Category Archives: Silence

Poets, Prayer, and Paradigms

Poets

I lived with two poets all summer. They accompanied  me to both coasts, places in between,  and came along on a silent retreat.  Amy Fleury and Brian Doyle are both accomplished and acclaimed writers. I met them first through Fleury’s Sympathetic Magic and Doyle’s How the Light Gets In and Other Headlong Epiphanies.

sympathetic-magicThe corners of both books are bent down, exclamation points and asterisks dance in the margins. When I finished each book, I promptly started over at the beginning again.

Fleury and Doyle’s  poems sound truth in me like a struck gong. They take me into still places, new insights, and sheer delight at their artistry.

Eventually the books will find a home on my bedroom shelf of books-to-be-buried-with. These are the sort of books I want to take with me to the grave,  in case I wake up in the shadowy corridors of the Bardos, a dank, musty Sheol, or at Purgatory’s laundramat, waiting for a load of my dirty laundry. The poets carry me out of this world like a sturdy rope hanging over a wide river. If you get a good running start and grab hold tightly, you just might swing yourself right over into the generous faith of their imaginations.

I do not know if these two poets know each other.  If they do not, I hope they meet sometime for coffee. And invite me.

There is a gladness in the green-gold tides
of wheat, in the openhandedness of oaks,
and in the river’s verdegris creep over
moss-sueded stones, and fishes beneath.
                               – Amy Fleury, Green Temple

how-the-light-gets-in

Amy, a consummate artist,  dazzles me with images and words strung on a page like bright jewels. Brian ambles into the room, leans amiably against the door jamb and begins to tell me a story of what happened on his way home, or when he was teaching a class of high school kids, or talking to his father. Then turning, tosses over his shoulder the punch line with such effortless grace and spot on truth, I grin for the rest of the day.

. . . Why do
We ever bother to argue about religion? All religions are the same glorious
Wine, susceptible to going bad but capable of quiet joyous gentle elevation.
. . . Yet here I am, on Sunday morning, in the wedding reception tent, agog;
Not so much at the earnest idiot of a minister, but at everyone, sweetly, else.
– Brian Doyle, Poem After Sunday Morning Church Service in a Tent

Prayer

john-luc-seashore

PAUSE FOR PEACE
Are you looking for a group to practice and learn more about contemplation?
I am offering a four week class on contemplation and mindfulness practices here in Topeka, Ks on each of the Friday mornings in October from 7:30-8:30 am. Oct. 7, 14, 21, 28. Space is limited. We only have room for two more people. Please register at the link below or contact me by commenting here, or through my website, www.fromholyground.org

More Info and Register Here

Paradigms

What is called for is a paradigm shift, a new wineskin, a new mental construct to hold one’s life, and relationships with God, self, and neighbor. A shift in a way of understanding or a world view occurs when the current world view has reached too many anomalies or inconsistences. I can no longer cram myself, my understanding of God and others into a belief system that cannot accommodate some previously unnoticed or known, but now undeniable, realities in my own experience.

The Summer issue of Holy Ground takes a look at how we get stuck in a mental construct or paradigm which we may have outgrown. God is always calling us beyond ourselves and our current conceptions and attitudes.

Is your God too small? Mine was.

READ MORE holy-ground-summer-2016

summer-2016-holy-ground

 

 

 

Sighs Too Deep – Bruised Reed

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
                                                                               Romans 8:26

bruised reed

i am so little

grasping this white rag
yearning on tip toe
waving down grace

so threadbare
this prayer
wind blowing through
a bruised reed

hear our cry

___________________

A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick,he will not quench.
In faithfulness He will bring forth justice. Isaiah 42:3

maryjesushands

Please do not trample the tenderness
lying in the crib of the world.

Holiness did not abhor the Virgin’s womb,
nor should we.

Sighs Too Deep – Like a Cat

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

                                                                                                         Romans 8:26

Like a cat

on soft pawsSeal on lap
you come
turning
settling.
The weight
of you
silences me.
Words scatter
fall apart
crumbling leaves
at my feet.

The refrigerator hums.
We breathe.

 

I find I am increasingly drawn into silence in response to the latest outrage, injustice, violence, or suffering, which lifts its terror, anger, and sorrow for a day or two, until it is drowned out by other cries, other horrors.

This silence, like a cat, is neither retreat, nor numbness. It is not denial, nor shrinking fear. Rather, it is a persistent and irresistible summons.

The silence owns me, abides in me, and will have its way with me. So I consent. I stop trying to be efficient and productive. I stop trying to understand, to explain, or defend.

I surrender.
I hold silence.

 

Perhaps you will find yourself similarly drawn and join me in holding silence in this season of waiting and hope. Some of us need to do this. That kitten is just waiting for you to sit down.

The Father spoke one Word,
which was his Son,christ-icon-mt-athos
and this Word
he speaks
always in eternal silence,
and in silence
must it be heard
by the soul.

–  St. John of the Cross

Love – In Small Doses #11

 

Bite apple2

 The Education of Desire

The woman stared at the fruit. It looked beautiful and tasty. She wanted the wisdom that it would give her, and she ate some of the fruit. Her husband was there with her, so she gave some to him, and he ate it too. Genesis 3:6 (CEV)

Loud, the crash and feral
thrashing of a heart
wedged in desire’s thorns

no exertion heals
the festering wound

at length
mind wears down
bows stiffly
folds into sheer being
draws up soft
sheets of silence

 ___________________

How is it for you to sit still with your conflicted heart, enmeshed and torn by desire and longing for things  you do not have?

Can you stay with your wounded heart until your mind stops trying to analyze and understand? Can you trust as you surrender into the silence?  Will you discover tender compassion for yourself in your own suffering?

Will you hold still while unseen hands place a poultice,
warm and moist, where you hurt the most?

maryjesushands

_____________________________________

Central Academy Lent 2015
1248 SW Buchanan
Topeka, Ks
Each Wednesday from Feb 25 to March 25
5:30 Gather for Soup
6:00 – 7:30 Class

 It is not too late to join us. Don’t worry. You will fit right in!

Call or email to let us know you are coming so we have enough cookies.
Contact Central Congregational Church
(785) 235-2376; centralucc@yahoo.com

I am teaching a five week class on contemplation, Prayer of the Yearning Heart.  It is a great help to practice contemplation in a group. Come sit with us a spell and let peace creep into your heart.

Slamming Doors, Punching Walls

slamdoor2

We don’t teach meditation to the young monks.
They are not ready until they stop slamming doors.

– Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966.

The Anglican priest across the table  thought for a moment before he responded to my question. I was trying out my idea of a life and ministry focused on prayer. This man and his wife had formed contemplative communities in India and Hong Kong. “What suggestions do you have for me, a Presbyterian minister, about how I could do this?” I had asked, not even sure what I meant by a life of prayer.

“Holiness takes time,” Fr. Murray Rogers began. “You can’t hurry holiness.”

From birth to death  faith development moves us toward  deeper maturity. Followers of Jesus build strong, resilient, resourceful, creative lives through periods of doubt, struggle, disillusionment, and loss. Our life in God teaches us how to take responsibility for our inner lives – the anger, resentment, bitterness, sorrow, envy, and greed – whatever may be blocking the flow of grace in and through us. To take responsibility for our own attitudes, emotional states, opinions, and behaviors is to stop slamming doors or punching holes in one another. Mature souls require time to ripen and the ability to tolerate the slow pace and periods when it seems nothing positive is happening at all.

Such maturing requires us to look inside, to notice what is there, and to be present to what is so in our hearts moment by moment. In this process of looking we wake up to what is true and real, beyond our drama, blaming, projecting, judging, and attacking. We begin to love ourselves, God, and others more  fully and freely.

This looking inward with awareness and compassion is called contemplation in the Christian tradition. Here we discover that the realm of God is within us, as Jesus told his friends. The practice of contemplative prayer or meditation grounds and fuels our awakened compassion and love, as we carry the fruit of our practice into the world with acts of justice, mercy, creativity, beauty, and courage.

prayerstool

Little seems more important to me than this work of opening our eyes to what is true and real. Our awareness is nurtured by noticing and appreciating the myriad miracles, which surround us each day. A few minutes of silent communion with the Giver of these gifts heals, soothes, brings insight, and draws us into Love’s embrace.

Instead of our conflicts, trials, suffering, and confusion overcoming us, they become the curriculum in the school for our soul. Our teacher is the Spirit in our times of attentive listening and contemplation. As we keep showing up for class, little by little, we are freed and transformed in Christ.

Love in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul – Part II

This lent I will be continuing and adding to a series, Love in Small Doses, which I first posted in 2013. These are short  poetic takes on the themes and scriptures of lent. Each post will invite you to savor, slow down, or be still for a moment.

A teacher who has deeply influenced me is Carmelite author and nun, Constance Fitzgerald. Read her sweeping understanding of the significance of practicing contemplation in our time:

Teachers need to know how to educate for contemplation and transformation, if the earth is to be nurtured, if people are to be delivered from the scapegoating oppression of all kinds of violence, and if humanity is to fill its role in ushering in the next era of life on earth.

This may be the most basic challenge of religion today: not sexual mores, nor bioethics, nor commitment to justice, not dogmatic orthodoxy, not even option for the poor and oppressed nor solidarity with women, but education for a transformative contemplation, which would radically affect human motivation, consciousness, desire, and, ultimately, every other area of human life and endeavor.

All great change begins with a shift in perspective
within an individual soul and consciousness –

a truth told
a veil lifted
a sorrow rising
a cry piercing
a heart ravished 

I look forward to our lenten journey together and the changes we discover along the way.

BTW: You can do this.
I am an old monk and still slam doors from time to time.

_________________________________

Topeka Area Readers Please Note !

Want to learn to MEDITATE or approach scripture from a PROGRESSIVE PROSPECTIVE?  Here are two FREE options to deepen in the SPIRIT this year during Lent.

Central Academy Lent 2015
1248 SW Buchanan
Each Wednesday from Feb 25 to March 25
5:30 Gather for Soup
6:00 – 7:30 Class
Two class offerings this year

Sign up and RSVP for classes!
Contact Central Congregational Church
(785) 235-2376; centralucc@yahoo.com

I will be teaching the five week class on contemplation, Prayer of the Yearning Heart. Rev. Joshua Longbottom will be leading a study of the gospel of Mark from a theologically progressive perspective.

It is a great help to practice contemplation in a group. I hope to see some of you there!

If silence is not your thing, dig into Joshua’s class on Mark. I promise that it won’t be dull. You will definitely see things from a new perspective!

Made of Yearning and Rumors of God

In the past year I have lived deeply into two books. I returned over and over to taste and savor their wisdom, as though I were sucking on a bone, which had simmered all day long in a crock pot.

In my writers’ group, The Topeka Writer’s Workshop, I marvel at the swiftness of the group’s feedback, their pithy responses, useful suggestions, and on point critique.   My cohorts are all “real poets” in my mind and more knowledgeable about literature and the craft of writing than I am. At our workshops, they leave me in the dust, reading and rereading the rich words on the page.

I am  still at the third line rolling the author’s word choice or images in my mind, chewing at the wonder, and licking the juice off my fingers, when they are ready to move on to another poem or story. I feel the same way at public readings. As the audience softly murmurs admiration and claps politely, I want to holler and whoop, rise to my feet, pump the air and shout: “Wait a minute here! Please stop and let us all think about what you just read! This is magnificent.” And then turn about in a little dance.

Thus, you may understand how taking a year to read one or two book s of poetry suits me well. When I am not dawdling with poems, I devour mysteries, fiction, and spiritual/theological nonfiction. To be honest I am getting my fill of the spiritual/theological/what-should-we-do- about- the-church nonfiction, and plan to branch out into zombies and urban fantasy this year.

Here is one of the books of poetry I lived with last year: Mark S. Burrows’ translation of Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet . I will share the other book with you in a later post.

orthodox monk

As the seasons of last year passed,  I looked over the shoulder of a young monk composing his prayers to the  Dark Mystery who courted him in his small cell. I watched his struggle for words to name the Unnameable, and for color and line to write an icon that might lift a corner of the curtain that covered his shy Beloved.

I followed the poet/monk into the forest and onto the ever expanding heath, as he entered into the secret intimacy of the One who would not let him go. I sat up with him late at night and tasted that ache of loneliness that borders solitude and finally becomes the gate which springs wide open onto union. The key to the gate is losing that pesky self, which seeks always to assert its primacy to grasp and to possess. I watched the monk’s continual surrender to and reverence for the holy beauty of his own weakness and deep need, where, wonder of wonders, the vast and luminous Dark Mystery makes its home.

It is true that half of what Rilke writes I do not understand, but neither do I understand God. Burrows beautiful translation of Rilke’s poems opened me to the passion and nakedness of soul of the young monk, which Rilke creates for us. The monk, smitten with what he cannot fully contain in his prayers, or comprehend, enlarged my appreciation of the ultimate hidden poverty  of God in the human soul.  I am more comfortable now with my own inscrutable self. And  I am more trusting of the exquisite beauty and uniqueness of God’s presence in the lives of those I counsel.

Here are some lines from the poems in this book I take with me into the new year:

But through it all rumors of God wander
in your dark blood as if along dark alleys.       p.73

Carry that that line around in your pocket for a week or two. Or  write the ones below on a scrap of paper and tuck it under your pillow:

He teaches you to say:
You my deeper sense
trust that I won’t disappoint You;
there’s so much clamoring in my blood –
but I know I am made of yearning.       p 74

And this from the young monk’s letter to his superior:

I live a pious life. I don’t call upon any court,
and my prayer with which I sometimes exalt myself and which I sometimes speak and sometimes live
is: “Make me simple
that I might become ever more whole in You.”  p. 101

In this new year may you be met by the the Mystery of Love in the alleys of your own dark blood.

We all are made of yearning
and the Yearning Itself is Holiness
aching for wholeness in us all.

   Oh, Great One, make me simple, make me little, make me small!                 

                                                                                                                          Loretta +

carthusian nus

 

For any who would like to read the latest issue of Holy Ground, here it is :Autumn 2014 – Let Go and Keep at It  It is about the ongoing task of the spiritual life: surrender. What do you need to let go of and leave behind in the new year?

Your gifts to the Sanctuary Fund and subscriptions to Holy Ground keep us going and are deeply appreciated. Thank you!

Irony and Bliss

 

TrinityIcon

On Trinity Sunday I arrived early at First Congregational Church, a block from where I live, and settled into my pew to contemplate the glory of the Holy Trinity. Yes, I know, who does such a thing? But the Trinity is something I can actually get carried away by. Before I left for church I read the beautiful prayer to the Trinity by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. Her prayer begins with these words,  O my God, Trinity whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.(You can find her prayer below. Be careful, if you read it, though. It is pretty hot stuff for Protestant non mystical types.)

First Congregational United Church of Christ is a denomination, whose Reformed roots I share, and I feel gratitude for.  United Church of Christ folks hired me,  a young Presbyterian minister, fresh out of seminary, and pregnant to boot, to be interim pastor of one of their churches here in Topeka, Seaman Congregational Church. That baby she was carrying, whose footprint you can still see in the sidewalk behind the church, turned 32 last month.

Sheep

As my imagination was roaming around the abyss of God’s greatness with Elizabeth, the good Rev.Tobais Schlingensiepen was moving about the sanctuary checking on his sheep as they arrived.  He passed along the rows in his robe, sleeves billowing, shaking hands, and patting shoulders like a benediction. No skinny jeans and sport coat for this pastor. Nor was he busy checking his twitter feed.  He spoke to the sheep by name, asked questions, looked for nettles, matted coats, signs of infection, injury, illness.  Had any wolves slipped into the fold over night? Were the pregnant ewes eating well? The lambs coming along okay? He checked the weather and the flock’s energy. What do they need from him today? Is what he has planned on track with what he is seeing this morning?

Arriving at my row, he reached to shake my hand. “Hi, how are you today?”

I responded with something like, “Splendid, just fabulous,” all smiles. (Because I really was in that high dazed state of the fullness of love for God that comes upon me sometimes.)

He smiled, looked in my eyes. And asked again, “How are you…,” leaning in a bit more, waiting. He knows how sheep lie.

“I am great!” a little embarrassed by my own high spirits. “Sometimes I feel people shouldn’t be this blessed.”

“I just wanted to be sure you were not being ironic. People use irony so much.”

Let’s take a moment to let this sink in. Is this the world, the church, we find ourselves in? A place where bliss and ecstasy are so rare that they may be mistaken for irony?  Or has irony, that sarcastic twist of reality into its opposite, created a world of smoke and mirrors, where what one says rarely matches with what one means?

Without irony the psalmist shouts, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let us go into the House of the Holy One!’ I among many others have carried a  heavy heart with little or no joy into the house of the Lord on some occasions. And on those days I also know how very much it matters that someone notices, shows concern, and checks for any irony in my voice.

Yet are really happy sheep, saturated with love and joy, rare? I do not think so.

“The kingdom of heaven will come when men and women are willing to be penetrated by bliss.”

Years ago in a very unhappy season of my life I read these words by poet and potter, M.C. Richards.   Richards’ words opened my eyes to my own freedom and responsibility for the joy in my life. I knew deep down that her words were true, absolutely, and I have been wriggling my way into such a reality ever since. I believe that joy awaits us and is ours by virtue of our willingness to open the door, receive it, and to offer that willingness on the altar of the messes in our lives and this world.

Meninger mic

The Sunday before I went to First Congregational Church, I was on retreat listening to Father William Meninger, a Trappist Monk, and one of the leading voices in the conversation on Christian contemplative prayer. We had gathered at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. Meninger is now 81, and an unfettered, jubilant soul, if I ever saw one.

He began the retreat and introduced himself with the Buddhist saying, The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. Meninger said the way (method, creed, practices, and means of revelation) to God is not God. The way (your way, my way, the Presbyterian way, the bumblebee’s way) is a finger pointing beyond itself toward ultimate Truth.

Meninger might have been channeling the German theologian, Karl Barth, who said that the Bible is a whole gathering of people pointing up at the sky. The Bible is not God; it points us in the direction of God. The particular mode through which God reveals divinity is less than the reality to which it gestures toward. For God is always beyond any particular description, form or conception of God, which we can reduce, carry around in our minds, and try to shove down somebody’s throat as The Way.

Speaking of contemplative practice in the church Menninger addressed the group of 140 lay people, nuns, pastors, and priests from a wide variety of Christian faith traditions, including Assembly of God and Evangelicals. The group included one or two young people under thirty. Meninger is quite clear that contemplative practice arrives for most people in the second half of life and did not gnash his teeth over the lack of young people in attendance at the retreat. “They are not ready yet. They have other things to do first.”

But he refuses to let us off the hook when he says, “Our churches today take their people to the door, but we hold them back. We don’t lead them into the silences.”

At First Congregational we had some silent time.  The worship leader took us to the door and gave us some time to check it out. The bulletin said:  Silence (30 seconds). I would have liked 30 minutes, but I figured that was all that the sheep here could tolerate; and that it helped them to see a time limit in print; and that, further, this silence thing was not going to go on and on and leave them sitting there stewing in their own juices forever.

I think Meninger is right. We do take people right up to the door to the deeper mystery and beauty of God, but we stop short. I see this often. Why is that? I wonder – failure of nerve and lack of faith, or maybe because some pastors do not spend much time on the other side of the door – simply surrendered to Christ in love, being in union with all there is – and want to get through the next point of the sermon and the sheep home before noon.

Old Woman Praying (Prayer without End) Nicholas Maes

Our problem is not that the sheep have never crossed over to the silences. You know how sheep are. They will poke their noses anywhere. They know and have experienced union with God, that shimmering silence and peace which rises up in their hearts, but they will call it something else. Day dreaming, sitting on the deck, holding their grandchildren, looking at a sunset… We all have moments where words fail, time stops, and a moment brims over with beauty and joy.

What the church may fail to do is give us time, space, and permission to savor, taste, swallow, and deeply enjoy these moments and value them as holy. Instead we get anxious, feel we are wasting time, need to stick with the agenda, or are being lazy. We worship the relentless, mean, crushing, 24/7 gods of consumerism and production instead of the endlessly abundant, overflowing goodness of the Trinity. As neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson writes, we have a serious problem in our brains and in our culture with our ability to take in, soak in, and absorb the good in this world which is constantly pouring itself out upon us.

On Trinity Sunday the Holy Spirit at First Congregational kept opening the door and I am sure quite a few of us there that morning went over the threshold to  communion with the Trinity.

The sublime guitar and violin duet did it for me.

Pastor Tobias did it too.He swung a door wide open in his thoughtful probing of the creation story in Genesis 1 as he invited questions and observations from his flock. He gave us some history and asked us to see beyond the story to the minds that told this story and found incredible hope in it in a time of their captivity. In this poetic account of the beginnings of things we find a God who stands outside, beyond the fingers of time, space, creation, and history. Here is a God who is sovereign over all that I can possibly imagine and not subject to anything that has been made or thought by the creation. Here was a God who was more than my little piece of history and present suffering who had made a world that is good, surely a God worthy of my hope.  Such a wide open door inspires a long silence, a bent knee, and a prolonged dwelling in the wonder of this God.

So I say, be bold in leading ourselves and others into the silences! Encourage ourselves to take more than a tentative sniff.  Take us gently by the scruff of our necks and say, “Come on, try it. I will go with you.”

Holiness likes to camp out in those nooks and crannies of time and space, for which we tend to have such disdain. We even call them “dead spaces.” Look again. Such unscripted moments are empty tombs resonant with the echoes of a risen God and the swift beat of wings.

Go ahead. Take a chance on bliss.

 

More about fingers and the moon

More about William Meninger

Elizabeth’s Prayer

Note to Topeka Area Readers
Father Meninger is interested in offering a retreat in Topeka next year.  Any persons interested in helping to make that happen please comment or contact me. lross@fromholyground.org