Thursday, May 27, 2010

Purity of the flower

The Easter Lilies are in full bloom in the Prayer Garden at my church. Our office manager said yesterday: "They are so pure. Their purity always makes me smile."


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Feeling the pain of the world": a mystical experience

I had an opportunity yesterday to talk to some folks in my church about spirituality.  We took Corinne Ware's "spiritual types" test and it evoked some great conversation. 

One thing I talked about (although I wish I'd said it better and expanded on it) was how spiritual depth means being OPEN to both joy and pain. 

This wasn't the direction I took, but I remember once, years ago, when I was doing some heavy-duty inner work, how this thought came to me:  "I'm feeling the pain of the world."  Everything seemed so very bleek and dismal.  The Middle East was in crisis, I'd heard news reports of children being beaten up by their parents, and personally I was in a relationship with a man whose "love" for me wasn't exactly healthy.  Dark.  The world seemed exceedingly dark.

But that sense that I could feel the pain of the world was so strong.  And yet it wasn't ... it wasn't something I couldn't handle.  Such a mystery.  It was as if I was bearing the pain of the whole world, but it wasn't unbearable.  My soul was expansive and touched the Divine, and pain, while excrutiating, became simply pain, and not something that I had to immediately push away.

Pain was simply another experience.  It wasn't that I was masochistic; I didn't feel I deserved the pain and I didn't want the pain.  But it was there, and its presence wasn't repulsive to me.  Inextricably the whole experience was a spiritual high.  I know that sounds impossible, but I feel it was a real gift to me.  In the midst of it all I was so close to God's spirit, so in tune somehow with the Christ. 

I've not repeated that experience, but it has stayed with me, forming and transforming me.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost: community, faith and true worship


I think our worship service this morning, which was very different, was appreciated. I know I feel good about it.This was the first service in which we implemented some ideas from our new Liturgy Coming Alive! group. We've been planning it for weeks now.

We had about 9 folks speak our "Welcome sentence" in different languages, including Urdu. No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here. Many voices!

Then, for our Acts 2 reading, we had the congregation read aloud verses 1-13 as a kind of round. I led one section, and we started the reading after Dave's section had already begun. It was suppose to be a kind of beautiful cacaphony of sound--and it was in the second service--but in the first service my section caught up to Dave's section, so we ended all together! The first service is our more informal contemporary service, so I felt perfectly free to really laugh at that. It was fun!

After reading verses 1-13 like that, one of our members played the role of Peter who gave Peter's speech in verses 14-21 from memory while walking amongst the congregation. And then just as he finished, our wonderful choir director started singing "We Are One in the Spirit" solo a cappella. Just as he finished the first line, another member, Carol B., who has the most beautiful soprano voice, arose from her seat and started echoing him in a round. They slowly walked up to the front, as they sang, and when they ended that first verse, they indicated to the congregation, in each of the two sections, to join them in singing. Ah! so lovely! The whole congregating singing that melody in a round. Just beautiful.

After the sermon, we had about 45 seconds of "silent reflection," at the end of which everyone heard the sound of blowing wind, as in the wind of the Holy Spirit descending upon us. (That was a fun thing...we'd found some sound files of "blowing wind" on the internet and were going to play them, but then one of our musicians at the early service said "I can do that," and he just blew into his microphone. Sounded much more like blowing wind than any sound file we had found!!)

The sermon itself came about from a discussion that David and I had while driving down to Wimberly for our little getaway. The topic was justice, and my theme was "as children of God (the Romans 8 passage in the lectionary) we are called to justice." I wanted to preach on that topic because it's the last of our monthly themes (long story). Anyway, justice was the topic for the sermon. I only spoke about 8 minutes, then I said something like "we've seen illustrated this morning the "many voices" that were heard on that Pentecost morning. It occurs to me that we probably learn what justice tastes like, feels like, looks like from the many voices we've encountered in our lives." And I asked people to share some personal stories about justice. Several people shared from their hearts; very moving.

For the benediction, I laminated some little cards with Teresa of Avila's prayer: "Christ has no hands on the earth now but yours, no feet but yours..." It was printed in the bulletin so we all said it together.

And then we had our Annual Church Picnic on the Grounds complete with burgers and hot dogs and children playing all kinds of games and older folks sitting around in lawn chairs. We said goodbye to our fabulous youth minister, Manda Adams, too, and shared a beautiful cake made in her honor that one of our members baked from scratch. I'm so sorry to see Manda leave us; she has brought such an integrity and creativity to our youth program. Whichever UCC congregation ends up hiring her is getting a real gem of a minister, that's for sure.

Altogether, a wonderful time of community, faith, and true worship.
I am so grateful...

image by Linda Schmidt (google images)

Thursday, May 20, 2010


We're in Wimberly, Texas tonight for a quick little get-away. First time in this particular part of the Hill Country of's lovely.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Forgive us, O God

"This is the new NOAA situation map as of 6 a.m. this morning. The part in red is where the oi spill currently is, and that's the loop current swooping through the middle and carrying the mess toward the Florida Keys." (Maddow blog)

And this headline from NOAA: "Warmest April Global Temperature on Record"

O God, Our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established,
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion
over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O God, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Forgive us. Forgive us, O God.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Robin Hood

We saw Robin Hood last night. REALLY enjoyed this movie.

They didn't cast some 23 year-old to play opposite Russell Crowe. Cate Blanchett more than holds her own.

I'm still thinking about it this morning (obviously)!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Centering Prayer, Spiritual Surrender

I'd been meaning to read Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault for a while now. Finally got to it Monday night, and couldn't put it down! It's always good to read a book that agrees with your theological anthropology, right? ~smile~ Very familiar stuff in the beginning chapters. Here's a bit of what she says.

She's named the outer "layer" of who we are as an embodiment of:

~Ordinary Awareness~

This is the ego. In her words:

The person I normally take myself to be--that busy, anxious little "I" so preoccupied with its goals, fears, desires, and issues--is never even remotely the whole of who I am, and to seek the fulfillment of my life at this level means to miss out on the bigger life. That is why, according to Jesus' teaching, the one who tries to keep his "life" (i.e., the small one) will lose it, and the one who is willing to lose it will find the real thing. Beneath the surface there is a deeper and vastly more authentic Self, but its presence is usually veiled by the clamor of the smaller "I" with its insatiable needs and demands.
Exactly. And this outer "I" is the mask we often wear to present what we hope is a presentable self to the world. And it's the self we too often fool ourselves into thinking should conform to cultural norms, please others, hide, etc. This "I" knows itself only superficially. It's level of self-awareness doesn't extend much beyond its own preferences and opinions.

Interestingly, she points out that:
The so-called self-awareness tools of our times, from psychotherapy to Myers-Briggs to the enneagram, spend most of their effort merely resorting and clarifying the characteristics: 'I am an INFP,' 'a gut-centered type,' 'a five,' etc. This may yield insights into the workings of the personality, but it's still ordinary awareness.
Ordinary Awareness is in the kataphatic realm where we use reason and emotion and other faculties (the imagination, the will, etc.)

The truth is that there exists beneath (and I realize the spatial images don't really work, but they'll do here, I think) beneath this false self is the True Self, the Self that was given to be, the Self that is in some mysterious way the image of God within us.

Beyond our Ordinary Awareness, writes Bourgealt, is:

~Spiritual Awareness~

Spiritual Awareness is in the apophatic realm where we bypass our normal mental functionings and begin to use the "spiritual senses." Bourgeault says that most of us aren't very aware at this level --

It comes upon us only rarely, sometimes in a moment of overpowering emotion, such as suddenly being moved to tears by watching a sunset or receiving the Eucharist. That 'nostalgia for the divine' sweeps over us and we are left trembling before the present of a Mystery almost more vivid and beautiful than we can bear.

Spiritual awarness is [also] a way of perceiving. As with ordinary awareness, there is a sense of identity or selfhood generated through this mode of perception. Whereas ordinary awareness perceives through self-reflective consciousness which splits the world into subject-object, spiritual awareness perceives through an intuitive grasp of the whole and an innate sense of belonging.
What's really FABULOUS about this way of knowing (spiritual awareness) is that the body is one of its best instruments. More on that below.

At the third and deepest level of our being is:

Divine Awareness
And here she quotes Thomas Merton--
At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our son[/daughter]ship. It is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it, we would see these billions points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.
Isn't that beautiful? I think I might have posted these words of Merton last year -- but then again, perhaps it was Purple. Can't remember. Anyway, the point of Centering Prayer, writes Bourgeault, is to "put a stick into the spoke of [ego] thinking" so that we can be guided more frequently by our Spiritual and yes, even by our Divine Awareness.

So, I read all that and more Monday night, and was motivated big-time to do Centering Prayer again! And it was sublime. Tuesday morning. 20 minutes. And my day was full of energy and spirit.

Wednesday morning. Again, for 20 minutes. Not so sublime, ha!, but still good.

And then later WednesdayI had an appointment with my dietician/nutritionist,
Emily Haeussler, who teaches weight loss through mindfulness.

It's amazing. Slow -- it's extremely slow and difficult to learn to listen deeply to my body, to undo decades of a poor relationship with food and to create a new relationship. But I'm hanging in there.

Part of Emily's spiritual practice is
Centering Prayer, and today she spoke a lot about Welcoming Prayer which has three movements to it:

Movement One: FOCUS -- and sink into the energy of your body. She had me focus on my body and its energy: "Do a body scan."

Movement Two: "WELCOME!" You say in your mind: Welcome, Welcome, Welcome. No matter what the body scan reveals, we welcome it, for it is our teacher. And wow, is THAT ever true! As I settled in to focus on my body, I realized I had a slight headache. Totally unaware of that before I turned inward. Then as Emily began to say Welcome, Welcome and the words that followed, I realized in flash that the headache was connected to my stomach, which was hungry! I'd had no idea that this was so. None at all.

Movement Three:

"I let go of my desire for CONTROL / POWER."
I let go of my desire for AFFECTION / ESTEEM / APPROVAL.
I let go of my desire for SECURITY / SURVIVAL.
I let go of my desire for CHANGE (this situation, this feeling, this emotion, this thought, this commentary, this body sensation, this event).

Such wisdom here, but wrenching. Do I really desire to let go of affection? esteem? approval? or my desire to change what I don't like? Yikes!

Actually, I do desire this. The wisdom is that such as Julian of Norwich proclaimed: all is well, all is well, all manner of thing shall be well. Just as they are. The circumstances of my life and who I am are perfect. Because they are.

On Tuesday night I met with the lectio divina group, and, as often happens, by the end of the evening we became aware of the Holy Spirit's synergizing work around everyone's contributions from the silent contemplation of the scripture (Acts 10). The theme that mysteriously arose was--guess what? Yes. It was the idea of letting go.

Now, when I was writing my dissertation one of my professors had a real problem with me using the word "surrender." Her reason was the feminist one--'surrender' can connote powerlessness. But when used spiritually it points to one of the most, if not the most, powerful actions a human being can take: letting go, just letting go.

And then the next day Emily and I spoke about my sense of how Bourgealt conveys idea of letting go continually throughout each day. In Centering Prayer the idea is to continually let go of each passing thought, those thoughts coming to us from Ordinary Awareness, the ego.*

Each time we become aware that we're thinking, we simply use the sacred word we've chosen to signify our intention to simply sit in silence. A thought comes and we let it go. Another thought comes, and we let it go. On and on and on. And it's not so much that we stop thinking; it's more that we increasingly detach from the thoughts.

The idea here is to practice letting go of thoughts so that a different kind of awareness (knowing) can gain a foothold. Kierkegaard talked about "fleeting missives" from the eternal within us. Bourgeault is talking about our Spiritual Awareness becoming stronger so that the Divine Awareness within us can begin to guide us daily and work its transformation.

I love that!

Here's what Bourgeault says about the importance of letting go of each kataphatic thought and staying in the apophatic Centering Prayer:
By your willingness to stay with the apophatic at all costs during the time of Centering Prayer, you are strengthening and deepening an attitude of soul that will protect you and carry you all the way: the attitude of spiritual non-possessiveness.
It's the Zen idea of clinging to nothing. It's the Beatitude of 'blessed are the poor in spirit.' But it's so wrenching because we want to grow and become spiritually mature, right? We want those insights that come in the silence! We want the ecstatic experiences of God so that we can re-learn what it means to really trust. So we rush to journal about everything we've come to realize. But as Bourgeault also points out, this kind of desire is about building up the cataphatic or ordinary self/awareness. And she's so right.

(Of course, this is also a necessary "stage" [not that it's really linear] to live through. The terrible woundedness that we all experience bleeds through to the projected self, and the insights we receive do heal and strengthen this self. I think it's only when this self is strong enough that it can even begin to understand the deeper more authentic self. )

The idea of practicing letting go throughout the day, not just during the 20 minutes of Centering Prayer is so appealing to me--to live from within a deeper awareness, not just this kataphatic ordinary ego thought life. As I wondered out loud how to remember to let go, let go, let go, Emily talked about how all of this connects to body awareness. As I try to develop a healthier relationship with food, I'm slowly learning to think before I eat. And part of this thinking will be to do a body scan. And here's the thing: "The body is the BEST spiritual director anyone could have," Emily said.

Wow! How very true that is.

As I do the body scan I become aware of all kinds of things. Yes, I have a headache because I'm hungry, but a headache might also be a tension within me, signaling stress or overload. That tightness in my stomach might be because of hunger, but on another occasion it could signify anger I'm not consciously aware of. As I do the body scan and become aware of each sensation, I do the Welcoming Prayer and sink into the sensation. I welcome the sensation because it's part of my now experience and hence is perfect and worthy of welcome.

And then I let it go. Let it go. Let it go. And each time I let go I am opening up some space for those "fleeting missives." I'm opening up some space to hear God's still small voice offering guidance and love.

It's all connected, of a piece. As I create a healthier relationship to my body I'm also tapping my spiritual and emotional/psychological self in learning the art of spiritual surrender.

*Those egoic thoughts are things like listing what we need to do, going over and over an unpleasant encounter with a co-worker, the upcoming vacation, self-reflection, emotions and bodily sensations, and, amazingly, even insights. All these "thoughts" need to be surrendered in Centering Prayer.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

David just looked at my brother's blog. His comment: "We've got to go to Thailand!"
Loot at these fabulous photos (from GoogleImage):

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A little Sunday evening reverie

I'm sitting on our back patio.  We've had a cold front (dry) come through, and it's amazingly cool, which means "wonderful" to me.   There's a bird singing loudly, perhaps a mockingbird, although I'm not sure.  In the distance I can see a beautiful red cardinal jumping back and forth, up and down the limb of a tree.  And the wind...Oh, the lovely cool breeze.  

My brother just sent word that he's started a blog:  He's a retired journalism professor who married a woman from Thailand (Laddawan); they've settled in Chaing Mai where he works for an English-language newspaper and writes artitcles here and there.  He's a very thoughtful person.  I hope you'll give his blog a try.  It's listed on my sidebar now.

We've been trying to decide where to go for our summer vacation in July.  Finally settled on Taos, but the house we wanted to rent has current renters who may decide to stay the entire summer, so says the landlord in his email response yesterday.  He said he'd let me know something as soon as they made their intentions known.  Took me forever to find a rental property big enough for our family that we could afford, so this is a bit of a setback.  Oh well.

Gotta get busy preparing to teach my intensive summer class at the divinity school.  I have about 7 books I need to read, then think through how I want to organize everything for 4.5 hours four days a week for 2 weeks.  We do have a long weekend there in the middle, but still, I know it will be horribly intense--for the students as well as me!

Mother's Day was fine.  Lovely Passionate Feminist came over and went with me to the Coffee Party (really enjoyed being with her for that), then stayed last night to visit with my stepson, his wife and little M when they arrived around 8:00.  Good visit.

There goes that cardinal.  He flew up into the tree next to me then flew away to the east.  About his business. 

And it's getting dark; I'd better join David inside.  He's watching a Ken Burns WW2 documentary.

Here's to a good week for us all.  May God's peace reign.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A few pictures from our backyard...

A few pictures of our backyard this year....

Of 'pushing nouns and adjectives': the poetics of space

The older I get the more interested I become in the space I inhabit.  I want it to be beautiful and by that I mean appropriately spacious, colorful, artful, and (usually) abstract.  In my younger days I hardly noticed the space I inhabited -- upon reflection I don't think I had enough life experience to understand how crucial it is. 

I'm reading a new (to me) book: The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places by Gaston Bachelard. [First published in France in 1958.] I saw a reference to it in the Comments to a post by Robin at Metanoia. The title fascinated me.

Turns out that Bachelard was chair of the philosophy department at the Sorbonne. He gained that position from his works on the philosophy of science, but once he was established in his field, he moved to much more esoteric topics, including Water and Dreams, Air and Revery, The Earth and the Reveries of the Rest. (Can we stand it?--the reveries of rest, air, and water, no less.) Anyway, he kept moving away from reason/rationality and into more abstract ways of thinking. He had to forget all his acquired knowledge, for in the realm of abstractions like the soul and space/time the rationalism of science did him little good.

The first idea he presents in the Introduction is that in studying the poetics of the imagination "one must be receptive, receptive to the image at the moment it appears...The idea of a principle or a 'basis' ...would interfere with the essential psychic actuality, the essential novelty of the poem...The philosophy of poetry must acknowledge that the poetic act has no past , at least no recent past, in which its preparation and appearance could be followed."

and more on this:
Later, when I shall have occasion to mention the relation of a new poetic image to an archetype lying dormant in the depths of the unconscious, I shall have to make it understood that this relation is not a causal one. The poetic image is not subject to an inner thrust. It is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of an image, the distant past resounds with echoes, and is it hard to know at what depth these echoes will reverberate and die away. Because of its novelty and its action, the poetic image has an entity and a dynamism of its own; it is referable to a direct ontology.

At the level of the poetic image, the duality of subject and object is iridescent, shimmering, unceasingly active in its inversions.

The image, in its simplicity, has no need of scholarship. It is the property of a naive consciousness; in its expression, it is youthful language. The poet, in the novelty of his [sic] images, is always the origin of language. To specify exactly what a phenomenology of the image can be, to specify that the image comes before thought, we should have to say that poetry, rather than being a phenomenology of the mind, is a phenomenology of the soul.

and this from the Foreword to the 1994 edition:
Always container, sometimes contained, the house serves Bachelard as the portal to metaphors of imagination. With a rare grace, he handles the most fragile shell, the most delicate "cottage chrysalis," the most simple containers. 'Chests, especially small caskets, over which we have more complete mastery, are objects that may be opened.' What immensities flow from objects that may be opened. From Jungian psychology to sexual intimacy, Bachelard explores the significance of nooks and crannies, the shells of turtles, the garden 'chambers' still favored by landscape

Language serves and delights Bachelard...He writes of hearing by imagination, of filtering, of distorting sound, of lying awake in his city apartment and hearing in the roar of Paris the roar of the sea, of hearing what is, and what is not. In struggling to look "through the thousand windows of fancy," Bachelard elevates language, pushes adjectives and nouns to far-off limits, perhaps to voluptuous heights, certainly to intimacy elsewhere unknown...

In an age of so much homogenized space, so much shoddy, cramped, dimly it, foul-smelling, low-ceilinged, ill-ordered structure, Bachelard offers not only methods of assaying existing form but ways of imagining finer texture and concatenations. The Poetics of Space resonates in an era suffused by television and video games, fluorescent lighting and plastic floors....It is a book that ...demonstrates to its readers that space can be poetry.
All of this speaks to me so powerfully.
Just wish I could translate it effectively.  Perhaps that will come.