In my early twenties I began rising early to spend morning ‘quiet time’ in meditation and prayer before starting my day. In reflecting on these initial years of morning prayer and meditation, I can see now how God led me through a series of H U G E ‘baby steps’ that formed the foundation for and set the table regarding the real prayer and spirituality that was to come later in my life.
Perhaps the first ‘baby step’ that God graced me with was creating the desire to pray daily in my heart! In my early twenties prayer for me was simply a discrete activity that happened only when I was scared, in trouble or very, very ill!!! Of course I also prayed when I went to Church, the problem was that I only went to church on Easter and Christmas at the time!!! The idea that prayer could be a dialogue and become a constant reality in my life was foreign to me. I knew nothing about the power of prayer, the various kinds of prayers one can offer or of the many blessings that comes with developing an active prayer life, despite growing up with a mother and grandmother who were prayer warriors. Like many other fundamentals in life, gaining a REAL knowledge about what works in this area will only come by committing to and doing it yourself…
When I first started rising early for ‘quiet time,’ my focus was not on prayer at all but actually on meditation. Believing that I could wrestle spiritual truth and power from heaven by force and hard work [a common Pelagian and heretical belief], my initial early morning spiritual forays were decidedly not Catholic or even Christian! Prayer was simply a twenty – second ‘intro into and exit out of’ my morning meditations, which focused on tapping into latent occult powers rather than getting to know God or growing in holiness. My primary motivations for prayer were Santa Clausian or Big Brotherish at best: to either get what I wanted or to cover and protect my ass! I was blissfully ignorant and completely indifferent to what prayer actually was, and especially what it could do to and for me…
However all this changed after experiencing some initial success in dabbling with the occult. It was a series of G R A C E D events – realizing that my experiences of occult ‘gifts’ were actually ‘demonic contacts and portals to hell,’ beginning to lose control of my newly found ‘inner’ life, seeing what happened when I called out Jesus’ name during an occult meditation or when one had gone awry, etc. – that basically scared me straight back to Jesus and flipped my morning spirituality from meditation to prayer!!! I immediately dropped those occult/new age meditations and refocused my spirituality – both my spiritual reading and my morning quiet times – back to Catholic practices centered on scripture and prayer.
Back in my early twenties I was like so many in the world today – I knew God existed and atheism was not my problem… My problem was accepting all that came along with that belief in God – beliefs like… …I should commit to and work at living morallyinstead of primarily getting paid in life, or that I should serve others with my gifts and talents instead of focusing on constant pleasure or becoming rich, etc.. As a child I had learned of God’s goodness, His expectations for us to love others and, via grace, that each can embody and live out of God’s love through our unique gifts to love and serve others. My problem was accepting as true the consequences rejecting God’s offer….
You see, despite growing up on Chicago’s South Side and accepting as ‘fact’ all forms of violence and evil against myself, people and community, I had somehow bought completely that secular and New Age teaching of universal salvation! This is the belief that God’s love is so great, that in the end it even overcomes God’s justice, effectively eliminating for us any and all moral, spiritual and communal requirements to love as God loves in order to be saved. In acknowledging the world’s evil as real, grace led me to also consider and acknowledge its source – Satan – as real. After dabbling in the occult confirmed both Satan’s existence and that the ongoing war for my soul was real, the reality scared the living #@$%&! out of me!!! Now accepting these spiritual realities as truths, by grace I refocused and flipped my morning spiritual script, elevating prayer to a place of prominence over meditation. From that time on, I have limited all meditations to classic Christian meditations which focuses on Christian themes and the Life of Christ.
I believe many good hearted people today are following the same path and making the same mistakes that I initially made – dabbling in occult meditations to unlock latent spiritual potentials so as to gain success in the natural world, instead of choosing the hard walk of faith. This hard path of following Jesus and walking by grace and faith, transforms our spirituality and its goals to that of serving, giving oneself away and growing in holiness – by grace and in imitation of Christ.
Unfortunately, many Catholics erroneously believe as I once did: that they can – free of any risks because God is all good and all love – develop their own ‘blended spiritualities, which combine traditional Catholic spirituality and the New Age.’ In doing so, I believe many experience what I have discussed above: a subtle refocusing on what a specific meditation can grant one as a spiritual gift versusthe real growth in one’s understanding of and deepening life of prayer. Please note how this New Age spirituality almost always focuses on gaining or developing some ‘spiritual gift’ in hopes of doing some future good. It does not require ‘faith in God’ or present moral requirements like loving others in our relationships or ‘using our gifts in a holy way’ as prerequisites for receiving these gifts.
In working to develop and created an adult Christian spirituality, please, please, pleeeeeeeease do not be fooled by the empty New Age promises of some special spiritual knowledge or of some special spiritual gift that one can receive via meditation!!!! Please reject these empty promises of acquiring and using either special spiritual knowledge(s) or special spiritual gifts to gain ‘wordly’ success in exchange for loosing your soul! In your spiritual reading, please select readings that examine what growth in prayer really looks and feels like instead of how you can ‘unlock and develop’ latent potentials [I suggest the Doctors of the Church].
In your meditations, always keep a scriptural focus and remember that Jesus’ life and the Gospels are unparalleled meditation material for the believer. Finally in your spirituality, please remember that you are NOT ALONE on the path, that you are ACTIVELY IN A WAR and that winning both our daily battles and the war only requires PRAYER! Without a doubt, prayer alone is the greatest spiritual tool in our spiritual toolbox, not meditation. It is prayer, not meditation, which opens, transforms by grace and frees our hearts to love and serve as God’s only Son has modeled for us… So, focus on growing in prayer during your spiritual quiet times and, continue to pray on my fellow Christian soldiers…