Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Sweet Returning

Today, of course, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. We have just returned from church with its softly-lit and quiet nave, solemn recitations, and liturgy for the day we are bid to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. I still have the ash cross on my forehead and the words of our Old Testament reading ringing in my ears: return to the Lord. These are actually the same words that I have been consciously and unconsciously saying to myself for days now: return to the Lord.

It started a few nights ago as I was saying my rosary: this sense of returning just came over me. A sweet returning. A re-focusing of my attention, a drawing inward and towards. A return to myself and to God, both of whom I have been terribly distant from without even fully realizing it.

So Lent. This is my second time observing it, and my first time doing it with any real intentionality or expectation. This time I really want to prepare myself for the miracle of Easter and what it means for us. Lent is solemn, a time to take stock of one's life, to pare down, to pray and repent--but it is rooted in joy, the joy of the Christ's resurrection, the joy of our own resurrection.

This is a prayer I say a lot and the one that is foremost in my heart during this season of prayer, fasting, and preparation: Come, Lord Jesus. Draw us to yourself. Come, Lord Jesus. Draw all things to yourself.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Czaslaw Milosz "On Prayer"

You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.
All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge
And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,
Above landscapes the color of ripe gold
Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.
That Bridge leads to the shore of Reversal
Where everything is just the opposite and the word is
Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.
Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,
Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh
And knows that if there is no other shore
We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.
--Czeslaw Milosz, "On Prayer"
I'm sharing this poem "On Prayer" by Czeslaw Milosz, the Nobel-winning, Polish, Christian poet, because it seems particularly mystical to me. Milosz invokes God in the tradition of the via negativa ("who is not"), speaks of the negation of all our constructs ("the shore of Reversal"), and emphasizes "the word is" with the suggestion that "being" means something we "hardly envisioned."

I don't think that the whole bit about prayer being a "velvet bridge" springing us "above landscapes" by "magic" is so useful for explaining the practical practice of prayer on a daily basis, which I find much less exhilarating. But perhaps the metaphor is getting at the mystical (rather than practical) aspects of prayer, which are important to discuss though impossible to find fully suitable metaphors for. The mystical aspects of prayer: spirit permeating matter, the intersection of eternity with here and now, "the stopping of the sun" (timelessness) on the landscape (in which we live in time).

The most mystical and most important part of the poem, though, is the emphasis on we which Milosz uses four of these twelve lines to explain.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Henri Nouwen Excerpt

This exerpt from Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart really spoke to me, so I wanted to share it with our community:

“We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with him and him alone….Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature….[W]e come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self….Precisely because our secular [and religious] milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own. We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord. Without such a desert we will lose our own soul while preaching the gospel to others….[We] need to…set apart a time and a place to be with God and him alone….[L]ike all great disciples of Jesus, Mother Teresa affirmed…the truth that ministry can be fruitful only if it grows out of a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord” (20-21).

My prayer for all of us is for a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord!

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