An Essential of Spirituality: Listening

Continuing on in my ‘musings’ on spirituality, I have been looking at my history of experiencing and practicing spirituality and the evolution and transformation of it throughout the last quarter of a century.  I have grown from a black and white (rigid) understanding and interpretation of what it means to be led by the Spirit towards a more tolerant, compassionate experience and view (grace-filled).  Over the years I have become less arrogant that my way is the right way, much less even “a” way.  I have come to taste and see that the Spirit is indeed like the Wind – blowing wherever it wills and not as I will.  For who am I to judge the Spirit’s leading and intention?  I am called but to submit to the Spirit’s leading, and this through prayer, wise counsel and my history.  But the truth of the matter is God can work in any way God sees fit, and can obviously do so without any input from this particular painted soul.

And what the Spirit has been teaching me these days is summed up in one word: listening.

Listening is one of the indispensable foundations of spirituality (and spiritual growth): listening to God, to our hearts, our fears, our pain, our joys, and to others (especially the cries of the broken and marginalized).  Spirituality (and spiritual growth) can and does occur in solitude, but for them to flourish deeply they must grow in relation to another – in community.  And I truly believe that all community begins with listening…listening to a call from the Other (God) Who leads us to others who either share in the same call or are the recipients of the call.

Listening is closely aligned with obedience for in its original meaning ‘obedience’ means to “hear or listen” and in the New Testament, the word used for ‘obedience’ means “to trust”.  So obedience, listening and trusting are all connected and this comes from Love; for I can truly only listen and trust those whom I love.  So for me to ‘hear’ God I must grow in trust, and the more I trust, the more I listen, the more I listen, the more I trust…with God and with others.

Listening involves mutuality as well; in order for me to be listened to it must be in mutual relation to another be it God or people.  It is in this mutuality (that grows from listening) that our deepest spiritual moments can occur.  For in order to be listened to, I must be ‘telling’ someone my story.  Knowing someone will listen without judgment and knowing that someone can tell their story knowing it will be heard is the power of movements like Alcoholics Anonymous.  For it is in the mutual listening and telling – the story telling – that our struggles become shared and therefore lessened, and healing begins to occur.

Those of us who are wrestling with spiritual dilemmas and awakenings do not necessarily need answers but ‘presence’ – the permission to confront the dilemma, struggle with it out loud knowing we will be heard, and find solace in defeating our sense of aloneness.  This is one of the paths to God, to others, and to healing.

Listening begins and deepens our spiritual experiences: it affords us the space and silence needed to empty out our pain through storytelling and mutuality and their find God, grace, and each other.

“My True Character” (Thomas Merton)

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love.
Love is my true identity.
Selflessness is my true self.
Love is my true character.
Love is my name.

Source: New Seeds of Contemplation

Musings on Spirituality

“Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have already been there.”  Ross V. (from Alcoholics Anonymous)

Spirituality is like the scent of a rose: I know it by its luscious scent, but trying to describe it seems almost heretical.

Spirituality is a place and movement that allows us to see, embrace and accept our flawedness and let grace do its beautiful work.  Our flawedness is the second great truth of being human; the first being that we are made in the image and likeness of a loving God.

Spirituality affords us the means by which grace enters the heart: through our wounds, our brokenness, our addictions to chemicals, people, places and things, our longings and our lostness, God uses these things to come to us, to recreate us, and to love us unconditionally into wholeness.

Spirituality is a paradox.  As G.K. Chesterton once said, “paradox is truth standing on her head to attract attention.”

Religion can be a barrier, spirituality can be the doorway.  Religion can prevent us from ever truly knowing and experiencing God; spirituality can promote such knowledge.  Religion can foster an “us versus them” mentality.  Spirituality fosters a “both/and” experience: the perfection of imperfection; the Eternal dwelling within the temporal promoting the very oneness of life.  And remember that oneness is not to be confused with sameness.  For spirituality draws us closer to God and allows us to see the strength of diversity and the deeper power of e pluribus unum – out of many, One.

Spirituality seeks not to recoil from our imperfections but to see and know them as the ‘cracks’ that let in God.

Spirituality points to the Beyond: beyond the ordinary; beyond my need to control; beyond my mind; beyond the confines of my rigidity leading me deeper into the ebb and flow of God’s grace.

The word spiritual, that from which spirituality comes, simply meant those who live by and are led by the Spirit.  Spirituality is not about ‘having already arrived’ at ultimate wisdom but a way of life that accepts imperfections, struggles, darkness and doubt as healthy and necessary aspects of growing closer to God.  All of life is contained and held by God’s eternal love, not just the ‘pretty, neat and tidy’ parts.

God wants us to be honest first and foremost before God wants us to be ‘righteous’ or ‘holy’.  Spirituality is the bridge that allows me to cross over into fearless honesty with God and others, stating what is obvious to God but often oblivious to me, in order for grace to work its miracle in me and on me.

I’m not sure it makes sense or relates to this, but I will close with a well known Sufi story:

“Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten.  And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving Creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”

And out of the long silence, God said: “I did do something about them.  I made you.”

A Winter’s Night in Virginia

Last night the air went small, and frigid.
The tender edginess of the moon, as it
widens after its newness, lifted me into Heaven.
The air, along with her breeze, brimmed with
Winter’s divine, melancholy coolness.

The mountains, aged and wise, lay slumbering
in a heavenly haze behind God’s back drop.
The moon, slumbering towards fullness, is
bold, nestled into the diamond covered void.
She is still strong in the sky, holding it up with little effort.

I stand in the hallowing glow of this gentle darkness,
letting truths untold sink deep into my heart,
deep into my seen breath, reminding me of the
holy spirit of my life.

“How to Truly Love” (Fr. Anthony de Mello)

Everywhere in the world people are in search of love, for everyone is convinced that love alone can save the world; love alone can make life meaningful and worth living. But how very few understand what love really is and how it arises in the human heart. It is so frequently equated with good feelings for others, with benevolence or nonviolence or service. But these things in themselves are not love.

Love springs from awareness. It is only inasmuch as you see someone as he or she really is here and now and not as they are in your memory or your desire or in your imagination or projection that you can truly love them; otherwise, it is not the person that you love but the idea that you have formed of this person.

Source: The Way to Love

“No Other Desire” (Kahlil Gibran)

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires,
let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love:
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks
for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate on love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved
in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

Source: On Love

“Power to Love” (Gordon Cosby)

Agape love is the power to love the unlovable. It is the power to love people we do not like. Jesus commands us to love our enemies in order to be like God. We are not told to love in order to win our enemies or to get results, but that we may be children of God, who sends the rain on the just and the unjust, who looks after both the good and the evil.

The predominant characteristic of this agape love is that, no matter what a person is like, God seeks nothing but his or her highest good.

Source: Unknown

God is an Apostrophe…

Imperfection.  Impossible.

I’m perfection.  I’m possible.

God is an apostrophe.  God is the divine punctuation to any hopelessness that arises within me.  God takes my imperfections and makes them his perfections; God takes the impossibilities and turns them into divine possibilities.

An old friend of mine used to say all the time, “argue for your limitations and you’ll get them every time!”  But God allows me to argue for the possibilities and embrace the imperfections.  For with God all things are possible – mountains move, hearts change, doors open when seemingly locked shut, light shines in darkness and a bruised or broken reed can stand against the wind and find healing.  With God, I am reminded that the imperfections are the main way he comes to me and through me.

Oh yes, blessed are the cracked for it is we who let the light of God in…

Meandered wanderings become a sacred journey, undertaken with God as we move towards God as our punctuation changes: the Word changes the words and changes lives.

God moves my heart with holy comma’s and love, pure and unadulterated, and so that his love makes the hollow places, holy places.  

And these holy places – where God is known and made known – is the place where we discover each other in love.

Musings on Prayer…

Here is a simple truth: prayer works.  And it works always (all ways).

Here is why I make that statement from what I am learning daily about the truth of prayer: either prayer works on me changing me and my responses; or prayer works in me transforming my heart and my perspective; or prayer works on the events and circumstances for which I am praying altering them.  But the bottom line about prayer working is that prayer always, always, moves me closer to God and to those around me.

Prayer can turn burdens into blessings; obstacles into opportunities.

Prayer can heal my heart and the heart of another.

Prayer is the name of the constant, ongoing conversation I am having with God.

Prayer opens my eyes to see the holiness of all creation.

Prayer moves my heart from resentment to gratitude.

Prayer leads me to embrace the truth that all that happens to me and within me is the will of a loving God.

Prayers helps me see and taste God in the mundane and the profane; the profound and the cursory.

Prayer can move mountains, open doors, lead to the miraculous, soften the hardness, and turn wrestling into nestling.

But for me, today, above all, prayer is the language of love I use to speak to my Holy Beloved.