Tag Archives: Religion & Spirituality

Not Ten Best Practices for Prayer

prayer..

“Your writing has changed lately,” a friend who reads these blogs said last week. “Is that related to the retreat you went on?”

I have been thinking I ought to write a more accessible, timely post, something about the weather we have endured here in Kansas,  the contentious world of politics, an entertaining piece about my dog, or a list: Ten Best Practices for Prayer. Copy Writer tells me that lists always get lots of views and shares.

Yet, if this is a blog about prayer, it ought to reflect the experience of one who is praying. So at least for today I bring you another update from the silence. One word is really all I have to say: longing, deep vast yearning, reaching toward what I cannot really name.

And as some of you know, my friends, such longing is really kind of awful. Awful in the sense of how it stretches and stretches one ever beyond one’s self. Awful in the sense that it has no end. Awful in the sense that it is out of one’s control or naming. Awful in the sense that it is love that ever seeks its fulfillment in the beloved.

The writer of the Cloud of Unknowing called such prayer a naked intention of love directed to God alone.

 ___________________

A Failure to Communicate

I would like to stand and hold my balance on the threshold
with the wind whistling through the space
where my heart used to be
and watch the birth and death of beings
the coming and going of existence
and somehow fasten myself in that place,

the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

I have had it with these little cages
we stuff full of significance
and string out across a page
like a rumbling circus parade of gaudy wagons drawn by camels.

The penned beasts of meaning pace back and forth
while we snap the whip and totally miss the show.

Nor is communication a fortune cookie “thought for the day.”

Flirting on the edge of my awareness
where words dissolve
and nothing separates

love broods.

I bang against the bars.
Let me out.
Set me free of me.

Why I long to escape the confines of language I do not know
for when I meet you there,
in that other country, our native land
I will have nothing to say or offer

because you will already have all you ever need.

____________

I tell you this: it is more profitable to your soul’s health, more worthwhile, more pleasing to God and the hosts of heaven – yes, more helpful to your friends, natural and spiritual, dead or alive – that you should have this blind outreaching love to God himself, this secret love pressing upon the cloud of unknowing, that you should have this as your spiritual affection, than that you should contemplate and gaze on the angels and saints in heaven and hear the happy music of the blessed.     The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works

 

The Closing

A life time is like a flash of lightening in the sky
rushing by like a torrent down the steep mountain.  Gautama Buddha

It is done.
The message glowed in my palm.
The screen went dark.
The home full of light and memory
had passed neatly out of our hands.

Half a day’s drive north
we rose with the birds
to wash our faces
walk to our cushions
sit in stillness
as the sun came up.

Occupied with the throb
and slosh
of humans being,
minds alert
to the swell and surge
of experience,

we did not gulp or grasp,
but lifted our forks slowly
to savor what was on our plate.

Carrying our cups attentively
like offerings of fragrant brew
we got insights
we got bored
our necks ached
our necks really ached
our legs cramped
our minds sank.

Fur grew in our brains.
A cat named Torpor climbed up our bodies,
stretched herself across our shoulders, purring.

We stepped carefully along the drive,
the wooded path, the lawn.
When the bell startled
the still air and the finches flew,
we returned to sit
and then to walk
and sit again.

Up against our limits for the taste of God,
we picked up our hand held devices
just to check the time
and well, maybe, any messages
and then like hopeless junkies
shot up
with the news.

And, Lord, like Peter, (say it)
we slept.
We could not stay awake one hour
to watch our own suffering
let alone yours.

And the tall ones,
full of grace, like some exotic species,
came and moved among us.
We tried not to grasp
their beauty with our eyes
or covet their youth.

When they left too soon,
we, shoulders shaking, sobbed,
Oh no. Oh no.
Oh please don’t go.

But they with other roads
to travel and business
of their own stepped easy
over the threshold, saying

Let go. Let go.

And Mary said,
They have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where they have laid him.

And the angel said, He is not here. He is risen.

And Jesus said,  Don’t
cling to me.

And raccoon, rotund and tight with bloat,
lay on the side of the road
and said,  See my insides are turned out.

And Coyote
trotting briskly across the clearing in bright midday
paused to look behind his shoulder
then disappeared into the woods.

A thick snake of ancient sorrow
rose up in us from miles below the surface
twisted, heaved us double with its force.
A wind whistling loneliness
whined and keened through all the spaces
in our bones.

every
thing
is going
back
and forth
across
a threshold

coming into existence
and going out of existence

while the dying rising one stands ever
on the brink
offering
a torn fragment of what is so

lost opportunities
things we have done we cannot change
our loved ones whose graves we want to tend

 we gaze at the ragged piece of our existence
resting in his tattered palm

Jesus, how will this ever be enough
to satisfy our hunger,
or slake this sorrow?

 Take. Eat, he says.
Be healed of thy affliction.

Thou, who gives and bears away,
grant us mercy
to take each moment
to our lips
and drink the cup you give
bitter,  sweet.

Give us,
O Sentry at the terminal,
where all things come and go,
the appetite and wit
to swallow and digest
entirely
what is so.

________

You sweep people away like dreams that disappear. They are like grass that springs up in the morning. In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered. Psalm 90: 3-6 New Living Translation

This existence of ours is a transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A life time is like a flash of lightening in the sky rushing by like a torrent down the steep mountain.  Gautama Buddha

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid. John 14:27

Exploring Solitude: Learning to Be

So What Do You Do Out There All Day Alone?

 “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,
with all your strength, and with all your mind . . .” Luke 10: 27(CEV)

“Why not? I thought this is what it is all about. I have this list. I told some of the people I would. You are not making any sense!”

I was on my second circuit around the lake arguing with God. This was the first day of an extended period of solitude at the hermitage and things had started off with a big fight.

I had made arrangements for my family, shared my plans with friends and clients, packed my provisions, gathered up my good intentions, and stepped into solitude with considerable self importance.

God went right to work on me. On the first day I ran into a wall. That was why I had thrown my journal on the floor and stomped off to the pasture. That was why I was walking around the lake pleading and arguing with the Holy One.

The word of the Lord that had come unto me was this:

Thou shalt not pray for other people or projects or events while here. Thou shalt not worry and fret about them or their futures. Thou shalt not dwell on the past.

 

Thou shalt pray on my terms.  Any intercession will be at my invitation,  not your over-functioning,  good intended, works righteous,  anxiety ridden,  guilty, controlling ego.

 

Thou shalt partner with me in bringing in my kingdom not by being available to the world, but by being available to me. Thou shalt get the first commandment well established in thy heart before thou shalt be ready for the second.

So it had come to this. My will versus God’s will.

I had planned to pray for others and for the needs of the world, while I was at the hermitage. God’s word to me shook my very foundations. Huh? What am I going to do out here then? This is a question people often ask me when I tell them I take a day a week for solitude.

It has taken me years to untangle myself from relationships and assuming too much responsibility for others’ well being. The notion that just being with God without doing anything in particular is foreign to many. It may take us a while to learn how to simply be present to God and enjoy our relationship with the Source of All Being.

We learn to detach ourselves from the things of creation in order to more fully attach ourselves to the Creator, in whom we rediscover the creation. In this new context my relationship to the world is transformed. Where my attachment to the creation was enmeshed, codependent, grasping, urgent, and possessive, it becomes freer, less sticky, as I allow others to be as they are. No longer do I demand things of people or of the world. No longer do I attempt to control or manipulate them, because my deepest needs are being met my God.

So what does one “do out there all day long?” All kinds of things: read, listen, watch, pray, walk, rest, create. . . .as one slowly is weaned from “doing” itself. One gives up the addiction to producing, efficiency, and ego enhancing, controlling behaviors in favor of the freedom of being, to joining with the One who gave the divine name to Moses as the holiest of names: I am. One discovers the gratitude and joy in sheer being. In this shift of perspective the things of creation are no longer “objects” for me to manipulate, persuade, desire, or possess, but holy beings themselves, each shimmering in their own goodness and beauty.

How this transformation occurs, I believe, is a process over a life time. It is different for each person, according to the work of the Holy Spirit. You may be called to suffer, to face hidden truths about yourself, to encounter evil, to repent, to grieve, and to experience ecstasy and bliss. You may also have periods of very ordinary, grounded experience with little drama or fireworks.

The common thread through the variety and intensity of experience and activity that may occur in solitude is surrender of the self, a kind of dying and letting go of whatever you may be hanging onto in place of God, who wants no less than all of you.

Whether you argue or whine, pout or throw your journal across the room, the task, over and over, is to forsake all other lovers and lay down your life before the One Shining, Sweet, and Unfathomable Power without whom you are nothing.

God has no need of our works.

God has need of our love.  

Therese of Liseaux

 

 

Solitude Practice:

  • How does the need to produce and “do” express itself in you? Through overworking, anxiety, fear, trying to control others?
  • Recall a time when you were able to just be with God. Where were you, what enabled that kind of awareness and presence? How did such a time affect your subsequent presence to your work and other people?
  • When they were little, my children used to tell me at times: “Mom, you need to go out to the cabin.” What helps you become aware of your need for solitude?

Next post in this series: Exploring Solitude: Meeting the Crucified One

Empty Pockets and Trust in God

The way I see it, a mystic takes a peek at God and then does her best to show the rest of us what she saw.  She’ll use image-language, not discourse. Giving an image is the giving of gold, the biggest thing she’s got… Hurling and wielding the best stuff she can imagine, insisting on an unmediated Way of Wakefulness,…she agrees to the quiet morning hour in front of God in exchange for a bit of revelation.  She doesn’t ditch tradition as much as take it for its word and peer inside its cavernous shell.  There must still be something worth saying. There must still be something worth pointing to.
 -Jessie Harriman in God Laughs and Plays by David James Duncan

 I greet you with my pockets turned inside out, holding out a few crumbs I picked from the seam.

Most every time I write this blog, I write from such a place of intellectual and spiritual poverty, that I feel like I am scraping gum off the sidewalk to offer you.

Oh, I have plenty of previously written material. Some of it you might like or find useful. I also seem to have an endless supply of ideas, opinions, and questions we could take up together here. However the longer I sit in that quiet morning hour waiting for a bit of revelation, the more stale and the less true all my previous thinking and posturing appear to be.

Something in me insists on peering into the Mystery anew each time I write. This is both an irresistible delight and a harrowing encounter with my own empty pockets.

I haul myself and the collected wear and tear of personal and world events before the throne of Great Stillness. There I reach out beyond my limits and press my palm in the face of Mystery and say, “Here. Here. Put it here.”

Then I wait.

In that waiting there is only the ache of love – nameless, infinite, ever beyond my control.

“Trust” was the word I found in my palm this week. Trust? That old thing? How many times does this word turn up in scripture and in the words we say to each other? How about something new, fresh, maybe a little edgier? 

Thousands of children with stick legs and arms are dying in the horn of Africa. A young man just nineteen years old came home to the little town up the road, where he was buried with military honors. Global markets, drunk on anxiety, dip and sway, fall and crawl up again. Politicians argue. A self-styled prophet of God goes to prison for doing unspeakable things to little girls.

Holy One, the world is going to hell in a hand basket and all you can offer is trust?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, 
And lean not on your own understanding; 
In all your ways acknowledge Him, 
And He shall direct   your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes; 
Fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones.
         Proverbs 3:5-8, New King James Version

So – help yourself these crumbs:

 

Trust in what you cannot fully know or name or understand, or write about.

Trust in the enduring love in your heart that weeps with compassion and yearns for justice and struggles
to know what to do in these challenging times. 

Trust in your conviction that God will not be defeated by the evil and sin of humans.

Trust that Someone is afoot, knitting together the broken bones of Christ’s body.

And most amazing of all:

Trust that our trust and faith are the salve,

which heals all wounds.


And he could do no miracle there except he laid hands
on a few sick people and healed them.
And he wondered at their unbelief. Mark 6:5-6

Kyrie, Eleison

I have been pulling out thorns, stick tights and nursing cuts and scrapes. I spent the past couple of weeks in a briar patch. Tangled up in old resentments, anger, and feeling sorry for myself, I had worked myself  into a wadded mat of prickly brambles.

A briar patch with twisting vines, which cut or trip or cling at every turn, may be a good place to begin lent. In some respects, we, like Br’er Rabbit, are born and bred in the briar patch of human existence. I, however, did not find it as comfortable, as my cousin, Brother Rabbit. I felt trapped and wanted to break free of the barbed burden of myself.

My pride and arrogance coiled around one ankle. My entitlement and envy looped in a thorny noose around my throat. And soul smothering self pity sat on my chest like a heavy stone.

I could not seem to untangle myself. All my efforts only bound me more tightly. And, to tell the truth, I do not think I really wanted to get free. An insidious part of me seemed to enjoy how awful I was feeling. At the same time, another voice was asking, when I was willing to listen, “How happy do you want to be?” as if my happiness was somehow up to my simple consent and my willingness to receive what I desired.

Finally at my wits end and the end of my own strength, I prayed – not for God to fix the things that had me trapped, not for God to turn the briar patch into a luxury hotel, not for God to give me insights, knowledge, or explanations, but for mercy. I asked for God’s mercy – unmerited, undeserving, unearned mercy.

I, sick of myself, surrendered and stopped defending, justifying myself, and arguing with imagined foes. I came to my knees and asked for mercy.

And mercy was given

falling softly like a gentle rain.

Later that same day I discovered I had been set free from the briar patch. The heavy weight of myself was gone. I was no longer chaffing and pulling out splinters.

And the word, mercy,

sounded sweet in my ears,

like music,

like birdsong, unbidden and blest.



Perhaps there is no better prayer than to simply commend ourselves, others, and the whole world to the redeeming mercy of him who died and rose for us. According to Balthasar Fischer, this ancient prayer means more than “Help us!” It means:  “Take all of us with you on your journey through death to life.”


The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless’d;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:  . . .
Though justice be thy plea, consider this—
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer, doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.
Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice
The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org, www.fromholyground.wordpress.org
Contact the author lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

Lent, Suffering, and Weary Pastors

“The reason why pastors are so tired around Easter is because they have to preach about something they don’t really believe and it just wears them out,” announced a colleague to the group of clergy.  Some clergy will tell you their fatigue is due to all the extra services, studies and observances that cluster around the season.  One wonders what it is that calls out the sudden burst of piety and round of religious soirees, if it is not the need to reinforce our sagging faith.


Evelyn Underhill describes spiritual growth as a “series of oscillations between states of pleasure and states of pain which fatigue the immature transcendental powers.” (E. Underhill, Mysticism, p. 381.)  Whatever the cause, the amazing truth of Good Friday and Easter is more than most of us can swallow, let alone integrate in such a way that we remain in possession of the power of the Risen Christ, while at the same time surrendered to that power.


Death is wearisome.  Suffering is wearisome.  Evil wears us down, grinds us down.  As the opposite of creativity, evil employs repetition as one of its weapons.  The slow steady accumulation of minor abuses and violations turn over time into an onslaught, which erodes our best intentions.  Sick and tired of it all, we finally succumb with a yawn and let death have its way with us.


Jesus says, “It is lent. Come on.  Take up your cross and follow me.” Jesus does not summon us to a quick easy death.  He says cross – that slow torment that keeps you hanging around, conscious, gasping, while the body strains and sags against the nails that pin us to our own circumstances and the slow agonizing drag of gravity does its job.


We sink slowly into the earth, the forces of the universe pulverizing us over eons into dust.  At such a prospect, heartily endorsed from pulpits far and wide, one’s transcendental powers, mature or immature, might well benefit from a swig of Geritol.


“Have a Happy Death,” my friend says.  And I go read about those eccentric saints who extol the joy of suffering and actually prayed to share in Christ’s pain.  What did they know I don’t know?


A while back I got a large envelope in the mail with the words SECRETS THAT CAN BANISH PAIN emblazoned across the front.  Inside a Mr. Mark Bricklin promised to send me secrets that would save my life and show me HUNDREDS OF WAYS TO GET FAST RELIEF.  I looked over his offer and decided to take a nap.


Our culture has little capacity to find anything redeeming in anyone who would deliberately seek to suffer. We have a difficult time distinguishing between the suffering of sacrificial love and suffering that is meaningless and self-defeating. It is hard for us to believe that suffering consciously chosen and accepted could be anything other than dysfunctional behavior.



This may be part of the reason why the season wears us out.  This Jesus hanging on a cross for our sakes appears hardly functional.  He makes none of the promises of Mr. Mark Bricklin who exhorts me not to deprive myself and my loved ones of the chance to truly banish pain.  (Mail the enclosed card today!) The effort of leaning up against that cross in a culture that seeks to banish pain, and the real spiritual work of extending ourselves past our exposed doubt deeper into God is more than a little fatiguing.


Spiritual growth may be seen as slowly deepening belief, or the steady erosion of our hypocrisy.  Layers of pretense and self deceit  peel away to expose our fear.  What is revealed is the limit of our belief, its edges.  A good deal of our suffering is that raw exposure of our doubt, our unbelief, to the light of the Risen Christ.  It stings, smarts.  We think we are dying, losing everything.


Perhaps the difference between tragic suffering and the redemptive suffering in which Christ invites us to participate lies not in the amount, kind or quality of the pain, nor in its cause.  What makes one kind of suffering sacred and healing, and another simply one more case of horror and abuse inflicted upon an innocent victim may lie in the extent of our personal freedom to choose how we respond to the pain we experience when others trespass against us.



And here we might look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter, “who for the joy that awaited him, endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12: 1-2)  We do not have to love our suffering; we just have to bear it.  We take up our crosses.  We consciously receive the pain that comes our way, not for the pain we must endure, but for the joy that awaits.  In this way we become martyrs, not in self abasing, whining, self-righteous martyrdom, but in the original sense of the word.  Martyr in Greek means witness, one who has seen God and is willing to testify by one’s life that God lives – even in the midst of death and evil and defeat.


Perhaps what those long-suffering saints know that I and Mr. Mark Bricklin haven’t yet grasped, is that what makes suffering redemptive is enduring the cross despising the shame, making light of its disgrace. The self which dies is the ego, the grasping, controlling, faithless part of ourselves which believes everything is up to us.  Unlike Jesus, we do not despise the shamefulness of our suffering.  We despise ourselves instead.  We are humiliated and contemptuous of ourselves in situations of disgrace, defeat and loss which expose our limits.


We want an explanation for our pain.  The ego anxiously searches for meaning in the mistaken notion that in understanding we may find relief.  Jesus does not seek to justify himself.  His focus is not on the cause of his suffering, but on obedience to the One he loves and from whom he came and to whom he is headed in joyful reunion. Jesus does not despise himself, instead he despises that which seeks to humiliate and destroy his identity as the holy Child of God, in other words, his innate goodness and sanctity.  Jesus does not stop loving himself or God in his suffering.


To be beaten, to be rejected, to be abandoned and despised without beating, rejecting, abandoning, and despising oneself is to know oneself as a child of the Holy One.  To suffer, despising the shame, is to remain grounded in one’s essential goodness, even when one has reached the limits of one’s ability to do good.


A blessed lent to you and to Mr. Bricklin too.  May we all enjoy a happy death, a good rest, and steadily maturing transcendental powers.


This post adapted from Letters from the Holy Ground, Sheed & Ward, 2000, written by Loretta F. Ross (Ross-Gotta).
The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org
Contact the author lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross