Achieving a Spiritual State of Mind

When seniors in high school, my friend’s parents, who were always kind of strapped for cash, took her out to an artsy, gourmet restaurant one Friday night.  And over dinner, communicated they wanted her going to Macalester College over UC Berkeley.

They didn’t come out and say it.  It was just strongly implied they felt this would be the best choice for me.  It was a very awkward and strange evening,” she told me later.

Yet where did she end up going?  Macalester. 

Why am I relating this somewhat sickening upper-middle class anecdote?  To demonstrate that when communicating a message, context is crucial. 

Is it even a game changer?  What if her parents had the same conversation on a Saturday morning, over a kitchen table strewn with newspapers, coffee cups, and household cutter? 

Of course it’s impossible to know.  But given their financial constraints, her parents clearly chose the context deliberately.  And achieved their desired outcome. 

Plunged into the Unknown

How does this relate to God and to prayer?  In my experience, a whole lot. 

John 4:24 says “God is a spirit”.  And so in order to communicate with Him, you need to move beyond the time/space realm and into the realm of the spirit.  It’s not easy to “get” there.  I’ve found that certain contexts make me WAY more attune to this spiritual realm and allow me to speak and listen to God more effectively. 

As I wrote about in an earlier post, I received my most lucid locutions when my life was in a “nowhere” state: after graduating from college and before I’d found a job.  The noise of people, commitments, involvements, daily activity, stress, and events, was reduced to a dull roar.  I’m inclined to think Jesus took this window of opportunity to talk to me in plain speech with clear, unequivocal interior and exterior locutions. 

I’ve also noticed a heightened spiritual awareness when plunged into the UNKNOWN.  Recently I traveled to Kenya, which was my first time to the African Continent, and first time below the equator!  The situation, honestly, felt so foreign that I may as well have been on Mars. 

While there, my dreams took on a wildly lucid quality.  I could write 500 words on them upon awakening, recalling every single detail.  In my normal life, I often immediately forget my dreams the minute I open my eyes—as my thoughts quickly turn to the activities of the day. 

This isn’t exactly to say that Jesus spoke to me at this time, but more to point out that my psyche was more attune to the spiritual realm in this unknown, foreign context.  (As I explained in a previous post, I think dreams are one window to this spiritual realm.) 

Does My Theory Hold Water? 

Up to this point I’ve simply related my personal experience.  Does it amount to anything more than a lot of modern-day woo-woo?  Is my next line to recommend you pull a tarot card and light a candle the next time you want greater insight into a your life? 

Let’s turn to Scripture.  The Gospels recount where Jesus, our Messiah and master of prayer, spoke to God. 

Rising very early before dawn, he went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:35 
“And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.” Mark 6:46                                           
“He would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” Luke 5:16   
“He departed to the mountain to pray and he spent the night in prayer to God.  When day came, he called his disciples to himself and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named apostles.” Luke 6:12

Mark and Luke consistently cite deserted places, mountains, and night as times and places places Jesus sought out for prayer.  What about these places might make them suitable for entering into a spiritual state of mind? 

The desert and night have a “nowhere” quality to them.  The desert has an absence of visual stimuli that allows one to enter a contemplative state.  And night epitomizes nothingness and the unknown. 

A mountain offers other spiritual qualities.  It reaches into the heavens, and oftentimes offers spectacular scenery that cause the spirit to soar and reflect on the beauty of God’s creation. 

Something else is clear from these passages: Jesus spends considerable time in prayer before making a big decision.  I wonder at his level of exhaustion the next day when he chose his apostles.  In any event, in praying for the entire night, He certainly whole-heartedly recommended the decision over to God.

And what of other people from the Bible?  Of course it’s hard to narrow it down to one, but I’d also point out Paul, who, after his dramatic vision on the road to Damascus, says that he:

did not immediately consult flesh and blood…rather I went into Arabia then returned to Damascus.”  Galatians 1: 16-17

It was only after three years of withdrawal that Paul says he finally consulted Cephas (Peter).  This is to say that Paul, too, withdrew into some sort of solitude as he sorted through this life-altering vision. 

Perhaps he withdrew to the desert regions of Arabia, though that is speculation.  However, as he was from Tarsus and had spent much of his life in Jerusalem (Acts 26:4), Arabia was probably a relatively unknown area for him. 

When God Does the Talking

I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert, and speak to her heart.”  Hosea 2:6

In this verse from the prophet Hosea, God relates where He plans to communicate with His wayward Chosen people: in the desert. 

In Exodus, God literally draws the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert, and over forty years, establishes His special covenant relationship with them.

And so it’s a two-way street: according to Scripture, God takes us into the desert when He wants to speak to us, and we too venture into the unknown in order to talk to Him. 

Seeking Out Solitude

Does all this mean when we seek out lonely places, or journey into the unknown, that we’re intrinsically closer to God?  According to St. Thomas Aquinas, no.  He writes in Summa Theologica: 

We draw near to God by no corporeal steps since he is everywhere, but by the affections of our soul.” 1 

This means we can talk to God, and He to us, anywhere, including busy and chaotic places: with noisy children, driving at rush hour, and during crazy and tumultuous times in our lives.  And no, according to Aquinas, we aren’t any closer to the BVM at Fatima than we are in our own homes. 

But certain contexts makes us more ATTUNE.  To listening.  And developing this relationship.  And so in order to have a good relationship with God, it makes sense to habitually seek out these places and spend time with Him. 

Where might we find them, specifically?  Silence and solitude seem scarce in our noisy, busy world, but if we deliberately seek them out suitable spaces emerge.  Many Churches are open and empty during the day: offering a wonderful opportunity for quiet time.  Or a park, or nature trail, that perhaps is empty in the mornings, is another good spot.  Or even a room in our home that doesn’t get a lot of use, can be a perfect place for prayer. 

If nothing else, even a coffee shop with a pair of noise cancelling headphones can put us into a good listening space! 

Additionally, if we find our lives in a desert of sorts; divorced, in a career transition, unemployed or having moved to a new community and so alone much of the time; God may have chosen this context deliberately.  And be hoping to draw us into closer relationship to Him.

It isn't Easy

I went to the place where I usually prayed alone and, being deeply recollected, began to talk to the Lord in a foolish way, which I often to without knowing what I’m saying.  It is love that is then speaking, and the soul is so transported that I don’t notice the difference there is between it and God.” 2 

St. Teresa of Avila, too, sought out quiet places where she communed with God.  

Although, she also reminds us, the path to developing this skill of listening and praying to God isn’t smooth.  It requires much work on our part, especially in the beginning. 

The greatest labor is in the beginning because it is the beginner who works while the Lord gives the increase.” 2 

What About You?

Do you have a story of parents trying to sway your big life decisions? 

Was there any period in your life when you felt especially close to God?  What characterized that time? 

And what are the best times and places for you to pray? 


1 Summa Theologica Part I, Thomas Aquinas. 1213. Question 3. Volume 1: The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD & Otilio Rodriguex, OCD, 1976. Pgs 230 & 80.


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