Reflections on the reading – chapter 12

Richard Rohr writes,

It is rare to really absorb the deeper meaning of the Gospel in the first half of life.   When we were building (and then protecting) our ‘containers’, we may have settled for the answers our families and churches passed on to us.

But when we move into the second half of life, we can become impatient with institutions, including the church.  We know that every institution needs to be concerned about practical things like membership, policies, and principles, but we’re now aware that most of these concerns are ego needs, not soul needs.

Now our intimate circles may be growing smaller.  We may bless others who are doing what they feel they must do for a group, but we may no longer be able to join them.

As we distance ourselves, we may feel a certain loneliness.  But that loneliness can be accompanied by a new ability to be alone – and even to be happy alone.

We all tend to move towards a needed introversion as we get older. Such introversion is necessary in order to unpack all that life has given us and taken from us.

Now we can begin to engage in contemplation.

Dualistic, ‘black-and-white’ thinking helps us by making comparisons.  The dualistic mind compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns, cancels out any contrary  evidence (and at times can even crucify).

But dualistic thinking doesn’t help us in most real-life situations.  We’re meant to see in wholes, not in parts.

The most important issues in life need ‘both-and thinking’.  Split people see and create splits in everything and everybody.  Whole people see (and create) wholeness wherever they go.

Where will we find others who will join us in the contemplative life?

Jesus defined church not as an institution but as those places “where two or three are gathered in my name” (Matthew 18:20).  

In his parable of the seed, Jesus reminded his disciples that every seed needs receptive soil before it can grow (Matthew 13:4f).

Receptive people help us grow.  These people are the ‘good soil’.  Two or three people, gathered in Jesus’ name and seeking deeper truth, can create whole new levels of dialogue and friendship.

Could such people support you as you practice the contemplative life?  Could they also support you as you move from prayerful contemplation to constructive action?

Some questions from the Companion Journal:

Could ‘both-and’ thinking help you (or your loved ones) when facing suffering and/or death? (p. 159)

Could ‘both-and’ thinking help you deal with issues at work, in your community, or in political debates?  (p. 160)

Could ‘both-and’ thinking help you respond to a troubling world with courage and compassion?  (p. 160)

Could ‘both-and thinking’ help you move from prayerful contemplation to constructive action?  (p. 160)

 

 

 

Reflections on the reading – chapter 11


The Shadowlands

Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing – but learning to see fully seems to take most of our lifetime.

When we are young, we all identify so strongly with our personas that we become masters of denial – and we l earn to eliminate or deny anything that doesn’t support our self-image.

By the second half of life, we’ve all bumped up against our shadow selves; regular contact with our shadows gradually detaches us from the personas we worked so hard to construct in the first half of life.

Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not know it.  (Remember, hypocrite is a Greek word that simply means “actor”, someone playing a role rather than being “real”.)

Our shadow is what we refuse to see about ourselves, and what we don’t want others to see.

Our persona (which is Greek for “stage mask”) is what we choose to identify with, what other people want from us – and reward us for. This “stage mask” is not bad, or necessarily egocentric; it is just not “true”.

So our self-image nothing more than that – an image – which isn’t worth protecting, promoting, or denying.  Our self-image is not substantial or lasting; it is just created out of our own minds, desires, and choices – and other people’s choices for us!

As Jesus said, if we can begin to “make friends” with those who bring us challenging messages, we’ll begin to see some of our own shadow.  But if we aren’t willing to see our shadow, we’ll miss out on much-needed wisdom, and end up “imprisoned” within ourselves or “taken to court” by others:

Make friends with your opponent quickly while he is taking you to court; or he will hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and the officer will follow you into prison.  You will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:25-26)

The “opponent taking us to court” is a telling metaphor for what we allow inner stories to do to us.  We can create entire and self-justifying scenarios of blame, anger, and hurt – toward ourselves or toward others.  But Jesus is saying, “Don’t go there!”

Moving to second-half-of-life wisdom comes through healthy self-critical thinking, including necessary shadow work.  Gradually, we learn to see ourselves beyond our own shadows/disguises.

Shadow work in humiliating work, but properly so.  And I am sorry to report that it continues until the end of life, the only difference being that we are no longer surprised by our surprises or so totally humiliated by our humiliations!

The saints learn and grow from encountering their shadows.  A saint is someone who no longer has an “I” to protect or project.  They saints learn they will never be perfect – and they’ll never be perfectly right; so they just try to live in right relationships.  In other words, they try above all else to be loving.

The reason that mature or saintly people can feel so peaceful – so accepting of self and others – is that there is not much hidden shadow self left.  (There is always and forever a little more, however!  No exceptions.  Shadow work never stops.)

Shadow work is almost another name for falling upward, because the closer we get to the Light, the more of our shadow we will see.   Lady Julian of Norwich put it best of all:  “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall.  Both are the mercy of God!”

 

Reflections on the reading – chapter 10


Luminous darkness

There will still be darkness in the second half of our lives. But as we grow spiritually, we developed greater ability to hold the darkness creatively and with less anxiety.  (This is what St. John of the Cross called “luminous darkness” – deep suffering and intense joy can coexist within us.)

In the second half of life, the boundaries of our container have been enlarged by the constant addition of new experiences and relationships.  (We are like expandable suitcases, and our lives have stretched us, almost without knowing!)

In the second half of life, it is good to be a part of the general dance; we no longer have to stand out on the dance floor.  We are able and eager to generate life from our own abundance and for the benefit of following generations. (This is what Erik Erikson called the “generative” stage of life. )

In the second half of life, we’ve learned to fight things only when we feel directly called and equipped to do so.  We have learned ever so slowly, and with much resistance, that most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in ourselves.   (And we now know that daily life requires prayer and discernment more than knee-jerk responses.)

And, ironically, in this second half of life we’re more able than ever to change people – but we don’t need to, and that makes all the difference.  Now we can aid and influence other people simply by being who we are.  In the poet’s wonderful words, we’ve found that:

…  nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems and Prose

 

Walking the Way of the Spirit


The road through Death Valley

The First Sunday in Lent – March 5, 2017

Last Sunday, we stood on the mountain of the Transfiguration, looking ahead to the light of Easter.  This Sunday, we are standing with Jesus in the desert, looking ahead to Pentecost…

But why Pentecost?  It’s still three months away!  

On Pentecost we’ll remember how the Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ disciples. There they were, gathered in the upper room, waiting as Jesus had told them to do.  But they felt abandoned and they were afraid.  They were afraid that Jesus was never coming back.  But suddenly the Spirit came upon each of them –  reassuring them that Jesus was still with them, and giving them courage for the future. (see Acts 2:1-4)

Did you think that they remembered Pentecost because it was such an exciting spiritual experience?  I don’t think so –  they remembered it because they knew that Jesus, the man they had known so well, was now present through the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit has Jesus’ personality, which points constantly to a compassionate and loving God.  (In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is even called “the Spirit of Jesus”. See Acts 16:7)  

That Spirit would now work through the disciples, by pointing the way forward.  Even today, the same Spirit who pulled Jesus into the desert, who filled the disciples with courage,  is pulling us into the future.

The God of Relationship

The God of Relationship, the God of compassion is also the God of Becoming, the God of dynamic change, who is calling us to become  co-creators of the future.

Can we  – you and I – really help create the future?   On Maundy Thursday we’ll remember the Last Supper, when Jesus began to tell his disciples about the coming Spirit. And he said to the disciples (who didn’t believe it any more than we can believe it about ourselves), “Because of the Spirit, you will do greater things than I…”  (see John 14:12)

How the magnet works:

In his book, The God of Becoming and Relationship, Rabbi Bradley Artson tries to explain how prayer works.  He remembers when he was a very little boy, playing in the field behind his house.  He’d take his magnet out in his pocket, sit down on the ground and begin to run his magnet through the dirt.  All the bits of iron, that were resting in the soil, unseen by human eyes, began to cling to the magnet.  The magnet took on a “tail” of filings, each of which was being oriented internally to the pull of the magnet.

For Rabbi Artson, this is what happens whenever we pray: God is pulling us forward, the Spirit is shaping us internally, and we are being pointed towards God.  Process Theology calls this pull the “lure” –  God calling us forward, into acts of love, compassion, and justice.

Lures in the desert:

Fish swimming in a river look up and see food floating above them.  But not all the “lures” above them are actually healthy food.  Some of the “lures” have been cast there by fishermen, hoping to catch their own dinner.

The Spirit “lured” Jesus into the desert.  We might even say, as Mark’s Gospel tells us, that the Spirit “drove” – or even propelled – Jesus.  That’s the same Spirit that came to the disciples on Pentecost!  (See Mark 1:12). 

But there were other “lures”.  the Tempter also “lured” Jesus in the desert, with offers of bread to satisfy his hunger, political power over the world, and spiritual power that would draw all eyes to him.

How did Jesus resist the Tempter?  His life had already been shaped by the faith passed on to him by his parents, by his village synagogue, and by his reading of Scripture.  Notice how Jesus responds to each of the Tempter’s offerings: he quotes Scripture:

We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Do not put the Lord your God to the test. (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Worship the Lord your God, and serve only God. (Deuteronomy 6:13)

Now, in addition to his faith and his Scriptures, Jesus is also being guided by the Spirit, who takes him to the desert to show him the direction God has for him.

With faith, Scripture, Spirit, Jesus knew the direction towards God – and he knew when he was being “lured” in the wrong direction.

There are lures all around us:  We are called forward by God, and we are also tempted –  how will we know which “lure” to choose?   We need the ”magnet” – to be lured, pulled, and shaped by the Spirit

So many choices, so many “lures”

Do you know about the “lures”on your smart phone?  First, make sure that your screen – with all its attractive “apps” –  is on; and make sure that your sound is off!

Then look at all those choices before you:

  • You could play Solitaire…
  • You could look at Facebook…
  • You could text a friend…
  • You could surf the net…
  • You could turn on your timer to see how long this sermon is going to last….
  • Or, tomorrow morning around 5 a.m., you could use your cell phone to send out your latest “tweet” – so all the world will be talking about you, and glory and honor will abound for you all day long.

Did you know you have a compass on your phone?

  • Find your compass…
  • Now find “North”….
  • Now imagine that “North” points you to Jesus…
  • Now imagine that this “app” will lead you through Lent and all the way to Pentecost.

There are “lures” all around us

Last night I was explaining this wonderful sermon illustration to my husband Rob, who was looking at me with that look I’ve known for more than 60 years – which says, “You’re off base, but I’m too polite to say so.”

But humoring me, Rob looked at his compass – and suddenly he found that his “North” wasn’t pointing in exactly the same direction as my “North.”  Now he was interested –  depending on where he was standing in the room, “North” was swinging back and forth.

What was going on?

Whenever Rob came near something metal the compass wavered.  And when he came near the iron étagère, his compass really started swinging…. And he finally told me, “Well, cell phone compasses are notoriously unreliable!”

Rob’s right – a cell phone compass is not the most reliable way to find “North”, and we couldn’t use a cell phone compass in a desert where there’s no service.

Fortunately, we don’t need modern technology to walk the Way of Jesus – we only need what Jesus had:

  • the scriptures,
  • a faith community,
  • and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3

 

Walking the Road of Lent

A Pathway into the Presence of God
The Sunday of the Transfiguration: February 26, 2017

Today we find ourselves on the Mount of the Transfiguration, looking at Jesus standing in the blazing light of God.

From this mountain, from this light, Jesus will walk all the way to Jerusalem, where the cross awaits him.  Beyond that cross another blazing light, the light of Easter, waits for Jesus – and for us.

But to get to that light, to get to Easter, we’ll have to walk the same road Jesus walks.

On Sundays, the road of Lent will bring us stories of disciples – not the familiar disciples like Peter, James and John,  but others who met Jesus along his way: a man born blind, a Samaritan woman, Nicodemus the teacher, Martha and Mary of Bethany.  The Gospels tell us that each of them, when they met Jesus, asked the same question we ask when we meet Jesus for the first time:

“Who is this man Jesus, and do I want to follow him?”

On weekdays, the road of Lent can lead us into a world shaped by different values – the values lived and taught by Jesus.  These steps were originally outlined by St. Benedict in the 6th century, and adapted by Sr. Joan Chittister in the 20th century.  Following these steps brings the answer to another question Christians always ask:

“How can I learn to live like Jesus?”

Over the centuries, St. Benedict’s steps have been a pathway into the Presence of God for millions of Christians.  Even today, as we practice each new step, we will feel the Spirit of God gradually re-shaping our lives, and eventually leading us to our own Easters.


On to Step 1:
Contemplation through Prayer

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 1


Contemplation through Prayer

St. Benedict teaches: prayer is a state of mind.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches *

Prayer is putting on of the mind of Christ, so that we can learn to see the world as God sees the world.

Prayer is more than reciting private prayers, more than participating in community prayer, more than asking God for things – even the good things we hope for ourselves and others.

Benedictine prayer is not designed to change God’s mind.  Prayer is meant to change us – to open us to the in-breaking of the Spirit in our lives, to stretch us beyond our own agendas to take on the compassionate heart of Christ.

Prayer is not only for consolation and courage, it is for challenge as well, helping us recognize that since life is infused with the Divine, we are capable being stretched –  with God’s help.

What simple practice has helped you “put on the mind of Christ” ?

What new practice may help you go further ?


On to step 2:
Contemplation through Lectio…

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

 

 

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 2

   Contemplation through Lectio

St. Benedict teaches: Scripture forms us in the mind of Christ.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Lectio  (the reflective reading of a sacred text) gives us a pathway into Scripture, and regular lectio teaches us how to see the world through God’s eyes.

In lectio, we can meet…

  • the boy Samuel (see 1 Samuel 3) and realize that God has been calling us, too…
  • the girl Mary (see Luke 1) and realize that we, too, can find the courage to say ‘yes’ to God..
  • the first disciples (see John 1), and find that we, too, want to know ‘where Jesus lives’.

Read a passage slowly, silently or aloud (Benedict himself would have read it aloud).  Take a few minutes for silent reflection, and identify the words or phrases that draw your attention.

Read the passage slowly a second time, and listen to the text again.  Ask yourself, “How does this story speak to my life today?”

Read the passage a third time, and once again listen to the story.  Then ask yourself, “What do I believe God wants me to be…or do? Is God inviting me to change in any way?”

Conclude with prayer (not a prayer of words, but a time of remaining open to the Spirit who has spoken to you through the Scripture).   Make a record of the thoughts, images, and insights that came in your time of prayer.

Our society is anxious and restless, fearful and angry – but we can learn to be contemplative.  In the midst of chaos, if we build the Jesus-life in our own souls, if the Scripture is in our hearts, if we are faithful to lectio, we can see where God is: everywhere.

 

If you keep a lectio journal – and review your notes from time to time –
you will being to see where the Spirit of God is leading you.


On to Step 3:
Community…

 

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

 

 

Walking the road of Lent – Step 3

  Community

St. Benedict teaches:  life in community keeps us on the path.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Our society is profoundly individualistic – but we can learn to live in community.  Community is the place where we can work together to create a just a gentle world.

Life in a spiritual community calls us to walk with each other, hold each other up, and bear with each other. In community, we encourage each other on our common journey.

In community, we learn to step back to make room for the needs and gifts of others.  Life in community means that others will see our weaknesses, but also welcome our gifts.

In  community, we can discover the effect of a spoiled ozone layer on everyone else – and then work to save others as well as ourselves. In  community, we can see the evils of sexism, with its unnatural limitations on both women and men – and then work to move the community toward genuine equality. In community we see the lie of over-zealous  patriotism – and then can work to make our own nation more kind.

Community is always the place where we can work together to create a just and gentle world.

What is your true spiritual community?

 What does your community give you?  What do you give to it?


On to step 4:
Humility…

 

*   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 4

   Humility

St. Benedict teaches: life in community requires humility. 

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

Our society ranks people by the power they hold – but we can learn to live by the Gospel.

The Gospel tells us that arrogance is destructive of the human spirit.  Humility calls us to let God be God in our personal lives, and so to take our proper place among all the creatures of the earth.

Humility says that we must all learn

  • to listen and to hear…
  • to negotiate rather than to force…
  • to trust rather than to terrorize…

Where do we practice humility?

  • in our faith communities…
  • in our neighborhoods…
  • in our nations..
  • in the world around us, with all its creatures…

 

What practice could help you get away from “me” –

so you could open yourself more fully to others?


On to step 5:
Mindfulness….

 

 

*   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

 

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 5

   Mindfulness

St. Benedict teaches: mindfulness helps us live in the “Now”. 

Sister Joan Chittister teaches:  *

Our society drains our energies – but we can learn to be mindful. We practice mindfulness whenever

  • we become aware of what is around us,
  • we become conscious of little things and their beauty,
  • we are touched by quiet things and their power.

When we practice living in the “now” we can gain a new perspective on life: yesterday loses its hold on us, and tomorrow loses its allure.

Mindfulness not only calms the storms of life, it gives us back the energy that endless worry and constant calculation drain away.   Mindfulness concentrates what has become scattered and brings us home to ourselves.

 

What helps you live in the “Now”?


On to step 6:
Balance and Simplicity…

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).