Category Archives: contemplation

Broken Hearts and Weary Souls

The Christian who knows his or her business is the Christian who has the freedom to return again and again into that silent unchanging presence – the hanged God, whose love, whose generosity, springs out of depths we can never imagine. It is the sounding of those depths that is the heart of the contemplative life . . . the contemplative who knows how to enter into the silence and stillness of things is, above all, the one who knows how to resist fashion and power to stand in God while the world turns. In that discovery of stillness lies all our hope of reconciliation. – Rowen Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, May 2010

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“The people of God have a long history of reaching for technical change to remedy their difficulties, instead of the adaptive change God is calling out from their hearts and minds.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you refused and said, “No! We will flee on horses” – therefore you shall flee! And, “We will ride upon swift steeds” – and therefore your pursuers shall be swift!
                                                                                                   Isaiah 30: 15-16

Someone is always looking for a fast horse to save us from the hard work of learning, which requires us to face into our ignorance and vulnerability.”
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Here on a late March day in 2020 with the mourning doves calling from their perches, the grass slowly greening, and robins hopping about the leaf mulch in the woods, some of us are given a most remarkable opportunity. The world is gripped with the ongoing crisis of the corona virus pandemic.  We may wonder, Will I or my loved ones get it? Might we die from it?

Government and health department officials scramble to respond. Health care givers put on hazmat suits and masks. Others labor to provide the goods and services we have taken for granted.  Some of us will reach out to neighbors and others in need and develop ways to tend the tissue of human connection, love and compassion. Nearly all of us are charged to stay home and do our best to stay healthy.

In our communal enforced solitude we may have just the right hermitage for facing into the truth of ourselves and going deeper into our prayer and silence. In the Winter issue of Holy Ground, which I wrote before the virus erupted, “Deep personal and communal changes are not something we roll up our sleeves and do. Such life-giving change is something that is done unto us.” Something certainly is being done to us all. What kind of changes might God be asking of you and your communities?

Here is the Winter Holy Ground issue which looks at grief and truth, transformation and hope. It starts with another story about that little fellow,
Forest Spryte, Esq. He showed up on my couch one morning.

HOLY GROUND WINTER 2020
– Broken Hearts and Weary Souls

But first do this now or soon.

Turn off your screens. Step away from daily tasks. Sit down. Be still. Listen. Yes you will fidget and worry. That is okay. Stay there a little longer, where God is waiting for you.

Notice your breathing. Feel your body. Be present to each moment, as best you can. Give up trying, thinking, and planning. And give yourself over to this great Mystery of Love which lives beyond words in silence. This is a love, which longs to be with you and be known by you. Allow the flowing Love and Mercy of God move through you.  Surrender to your Beloved, who is beyond your knowing and to the peace that passes your understanding.

Here. Right here
in this sacred moment
of your infinitely precious life
is all you will ever need.

With you and “the hanged God” in these days
in love and prayer.

                              Loretta F. Ross

Christmas Lullaby

Christmas Lullaby 
Little Ones to Him Belong

The curve of time turns in on itself, bends back and threatens to disintegrate. Apocalyptic whispers and end time sonnets play in bars and senate chambers. Death watches on the TV news announce more violence, more battles, more destruction.

The little one stood waiting
while the One Who Is Greater Than All spoke:


Come sit with me and rock a while 

and I will sing you lullabies that Sarah sang to Isaac.
I will tell you stories, wondrous tales of adventure, danger, miracles and love. For these songs must be sung, these stories told. Not kept on shelves like jars of pickles in a darkened cellar.

No spice can preserve us, but these stories can save. In the telling is new life. In the singing is good news.

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This issue  of Holy Ground is a poetic reflection on Psalm 131. It is a lullaby and a song of love about the difficult struggle of spiritual growth. It is also a song of hope. 
Holy Ground Autumn 2019 Vol 30 No 4
Christmas Lullaby – Little Ones to Him Belong
What is needed is persons with quiet souls
who cling to Holiness as the trees cling to the earth.
I wrote this piece many years ago, when my first daughter was around a year and a half old. Some of you may recall it. Lines from this piece began coming back to me this fall. I think it is a lullaby worth hearing again.  May you find comfort here and deep assurance in the steadfast love of the One Who Is Greater than All.
My heart holds your heart in the steadfast Love who hold us all.
Loretta F Ross
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Learning to Kneel

I fear that we are losing our capacity for reverence and wonder. From a perusal of headlines and social media it appears that the great American pastime is one of taking offense, being outraged over one thing or another, fighting over who deserves to be the one most offended, or should be offended immediately.

The experience of reverence is crucial because it provides us with an internal check on our oh-so-human tendency to think of ourselves as superior beings, an attitude that can justify all kinds of harmful behaviors. Paul Woodruff, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue.
The need has never been more urgent for people in leadership positions to be educated in all matters related to dignity – both the human vulnerability to be violated and the remarkable effect on people when they feel that they are seen, heard, understood, and acknowledged as worthy. Donna Hicks, Dignity, p 7
New Issue of Holy Ground: Snowed In – Learning to Kneel
Including a guide to spiritual practices to deepen reverence for God, ourselves, and others. 

 

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now. Mr Rogers

Sanctuary News

New life is stirring at the Sanctuary – ideas, insights, and learning as I begin to ponder possibilities in our new location. I attended a Day of Mindfulness held at a stunningly beautiful building, built by the Unitarian Universalist Society. They had expected 50 people. 100 signed up.  There is a hunger for depth and the wisdom that rises out of silence.

Spiritual guidance is keeping me busy. I am grateful for Zoom and other ways the internet helps us stay connected. Speaking of connection, I am also taking time for extended prayer, which I neglected for most of a year. The call to pray intentionally, as the heart of this ministry, seems stronger and more essential than ever.  I have returned to setting aside one day a week for this, Mondays. Feel free to join me in Spirit. Let me know if you do.
When I consider what may be emerging for ministry here, I am struck by the awareness that The Sanctuary has always been about relationships, where we see, where we are seen, and held in the Presence of God.

Don’t miss any opportunity to exert the power you have to remind others of  who they are: invaluable, priceless, and irreplaceable. Remind yourself too. Donna Hicks

 

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The Conversion of Paul

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. Here is a repost of a blog I wrote 9 years ago. The notion of people, who think they know it all, getting blasted by the Light of truth and knocked off their high horses seems particularly relevant today. May we all experience such re-orienting conversion.

via The Conversion of Paul

Like a Trap

You will find three invitations in this post,

1. A spiritual practice for the new year.
2. The new issue (Autumn 2018) of Holy Ground: Like a Trap. (Yes I know it is winter and now 2019. I have had a very hectic fall with my move to Iowa. Things are finally settling into new routines. Thanks for your patience!)
3. Update with our Annual Letter
A Spiritual Practice 
for a New Beginning  
       A new year with its promise and possibility of new opportunities  stretches out before us.
       Take a few moments to ask for and to listen for the Word from God to you for 2019. Will you discover a word of  challenge or encouragement? Perhaps you hear a word of correction or hope or purpose. Pay attention to what attracts or repels you. Pay attention to your inner life, images, music that come to mind. Look at your dreams and your heart’s deep yearnings. What might God be asking of you in relation to your work for the Realm of God?
       When the Word comes  – silently in a dream, or knocking you on the head like walking into a tree – take time to explore your word or words. Look up the words in a dictionary. If they come from the Bible, track down their origin. Draw or paint them. Write a poem or song. Find an object to symbolize the word of God to you. Build or bake something. Take your word for a walk, as you  repeat it softly to yourself.  Chew over and live into the word, allow it to take flesh in you.
           Take action in relation to your word. Set an intention regarding your word. Write down some goals. Make some phone calls or appointments. Share your word with a friend and pray together about your call from God.
       It need not be a gigantic task. It may be quite simple and seem very small. One year I heard “rest.” “In returning and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30: 15-17 Your gift is important. It may be something you and you alone can give. You are on this earth at this point in time for a purpose. Trust the angel who whispers through your life. Say yes.

New Issue of Holy Ground: Like a Trap

       “I opened the door on apocalypse. I let it in and then kept draping throws and bright afghans on it. It brought news of my demise, my slow decomposition. I was weighed down with distraction and worry. It was like a trap.  . . .”
       “The universe is saturated and dripping with the power of Holy Love, oozing like sap from every crack and cranny of being. I trust the tenacity and persistence of life pushing through the cracks, pouring over the dam, carving out canyons, and pulsing in our veins, drawing us to ever fuller expression of being. The Word – the creating energy of being – inhabits all that is, unfurling itself in kaleidoscopic formations and scintillating complexity. . . .”
 
 

The clamoring demands of a paralyzed present

       Living in a time of apocalypse and reckoning brings both chaos and opportunity. We face great changes and challenges. We also bring particular gifts for this time, not the least of which is our faith. We look forward to the coming Realm of God manifesting more and more throughout the world.  It is important to deepen our roots into the bedrock of our faith. May these words from L. Daniel Hawk encourage us all “to look to the restorative end toward which the Lord is moving . . . rather than the clamoring demands of a paralyzed present.”

       “The vision of a future beyond the contemporary horizon, therefore, calls the people of God to look beyond the present moment, with its violence, disintegration, and failed leadership, to the restorative end toward which the Lord is moving, and so to orient faith and decision making within the context of God’s ultimate power and purposes, rather than clamoring demands of a paralyzed present.
       The parable of the fig tree and Jesus’ admonition to pay attention to the signs of his coming remind readers that God is not absent or inactive in the interim but, to the contrary, powerfully at work in every present moment to bring about the redemptive end foreseen by the prophets.”
-L. Daniel Hawk, Connections – A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship p. 3
“The Sanctuary heals me. It has brought peace and serenity to me in the chaos of the Twenty-First Century by regularly reminding me of the serenity that comes through the stability of…following the teachings and life of Jesus in good times and difficult times.” Ron  -Sanctuary Annual Letter

Advent Manna 4: The Promise

Advent Manna – Short Takes on the Themes of Advent

The Promise

Christ tells us that here is where we are to linger, to stay awake, to wait
and be ready – here in the bleak and barren heart of our need.

How long can you carry a secret, a gift of saving love, before giving birth to it? How long can you ponder in your heart and sit on the stone path in the sun? After a while it becomes obvious that something is up your sleeve, or under your tunic. Someone’s delight is in you and is growing bigger every day.

What is it? Who is it? How is this done? We are each alone here. There were no witnesses when Gabriel came. One or two may understand, who are strong when we are weak, who have hope when we have despair, who have faith when we have none. For the most part we must face rejection, fears, doubts, and devils alone.

And then, suddenly in the night, comes the sharp all-encompassing pain of labor – so much more painful than we had ever imagined it could be.

It may not look like all that much, your child and your offering of yourself as a mother of redemption. It may seem a small thing compared to Mary’s child. The child you bear may be nothing more (or less) than the courage to get through a bad day, or a shred of hope you cling to like a broken raft in the midst of a churning sea.

Waiting, waiting – how did she keep the promise alive, the hope, the word which was spoken to her, through all the days and nights while she walked the rocky paths? What good could come out of Nazareth? How can this be?  I have no husband. I have no money. I have no hope. I have no skill… But he said, Nothing is impossible with God.

A secret between her and the angel, a child growing in a hostile environment and stillness at dusk when the light slides under the horizon leaving a golden smear of hushed anticipation.

She was like a tiny flame in a sea of  darkness.

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Advent Manna are short pieces taken from my writing over the years on the themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. This post is an edited excerpt from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000. Chapter 34, p 179. 

A blessed Christmas to you all. Keep your flame lit. May you be entrusted with a task to match the largeness of your soul.

Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. See the summer issue here: Summer 2018 Holy Ground x
Subscribe to Holy Ground here. It makes a great Christmas gift for a friend!

Advent Manna 3: Being Virgin

Advent Manna – Short Takes on the Themes of Advent

Being Virgin

“A virgin is someone who is free of all false images and is detached toward God’s dearest wish and ready to fulfill it unceasingly, as was Jesus.” Meister Eckhart

Virgin comes from Latin and means, literally, slender branch, twig or shoot. The original sense of the word is a person who is one in him or herself. Such an individual is free from possession and possessiveness and capable of the total giving of self, body, as well as soul. The virgin aspect is that which is unpenetrated and unowned by humanity. It does not need to be validated or approved by anyone to know its own innate worth.

Virgin carries much of the same intent as the word holy, which means set apart, the temple. The Parthenon (literally the virgin’s place) was the temple to Athena on the acropolis in Athens. In the New Testament virgin is used to depict the host of the redeemed in Revelation and to refer to the church as the bride of Christ. But by far the most frequent use of the word virgin is in the Bible’s figurative description of cities, nations, and communities. We often find virgin daughter as an expression for Jerusalem.

The virgin is one who can hear and believe the anguished truth of a violated and profaned creation. The virgin does not indulge in denial or false hope. She has no illusions about the extent of the horror and suffering we inflict on one another and the earth.

For the virgin knows that it is not our empathy that heals, not our outrage that heals, not our grief that heals. It is our faith – our trust in the power of Goodness to prevail over darkness. The virgin does not respond to suffering and sin out of her own anxiety, fear and wounds, but rather out of her repose, her absolute serene trust in the one she carries in her womb and continuously delivers into the world. Such, as she, are the healers among us.

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My small daughter, playing with the holy family in the wooden stable sings her lullaby:  Round yon urgent mother and child, holy infant so tender and wild.

This mother, more urgent than virgin, smiles: Yes, indeed,  Holy Infant tender and wild, you are so wild, so undomesticated, so radically other than anything known and familiar. No matter how hard we coax, you will not eat out of our hands, but remain out in the timber hidden in the brush. We set out bait, offerings on the snow. Cowboy theologians toss ropes into the forest and lasso decoys. And rough-rider ecclesiastics try to corral you in sedate doctrines.

The virgin daughter of Jerusalem sings at the gate. In the dark we lay a trail of bread crumbs to our door. We wait, stilled, hushed. Come, Lord Jesus.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered  violence and the violent take it by force. Matthew 11:12

But who can stand when you appear? The earth shudders, mountains topple, creatures shiver with fear. Shots ring out in the forest. Innocence awakens and moves toward us, and the rough hand grasps for its lost treasure.

 

The virgin daughter of Jerusalem stands on the path  and suddenly she is falling, falling into the blue sea and into the wide sky, falling through pain and fear and despair, falling faster and faster, picking up speed, plummeting like a stone, falling through a tunnel formed at the intersection of the cross hairs in the telescopic sight aimed at redemption where opposites meet and all things come together.

She is whizzing down the tunnel like a child’s slide, sleek and silent, silver in the sun, falling free. And the Realm of God does not suffer violence, and she is not taken by force and the two, who have been made for each other, delight to have found ground holy enough to hold each other’s purity, ground strong enough to bear each other’s pain. And in her joy she funnels greatness from the wideness of her hope down the narrow passage of her being into us.

So now I pray for passionate virgins who have died for love and dwell beyond the clutch and fever of desire. I pray for eccentric virgins who live on the outskirts of propriety, raise geese, and talk to trees. I pray for violated virgins and their re-consecration. I pray for virgins who find the courage to reject the lie that eats away their souls and whispers that what happened never happened and leads them down a winding path of mirages and fun house mirrors that mock Truth.

I pray for virgins who know they are only as holy as they are willing to see how horribly they have been profaned, and how horribly they profane. I pray for priestly virgins who preside at their own sacraments, who ordain themselves to Love, who anoint and purify, who refuse to bypass pain, but in their surrender to it and annihilation fall into the center of their humility to sit enthroned in the trust of total repose and divine indifference from which all healing flows.

I pray for virgins, calm and pure, who stable holiness, and for virgins, safe and gentle and true enough to conceive the Immaculate Tenderness without doing it violence. I pray for undomesticated virgins, unpenetrated by conventional values, virgins unconfined by reason and impervious to the demands of privileged authority.

I pray for revolutionary virgins, who despise the shame, and take up the suffering for the joy that awaits. I pray for virgins whose land, enclosed by strength, is untouched and guarded by a flaming sword. I pray for virgins, who with unveiled eyes gaze unflinchingly at evil and at God and live to tell the tale. I pray for virgin martyrs, who are witnesses with the conviction to believe their own eyes. I pray for chaste, intrepid, impeccable virgins, incapable of doubt.

 

I pray for virgins who apply themselves to prayer until their souls become clear, focused lenses through which we spy, enlarged for us, the intricate dazzling structures of divinity. And God, hidden in the forest, is magnified by them; and glory sprints across the clearing kicking up a cloud of blessing.

I pray for virgins who are not afraid of greatness, neither the greatness of themselves, nor the greatness of God. And I pray for a virgin with a heart which dilates. A bold virgin, who when she has grown as big as she can be, when she has come to the outer reaches of the limits of her being and all that she thinks and knows and hums to herself, will give up encompassing Plentitude. I pray for a virgin who becomes Emptiness, who will let go of her edges, the taut boundaries that separate this from that, and flinging herself like crumbs in a fragrant trail from what was once her heart to the forest will say:

Let it be to me according to your word.

And the shy, tender God takes the bait. And she and holiness are won. And their child tumbles, wet and wild, into the wounded world to heal us with his stripes.

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Advent Manna are short pieces taken from my writing over the years on the themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. This post is an edited excerpt from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000. Chapter 10 “Urgent Mother and Child – Holy Indifference and the Repose of the Virgin,” p 39. It may be a challenging piece for some readers. I wrote it over 25 years ago following a workshop I led in New York state. The workshop topic was the spiritual aspects of recovery from sexual abuse and violence. After the presentation I was taken to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and guided to a small chapel. There I knelt before a larger than life bronze statue of the Virgin Mother, which embodied, both all pervading compassion, and perfect repose. Before her I felt all the pain of the women, whose stories I had heard at the workshop, drawn out of me and healed.
By the way, this piece could easily be adapted for several voices and used as a readers’ drama for worship. I can als0 hear music behind it…and slides of various artists’ depiction of the annunciation. Get creative!

 

Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. See the summer issue here: Summer 2018 Holy Ground x

 

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