This deceptively small book hits right at all the darkly chattering recesses in my life. Its foci are the gnawing repetitive thoughts that put a veil between us and God–making him seem almost inaccessible, even non-existent.
Here’s a quote from Fr. Laird’s book, cited by Rosman:
If inner noise sustains this perceived alienation from our inmost selves, we shall feel perforce alienated from God. But this sense of alienation or separation is generated by blind and noisy ignorance that insinuates itself in the surface regions of our awareness. Our culture for the most part trains us to keep our attention riveted to this surface noise, which in turn maintains the illusion of God as a distant object for which we must seek as for something we are convinced we lack. One of the great mysteries of contemplative path is the discovery that, when the veils of separation drop, we see that the God we have been seeking has already found us, knows us, and sustains us in being from all eternity. Indeed, “God is your being,” as the author of the Cloud of Unknowing says (though we are not God’s being).
We should not underestimate just how pervasive the noise in our heads can be.
Boy, did this passage and Rosman’s comment speak to me. For over a year now, I’ve been committed to a fairly demanding daily rule of contemplative prayer. It has helped me tremendously. I am the sort of person whose minds races all the time with the sort of thoughts that insomniacs have a 3 a.m., lying in their beds, wide awake. The time I say the prayer rule may be one of the only times in the entire day that I’m recollected and my mind is silent. But this is only a relative term; I keep my mind clear during prayer about as well as a driver stays in his lane on the highway motoring home after a night of drinking at the bar. It’s a constant challenge. I can see progress over the last year, but it’s still hard.
Fr. Laird is exactly right, I think, about how the daily noise conceals God from us, in particular his nearness. He speaks in a still, small voice, but if we try to hear Him in the mental equivalent of a rambunctious crowd at a Mardi Gras parade, we almost never will. When Casella and I were in Norcia, my prayer was pure there, and God seemed so very, very close. Why? In part, I think, because the place is hallowed by St. Benedict’s birth. In part because the monks are so prayerful. But for me, it was the quiet. When I stood at the side altar in the crypt church, saying my daily rule on my prayer rope, I felt that I wanted to bring a sleeping bag there and stay there all night. God felt so close.
In fact, I know He is just that close all the time. But it’s hard to see Him and hear Him when we are so caught up in the busy-ness of the everyday. Hours after leaving Norcia, Casella and I were walking on the cacophonous streets of Rome. At one point we just looked at each other, helpless; no words were necessary: we were saying to each other, “We’re losing Norcia already.”
The greatest spiritual challenge I personally face on any day is withdrawing from the noise, especially the “noise” that comes through the computer, long enough and completely enough to pray. We have to live in the world, though. The trick is to find a way of being in Norcia, so to speak, no matter where we are.