Tuesday, March 31, 2009

About the need to prevail

Some very serious challenges have come my way over the last eight days. It's hard not to worry about the future as much as I coach myself to return to the present moment, to trust, to let go, to relinquish. And so the following is something that I found very consoling, inspiring; something that provides a sacred confrontation of the sort that is truly encouraging:

Let us relinquish the future. Let us relinquish it to God, who upholds us in our pain, who frees us for doing what is faithful, but who frees us from the need to prevail….

-- George Hunsinger

I really like the point about freedom from the need to prevail. The culture we swim in tells us that if we don't prevail we are failures. Not so, says the Christ who tells us to lose our life in order to save it. Let it be so -- through Christ, in Christ, for Christ.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Searching and faith, faith and searching

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Carolyn Loomis sent me this wonderful quotation a long time ago and I happened to run across it again today:

When faith simplifies things that need to remain complex, instead of giving us strength to live with complexity, when it gives answers where none exist, instead of helping us appreciate the sacredness of living with questions, when if offers certainty when there needs to be doubt and when it tells us that we have arrived when we should still be searching -- then there is a problem with that faith.

-- Brad Hirschfield

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Interior Silence

I have long considered Mother Teresa to be a somewhat ambiguous figure even before she died and the private journal expressing her painful doubts came to light. I was troubled by her practice of witholding pain medication from dying patients, her collusion with the wealthy - no matter how corrupt - to solicit funds and, of course, her vigorous condemnation of birth control in areas of great poverty.

Of course, everyone on a spiritual path could be seen (at least by someone) to be an ambiguous figure, I suppose.

So with that caveat, I offer the following quotation which I consider to be very wonderful indeed:

Silence of the heart is necessary so you can hear God everywhere — in the closing of the door, in the person who needs you, in the birds that sing, in the flowers, in the animals.

— Mother Teresa in No Greater Love

The above painting is from an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London entitled "The Poetry of Silence".

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Saint Abo of Tiflis

Actually, I've never heard of Saint Abo before. I just thought this was a seriously cool icon! :-)

UPDATE: He was for real. You can read about Abo right here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lady Day

Embroidered bookbinding 13th century

This is the Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And so we honor her today - and every day - with the words of the Archangel, "Hail Mary, full of grace!" But let us not forget that this is the day of the Incarnation, the day that marked the beginning of all things being made right again by the Holy God:

Today are strains of praise sung joyfully by the choir of angels, and the light of the advent of Christ shines brightly upon the faithful.

Today is the glad springtime to us, and Christ the Sun of righteousness has beamed with clear light around us, and has illumined the minds of the faithful.

Today is Adam made anew, and moves in the choir of angels, having winged his way to heaven.

Today is the whole circle of the earth filled with joy, since the sojourn of the Holy Spirit has been realized to men.

Today the grace of God and the hope of the unseen shine through all wonders transcending imagination, and make the mystery that was kept hid from eternity plainly discernable to us.

Today are woven the chaplets of never-fading virtue.

Today, God, willing to crown the sacred heads of those whose pleasure is to hearken to Him, and who delight in His festivals, invites the lovers of unswerving faith as His called and His heirs; and the heavenly kingdom is urgent to summon those who mind celestial things to join the divine service of the incorporeal choirs.

Today is fulfilled the word of David, "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. The fields shall be joyful, and all the trees of the wood before the Lord, because He cometh." David thus made mention of the trees; and the Lord's forerunner also spoke of them as trees "that should bring forth fruits meet for repentance," or rather for the coming of the Lord. But our Lord Jesus Christ promises perpetual gladness to all those who believe on Him. For He says, "I will see you, and ye shall rejoice; and your joy no man taketh from you."

Today is the illustrious and ineffable mystery of Christians, who have willingly set their hope like a seal upon Christ, plainly declared to us.

-Homily on the Annunciation by St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, 3rd C.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Finding, hearing, seeing

I'm afraid I don't know which story or play this is from but I like it very much and it soothes and gladdens my heart:

We shall find peace. We shall hear angels.
We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Still more on joy

Fulton J. Sheen (1885-1979)

I do love the internet! The way one thing leads to another can be so serendipidous. Here's what happened. Normally I post a meditative picture on Meditation Matters each Monday. Today I found a marvelous photo of a waterfall on Wikimedia Commons and so I chose that. Then I went looking for a quotation to go with it and, lo and behold, found one by Bishop Sheen. I hadn't thought of him for quite a while but I used to love his television programs back in the 60s.

Here's something he said about joy:
Joy is not the same as pleasure or happiness. A wicked and evil man may have pleasure, while any ordinary mortal is capable of being happy. Pleasure generally comes from things, and always through the senses; happiness comes from humans through fellowship. Joy comes from loving God and neighbor. Pleasure is quick and violent, like a flash of lightning. Joy is steady and abiding, like a fixed star. Pleasure depends on external circumstances, such as money, food, travel, etc. Joy is independent of them, for it comes from a good conscience and love of God.

Steady, abiding, a fixed star. That's very lovely and very consoling whatever one's circumstances in life may happen to be.

UPDATE: I just read this about Bp. Sheen:

The source of his strength and his untiring self-giving came from his daily hour before the Blessed Sacrament, which he never once missed from the day of his ordination to the priesthood. Unbelievable but true!

I found it right here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More about joy

Deepest Joy

The following is really quite radical. Can you imagine not being able to imagine anything better for yourself than what actually is? That's what this is about when you examine it carefully and ponder its meaning and message:
I am to be so content with God’s will in every event, so pleased that his will is being done, that this fact means more to me than all he might ever use me for or give to me…. Truly, I am so content with all God does,… that there is not a cent’s worth of difference between my condition and the best I could imagine for myself…. You will have peace to the extent that you have God, and the further you are away from God the less you will be at peace…. Perfectly to will what God wills, to want what He wants, is to have joy; but if one’s will is not quite in unison with God’s, there is no joy. May God help us to be in tune with Him! Amen.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

How nothingness leads to joy

This is beautifully and precisely stated using very few words. If you only ponder the very first sentence - I mean, really live with that sentence for a while - it will bring you considerable illumination:

Wise men and women in every major culture throughout history have maintained that the secret of happiness was not in getting more but in wanting less…. This principle has nothing to do with being spiritual; it has to do with being happy. When people feel really joyful - just glad to be alive - it isn’t because they’ve won a washing machine on a quiz show, or been promoted, or underbid a competitor on a contract. It’s because they feel good about being who they are - as is, complete, not wanting anything. Joy, in other words, comes from nothingness.

-- Philip Slater

Friday, March 20, 2009


I may have shared this poem with you before (because I like it very much) but, if I did, it bears repeating:


It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

-- Mary Oliver

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blogging interruption

Dear Readers,

My computer is in the shop at the moment and so there will be an interruption in my usual posting routine. (Not sure how long that will be but I just didn't want anyone to worry.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I wonder

Western Rose Window of Washington Cathedral

Here's something I found today that is very sobering indeed because I know I don't live this way. And yet I would like to. And I truly do believe that this is the way we are meant to treat each other - are called to treat each other:
I wonder what would happen if
I treated everyone like I was in love
with them, whether I like them or not
and whether they respond or not and no matter
what they say or do to me and even if I see
things in them which are ugly twisted petty
cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept
all that and turn my attention to some small
weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on
that until it shines like a beam of light
like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust
it to burn away all the waste which is not
never was my business to meddle with.

Perhaps we can all start by wondering.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Yes, I know. Patrick didn't really banish the snakes from Ireland: there were none there to begin with. Still I love the symbolism of the legend!

The following is part of a longer passage sent to me today by Father Clyde Glandon:

The Celtic Church has always represented an ideal for those who have known of it; and not simply as a Golden Age of innocence and purity which, in the words of Nora Chadwick, has “never been surpassed and perhaps been equaled only by the ascetics of the eastern deserts,” but also, more importantly, as an alternative seed, “a light from the west,” perhaps obscure and even alien, but nevertheless powerful and true with the kind of reality we seem to need today. “If the British Church had survived” wrote H.J. Massingham, “it is possible that the fissure between Christianity and nature, widening through the centuries, would not have cracked the unity of western man’s attitude toward nature.”
Patrick’s main work, of course, was that of conversion, establishing bishops, churches and the seeds of monasticism. His success in this seems to have resided in his willingness to accept the indigenous traditions and conform his teachings to them. This respect and conformity the receiving wisdom then reciprocated. There is the story of the conversion in Connaught of the daughters of the High King of Tara. When these questioned him as to who the New God was, and where he dwelt, Patrick replied: “Our God is the God of all people, the God of Heaven and Earth, of sea and river, of sun and moon and stars, of the lofty mountain and the lowly valley, the God above Heaven, the God in Heaven, the God under Heaven; He has His dwelling round Heaven and Earth and sea and all that is in them is. He inspires all, he quickens all, he has mastery of all, he sustains all. He lights the light of the sun; he furnishes the light of the light; he has put springs in the dry land and has set stars to minister to the greater lights.”

In these words of St Patrick has been seen an epitome of the Celtic monk’s holy embrace of nature, his sense of “ecology.”

-- Christopher Bamford

Monday, March 16, 2009

Death, be not proud

Artist unknown

I well remember when I first read this sonnet. I was fourteen years old and in the ninth grade. My English teacher was auditioning people to represent the class in the upcoming Forensics (public speaking) competition. She simply handed me this sonnet and told me to read it in front of the other students.

Maybe that's why it had such an impact on me. The very first time I read it, I was reading it out loud and before an audience. And so it was imprinted not only in my mind but in my ear. It continues, after all these years, to affect me profoundly:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lent 3

Anyone can be angry but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, with the right purpose...that is not easy.

-- Aristotle

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The value of Pi and the Bible

It's International Pi Day! (March 14 --- 3.14---- get it?)

If ever you needed a reason not to take the Bible literally, today is your day! :-) The book of 1 Kings says that pi (the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter) is equivalent to 3.00. We all know now that pi is actually 3.14... (and then some to infinity). You can read all about it right here.

Now, the fundamentalists manage to turn themselves into pretzels explaining this one away. But isn't it more honest (and more faithful to the purpose of Scripture) to recognize that the Bible was never meant to be a science or math text book and then get busy really and truly living out its precepts ---- like the radical duty of hospitality, of justice to the poor, of loving and forgiving our enemies?

Just for fun, read up on Pi. The subject is quite fascinating!

By the way, today is also Einstein's birthday. Cool coincidence, isn't it?

Friday, March 13, 2009

There is no spot where God is not

I don't know if this is authentic or not but it's attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:
I once spoke to my friend, an old squirrel, about the Sacraments – he got so excited and ran into a hollow in his tree and came back holding some acorns, an owl feather, and a ribbon he had found. And I just smiled and said, “Yes, dear, you understand: everything imparts His grace.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Encountering Jesus through inner images

When I meditate on any scene in Christ's life, I make myself present to it. I imagine I am there, taking part in all the events, speaking, listening, acting. When I return to some scene in my past life, I relive it just as it happened with one difference: this time I get Christ to take an active part in it. Let me give you an example.

Suppose I return to a scene that causes me much distress. An event that brought me humiliation, like a public rebuke, or one that brought me great pain, like the death of a friend. I relive the whole event, in all its painful detail. I feel once more the pain, the loss, the humiliation, the bitterness. This time, however, Jesus is there. What role is he playing? Is he a comforter and strengthener? Is he the one who is causing me this pain and loss? I interact with him, just as I did with the other persons in that event. I seek strength from him, an explanation of what I don't understand; I seek a meaning to the whole event.

-- Anthony de Mello

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Becoming prayer

Portrait of a Young Girl with a Prayer Book

What would happen if we let go of trying to control the process of prayer and simply make ourselves utterly available to God?

When we have prayed prayers long enough, all the words drop away and we begin to live in the presence of God. Then prayer is finally real. When we find ourselves sinking into the world around us with a sense of purpose, an inner light and deep and total trust that whatever happens is right for us, then we have become prayer.

~ Joan Chittister

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Seeing God

The Eye Through Which I see God
Dear Readers,

Normally, I'm not particularly fond of sentimental stories like the one I'm sharing with you today. But I was stunned when I got to the ending of this one. It expresses the contemplative/mystical world view exactly:

A small boy once approached his slightly older sister with a question about God. "Susie, can anybody ever really see God?" he asked.

Busy with other things, Susie curtly replied: "No, of course not silly. God is so far up in heaven that nobody can see him."

Time passed, but his question still lingered so he approached his mom: "Mom, can anybody ever really see God?"

"No, not really," she gently said. "God is a spirit and he dwells in our hearts, but we can never really see Him."

Somewhat satisfied but still wondering, the youngster went on his way. Not long afterwards, his saintly old grandfather took the little boy on a fishing trip.

They were having a great time together. The sun was beginning to set with unusual splendor and the grandfather stared silently at the exquisite beauty unfolding before them.

On seeing the face of his grandfather reflecting such deep peace and contentment, the little boy thought for a moment and finally spoke hesitatingly:

"Granddad, I--I-- wasn't going to ask anybody else, but I wonder if you can tell me the answer to something I've been wondering about a long time. Can anybody - can anybody ever really see God?"

The old man did not even turn his head. A long moment slipped by before he finally answered. "Son," he quietly said. "It's getting so I can't see anything else."

-- Author unknown

Monday, March 9, 2009


I really like both of these:
God is not disillusioned with us. He never had any illusions to begin with.
One encounter with Jesus Christ is enough to change you, instantly, forever.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lent 2

Christian Zen garden

From this morning's gospel reading:
For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.
And take a look at this interesting translation/paraphrase:
If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will find true life.
I've long thought this to be the central Christian koan. A koan is a Zen teaching device - a paradoxical saying or question that poses a conundrum - to be used as a focal point for meditation. A very famous koan is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Here's a definition I really like:
A koan is simply the time and place where Truth is manifest. From the fundamental point of view, there is no time or place where Truth is not revealed: every place, every day, every event, every thought, every deed, and every person is a koan. In that senses, koans are neither obscure nor enigmatic. However, a koan is more commonly understood as a tool for teaching true insight.
Traditionally, the meditator will ponder the koan until the reasoning, problem-solving mind - the ego - gives up and a person's deeper nature is able to intuit how to comprehend and then apply the saying to his or her life.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Down but not out

The Convalescent

Well, the main difference is that I'm piled up in bed with my laptop rather than a book at the moment.

As some of you know, I have been felled by shingles. Not pleasant.

And so I give you this to think about:

Illness is the most heeded of doctors: to goodness and wisdom we only make promises; pain we obey.

--Marcel Proust

Isn't it interesting how that works? I, for one, am pondering it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

"That mingled pattern"

A view of Oxford
(where Dorothy Sayers was born and where she studied)

Today, for some odd reason, the name Dorothy Sayers came to mind. And so I offer a few things she said that seem appropriate for Lent:

None of us feels the true love of God till we realize how wicked we are. But you can't teach people that - they have to learn by experience.
While time lasts there will always be a future, and that future will hold both good and evil, since the world is made to that mingled pattern.
Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward we must believe in age.
The Church's approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?
If you've never read her detective novels, you've missed one of life's true pleasures. (And her theological outlook is embedded in them in a seemingly effortless way.)

Karen Armstrong on compassion

Dear Readers,

My friend David in Montreal sent me the video posted below. As most of you know, I keep three blogs. One is on meditation and I strive to keep that one deliberately non-sectarian. Another is political and I keep it as a private citizen. The third was initially intended for the spouses of Episcopal clergy in the Diocese of Oklahoma (although I consider it appropriate for anyone who's interested in Christian spirituality. It is about spiritual growth and reflection and draws mainly from the mystical and contemplative teachings of Christianity.) I have had a hard time deciding where to post the Armstrong speech and so I'm using it on all three blogs.

It's a little over twenty minutes long but I'm sure you'll agree that it is well worth your time. And I think you will also see why it is appropriate for all three blogs:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Risk taking

More and more I'm seeing Lent as an opportunity for cultivating awareness --- for breaking out of our "business as usual" patterns. It was close to twenty years ago that I first saw a Leo Buscaglia presentation on television. I was really impressed with him then and certainly "awareness" was a big theme of his whether he actually used the word or not.

Today, I found something he said that I like very much:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk being called sentimental. To reach out to another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk showing your true self. To place your ideas and your dreams before them is to risk being called naïve. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair, and to try is to risk failure.

But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing and becomes nothing.
I'm wondering today if one aspect of the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness had to do with urging him to stick with the "tried and true" -- you know, what definitely works. Political power works. Sensationalism works. Giving people what they want works. Jesus, when you think about it, was willing to take risks on a different way.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The ultimate answer

This is very, very reassuring:

There is no need to fear evil. There is every need to understand what it does, how it operates in the world, what it draws upon to sustain itself. We must not shrink from the knowledge of the evilness of evil. Over and over we must know that the real target of evil is not destruction of the body, the reduction to rubble of cities; the real target of evil is to corrupt the spirit of humankind and to give to our soul the contagion of inner disintegration.

When this happens, there is nothing left, the very citadel of humanity is captured and laid waste. Therefore the evil in the world around us must not be allowed to move from without to within. This would be to be overcome by evil.

To drink in the beauty that is within reach, to clothe one’s life with simple deeds of kindness, to keep alive a sensitiveness to the movement of the spirit of God in the quietness of the human heart and in the workings of the human mind - this is always the ultimate answer to the great deception.

-- Howard Thurman

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lent 1

The Temptation of Christ

We have now entered the desert of Lent on a spiritual quest of our own. Lent often gets turned into a very domesticated kind of pious self-improvement; I give up something that most respectable people think is a good thing to give up, at least for a time -- chocolate, beer, swearing, or somesuch -- drop a few pounds and maybe look a little more like what our culture thinks of as 'good,' and other than the purple on the altar Sunday mornings, hardly notice the difference. But if I want to experience this quest fully, I need to note for myself the ways in which the quest we're on for these forty days is NOT tame or respectable.
I don't think that Jesus spent his life after his Baptism trying to figure out what a good person, a good teacher, a good friend, a good leader would say or do and then trying to say or do that. I believe that Jesus sought the living God, claimed his identity as God's child, and let his life, his words, his relationships, and his love, even to giving of himself on the cross, flow from that identity as God's beloved.

Perhaps that's what God is calling me to do this Lenten season: to follow Jesus into that desert to listen deeply for what God has to say to me through my Baptism.

-- Sarah Dylan Breuer