Saturday, December 18, 2010

SOF: John O'Donohue and The Inner Landscape of Beauty

SOF: John O'Donohue and The Inner Landscape of Beauty

I listened to this podcast on beauty on the way home from Nashville today. I enjoyed it so much, I picked up a copy of John O’Donohue’s book: To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Hot topics from the podcast: Beauty, Celtic Spirituality, The Power of Landscape/Nature (Great combo with Wendell Berry, readings), Beauty of Dialog, Talk about the Philosophy/Theology of Time, and The Irish Accent is just beautiful to listen to!

Here is a podcast excerpt from O’Donohue that really caught me:
“One way, and I think this is a really lovely way, and I think it’s an interesting question to ask one self too, you know? And the question is when is the last time that you had a great conversation, a conversation which wasn’t just two intersecting monologues, which is what passes for conversation a lot in this culture. But when had you last a great conversation, in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew. That you heard yourself receiving from somebody words that absolutely found places within you that you thought you had lost and a sense of an event of a conversation that brought the two of you on to a different plane. And then fourthly, a conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards, you know? And I’ve — I’ve had some of them recently, and it’s just absolutely amazing, like, as we would say at home, they are food and drink for the soul, you know?

Second thing, I think a question to always, ask oneself, who are you reading? Who are you reading? And where are you stretching your own boundaries? Are you repetitive in that? And you know, one of the first books I read as a child — we had no books at home, but a neighbor of ours had all these books and he brought loads of books, that’s how I ruined my eyes and I have to wear glasses. But one of the first books I read was a book by Willie Sutton, the bank robber, who was doing 30 years for robbing banks. And in the book somebody asked Willie, and they said, “Willie why do you rob banks?” And Willie said, “‘Cause that’s where the money is.” And you know, why do we read books, ‘cause that’s where the wisdom is.”

I just love the power of words and friends!

Friday, December 10, 2010

In Remembrance of Father Thomas Merton

Like all of you, I have gleaned much from the writings of Thomas Merton. I looked at my Merton devotional for today, A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals, and I thought I'd add an excerpt from it for today, the 42nd anniversary of his death.

December 10
Dying and Being Reborn in Christ

(Thomas Merton enters Gethsemani on December 10, 1941; he dies by accident while attending a monastic conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968)

I come into solitude to die and love. I come here to be created by the Spirit in Christ.

I am called here to grow. "Death" is a critical point of growth, or transition to a new mode of being; to a maturity and fruitfulness that I do not know (they are in Christ and His Kingdom). The child in the womb does not know what will come after birth. He must be born in order to live. I am here to learn to face death as my birth.

This solitude -- a refuge under His wings, a place to hide myself in His Name, therefore, a sanctuary where the grace of Baptism remains a conscious, living, active reality valid not only for me but for the whole Church. Here, planted as a seed in the cosmos I will be a Christ seed, and bring fruit for other men. Death and rising in Christ.

I need to be "confirmed" in my vocation by the Spirit (speaking through the Church, i.e., the abbot and the community). This ordains me to be the person I am and to have the particular place and function I have, to be myself in the sense of choosing to tend toward what God wants me to be, and to orient my whole life to being the person He loves. (We are all "loved in general," but we have to personally accept a special love of God for ourselves.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Simple, Not Easy...

Here is another brief excerpt from the project:

Jane Vennard says that “Centering Prayer is simple but not easy.” She aptly notes that due to our cultural attachment to productivity, we may get discouraged with Centering Prayer and feel that nothing has happened, and we may in the beginning feel more anxious after the first few sessions of Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is like growing corn. When one seed is planted, it takes time before it germinates. It must rest in the silence of the earth for some time and the farmer must wait to see the benefits of his/her labor. Just as it takes time to develop an ear of corn, it also takes time to develop an ear of contemplation. According to Michael Casey, “Our contact with God is not immediately profound, but reaches profundity only after many years’ continuance. Therefore, our initial experience must necessarily be superficial, although at the time we could not realize this. The full benefits of revelation are not accessible to a rapid perusal.”

As Advent is soon to begin, I pray that it is a season of slow revelation for us all!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Meditative Preaching

Here is an excerpt from the praxis stage of my senior project. The context of my paper is guide for Methodist ministers in rural congregations to incorporate Centering Prayer into their churches. This is one of the first tactics I encourage fellow ministers to implement in preparing the way for deeper practices of contemplation.

Silence is a phenomenon that is predominately avoided at all costs in our technological culture. The radio and television industries refer to it as “dead air.” I have witnessed a friend of mine who is a radio program producer go into a frantic furry pushing buttons, twisting knobs and sliding controls as he struggled to get the music playing again during a period of “dead air.” Silence in our daily lives seems to make us very uncomfortable, and this psychological response may frustrate us greatly in our spiritual formation. While I was on a silent retreat in 2006, in Sewanee, Tennessee, I noticed that the priest who led our retreat intentionally interjected long pauses of silence throughout our daily Eucharistic services. Ironically, I was shocked on a silent retreat to witness silence in the “order” of corporate worship. I remember how profound the pauses were and how the timing accentuated my experience of the Sacrament. Thus, I agree with Kent Groff’s encouragement for pastors, priests, and worship leaders to intentionally weave extended pauses of silence into their worship services. This is one, non-offensive way to slowly increase an empirical awareness of the value of silence.

Henri Nouwen also describes the value of silence in preaching in his book The Way of the Heart. In this little book, he instructs preachers to consciously integrate meditative preaching as one way to “practice the ministry of silence.” He states that such preaching moves the attention of a listener away from the pulpit to the listener’s heart revealing an interior abode of silence. For example, if a preacher will read the phrase “The Lord is My Shepherd” and refrain from expounding upon it, and read it again after a slight pause and then allow for a longer pause, something transformational can take place. Nouwen argues that the Word will “lead a listener to the silent pastures where [he/she] can dwell in the loving presence of [God] in whose Name the preacher speaks.” Most rural congregations who use the lectionary do not sing a Psalm response, rather they responsively read it; a lector can easily add a minute of silence after a line the congregation echoes before reading her or his next line.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Passage on Faith, by Brian C. Taylor

The following passage on faith comes from Brian C. Taylor, Becoming Human: Core Teachings of Jesus. Someone shared it with me, and I'm posting it here because it seems to fit nicely with John's recent post on hope:

Faith is a matter of moving into a region where we are not in control and then trusting anyway. We do not know if things will turn out the way we envision them; we do not know if God will heal us physically, transform our failure into success, or make our problems go away. When we call upon God’s help, the only things we do know is that we cannot heal ourselves, we cannot make our failure into a success, we cannot make our problems go away. We also know, in faith, that God is good. These two things—our helplessness and God’s goodness—are the only things we know. They are the only things we need to know . . .

Blind to the future, unable to envision new life, we nevertheless step forward in to the unknown, holding God’s hand, trusting, like a child. It is the only thing we can do. It is always hard to do it; it never gets easy. But the amazing thing is, when we do this hard thing, there begins to stir within and around us a power that is not our own. Insights come to us. People around us shift their positions. We listen more carefully, and a way forward begins to show itself. A sense of rightness begins to strengthen in our gut . . .

All this takes place over a period of time, and neither its schedule nor outcome can be forced. We must settle into a reflective, contemplative time of listening, actively watching, waiting, being ready to respond. Having surrendered, having hit the limitations of our human capacity, we then must let go and let god. But this letting go and letting God is hardly passive at this point. Surrender to grace is not like surrendering in defeat. It is active, watchful, attentive, willing to be taken forward beyond the point where we are stuck. It is a state of expectation, where we invite God to become active in us.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thoughts on Hope

“Every divine action disturbs: it foils our expectations and our calculations, our hopes and our fears, in a striking manner.”
- Jean-Louis Chretien

To me, hope seems natural; it’s as if human beings are always hoping for something. We usually hope for particular things: for a long, happy life; for a new job; for a child; etc. When these legitimate hopes are fulfilled, it is a gift from God. But these particular hopes are also finite, limited and thus subject to all sorts of accidents and disappointments. The unfulfillment of our hopes is something with which we are all more or less familiar.

There is a deeper hope that rests in God even when our conscious desires are left unfulfilled, shattered by circumstances outside of our control. If my small efforts at contemplative prayer have taught me anything, it is that our ideas and expectations about God are always coming undone in the silent encounter with God. Divine action “foils our expectations and our calculations, our hopes and our fears, in a striking manner.” God’s action undoes our conscious hopes; indeed, if we knew what to hope for, perhaps we would not be hoping for God at all but merely for our own ideas. You all are probably familiar with these lines from T. S. Eliot that express a similar sentiment: “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope/ For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.”

It seems to me, then, that if hope is anything, it must be a basic stance that we take, a way of living in the world--rather than a commitment to particular ideas about our future or doctrines about heaven. It is an openness toward God who is newly present in each moment; it is a commitment to wait for, be present to the God whose action goes beyond our imaginative capacity.

In some ways, this is unsatisfying. I’d like a definite, hopeful vision I can hold onto in hard times. God’s foiling of our conscious expectations is not always a pleasant experience. But this hope, even though it doesn’t have a definite object, is far from empty. It is hope for an unforeseeable but certain encounter with God. It is openness to something new and different, infinitely more than we could think. While it is not hope in a particular doctrine or image, it is hope in the God “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3). As hopeful people, we live in an attitude of trust toward something that goes far beyond our comprehension and our conscious desires.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Psalm 41:12: “In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.”

To have integrity is to be “integrated.” Not to be fragmented, disjointed, scattered. Not to have part of yourself here and part of yourself over there. Being/feeling one way in one kind of situation, then being/feeling completely different in another situation. To have integrity means to have a consistent self, a stable self, a true self.

It’s hard to maintain integrity, to stay integrated, in our society. So much busywork, so much noise, so many advertisements and other distractions.

And we’re all tempted to lie at times, or at least to be fake. The problem with lying or being fake – in terms of spiritual health – is that it manifests a false self. It is practice in being not real, not stable. It is practicing unreality, disconnection.

To become a person of integrity we must practice integrity. We must say what we mean and mean what we say. We must be genuinely ourselves in situation after situation, relationship after relationship.

And we must follow through on our words and our commitments. If we need to be released from a commitment, then we honestly say so rather than simply not doing what we said we would do. This is another way of practicing disconnection and unreality.

As Psalm 42:12 says, integrity is key to practicing the presence of God. If we are not fully, completely present—integrated—then we cannot fully experience and enjoy the presence of God. But through our practice of integrity in faith God will set us “in [his] presence forever.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Back to the lab again

I am creating a project that will not only allow me, but force me to engage our livingstones community forum for my senior project at VDS this semester. I'm excited about this endeavor, and I hope that many of you will be able to join me here in this medium to offer critic, personal commentaries, resource suggestions, etc. In this project, I want to deal with the themes of contemplation, epistemology, and social action. These topics are very dear to me, as I know they are with all of you. My ideas are currently in the initial phase of being defined. I'm working this morning on my first presentation to my seminar group for next week. I hope you will help me walk this task and as we do may we find opportunities to grow in our own journeys!

Some of you may know that I had a brief background in chemical engineering before I became a bible college student. I've shared with Rickey several times the paradox of my life that loves certainty and now craves mystery. Bridging these two paradigms in my life continues to be a work in creative synthetic design. I hope to flesh out this hybrid entanglement and in so doing, learn how my narrative can contribute to the larger narrative of the church. I'm eager to touch base with some technology, science and theology and see where this goes!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Take Your Time

I’ve read that Wittgenstein would often greet his students and colleagues with the simple phrase “Take your time.” While Wittgenstein had in mind the time required to develop philosophical questions and insights, how much more does this greeting apply for the spiritual life?

I’m used to being productive, to getting things done as quickly as possible. It’s a requirement in school, at any job, just about anywhere. Nothing wrong with that. But there are also many things that take time to develop and ought not be rushed. Prayer is one of them. Reading parts of Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, I am struck by her long-term view of her spiritual development. Beginning a discussion of the stages of prayer, she writes, “in the twenty-seven years during which I have practised prayer, ill though I have trodden the road and often though I have stumbled, His Majesty has granted me experiences for which others need thirty-seven, or even forty-seven [years]...” Twenty-seven, thirty-seven, forty-seven years... and that's just the beginning for her. Her long-term attitude toward the spiritual life is refreshing: life takes time to grow.

And with that I’m reminded of one of the most pervasive images in the New Testament, the seed. Like the tiny seed which contains all the potential to be a great tree, our tiny spiritual life grows largely in its own time and on its own terms. But like the seed, we have such dynamic potential and we are somehow complete even as we grow. We don't fault the sprout or the sapling for not yet being the flourishing tree. We ought not fault ourselves or each other for our seeming lack of progress. Just as we can’t see the sapling develop from day to day, I think that our lives are impossible to assess in simple, temporal terms. Life takes time to grow.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Checking back in...

Please forgive me for my extended absence. I've allowed the distractions of life to hold my attention while neglecting this form of communication with my spiritual friends. Just a few notes to touch base with everyone. I've finished my second year of Divinity School at Vanderbilt, and have one more year to go. I've been working all summer on my out-of-parish field education credit which has been centered on volunteer work to help Nashville recover from the historic flood of May 2010. I have seen and heard many heartbreaking things over the past months, and I'm thankful for my Centering Prayer discipline which has helped me listen to a lot of hurts, questions and anger.

I use to try and rationalize all the difficulties of the world and find scapegoats on which to blame such tragedies, but through the deep solidarity contemplation has developed in me, I've found it much easier to avoid the troubling questions of theodicy. I have discovered more joy in relating to people in the midst of tribulations and helping them recover through simple acts of manual labor and emotional support. My restful practice has noticeably nurtured my active discipleship!

Also, I just got back from a trip to San Francisco where I took some time to visit several sacred spaces. I visited Glide Memorial UMC, Howard Thurman's Church for the Fellowship of all the People, St. Peter and Paul's Church, Grace Cathedral, Old St. Mary's Cathedral, St. Patrick's Church, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. It was a thrill to see all these sacred spots. My most memorable experience was at Grace Cathedral. I had the joy of walking the indoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. I also did a Centering Prayer session in the pew of the sanctuary. It was nice to steal away from the busy city and find some solitude in this large vaulted cathedral. It was also special sitting outside The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. I took a class last year entitle Liberation & Spirituality in which we studied Thurman and read his autobiography. It was moving to be at the spot I had read so much about! Unfortunately, the church was closed when I visited it, but I did create a mini centering moment outside by the flower bed!

I hope that the coming year will be less busy; drop me an email or post a "loving" Facebook message on my wall if I make myself too absent again! :-)

Blessings for the remainder of all your summers.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Content and Attentive

So often I am focused, active, moving. However, recently for about two weeks a deep sense of contentedness flowed over me. There was a tangible experience of belonging to God and being loved by God. As Julian of Norwich said "All is well and all manner of things shall be well".

Towards the end of that season I noticed a sense of complacency creeping up on me. A book came across my path - "The Attentive Life" - which follows much of the same theme as Bro Lawrence "Practicing the Presence".

The two themes have woven themselves into my life and are a rich, deep, delightful combination - content with where I am and whose I am yet expectantly alert and watchful for glimpses of the holy in everyday life. In a way my Centering practice is the same - sit and be content if nothing happens, yet being watchful for what God might be up to.


Friday, July 2, 2010

Silence and Writing

Greetings, Spiritual Friends. I am posting a poem I wrote some time ago about silence and writing. Blessings to all, Rickey


Yes, I submit to you, silence,
and gladly, too.
I have learned that those
who would use words well
must understand what words cannot do,
must realize that words
emerge from silence
and must find the ground of their meaning
in their silent source.
Perhaps later I will write.
But now I will sit in your presence,
still and open,
resting in your quiet embrace.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Kenosis Is Love

Let what was seen in Christ Jesus be seen in you also:

Though his state was that of God,
yet he did not claim equality with God
something he should cling to.

Rather he emptied himself,
and assuming the state of a slave,
he was born in human likeness.

He being known as one of us,
Humbled himself obedient unto death
Even death on a cross. . . .
In this profound theological reflection, Paul sees that self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment of Jesus' human journey.

--Cynthia Bourgeault, quoting from Philippians 2 as translated by the monks of New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur, California
I've come into some useful insights recently while reading Cynthia Bourgeault's Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. These insights are deepening my understanding of the practices of centering prayer and the welcoming prayer and my understanding of what it means to be human. Bourgeault says that "self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment of Jesus' human journey. Self-emptying is what first brings him into human form, and self-emptying is what leads him out . . ." and self-emptying is what he does continually in between.

In a world of pain like ours, when this pouring out of one's self is too often one-sided, what this self-emptying looks like is the cross. We can call it kenosis, which is the Greek term translated above in reference to Christ as he emptied himself. In a perfect world, though, what it looks like is not the cross but the trinity. We could call it perichoresis, which is the Greek term for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit continually pouring themselves into each other.

In any case, we can simply call it love. Love is pouring out the self for, or in the best cases into, the other. "Greater love has no one than this, but to lay down one's life for a friend . . ." And since love is all that it is, we can see that kenosis/perichoresis/self-emptying/letting go has nothing to do with any sort of esoteric spirituality  but is simply about being human. This is why Bourgeault says that self emptying was the touchstone of Jesus' humanity.

In terms of concrete spiritual practice, in centering prayer each time a thought or feeling is "let go" one takes part a little bit in this surrender, this becoming nothing, this emptying one's self. Such micro surrenders also train us to surrender larger things, such as the tensions and frustrations that we let go of in the midst of our day to day activities, say, in the welcoming prayer. Those surrenders  in turn also take part in the process and also train us to let go of still larger things, such as anger, bitterness, disappointment, or an addition to comfort.

My prayer is for a heart that clings to nothing and seeks only God. My prayer is for a pure heart. My prayer is to follow Christ along the daily path of self-emptying (kenosis) to eternal fount of love (perichoresis).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Welcoming Practice

The Welcoming Practice has become my 4th core spiritual practice. My other 3 core spiritual practices are Contemplative Prayer, Praying the Scriptures, and Spiritual Friendship.

The Welcoming Practice is a surrender practice, a way of yielding the whole of our lives to God. The classic expression of this kind of practice is Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s book Abandonment to Divine Providence, also published as The Sacrament of the Present Moment, which is my favorite edition of it. We seek to respond to and work with the present moment instead of unconsciously reacting to it.

The Welcoming Practice is a way of extending Contemplative Prayer and Praying the Scriptures into the rest of the day. It is particularly used in situations which upset, frustrate, make us anxious, and/or throw us off balance. It is a way of recognizing the presence of God in these situations and of experiencing and yielding to the Holy Spirit in the midst of them. The practice involves 3 steps: (1) noticing and sinking into our feelings, thoughts, sensations, and commentaries, particularly as they are experienced in the body. Secondly (2), it involves welcoming the presence of God in the feelings, commentaries, or sensations in the body by mentally saying “Welcome.” And (3), it involves Letting Go (i.e., yielding everything to God) by mentally repeating the following sentences one time each: “I let go of my desire for security, affection, control” and “I let go of my desire to change this situation.”

This practice does not mean that we are always passive and yielding to the external circumstances themselves nor that the external circumstances may not need to be changed. It means we let go of our own agendas, our own timing, and our own interpretations. We fully surrender the circumstances to God and thus grow in our ability to sense and align ourselves with the Spirit’s presence and action in them. Having done this, we can then take appropriate action, which at times may involve protest or resistance. But whatever action we take, it is not merely mindlessly reactive or thoughtlessly self-involved. It is rooted in God, not in our egoic interpretation.

As with all the contemplative practices, the primary fruits of the Welcoming Practice are not experienced immediately but rather over the long-term. Gradually we become more peaceful, less reactive, and more effective in loving God and loving our neighbor.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Sister Mother Earth

About the Earth, St. Francis of Assisi sings in his "Canticle of the Sun":
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth,
who feeds us and rules us,
and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
I grew up loving the outdoors, but mostly in an aggressive way, using the outdoors to play at being a cowboy or a soldier or some kind of adventurer. The general attitude I sensed as a child, and went along with, was that hugging trees, saving whales, and recycling were things that only "liberals" did. But over the past four years or so, especially in the past year, I've grown to appreciate nature both in its own right and in the way that it seems to be able to help heighten my awareness of the loving omnipresent spirit of God.

Mary Frohlich suggests that those who are interested in Christian spirituality "are called to place the Earth and its wounds at the center of our attention in very concrete ways." She suggests that one of the proper transformations in the mystical journey through unknowing is to "[accept] the gift of oneself as a servant among servants in the company of God’s wondrous cosmic ecosystem." She quotes Teilhard de Chardin, saying that he "has best captured this insight into the divine at the heart of matter":
Oh, the diaphany of the divine at the heart of a glowing universe, as I have experienced it through contact with the earth—the divine radiating from the depths of blazing matter. Oh the beauty of spirit as it rises up adorned with all the riches of the earth! Oh human one, bathe yourself in the ocean of matter; plunge into it where it is deepest and most violent; struggle in its currents and drink of its waters. For it cradled you long ago in your preconscious existence; and it is that ocean that will raise you up to God.
I've taken a few small steps to increase my interactions with and connections to the Earth. Really, there is very little in the world that is not part of the Earth, so actually, it's my awareness that I'm working on.

  • I've begun recycling. : )
  • I've taken to really enjoy cutting fresh vegetables, to feel the sweet, clean vegetable flesh in my hands. 
  • Sometimes, when out for a walk, if I see a stump or a large stone, I lay my hands on it for a few moments to touch and take in its physicality. 
  • I've set up an aquarium in my office, and cultivated an an ecosystem in it with live plants, bacteria, shrimp, and fish. 
  • I've brought home a potted plant, a bromeliad. Christine takes care of it. 
  • Christine and I have both also taken to keeping fresh flowers on our dining room table. 
  • I've begun to try to be intentional about noticing the air and grass when I'm outside, even if it's just on my way to my car. I've also tried to notice more often the grass and trees along the road as I drive. 
  • And finally, I try to get out into nature when I can. Sometimes this is just a short visit to a park. But today, for instance, waking up and realizing that today was Earth Day, my family went to a nearby nature reserve that we'd heard about but had not been to before. We spent about a half an hour there. It really refreshed and recharged me for the day with a sense of presence, peace, and wholeness. Below I've posted some pictures that Christine took.
Mary Oliver says that those who love God will look "most deeply" into God's works. I pray that we may do this, that we may be blessed with such attention and awareness, that we may be refreshed, renewed, and grounded through "our sister Mother Earth."

Me with my daughter Elea in an oak tree.

A dead tree against the sky with wetland (I believe) in the background.

A mother and baby Sandhill Crane just a little off the path.

A plant with about four different types of insects on it.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday Reflection

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.
T.S. Eliot Four Quartets

On this day we reflect on what it means for us to recognize the true presence of the darkness of Good Friday. So often in the culture of the church we want to rush ahead to the joy of the resurrection. Many Protestant churches give little more than a nod to Good Friday. However, as we seek to be fully present to our Lord, how can we seek to avoid being present in this most crucial of moments? This moment is, in fact, the exact one Christ calls us to when he bids us to take hold of our crosses in following him.

When we hold this moment just a little bit longer than we would like, we commune with the crucified God and with all of the people who are forsaken by their God in their pain, suffering, and death. As I continue to reflect and meditate on the enormity of this moment, I am reminded of the Mystery of Faith that we recite each week; Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. But in this moment, under the sheer weight of the reality of what has happened, all I can bring myself to say is; Christ has died, Christ has died, Christ has died.

Matt Addis

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Purity of Heart

Matthew 5:8 says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” So, since I want to see God, I want to be pure in heart; I want to actualize this Beatitude in my life. The heart is a major emphasis in the Bible. The heart the Bible speaks of is not the emotional center spoken of in contemporary culture. Rather it is the spiritual center of the human being; the Bible recognizes the heart as the preeminent human dimension. It integrates all the other human faculties. Reason, intuition, and the will are all informed by the heart. Although the heart radiates throughout us, permeating our entire being, it has mysterious depths beyond the reach of our everyday thinking. “Who can understand it?” Jeremiah asked about the heart. God replied, “I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind….” God penetrates both our conscious and unconscious mind and knows the depths of our heart. It is in these depths that the essence of the human being is rooted.

This is why I believe we are called to practice some form of the “prayer of the heart” such as the Jesus Prayer or Centering. Such prayer takes us into the depths of our heart beyond our mental reasoning and emotional variations, opening us to the presence of God there. Over time, this kind of deep prayer stabilizes us in our awareness of and connection to the Spirit and enables us to respond to God’s unfolding action in the present moment. We are able to see God's presence and action in our daily lives and live lives that more and more express our growing unity with him.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Lenten Reflection

Lovely it is to unfold
The soul and our brief life
- Friedrich Holderlin

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

I'm young, but not entirely unaware of my mortality. And with this in mind, sometimes I think and act as if my brief time on earth ought to be ever meaningful, ever important. I dole my time out as if I have only a limited amount and therefore just shouldn't have to be bothered by some things. I attempt to make calculations about the validity of one course of action over another. (Which class should I take? What author should I read? What ministry should I support?) There is some value to this point of view, of course. We are intrinsically limited, finite, dust.

But there's another important dynamic at play in the Ash Wednesday reminder of our mortality: Since life is always a divine gift, it is always therefore an excess. Rather than rationing out our time with a constant eye on calculations (which one could never have certainty about anyway) what would it look like to just live--to live with abandon? This would be a life that is not easily shaken, but rests simply in the knowledge of the givenness of life and the goodness of the giver. And since life is such a gift, it can only be lived authentically when we, in turn, give; we give our love, our time, our devotion, our lives. To live attuned to the givenness of life... that, I think, is a brief life that is lovely to unfold.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah?

“He who seeks not the cross of Christ seeks not the glory of Christ.”

You’d never expect that a slip on an icy sidewalk would lead me to glory. But after hitting the pavers yesterday, my aching body began to wonder and question, asking first that inevitable “why,” which always transforms into “who.”

To give you a little background, I was diagnoses with Fibromyalgia Syndrome at 12 years old, and spent the next five years battling the widespread aches, constant pain, and chronic fatigue associated with this illness. But a few years ago, things started to change. After returning to the faith, the pains slowly faded until my rheumatologist amazedly pronounced my FMS “resolved” – a very rare victory when it comes to Fibromyalgia, a disease that typically does not ever go away.

So I had this amazing testimony: God healed me. My illness was gone without a trace. I had a normal life again, able to walk and attend school free from the shackles of pain and fatigue. But notice I’m using the past tense. Last semester, I started to experience the same symptoms again. I denied that it was Fibromyalgia for a time, but several aching months later, and I’ve finally accepted that I have Fibromyalgia. The physical discomfort didn’t bother as much as the nagging question in my mind, “Why, God, is it back?”

Why would God nullify the miracle He did in my life? Doesn’t that reduce His glory? I can no longer say that God healed me, but that He gave me a time of remission – not that grand or glorious, now is it? But then…what is glory? I guess I could ask the exact same question in this way: who is God. Or as Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

The other day I was discussing the state of the Korean church with my “big brother” in my host family, who is a professor of church history at a university here in Seoul. He said that because American church has great influence upon Korean Christianity, the three major focuses in many church here are health, wealth, and success. I thought by coming to Korea I would escape this rapid consumeristic American gospel, but the US’s influence throughout the world is far more powerful that I ever realized. Maybe, if I may be so humble to admit, it has also influenced my perception of God as well.

Jesus asked, “What about you?” Who do I personally believe Jesus is? I’ve been just like the Pharisees, who demanded a sign from Jesus (Matthew 16:1-4), recognizing God’s glory in my healing, but too blinded to see His glory in my suffering. John of the Cross, in his 102th Saying of Light and Love, equated the glory of God with the cross of Christ. Wow… I’ve had it all wrong: God’s glory is not in His shining, radiant, miracle-working power; it’s in Jesus Christ, who fully manifested God’s glory on the cross – the cross of death, shame, humiliation, mortification – that brought the Father glory (John 17:4). This is our Lord: a man, weak and wilted, nailed on a cross. That is glory. His glory is not in His empty tomb – of course the God of the universe can raise the dead! His glory is in the cross, where the omnipotent God chose to suffer and die.

This glory is the essence of God’s presence. Glory is God. Not the way we humans think of glory (Matthew 16:23) as magnificent and resplendent, but glory is denying the self, taking up the cross and following Christ to Golgotha (Matthew 16:24). Right before He walked this path, Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be with Him where He is to see His glory so that we can be brought into complete unity with the Trinity: the beautiful mystery of oneness.

Lord Jesus, help us to remember that suffering for You is better than working miracles (John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, 171), that your face, not Your hand, is what we seek (Ps 26:8), and that Your lover’s call to us is to forsake everything to be one with Your three-fold essence in humble glory.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

T-shirt and Conference Christianity

Today a group of friends and I went around Lakeland asking the community about their needs and how the Church has met or has failed to meet these needs. The idea for this “survey” was birthed out of a few individuals who really desire to see the Church unite and meet needs. A church can only do some much, but how much more can the Church do! One of the thoughts I had is that churches are often so stuck inside a building and don’t even know the needs that exist just beyond their concrete walls, in their community. Our hope was to do the “dirty work” and find these needs and then present them at a later date.

We talked to all kinds of people: homeless, single mothers doing laundry, some people celebrating for an upcoming wedding, and then decided to go inside a church: we figured surely God’s people would have something to say about this topic. Instead what we found was a lot of people running around from meeting to meeting with no time for us. We walked into what happened to be a “See Jesus” conference on this particular church’s “Jesus Weekend.”  We asked one man if he would have a few minutes to answer a couple questions for us concerning community and the Church and he declined and asked us not to “harass anyone else.” He did however have a few minutes to tell us about the conference and proudly show us his hunter green tee shirt with bright yellow writing: “See Jesus” it said.

I walked out of the church and took a gasp of air. Is this what the Church has become…a place where we are consumed with our meetings, conferences, Bible studies, luncheons, and tee shirts? We kept walking downtown and came to a homeless lady lying in the middle of the road. She was drunk and obviously suffering from some mental disabilities. We gathered around her with some other homeless people trying to coax her out of the street. Cars sped past and she yelled over and over: “I want to die!” We called an ambulance and they took her away, hopefully to a clearer, more hopeful state of mind. I wonder if the people wearing the “See Jesus” shirts would have taken a few minutes out of their busy schedules to help this woman. Would they have even noticed her?

I guess my prayer would be that the churches would become the Church and love people like Jesus did, making their life about more than a filled up schedule. I would also ask that God grant me the grace and patience and love toward the churches that someday may take off their Jesus shirts and begin to walk and live as he did.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Into the Wild

Over the Christmas break from Divinty School, I watched Into the Wild about three times. I felt a connection to the main character Chris McCandless (played by Emile Hirsch). While I don't foresee myself abandoning my lot in the consumer market in which I'm entangled, I can sympathize with the attraction of such a drastic dive into apophasis.

I purchased the soundtrack to the movie, and as I listen to the song "Society" I think about the desert fathers that turned their backs on secular Roman economy and retreated to the desert in search of the true kingdom in response to Constantine's Christendom of Christianity.


Oh it's a mystery to me.
We have a greed, with which we have agreed...
and you think you have to want more than you need...
until you have it all, you won't be free.

Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.

When you want more than you have, you think you need...
and when you think more then you want, your thoughts begin to bleed.
I think I need to find a bigger place...
cause when you have more than you think, you need more space.

Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.
Society, crazy indeed...
I hope you're not lonely, without me.

There's those thinkin' more or less, less is more,
but if less is more, how you keepin' score?
It means for every point you make, your level drops.
Kinda like you're startin' from the top...
and you can't do that.

Society, you're a crazy breed.
I hope you're not lonely, without me.
Society, crazy indeed...
I hope you're not lonely, without me
Society, have mercy on me.
I hope you're not angry, if I disagree.
Society, crazy indeed.
I hope you're not lonely...
without me.

The song says "until you have it all, you won't be free." How true and unattainable this is. Happiness will never be found in the promises of our consumerist market. So I'm trying to opt out more and more in symbolic ways. Less is more, and I have to continually remind myself of this.

Click for a listen to "Society"

Saturday, January 16, 2010

As Through Glasses Darkly

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
--1 Corinthians 13.1 (The Message)
I got new eyeglasses in the mail today. This is the first time I've worn glasses since I was about five years old, when I had a pair to correct a lazy eye. In the eye doctor's examination room, peering at the letter chart through that large optical machine, I saw the blurry black letters become sharp and crisp as the doctor flipped through lenses to come to the right prescription strength. I eagerly anticipated seeing a bright crisp new world as well. I had to wait a week or two, though, for them to be shipped. (For anyone interested, Zenni Optical sells prescription glasses from $8. I got two pairs for $31, including shipping.)

I realized that I might need glasses a few months ago, when the things I put on the projection screen in the front of my classroom looked blurry to me when I stood in the back. Just to make sure, I asked a few students sitting in the back, "Can you read that?" They answered casually: "Oh yeah." Another sign I had was that I couldn't read street signs until I came right up on them, particularly at night. Through all of my teenage years, I had "20-20" vision, and was quite proud of it then (as if I had anything to do with it). Thankfully, since then, I've gained the ounce of wisdom necessary to know that "perfect sight" is temporary, so I accepted my need for glasses gracefully. (In fact, displaying less spiritual maturity, I was even excited, since I knew they could complement my beard and tweed jacket in my "professor costume.")

When the glasses arrived  today, I put them on and could indeed see things at a distance much more clearly. Right away, I could see the leaves on trees across the lake behind our apartment. And a little later in the day when I drove to the store, I could definitely read street signs more clearly and from farther away. But . . . that was about it. The glasses did a pretty good job, but still . . . I was a bit disappointed. I was disappointed that the glasses did not make a radical difference in my ability to see the world, which, for some reason, I had been expecting. I was even more disappointed with the thought that, since these glasses were my prescription, then I would never see the world any more crisply or sharply or clearly than this.

We live in this world with physical bodies that, for many of us, mostly work most of the time, though decreasingly so day by day. Accepting and even embracing our physical limitations, even minor limitations, which are the only ones I can personally speak about yet, can be an act of spiritual grace. So too, I am coming to realize, with our spiritual limitations. As little as we see with our physical eyes of what is out there, even of what ought to be visible, we see even less with our spiritual eyes. Coming to the end of his most famous discussion on love, St. Paul connects seeing, knowing, and loving in a spiritual metaphor. We can only "see" (or "know" or "love"), he says, as one seeing "through a glass darkly." In The Message Eugene Peterson puts in "fog" and "mist" for "glass." Gregory of Nyssa echoes St. Paul in this way: "The true vision of what we seek consists precisely in this--in not seeing . . ."

The promise, of course, is that eventually we will know (or see) in full "even as we are fully known." The promise is that "it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!" And I do long for such perfection of sight and knowledge and love. But in the meantime, it is also an act of grace to accept with humility--to embrace even--our limitations, our shortcomings, our dim and blurry vision.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Annual Commitment

Dear Friends and Members of Living Stones Community,

It is time for our annual recommitment. The Annual Commitment page on our website says, “Membership in the community entails a one-year commitment which members have the opportunity to renew each January.” After January 31, 2010, we will update the login information for our blog and distribute the new information to those who commit to being a part of this community for 2010.

We’ve made a change in the “requirements” for members. Instead of committing to posting to the community blog and commenting on the posts of others each month, we will now only ask of each other to post or comment each month. We will still ask that the blog be read each week. We hope that this will reduce the “burden” of spiritual dialogue without reducing its integrity.

We ask that you reread or review this month the community documents on the community website and reflect in particular on the Annual Commitment statement (Who We Are, Core Values and Practices, and Annual Commitment). If you don’t feel called to journey or continue journeying with us in this small way, we let you go with “open hands” and assure you that you are always welcome to visit and comment on our blog at your leisure. But, if you do feel God leading you to join or rejoin with us, please complete and submit the Commitment Form on the Annual Commitment page by January 31.

We’re grateful for all the wonderful interaction we’ve shared!

Peace and blessings,
Rickey and Paul

Monday, January 4, 2010

Monks Who Eat Cheerios and Go to the Zoo

A wise man once said, “Either you’ll keep going deeper in faith or you’ll give up.” I’ve often found myself at this latter point. I remember thinking as a new Christian some 6 years ago, “This shouldn’t be this hard.” I read book after book and listened to sermon after sermon trying to figure this God out. I had perfectly planned out “quiet times” where I was anything but quiet; I believed God only heard the prayers of those eloquently worded. I strived to always say and do the “right” thing. Looking back now, it’s quite obvious why I found faith to be so difficult—I was trying to do so much in my own strength to impress this God who resided far, far away, instead of simply acknowledging the God all around, and even within me. I was doing and not being.

Along with this legalistic view of spirituality, I also had a very dichotomic perspective: some things were spiritual, and some were not. Churches often tells us there are certain things that are “holy”—reading the Bible, praying, tithing—but we forget the not so obviously (though they should be) spiritual things like loving, silence, community, and nature. I use to look for God in worship services and Bible studies, and often came home empty-handed. I’m now learning to look for Him in the everyday because that’s where He is. God doesn’t need pews or stained glass windows to exist; He certainly does reside in these places, but He’s a lot bigger than that, a lot bigger than I’m confident I’ll ever be able to comprehend.

God is found in the everyday and I’ve never seen this more demonstrated than at a recent trip to St. Leo’s Abbey. I was able to start 2010 exceptionally and spend a day there with Dr. Cotton, Anna, Professor Corrigan, and Ky Prevette. Monks, who I once considered hyper spiritual, do a lot of ordinary, day-to-day things like eat breakfast (whether it be Cheerios or Flan), wash dishes, work, and of course, pray. We shared breakfast with Brother James, who has been a monk for 72 years, and talked about the monastery and changes that have occurred over the years, orange trees, new roads being built, and even his trip to the zoo—it’s all spiritual: I’m convinced.
--Jennica Durbin

In Quietness and Confidence

Saturday five of us from SEU rode together in our old van up to St. Leo’s Abbey for a mini-retreat day. We shared silence, prayed, and walked a lot.

I love roaming the grounds at the abbey, and I’m always delighted to see ducks and birds. (I’m a city girl by birth and zip code, so animals up close and personal have a special fascination for me.) Saturday I got a special treat when I came across two small raccoons walking ever so carefully through some bushes and across a low wall. I followed them as they drank water from a puddle and climbed a palm tree to munch on berries. (I had never even noticed that palm trees have berries—lots of them—wow!) The coons stopped to watch me from time to time as I whispered gentle assurances. Eventually it occurred to me they weren’t afraid of my presence; they were calm and confident (and mildly curious). Perhaps because they are so young they don’t know any better than to parade around in broad daylight, but maybe, just maybe, in that sacred space they are able to live their life like we prayed at the abbey to live ours—without drama or hype but moving in God’s grace with quietness and confidence.

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