Dedicated to Research and Reflection in Formative Spirituality



Weekly Reflections
Book Reflections

About Us Programs Staff Links Contact Us




Conditions for EMPATHIC Presence

July 9, 2012

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 daily lives.


June 25, 2012

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 Two)

June 18, 2012

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 through.?/p>

Pre-Transcendent and Transcendent Presence (Part One)

March 19, 2012

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

by Susan Muto

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

February 27, 2012

A 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

February 22, 2012

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.

Reforming Obstacles to Presence (Part Four)

February 13, 2012

In 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.

Reforming Obstacles to Presence (Part Three)

February 6, 2012

In 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.

Reforming Obstacles to Presence (Part Two)

January 30, 2012

The 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 practice appreciation.  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.

Reforming Obstacles to Presence (Part One)

January 16, 2012

In 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)

January 9, 2012

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 One)

January 2, 2012

We 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 Three)

December 26, 2011

We 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 and receptivity.

Spiritual Presence:  Attitudes for Incarnation  (Part Two)

December 19, 2011

We 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 One)

December 12, 2011

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.


December 5, 2011

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.


December 1, 2011

In 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


November 28, 2011

The 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.


November 21, 2011

Living in the present would seem to be the simplest of things.  It is certainly the most natural: it is where our bodies always find themselves, even if our minds and spirits do not always follow.  If the present moment is a sacrament, why don't we experience it as such? If the present moment is in fact always a point of contact with Eternity, why do we not experience our lives as constantly immersed in divine reality?  Being present turns out to be a challenge for us.  The present and its possibilities often escape us.  Is it because we ourselves are distant and unavailable?  Why should this be so?

We, Ordinary People

August 1, 2011

There 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)

Ordinary Life: A Source of Reflection

July 25, 2011

We 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

As 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 ordinary moments.  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

June 27, 2011

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 at home.  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 2)

June 13, 2011

The 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 Suffering (1963).  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

Deep the darkness,

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?

     ~ tp

Peace: A Spiritual Longing

June 1, 2011

The 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

Receiving 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

At 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

In 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.

Eastertide Reflection

Opening the Scriptures of Our Lives

May 2, 2011

In 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 . . .  (40)

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 keep searching?  What happens on the road to Emmaus suggests a different outcome.


Diane Curran

April 26,  2011

Things 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

As 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 and confounding.  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 (conclusion)

April 11,  2011

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 (continued)

April 4,  2011

Jesus 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

St. John抯 gospel reminds us that God is spirit and that we are called to worship in spirit and in truth.  (Jn.4:24)  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

The 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.


by Eileen Young

Each place we gather is a sanctuary

Each look, smile, hug a prayer

The fruit of the Earth

The labor of

Human hands

The offering.

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

Isaiah抯 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?

Mother Poems

Marie Turcotte

February 20, 2011

I 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,

      and love her all the more.

I look at her hands and see how they resemble

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

      her cuts 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

Beverly Stott, RSM

January 31,  2011

resentmentA 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 childhood.  My lifting heart and delighted eyes tell me that this is where I belong.  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

Pierre Deghaye

Translated by Romeo J. Bonsaint

BoehmeJanuary 22, 2011

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

Eileen Young

alwaysJanuary 14,  2011

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 chains,

writhed, jerked and jettisoned with silent shriek

two rigid leaves of chiseled, "Thou shalt not!"

Yet when the living Word himself was spoke,

Incarnate in the Virgin's womb, no pains

convulsed his mother's flesh, no sound provoked

the night. But Maid endorsed what Heaven had wrought,

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 Bentley Dupr?


Before the table

Spread in white linen,

He stood

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."

Body ?

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 forgives.

He understands.

He loves you."

Whirlpool of words,

Wordy inundation.

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 Frost*

Every day

is every night

is Christmas dawn.

I burrow

through a tunnel

of packages,

knowing that I

will find the star

of my birth slap.

I hear it now,

"Hand over

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 Rag:

Monday, December 27


Pitfalls by Robert J. Hope*

How you drag me unwilling

Out of the pits of self

The vanities singly sought

The puffs of pride when graced

Anxious self-absorption

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

Love, let me know that innocence

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 the spot,

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, Georgia.

December 25


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.

~ Adrian Van Kaam


From Nativity Poems by Joseph Brodsky (FSG, 2001)


Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray

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. (1989)


                  . . . The star would resemble 

no other, because of its knack, at its nadir,

for taking an alien for its neighbor. (1990)


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. (1995)

December 24

We are your people, walking in darkness,

yet seeking the light.                             

   To you we say, 揅ome, Lord Jesus.?nbsp;        

~ Henri Nouwen


Advent Prayer


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,

Jesus Christ.

Lead us by your love

And by your grace poured out into our lives

To an awareness of your presence with us

In all we undergo.

Nurture within us an attitude of abandonment,

An abiding receptivity to your desire to be with us.

Help 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

Dream Divine WillFor 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


December 13,  2010

sadnessIn 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

JudgmentToday's 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 afflicted.

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

danceDancing 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>


November 29,  2010

With 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 Delbr阬 (II)

November 22, 2010

Leseur & DelbrelAfter 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

speechIn 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 conformist interpretation.  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

meditationJoy 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 head;

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 life;

you shall make me full of joy with your presence.

and goes on to say in 14:17

. . . he provides you with plenty of food and fills

your hearts with joy.


Making Peace with Pathos: The Call of November

pathosNovember 1, 2010

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

HappinessDarrin 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 揾appiness?and 搇uck?  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

Enjoying One Moment at a TimeOctober 18, 2010

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 ?/span>Father Time?/span> 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?


ChangeSarah Chamberlain

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

Growing in SimplicityIn 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 ourselves.  Honesty 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 God-given identity.  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

invitationIn 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 vocational, the 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.

Making Commitments

September 20, 2010

commitmentsWithin 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

castleSeptember 13, 2010

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.

Speaking Responsibly

September 6, 2010

speaking responsiblyThe 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 assertions?

Teresa of Avila: the Interior Castle

August 30, 2010

Where Lovers MeetTeresa 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 Interior Castle.  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 communion.  Although 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.  (p. 19)

MODERN WOMEN OF THE SPIRIT: 蒷isabeth Leseur and Madeleine Delbr阬 (I)

August 19, 2010

Leseur & DelbrelAttitudes 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 reality.


August 16, 2010

Self-actualization 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 existence.

Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine

An Autobiography by Huston Smith with Jeffrey Paine

Tales of WonderAugust 9, 2010

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 Disbelief 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 dedicated adherent.

Learning REVERENCE from the Psalms

August 2, 2010

reverencePsalm 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 sameA REFLECTION ON 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

wisdomI'd 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

Rev. Brenda Bennett

PsalmsJuly 12, 2010

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. 


universal loveJuly 5, 2010

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 world.

Spiritual Presence

June 28, 2010

spiritual presenceIn 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

agapeIn 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.



June 14, 2010

JudtIn 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 Deserted Village:

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

gratitudeThe 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 poetry.  

     May the months before us offer ample opportunities for recreation and the kind of leisure that fosters reflective living  


May 24, 2010

The 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

presentWhen 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!


new commandmentMay 10, 2010

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

solitudeThe 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>

Finite infinity.


April 30, 2010

agingAs 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.


April 26, 2010

joyIn 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>


April 19, 2010

emmausA 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.


April 12, 2010

It is Holy Saturday 2010. At the front of the small parish Church 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

In 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:


March 29, 2010

life as it isIn his text Opening the Hand of Thought, the Zen master and Abbot Kosho Uchiyama writes that the term gosho or 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>


acediaMarch 22, 2010

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.


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 commentary.


reconciliationMarch 15, 2010

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.


March 8, 2010

asceticismAlthough 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


March 1, 2010

lectio divinaAs 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.


February 22, 2010

conversionThe 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.


Offered by Rev. Brenda Bennett of Middleton, MA

February 18, 2010

phoenixAsh ?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 or Cinderella. 

     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 restoring love.

     That was the message Jesus died to proclaim. That is the true meaning of Lenten ashes. 


Scar TissueFebruary 17, 2010

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>


ashFebruary 17, 2010

This is the time of tension between dying and birth

The place of solitude where three dreams cross

Between blue rocks

The place of solitude where three dreams cross

Let the other yew be shaken and reply.


desertFebruary 15, 2010

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.

Copyright ?2007 [Resources in Spiritual Formation].

All rights reserved.

Last updated: 11/24/10.心脏支架群控