Monday, June 29, 2009

Thoughts on Detachment

Detachment doesn’t mean not loving. It means to be free to love with God’s love. Without detachment we are not free. We are bound to our limited selves, our egos, and when we are bound we project onto others, grasp after them, and/or reject them. Without detachment we cannot be fully aware of others or fully present to them. So we love selfishly, at least partly, and in self-serving ways.

Detachment enables us to be aware of and engage reality as it really is. It enables us to welcome and embrace the unfolding of reality and be present and responsive to the Spirit at work within it. Without detachment we cannot see truth, cannot realize or actualize the truth.

Detachment requires skillful, intentional humility and vulnerability because detachment does not come naturally to us; it is a supernatural gift, a grace, though we can practice making ourselves available to it. My prayer for myself and for our community is that we continue to grow in loving others with awareness, humility, and skill. And this, I think, requires detachment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

For grace to be grace....

"For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn't know we needed, and take us to places where we didn't want to go." --Kathleen Norris

I've been reading Norris's Acedia and Me for a few months in between other other things, and this quote keeps coming back to me. One of the things that God's Grace has given me in the past four years is the clear awareness of not being able to be in control of my life. Little by little, what control I thought I had has been nudged away gently, or not-so-gently at times. It hits me hardest when I see my children struggling, and I may not interfere. There is a pain in those situations, yet the grace was abundant as needed...if I would receive it. The blessing has been to see them finding their own need to lean on God's Grace for themselves.

Grace took me to an employment situation this year that, much as I had longed for the position, became a place of intense, painful personal growth. There is no way I would have chosen to go there had I better known what lay ahead. Yet, knowing what I have gained this year, I would not change a thing of this past year unless it were that I should not have been so overly adamant and immovable for as long as I was.

The next event toward which Grace is moving me is my daughter's wedding next month. I am working on finishing her wedding gown which has become a contemplative prayer in and of itself. Maternal yearnings attached to each stitch and flower remind me that she is a precious gift of Grace which I never imagined I needed until she came into our lives.

Grace will be there the day after the wedding, too.

Susan Price

Monday, June 15, 2009

The spiritual life is so simple

The spiritual life is so simple. For instance, Micah sums it like this: what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (6:8). Jesus also has a nice summery of the spiritual life (Matt. 22.40). So does St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Lately, I've felt that I have not much else to learn about the spiritual life as far as mental learning, not because I know so much but because there isn't all that much to know. It seems, though maybe I'm exaggerating and maybe I'm wrong, that you need to "know" just enough to "do" and "be" in love, which mostly is to "know" the truth about a few key lies about the false self.

The spiritual life is so simple you would think it ought to be easy.

But its not.

Below I've pasted an excerpt from Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation which details one such instance where something so simple is so difficult: Merton speaks about the spiritual value of living with people (New Directions 1961, pp. 191, 192, edited for gender neutrality).

In my life, the friction of living with my wife and my children could be invaluable to spiritual growth. I know this! I have known this from the beginning! But so many times I act or feel as if my wife and children--and in-laws!--were distractions from "spirituality," from reading, writing, prayer or silence.

Gracefully, I do not always do this: often I realize in the moment the value of the grinding and am content to be present to it. Praise God for this. But when I live in the fragmentation between what I know and how I live or feel, I demonstrate the gulf between the simplicity of the spiritual life and the easiness thereof. But here's the passage:

Very few are sanctified in isolation. Very few become perfect in absolute solitude.
. . . Living with other people and learning to lose ourselves in the understandings of their weakness and deficiencies can help us become true contemplatives. For there is no better means of getting rid of the rigidity and harshness and coarseness of our ingrained egoism, which is the one insuperable obstacle to the infused light and action of the Spirit of God.
. . . Even the courageous acceptance of interior trials in utter solitude cannot altogether compensate for the work of purification accomplished in us by patience and humility in loving other people and sympathizing with their most unreasonable needs and demands.
. . . There is always a danger that hermits will only dry up and solidify in their own eccentricity. Living out of touch with other people they tend to lose that deep sense of spiritual realities, which only pure love can give.
. . . Do you think the way to sanctity is to lock yourself up with prayers and your books and the meditations that please and interest your mind, to protect yourself with many walls, against people you consider stupid? Do you think the way to contemplation is found in the refusal of activities and works which are necessary for the good of others but which happen to bore and distract you? Do you imagine that you will discover God by winding yourself up in a cocoon of spiritual and aesthetic pleasures, instead of renouncing all your tastes and desires and ambitions and satisfactions for the love of Christ, Who will not even live within you if you cannot find Him in other people?

We pray together that God will help us to be aware of what we know and to do those simple but hard things which are required of us by love.

Friday, June 12, 2009

"Frailty is a Moment of Self-Reflection"

Erica and I went to the art museum a few weeks ago. One of the exhibits was called Paint Made Flesh. It featured works of mostly contemporary artists, who deal with what it means to be a material, fleshly being, complete with emotions, memory, sexuality, etc. One of the themes that was examined again and again was that of vulnerability. This painting by Eric Fischl especially caught my eye. The painting is (to me) haunting and beautiful. The old man stands naked and alone, obviously frail and vulnerable. The artist gives it the apt title "Frailty is a Moment of Self-Reflection." The painting invites the viewer into this reflective act; even though most of us are not as visibly frail as this man, we all face frailty and vulnerability. It is essential to being human.

We are vulnerable in so many obvious ways that it seems superfluous to even mention them. Our futures are not certain, our health is not a guarantee; we could lose people we love, or goals that we've worked hard to achieve could fall apart. In spite of our culture's best attempts to hide behind money or technological advances or U.S. military strength (could we call it a collective false self?), it seems that every now and then we are jarred out of our illusion and reminded of our vulnerability, whether by the events of 9/11, a financial crisis, or swine flu. Notably, vulnerability so often leads us to lash out at others before they hurt us: so much violence is justified in this way. This violence includes not just physical manifestations, of course, but the ways we close ourselves off from the other. If we recognize that we are all frail and our lives are in God's hands, we might be less likely to resort to such defense mechanisms, making us more open for dialogue with each other.

Another obvious element of vulnerability is that it is essential for relationships, including our relationship with God. We even talk about "skillful" vulnerability in our rule. Love is always a risk, of course, and it's not possible without opening up to the other. Our relationship with God seems to continually confront us with this reality, whether it's the vulnerability of sitting in silence, taking a sabbath (when there's so much that needs done), or embarking on a new and difficult journey in life. It seems to me that engaging in the spiritual life is to continually come to terms with this reality. The process of stripping away our false self and all of its defenses confronts us with our naked vulnerability; this process is often enough painful but ultimately healing.

The painting reminded me how important it is to come to terms with my own human vulnerability. Ultimately, vulnerability is a reminder of what we've all said countless times about the spiritual life: it is a gift. Our own actions and intentions matter, but a contemplative relationship with God always requires God's initiative. I am reminded that God made us vulnerable for a reason, and that it is essential to being human; I think the spiritual life encourages us to come to terms with that.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

a Centering Prayer picture

Well, as Matt and I spend time here at L'Abri, we are being incredibly blessed by the community around us. The mother of one of the couples here, Judy, came this week to see her family, and she is also a spiritual director who practices centering prayer as well as other meditative practices. This past Monday, she spoke to us on centering prayer and gave us a short period of time in which to pray as well. The following is about the time Judy spent with us and the picture God shared with me afterward.

Judy opened up the time by preparing the altar, our coffee table. She cleaned it gently and purposefully, and set a cloth, a cross, a rock, two branches, and a candle on the table. Then she said a guided meditation to lead us into our time of centering prayer. After we centered, one of the women here asked me about what goes on in my mind when I center, and I was given the neatest picture. I told her that it was like taking a walk or hanging out with my best friend Sarah. Sometimes we can just be silent together. We don't try to conjure up conversation if it is not already taking place, and sometimes we may not even mention something that pops into our heads if we recognize the silence. But we do notice the things around us; we see trees or people or beaches - the setting we're in. We just don't heed or engage them because we are content to just be us fully and silently together.
Now of course Sarah and I experience times when we can hardly stop speaking, or we ask each other for help, or we have fun, and that is an incredible and necessary part of our friendship. I feel that this is the same or similar with God. I can talk to Him, sing to Him, ask Him things, listen to Him, and, I can be with him.

Jen Addis

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