Sunday, December 28, 2008

Revise Our Rule, Etc.?

Dear Spiritual Friends, we are coming up on the end of the first full year of our experiment in being a “non-geographical Christian contemplative community.” Our website’s “Join Us” page says, “An annual re-commitment is then due during January 1-31 of each year for as long as you feel led to journey with us.” So now is meant to be a time of community reconsideration, etc., which fits with the ending of the calendar year, New Year’s resolutions, etc. It seems to me that a number of us have found some genuine sense of spiritual meaning and spiritual support in our community experiment and inter-connecting. Thus, in my view, we should continue our experiment. That’s certainly my “vote.” But it also seems to me that we need to consider revising our rule to fit who we really are and what we are really willing and able to do in regard to this community. Integrity matters, I think. Our website and our blog should represent who we really are and what we really do. Actually I am thinking that the terms “the rule of our community” and “our rule” may not fit where we really are in our development, in our experiment. Rather than sharing a “rule,” i.e., “core practices,” I am thinking that overall we share certain “core values,” such as contemplative reflection, humility, presence, and so on. I think our actual regular practices may vary. So instead of a link on our blog and web site saying “Rule of Our Community” we might have that link say “Core Values of Our Community.” Well, reflect on this anyway. You can let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post or by using the “Contact” tab on our community’s web site to send an email. I am very grateful for our community and what God has done in it over this first full year! May you and yours have a deeply blessed New Year!
- RC

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Aged P: the next installment of my spiritual journey

(with apologies for the length of this post)

I have heard that there are two blunders one makes when writing of one's mother. The writing is either angry and unforgiving, or unforgivably saccharine. Such is the influence a mother has on her children. Either way, this part of my journey is a difficult one for me to articulate.

I remember some fun things Mom and I did together when I was small. I have a clear picture of making cookies at Christmas, and being allowed to make the fork criss-cross on the peanut butter cookies. I remember sitting in church waiting for her to finish playing the piano. She then sat by me, making me be still, but allowing me to doodle on paper. When I fell in the one-room schoolhouse next door and split my chin, I remember her anger because I had been running and she had warned me against it. (Mom was frantic; we had one car, and my dad was out somewhere in it. We had a telephone, but she could not find him.)

Usually, though, it was difficult connecting with Mom, and I always felt it was my fault. It may have been the trauma of being taken away from my hitherto primary care provider (my grandmother) at such an early age, but it always seemed to me that she held me (and my younger siblings) at arms length. There were times when I thought we were beginning to connect, but she pulled away. I never stopped trying to please her, but I never felt that I had succeeded, and what pleased her changed frequently. And we were seldom allowed to forget our misdeeds.

I did not see the loving God near at hand around my mother as I did with my grandmother. Inevitably this affected my view of God. He was a faraway god who must be pleased at all costs. His anger and wrath could not be appeased, nor could my mistakes be forgotten even if forgiven. God's grace was sufficient for salvation, but it ended there. He had rules! This god continued to haunt me for much of my life. I tried various ways of appeasing his anger, and strove to measure up to...I'm not even sure what. We always attended the rigid fundamentalist type of churches which, naturally, exacerbated my frenetic struggles.

In 1994, my husband and I invited my parents to move into our home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was probably the worst mistake we ever made as a couple, one which nearly tore our family apart. Mom had not mellowed over the years. She was ever discontent herself, and often took offense at nothing. She pitted family members against one another, and manipulated situations. Being unsuccessful in getting what she wanted, within months she was agitating my dad about moving out into a place of their own. Shortly after they moved out in late 1997, I suffered a severe emotional blow-out. I alternated between trying to ignore God altogether, and yelling at Him a lot in between some serious acting out.

We soon realized that we needed a new beginning as a family, so we sold out, packed up, and moved from Lancaster, to Florida in 1999. I freely admitted to people that we needed some space between us and my mother. We did end up in one more rigid fundamentalist church, all the same God provided some emotional healing over a period of time.

After my dad passed away in 2001, Mom had gone to live with my brother. She was not happy, and at the end of a year she moved out into subsidized housing nearby. My brother, who long ago had given up trying to please parents or God, was completely devastated. Mom did not do well living alone, and went into a deep depression. In December, she ended up in the hospital with bilateral pneumonia. None of my siblings were for various reasons, able to get involved and help. As I prayed for her, I became sure that the Lord wanted me to do the impossible and unthinkable: go get her and bring her to Florida.

We found a place for her to live about a mile from our home, and she was fine for awhile. But, she really had not changed. We had some interesting interchanges over time, and before long, she was again unhappy and wanted to go back north--which was not possible. That didn't stop her from calling all her friends and begging them to come rescue her. I realized that I had not yet forgiven her completely for what happened in Lancaster, so I spent some dark days. She was angry because I would not do what she wanted (move her back north).

In December, 2004, she was diagnosed with probable Alzheimer Disease, and by the end of 2005, I was looking for an assisted living situation for her since we knew we could not bring her to live with us. Early on January 1, 2006, I found her on her bathroom floor with no recollection of how, or when she fell there. I called 911, and we went to the hospital. The doctor sent her right into the nursing home when she left three days later due to her hallucinating and inability to function on her own.

For a time afterward I continued resentful about all of the details of taking care of her, her finances, her Medicaid, and all the odds and ends that always come up. The church we were attending was not helpful in our spiritual needs at that time, and only made me feel condemned because I was struggling.

In December of 2006, we began our occasional involvement in an Episcopal church. In January, one of their Wednesday night classes was for caregivers, and Harry and I attended. It was a revelation that someone understood what I was going through, and that there was help, and support. I probably cried through the first four weeks of the class, and somewhere in there God began a work of healing, restoration, and strengthening which continues to this day.

Mom now attends church with us at Christ the King Anglican most Sunday mornings where we receive much encouragement and support. In spite of being raised in rigid fundamental Baptist churches, Mom absolutely loves the services, and participates in her own ways. She really hasn't changed much, but through the affirmation, and understanding of my faith community, God has taught me that I don't have to take on the responsibility for making Mom happy. I just need to do what He wants--and His burden is light. We will never have the relationship I always hoped for with my mother, but we do have a peaceful relationship. We have found some ways to connect, and sometimes we even have fun together. She even tells me she loves me.

--Susan Price

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Readings in Common

Rickey Cotton has suggested that as a community we ought to read and to have read certain texts in common as a way of cultivating our community culture. I think that we already have been doing this to some degree, but I propose that we build a list of the books and essays related to the purposes of our community that we have read in common. From there, we could periodically select new texts to read together.

This list, of course, isn't meant to show who's read stuff and who hasn't. But since, inevitably, it will, I should point out, as we all already know, those who have read little are not better or worse than those who have read much. The point of the list is, punningly, to help us move onto the same page.

Starting with the books on the reading resources page on our website, I have set up a list on private wiki for our community that you can access here. Please logon with the community email address and password and contribute to the list. I think that once the list is more or less complete for all of our members, we can begin to select texts to read together.

--Paul Corrigan

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Reflections on our Rule

Sometimes I think it would be interesting to have some apparent distinguishing physical characteristic or set of practices connected to my spirituality: Eastern Orthodox fast days; Hasidic side-curls; a Sikh turban; Muslim prayers said toward Mecca. Of course, that's only a passing fantasy, but I wonder to myself what sort of formal commitment I have to anything besides trying to get my papers done on time. But then I remember that I do have such an opportunity for commitment in the living stones community rule. I admit I haven't been exactly fastidious in keeping it. I know, I know--no guilt. And of all the groups in the world, living stones seems to be the least likely to kick me out for not doing enough lectio. But this mental process got me thinking about our rule and my own relationship with it.

I read this story recently, which seems relevant: When William Penn became a Quaker, many of his fellow Friends wanted him to give up wearing the sword on his belt that was a distinguishing mark of his status as an aristocrat. Quakers are pacifists, they reasoned, and William couldn't carry the sword, even if he never used it. But Penn was upset that he would have to give up this marker of identity. He sought out George Fox, the leader of the Friends, to settle the issue. After some consideration, Fox told the young man, “Wear it as long as thee can.” Fox realized that the way to change someone wasn't by issuing commandments (“Take off your sword immediately”). Instead, the immersion into the Friends' shared community of silence and an increased awareness of God's presence would lead Penn to cast aside the things that stood in his way to divine union, not least his own false self as embodied in his sword. Likewise, I think committing to this rule, being part of this online community, is less about “getting it right” all the time and more about about commitment to a gradual process of spiritual transformation as we share in life together. I hope to be open to this type of direction from the Spirit, from this community, and from the rule to which we are committed.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving Eucharist Reflections

Sorry it has been so long since I dropped by to reflect. I was talking with Rickey and Anna today and they both encouraged me to make a brief reflection on the Thanksgiving Eucharist that I held for my two churches.

This year, I've been wrestling to get through Pastoral Care at divinity school (a class with which I have a strong love/hate relationship). I remembered a line from one of the books I read for this class about reclaiming holidays for the Church. One of the holidays the author suggested we reclaim was Thanksgiving. She or he suggested we rename Thanksgiving as “Immigrant Appreciation Day” in honor of the Native American's who welcomed the European settlers to their land. As I began to think about this image in preparation for the homily, I found myself in an uncomfortable space. Were it not for the Native American's generosity, would we be here? And to think of how we have treated this race of God's children is unsettling. My Methodist History teacher mentioned in one of his lectures just a few weeks ago that Tennessee’s mythic hero Andrew Jackson was responsible for this country’s shameful act of "Ethnic Cleansing"--The Trail of Tears. How could I "celebrate" in light of this injustice? Had I not read that book nor heard this lecture, Thanksgiving this year would have been another mindless participation in national egoism, but this year, I found it much harder to enjoy.

I managed to find solace in Christ's invitation to His Table, and in the Epistle Reading that went along with the service:

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (NRSV)
6 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. 13 Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace of God that he has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

I challenged myself and my parishioners to envision what Thanksgiving would look like if we were the generous host of immigrants today. What would our tables look like? Who would be seated around them? The inclusive language of verse 13 created a spiritual image of a Great Thanksgiving Dinner of which we soon partook! Placing myself as the needy alien in front of the bountiful table of the Lord was a humbling image. Holding out my hands to receive my daily bread was moving. I emphasized that we have received seed and as we put that seed to good use, the supplier of our seed will cause our supply of seed to multiply.

How do we play this out? One small way we are doing it is by bringing canned food items with us to each communion service which we then donate to the local food bank. Hanging from the arms of the cross in front of our sanctuary are plastic grocery bags filled with food for the poor: a powerful icon with the heart of Thanksgiving in front of our corporate face! May our celebrations in lieu of justice form us into prophetic extensions and voices against injustice.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Instances of Grace

For most of us, there is only the unattended moment . . .
--T. S. Eliot
As with many of you, I'm sure, I'm lurching forward with no relief in sight until a few weeks into December. I want to say that I really appreciate the posts our community has added to the blog this past week or so. I'm posting now (postponing designing an assignment for Monday and revising my paper on George Herbert's prophetic voice and learning to translate Spanish to English) to share some (spiritual) images from the past month, instances of grace in pressure:

  • It snowed a few inches yesterday. Okay, a few centimeters.
  • Two weeks ago I visited a monastery and went on a day trip with two old monks and one young monk to the mountains to see the leaves and on the way back we stopped at Wendy's and ate frosties together. "I think God wanted you to come with us today," the younger monk told me.
  • This morning, I got to stop my work for a few minutes to do laundry, and there was also an crotchety-looking man at the laundromat doing laundry. He told me, "I don't like doing laundry. This is two weeks worth. Have a good day." I bet he was an angel God sent to remind me how much I do like doing laundry.
  • Yesterday, I visited a literature class a friend of mine is teaching at baptist seminary to talk about Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" and "Footnote to Howl." "Everything is holy. The bum is as holy as the seraphim," Ginsberg told them. "All truth is God's truth," I told them.
  • We're expecting another baby in April. Some of you already knew this. Two days ago, Christine and I went to the doctor's for an ultrasound. It's another little girl. But before he told us that, the doctor got caught up looking at the her little beating heart. "Sorry," he told us, "I'm obsessed with hearts."
Paul Corrigan

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reflections on Confirmation

John and I were confirmed yesterday. We're officially Episcopalian. It's funny--even just four years ago I wouldn't have imagined myself in a denominational church, much less the Episcopal Church. But we change, life changes us, and so it is. I have certainly found a home there, a stabilizing connection. I find it hard to believe how whole I feel these days.

The confirmation ceremony was not quite as daunting as I'd imagined; I had been a bit nervous about the bishop and his hat. Even though I appreciate high church and have no problem with the ceremonial garments, that hat just gets to me. But I saw a kind and smiling face underneath the hat, which I think I've decided I like after all, if only for its amusing qualities.

John and I attended a month-long Inquirers' Course prior to being received. Throughout the whole class I thought that Father Rick was referring to all of us who were to be confirmed as "contrabands" and secretly wondered what the meaning of this strange term might be. I didn't realize until yesterday morning when I looked at the order of service that Rick had actually been saying "confirmands." I'm glad I didn't ask why I was illegal.

So I've been thinking about the process of confirmation, what it means to be received into a body of people. I think I've always thought of church in social terms, as a family, which it is; but it is also, somehow, mystically Christ's own body. Every time we celebrate Holy Eucharist we are reminded of this: that Christ is present with us in our own bodies, and in those we share communion with. We who are many are one because we all share one bread, one cup.

I don't know why, but these words of Mary Oliver come to me now:

Of course I have always known you
are present in the clouds, and the
black oak I especially adore, and the
wings of birds. But you are present
too in the body, listening to the body,
teaching it to live, instead of all
that touching, with disembodied joy.

My reception into the Episcopal Church was an event and a commitment, but more than that it is a reminder to me of my life that is hidden with Christ, where God is; of my true self; of Christ dwelling in me, loving me, teaching me, and helping me to live a life that is truly reconciled to God and aligned with the core message of the gospel.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Of Stress, Sunsets, and Kathleen Norris

Today ends my rather extended (and unintentional) sabbatical from this blog. I've been wanting so much to write on here for something like three weeks or so, but it has always been something--report card comments, wedding plans, delinquent lesson plans...the list goes on!

This week has been one of the worst, stress-wise, for a variety of reasons, many of them work-related. Let's just say working with a group of people who are minimally technologically inclined trying to convert all grade reporting work into a highly technological format does not come easily. On top of that I might cite extra social engagements and a continuing saga of a rather disrespectful decision on the part of an administrator at my school (I won't go into detail). I had no hope that I would be writing this today....

Even though I looked at the week and saw nothing but potential for harried and hurried days, God surprised me with so many gifts of His presence this week.

I was amazed as I left work each day, exhausted and sometimes discouraged, by a sunset of blazing beauty. They were each different, some with bold colors, some with dramatic clouds, some with subtle outlinings of light. Somehow I knew that these were a gift.

My before-bed habit is reading a little prior to turning out the light. Recently I began Kathleen Norris's Dakota, and I have fallen deep into the wild beauty of her writing about this land that she loves. This, too, I know is a gift.

Unexpectedly, I turned to see my fiancee weeping in church this morning. I knew it was serious as he is not much of a crier, typically. The beautiful reason for his tears was the presence of God speaking to him in a deep way...he was so moved by it. And this was a gift.

Despite the busy-ness of the week, I was thrilled that my lesson plans, which usually drag on into Sunday afternoon were completed and ready by last night. So this afternoon, I've had the rare freedom of reading and writing, cooking and dreaming. Another gift.

I think this is contemplation--even when life and work and friends and family are busy, crazy, stress-filled...finding the gifts that are there, letting your heart rest in the Spirit in the midst of life with all its loose ends and mixed-up strands.
--Sarah Price

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Two Hounds of the Baskervilles, and one Shih Tzu

Tuesday night I arrived home around 9:30 p.m. and let our three Shiz Tzu dogs out into our front yard to, erm, water the lawn. We don't have a fence around the yard, so we are vigilant, and one dog with a vice for chasing varmints of all sorts isn't allowed out without a leash on any terms.

I was shepherding the dogs back toward the house when the two hounds from Hades showed up at the edge of our yard. They belong to our neighbors, but have found an escape route from their fenced-in lot (much to their people's despair). When you look up at night, and see two large black dogs, which share a mixed heritage of rotweiler, pit bull, and black lab, (even without glowing eyes) it may cause the most intrepid to shiver. At best, I was alarmed. I dragged the leashed dog and encouraged the loose dogs in the direction of the front door. Unfortunately Wu, my Shih Tzu, (who often knows what I am going to do next even before I know it) heard the panic in my voice . He went into vigilante mode.

Before I even realized that Wu was going to take care of business, he lit out after those dogs that probably weigh five times what he does with the energy and fury of a Florida lightning strike. My understanding of doglish is somewhat rusty, but it sure sounded like he was telling them in no uncertain terms (using some language he undoubtedly picked up from our cats somewhere along the line) to remove their sorry selves from the premises. Or else. Then, still breathing out threatenings, he proceeded to escort them home.

The harrassed hounds took their cue and moved with great velocity and accuracy through their secret exit (now an entrance) before the fury caught up with them. Fortunately, they got there before Wu discovered their secret. He did hang out around the fence doing what sounded like some sort of trash talking for awhile--but what can you expect? He's still a dog. Wu then trotted back home, head held high, bedazzled by his own brilliance. He still won't get out again soon without a leash.


I just missed two days of school due to a raging sinus infection. I went to the doctor, and she was horrified by how elevated my blood pressure was. This school year, for various reasons, has been stressful beyond what I could have expected. There have been pressures in other areas as well. I've been playing and replaying issues like videos in my mind, trying to solve problems that won't need to be solved for months yet. Fretting over things over which I have no control.

This morning I sat in my favorite chair with Wu snuggled beside me while I drank my coffee. I smiled as I reflected on how one small companion dog chased off two big dogs with aggressive heritages. Then the Lord reminded me of how I've been letting my aggressive anxieties to inform my walk rather than abiding in Him as He invites me to do.

Susan Price

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zen and the Art of Driving a Fifteen Passenger Van

At 4am in the morning last Thursday we loaded all our luggage and bodies into a fifteen passenger van to drive to North Carolina to be with Daniel and Melissa for there wedding. The van was full of people with different attachments to the couple and with different roles for the weekend. We had in the van a portion of the wedding party, the wedding musicians, and the hair and makup artists. There were girls who have worked with Melissa for some time and through that have grown to love the person she is and who she would become as Daniel's wife. There were girls who have gotten to know Melissa through our Sunday night group and the many other nights of fellowship we share together. They have no doubt loved her for her commitment to her friends in that setting. As for the Guys, there were also a number of ways that we have become close to Daniel. Some of the guys have played music with Daniel and have witnessed first hand the passion with which he approaches art. Some of us have gotten close to Daniel through our shared practice in different spiritual disciplines. We have been able to witness his dedication to God and his desire to see us be closer to God as well. 
While driving I got a real sense of all of these different motives. The girls were talking about how they couldn't wait to see the decorations or the plans they had for Melissa's bachelorette party, with each one singling out the thing they knew Melissa would love to do. The guys also had all the little things in mind as we drove. Some of us were thinking about our roles in the wedding, while others were reflecting on the weekends plans. Throughout the whole trip I was struck by the excitement and dedication that I was surrounded by. It came easily for all of us but there was also something special about it. Our occasion this time was the wedding of our close friends, but this was not a new feeling for me. I have felt this love exude from my friends many times before. I realized how blessed I have been to be surrounded by God's love with my friends as the vessels. I am so grateful for opportunities like this to witness this love. I couldn't be happier for Daniel and Melissa and I hope I am around to see them grow with this new dynamic. I know that they will continue to strengthen and love each other as they have done with each other and with their friends.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wedding Congratulations!

Daniel and Melissa will get married this Saturday, Nov. 1. This Thursday he and about a dozen of his closest peers will pile into a rented van and head out for the l-o-n-g ride to North Carolina. (Melissa has been there for a week attending to last minute details.) I think it is incredibly special that his and Melissa’s friends are willing to make this trip to show love and support for them. It seems to me their journey could serve as a metaphor for marriage--great fun, bumpy, unforgettable, and, if everyone can practice letting go of irritations, unifying.

I like reflecting on Jesus’s first miracle being at a wedding. If he was wanting to get our attention, it worked. It was his mother, of course, who requested he do something. And what a spectacular something he did--changing water into wine! I think it is fair to say Jesus cared about important celebrations.

Daniel’s friends care, and we in our extended livingstones community care, too. So our deep-felt congratulations and sincere prayers go out to Daniel and Melissa--May God richly bless you now and in all your years together!


Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Early Years

In the interest of not overwhelming anyone, I will be posting my spiritual journey in digestible portions. :-)

My dad was stationed in Colorado Springs when I was born, and 11 months thereafter he followed a call to be a pastor. I've read his written response to that call, and he was full of love for the Lord, and eager to serve the Lord in that capacity. He took an early discharge from the Air Force, and moved into my grandparents' home in a suburb of Philadelphia. He went to a Bible institute, worked part time, and my mom went back to work (and received a PHT--Putting Hubby Through--certificate) to help pay the bills.

This left my grandmother in what she considered a delightful situation. She was my primary caregiver for the next four years. My dad was an only child, and I became the daughter that she had always wanted to complete her family, but could never bear herself. My grandmother lived out her faith daily under difficult circumstances. We were two families living in a small, two-bedroom bungalow, and my grandfather was a difficult man to live with. She often included me in her Bible reading and prayer times. She cared for me tenderly, and although she was a pattern housekeeper, she always seemed to have time to help me have a tea party with my dolls out on the patio in the side yard. She taught me homemaking skills, and it was all part of who she was in her walk with the Lord. Although I do not remember it, family history records that I knelt with her when I was around four years old and asked Jesus into my heart. I never doubted at that time that Jesus loved me dearly. Several years later my dad baptized me in the Baptist church in which he had grown up.

The only mystery in connection with God that touched my life at that time was what I picked up from our Italian neighbors. They were Roman Catholic. One stormy day I was playing with Stephen and Frankie in their basement, and saw their St. Christopher medals. I asked them what they were, and their mother, "Aunt" Rita, told me what they were, and that they would keep the boys safe. I was fascinated. When I got home, I told my grandmother that I wanted "a piece of iron" around my neck. Of course she quickly disabused me of any such notions, and told me "We don't believe that way."

When I was five, my dad took his first pastorate in Pleasant Heights, Colorado, a minuscule church in an almost invisible town on the prairie in Southeastern Colorado. I was taken away from the one human being whose love I never doubted, and whose tender care was woven through my days to a barren prairie home with two people who were almost strangers to me. I grieved silently during the days for my grandmother, but the nights told the truth as I often woke screaming after nightmares in which my grandmother died. They lasted for several months.

This was the part where I learned that if one carefully conformed on the outside, and didn't rock any boats, everyone around me was happy. Quite possibly the closet rebel was formed at that time. We were there about two years during which my father pastored two different churches in SE Colorado, my brother joined the family, and then moved back to my grandparents' house while my dad went for his degree in Bible.

To be continued...

Susan Price

Sunday, October 5, 2008

God's Garden

On a regular walk in our neighborhood, I briefly stopped to greet a man working in his garden. He was busy trimming his rose bush when I told him how lovely I thought his flowers looked. He smiled kindly, but said, “You don’t see the bugs and weeds I’m struggling with.” “No, I said, “all I see are your beautiful flowers.” We both chuckled, and I walked on. Today I walked past his house again, and again I slowed down to enjoy his flowers. I had thought his small patch was pretty before, but now it was stunning. He had weeded and trimmed everything, and the proportion of leaves, limbs and blooms was exquisite. I think we are like his garden; we present well enough, but if let God do his work of trimming and weeding we can be stunningly effective in reflecting his glory.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spiritual Story (Paul)

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
--T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

As is the case with many of you, a main point in my spiritual story is my conversion into the contemplative life. At this point I can most fully describe this as a conversion from a theology of certainty to a theology of mystery. I am still trying to work out a language to describe and understand both the continuities and changes in my life between “now” and “then.” I want to respect both.

I was born Massachusetts, my pregnant mother praying daily at the foot of her bed for a “warrior for God.” One of my earliest memories is of my parent’s telling me God had a special plan for me in heaven. I thought that they said “plant” so I went around daydreaming that it might be a cactus! Another important early memory is my first conversion: in the car with my mom and I asked curiously, “Am I going to heaven when I die?” I was four and my mother didn’t think that I was ready for “that talk.” But I started hysterically crying, “I need to know!” Shortly, I prayed that Jesus would clean my dirty heart and live inside me. Though some consider stories like this one as religious psychological child abuse, I am grateful and consider it an important point in my journey, the validation of the spiritual life of a child. When I was eight, my parents moved to North Carolina to get away from snow and liberals. I was home schooled, and my family joined an evangelical Pentecostal church with a strong program for children. In my time there, which lasted until I went to college, I had quite a few significant spiritual mentors and many important moments of spiritual growth, though all in a context of “certainty” that I no longer find as edifying. This phase of my life included a broad mix, most of which I am still grateful for, wonderful spiritual experiences in the wilderness, several “Youth Camp” cycles, lots of service and ministry inside and outside of church, and maybe a few metaphysical miracles. For the sake of this story in this space, I need to skip over this. As with all of your stories shared here, this one is a partial account.

I came to college at Southeastern University quietly, sincerely wanting wisdom and intimacy with God. As with some of you, the transformations in my understanding about life and God were largely influenced by Rickey Cotton through courses I took with him, conversations we had, and books he taught me (T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets as a particularly important one). But I don’t want to ignore the other influences, other professors, several humbling falls, and my previous spiritual experience. I believe that God long prepared me for a contemplative way of knowing and living. For example, even before college I began to practice silent prayer on my own. My conversion took place over about a year and a half. There was a series of necessary changes. First, my politics took a concrete intellectual turn toward the socially marginal--as is the case with many social conservatives, my heart was already with them, . After this my theological-philosophical foundations for “certainty” were unpinned. I let go of the “absolutes” of literalism, objectivism, and emotionalism, which had not led me to the wholeness and revival I was told to expect as a teenager. With these intellectual barriers to truth removed, I was open to look for God in more relational ways, through art, silence, community, and tradition. In other words, my philosophical conversion opened a space for me to be able appreciate millennia-old practices of knowing the unknowable. I have walking on this path for the past year and a half.

In the past few months I believe I have entered my next phase of transformation, which involves the practical details of life, particularly, the practical details of housework. My political, philosophical, theological transformations I believe are largely complete. Now, partially through readings books like The Rule of Benedict and The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work,” I am embracing that part of the spiritual work in front of me which God would have me do right now, cleaning the house, vacuuming, washing dishes. In cleaning the house, and in the perspective it gives me on the actual “importance” of my intellectual work, I am growing in balance, in humility, in love.

--Paul Corrigan

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Cloud of Unknowing

I have been reading The Cloud of Unknowing recently and I am struck by so many things that the author puts into perspective for me. In particular the following thoughts:
"Remember that the nearer a man comes to the truth the more sensitive he must become to error... for I assure you, contemplation is not the fruit of study but a gift of grace."
This has impacted me greatly in the last few days. As Jen and I have been transitioning back into our lives in Lakeland after our extended holiday this summer there have been quite a few stumbling blocks. It is important for me to remember how little control I really have over the situations of my life. So much of it is guided by extenuating circumstances, as well as God's hands. Most of the time I like to think that I am controlling my destiny and that each decision I make is wholly my own.  I have realized that the way I relate to God is a mirror of how I relate to all of those situations in life. If I can learn to be humble and surrender my worries to God on a personal level it will flow over to all of my daily activities. There may be a time to take charge and make difficult choices, but it seems that if you realize your existence as being in and through God you start to see his hands on the little things, and all of those "take charge" moments start to fade away.
Matt Addis

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Thought on Community

Today, I went to an introductory workshop on Centering Prayer.

Odd, I know, for someone who has been centering for nearly two years and has been to two week-long centering prayer retreats, but I went, and I found unexpected depth of silent beauty.

It's rather a long story, but I wasn't in Lakeland long enough to be a part of this community before it became geographically scattered, so I long hoped for a centering prayer group in my area. One began in February of '07, but went on a rather extended sabbatical that is just now ending.

And this introductory workshop is its new beginning. I went to the workshop because I wanted to support my mom and sister, who were attending for the first time, and to be with the facilitator, who was facilitating on his own for the first time, I believe.

The twist came when this facilitator shared with us, in the course of the workshop, about how he had lost two of his children in the past year, one of whom had died just this past week. His humility, his love, his gentleness in opening himself to us truly affected the atmosphere of the workshop. There was a depth, a strength in our silence at the first centering prayer "practice" that I have rarely felt in a centering session, even among those most experienced in the practice.

Our workshop was an introduction to centering prayer in its deepest sense--an invitation to Fr. Keating's words, an invitation to love.

--Sarah Price


I realize I'm a couple of days late, but I wanted to share this.

My dad passed away on September 9, 2001. Before the numbness had worn off, the World Trade Center was attacked. My youngest brother and I were driving up to Delaware to the funeral and we drove by the still smoking Pentagon on the 12th of September.

I staggered at two such emotionally devastating events so close to each other. My third or fourth thought was that I was glad that my dad had not lived to see such a thing happen, and I thought of his inevitable grief if he had seen it.

One thought led to another, and soon I was wondering about the grief of my Heavenly Father over such destruction by His creation. After a couple of months processing, I wrote this poem:

of the universe;
of the stellar
music of the ballet of the planets
around the sun;

What lamentation can speak your grief
for the malevolence
of incendiary destruction and slaughter
that Your creation executes
upon itself? --Susan Price

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Spiritual story (John)

Following the trend, here is a short account of my spiritual journey. I grew up going to church, but I doubted the existence of God at a fairly young age and became an atheist. Throughout high school, I struggled with drug addiction out of my feeling of the meaninglessness of life. Even then, I suppose, I had a yearning for spiritual depth: in spite of my atheism, I spent many afternoons in my room saying Hare Krishnas—if only for the psychological value—but I never committed myself to any real spiritual practice. After going through rehab, my parents (to my chagrin at the time) signed me into Teen Challenge, an Assembly of God affiliated ministry for people with life-controlling issues. After some time there, the love of God manifested through the staff members and other students there led me to reconsider my atheistic convictions. I returned to Christianity with renewed hope for the future and a strong desire to know the God who restored purpose and direction to my life.

Even then, contemplation played a strong part in my practice of faith. I read Dostoevsky ravenously and was enriched by the life of Alyosha, the young man adjured to be a “monk in the world” in The Brothers Karamazov. In addition to the charismatic worship of Teen Challenge, I also came to appreciate silence and tradition—in the most meaningful sense of that word.

At Southeastern, after writing an exegetical paper on Paul's prayer in Eph. 3 (a very “mystical” prayer), Dr. Waddell recommended I read Thomas Keating. From there, I picked up John of the Cross and some other classic Christian mystical texts. I quickly discovered RC as a resource (as so many others of this group) and spent many afternoons in his office as he graciously explained to me “what this all meant” and how to incorporate this type of spirituality into my daily life.

As I still work toward that goal, mostly content to always be a beginner on that journey, I'm exceedingly grateful for this group that's sharing that pilgrimage. I am reminded of this quotation from Evelyn Underhill: “we realize the very best we are likely to achieve in the world of prayer will be a small part in a mighty symphony; not a peculiarly interesting duet. When our devotional life seems to us to have become a duet, we should listen more carefully. Then we shall hear a greater music, within which that little melody of ours can find its place.”

Monday, September 1, 2008

Recognition and Hope

I just finished reading Joan Chittister's Called to Question...a Spiritual Memoir, and am marveling over how much her spiritual journey has in common with the wonderful stories of the pilgrimages I've been reading that are posted on this blog. Her epilogue sums it up:

"The purpose of a book like this..." is "to demonstrate that we all change and struggle and develop as we go. The notion that the spiritual life is something we achieve gets little support here. The spiritual life is something we seek every day of our lives....a journey of ever increasing depth and circularity. We deal with [major questions] over and over again...understanding them differently, learning from them more, dealing with them better.... ...growing is both the same, and distinct, for all of us. Whatever the dark uncertainty of the spiritual journey, the sometimes barbed unquiet that comes with real questions, may you carry within you without fail the promise of the One who says, 'Seek and you shall find.'"

I've been blessed, encouraged, and uplifted by the transparency of all of your struggles, victories, and persistence in your seeking of the spiritual life. I've also related to much of where you all have been, and participate in the hope of each of you.

I suggested to Sarah that one of my first posts was my contribution to this project, but she gave me a teacher look that gave me to understand that it was no such luck. So, at some point (hopefully not too long from now) I will post something dealing more with the details of my spiritual journey.

Susan Price

My Spiritual Journey (Sarah)

Well, I've thought, journaled, discussed, and thought some more, but I cannot find the point at which my spiritual journey began. It well might have begun before I was born as my parents were missionaries with an outreach organization in Portugal at the time of my birth. I only know that as far back as I can remember, I had a deep longing for God. The churches I attended as a child hardly fed that longing--they were mostly non-denominationals of the Baptist-ish persuasion, and their path to God was rooted in following rules. It broke my heart that I could not find strength in myself to follow those many rules, and in my eight-year-old mind, I figured this destined me for Hell, but what could I do? I remember saying a "sinner's prayer" multiple times per month as if that might fix whatever was wrong with me.

Somehow, though, even in that environment, God had His hand on me because my soul still sought him despite my despair over my "lack of spirituality." In my teens, several spiritual mentors led me deeper into God, but I ran into a wall of spiritual darkness. I was wracked by doubts about everything--myself, God, His existence, the church--I was becoming a regular cynic at the age of 15.

It was at this point that my family relocated to Florida from Pennsylvania (where we had lived since I was six years old). We attended a new church, with many of the same old rules, but I was less attached to the authority of the church at this point and continued to seek fullfilment for that longing for God in my deepest self.

Upon graduation from high school and subsequently from community college (where, ironically enough, I first discovered the beauty of being involved in a true community of believers), God led me to Southeastern. Now that in itself is a story because churches of the type I had attended my whole life were decidedly suspicious of anything "pentecostal/charismatic." But there was a time when I stood on the sidewalk of the under-construction area of the school and felt the call of the Spirit to be there.

Talk about culture shock! For a while, I was overwhelmed by the "differentness" of of Southeastern but soon became somewhat disillusioned when I found many of the rule-bound ways of Christian growth were the same there as they were where I grew up. I was very detached from the student life around me and struggled spiritually as it seemed so many of the beliefs I had always clung to were suddenly transformed from solid foundation-stones to misty mirages that may or may not be there when you need them.

It was at that point that I met Dr. Cotton in Advanced Expository Writing, which I innocently took, not realizing that it was a class on spirituality disguised as a class on writing! I don't know how it happened, but I found myself reading Thomas Merton, Fr. Carl Arico, Thomas Keating, Kathleen Norris, and Joan Chittister. I well remember the day Dr. Cotton and I had lunch in the cafeteria when he explained to me the philosophical/spiritual underpinnings of centering prayer and mystic spirituality. I thought what I knew was already dissolving, changing form beneath my eyes--alas for my independent-fundamentalist upbringing. This conversation threw me into more confusion, doubt...I felt if I believed it, I would be abandoning my relationship with Christ for I knew not what.

So I struggled, argued with myself, became anxious, depressed, prayed and didn't pray, cried and didn't cry--read my Bible and ignored it, centered and abstained from centering. After so long, I found little bits of mysticism creeping into my spiritual life, in fact, feeding it, not destroying it.

I don't consider myself a full-fledged mystic, yet I'm thankful for the strength this spirituality has taught me as I inch along its path. The changes have been gradual: sweet drops of rain smoothing my sharp edges, shaping my spirit; I am changing, though. And this community, the people in it, the spirituality intertwining it, is part of that change.

--Sarah Price

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My Spiritual Journey (Matt)

I guess I am still fairly young in my spiritual walk. However, I am finding this group and our dialogue and prayer together to be the thing I was missing.
I grew up in a charismatic Assemblies of God church and always felt a little out of place. I have come to appreciate the many rich blessings that come from that tradition but I have been unable to consign myself to all of their views. I came to Southeastern University a very cynical and bitter young man with a very narrow mind for the things that God was doing. Through different relationships and largely in part to this group I have been able to Let God mold and shape me into a person of deeper faith. I have been able to see that our rational attempts to find God must be subject to our mystical encounters with him. I have been attending an Episcopal Church for a number of years now and I am seeking ordination through them. I hope to start seminary in the fall of 09.  I have been able to share an extremely important time in my life with most of you and for that I am thankful. Thank you all so much. I want to share this quote from Thomas Merton that is helping me to give voice to my minds thoughts.

"Too often our notion of faith is falsified by our emphasis on the statements about God which faith believes, and by our forgetfulness of the fact that faith is a communion with God's own light and truth... Faith terminates not in a statement, not in a formula of words, but in God."

Matt Addis

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Spiritual Story (Erica)

I joined this community because I needed a freer, quieter, humbler way to be with God and desired to have relationships with people who want that too--a safe place to become rooted in God's love. It's not that I'm crazy about centering prayer--honestly, I sometimes sit through the better part of a centering session staring at everyone's shoes. But sitting in silence, opening myself to Love in a community of people who are doing that too is good for me. And sharing with and listening to people on the same mysterious journey I'm on seems to be the best way to keep myself going.

My spiritual journey has been a strange one. I didn't grow up in a Christian home; in fact, my brother and I are still the only Christians in my family. My only exposure to the message of Christianity as a child were a few years in the Mormon Church (in which I was baptized) and a step-grandfather who sat in an armchair reading a big black Bible for much of the day. Still, (thanks to my New Age mom and God's grace) I had an early love for God and a desire for goodness which left me very open to spirituality. At fourteen I started attending a charismatic church and entered a deeply personal (and emotional) relationship with God. Mostly I stayed in church because of the community I found there; I developed long-lasting, meaningful relationships with my spiritual mentors who took me in like a little lost sheep and loved and encouraged me and provided me with the safe, spiritually nourishing environment I had always desired as a child. Even when I became disillusioned with that particular expression of Christianity and much too cynical to be a good evangelical I did not lose my faith in Christian community.

About two years ago I started reading Merton and talking about his writings with John, which was a very positive turning point for me. I went to England for a semester at Oxford, where I sometimes attended Anglican services--and I felt amazingly at home, strangely moved by the thoughtfulness and tradition I found there. I took a lot of walks, talked to John a lot, and got very quiet before God. Away from what had been a frustrating spiritual environment for me and free to explore spirituality for myself, I discovered the immenseness of God's grace. My spiritual sustenance consisted mostly of poetry, liturgy, the parks, writing, and waiting--and that's mostly how it is now, too.

When I returned to Lakeland I discovered the wonder that is lectio divina and the small community that gathered to pray and share the spiritual journey together. I found a community that was both intellectual and spiritual, peppered with many personalities and people. For me, it was about being part of something real and deep and beautiful, which is what our community is, even though many of us are now spread out across the country. About seeing others, listening to one another, caring, learning from each other and from God. Through my reading, college experiences, and this community I have come to see spirituality as a process and a journey, rather than a race or a destination. A journey into love.


a brief anecdote about how I am living the spiritual life bit by bit as a process

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.

I’m reading a commentary by Joan Chittister on the Rule of Benedict. At one point, she quotes from the Tao Te Ching, the Chinese Book of the Way: “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.” I’m stressed and depressed for several reasons. Some of it has to do with work at the beginning of the semester, but I won’t get into details. I took Elea to sit by the red canoe on the bank of the lake today for our rock prayers. No miracles happened. But I’m breathing more calmly.

--Paul Corrigan

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Spiritual Journey (Anna)

Monday, August 18, was my birthday, and at 56-years-old I've been wondering how to shorten the story of a long spiritual journey. I'll begin by saying I was raised in a devout Catholic family. My family was unusual because my dad had studied to be a priest. Although he obviously decided not to join the priesthood, he was deeply in love with God. He modeled a life of prayer. He was almost always the first one up in the morning. He would fix coffee, and then he would sit in silence reading and praying. Dad taught at the Catholic school I attended along with all four of my siblings. That intense Catholic experience lasted until I was 13 when our family moved to rural Northwest Florida where the nearest Catholic school was miles away.

In retrospect, I realize I had a rich heritage of liturgy and ritual which I enjoyed. But when I married Rickey he was able to show me the meaningfulness of a personal, affectionate relationship with God. Together we joined a local expression of the Charismatic Movement with all the emotionality you might imagine and, unfortunately, with too much emphasis on exactly how to be spiritual. A controlling spiritual environment was a difficult place to have life struggles, but we survived still in love with each other and God.

When God gave us Catherine, and we discovered she was severely autistic, emotional spiritual experiences were woefully inadequate in helping us cope. We managed by going deep into God.

And, as is often the case in our life, there were books to read. One important discovery was the book Jesus, The Teacher Within, by Fr. Laurence Freeman. When we discovered Freeman was going to be visiting locally, we took advantage of the opportunity to hear him speak. He gave voice to the call of silent prayer, and my spirit said yes! Shortly after that, our local newspaper listed a workshop on centering prayer, and Rickey and I made a point of attending. Not much later, Rickey and then I started going on retreats. My initial retreat experience was the boost I needed to establish me in the regular practice of centering prayer. It is an immense help and an incredible gift to be able to share this prayer with Rickey.

If there is one thing I've learned in my 56 years, it is that there is no perfect place, and there are no perfect people. But there is perfect grace. And right now in this present moment I believe I am experiencing the mystery of that grace by being a member of this non-geographic community where we share God's embrace in the silence.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Spiritual Journey (RC)

Sarah Price’s request (in her 7-17-08 blog post on our site) that we share our spiritual stories isn’t an easy or short assignment, especially not when you’re an older adult, as I am. But I want to try. I will focus a few decisive elements of my story. I am a third generation Assemblies of God Christian. As a teenager and young adult in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I rebelled against the Lord. My re-conversion to Christianity in my early 20’s came about primarily through my reading of the Christian mystics, especially Thomas Merton, and through the impressive spirituality (i.e., powerful “witness”) of my then to-be wife Anna and her father.

After I returned to the Lord, Anna and I both became involved in the pentecostal-charismatic movement of the 1970’s. It seemed to us to fulfill many of the longings of the Christian mystics: a strong sense of the Lord’s presence, fervent love for him, and passionate desire to be conformed to and united with him in a deep way. The movement was young, and so were we. We didn’t know then how easily the movement could become shallow, routinized, and manipulated or how painful and difficult the challenges of life could be. We laid aside the mystics and contemplative spirituality and gave ourselves fully to the pentecostal-charismatic movement, with Anna joining me in my return to the Assemblies of God of my youth.

I now think that ongoing growth in the Lord requires 5-6 spiritual-emotional “deaths” and “born again” experiences at least. The conclusive “death” and “rebirth” experiences that forced Anna and me into the “contemplative depths” of God were first the severe autism of our adopted daughter Catherine and second a group of bright students at Southeastern in the mid-1990s that we loved “too much” (without mature and wise detachment) and who broke our hearts with their spiritual and moral failures.

I now believe that a “full gospel” spirituality must include silence and solitude as well as vibrant community worship. Although it’s been a long and often painful spiritual journey thus far, I rejoice to have been brought to this place in God and in our community. I believe we are experiencing true spiritual community with this kind of sharing and mutual support. I am excited and grateful for my sense of the Lord’s unfolding presence in our midst and for the quality of our spiritual friendship and spiritual dialogue.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Spiritual Journey (The Blog Version)

Sarah requested to learn a little about the members of our community in regards to their spiritual journeys. My journey began long before I can remember. Ever since I was an infant, I've been in church. My parents raised me as a Pentecostal Holiness. I spent many hours on the pews of First PH in Greeneville, TN. Some were sleeping, some were studying school work, and some were even actually listening to sermons! Every time the church doors were open (day or late night), I was there. After graduating high school in 1988, I started college at Tennessee Tech with aspirations of becoming a chemical engineer. After my first year of studies there, I began to discern a calling into ministry which led me to Lakeland Florida in 1989. I graduated from Southeastern in ‘93 with a severely deconstructed theology. I was so distraught that I abandoned my calling and became a computer entrepreneur. I worked in computers, and I church hopped looking for a place to "fit in" after leaving Florida. Several years later, I found that place in the United Methodist Church. I grew to love Methodism, and in 2000 I became a part-time local pastor. For the past 8 years, I have served the Methodist Church.

But all was not bliss. In 2004 I hit a wall in my spiritual journey and noticed that I had been gradually slipping back into a fundamentalist mindset. I became distraught and encountered my second Dark Night. I am grateful to RC for giving me wonderful spiritual direction during this crisis. I flew to Florida in January 2005, and attended a workshop in Niceville that he was conducting on Centering Prayer. Reading St. John of the Cross and beginning the practice of Centering Prayer was the catalyst for the revival of my spiritual journey. My ministry began to find new life, and I began to embrace the Mystery I had for so long sought to define. I will be starting my Master of Divinity at Vanderbilt in two weeks, and I am so eager to get back into the scholastic environment with a new spiritual outlook. I'm not going to school now to learn answers this go around. I'm going to learn new questions.

RC, my spiritual friend and mentor, has been one of the greatest blessings God has sent my way. Without his spiritual friendship, I literally don't know where I would be today. I am also glad we have this forum to meet and engage with likeminded spiritual sojourners.

Let the journey continue...


Thursday, July 31, 2008


"What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself."  

--Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov

 I am so indoctrinated by our culture's presentation of reality that such statements sound almost absurd. Am I actually being told not to harness a supernatural, masculine strength and beat my sinful self into submission? Am I really to believe that my sins will disappear through the simple act of observation—looking, seeing, noticing? My aversion to such a statement is rooted in a fascination with ambition, a tricky thing that requires close observation like a young, mischievous child that, if left unattended, will spoil dinner by discovering the candy in mom’s purse. It can often be as much the desire to achieve holiness as the selfishness behind the sins one desires freedom or separation from. Anthony de Mello says it better: 

All you can achieve by your effort is repression, not genuine change and growth. Change is only brought about by awareness and understanding. Understand your unhappiness and it will disappear—what results is the state of happiness. Understand your pride and it will drop—what results will be humility. Understand your fears and they will melt—the resultant state is love. Understand your attachments and they will vanish—the consequence is freedom.

Reorienting one’s position toward sin, guilt, and ambition will require a couple of things which I think contemplative practices cultivate over time: intention and an acceptance of God’s grace. Replacing ambition with intention releases the need to have possession or ownership of the outcome.  Intention, in this sense, is a desire to become Christ (or Christ-like, if you prefer) and to identify less with oneself and one’s accomplishments. To what degree or how quickly this is achieved should be of little concern to the individual, provided the goal or intention stays the same. What remains is an acceptance of God’s grace and a desire to incarnate the same in relationships with others.

 I am reminded of an anecdote I read a few days ago from Anne Lamott. After taking matters into her own hands, failing miserably (as we all do), and realizing her need for God’s love and forgiveness, she testifies: “Grace arrived, like the big, loopy stitches with which a grandmotherly stranger might baste your hem temporarily." Her experience describes what I desire: the humility to confess failure and ambition, the selflessness to fix my intention on Christ, and the buoyancy to accept His perfect grace in the condition of imperfection and foolishness. This, I believe, is the simple act of observation. In the end, as long as I’m not holding on, I’m available to welcome the work of Christ in the present moment.

--Daniel Sartin

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On person-hood

Well, Matt and I have been in England for the past month, and I'm sure it's time I posted on here again!  We've been living in community with people from all over the world, loving, learning, studying and interacting together.  More and more I believe that people are just that: persons.  Slowly (or maybe quickly) we lose our humanity and our personhood in the busyness of life; we go to work and come home, interacting only with those at work or home, and we see people in categories around us.  For instance, at home I last saw 5 teachers, 5 social workers, and 2 bosses, all of whom were women and either married or unmarried.  I've been so blessed to slow down and begin to understand that each of those staff members were people, persons.  I can see that those I'm encountering are people, and they are identified as persons with souls and bodies.  Personally, I am a person.  (haha)  Secondly, I am a wife, a teacher, a woman, etc.  But first, first, I am a person!  And so are you!  And so is the German woman with whom I was just speaking.  And so is the person who runs our hostel, and so is each person at work or in my family or at home.  From there, I can love and relate and trust.  It is special to be so intimately connected to each person around me, while also recognizing that the person next to me has beautiful and unique "accents" to his or her personhood.  

Anyway, that's one of the things I've been thinking about... I miss you all in Lakeland, and am thankful to be able to read everyone's posts on here while we're gone!  

Monday, July 28, 2008

Rereading the Bible

Overall, the preaching of scripture that I have heard and done over years and years comes from a perspective incompatible with the mystical contemplative Christian spirituality into which I have been called. A objectivistic, individualistic, materialistic perspective. Scripture as a guide of what to do, what not to do, what to think, and what not to think. Sermons as patting-ourselves-on-the-back or smacking-you-in-the-butt.

As a contemplative I consider scripture primarily as collected, inspired spiritual wisdom: scripture should offer us insights into ourselves and should offer us transformation at a level deeper than our “to do” list. Because of this view, I mostly favor the poetry and stories of the bible, and I center my theology around certain mystical passages like I am in my father, my father is in me, and I am in you and I pray that you be one, just as I and my father are one. Sadly, many other passages--for example, passages that describe how we should be in contrast to how we should not be--now “do nothing” for me. Gratefully, however, I have discovered the slow process of “rereading” the bible. As a sample of this, I am offering below a paraphrase/ interpretation from James (3:13-18).

Spiritually wise people live in the humility that comes from wisdom. This is the “good life.” Cultural “wisdom” advances the opposite of humility: dichotomies of us/them and you/me, notions of “my rights,” mindsets that allow us to consider ourselves better or worse than others, in other words, “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” If this malicious mindset is planted in our hearts, we should not try to deny or justify it. This mindset is related to “every evil practice.” We don’t need to weed out particular evil practices from ourselves—so much as we need to be healed of this heart condition. Spiritual wisdom is pure, uncorrupted by the cultural worldview of separateness. Because this purity of heart allows movement beyond the ego, spiritually wise people are considerate, submissive, full of mercy, full of good fruit, impartial, sincere, peace-loving peacemakers. Spiritually wise people sow their lives in peace. This is righteousness.

--Paul Corrigan

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Gift of Fortitude

I picked up my Daily Contemplative Devotional this evening and this was the title of today's entry. Father Keating says, "The Gift of energy to overcome major obstacles in the way of spiritual growth."

I never cease to be amazed at how many times I pick this little book up, and it speaks wisdom straight to my heart. I'm sensing the stress of life and am in need of some Fortitude. I get in the rut of thinking that effort and more effort will help me overcome the major obstacles in the middle of my spiritual path, but Fortitude should come serendipitously, as a result of abiding in God's love. Keating goes on to say that "Little by little, the Gift of Fortitude, in conjunction with the other Gifts, transmutes the energy of anger designed by nature for defensive purposes into zeal for the service of God and the needs of others." The next sentence really brought peace to my spirit..."It sustains difficult ministries and welcomes the vicissitudes of daily life instead of fighting or resisting them or giving way to feelings of frustration."

My, how I have fought, resisted and been frustrated today. I choose to be still with today now. The day was what it was, and this moment of realization makes the hardships of today beneficial.

[Centering Pause]

It's amazing what a little stillness does to your perspective! Thanks be to God.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


If you have never been to a silent (centering prayer) retreat before, the community that weaves itself around and among a group of people who spend the majority of the time they are with each other in absolute silence would amaze you.

I was reflecting on my own recent trip to Alabama for a silent retreat and noted that much of the conversation that I had with my fellow retreatants (when we were not being quiet, of course), involved learning about their spiritual journeys--where they've been and where they're going, and, of course, why they would be crazy enough to join a group of strangers and not talk to them for an entire week (or longer).

A successful community, then, is built with connections among its members and around its purpose. We are not only investing in spirituality here, we are investing in each other as spiritual beings.

With that in mind, would my fellow community members be willing to post about their spiritual journeys? Please share how the Spirit led you into contemplation and where He's taking you through it. I know we've shared basic biographies in the past, and this doesn't have to deal with that material more than is necessary. Just tell your stories of how God has brought you to where you are--here, in this community, investing in spirituality and in each other.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Some RSS Guidance

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it is used to be notified when items are posted to blog sites primarily. There are lots of RSS readers out there, but I'll try to give you a run down on the one I use: Google Reader. It is free, and I assume most of you probalby have a Google Account already set up. If not, you can start here to get that going:

After you have your Google Account (username and password) established, you can visit

When you get to the Google Reader page, you can manually add the Living Stones Subscription feed by clicking the "Add Subscription" link and then entering the Posts Atom Link (it's listed at the bottom of our blog): . If everything is setup right, after you start using the reader, you can click RSS or Post Atom links on blog sites and Google will pop up and ask you if you like to subscribe in your personal iGoogle Page or your Google Reader App. I just hit the Google Reader button and all my blog updates can be found in ONE PLACE!!! If you have an iPhone, the Google Reader is really sweet on it!! I do a lot of blog reading in Grocery lines, etc.

I'm not too good at Technical Writing. So if these instructions don't work, or confuse the heck out of you. I can be reached on Skype, {mark(DOT)wills(DOT)tn} and I have a neat Remote Access program I can use to log into your PC and help you out.

More Google RSS Reader help can be found at:
Hope that make some sense.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Rocks as Prayers

I’ve shared before about child-raising as a spiritual practice. It’s a tricky thing because it includes tasks that conflict for me with contemplative practices. But it’s also an incredible opportunity because one of the goals of spiritual practice is to cultivate awareness during tasks—to do tasks in the moment.

One of my tasks is to keep Elea awake during certain several-hour stretches of the day to help her sleep at night. We’ve recently discovered a lake within walking distance from our house with a two-mile path around it and a number of walkways that extend over the water. Every day this past week I’ve taken Elea there in her stroller. Unfortunately, the stroller and the breeze off the water help put her to sleep so I have to keep taking her out of her seat and bouncing her. This constant “trying” interferes with practicing presence and awareness. I even hurt my back doing it.

I discovered something today—after Christine told me I need to be more creative about keeping Elea awake. I found a spot where there’s about a twelve-foot slope from the path down to the edge of the lake. I parked the stroller at the top, went down, and sat close to the water with Elea. We were next to a red canoe that was banked upside-down on the shore. I showed Elea some rocks and then tossed them in, and she watched them make a splash. As long as I hold her attention, she stays awake.

“Each rock will be a prayer,” I told her. “Jesus, bless Mommy who is sick in bed.” Amen. Splash. “Jesus, bless ____.” Amen. Splash. When we finished our list, we keep praying but without words.

Amen. Splash. . . . Amen. Splash. . . . Amen. Splash. . . .
--Paul Corrigan

Hello From England

Hey everyone. I feel a little far removed but it is nice to have this non-geographical community to return to. Everything is going great so far for Jen and I. We have arrived at L'Abri which is the community that we are going to be apart of for the next month. I have had some wonderful conversations and prayer times so far. Many of the people are interested in some of the same theological areas that I have been hashing out. I am making a valiant attempt to include mysticism in most of my conversations and am happy to report that I have received very positive feedback. Thanks for all your prayers and emotional support. It means a lot to us to have most of you back home awaiting our return. 

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Morning has broken...

I spent the past week in and around Fredericksburg, Texas at Summer Institute. It is a training program for all Ambleside School teachers. They were long, arduous days filled with taking in information, assimilating it, discussing it. At the end of each session throughout the day, we tried to respond to the material in meaningful ways.

The purpose behind the special teacher training is to help us understand the philosophy behind the Ambleside Schools. There is a strong emphasis on being in relationship with God, His creation, our students, and the text we are using. I had a good mental understanding, but it hadn't penetrated to my heart completely by the end of the week. Until yesterday.

Yesterday morning I woke up early-ish and sat out on the porch of the guesthouse (out on a ranch in the Hill Country) where I stayed at night. I was savoring my first cup of coffee as the sun peered over the horizon. The birds were waking up by ones and twos. The whip-poor-will was recommending castigating poor Will; a cardinal (or a mockingbird) poured out his heart's delight; and some other unseen choristers shared happy chirpings and obbligato descants. There was a trumpet flower vine wrapped around one of the porch columns with a seedpod on it. As the sun kissed the orange flowers, they lit up as if from within. I walked over to examine it closely. There were apparently stationary ants randomly scattered across seedpod and flowers. Suddenly, as if by command, they all moved. I watched this synchronized group ballet several times. Then I sat back down, and continued watching from a distance. An unexpected movement in the tree near the porch caught my eye. As I focused on the movement, I saw it was a wee hummer, who was also deriving nourishment from the trumpet vine flowers. Soon, a second hummer joined the first one. After a few minutes, the two hummers were playing a kind of “tag” chasing each other around the tree branches. Then, a third hummer joined the first two in their diversion.

I was stunned by the beauty of the morning that God had awakened me to see. I realized that these creatures were all in relationship with their Creator, and to varying degrees with one another. Then, it struck me: in waking me early, and suggesting to me that I sit out of doors with my coffee, my Abba taught my heart what I still needed to understand about what it means to live relationally.

How heartrendingly exquisite, even in its brokenness, is the world that God created!


Our Blog as Spiritual Practice

To have a spiritual life of substance and genuineness, we need to have some well-considered core spiritual practices. We need some definite awareness of what we do spiritually and why. There should be some intentionality and consistency. This is true for us as individuals, and it’s true for our community.

It seems to me that to be a non-geographical community, we will need to view and engage our blog as part of our spiritual practices. Our community commitment says that we will visit our community blog at least once a week. I am wondering if we should commit to more than that in regard to the blog, perhaps to posting an entry at least every two weeks, as one possibility. Please share any response you have to this possibility.

In any case, I do think we need to see the blog as part of our community’s commitment to practice spiritual dialogue, and we need to invest in it. We have agreed that our community is tentative, fragile, and experimental. Do we think it should stay at this level? As usual I have no interest in unilaterally projecting onto others or of unilaterally causing something to happen. But I am wondering about these things and looking for reflective dialogue.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pandora Radio and Gregorian Chant

Pandora Radio is a free online music source that creates personalized radio stations for users. You provide an artist name or song title, and it plays songs based on your choice. I have been using Pandora Radio for about a month, mostly listening to Billy Joel and Juanez.

Today I checked whether the database contained Gregorian Chant music. I entered "Gregorian Chant" in the slot for artist name or song title, and several options came up. Earlier this summer, Dr. Cotton played for me a CD of music from the Taize Community. That's what made me think to do this.

I highly recommend Gregorian Chant on Pandora Radio!

I am listening right now, as I write this, being washed over, inundated even, by the music. It is a blessing. I'm a little breathless.

--Paul Corrigan

Friday, June 20, 2008

Community Calling

This morning I want to post a quote from Rowan Williams’s book Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another. I believe it speaks to what we are seeking as we invest in our dialogical community. It encourages and strengthens me in our calling to being a community centered in the Spirit of Christ and faithful to the Spirit's unfolding work. I hope it speaks to you as well.

Williams writes, “The church is always renewed from the edges rather than from the center. There is a limit to what the institutional church can do. Institutions have their own dynamic and their own problems, and renewal tends not to come from central planning. It was Saint Francis who went to Pope Innocent III, not the other way around….The parish structure works up to a point. It is one among a number of ways of being church. For many people, in addition to parochial loyalties, there are cross parochial loyalties and networks that feed and sustain them….As time passes it will be harder to think that the future of the church will take one clear and uniform institutional shape across the globe or even through local communities. In some areas, the church is already beginning to exist in parallel lines, not in sealed compartments but in different styles and idioms and with real interchange. The challenge lies in the discovery of a church renewed in contemplation, across the cultural frontiers of our world” (111-112).


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Lightning Bugs

Paying attention is hard. I mean, the kind of paying attention where you actually live--notice the way the sun feels on your skin, the ivy slithering up the tree you pass by every day, the pattern on the cat that lives downstairs. Life is so beautiful, so rich with detail; always an invitation. And sometimes I'm so distracted with myself--with my neurotic fears and anxieties-- that I just don't see the open door, don't hear the voice in the kitchen beckoning, don't even smell the cookies baking. I just walk on by with my hands in my pockets and my mind twisted up in little knots--kind of the way a sheet is sometimes when you pull it out of the wash.

Almost every evening I go for a walk in the neighborhood behind my apartment; it's full of cute little houses with dedicated gardeners, and one of the roads deadends into a creek. Sometimes I go by myself and sometimes John goes with me. I almost always notice something different, something really wonderful--and I go home so full of it I could burst. Once it was a tiny bunny in someone's front yard, once a beautiful blue heron standing among the rocks in the creek, but usually a flower or a tree or a bird; and two nights ago it was lightning bugs. Blinking on and off like popcorn popping; and I was like a child, "Oh, look! There's one!" John and I wondered aloud what the purpose of fireflies is; I said it was just God having fun. I looked it up online when I got home. (Maybe you knew this, but I am largely inexperienced with fireflies)--the lighting up is how they find their mates; different species of fireflies have different lighting patterns so they don't intermix. I read a little more and discovered they were scavenging animals and liked to stalk snails and slugs for fun. I frowned and said to John, "Oh, even the fireflies are all about sex and violence," but I wasn't really disappointed, even if I do have a special place in my heart for snails. I still wrote in my journal that night that they are the most hopeful of things I can think of. Fireflies. Absurd and extravagant gifts.

So paying attention matters. Seeing the world and being grateful that it's there. Natural beauty takes us outside of ourselves and our petty concerns and makes us see how small our problems are, how little they matter in the grand scheme of things, in the face of wild beauty, of life unfolding and living and dying and recreating itself over and over again. I notice the lightning bugs best when my mind is not all tangled up in my own small world. God, help me to live a wider, vaster, freer life.

My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, has this wonderful poem called "Messenger" that I like to read when I begin to forget how beautiful the world is and when I forget to be grateful for it. Ms. Oliver is teaching me through her exquisite words and her expansive spirit to love the world better, to be unashamed of the innocence I feel when I am with trees and grass and sky, and to walk through life with wide eyes and an attentive presence. Here's her poem:


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

--Erica Waters Orzechowski

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Today Matt and I visited my parents and spent time with my dad and his dad also.  When we were driving home, I started to think about my dad and the foundational love he has given me and my brother.  I call it foundational because from it, I have been able to live in security and confidence as well as integrity and faithfulness.  He has taught me about both God's love and mystery and modeled for me both steadfastness and abandonment of self to be in relationship with God.  I could probably keep writing for hours, but I won't.  As I was thinking about my dad, I began to realize that God has placed so many incredible 'fathers' around Matt and me.  To all of the dads reading this, I wish you a very blessed Father's Day, and thank you so much for the examples of God's love and support that you all set for those around you.  I am grateful for your willingness to seek God with us and help us on our own journeys.  Thank you again, happy Father's Day!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tai Chi and Present Moment

I’ve been having sporadic spiritual conversations with my sensei over the past year, talking over lunch every few months, and shooting a few emails to each other here and there. I want to share a little bit of our last exchange. (I called her to ask if it was okay.)

Amy: A MASTER IS GOALLESS Unfortunately, our society has developed a mentality that puts quick and easy results ahead of long-term dedication. The modern world can be viewed as a conspiracy against mastery. We¹re constantly bombarded with promises of immediate gratification and instant success, all which lead to the wrong direction. A master’s joy is in the training, the journey, not the goal. It’s the day-to-day that he values, not the belt itself. [This was sent in a weekly listserv email to the dojo. The following two notes were emails.]

Paul: Sensei, I love your note about masters and goals. For me, both your comment on modern culture and about the attitude of masters' are very spiritual. In Christian mysticism, there is something called the sacrament of the present moment. That is, paying attention to the moment you are in, being present to the present, can be (should be) a spiritual practice. A "sacrament"--if you will--like taking communion.

Amy: Great Paul. Much to discuss on this. We rush thru brushing our teeth, making our bed, showering, doing our work... so we can get to "the good stuff." Nothing counts except the pin-point "good stuff", maybe our lunches, our beer with the guys, or our weekend trips. If we could more enjoy brushing our teeth, washing the dishes, etc., we'd be more happy, instead of rushing thru what we view as the mundane to get to what we view as important. I am reading your book you lent me [Generous Orthodoxy] a little more closely. Very interesting. I especially enjoy your little notes [written in the margins]!

--Paul Corrigan

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Frustrations and the Presence of God

Lately I’ve been getting sleepy around ten, but our baby has a feeding at eleven. I’m never fully frustrated about having to get up, warm the bottle, wait for it, get the baby, feed her, change her diaper halfway through, and then feed her the rest; but I’m definitely chore minded about it. (Isn’t task orientation one of the antitheses of present moment orientation?)

A good number of times, while into these night feedings—which we do on the couch with the lights out—I settle into it . . . Then I become aware that, or remember that God is all around me loving me. A freshness in the air. Today this happened a few times. The most prominent moment was when, less than a minute after I changed her diaper for pee, the baby pooped. A wasted diaper. Another change. But I had a happy peace.

Is this a petty testimony? Messy diaper don’t frustrates me—I’m not afraid of mess—just the occurrence of little things that aren’t my way. For example, I ordered a used textbook online that was supposed to be in “very good” condition but came with the previous owner’s name written largely on all the page edges. This irked me. Little things that aren’t my way. Sounds petty when I put it like that.

I need more grace. But I’m grateful for the grace I’ve got.

God let me be less prone to frustration over little things and more prone to remember your omniscient loving presence. And thank you for babies, if that’s how you’re reminding me.

--Paul Corrigan

Monday, May 19, 2008


I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
- Ps 77:11

We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness.
- T. S. Eliot

I woke up the other morning feeling a bit nostalgic—perhaps it's the move, my birthday, the wonderful barrage of life's changes over the past few weeks. Attention to the past can be a barrier: I know my own anxiety, guilt, and regret over some past actions and experiences. But I've realized how memory can also be a wonderful vehicle for the spiritual life and can be helpful to us, just as it was for the Israelites who were constantly re-telling the story of God's faithfulness towards them. Remembering our past—the seeming drudgeries, as well as the profound successes and defeats—with eyes to see God's presence grounds us in our own shared story with God and God's people. Our memory is an essential part of our identity.

I wish that contemplative awareness had permeated my life to the degree that I could be completely present to every moment as it's happening; but often I have the experience as if I'm watching someone else live it, my mind busy with other considerations or distractions. Thankfully, as Eliot says, we might re-approach any experience with our eyes open and catch a glimpse of God's meaning. I read once that one should take some time at the end of every day to think back over the day's events and consider God's presence throughout and thank God for it. I hope I might learn to live by that discipline.

To share some of the things I remember from the past weeks: our landlady, who is abrupt and sometimes hostile, took ten minutes to give Erica and me very helpful advice about Nashville; riding my bike, a man sitting in a gas station waiting to get into a huge line of traffic waved me in front of him and perhaps missed his chance because of his kindness; a friend I had never met took me out for lunch and guided me all over the eight floors of the Vanderbilt library looking for employment; a small child in the neighborhood behind our apartment complex saw us walking and peered out the door and heartily waved at us; and, of course, I wake up every morning next to my beautiful new wife. I'm thankful.

--John Orzechowski

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