Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

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 #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

For Fraught Souls

Autumn Invocation

Lord of courtesy, you’ve brought the corn
In, you’ve hung the trees with ripe, rich fruit,
Master of tides,  you’re cooling down the sea,
Watcher at horizons,  you’ll deliver
Most ships securely at home.
But Master of the moon,  this world is dark
With terror,  evil,  not dark like dark of space
And stars.  O God,  save us from our fraught selves,
Put prayer into our minds.  Be in the shrine
Of vivid,  innocent imaginations.
Receive the love there is,  Lord,  help all nations.
Author unknown

In this season of thanks, let us pray for all fraught souls, those heavy laden with sorrow, the oppressed, the lost, and discouraged. May each one reach into the eternal harvest of gratitude that opens to those, who have passed through suffering and loss. Sustain us,  Oh Master of the tides, with appreciation for the simple gifts of life. Amen.

I have loved this poem for years, but somehow lost the name of the author. If you know, please leave the name in the comments. I would like to give credit for this beautiful piece of writing.

How to Pray

Want to learn how to pray? Forget words. Forget about getting the right name for God. Forget fidgeting about how to sit or stand or hold your hands. Forget whatever you have been taught about prayer. Forget yourself.

And go gaze upon something or someone you love. Look long and deeply at something which gives joy or peace –

that penetrating lime green of the spring woods, and the wet black branches like some ancient language of scribbles and runes scrawled all over the forest

the path of the sun, trailing like a golden ribbon across the floor, climbing up the table and tying itself neatly around your tea cup

the sleeping boy in his Superman PJs, smelling of grass and child sweat

Next: Let yourself be held there in your looking and wonder. Do you feel that subtle magnetic force that seems to gently grasp and suspend you before your beloved?

Breathe. Relax.

Notice what wells up in you and what recedes. Various feelings and thoughts – some positive, some negative. Simply observe the play of your inner life as you gaze upon beauty.

Notice the voice which says, “You need to get moving. There is a lot to do. Should I fix potato soup for supper? I really can’t stand that woman.” Keep returning to what you love. Allow your love and appreciation of this portion of the world draw you in to its Creator and Author, that pulse of the Spirit which animates all of existence.

For that is what Holiness is doing in the creation – luring us, catching us up, and reeling us into the Heart of Reality and Divinity through the things of this world. God threads us through and beyond what we love to deeper love and freedom in the realm of Grace that is called God’s kingdom.

Really. God will use anything, anyone to draw us into God’s self, God’s being, and into  truth, into love, into amazement, and wonder. What draws you into this prayer will likely be something uniquely suited to you, your aspirations, your interests, your peculiar, and particular existence. So specific is God’s summons to you. So beloved are you by God.

All that is required is your consent – your yes, your willingness to take the bait, to bite into creation with appetite and hope.

After looking at God in this way for a while, a word or two, a spoken prayer may emerge from your heart. Something you want to say to God. Something you desire from God. Go ahead and whisper your words to God. Then be silent and listen.

A Peace will come and settle over you, a calm, perhaps, a gentleness, an assurance of some kind.

Afterwards, before you turn back to getting things done, do a little self inventory:

Have you changed in any way after this time of gazing? Is there a difference in how you are feeling or thinking? Is there something from this time you need to stay with or return to? What would you like to say to God about this time? What would you like to hear in response from God?

And this, my friends, is a prayer.

This is a way God speaks.

This is a way the Word Made Flesh calls our name.

This is a way we answer.

Other Praying Life posts on prayer you might enjoy:

What Is a Prayer

Contemplation – Circling a Definition

Paying Attention and Taking Your Time

A Calm and Quiet Soul

You can help support The Praying Life by donating to The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer. Just five or ten dollars will make a difference and help pay some of our costs. Your gift is tax deductible. Donate Here. Thank you so much!

Exploring Solitude: Where the Wild Things Are

Come away by yourselves to a lonely place,” Jesus

God then told Elijah, “Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve ordered the ravens to feed you.”  Elijah obeyed God’s orders. He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan. And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook. I Kings 17: 2-6 (Msg)

Nothing better expresses the urgent call of the wild for me than John Masefield’s Sea Fever.

I must  go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, . . .
I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; . . .
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife; . . .

Wild places and wild things invite us to themselves. If not the sea, perhaps, the mountains, the desert, the plains, or the forest draw you. The trout in the stream, the grizzly bear turning in his sleep, the mushroom popping up in the moist woods, the redwood tree dwarfing all else in its magnificence summon us to gaze in wonder and appreciation and share in the communion of all beings.

Shifting from Virtual Reality to Reality
In the wilderness we smell, and see, and touch, and hear, and taste – not a virtual reality, but reality. And here, we are likewise smelled, seen, touched, heard, and tasted. We not only change and act upon our surroundings, we are also changed and acted upon by those same surroundings. In the wilderness, we find again our place as a member of one of the species of beings on this planet. We leave our thermostatically, controlled environments and modern conveniences to feel the bracing chill of  the wind in our face, the tickling blurred vision through snow dusted eye lashes, the heavy ache in our calves after walking several miles.

In the process of wilderness dwelling, we shed the heavy brittle shells of our self importance and settle in with all our relations – brother sun, sister moon, and cousin fox. We discover the deer we are watching are also watching us.


Solitude may occur, of course, away from wilderness in the midst of a noisy crowd, in a beehive high rise apartment, or on the back porch with city sirens screaming past. However, many of us find solitude most easily and fully in a place apart in some natural setting. For over twenty years I found my wilderness solitude in a one room cabin with a stone floor, built into the side of hill on a small lake in northeast Kansas.

The call to the wilderness runs deep in some people, and expresses itself as unappeasable longing, or a palpable need to be in wild places among wild things. These persons often feel compelled to seek out remote spots away from power grids, traffic, concrete, and housing developments. Some struggle to explain and justify their desire to family and friends.

Wilderness as Arena for Spiritual Growth
The Biblical Hebrew word for wilderness is often used interchangeably with desert and includes many varied kinds of terrain, arid and semi arid, pasture land, mountains, and the sea.

The wilderness, a place uninhabited by the human species, is a significant location for the spiritual journey, both in its literal and figurative senses. The Bible understands transformation and spiritual growth as a process, which involves the experience of both physical and psychic dis-location and re-location. The experiences of being lost and being found, of moving from a familiar land to a strange new country appear over and over in the Biblical narratives.

An important aspect, then to solitude and our development in faith, is that exposure to wilderness, both in the physical geographic sense, and in the internal experience of the self. I will set aside consideration of internal wilderness to another post, and focus here on the external physical places and settings in which we find solitude.

As a species and as varied races and ethnicities, we have been formed in part by the land in which we and our ancestors have made our living. The lay of the land itself, the richness or poverty of its soil, the vegetation, wild-life, presence or absence of water, winds, and temperature have shaped our economies, our languages, our diets, our health, what we value, and our religions.

David Abram in his masterful book, The Spell of the Senses – Perception and Language  in a More-than-Human World, writes about this relationship of humankind to the earth and its features and all that dwell upon, within, above, and in its waters.

our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of creativity and stillness, and even our thoughts are readily engaged and influenced by shifting patterns of the land. Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain. Human awareness folds in upon itself, and the senses – once the crucial site of our engagement with the wild and animate earth – become mere adjuncts of an isolate and abstract mind bent on overcoming an organic reality that now seems disturbingly aloof and arbitrary. (p. 267)

Abram writes of our relationship with the whole of creation as an interpenetration and mutuality in which all parties are affected, changed, and interdependent. The creation is not something I act upon, seek to dominate, or control, but rather the creation is a whole gathering of life with which I may enter into a relationship of mutual benefit.

In the past seven years the consequences of our lack of communion with nature has received attention and comment as Nature Deficit Disorder. The lack of time spent out doors by children and adults is suggested as a factor influencing several illnesses, including obesity.

Starving for the Undomesticated God


Over many years I have observed person after person starving for such connection and communion. Some would trek across the country just to sit in a simple cabin without  running water in a Kansas pasture in order to touch in to such a relationship. With some notable exceptions, namely camp and conference ministries, the church has largely ignored this fundamental need. Though our faith was formed in our ancestors in deserts, tents, mountain tops, sea shores, ship wrecks, storms, and many solitary encounters with the Holy One, we insist that most of our faith be nurtured in buildings and classrooms under florescent lights. We further claim that knowledge of God may be gained by memorizing a set of propositions articulated by theologians, who gained most of their credentials in similar buildings and classrooms.

In contrast, we meet an undomesticated God in the wilderness, an unpredictable, wholly other God, who is neither tamed by sedate doctrines, nor penned up in church polity, nor leashed to political issues. The waves and meadowlark give testimony, the stones hold the stories of the ancient ones, the Spirit hovers over the waters, the prophet emerges from his cave, and hears the still small voice of the Lord.

Most pastors have heard from the person, who apologetically recounts the familiar reason for his Sunday morning absence. “I am closer to God on the golf course or in my boat out on the lake.”  

But can’t you do that on Saturday, wonders the pastor, whose district superintendent keeps count of his worship attendance. He needs to show an increase this year. “You need to worship with the community too, and we need to have you with us,” he tells the fisherman.

Both are right, of course. We need the solitude and nature and we need the gathered  community of believers. Yet, perhaps, rather than feeling defensive, our pastor could become genuinely curious about her parishioner’s life in God and what he is telling her. “Could we get together sometime? I’d like to hear about what these times mean to you and how you experience the Lord.”

A Cabin in the Woods
My brother and his wife recently moved and their first project was to build a small cabin in the woods behind their new home. The one room cabin perches part way down a steep ravine in the woods, above a pond and a river beyond. My brother spends hours down there and confesses, most of the time he just sits and looks out the window, watching the birds and critters, and resting his sore eyes on a vista absent of manipulation by his own species.

Formerly a hunter of deer, my brother is now living in more intimate and complementary relationship with his relatives. He rises early each day to put out food. Keeping track of them, he gives some of them names. He is respectful of the space they need and watches for signs of illness, or overcrowding of the herd. He worries about the invasive mustard grass, which chokes out the native plants.

Likewise the animals of this ravine are more intimate with my brother. They are eating well, unafraid, and willing to share more of themselves with this human. My brother is changing too. He has lost weight and strengthened his legs from making the steep climb down and back from the cabin to the house. He has become an evangelist for the gifts of that little structure. “Solitude is magnetic,” he tells me. Yes, indeed.

He shows me a little book he keeps for guests to write their impressions of time spent in his cabin. I open the cover and read the longing and gratitude in their comments.

The Force which Draws All Things Together
Solitude and the wilderness, where we find it, are magnetic. The wild things and places draw us to them by the force of our common relationship with each other as creatures on this earth. We are drawn by our desire to connect with and to enter into communion with Reality in a deeper, truer way than we find in the glib, sound bite assessments that surround us constantly. Such communion changes how we see ourselves and one another. Thomas Merton writes in his second chapter of Thoughts in Solitude that the wilderness invites us to stand back from our lives so we see things in a new perspective.

We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our own bosom. When we let go of them, we begin to appreciate them as they really are. Only then can we begin to see God in them. Not until we find Him in them, can we start on the road to dark contemplation at whose end we shall be able to find them in Him.

 Get the Stink Blown Off
Do you postpone going down to your wild places until the time is right, until you have several days free, until you finish this or that project? I will tell you a secret. You don’t have to wait. Just go with whatever time you have. As Eugene Peterson, paraphrases I Kings 17: 2, “Get out of here and fast!” My mom’s version was, “You kids go on outside right now and get the stink blown off ya.” God receives what little time you can offer, a day, an afternoon, or ten minutes, and turns it into abundance with enough leftovers for you to eat on for the rest of week.

So go on. Get out. Go for a walk. Drive over to the lake or the beach. Take a blue highway home. Look around. Breathe. Smell.  Feel. Gaze into the eyes of a deer. Watch the eagle land and fold its wings on its perch above the river. Be seen by the squirrel, be blown by the wind. Be changed and shaped by the interplay and exchange of the animate world of which you are a beloved part.


Solitude Practice:

  • To what kind of wild places are you drawn? Have you been there recently? What keeps you from going?

  • What happens when you go? What changes or shifts do you notice in yourself?

  • Take some time to pray about your need for solitude and wilderness places. Listen for God’s response.

Next Post in this series on Exploring Solitude : The Wild Things Within


 



You can help support this series by donating to The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer. Just five or ten dollars will make a difference and help pay some of our costs. Your gift is tax deductible. Donate Here. Thank you so much!

Exploring Solitude: Why Bother?

Come away by yourselves to a lonely place,” Jesus

 What is said here about solitude is not just a recipe for hermits.
It has a bearing on the whole future of humankind and the world:
and especially, of course, on the future of religion. Thomas Merton

 

Over the next several weeks I will be reflecting on selected passages from Thomas Merton’s little book, Thoughts in Solitude. First published in 1956 the book is a collection of Merton’s musings about time he spent alone in a hermitage at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. Merton had been a monk for a while before he finally gained the Abbot’s permission to spend an extended time alone. An outgoing, gregarious fellow, he struggled throughout his life with finding a balance between his need for solitude and for community. His prolific, engaging writing brought seekers to the monastery and his ability to teach about the spiritual life attracted many followers.

If you have a copy of the book, you might want to get it out and follow along. You can easily find a used copy online, or check your local library for Thoughts in Solitude.

I confess that my relationship with this Trappist priest has been rocky. He has both deeply inspired and deeply disappointed me. There is much I admire in his life and writing and a few things I do not. Just as I decide I am finished with the man, I am drawn back. Like us all, Father Tom, as a friend calls him, has his sin and warts, yet God has used him mightily. We may all give thanks that falling short of the aim which God intends for us (the literal meaning of sin) has never been a road block to the power of God working through human lives.

I choose this book, not because I consider it among the best on the subject. We have over 2500 years of excellent material on the spiritual practice of solitude. I hope you will share your favorite resources in the comments section below, or on the Sanctuary Foundation Face Book Page, or email me. I will be happy to compile your suggestions with others and make them available to The Praying Life readers.

Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton (Photo credit: jimforest)

So let’s begin with the Preface. Here Merton lays out what he is up to in this book and makes his disclaimers. He tells us his “thoughts here are simply thoughts on the contemplative life, fundamental intuitions which seemed, at the time, to have a basic importance.” His writing comes from his “relationship with God in solitude and silence and that “interrelation of our personal solitudes with one another,” which are for Merton “essential to his own peculiar way of life.”

Then he launches into a broad societal justification for such peculiarity. A number of internal and external obstacles make it difficult for most of us to develop and nurture a practice of spiritual solitude. I have listened to many people who struggle to claim the “legitimacy” of the practice, to respond to this call of God, and to be consistent in the “coming away to a lonely place” with Jesus.

I feel guilty. Isn’t it selfish? Shouldn’t  I be doing something – working at the mission, helping out at church, serving on committees? My friends don’t understand. My pastor doesn’t get it. I can’t even explain why I do this or even what happens. Am I only fooling myself and being lazy and wasting time?

I hope this series will offer some support for your practice and a rationale which gives permission and value to a pursuit largely neglected in our culture and religious institutions, but sorely needed. In the end, though, you must come to your own rationale and your own “thoughts in solitude.” For each of us will experience solitude in different ways at different times, and God will speak within you the language of the unique nature of the intimacy you share. And each must make his or her own witness to the truth.

Merton begins his book by looking at the larger culture in which he found himself in 1956:

In an age when totalitarianism has striven, in every way, to devaluate and degrade the human person, we hope it is right to demand a hearing for any – and every sane reaction in favor of man’s [ok, from now on in this blog series I will make Merton’s gender nouns and pronouns neutral] inalienable solitude and interior freedom. The murderous din of our materialism cannot be allowed to silence the independent voices which will never cease to speak: whether they are the voices of Christian saints, Oriental sages like Lao-Tse or the Zen Masters, or the voices of persons like Thoreau, or Martin Buber, or Max Picard. It is all very well to insist that people are “social animals” – the fact is obvious enough. But that is no justification for making them into a mere cog in a totalitarian machine—or a religious one for that matter.”

Thomas Merton's hermitage at The Abbey of Our ...

Hermitage of Thomas Merton at Gethsemane Abbey

Society, for Merton, depends for its very existence on the inviolable solitude of its members. This is because, as he writes, “to be a person is to possess responsibility and freedom, and both of these imply a certain interior solitude, a sense of personal integrity, a sense of one’s own reality and of one’s own ability to give oneself to society – or to refuse that gift.”

He ends his preface with: “What is said here about solitude is not just a recipe for hermits. It has a bearing on the whole future of humankind and the world: and especially, of course, on the future of religion.”

One of my pet peeves about Merton, especially in his early writing, is his penchant for sweeping generalizations and pronouncements. I happen to agree with this one. How might such a claim be true?  Is there really a relationship between the time you take to create some space and time to be alone with God and our future as a race and the future of religion? I think so. And I am not alone.

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.
Carlo Carretto

 

Might part of our struggle with keeping solitude be because we have our arms around the wrong lover?

Solitude Practice:

  • Ask the lover of your soul to show what you are hugging closer to yourself than the Holy One.

  • Identify competing lovers.

  • What might it take for you rediscover God’s embrace and forsake all others? It might be easier than you think.

As Paul Simon sang to us, there are fifty ways to leave your lover.

Next Post: The Wilderness of Solitude

You can help support this series by donating to The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer. Just five or ten dollars will make a difference and help pay some of our costs. Your gift is tax deductible. Donate Here. Thank you so much!