Tag Archives: authenticity

Exploring Solitude: Becoming Real

Here is what I want you to do:
find a quiet secluded place so you won’t be tempted
to role play before God.

Just be there
as simply and honestly as you can manage.

The focus will shift from you
to God,
and you will begin to sense his grace.
                                                 Matthew 6:6 MSG

Nobody is watching. Go ahead. Be yourself. Relax. You walked off the stage of your life performance and the audience has all gone home. Feel the weight of that armor, the heavy guard you wear night and day about your shoulders and neck? You won’t need it now. Lay it down.

Oh. Wait a minute. It appears that not all of that audience has gone home. A few hitched a ride into the hermitage in your mind. Take that broom in the corner and chase them out. As long as you do not invite them to sit down, and then start feeding them milk and cookies they will leave. Their harping and commenting will begin to sound sillier and sillier to you in the context of your wilderness.
Go ahead. You can’t hurt the furniture here. Put your feet up and settle into that delicious and utterly joyful place of being yourself, your true self.

A wonderfully freeing aspect of solitude is that nobody cares what you look like. Nobody is there to comment upon, critique, approve, or disapprove of your actions, attitudes, words, mannerisms, personality preferences, and quirks. No one has expectations of you or needs they want you to meet. No one is going to call or drop by unannounced.

Go ahead. Remove that hot stuffy mask.

We have a public face we present to the world. In some cases it is brittle, artificial, and controlled. We put on the mask of a happy person, a competent person, a funny person. But a mask is a limited snap shot of the person we really are, which may include being happy, competent, and funny, but who we really are also has depth, texture, responsiveness, and spontaneity, which masks cannot communicate.

When the face we present to the world is the same nuanced face within us, people call us authentic and real. What we show on the outside has integrity with what is in the inside. The phoniness, pretension, and the effort of maintaining a façade are gone.

I loved taking people out to the hermitage. I would show them around the grounds and cabin, give them some orientation, and, leaving them alone for a few days, drive back to town. Then later, they arrived at my doorstep to drop off the trash, the empty water bottles, and return the key. When I opened door, I was amazed at the differences in the guests. The tension and stress were gone, and an ease and lightness filled their movements. And their faces, soft and smooth like a child’s, wore a refreshing, unguarded openness and simple presence to the moment.

After I spent a long period in solitude, a friend reported that I looked like the Velveteen Rabbit. “Worn and soft. Well loved, and real,” she said.
There is nothing like solitude for peeling off the layers of pretense and inviting a soul into deeper authenticity.

In the days of silence and company kept only with crows, meadowlarks, and the possum, who comes looking for food under the moon, one becomes aware of the vast amount of energy and time, which may be spent on building facades and presenting a particular face to the world. The hours of calculation and strategizing to strike the right note in a speech, the stress filled preparation and rehearsals to achieve a certain affect. We have all been encouraged to become marketers and publicists for our careers, our work places, and even our very lives.

Here relationships degenerate into a potential sale, or a possible connection to a step up the ladder. Social media invites us to fashion our lives on a global stage, where our preferences are watched and matched to product ads which pop up before us.

In contrast to the world of hype nothing is for sale in the wilderness. Further, in the wilderness your stuff and your “brand” start to become embarrassing — all that lipstick in your purse, the three jars of face cream, the books you lined up on the book shelf, those clothes you shopped for.

The wilderness around you takes on a depth, beauty, and fascination that cannot compare to that iPad you just had to have or that “outside the box, edgy high concept” project you have been working on. The world beyond your wilderness begins to  seem artificial, crass, and out of sync with a deeper more profound rhythm.

Oh course, it makes sense that the natural world would inspire you to drop off what is unnatural and false in yourself – those postures and attitudes you take; that pride that you use to hide your vulnerability and need.

Besides, you are not going to fool that turkey vulture soaring over the pasture. He may be pecking at your bones one day and won’t give a damn about what kind of car you drove. The lake, teeming with turtles, bullfrogs, fish, and dragonflies is unimpressed with your credentials.

Yet a few creatures may be curious about your presence. There is nothing you have they desire. All they can offer you is their own mysterious being.
The cows, snuffling at the window, wake you at dawn. A large black angus is peering into the cabin. Her face is framed by the window and the chintz curtains.
You go out barefoot in your pajamas to shoo the cows back into their pasture. There are several mamas with their young ones. You stand still gazing at each other. You watch their massive ribs expand as they breathe, their dark eyes, and pink tongues. They watch you, seeing how your feet are getting damp in the dew, considering your breath, your two legs, and your white silk pajamas.

Your being interpenetrates with their being. A conversation and exchange occurs beyond words. Atoms shift, energy moves, recedes, and gathers in the spreading light. Then they turn, their hooves sinking into the damp earth, swishing their tails, and go back through the broken fence.

Nobody in the wilderness cares what you did last week. Or what you didn’t do. One of the calves looks back at you, slowly chewing grass, hanging out both sides of his mouth.

You feel you need to get right down on your knees in your pajamas and repent of something you do not have the words for.

Oh my God, forgive me for not seeing,” you pray.

Solitude Practice

  • Do you find yourself caught up in playing a role or meeting others expectations and needs unnecessarily?
  • What is it you let go of, when you let down your guard?
  • How does being alone in nature help you be yourself?
  • In what way might the wilderness call you to repentance, or seeing in a new way?

Next post in this series: Exploring Solitude:
So What Do You Do Out There All Day Long?


Black grackles and speckled starlings,
with yellow beaks and rusty throated chatter
clatter up and down the branches
gleaning the leavings of winter’s suet cakes.

A pile of must-read books
litter my desk and the chair before the window
where I come to pray.

Wisdom and knowledge at my fingertips,
and the perfect YouTube video of a good life,
forwarded from friend to friend,
promises to change everything.
Click here now.

How long do you stand on the street corner,
listening to the preachers and barkers?

How long do you slurp up the news,
opinions, and seductions of others?

How long do you sit on the couch
of the world consuming secondhand notions,
lies, and rumors?

When will you sit down before mystery
and invite it to come rest in your lap,

your lap, I mean, your heart and singular, scintillating body?

When do you stop singing somebody else’s song
and chasing somebody else’s god
and coveting somebody else’s experience?

When, oh when,
dear, irreplaceable you,
will you lay
yourself down in your own true,
blue bonnet strewn field of a life?

And say to the starling –
Here come, with your little orange feet and strange black eye.
How precious you are in that freckled jacket.

And I ask you,
how many prayer breakfasts,
committee meetings, and strategy sessions,
how many well-intentioned,
and not so well-intentioned,
soldiers of truth
gathering to plot their version of a perfect world
must we salute?

Just how long will it take, do you think,
for us to be safe enough
and gentle enough
and humble enough

for the shy weary God to come and lay his head? 


Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests,
but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:  18-22 


A YouTube video on Matthew 8: 18-22

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
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Contact the author lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
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Pretense and True Belief

This is my body, peeled back, broken open for you.
In my palm blazed Suchness, a torn fragrant crust of What Is So.

Oh, Common One, you are so plain, so familiar, so simple that we miss you in our desire for some other novelty. We seek you in mystery, ritual, knowledge, magic – all the things we hope will take away our pain and imperfection. We think that if we can just become enlightened, then we will be one with you. But here you are, hurrying toward us, loving us so much, broken hearted, risking everything to be with us in our unenlightenment.
Jesus, you are things as they are. Here is where I meet you in such unassuming splendor and fullness. Over and over, as I bump up against imperfection, resistance, and fear I find you –
grinning at me, sanctifying the moment, redeeming in streaming satin rivers of Grace what is so.

When the dancer becomes the dance, the veil lifts. When the pray-er becomes the prayer, when nothing separates us from God – no self to comment, evaluate, compare – then the forms of prayer drop away and the heavenly hosts arrive packing picnic lunches and lawn chairs and settle in to watch the show.

Someone ought to open a School of True Belief where we could learn how to believe until there was nothing in us that was not a believer. Every June we could put on a recital. There we would solo in some show stopping number where we would cease watching what we are doing and just do it in the free spontaneous expression of the passion of our souls.

True believers are rare these days. There are many schools which teach us how to hone deceit and conceit to a fine art. To know nothing but Christ and him crucified, to be wholly available to God as God desires, one must be free of pretense. We cannot be pretending about what is real. Rather we must be full of faith in the context of the essential truths of our life.

Yet we learn by pretending. It may be a necessary step on the journey.  Pretending may be evidence of both our unbelief, and our devotion. Through the gift of the ability to make believe we can try out and imagine what seems unimaginable. The foundation of spiritual growth and theological hope lies in the ability to risk into what doesn’t make sense or seem possible. A lot of the time we look like kids traipsing around in mom’s high heels and old prom dress. We smear on lipstick and crouch in the tree house being the squirrel sisters, famous ice skating stars and novelists. We giggle and sip Kool Aid from the stemmed goblets we stole from the kitchen. It is all a sham of course. Pretty soon Karen’s little brother will come around and throw tomatoes at us. But we are practicing the fine and awesome art of becoming our dearest dreams.

I remember the wild longing of age ten when I sat in the sun eating purple grapes, warm and sweet, spitting out the seeds at my brother. Summer was interminable and nothing ever happened except the daily routine of my hopelessly mundane family and Andy Griffith reruns. That longing took me to the cool dim corridors of the public library hunting ecstasy. I would haul home stacks of Nancy Drew mysteries and American Girl magazines and read about other times and places where Nancy motored about the countryside in her roadster and something more interesting than hanging out the wash and canning chili sauce was always happening.

Can we share in the wonder and deep need of the Great Pretenders? Can we cherish our vulnerability and say:  “Go for it, pretend your hearts out! Go on. You be the Goddess of the Moon and I’ll be the Wise King. The back porch is our kingdom and the dogs can be our ladies-in-waiting. Here, you can walk on water and I’ll heal the sick.” Pretend and dress up and play until your dreams come true.

And this is how dreams come true. One day when you are playing, the ladies-in-waiting suddenly bolt, trailing their gowns made of old curtains across the lawn, to chase a squirrel. One day the Moon Goddess gets a mean streak and scribbles crayon all over your royal decrees. The castle you made of boxes gets rained on and the whole kingdom disintegrates. On a day like that, when all your pretending is exposed and you are just a little kid filled with an ache for bliss you cannot name, then someone like a Mother or a Father will come to you and pick you up and wipe your nose and tell you that you are beautiful just the way you are. And the wild hunger to be known and honored and loved for the Holy Child you are is at last met by the Holy Child of God.

And all the rules we made up when we were pretending will seem silly and useless. Like how you are supposed to eat your chips in your sack lunch first and save the gummy bears for last. How if you get home before your sister after school that means dad will take us out for a Dairy Queen after supper. How if you pray this way or believe that or wear this totem or light this candle things will turn out okay for you.

And then the very powerlessness and need of childhood that drove us to pretending in the first place, the very unacceptability of ordinary being, that tender vulnerability at the mercy of powers greater than us, and all that we did to impose sense and order – then that unfinished irredeemable self becomes the holy ground of redemption.

I do not know if our pretense amuses or offends God. I do know there is a time for us to stop pretending about what is not and bless what is. For when I stop acting out my fantasies and stay here to drink this cup poured out and eat the bread of this moment, then I meet Jesus, the one who came and keeps on coming into the world just the way it is, not to condemn it, but that it might be saved through him.

This post is adapted from my book Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are
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Done with Great Things and Big Things

leafSeptember is stepping over the doorsill. A change is in the air. Futurist M. Rex Miller (The Millennium Matrix – Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church) writes about the revolution in communication brought by digital media. Digital media, both expresses a desire for, and makes possible authenticity, community, connection and something simpler and more intimate. “New sensibilities are rising. The connected nature of digital communications has already created a shift back to community:  to more open and connected neighborhoods, town centers, and urban revitalization, as well as smaller, more human-sized services that go along with them.” (p. 120)

Miller makes some startling claims about the successful growth model used in our society and mega churches. “We are beginning to realize that much of our churches’ emphasis on growth has produced the spiritual cousin of suburban tract homes, strip mining, and fast-food franchising. Unfortunately, many hungry churches are still buying into the fast-growth premise and promise without fully understanding the side effects.” Miller cites two of these side effects: “Rapid member turnover and staff burnout within many such churches keeps them forever having to replenish their congregations and leadership core.” This successful growth model has come with a price: a lack of relational cohesion. (p. 121)

In my work as a spiritual director with clergy and church leaders, I see many people trying to cope with the negative side effects of the growth model with its exhausting emphasis on numbers, productivity, and efficiency.

Near the end of the nineteenth century American psychologist and philosopher, William James, wacorn_sproutas also sniffing a change in the air, when he declared, “I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride.”

I find in James’ words a prescient and powerful description of the yet to be invented world wide web.

In the spring of 1978, I stepped over the door sill to a new way of living and made a choice for the tiny molecular forces over the great institutions and big success. With only a vague sense of what the consequences might be, I took the less traveled road of a life of prayer and attention to the things of God. As I walked to the parking lot of Glen Oaks Community College, where I worked as an administrator, I was absorbed by an acute sense of my own seeming insatiable need for importance, for making a name for myself. I was weighed down by a restless dissatisfaction, the urgency to figure it all out, and get my life right. Mostly I was just so sick of myself and my whining. Out of that moment of personal honesty and weariness, I heard a call to ministry. I know. It sounds weird. A voice, which sure didn’t seem to be my mine, said, “Be a minister.” I was a church drop-out. I had never considered such a vocation before.

road-to-Ra-bbit-Ridge-web-vYet I turned my back on great plans and big success and set off on a path of downward mobility. I confess that I am still not entirely converted. I am easily diverted by hype, glamour, and the allure of various definitions of success. Like my puppy on a walk, I get distracted by some new smell and go off the path to investigate. Before long I have forgotten my original intent and have become lost in the tantalizing tastes and odors of the swirl of big things, big tasks, and big impressions.

Ministry of course I soon discovered is not immune to big success. In fact we frequently get off the path and fall down before various idols – our organs, our windows, our buildings, our music department, our youth program, our pastor, our mission, our doctrines….

Here is William James again, writing to his friend H.G. Wells: “The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess Success – that – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.” 

Early in September on the threshold of a new season in the digital age convergence of William James, M. Rex Miller, and my own story I find a synergy of hope and resonance. May some pieces come together for you this season too.

 Here is a prayer, an inoculation, if you will, against our national disease:

Oh, my God in heaven, save me from significance. Yank me by my collar from snuffling and slobbering before the bitch goddess, success. Help me to have more faith in things I cannot see, than things I can measure and bank and drive around town in. Teach me to trust those tiny bursts of energy jumping from person to person as slivers of grace, kindness, wisdom, and cheerfulness. Deliver me from my own insufferable self importance. Oh Indestructible Goodness, lie me down in the soft green pastures of humility, where I can spy your kingdom come, grinning and creeping through the crannies of the world.  Amen


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