My last morning on retreat. What a weeek! Once again, I feel called to share my reflection this morning. Once again, take what is helpful, leave the rest...
I take with me a little, tiny bit of wisdom received from/generously given by the trees. Wisdom about endurance, presence and grace. Wisdom about deep roots and about bending and flowing, about listening to the wind, being touched by what's around me and praising and worshipping always. The wisdom of community holding us up, encouraging us along, supporting us through all stages of life. The wisdom of surrender and sacrifice. The wisdom that all that is necessary for new life to emerge. The wisdom of interconnectedness with all things, also necessary for survival.
I have been touched by my smallness and insignificance - I am but a speck on the continuum of time. Will I help or will I hurt? Do no harm my monastic vows say. Tread softly, watch where I step. Sometimes go very slow to make sure nnothing is harmed.
None of this seems new knowledge, just things I tend to forget. I go forth from this time and place with this tree energy, the tree spirit, in my heart. I am deeply grateful. I will hold this with reverence and awe, consciously, gently and lovingly as I re-enter my life.
I've been savoring these past two weeks on retreat. Long days of mainly silence and solitude, interlaced with cherished time spent with family and close friends. This week, my second, is devoted to reflection, long hikes, and quiet contemplation in the rich land of Door County, amidst ancient forests, wandering creeks and the beautiful Lake Michigan. While much fruit is emerging in this sacred time, I was invited to share what came this morning, before I was called out into the forest grove for morning worship. I don't consider myself a poet, or much of a writer, so I offer this with humility - take what is helpful, leave the rest. Peace!
Silence within the silence
The invisible within the visible
That is where Spirit rests
That is the Real, Reality, Truth
Words only mask
True Presence is within the Silence
True connection is made in the Silence
True relationship/community is in the Silence
It is there that we are real
Words only mask
The invisible, within the visible, is what we connect to
Essence to Essence
Real to Real
Consciously or not, doesn't matter, the connection is still there
Consciousness brings awareness
Awareness brings Transformation
Transformation brings Blessing
All within the Silence
Words only mask
Can you hear the Silence within the silence?
Is your heart listening?
Words only mask, choose them carefully.
What we see in the visible, manifested world is only an echo of the reality underneath.
What our senses take in is just a manifestation of the spirit, the essence within.
The quest is to make the unseen seen. Not hidden versus unhidden - this hints at being covered, buried, shrouded, underneath something else that, once removed, allows the object to be seen. This is a valuable process, especially on the road to transformation. Only by making unhidden that which is hidden can healing and transformation take place.
Unseen is different. Unseen is essence, spirit, truth. Unseen is what animates us, enlivens us. The unseen is the drive behind our words and actions.
The question then becomes: what is the condition of our unseen self? Who are we in that unseen place? What does our seen self reveal about our unseen self?
In my last blog, I reflected on how, over the last several years, my life has been re-orienting more and more towards the Divine. It is true that I have been actively seeking, intentionally exploring and dedicating space towards a renewed spirituality, one with genuine care, concern, compassion and love for all people and the real struggles they faced every day. A Place To Be Spirituality Center was borne out of that sense of longing. And I hope APTB offers that feminine energy, those feminine qualities, to those who also feel the void and long for a different way. There is much work to be done in this area and we are blessed to be able to continue serving in that way.
And yet my heart has yearned for something more. Deep within is a call to the contemplative life, to a more intimate, complete surrender to the Divine Will, to become a channel for that Divine Energy to flow into the world. For me, there can be only one response to that call – yes! A Way To Be New Monastic Community is the manifestation of my inner “yes”.
Now, the Catholic tradition has a long-standing mystical path as taught in the early monastic communities, the many Saints, theologians and contemplatives over the years – as does pretty much every other spiritual tradition. These monastic communities traditionally consist of ordained, celibate men and women who align with a specific faith tradition, denomination and founder who vow to embody and live out a specific charism. In recent years, as vowed religious communities have dissolved, this intentional community model has evolved into what is called The New Monastic Community. This is a call to a life committed to contemplation, simplicity, prayer and service available to folks who assent to this call to a deeper spirituality; non-ordained, deeply faithful people - mothers, daughters, husbands, fathers, students, ministers, etc. – who long to align the entirety of their lives to the Divine. A Way To Be New Monastic Community invites those who not only feel this call but are ready to commit to and live out the core values in community.
The path of the new monastic involves making a commitment to live a particular way and practice their spirituality according to what is called a Rule of Life, which are guidelines for helping one stay on the path. The new monastic participates in a community with other new monastics who gather to offer support and encouragement along the way. A Way To Be New Monastic Community does not replace one’s faith tradition but, rather, deepens the new monastic experience of God in order better live out their faith in every-day life.
Now, many may look at these commitments, this Rule of Life, and think, “I already strive to live this way – how does the making of a formal covenant change any of that?” To some extent, this is a fair question, one I wrestled with for a long time. I am not a very public person by nature so declaring these covenants for all the world to see causes a bit of anxiety and discomfort. But somewhere along the way it became clear that I was being called to voice the intention to live the new monastic life publically. I’m learning that “…once we name something out loud, it becomes true in a way it wasn’t before.” (Kaitlin Curtice, “Trauma as a Journeying Partner,” “Trauma,” Oneing, vol. 9, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2021), 61–62.) So last night, before a small group of close friends and family, I made my covenant and A Way To Be New Monastic Community was formed. I pray the Divine presence live deeply within my heart and the heart of this community so that all we do manifests the Divine Presence in the world. Amen.
For more information on A Way To Be New Monastic Community, its covenants and rule of life, go to the website at www.awaytobenmc.org
It was a beautiful spring day – deep blue sky, warm sun shining down and a cool breeze reminding me that winter hadn’t quite given up. Called into nature, I went for a walk in the woods. I lingered along the path, taking in the spring flowers and budding trees while listening to the wind rattle branches and shuffle fallen leaves. Soon I came upon a meadow, a clearing in the woods where someone had thought to tuck a picnic table. Seeing an opportunity for a quiet mindfulness meditation, I climbed on top of the table, settled into my breath and opened my awareness to the sounds and senses all around me. It didn’t take long for the sound of buzzing of flies to distract me so I slowly opened my eyes and noticed a dozen or so of them swirling around the table (probably because of a bag of dog droppings I discovered nearby!) And so I began to watch them. They landed, hopped around a bit, settled for a few seconds then flew off, only to repeat the cycle over and over again. I began to notice that once the fly had hopped around a bit, it positioned itself in the same direction before flying off. Every time. The same direction. All the flies did the same thing. Landed, hopped around, and turned to face the same direction. Intrigued, I noticed they weren’t facing the sun, nor was the sun behind them. They weren’t facing into the wind, nor was the wind at their back. Yet they were orienting themselves, ever so briefly, to something. It occurred to me that these insects must have had some internal draw, an internal orienting toward a common source.
That got me thinking about what oriented me, what orients us as a people? Am I oriented toward the Holy One or something else? Reflecting on the past several years, I realized I’ve been orienting parts of my life more and more to the Holy One. This past year of Covid has really given me the opportunity to re-align parts of me that wasn’t oriented toward the Divine. More and more I’ve shed that which no longer fits the deep desire of my being – oneness with All. While much of this work goes unseen, it has helped me focus on what is most important and who is most important. My hope is that these subtle re-alignments draw me closer and closer to being who I was created to be.
Now that things are returning to some sort of normalcy, the question lingers even more. What is my life oriented toward? As I hop around from task to task, where do I land and what or who do I face? Am I listening for that still, quiet voice? Am I allowing myself to be led, guided, directed? Or am I swirling around trying to find that next best thing? Each day brings its own challenge, for sure. Each day the questions arises anew.
Sometimes you read something that really speaks to your heart and you want to share it with others. This piece by Brian McLaren really struck me:
Christian mission begins with friendship—not utilitarian friendship, the religious version of network marketing—but genuine friendship, friendship that translates love for neighbors in general into knowing, appreciating, liking, and enjoying this or that neighbor in particular. . . .
Many new friends have come into my life . . . Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers, and others—including lots of atheists and agnostics, too. One of the most dramatic of those friendships began in the aftermath of 9/11/2001. Like a lot of churches, our little congregation held a prayer service. While praying, I felt a voice speaking, as it were, in my chest: Your Muslim neighbors are in danger of reprisals. You must try to protect them. The next morning, I wrote and made copies of a letter extending, belatedly, friendship toward Muslim communities in my area, and offering solidarity and help if simmering anti-Muslim sentiments should be translated into action. I drove to the three mosques nearby—I had never visited them before—and tried to deliver my letter in person. . . .
[At the third mosque,] I clumsily introduced myself [to the imam] as the pastor from down the street . . . I then handed him my letter, which he opened and read as I stood there awkwardly. I remember the imam, a man short in stature, slowly looking down at the letter in the bright September sun, then up into my face, then down, then up, and each time he looked up, his eyes were more moist. Suddenly, he threw his arms around me—a perfect stranger. . . . I still remember the feeling of his head pressed against my chest, squeezing me as if I were his long-lost brother. . . .
My host welcomed me not with hostility or even suspicion, but with the open heart of a friend. And so that day a friendship began between an Evangelical pastor named Brian and a Muslim imam we’ll call Ahmad. . . .
It's one thing to say you love humanity in general, whatever their religion; it’s quite another to learn to love this or that specific neighbor with his or her specific religion. So, do you have a Sikh neighbor, a Hindu coworker, a Muslim business associate, a Buddhist member of your PTA, a New Age second cousin? Invite them into companionship over a cup of tea or coffee. Ask them questions. Display unexpected interest in them, their traditions, their beliefs, and their stories. Learn why they left what they left, why they stay where they stay, why they love what they love. Enter their world, and welcome them into your world, without judgment. If they reciprocate, welcome their reciprocation; if not, welcome their nonreciprocation. Experience conviviality. Join the conspiracy of plotting for the common good together.
Brian D. McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World (Jericho Books: 2012), 223, 225, 226, 231.
This was my prayer this morning as I pondered the snow....
Restore me, O Lord. Restore my spirit.
Fill me with your presence
Show me the path of love.
Things around me seem so fleeting,
Show me the real.
Let me not put my energy into meaningless endeavors
Help me to stay focused on the how not the what.
Help me to look beyond all the ways everyone else focuses on the what and not the how.
Help me to be compassionate toward those who trample on others, who force their way, their agenda over everything else.
Help me not to get hooked into anger, frustration, despair over the insistence of old patterns, old systems, broken and harmful practices.
Restore me, O Lord.
Fill my heart with hope,
Hope that we can live a different way - Your way.
Hope that we can create space for healing...for respect...for authentic care...for kindness...for being.
Restore me, O Lord.
Restore in me the vision of Your kingdom.
Fill me with the energy and courage to bring that about.
Help me get out of the way so you can do all this through me.
I desire what you desire.
Restore me, O Lord,
so that I may be an instrument of your peace, your hope, your love.
We are planting beans today. Last night, on the advice of my mother-in-law, I soaked them so jump-start germination. The bean itself is inert. Something outside itself begins the process of new life – it doesn’t do it on its own. Left alone, the bean will remain a hard object and produce nothing.
This got me reflecting on the nature of a seed this morning. Traditional religion teaches a seed is something that God scatters about, gives nourishment to and helps to grow. You know – the parable of the seed on different types of soil, seeds of faith, etc. In this teaching, spiritually we play a small part with God doing most of the work. But what if God is the seed itself? God, scattered about everywhere waiting for something to bring it to life. What if all of creation plays a role in bringing that seed to life to bear fruit in the world? This is a subtle shift, for sure, but think about it. That would mean that God needs creation - us, our yes, our help - to bring God forth. Our yes, creation’s yes, is what breaks open the seed, nourishes the seed and participates in the bearing of its fruit. True, God is all powerful and doesn’t need anyone’s help to do anything; miracles are certainly evidence of that. But what if God desires our help, prefers our help and is waiting for our help? If God is the seed itself and we the soil, water, light and heat, our yes plays a critical role in how God is present in our world, which fits right in with the Gospel message. I guess the question to sit with today is what does God’s seed in me need? How can I bring that to life? How can I share that seed’s fruit with all of creation?
Well, it snowed this morning so I guess we won't be planting after all. So even thought the beans have to wait, I'll open my heart to God, hoping my soil is ready for that new life being offered!
Last time I wrote, I spoke about the deep loneliness I was experiencing. I expressed my longing to talk about it with others who might be able to relate to what I was experiencing. It was a ‘crying out in the wilderness’ kind of call accompanied by a strong need for connection. But my cry was met with silence – deafening silence. It is so interesting to me that silence can have a weight to it, a denseness that feels like a sack of flour getting heavier and heavier; like a vast canyon deep within that echoes itself back into itself, where the dense, damp air clings and bring goosebumps to the skin. That’s the kind of silence and loneliness I walked through. Somewhere in the midst of it all, I realized I couldn’t run away from or try to push away this loneliness. I’ve tried that before but it only re-emerges stronger than before. I knew I finally needed to sink into and make friends with the darkness. So that’s what I did.
I began by just allowing the feeling to surface, resisting the urge to push it down or distract it away. I let it be my companion, day after day. At times, I even entered into conversations with it to better understand what it had to show me. I found it really interesting that I was suddenly drawn to poetry and the writings of the mystics – it’s as if the poets and the mystics spoke the language of this darkness, this hollowness, giving it shape and form. I found much consolation and companionship in these writings. My contemplative practices drew me more and more into that space of deep silence and loneliness and into deep rest. And there Presence met me. There I gazed into the Indwelling Spirit and was gazed upon in return. The silence and deep loneliness no longer felt a burden but a gift. It became space I didn’t want to share but hoard instead. It’s like I discovered that priceless gem the Scriptures refer to and I was ready to sell everything I had to keep it!
I don’t know if any of this makes sense – I feel like there aren’t the right words to explain. I can only say that the encounter with Presence and receiving that Divine gaze was a pivotal moment on my journey, like my own resurrection out of the depths. I still feel the place of deep loneliness but I now know it is a safe, secure place were Presence can be known. I’ve come to understand that only Presence can meet me there, it isn’t space that can be accessed by anyone else. It’s become a place of deep knowing or maybe being known and loved, of unconditional, complete acceptance. Just this little taste has enabled me to live these days without much fear or anxiety, in spite on the continued disturbing news about the effects of Covid-19.
So if you are in the midst of this struggle, hang in there. If you feel the desire to talk through what you are experiencing, I am here to listen. Only you and Presence can uncover answers but sometimes it helps to speak it into safe space. I would be honored to hold that space with you.
I’m wondering - how you are doing? We’ve now been situated in this “new norm” for a couple of weeks now, and I’m curious about how everyone is adapting. Because I’m not sure I’ve adapted well. I think I’m getting there, but some days are really hard, really tough.
It’s interesting to me the things that I am struggling with. It’s not fear about my job or anxiety about how this is all going to turn out or whether or not I’ll have enough supplies to get us through. Maybe these are vague concerns, but that’s not what is keeping me up at night. I don’t think I could have even told you what it was until just a few days ago when I came face to face with “it” in a very real way.
You see when the lockdown became real, I went into action. Concerned about the homebound folks in my faith community, I reached out to our ministers and put a call list together. I connected with the local food pantry and offered whatever help they needed. And concerned about spiritual needs and my desire/need to pray with others we started doing the Facebook Live prayer and contemplation posts. This need for connection pushed me, drove me to find ways to connect, especially those who were isolated and alone, just like many of you. I was doing something, and that felt right. But then…
Being and doing for others is awesome and wonderful and meaningful. But at some point, the well runs low and needs to be replenished. And that is when I came face-to-face with darkness. You may not realize this or have had this experience, but when you do Facebook Live posts or almost anything virtual there is little sense of engagement. It isn’t like you are talking to a group of people and can see their body language or facial expressions and sense how it’s going. In the virtual world it is much different, especially for a novice like me. I’m finding this true even through Zoom. And so for someone who is skilled at tailoring things based on audience participation, getting little or no feedback is like talking to the wind. How do you know it actually went anywhere or did anything? I guess what I’m getting at is that I lost my sense of relevance, of worth. I lost my connection on a spiritual level with the folks I normally connect with and I felt lost. I smacked head first into the awareness that there was a real likelihood that what I was doing had no value. In a flash, all the existential questions became very, very real for me: who am I? What is my purpose? What is my worth in the world? How do I matter? How do I fit in the bigger picture?
I know, I know, these are all very ego-based questions and before all this happened I would have had the answers. Rooted in my faith and being able to lean into a community seemed enough. But then…..
So these days, I rest in what I am calling a deep loneliness. I no longer wrestle with the storm of emotions that emerged this past week. I’m sitting with the questions and listening for the deeper answers. They will come. But I long to explore these questions with others who are grappling with them too. I truly believe that I am not the only one experiencing this deep loneliness, this need to connect on a deeper level. And I’m not talking about the mundane, superfluous conversations – I’m talking about so much more. Where I need to be fed is at that deeper level. While I still turn to my perennial favorites for sustenance – Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, etc. – human to human conversation at that level would be really good right now.
So I am interested in hearing your story. Now that I’m knee deep in this virtual world I’m seeing there are ways to share and connect. I would love to offer space for us to hold these questions and explore how the answers are emerging for us right now. I would love to hear how others are working through some of this. I need this kind of food for my journey right now and I feel like others do to. So if you are one who desires these things too, let me know. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will set something up. Maybe this will give birth to a new way of being together, an authentic, real, meaningful way of connecting. I need that as much as you. I hope you will join me.