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

Monday, May 5, 2008

Looking for miracles

Is it easier to say to the sick person, “Your sins are forgiven;” or to say, “Get up, pick up your bed, and walk?”

Jesus had a way with irony. The outward, visible work of physical healing, shelter, or money to pay the taxes, and bills is what we look for. We want something we can see, or touch. That, we say, is a miracle! Moreover, it may well be a miracle. Sometimes, though, I wonder if in looking for something tangible, we may overlook the more important miracle of an inner working, changing, and maturing done by the Holy Spirit during times of great pressure.

In October, I suffered the deep humiliation of being fired from my job as a caseworker for people with developmental disabilities. At some point during the week following my mortification, I closed my mouth and listened. A still, small voice calmed my spirit, and I asked Him, “What now, Lord?” His response led me into two of the best months of my life being available to serve Him in whatever direction He pointed me. The Lord took my focus off me, and trained my vision and hearing on Him. That He put me in the best job I’ve ever had in my life was a miracle—but not as great as the miracle of the joy He gave me in Himself in spite of circumstances. It was not as great as the miracle He did of changing my customary response to trouble into one of learning to depend more fully on Him.

In March, my husband was “downsized” from his place of employment. He immediately went to someone for counsel, and that person told him he would soon be glad of what seemed an unfortunate event, and helped hubby get his focus on the Lord. Harry immediately began looking for the things God had for him to do each day, and did them. It was a familiar pattern! He kept focused on knowing that God had a plan for him and that at the right time God would reveal the plan. He kept his eyes on the Lord through it all. During that time, the Lord had provided money to pay our taxes, our bills, and to put food on the table. Last Friday, Harry got a call offering him employment. It was just a job, but he needed a job so he said he would do it, and was thankful.

The Lord was not yet finished, though. A man for whom he has been doing the odd job of accounting and bookkeeping from time to time, got a call from the place that wanted to hire Harry asking for a reference. As this man told them about Harry’s skills and abilities he suddenly thought, “I should hire Harry.” So, he did. As his business manager. And just as the job the Lord gave me is one He has made me fit for, so also the job He gave Harry is one for which He has made Harry fit to do for His glory.

So…is it easier to pay bills and provide tailor-made jobs in a depressed economy, or to mold hearts in ways that will last for Eternity?

Susan Price

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