Tag Archives: silence

Word – Eventide Psalm of Longing Love

The Father spoke one word, which was his Son,
and this word he speaks always in eternal silence.
 St. John of the Cross.

Sundown

At the woods’ edge I wait for you
to come heal the violence in me.

I look and look at the trees,
scrawled limbs
framing the plum stained sky.

I look and look at the fawn in the clearing,
the cedar with blue berries,
the red sun sliding under the horizon.
I look and look at the dark
creeping over the countryside.

At vespers you
peer in windows,
meow at the door,
home into my heart.
I cannot get enough
of you 
filling my senses
with sweet awareness. 

You, the Word
in whom our wordiness dissolves,*
silence us.

As leaves loosen and float to the earth,
we tumble over, lay our bodies upon the path.
You come, finger over your lips – Hush, be still –
to take back territories in our souls,
lands occupied by greed, fear, envy.

It is 5:28 pm, and I am weary of words,
the fury of opinions, righteous indignation,
and ideas clanking in the mind like heavy coins.

The vain prattle cannot muffle the murmur
of Herods plotting to kill innocents,
nor the hiss of evil waiting under every rock.

Yet I do believe that all we say and do
counts as nothing next to you,
inexorable Word,
bearing down
into us from on high.

His father opened his mouth
spoke mercy
out came Jesus.
Jeshua. Hush! 

His mother squatted over cold stones,
pushed, out came an infant
wailing, wrinkled.
Hush!

The child gazes into our faces.
A hand reaches toward us.
You – absorb our isolation,
sponge up our misery –
a soft warm cheek
to hold against the dark.

image

*The phrase, Word, in whom our wordiness dissolves, appears in the poem, Without Ceremony by Vassar Miller.

A Prolonged Hesitation – Meeting God in the Spaces

Ireland Upland

Silence is God’s first language. – John of the Cross

Spaces captivate me. The spaces between things – pauses, silences, rests between notes, empty rooms, expanses of prairie, moors, and highlands.  A friend of mine from a large urban center once came to Kansas for a visit. I drove her out west on I70. The empty space terrified her. She much prefers the human made canyons of New York City, than places where the land itself dominates the environment and asserts its untamed, mysterious vitality.

In my work as a listener to the stories of others, I find the spaces between the words, the sudden silences, or the time a person takes for thinking to be where the treasures lie, where holiness abides.

flintyhills3

I recently found a friend in the poet, Rilke. I drove south through the stunning space of the Flint Hills to Wichita to The Magnificat Center. This haven of hospitality and spiritual nurture hosted a retreat led by Mark Burrows, scholar of medieval Christianity. Mark had recently translated some of German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke’s early poems.  Prayers of a Young Poet, Paraclete Press.

For an evening and a day Professor Burrows opened up Rilke’s poems like small packets of compressed holiness. Once set free by Burrows’ translation and our imagination, the poems awakened us to the immense and voluminous God this young poet had discovered.  In the spring of 1899 God had wooed Rilke during the Russian Orthodox holy week services at Moscow’s Cathedral of the Dormition.  By the end of our brief time together I felt the room we gathered in enveloped by presence and I, too, felt holiness pulsing in me.

The resonance of Rilke’s images and Mark Burrow’s masterful interpretation slowed me down, and ushered me into in the mystery of Rilke’s God. I was taken out beyond myself and the horrible cold I had brought with me to a more spacious place. The image Rilke used to express his desire to touch into God’s immensity was heath, the open, treeless landscape of moor and bog.

Whatever you yearn for, my soul, say it
Be heath, be heath, be wide.
. . . .
Be heath, be heath, be heath

Prayers of a Young Poet, translated by Mark Burrows, p 30.

Heath view

What is it in us that allows God to meet us with fullness, depth, and beauty? The potential is always present. Love or loss of love may do this, preaching may do this, sacraments, art, music, nature, beauty, may do this. Yet we must offer the space, the openness, the inner heath or expanse of Kansas Flint Hills to become the altar for this dancing God.

As the psalmists, prophets and Jesus knew, poetry may offer such an altar for the sacrament of presence.  Paul Valéry defined a poem as “a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense.” That is also not a bad definition for a parable. Parable and poem both dis-orient, surprise, stop us in our tracks, and expand our awareness beyond our previously known world.

Poetry invites, even demands that we hesitate, off balance, scratching our heads, to teeter between sound and sense. Most things which reveal Transcendence (that which is beyond our selves) require us to enter the unfamiliar and wait on the edge of not knowing, without having to rush in and fill the moment with a refutation, argument, praise, or anything to end the awkward, uncomfortable “dead” space. It seems to me that good art makes us hesitate and allows what we may perceive as dead to rise up before us. Surely good preaching, celebrating sacraments, and prayer ought to do the same.

Moor
Yet hesitation is seen as a flaw, a lack of confidence, or making someone have to wait. Thomas Merton wrote that we live in a time of no room, in which we are “obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within [us] by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, acceleration.” Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, ed. Kathleen Deignan, p 32 

We live in a time of no room with no space for a soul’s edges to roll out, unconfined by agenda. Hemmed in by a culture which has convinced itself that time is a commodity, of which there is great scarcity, our souls become cramped, stunted, and deformed by the crushing weight of  having to produce and fill every moment with sound and human activity.

communion cup

Time is the sacred vessel of encounter with divine presence.  Where else do we think it is going to happen, if not here, now in this moment? We put little, if any, space between and within the words we speak to one another. We have little available “random access memory” in our minds.  Words pile upon words. Life is reduced to thirty second sound and image bites. Minds are crammed and obese with knowing, calendars booked solid, days filled with activity, and hearts full of oneself.

Who among us will be bold to hesitate, to linger in the land of uncertainty on the shore of wisdom?   Who will offer shelter for silence to collect itself, curl up and hum to itself in the sun? Who will be heath?

________________________

Please note Praying Life Readers: I will be leading a retreat at the Magnificat Center in Wichita, Kansas on March 22-23, 2013.  For more information and to register: Retreat led by Loretta F Ross  It would be great to see you there!

Windbags, Blatherers, and Chatterboxes for God

Le Silence, painted plaster sculpture by Augus...

Image via Wikipedia

“The most beautiful thing a person could say about God would be to remain silent from the wisdom of an inner wealth. So, be silent and quit flapping your gums about God,” advises Meister Eckhart, the German theologian born in 1260.

My flapping gums are weary, my jaw aching, my tongue hangs out the corner of my mouth. I have spoken, written, and read far too many words about God. I am after that inner wealth, the wisdom of silence.

For the next two weeks I offer you silence, as I head to the lake and the woods and join a few other word-weary types, who will sit and pray and eat together without flapping our gums.


 

Will you join us? Will you listen for the crickets and feel the cool breeze off the lake? Will you lift your head one  morning and sniff the blooming silence of our prayer?

Will you choose to live from the peace from which you issue? Will you forsake the urgent illusion of your own ego and sink into your being and find your home there?

Of course you will. I’ll meet you in the silence.


 

Every creature, whether it knows it or not, seeks repose.
                                                                      - Meister Eckhart


Sick of Words

I am word weary. I am tired of tedious characters marching stiffly like tiny soldiers in regiments of paragraphs across a page.

I am wary of shady words with their cruel thorns, sleek seductions, hidden agendas, and high fashion wardrobes. I am annoyed by shifty words with their little beady periods punctuating deceit. I am bored with dreary, weak words, always minding their p’s and q’s. I am fed up with grandiose words mincing truth into carefully parsed packets of freeze-dried candor.

Because I do not know words – tender, true, and worthy enough to tread upon the pristine sweep of your soul,

I give up on words

and offer you the integrity of silence,

the undefiled page,

and the wordless wonder of your own beloved self.

Linger here in this moment on an autumn day.

Oh, for once, do not rush down the labyrinthine corridors of dense vocabularies to the echoing mortuaries, where truth lies shriveled in drawers pulled in and out by experts.

Be stilled.

Soon truth will rise up and burst from the cramped
tomb of your preconceptions.

Then you will hear it sing its little freedom song  —

a soft whirr, a buzzing hum

like a cat purring to herself in the sun.


Rx for a Crisis

The man, unemployed for two years now, leans his elbows on the kitchen table, puts his face in his hands and weeps.
Be still and know that I am God.

The family, numb with shock and grief, stare into the abyss the sudden death of their child has opened before them.

Be still and know that I am God.

The couple – run ragged with work, child care, and keeping up with the Joneses – gaze across the room at each other and wonder how their love turned to resentment and anger.

Be still and know that I am God.

All the while the nation’s public discourse rages on with the clamor and clang of opinions, self righteous indignation, and attack.
Be still and know that I am God.
So much of our lives seems to be fueled by fear and hyperbole, or hype, as the word has morphed into. The fear and anxiety tend to compress our perception into narrow tunnel vision and demand that we act immediately, often at the expense of reasoned consideration, and gathering all the facts. Hyperbole, the fetching sister of fear, exaggerates, escalates, and glamorizes her brother. We feed on sensationalism, scandal, and worst case scenarios.
In the context of this culture of fear and hype, when we encounter the pain and loss of being human, in whatever form it shows up in our life, we may feel overwhelmed, isolated, or ashamed.
Our times are difficult. We face as individuals, as a nation, and as global citizens immense challenges. People are suffering. The planet is suffering. We must act and act wisely. Will our action, our response to the crises we face, rise from our faith or our fear? Will the choices we make be fueled by hysteria, anger, discouragement, or the wisdom and grace of something greater and mightier than we?
Be still and know that I am God. Well, what good will that do? Is that going to improve the job opportunities in my town? Is that going to bring back our son from the grave? Is that going to bring back the love and joy we used to know as a couple?
No. It may or may not change the crisis you are facing. However, it will change you. Absolutely. Being still and knowing that God is God and you are God’s creation will shift how you perceive yourself in the midst of your crisis, and how you perceive the crisis itself.
Being still and knowing that God is God will establish you in the depths of God’s Being within you. Here you will discover a strange peace that doesn’t make sense, that passes all understanding as St. Paul wrote (Philippians 4:7). You will begin to live and act and make decisions from that deep well of peace, rather than your fear and anxiety.
The New English Bible translates this verse from Psalm 46 in this way: Let be then: learn that I am God. Let things be as they are, stop strategizing, blaming, figuring out solutions, or how to get even. Stop your action and thinking. Be in that energetic stillness that is God’s presence within you.
In doing this you will learn that God dwells within you, speaks within you, and is moving in your life and world. You are not in charge, never have been. You do not have to figure this all out and get it right somehow. Relax. Trust.
God is our shelter and our refuge,
a timely help in trouble;
so we are not afraid when the earth heaves
and the mountains are hurled into the sea,
when its waters seethe in tumult
and the mountains quake before his majesty.
There is a river whose streams gladden the city of God
which the Most High has made his holy dwelling;
God is in that city; she will not be overthrown,
And he will help her at the break of day.
The Lord of hosts is with us,
the God of Jacob is our refuge.    from Psalm 46


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Learning to Sit in a Room Alone

..all man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly
in a room alone.  Blaise Pascal

After living over sixty years in the same house, my ninety six year old mother recently moved. We had cajoled, pleaded, and argued with mom about a move for some time. The more we talked the more resistant she became. We brought in her pastor, a beloved nephew, her doctor, and her friends to convince her of the merits of assisted living. Once I tricked her into visiting a place “just to check it out, mom, see what it’s like.” She pronounced that the wallpaper was horrible and remained adamantly against moving anywhere beyond her own backyard.

Home health aides came five days a week. She received meals on wheels and wore a bracelet on her wrist with a button to connect her to emergency assistance. She spent most of her time alone in her room drinking her tea, keeping an eye on the neighbors, and watching the birds and squirrels through the long Iowa winter.

“I know what these places are like,” she told me. “They dope you up. I’ve spent a lot time in these homes.” She had – first, with my bedridden, great Aunt Ethel, then my grandfather, and finally my father. She chuckled telling the story of going to see Dad one time and finding a resident sitting next to him holding his hand. My father, even with Alzheimer’s, always cut a fine figure with the ladies. As mother walked up to bring him some ice cream, the woman looked at mom sternly and asked, “Well, who are you?!” “I am his wife,” mom told her.

The last time I tried to convince mom to move, she silenced me with the words, “Why should I leave here when I am so content? I have everything I need.”

Well, yes. Why should she leave? How rare to be content and feel you have everything you need. She lived through the Great Depression and missed out on many things most of us would call necessities. In her deprivation she had mastered the priceless art of being content with what she had.

As my siblings and I prayed and fretted, God intervened. Compression fractures in her back and being in so much pain she couldn’t leave her chair accomplished a move for mom. She was carried off to a place, as Jesus told Peter, “You do not wish to go.” (John 21: 18) A week later, settled in at the care center, mother said, “This is a good place. They are very good to me here. The food is good. It is wonderful they have places like this.”  When we asked her if she wanted us to get her a TV for her room, she declined saying, “Oh I watch TV out in the common area. I have everything I need here.”

Some days I look out on the world and see a bunch of self righteous, entitled brats, all pushing, shoving, and scheming to get what “what’s owed them.” Other days I see the fear and desperation of people with shallow roots, who must hold themselves up with external supports of power, influence, possessions, and success.  I recognize the brats and the shallow rooted, because it takes one to know one. Daily I face the temptation to shore myself up with the perishable things of this world. I know the thirsty grasp for water of those with shallow roots.

Without a vibrant interior life and a self deeply connected to Goodness in whatever name one gives it, we do not fare well in seasons of loss, storm, and disaster. Without the ability to be self reflective and to enjoy the company of one’s self, I am a prisoner chained to a cell built of my own insatiable neediness.

I heard a story recently about psychologist Carl Jung who once advised a very busy and successful man, who came to him for treatment, to spend time each evening alone. The man returned to the Dr Jung to report he felt no better. He had shut himself up in a room, read, and listened to music. Jung told him, no – no reading, no music. He was to do nothing, just be with himself. The man protested that he could not possibly do that. He didn’t like being with himself. Dr Jung responded, “Why this is the self you have been inflicting on others for fourteen hours a day. If you cannot stand to be with it, how can you expect others to?”

You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen. Simply wait. You need not even wait. Just learn to become quiet and still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.     Franz Kafka

When the time comes, when I am carried where I do wish to go, I want to be like mom.

So I practice. Each day I sit in my room, learning to become quiet and still and solitary. By golly it happens: the unmasked world rolls in ecstasy at my feet, whooping and hollering. I do not lie. I feel as indulged and pampered as a first class tourist on a cruise ship. I have everything I need. The world has no choice. It will scintillate, dance, and shimmy in delirious exaltation of its creator.

Go ahead. Take a seat and wait for the show to begin.

Be still and know that I am God.
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.
I am exalted in the rooms of the old.
I am exalted in the cell of the prisoner.
I am exalted in the ruins of the city.
I am exalted in the penthouse and palace.
I am exalted in the peasant hut.
Everywhere and always
I am exalted in my kingdom
which you will find within you.
Be still
and know. Based on Ps 46:10

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Kids with Knives

Jesus pumpkin 3

Nine kids: nine pumpkins. Grandpa and Grandma, with a pot of taco meat and fixings. After the dumb game where I make them interview each other and then introduce each other to the group, we get to work.

Knives: Five boys around a table covered with newspaper. Two girls in the kitchen. Two more on the patio. Seeds. Lots of seeds and stringy pumpkin innards. Laughter.  scooping

“I am making a bat.”
“I’m gonna have two faces on mine.”  
“Hey, where’s the knife?”

Then – that studied silence of creativity and focused concentration. Grandpa helping with the finer points of carving. Grandma taking photos, hunting up a toothpick to save a broken piece, helping set up the food.

Through it all – a barking puppy named Elijah, confined to his kennel in the kitchen, itching for a wild rumpus. We let him out and some of the kids take him for a walk.

Supper: tacos, chips, salsa, apple slices in caramel dip. Mrs. Miller’s yummy bundt cake with black and orange sprinkles. No leftovers.

Lesson:  We take off our shoes and gather in the prayer room. The sophisticated high school juniors sit down with the middle schoolers. One or two stretch out on the floor. Others wrap up in a prayer shawl. We turn out the lights. We settle down. Elijah does not. He is back in the kennel and very much wants to be in on this lesson. The little prophet, still early in his ministry, has not yet heard “the still small voice.” aleah

What does Jesus mean when he tells us to deny ourselves and to die? We watch a Nooma video about how death is the engine for life. We think about how parts of ourselves can get in the way of our ability to love or to be compassionate. Like the part of ourselves that always has to be right, to look good, or to impress others. The video is pretty sophisticated for this age group. I wonder if it is making any sense. The kids are quiet and listening intently.  

Elijah keeps barking. I bring him in and try to calm him. He only gets worse. I take him back. Grandma, who is not all that keen on dogs, goes out to the kitchen, kneels down before his kennel, and entertains Elijah with a paper towel.

I ask the kids what desire in them might need to die, what desire is getting in the way of God’s work for them and through them. One by one we bring an unlit candle forward to where there is a small statue of Jesus carrying a cross. We light the candle and place it near Jesus as a symbol of what we want to let go of. While we are praying, we listen to Dona Nobis Pacem sung by Beth Nielsen Chapman. Some of us sing along. We are silent for a little longer, gazing at all the candles around Jesus. We say amen. One sixth grader, wrapped in a shawl stretched out close to the candles, announces loudly, “I just love that chant!”

We go outside, light our pumpkins, and carry them home into the dark.Bill smith helping

I say I am too old for this. My youth group days are long over. I say I cannot devote the time and energy these kids deserve. I say we should be having lock-ins, going on mission trips, meeting more frequently. What I do seems so small. I teach them how to be still, silent, and prayerful. And I love them, wholly, and with a kind of wild desire for their highest good in God now and always.

I go to bed deeply grateful for grace in the midst of chaos. I think about the kids in Chicago where knives are wielded for a completely different purpose. At church this Sunday we had celebrated Children’s Sabbath. Some of these youth shared information with the congregation about the horrible neglect and suffering of many children in our country. The kids I work with are deeply loved and cared for by large extended families and a whole church pretty much totally gaga about their every move. My heart aches, thinking of kids for whom a knife is only a weapon, for whom school is a crime scene, and a walk down the street an invitation for murder. What needs to die in us for our children to stop dying?

As we were cleaning up Grandpa told me, “It is a miracle no one got cut!” Hmm, I think, no. Grandpa and Grandma, the miracle is that you are here. 

Jesus pumpkin 4

Special thanks to Bill and Sharon Smith, Eleanor Miller, Jean Schultz, Dave Strobel, “the pumpkin man,” everyone at Crestview UMC, and all of you who try to be present to children wherever they are.

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Invitation to Silence

Lake and leaves 

 Prayer of Thomas Merton

I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it
the word of your peace
and the word of your mercy
and the word of your gentleness to the world:
and that through me perhaps your word of peace
may make itself heard
where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time.

 

 Tomorrow is Hermit Day, Sabbath – a day of solitude and silence. No phone, email, social networking, television, radio, or gadding about doing and consuming.

 A day of fasting and withdrawal from the addictive worship of the gods of productivity and commerce, the altars of words, the energy of anxiety, and the illusions of personal power.

Somebody has to do it.
You come too.

Perhaps you and the rest of us will hear something we have not been able to hear for a long time.