Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The little things

Samaritan Woman at the Well

You know, I have never before thought of the ministry of Jesus in quite this way. It's very thought provoking, actually:

If you will study the history of Christ's ministry from Baptism to Ascension, you will discover that it is mostly made up of little words, little deeds, little prayers, little sympathies, adding themselves together in unwearied succession. The Gospel is full of divine attempts to help and heal, in the body, mind and heart, individual men. The completed beauty of Christ's life is only the added beauty of little inconspicuous acts of beauty -- talking with the woman at the well; going far up into the North country to talk with the Syrophenician woman; showing the young ruler the stealthy ambition laid away in his heart, that kept him out of the kingdom of Heaven; shedding a tear at the grave of Lazarus; teaching a little knot of followers how to pray; preaching the Gospel one Sunday afternoon to two disciples going out to Emmaus; kindling a fire and broiling fish, that His disciples might have a breakfast waiting for them when they came ashore after a night of fishing, cold, tired, discouraged. All of these things, you see, let us in so easily into the real quality and tone of God's interests, so specific, so narrowed down, so enlisted in what is small, so engrossed in what is minute.

-- Charles Henry Parkhurst

Monday, September 29, 2008


Did you know that Saint Michael is the patron of police officers? Here's a prayer on their behalf:
Dear St. Michael, your name means, "Who is like God?" and it indicates that you remained faithful when others rebelled against God. Help police officers in our day who strive to stem the rebellion and evil that are rampant on all sides. Keep them faithful to their God as well as to their country and their fellow human beings. Amen.

Christ in the stranger's guise

I first discovered this text from a choral piece I learned in high school. It is a Celtic rune of hospitality:

I saw a stranger yestere’en.
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place.
In the name of the sacred Triune,
the stranger blessed me and my house,
my cattle and my dear ones.
And the lark said in her song,
“Often, often, often,
goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.
Often, often, often,
goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise.”
You can find one version of it here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A poem for reflection


"I'll get it directly," she'd say, meaning
soon, meaning, when I can, meaning, not
yet, be patient, the world don't turn upon
your every need and whim. Or "the dogs
will be back home directly, I reckon,"
"the preacher will be finished," "your daddy
will see to you," "supper will be laid out"—
all "directly," which never meant the straight
line between two surveyor's points or
an arrow's flight, but rather, by the curve,
the indirect, the arc of life and breath,
and she was right, and when she passed
or was passing, I could not say which,
in a patchwork quilt, the makeshift room,
the sweet hymn notes sung neighborly
across the hall, she whispered, "Learn to tell
what needs doing quick as a bluesnake
and what will take the slow way, full
of care and mulling, be fair in every
dealing with beasts and people and all
else alive, and surely, my dear, He will
come for you in His good time, the way
He comes for all of us, directly."

-- by R.T. Smith

I found the poem here. You might like to click on the link that says "Meditation process" for a method of reflection.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The divine mystery in things

"Peaceable Kingdom"

Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

--Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Saint Sergius

Today is the feast of Saint Sergius.

Here is the story that goes with the above icon:
One night while St. Sergius was praying, he heard a voice calling his name. He was greatly surprised and, having read his prayer, he opened the window to see who had called him. A miraculous vision appeared before him. A great light coming from heaven made the night as bright as day. Once again a voice called him saying, “Sergius, you pray for your children and the Lord has heard your prayer. See how many monks have come together in honour of the Holy Trinity to be guided by you”. Then the saint saw a multitude of birds that were not only on the wall of the monastery, but also in the clearing surrounding it. The voice said: “The number of your monks will be as the number of the birds, and it will not decrease if they follow your path.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The meaning underneath the words

Here is one of the most well known quotations from the Sibyl of the Rhine:
Underneath all the texts, all the sacred psalms and canticles, these watery varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb, and flow of the music that sings in me. My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reserves of reverence

I've come across this quotation twice today and so I think maybe it's a good idea to post it:

A religion that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by traditional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

-- Carl Sagan

Of course, "such a religion" has already emerged but it is often well hidden. I refer, of course, to the mystical and contemplatative aspects of the religions we already have. Sadly, these aspects are often ignored or even disparaged by authoritarian, legalistic types of practitioners.

Ah, Carl Sagan, you are very missed, indeed!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumn is here!

Autumn arrived today - my favorite season! Perhaps these will explain a little bit:

"Behold congenial Autumn comes,the Sabbath of the Year."

- John Logan, 1748 - 1788

"Summer is already better, but the best is autumn. It is mature, reasonable and serious, it glows moderately and not frivolously ... It cools down, clears up, makes you reasonable ..."

- Valentin

"The winds will blow their own freshness into you,
and the storms their energy,
while cares will drop away from you
like the leaves of Autumn."

- John Muir

"Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn."

- Elizabeth Lawrence

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Real life theology

"The Dance of Life"

I don't think that the sort of theology that ties up every loose end or hands people unexamined certainties is very helpful. So you can see why I appreciate this:

Life isn't like a book. Life isn't logical or sensible or orderly. Life is a mess most of the time. And theology must be lived in the midst of that mess.

-- Charles Caleb Colton (1780 - 1832)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mystical prayer

"The Lovers"

Just as in earthly life lovers long for the moment when they are able to breathe forth their love for each other, to let their souls blend in a soft whisper, so the mystics long for the moment when in prayer they can, as it were, creep into God.

--Soren Kierkegaard

Friday, September 19, 2008

The flame of love

"Red Run"

Some time ago I posted a video on another one of my blogs about the painting elephants. These are elephants who were previously working animals and who have had to be "retired" as they have outlived their usefulness. They now live on an elephant sanctuary. They have been taught to paint in order to help raise money for their upkeep. Above is one such painting. Below is a quotation from, to my mind, the most astute psychologist of the spiritual life ever:

The flame of love grows as it is divided
it increases by being shared
from one, then two, then three
and darkness is transformed into glory
and the walls reflect its light
Share your flame!
Share your flame!

- St. John of the Cross

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Capacity for delight

"Still-life with grapes, flowers and shells"

I does not surprise me that a devout Quaker (someone accustomed to keeping silence) would have such a capacity for delight and appreciation:

I should express amongst my blessings how much I am enabled to take pleasure in the various beauties of nature, flowers, shells, etc., and what an entire liberty I feel to enjoy them . I look upon these things as sweet gifts and the power to enjoy them as a still sweeter. I am often astonished when my mind is so exceedingly occupied and my heart so deeply interested, how I can turn with my little children to these objects and enjoy them with as great a relish as any of them. I mention it as a renewed proof that the allowable pleasures of life, so far from losing their zest by having the time and mind much devoted to higher objects are only thereby rendered more delightful.

-- Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845)

Elizabeth Fry was a tireless worker for social justice - particularly regarding the humane treatment of prisoners. Somehow she managed to do this in addition to having eleven children.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Union with all that God is

An important part of embarking on the spiritual path is to realize who and what we really are. We are, in fact, made in the image and likeness of God. Here's a way of understanding this teaching that is new to me and I think it is very helpful:

One way of imagining the question of image and likeness is to think of a lock and the key made to fit it. A key and its lock do not look like each other, one is not a big version of the other. But a key is made after the image and likeness of the lock, it fits and meshes with it, it belongs in it and its purpose and destiny is to move in it. We are not miniatures of God... but our mysterious evolution influenced by the Spirit working in creation has made us able to "fit" the being of God, our beings match and mesh with God's. Our deepest needs as persons are met and fulfilled by who God actually is. Every aspect of ourselves as persons-in-relationship is blessed and completed by contact and union with all that God is.

--Martin L. Smith from The Word Is Very Near You

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The luminous value of "nothing"

As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the best things she ever said:

Reporter: When you pray, what do you say to God?
Mother Theresa: Nothing. I just listen.
Reporter: What does God say to you?
Mother Theresa: Nothing. God just listens, too. And if you don't understand that, I can't explain it to you.
Let us be careful not to use prayer as a commodity. That's not what it's all about.

Monday, September 15, 2008

And the rock was Christ

The mystical world view is one in which Christ is truly the All in all. "There is no spot where God is not." I love this image of the multi-colored, sweet tasting mountain:

One day I saw with the eyes of my eternity
in bliss and without effort, a stone.
This stone was like a great mountain
and was of assorted colours.
It tasted sweet, like heavenly herbs.
I asked the sweet stone: Who are you?
It relplied: I am Jesus.

-- Mechtild of Magdeburg

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The difficult, the beautiful


I now realize, God, how much you have given me. So much that was beautiful and so much that was hard to bear. Yet, whenever I showed myself ready to bear it, the hard was directly transformed into the beautiful.

Etty Hillesum quoted in God-Birthing by Michael Dwinell

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Can you lift a person's heart?

I think all of us know what it means for our heart to be lifted and also what it's like for our heart to be brought down. It takes a lot of sensitivity and observation and prayer and interior willingness to know how to lift someone's heart, I think:

... some things don't matter much. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person's heart--now, that matters. The whole problem with people is ... they know what matters, but they don't choose it... The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.

-- Sue Monk Kidd

Friday, September 12, 2008

Overcoming the world

St. Cyprian

Once Christianity became respectable and mainstream we Christians seem to have forgotten what it was like to have "overcome the world":

This seems a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view it from this fair garden, under the shadow of these vines. But if I climbed some great mountain and looked out over the wide lands, you know very well what I would see--brigands on the high roads, pirates on the seas; in the amphitheaters men murdered to please applauding crowds; under all roofs misery and selfishness. It is really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. Yet in the midst of it I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasures of this sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians -- and I am one of them.

--St. Cyprian

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Inward silence

"Listen to the Silence"

As I have said on my meditation blog, we are now definitely in a period of considerable national tension as the election campaign intensifies. It is therefore, very important to be intentional about maintaining our spiritual equanimity and centeredness. The following quotation is very encouraging, I think:

It is of great importance that you endeavour, at all times, to keep your hearts in peace; that you may keep pure that temple of God. The way to keep it in peace is to enter into it by means of inward silence. When you see yourself more sharply assaulted, retreat into that region of peace; and you will find a fortress that will enable you to triumph over all your enemies, visible and invisible, and over all their snares and temptations. Within your own soul resides divine aid, and sovereign succour. Retreat within it, and all will be quiet, secure, peaceable, and calm. Thus, by means of mental silence, which can only be attained with divine help, you may look for tranquility in tumult: for solitude in company; for light in darkness; for forgetfulness in pressures: for vigour in despondency; for courage in fear; for resistance in temptation; and for quiet in tribulation.

-- William Backhouse

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An ear that will listen

"Eli listening to Samuel"

To say that an unwillingness to listen is "the beginning of the death of the spiritual life" is a very strong statement, indeed. And I'm quite certain that it is true. Not only does this represent an utter lack of compassion, it closes us off from insight and receptivity. Of all people, Bonhoeffer understood this:

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words ... never really speaking to others.

--Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The wild wonder of God's love

"The Sending of the Twelve"

Why dogmatism is so unhelpful as well as uncharitable:

What I believe is so magnificent, so glorious, that it is beyond finite comprehension. To believe that the universe was created by a purposeful, benign Creator is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason. It is so wild that it terrifies some Christians who try to dogmatize their fear by lashing out at other Christians, because tidy Christianity with all answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God's love, a love we don't even have to earn.

-- Madeleine L'Engle

Monday, September 8, 2008

Another penetrating comment on prayer

"Monk in Prayer"

The "propserity gospel" that is often preached in today's mega-churches is a very troublesome heresy. My main quarrel with it is a pastoral one. It does not bother me hugely people want great blessings from God. That strikes me as both understandable and normal. Rather, it grieves me when those same people end up feeling forsaken by God when the blessings are not forthcoming. It is unspeakably cruel to teach people that God will shower them with riches and shield them from all adversity if only their faith is strong enough. Then when something terrible happens - a child dies or a dread disease appears - they have no consolation at all:

The childish idea that prayer is a handle by which we can take hold of God and obtain whatever we desire, leads to easy disillusionment with both what we had thought to be God and what we had thought to be prayer.

-- Robert Short

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The soul's house

"I am your man"

We are socialized, conditioned, to compartmentalize our lives. But it won't work to try that if we're truly on a spiritual path. Here's why:

Most of our conflicts and difficulties come from trying to deal with the spiritual and practical aspects of our life separately instead of realizing them as parts of one whole. If our practical life is centered on our own interests, cluttered up by possessions, distracted by ambitions, passions, wants and worries, beset by a sense of our own rights and importance, or anxieties for our own future, or longings for our own success, we need not expect that our spiritual life will be a contrast to all this. The soul's house is not built on such a convenient plan; there are few soundproof partitions in it. Only when the conviction -- not merely the idea -- that the demand of the Spirit, however inconvenient, rules the whole of it, will those objectionable noises die down which have a way of penetrating into the nicely furnished little oratory and drowning all the quieter voices by their din.

--Evelyn Underhill

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A language of flowers

I like Christopher Smart a lot - even though he was considered mad:

For the flowers are great blessings. For the Lord made a Nosegay in the meadow with his disciples and preached upon the lily. For the flowers have great virtues for all senses. For the flower glorifies God and the root parries the adversary. For the flowers have their angels even the words of God's creation. For there is a language of flowers. For there is a sound reasoning upon all flowers. For flowers are peculiarly the poetry of Christ.

-- Christopher Smart

Friday, September 5, 2008

The eternal youth of God

"Sun and Moon"

Oh my. This is just lovely:

A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough... It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again," to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again," to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike: it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

- G. K. Chesterton

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Loving our neighbor

"Two friends"

Oh my. What a wonderful question. What an important question:

The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to say, "What are you going through?"

-- Simone Weil

Sadly, many people believe it's okay, even commendable, to tell others what they should be going through. That is never helpful. In fact, it is hugely disheartening and discouraging.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The function of prayer

"The Prayer"

It has always bothered me when I hear people talk about prayer as if the purpose of it is to tell God what God wouldn't know otherwise and then to convince God how things ought to be. The following approach is more reverent, I think, and really about true submission to God:

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

-- Soren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Freedom from confusion

Here is an interesting saying from one of the Desert Fathers:

Do not want things to turn out as they seem best to you, but as God pleases. Then you will be free of confusion and thankful in your prayer.
Abba Nilus in Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers

I think it's interesting that the outcome of letting go of our own preferences is the freedom from confusion as well as gratitude. Perhaps that is because if we are constantly attached to our preferences we end up never being satisfied.

Monday, September 1, 2008

David Pendleton Oakerhater

From a letter by Making Medicine - known to us today as David Pendleton Oakerhater, whose memory we observe today:
I know god likes to hear little children pray to him for it was of these the Savior said, of such is the Kingdom of heaven and very often visit the sick almost every day. I tell about my heathen people I will tell about that he is the son of God. Some old mens to me he say how you know this is the Son of God in heaven. I study I find this Bible Say So. How you know for got good hearts but I say that Holy Bible Said repent Believe and obey. What it means repent he say but I say I repent believe and obey because I am Baptized and Confirmed and eat Lord Supper. again I say to them I am an Indian. but my eyes have been opened to see the light I love and go to the Holy house on the Holy day. I love to hear the Holy Book. The Great Spirit words. I have been washed in the water. I have eaten the Bread and drunk the wine of the Holy fellowship I love all the ways of the Great Spirits laws. I do not know much yet but I will go on to know. Perhaps I will grow up in his knowledge as the tall tree grows up, and up, and up. the white mens who have come to teach us are wise. The sacred men work with their own hands as well as learn and teach from Book So they are strong and wise and excellent that the Indian people all very much surprised to hear me they think that very good History of Jesus and God that is all I say to you
How very, very moving.

He knew such great hardship and sorrow. And yet he had genuine joy in his faith.

May we be strengthened by his example and aided by his prayers.