Spiritual Breakthroughs from the Ending Year

A seagull is silhouetted against the sun at dawn during a partial solar eclipse on Guadalmar Beach in Malaga, Spain, Jan. 4. The partial eclipse was visible near sunrise over most of Europe and northeastern Asia. (CNS photo/Jon Nazca, Reuters) (Jan. 5, 2 011)

What were your spiritual breakthroughs this year? As you look back on 2014, what did you learn about the spiritual life, about your Christian faith, about discipleship, that you hadn't known or fully appreciated? What insight from this past year can you share with readers? What books or articles aided these realizations? 

I'll start by offering one insight from my experience. For me, the latter part of 2014 reminded me that I cannot go into prayer as a conjurer, as if pious phrases coupled with good intentions will lead, formulaically, to the answer I want to hear. I know these truths intellectually, but in tormented moments I find myself falling into the habit of thinking that my "success" in prayer will be affected by the rigor of my emotional investment and the depth of my phrasing. If I say it more seriously, He will be more interested. 


God remains God. Though he is imminent, this past year reminded me of his magnificent transcendence. This past year reminded me that I have no power to call upon God like a valet. Steeped in a tradition -- the Ignatian tradition -- that emphasizes "God in all things," this year I have thought more frequently, at times delightfully, of God's incomprehensibility. And in times of painful honesty, I am grateful to know I cannot summon God as immediately as I sometimes wish. For what kind of God would that be? And would I even want that power?  

Feeling God's absence forces me to re-examine what I've prayed for. The silence is a response, a question: Is this particular cause or petition really in the best interest of myself, of others, of the world? Is it truly ad majorem dei gloriam? Sometimes I notice that I have come to God like some patients now come to doctors: telling him what to prescribe. Just do this and that, God, and I'll be okay. But in the quiet space of a seemingly unanswered prayer, I recall that God's expertise sees things that I never will. Sometimes it's hard to admit, often frustrating. But if I notice my own thoughts, and acknowledge my own limitations, there is a freedom to be human, a freedom to not-know, a chance to be divinely surprised.

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Bruce Snowden
4 years ago
Hi Mr. Emerson, "Spiritual breakthroughs" in 2014? Well, Holy Father Francis likes to call God, "a God of Surprises!" Even a hurried look through Revelation confirms this, glimpsing the people, most unlikely people with whom God chose to work out human salvation. Speaking at least for myself, see what a messy lot we are, yet individually and collectively offered enthronement above the stars, and according to one of the "messy ones" become a Gentilian Light, Paul, we are offered a share in Divine Life, "partakers" he tells us That's an aspect of the essence of the 2014 breakthrough that I tried to lock into, just as I have been doing all my eightythree years of life and plan to continue this year as well, and beyond until the "chariot" arrives, surprise after painful surprise! Sinless man that he was, how surprised Jesus in his humanity must have been at what happened to him, what a surprise the God of Surprises had in store for him! This predictability is teaching me trust and so I guess that's the real 2014 breakthrough in my life - learning to trust God. Happy New Year!
Anne Chapman
4 years ago
Happy New Year, Matt, and may God bless you and your wife as you begin your journey together in marriage. The major spiritual breakthrough of my life occurred more than 14 years ago, in June 2000. Since then, I find that I have to periodically rediscover that breakthrough, because the busyness of life, the chattering words in my head and in my life, lead me away sometimes, I return to the same old pattern of sins I thought I had finally conquered, and I have to start all over again. In June 2000, I learned that prayer is not about words - at least not about my words - it's about listening. In June of 2000 I learned about silence, I learned about Centering Prayer. I practiced CP faithfully for years - every day and it was transformational. But then, after many years, I lapsed. Slowly I returned to my former ways, forgetting to love. I forgot that I am not in control, but that God is, and that we can trust God. So I lost some peace and serenity., I forgot how to surrender. So now I am starting again, to re-learn again that I must make time to sit in silence, to listen to what God is saying. I don't need to say anything at all. God knows all the words in our minds, hearts, and souls. God knows all of our needs, all of our desires, all of our joys and all of our sorrows, our strengths and our sins. So we have to stop the unceasing flow of words, especially the ceaseless "chattering monkeys" in our minds, in order to hear what God is saying. There are many wonderful books/spiritual writers where anyone can learn more and to inspire faithfulness to the practice of silence. Julian of Norwich, The Cloud of Unknowing, Merton, Thomas Keating, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Evelyn Underhill, Richard Rohr, Anthony Demello. I often read before centering, reflecting on what I read, even though when centering I try to leave words behind and sit in silence to hear God. It is also helpful to find a CP group. Each is different, and a newcomer to CP may need to visit a few before finding a natural fit. The groups are mostly ecumenical and are hosted mostly by Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches. More information is available at Contemplative Outreach. http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/ A drop-down menu under the "Community" heading provides a limited directory of groups. Sometimes there are others that haven't been included yet. I have found that you can look at church websites or even google "centering prayer" and the city or town name together. Richard Rohr sometimes begins his talks with an adaptation of Psalm 46:10Be still, and know that I am God Be still, and know that I am Be still, and know Be still.


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