Tag Archives: love

Hidden Things of God

Dock, fog “I have come to get some answers. I’ve talked to a bunch of ministers and none of them was any help.” The man sitting before me was a young professional, bright, and angry.

I draw in my breath and exhale, praying  to be released from any illusions that I could improve upon my colleagues’ work. “Make me humble, Lord. Make me true.” Glib answers, formulaic responses, any hint of arrogance would quickly be detected by his cynicism and broken heart.

“I am about ready to give up on church,” he told me with a hint of defiance, as though he were daring me to be helpful to him. His story was painful and his betrayal, despair, and hurt were palpable. As he wept, shoulders shaking, I sat Shiva. I kept the ancient Jewish vigil of simple presence to another’s suffering. As those who comforted the bereaved in Jesus’ tradition, I waited for my guest to initiate conversation.

“Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, not in God himself,” wrote the Spanish writer, Unamuno.

We live in a world with little patience for doubt or questioning. We do not value subtlety, complexity, or mystery. We possess minimal tolerance for simply sitting with ambiguity and suffering. We do not trust there is any effectual power at work in our lives beyond what we can manipulate or contrive with our own wills and abilities.

The pragmatism, that is the religion many of us bow before, insists on quick, easy solutions. If something “works,” then it deserves our support. An end product that satisfies our needs justifies almost any means.

Our market place economy heavily determines how we think of ourselves and the world. The language of faith with its nuance, poetry, metaphor, and reverence for mystery has been exchanged for the practical idiom of the market place, which measures worth by utility and productivity.

This is not a new sin. The people of Isaiah’s day were also co-opted by a culture of consumption and utilitarianism. The prophet reminds Israel that they and their carved idols and cast metal images do not know everything. “Now I am revealing new things to you, things hidden and unknown to you, created just now, this very moment, of these things you have heard nothing until now, so that you cannot say, “Oh yes, I knew all this.” (Isaiah 48: 6)

I do not know the end of the young man’s story, as is often the case with those who pass through my life. I gave him what I could, which was my love and respect for his losses. As I sat with him, I saw that God loved him very much and also saw how deeply this young man loved God and didn’t know it.

I found myself face to face with my poverty – my lack of any satisfying answer to tie up everything and take away his pain.  I had no bright ideas, plans for recovery, or quick fix resources to suggest. In the words of Isaiah, I could only stay open for the hidden thing, the unknown thing which was coming into being in that young man’s soul, just at that moment out of the infinite, divine unknowable Mind of God.

I had only love to give, 
which, in times like this, never seems to be enough,

                                                             but always is.     FOG      

 

 

 

 

Contact the author:
lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

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Paying Attention and Taking Your Time

leaves in sunA thousand shades of green hold me enthralled.  The south wind teases up the glossy leaves, revealing their pale undersides. I find enough of God in a maple leaf to keep me occupied with wonder for a couple of centuries.

 Today the praying life consists of a continuous loving look at the universe. Prayer is a long wonder-filled gaze upon things as they unfold. The praying life is a front row ticket to the greatest show on earth. Okay. Sometimes I nap, complain, go out for popcorn, or dally in the restroom combing my hair. Sometimes I get self absorbed and miss whole acts, and then have to nudge my neighbor and whisper, “What did he say? When did she die? I didn’t know there was a war!”

In its simplest sense prayer is as an act of paying attention. The word the writers of the Greek scriptures used for prayer is proseuche, which means to turn toward God with a request. In order to get my need met, I shift my attention to God. Our word attention comes from the Latin ad tenderer (from which we also get tendon and tension) which adds the notion of stretching toward something beyond us.

Simone Weil wrote that prayer “is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God.” In prayer I bestow upon God the gift of my eyes, my mind, my awareness, my being at this moment. So Holiness gets our attention by creating in us desire and need? Interesting, huh?

To understand prayer as looking at or paying attention to God, means one must deal with the fact that we are all blind as bats and struggle to see what is really going on. We have cataracts, myopia, far sightedness. We squint through the dim filters of our prejudices, opinions, fears, and fantasies.

Jesus seemed to recognize this and a good deal of his message was about opening the eyes of the blind and teaching his followers to see with the eyes of faith. Such prayerful seeing is not easy. The poet John Moffit offers some instructions:

To look at any thing, Forest floor Montana
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these Woods,”
will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.

 Must I become what I want to know, or see, or heal, or change? We protest. Oh please, no. That is too hard. I have my needs, you know. I have my point of view. I have these closely held beliefs.  Let’s make an argument for why this situation or person needs to change. Can’t we use persuasion, branding, marketing, scientific research, polls, and the press of public opinion? Can’t we ask God to just fix these things, these people? Now!

Nope. The poet says you must take your time. You must look at the poor long, the imprisoned long, our enemies long, our failures long. We must be the thing we see, enter into the dark realities of life in a refugee camp, and the chaotic tension and anxiety of our nation. We must be willing to love and  to become the thing we long to liberate –

             as God was willing to do for us.

 In my experience it takes strength and faith to enter into another’s reality and not be overcome by it, or to lose myself in it. We may become bitter, cynical, even abused by such experiences. We may become infected with the disease we are trying to relieve. We end up offering the other only a mirror version of his or her own dilemma. We become part of the problem we are trying to soothe.

Forest floor MontanaSimone Weil continues, “Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance; the love of neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance. Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. . . .  The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth. Only he who is capable of attention can do this.”

When our attentiveness invites us “to enter into the small silences” and to “take our time and touch the Peace” from which all life issues, we find ourselves in union with that Peace. Our sacrificial gift of attention to another awakens the life of God in the other. That life may be dormant, deeply hidden, frightened, or wounded. Our prayerful attention extends a hand and bids the slumbering Peace in the other to rise up and walk.

God is paying attention to us in Jesus Christ. How could Jesus enter so deeply into our reality and suffering without being overcome by it? As I watch Jesus move through the Gospels it seems to me that he never loses his attentiveness to the Peace from which he issues, his Father in Heaven, and his identity as the beloved child. Perhaps for us to be agents of transformation in our prayer and relationships, we must possess a deep attentiveness to where we come from, and a sense of ourselves as deeply loved by God. This ongoing communion with our Source -our Father, our Mother in Heaven- gives us the freedom, the strength, and the safety to be channels of divine love and healing without harming ourselves or others. For to me little is more fierce or tender than the unfolding of the ferny plume of a mortal soul.

So I pray as I watch the maple leaves dance in the wind.
I take my time.
I aim for the Peace we issue from.
I meet you there.

 sanctuary-tree-tiny1

Simone Weil, Waiting for God, Harper Colophon, 1951,p 105, 114-115
John Moffitt,  Teaching With Fire, edited by S. M. Intrator and M. Scribner

 

The Beginning

I didn’t start out planning to give my life to prayer. The notion sort of snuck up on me. A series of collisions, near misses, and faltering steps toward love drew me into the lap of holiness. In the confusion there were some moments of clarity. Once driving with my friend, Wanda, through Kentucky countryside lush with the aching beauty of spring, I blurted out my passion. “I think I could just live in a hut somewhere and pray all the time, but I am married and want to have children, and besides I am a Presbyterian.” I was soon to graduate from three years of seminary preparation to be a minister. We were talking about what we planned to do with our lives. Wanda turned to me, mouth open and said, “Well my God, Loretta, if someone wanted to do something like that that bad, I think God would want them to too.”

It took me a while to figure out the logistics, but for the past twenty six years I have focused my life in prayer. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that prayer has focused my life. Prayer has clarified, refined, and made more visible for me my own being and the being of all things.

I spend a lot of my time chasing after the elusive lover of our souls, scrambling after crumbs and leavings on the path. Occasionally I kick up heart stopping showers of diamonds in the dust. Like most things we deeply desire and set out to do, it hasn’t been easy.

For example, there aren’t many models. It is not that people do not pray. Research shows that most of us do in one way or another. Research also shows that many of us do not care to talk to each other about it. The person who deliberately sets out to make a life project of prayer finds few persons outside a monastery who understand this calling. A life of prayer is such an antiquated notion that if you have heard of someone who has done this, it is quite likely they are dead.  I am not.

In fact there are more people than you may think, who have been stricken as I and are willing to live like beggars for love of God. I know quite a few who knock themselves out for the compelling beauty of the Holy One. They pine away for this Lover and feel lonely and afraid sometimes.  They wonder if anything good can come from being hidden away in prayer. They also have a marvelously good time walking on this earth. I believe they do an incredible amount of good for us all. There could be one living next door to you right now.

At this point you may be wondering – So what is prayer anyway?  Good question. We will get to that.  No rush though. We have eternity.

sanctuary-tree-tiny1 

 

To read more about people who pray a lot, see a new book called Consider the Ravens – On Contemporary Hermit Life by Paul and Karen Fredette. www.ravensbreadministries.com