Tag Archives: digital communication and the church

A Crisis of Contemplation

The latest issue of Holy Ground is out. This little reflection on the contemplative life comes out quarterly. In this issue I write about our struggle to be prayerfully present to our work, our tendency in a crisis to rely on what we can know and do, rather than on what God may be offering us, and the revolutionary effect of digital media on how we function in our society and churches. Goodness, that is a lot to cover in one essay.

Here is an except:
After worship we got down to business. However, I felt I wasn’t finished worshipping. I wanted to say, “Wait a minute. God is still speaking.” I wanted to keep pondering the texts, and to listen and reflect together about what we were hearing. The day’s agenda initiated a shift in the attitude and attention of the group from an intentional awareness of God to the task at hand. This is precisely why I had been asked to pray for the group: to serve as a visible reminder of our communal connection and listening to God. One man, thanking me after the meeting said, “I forgot that you were here. Then I happened to look over and saw you praying. It meant a lot.”
I wonder how things would go, if someone were kneeling or bowed in prayer at all our tasks and business. Try it in your imagination. Look across the room. See someone, Christ, a friend, or stranger praying for you there. Is the person sitting in a chair, kneeling, or prostrate? What happens to you when you see this? Ah, a softening of the shoulders maybe? A sigh. Some of the strain releases. A hush of peace. The comfort of trust.
We struggle to be simultaneously present to God and to our work. So we bookend our days and activities with prayer, often a perfunctory invocation and a quickie closing prayer “to get us all on the road.” We are split in a way which sickens, wearies, and drains the life out of me. I struggle every day to bring an attentive awareness of the holy God into all I do. I fail over and over. I know when I have failed by the tension in my neck and shoulders, the eyelid twitch, the strain that comes over me when my ego has been bossing and shoving me around. I know I have failed when the space in my head has been crammed with words, ideas, opinions, fears and there is no room for Jesus. I know the deadening effect of too much talk, too much human need trying to meet human need, and no silence and space for God to meet any of it. …
The capacity to be simultaneously present to God and the task at hand is nurtured in many spiritual direction training programs. Such steadfast awareness of Christ is something the Holy Spirit accomplishes within us, not so much taught as encouraged by those who help us trust and let go into God. Such a deep integration of Christ and abiding at all times in his peace, wisdom and gentle love is God’s will for us all.
Still, mostly, I fail. I turn my back on Jesus in a way that feels brutal and violent to the Spirit within me. My rebellion consists of the bullying intrusion of myself into events, relationships, and conversations, as a mean little god, insisting on its own way and trusting only in itself.
Bringing a conscious awareness of Christ into whatever I do requires me to release power, die to myself and my way, and bend low. It means I move more slowly and mindfully. I stay in the present moment. I rest in trust and faith in God. And I have the capacity to be useless and to not know. All of which is to say, I am contemplative.
Writing nearly fifty years ago, Carlo Carretto, noted,
When there is a crisis in the church, it is always a crisis of contemplation. The church wants to feel able to explain about her spouse even when she has lost sight of him; even when, although she has not been divorced, she no longer knows his embrace, because curiosity has gotten the better of her and she has gone searching for other people and other things.
Where might curiosity be getting the best of you?

What if we expanded Carretto’s words to other situations? What if the oil crisis, the terrorism crisis, the health care crisis, and the environmental crisis were seen as crises in contemplation? How would that temper and affect how we respond to the issues we face?
What if we could see Jesus kneeling down in high level talks, on the barges of clean up crews in the gulf, and in mountain villages of Afghanistan?
Perhaps the crises we face are not a failure of human integrity or intelligence, but a failure of imagination, that eternally creating, mother of faith.


To read the entire issue, contact me at address below. I will be a happy to send you a free sample issue. Or to get four issues a year and Holy Ground you can hold in your hand, carry in your pocket, spill coffee on, and take with you to the beach subscribe now to Holy Ground on line. You’ll be glad you did.
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Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
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A God Who Dances

A honey suckle vine extends herself into space in a graceful flourish. Reaching into nothingness, she dangles from hope and her own inner nature for making a connection to something beyond herself.
I have been reaching out into cyber space with The Praying Life blog for over a year now of weekly posts. Time for a bit of review and evaluation.
This time of year many churches celebrate the Trinity, a notion that makes a lot of people scratch their heads and squint.  English historian Edward Gibbon, famously called the Trinity, “perhaps the deepest and darkest corner of the whole theological abyss.”
Undaunted, some pastors will boldly attempt to explain how a God can be one, and three. The scholarly ones will use the ancient words of the church to describe the Trinitarian nature of God:  circumincessio, Latin for sits in a circle, and (my favorite) perichoresis, Greek for dances in a circle. Both words refer to the relationship of the inner parts of God, a relationship of intimacy, reciprocity, and circularity.
If I were preaching about the Trinity, I would pass on what Meister Eckhart says. “Do you want to know what goes on in the core of Trinity?  I will tell you. The Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and the gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.”
The Trinity speaks of a dynamic hilarity and self giving in the heart of God’s nature.
God is a community, an interactive exchange of love. As creatures made in God’s image, we also are profoundly connected and communal. I just wish we could laugh more about it.
Blogging has heightened and deepened my awareness of the bounty of community in the shared experience of our life in God together. The opportunity for exchange and conversation has shaped, formed, and reformed me.
For me personally, the past year of the praying life has been the slow and only work of conversion, of turning and re-turning my heart to the One who summons beauty, justice, and truth from our souls, bids us to love, and marries us to Mercy. A life focused in prayer keeps revealing those things in me which struggle against God’s Spirit. You know – the pride, selfishness, envy, fear, doubt, ambition.
Internet ministry is ripe for all these sins to distract and flourish. Who commented on what? How many viewers did I get? Does my blog have “authority”? Oh look at how good his blog is…. I wish I could write like her. Blah, blah, blah. God, set me free of me!
Blogging has invited me to loosen up, to be more present – in this world of fleeting impressions, and swiftly passing fancies. Instead of trying to grasp, preserve, and set in stone, as print media encourages, I have been invited to tune into the streaming presence of God and to become more streaming myself, more open and influenced and shaped by this dance.  
Twelve months out, reaching for a handhold, streaming a life in God, I hope you are stretching into the unknown. I hope you are laughing and giving birth to joy from your branch on the vine.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reaching out, reading and commenting, for sharing the blog with others, for praying and sharing your own praying life.

For such delight we have been created.
Shall we dance?

Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org
Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
Contact Loretta at lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross
Become a fan of the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

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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