Thursday, January 31, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

When pleasurable feelings fade

Every spiritual director is familiar with the disappointment many people feel when they once experienced religious ecstacy or delight only to have those feelings later disappear. It is hard to help the person who experiences this disappointment let go of the attachment to feelings and learn not to confuse such feelings with God. Martin Smith speaks to this:
The mystics teach us that God is responsible for weaning us off the early religious “highs.” In spite of the stress of feeling so much less spiritual than we used to, the disappointment that God no longer visits us in special moments of closeness and consolation and insight, the end of the honeymoon is for our good. It is an invitation to another stage of intimacy with God, a more mystical one. And by mystical we mean one marked by a deep intuition that God is in and around every experience, not just ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ experiences. The onset of a more mystical sense of God can only come when we give up identifying God with this or that special type of feeling or event. It dawns on us that God is not one of the actors in life’s drama, entering the stage one minute only to exit again. God is the theater and the play.
Feelings are fickle. Let us appreciate pleasant feelings when they come but not rely on them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Prayer and the heart


When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than your words without heart.

~John Bunyan

Monday, January 28, 2008

Forgiveness

"Forgiveness"

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true, or beautiful, or good, makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, could be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our own standpoint; therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.

-- Reinhold Niebuhr

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Filled with love

The one who is filled with love is filled with God himself.

-- Saint Augustine

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where love is to be shared

Here's the text of a hymn I have not come across before:

God of all time, all seasons of our living,
source of our spark, protector of our flame,
blazing before our birth, beyond our dying--
God of all time, we come to sing your name.

Here in this place, where others have been building,
we come to claim the legacy of faith;
take, in our turn, the telling of your story;
and, though we tremble, speak your hope, your truth.

Spirit, who draws our fragile selves together;
Spirit, who turns a stranger to a friend:
be at the table where we greet each other;
be in the peace we pass from hand to hand.

Let us not die from poverty of caring;
let us not starve, where love is to be shared.
Come, break us open to receive your healing;
your broken body be our wine and bread.

--Shirley Erena Murray

Friday, January 25, 2008

"Faith"

We think having faith means being convinced God exists in the same way we are convinced a chair exists. People who cannot be completely convinced of God’s existence think faith is impossible for them. Not so. People who doubt can have great faith because faith is something you do, not something you think. In fact, the greater your doubt the more heroic your faith.

-- Real Live Preacher

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Agreeing and disagreeing


Here's something I found on the Spirituality and Practice site:

We must love them both —
Those whose opinions we share,
Those whose opinions we don't share.
They've both labored in the search for Truth
and have both helped us in finding it. —

-- Thomas Aquinas quoted in Imagining the Sacred by Vernon Ruland

To Practice This Thought: Make a list of people you agree and disagree with and then contemplate it with love.
That's actually a very intriguing practice. Hard but thought provoking.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Loving God for God's sake

"St Dominic in Prayer"

Here is the answer to those who are proponents of the "prosperity gospel":

Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow -- for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort. They do not rightly love God, when they love Him for their own advantage. Indeed, I tell you the truth, any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth.

-- Meister Eckhart

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Compassion and our own healing

"Compassion"
Artist: Dale Wicks
The call to compassion is not about somebody 'doing for' somebody else. Rather, its value is in the connection, the relationship, and the transaction in which everyone is changed. The Hebrew prophets say that we find our own good in seeking the common good. The prophet Isaiah says that when we feed the hungry, take in the homeless, and 'break the yoke' of oppression, then we find our own healing. He also says the act of compassion requires that you 'not hide yourself from your own flesh.' In other words, compassion means to recognize the kindred spirit we all share together. And the Bible insists that the best test of a nation's righteousness is how it treats the poorest and most vulnerable in its midst.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Will we be extremists for love?"

Was not Jesus an extremist for love -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist -- "Here I stand; I can do none other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice--or will we be extremists for the cause of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill, three men were crucified. We must not forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thusly fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

True Christianity

Little Boy from London

I found two wonderful quotes today that we'd all do well to consider when discerning how to live out our faith. The first is by Helen Keller:

It is wonderful how much time good people spend fighting the devil. If they would only expend the same amount of energy loving their fellow men, the devil would die in his own tracks of ennui.
The authorship of the second is unknown:

Present your religion to a little child, set him in the midst of those who profess it. If it frightens him, and freezes the smiles on his lips, then whatever sort of religion it is, it is not Christianity.
It grieves me when I think of the vast number of little children who have been truly terrified by the way religion was taught to them. I have spent time with such people after they were grown and I tell you most sincerely that those scars last a long, long time.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

O Eternal God



This is the music of Hildegard von Bingen.

English translation:

O eternal Lord,
it is pleasing to you
to burn in that same fire of love,
like that from which our bodies are born,
and from which you begot your Son
in the first dawn before all of Creation.

So consider this need which falls upon us,
and relieve us of it for the sake of your Son,
and lead us in joyous prosperity.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Anthony the Great, Father of monastics


Today, January 17*, is the feast day of a great monastic, Anthony of Egypt.

Anthony the Great, Father of solitaries, went into the desert and did battle with demons for twenty years. When he came out, his biographer, St. Athanasius, said of him that he was a man “all balanced, standing in his natural condition, and governed by reason."

Here's something Thomas Merton said:

St. Anthony, called “the father of monasticism”, was born in central Egypt about 251 AD, the son of peasant farmers who were Christian. In circa 269, he heard the Gospel being read in Church and applied to himself the words of Jesus to the rich man: “Go, sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come, follow Me.” He sold everything he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor and devoted himself to a life of asceticism under the guidance of a recluse living on the outskirts of his village. Around 285 AD he went alone into the desert to live in complete solitude. It was in this solitude and silence that Anthony heard clearly the Word of God for his life. After 20 years in solitude, Anthony
emerged “as one initiated into the mysteries of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit (he became) a physician given by God to Egypt through whom the Lord healed many people.” He died at the age of 105 in 356 AD and his biography, written by St. Athanasios...created an immediate literary and theological sensation throughout the ancient world.

*UPDATE: Whoops! I'm a day behind. I just realized that today is the 18th. St. Anthony's day was yesterday. Oh well!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Touching heaven

"Heaven"

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.

-- Johannes A. Gaertner

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Weeds among the wheat

"The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat"

From a marvelous sermon by Kevin Bean:
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable about a field mixed with both wheat and weeds, and about the owner of that field, who would not let his workers uproot the weeds from the wheat until the final harvest. Weeds among the wheat—an apt description of our fields—whether that field is our workplace, our neighborhood, our church, our nation or family of nations, or within the interior landscape of our own psyche.
...
Barbara [Brown] Taylor cites an example of this from an earlier day: “In one of the first crusades, knights from western Europe blew through an Arab town on their way to the Holy Land and killed everyone in sight. It was not until later, when they turned the bodies over, that they found crosses around most of their victims’ necks. It never occurred to them that Christians came in brown as well as white.” So because of the fact that we often can’t tell the wheat from the weeds, and that they are so often intertwined, we see that the landowner seems more interested that things grow than he is in a pure or clean or uniformly tidy field.

And it’s by living with wheat and weeds together that we who think we’re wheat, or think we need to keep it all neat, instead learn to live with a messier reality, one that calls for some humility and a slower rush to judgment. That calls for the growth it takes to live and work alongside those whom we wouldn’t otherwise choose to have in our field or garden, as it were.

So letting the weeds and wheat grow together may, in fact, be useful to the growth of all. In this parable, everything is useful—the grown wheat for making bread, and the weeds for fuel to bake the bread. In a messy field, in a mixed community, we can’t just take everything for granted, or assume that one person or group is useless. We see in a mixed community that it takes greater effort. We all have to grow up a bit more and discover in that maturing process just who each of us is, and who we are as a community, what we believe, and how we are to act in such a mixed multitude. By being with others not like us—who have different perspectives and identities than our own—it calls us all the more to seek and find and grow into our own identity, an identity which can then, with a clearer sense of self, love all the more the neighbor who is not like us, as we love ourselves all the more.

So if we devote ourselves to being the wheat we are, rather than spending all our time attacking the weeds, that is what the landowner intended. If all we do is try to attack the weeds, we run the risk of turning into weeds ourselves, becoming full of prickles or poison—good people who turn into bad people trying to put the bad people out of business.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A cure for irritation


Today as I was preparing for tonight's ongoing meditation class, I came across the following story told by Richard W. Chilson, an author and Paulist priest:

I remember an embarrassing incident that brought to mind that the 'enemy' is my brother. I was driving home on the freeway and as I approached my exit a car dawdled in front of me. Too late to pass him; I was stuck following: as usual I was in a hurry. That driver inspired in me a whole slew of invectives. Spewing epithets I pulled up alongside at the stoplight by the exit. I looked over only to discover a dear friend. Instantly the situation changed although I had not done anything public to express my rage, I felt ashamed and guilty. How could I think these things about him? I had seen him as an obstacle, not a brother. It is the same with the other no matter the situation, from the person ahead of us in line, to our age-old enemy. Whoever it is, they have the same concerns, fears, gifts, and shortcomings we all do. Just another human being trying to do their best, a fellow sufferer of life, a brother or sister at heart, at least in the heart of God.

The pracitice that is recommended after reading the above story is this one: Whenever you get irritated by others' behavior, stop and consider if you would feel the same if they were your dear friends. Try to identify what you have in common with them.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mystery

Divine Mystery

Mystery, from the Greek word mysterion, is not about what we can solve but about what astonishes us in splendor and horror: that part of creation that can be experienced but never completely explained. This spiritual understanding of mystery is quite different from our common, everyday understanding of the term. Mysterion is about experiencing mystery as awe, not just as something secret and hidden.

— Stephen Kendrick in Holy Clues

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Epiphany I


Today, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, is the day our attention is focused on the baptism of Jesus.

I found the following blessing at the end of sermon notes for this day:

May the water of Baptism enliven you;
may the faith of Baptism strengthen you;
may the community of the Baptized support you;
and may Christ who was Baptized for you keep you in the love of the Father.
We cannot pull ourselves up by our own boot straps, we cannot change our hearts, and we cannot give ourselves life. So, O Holy Spirit, we look to you. Amen.
And here's something about the baptismal vocation from a sermon by Sarah Dylan Breuer:

On some level, I think that we all know that the world as our worldly powers have ordered it is not working, is not giving the human family abundant life as we were created and still ache for.

And I believe this is part of the Good News of our Baptism. If some part of you believes that the world as it is on the front page of the newspaper is not the world as it was meant to be, you're not crazy and you're not just a starry-eyed idealist; you are feeling God's call in Baptism. If some part of you wants something more than the chance to achieve enough to feel pressured to achieve more or to defend what you thought you won, you're not just greedy or lazy or odd; you're feeling God's call in Baptism. And if you feel at times that the world and the life you're aching for is more than you could bring into being by your own achievement, even if you wanted it only for yourself and those you care about (and who can restrict caring to just a few?), you haven't run into the thing that makes the dream impossible; you just might be hearing the call of Baptism.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ethiopian orthodox church song



I gather from the images that this song is mostly about Elijah's ascension.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The ubiquity of the Beloved

My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
The strange islands,
The roaring torrents,
The whisper of the amorous gales;
The tranquil night
At the approaches of the dawn,
The silent music,
The murmuring solitude,
The supper which revives, and enkindles love.

- St. John of the Cross

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The spiritual nature of art


From the Spirituality and Practice website:

All art that really draws us to look at it deeply is spiritual. Art accepts all the sadness, and transforms it implicitly affirming that beauty is essentially the presence of God.


Sister Wendy Beckett in The Mystical Now


To Practice This Thought: Intentionally look for the presence of God in the next painting, sculpture, movie, play, poem, or dance you see.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cosmos, joy, memory, everything

The Stars in their Courses

Primary Wonder

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing their colored clothes; caps and bells.

And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng's clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that o Lord,
Creator, Hallowed one, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

-- Denise Levertov

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Silence, my teacher


I love the way Karen Armstrong writes. Here is something she said about the true luminosity of silence:

I had resented the solitude of my life and fought it. But gradually the enveloping quiet became a positive element, almost a presence, which settled comfortably and caressingly around me like a soft shawl. It seemed to hum, gently but melodiously, and to orchestrate the ideas that I was contending with, until they started to sing too, to vibrate and reveal an unexpected resonance. After a time I found that I could almost listen to the silence which had a dimension all of its own. I started to attend to its strange and beautiful texture, which, of course, it was impossible to express in words. I discovered that I felt at home and alive in silence, which compelled me to enter my interior world and walk around there. Without the distraction of constant conversation, the words on the page began to speak directly to my inner self. They were no longer expressing ideas that were simply interesting intellectually, but were talking directly to my own yearning and perplexity. I was no longer just grabbing concepts and facts from my books, using them as fodder for the next interview, but learning to listen to the deeper meaning that lay quietly and ineffably beyond them. Silence itself had become my teacher. . . .

-- From The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness

Monday, January 7, 2008

The real work


When the song of the angels is stilled
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
When the shepherds are back with their flocks
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among the people
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Epiphany Antiphons

Epiphany

Today the church is joined to her heavenly spouse, for Christ washed her in the River Jordan; the magi hasten with gifts to this royal wedding feast; and the guests rejoice in the water that is made wine. Alleluia!

By three mysteries is this day we celebrate adorned: Today the star led the magi to the crib; today wine is made from water at the wedding feast; today Christ wanted to be baptized by John in the Jordan to save us all. Alleluia!

An astounding mystery is proclaimed today: two natures are made anew. The Divine becomes human: what God was, God remains; what God was not, God takes on, suffering neither confusion nor division. Alleluia!

Happy Epiphany!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The rabbi speaks


Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Here's something he said in the London Times today:
Have you made your new year resolutions? If not, try the following. Each is potentially life changing.

1. Give thanks. Once a day take quiet time to feel gratitude for what you have, not impatience for what you don’t have. This alone will bring you halfway to happiness. We already have most of the ingredients of a happy life. It’s just that we tend to take these for granted and focus on unmet wants, unfulfilled desires. Giving thanks is better than shopping – and cheaper too.

2. Praise. Catch someone doing something right and say so. Most people, most of the time, are unappreciated. Being recognised, thanked and congratulated by someone else is one of the most empowering things that can happen to us. So don’t wait for someone to do it for you: do it for someone else. You will make their day, and that will help to make yours.
...
8. Learn to listen. Often in conversation we spend half our time thinking of what we want to say next instead of paying attention to what the other person is saying. Listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone else. It means that we are open to them, that we take them seriously and that we accept graciously their gift of words.

9. Create moments of silence in the soul. Liberate yourself, if only five minutes daily, from the tyranny of technology, the mobile phone, the laptop and all the other electronic intruders, and just inhale the heady air of existence, the joy of being.
Needless to say, I really approve of the advice about creating moments of silence.

You can check out the other six suggestions by clicking through to his article which is called "Count your blessings and begin to change your life."

Friday, January 4, 2008

It behooves us to travel softly...

The Old Guitar Player

Oh my. I was browsing in a collection of quotes on silence and I discovered this by an unknown author:
Life wounds all of us. At best there is sorrow enough to go round. Yet because the deepest wounds are those of the soul and hidden to mortal sight, we keep hurting each other day by day, inflicting wounds that time mercifully scars over. But the scars remain, ready at a touch to throb angrily and ache again with the old gnawing wild pain. You remember that day in school when the teacher laughed? You were only a little fellow, shy and silent, sitting in the shadow of the big boys, wistfully looking toward the day when you would shine as they did. That day you were sure your chance had come. You were sure that you had just what the teacher wanted on the tip of your tongue, and you jumped up and shouted it out loudly and eagerly, triumphantly - and you were very, very wrong. There followed a flash of astonishment, an instant of dreadful silence, and then the room rang with mirth. You heard only the teacher's laughter, and it drowned your heart. Many years have gone over head since that day, but the sight of a little lad trudging along to school brings it back, and the old pain stirs and beats against the scar. You cover it over, hush it to quiet once more with a smile. "I must have been funny. She couldn't help it." But you wish she had. And there was that time when your best friend failed you. When the loose-tongued gossips started the damaging story and he was pressed for a single word in your defense, he said, "Oh, he's all right. Of course, he's all right, but I don't want to get mixed up in this thing. Can't afford it. Have to think of my own name and my own family, you understand. Good fellow, but I have to keep out of this." You felt forsaken. For weeks and weeks you carried the pain in your heart. The story was bad enough but would right itself. The idea that he should fail you, that he had not, rushed to your side at the first hint of trouble was bad enough, was unbearable. He came back again after it was all over, but the sight of him renewed the ache in your breast and the throb of pain in your throat. The scar was thin, and the hurt beneath it quivered. We all bear scars. Life is a struggle, and hurts must come. But why the unnecessary ones? Why hurt the souls of little children? Why say things to them that they must remember with pain all their lives? Why say the smart, tart thing that goes straight to the heart of someone we love because we would relieve ourselves of the day's tension and throw off a grain of the soul's bitterness? Who are we to inflict wounds and suffering and scars on those about us? Staggering, blind mortals, groping our way from somewhere "here" to somewhere "there" conscious of little but the effort to stay "here" a little longer! It behooves us to travel softly, regardful of one another's happiness, particularly where our path crosses that of those dependent upon us for comfort or enters into the heart of little children.
Yes, let us be "regardful of one another's happiness" as we are able. Surely this is what is meant by "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Silence

Silence and light

"For God alone my soul in silence waits," is the beginning of Psalm 62.

A very wise bishop once said to me, "Silence is the language of God; anything else is a bad translation."

The question is raised, therefore, are we willing to become acquainted with silence?

Out of curiosity I happened to run a search on the word itself and found an interesting entry on Wikipedia. Here's something from that article:
A silent mind, freed from the onslaught of thoughts and thought patterns, is both a goal and an important step in spiritual development. Inner silence is understood to bring one in contact with the divine or the ultimate reality of this moment. All religious traditions imply the importance of being quiet and still in mind and spirit for transformative and integral spiritual growth to occur.
Try cultivating a taste for silence - even if you only practice this for five minutes a day. I assure you that you will reap benefit from it in your spiritual life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Staying afloat

I must say, I love this lady:

My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear. When I look back at some of these early resting places--the boisterous home of the Catholics, the soft armchair of the Christian Science mom, adoption by ardent Jews--I can see how flimsy and indirect a path they made. Yet each step brought me closer to the verdant pad of faith on which I somehow stay afloat today.

-- Anne Lamott

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Feast of the Holy Name


And after eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called JESUS, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.

--Luke 2:21

How interesting that on the Feast of the Holy Name I should find an article on the CNN website about baby name remorse. That's right. Sometimes parents name a baby and then change their minds. Going through all the legal hassle of assigning the name they finally decide on can be quite an enterprise.

There was no question, however, about the name of Jesus. It means "the Lord is salvation". How wonderful.

Like many of you, I'm sure, I grew up with the custom of bowing my head slightly at the name of Jesus - especially during the creed. Here's something I just found out:

The custom of bowing the head at the mention of His Name was formally written into law at the Second Council of Lyons, A.D. 1274, convened by Pope Gregory X: "Those who assemble in church should extol with an act of special reverence that Name which is above every Name, than which no other under Heaven has been given to people, in which believers must be saved, the Name, that is, of Jesus Christ, Who will save His people from their sins. Each should fulfil in himself that which is written for all, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow; whenever that glorious Name is recalled, especially during the sacred Mysteries of the Mass, everyone should bow the knees of his heart, which he can do even by a bow of his head."

Here's something else worth reminding ourselves about:

The IHS monogram is an abbreviation or shortening of Jesus' name in Greek to the first three letters. Thus ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, ιησυς (iēsus, "Jesus"), is shortened to ΙΗΣ (iota-eta-sigma), sometimes transliterated into Latin or English characters as IHS or ΙΗC.

And, remember, in ancient times it was strongly believed that to know someone's true name gave you access to that person's nature and power. Let us honor this name and cultivate genuine devotion to it - today and always.