I am excited to share my review of Dante’s Road: The Journey Home For The Modern Soul by Marc Thomas Shaw.
Marc Thomas Shaw is an award-winning instructor, speaker, and author focusing on the contemplative path as a means of inner transformation. A graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary and co-founder of Contemplative Light, he has been a Centering Prayer practitioner for over a decade and is a commissioned presenter through Contemplative Outreach.
He is a member of Spiritual Directors International, the Tau Community of Interfaith Franciscans, and the Ignatian Spirituality Project. He co-hosts the Contemplative Light podcast and resides with his family in San Diego, California.
Dante’s Road is nicely divided into three parts:
- The Downward Way
- The Outward Way
- The Upward Gaze
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Marc begins his book, “And I realized—that’s the kind of thing I wanted to write. Something that would help others grow, to experience transformation, to move toward wholeness. My thoughts then turned to what had inspired me most in my life—the great myths, the great poets, the great works from across the wisdom traditions, the teachings and practices of the mystics and contemplatives. These all taught that profound healing and genuine transformation is possible.“
Marc continues, “In The Divine Comedy, Dante gives us a model of the soul’s journey home. He lays out the path of the spiritual life—first down into the depths, then the climb upward, and finally the moment of vision when the spiritual world becomes real and present.”
Let me share nine key points that I pulled from this wonderful book.
“This state of complete at-one-ment, of being-at-home with the indwelling Spirit, is what the great mystics experienced. This is also how Jesus lived during his time on earth; it’s what he called the Kingdom.”
“It takes courage to do soul work, to look into the abyss—the areas of your inner being you’re afraid to face.”
“May the Divine One who is ever present within you reveal new insights in the very depths of your own being as you journey through this book.”
The Divine One is within. I explore the great depths of my own being via my Centering Prayer practice. And yes, it takes courage to do this soul work. Centering Prayer is an act of faith and love for God. I do not know what will happen each time I sit in the silence of Centering Prayer. I trust God. That is it.
“The spiritual path requires us to wake up, to move down through our personal hell of confusion, disorientation, and suffering, to see our own wounds. As many of the mystics recognize, we rise only through falling.”
“From a contemplative perspective, it’s when we reach the end of ourselves that we are open to encounter the God who transcends the mental image we’ve built.”
“Without identifying our own wound, articulating it, and moving toward wholeness, we become trapped by it. It defines us.”
We are not our wound. Our greatest transformation is usually accomplished as a result of our suffering. I remember when I needed to temporarily exit the workforce after twenty years. I had held a management position at a large financial services corporation. I went into a depression.
I did not know it at the time but I had placed my identity in my management position. With no position to cling to, I lost my sense of identity. I did not know who I was anymore. I needed to go through this suffering to discover my true identity. I was a child of God. I was unconditionally loved by God.
“Violence is an unskillful, broken response to pain—and the world is full of pain. How we deal with our own pain dictates whether we will contribute to the world’s violence or help transform it.”
“Whatever our core wounds may be, we too will pass these on to our children through our worries, our fears, our praise, and our punishment. If left unexamined, they in turn will pass them on to their children as well.”
If we do not handle our pain, we will transmit it to our lover, children, relatives, friends, co-workers, people we come across in the community. How you ask might we do this?
When we do not handle our pain, we take it out on others. Do you notice how children take on the same abusive practices that their parents never put a stop to in their own lives? Our pain cannot be repressed. It must be released and dealt with.
“Within the contemplative space, we no longer identify the thoughts that arise with our deepest self. We may always have our incessant thoughts, our fears, our impulses—but they don’t have to have us. Over time, we can cultivate a spacious awareness that will give ourselves a choice of how to respond when these feelings arise.”
“If your core ego need is affection and esteem, as mine is, you’ll tend to fixate on approval from others.”
“If, on the other hand, your core need is for safety and stability, you value a sense of order.”
We are not our thoughts. Contemplative prayer seems to help us create a space between us and our thoughts. We can observe our thoughts. The ones that do not serve us, we can throw away.
We can choose to not react. We can pause and decide to wait before we react. Sometimes in the waiting we come to realize another person is best suited to act. Other times we notice that the best action is no action.
“Like all forms, given a long enough timeline, both our physical bodies and the physical fruits of our labor will fade away. What remains is the energy we put into the world, the dynamics we set into motion, through our interaction with others and with the land. When we are gone, what quality of energy will have increased in the world? Answering this question helps orient us on our path. It points us in the direction we need to go.”
“Another way to ask this question is: how will you help move the community toward greater wholeness?”
I love this. When I am gone what will remain? What energy will I put into the world that will remain, endure and continue to thrive? When I look at in this way that changes how I think about my daily actions with my family, friends, relatives, community, world and environment.
“This continual release of the ego’s demands gives natural joy a chance to well up within us.”
Our natural inner state should be joy. All I have to do is watch my 11 year old son to see this joy on display. Where did it go? We often seem to lose this inner state of joy. We do not need to. Contemplative Prayer is one way to release the ego’s demands and allow this natural joy within as Marc says to well up within us.
“In my own life, I have learned that my deep need for approval from people I love is an obstacle to the flow of this greater love.”
“Being severed from the self-centered need for affection and approval enabled me to be a loving presence in others’ lives in more mature ways.”
“Today, my affection for friends and family is as great as ever, but I’m not dependent on them for my sense of well-being, which now is independent, noncontingent.”
“I understand that others have their own perspectives, hang-ups, and egoic needs, and dancing to each of these tunes would be tiresome and fruitless.”
A practice such as Centering Prayer helps us to just be present in love with others. There is no judgement or strings attached. We learn to just be with people. We accept and love people for who they are. We no longer need to derive our self importance from others.
“Some of us are so identified with our thought patterns, with the voices in our heads, that we never have a moment’s true peace.”
“As we put space between our ourselves and the concepts of self that bedevil us (according to which we swing between success and failure, meaning and meaninglessness), we find a deep and genuine rest. For a moment, we take joy in just being.”
“When we’re not identified with our ego, what is there to be angry at when someone insults it? What do we have to lose?”
A practice such as Centering Prayer seems to bless us with inner peace. Each time we sit in silence we rest in the rest of God. We learn to just be with God and just be with life with all its ups and downs.
“However, as we surrender thought by thought, emotion by emotion, moment by moment, we allow ourselves to be stitched back together, reintegrated, made whole.”
“The contemplative practice is like a love relationship—we move from acquaintanceship to friendship to intimate union.”
“This capacity to diminish our separate self-sense, to loosen the ego’s hold on us, to make room for Divine love and wisdom to flow through us, is the transforming union.”
We sit in silence because we love God. When we sit in silence we learn how to love God, love others and even love ourselves. We need all three. They make us whole. We seem to more easily let this love flow through us and out of us to God and to others.
I encourage you to explore Dante’s Road.
Also by Marc Thomas Shaw and Contemplative Light:
How might your life change if you were steeped more deeply in the wisdom of the Christian Mystics? Drawing on the best available writing on the topic of Christian Mysticism both ancient and modern, Contemplative Light is offering a special course on the Christian Mystics Sacred Lives: An Introduction To The Christian Mystics.
The Divine Transformation: Essentials of Christian Mysticism – Welcome to a comprehensive introductory through intermediate level course on both practice and perspectives of these timeless teachings from the Christian Mystical and Contemplative traditions! Whether you are a long-time practitioner looking to solidify your understanding and framework for practice or a beginner interested in immersing yourself in this teaching, this course can serve as a rich resource.
Contemplative Practices: 5 Ways of Consenting to the Divine – Learn methods practiced by Christian mystics for centuries to consent to the action and presence of God within, including Centering Prayer, The Examen, Lectio Divina, Christian Meditation, and the Jesus Prayer.
Dante’s Road: The Journey Home for the Modern Soul by Marc Thomas Shaw
150 Meditations From The World’s Mystics by Marc Thomas Shaw and Clint Sabom
Writing as a Spiritual Practice: This course helps you to access the rich spiritual stories that lie deeply within you. Words are powerful. The words that you write can be used to:
- help you understand yourself better – and therefore divine God’s purpose in your life
- facilitate healing of spiritual wounds
- minister to others more effectively
- share your testimonies of how God has worked in your life
If you read devotionals, you already know how they can be a true blessing. A devotional can uplift you when you’re feeling discouraged, sad or lonely. And, if you are feeling called to write devotionals, know that you have a unique opportunity to bless others and make a genuine difference in their lives. This course takes you step by step through the process, and then guides you towards publishing, if that is your goal.
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