Category Archives: Spiritual Formation

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.

If you find this to be something you would like to receive on a regular basis, please subscribe! You can receive your own copy delivered to your home mailbox or electronically online. Just indicate which version you prefer in the drop down box when you subscribe.

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

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!