Whether or not we are conscious of it, and unless we explicitly reject any notion of it, we are fellow travelers on the spiritual journey of our life. This journey involves penetrating questions like who am I and what is my life really all about. Spiritual notions of depth. These inner issues are difficult to grasp and hard to express. The core of the journey revolves around the notion of conversion: what the Gospel calls metanoia, an invitation to a radical change in the way we see our life and the direction in which it ought to go. In Prison Contemplative Fellowship circles, it is described as the movement from relating to God as outside of ourselves to finding God dwelling within us. A God outside of us is the God that requires, first and foremost, our obedience and loyalty. The God we discover within is the God that invites us to wordless, personal intimacy. Progress in this spiritual conversion depends on individual abilities we already possess: a reflective inner experience, a supportive circle of fellow travelers, and the use of music and story to show us our inner terrain.
Practitioners of contemplative prayer become routinely familiar with the stream of narrative constantly playing in the background of our minds. This is the constant stream of judgment, stereotype thinking, prejudice, and ignorance. It is the stuff of contemplative prayer that teaches us we are not our thoughts and judgments. We learn there is another ‘me’ inside that is separate from these thoughts.
This notion of a separate ‘me’ inside is supported whenever we sit in the Circle of Contemplative Fellowship. The circle can be an actual gathering, like the one at Folsom prison, or a gathering in some other form. Reading particular wisdom teachers invites us into their ‘circle’. Reading this blog invites us into a cyber-circle of like-minded, interested persons. We learn that although I am unique in the world, and have my own distinct, individual relationship with the Divine, still I am with fellow travelers who experience similar inner realities. Their stories and insights support my journey. Without them, I flounder, lose my bearings and direction. Our circle becomes integral to our progress. We share our ‘story’ in the Circle, and witness the change in our notion of who is actually ‘brother and sister’. Often these notions are beyond race and religion.
Since our inner experience is below words, inspiring music and story helps us grasp the enormity of our personal conversion. We sense the depths and drama of music that bypasses our intellect to allow us to ‘feel’ birth, or death, or suffering, or resurrection in a part of ourselves separate from our brains.
We can listen with new ears to the stories and narratives of spiritual masters who down through the centuries have trod these paths before us and left us their considered wisdom. For those with a Christian background, Jesus of Nazareth, the ‘Jesus before Christianity’, becomes the prime interpreter of our inner experience of the ‘presence and action’ of the God Within. His are not new commandments we need to add to the list. Rather his stories are a simple means of explaining the transformations going on in the depths of our being.
I invite you into this experiment of finding a cyber circle, as a way to expand the transforming experience I have witnessed in the prison circle where we grapple with the notions of who we are, who God is, and how God lives in us.