I am excited to share my review of Mindful Silence: The Heart of Christian Contemplation by Phileena Heuertz.
Phileena Heuertz is a founding partner of Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism. For nearly twenty years she and her husband, Chris, codirected an international nonprofit in more than seventy countries, building community among victims of human trafficking, survivors of HIV and AIDS, abandoned children, and child soldiers and war brides.
Spiritual director, yoga instructor, public speaker, retreat guide, and author, Phileena is passionate about spirituality and making the world a better place. She gives workshops and retreats for various communities and spiritual direction for individuals.
In addition, she is sought after as a speaker at universities, seminaries, and conferences such as Q, Catalyst, Urbana, and the Center for Action and Contemplation.
Phileena begins her book with:
“So, come with me as we explore these touchstones of contemplative spirituality: Withdrawing to Engage, Finding Liberation by Discernment, Discovering Darkness Is Light, Exploring a Deep Well, Dying for Life, Unknowing to Know.” Phileena explores these topics in six different chapters.
“You’ll be guided and supported not only by me but by these prominent wisdom teachers within the Christian tradition: Thomas Merton, Ignatius of Loyola, John of the Cross, Clare of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and the fourteenth-century anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing.” Each chapter includes a wise past or more contemporary guide for your journey.
“Let me encourage you to engage in each of the practices at the end of the chapters: breath prayer, the prayer of examen, lectio divina, labyrinth, the welcoming prayer, and centering prayer.” At the conclusion of each chapter a contemplative practice is presented for the reader to learn and further explore.
Let me share eight key points that I pulled from this wonderful book.
“Remember, the contemplative tradition has one main objective: the deconstruction of the self.”
“Who are you? What external forces shape your identity? In what ways do you feel trapped inside a self that’s not the truest you?”
“This is where the greatest meaning in life is found—in the freedom to let go of who we think we are. When we let go, we are brought into alignment with the divine will, so that in union with God we might make the world a better place.”
Who are you? We are not our thoughts. We are not who our families, friends, community and employers tell you us we are. Something wonderful happens when we continue a daily contemplative practice. We let go of who we think we are and who we think we need to be. We rest in the rest of God. We let God shape and mold us into the person God intends us to be: our true self.
Loved, Safe, No Need To Fear
“Like many good-hearted religious people of Jesus’ day, we too often fail to get the good news that Jesus is trying to communicate—essentially, that we are loved, safe, and have no need to fear.”
God unconditionally loves us. Unfortunately, too many people do not believe this. The thought of sitting in silence with God is terrifying. It is in the silence that many painful thoughts deep within us begin to flow out. If we give it time, this same silence that once terrified us can become a silence that fills us with God’s love. (God’s love was always within us, we just did not realize it.) We begin to feel more and more God’s beloved child.
Contemplative Prayer And Social Action
“Contemplative prayer and social action must go hand in hand for effective social change. Otherwise our social action will too often end up being our imperfect will imposed on the world.”
“In time, by withdrawing a few times a day for contemplative prayer, I realized that solitude was not a disconnection from the rest of the world but instead a necessary recalibration for more meaningful connection with the world.”
“Over time, as we engage in contemplative practice, we become less self-absorbed and able to be of greater service to others.”
We need a balance of prayer and action. Our times of prayer prepare us for our times of action. Silence teaches us who we are. Silence provides inner wisdom. Silence teaches us when to be silent and when to take no action. (Did you ever later regret something you said or did?) Silence teaches us that sometimes someone else, not us, is better suited for the action.
“When we are rooted in the ground of being and aligned with the heart of existence, there’s a different source of energy flowing through us.”
“Through contemplative prayer we get in the flow of what God is already doing in and through us. It’s less about our effort and more about our alignment with the divine.”
“When we’re grounded in love we are less likely to burn out, because love is directing our action, rather than unconscious, distorted motivations.”
It is a paradox. We do not need to work harder to get more done. I have found that silence teaches me how to work with a calm intensity and at the same time be even more productive. Silence seems to gift me with wisdom for my daily tasks.
“Consider whatever physical, emotional, or mental challenges you may be facing, and let go of being in control. It’s not about being perfectly well or perfectly physically fit. God is at work in you and through you—even in your limitations. All that is required of you is cooperation with what is.”
We must cooperate with God where we are at. In mid December, I began to experience pains in my hip, lower back and down my right leg into my foot. I went to the Chiropractor. There was no improvement. I went to an orthopedic doctor. The doctor prescribed a dose of steroids and sent me to physical therapy. Finally, some 2 1/2 months later I feel better. The pain has dissipated. The lesson I learned was that I must continue with my life. As Phileena mentions I found that God continued to work in and through me and I continued to cooperate with what was my situation.
“Gradually, through the mysterious season of darkness, God excavates our interior landscape, uprooting the layers of imperfections that keep us from fully cooperating with God in our world.”
At one time or another you will probably experience a dark night of the soul. It is during this time that you will be challenged to operate by pure faith. You must continue to come back to your silent sit despite a feeling that God is absent. God is not absent and is still at work within you!
“I am resolved to be free of fear, to be unafraid. To boldly and humbly live this one wild and precious life I’ve been given.”
“You are stronger and more resilient than you realize.”
Silence transforms us! Silence teaches me that even if I am afraid, I still need to take action and move forward. My barometer is if it excites me and it is an action that will not harm me or others, then I should move forward. Fear is never a reason not to move out of my comfort zone. This is how I grow. This is how I continue to become the person God intends me to be.
“The more of us who commit to the contemplative path—the path of seeing, observing, and taking responsibility for our life through meditative practice—the more possible it will be to experience God’s presence in the center of our being. From that center, we can build the world we all want to live in.”
The contemplative path helps us open to and connect with the presence of God within. We rest in the rest of God’s love and naturally want to take this love into the world and serve others. When we do this, we continue to make the world a better place to live in for everyone.
I encourage you to check out Phileena’s book, Mindful Silence!
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Contemplative Light offers courses on contemplative practices (Christian Meditation, Centering Prayer, The Examen, Lectio Divina, The Jesus Prayer), the Christian mystics (ancient and current) and spiritual writing. Peruse their wonderful offerings.
Contemplative Discernment by Fr. Carl Arico, Pamela Begeman, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler: A contemplative practice of discernment is not about decision-making, although this may be an eventual outcome. Rather, contemplative discernment is receptive in nature, a process of opening to receive clues about who we are in God. We focus on ever-deepening levels of relationship and trust in God’s will for us. We learn how to listen deeply to our motivations and sort through and purify any mixed motivations. As this relationship deepens, we learn to allow the love of God to motivate our actions and manifest through us. We discover what it means to truly pray “not my will, but Thy will.”
Embracing Living: The Welcoming Prayer by Contemplative Outreach, Mary Dwyer, Therese Saulnier, Cherry Haisten, Jim McElroy: The Welcoming Prayer is a method of consenting to God’s presence and action in our physical and emotional reactions to events and situations in daily life. If Centering Prayer (or another daily prayer) is practiced for one hour of the day, the Welcoming Prayer is for the other 23 hours. It is a “letting go” in the present moment, in the midst of the activity of ordinary life.
Practicing the Presence of God by Pamela Begeman, Mary Ann Brussat, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, David Frenette: We live in a world of complexity, fragmentation, noise, and haste. We sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of tasks, appointments, and commitments facing us. How can we experience God in the midst of the busyness, responsibilities, and activities of our daily lives? By practice. By living more in the present moment. By practicing the presence of God in the present moment.
Drawing from the wisdom of monastic life, modern psychology and best practices in personal productivity, the Monk Manual provides a daily system that will help you find clarity, purpose, wisdom, and peace in the moments that make up your life.
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