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

Blog Archive