Episode:The Contemplative Life (Part 1)

From Symmetry of Soul

We investigate what The Urantia Book teaches about communion, prayer, meditation, and worship, and how these disciplines intersect with our quest for personal and social evolution. This week co-host James Woodward will launch our Fall program with an overview of spiritual practice.

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Keywords: Contemplative Life, Effective Prayer, Spiritual Growth

Note: James Woodward, one of our co-hosts, led the discussion in this episode. Gard Jameson, a long-standing advocate of contemplative practice, called in at minute 72.

Summary by Brad

On a need for the contemplative life

James testifies that with no particularly spiritual upbringing, he read The Urantia Book for over 20 years with no form of regular spiritual practice in his life. He suspects he is not alone among Urantia Book readers, who often seem to have rejected all rituals in a reactionary way. But establishing a daily practice has made all the difference for him, call it what you wish (communing, worship, prayer, etc). James makes this appeal: "If you're out there reading The Urantia Book and find yourself impressed by it but not finding a way to tap into the personal spiritual experience of communing with our Creator (as I once was), I really encourage you to find a way to do that."

Jesus made it clear this was a required, not optional, discipline for his apostles.

Chris notes the distinction between ingesting the 5th ER and digesting the 5th ER. Are you merely reading it, or are you making it an active and living phenomenon in and through you? Are you being engaged by a book and its mere words, or by the revelators (the authors of this book, who are real persons)? Are you a towering intellect that can quote the Urantia Papers at length yet keep it at arms' length as a purely intellectual exercise? Aim higher. "Even now you should learn to water the garden of your heart as well as to seek for the dry sands of knowledge." (emphasis added) [48:6.32]

Chris keys off of the word heart to reflect on the precision of language in the 5th ER. Is there a difference between the mind and heart? Sure is! Note also the same root of the words contemplation and temple. What we are called to do is enter the temple within (the heart), commune there with the Father, and make this inner temple our reference point. Only there can you even see the cosmos or commune with the Father. This is where you can stand on the rock of the Upholder. a place you are given as a free gift by the Mother. Better to plant your feet there than on the "sands of self."

Another masterful use of language: the word temple in the 5th ER, and how words like contemplation play off of it. Notice how a "moronita temple" is a place of "silent cosmic contemplation." [55:1.4]. Notice the first use of the word "contemplation" in Part IV is exactly in and around Jesus' visit to the Jerusalem temple as a child. That is conscious, consummate craftsmanship of language. Can you feel an impulse to enter your own personal temple within, one akin to a moronita temple, or the most famous and hallowed temple in the Judeo-Christian tradition? Seek first the temple within; seek first the kingdom of heaven.

The form of meditation we're describing here is when you are in that place of the temple within. It is a place of calm, compared to the "choppy seas" of the subjective mind of the material, animal-origin self. It's a place where the "ego" of self is out of the way. It's a place where true intuition can be in play instead of mere lower-domain-of-mind thinking and rationalization. You are there just to be there, not to figure something out. It is not a place of fervent emotion. And keep the self out of the temple within. Make it a place of contemplation, not self-contemplation, for "Self-contemplation is most disastrous." [53:1.3]

A moment of deliberate silence (a minute or two) at the beginning and end of group study sessions is useful, even essential. Chris explains, "This is where I'm taking a moment to deliberately put myself in the temple, even if my day was intense. It's always calm in the temple. I think, question, and answer from this place. I'm in a self-forgetting mode the entire time. This is essential to strike step with the revelators."

"Our egos do not have the power to heal the woundedness of a lifetime. Only God does," says Gard Jameson when he called in. He added that Pope John Paul II, just before he died, said contemplative practice is the most important thing Christians must be doing. "Abide in the center," says Lao-tse. This is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

On levels of meaning

Your genetics and temperament may incline you to certain forms of prayer and worship. James suggests it's "a balance between mind and heart." Chris challenges James' interpretation by invoking the levels of meaning, suggesting this is a false dichotomy between the level of flesh and level of feelings.

In reality, there are levels above the level of feelings (recognition, realization, appreciation, and love). True mindedness is one level above feelings, not the level of the flesh below feelings. The true heart (the upper domain in the hourglass analogy of mind) is the 4th, 5th, and 6th levels of meaning. This domain is a place where the word "love" can be used by the revelators without cringing. James proposes this is an "inward" journey more than an upward journey, and Chris replies that it's upward past the 3rd level of meaning, and then an inward journey from the 4th level and above.

Many people become addicted to the emotional high of a so-called "religious experience" on the level of feelings—emotionalism is neither spiritual nor religious. Bizarre mindal states are not "in the spirit," they are the antithesis of the symmetric form of mind needed to go upward to genuine spirit. "You can go a million miles sideways, and you haven't moved a nanometer up," concludes Chris.

On prayer, worship, and magic

Ann recounted that [143:7] was the first section she ever studied in depth because she sought to deeply answer "What is the difference between prayer and worship?"

There's no such thing as magic is a clear theme in the 5th ER. Prayer for some material outcome is asking for magic—seeking to adjust Deity to the conditions at hand. You can ask for anything, but the answer may be "no" or "later." Or a changed attitude. You may become frustrated with prayer-as-magic, but true prayer will never frustrate you.

Are set, repetitive, rote prayers acceptable? Well, we are given a few in the Urantia Papers. They can be a useful technique for group prayer. But we are cautioned they can be more like a magical incantation old wineskin, and therefore a detriment to our private prayer life they are seeking to uplift our concept of. It seems they are helpful or harmful dependent on the motive of the prayer:

  • If the motive is to free and quiet the mind with no words to attract attention for parsing their meaning, and there is no magic presumed, there's little to no trouble afoot. Such an utterance may be akin to singing a hymn or reciting a psalm simply as a calming measure to set the self aside.
  • If the motive is to presume to compel God to do something for you, and the foreign tongue feels more powerful or as if it will be better at compelling God, then this is a primitive shamanistic practice the 5th ER is clearly cautioning us we ought to leave in the past (except for the young child who will inevitably recapitulate this primitive modality for awhile in their life)

On mystery, mysticism, and overmuch isolation

Chris suggests "contemplation of the mystical" as a less problematic phrase than mysticism, given how dicey isms can be. He notes these excerpts from the 5th ER as evidence of the dangers of mysticism:

  • "Mysticism, as the technique of the cultivation of the consciousness of the presence of God, is altogether praiseworthy, but when such practices lead to social isolation and culminate in religious fanaticism, they are all but reprehensible." [91:7.1]
  • "When prayer...consists almost exclusively in beautiful and blissful contemplation of paradisiacal divinity, it...tends toward mysticism and the isolation of its devotees." [91:7.13]
  • "Religion is born neither of mystic meditations nor of isolated contemplations..." [101:1.5]

Ergo, there's a bright line somewhere in here we should not cross. Why? Because we don't need a substitute for God. We have God in the temple within! Any ism (an ideology) can easily become a substitute for God, a false idol in our minds we begin worship as if it were God.