The Kraken Wakes

For some reason we think that spiritual progress is marked by lack of struggle in life. [My] purpose… is to emphasise that this is simply not the case. Spiritual progress is learning to confront struggle in a new way so that we don’t struggle with the fact that life is fraught with struggle. But the practice of contemplation will expose us to many things we would rather not see but need to see if we are going to grow. Even something as potentially debilitating as depression or obsessive-compulsive behaviour finds healing salve in the practice of contemplation…

These, too, can be vehicles by which the mystery we call God breaks through and shines in awareness.

Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation

Anyone practicing the Jesus Prayer (and I believe this to be equally true of any other discipline such as Centering Prayer, the contemplative use of Holy Rosary, or Christian Meditation) will find sooner or later that they are led into waters whose floor shelves steeply away into the abyss, far out of their depth in pain and the memories of pain. At times like this the Jesus Prayer (or its equivalent) functions more like a bit of floating wreckage that we can cling to than any kind of structured prayer, though that is what it is.

The godly king of ancient Israel, Hezekiah, confronted with the besieging Assyrian army, received a letter from their king and commander-in-chief Sennacherib renewing his threat to sack Jerusalem, and warning him not to trust in God’s protection from his forces. Hezekiah’s reaction was not to surrender, nor to return boast for boast, but to go “up to the house of the Lord and spread [the letter] before the Lord.” (Isaiah 37.14)

So too the contemplative who is confronted with the siege ramps and archers of their own brokenness, their shame and the traumas they had thought to forget. There is nothing to be gained by trying to force these armies of the unconscious back to the land of repression, nor in giving way to fantasies, or running from prayer into some comforting pleasure or another. These are not distractions we can dismiss lightly, but very krakens of the mind’s deeps. Like dear King Hezekiah, our trust, even here, is in the Lord. At even the very end, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13.15 NIV) In our discipline our trust holds fast – the floating wreckage of our prayer is more than we can imagine. Like Hezekiah, the angel of the Lord will come to our defence by a way we had not suspected, our peace will come from a direction we had not seen, and like Elisha’s servant we shall see “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire” (2 Kings 6.17 NIV).

The fire of love can burn even in the midst of the storm, and we shall hear Jesus’ own voice, gentle and half-asleep, speaking peace and stillness to the waves. (Mark 4.35-41) Benignus O’Rourke’s words remind us,

Sometimes when people meditate or pray without words they are accused of trying to anaesthetise themselves to deaden their pain. But what we really do in our quiet prayer is to face the pain, engage with it, and transform it into energy for loving.

Finding Your Hidden Treasure: The Way of Silent Prayer

5 thoughts on “The Kraken Wakes

  1. Tom E

    My own experiences of the Jesus Prayer seem to chime with yours very closely, Mike. However, I do wonder if the effects of different forms of prayer/meditation are the same, and, equally, whether they exert a uniform effect on everyone, or a different one depending on individual temperament. Scientists tell us that different brain waves are elicited by different forms of Buddhist meditation, for example. If the writings of Fr. Sophrony, an avid exponent of the Jesus Prayer, and Fr. Laurence Freeman, of Christian Meditation with its mantra, are anything to go by, the effects may be rather different! ‘By their fruits ye shall know them…’ (Matthew 7:16)

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  2. Mike Farley Post author

    Yes, that’s a point, Tom. I think part of it may be that different disciplines of prayer attract, or are comfortable for, different kinds of people, and so their experiences will be different. There’s an interesting book by Mgr. Michael Chester and Marie Norrisey, Prayer and Temperament, that looks at prayer from an MBTI point of view, examining which kind of prayer might suit which personality type, etc., and what they may each expect on their spiritual journey. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they say, but it’s worth a read.

    Reply
  3. Ellis Hein

    The life of the first Quakers was not built upon technique or methodology or discipline. When we attempt to achieve spiritual growth through use of techniques or methods, it is we who are in charge. Thus you can say, “Anyone practicing the Jesus Prayer (and I believe this to be equally true of any other discipline such as Centering Prayer, the contemplative use of Holy Rosary, or Christian Meditation) will find sooner or later that they are led into waters whose floor shelves steeply away into the abyss, far out of their depth in pain and the memories of pain.” But the testimony of the early Friends is radically different.
    The late Lewis Benson stated: “When I read Fox’s Journal for the first time, my mind was full of Gurdjieffian metaphysics. It took me a couple of years to get all that stuff out of my head. But, I’d already started to read Fox’s Journal and my theory was, “This is great stuff, but he doesn’t tell you how to do it.” There must be a method. Well, I kept reading and reading, and no method, no technique. Finally, I came to the conclusion that there just isn’t any technique in this. There isn’t any methodology.” (Unpublished manuscript of the 1976 Haverford, PA, lectures: A New Foundation to Build On.)
    So if there is no methodology, how did they do it? and how can we follow in their steps to partake of this “great stuff” Lewis was reading about? Edward Burrough detailed what happened after being convinced at Firbank Fell, how they were taught by the light of Christ. He stated: “And so we ceased from the teachings of all men, and their words, and their worships, and their temples, and all their baptisms and churches; and we ceased from our own words, and professions, and practices in religion, in times before zealously performed by us, through ‘divers forms, and we became fools for Christ’s sake, that we might become truly wise. And by this light of Christ in us were we led out of all false ways, and false preachings, and from false ministers, and we met together often, and waited upon the Lord in pure silence from our own words, and all men’s words, and hearkened to the voice of the Lord, and felt his word in our hearts, to burn up and beat down all that was contrary to God; and we obeyed the light of Christ in us, and followed the motions of the Lord’s pure Spirit, and took up the cross to all earthly glories, crowns, and ways…” (Works of Fox, Vol. III, p.13)
    The difference is that what Edward Burrough described and what I have experienced is initiated by God to bring us back into the image and purpose of God. The techniques-and-methods-approach is human initiated. And while that may achieve certain results, it does not lead to becoming that body of which Christ is the head.

    Reply
    1. Mike Farley Post author

      Interesting point. But of course these are not, as sometimes misunderstood, techniques for bringing anything about ourselves. You’ll know, if you’ve read my other posts, even the last one, ‘A Still Voice’, that I don’t think that – all we are doing is putting ourselves in the way of God doing something. If he will. The point is not experiences – as I pointed out in ‘Outstaring the Ghosts’ – at all. Otherwise Fox was employing a technique by climbing Pendle Hill! All we can do, in prayer, or in the silence of Meeting, is get ourselves out of God’s way. What is described in this post is not a mishap – it is something that is, at times, and for some of us, a dark place on the path – that is all. In Friendship, Mike

      Reply

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