Friday, July 30, 2010

A school for happiness

Artist: Frank Fox

It's long past time for me to recommend another book that has had a formative influence on me and so today I want to direct your attention to The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. This is Merton's early autobiography that was heavily censored by his superiors so as not to bring embarrassment to the community over the unsavory details of his misspent youth. Merton himself considered this an immature work -- and it is compared to his later offerings. Nevertheless this book is both a fascinating and illuminating narrative of one way a conversion experience can unfold.

Here's a brief passage that spoke to me powerfully when I was in the process of trying to discern my own vocation:
The monastery is a school -- a school in which we learn from God how to be happy. Our happiness consists in sharing the happiness of God, the perfection of His unlimited freedom, the perfection of His love.

What has to be healed in us is our true nature, made in the likeness of God. What we have to learn is love. The healing and the learning are the same thing for at the very core of our essence we are constituted in God's likeness...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Something about how people repent

Artist: Apollinari Vasnetsov

There are souls that in their narrowness blame the whole world. But overwhelm such a soul with mercy, give it love, and it will curse what it has done, for there are so many germs of good in it. The soul will expand and behold how merciful God is, and how beautiful and just people are. He will be horrified, he will be overwhelmed with repentance and the countless debt he must henceforth repay.

-- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Well, this may not be true for a sociopath, but I think it is for any marginally normal person possessed of a conscience.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An eloquent description of contemplation

Artist: Franz Marc

With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.

- William Wordsworth

Monday, July 26, 2010

Knowing and loving

Artist: Charles Sprague Pearce

Here is a saying by Blaise Pascal that I had not come across before today:
Human beings must be known to be loved; but Divine beings must be loved to be known.
I think it bears pondering.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A certain job for certain angels

"Council of Seven Holy Archangels"

You know, I think this may very well be true:

Most people don't know there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don't get too comfortable and fall asleep and miss your life.

-- Brian Andreas

Friday, July 23, 2010

Delight in everything and in nothing

Artist: Veniamin Ivanovich Borisov
Image from Wikimedia Commons

I see great suffering when people are caught up in believing that their happiness depends on external conditions. Here is an eloquent explanation of how and why this is so:

If you want to know what it means to be happy, look at a flower, a bird, a child; they are perfect images of the kingdom. For they live from moment to moment in the eternal now with no past and no future. So they are spared the guilt and anxiety that so torment human beings and they are full of the sheer joy of living, taking delight not so much in persons or things as in life itself. As long as your happiness is caused or sustained by something or someone outside of you, you are still in the land of the dead. The day you are happy for no reason whatsoever, the day you find yourself taking delight in everything and in nothing, you will know that you have found the land of unending joy called the kingdom.

-- Anthony de Mello

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Temporarily out of commission

Hello, readers. My trusty computer is in the shop and so I'm somewhat hampered in doing my normal blogging. I imagine I'll be back to business as usual some time on Friday evening.

Take care, everyone!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Faith and imagination

Artist: Nikolai Galakhov

It could be that our faithlessness is a cowering cowardice born of our very smallness, a massive failure of imagination. If we were to judge nature by common sense or likelihood, we wouldn't believe the world existed.

-- Annie Dillard

Monday, July 19, 2010

The messiness of life

Artist: Hildur Hult

The person who said this was, without a doubt, a tragic figure. (Click through on his name and you'll see what I mean.) But he certainly knew whereof he spoke:

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

In my humble opinion, we need to be okay with life being a mess most of the time. It's probably the only way to stay marginally sane. It's also probably the only way to cultivate a genuine acceptance and valuing of the sovereignty of God.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On choosing the better part

Artist: Johannes Vermeer

The gospel reading for today is the one about Mary and Martha who are sisters. Mary, as you remember, is sitting at the feet of Jesus and Martha complains about being left to do all the chores without Mary's help. The epistle reading is an exalted expression of praise regarding the nature of Christ which concludes by proclaiming the mystery that Christ is actually in us.

Here's a little passage from a sermon I preached on these lessons a few years ago:
I’m amazed at how many church people I’ve heard over the years brag about being a “Martha” and how many sermons I’ve heard on this passage which were centered on figuring out some way to vindicate Martha. Usually these pronouncements involve an analysis of the relative merits of active work and contemplation. And usually they end up with the conventionally wise conclusion that a balance between the two is really the better part, completely ignoring what Jesus actually said. Well, the balance solution does sound like a pretty good idea – if you’re sure of how to do it. But who is? Hey, if you’re proud of being a Martha, are you sure you’re sitting at the feet of Jesus enough? And if you’re proud of being a Mary, are you sure you’re doing enough active work? How can you be sure? So maybe this gospel isn’t about a judgment between prayer and action at all. What really is that “one thing needful” Jesus talked about? “Christ in you, the hope of Glory” says Paul, who has learned through painful experience that he cannot get the rules right, that only Christ can present him holy and blameless and irreproachable.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The flower prayer

Artist: Dora Hitz

What if you bought just one flower on a regular basis. And what if you tried this prayer practice:

Every time I saw the flower, I could see it giving its life for me and I could imagine my prayer being carried to God. That was true even when I was elsewhere and was just thinking about the flower. Either way, I had a strong sense my prayer was being heard. My flower and I were in union.

Sometimes it took a few days, sometimes a couple of weeks. When the flower finally died, I would take it outside, say good-bye to it, and thank it for giving its life for me and for delivering my prayer. Then I would bury it so it would have a chance at a new life, and I always hoped it would come back as an even nicer flower.

-- Sister Jose Hobday

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The role of pain in the life of faith

Artist: László Mednyánszky

I have admired Jean Vanier for many years now. The following is from a fairly recent book of his entitled Befriending the Stranger. I think the first of his books that I read was called Community and Growth and I highly recommend that as well.
We are called to share our lives with people in pain, to live a covenant with them. We have all met people who have been wounded in life. We have all been hurt at some point and at some place in our own lives. We need to deepen our understanding of our reaction to pain and reflect on that reaction. How do we react when we are faced with our own pain and with the pain of others?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How we treat one another


This is a very important assertion to consider, I would claim. It is one that can (and surely ought to) bring us to true compunction:

The way we treat another human being is the way we treat our Lord. That doesn’t need further explanation as much as it needs contemplation.

~ John P. Hahn

Sunday, July 11, 2010

That great ship, The Church

Artist: Edward Burne-Jones

I think this is very, very important. And I think many (if not most) of us in the Church tend to forget the message given here:

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.

-- Thomas Aquinas, Priest, Friar and Theologian

Friday, July 9, 2010

Listening at the gates of the heart

Artist: Vasily Vereshchagin

Then there is the listening at the gates of the heart which has been closed for so long, and waiting for that mysterious inner voice to speak. When we hear it, we know it is the truth to which we must now surrender our lives.

Beth Ferris quoted in Finding What You Didn't Lose by John Fox

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Touched in love

Oh, my. This gives us very rich material for reflection:

The Holy Spirit is our harpist, and all the strings which are touched in love must sound.

Mechtild of Magdeburg

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Honoring the generations

Artist: Richard Norris Brooke

I like this. It makes a lot of sense:

Let us take care of the children, for they have a long way to go. Let us take care of the elders, for they have come a long way. Let us take care of those in between, for they are doing the work.

-- African Prayer

Monday, July 5, 2010

Practicing the presence

Artist: Georg Flegel

The following quotation summarizes is the core of the 17th Century lay brother's approach to prayer. I have experienced this teaching as unutterably beautiful for many years now. Mostly, Br. Lawrence practiced this "simple attention" among the pots and pans of the monastery kitchen:

I have quitted all forms of devotion and set prayers but those to which my state obliges me. And I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention and a general fond regard to God, which I may call an actual presence of God -- or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God, which often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great, that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and to prevent their appearance to others.

-- Brother Lawrence

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Interdependence Day

Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

Today is Pentecost 6 but it is also the Fourth of July -- Independence Day in the United States. It occurs to me that something from this morning's epistle reading (from Galations 6) is especially appropriate for observing both:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
An article on the Sojouners website suggests we think in terms of interdependence today and steers us toward a blog post that goes into some depth about this.

We are all utterly interdependent beings from birth to death. We could not survive without microbes that help build our soil and the plants and trees that create oxygen and offer us food; we would never become mature adults without teachers and mentors; our cities would be full of disease if we didn’t have people who collect our garbage. More than Independence Day we need an Interdependence Day to celebrate our dependence upon one another and the earth, and our ultimate dependence upon God. We invite you to participate in a counter holiday on July 4th, a day on which we are declaring our interdependence.
The post then lists forty ways in which we can observe and celebrate this profound connectedness. Here are several that particularly caught my attention:

* Climb a tree and sit there for a long period of time, observing and documenting – in photographs, drawings, paintings, writings, etc. – the forms of life that you see from that vantage point.

* Look for everything you have two of and give one away.

* Attempt to repair something broken. Appreciate the people who repair things for you one a regular basis.

* Look through your clothes. Learn about one of the countries where they were manufactured and commit to doing one thing to improve the lives of the people who live and work there.

* Dig up a bucket of soil from your garden or yard, examine it, noticing all of the elements of organic matter, sand, clay, and the organisms that make your daily meals a possibility.

* Pray the Lord’s Prayer and commit to one concrete action to live out each part.
There are more, of course, and I urge you to click through and take a look at them all.

A blessed holiday to everyone.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Monks and Mystics

Artist: Sassetta

Reader Cathy got me to thinking the other day when she requested a list of books for spiritual reading. From time to time (hmmm... maybe on Saturdays) I propose to tell you about a book that has influenced me in my spiritual practice.

Today I'd like to recommend Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics by Marsha Sinetar. There's no particular reason for having chosen this one first except that it jumped out at me as I was examining my bookshelves for something with which to begin. I read this one shortly after it came out in 1986 and studied it with some care as I was in the process of discerning my vocation at the time. Here's how Sinetar begins the introduction:

My bias is this: ordinary, everyday people can and do become whole. They can and do live in ways that express their highest and most cherished values - values which also happen to be those most prized universally and collectively throughout human history. People who become whole are the ones who find completeness by consciously integrating inner and outer realities. This is a book about such persons, and about the way in which they manage to merge their inner truths with the demands of everyday living. It is for them, and for all who long for their own wholeness, that this book is written and dedicated.
And so, the book is about real people who are actually doing it. Sinetar interviewed a considerable number of people who lived alone by choice and who experienced their lives as devotion and calling. It is quite fascinating to learn of the various ways different people found to order their lives so as to support the yearning for wholeness, purpose and transcendence.

I offer another brief passage here - this one from the chapter on silence and solitude:

From both a professional and a personal standpoint, I have come to believe that adults can build a secure framework out of which to live their lives if - and it is a big if - they are willing to face the necessary work of inner regeneration: the pulling away, self-scrutiny and self-acceptance/self-trust steps which I've outlined... The person who fears his own thoughts, who needs others too much, who is overly self-critical or serverely attached to his own cultural belief systems and values may not be able to do this work.
This book is written in a very accessible way. It is for people who are really having a go at learning to be "in the world but not of it."

Friday, July 2, 2010

A call to be in transformation

Artist: Wilhelm von Kaulbach

I discovered Joyce Rupp some years ago. She is an experienced spiritual director and retreat leader who has an extraordinay gift for expressing the princples of these disciplines in words on the printed page and, as such, is also a prolific writer. Here is something she said in an interview that I like:

To me, the spiritual life involves the whole of our life, every single part - no piece can be left out. I used to think of most of my life as one part and my spiritual or prayer life as another. In fact, I used to think that the rest of my life took me away from my prayer life. But now I see that nothing can be left out of a healthy spirituality. Another piece is that it's always about relationship with the divine, but also with other people. So it isn't just a God-and-me kind of thing. True spirituality will always take me out of myself, and I do believe that authentic spiritual growth has to take me out into the world. It can't just be a feel-good pacifier. The spiritual life is a call to be in transformation, to become our true selves. That means it has to have an openness to growth and change. The word spirituality sounds like something static rather than dynamic. I like the term spiritual growth because it implies that we're always in process. We can never say, "OK, I'm saved. I've made it. This is it. I don't need to do anything else. I don't have to listen to what's calling me to greater growth or greater spiritual depth."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Simply gorgeous

Dear friends, please listen to this. You won't regret it.

I found it over at Paul's place. (Byzigenous Buddhapalian)