Part of the Series The Twelve Days of Christmas as Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Connection with God.

Photo by   SurriyaMubarka

Photo by SurriyaMubarka

You've come at last to the full mystery of Christmas.  "Divinity became humanity that humanity might become divinity," said St. Anthanasius in the East and St. Augustine in the West.  God in Christ and Christ in us, the full presence of Divinity (Colossians 1.27).  Your heart is now the home of God, and God the home within your heart.  Before this mystery your mind stands dumb; reason cannot think its way across this chasm this mystery presents to your rational mind; reason cannot bring you home.  Only love can. 

Love will carry you into the intimate union you were made for.  When you love, you cannot be anywhere else but present here and how.  Up till now you've lived far, are away--always somewhere else, distant from God and from your true self, not present to the Presence.  But that's changed now.

You've come all this way to Bethlehem only to realie that what you sought in this far away land was not far away at after all.  It was in you, but you were outside yourself.  You were conscious of everything else but absent to the one thing that really matters.  Now you're different--you've entered your inmost self and found the sacred center, the place you can enter wherever you are and whenever you want.  You're more present now to the Presence.  This is the essence of prayer.

So you needn't stay on this mountain.  You can return to writing emails and going to meetings, changing diapers and washing dishes.  Go ahead, paint a wall, argue a case before a jury, teach third graders, walk in the woods.  But as you do, take another approach (the Magi returned home by a different way, Matthew 2.12).  

Be present. 

When you are, everything changes.  When you're present, you're no longer anxiously looking everywhere else for happiness for fulfillment.  You're no longer resisting this moment, even if it's awful; it's awful largely because you want to be somewhere else.  When you're present, no longer haunted by the past or obsessing about the future, it's very hard to be unhappy.  When you're present, you're as near as you can be to God--who's as close as your next breath, near as the beating of your heart.  When you're present, God is present in the world through you, and a new compassion, justice, and love breaks into this world in your happiness, inching us all nearer the wholeness and harmony of God's heaven and earth made one. 

Today and tomorrow, when I get knocked around or confused or sucked too long into the past or future, I'll return to the present--the face before me, the task at my fingertips, the breath filling my lungs.  And in this moment I'll return to the happiness of Christmas: God in Christ and Christ in me.

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AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
CategoriesBE, DO, PRAY

Part of the Series The Twelve Days of Christmas as Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Connection with God.

You who walk this way toward Christ---long and fearsome as it may be---who persevere in this difficult inner journey of prayer will come face to face with what you're looking for.  Take care though, the life of prayer is not magic---speak the right words, do the right things, and presto, enlightenment.  No, you'll never conjure up a mystical experience; the mystical is never magical.

Instead, you'll be led into the fullness of God (Ephesians 3.19).  This fullness is the end of the journey, the goal of all life, the fruit of your spiritual practice.  But the moment we say "goal," we're tiptoeing close to danger.  The ego loves goals, and talking about the goal of prayer arouses your ego and launches you into the kind of grasping, reaching, and achieving that's the antithesis of true prayer.  Do this and you'll get all knotted up pursuing the goal and miss the Goal itself.

The eleventh way is the way of utter relinquishment.  There is no further you can travel.  You've come as near to the Light as you can get on your own.  You must now stop and sit still before Christ.  Ask nothing.  Demand nothing.  Accept whatever comes.  This is pure prayer.  Now, open the treasure chest of your heart and keep it open by breathing gently, letting your breath fall into a natural, uncontrolled rhythm.  Sit.  Wait.  Then when it seems right, offer up the three gifts that have carried you here: gold of faith, frankincense of hope, myrrh of love.  They're all you have now.  And these too you must surrender to Christ.  Empty and naked you wait, ready to receive what nothing can earn, own, or comprehend.

The divine Fire, the Light you've sought from the beginning, will come suddenly and unexpectedly---an exquisite, unexplainable joy.  It will come when you no longer care when and how the Fire comes, or what it's like when it does. 

Today, I will practice becoming still before God.  The ancient Christians called this hescyhia in the Greek speaking churches and quies among the Latin.  This is contemplation, the prayer of the heart, the simple resting of myself in God.  I will take 5 to 15 minutes to sit still before Christ, relinquishing all, yet receiving All.

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AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
CategoriesBE, DO, PRAY

Part of the Series The Twelve Days of Christmas as Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Connection with God.

The light of the star is leading you uphill now.  Bethlehem doesn't sit on a plan; it rests on a mountain.  The last stage of your journey is a climb--a sweaty, gasping-for-air ascent toward the light of Christ.

Spiritual enlightenment is not walk in the park.  You've crossed snow-covered mountains, crossed raging rivers, defeated bandits on the road, overcome thirst and hunger and fear, trudged on in the darkness against the howls of your inner demons.  You're thinner now than when you set out.  Older.  You're carrying less.  In pursuit of this great Light, you've left nearly everything you once thought you needed along the winding road behind you.

Your lungs burn with each step upward, but as you pause to catch your breath, you become increasingly aware of another sensation within you--pleasure.  At first this seems strange, for why should such hard work, such risk, such fear and deprivation and loss result now in pleasure?  

Then it dawns on you.  All you thought you needed, you don't need; all you thought you couldn't live without, you can live without; all you once thought mattered most, doesn't matter.  You are free.  You feel lighter than you've ever felt before.  You shudder with a brief and exquisite happiness, true joy.

You own nothing now but faith, and the two gifts that cannot be separated from it--hope and love.  Three treasures available to all but possessed only by those who persevere in this difficult inner journey of prayer, those who traverse their own interior geography though landscapes as beautiful and challenging as anything on Earth.  

The way of prayer is hard; becoming who you are will cost you every lesser thing.  But there's no turning back now.  Grace awaits you just beyond the next rise.  Naked now but for the three priceless gifts you carry, persevere--you're nearly there.   

Today, I will persevere in prayer, focusing my awareness on God beyond all lesser things.  I'll yield all I once thought I could not live without.  I'll breath-in the brief and exquisite happiness of this holy nakedness.  Faith, carry me these last few steps.  Hope, hold me.  Love, fill me.

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AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
CategoriesBE, DO, PRAY

Part of the Series The Twelve Days of Christmas as Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Connection with God.

On Christmas, a Light broke into the darkness of the world's night, and a star--marking the crossroads between East and West, North and South--stood sentinel above the place of Christ's coming.  You glimpsed this star while far away, and awakened by fresh hope, left everything behind, setting out on the one journey that truly matters:  find the Light, come hell or high water.

The one thing you underestimated was the darkness--it feels like hell and high water.  Out here, between the life you left behind and the Light you seek, it's night.  

Honestly, much of the life of prayer is spent here--in between, in the dark.  Here, you have more questions than answers; you feel more of God's absence than God's presence; you've set out for the Light, but it's only gotten darker; you wonder if this wasn't so wise after all.

But darkness is the one great necessity in the spiritual life.  The saints will all tell you this.  Your ego loves daylight, but night unsettles, even unseats it.  The ego--the little self-manager within you---doesn't know how to function in the dark.  When you can see, your ego knows just what to do.  But in the darkness all your mental faculties are disoriented, and you have only your heart of faith to guide you (Isaiah 50.10-11).  This is why fear is so common in the darkness; your ego feels like it's dying, and it is.  But it must die if you are to live.

True prayer must take you by the dark path.  Only so can you come to the true Light that is true God and not some projection of the ego.  In the darkness you must let go of all but faith--all props and pretension, all assumptions and preconceptions.  This darkness you will tempt you to turn back and return to lesser lights, rather than journey deeper into the darkness that will free you, if you let it.  

But if you press forward, blind to all but the faint light of faith, you will find what you're looking for.

Too long I've feared the darkness.  Today, I will embrace it as grace--a severe but liberating mercy.  I will walk though the darkest valley.  I will be afraid.  May my fear strengthen my faith until faith is all I have.

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AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
CategoriesBE, DO, PRAY

Part of the Series The Twelve Days of Christmas as Twelve Ways to Deepen Your Connection with God.

You seek God, but the further you go on this journey, the more you keep bumping into yourself.  

Let's say you decide to take a few minutes and enter the quiet of prayer; you descend into your heart and journey further toward the intimacy with God you desire.  But the moment you do, a riot breaks out within you.  Your mind jumps to life and your thoughts leap around inside your brain like a bunch of monkeys on crack.  

You've come face to face with your ego.

The ego is not pride; rather it's the self-managing faculty within you whose job it's been to take care of you all these years.  The ego's not bad; it just thinks it's God.  So when you begin to seek God in earnest, it's not amused.  It doesn't mind you being religious---if you're religious, it's still in charge telling you how to be good, condemning you when you're not, and reminding you of all the rules you ought to keep.

So long as the ego still rules the roost, you'll never really know God.  Your ego can know all about God but that doesn't mean you know God.  What you know of God is simply a surrogate for the real thing.  

To advance in the spiritual life your ego must be humbled, and that's no easy task.  "Humility," someone's said, "is not thinking less of yourself; it's thinking of yourself less."  But that's precisely what the ego can't handle.  When you seek God earnestly, it will holler and scream at you, and will try to distract you with a parade of ugly thoughts, fears, even the most beautiful things in the world.

When it does, don't give up; all this means you're moving in the right direction.  Concentrate on the light you seek.  You're humbling your ego; you're un-selfing yourself.  God awaits behind the idol of your humbled ego.  Humility, then, is the beginning of wisdom.  But know this: it will get darker before it gets lighter; you'll feel more like a fool before you feel wise.  You've entered the narrow gate and the way is hard (Matthew 7.13-14).  Only a few walk this way.  

Today, rather than just letting my thoughts rule the roost, I'll take a few moments and watch them without following where they want to take me.  That ought to infuriate my ego . . . in a good way.

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AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
CategoriesBE, DO, PRAY
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