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.

But he was silent

 

But he was silent and answered nothing.Mark 14:61

Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.Mark 15:5

PalmsToday is Palm Sunday and we hear once again the Passion proclaimed in our churches. These two sentences struck me as I listened and prayed with the Gospel at mass on Saturday night.

Jesus’ silence says more than his words at these moments. And of course silence is probably one of the Continue reading

Terror, disillusionment, silence

What kind of title is that for a Thanksgiving post? Let’s step back for a moment so that I can explain.

First of all, I am not a big Alanis Morissette fan. Hey, I don’t dislike her, but her music was never held great pull for me. So what does that have to do with Thanksgiving or this blog? Well, she has one song that I absolutely LOVE. From the first time I ever heard “Thank U” I was turned around. The song came along a time in my life when the lyrics hit me in a particular way. Although my life has changed tremendously since then, the song still means to much to me. And the song is “Thank U” and it is after all…

THANKSGIVING!

When I was on Camino the song was often in my head. I did have it on my phone, so one day I played it for myself, a day near the end of the Camino. Maybe it was even our last day of walking?  Listening to it made me VERY weepy. One of the things that I did when I got home was to rewatch The Way – and imagine my surprise to find the song used in the film. At some level I must have known that, but it was not conscious.

Today on Thanksgiving I am deeply grateful for many things. Like some of what Alanis writes about in the song, I find myself as grateful for the difficult things as much as the good things.

Terror, frailty, insecurity, pain, challenge – what gifts these are! When I was younger I could not see the world that way at all. Life’s elements lined up into two categories, GOOD and BAD. Frequently I believed that the BAD outnumbered the GOOD by far. Poor me. Truth be told, some horrible things happened.

One day I was getting my hair cut and the woman who cut it at the time was listening to my usual litany of complaints about problems in my life, and about past experiences that had been so painful. She stopped what she was doing and glared at me… I could see both of our reflections in the mirror and I felt terrified because she looked so angry. Basically she told me that it might be helpful if I could see my problems in the context of good. The rest of the hair cut time passed in an awkward silence, but her words stayed with me.

Could I be grateful for terrible things, at least things that I perceived as terrible?

The answer, over time, turned into yes. Today I think of all that I am grateful for in my life and I imagine it in the context of what that cost my soul. Instead of seeing that cost as value lost, I see it in the light of what came forth. It is sort of like being buried in a garbage heap and making one’s way to the top. When your head emerges you can see and breathe! Where is the focus? The horror of being buried in the heap or the exquisite joy of making your way out into the air? Bye-bye GOOD and BAD. One cannot exist without the other, can it? A more holistic way of seeing, a more integrative way of living brings forth many gifts, garbage heaps and all.

Enough about terror and disillusionment, allow me to allow a word about silence. In our word of constant noise, chatter, social media, too many tasks, too many things, too much information, silence is a lost gift. For a long time I have tried to preserve ways of keeping silence. Some have worked better than others.

When I was on Camino I had extended periods of silence. Not just the hours spent walking in silence with friends nearby, but not in conversation, but also the silence that came from being removed from the quotidian explosion of noise. And by that I mean externally as well as internally… Real silence.

Maybe as we mull over what we are grateful for we can imagine new ways of being. God knows the world could use some new ways, right? We will all have different  ways of experiencing this. Sometimes our wounds are too fresh and new for us to gather in the horror and pain of life. Sometimes silence is the last thing a person needs because of their life circumstances. We are all on different paths, different “caminos” of life.

May you find some modicum of gratitude and joy today. And if you cannot, know that you are not alone in your circumstances. May change come to all of us, even if it starts with a hair stylist holding a pair of scissors and glaring at you with stink eyes! A little levity, but I am serious. We never know where our joy will come from, do we? Anyway, today I say thank you for many things. And I am very grateful to all of you who read this blog. Wherever you are in the world, know that you are part of my Thanksgiving, and I hold you in the heart of my prayers today. Thank You.

Nothing doing, doing nothing

kingsizehomer10Whoops… once again days go by before I post. Where do I begin? Not that I think that everyone (or anyone!) is hanging on my every word, but I do like to be faithful to this little blog and blogging community. There are many times a lack of posting indicates that I am in the midst of some busy-making, which in all honesty, I dislike. That said, I have my day job, and I do a bunch of other things on the side. Aside from needing the extra cash, I am given the gift of doing things that I really love.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I love about my day job, but the things I really love… teaching, public speaking, directing retreats, and even my marketing consulting get my blood flowing. It is all ministry oriented work, which is a great privilege.  (For the record, I seriously dislike the use of the word “busy” as some red badge of courage!)

That said, I do find that Continue reading

A Distinctly Disquieting Silence

silenceIt is a different kind of quiet. Not the silence of no one home for the moment, it is not the same as that at all. This silence has a depth and texture to it, heretofore unknown in these parts. I’m all for quiet, but this version… has a distinctly disquieting aspect to it.

Let me back up for a moment. When Mark and I married in 2007, his daughter Erica, a young woman who I was already very close with, officially became my stepdaughter. She was with us very frequently, always on Friday, Sunday, and Monday nights no matter what, and every morning. When high school started, she moved in with us pretty much full time, which was a gift.

When I first met Erica in 2004, she was 8 years old and she was at once timid and fierce. The day we met she had her face firmly buried in the safety of her dad’s arm. When he couldn’t get her to talk to me, I noted that I wished that I had someone’s arm to hide in myself! That made her laugh, and from there on in, we were set.

Part of our commitment to married life was that Erica would be a part of everything – and so she was. We truly embraced our commitment to one another as a family and we have been spending time together all these years. As she got older, she would be out or away more often, but she always came back. The silence communicated more of a “see you later.” The room in disarray, clothes draped on furniture, papers scattered, books piled up, and shopping bags everywhere.

EricaThingsThis past week the moment that we have all been waiting for came, and we dropped our beautiful girl off at college. This is a great time in her life, and in ours as well, but what an adjustment. The whirlwind that led up to the departure had us all in a high gear. Now the house is more orderly and very quiet.

Today it seems we are at a doorway or a gate, that opens to lead us all to new places. Who knows where we will go, but I do know this… for the moment, the distinctly disquieting silence shapes our days. We respond by doing our typical tasks and activities. None of this is bad, it is just different!

Today we hear the noise of no noise – a new sound that rings throughout the house and our hearts.

Retreat

QuietI just returned from a wonderful retreat at Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT, a place that I have long wanted to visit. A number of years ago, I did visit Litchfield a few times, but I have not been there in a long time, nor had I been to this place.

In the on-going embarrassment-of-riches department known as my life, (thank you God)  I was asked to help facilitate this retreat, which was being presented by a team. What a joy to be able to say yes.

For almost 48 hours I did not listen to a radio, watch a television, look at a computer screen, see or hear any news. What I did do was receive the grace to be able to fully sink into a real place of peace – a true retreat.

There were 18 retreatants, and 6 of us on the retreat team. My portion was near the very beginning so I really got to participate and relax with everyone else. The topic of the retreat was prayer, with different forms presented. There were no shortage of both aha and ahhhh moments. This diverse group of women was a joy to get to know; I arrived knowing only one of them and I left feeling my heart touched by many. God shows up in everyone, giving new meaning to the Catholic idea of “here comes everybody.”

LabWisdomDawnWe had a good amount of free time and I walked the labyrinth more than once. This morning I arose, heading out there shortly after sunrise. Oh, how I loved walking with the sun peeking over the hills and trees in the morning quiet, barefoot in the wet grass.

Returning around noon, I made two more turns, quietly praying the Jesus prayer at first, then making up a short prayer of my own. The space between heaven and earth seemed little more than a diaphanous veil at that point. Many prayer intentions and thoughts of friends and loved ones were alive in my heart during these two days.

Today I drove home in silence, relishing the quiet and peace. Now to find ways to continue to nurture this gift, one I have been actively trying to cultivate in the garden of my heart this summer. I am so thankful for the gift of retreat.

What would the world look like if we all had time for retreat, or at least some respite from every day living? Very different, I suppose. Very different.