.”
Second step: You will forget. “But when you catch yourself again, lose no time in self-recriminations, but breathe a silent prayer…and begin again, just where you are.”
Third Step: “We begin with simple whispered words…repeat them inwardly. When “you wander, return and begin again.” In the centering prayer communities we use these sacred words, or sacred breaths, or sacred images, as a symbol of our intention to say “yes” to “God’s presence and action within.” We carve time for daily practice and also practice during the day. This is not optional. If I want to live and move and have my being where wisdom dwells, I will make the time to slip beneath my own frantic, runaway train of a mind and Center down there. And since I just can’t do that by myself, I must find a practicing community for support.
Fourth Step: In time words fall away and we rest in loving attention to Presence. Kelly says, “the time will come when verbalization is not so imperative, and yields place to attitudes of soul which you meant the words to express, attitudes of humble bowing before Him, attitudes of lifting high your whole being before Him…longer discipline in this inward prayer will establish…habitual orientation of all of one’s self about Him who is the Focus. The process is much simpler now. Little glances, quiet breathings of submission, and invitation suffice.”
I always wanted to become wise. I guess it has also been a favorite Persona of mine, wanting to at least appear wise. But in the frantic pace of life we call America, I actually have to have wisdom regularly. I need it right now, and I bet you do too.
Thanks be to God there is already a Christ-consciousness in me and you. But we will never find it, never know where wisdom dwells, until we immerse ourselves in the inner sanctuary every day, both individually and in communities. Are you ready to join us in seeking this inner-wisdom country together? Don’t you want to “begin now…to offer your whole selves, utterly and in joyful abandon, in quiet and glad surrender to Him who is within”?
If you are ready, come find the Center beneath our runaway mind trains with us. Pick a spiritual group, any group where contemplatives seek to practice the presence of God. If you are around New Orleans, our groups are all listed on the website for the School for Contemplative Living at http://www.thescl.net. We are regular people like Kerry, Ed, and Vivien in the photo below, and we could use your Christ-consciousness wisdom to help us find our way.
If you live elsewhere, find the contemplatives near you. One place to start would be through the websites for Contemplative Outreach at www.contemplativeoutreach.org or The World Community for Christian Meditation at www.wccm.org. They can help you find groups near you. Even though wisdom dwells in the inner sanctuary, we sure need contemplative community to be with others in whom wisdom dwells.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.
 Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, p. 9.