“The Mystery Beyond” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel)

Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme.

Awe is a sense for the transcendence, for the reverence everywhere to the mystery beyond all things.

[Awe] enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the Divine…to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal.

“Stay Centered & Enjoy” (Gordon Cosby)

There are some things we can’t hear until we know we have a problem. We hear what we are ready to hear. I am familiar with a problem which I have to work with in my own life, and I expect some of you have to work with it as well, that has been with me a good part of my life. Is there an answer to this problem, or is it just inevitable and we will have to live with it gracefully, knowing it will never go away? This problem is especially acute for good people, people who are sensitized and want to be faithful and want to make a difference in the world—especially people who have heard God’s call on their lives and want to be faithful to that call. What is the problem that most good people have? It is being in overload, too busy, weighted down, with too much on our plates. We simply cannot keep up. Work piles up faster than I can work through the piles. Can I learn to work smarter? Am I just not sufficiently focused? Should I develop the capacity to work longer hours? I am often overwhelmed. I can’t take any more. And the “any more” is a given, almost always, and given in a form that I don’t know how to resist honorably. I have tried to be faithful, tried to be responsible, yet I am robbed of my spontaneity and joy.

As we grow and mature, we see more clearly what God’s dream is and we see the piece of that dream that God wants us to carry and embody. The piece seems enormous, yet we want to be faithful. We feel an increasing sense of responsibility as we mature, and we are given even more openness to the pain and suffering of others, much deeper than before, and we begin to carry pain that we didn’t carry before. We want to lessen that pain for other people. We cannot isolate ourselves from it because Jesus did not isolate from it, and yet we don’t know how to live with the suffering. We must do more. We also see in a new way the pervasive nature of evil. It is no longer a concept; we see it in the systems we live with every day. It is in our so-called “Spirit-led” systems. We are shocked when we see it is in our churches, which we love, and even more shocking, I find it is in me, and you find it is in you. Everything is connected. And as we get further along the journey, we can’t pull off what we could have pulled off when we were younger. No matter how hard we try, the oppositional forces are powerful and we are confronted by disillusionment. As we mature we also are given a deeper sense of urgency and an awareness of limited time so we feel “it” needs to happen soon. Our time for getting it done is getting shorter. Our sense of urgency leads us to assume new responsibilities without dropping any earlier ones. We give lip service to our finitude. We try to break our rightful limits.

These are just a few of the temptations of good people. If I haven’t named any of yours, you work on your own list.

Way down deep we know that this state of overload is not the way it is meant to be if we are gospel people. We have known it for a long time that it shouldn’t be this way but we haven’t been able to change. How should things be for us if we are developing and growing? Douglas Steere has stated it better than any person for me: “A saint is a person of large leisure.” By saint he means a person who is fully developed; not a saint in the halo sense, but a person who is really getting hold of it, living by the gospel—this will be a person of large leisure. Not overly busy, but with plenty of time, not wishing there was more, just grateful for the time there is and relaxing in it. Looking at our plate, if we are persons of large leisure, we can say it’s a wonderful plate. There’s not too much on it and not too little. It’s just right. Is this just wishful thinking, or can we live this way?

Consider Jesus.

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Journey Inward, Journey Outward

“The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless. In [contemplative prayer] we catch a vision of not only what is, but what can be. Contrary to what we have thought, contemplatives are the great doers.”

N. Gordon Cosby

The Journey of faith is a twofold journey: it is a journey inward and it is a journey outward.

The inward journey is the starting point, the infinite steps that have no end…towards God, others and ourselves; it is a journey that goes on for the ages.  This inward journey leads then to the outward journey, the journey of self in service to God, others and the earth.

The key that unlocks this journey is prayer but is found in the ordinariness of life – the practice of the dailiness of our days.  For not many of us live on the mountain top all year round, no, for many of us there are dishes and diapers and bills and demons and darkness, fragile faith and nagging doubts.  But God is greater than all of these and thus we are immersed in the Divine every moment of our existence.  We are given, lovingly, the power to choose to recognize the very sacredness of our existence in every Moment.  With God there is no past, or future, there is only now for time is a human construct.  God is timeless and when we are in the now, we are indeed one with the Infinite Love.

Prayer allows us to enter into the emptiness of silence where we are awakened to the fullness of God and to the power of prayer to mold us into a people of relentless love, messy grace, and compassionate service.

It is this silence that feeds the journey inward and the journey outward, and it is in this twofold journey that leads us to a divine banquet, one where we can taste our lives as a holy space where God and flesh meet, the place where the boundary between the sacred and the profane dissolves and all is wrapped in the warm tenderness of God’s love.

 

Author’s Note: I first learned of and experienced this naming of the journey as both inward and outward when I was a member of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC back in the 1990s.

For more information on this journey, please click on the link (www.inwardoutward.org).  And to read the book that inspired such missions and fed my soul deeply please see the book by Elizabeth O’Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward.  It can be purchased online at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Journey-Inward-Outward-Elizabeth-OConnor/dp/0060663324)

“Birthing a Different World” (Susan Morley)

“There is an urge among us to birth a different world.”  – Paul Hawken

Advent 2012

Birthing a baby is more than enough challenge, but a new world! Yikes! Advent is upon us and I am keenly aware of the craving for a different world. The Prayer Hut in Primavera Center is waiting for a symbol worthy of the inner work needed this season. Yet inner movements remain subtle. Clues often are all that will be given.

The longing for a womb, a cave for that which grows in the dark leads to the discovery of an old stump covered in winter. It is placed in the Prayer Hut, twisted and turned. We lay the stump over and with the help of a piece of cloth, a grotto comes forth. Something inside me leaps! I sit before it and wonder at what inner clue to a “new world” wants to reveal itself.

In a circle of folk dialoguing around the work of Paul Hawken, author, ecological architect and leading proponent of reform for a different world, one statement by the group leader causes my heart to leap. She says, “We need stories of people who are grounded and joyous in the midst of the despair of our age.”

Mary’s story, and her cousin Elizabeth’s, is in another time when corrupt leaders, exploitation of the poor, controversial policies and dangers prevail. A deeply grounded, though young, Mary willingly says yes to birthing the Divine Son of God. Troubled, she travels some distance to her cousin Elizabeth’s to share her difficult secret. With no instant communication, no smart phones, Facebook, email or even a land line available, the encounter comes as a surprise. Yet, in that moment of greeting, the baby in this older woman’s womb leaps for joy.

The scriptures paint a picture of both women entering into joy. Mary sings from the cave of her heart, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for you have looked with favor on your lowly servant” (Luke 1:39). Be not naïve, for the words that follow are not so sweet. They point to a world about to be upended, where values will be shaken up and the mainstream way of life overturned by the birth of the child within her womb.

The stories of these two women, grounded and joyous in the face of the mysteries they carry, show the way. Are these the kinds of stories we need to hear from one another for this time? Then let’s tell them! Stories of our grounding practices and celebrations of joy that flow through our everyday lives. I don’t know about you, but I need the conversation to change in order to free me from the preoccupation blockages that keep me from building a different world.

We are the different world God longs to bring forth. This Advent is the time to ground ourselves in reality, difficult or not, and empty out space enough to receive Love. For God is with us in this time and space and wants, again and again, to be birthed into this world. As the mystics say, “Look around. The world is full of God.”

Susan Morley, and husband Don Russell, members for many years of The Church of the Saviour, were called in 1999 to establish in the C of S tradition, PRIMAVERA: A SACRED AND SUSTAINABLE EARTH CENTER, in Kalkaska County, northwest Michigan.

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“A Greater Task” (Teilhard de Chardin)

Why should we exhaust ourselves in an effort to succeed and acquire knowledge? Would not a relaxation of effort still give us enough to do for the moment and enable us to be happy?

The mystic, however, can see the profound and hallowed reason for insatiable activity, for the unswerving impulse towards the elusive Something that shines ahead of him.  Throughout time, a task greater than individual lives is being achieved. An interest higher than individual successes is at stake.

Source:

The Inner Hermit

This was sent to me by a friend, Jeannie Kirkhope.  Jeannie runs the Appalachian Catholic Worker in West Virginia and she has been giving me spiritual and emotional support for starting my ‘God Dream’ retreat center.  We also had (have) a mutual friend from DC who spent his life serving God and the poor.

You can click on the live link to check out the Appalachian Catholic Worker!  Pray for them, go visit them, maybe send an online financial donation in honor of the Advent Season…

 

The Inner Hermit

“I want to be with God in prayer.”
“What you want is an absurdity.”

“Why?”

“Because, whenever you are,
God is not;
Whenever God is,
you are not;
so how could you be with God?”

Later the Master said,
“Seek aloneness.
When you are with someone else,
you are not alone;
When you are ‘with God,’
you are not alone.
The only way to be really with God
is to be utterly alone.
Then, hopefully, God will be
and you will not.”

“To Identify Me” (Thomas Merton)

If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person.

Being True to Ourselves

M.C. Richards has been one of the most influential people in my life I have never actually met in person. Her poetry, prose, pottery and person-hood are exquisite examples of Divine Love taking place in flesh and blood.

I have been feeling spiritually ‘beat up’ the last few weeks, my hunger and pining for God being off the hook.  Yet, my sense of God is punctuated more by Absence then Presence.  I am learning again the painful lesson that spiritual maturity is based more on acknowledging and living out truths as acts of will rather than as reactions based on shape-shifting emotions.  So, it does not matter that I do not ‘feel’ God.  I know the truth: God is faithfully and eternally Present to me, since God dwells within me and therefore cannot deny his own Being and Presence therein.

That being said, I kick and scream during spiritual growth spurts, throwing tantrums on the ground, refusing to see the necessity of growing up spiritually.  Then I am reminded that growing up spiritually takes deep courage, rooted faith, child-like trust, and the willingness to go through rather than around the fear.  I am learning albeit slowly that courage comes after not before the act.  

So here is some truth and perspective from the deep wells of M.C. Richards:

It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who we are. We face surprises. And disappointments. The crucial fact is that we are different from anybody we know and admire…. It takes all one’s courage to be the person one is, fulfilling one’s odd and unique possibilities.

Source:

“You Alone” (Thomas Merton)

Lord God,

Give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens.

Possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love.

Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone.

 

Source:

Walking Across the Snow

Author’s Note: This was originally posted on January 17, 2013 and since the temperatures are hovering just above freezing today and a few wayward flurries have found their way to the ground, I thought it was good to re-post this blog on prayer.

I am hungrier for God these days than in days past; as I get older my longings are fewer in number but deeper in intensity.  My pining for God is almost painful, but it is a joy to even have the hunger, regardless of whether or not the hunger is satisfied.  So with that I leave you with the re-post.

“Looking for [God] in prayer is like looking for a path in a field of untrodden snow.  Walk across the snow and there is your path.”

Thomas Merton

I love this quote by Thomas Merton, a truthful man if ever there was one.  Although a monk in one of the strictest Orders in the Catholic Church, he lived his life in gentle yet transparent  honesty.  Known mostly for his deep writings on faith and social justice, Merton was above all a man of prayer.  And yet he penned the above quote.  I venture to reason that this quote was written by Merton for himself.  He ‘walked across the snow’ faithfully, seeking God in all ways and in all things.

I’m pondering this quote and sharing it because of my own life of prayer these days.  I pray a great deal.  I say that not to brag but more as a confession since I have no where else to turn most days except to God, for the things surrounding my life seem larger than it.

So, I pray often because otherwise I’m a sloppy example of flesh and blood, prone more towards my addictions than my healing.  Prayer for me is a pathway to deeper intimacy with God, with myself, and with the world I have been called to serve in love.  Without prayer I am like fruit that has fallen from the tree while still believing it is growing and connected to its Source.  Without prayer, I am living delusion.

There is a ”lostness” to these days, as the light of day gives way more quickly to the shuddering embrace of darkness, my prayer life is following the ‘natural rhythm’ of winter.  When I say ‘lost’ I do not mean in my entire life, but in the sense that this part of the journey is “rubber meets the road” time, a time when the giddiness of the pink cloud has burst and I must show up.  But I am reminded that just showing up is indeed half the battle.

So I show up.  I set aside time to be in contemplation with my God, to listen to the still, small Voice above the din and noise within my head and heart.  I show up knowing, regardless of what I am feeling, God is there as a Present Reality and not just some far away entity.  Much like the well known prayer of Merton’s posted a few days ago, I do not know the path I am called to take in certainty, yet I feel the tug of the Spirit leading me down paths I sometimes fear to travel (even if they are for the Best).  At times, I sense I am traveling alone.  But I have learned that God’s presence is a promise not an emotion and I have tasted God’s love as deeply in his Absence as I have in his Presence.

I sense I am being led to a place that will open up for me a life I have only ever dreamed, but fear still persist as does confusion.  And not the confusion of choices made in or by my own stupidity, rather choices made in the hands of Divine Providence, choices that may alienate me from some while ingratiating me to others.  Regardless, the truth is choices must be made and they must be done so by (and in) faith: faith in God; faith in knowing that if I ask for Wisdom, it is promised; faith in knowing I must indeed walk first in order to see the path God is laying out for me; faith in knowing that I am traveling with One who will never leave or forsake me.

In making these choices I am seeking obedience to God and his will – a will that is more tender than stern, more compassionate than perfectionist, more about trust than certainty.  The word for obedience in Latin is “obidere” meaning “to listen.”  I love that definition because it ties into my coming before God in prayer to know him, to know what he is asking of me, and in order to do that I must be still and listen to his voice of love.

So on this cold afternoon, I am reminded again that the path I am seeking is made along the Way.  The path God is leading me on is not always so clearly laid, yet I am promised the faithfulness of God’s warming Presence in the chill of the unknown.  I am reminded too that prayer is a loving communion filled with hope – the hope of Jesus being born anew in me and in the world.  And my prayers, much like this hope, do not come in strength or unfailing assurance, but rather in fragility, vulnerability, and in weakness.

However, God’s love comes in the chilled, biting wind chaffing my cheeks as I stare out into the gorgeous wintry openness.  And as the feel of snow rises in the air, and the chill numbs my fingers, I am reminded once again that the path may not be certain, but God’s tender love and presence is.