A heart strangely warmed . . .
Some of you may be familiar with the story of a crucial time in John Wesley’s life, often referred to as his “Aldersgate experience.” Wesley had been through a dark time, and he felt deeply broken. But on that evening of May 24th, 1738 a powerful moment of conversion/awakening happened to him, and he became personally convinced of God’s love for him. Wesley wrote in his journal (what is surely the most quoted line by this reformer of the Anglican Church and catalyst for what came to be known as the “Methodist movement”) — “I felt my heart strangely warmed.”
Seeing with eyes of the True Self . . .
Now, fast forward almost 220 years to March 19th, 1958, when Thomas Merton, an important church reformer of our time, wrote about his own moment of conversion/awakening. Instead of Aldersgate Street in England, however, Merton was at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville when he “was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs” and that the divine indwelling within each one of them “is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.” Merton, a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky, became a catalyst for a revival of a prayerful way of seeing that has come to be known by many in our time as a “Contemplative stance”. (I suspect this is what Paul meant when he wrote “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17))
I have written before that I am either a “contemplative-evangelical” or an “evangelical-contemplative” — click here to view Len’s previous blog. The conversion/awakening experiences written about in the journals of Wesley and Merton illustrate to me that link and the importance of “how” we see. We are called to pay attention and come to know prayerfully . . . with an open heart and a sense of compassion that awakens us to our True Self (who we are in God’s eyes). But to discover that way of seeing (through the eyes of the True Self), we must let go of our attachment to our False Self (self-centered ego). In the paradoxical words of Jesus in Mark 8:35, we must “lose ourselves to find ourselves”.
But to let go of ego is not easy, and a life-long journey (sometimes it feels more like humiliation than humility). That is one reason I find “centering prayer” helpful. It is a spiritual exercise that is a bit like going to the gym to practice letting go of your ego. (We have several groups connected with our church which you are welcome to join. Let me know if you have any questions.) And there are many other soul-nurturing contemplative practices, some that you probably are already practicing, and just need to make sure it is a priority. Again, refer to the link just mentioned for a nice image of a “tree of contemplative practices.”
So think about it awhile. What prayerful practices help you let go of ego and open up to the Wisdom of God’s Spirit of love? What helps you listen for your deepest callings? What gets in the way? What helps you see from your True Self, and where does that lead you in your faith journey?
Pay attention. You might even journal some about it.
I’m interested in what you notice. Please let me know if you’d like to share or explore your observations . . .
Here is a more extensive quote from Thomas Merton’s writings about his “Aldersgate experience” on the corner of Fourth and Walnut. It might help you pay attention from a more prayerful, contemplative stance, wherever you may be . . .
Grace and peace,
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud . . . I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now [that] I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun . . . Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time.
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us . . . It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. 
Thomas Merton — Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander