Will you be my friend?

Prayer is as natural to a (person) as speaking, sighing and seeing, as natural as the palpitation of a loving heart; and actually that is what prayer is: a murmur, a sigh, a glance, a heartbeat of love.

I have been reading a lot of stories of saints and mystics who lived from the 13th to 15th centuries.  Their stories are filled with visions, ecstasies  and conversations with the Divine.  Truthfully, it can make one’s own spiritual life seem pathetic in comparison, not to mention, leave one feeling a little neglected by God.  One biographer explains that the middle ages was a unique time for humans who were steeped in an aura of supernatural mystery.  In fact, she argues that visions and ecstatic experiences were not only accepted, but expected.

Safe to say the modern 21st century is not a fertile ground for such thinking and experiences.  It makes me sad, really.  Perhaps I am a romantic, but I would relish some divine intervention of that sort.  And while I may not have visions or hear voices, I definitely experience my relationship with God as a reality in my daily life.  This is what it is like for me:

After all my family members have gone in the morning, I sit at my computer, pull up the scripture readings of the day and read.  I have other books nearby to help me understand what I read or expound on an area of spirituality that I am exploring.  I especially take the psalm of the day as my own prayer.  I let all the words sink in.  I turn them around in my head but also let them rest in my heart.  I share concerns that have arisen with God in a very conversational way.  I just talk.

After a few minutes I flow into silence being careful not to hold onto any thoughts at this point.  This time is valuable because I really need a break from my thinking mind.  It is also the time for me to simply be with God and dispose of myself on God’s terms.   I always seem to have an agenda…a honey-do-list for God.  Like the poet, Edwina Gately, I can almost hear God say:  “Hush, I can’t hear your heart beating.”

At some point I need to write.  I jot down thoughts, complete or fragments, as well as questions and entreaties.  If I have the luxury of lots of time, I take out my supplies and collage.  I feel like the only adequate response to this encounter is to try to create something in return.

When it feels appropriate, I move into the rest of my day, taking a word or phrase from scripture or my other reading with me.  And, this for me is key:  I expect God to keep up his end of the conversation.  I invite him to walk with me.  Sometimes I beg for the companionship, admitting that I am an utter failure without him by my side.

I can say with 99.99999% confidence that God not only wants, but delights in, this kind of friendship and that this Beloved is ready and willing to do his share.  God is everywhere hidden and whispering sweet nothings into our ear all day long.  There are Divine messages and reassurances and challenges all around us.  They flow in and through us.  All it takes– eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart that believes all things.

(Quote attributed to Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaraguan poet and priest.  Artwork is titled, Friends Talking by Linda Underwood)

Inspiration from this week

Still borrowing and leaning heavily on the strong faith of friends:

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O Gracious One,

According to you steadfast love;

According to your abundant kindness

Forgive me where my thoughts and

Deeds have hurt others.

Lead me in the path of justice

Guide my steps on pasts of peace

Teach me, that I may know my weaknesses,

The shortcomings that bind me

The unloving ways that separate me

That keep me from recognizing your Life in me;

For I keep company with fear, and dwell in the

House of ignorance.

Yet I was brought forth in love

And love is my birthright.

You have placed your truth in the inner being

Therefore; teach me the wisdom of the heart.

Forgive all that binds me in fear,

That I might radiate love;

Cleanse me that your light might shine in me.

Fill me with gladness;

Help me to transform weakness into strength.

Look not on my past mistakes

But on the aspirations of my heart.

Create in me a clean heart, O Gracious One,

And put a new and right spirit within me.

Enfold me in the arms of Love, and fill me with your Holy Spirit.

Restore in me the joy of your saving grace,

And encourage me with a new spirit.

Then I will teach others your ways,

And prisoners of fear will return to You.

Deliver me from the addictions of society,

O Healer of souls,

Keep me from temptation that

I may tell of your justice and mercy.

O Gracious One, open my lips and

My mouth shall sing forth your praise.

For You do not want sacrifice

You delight in our friendship with You.

A sacrifice most appropriate is a humble spirit;

A repentant and contrite heart;

O Merciful One, receive our gratitude and love.

O Blessed and Compassionate Friend,

Melt our hearts of stone, break through the fears that lead us to darkness, and

Guide our steps toward the way of peace.

(Adaptation by Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying:An Invitation to Wholeness)

Dark and Light Two by Latifa700

Take up your cross

I have always thought about the years I spent as a religious educator as my salvation. Sometimes I wonder where I would be if I had chosen another career. Mostly it was the people I encountered who saved me. It was they who taught me things I needed to learn. Most of the time the lessons happened in conversations and ordinary situations but sometimes it was in the context of my “teaching” them.

I remember distinctly the time I was leading a group of seven and eight year olds in a discussion of a scripture from Mark. In the passage, Jesus tells the apostles that if they want to be his disciples, they need take up their cross and follow him. I asked the kids, almost casually, what they thought it was like to be a disciple of Jesus, assuming the answers would trend toward the concrete…what their daily life was like, etc.

Instead one little boy looked right into my eyes and said:

“Well…their lives were never the same again.”

This took place thirteen years ago but I have never forgotten his words. They ring out every once in a while, especially during Lent. I often try to complicate spirituality but that little boy reminds me it’s actually pretty simple. Do I let myself be forever changed by my encounters with Jesus? Or, like the song says: am I looking for love in all the wrong places?

And so this brings me back to my Lenten promise to lower my resistance, to let Jesus in and allow myself to be changed. But in order to have an encounter, I first have to recognize Jesus. If, as R.Rohr says, “(He) is everywhere hidden”, that of course includes the people in my life. The problem is that I am mostly looking for the comfortable and comforting Jesus who wants to serve me…love me…not the Jesus hidden within my difficult children, spouse, brother, friend, colleague or crazy, homeless guy. I can harden to that Jesus and resist like heck.

Throughout the scriptures, however, God is calling us to new life..to soften our hard hearts. So right alongside my resistance, I feel an urgency this Lent to take this call seriously. Like the Israelites, I call out to God and ask what is so wrong with my fasting and other acts of piety–with the way I have been living. I ask why He doesn’t pay attention and where the heck He is.

But I know in my heart that I am not right because I find no consolation in my half-life. I realize that I am not drawn to the desert as Jesus was drawn. I am the desert. I feel parched and cracked. I need the living waters or I will lose my life. And so, I lean in and listen more closely:

‘The fasting I choose,’ says God, ‘is a whole new way of life’. Isaiah reframes fasting as a practice. It is no longer the periodic fast days that serve to punctuate ongoing life. Instead, fasting is a new set of relationships within ongoing life. The fasting acceptable to God is a daily fast from domination, blaming others, evil speech, self-satisfaction, entitlement and blindness to one’s privilege. The fast that God seeks calls for vigilance for justice and generosity day in and day out. (Amy Ogden, theology professor)

For the Israelites this was a radical message. For me the message is also radical. In a world that tells me its okay to give up on others or throw them away, there is no denying that I am being called to transformation through encounter with all the others in my life. What would happen if I really let that Jesus in? Would I be forever changed? I really take that thought in and sit with it for a while. It will take a lot of surrender and a lot of grace but I certainly don’t want to say no…I choose life! For as Isaiah promised:

8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am….then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. (Isais58:8-9,11)

…fully alive and forever changed.

Somethings Borrowed

Why is it that some days I awaken to a funk having settled over my soul? It’s like there are low clouds hovering over me doing their best to block out all Grace from coming through. My soul starts to panic a little, scanning for the Light…groping in the murky doubts and fear. These mornings I am painfully aware that being a seeker, a follower, a disciple, a lover is not all sweetness and light. But because I know no other way, I rise and go to my chair. I open my book and crack open the door to my heart. Even though I can’t yet see through the doubts and fear, I act as if my Beloved is here. I lean heavily on the faith and words of other seekers. I borrow some of their hope and courage. I promise to repay it some other day.

Here, Author/Poet David Whyte, one of those I lean on, captures the experience of stepping out in faith towards being more fully in the world.

THE TRUELOVE

by David Whyte

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours,
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of the baying seals,

who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water,

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them,

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly,
so Biblically,
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love,

so that when we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t

because finally
after all the struggle
and all the years,
you don’t want to any more,
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness,
however fluid and however
dangerous, to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

~ David Whyte ~ (House of Belonging)

On my walk last week…the East Bay.

Lowering my resistance

Lent is just around the corner. I can’t help it. I get a little excited by Lent. I am not entirely sure why but I think it has something to do with my childhood/adolescence; how much I enjoy change of seasons; and from my time as a religious educator dreaming up activities and lessons.

In anticipation, I have been thinking about how I will approach Lent this year. A lot of my excitement also comes from the belief that if I am attentive and faithful to my practice I will encounter Christ in a new way. And, I love surprises.

So this Lent I am thinking that its time to give up something I have been clinging to for decades. I think there is no better time for me to lower my resistance. I need to lower my resistance to the Divine-Inbreaking into my soul. I need to lower my resistance to Love. I need to lower my resistance to being taken over completely by my Beloved.

The other day a friend described her spiritual life like this: I have built my house so tightly to prevent anything outside from getting in. I have caulked the windows and weather-stripped so that every crack and crevice is filled. Nothing is penetrating my house…but I am beginning to think that maybe its time for a little seepage.

Time for seepage, indeed! God has been standing outside that house calling and serenading and begging and waiting. I agree! Its time to lower the resistance. I, too, am so, so tired of holding up the walls and being afraid of what will happen if they fall.

But how does one start? I am not entirely sure but I am going to follow the lead of the mystics and put my faith in a lavish God. Mechtild of Magdeburg writes: “If you wish me to leap joyfully, let me see You dance and sing.” Mechtild’s God sings and dances for her to win her over…woos and coaxes her to let down her guard.

And in John of the Cross, who recognizes that our resistance can take the form of looking for love elsewhere first. As explained by Ian Matthew (The Impact of God, p. 50):

Where other loves enslave us or our mediocrity imprisons us, there is a way forward; asking him to give us the love we are looking for elsewhere…find a place where we can be with him and, for all our limp confusion, ask him, allow him, the ‘principal lover’ to love.

So this is what I am going to do. Each of these 40 days, I am going to take all the faith I have (even if its just a tiny speck on some days) and ask with my entire being to be loved. This Lent my practice is simply to pray this prayer:

Love me more than I love comfort. Love me more than I love looking good. Love me more than I love beautiful things. Love me more than I love being regarded as good. Love me more than I love being accomplished and respected. Love me more than I love safety. Love me more than I love the very last thing that is keeping me from letting down these walls. Love me so much that I lower my resistance to You.

In saying this prayer, I share the hope of Mechtild when she writes:

That prayer has great power
Which a person makes with all her might.
It makes a sour heart sweet,
A sad heart merry,
A poor heart rich,
A foolish heart wise,
A timid heart brave,
A sick heart well,
A blind heart full of sight,
A cold heart ardent.
It draws down the Great God into the little heart,
It drives the hungry soul up into the fullness of God.
It brings together two lovers,
God and the soul,
In a wondrous place where they speak much of love.

Inspiration from this week

This week a friend introduced me to the work of  artist, Ruth Asawa.  These sculpture are on permanent display at the De Young in San Francisco.  They take my breath away.  Working with wire, Asawa fashions these intricate pieces that reflect objects and shapes found in nature.

How interesting that the shadows cast by the pieces become part of the experience of the art…as R.Rohr reminds us over and over…”Everything belongs!”

In this case the shadow reveals the depth.

When I experience art I feel connected to the divinity within the artist and our Creator.  I feel like I get a flash of the Eternal.

Some of us believe that God is All-Powerful and can do all, and that God is All-Wisdome and knows how to do all.  But that God is All-Lover and wants to love all, here we restrain ourselves.  And this ignorance hinders most of God’s lovers, as I see it…God wants to be thought of as our Lover.
–Julian of Norwich (14th c Hermitess and Mystic)

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is Love.  Love is my true identity.  Selflessness is my true self.  Love is my true character.   Love is my name.  –Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p.60

 

Spotted on my walk post-Valentines Day.  Love finds a way…

Reflections of Divine Love

Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,
she is like one who looks at her own face in a mirror.
She sees herself, then goes off and promptly forgets
what she looked like.
But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres,
and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts;
such a one shall be blessed in what she does.

(James 1:22-25)

she is like one who looks at her own face in a mirror.  She sees herself, then goes off and promptly forgets what she looked like.

It is somewhat ironic to me that the journey to my truest self is in some ways a journey back in time.  I once heard that as a child of 10 or 11 we were the closest to our true nature.  At 11 on the cusp of moving toward adulthood, we were confidant.   We were becoming more independent but still maintained a profound sense of our connection to those around us, as well as a sense of justice, and empathy.

I am reminded too of a conversation from the movie, The King’s Speech.   The speech therapist asks Prince Albert when he first began to stutter.  Albert says he always has but the therapist quickly responds that he doesn’t know of any babies who came into the world stuttering.  I am struck that our  very first thoughts were belief in ourselves.

And why wouldn’t this be the be true?  As children, we have an innate knowledge that we are the image of the Divine…God’s reflection in the world.  Isn’t that what the confidence and empathy were all about?

Obviously, we can’t go backwards.  Who would want to?  There are many, many blessings to aging.  How many times have we said in the last year:  “I would never be 16…18…25 again for anything!”

At the same time, we carry our 11-year old self within and we can still learn from her.  As Mr. Deeds (to quote another favorite movie)  asks the angry mob, “What would your 11-year old self say to you if she saw you today?”  It may have been 12-year-old self but you get the idea.

How far have we gone from the one who knew she was a reflection of Love…who walked into the world everyday with just enough confidence and self-love to really soak up all the world offered…who joyfully received and offered herself with abandon.  What was your 11-year-old self like?

Today I am going to take the advice of the poet Anne Sexton and, “put (my) ear down close to (my) soul and listen hard.”   Perhaps I will hear the whispers that will help me  recollect myself…recollect myself as she who God created me to be.

And perhaps then I will confidently and lovingly carry that reflection out into the world.

Girl at Mirror  by Norman Rockwell

When will you be mine?

Darling, when will you be mine?  Tell me, quando, quando, quando?

About six years ago I took my youngest daughter to a dress rehearsal for a dance show.  It was going to last for most of the day, one of those technical rehearsals where they check lighting, sound, entrances and exits.  Because she was still pretty young, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her there alone.  Instead I took my bag full of things to read and do and sat in the theater.  I paid little attention to what was happening on stage until as some point I heard this lovely music…Michael Bubble singing a duet.  I glanced up and became riveted by the couple, who I later learned was dancing a rumba to the song, Quando, Quando.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and as I watched I inexplicably began to cry.  Even now the memory of it brings tears to my eyes.

At first, I thought it was love for my husband that was fluttering to the surface, but then in my deepest depths I heard a whisper, “that’s you and Me.”  I knew that this romantic, sensual dance was a reflection of the all-consuming love that the Beloved had for me and that He was inviting me to dance.  He was even asking in the lyrics of the song, “When will you be mine?…We can share a love divine…Let me show you the way to a joy beyond compare.”

I recognize this moment as a kind of divine communication because, not only was I deeply touched, but I somehow transcended my small self and then felt immensely grateful.  I don’t share this story often.  Actually, only a handful of people have heard it because it sounds a little crazy…or a lot crazy, depending on your perspective.  I share it here because I have promised to be as honest as I can.

The memory of this moment, or encounter, has become a precious keepsake that I hold incredibly dear and a beautiful metaphor for my relationship with God.  Over and over again, I learn that God reaches out to each of us, not just saints and mystics.  If ordinary me can have a moment like this, anyone can!  From this moment I also learn that God yearns for us in a most intimate way.

Sometimes when I think back on it, I am also tinged with sadness that I fail over and over to just surrender, to give myself over completely to this Divine Dance.  And yet, I continue to be very grateful for the experience and for the lasting image,  because in the memory of that rumba, I can see her so clearly…my true self…she is the one that says “Yes” over and over and dances freely with her Beloved for the whole world to see.

Post script:  After I wrote this and published it I was feeling embarrassed and questioning whether ego led me to write about this experience and then later that night I found this poem by the German 13 century mystic, Mechtild of Magdeburg.  It felt like a reassurance.


I cannot dance, O Lord,
Unless You lead me.
If You wish me to leap joyfully,
Let me see You dance and sing

Then I will leap into Love
And from Love into Knowledge,
And from Knowledge into the Harvest,
That sweetest Fruit beyond human sense.

There I will stay with You, whirling.

Inspiration from this week

There are so many things that I find inspiring during the week.  I don’t have the space, nor you the time, for me to share how each has touched me but I wanted to present you with a few.

 

 

O Eternal Lover, hear my prayer;  give ear, O Divine Comforter

Forgive what is unholy within me; free me from my illusions!

For a day within your Heart is more to be desired than a thousand other days.

(slight adaptation of Ps 84 in Psalms for Praying by Nan C. Merrill)


Prayer is as natural to a (person) as speaking, sighing and seeing, as natural as the palpitation of a loving heart; and actually that is what prayer is: a murmur, a sigh, a glance a heartbeat of love. (Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaraguan poet and priest)

So the woman said, “I know the children are fed first, but can’t  I even get the scraps the children throw away?”  And Jesus loved it.  Here was a sunny faith that would not take no for an answer, here was a woman with tragedy waiting for her at home in the form of an ill daughter, and there was still light enough in her heart to reply with a smile…her prayer was answered. (William Barclay’s exegesis of Mark 7:31-7)

My soul melted when He spoke. (Spiritual Canticle, St. John of the Cross)

Falling   by Michael Parkes

To the Seeker

If the person is seeking God, much more is her Beloved seeking her.

(St. John of the Cross, Living Flame)

Did you know that way before this new age and even before the 17th century the word enlightenment had a very different meaning than how it later came to be used?  I bring this up because in my last post I accused my ego of trying to take charge of and derail my own enlightenment.  I was using the word in the new age sense of becoming spiritually awakened.  In the 17th century enlightenment came to mean the intellectual movement that developed in Western Europe that highlighted the need for (and the capacity of) human reason to clear away ancient superstition, prejudice, dogma, and injustice.

Today, however, in my reading I came across an altogether different usage of the word.  “It has been said that ‘a person is enlightened’, not when they get an idea’, but ‘when someone looks at them’.  A person is enlightened when another loves them.  The eyes are windows on to the heart; they search the person out and have the power to elicit life.” (Iaian Matthew, The Impact of God)

I was reminded of a  story I heard once that explained the reason there are so many temples and ashrams in India.  You see in India, it is necessary that the faithful have access to sacred places to sit and receive the gaze of the Divine One.  It seems that God needs to give Godself away in Love.  This is also what the Christian mystics know.  They have received God’s penetrating gaze and it has given them life and given them back to themselves.  St. John of the Cross puts it beautifully when he writes:

You looked with love upon me

and deep within your eyes imprinted grace

this mercy set me free,

held in your love’s embrace,

to lift my eyes adoring to your face

(Canticle, stanza 32)

This understanding is new…I am used to thinking I am the doer…and, yet somehow it feels old to me….like some part of me knew it all along.   For a long moment I feel the incredible freedom that comes with this kind of enlightenment.  I can almost feel my heart expanding.  I can’t grow my own heart…but God can.  I can’t give myself back to me…but God can.  For me it is to sit still and hold the divine gaze.