Tag Archives: Thomas Merton

The Art of Prayer (with Video)


Kiss of the Muse, Alex Grey

What, Me Pray?

For most people at a modern or rational stage of development, prayer is something for children and the superstitious. Its etymology is from the Old French preier (“ask, entreat”) which is derived from the Latin word precari, which means to “ask earnestly” or “beg.” And in the modern world, begging is something that poor people do.

Most of my young adult life, I considered prayers to be uttered before meals, before bed each night or to be reserved for when someone was injured or dying. My family didn’t model this behavior, but I assumed other (Christian) families did.

When I discovered the Unity Church and the New Thought movement, my eyes were opened to prayer as a form of dialogue with Source (or Christ Consciousness). I embraced my “allergy” to prayer and jumped in with both feet, studying and practicing the act of prayer and serving as a chaplain for a thriving church community from 2012-2014.

Just like yoga and meditation, I learned that there are different methods (or modes) of prayer, and hundreds of ways to actually pray.

Dialogue and the Other

The idea of God is so personal that the way each individual relates to God (with fear, awe, devotion or worship) is as unique as themselves (not to mention framed by their current geography and cultural worldview and colored by shadow material from the unconscious mind). The Ultimate Other looks, feels and sounds different to everyone.

There are three perspectives from which all of us might describe and experience God (or the idea of God) — 1st-person (the interior of the individual, meditative, internal arising of Spirit, witnessing), 2nd-person (the other, relational, one-on-one/face-to-face, devotion, prayer, God the Father, Mother Earth, various deities) and 3rd-person (the physical universe, nature, science, God-as-the-Kosmos, Spirit-in-Action, all that is observable and that we may witness, tat tvat asam). Put simply, we can talk “as God,” “to God,” or “about God.” These three value spheres (see Chapter 2) are useful when discussing or contemplating spirituality. All three are very real perspectives, and all three simultaneously arise together.

It is this 2nd-person language (talking “to God”) that we use when we pray.

Prayer is sometimes looked down on as being a subservient act. When most people think of prayer, they think of a plea or an appeal to God(s) in the sky for their desired outcome to be granted. Part of the reason we may not be comfortable with this form of dialogue is that the “other” is 1) outside ourselves, 2) invisible and 3) more powerful than we are. Most of us are told, when we move into the stage of development known as modernism – and are exposed to the branches of science and philosophy – that no self-respecting human being would prostrate themselves before this kind of creator God.

But this assumes that the power (to create meaning or change) resides somewhere outside of ourselves. And for the traditionally religious, this is true (or, at the very least God remains worthy of our reverence, awe and devotion).

Post-modern forms of prayer (centering, affirmative) simply assume and strive to express what already is. When you pray in the affirmative, you declare that you are not broken or fallen or diseased, but that you have the infinite power within you to heal yourself, and to live your highest potential. When you practice centering prayer, you invoke the perfection of the moment and all thoughts that may be arising (including the prayer itself).

When you pray, you are engaging with Spirit-in-Action in 2nd person language (addressing the “thou” or Ultimate Other). And unlike meditation, where the goal is to let thoughts go completely, prayer is the training of our actual thoughts to be more positive, kind, gentle, loving and forgiving.

Prayer is a way of aligning your mind with the Divine (or what Sri Aurobindo called Supermind). If meditation is the act of being unattached from your thoughts and simply letting them drift away, then prayer is the act of holding onto and turning your thoughts, one at a time, over and over in your hands until they are perfect. Until they have been smoothed like stones in a river. Continue reading


I Have Seen the Future of Religion, and His Name is Matthew Fox

matthew fox

From his origins in the Wisconsin heartland to his European awakening and from his nature-based brand of mysticism to his eventual split with the patriarchal church of the day, I have consistently felt a deep connection with the life and work of author, theologian and priest Matthew Fox.

I have cited and referenced Fox’s work repeatedly — from my Spring Equinox service to my Thanksgiving Prayer — and consider him to be a primary influence in my practice of entering into a direct relationship with God (not a God that is anthropomorphic or made in man’s image, but God as the Cosmos itself). And as a fellow author and minister, I consider him to be a mentor and spiritual director — an inspiration as I struggle to find a voice of my own and to have that voice connect with a new audience.

The rites of passage that I lead for new fathers in our community are directly fueled by his call for ritual and reclamation in books like The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.

“If we liberate the Divine Feminine,” Fox says, “she is deserving of a worthy consort — a cleansed and detoxified and resurrected Sacred Masculine.”

I first met Fox at a workshop in Sarasota, FL where he preached about Creation Spirituality, Deep Ecumenism (interfaith dialogue and pluralism), spiritual activism and the importance of grieving in our culture. He described a grieving ritual of his own design and demonstrated the process which asked participants to get on all fours and moan until they were emptied of their suffering. I immediately put this process to the test with the chaplains group I belonged to at the time and experienced deep and profound effects.

JSO and Matt Fox

Just two guys from Wisconsin: The author and Matthew Fox at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, 2015.

Fox doesn’t simply want to reinvent worship. He will not be satisfied until the worlds of work and education have been re-booted as well.

In his book A New Reformation, he writes, “We must leave the museum-like Christianity as we would a burning building — seizing what is valuable and letting go of the rest. We take what is best from the old ways and leave behind what is unnecessarily burdensome.”

“Integral to a New Reformation are new forms of worship. The old forms inherited from the modern era are very often boring and deadly, inviting people to pray only from the neck up while ignoring the lower chakras, much as they are ignored in modern education. The new language of the postmodern era — including deejays, veejays, rap, the spoken word, and more — can bring new life and deep spirit to worship, by inspiring dance rather than by encouraging sitting.” Continue reading

A Declaration of Spiritual Independence


“When freed from that which binds,
when the lust for life has come to
an end, one is not born again. He
is released now and forever.”

– The Buddha, Dhammapada

Note: Some define “spiritual independents” as those who are unchurched or have left a mainline religious affiliation — like a third-way political party. For our purposes, “spiritual independence” means anyone who insists on critical thinking in religious matters.

On July 15, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson addressed the graduating students of Harvard Divinity School. As the ministers-to-be listened eagerly with freshly-opened minds, he told them, “Let me admonish you first of all to go alone, to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil.”

He spoke of an “indwelling Supreme Spirit,” and of a vision, described by Philip Goldberg of the Huffington Post as “similar to that of the Eastern sages, where we are neither fallen nor depraved, and where divinity incarnates at every instant, not just once in the distant past.”

“God is, not was,” Emerson told the students, and each of us is “an infinite Soul” who is “drinking forever the soul of God.”

The graduates (and religion itself) were forever changed — their minds and hearts opened to a direct relationship with the Divine. The parents and faculty were angry and upset, and Emerson was banned from Harvard for over two decades.

If we are to claim spiritual independence for ourselves, then we need to cultivate a similar relationship with our Source. John Dominic Crossan writes about this kind of life in The Essential Jesus, saying it is the life that Jesus died for — a life “of human contact without discrimination and of divine contact without hierarchy.”

If we are to be truly free, we need to equip ourselves with the appropriate support on all levels and lines, and surround ourselves with the right types. We will need access to sound spiritual teachings, a free-standing system outside the mainline institutions, the right spiritual tools necessary to do the actual work, and the benefits of a rich community of practice.


We’ll need teachings that help us to seek inspiration and guidance, and live with heart, for the road will be rough. They will need to be teachings that consider the health of the whole person (body, mind and spirit); that encourage not just temporary epiphanies and insights, but continual freedom (or moksha), spiritual liberation and unfolding, allowing us to “transcend and include” what has come before. They will need to be teachings that remind us to look within for the answer. Teachings that promote right behavior, right action and right speech; that allow for and encourage highly-developed lines of ethics and morality. We also need new stories, updated myths and well-drawn maps of the spiritual territory. Continue reading

Words of Thomas Merton


“If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.” – Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Leaning Forward: The Art of Living on the Spiritual Path [VIDEO]

FULL AUDIO: http://uustpete.org/service/2014-09-07/new-beginnings


What is your spiritual path?

When we talk about being “spiritual but not religious” or living a “spiritual” life, what do we mean exactly?

There are different ways we can define spirituality (its own line of development, the highest level or stage of any line of development, an attitude toward life – like compassion or love, a peak experience regardless of lines or stages, or the Ground of all being and experience). Spirituality means all of these things (and more) to so many. And when discussing spirituality with others, it’s important to determine which definitions are in play.

But one thing is for certain – the spiritual path should not be confused with our spiritual practice. The path is not what we do. It’s who we are, who we choose to be in each moment. It is the journey to which we are called.

And whatever we are called to do – whichever cause or organization or group of people we’re called to serve, this is also part of our path. It’s a sacred relationship, a spiritual contract held in place by the agreements you have with yourself – that you will serve on your path with integrity.

I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit to having doubts about my own worthiness – and my own qualifications. Not only in my career, but in parenting, in my pastoral and chaplain work, in community leadership, in my writing. Who am I to be deserving of these teachings and experiences that I’ve received? Who am I to be worthy of happiness in my life? Am I deserving of the opportunity to teach others?

Self-doubt sometimes greets you on the sunniest parts of the path.

Continue reading