HANGING OUT WITH GOD
HANGING OUT WITH GOD
How to Pray Without Ceasing
Friends asked me where I’d been. “I’ve been hanging out with God,” I casually replied. Some looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. Others weren’t surprised. My house is filled with crucifixes, religious art, and a priest’s robe. One bravely said, “Tell me more.”
A year ago I wrote a book, The Inspired Life, which suggests that connection to your self, others, and your higher power—along with contribution—creates richer, more meaningful lives. Since writing the book, I’ve worked hard to walk my talk. While recently studying how to strengthen my connection with my higher power, I rediscovered the phrase “pray without ceasing.” I became obsessed.
I love the concept of creating a continuous connection with God, but is it even possible, and if so—how? I decided to find out.
I didn’t remember much about the Bible, but I did remember that the phrase “pray without ceasing” comes from Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:17). When I was a kid my mother used to read me the Bible every morning before school while I waited for the carpool. In the course of one year, we read all of Paul’s letters.
When Paul commanded that we pray without ceasing, I assume he wasn’t suggesting that we go through the day with head bowed and on bended knee; instead, he was referring to having a continuous conversation with God. To do this I would have to maintain a split focus; I’d have to keep one eye on God, and the other on the world. Otherwise, how could I get through the day?
I had a good idea of what Paul meant by praying without ceasing. Now I wanted to know how to do it, but before I could explore I had to answer two crucial questions:
1. What is my concept of God or divinity? (If I’m going to pray without ceasing, just what or who am I praying to?)
2. How do I experience God? (In order to be in union with the Divine, I needed to identify how I experience the God.)
It stands to reason that much of our relationship with God hinges on how we perceive Him-Her-We-It. So what is my concept of God or divinity? This was a tough question to answer.
Sometimes my god is Zeus-like; at other times he’s the Sunday school benevolent Father with a flowing white beard perched on a puffy white cloud. In other versions, God becomes bosomy Mother Earth or the all-powerful Great Goddess. And sometimes, God is the wind or the love I feel when a beloved friend walks into the room.
I believe my divinity resides within, but that’s not its exclusive domain. Divinity is everywhere—in all the people I encounter, and in the physical world I live in. It permeates everything and everyone. It’s in all I feel, hear, smell, taste, and see. Everything is energy, and all energy is God. But God is so much more than energy. God is mystery.
My theology isn’t crystal clear. The best I’ve been able to come up with so far is based on Ken Wilbur’s work. Wilbur talks about the three faces of God. I believe the three faces are: I-Am, I-Thou, and We-Are.
The “I-Am God” is the god within each of us, or our highest self. The “I-Thou God” is the god “up or out there.” He’s the benevolent Father, Divine Order, or the collective unconscious. Finally, the “We-Are God” is the energy that forms everything. It’s the web of life, and it personifies the universal truth that “we are all one.”
Now that I’d articulated my concept of the Divine, I was ready to answer the second question, “How do I experience God?”
I’m learning that we experience God differently. One article I read suggested that we experience God in one of five ways:
Contemplative Style. The Apostle John, Brother Lawrence, and Henri Nouwen exemplified this choice. People choosing this style enjoy silence and solitude. They spend a lot of time in prayer, worship, and meditation.
Intellectual Style. The Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, and C. S. Lewis most likely subscribed to this style. People like them enjoy reading and studying God’s word. They seek “substance” and theology.
Serving Style. Mother Teresa, John Wesley, and William Booth (The Salvation Army) were examples of those who prefer this style. Individuals who embrace this style feel closest to God through service. They are people of action.
Relational Style. Billy and Franklin Graham may be examples of the relationship style. People who follow this style prefer to worship in community.
Charismatic Style. Those religious leaders who consider themselves “healers” are members of the charismatic style. Edgar Cayce, Saint Theresa, and Saint Catherine are examples. This group experiences God through supernatural experiences including prophecy, visions and dreams, speaking in tongues, or miraculous healings.
I found no shortage of theories and models on how we experience God. One expert, Peter Tufts Richardson, even linked the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator to four spiritual types.
Regardless of which theory or model we choose, we can have more than one style. As a trainer and coach, I identify with the contemplative and serving styles.
My friend Kathy favors the charismatic styles. For the past nine months, she has been spending time each morning in what she calls “God time.” While in intense prayer and deep meditation, Kathy has experienced the extraordinary, including visions and unusual body sensations. I’m a little envious.
Burning Bush Wanted
Although I know intellectually that no one way of relating to God is better than another, I long for a more dramatic way to experience God.
One day, I decided to journal about it in the form of a dialogue with my higher power.
Author Neale Donald Walsch made this practice popular when he wrote nine books, Conversations with God, as a dialogue in which he asked God questions and God answered.
When I dialogue, I write or type as fast as I can, and I’m careful not to edit my thinking. Whatever pops into my head goes on the paper. When I am finished, I’m often surprised at the wisdom I find.
Here’s how my dialogue went:
R: I’ve been seeking a supernatural experience. I’ve been looking for a burning bush.
Higher Power (HP): You’ve been seeking proof because you are in your head. The only proof you need is in your heart. Do you believe that what you’re writing is from me?
HP: Then you have no need for a sign. Faith doesn’t require it. Even if I were to send a sign, you would rationalize it away. Randy, I’ve sent signs—many of them, in fact—and you’ve just rationalized them away. Now, faith is called for. Do you have faith?
R: Yes, but I guess what I really want is to be singled out. I want to be special. Not everyone gets to see a burning bush.
HP: All of humanity is called, but only those who heed the call are singled out. They will be of service.
R: I’ve got goosebumps.
HP: That’s because it’s a truth. (Laughs) Goosebumps? Could that be a sign? Find faith,
Randy. Be open.
The dialogue was over. I am learning that I never have to go far in search of God. He-She-We-It is always there. I only have to become open.
“The process of opening up is essential to any notion of a spiritual life,” writes journalist and author Jon Katz. “You open and open and open…then you open again. To love. To friendship. To teachers and learning. To safety. To new experience. To growth and to change. To the reality of your life, and your place in the world. To changing the story of your life, if necessary. To trust. To safety. To faith. To intimacy. To responsibility.”
I shared my new insight with Kathy. Her response surprised me.
Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary
“With the visions and sensory experiences, I’ve found that I have incredible highs, but I also have incredible lows,” she shared. “These ecstatic experiences can be like a drug—it’s easy to get hooked on the high. An ecstatic experience is no better than a quiet, gentle, or calm one. Anyone can feel connected to God when having a vision, but few can find communion with the Divine when doing something as simple as driving to work.”
She continued. “The real revelation has been that when I’m infused with God the ordinary becomes extraordinary.”
I knew just what she meant. I, too, found that during the times I was an open channel with the Divine—from having coffee with a dear friend to walking in my neighborhood—everything became special. The ordinary became extraordinary, because at those times I became filled with intense emotions such as gratitude, joy, awe, and love.
I was ready to tackle the third and biggest question: How do I pray without ceasing?
How to Pray without Ceasing
Once again, I picked up my journal and began to dialogue with my higher power. The dialogue went like this:
R: How do I pray without ceasing?
HP: It’s not that difficult. You simply have to tune into the right station. You need to put your focus on me.
R: I get so busy I forget.
HP: Yes, you are human. Let me ask you this: how do you know that you are connected with the Divine?
R: I get goosebumps.
HP: You experienced that just a few minutes ago, didn’t you?
HP: What were you doing?
R: I was just being present—present to Presence. Is it that simple?
HP: Most great truths are. Love, awe, and gratitude are pathways to the Divine, but know this: I am available to you every moment of every day. You don’t have to do anything special, only be present to Presence. Every time you are in the moment—truly in the moment—I am here.
With this, the dialogue ended.
I am learning that there are many pathways to the Divine, including love, awe, gratitude, peace, even pain. These pathways also amplify my connection to God. But of all the ways to access God, I’ve found none stronger than simply becoming present. When I am present, I am in the “Presence.” The reverse is also true: when I am in the “Presence,” I am present.
When I am present, I am in communication with God, but how can I stay in continuous communication? That seems like a tall order. I ask myself: What are things I do without ceasing? I breathe, think, and feel. This means that when I become present to Presence, every breath, thought, and sensation has the potential to become a prayer. What a lovely thought. When I pray without ceasing, my life becomes a prayer.
Life as a Prayer
I’ve been wondering what it would be like to live life as a prayer. If I stayed in uninterrupted conversation with God, how different would life be? My priorities would shift. I would operate from my highest intentions. I would be kinder and more considerate and generous. I would be constantly grateful. My mind would rest; my heart would be at peace. I’d become one with the river of love that flows through every living thing.
I began another dialogue with my higher power.
R: If life was a prayer, you’d be with me always.
HP: And what makes you think that I’m not? I am with you now. I am with you always. I am you, and you are me.
R: If my life was a prayer, I’d be my best self; I’d live my best life.
HP: Some days you would; others you would not. You’d stand on the mountain top and lie in the valley.
If your life was a prayer, you might leave this world; your feet may not be firmly planted on the ground.
You’d not be with others; your heart might never expand.
If your life was a prayer, where would service be? Action must have its place.
Lift your hands to the heavens, but plant your feet solidly on the ground.
Be with others and be of service, but above all stop, be silent, and be still.
Be still and know I am.
Be still and know you are.
Be still and know we are here together.
Do this and you’ll pray without ceasing.
The dialogue ended.
Thanks to research, introspection, and dialogues, I have a better understanding of what it means to pray without ceasing—and yet I know I have much to learn. I’ve been putting what I’ve learned to work, and I have to admit that I slip a good bit. I get absorbed in a project, or my mind shifts from the present to the future or past. But when I’m successful, I’m the happiest. I am filled with peace, awe, gratitude, and love. The ordinary becomes extraordinary. I know that if I stick with it, I will get better, and I’ll forge an even stronger relationship with my god.
Randy Siegel helps individuals “stand in their power” by discovering their power, passion, and purpose. Visit his website at http://www.YourInternalGPS.com and subscribe to his complementary monthly e-Newsletter.