Showing posts with label contemplative life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label contemplative life. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

ROBERT : I have been listening to . . . .

I have been listening to the Propers these days.

The Propers are the prayers, the Collects, appointed for each of the Sundays during the season after Pentecost, the season that many of us call Ordinary Time.

In the liturgical tradition, the Collect for the Day is the second collect said by the officiant at worship on Sunday. It is then said at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer and also at the Daily Eucharist each day during the week that follows. In the tradition, one keeps saying this particular prayer for seven days, over and over. Sometimes I think that perhaps we say it over and over in the hopes that the prayer will finally rise as incense to our Holy Maker, or that it will finally sink as wisdom into the heart of the not-so-holy offerer.

Either result seems a fine one to me. Either of them is more than I deserve.

This past Lord’s Day, we prayed Proper 18.

Proper 18 is not the most stirring of names for a prayer, I admit, but even so.

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength . . . .

I was not able to listen any farther to anything else this Sunday past. I was not able to listen to the Scripture as it was read, to the Word as it was proclaimed, not to the prayers of the people or even the words of the prayer I love the most, the prayer of the Eucharist.

Four minutes into a 68 minute service, in the course of listening to a prayer that is often ignored, I was held up into the Light and saw something about myself, something with which I am now struggling through the darkness of. In the space of that 240 seconds, I caught a glimpse of something that cripples the life I am trying to live, a life in search of communion with the Light of the world. In the saying of less than thirty words in a service that would release thousands of them into the air, I came face to face with something I had not admitted before, something unacknowledged in all of the decades I have spent in search of such communion.

I am now a few days past the moment when that Collect burst in on me and my pride, but I have yet to recover from the hearing of it. My pulse has begun to slow now, and I can breathe more deeply and I am sleeping better but I am not over it. I do not yet know what to do with what I saw about myself in the light of Proper 18.

But I do know this —

The season when we say such Propers may be called Ordinary. But the prayer is not ordinary at all.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

BEN : It still strikes me as odd . . . .

It still strikes me as odd that Ordinary is the title of the sacred time during the calendar by which we mark the intermediate period between the Ascension and the Advent. After so many months of monumental celebrations and observances, Ordinary seems so void of anything spectacular, anything that might closely resemble The One who will come again in all glory.
Ordinary, for me at least, is much less sacred than you make it sound. It is a constant tug-of-war between action and contemplation. Ordinary life comes with demands and expectations from all different directions. It’s a crazy labyrinth to navigate: being a parent, husband, son, brother, friend, Christ-follower, and professional.
What if I don’t like Ordinary at all?
I’m liking less and less the need to get on a plane and miss yet another pillow fight with my three year old who just loves it when I gently knock him down with a sofa cushion, only to spend a few minutes on the floor laughing and then finding the endless energy to get up and challenge me all over again.
It’s strange that the mass adoption of technology like Skype and FaceTime is supposed to make me feel better about not being physically present with those I love. And yet I rely on all these tools in the name of love. Is that Ordinary or my ordinary?
I’m less and less impressed with the rapid accumulation of rewards points I have with airlines, and hotels. I fear these people may know more about me than some members of my extended family. And what about my online florist? Often, companies like that become the ones who deliver sentiments of love in my absence.
I struggle to maintain my habit of daily prayers and wonder if this is the Ordinary you describe or just my ordinary. What would St. Benedict write today if he were still writing his Rule?
Ordinary, in its larger sense, is blah. It’s boring. Some might even say it’s not worth noting. Perhaps those who crafted this calendar ran out of ideas and Ordinary is nothing more than an ancient “miscellaneous” category. Life is supposed to be about sensation and the thrill of the hunt, right?
I certainly don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but I just don’t “get” Ordinary.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

ROBERT : According to one Divine Metronome . . . .

According to one Divine Metronome — the one known as the Calendar of the Church — the Ascension of Our Lord has now been observed and so we await our Brother’s return some day to judge the living and the dead. The Day of Pentecost has been celebrated and the Spirit has been given to us. And now we have entered the season of unbounding festivity known by the heart-stirring name Ordinary Time. Oh, ring the bells of joy, I say.
Ordinary Time is the name settled upon to refer to the twenty four to twenty nine weeks of the year for which the Church could not come up with any great celebrations for you and I to participate in.
The word ordinary and its derivatives occupy fourteen columns in the Oxford English Dictionary, a space larger than all of the words for all the other seasons of the Church year combined. ‘Let this be a sign unto you,’ I think to myself. Words like common, usual, unremarkable, settled, regular, simplest appear often in the fourteen columns. Ordinary Time, to use the words of one of the definitions in the OED, is ‘our customary fare.’
Of the 365 days given to us each year, the church has designated on average 55.6% of them as something less than festive, and not even suitable for something uplifting like putting ashes on our foreheads and remembering that we are but dust. Add together all of the days of the great seasonal celebrations of the church year, and there are still more ordinary days than festive ones.
‘Give us this day our daily bread — our customary fare,’ if you will. If we are to celebrate anything during Ordinary Time, we are largely on our own. The Church is happy to lead the celebratory charge from December until the end of April or so, and sometimes go as far as the end of May. ( Dependent, oddly enough, on the phases of the moon. ) After Pentecost, it is up to us.
The Church leads the parade for Christmas and the manifestation of Christ among us and spring and Easter and the coming of the Holy Spirit and we are assigned the dog days of summer, the back to school sales, and Labor Day. This year we also get an oil spill, floods that keep killing people, new rounds of ethnic cleansing on two continents, the noise of midterm elections, unemployment that is heartbreaking and the truth that not a single one of us has grown younger since this time last year.
According to the metronome of the calendar, our search for the balance between the borders and the margins of our lives, between the struggles with the bustle and the meaning of our daily rounds, between a way of marking time that will lead us to the Divine amid the clamor of the marching orders that would lead us somewhere else — all of that work is now up to us.
I never miss the festal parade at Easter, and I shall be beside you as always in the dark with my candles come Advent.
But just now, whether or not the deep rhythms of the Story are alive and ticking in me in late June is the real question, I am afraid. And I must answer it myself.
Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

BEN : Stealing my words . . . .

Stealing my words is much less an offense than my being haunted by the words you wrote — returning, rest, salvation, sabbath, letting go. I am terrified I will never be able to receive the gift hidden within the practice of such things.
Margin is not simply the difference between retail price and product cost these days. Margin is what’s missing in my life. At each corner, the complexity of responsibility and scheduling seem to push against any hope I might have of finding some sense of margin beyond that of a break-even or profit analysis spreadsheet.
My attempt to find margin has become an empty promise to myself and seems accompanied by a blatant disregard for the limited capacity of my human self itself. I push myself to the what seem to be my limits and dance on the edge of what seems to be an insanity. This is the life I have chosen and yet I worry it may consume me.
I have a burning need to find the News somewhere between our words and my attempts to find a kind of Divine metronome to help me pace myself at the speed of God, rather than keep dancing to a drumbeat of expectation.

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I pray you are right that we may be closing in on the News. I need such a thing to be true.

Monday, May 10, 2010

ROBERT : I am stealing your words . . . .

I am stealing your words, fine ones that they are —
There is enough tension between the confidence of life and the chaos of dying and the misery of returning to dust and the mystery of rising again to keep us clinging to our prayer . . . .

Confidence, chaos, misery, mystery — clinging.
These may not be all the words that I am willing use to describe my journey of faith, but I will take them as a start, and a fine one at that. ( In fact, the race is on, dear friend; if you do not manage to publish these words that I am stealing from you before I do, then the fault is yours. They are well-written ones, and certainly worthy of theft. )

The only words I would add to your list of confidence, chaos, misery, mystery — clinging — might be these : returning, rest, salvation, sabbath — letting go. And I should not have noticed my own poor ones without your fine ones.
I am thinking these days that somewhere in the midst of your words and mine may well lie the News.

Almighty God ; You have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, that in quiet and confidence shall be our strength : By the might of your Spirit lift us to your presence, we pray, that we may be still and know that you are God . . . . . Amen.
Thanks, pal.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ROBERT : It does not take many . . . .

It does not take many Epiphany days in the lectionary scriptures to get to the first of the stories in which Jesus appears to someone, heals them and then admonishes them : Do not make me known to anyone. Odd suggestion from the One Who came to seek and to save all of that which was lost, methinks.
A fair amount of the stories of Epiphany are full of ordinary things : Jesus staying overnight out in the country; Jesus walking through a grain field; Jesus having his supper interrupted yet again by yet another crowd of people asking questions; people begging Jesus to leave their neighborhood; Jesus being rejected in his hometown; Jesus and his friends with nothing to eat at the end of a long day; Jesus taking another boat ride; Jesus on a visit to a synagogue; Jesus refereeing an argument over when to wash your hands and an argument about divorce and then another one about who gets to go first; Jesus taking more than a few long, dusty walks to Jericho and Bethlehem and Bethany and other really exciting travel destinations. And there is more than one story of Jesus telling yet another crowd of folks not to tell what they saw and who, of course, went and did just the opposite. These are the stories of the first Epiphany, Epiphany Past shall we say, the stories Jesus did not want told, oddly enough.
We followers of the One Who came have turned out a glorious Church indeed, a church without spot or wrinkle as someone once said — someone who had not been to church in a while perhaps.
But it is plain to me that the Church does have some difficulty doing what Jesus told us to do from time to time. And one of those times comes when those who have seen the Messiah in action cannot seem to keep quiet about it. And I say, thanks be to God.

Here is an assignment for Epiphany Present :
Go on out there, just go on out there in the world and try not see the One Who came among us.
And when you see Him, and you will, unless you have your head in the sand, then try and keep quiet about it.
You cannot do either one — you cannot miss Him or keep your mouth shut about it either.
Thanks be to God for that as well.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

BEN : I need the Advent. . . .

I need the Advent.

And the timing couldn't have been better! The anticipation of what was happening and what to expect that came as a direct result of our "pause" in conversation placed us in a very familiar position this Advent season, the time in which we must patiently wait and carefully search for the coming Messiah yet again.

One of my favorite parts of this time of year is the hymn "O come, O come, Emmanuel." The words drip with tragedy and expectation, defeat and hope. I wait all year to have permission to experience these haunting words again.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

How appropriate to think of myself as captive? If I was not a salve to something, then the coming Messiah is somehow less than what I suspect it was received that first Christmas. "Captivity"..."exile"..."shall come." These are the ingredients with which God uses to create a bridge to something that if we are not careful, we will miss completely.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

"Victory." Beyond the Christmas story lies the life of Christ, his passion, death, and resurrection. As I wait with all the hope and expectation a homeless person might for shelter or a hungry child for food, I am reminded that bitterness is only part of the story. The other part is much better but can only be experienced in balance with the other.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The two most vulnerable times in our lives are when we are born and when we die. There is little we can do to intervene on both outside the grace of the One Who gives and takes away life. Death comes to us, too, when we forget to breath in rhythm with the One Who first breathed into us. Anticipation causes us to pay attention, awake from our slumber, and participate in making what will be forever, a present reality today.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Rejoice. We've sung it every stanza now, but it seems to jump off the page as we talk about our "heavenly home" and "the way that leads on high." We have much to experience in the world to come. Yet we have glimpses of what is to come now. It's in the innocence of a child's love, the faithfulness of a spouses support, and the compassion of receiving God's gift in the form of a human child. Yes, rejoicing is an appropriate response.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The are two dimensions to the Advent: reliving the coming Messiah as a baby and the knowledge that one day he will come again but in a much different way. The challenge is not to find the "signs of the times" in current events but to carefully observe the face of God among his creation and to open our eyes to his presence already abundantly clear.

For me, "O come, O come, Emmanuel" is a renewed invitation from my soul to the presence of the One Who waits patiently for me to ask Him to come and dwell within me. It is in the waiting that I find the Messiah and will rejoice.

This is why I need the Advent.

Monday, August 10, 2009

BEN : To tell or not to tell. . . .

To tell or not to tell. Perhaps that is another question that Hamlet might have found himself reasoning had things not ended up as they did.

I come from the part of the pew where ‘telling’ is a large part of what we are supposed to do. It is our job to learn the pitch and become corporate spokespersons for the Kingdom. We are the chosen sales reps, and we are the polished business development folks responsible for fulfilling [sic] the Great Commission. We go forth armed with our elevator speeches to tell folks the Truth. Those who are the best at this, receive the highest honors.

There is stark contrast between the posture of the One Who Came and those who come from my part of the pew when it comes to seeking and saving the lost. I am amazed at how many times the Messiah acts in miraculous ways and then asks the subject of that particular miracle to keep silent and tell no one. This is so confusing that theologians have decided they don’t know either, so they relegate their explanation to an elusive phrase – “Messianic Secret” – whatever that means.

It is an odd thing to carry within you a guilt, deeply seeded from a childhood of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School where one is told time and time again that those who do not tell out the Good News are those who have not really been changed by The Red Letters. That is a lot to process, especially when you believe there is eternal significance attached to the act.

The redemption, if you want to call it that, is that the majority of the people who occupy this part of the pew hear the message from the person in the pulpit and disregard it as a pollyianic cry for new recruits from God’s publication relations department. This part of the pew publishes research [sic] that uncovers the fact that most people who claim to be “evangelical Christians” will never tell [sic] a non-believer [again, sic] about their faith.

I am wrestling very hard these days with the notion that the part of the pew that seems to tout this position also seems to be the part of the pew that is shrinking. In fact, people are scooting across The Great Divide by the millions. And in the middle of a disastrous evacuation, the company messengers just keep getting louder and more obnoxious.

Silence and prayer preserved the Way of Christ after it was in danger of the normalization of Christianity in Rome and beyond. It was those who fled to outlying areas and agreed to preserve the words and practice of the One Who Came through community, study, and practice who are responsible for my hearing of the Red Letters. Were it not for these brave men and women, the Gospel would have been entirely lost. And yet nowhere in The Rule they left for us are the words “Go and tell.”

Perhaps the way to tell the world and fulfill The Great Commission, if such an editorial comment from one telling of the Gospel story is appropriate in the first place, is to read and struggle through the call to love, forgive, and sacrifice in the midst of our tendencies to hate, begrudge, and protect what is ours for the taking.

A wise friend once said, “The Good News is this: After centuries of attempts to erase, diminish, and subvert that message of the One Who Came, it survives today.” The great irony is that the message of faith, hope, and love has largely been spread since the beginning, no matter what words have been said.

Perhaps the One Who Came requested silence because he knew that, in our speaking, our faith would be held captive by the vocabulary most readily available to us rather than set free through our transcendent behaviors — a smile, a glance, or a tear that speaks clearly to all humanity, even those at the very ends of the earth.

These days, my mouth is shut. My heart is open. My prayer is constant.

Perhaps my silence will tell no one, perhaps my silence will tell anyone who will listen — with their soul, the only part we were given by the One Who created us that is blind and deaf to anything less than eternal — perhaps my silence will give voice to the Good News.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

ROBERT : You struck a chord . . . .

You struck a chord for me and for others last week. As I reflected on the things that you wrote, pairs of words kept coming back to me all week — being vs. doing; eternal vs. temporal; contemplative life vs. the active life.
      One of the bits of wisdom that you will discover within the Rule of Saint Benedict is that one’s work has to nurture who you are trying to become. The things that you do need to help you become more of who you really are; the temporal of your life needs to reflect the things that are eternal; your actions need to be shaped by your silence and your solitude.
      Such a way of seeing one’s life and work seems new in a way, probably because we do not hear it talked about much. The truth is that such a way of seeing our work is as old as life itself. I believe it is the way the One Who made us intended for us to live.