With the incredible popularity of the book (and now the movie) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, many would-be prayer dropouts are seeking an experience of God. In their dialogue in the most recent issue of Conversations, Dr. David Benner and Dr. Gary Moon offer a conversation around Benner’s book “Opening to God” that would have saved Elizabeth Gilbert time, money and the flood of inoculations that are required for traveling to India and Indonesia.
Benner is transparent when he states, “My experience of that openness is far from constant… the moments when I have known this openness are rarer than I’d like, but they leave a taste I can never forget.”
Elizabeth Gilbert ate her way through Italy and ended up buying larger jeans to accommodate her ravenous appetite for all things Italian. In Benner’s dialogue on the impact of the feeling of alignment with God the wholeness and the sense of belonging he declares, “Like any taste of God, it leaves me hungering for more.” I read eagerly yet meditatively, being reminded of my own moments of sheer delight in God and God’s presence.
It is indeed those rare moments that leave you hungry for more of God. Like a great meal that you don’t want to destroy by brushing your teeth afterwards, you just want to savor the flavor. We do become “spoiled for any lesser goods, any lesser gods.” These moments—while perhaps rare—linger in my heart and establish a longing that only time and space with God, as provided in the practice of contemplative prayer, can satisfy.
The assertion by Benner that each of us has our own natural language of prayer is akin to noticing that each of us have our own food preferences and the consolation we seek from those special favorites. Just as those favorite foods bring comfort, in our own natural focus of prayer there is communion. Dr. Benner suggests that this communion begin in stillness and silence—that words are not needed but rather a willingness to cultivate attentiveness, to be fully present in the moment. He suggests that if there is a goal it is not learning to pray but learning to be.
Learning to be is central. In the being I come to recognize my hunger for God and likewise my malnourishment. In the being I can hear my spiritual stomach growling. Spiritual practices like lectio divina and the Prayer of Examen are best digested a bit each day. I find that there are times in my life when in my busyness I forget to eat. I usually don’t realize how long its been since my last meal until a hunger headache or emotional outburst that seems way out of proportion to the situation alerts me that I’m plain old hungry. Hunger unfulfilled leaves us vulnerable. I have been told never to make a decision when you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
I know the practices that nourish my spirit and soul and I know all to well the impact of skipping meals as it were. When I have eaten properly, nutritiously then I have clarity and stamina for living fully present to God in me. If I have gone to long between the practices I suffer and often my actions cause others to suffer in some way as well. Contemplation and action really are complimentary and when I’m spiritually nourished they are life giving to all around me.
I agree “that union is God’s responsibility and likewise ours is to turn our hunger always, as we are able, toward God and be open to trusting God.” I suggest that we, like Elizabeth Gilbert, learn to live in the moment ravenous but for all things God. You won’t need a passport for this experience of opening to God but a hearty appetite is a plus. Bon appetite!
Lectio Divina: Get a copy of M. Basil Pennington’s Lectio Divina: Renewing the Ancient Practice of Praying the Scriptures.
Retreating more your style? You might visit the Cenacle Retreat Houses, worldwide retreat houses that offer spiritual companions who are trained in lectio divina.
If you like to read: The Life with God Bible offers support like no other Bible I know of for cultivating the spiritual practices Dr. Benner recommends.Visit www.Renovare.org and go to “Buy A Resource.”
Juanita Campbell Rasmus is an inspirational speaker, motivational teacher, author, and founding board member of the Bread of Life Homeless Project. Juanita and her husband Rudy co-pastor Saint John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas.