Conditions for EMPATHIC Presence
Our potential for spiritual presence is the source of attentive
and compassionate presence in our everyday field of life. We
can grow in empathic presence to others to the degree that we
diminish the obstacles and nurture the conditions for spiritual
presence. In the previous reflection we discussed some
obstacles to spiritual presence. In this reflection we consider
some conditions for empathic presence that we experience in our
OBSTACLES TO EMPATHIC Presence
Our potential for spiritual presence is the source of attentive
and compassionate presence in our everyday field of life. We
can grow in empathic presence to others to the degree that we
diminish the obstacles and nurture the conditions for spiritual
presence. In this reflection we consider some of the obstacles
to empathic presence that we experience in our daily lives.
Pre-Transcendent and Transcendent Presence (Part
Our potential for distinctively human presence is realized
within the transcendent horizon of our personality. As we have
seen, it can be expressed in three modes of self-transcendence:
Self-presence: Self-awareness and
self-knowledge. It includes our pre-transcendent levels but
is more about being in touch with 搘hat we are going
through?in the depths of our being, and with increasing
contact with our deeper spiritual identity vs. the
functional, or already-known, aspects of our identity. St.
Teresa of Avila emphasizes this mode of presence in
describing prayer as inclusive of 搘hat we are going
Pre-Transcendent and Transcendent Presence (Part
Although we haven抰 distinguished ?up to this point in our
reflections on presence ?between transcendent and
pre-transcendent levels of human presence, it may be useful to
do. As 揺mbodied spirit?our presence is manifested materially
(physically) as well as in distinctively human capacities, such
as thinking, imagining, and self-transcendence (we 揼o beyond?
ourselves in fundamental ways). That our spiritual life is
embodied means that it does not function independently of the
reality that we are 搃n the world?with bodies.
A Lesson in Presence
March 5, 2012
People often say that no matter how old or frail their parents
become, they still have lessons to teach them. I would have to
agree. Despite the diminishment of time awareness Alzheimer's
inflicts upon a person ?erasing the past and forfeiting a felt
understanding of the future ?this condition enables caregivers
and care receivers to experience in a profound way the present
moment. In a sense it makes the here and now more precious than
what used to be or what may yet come to pass.
Centering Prayer: Dealing with Distractions
main facilitating condition for growth in spiritual presence is
the practice of non-discursive meditation. We pray
non-discursively when we sit quietly before God without relying
on words or images or ideas to guide our activity.
Distractions are a common complaint among
those who strive to practice this form of prayer. Why is this
so? Because in fact it is nearly impossible for us to
搒top?the normal flow of thoughts. The intellect produces
thoughts and images; this is natural. St. Teresa of Avila noted
that the constant activity of thoughts was like having a
mad-woman in the house. She affirmed that it was possible
nonetheless, even in the midst of clamor, to be deeply united
with God in the depths of one抯 soul.
Ash Wednesday: Thoughts for the Start of Lent
is thought of as a time of giving something up, or as a period
in which a series of 揹on抰s?prevails: we give up something we
like or avoid specified behavior for the period of 40 days, with
the hope of reforming ourselves. In the tradition, this
approach is considered to be at best a first step to true
repentance. Jeremy Taylor, the 17th century cleric, spoke of
two kinds of repentance:
The first is mere sorrow for what is past, an
ineffective trouble, producing nothing good. . . To this
repentance pardon is nowhere promised in scripture. But there
is a repentance which is called 揷onversion,?or 揳mendment of
life,?a repentance productive of holy fruits, such as the
Baptist and our blessed Savior preached.
Obstacles to Presence (Part Four)
The Valley of the Shadow of Death, James Kugel writes
of his experience of being diagnosed with what was believed to
be a terminal cancer. As
he left the Doctor抯 office, Kugel says he experienced a
striking difference in his state of mind.
. . . the background music suddenly stopped.
It had always been there, the music of daily life that抯
constantly going, the music of infinite time and possibilities;
and now suddenly it was gone, replaced by nothing, just silence.
There you are, one little person, sitting in the late
summer sun, with only a few things left to do.
Obstacles to Presence (Part Three)
The Bible As It Was, scripture scholar James L. Kugel
points out that the Sages have long wrestled with a problem
arising from the very first verse of the Book of Genesis.
揑n the beginning, God created the heavens and the
earth.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Elsewhere in the
scriptures, however, we have learned of something that preceded
God抯 creation of the world, and so occurred before what Genesis
says is the beginning.
In Proverbs 8:22 we read:
揟he Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the
first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at first, before the beginning of
the earth.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> And we hear
in Wisdom 9:9: 揥ith you
is wisdom, she who knows your works and was present when you
made the world.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Before
the beginning of the heavens and the the earth God created
wisdom, a wisdom that is present as God creates the universe, so
that all of creation is an expression of Divine wisdom.
In our preceding reflections we noted that presence to
God is awareness of being loved and cared for; that self
presence is presence to all other dimensions of reality; and
that our presence can reflect to others the Mystery of the
Presence to us. To be
fully present to Reality, then, is to be present to the Divine
Wisdom that is its source.
Our presence to this Divine Wisdom changes our way of
being, our most basic dispositions.
Obstacles to Presence (Part Two)
habits we have formed to keep the world at a distance are
depreciative ones which inhibit our appreciative presence and
our trusting abandonment to the Mystery that creates us.
This being the case, one way we can work to decrease the
hold of those depreciative habits inhibiting our presence is to
The conversion of our depreciative way of seeing and
experiencing the world to a more appreciative one requires of
us a reckoning with our painful experiences of loss.
How can we come to appreciate the world and God when our
experience of life constantly confronts us with contingency and
limit, with the loss of those who are dearest to us, and finally
with our own diminishment and death?
The only way is to learn how to remain present to, and
then appropriate and trust our experiences of loss, loneliness,
and disappointment and the painful feelings which these
experiences evoke in us.
Obstacles to Presence (Part One)
the last reflection we noted that we ourselves may be obstacles
to spiritual presence. The 搒elf?that hinders our full
presence to reality is an accumulation of experiences that lead
us to develop depreciative habits and dispositions.
Depreciative habits and dispositions inhibit our capacity for
simple appreciation. For example, when we step back in gentle
reflection on our relationships with others, we can begin to
appraise the quality of our presence to them in our ordinary
moment to moment encounters. Such reflection may reveal to us
how 揷autious?we are in relating to others; that is how we
limit our presence to what feels to be a safe distance from the
life and experience of others. We may then recognize how busy
we are under the surface of our 搈eeting?to keep the encounter
with the other safely controlled. Caution is valid to some
degree to protect what is most vulnerable and unique in us. But
we are concerned here with the effect on our presence
of being overly cautious, of moving away from the unique life
and experience of others when we could be moving more in tune
with them. Our reflection might also indicate that we tend to
move toward the other too much, losing ourselves by fusing (and
confusing) our identity with theirs. Or, we might discover that
we limit our presence by most often moving against others,
aggressively trying to control or manipulate others into the
service of our project or agenda. As we become, again through
gentle reflection, aware of the ways we delimit our true
presence to others, we may ask ourselves to imagine what it
would be like to be present to others in a different way, how we
would behave and experience our lives if we allowed ourselves to
be more fully present to self, others, and God.
Obstacles to Presence (Part Two)
We have pointed out that it is we ourselves who are the greatest
obstacle to a deeper and fuller presence to ourselves, others,
and God. There are as many strategies of evasion of personal
presence as there are persons. It is important that we become
aware of what it is in us, under the differing circumstances of
our lives, that prompts us to cling to, act out of, or seek
compensatory behaviors at the expense of the ultimately more
satisfying response of simply being present.
Obstacles to Presence (Part
January 2, 2012
have all had experiences of being present in simple
appreciation. What gets in the way of a more lasting experience
of spiritual presence in our lives? Why does it get disrupted?
We ourselves, of course, are the chief obstacle to deeper
presence. Beyond certain cultural impediments to the
transcendent, certain functional orientations and fixations, and
the difficulties and distractions that arise in our day-to-day
living, the facticities of our own formation require the most
attention. This and the following reflection will briefly
outline the factors we might consider in attempting to
understand the broad range of obstacles that impinge upon and
impede our desire for satisfying human presence.
Spiritual Presence: Attitudes for Incarnation (Part
have spoken of three dimensions of human presence: we can be
present to the Mystery of Formation that we call God (that is to
be open and present to the Mystery that is always and already
present to us); we can be self-present (aware and attentive to
the mystery of our own being and of the dynamics of our own
presence); and we can be present to others, reflecting to others
the presence of the Mystery to us. Van Kaam affirms our
potential to presence to whatever is emerging in our field of
formation in our moment-to-moment existence. Everything
損oints?to the Mystery. We could say, as Shakespeare wrote,
that 搕here are tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
sermons in stones.?nbsp; Everything speaks! Every manifestation of
reality is revelatory. It all depends on our simple presence
Spiritual Presence: Attitudes for Incarnation (Part
concluded the previous reflection by enumerating three aspects
of personal presence. These three fundamental aspects of human
presence are articulated as follows by Adrian van Kaam:
1) We are a potency for presence to the Mystery of God, which
means that we can abide in recollection of the presence of the
Mystery to us. Although we are not directly present to God, we
are a capacity to open ourselves up to and to become aware of
the dimension of sacred reality. Through prayerful attention
and God抯 grace some people develop an abiding sense of the
transcendent dimension of reality, and of God抯 personal love
and care for them.
Spiritual Presence: Attitudes for Incarnation (Part
To more fully understand presence we must engage in what is for
us a very difficult practice: to opt more for being than for
doing. St. Thomas Aquinas states this priority succinctly:
揟he most marvelous thing of all things a being can do is: to
be.?nbsp; Of course 揹oing?is also a part of life, and the point of
being cannot be to eliminate activity and involvement from
life. Rather, what we must learn is the gentle art of
being-with whatever we are doing.
LIVING IN PRESENCE (Part Three)
The tendency to project oneself into the future and to be
weighed down by the past obscures our relationship to the
present. Memory, a vast storehouse of images, memories and
experiences, is active in every moment of life. Without the aid
of memory we would be in serious trouble, having to learn from
scratch every time we set out to do something. The downside of
memory is that the past can invade and crowd out the present.
We also lose our connection to the present when we become
overly caught up in our concerns for the future.
BEING PRESENT WHERE ONE IS
December 1, 2011
the spring of 1964 I turned back on the direction I had been
going. I returned to
Kentucky, and within a year bought and moved onto a little farm
in my native part of the state. . . . What I had done caused my
mind to be thrown back forcibly upon its sources:
my home countryside, my own people and history.
And for the first time I felt my nakedness.
I realized that the culture I needed was not to be found
by visiting museums and libraries and auditoriums.
It occurred to me that there was another measure for my
life than the amount or even the quality of the writing I did; a
man, I thought, must be judged by how willingly and meaningfully
he can be present where he is, by how fully he can make himself
at home in his part of the world.
I began to want desperately to learn to belong to my
place. The test, it
seemed to me, would be how content I could become to remain in
it, how independent I could be, there, of other places.
~ Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound, pp. 86-87
LIVING IN PRESENCE (Part Two)
November 28, 2011
present moment properly understood is not a mathematical or
infinitesimal moment. There are some who like to point out that
inhabiting the present moment is impossible since, before we can
truly be aware of it, that particular moment has already passed.
Technically speaking, this is true. Pierre Hadot explains that
when we speak of living in the present what we refer to is not
the mathematical moment but the duration in which an action
takes place. This can be the duration of a sentence one utters,
the movement that one executes, or the melody one hears. (P.
Hadot, The Present Alone is Our Happiness, 163) The
claim here is that it is the quality of our involvement in an
activity that constitutes our presence to it. We are living in
the moment when we are fully engaged with a person, thing or
event. 揕ive fully today,?we are told by Saints Gregory and
Therese: liberated from past and future, strive to be-with
whatever your current activity is.
LIVING IN PRESENCE (Part One)
November 21, 2011
do not always
as such? If the
Is it because
We, Ordinary People
August 1, 2011
are some people whom God takes and sets apart. There are others
he leaves among the crowds, people he does not 搘ithdraw from
the world.?These are the people who have an ordinary job, an
ordinary household, or an ordinary celibacy. People with
ordinary sicknesses, and ordinary times of grieving. People with
an ordinary house, and ordinary clothes. These are the people of
ordinary life. The people we might meet on any street. They love
the door that opens onto the street, just as their brothers and
sisters who are hidden from the world love the door that shuts
behind them forever. We, the ordinary people of the streets,
believe with all our might that this street, this world, where
God has placed us, is our place of holiness. We believe that we
lack nothing here that we need. If we needed something else, God
would already have given it to us.
~ Madeleine Delbr阬, Nous autres, gens de la rue (1938)
A Source of Reflection
July 25, 2011
spend much of our lives in anticipation of the extraordinary,
yearning for something that will alter our circumstances and
result in greater happiness, wealth, fame or success.
What we expected our life to be may be very different
from the existence we find ourselves struggling to accept from
day to day. We may
wonder what happened:
Did my true life direction get mysteriously derailed at some
point? Can I really
claim the current state
of affairs as 搈y life?
What should I be doing
what can I do?
to transform my life to make it correspond more
faithfully to my deepest aspirations?
The Ordinary: Gateway to Spiritual Living
July 4, 2011
we age we spend much more time looking back and remembering
moments of our lives.
Recently as I was doing that, I was struck by how, for the most
part, the most vivid and significant memories are of the most
Recently while reading something, I was taken back to sitting on
my Mother抯 knee and memorizing with her help the Ten
Commandments for Sunday school.
As I kept confusing the order of the ninth and tenth
commandments, my Mother would continually remind me:
揊irst the wife, then the goods.?
Although my Grandmother
died when I was six, I can still remember a constant brief
dialogue between us that would give her great delight.
She would ask me: 揇o you think I抦 as fat as Kate
Smith??span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> I would then
always respond, 揧es? and she would unfailingly laugh with good
humor and love. Later
in life, I remember running and playing in a light snowfall with
a friend. I remember
sitting at the seashore in Marblehead with my Mother and looking
out over the sun drenched ocean to the islands beyond.
And when I think of times of travel, I抦 often amazed
that the most memorable aspects of trips to distant places are
the ordinary moments of walking in the evening on a beach or
through a city or town, eating a pastry at a bakery in Paris,
watching the families on a Sunday afternoon in a park in Rome,
and seeing children walk to school hand-in-hand in Western
Kenya. Even when
having traveled at significant distances from home, it is the
ordinary experiences of everyday life that stand out.
Prayer and Peace
揙ur hearts are restless,?Augustine tells us.
The restlessness at the heart of human life
is a spiritual condition marked by innate yearning for
搈ore.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> We are not
satisfied; we are not whole; we are not
When Augustine adds, 搖ntil our hearts rest in You,?he
reminds us that God alone is our peace and that we will come to
know peace only to the extent that we can bring our human heart
and spirit to rest in God.
Peace: A Spiritual Longing (part
June 13, 2011
true significance of peace comes into view when we examine the
nature of our suffering consciousness.
The French Christian philosopher Louis Lavell offers a
useful description of suffering in his book Evil and
When we are happy we experience 揳 harmony between us and the
world which tends to dissolve consciousness.?span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
At such times we participate effortlessly in the world;
or, as Lavelle puts it, 搘e exist in communicating with the
world.?span style="mso-spacerun:yes"> Suffering
changes all that. It
is a threat to our union with the world.
揈ven in its most elementary form, (suffering) is an
evocation of death.
(Through suffering) Death already reveals itself in life.?
(59-60) The threat
of suffering affects our state of mind and thus the peace and
harmony we seek to inhabit.
A Prayer in the Spirit of St.
John of the Cross
June 6, 2011
My soul sinks in the abyss.
Death it feels,
Desiring Love's touch
Which you seem to withhold.
Where have you gone,
And why torment my soul?
You give desires to share
All that my soul feels.
Yet, the deepest longing
Is left unfulfilled.
The desire to cry out,
To hold onto some peace,
Only deepens the darkness,
The pain of unshed tears,
The pain of love rejected.
When will you return
That I might heal and
Raise up my dead soul
In Praise to you?
Peace: A Spiritual Longing
June 1, 2011
enduring formation traditions of humanity speak with one voice
about the desire and need for peace as a condition for living a
spiritual life. They inspire us to pursue peace in the
various articulations they present to our minds and hearts.
They remind us of our deepest longings, alluring us with the
possibility of true and lasting peace in this life.
Thich Nhat Hanh for
example offers the following understanding of peace from his
Buddhist spiritual tradition:
Peace is all around us ?/p>
in the world and in nature ?/p>
and within us ?/p>
in our bodies, and our spirits.
Once we learn to touch this peace,
we will be healed and transformed.
It is not a matter of faith;
It is a matter of practice.
The Way of Peace
May 23, 2011
the gift of transcendent peace requires of us that we become
more intimate with ourselves, with the world, with others, and
with God. We do
this first of all by deepening our attunement to or consonance
with our founding life form.
A very paradoxical phenomenon of human life is that in
the course of our lives we often more consistently move away
from, rather than towards, our deepest originality.
This dissociation from our true originality and coercive
attempt to re-create ourselves requires an act of suppression or
repression of our founding life form.
This profound self-alienation makes reminders and
intimations of our founding life form, our own deepest identity,
a source of anxiety and fear to us, a disturber of our peace.
揚eace I Leave with You? The Gift of Transcendent Peace
May 16, 2011
the heart of the teaching of all of the world抯 spiritual
traditions is the call to peace. The longer we live the
more we realize how elusive this call is. Experience
teaches us that the peace that is the absence of conflict seems
impossible to attain through the efforts of our executive or
managing wills. Outer harmony is only possible out of an
experience of inner harmony, and this inner harmony is something
that we cannot willfully impose, but rather that we must receive
as a gift. Thus, it may be that the path to peace is one
that requires of each of us a renewal of mind and heart, a
willingness, as Zachariah said upon the birth of his son John
the Baptist, to receive 搕he tender mercy of our God,/ With
which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,/ To shine on those
who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,/ To guide our feet
into the way of peace.?nbsp; (Luke 1: 77-79) 揟he way of
peace?is a way on which we must be guided; that is, true peace
is a transcendent gift.
The Presence within Us
May 9, 2011
the story of the Road to Emmaus Jesus effectively tells his
disciples that he is present to them
spiritually and that
he is to be found not physically in external reality but in
their own hearts and daily lived experience.
A famous Buddhist saying goes a step further, instructing
believers: 揑f you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
This is on one level an injunction against falling prey to
false gods or prophets.
The deeper meaning relates to the word 揵uddha? which is derived
from a smaller word bud:
搕o awaken.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> Awakening
is an interior event, not a physical entity we might encounter in
the physical world. Our
awakening is a spiritual potential residing within us.
Opening the Scriptures of Our Lives
May 2, 2011
Blue Arabesque: A Search
for the Sublime Patricia Hample observes that the ancient
and great enterprise of the imagination known as religion is
magnetized by travel.
揈ven defined by it,?she writes,
Islam marks its start from migration梩he
original great march from Medina to Mecca.
This hajj, repeated as a form of religious confirmation
every year, is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Not to mention the forty years of desert wandering that
established Judaism, and the homeless meandering of Jesus:
揊oxes have their holes and the birds or the air have nests, but
the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
Pilgrimage, which is a form of tourism, reaffirms
humanity抯 most ancient metaphor梩hat life is a journey.
We must keep moving, it seems.
The imagination is not a domestic animal.
It roams . . .
We might think that Easter puts an end to
all that, at least in our spiritual tradition.
With the dying and rising of Christ, is there any need to
What happens on the road to Emmaus suggests a different outcome.
April 26, 2011
have come full circle for me tonight in that I was first
introduced to Etty back in the late-eighties, by Sr. Alice Le
Ferrier who was on staff here, and who did a Saturday Book Day
on An Interrupted Life.
Alice was exploring the meaning of suffering, and she
had found Etty to be a rich resource on that topic.
I was moved by Alice抯 presentation, bought the book,
read it three consecutive times, and gave it to several friends
as gifts. In my own
formation as a spiritual director, Etty抯 writing was the focus
of one seminar in which we all took her on as our theoretical
directee. In time,
I ended up co-facilitating that seminar at CRD for a few years
until it closed.
Holy Week Reflection
Life Beyond Measure
April 19, 2011
we enter this year抯 celebration of Holy Week, followed by
Easter, we hear again the familiar narrative of the Passion and
Death of Jesus. The words
and images are so familiar to us, the product of life-long and
by now embedded interpretations. Depending
on the current form our life has taken, those interpretations
can be consoling or depressing, hopeful or infuriating.
What they may, unfortunately, have ceased to be is mysterious
The power of the Word, and of the words we read and hear this
week that mediate the Word, is a power to break open our lives
and our consciousness, to lay waste our expectations, and to
expand our worlds and deepen our presence to the Real. But
more often than not, we fall asleep as the Disciples in
Gethsemane, overcome by the drowsiness and common sense of our
embedded understandings and repetitious interpretations.
Fifth Sunday of Lent Reflection
Reflections on The Woman at the Well BY ADRIAN VAN KAAM
The woman at the well is moved by the essential spiritual
disposition of gratitude. What
she expresses in words and gestures is her thankfulness for
receiving the incomparable gift of God's grace.
What she has secretly longed for all her life is suddenly
and surprisingly offered to her by a stranger seated at the
well. She responds to
this gift by doing her part to lead others to the Lord.
Fourth Sunday of Lent Reflection
Reflections on The Woman at the Well BY ADRIAN VAN KAAM
April 4, 2011
realizes that patience can overcome resistance. The text says
that 揾is divine interior speaks mysteriously to her interior,
touching her with his grace and drawing her to himself.?(p. 31)
What this suggests is that there are varying levels of
interaction going on in the encounter. This is to be expected. A
conversation has to start someplace.
We usually begin on a
level of social commonplaces. 揌ow are you??揑 am fine, thank
you.?I may not be fine at all, but those are the words that
come out of my mouth. If
my speaking partner is really interested in me and can get
beyond the social amenities, my responses may become more
personal, and more interior.
Third Sunday of Lent Reflection
Reflections on The Woman at the Well BY ADRIAN VAN KAAM
March 28, 2011
John抯 gospel reminds us that God is spirit and that we are
called to worship in spirit and in truth.
Worshiping in spirit and truth is an expression of our belief in
a spiritual basis of life.
It reflects our willingness to be guided by life
directives that are spiritual in nature.
We cannot live the life of the spirit unless we allow
ourselves to be addressed by the Spirit.
The spiritual directives awakening our minds and hearts
remind us first of all that we are spirit.
They call us to release the dynamic longing deep within
us to live a life according to the spirit and its inspirations.
These directives make it possible for us to give
spiritual form to our lives.
They touch and transform our hearts, enabling us to seek
and give expression to our hidden but authentic transcendent
identity in Christ.
Second Sunday of Lent Reflection
March 21, 2011
Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is Matthew抯 account of the
Transfiguration of Jesus.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up a high
mountain and there they witness Jesus speaking with Moses and
Elijah and then as he is 搕ransfigured before them; his face
shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
(Mt. 17, 2)
It is for Peter, James, and John a lifting of the veil that
separates their ordinary life of discipleship with Jesus from an
extraordinary moment of awareness of the Divine Mystery that
lies beyond. At
first Peter desires to build three tents in order to hold onto
and contain this deeper awareness, but that desire is quickly
replaced by fear as the Divine voice announces Jesus?identity
from the shadow of a bright cloud.
The initial awakening to Mystery that is manifest in the
gathering of these messengers of God evokes a desire for
possession and domestication in the disciples.
But the awe-full manifestation of Divinity itself is
threatening and fearful.
揥hen the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were
very much afraid.?(Mt. 17, 6)
It is when 揓esus alone?touches the disciples that they
are able to get up and continue their ordinary lives, present to
the Mystery in the human way of faith, hope, and love.
Each place we gather is a
Each look, smile, hug a
The fruit of the Earth
The labor of
With this place
With this meal
We are the blessing
We are also the blessed.
First Sunday of Lent Reflection
finding Our Joy in the Lord
March 14, 2011
call to keep the sabbath, to keep a time when we are free from
our own affairs, may sound a bit quaint to us as we enter the
second decade of the 21st century.
Thanks to the increasing capacities of our own
technology, our work and its demands are now always with us.
For many of us it is quite rare to have an evening, or a
conversation with friends, or a meal with our families during
which we are not also 損lying our trade?and 揳ttending to our
own affairs.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
Keeping a whole day free from these things is now, for many if
not most of us, unimaginable.
Could it perhaps be that, for this very reason, the summons of
Isaiah that we hear in the liturgy of the Saturday after Ash
Wednesday has a particular relevance for us this Lent?
February 20, 2011
see what others cannot.
I look deep into her face and recognize her,
the unique person who is my mother.
I see her as she is,
her all the more.
I look at her hands and see how they
mine I see my reflection in her face.
I share her name.
Is it because I see myself in her that the
pain of losing
through me, piercing my heart?
Is there a hidden
bond between us that unites us as one,
so that I feel her every pain as though it were my own?
From Resentment to Gratitude
January 31, 2011
half an hour had passed since the time of setting out on our
journey and already the last of suburbia has sunk behind us out
of sight. Now as the
car speedometer needle inexorably rises to country speed limits,
the countryside stretches out unimpeded on each side of us.
The silver grey road lies like a new ribbon ahead of us
across the grassed paddocks.
The molten gold of the rising gun is streaking out from
the rim of the low hills to the East.
The tension of rising early, packing the car, and making
sure that we have all that is necessary for a journey into areas
that are infrequently inhabited begins to slip from my shoulders
and my spirit expands as surely as the horizons open out before
us. I wonder anew
why it is so long since I have been back to these scenes of my
lifting heart and delighted eyes tell me that this is where I
I claim once again my birthright and a feeling like the
beginnings of gratitude swells within me as I think of the
providence which allowed that I should have been born to parents
who had belonged to farming communities all their lives and who
had bequeathed to me this rich heritage of a living sensitivity
to the closeness of soil, grass, and trees, a living sensitivity
to our vulnerability in the face of wind, rain, and sunshine.
Jacob Boehme: On the Difficulty of Discourse on God
The God of Jacob Boehme manifests himself in his Word, and man
re-expresses the divine Word in the names he utters, not only in
spirit, but also in the spoken word. One could bestow no greater
power on human discourse, which in the work of the
mystic-thinker is his writing. We know the design of this work
is ambitious, more especially as it is expressed from an
apocalyptic perspective: Boehme抯 conviction is to write at a
moment when the consummation of the Mystery of God is at hand.
I Am With You Always
To hear someone say they will be with you is powerful.
A young child抯 fear on the first day of school is calmed
by a parent抯 promise to be right there with them at the end of
the school day.
When we are afraid the presence of another is comforting.
To be accompanied is thus a human need, since one is so
often alone. The
promise to 揵e with?may be sincere, but hardly without limits.
Friday, December 31
Utterly Apophatic by
Robert J. Hope*
I am nothing, no thing whatsoever.
My bones bared are not me.
My flesh felled neither is me
Nor any emotion flesh feels
Nor thought mind makes
Nor are my thoughts of you, You,
Though spawning honest prayer
But from a self tainting Self
That self still not me.
For I am nothing, nothing at all,
As You are Nothing, nothing at all.
You have no name, nor do I
Except the names I give myself.
I am a nameless nothing
But so, gloriously, are You.
How then live my nothing
In this world that says I'm something
And not one but many somethings.
How penetrate these perceptions?
Down, down to nothing
Where nothing is one with Nothing
And finally be who I am:
Nothing birthing somethings
Out of union with my God.
* See previous (December 27)
Thursday, December 30
Two Epiphanies by Bro. H.
Lawrence Nyhan, CFX*
Bright fire forked and Sinai's twisted peak,
like some Prometheus bound with charged
writhed, jerked and jettisoned with silent
two rigid leaves of chiseled, "Thou shalt
Yet when the living Word himself was spoke,
Incarnate in the Virgin's womb, no pains
convulsed his mother's flesh, no sound
the night. But Maid endorsed what Heaven had
and angels sang in voiceless choirs above
God's final and eternal, "Thou shalt love!"
* See previous (December 26)
Wednesday, December 29
From the Valley by Mary
Before the table
Spread in white linen,
In his green vestments.
I watched from my dark valley.
In measured tones
He spoke the words,
"This is my Body.
This is my Blood."
Deep in my valley,
I heard the words.
Around, over and above,
They echoed all the other times,
All the other words,
"He knows you.
He loves you.
You are unique.
You are God's gift."
Circle of tasteless white,
Not even bread.
Golden cup holds
Amber wine. nothing red,
And a drop of water.
I am a drop of water,
Dropped into the valley
Like the water in the wine.
The words roll over me.
He loves you."
Whirlpool of words,
Love, love, love.
Joy, joy, joy.
The dam has broken,
Words roll down the valley
And cry out to me
In the kiss of peace.
* Mary Bentley Dupr?lives in New Hampshire.
Tuesday, December 28
Every Day by Kenneth
is every night
is Christmas dawn.
through a tunnel
knowing that I
will find the star
of my birth slap.
I hear it now,
the toys you broke
for eighty years.
They are all gold,
and myrrh in me.
* Kenneth Frost of Maine is the author of the
recently published Night Flight, available from Main Street
Monday, December 27
Robert J. Hope*
How you drag me unwilling
Out of the pits of self
The vanities singly sought
The puffs of pride when graced
Though all, all is gift
What freedom you call me to
From out of the pits of self
To be rarified unto Nothing
But a beloved showered with
Love, let me know that
Bereft of self concerns
Free to embrace infinity
Gifted with infinite arms
* Robert J. Hope is the author of From the
Center: Poetic Prayers and Meditations. He is a Centering
Prayer coordinator and lives in Rockport, MA.
Sunday, December 26
Haitian Nativity by
Bro. H. Lawrence Nyhan, CFX*
Somewhere a battered Christ is born again,
not where a single star shines forth to mark
but someplace where a sickly moon reflects
off clouds of ash dust,
where silence never soothes the night,
but raucous crowds defy hoarse squawking horns.
No magi come to bring him gifts.
No angel choirs announce his coming,
but one more scrawny maid
extrudes another wasted child,
and weeps for joy and fear.
* A small collection of Bro. Nyhan's poetry,
"I'll Watch," is published by In His Steps Publishing in Sylvania,
The Divine Child brings into the night of
my life a glimpse of light.
He brings me the glad tidings that I can turn this darkness into
a holy night. . . . He may give me the grace to take darkness
graciously upon me.
God is born not only in a manger.
He is born also in me. . . . The mystery of Bethlehem is
the mystery of the restoration of divine gentleness to my life.
Gentility is the coming out of the Divine Child in me.
Poems by Joseph Brodsky (FSG, 2001)
Keenly, without blinking, through pallid,
clouds, upon the child in the manger, from
far away ‑
from the depths of the universe, from its
opposite end - the star
was looking into the cave. And that was
the Father's stare. (1987)
Imagine the Lord, for the first time, from
darkness and stranded
immensely in distance, recognizing Himself
in the Son
of Man: homeless, going out to Himself in
a homeless one.
. . . The star would resemble
no other, because of its knack, at its
for taking an alien for its neighbor.
The star looked in across the threshold,
The only one of them who could
know the meaning of that look
was the infant. but He did not speak.
We are your people, walking in darkness,
yet seeking the light.
To you we say, 揅ome, Lord Jesus.?nbsp;
At Christmastime we pray
For the birth of the Word
In our Soul
And in the world.
Let this birth be the longed-for
Awakening of our spirit
Within the Heart of your Love,
Lead us by your love
And by your grace poured out into our
To an awareness of your presence with us
In all we undergo.
Nurture within us an attitude of
An abiding receptivity to your desire to
be with us.
To enter into your Truth,
To behold your Word,
To rest in your Presence,
And to realize your gift of Eternal Life.
~ Romeo J. Bonsaint, SC
Fourth Sunday of Advent Reflection
Dreaming the Divine Will
December 20, 2010
three weeks now we have preparing for the Lord's coming.
Beyond the historical remembrance of the birth of Jesus
that is to be soon celebrated, we have been reminded of the
Lord's continuing desire to be born in our souls and, as
Emmanuel, to be close to our world.
Whatever is happening to us, around us, and within us
this last week of Advent, wherever we find ourselves in our
Christmas preparations and in our expectations and apprehensions
for what the coming days hold for us, the
Divine Child continues to be born, continues to come to
us all to save us.
Third Sunday of Advent Reflection
SADNESS and REPENTANCE
December 13, 2010
today's reading from Isaiah35 we read the promise to those who
are suffering in exile:
揟hose whom the Lord has ransomed will return/ and enter
Zion singing,/ crowned with everlasting joy;/ they will meet
with joy and gladness,/ sorrow and mourning will flee.?span style="mso-spacerun:yes">
How do these words, addressed to a people in mourning for
their land and homes, apply to us?
What is the sadness that keeps
us from feeling the
joy and hope of the Lord's presence?
Second Sunday of Advent Reflection
Repentance and Just Judgment
December 6, 2010
liturgy speaks to us of judgment.
In both readings from Isaiah
11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12 we hear of
One who is coming who will judge in the Spirit of the Lord.
This judgment will be very different from our usual ways
of judging. As
Isaiah tells us:
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land's
Both in Isaiah'ss time and in our own,
judgment is made in service to the established 搒ocial order,?
that is, in Isaiah's terms, by 揳ppearance?and 揾earsay.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
In this type of judgment, the powerful and the powerless
are judged by very different standards.
In the present day United States, for example, support
for the unemployed is seen by many as a drain on common
resources, while the most wealthy are considered, by many,
entitled to reduced taxation; the perennial underclass
constitutes a disproportionate percentage of the prison
population; healthcare and minimal security in old age are
considered entitlements while tax incentives for corporations
and unbridled defense spending are considered necessities.
the Dance of Formation
December 2, 2010
is a recurrent theme in the mystical literature of spirituality,
expressing the notion that human life is created to flow in
harmony with God's will and purpose for our time on this earth.
Heaven and earth need not be separated.
On the spiritual level of our mind and will we are
innately disposed to experience consonance in the midst of
dissonance and to receive graciously the gift of healing union
even in adverse and fragmentary circumstances of everyday
reality. When our
human vision is transformed by the power of transcendent
insight, we begin to apprehend the wholeness of things, the
oft-referred to 搈usic of the spheres,?which John of the Cross
spoke of as 搒ilent music.?/p>
FIRST Sunday OF ADVENT REFLECTION
November 29, 2010
the first Sunday of Advent a new Church year begins. The
year just passed, as all years, has been a year of joy and
suffering, peace and struggle, love and conflict.
It has been a time of growth and new beginnings and of
diminishment and death.
It has brought many blessings, but it has also taken its toll.
For most of us our day to day lives of work, habit and
routine have, to varying degrees, worn us down and tired us out.
On this day, the words of St. Paul to the Romans call us
to remember the transcendent Reality underneath our daily
somnolence. 揑t is
the hour now for you to awake from sleep?(Romans 13:11).
MODERN WOMEN OF THE SPIRIT: 蒷isabeth Leseur and Madeleine
November 22, 2010
her conversion, Madeleine began to discern a powerful personal
draw to a life of contemplation. Initially, she thought that she
could achieve this by living as a Discalced Carmelite or
Trappistine nun. But after years of serious consultation with
Abb?Lorenzo, she discerned that what the Spirit was asking from
her was to realize this call within the very society where 揋od
found me.?With several of her women friends, she responded to
this summons by immersing herself in the life of ordinary
people, especially those who have been marginalized not only by
the wealthy but by the Church itself. It just so happened that
the poorest and most marginalized in Parisian society were
located in Ivry, a commune in the southeastern suburbs of Paris
known as the city's 揜ed capital?because of the overwhelming
number of communists and their sympathizers who resided there.
In 1933, Madeleine and two of her friends moved to Ivry.
However, they did not settle there with any intention of
converting or even religiously influencing their neighbors.
Speech and Authority
November 15, 2010
the introduction to
Anatheism: Returning to God
After God, Richard
Kearney relates the story of how his teacher, the great
philosopher Paul Ricoeur, would begin each seminar.
According to Kearney, Ricoeur would begin on the first
day of the seminar by asking each of his students: 揹'ou parlez
vous?敁Where do you speak from??span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
The question is a most significant one; for all of us, in fact,
speak from many different places.
Often our speech is pre-reflective, an unconscious
reaction to what we have heard, or to what is happening to us.
At such moments our words are pretty much expressions of
feelings or habit.
Often, even in speech that is more reflective, our words are
based on cultural conditioning, common sense understanding or
The people of Jesus' time, as those subjected to much
religious preaching today, recognized that 搕he doctors of the
law?taught what they had learned but often had not personally
and uniquely assimilated.
As in much of today's preaching, the words were not words
of 搒pirit and life?but rather the repetition of a learned
theology, doctrine, or mandate.
Meditation and the Emergence of Joy
November 8, 2010
is an abiding theme in the scriptures, and a promise of good
things to come.
Isaiah 51:11 prophesies
. . . Everlasing joy shall be upon their
they shall obtain gladness and joy;
and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
The author of Acts declares (2:28)
You have made known to me the ways of
you shall make me full of joy with your
and goes on to say in 14:17
. . . he provides you with plenty of food
your hearts with joy.
Making Peace with Pathos: The Call of November
This week marks the beginning of November. If,
as T. S. Eliot asserts, 揂pril is the cruelest month,?then surely
November must be the saddest. For those of us who inhabit the
northern hemisphere, November marks the loss of the promise of
spring and the fullness and then harvest of summer and early autumn.
The splendid colors and unique sunlight of October give way
to the starkness and encroaching darkness that come in the early
days of November. To
look out over the residue of a once flourishing garden and the 揵are
ruined choirs?of the recently resplendent maples, elms, and oaks is
to experience the reality of loss and the certainty of death.
Happiness, Happenstance, and Human Flourishing
October 25, 2010
M. McMahon, the Florida State University professor and author of
Happiness, A History,
observes in a recent 揧es! Magazine?essay that 揌appiness has
increasingly been thought to be more about getting little infusions
of pleasure, about feeling
good rather than being
good, less about living the well-lived life than about experiencing
the well-felt moment.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
In fact, he notes, the origins of the word tell a different story.
Indo-European languages reveal shared cognates for the words
The Old English hap is
happiness and chance; the
Old French heur means
good fortune as well as happiness; and the German
Gluck to this day means
happiness and chance.
This suggests to McMahon that for ancient peoples happiness was not
in our control; it was in the hands of God or the gods, dictated by
Fate, Fortune or Chance.
In a word, happiness was what happened to us杊appenstance!
Ultimately, our happiness depended on the wheel of fortune
and how things turned out for us.
As the Chorus painfully reminds us at the conclusion of
揙edipus Rex? we should not presume our happiness or to know how
fate will deal with us until we have reached the end of our life:
People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus.
He solved the famous riddle with his brilliance,
he rose to power, a man beyond all power.
Who could behold his greatness without envy?
Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him!
Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day,
count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.
Enjoying One Moment at a Time
I once asked a close friend why he never wore a wrist watch. He
responded that he did not want to be looking frequently at the time
as if time were the most significant factor in his life. As I
reflected on his attitude, I slowly became aware of the dominating
influence of time in my own life. How frequently my life and its
activities are controlled
?/span>by the clock,?/span>
and how often I experience time as a tyrannical slave driver. As I
reflected on my friend's response, I
began to wonder why
wasn't gentler, a friend and ally, a brother or sister. Why, instead
of a tyrant, wasn't
?/span>time" a beautiful gift, an opportunity?
October 11, 2010
This is a story about an important person that changed my life. Her
name is Molly. She helped me to accept the change in my life. Molly
also helped me not to be afraid of change in the future. Change is
difficult, but it is more difficult when you fight against it. She
helped me to look forward to change as it changes me. She did all
this without knowing it.
Growing in Simplicity
October 4, 2010
a small monograph entitled
Spiritual Direction and
Meditation, Thomas Merton writes that 搘e can best profit by
spiritual direction if we are encouraged to develop our natural
simplicity, sincerity, and forthright spiritual honesty, in a
word to 慴e ourselves' in the best sense of the expression.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
At this writing it is October 4, the Feast of St. Francis
of Assisi. To
ponder the life of St. Francis,
il poverello, is to be drawn into the ever present spiritual
challenge of becoming more simply, sincerely and forthrightly
requires, however, that we recognize the paradox that becoming
ourselves does not come naturally to us.
In the course of a lifetime we learn and develop multiple
strategies to enable us to deal with the challenges, demands,
and difficulties of life as we experience it, and these complex
strategies over time come to be confused by us for our unique
The life of St. Francis challenges us choose a lifelong process
of cultivating simplicity and poverty by recognizing and
releasing the many accretions we have developed and accumulated
over time at the physical, psychological and spiritual levels.
Invitation to Prayer
September 27, 2010
Heaven in Ordinarie
(1979), Noel Dermott O'Donoghue writes with conviction that,
揊reedom can only mean a free response to an invitation to be
taken beyond oneself.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
The essence of our freedom 搃s
response or the refusal to respond, to a call.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">
As free a
person 揷an open himself more or less to this invitation, or he
can at the beginning, or at any stage along the way, settle in
within his present limits and refuse to go further.
He can attach himself to some finite goal that puts a
term to transcendence; he can 揺nclose himself in pleasure or
sloth or mere narcissism.?O'Donoghue goes on to say that
although we are naturally at home in the finite realm, we are
also a capacity for response to the infinite.
From the center of our finitude we open ourselves to the
infinite. It is by
means of this response that we are able to find our center in
the infinite pole of our being.
September 20, 2010
the next few weeks, we shall participate in an increasingly rare
event in our time:
a perpetual profession of religious vows.
So rare has this act become, in fact, that it is
impossible to avoid the question of whether or not such a public
commitment remains meaningful in our age.
The question is not confined to religious commitment.
Despite all the attention and controversy in our time to
the vows of marriage, the truth is that more than half of all
marriages end in divorce.
When we step aside from the issues surrounding who has or
has not the right to be legally married and enjoy its social
benefits, we are left with a deeper question:
What is the meaning of the life-long vow of
responsibility and commitment to the other person?
I take you for my lawful husband/wife, to have and to hold, from
this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
Does committing oneself to another or to a group 搖ntil death?
continue to have meaning for us today?
The Interior Castle of Saint Teresa of Avila
Let nothing upset you;
Let nothing frighten you.
Everything is changing;
God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
Who has God lacks nothing;
God alone fills every need.
This short prayer-poem of Teresa of Avila expresses several of
the Saint's abiding convictions about the pursuit of a life of
prayer. To enter
into prayer we must leave many things behind.
The route mapped out in
The Interior Castle
is especially lengthy and calls for extensive detachment from
the distractions of everyday life.
Teresa frequently mentions business affairs, for example,
as an obstacle to peace and prayer.
And then there are the habits of mind that keep us from
taking the risks of growing in prayer: concerns about the level
of our functioning and productivity; apprehensions about what
others may say regarding the changes they detect in our
involvements with them; and the host of anxieties that beset us
whenever we clear a space to enter within.
September 6, 2010
social fabric of our country appears in our time to be fragile.
From multiple manifestations of increased xenophobia, to
cultural and religious fragmentation, to hostile and vile
political discourse, we seem increasingly unable to communicate
with and trust each other to the minimal degree required for
civil discourse and shared civic responsibility. To some
degree all of these symptoms appear related to a loss in the
foundational disposition of trust, or what the spiritual
tradition calls faith; without a basic level of trust, human
society, much less human community, is not possible.
In order to have trust or faith in each other we must be able to
believe in the truth of what the other says to us; we must
inhabit a culture of truthfulness in speech and responsibility
for our words. The measure of responsible speech is not
its efficacy but its honesty, its responsibility to those being
addressed and to the Truth. In our time it often seems
that the value of speech is measured more by its manipulative
success and financial effectiveness than by its veracity; for
the most part there is no accountability or responsibility to
the truth even for those whose voices dominate our airways and
our public discourse day after day. What difference might
it make in our common life, if our public leaders, our
journalists, and our media personalities of all political
persuasions were held accountable for the truthfulness of their
Teresa of Avila: the Interior Castle
August 30, 2010
of Avila was exhausted and over-extended with business matters
and a heavy travel schedule when she was ordered in 1577 to
write her last book, The
She did her best to get a 搒econd opinion,?in effect to
reverse the order, but to no avail.
The priest she consulted agreed that she should write the
book. And write she
did. In a mere two
months, during a six-month period of intense activity, she
produced her crowning literary work and a spiritual treatise of
enduring value. The
Kavanaugh-Rodriguez introduction to the English translation
offers a testimony by one of the sisters in her community of
Teresa's absorbed and rapid writing each day following
Teresa believed by this point that she had written herself out
and had said all she had to say on the subject of prayer, she
applied herself to the task before her.
In Where Lovers
Meet: Inside the Interior Castle (ICS Publications, 2008),
Susan Muto points out that in the course of writing the book
the Saint 揹iscovered something she had known all her life: that
obedience lessens the difficulty of doing what, humanly
speaking, seems impossible.?(p. 18)
This insight entered into the text itself, for Teresa was
tireless in stressing that human effort comes to naught and that
we must rely on grace alone.
MODERN WOMEN OF THE SPIRIT: 蒷isabeth Leseur and Madeleine
August 19, 2010
toward saints have changed significantly in the past fifty
years. Immediately after the Second Vatican Council, regard for
the place of saints in their personal faith and spirituality
changed among Western Catholics. That is quite understandable
given the way these women and men had previously been presented
as superhuman intercessors for the living, romantically
portrayed in plaster casts or stained glass windows. The saints,
it seemed, were too remote from the realities that late modern
women and men contended with in their daily lives; they seemed
removed from the complexities of the politics and technologies
of the late twentieth century. For many forward-looking
Catholics, the saints became an undesirable reminder of the
highly pietistic preconciliar church that they wanted to leave
behind. Such was the situation for some fifteen years until
Catholic and Protestant thinkers began to re-assess the place of
saints in Christian faith and spirituality. Notre Dame Professor
Lawrence Cunningham articulated one of these earliest
reconsiderations when he defined a saint as 揳 person so grasped
by a religious vision that it becomes central to his or her life
in a way that radically changes the person and leads others to
glimpse the value of that vision.?For Cunningham, saints were
not lifeless plaster cast statues but historically-located
individuals who, at a crucial point in their life, became so
in-touch with the Transcendent that they endeavored ?whether
gradually or immediately ?to center their lives on this
August 16, 2010
is a term that gained currency in our culture about half a
century ago. At first blush the concept appears benign
enough: it appears to do no more than to reflect our innate
drive to achieve our full potential, to bring to fruition our
unique capacity for human flourishing, Hence the
dictionary definition: the realization or fulfillment of
one's talents and potentialities, esp. considered as a drive or
need in everyone. (The New Oxford American Dictionary)
The self-actualizing tendency would seem to be ideally
suited for life in societies structured around competition.
Here, though, a different picture begins to emerge. Is the
so-called self-actualizer pursuing a path of inborn
possibilities, or is s/he unwittingly bending to cultural
imperatives that lead to loneliness and isolation? The
損romise?of self-actualization is slippery indeed, if in fact
the search for one's direction in life culminates in the
exclusion of other people and the refusal of the mystery as it
manifests itself in all dimensions and spheres of one's
Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine
An Autobiography by Huston Smith with Jeffrey Paine
Tales of Wonder is the autobiography of Huston Smith,
well known scholar, student and teacher of the great religious
traditions of humankind. Smith has authored countless
works and is, perhaps, best known for The Religions of Man,
originally published in 1964 and later reissued as The
World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions. His
most recent books prior to this autobiography are Why
Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of
and The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition. The
former, released just prior to the events of September 11, 2001,
could not be more topical and significant, given not only the
caricature of religion in much of the 搒ecular?world but the
abuse of the great traditions at the hands of fundamentalists of
all stripes. The latter is a personal and foundational
apology for Christian faith from the mind and heart of a most
Learning REVERENCE from the Psalms
August 2, 2010
8 is a prayer-poem with which most of us can readily identify.
It is a psalm of praise and a profound recognition of the
Sovereignty of God, based on a mode of presence that the
greatness of creation, including the Psalmist's own being,
evokes. Its theme is grounded in the truth of who God is
and who we. The experience of that relationship gives rise
to the primordial human disposition of awe and the reverence
which accompanies it. According to Fr. Adrian van Kaam:
Reverence is the flower of spiritualization. Its source is
the sacred fascination people experience in the presence of what
transcends them. Everything worthy of a person's
dedication receives meaning from its relatedness to that mystery
which overwhelms well-disposed people in moments of silent
contemplation and pure receptivity. Unrelated to this
mystery, experiences lose their radiance and fail to evoke
reverence. (Fundamental Formation, pp. 159-60)
Mourning, Not Melancholy
Nothing Was the
Same: A Memoir BY
Kay Redfield Jamison
July 26, 2010
Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns
Hopkins University School of Medicine and co-director of its
Mood Disorders Center, is a renowned expert in the study of
manic-depressive illness and the author of several books on the
topic, including the co-authorship of the standard medical text
on the illness: Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders
and Recurrent Depression and a memoir of her own struggle
with the illness: An Unquiet Mind. As her
honorary professorship in English at The University of St.
Andrews attests, she is also a lucid and elegant writer.
Learning Wisdom from the Psalms
July 19, 2010
like to begin with a story that a friend of ours, a Director of
Novices of his religious community, would often tell. A
novice of his once said to him, and I'm sure it was more than
one who did this, 揑 don't get anything out of praying the
psalms.?nbsp; Since the novice had been in the community for
some time the Director knew him well. And so his response
to him was: 揑 think you have difficulty with the psalms
because you have difficulty receiving anything that is given to
you.?nbsp; The Novice Director here was pointing to a lack, one
I think we can all recognize to some degree in ourselves, of
what Fr. Adrian van Kaam calls 搕ranscendent openness.?nbsp;
The depth of our encounter with the Psalms, and thus of their
meaningfulness to us, depends on the level of our transcendent
openness, our capacity in the moment to attune to, receive, and
respond to new disclosures of the Spirit to us.
The Psalms - Praises, Pleas & Protests
Last week, as I met with family members to prepare a funeral, I
was asked if I would include the 損rayer?that begins, 揟he Lord
is my shepherd.?The psalm's promise of Divine peace and
protection had touched the heart of this next-of-kin just as it
had spoken to her father in the days before his death.
People who are bereft, bewildered or battered by
life, find that the psalms can give utterance to their deepest
thoughts and feelings. They were the prayers of ancient Israel
but they have acted as the pleas and protests of persons in
distress throughout the ages.
MESSENGERS OF UNIVERSAL LOVE
One of the obvious things about our world is that it is hurting.
Wherever we turn we are confronted with a suffering and
incomplete humanity. We may be especially surprised by the
capacity of individuals and groups of persons or nations to
inflict violence on others. And when we consider the already
realized potential for evil and injustice, we may choose to look
away, to try to forget the world with its overwhelming needs,
and to evade our personal responsibility to minister to that
June 28, 2010
the general introduction to his four-volume series on The
Presence of God: The Foundations of Western Christian Mysticism
Bernard McGinn explains that 揅hristian mystics over the
centuries have never been able to convey their message solely
through the positive (italics added) language of
presence.?(p. xviii) Mystics such as Teresa of Avila
speak fervently and eloquently about their quest to attain a
special consciousness of the divine presence. But, as
McGinn points us, the pursuit and experience of presence tells
only half of the story: in fact, mystical language of necessity
employs a paradoxical dual strategy of presence and absence.
揚ositive?or cataphatic mystics such as Origen and Bernard of
Clairvaux present the alternating rhythms of presence and
absence in terms of the comings and goings of the Divine Lover,
as in the 揝ong of Songs.?nbsp; 揘egative?or apophatic mystics
have tended to emphasize the 搉o-thingness?of God; that is that
our consciousness of Divine Presence proceeds by way of
negation. God is not an object, not just one more thing
apprehended by focal consciousness. Indeed, we must empty
our mind (consciousness) of concepts, images and words.
Simone Weil conjectured that if 揷ontact with human creatures is
given us through the sense of presence . . . contact with God is
given us through absence.?/p>
Love of Neighbor and Transcendent Openness
June 21, 2010
the passage from the works of Oswald Chambers that is quoted for
June 19 in My Utmost for His Highest, we read:
揑f I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be
exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter; but
if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve
humanity though human beings treat me as a doormat.?nbsp; The longer
one lives the more one identifies with the experience of Linus
in Charles Schultz's famous comic strip Peanuts:
揑 love mankind; it's people I can't stand.?nbsp; The truth of
the matter is that for all our attempts to love our neighbor as
ourselves, to love not only our friends but also our enemies,
there are many times when we don't like the people around us
very much. There is little doubt that for most of us the
attempt to love others who often seem to us to be careless,
mindless, selfish, arrogant, and on and on is, at best,
exhausting, if not impossible. Recently, as I
entered the security line at an airport for an eagerly
anticipated trip home both stressed and tired from a daylong
meeting, I found myself increasingly frustrated and agitated by
the perceived incompetencies of the security personnel and the
slowness and inattention of my fellow travelers. Later, on
the plane, I sat next to a young woman who proceeded to take off
her shoes, cross her legs, and dangle her bare foot in front of
me for much of, thankfully, only an hour or so flight. By
the time I arrived home, I was very tired and significantly
agitated and angry. And all this from relatively minor, if
not perhaps totally subjective, affronts. Commonplace
experiences such as these are potent reminders of how difficult
it is to practice the spiritual directives that call us to
revere and love the other.
FAITH AND PUBLIC LIFE:
A REFLECTION ON ILL FARES THE LAND BY TONY JUDT
June 14, 2010
his most recent book (Ill Fares the Land, New York,
Penguin, 2010), Tony Judt, University Professor and Director of
the Remarque Institute at New York University, reflects on the
state of political life in the United States and Great Britain.
His title is drawn from a passage in Oliver Goldsmith's The
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
As a historian, Judt points out that the greatest political
crises occur when an untenable disparity of wealth between
segments of a society develops. He believes that the crises in
which we today find ourselves are due to this disparity.
Presence and Gratitude
June 7, 2010
conflicting tendencies toward resentment and gratitude are often
at war with each other in the human heart. Even when the
mind knows it should be grateful, resentful feelings tug and
pull away from rational response. Blind urges conspire and
tempt one to trust in power rather than presence to remedy and
heal the aching soul. For millennia the developed
spiritual systems of humanity have understood the dynamics at
play within this psychological-spiritual polarity.
Resentment is a corrosive attitude which threatens our
well-being, destroys reason and diminishes our capacity for
enjoyment. Gratitude is more like an inborn readiness to
receive with open hands what is given in one's reality.
Resentment, the interloper, refuses; gratitude accepts.
Memorial Day 2010
Beginning this week and for the next three months of June, July
and August, the regular Weekly Reflection will be replaced by
two Bi-Monthly Reflections appearing on the first and third
Monday of each month. On the alternative Mondays of the
month a short essay featuring one or more contemporary books on
such topics as prayer, religion, psychology, education or
society will appear under the title of Book Reflections.
We will continue to post at least once
during each of these months a special focus article, essay or
May the months before us offer ample
opportunities for recreation and the kind of leisure that
fosters reflective living
Hearing THE APPEAL OF THE OTHER
May 24, 2010
first reading for the liturgy of Pentecost Sunday from the Acts
of the Apostles (Acts 2: 1-11) relates in vivid and highly
allusive scriptural imagery the gift of the Spirit. It is,
as in the creation account of the first chapter of Genesis, in
the power of a mighty wind that the Spirit of God is manifest.
As in Genesis the creative Spirit of God brings light out of
darkness and order out of chaos, so in Acts the arrival of
Spirit brings inner light and clarity to the darkness and
confusion in those who find themselves living the experience of
Jesus' absence. The second allusion is to the story of
the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. In the
Scriptural account of the fulfillment of Jesus' promise, the
action of Spirit involves the reversal of God's punishment at
Babylon. The story of the Tower of Babel is, at its core,
a reiteration of the story of the Fall. In this mythic
account, the dispersion of peoples, our inability to understand
each other, is due to our refusal to accept the reality of our
shared humanity and the limits of our being human. As Adam
and Eve fell prey to the temptation to 揵e as gods,?the people
of Babylon similarly succumb to what Adrian van Kaam calls
搃nverted awe,?that is, they become awe-filled at their own
capacities, specifically, their 搕echnological?capacities.
They attempt to reach the heavens by building a tower, to claim
by force what can only be received. As a punishment, the
Lord says to his divine cohort: 揅ome, let us go down there and
confuse their speech, so that they will not understand what they
say to one another.?(Gen. 11:7) In the second chapter of Acts,
God's Spirit comes down and reverses the punishment of Babel:
揥hy, they are all Galileans, are they not, these who are
speaking? How is it then that we hear them, each in our
own native language??nbsp; (vs. 7-8) We who receive the
Spirit of God, given through Jesus, are restored to the depths
of our common humanity and thus to our kinship as children of
God. With our disposition of awe restored to its proper Divine
object and by that restoration our capacity to recognize and to
live the will of God, we again speak the same language.
Living in the Present
May 17, 2010
she died early in the twentieth century Therese was only 24
years old. In her short life she wrote an autobiography
and a book's worth of poems, served as novice mistress of her
Carmelite community, and managed to 揵ecome a saint,?whether or
not she would have considered herself to be one. Her
prayer-poem 揗y Song for Today?reveals extraordinary focus on
the present moment. In the third stanza of the poem, for
example, she declares: 揟o pray for tomorrow, oh no, I cannot! .
. .?nbsp; Sufficient unto the day are the worries thereof.
For Therese the testing ground for faith was in the present, and
she prayed that 揾er little boat?would be guided over the
stormy waves in peace ?just for today!
THE NEW COMMANDMENT
In John's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples: 揘ow is
the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If
God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once. . . .I give you a new
commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you
also should love one another.?nbsp; (John 13: 31-2, 34)
The acts of love that constitute each moment of the life, and
now the impending death, of Jesus are acts of God. So the
搉ew commandment?is new only in its recognition of the
source of the love whereby the Disciples are to love one
another. That is, their love for each other is the love of
Jesus for each of them and through them to others.
May 3, 2010
poet and essayist W. H. Auden was insistent on the
irreducibility of our solitude: 揑n the last analysis we live
our lives alone. Alone we choose, alone we are
responsible.?nbsp; He bemoaned the fact that 搒o many people
try to forget their aloneness, and break their heads and hearts
against it.?nbsp; Being utterly alone is surely a fearsome
thing; great reserves of energy may be expended in the service
of keeping the experience at bay. Emily Dickinson may have
had dreaded aloneness in mind when she described the solitude of
space, sea or even death as 搒ociety?compared to the 損olar
privacy?of solitary inwardness:
There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself ?/span>
DISPOSITIONS FOR AGING SPIRITUALLY
April 30, 2010
we grow older we are more apt to ask ourselves what is really
meaningful for our life. We may question the meaning of
past events, the meaningfulness of the future.
Occasionally the questioning will be more proximate and
personal: Is my life meaningful? Has what I have
done amounted to anything of value? Does it ― do I ― make
a difference? Such questions are value-laden. We are
questioning/evaluating our worth. Elias Norbert relates
these questions of meaningfulness to the way we will ultimately
face dying itself:
The way a person dies depends not least on whether and how
far he or she has been able to set goals and to reach them, to
set tasks and perform them. It depends on how far the
dying person feels that life has been fulfilled and meaningful ―
or unfulfilled and meaningless. The reasons for this
feeling are by no means always clear ― that too is an area for
investigation that is still wide open. But whatever the
reasons, we can perhaps assume that dying becomes easier for
people who feel they have done their bit, and harder for people
who feel they have missed their life's goal, and especially hard
for those who, however fulfilled their life may have been, feel
that the manner of their dying is itself meaningless.
RESTORING THE JOY OF OUR YOUTH
April 26, 2010
last week's reflection on Hospitality and Homecoming,
it was pointed out that Mary, in offering a space of hospitality
for Jesus, recognizes 搕hat in some way she herself is the
guest, and that he who is coming is also the host whose
hospitality she should be prepared to receive.?nbsp; Jesus
offers the fullness of his presence, both before and after his
death, to those who welcome him, who create a hospitable space
for him. And those who so welcome him discover that he to
whom they have opened their lives becomes the host who welcomes
them. To receive Jesus without condition is at the same
time to receive one's own 搃nwardness in a new way.?nbsp; It is
to know the freshness and newness of the present moment; it is
to be restored to 搕he joy of our youth.?/span>
HOSPITALITY AND HOMECOMING
April 19, 2010
recent but posthumous book by Henri Nouwen, Home Tonight:
Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son,
opens with a reflection on Nouwen's arrival at L'Arche Daybreak
in 1986. Unnervingly, Nouwen was confronted daily by one
of the members in the group home, who always asked the same two
questions of people: 揝o, where's your home??and 揂re you home
tonight??nbsp; In her Introduction, Sue Mosteller writes that
with his frenetic schedule Nouwen 搗ery often had to falteringly
explain to John that he would again be absent from the table
that evening.?nbsp; Mosteller suggests that Nouwen, who came to
Daybreak in search of a home, needed John's constant reminders
that he was on a journey ― home. Nouwen had written
earlier in his career that hospitality is 搕he creation of a
space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead
of an enemy.?(Monastic Studies 10, 1974). One is left
with an impression of unrealized longings.
STAY WITH US
April 12, 2010
is Holy Saturday 2010. At the front of the small
of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the town of Kipushi, Democratic Republic of Congo, a large
paschal fire is already burning as the members of the
Congregation gather to celebrate the Easter Vigil. They
come dressed in bright, beautiful and celebrative colors and
carrying the candles they have purchased in the small shops
around town. They fill not only the benches of the Church but
the many small plastic chairs that have been added along the
sides of the church and down the main aisle, as well as into the
foyer and out onto the front porch. The Church is
decorated with strings of colored and flashing lights, many hand
cut and fashioned decorations, even an electric lantern that
will flash with the other smaller lights during the singing of
the Gloria. In the excitement of meeting and conversation
as friends and family gather, there is already not only an air
of expectancy but a sense of deep life, love, and hope that
already manifests the truth of Resurrection.
April 5, 2010
The New Being Paul Tillich wrote:
It is love, human and divine, which overcomes death . . .
Death is given power over everything finite, especially in our
period of history. But death is given no power over love.
Love is stronger. It creates something new out of the
destruction caused by death; it bears everything and overcomes
everything. It is at work where the power of death is
strongest. . . . It rescues life from death. It rescues
each of us, for love is stronger than death.
We thank the Rev. Brenda Bennett for
her distilled reflections on the meaning of the paradigmatic
events of Holy Week and Easter:
HOLY WEEK REFLECTION: LIFE AS IT IS
March 29, 2010
his text Opening the Hand
the Zen master and Abbot Kosho Uchiyama writes that the term
afterlife refers to
搕he life that arises when one clarifies this matter of death.
It means knowing clearly just what death is, and then
really living out one's life.
. . . As long as this matter of death remains unclear,
everything in the world suffers.?(p. 8) As we enter this year's
celebration of Holy Week, we are once again drawn into the
remembrance of and participation in the passion, death, and
resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
This week we turn our attention, in a focal way, to the
reality of death and the mystery of the embracing of the human
condition unto death by God in Jesus.
We face death as an undeniable reality of human existence
and openly await that clarification of its meaning in
resurrected life that comes after that going through and
搑eproducing [in our lives] the pattern of his death.?/p>
THE PROBLEM OF ACEDIA
For those who have adopted a regime of
fasting, sacrifice and spiritual practice during Lent, the
season may at some point provide an occasion of encounter with
the demon of acedia. The word has many meanings and perhaps as
many applications. Thomas Merton cites it as one of the
main obstacles to contemplative prayer, but the term may be
applied broadly to describe the host of interior difficulties
that inevitably arise when we strive in earnest to grow and live
spiritually. According to Merton acedia, a condition of
spiritual inertia, is marked by inner confusion, coldness and a
lack of confidence.
HUNGRY SOUL BY LEON R. KASS, M.D.
March 18, 2010
Books about eating; yes, the field is full. But unlike the
bumper crop of material on weight loss, cancer prevention, and
cholesterol lowering, eating is not the problem, not the
solution, but a vital clue to the sacredness of life. Kass' book
offers up courses about what it is to be human. Those offered
range from the necessity of food and its digestion to the
evolution of the family meal and dietary laws. There are
generous servings of philosophy, physiology and Biblical
THE SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION
The liturgy of the Fourth Sunday of Lent draws us into
what St. Paul clearly understands to be the core of his
preaching: 搕he service of reconciliation.?nbsp; This message,
as presented in 2 Corinthians, has two aspects. The first is
that reconciliation with God is 搕he work of God?through the
life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and the second is that this
reconciliation calls those who receive it into the 搒ervice of
reconciliation?to all others.
ASCETICISM AND RELAXATION
March 8, 2010
we do not ordinarily associate the practices of rest and
relaxation with the ascetical mandates of Lent, scripture as
well as the literature of the spiritual masters remind us that
we are called to care for the body and mind as the temple of the
Lord. Even our efforts at renunciation are meant to
restore bodily health and spiritual presence, enhancing at once
our receptivity to the Spirit and renewing our relationship to
the Divine. An important part of our daily routine during
Lent can therefore be found in the Lord's invitation to us to
come away and spend time alone with him.
LENTEN PRACTICE: LECTIO DIVINA
March 1, 2010
discussed in last week's reflection, the Lenten call to
conversion is a call not only to turn away from but to turn
toward. St. Paul, in the letter to the Romans, speaks of
this as the living of a new life, born of a new consciousness.
Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the
world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your
new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God
and know what is good, what it is that God wants, and what is
the perfect thing to do. (Romans 12: 2)
This renewal of mind comes from our
growing identification with the mind of Jesus Christ
(Philippians 2:5). In this light, we repent of the degree
to which we have lost our true mind, to the degree that we have
come to live from a false mind or consciousness that has become
dissociated from our spiritual identity. In this way, the
practices of Lent are aimed at our remembering who we most
deeply are and to whom we most deeply belong. Through the
practices of Lent we seek to recover our identification with the
mind of Christ.
CONVERSION OF LIFE
February 22, 2010
call to conversion of life is as old as human society. In
the Judeo-Christian tradition, conversion is strongly linked to
atonement for wrong-doing and the need to repent and do penance
for sin. However, as Richard N. Fragomeni observes in
The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality:
. . . in recent years a more comprehensive understanding of
conversion has sought to include the full depth of biblical
insight into the understanding of the process as a turning from
and a turning toward.
This new understanding places the emphasis on the transformation
of personality and on God's gift of grace within the process.
Without denying the reality of sin and guilt, contemporary
approaches to conversion foster the development of
self-awareness rather than self-judging and introspection as the
effectives means of bringing about healthy change.
REFLECTIONS UPON ASH WEDNESDAY
February 18, 2010
?the powdery residue of burnt matter
is an age-old symbol of penitence and purification; derived
from the even older tradition of immolating living beings as an act
of oblation and worship. God told followers in ancient Israel that
kindness was God's only requirement, never cruelty or suffering
(Amos 5:21-24). Yet we still live as if that were not the case.
Mythology and folklore provide us
with other, more beneficent, images of ash's potential to transform.
From and through ash life can be renewed and restored. The phoenix,
when aged or injured, is said to ignite itself on a nest of myrrh
and, from the remaining ashes, emerges as a new, young bird.
Cinders and ash are also central to a
classic folk tale that tells of wrongs righted, love found and life
reclaimed. The ash represents sadness and sorrow, alienation and
abuse. Through the goodness and love of others a grim existence is
redeemed, replaced by wholeness and happiness. This good news story,
this gospel, shares its name with the Lenten symbol:
Aschenputtel or Ashpot in German; in English, the Cinder Maid
Like the phoenix, Cinderella is
re-born out of the ashes of her brokenness and pain. She is, to
quote Jesus, 揵orn again.?(John 3:3). His message, like those of
myth and folktale, was one of hope and possibility. Transformation
of our lives and transcendence of our sorrows can emerge from the
ashes of our brokenness and the cinders of our past, if we allow God
to help and heal us; if we open ourselves to God's renewing and
That was the message Jesus died to
proclaim. That is the true meaning of Lenten ashes.
A PERSONAL DIALOGUE WITH SCAR TISSUE BY MICHAEL
It is over eleven years since she began to leave us.
Sometimes focally, often diffusely and unconsciously, a sense of
pathos colors my entire life: my prayer, my relationships, my
work. And now on a Sunday afternoon in the Fall of 1995, I sit
and try to make a connection, to find a place where I can be
with her. My mother, recently turned eighty, sits in a wheel
chair and tries to speak, to tell me about what she has been
experiencing. Occasionally a decipherable word or phrase
emerges, and I seize upon it, like a drowning man grabbing for a
rope, and reiterate it. As I do she smiles. She seems pleased at
our communication and encouraged to say more. But in the spaces
between my exhausting efforts to hear and find responses, I miss
her. As I reflect later that evening, 揧ou never miss someone as
much as when you're with them, but they are not there.?/span>
This is the time of tension between dying
The place of solitude where three
Between blue rocks
The place of solitude where three
Let the other yew be shaken and
REMEMBRANCE AND HOPE
As we celebrate Ash Wednesday the liturgical formula from
the Book of Genesis reverberates in our consciousness: 揜emember
that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.?nbsp; We
begin this season of repentance and preparation with a
suspension of our ordinary forgetfulness of our destiny.
We remember that we, as we take ourselves to be, come from the
dust of the earth and are on our way to returning to that from
which we came. A most sobering recollection! And
yet, as we enter this Season of Lent 2010, there is also an
invitation to know the profound consolation and the transcendent
hope that a mindful living of these words affords us.