Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

“Burned Out on Religion?”

St.-Clare-of-Assisi

St. Clare of Assisi

We become what we love
and who we love shapes what we become.
If we love things, we become a thing.
If we love nothing, we become nothing.
Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ,
rather it means becoming the image of the beloved,
an image disclosed through transformation.
This means… we are to become vessels
of God´s compassionate love for others.
 ~ St. Clare of Assisi

Many years ago I deliberately chose a path of what I called “downward mobility.” I chose to become a minister and made a subsequent choice to become the sort of minister for which there were few or no models, namely, to consider prayer as the heart of what I offered. I took up work which I knew would not reward me financially and might well require other sacrifices. Instead of remaining on a career track of higher education administration and teaching, I followed a Love that would not let me go anywhere else, but into its heart.

I was naïve. I thought ministry would be different from the stressful, competitive world of higher education and academia. I thought I would be able to focus on prayer and help others who were struggling with their relationships with the Holy One. Of course, I brought along all of my own unfinished business and the issues that had plagued me in that other world were all waiting for me on the doorstep of the church. And, yes, this is where ministry and personal/communal growth always occurs: right in the midst of a stressful, competitive environment, with full of personal, unfinished business.

I soon discovered that downward mobility included more than lesser income, status, and pension benefits. Downward mobility included the inner life as well. Over and over, my attachment to lesser gods, my selfishness, my controlling ego, and my pride are exposed, as Jesus invites me to come down off my high horse and revel with him in the lowly, fertile ground of humility. I do mean revel. Getting myself close to the ground is often painful. I am a master at resistance. Yet it is so much fun, so full of delight and joy, it is well worth whatever it takes to get there.

In the midst of the muck Love seems always to meet me with a different agenda than my own. I call it Love’s way and it haunts me day and night, as I both run from and plead to be conformed to this path of humble trust in God.

Love’s way, which is described extensively in scripture, is accessible, freely available to everyone, and is being offered to us moment by moment.  And in Love’s way is where I long to dwell all the time.

I fail over and over. When that happens I am like a child lost in a dark woods. A kind of desperate panic comes over me, until I fumblingly discover where I got off the path and make my way back to joy and peace.   I need at least an hour a day of contemplative prayer to maintain this deep abiding in Christ. If I want to work with others and help them in their prayer and relationship with God, I need another hour. If I want to deepen and grow in knowledge and understanding of God, I need still more time.

I do not for the life of me understand how faith can deepen and flourish in the hearts of people without a serious commitment to spending time alone with God in prayer. And further, few activities I engage in take me further from this humble dwelling in the way of Love, than spending too much time on the internet. I see how easily the internet cheapens me, makes me shallow, feeds my surface hungers, plays upon and manipulates my opinions, my understanding of myself and the world.

oxen-yoked1tm400

Let’s take a deeper look at the way of Love. Here is how Jesus described it:

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30, (CEB)

I especially like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

To put on Christ’s yoke and learn from him is to become gentle and humble and to find rest. To become an image of Christ is to put down our heavy loads and bend our necks beneath a yoke, which is easy and light.

Peterson enriches Matthew’s words with the beautiful phrase unforced rhythms of grace. That’s it! How would it be if what characterized our lives was not harried, stress-filled days, constant multi-tasking, distracted, pushing and shoving, controlling and anger, but rather the unforced rhythms of grace?

I suspect many of you know those graceful rhythms, when you find yourself in step with the Spirit and your day unfolds with beauty. I also suspect such days do not occur as much as you would like. How would your life look if you put on Jesus’ easy, light yoke more consciously and deliberately? What might change or what would you do differently?

What if your goal was not success and achievement, but gentleness and humility?

How do we do this? Is it even possible in the world we live in? Matthew tells us how. Jesus tells us how in these verses from Matthew. Go back and read them again.

Quite simply, becoming like God and wearing the easy yoke, has to do with the company we keep. “Come to me,” Jesus, says. “Keep company with me.”

The only return Love asks for the gift of living in its way is our love – not our money, time, talents – but first and foremost, Love desires our love. This always slays me. The Love that animates life, binds the whole universe, flows into our hearts with joy and delight wants our love! Love wants to be loved. Jesus affirmed this divine desire in the greatest commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

I know how important it is to me to be loved by my children and family, my dog, and my friends. Here is what we may miss: God finds it very important to be loved by us. God desires our attention.

Perhaps, this is because, as St. Clare has written, we become what we love.

St.-Clare-of-Assisi

 

What the Trees Said – Origins

tree_roots

Know your roots.
Pull up a few.
See those sallow
rangy threads
sinewy cords
thick as your arm
splintering stone
slurping up existence quenching
your
thirst?

__________________________

I am tangled up in heritage and ancestor – those tough ties to blood, tribe, family, and gene – running through scripture and ancient traditions like twisting roots.

Long scattered to dust, hidden, yet flowing through our veins,
tenacious forebears animate our lives. I can hear them, stocks of gnarled and tangled cheerleaders, waving stringy fingers, scrabbling, murmuring

Stop slouching and grow for pity’s sake!

________________

Do you know where you came from and who is still feeding your soul?

After writing this post I came across this passage from Isaiah, translated poetically by David Rosenberg, author of the masterful, A Poet’s Bible, Rediscovering the Voices of the Original Text.

I brought up children
held them in my presence
and they turn from me

deaf and blind
when even the dumb ox knows
who holds his food

an ass
the trough
the master fills

but Israel knows nothing
of its root in me
sees nothing of where

they come from . . .

Isaiah Chapter 1, Translation by David Rosenberg

It’s No Dream World

Dear Ones,

I have recently returned from ten days of silent meditation on a Minnesota lake with a group of people willing to do something like that. One has to figure that we are all a bit odd.  Now I am taking some time to continue working on a new book. I thought I ought to check in with you though, and reading this morning what I had worked on yesterday, I was so struck with this quotation from my old buddy Eugene Peterson. It really says what I am about in this book. May it speak to your hearts as well.

With deep joy at being in the mystery with you,

Loretta

  blueheronmicrosoft

This world, this reality, revealed by God speaking to us, is not the kind of world to which we are accustomed.  It is not a neat and tidy world in which we are in control- there is mystery everywhere that takes considerable getting used to, and until we do, it scares us.

 It is not a predictable, cause-effect world in which we can plan our careers and secure our futures – there is miracle everywhere that upsets us no end, except for the occasions when the miracle is in our favor. 

 It is not a dream world in which everything works out according to our adolescent expectations – there is suffering and poverty and abuse at which we cry out in pain and indignation. “You can’t let this happen!” 

 For most of us it takes years and years and years to exchange our dream world for the real world of grace and mercy, sacrifice and love, freedom and joy. 

 Eugene Peterson, Eat this Book – A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, p 105


This is the opening quotation from Introduction to Section Six, “A God So Holy and a People So Frail,” from Accounting for the Hope, a work in progress by Loretta F Ross. All rights reserved.   The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

Wake Up!

Man Waking to Alarm Clock

Contemplation is about waking up. Simply defined, to be contemplative is to experience an event fully, in all its aspects. Biblically this is expressed as knowing “face to face.” What is implied in that phrase … is that we are in contemplation when we stand before reality and experience it without the limits and distortions that are created by narcissism, pragmatism, and excessive restlessness.   Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern

                                              

Prayer wakes us up to what is so, not to our dreams, illusions, wishes, and desires for what is so, but to the sacred reality of each moment.

How grim you may think. How boring – this dirty kitchen, this cluttered desk, this sagging body, this pock-marked, disappointing, and flailing world?  From here it is a short, sad trip to the dark pit of the if onlys, the why nots, and maybe whens. Or perhaps I look around for someone or some event to blame for my shabby reality. Maybe I plot a way to get even, or tune out and play a game on my cell phone, fool around on Facebook, go shopping, or eat something.

We live in a culture which makes an art and a virtue out of avoiding the truth of our deep need, our sadness,  grief, and anger –  at what? Let’s put it like this: at being human. For buried beneath  much of our striving, stress, and anxiety I often discover a kind of contempt for ourselves and our vulnerability. We persistently look outwardly for relief for the painful human condition, which plays neatly into the agenda of  our culture of consumption, as we seek to find our worth through other persons, power, prestige, and possessions.

Over time prayer may eventually shatter such agendas and expose their superficiality and ultimate inability to satisfy our deep need. We find ourselves sitting in the midst of reality, still mundane, yet strangely shot through with beauty, wonder, and joy.

“You are a ruby embedded in granite. How long will you pretend it’s not true?” asks the poet Rumi. Contemplative prayer wakes us up to see through the granite of illusion to the splendor of the ruby.

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In gratitude to Praying Life readers and to all who comment, like, and share our posts here, please help yourself to a free pdf version of the most recent issue of Holy Ground Winter 2013. This issue is about waking up and finding that ruby.

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By subscribing you will also help support The Sanctuary Foundation as it reaches out to people of many faith traditions to nourish inner peace in a chaotic and complex world. We cannot do it without you. Really.

Holy Ground issue

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #6


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

Thin-Ice


Thin Ice

The interviewer probes,

so do you think the economy will get better?

Fear leaps up from the gut


climbs to her throat


voice shakes, melts into tears.


Fifty two,


back in her bedroom


at mom and dad’s

turning over at night

she sees the puzzles, rock collection,

Girl Scout Handbook

stacked on the shelf beneath the window,

teeters between now and then

on the brink

of circumstances beyond her  control.

Better to practice walking on thin ice 

before we find ourselves there.

How does one learn 
to trust

your life will bear your weight?

The grey sheet shrinks from the shore.

Dark water laps milkweed stubble,

slopping over hoof-pocked mud.

Could she step over the translucent border

to opaque surface a few feet further out?

Oh to put her future in a box,

tie it with a pretty bow

and place it next to high school

yearbooks on the shelf.

The fortune tellers circle,

bracelets jangling, bright skirts swinging,

leaning over their tea leaves crying out:

Alzheimer’s, incontinence, poverty, ruin!

After millions heard her cry on public radio,

after her immersion into choking humiliation

possibility awoke.

She saw what they had seen

and loved it now.

Come, she said,  as she took her nakedness

into her arms like a lost child,

a beautiful melody.

I will teach you how to walk on thin ice.

Let us go to the spring woods

and learn to pull uncertainty and loss 

to our chins like a blanket of oak leaves,

sweet pine needles, mushrooms,

and the milky blooms of May apples.

All the best and most beautiful things

are willing to go under at any moment

and take us with them into the dark

to be carried back again,

laughing sheaves of light.

Child of my heart, listen.

Don’t turn away from my face.

Nothing perishes

when born by the arms of grace.

May apple flower

Don’t ponder ancient history
Look! I am doing a new thing. Isaiah 43: 14-21

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves. Psalm 126: 4-6 NRSV

______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Link

Retreat with Loretta F Ross March 22-23

Retreat with Loretta F Ross March 22-23

Between a Rock and a Hard Place:
Obstacles, Resistance, and Pitfalls To Spiritual Growth

All human nature vigorously resists grace,
because grace changes us and change is painful.
-Flannery O’Connor, Letters

I am leading a retreat at the  Magnificat Center for Unity and Reconciliation March 22-23 in Wichita, Kansas.

This is a beautiful center with great accomodations, good food, and the warm embrace of a loving community of sisters. I would love to see you there!

Loretta F RossWe say we want to deepen our faith. We plan to pray more. We tell ourselves this month I will take some time off to listen to God. We read books about faith, we get devotional emails, yet we still find ourselves harried, anxious, and burdened.

Where are  the freedom, the joy, and the generous compassion of life in God?

This retreat will take a look at some attitudes and behaviors which may block our spiritual development and maturity.You will have an opportunity to identify some of the barriers that obscure your contact with the Holy in your life. We will consider changes that might help open our awareness and connection with the Giver of Joy and Peace. Time for individual and group reflection will be offered along with informal presentations.

For more info and to register:  Retreat with Loretta F Ross March 22-23

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #5


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

the-prodigal-son.jpg!Blog


The Lost Son Wakes from His Dream

Up to your knees in hog dung

eyeing hungrily

corn stubble

slop bucket

egg shells, coffee grounds

black banana peels

rancid grease, moldy bread.

Rouse yourself

from this putrid

dream of your demise.

Awake.

Tune in to your reality show.

Walk off the set of this drama

and come to yourself.

Reach down

pull that dying man out of the muck

wash his stinking feet.

Take a chance on mercy.

Go ahead. Say it.

You had it all wrong.

Spit out the words stuck in your craw

like a piece of broken glass:

            I am sorry.

And come on home.

Besides,

there will be a party

and presents.

ring

Luke  15: 11-32

___________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #4


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

thorns

Fast


Bound

breathless and blind

open your eyes.

Unclasp the clutch

of the  hand

around your throat.

Fast

to break the fast

of the barbed hooks

and thorns

of dissolute gods

boring into the bleeding brow

of your howling  soul.

thornbush

  • Where are addictions or unhealthy attachments tying up your freedom to be available to God on God’s terms – however  God would have you?
  • What dissolute, lying gods have their merciless hands around your throat?
  • Will you open your eyes?

______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #3


And we are put on earth a little space, 

That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
William Blake

NoahsArkPitch

The Flood

It crept up slowly.

You did not notice at first,

though your feet were always cold ,

socks soggy.

Accustomed to the damp

you pulled on galoshes

then hip waders.

You didn’t know why

you were always so tired

like walking against a strong current, you’d say.

By the time the force of the tide

sucked  your heart

out by the roots

it was too late.

You plunged

into that dark torrent

gasping for air

clawing

for something to hang onto.

The ark you

unbelieving

had refused

rocked  above the waters.

The old man leaned

over the side

extended  a wooden

beam.

I see you are ready now, he said.

Grab on,

there is room for one more.

__________________

Is something threatening to drown you, which you keep ignoring?
What keeps you from reaching out for help?
If you are safe in your arc, is there someone out there who needs a hand up into the boat?
What are you waiting for?

______________________________

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect

Love – In Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #2

And we are put on earth a little space, 
That we may learn to bear the beams of love
 – William Blake

 

expulsion 2

Leaving Paradise

Trip

fall

splat

face down into

the ground.

Sink into softness

that gives

and for

gives.

Come home

to your loamy beginning

and your end.

For your reflection: Recall a time when you fell, took a hard blow, or were brought down by some loss or disappointment. What awareness did you have of your own brokenness and shame?  Could you forgive yourself? What did you learn in your humiliation? How did you change?

Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and minds already stuffed with words.

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so, slowly, we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect