Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

Do You Know What You Know?

Four Great Questions

The word is very close to you.
It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.

 I was putting away some of the books which had clustered around my reading chair:  David Brooks, The Social Animal; Contemplation Nation, edited by Mirabai Bush;  poetry by Wendell Berry, The Hunger Games; The Cloud of Unknowing… when I randomly opened one of the books and found Four Great Questions.

The questions are in the book, Yoga and Anxiety – Meditations and Practices for Calming Body and Mind by Mary and Rick NurrieSterns on page 102. I will tell you what they are in just a minute.

I find the world fascinating and cannot get full of the knowledge and wonder of it all. I usually am reading four or five books at the same time. Often what I read opens doors of understanding and appreciation. Other times reading confirms my own intuitions and understanding, or it invites me into whole new places and realities I have never experienced or imagined.

“He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He’s actually kind of dangerous,” a friend recently said to me about a young professional on his way up the ladder to “success.” Sometimes we do not know what we don’t know. We may then set out to decrease our ignorance, or remain self-deceived, uninformed, arrogant, and even dangerous.

On the other hand there are occasions when we don’t know what we know, which could also be dangerous. The questions I found on my way to my book shelves are aimed at uncovering truths we already know, but are ignoring, denying, or deceiving ourselves about.

For example, we may know more about what is the best course of action for us, than we allow ourselves to own. Sometimes I play dumb in my relationship with God. I will go back to God over and over with some question I really already have the answer to. Yet I insist on double checking, second guessing, and reconfirming. It is my anxiety and doubt that send me back for continual assurance. I almost seem to prefer wringing my hands and hemming and hawing, than striding confidently, calmly into the next step.

This commandment that I’m giving you right now is definitely not too difficult for you.  It isn’t unreachable.  It isn’t up in heaven somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will go up for us to heaven and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?”  Nor is it across the ocean somewhere so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the ocean for us and get it for us that we can hear it and do it?”  Not at all! The word is very close to you.  It’s in your mouth and in your heart, waiting for you to do it.   Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Common English Bible (CEB)

Four Great Questions

Sometimes we are not ready to face a truth for various reasons, so we choose to remain ignorant. These questions help you consciously acknowledge a truth that you know deep inside, or to bring into the light a nagging realization that keeps popping up.

1. (Fill in the blank) The truth about this relationship is ______________.

2. I know I need to _______________________________________.

3. The real truth is _______________________________________.

4. What do I know about myself and my life that I haven’t been listening to?

Take some time this week with these questions. Find out what you already know and let me know how it goes.  “The word is very close to you.”

Questions from Yoga and Anxiety – Meditations and Practices for Calming Body and Mind by Mary and Rick NurrieSterns

Still Not Enough? ~ Redux

Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough hope, not enough money, not enough jobs, not enough room, not enough love, not enough peace …

not enuf nuthin !

So goes the lie.

As the holiday season of plenty, hope, and generosity opens its arms to us, some of us brace ourselves, suspicious of the season’s glittering wares. The family, who lost their home to foreclosure, the unemployed factory worker, and other despairing and heartsick souls may feel plenty is beyond their reach and scarcity their new normal.

The media depictions of holiday cheer play on our insecurity and sense of lack. They insinuate that no matter how much we have, we do not have the latest and greatest. Advertisers lure us with promises of more. We may find ourselves stumbling after ghostly phantoms in the desperate hope that this year we might find that illusive wholeness we are seeking.

How does one feel whole and fulfilled, when one is more aware of scarcity in one’s life? Perhaps abundance in the midst of scarcity occurs for us as it did for Jesus, when he fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fish.

We welcome what we have,
however meager.
We give thanks,
and watch it multiply.

Practice a Miracle: The Welcoming Prayer

Here is a simple, yet demanding, exercise to practice such a miracle in your own life. It is called The Welcoming Prayer. It was developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of Thomas Keating‘s closest associates and a prime mover in the development of centering prayer. She based the Welcoming Prayer on the 17th-century French spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade as well as Fr. Keating’s teachings and her own lived experience of transformation with its underlying attitude of surrender. There are a number of variations on this prayer. Here is one.

FOCUS AND SINK IN:

  • Become aware of what is troubling you or occupying your mind. For example, your sadness, anger, or fear regarding scarcity of some kind in your life. Focus on your feelings, both cognitively and physically, noting how and where the feeling affects your body.

  • Instead of resisting, or feeling ashamed or denying, welcome the truth of what is troubling you. Welcome the feelings with curiosity and compassion.

LET GO: (Here is the hard part)

  • Let go of your desire for power and control over the situation. Release your desire to be “right.”
  • Let go of your desire for affection and esteem from others.
  • Let go of your desire for survival and security.
  • Let go of your desire to change the way things are.

REST :

  • Allow yourself to sink into the abundant flowing love of this moment.

The present is ever filled with infinite treasure; it contains more than you have capacity to hold. … The will of God is at each moment before us like an immense, inexhaustible ocean that no human heart can fathom; but none can receive from it more than he has capacity to contain, it is necessary to enlarge this capacity by faith, confidence, and love…French priest, Jeanne Pierre de Caussade

You may find the letting go section of the prayer difficult to do. One or two of the desires may be harder to release than others. Think of this as useful information about what things, other than God, are of primary importance in your life. Notice which desires might be getting in the way of your freedom in Christ. If you find you cannot release one of these, you might simply pray that God give you the desire to desire to let go.

The Welcoming Prayer invites us to trust in God’s presence and providence and to discover the infinite wealth of God available to us in each moment. “The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires,” writes de Caussade.

I believe this is absolutely true. Over and over in the midst of distress, I have wrung my hands about there not being enough of one thing or another in my life. Yet as I have focused and welcomed the feelings and my present reality, let go of my ego’s desires, and rested in God, my need has been supplied with an abundant depth and power that swept away all my grasping and anxiety.

I heard the geese honking at dawn last week. My dog halted at the door and cocked his head and we listened together in wonder. I love the sound of them moving over head, giving themselves to the skies. Trusting in their ancient faith they make their way.

In spite of all appearances to the contrary, I believe there is enough.

The Wild Geese

Abandon, as in love or sleep,
Holds them to their way
clear in the ancient faith:
what we need is here.
And we pray not for new earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart
and in eye clear.
What we need is here.       Wendell Berry

I trust in you, O Lord. You are my God.
My times are in your hands. Psalm 30:1

 

This post is a lightly edited version of a previous post. May this season fill your cup with overflowing goodness and a steady supply of all that you need!

Coffee with Wendell Berry

We meet at dawn when the air is cool and resonates with chirps and whistles, caws and clucks. A woodpecker drills down the block. The scalloped edges of clouds glow in the eastern sky.

Wendell speaks. I listen. Today he talks of man’s overriding desire.

The fullness of a cup equals
that of the sea – unless the mind
conceive of more, longing for women
in disregard of the limit
of singularity, gluttonous beyond
hunger, greedy for money in excess
of goods, lusting for Heaven
in excess, …

I put down my cup, avoiding his eyes, while he continues.

And so the mind
grows a big belly, a sack full
of the thought of more, and the whole
structure of enough, of life itself,
which is never more nor less
than enough, falls in pieces.

I stare into the mirror at the full belly of my mind, folded upon itself, captive by its hungers, stuffed, yet ceaselessly reaching out its restless tentacles to enlarge its holdings – a mind so full and yet so vacant, so satiated and yet so fretfully incomplete.

I see the whole structure of enough demolished, blown and blasted, and I in dull stupor, ignorant of the gracious sufficiency sweeping over me with each drawn breath.

Wendell sips and watches me a moment, as if to gauge my strength, and then goes on:

In the name of more we destroy
for coal the mountain and its forest
and so choose the insatiable flame
over the green leaf that within our care
would return to us unendingly
until the end of time.

Wendell, I say to the poet farmer from Kentucky.

Wendell. I reach across the table and take hold of his hand as though I were drowning.

Wendell,
teach me to tend the green leaf
before it is too late.


Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…  Philippians 2: 5-6

This post includes  excerpts from a poem by Wendell Berry, 2008, II, Leavings, p. 106.
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  • Stop It! (theprayinglife.wordpress.com)

Stop It!

I woke to a list of tasks and projects to complete – important, worthwhile, necessary duties.

But the Holy One said, “Rest.”

I argued. “Lord, I have to do this. I need to get that done. And the yard needs raking.”

“Stop!” the Lord said to me. Stop it.

So I turned on myself, flaying myself with guilt and shame. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get more accomplished?”

“Shabbat.” God said. Shabbat.  

We drain ourselves with too much doing, striving, and succeeding. We push past our limits and strain our bodies and make ourselves sick. The neglected soul shrivels and turns dry and hard like the dusty, wrinkled slice of apple I swept up from under my table.

Shabbat or Sabbath means literally to stop. Interestingly, the Hebrew “Shabbat” sounds a little like “stop it.” 

  

Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.                                                                     Exodus 20:8-11

What Israel learned from the fourth commandment is that Sabbath rest is an alternative to aggressive anxiety, writes Walter Brueggemann in Journey to the Common Good (pp 25-26) .

Most Christians think of Sabbath as a day of worship, which may actually turn into a day of production, activity, and achievement, as many clergy will tell you. Though church seemed long and boring to me as a child, endless Sunday afternoons at my Mennonite Grandmother’s home, sitting on a couch with prickly upholstery and listening to the clock tick was not an improvement. At least at church we had music. At grandma’s my brother and I itched and fidgeted to go outside and play.

However, at its origin, Sabbath was not about worship. Brueggemann continues, “It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”

To cease working for a day is an act of defiance in a godless system of aggressive production and accumulation. To keep Sabbath is an act of rebellion against Pharaoh’s kingdom of scarcity where there is never enough. To keep Sabbath is a statement of faith in the abundance and provision of the Kingdom of God, where sharing by all will mean scarcity for none. Finally, “to stop it” is an act of obedient trust in God’s goodness, as one rests and enjoys the wonder of all that God has made.

  

Recently, people, who come to me for spiritual guidance, seek not so much counsel or suggestions for how to pray, but, rather, the permission and opportunity to be still and rest in God.

A woman tells me, “I think what I need today is to just be quiet and for you to lead me in meditation.” A little music, Psalm 27, and an extended silence followed.

We sat together facing our internal distractions and anxious mental sorties away from our intention of presence to God. We calmed our fretful souls, and held ourselves steady before the voluminous mystery of love. Over time this Sabbath being, this doing nothing, will change the quality and the character of all our active doing. By disengaging from Pharaoh’s system of scarcity and anxiety, we root more deeply into the realm of the endless mercy and providence of the Holy One. 

Here is a god, who had so much fun doing and creating that he took a day off in order to rest and delight in his own handiwork. Then God, tickled with himself, commanded all his creation, including livestock and resident aliens, to enter into the joy of such rest. “Go outside and play. Take a look at what a marvelous universe I have made. I can’t get over how wonderful it all is.”

As the woman, who needed rest, and I participated together in the wonder of the gift of our being, the silence thickened, ebbed and flowed, smooth as satin and softly throbbing. We drank deeply from that well. When the session came to an end, we drew back reluctantly from the living water.

“You were very thirsty?” I asked. Yes, she nodded.

“Me too.” I said.

Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all
but undying love which perhaps
is not love at all but gratitude
for the being of all things which
perhaps is not gratitude at all
but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest.   
                                          Wendell Berry

May you discover the maker’s joy in your Sabbath rest.  

Shabbat Shalom!


“In returning and rest you shall be saved.

In quiet and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30: 15

This is the second in a series of posts this year on
Isaiah 30:15. Read the first post on this verse here:  Returning

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
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Love and the Wind

Farmer, poet, lover of the land – Wendell Berry:


I know that I have life
only insofar as I have love.

I have no love
except it come from Thee.

Help me, please, to carry
this candle against the wind.


One could not put truth more succinctly.
Isn’t this what most of us battle – the dying of the light?


The wind is a wily deceiver,
a furious demon,
a double minded,
shape shifting,
hair splitting,
breeder
of separation.


Don’t listen.


Pray for help to carry
the love we are blessed to bear.


We,
love,
and the light
are
One.


The wind is only the wind.
 

 

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
Contact the author: lross@fromholyground.org www.fbook.me/sanctuary
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Not Enough?

Not enough time, not enough energy, not enough hope, not enough money, not enough jobs, not enough room, not enough love, not enough peace …

not enuf nuthin !

So goes the lie.

As the holiday season of plenty, hope, and generosity opens its arms to us, some individuals are pained by and suspicious of the season’s glittering wares. The family, who have lost their home to foreclosure, the unemployed factory worker, and other despairing and heartsick souls may feel plenty is beyond their reach and scarcity their new normal.

The media depictions of holiday cheer play on our insecurity and sense of lack. They insinuate that no matter how much we have, we do not have the latest and greatest. Advertisers lure us with promises of more. We may find ourselves stumbling after ghostly phantoms in the desperate hope that this year we might find that illusive wholeness we are seeking.

How does one feel whole and fulfilled, when one is more aware of scarcity in one’s life? Perhaps abundance in the midst of scarcity occurs for us as it did for Jesus, when he fed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fish.

We welcome what we have, however meager. We give thanks, and watch it multiply.

Here is a simple, yet demanding, exercise to practice such a miracle in your own life. It is called The Welcoming Prayer. It was developed by Mary Mrozowski, one of Thomas Keating‘s closest associates and a prime mover in the development of centering prayer. She based the Welcoming Prayer on the 17th-century French spiritual classic Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade as well as Fr. Keating’s teachings and her own lived experience of transformation with its underlying attitude of surrender. There are a number of variations on this prayer. Here is one.

WELCOMING  PRAYER

Focus and Sink In:

Become aware of what is troubling you or occupying your mind. For example, your sadness, anger, or fear regarding scarcity of some kind in your life. Focus on your feelings, both cognitively and physically, noting how and where the feeling affects your body.

Instead of resisting, or feeling ashamed or denying, welcome the truth of what is troubling you. Welcome the feelings with curiosity and compassion.

Let Go:

(Here is the hard part)

Let go of your desire for power and control over the situation. Release your desire to be “right.”

Let go of your desire for affection and esteem from others.

Let go of your desire for survival and security.

Let go of your desire to change the way things are.

Rest :

Allow yourself to sink into the abundant flowing love of this moment. French priest, Jeanne Pierre de Caussade, describes this love:

The present is ever filled with infinite treasure; it contains more than you have capacity to hold. … The will of God is at each moment before us like an immense, inexhaustible ocean that no human heart can fathom; but none can receive from it more than he has capacity to contain, it is necessary to enlarge this capacity by faith, confidence, and love…

You may find the letting go section of the prayer difficult to do. One or two of the desires may be harder to release than others. Think of this as useful information about what things, other than God, are of primary importance in your life. Notice which desires might be getting in the way of your freedom in Christ. If you find you cannot release one of these, you might simply pray that God give you the desire to desire to let go.

The Welcoming Prayer invites us to trust in God’s presence and providence and to discover the infinite wealth of God available to us in each moment. “The divine will is a deep abyss of which the present moment is the entrance. If you plunge into this abyss you will find it infinitely more vast than your desires,” writes de Caussade.

I believe this is absolutely true. Over and over in the midst of distress, I have wrung my hands about there not being enough of one thing or another in my life. Yet as I have focused and welcomed the feelings and my present reality, let go of my ego’s desires, and rested in God, my need has been supplied with an abundant depth and power that swept away all my grasping and anxiety.

I heard the geese honking at dawn last week. My dog halted at the door and cocked his head and we listened together in wonder. I love the sound of them moving over head, giving themselves to the skies. Trusting in their ancient faith they make their way.

In spite of all appearances to the contrary, I believe there is enough.

The Wild Geese

Abandon, as in love or sleep,
Holds them to their way
clear in the ancient faith:
what we need is here.
And we pray not for new earth or heaven,
but to be quiet in heart
and in eye clear.
What we need is here.       Wendell Berry

I trust in you, O Lord. You are my God.
My times are in your hands. Psalm 30:1

What we need is here.

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Embarrassing Prayers

An Embarrassment

“Do you want to ask
the blessing?”

“No. If you do,
go ahead.”

He went ahead:
his prayer dressed up

in Sunday clothes
rose a few feet

and dropped with a soft
thump.

If a lonely soul
did ever cry out

in company its true
outcry to God,

it would be as though
at a sedate party

a man suddenly
removed his clothes

and took his wife
passionately into his arms.

~Wendell Berry – Leavings

Wendell Berry –  I love this Kentucky farmer and writer, with his deep affection for the land and generosity of spirit. I actually worry sometimes about his dying. He is getting older and I need him to keep going into his timber, where he observes Sabbath down by the creek. I need his passion for justice and goodness, which he keeps just under his worn jacket. I love it every time he tears off that jacket and strips down to show us the naked truth.

I used to say with the foolish assurance of someone newly in love with God, “If people knew how sexy God is, our churches would be filled.” Now I wonder if perhaps it is our churches themselves who don’t know how sexy God is, and that is why some are empty.

In the sedate worship circles I frequent, there are few passionate outbursts and everyone keeps his clothes on. If a God lover ever did rise up in some self-abandoned embarrassing expression of love, we would probably be appalled and call the police.

We have all heard those obligatory, studied prayers that rise a few feet and drop with a soft thump. I have prayed quite a few myself. I also confess I have been a perpetrator of prayers with an ax to grind: some pet notion or issue that wasn’t fully treated in the sermon or meeting, which the one praying attempts to correct. Perhaps, you have been assaulted with the prayer of someone, who is more concerned about setting you straight about some matter than entering into communion with the Lord of the Universe on your behalf. Then there are the quick and dirty nooners over lunch in a public restaurant, where you feel everyone is watching.

To the Holy One, I figure all our prayers are mostly childish babble, endearing scribbles in the sky.  I trust God loves them all, just as I still keep a box of my daughters’ childhood drawings and writing. Tell me, what are we, caged in our mortality, to do with this divine love, if not to slop it around like infants in a high chair eating our first plate of spaghetti? We are bound to be messy. More of us ought to be caught red handed in flagrante delicto with spaghetti sauce all over our faces.

Some Sundays I have an impulse to throw myself in an unseemly prostration before the altar on behalf of the people and the God I love so much that I can’t stand it.  I do not have the words to express the anguish, doubt, and fear I know some of the people carry. “Do something!” I want to scream at God. “Here take me, take my life, such as it is, ragged and tattered, and heal your people!”

Once, in a weak moment, overcome with love, I knelt in a Presbyterian church during worship. Presbyterians, as you may know, do not have kneelers in their churches or kneel as part of their worship. They express their passion by singing, something at which Roman Catholics, with their lovely genuflections and neat fold-down kneelers are generally less accomplished.

My embarrassment followed Holy Communion. After I received our Lord’s presence and love, I brazenly knelt right down in the First Presbyterian Church in Holton, Kansas. It was a little crowded between my seat and the back of my brother’s pew, but I just had to do it. Afterwards one of the elders of the church brought up my indiscretion at the session meeting, asking the pastor if what I did was “Presbyterian.” They haven ‘t kicked me out so far.

Saints, prophets, artists, and poets understand the passion of the human heart for the divine. These are persons, possessed and overcome with our Beloved, who often do and say things unseemly. Most people think they are a little kooky. Yet these same people, who hold mystics at arm’s length, regularly sing hymns with lyrics like:

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me
to thy bosom fly …

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing…

Who do they think they are fooling? I know there are hearts aflame with God in more than one gentleman in the back row, not to mention the middle aged couple, or bored looking teenager pecking at his cell phone. Most us, including clergy, are well trained to keep our passion contained. Nobody wants to be embarrassed for heaven’s sake.

As Wendell Berry writes, there is public prayer, which can easily slide down the slippery slope into performance prayer. Then there is the Jesus-recommended private, shut up in your closet prayer. (Matthew 6:6) I suppose the closet prayers are the best kind for taking off your clothes. The only problem with hiding our passion is that people may get the idea that God is boring and that being a person of faith is only a matter of learning some doctrine and following a moral code of behavior.

Not for the faint hearted, a life of prayer is a perilous enterprise. One can pray a prayer so lame it is an embarrassment, or one can simply embarrass oneself. I believe God receives all our prayers, both the self-conscious thumpers, and the self-forgotten soarers. God, being beyond shame, is not embarrassed by either. Would we could all toss away our fig leaves and go walking in the garden with our Lover without a stitch.

I hope there is a place, where you can strip down to your naked, vulnerable, cellulite- encased, pocked-marked self and open your arms to your Beloved in a rush of desire and groping hunger for holiness, truth, justice, and mercy.

We won’t peek. Just go for it. Lame or passionate, pray an embarrassing prayer today.

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