Almana Ger Yatom

Widows, Strangers, Orphans: Journeying with the Poor

when the soul is awake


someone came to me one time and said, if we have the Holy Spirit, do we need to do silent retreat or have solitude?

in psychology, some people are called oblivious, meaning they have no awareness of what is going on inside them or around them. they do not know they are angry for example. it will not help people if they have the Holy Spirit but their souls are asleep.

this is a natural human capacity given to us by divine design, that we are able to shut off certain stimulus, become blind, and not feel nor see. it can vary in degrees. some are more oblivious than others. this narrowing of perception is needed for survival, it is a defense mechanism. for the less we notice, the more manageable life gets.

what is the use of the Holy Spirit when a person is oblivious? many do not know that what they are giving out in their ministry is actually their false self – their restlessness and drivenness, and not the Holy Spirit.

if we are to love, we need to see everything. self-protection is opposite to loving. love will always be dangerous and will require us to give until we die. death is called for in the biblical understanding of love. we are even called to love our enemies.

it takes great spiritual discipline to notice the Holy Spirit, much more, to let the Holy Spirit control us (do not be drunk with wine but be controlled by the Holy Spirit).

my wife asked me why often when she practices the lectio or divine office, God seem always not there no matter how hard she tries. the spiritual disciplines do not in themselves make God to appear, of course not. it is no magic and we cannot control God. if he appears or does not appear, it is up to him. he has to be God.

the spiritual discipline counter acts our restlessness and drivenness. we make our selves too busy and too noisy so we notice less. the spiritual disciplines does the opposite. it makes us attentive to God`s presence and also to others around us.

solitude helps us to be present. we need to be present to love people. it is sad that few people know that the way we relate with people is also the way we related with God. if our relationships are bad, then our relationship with God cannot be better.

there is this popular story worth repeating. a man sought training in a respected buddhist monastery, to become a monk. he studied under the master monk. for years , he did the spiritual disciplines like meditating, praying, fasting, giving alms, etc. one day, seated yoga like on top of a big boulder, he saw his master pass by and he called out, “Master, how can i attain enlightenment?”

the ultimate goal of buddhism is enlightenment. His master replied, “you cannot attain enlightenment.” the student was shocked. He said, so what is the use of all these spiritual disciplines, the fasting, the contemplation, the prayers, etc. that i have been doing for 20 years?”
the master replied,” it is so that when the sun sets or when the sun rises, you are awake.”

most of the time, our experience of God is on hindsight, in the past tense. He has already passed and we noticed Him only as an after thought. there are rare moments when the epiphany is in the actual moment but it is rare, meaning we know He is there at the moment. many times, we see God only after He has disappeared.

in the ignatian method, students are even encouraged to keep going back to the experience, to savor the moment again, to relive it.

we do not strain during the lectio to make God appear. When he does appear, it is often noticed after. that’s when we say, “wasn’t that God?” when we receive a blessing, after a moment, we look back as though expecting God to still be standing there we we were moments ago.

the spiritual disciplines train our souls to be awake so when God finally appears, we are awake, meaning, we are paying attention.

it is not just because we are noisy and busy that we fail to abide in God. It is also our being so fragmented, so cognitive that the Word is reduced to a text and becomes just an idea. Spirituality is always an experience because love is a relationship.

one beautiful story is about the famous catholic priest Henri Nouwen. he was taking care of a mentally challenged person that time and in an unguarded moment he showed his impatience or anger. his ward noticed and said, “you say you are a priest and you say you pray, why do you behave so?”

Nouwen’s answer is classic. He said, “how much more if i do not pray?”

our spirituality definitely is not ours, we do not own it. at the moment we step away from attending to the presence of God, at that moment we also begin to lose our spirituality which means we need to constantly keep going back to the presence of God. it must be a constant experience like the book of brother lawrence, Practicing the Presence of God.

even if it is true that we have the Holy Spirit, the bible still urges us to be filled constantly, at every moment with the Holy Spirit. it is not a permanent condition. the Holy Spirit is a permanent resident but not always in control of us. we are often busy and noisy and thus, unaware of the Holy Spirit.

when we pray, mostly we dictate to God instead of seeking His will. i have asked some pastors which is easier to do, fast on food, refrain from eating, or be silent, refrain from busyness and noise? when we do silent retreat, we do not talk for at least three days. we do not use our cellphone, laptop and musical devices. we do not read, even the bible, we do not sing, even worship songs. we do not write. we just listen, rest, wait and be silent. at the start, it will feel like hell. all demons inside of us will break lose.

the first thing silent retreat will do to us is to make us see what our busyness and noise is hiding. we begin to notice things we did not want to notice. only when we see our restlessness and drivenness can we begin to control it. it is the first step in letting the Holy Spirit begin to lead us, control us.

the clearest sign of His presence is His peace. Peace is included in all blessings. Jesus gave it to us many times after he resurrected. we cannot really see God but at most we can see the outer layer of

His Person which is Peace.

the more we do the spiritual disciplines like solitude,the more familiar we become of this peace and when we see it or experience it later, we are almost certain He is there.

Peace is often how we know He is guiding us, that what we are doing is His will.

In that peace, we minister the Holy Spirit to others and less our restlessness and drivenness. it takes time for our soul to become awake and to notice and to attend.

This is perhaps the most misunderstood part of solitude, that we center it on peace as most contemplative would teach it but in reality, as we embrace that peace, or as we sit still before Him, what happens is we are embraced by His love.

it is love that is the ultimate peace. when we are truly loved, we lose all our enemies (Jesus said, love your enemies). When we are truly loved, failure cannot break us. When we are truly loved, no prison can bind us, no oppressor can triumph over us (for love is stronger than death).

when people say God is silent or distant, the truth is really, they are noisy and busy. it is we who are distant and oblivious. God is always present, near and never silent.

the same friend who asked me if she needed solitude asked me finally if this silent retreat has really made a difference in my life, has it made me more intimate with God.

of course. there is a big difference coming to God in our false selves. intimacy can only happen when we become our true selves. only when we become real can God finally touch us. the child who is always talking, always noisy, always running around and never paying attention to his Father, can never know His love.

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