Contemplation & Agnosticism

God, I’m going to try this. I’m afraid of failing or feeling you turn away, but I’m going to try to meditate and pray daily. I’m going to try to embrace the “God-ness” within me and listen to it – if and when it speaks. I will try hard not to run away, but instead will try to build on my wobbly patience and self-love to stay present. Also, going to try to let you be who or whatever you are, and I will try to listen better as I go through the days. Amen.

I’ve learned that patience and self-love couldn’t be engineered by my efforts, but through openness, patience, and surrender, and the help of fellow travelers, that is what I found in Shalem’s Heart Longings (HL).

Through practices I’ve learned in HL, I’ve experienced a sense of God even when I don’t believe in God. My belief or non-belief seems irrelevant when it comes to entering the life of the Spirit. Rather than try to gin up a firm belief, simply being with whatever the presence is (or is not), seems to be enough. God? Compassion fields? Divine energy? Love is where I want to be, no matter the name I give it.

After years of hit or miss spiritual practices, I adopted a method learned in HL. It is flexible and forgiving. My daily goal is 3-part: read from Howard Thurman’s meditations, write about it and whatever else needs to be written, and then go into 15-20 minutes of silence, usually 20, sometimes 10. This creates a space within me for deep appreciation.

After making this practice part of my life, I find I notice more and love what I notice so much more than before. I can be walking to the train on a hot day in the city and notice someone’s smiling eyes, or the pot of red geraniums in a shop doorway. I hear birdsongs often. I feel that my heart has grown in its capacity to take in beauty and give thanks for it. I’m reminded to acknowledge the Presence that accompanies me, to see God in obvious and not-so-obvious places: the blossoming linden tree, the bolts that hold together the garbage truck, the mortar that keeps the bricks in place at our house, a mother holding a toddler’s hand.

If I sound like I’m on a pink cloud, believe me, I fell off it early on, when my doubts and fear came rushing in. The contemplative life is not a panacea—St. John’s Dark Night is no joke. I think there are small “dark nights” too, times when prayer or meditation seems futile. I have cried in frustration during some of the silences; I’ve gone into them with great trepidation that there will be a Big Nothing – my own Dark Night. Sometimes that’s what I find, but I’m learning to trust those with more experience and wisdom than I have that the Dark Night ends. The daily practice helps me carry on through those times. And, O how rich time becomes!

I’ve imagined God saying: “Just rest, scared girl. Stop trying so hard and rest.”

Sometimes I occasionally write responses my prayers—what I imagine a loving God might say.

Dear Annie,
Yes. You are doing the practice. Stay with it. You are losing your allegiance to the Great Deception: the despair and self-loathing that held you for so long. There is singing all around you, there are blossoms and blossoms inside you. It is delicious. As you are.

July 07, 2023 by Ann F. Stanford 6 Comments
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Karen Crutchfield
8 months ago

I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share. As far as I’m concerned, the response you’ve imagined from God is wonderful, and oh-so-appropriate: yes, God would have us cast off that “Great Deception.” Thank you!

Patti Thorp
Patti Thorp
8 months ago

Thank you so much for your post. Love your term “great deception!”

8 months ago

Lovely. Thank you for letting your reflection be read by others.

Nancy Corson Carter
8 months ago

Dear Ann Folwell Standford,
I read your “Heart’s Longings” “report” this AM and found it so companioning, so full of the kind of determination to stay with the practice that I am trying to live.
THanks for your sharing. I often take my camera with me on walks and that helps me to stop and pay grateful attention. Recently a Master Gardener neighbor put out a wooden tub with lotus plants; its blooming (three times this summer!) has been a joy, a constant reminder of God’s glory.
Blessings to you in all blossoming and fallow times of your practice as they weave in and out, over and over like breathing!
Nancy (also a professor emerita,from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL)

Ann F Stanford
Ann F Stanford
8 months ago

Nancy, Did you know my grad school friend, Suzan Harrison?
And thanks for comments!


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