Things I am pondering…

Wisdom House, Litchfield CT July 2014

Today I am wondering about how compartmentalizing our spiritual life keeps us from God. Many of us seem to think that the place to pray is Church, perhaps at mass. I’ve heard the remark that mass is “my time with God.” While I do understand that, and have thought it myself, I have to wonder how this harms our spiritual growth and well-being.

This is not to say that mass is not time with God, but it is time with God in community. For me, I see it as a rather large, raucous, dinner party with Jesus. I love time alone with God, but mass is not where I expect it.

This is not meant to be a post delineating liturgical elements and ecclesiology. Maybe we will do that another day, but today I am pondering the nearly invisible but resilient fabric of integrated spiritual life. It is something I long for, gratefully something I glimpse, but it can appear to be elusive.

This got me wondering about how I compartmentalize, without fully understanding the utterly shocking reality of Christ in the most mundane and often annoying moments of life. Doing the grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom, dealing with a difficult person, and so forth. How many times am I sitting in a meeting as a sense of growing testiness rises up within me because I am impatient, thinking to myself “I can’t wait to go on retreat.”

If I cannot experience the presence of God in all moments and all things, how can I expect to find God at a monastery or retreat house?

Of course retreats, mass, spiritual direction, and other such pursuits are important. However, today I am hoping to smooth out the ridges that keep me from traversing the ordinary and the holy in one journey. Maybe my need for this day is to experience the “Quiet Area” that is deep within my heart, rather than seeking it as part of something external.

What is your quiet area? The one in your heart and the one outside. How can any of us stitch the interior and exterior together with the thread of God in our very being into a quilt of holy integration?

This will be my prayer today. Will you join me?

Silence, stillness, solitude

This week I listened to an exception episode of an outstanding podcast. If you have never listened to “Encountering Silence,” I cannot recommend it enough. Hosts Cassidy, Kevin, and Carl spoke with that font of spiritual wisdom, Joyce Rupp. This is an episode I am sure I will listen to again, and I have already recommended it to several friends.

Labyrinth, National Shrine of St Therese, Juneau, AK – a place of exceptional silence and grace.

One of the things that most struck me was when Sr. Joyce spoke about silence and stillness. She was talking about how silence is one thing, but stillness is something else entirely. This is one of those things that I not given much thought to, so it made me stop and reflect.

Silence is a necessity to me. By nature, I am a kind of noisy person, but my nature also means having adequate amounts of silence in my day. My mornings are spent in silence as I awaken first and sit quietly, reading, praying, writing, thinking. You may notice a clear lack of stillness in that mix – more on that in a minute. If I do not get that quiet time, my day is simply off. People wonder why I wake up so early, but it is as necessary as a medication is for a chronic condition. Without it, I would not find the solitude that I require to be present in life.

My woods, my outdoor monastery.

I also like to walk, and while I used to always walk and listen to a podcast, I now generally walk in silence. After a hectic day at work, being in the forest, listening to the breeze in the trees, the birds singing, the movement of woodland creatures under the brush is all a healing balm to me. This is a kind of silence, but once again, not necessarily stillness.

Listening to the podcast reminded me that I might want to incorporate periods of stillness into my silence. I’m wondering what you all might think about this topic. Do you pursue intentional silence? Is stillness a practice in your life? What contemplative paths do you follow? I’m curious to see if we can find some conversation about this – even though the topic is silence. After all, know more about how we each live our silence might help us all.

Happy Mardi Gras, Fasching, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday or whatever you call it…

Oh such memories of Tuesdays filled with God knows what. I have never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, although I have been to N’awlins plenty… But I have had more than one very Mardi Gras I can tell you.

One of my very, very best Fat Tuesday experiences was in Villingen-Schwenningen, a town in the Black Forest region of Germany. It was crazy and so much fun – the photos tell the story!

Then, like some cruel game of musical chairs  – the party stops.

It is Lent. No place to sit.

Today we are in a lush, colorful land, filled with sparkly objects and noise. It is filled with shiny things that delight and distract me.

Tomorrow I shall round a bend into the desert, stark, looming and so silent. It seems dead, but I know that it is filled with life. The silence is a reminder of all the sound within me. That sound asks to be made still. This is easier said than done.

I like what Anne Lamott says about the desert in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

“Father Tom loves the desert. A number of my friends do. They love the skies that pull you into infinity, like the ocean. The love the silence, and how, if you listen long enough, the pulse of the desert begins to sound like the noise your finger makes when you run it around the rim of a crystal glass. The love the scary beauty – snakes, lizards, scorpions, the kestrels and hawks. The love the mosaics of water-swashed pebbles on the desert floor, small rocks that cast huge shadows, a shoot of vegetation here, a wildflower there.”

I know that I do love the desert. New Mexico. Arizona. Nevada. Texas. California. Israel. Jordan. I have never been in a desert that I did not love, a desert that – in its barrenness did not somehow fill me, but fill me differently.

The desert fills me with my own emptiness to ponder and pray with. That is Lent, for me.

Here are some of my own desert images…

The desert at Petra, Jordan, taken by me in July 2006.

Here is the desert at Wadi Rum, Jordan, taken by me, earlier that same day.

 And here is Arizona… the silence is remarkable at the Grand Canyon.