Friday, May 30, 2014

"Even in the midst of these . . ."

I am encouraged to post by Rickey’s recent posting. I mean to be brief and casual, but sincere. One might be surprised—I have been—that English professors do not get to read books as often as the job title would suggest. But with summer in full swing and grades and committees set aside for a little while, I am reveling in books once again, a sign of a calling, I think.

Most recently, I have read Beatrice and Virgil, How People Learn, Boxers & Saints (a fascinating and moving “study”—in verbal and visual form—of empathy and history), and, finishing just today, The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain. The End of Suffering is an essay (“assay,” he suggests in a prologue) by the poet Scott Cairns, whose poetry I've shared here before and who responded graciously by sharing another poem. I want to share just a few short passages.

Early on, Cairns writes that “the hard way is pretty much the only way most of us ever manage to learn anything” (11). I’ll have to ponder that. I’m inclined to accept it, though I’m afraid my students might not. It seems largely true in the spiritual life, at any rate.

Later into the book, he writes, “Our specifically Christian undertaking is decidedly not one of transcending. It is, rather, the intentional reinspiriting of the body and its lowly matter—as manifested in the incarnation of Christ” (29). Amen.

Finally, still later, he writes, “Even in the midst of these, our over-busy, bustling, and distracted lives, even in our seasons of affliction and suffering, our deepest consolation lies in consciously experiencing our mystical membership in the body of Christ” (87). Amen and amen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Re-engaging, Being Stirred and Quickened

I'm re-engaging our blog today. I believe a number of us have experienced some truth, beauty, and goodness in our interactions here. It's been a good while since any of us posted.

Anna and I had a great silent retreat last week in Maine with Martin Laird, author of Into the Silent Land and A Sunlit Absence (which I think are instant spiritual classics). We were at the Alcyon Retreat Center on Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the cost of Maine. There were sixteen of us along with Martin, and the retreat started on Monday (May 12) at 9:00 a.m. and ended on Friday at 1:30 p.m. Martin taught for an hour and a half each morning; otherwise we were in silence.

Here's a quote from his A Sunlit Absence that gives an indication of the depth engaged by the retreat: “The heart, a term that refers not to our thoughts and feelings but to our innermost depths that ground thought and feeling, our knowing center, is the place of divine encounter. Just because the Risen Christ is not accessible to the senses in the way the historical Jesus was, this does not imply absence but draws us to a Presence that is deeper than our discursive and imagining powers can perceive, but in which the heart delights. For here, Augustine insists, 'God speaks in the great silence of the heart.' When boredom besets prayer that is built on firm foundations of love of God and neighbor, boredom is a sign that the senses are being led from trying to grasp God as an object to a deep stillness that receives rather than grasps" (92).

I really feel strengthened and deepened by the retreat. Interestingly, our good friend Charles Hulin, the chair of the music department at Southeastern University, along with his wife Kathy is going next week to spend a week with the well-known Iona Community on Scotland's island of Iona (where St. Columba founded a monastery and church in the 500's). I am expecting to be strengthened and inspired by what they learn and experience there, too. So there are stirrings and quickenings going on.

My prayer for all of us is that we will indeed be stirred and quickened in God this summer. Please know that all of you that have connected with Living Stones over the years are in my prayers in a special way this week.

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