I believe Thomas Merton was exactly right that the spark of the Divine, the “pure glory of God,” and the “pure diamond blazing” are in everyone. Because God is in all of us we can also find the gate of heaven when we are gathered in real community. So what is it like to form a community where the practice of the presence of God and the wonder of seeing the diamond in others actually happens?
In our contemplative communities, we prefer to experience being instead of spending our hours thinking and talking about religious beliefs or concepts. We use surrender practices to help us experience being. We begin to find comfort in experiencing the One who is No-Thing, (not a thing), as we share surrender practices in community. First, we practice being and then we speak.
We practice vulnerable sharing of our struggles, challenges, and real selves. We easily tire of church discussions where people say what they think about what some author thinks. Instead we risk stories of doubt, life’s cruelty, and radical brokenness in our lives. Leaders model this in sharing our own failings, heartaches, broken places, and struggles with contemplative practice. We also freely tell of moments that mean everything to us, moments of joy, moments when the Holy has appeared. Honest sharing of our joys and sorrows can open a gate of heaven right in our midst.
In one of our contemplative classes we were reviewing a book on centering by Cynthia Bourgeault. The early discussion had included a lot of meaningful moments and pleasures as people found ways to experience their connection with the Divine through their centering practices. On that particular evening no one had yet ventured into the territory of the dark side of contemplation.
So it only seemed right when Mark gathered his courage and spoke up: “Sometimes life is just cruel. When you have been through many experiences of life’s cruelty you want to keep up your walls of protection. So this business of vulnerably trying to open ourselves to God feels dangerous. How do you know you won’t just end up being hurt?”
Thankfully group wisdom kept anyone from jumping in with false remedies or solutions for coping with life’s cruelty. No one said a contemplative life gets easy over time, (which is definitely not true). We just let Mark’s story be held in silence for a moment. Then someone shared their own experience of losing any sense of God’s presence during a medical crisis. The message was clear: “We are in this together, and contemplative living is not about finding magical solutions that fix all of our problems.”
Leaving room for such honest sharing of our heartaches creates space for the Holy to come among us. The sense of being on this journey together is itself a gate of heaven. Knowing we are not alone, that we are being held in the heart of a community, opens a gate for the Holy One to be felt and known among us. The paradox is that this gate can be discovered through sharing about times when we have not felt the presence of God at all.
 Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.