Three of the grandchildren are visiting, the youngest three-and-a-half years old. She and I put in some backyard time late yesterday afternoon. She found our little fountain and carefully chose some small stones to throw into it (looking back at me each time to see if she would get into trouble--she didn't). We had a bubble wand, and at her insistence I waved and waved, sending series of blue-pink bubbles up around our heads. Each time I would catch one on the wand and then obediently hand the wand to her so that she could touch my face with it and cackle when the bubble burst on my nose. We did this many times.
Some dark clouds rolled in. I had put down the back of the swing, making a bed for us under the canopy (this is a swing I bought at Lowe's for just under $100 two summers ago). As it rained off and on, we scrunched our shoulders against the sprinkly breeze and laughed because we were outside but not in the rain.
Then the walk around the neighborhood, during which we practiced jumping over cracks in the sidewalk--with one foot at a time or two feet together. Halfway home she grew "hot" and needed to be carried. So we did the piggyback ride the rest of the way.
When she grew cranky later, I tried to get her to lie down with me on the porch lounger, and for a while I entertained her by singing the ABC song in various voices, including my so-so impersonation--excuse me, inpigonation--of Miss Piggy. But she really did not want to sleep. I decided this was not a battle worth fighting.
Of course, our time was punctuated by glasses of water and various snacks and many trips in and out of the house, up and down stairs, touching the nose of this dog and rubbing the belly of that one, trying to catch Bones the cat or pick up Little Buddha the cat (dogs loved the attention, cats didn't). You really can't stay seated for long with a little one moving your environment around and introducing mini-dramas one after the other.
At age 52 I'm pretty awake to life. I notice things that used to be mere scenery. But a few hours with three-year-old Dakota was a refreshing experience of mindfulness, of living with energy and joy right this minute.
If you can do nothing else of a spiritual nature during these final days of Lent, find one or two stories of Jesus and live with them for a while. Concentrate on stories of his encounters with people, particularly when he was addressing their needs (as opposed to encounters in which he debates with those who oppose him).
My life is so fractured these days, as I meet demands of my profession, my seminary training, my home life, and my artistic gifts. I struggle to keep all my appointments and deadlines straight. The last thing I need is a complicated prayer life. So I sit for about twenty minutes right before bed, and I pick up the Gospel of Luke and read one Jesus-encounter. I read it at least twice. Then I get comfortable, close my eyes, and go to that time and place. Maybe I’m a person in the crowd, or maybe I’m the one Jesus is dealing with. But I just try to be there.
I try to see the place, smell it, listen to it, feel it all around me, and taste the situation. Is there a meal? Is someone brewing tea over an open fire or in a home hearth? Can I smell what working people have brought in with them—the outdoor air, sweat from their labor, earthiness from the fields, or the stink of goats and sheep? Is the weather gentle or not? Do I hear the racket of a crowd or quiet conversations taking place here and there?
Then Jesus comes on the scene, not in a bright or flamboyant way, but as just another person walking into the room or courtyard. The way I can tell it’s Jesus is that he attracts people and they gather around him as he walks or wherever he stops to stand or sit. Also, he has the most welcoming manner I’ve ever seen. His face has been shaped and creased by kindness. Whenever a person comes up to him, his eyes widen a bit and he is raptly attentive. He smiles but also reflects whatever pain or concern that person brings.
That’s one thing I appreciate so much—Jesus’ willingness to be affected by others. He is the opposite of “cool”; he opens himself with a generosity that at times makes me nervous for him. Should he really be standing so close to that crazy person? Should he really engage in conversation with this guy who carries so much anger that people instinctively get out of his way? Does Jesus know that all these people have agendas and will suck him in if he’s not careful?
But no, the teacher from Nazareth is completely here, altogether ready to stay in whatever space you or I inhabit. And it’s at this point that I realize he is in my space, gazing into my eyes, searching my face for clues to the turmoil in my soul. He is right here, and for a moment I want to run, to avoid a conversation in which I might actually speak the truth and truly feel what I feel.
This is not complicated prayer. But it is dangerous.
During Lent I will post something every day. Consider this an online retreat for people who are still figuring out—and learning to live—the realities of the Lenten season.
The Bible is, among other things, a collection of stories. Some stories are just a few verses long, and others stretch over entire chapters and books. In all of them we find certain rhythms, or story arcs, and I think we can perceive Lent as having a rhythm all its own.
We can experience Lent’s rhythm in several ways. Let’s begin with something simple: breathing.
Breathe out: my sins.
Breathe in Jesus’ words: “Your sins are forgiven.”
Breathe out: my failures.
Breathe in: “My grace is sufficient for you.”
Breathe out: my fears.
Breathe in: “Be not afraid.”
Breathe out: my worries.
Breathe in: “Cast all your cares upon him, for he cares for you.”
Breathe out: my unhealthy fixations
Breathe in: “For freedom he has set us free.”
Breathe out: my needs.
Breathe in: “He came to give us life, and life in abundance.”
Breathe out: my deepest desires.
Breathe in: “Seek and you shall find; ask and it shall be given; knock and the door shall be opened for you.”
There. That’s enough to think about, isn’t it? Try some deep breathing. God bless you richly.
The trouble with reading Emilie Griffin is that I want to highlight about every sentence she writes. I would love to have tea with this woman someday. Here are just a couple of quotes from Clinging: The Experience of Prayer
There is a moment between intending to pray and actually praying that is as dark and silent as any moment in our lives. It is the split second between thinking about prayer and really praying. For some of us, this split second may last for decades. It seems, then, that the greatest obstacle to prayer is the simple matter of beginning, the simple exertion of the will, the starting the acting, the doing. How easy it is, and yet—between us and the possibility of prayer there seems to be a great gulf fixed: an abyss of our own making that separates us from God. (p. 1)
[God] is the one who can tell us the reason for our existence, our place in the scheme of things, our real identity. It is an identity we can’t discover for ourselves, that others can’t discover in us—the mystery of who we really are. How we have chased around the world for answers to that riddle, looked in the eyes of others for some hint, some clue, hunted in the multiple worlds of pleasure and experience and self-fulfillment for some glimpse, some revelation, some wisdom, some authority to tell us our right name and our true destination. (p. 11)
There are no words now, for our prayer moves beyond words. And yet there is a to-and-fro about it. He is calling us and we are following. He is surprising us—now here, now there—and we are chasing him. Time stops, the music of his presence moves us, leads us in ways we had not dreamed of, shows us gleams of an existence we hardly guessed at. We are children now, chasing the kingdom, stepping free of where we were and who we were, into new selves, made in his image and likeness, selves of his making, meant for heaven and for him. (p. 14)
I'm finally getting around to reading Richard Rohr. The book I've started with is The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. Here are some excerpts to help you start your week.
True spirituality is not a search for perfection or control or the door to the next world; it is a search for divine union now. (p. 16)
If you surrender to the fear of uncertainty, life can become a set of insurance policies. Your short time on this earth becomes small and self-protective, a kind of circling of the wagons around what you can be sure of and what you think you can control--even God. (p.17)
Asking for something from God does not mean talking God into it; it means an awakening of the gift within ourselves. You only ask for something you have already begun to taste! The gift has already been given. (p. 20)
There is nothing you can do to lose the Holy Spirit; the most you can do, as Ephesians cleverly says, is to "grieve" the existing Presence that is "sealed" within you (4:30). You can, therefore, be ignorant of your birthright. You can neglect the gift; and thus not enjoy its wonderful fruits. (p. 21)
The divine indwelling is never earned by any behavior whatsoever or any ritual, but only recognized and realized (Romans 11:6, Ephesians 2:8-10) and fallen in love with. (p. 22)
Enough for now. That's plenty to mull over, don't you think?
I’m on my second book by Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest, retreat leader, and a writer of spirituality. These quotes are from Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God. Boldface is my doing, not the author's.
“It is all too easy to understate and miss that hope is not intended to be an extraordinary infusion, but an abiding state of being. We lose sight of the invitation—and in fact, our responsibility, as stewards of creation—to develop a conscious and permanent connection to this wellspring. We miss the call to become a vessel, to become a chalice into which this divine energy can pour; a lamp through which it can shine. (p. 17)
The term I will use to describe this embodying fullness is “the Mercy.” It is the water in which we swim. Mercy is the length and breadth and height and depth of what we know of God—and the light by which we know it. (p. 20)
When we think of mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. . . . Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love. (p. 25)
If we understood Word to mean at root vibration—the outspeaking of the divine will and purpose—then the Word is that which makes manifest the fullness of divine purpose as it moves outward into form. This “energetic” reading of the gospel text might help explain the persistent mystical intuition undergirding so much of the New Testament that Jesus Christ, as the human incarnation of the divine Word ( or Logos), is the fundamental ordering principle of the cosmos “in whom all things hold together.” (p. 28)
Our own visible, created universe is not simply an object created by a wholly other God in order to manifest his love, but that love itself—the very heart of God, fully expressive in the dimension of time and form. (p. 29)
In the language of both quantum physics and perennial mysticism, “body” is simply another word for an organized energy field, irrespective of its physical density. . . . If it could be shown to be true that our life is connected to an innermost essence of great profundity and power, and that access to it is through what is innermost in our own selves, then we would have not only a conceptual understanding of mystical hope, but a practical way of orienting ourselves toward it. Mystical hope would simply be what happens when we touch this innermost ground and it floods forth into our being as strength and joy. Hope would be the Mercy—divine love itself—coursing through our being like lightning finding a clear path to the ground. (pp. 33-34)
On Mondays, I now feature spiritual wisdom I have found in the works of writers, teachers, poets, and so forth: Divine Realities.
LOYOLA PRESS A Jesuit Ministry : Home This is where I work--we're all about helping people's souls, as the Jesuits put it. Books to buy, articles to read, a great 3-minute retreat and other short meditations.
Lively dust This blog is created by LaVonne Neff, a good friend as well as writer/reader/editor/cook/mother/grandmother and who has a lovely way of seeing how life is sensual and divine all at once.
PBS Masterpiece series Cranford This is my new (well, new to me) favorite miniseries. Lovely, funny, heartbreaking. Made to go with a pot of strong tea and hankies with lace.
Rambling Rose I don't think there was much buzz about this 1991 movie, but I like it so much I own a copy. There's so much grace in this story, and Diane Ladd delivers one of my favorite movie speeches of all time, toward the end of the film (she and Robert Duvall, her husband, are in the doctor's office).
Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God This is a short, readable, and powerful book. I'm on my way to read Bourgeault's other works. This one encouraged me and gave me a boost of desire for that quiet place with God.