Category Archives: Spiritual Practices

Barefoot

“Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3: 5

 

The flap of skin hung limply as blood spilled from my big toe. I was always stubbing my toes, but that did not stop me from going barefoot. All summer long my feet, painted Mercurochrome orange , were recovering from some new assault. I stopped my play long enough to howl and go inside for a band aid, which soon fell off and turned up later in the sandbox or on the kitchen floor.

I went everywhere barefoot. Rides in the car with the ribbed, rubber mats on the floor and to the A & P, where the linoleum was slick and a little sticky. My feet loved the smooth oiled wooden floor in the Dime Store, where you could watch the cashews riding a little merry go round under a heat lamp and buy them warm and salty. I sprinted over the hot blacktop parking lot to place my order for a chocolate dipped cone at the Dairy Queen. Creeping over sharp edged dirt clods in the garden, while crying, Ouch, ouch, ouch!”; quick little steps over the sharp gravel in the alley;  sprinting and sliding across the playground through dew drenched grass, I gathered information about the world through the soles of my feet.

I used my bare feet to climb up the playground slide, perch on the jungle gym, and entertain my friends by picking up pencils with my toes.  At Mrs. Wendel’s house next door, I sat on her  kitchen chair waving my feet and spreading my toes in the air as I ate the world’s best cookies. I found Nancy Drew mysteries at the public library with its cool polished floors and lovely smell of books. In winter I toasted my tootsies over the oil furnace grate in our dining room. Summers I challenged my brother to contests over who could hold his bare foot on an ice cube the longest.

Out at Grandpa’s in the country, I stepped carefully around chicken droppings. I hated the slimy feel of the stuff between my toes. I dug my feet down in warm beach sand, kicked up the soft talcum puff of dirt roads, splashed in creeks, slipped on mossy rocks, and screamed to discover that the strips of gooey mud clinging to my feet turned out to be leeches.

In the timeless land of a child’s summer,  I headed out each day, banging my feet against uneven sidewalk, where tree roots heaved and broke concrete into toe traps for children and the elderly. I caught my toes on furniture, had them run over with tricycles, wheel barrows and stomped on by my brother. (He will deny this.) My feet were acquainted with the occasional sickening goo of dog manure and the large disgusting toad, who liked to take a snooze in the cool of the evening just outside the back door. I checked the bottom of my foot for warts for weeks after the two of us collided and the toad lurched out from under my foot into the darkness.

Mercurochrome

Other hazards included stickers, splinters, bee stings, broken glass, and the ultimate horror of my mother: a rusty nail. The Rusty Nail loomed nearly as dangerous as polio or a communist in my childhood.  Once, running across a dock to leap in the lake, I caught a dock cleat between two toes. I played and swam all day. In the evening mom took me to Doc Jackson’s office where he cleaned out the debris between my toes and gave me a shot.

I even fought with my feet. My brother and I staged what we called feet-foot battles on the couch in the living room. The game was that we were trapped on a cliff with a thousand foot drop off and had enough food for only one of us to live for a year. We also had broken our arms in this scenario, so we had to fight for our survival with our feet and kick the other off the cliff/couch into certain death.

When a trip required shoes, I usually couldn’t find them. I remember when mom finally put her properly shod foot down.

“Put your shoes on! You can’t go uptown barefoot.”

“Why not, Mom?”

“Because old men spit on the sidewalks.”

That news gave me pause. Uptown there were no signs that said No shoes. No shirts. No service. I liked the signs with dripping blue icicles and the invitation, Come in. It’s cool inside! It would not be until after I had left home that my parents had air conditioning. Until her death a few years ago, my mother’s idea of a special treat was still going out somewhere for a “cool drink,” which meant lemonade or  Seven Up and air conditioning.

Today arthritis has crippled the joint of one of my toes. Something called Morton’s neuroma led  to the purchase of orthotic insoles. One toenail has decided to grow like a ram’s horn, partly due to injury and genetics. My mother had one of these toes too. Yet I still walk around the house and yard barefoot as much as possible and catch my toes on furniture.

 

I don’t know if my distaste for shoes has anything to do with my love for God, though the Holy One does seem to have a preference for a bare foot. When God told Moses to remove his sandals before the burning bush, God did not say take off your hat or your cloak or your tunic. Removing shoes is a sign of respect in many faiths. Perhaps God is asking us here to put nothing between our naked selves and the holy ground of God’s being.  No pricy Manolo, Gucci, or Louis Vuitton’s, but rather, the simple and sometimes stinky vulnerability of a bare foot is what pleases the Lord.

We can pick up an amazing amount of information through the soles of our feet. They also hold countless memories.  Maybe buried in our DNA is a holiness sensing device, which only works when we take off our shoes. I have attended church services where the custom was for people to leave their shoes at the entrance to the Sanctuary.  They worshiped together barefoot. There was something so dear and, at the same time, profound in seeing all those shoes lined up in neat rows at the door with people sitting around or kneeling with their little piggies hanging out.

Holiness demands honesty and simplicity. Pretense, denial, deceit, and anything I might put on to cover up the truth of my own weakness, shame, or deep need must be removed, as we move closer to holiness. There are so many things we can put between ourselves and direct contact with the holiness of God on this good earth. God’s partiality for a bare foot over a resume wipes away any illusions that my worth is related to my bank account, or accomplishments. Maybe God is only a sucker for a well turned ankle, but I think it is our childlike, barefoot vulnerability and humility which God can’t resist.

I miss those barefoot days. I think I was closer to something essential, earthy and real. I want to spend less time walking back and forth in sensible shoes in the ivory tower of my head, and more time trodding the messy ecstasy of the naked sole.

God of the Bare Foot,
help me this day to take off
whatever I try to put on
between myself
and your wondrous love.

 

This is a revised version of a blog previously posted 7.26.2010

Special Note 
for Topeka, Kansas Area Readers

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Topeka area residents, watch for a fun way to support local charities, including The Sanctuary Foundation. Save this date: June 3, 7:00 am – 6:00 pm, at  Fairlawn Mall. 

On that day your gift to The Sanctuary Foundation fund will be increased by a pro-rated match gift from The Topeka Community Foundation. Watch for more details on how to stretch your dollars in supporting the wonderful work being done in Topeka.

  • We are looking for helpers to sit at our booth for an half hour or so to share with people why The Sanctuary is important to you.
  • We also  need comments from those we serve about what The Sanctuary means to you, how we may have made a difference in your life, stories, anecdotes, etc to help us let others learn more about us. You can comment here, or at our website , on our Facebook page,  by emailing us at lross@fromholyground.org.

Thanks to all your help over the past twenty five years
we are still going strong!

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Practice, Prayer, and Peanut Butter

 

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Food for Life

For breakfast I always have toast (crispy) with peanut butter (crunchy), a good shake of cinnamon, and honey, smeared liberally to make a nice gooey mess. I cut my toast into four squares on a small white plate. I eat it slowly with my coffee, licking my fingers and (if nobody else is around) wiping up the drips of honey and peanut butter on the plate with my tongue.  And I always use Food for Life’s Genesis bread. You know, the expensive funky frozen bread in the organic food section made of nuts, sprouts, roots, berries, sticks, and pebbles from around the world.

Like you, I am a creature of habit. Our habits shape and form our character, lifestyle, health, skills, talents, beliefs, and the kind of people we become.

Because of my breakfast habit, I look for good buys on chunky peanut butter and local honey. I will use gas to drive across town to get it. I read the articles about the decline of bees and the sweeping implications of the decline for agriculture, not to mention my daily portion of honey. I often carry my own breakfast supplies when I travel. And when Food for Life stopped making Genesis bread, I suffered. I saw how my little habit might be verging on an addiction.

Our lives are filled with dozens of similar habits, as well as habits of thought, emotional responses, eating, sleeping, exercise, etc. As these are repeated over and over some of these practices affect many other areas of our lives in negative and positive ways. Our personal habits affect our relationships with others, the environment, and the whole planet.

What habits have you formed in relation to your spiritual life? What do you practice over and over, like a musician, a dancer, a surgeon, or a woodworker? What do you return to daily, each time learning more, honing your craft? Some days there may be struggle and one seems to be losing ground. Other days you are met with an incredible ease and joy in your practice. Over time, years and years of practice, you find yourself maturing, deepening, and knowing more and more of the ways of God. You will begin to recognize the contours of grace, the lessons of humility, and the deep, endless sea of love.

Whatever you choose to call it –becoming like Christ, following Jesus, being a disciple, union with God, transformation, healing, or growth – relationship with God requires awareness and intentionality,  or in other words:  practice. Deep faith is given through a continual returning to the Source, the Living Water. Daily, year after year, we go back, we kneel down, sit down and place – not our skill as practitioners, or our religious credentials – but our naked need, vulnerability, and longing on the altar of our lives. Here we open our whole being to the infinite One. Through this surrender we are formed and reformed into the likeness of God.

You will find here below a link to the latest of issue of Holy Ground. It is about the practice of prayer and why it is so important to keep at it, to keep praying and learning. Our shallow culture of sound bites, video clips, and surface relationships does not nourish the deep places of our lives, nor does it help us develop the wisdom and depth of understanding our world is crying out for. The peace we are seeking for ourselves and our world, which is writhing in pain, is waiting for us within us. Seek that peace within. Cultivate it. Nurture it. Practice it. And you will become peace for those around you.

This

this simple, humble, solitary, daily
communion of your soul
with the Transcendent power of Holiness

is how the kingdom comes.

 

Read the issue of Holy Ground about Prayer and Practice: Holy Ground Winter 2014

Make a one time charitable donation to The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

Subscribe to either the print or e-version of Holy Ground for $35.

 Special Notice for Topeka Area Readers!

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I will be reading poetry with Leah Sewell from 5:30 to 7:30 this Friday, April 4, at Warehouse 414 at 414 SE 2nd St in Topeka.  Come on downtown for a feast of poetry, good conversation, and April fun. Leah is an award winning poet. We would love to see you there.

To learn more: Downtown Poetry Crawl

 poet

Leaning into Lent and Dancing All the Way

Photo by Sheila Creighton Imagery of Lighthttp://imageryoflight.wordpress.com/

Photo by Sheila Creighton
Imagery of Light

Epiphany has drawn to a close and now we are leaning into lent, a word, which originally meant spring and referred to lengthening days. Most of us are weary of this harsh winter. Before we turn to lent, here is a final word from Epiphany, not unlike the long goodbye we are getting from winter this year.

One of the reasons I love Epiphany is because the word, epiphany, is euphonious, which means pleasant to the ear and fun to say aloud. Epiphany sounds like a soft whisper or a rabbit sneezing. There are qualities of this waning liturgical season, which offer good preparation for Ash Wednesday and the journey to the cross.

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart for They Shall See God

Epiphany
generous span in midwinter,
the season of showings,
promises to the swift and clear-eyed
no less than a glimpse of Divinity
high tailing round the corners of our lives.

Now that the trees and earth are bare,
the God we hunger for will dance naked
for those bold enough to believe
in incarnation.

God will dance wild
and free over the frozen land,
while we shiver in our veils
longing to see with faces
bare of illusion
bare of pretense
bare of guile
aching to see
with hearts stripped and clean,
as the maple whose slim limbs slice space
in great chaste swaths,
ordering emptiness,
chalking off a place on the floor of heaven
for God to trip the light fantastic
and leave us all blinded
by a graceful shimmy
rubbing our eyes, amazed.

Oh dancing God
create in us clean hearts
pure hearts
hearts scoured
slick and smooth
as a copper pot
that we may not miss one grande jeté
that we may see
Thee.

Twenty five ago I published the first issue of Holy Ground – A Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. Back then we called it Making Haqqodesh (Hebrew for the holy ground), I had just established The Sanctuary and thought a newsletter would be helpful as a way to stay in touch with the group of people supporting this new venture in ministry. I wrote the poem above for the front page of that issue. During this year, as we celebrate our 25th Anniversary, I will post excerpts from some of those early issues of Holy Ground from time to time

Here is a bit more from the first issue:

Our deep hunger for God calls out, hollows out, spaces in our hearts, in our lives, and in creation for a sacred meeting with the One who made us and is making us. Our willingness to go down into the emptiness and the out of the way places on the far side of the wilderness thrusts us and our need before burning bushes, where we behold our God and receive our mission.

One of our board members, Catherine Jantsch Butel offered this definition of holy ground:

Holy ground is that burning reality which can only be apprehended – which breaks into really – the present moment (mine or another’s) and which, surprisingly, disorders, reorders, rearranges, resynthesizes all my previous arrangement of Reality.

In twenty five years I have never come across a better definition.

In those early years before the resurgence of interest in spirituality, before the establishment of hundreds of training programs and curriculum in spiritual formation and spiritual guidance, and before the internet I had few models for the kind of ministry I wanted to do and faced many doubts. Yet I always found encouragement and support. Here are a few memories:

Riding across the Kansas prairie with a friend who was also a minister, who after listening to me hem and haw for sixty miles, blurted out, “Loretta, what is it going to take for you to decide that God is calling you to do this?”
Then she handed me a check for fifty dollars.

Preparing for the first gathering of Evening Prayers held in our dining room in my home, I nervously asked my friend, Cathy, “Do you think I am just being crazy?” Cathy looked me in the eyes and said, “No. Loretta, you are not being crazy. You are just being obedient.”

I also encountered warning. A priest asked, “How do you handle failure? These places always fail you know.” I was reminded that to be faithful to the gospel, the Sanctuary must stand in opposition to the world and that holy ground is conceived through the cross of suffering and surrendered love.

Murray Rogers, Episcopal priest and founder of contemplative communities in India and Hong Kong told me, “I am very suspicious of spiritual manipulation. These things take time, you know. You can’t hurry holiness.” He counseled trusting the Spirit, simplicity, and waiting for doors to open.

As you prepare your hearts for lent, what do you need for the journey ahead? The words of counsel I was given twenty five years ago offer me a useful guide for what to carry with me this lent. These are my prayer for your journey:

• An honest friend who will help you discern God’s will for you and offer tangible support.

• Obedience to God regardless of what others might think of you.

• Acceptance of failure and suffering as part of the journey of transformation.

• Simplicity and patient trust in God.

• And a pure heart, a heart scoured slick and smooth as a copper pot, that you may follow your dancing Lord all the way to Easter morning!

May this season offer you richness, astonishment, and a few graceful shimmies, as Christ transforms you from one degree of glory to another.

 

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Help us celebrate Twenty Five years! Check out our new website, The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer Let us know what you think. What would help you in deepening your faith and peace? How we can improve and best serve you for the next twenty five years?

Well,  maybe not twenty five, but so far I have had no signs from God to stop this foolishness.

Mary Full of Grace

annunciationlily

Hail Mary full of grace,
blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now
and at the hour of our death.
Amen

As I made my way through congested traffic to finish up my shopping, this prayer started up, unbidden, inside of me. The Hail Mary or Ave Maria is one of the prayers and scriptures on my inner playlist.  In odd moments I become conscious of it. For a moment I am lifted out of my self- preoccupation to discover myself occupied by the Spirit praying within.

I have always loved this prayer. The first two lines are the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary as found in Luke 1: 28-30. I recall memorizing it, as I walked along the sidewalk of the campus at the University of Northern Iowa in 1966.

This entreaty to Mary as Mother of God is for some Protestants a “Catholic accretion” and considered unbiblical and theologically unsound. Some will say that we do not need Mary’s intercession, when we can go directly to God on our own. Such views ignore the power and influence of mothers throughout the Bible, as well as their privileged status before God as persons of God’s particular compassion and love.

The scriptures contain numerous images of God as feminine. The Hebrew word for Holy Spirit in Genesis is a feminine noun. My Hebrew teacher liked to translate Genesis 1: 1 in this way:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void, and as for the Spirit of God, she was moving over the waters.

Of course, God is much more than what we may consider as feminine or masculine attributes. God is beyond gender. Yet Christians believe that two thousand years ago God came into our midst for a time dressed as one of us with gender. God condescended to enter into our cultural biases, racism, sexism, bigotry, and sin to bring truth and freedom and radically change the world. If the form God chose had been a woman’s, would the outcome have been the same? Given the culture then I doubt if a woman would have ever received the same attention or regard. Instead God chooses a woman to enable God to become one of us.

No matter how hard some scholars may have tried to stamp them out, the feminine dimensions of divinity in whose image both men and women have been created make their way into our consciousness in one form or another and seek expression in our faith and worship.

Personally, I like the notion of God having and/or being a mom, a generating source. I know it makes no sense for some, but  the image of God as a fecund nurturing womb, engaged in creative, life-bearing activity, a Spirit “brooding” over the waters like a hen expands and heals  my soul. Acknowledging the feminine in God is an important balance to patriarchal images and wholly masculine notions of Holiness, which leave many women feeling excluded, and have been used as a rationale for the disregard and abuse of women for centuries.

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We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace?  ~Meister Eckhart

I learned the Hail Mary prayer in college, when I converted to Catholicism. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was looking for feminine imagery and feminine gifts in the expression of my faith, which were largely absent from the rational Presbyterian worship of my childhood. I was Catholic most of my young adult life and found there opportunities to worship with more than my mind and my voice. Incense, kneeling, bowing, colorful statues, many of which were women, saints, guardian angels, rosaries, a veil perched on my head, a small prayer book to carry –  all allowed the imagination and passion of my yearning heart to find expression. I am very grateful for the gifts of the Catholic church.

Yes, my Anabaptist and Quaker ancestors were probably turning over in their graves. Yes, it was patriarchic. The singing wasn’t the best and Biblical study nonexistent, but I arrived with plenty of that preparation. To find a woman, no matter how sentimental and passive she may have been depicted, prominently figuring in worship allowed me to feel that this was a place, where I belonged.

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So out shopping, I pondered Mary being full of grace. What does it mean to contain nothing, but grace in one’s being? The people I encountered seemed full of many things instead of grace – anxiety, impatience, and weariness. There were some exceptions, like the insurance salesman who works on weekends at Orscheln’s, paying off medical bills and some credit card debt. He had a lot of grace inside himself. Some of it spilled out on the receipt he handed to me, and I have carried it in my purse all week.

Mary is full of grace, because her womb is full of Christ, who offers grace to all. Parking in front of Best Buy, I decided to take a look at what in me might be crowding out the grace of God.

Here is what I found:

  • That deep wound I get out sometimes and pick at
  • The steady current of mindless, slightly hysterical, anxiety which makes me critical, paranoid, and assume things about people which are not true
  • The nagging expectation of catastrophe that hides under perfectionism
  • A to-do list telling me I am way behind, lazy, and going to be counted tardy
  • Insecurity and self-doubt preaching that I am getting too old and that my writing sucks

What in you is not graceful, kind, forgiving, loving? How do you delete these freeloaders from your inner playlist?

Not by being mean and harsh.  I think we need to handle the negatives in ourselves gently with kindness, mercy and forgiveness. Love the little boogers. Say, “Hello, To-Do list! Come here. It looks like you need a hug.”

Here’s the secret. It takes grace to be full of grace. The way to make room for grace in our lives is by being graceful to ourselves first. Then grace naturally flows from us to others. To forgive others we must forgive ourselves.

What would it be like for you to be full of grace – stuffed to the gills with mercy and forgiveness?  Why not try it? Pretend! Imagine you are full of grace.  We  cannot achieve what we cannot concieve. So conceive grace, see yourself full of grace. Got it pictured? Feel it in your body? Let it it soak up and soothe all the ungraceful parts of yourself.

Next perform some task , errand, or if you are really brave, spend a whole day committed to being full of grace. See what happens. What do you notice and learn about yourself and grace?

So little grace is present in our national discussions and relationships with one another. We hold grudges, harbor resentments, and take a perverse delight in the missteps, failures, and sins of one another.

In an NPR interview Rabbi Shaul Praver, who spoke at the anniversary observance of the school shootings at Sandy HookElementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, offered these words:

We have found the cure for the social disease of violence, hatred, and bigotry, and that cure is good old-fashioned loving kindness. When everyone practices that, it does change the atmosphere of a room, of a town, or a community, of a state and a country. And so, it is not of only local value, but it is of universal value.   Newtown Rabbi Offers A Cure For Hatred : NPR

Grace – unmerited, undeserved, unearned. The hope, the first budding of such loving kindness is growing in Mary’s womb.

 Holy Mary, Mother of God, may it be so for all us sinners. Amen.

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 Learn more about the Hail Mary prayer

Dear Praying Life readers,

Thank you so much for your support. Your donations and subscriptions to Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life help make this blog possible. Please consider subscribing to Holy Ground and making a donation today here.

May your Christmas be full of grace, as my heart is full of gratitude for each of you!

Holding you in the womb of God’s love,

                                         Loretta F. Ross

Black Friday Still Life

teaandtoastMy 96 year old mother
dozes in her chair
toast half eaten on the tray.

Frost last night,
morning sun streams
through icy windows.
Refrigerator hums.

Outside gnarly cedar
silvered bark
thick trunk
when did it get so big?
spreads shelter
like a heavy old quilt.

The dog stirs, turns on his side,
inhales deeply, exhales long and slow.

Memories –
laughter, faces,
snatches of conversation,
four dogs romping in the backyard,
mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie –
twinkle, ignite, and go out
on the mind’s firmament.

Only twenty eight days  ‘til Christmas.
No rush here. No need to shop.

In the house on Madison Street,
whatever it was we thought we needed, or must do
has given way to being,
to watching leaf shadows dance on the  brown grass
and peering long into the deep blue sky.

 This is a revised version of a blog previously posted in 2009.

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Keep your eye out for holiday Still Life works of art 

My mother, who died in 2012 was raised as a Quaker on a farm near Salem, Iowa. Here are a few words from Thomas Kelly,  American Quaker mystic, to put on your refrigerator door to help you not miss the tender, mild moments of grace unfolding right before your eyes. 

This amazing simplification comes when we center down, when life is lived with singleness of eye, from a holy center, where breath and stillness of Eternity are heavy upon us and we are wholly yielded to Him. 

Some of you know this holy, recreating center of eternal peace and joy and now live in it day and night. Some of you may see it over the margin and wistfully long to slip into that amazing center where the soul is a home with God. Be very faithful to that wistful longing.  It is the Eternal Goodness calling you to return home, to feed upon green pastures and walk beside still waters and live in the peace of the Shepherd’s presence.  It is the life beyond fevered strain.

We are called beyond strain to peace and power and joy and love through abandonment of self.  Thomas Kelly,  A Testament of Devotion

Please share your “Still Life”  in the comments  here, or with your  photos on The Sanctuary Facebook Page . Let’s gather a whole gallery of “the amazing simplification where the breath and stillness of Eternity are heavy upon us.”
Tender peace and love to you in the season of gratitude. 
                                                                                                Loretta

“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.

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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 – Stay Where You Are

Cedar Trunks © Sheila Creighton 2013 Images of LIght used with permission

Cedar Trunks © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of LIght used with permission

 It is true. We are not going anywhere.
“Stabilitas loci” as the monks say.
How boring you think.

But have you seen willow dance?
Letting the wind have his way with her
whooshing up her dress tail
bending her backwards in his arms
shimmying her long trembling limbs
in that torrid way?

Spring Willow in the Wind © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of Light Used with permission

Spring Willow in the Wind © Sheila Creighton 2013 Imagery of Light Used with permission

Stabilitas loci: to remain in one place; monastic vow of stability

What the Trees Said – Your Turn

Aspens

Photo by Joyce Shupe

Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
One day gushes the news to the next,
and one night informs another what needs to be known.
Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
their voices can’t be heard—
but their sound extends throughout the world;
their words reach the ends of the earth.
Psalm 19: 1-4

I have been posting brief reflections on what I hear trees say. Yet “say” is the wrong word, for, of course, trees do not speak the English language, which is the only one I know well.

Language is a rather recent invention in the story of life on earth. With or without words, communication occurs with and among all species. We affect each other deeply – interpenetrating, colonizing, living off, consuming, giving ourselves away, and taking in each other in an intricate network of dynamic, everchanging relationships. Our destinies are connected to each other and together we form the body of life on our shared planet.

Yet our species has been steadily backing away from many of our cousins. Cities, industry, and technology have increasingly allowed us to dissociate ourselves from our dance of interdependency with fish, fowl, insect, animal, vegetable, and mineral – a dance, which we can never really escape.

For many humans language has become, not a tool of communion, understanding, and edification, but, rather, a knife which separates our experience of reality into sharp, hard slivers of “meaning,” with which we stab and poke each other. Words, mere symbols, which only point toward reality or ideas or emotions, become swords of power to weld against the powerless and attempt to force our view on others. We build idols of abstract constructs and tottering paradigms of what we believe is The Truth, which we then feel constrained to defend and guard against all contradiction.

I do not know how to listen to trees, to frogs, to polar bears, or whales. I do not know how to listen to the woman who has lost her home and family in the flood, or the old pastor who told me I was not ready to be preaching and needed to read a lot more books, and then walked out of my presentation. I do not know how to listen to my friend who has a tumor growing in her brain and has chosen to forego further treatment.

I only know I have to try. And that language is only secondary- a pale, feeble gesture – bound to miss its mark much of the time. Primary is that inexpressible intimate connection, where I am touched by and touch into the miraculous life of the spider catching flies on my windowsill, the old preacher I offended, and the aspen leaves twisting in the wind.

It is there – as life meets life and bows before and honors this mysterious, energetic vitality of Being in all that is, that I know once again that I belong. Here is my community. I see how we have been created to need one another and are bound together by a strange and marvelous Love.

Even when my words and efforts fail, and I suffer the isolation and estrangement of broken communication or connection, I am grateful. That pain shows me how we are wedded and welded as one in the very formation of the universe. When that bond is broken, we will always mourn. The pain reminds us that there is more, that we could be more, and that love is refined through its failures.

Moreover, some bit of life is always sending out roots, tentacles, or tendrils, a claw, a paw, or a hand. We have only to open our fists in order to make a new connection.

I have been telling you what trees said to me. For this post it is your turn to tell me and those who follow this blog what you hear from the trees.

Here is how:

Watch and walk among the trees in the video below. Or go outside and listen to some trees where you live. Receive what they are “saying.” Take your time. Do not hasten to come up with words. Just be open and expectant. Allow the words to come as they will. Then share in the comments what you “heard,” so we all may learn from you and know the joy of our connection. I can’t wait to hear what the trees tell you!

You can find out more about the fellow who made this and other wonderful nature videos and photography here: Colorado Guy Oh, and he does spiritual direction too!

Joyce Shupe paints, takes photos,  and makes pottery in Holton, Kansas. See some of her work, along with the work of other artists here.

Dog Diplomacy

Eli and JL

Elijah and Jean Luc say, “Here we are. Send us!”

The Dallas zoo has sent in a black lab puppy to calm their two new eight week old cheetahs. The zoo’s creative means of comforting the newcomers got me to thinking about the untapped potential of dog diplomacy.

We already know dogs sniff out drugs, improvised explosive devices, and cancer. They find injured and lost people in disasters. They comfort the sick, the dying, and the grieving. They listen to little kids learning to read. They round up criminals, protect property, and their companions. They help the blind see, the deaf hear, and the disabled accomplish many tasks. They dive into water and retrieve whatever we tell them to bring back. They lower our blood pressure, make us laugh, and love us unconditionally.

So here is a proposal for the US response to our intractable problems and never ending crises: form a Labrador Diplomatic Corps.

Just imagine what parachuting pups might do for the state of world peace? These guys do eat a lot. So the LDC would need to be followed by a shipload of chow. My plan would still be cheaper and way more fun than any of the other options I’ve seen put on the table.

I say put a few pups on that table. Let em run around between the legs of world leaders and chew on their shoes. Let the pups fall asleep in their laps and wake up and kiss their faces. Let the doggies run off with all those piles of papers, attaché cases, and hand held devices. Let them rip and tear all that diplomatic gear and fussy protocol into tiny bits and then pee on them.

I think the whole world might breathe a vast sigh of relief.

Lab Diplomatic Corps demonstrating team work.

Labrador Diplomatic Corps demonstrating team work.

20130907-114852.jpg

Young member of Lab Diplomatic Corps preparing for training with nervous baby cheetahs. Once he has mastered this diplomatic task, this pup will graduate to lying down with lions.

What the Trees Said – Our Bellies

boy and trees

What the Trees Said – Our Bellies

We have missed you
stepping lightly
patting our
bellies
soft
small palms
leaning
into us
when you
are weary.

What I know of the divine sciences and the Holy Scriptures,
I have learned in woods and fields. I have no other masters
than the beeches and the oaks.  Bernard of Clairvaux

Try This:
Spiritual Practice – Find a tree you like. Place both palms upon its bark. Feel the rough bark surface against your hands. Listen. Lean your weight against the tree. Look.
Say Amen.