RESOURCES IN SPIRITUAL FORMATION

  Dedicated to Research and Reflection in Formative Spirituality


 

 

Home

About Us Programs Staff Links Contact Us

 

WEEKLY REFLECTION

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.

Relativizing Relaxation

     We must learn to balance the stresses of everyday life with formative pauses.  Our immersion in daily realities can distort (unbalance) our healthy appraisal of their meaning in our life.  Physical exercise, pleasure reading of good literature, relaxation with friends, movie-going -- these and other sources of  personal replenishment restore our deeper good sense and judgment about what is meaningful and valuable in life .

Giving Thought – Meditative Reflection – to What is Happening in Our Lives

     We often live without thinking about what is happening in our lives, as if surface appearances tell all.  The deeper structure of life is revealed to us in reflection.  Through the generosity of thinking we overcome much of our anxiety life is not only the threat or the disaster we often imagine it to be.  The world, the situation we find ourselves in, and even the people in it, are perhaps more giving that we realize.

     Generosity – thinking – i.e., giving  our thought to what calls out to us to be thought about, considered, “cared” about – leads us toward greater appreciation and gratitude for what is given.  The right kind of thinking, which is generous in nature, heals spiritual blindness.

     Etty Hillesum, for example, in her extraordinary journal, remarkably did not lose sight of the sources of goodness in her field, even in the most trying and threatening circumstances.  She kept her awareness of the “more” open at all times.  For this to happen, thinking must be open and generous.

Opportunity Thinking

     We often feel trapped by the ordinary.  We may feel that because of the ordinary we don’t even have a life.  Does having a life mean to have something?  Or does it mean to have life within us?

     Free and flexible dispositions enable us to make the most of our opportunities.  Therese of Lisieux was probably a spiritual genius in this regard.  She viewed everyday circumstances as opportunities to put love into practice.  This might be the very essence of “being present”:  the willingness (determination) to overcome all obstacles to doing what we can – to being present as we uniquely can be – in this situation, at this time.

     What greater testament to the power of the Holy Spirit!  To freely incarnate the inspiration of the spirit in our life as we find it now.  And thus to be the distinctively human person we are – and are called to be in – our ordinary ground.  Truly, this capacity is the very essence of the good news! 


OBSTACLES TO EMPATHIC Presence

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 “what 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 “what we are going through.”


Pre-Transcendent and Transcendent Presence (Part One)

March 19, 2012

Although we haven’t 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 “embodied spirit” our presence is manifested materially (physically) as well as in distinctively human capacities, such as thinking, imagining, and self-transcendence (we “go beyond” ourselves in fundamental ways).  That our spiritual life is embodied means that it does not function independently of the reality that we are “in 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 "stop" 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’s 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 “don’ts” 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 “conversion,” or “amendment 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’s 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’s 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.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  Elsewhere in the scriptures, however, we have learned of something that preceded God’s creation of the world, and so occurred before what Genesis says is the beginning.  In Proverbs 8:22 we read:  “The 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.”  And we hear in Wisdom 9:9:  “With you is wisdom, she who knows your works and was present when you made the world.”  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 “self” 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 “cautious” 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 “meeting” 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.  In the passage above, van Kaam affirms our potential to presence to whatever is emerging in our field of formation in our moment-to-moment existence.  Everything “points” to the Mystery.  We could say, as Shakespeare wrote, that “there are tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones.”  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’s grace some people develop an abiding sense of the transcendent dimension of reality, and of God’s 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:  “The most marvelous thing of all things a being can do is: to be.”  Of course “doing” 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)

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.


LIVING IN PRESENCE (Part Two)

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.  Live 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

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?


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 “my 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’s 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:  “First 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: “Do you think I’m as fat as Kate Smith?”  I would then always respond, “Yes”, 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’m 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

“Our hearts are restless,” Augustine tells us.  The restlessness at the heart of human life   is a spiritual condition marked by innate yearning for “more.”  We are not satisfied; we are not whole; we are not at home.  When Augustine adds, “until 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 “a harmony between us and the world which tends to dissolve consciousness.”  At such times we participate effortlessly in the world; or, as Lavelle puts it, “we exist in communicating with the world.”  Suffering changes all that.  It is a threat to our union with the world.  “Even 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.


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 –

in the world and in nature –

and within us –

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. 


“Peace I Leave with You”:  The Gift of Transcendent Peace

May 16, 2011

At the heart of the teaching of all of the world’s 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 “the 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.”  (Luke 1: 77-79)  “The 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: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”  This is on one level an injunction against falling prey to false gods or prophets.  The deeper meaning relates to the word “buddha”, which is derived from a smaller word bud: “to awaken.”  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.  “Even defined by it,” she writes,

Islam marks its start from migration — the 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: “Foxes have their holes and the birds or the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”  Pilgrimage, which is a form of tourism, reaffirms humanity’s most ancient metaphor—that 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. 


Holy Week Reflection

Life Beyond Measure

April 19, 2011

As we enter this year’s 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 “his 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. “How are you?” “I 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’s 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

Jesus Alone

March 21, 2011

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is Matthew’s 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 “transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.”  (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.  “When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.” (Mt. 17, 6)  It is when “Jesus 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.


First Sunday of Lent Reflection

finding Our Joy in the Lord

March 14, 2011

Isaiah’s 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 “plying our trade” and “attending to our own affairs.”  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?


From Resentment to Gratitude

by Beverly Stott, RSM

January 31, 2011

A 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.


I Am With You Always

by Eileen Young

January 14, 2011

To hear someone say they will be with you is powerful.  A young child’s fear on the first day of school is calmed by a parent’s 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 “be with” may be sincere, but hardly without limits.


Fourth Sunday of Advent Reflection

Dreaming the Divine Will

December 20,  2010

When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him...

Matthew 1:24

For 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

In today’s reading from Isaiah35 we read the promise to those who are suffering in exile:   “Those 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.”  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

Today’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’s time and in our own, judgment is made in service to the established “social order,” that is, in Isaiah’s terms, by “appearance” and “hearsay.”  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

Dancing 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 “music of the spheres,” which John of the Cross spoke of as “silent music.”


first Sunday of Advent Reflection

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.  “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep” (Romans 13:11) 


Speech and Authority

November 15, 2010

In 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: “d’ou parlez vous?”  “Where do you speak from?”  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 “the 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 “spirit and life” but rather the repetition of a learned theology, doctrine, or mandate.


Meditation and the Emergence of Joy

November 8, 2010

Joy is an abiding theme in the scriptures, and a promise of good things to come. Isaiah 51:11 prophesies

. . . Everlasting 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

November 1, 2010

This week marks the beginning of November. If, as T. S. Eliot asserts, “April 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 “bare 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

Darrin M. McMahon, the Florida State University professor and author of Happiness, A History, observes in a recent “Yes! Magazine” essay that “Happiness 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.”   In fact, he notes, the origins of the word tell a different story.  Indo-European languages reveal shared cognates for the words “happiness” and “luck”.  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–happenstance!  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 “Oedipus 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

October 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 “by the clock,” and how often I experience time as a tyrannical slave driver. As I reflected on my friend’s response, I began to wonder why “Father Time” wasn't gentler, a friend and ally, a brother or sister. Why, instead of a tyrant, wasn’t “time" a beautiful gift, an opportunity?


Change

by Sarah 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

In a small monograph entitled Spiritual Direction and Meditation, Thomas Merton writes that “we can best profit by spiritual direction if we are encouraged to develop our natural simplicity, sincerity, and forthright spiritual honesty, in a word to ‘be ourselves’ in the best sense of the expression.”  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

In Heaven in Ordinarie (1979), Noel Dermott O’Donoghue writes with conviction that, “Freedom can only mean a free response to an invitation to be taken beyond oneself.”  The essence of our freedom “is vocational, the response or the refusal to respond, to a call.”  As free a person “can 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 “enclose 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

Within 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 “until death” continue to have meaning for us today?


The Interior Castle of Saint Teresa of Avila

September 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

The 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?


self-actualization

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 “promise” 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. 


Learning REVERENCE from the Psalms

August 2, 2010

Psalm 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)


Learning  Wisdom from the Psalms

July 19, 2010

I’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, “I don’t get anything out of praying the psalms.”  Since the novice had been in the community for some time the Director knew him well.  And so his response to him was:  “I think you have difficulty with the psalms because you have difficulty receiving anything that is given to you.”  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 “transcendent openness.”  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.


MESSENGERS OF UNIVERSAL LOVE 

July 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.


Love of Neighbor and Transcendent Openness 

June 21, 2010

In the passage from the works of Oswald Chambers that is quoted for June 19 in My Utmost for His Highest, we read:  “If 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.”    The longer one lives the more one identifies with the experience of Linus in Charles Schultz’s famous comic strip Peanuts:  “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”  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.


PRESENCE AND GRATITUDE

June 7, 2010

The 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.


Hearing the Appeal of the Other

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 “be as gods,” the people of Babylon similarly succumb to what Adrian van Kaam calls “inverted awe,” that is, they become awe-filled at their own capacities, specifically, their “technological” 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: “Come, 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:  “Why, 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?”  (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

When 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 “become a saint,” whether or not she would have considered herself to be one.  Her prayer-poem “My Song for Today” (excerpted above) reveals extraordinary focus on the present moment.  In the third stanza of the poem, for example, she declares: “To pray for tomorrow, oh no, I cannot! . . .”  Sufficient unto the day are the worries thereof.  For Therese the testing ground for faith was in the present, and she prayed that “her little boat” would be guided over the stormy waves in peace — just for today!


THE NEW COMMANDMENT

May 10, 2010

In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples:  “Now 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.”  (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 “new 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.


EMBRACING SOLITUDE

May 3, 2010

The poet and essayist W. H. Auden was insistent on the irreducibility of our solitude: “In the last analysis we live our lives alone.  Alone we choose, alone we are responsible.”  He bemoaned the fact that “so many people try to forget their aloneness, and break their heads and hearts against it.”  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 “society” compared to the “polar 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

Finite infinity.


RESTORING THE JOY OF OUR YOUTH

April 26, 2010

In last week’s reflection on Hospitality and Homecoming, it was pointed out that Mary, in offering a space of hospitality for Jesus, recognizes “that 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.”  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 “inwardness in a new way.”  It is to know the freshness and newness of the present moment; it is to be restored to “the joy of our youth.”


HOSPITALITY AND HOMECOMING

April 19, 2010

A 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: “So, where’s your home?” and “Are you home tonight?”  In her Introduction, Sue Mosteller writes that with his frenetic schedule Nouwen “very often had to falteringly explain to John that he would again be absent from the table that evening.”  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 “the 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

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.


EASTER

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: 


HOLY WEEK REFLECTION: LIFE AS IT IS

March 29, 2010

In his text Opening the Hand of Thought, the Zen master and Abbot Kosho Uchiyama writes that the term gosho or afterlife refers to “the 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 “reproducing [in our lives] the pattern of his death.” 


THE PROBLEM OF ACEDIA

March 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.


THE SERVICE OF RECONCILIATION

March 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: “the service of reconciliation.”  This message, as presented in 2 Corinthians, has two aspects.  The first is that reconciliation with God is “the 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 “service of reconciliation” to all others.


ASCETICISM AND RELAXATION

March 8, 2010

Although 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

As 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

The 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.


REMEMBRANCE AND HOPE

February 15, 2010

As we celebrate Ash Wednesday the liturgical formula from the Book of Genesis reverberates in our consciousness: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”  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.


ATTENDING TO WHAT IS WITHIN

February 8, 2010

     In iconic novels and plays, the American writer Thornton Wilder sought to pierce the veil of ordinary existence in order to reveal the miracle lying just beneath our gaze.  The spiritual for him was not some other, unlived life.  He believed that the transcendent manifested itself within our innate openness to reality even in the midst of our earthly pursuits.  Unfortunately, our awareness of the fuller dimensions of reality tends to remain pre-reflective, and we miss the wonder.  Hence, in “Our Town”, it is only after Emily has died in childbirth and “returns” to earth to relive a day of her early life — her twelfth birthday that she realizes how much of her life she missed as she was going through it.  She suffers poignantly the fact that loved ones, occupied with duties of the moment, look past one another, not really seeing and responding to each other, missing opportunities for authentic encounter and understanding.  Watching herself relive these moments, she senses that the mostly hidden beauty of the world is almost too much to bear:  “Oh earth,” she exclaims, “you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you!”  And then she implores, “Do any human beings realize life as they live it?”


LISTENING TO TRANSCENDENCE

February 1, 2010

In last week’s reflection we spoke of the need for careful speech and thought. In our world, there is much talk and much debate about God and God’s existence.  Yet much of the “God-talk” between believers and non-believers, and even among believers themselves, occurs without the requisite presuppositions, in this case the presupposition of “purity of heart,” the human capacity to “listen to the voice of transcendence in immanence.”


THINKING SPIRITUALLY

January 25, 2010

The great spiritual traditions of humanity are guides not only to belief but also for behavior.  They aim to elevate human life by presenting form ideals for integration into all spheres of human interaction.  Speaking, for example, a constant reality of everyday life, comes up for a great deal of comment in religious writings.  Confucius regarded sincerity in speech as a preeminent virtue.  He distrusted eloquence and glib talkers, and insisted that things be named properly. Better to be silent than to speak about what one doesn’t know or understand.  In Buddhism, the principle of Right Speech is a distinct part of the path to awakening.  Because words are so consequential, one is expected to learn the art of skillful communication, being mindful always of two questions about one’s speech:  Is it true?  Is it useful? 


REFLECTIONS ON ORDINARY TIME

January 18, 2010

Liturgically speaking we have now left behind the special seasons of Advent and Christmas and re-entered “Ordinary Time.”  We have taken down our Christmas trees, removed our window lights, and unwrapped (and perhaps stored away) our presents.  All of the artificial light and constant celebration that, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, have relieved for some weeks the darkness and isolation of deepening winter have come to an end.  We now return to our daily lives and work, our separate and more solitary lives, and are again faced with the reality of our humdrum day-to-day existence.


BECOMING GOD'S CHILD

January 11, 2010

The words still ring in my ears:  “Inevitably difficulties arise.  Crises will occur – as they must.”  These words, spoken by a graduate school teacher, impressed me by the quality of inwardness they expressed.  One sensed the weight of experience behind the articulation, and also that the speaker seemed to be speaking as much to herself as to her listeners, as if awakening to the significance of her words as they were being spoken.


NEW YEAR'S REFLECTION

January 4, 2010

We enter this new year of 2010 out of our shared celebration of Christmas, of the startling belief that God’s desire for intimacy with humanity is greater than we could ever imagine.  “To all who received him, he gave the power to become children of God.”  (John 1, 12)  In his Christmas sermon, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, describes this Mystery as follows...



Copyright © 2007 [Resources in Spiritual Formation].

All rights reserved.

Last updated: 11/24/10.