“The Monks are back. School must have started…”

…this is what I wrote recently in my journal, totaling the entries to two (2), because it’s a beautiful leather bound journal I received as a gift for Christmas years ago and I don’t want to mess it up with my scribbling.

So what I wrote must have, in hindsight, been pretty important.  And now, upon reflection, seems to me an indicator of a new season in my life.

The “monks” in question are actually two books about monks: An Infinity of Little Hours by Nancy Maguire and Voices of Silence: Lives of the Trappists Today by Frank Bianco. Infinity profiles five young men who chose to become novitiates of the strict Carthusian order started by St. Bruno in the 11th Century.  Voices explores the structure of life among the Trappists, from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky to Notre Dame de Melleray in France.

The books are quite gripping, and help sustain an interest in monasticism I’ve had for years, but the real question remains: “Why did I choose to pick up those particular books?”

I’ve quipped a few times to my friends that the practices of monasticism are really a form of Ritalin for those of us suffering from spiritual ADHD.  For those, like me, who suffer from the actual physical disorder, you may know what I’m talking about here.  Our attention span is a like hummingbird drinking espresso- it’s all over the place.  Spiritually, I think this makes it harder for us to focus on God, especially in silence and reflection.  If there are a million things going through our mind every second, what do we do to help us put all of that aside and focus on God and His guidance and assurance?

Along with increasingly over-perscribed medication, psychiatrists emphasize the establishment of routine and pattern of those with ADD.  This emphasis on organization helps reduce the stress and anxiety that usually occurs when “too many things seem to be happening at once.” Similary, monks have established spiritual practices (prayer, work, contemplation, lectio divina) which allows them to further focus on God.  This is not to reduce these practices as some sort of “prescription for finding God,” but I think the analogy works to a point.  Monks remind themselves daily- hourly- of the pattern, rhythm and presence of God in their lives and in the world.

Which brings up the question of liturgy.

It’s a question already posed, and answered substantially, over at Julie Clawson’s onehandclapping blog.  Liturgy is the rhythm and pattern many Christians follow and embrace every Sunday as part of their worship service.  This is the “smells and bells” approach to worship, with repeated prayers, times for standing, sitting, kneeling, singing, contemplation, and the partaking of the Eucharist.  For many of us, it is a reminder of God’s role in the world and the steps it took to bring about the miracle and mystery of Christ.  For me, it’s a reminder to breathe, not simply just to relax, but to breathe in the realization, as Rob Bell stated in a recent sermon, that “A whole new world is bursting forth, right in the midst of this one, and everybody everywhere can be a part of it” and that “A Christian is constantly learning how to see this creation with their very own eyes.”

There are many other thoughts on this, and I encourage those who would like further perspectives to the conversation put forth in Clawson’s blog.

This sense of structure and organization is imperative to me as a high school teacher.  yep.. That’s what I do.  And let me tell you, if you are disorganized as a teacher, life quickly becomes a living hell.  Because it’s not just me…the organization of my 150 students is a necessity as well.  It’s organizing lesson plans, homework, essays, vocabulary work, grades, progress reports, permission slips, notes, etc.

But it’s all meant to create a space so we can open up.  We can explore.  We can immerse ourselves.

The monks are back.  To remind me of what higher purpose that structure is for…

A Few Thoughts on Snares

I have a rigid interior clock that does not usually deviate from its rhythm.  Therefore, when I found myself wide awake at 6 this morning, it gave me pause.  Seriously, I get up at 7:03 every day.  That’s right: 7:03.  Why my body has started to register minutes as opposed to “oh, the sun’s up.  let’s rise, shall we?” is beyond me, and if I start thinking about it too much, I’ll probably come to the conclusion that my body somehow knows it has less time on this earth than I think, and then I’ll REALLY start freaking out.  Oops.  Too late.

I felt a bit of grace through this early rising, however: like I was being given a chance to take some time to quiet a mind that’s been rather stressed the past few weeks.  So I went out to our library room and meditated for a bit, watching the sun slowly start to rise, turning the sky from a hazy azure to pink, then orange.  I picked up my Bible and prepared to settle my mind further in lectio divina, or meditated reading.  It’s a slow, rhythmical reading of Scripture where you allow the words to just unfold within you, and when a word or a phrase catches  your attention, you take time to dwell on it, to meditate on its application to your life in that moment, in that place.

The Psalms are a great for this, because the Psalmists run the whole gamut of human emotion, from anger to fear to hatred to love to joy to praise to despair to pride to humility.  It’s all there.  Many people are turned off by the Psalms because of this.  This is supposed to be the “word of God?”  All this hatred and violence?  What gives?  But the Psalms show this relationship between God and man where man has a voice as well, and aren’t there times when all of us feel hatred and joy, love and despair- sometimes even in prayer?  But I digress…

I read Psalm 124, one of David’s “songs of ascents.”  Part of the Psalm reads:

Praise be to the Lord,

who has not let us be torn by their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird

out of the fowler’s snare;

the snare has been broken,

and we have escaped.

When I read this, an image began forming in my mind of that bird in the snare.  I sensed the panic, its heart racing, the recognition, instinctively, that this hindrance to flight was very very very wrong.  The panic increases when all attempts to escape just seem to trap it even more.  Remaining still is not an option, that way lies open only to death.

Then I began to think about what happens when someone tries to help the bird.  All too often, the bird struggles even more.

I began to think of what a snare is meant to do: it’s such a simple device that causes so much pain and hurt.  The reason?  It lets its victim work with it.  It depends on the struggling of its victim to achieve its end result, which is often quite gruesome.  Here’s a description by Rosemary Groom, from her blog at Wildlife Direct:

Dead wild dog - neck injury from snare

Snares are hard to find and thus hard to control. Snares are wasteful – poachers often set them and then fail to check them, resulting in the death of animals which end up just rotting in the bush. Finally, snares are inhumane. Animals are caught in snares when they put their head, or a limb through the wire noose, which then pulls tight as the animal attempts to escape. The animal then dies through asphyxiation or through dehydration. In many cases, animals manage to break the snares, leaving them to walk around with a cutting ligature on a limb, or dragging a broken branch to which the snare was attached.

A lion caught in a snare – an unnecessary waste

Lion caught in a snare set for antelope

Even when the snare is broken, it can still cause pain if the animal carries it around, or can’t get completely free.

So why did my eyes open a little wider pondering all this?    For one, it seemed as if the Psalmist was recognizing the pain when he writes “the snare was broken.”  For some of us, spiritually, this can be a painful process.  We panic, we struggle- even when someone is trying to help us.  The struggle may even occur after we have escaped- the memory of a painful event can stick with us, sometimes overwhelming us again, until it seems like we are right back in the heart of the snare.

“And we have escaped” reads like a sigh of relief.  One can imagine the bird spreading its wings, finding use for them again, in essence realizing once again, instinctively, that it can do what it was meant to do, and be who it was meant to be.

I pray the Lord releases us each and every day, that we may truly be who we are meant to be, in His eyes.

Fractal Art

Free Bird: Fractal Art

“No Comparing:” Reflections on George MacDonald 20

Here there is no room for ambition.  Ambition is the desire to be above one’s neighbor; and here there is no possibility of comparison with one’s neighbor: no one knows what the white stone contains except the man who receives it… Relative worth is not only unknown- to the children of the Kingdom it is unknowable.

A note of context before we begin: the “white stone” that MacDonald refers to alludes to Revelation 2:17 (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.”)  MacDonald notes that each of us gets a “white stone” from God, that expresses, in Him, our deepest identity and meaning.

We like ambition in the United States.  We need ambition now- the drive to get this country moving again, to recover what’s been lost- sense of unity and hope.  But it’s necessary to define the first word in this reflection: “Here.”

What “here,” is MacDonald talking about?  When ambition is “the desire to be above one’s neighbor,” it is an ambition based on the Self.  What “I” want, what “I” deserve.  Therefore, the “here” that MacDonald speaks of , which has “no room for ambition” must be a place of Non-Self, or a focus to where the Self is not the Center.  This is a “here” in the presence of God.  There is no measure, no “relative worth,” for, as Jack Kerouac once said, “All is precious and holy.”

This is why when Jesus was approached by the mother of the sons of Zebedee, who wanted her two sons to sit at the right and left of Christ in Heaven, he said “You do not know what you are asking.” Later in the passage he spoke to the other disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20: 25-29)

Those who long to be close to God must first let go of the desire to be first among others.  There is no hierarchy of Love with God.  It encompasses all completely and fully.  To desire to have more of the Love than another corrupts that Love, and makes it unattainable.

Sinai- Reflections on G. MacDonald 6

And is not God ready to do unto them even as they fear, though with another feeling and a different end from any which they are capable of supposing?  He is against sin: insofar as, and while, they and sin are one, He is against them- against their desires, their aims, their fears, and their hopes; and thus He is altogether and always for them.  That thunder and lightning and tempest, that blackness torn with the sound of a trumpet, that visible horror billowed with the voice of words, was all but a faint image… of what God thinks and feels against vileness and selfishness, of the unrest of unassuageable repulsion with which He regards such conditions.

MacDonald references the events that occurred on Mt. Sinai, when the Jews began their travels out of Egypt.  Manna fell from Heaven, and Moses was given the Ten Commandments.  During the time that Moses was speaking to God, the Jews got impatient, and formulated the Golden Calf and bowed down to worship it.  This, understandably, made God a bit upset.  But why?  Because He wanted all the glory?  Well, yeah- but to what end?  Here we have the Divine reaching out and wanting relationship with those that He created, and what he created them for: to rise above their own egos, fears, and faults, and come into communion with Him.  Let all that hinders you from the deepest of all Loves fall away, and become your True Self.

The Beginning of Wisdom: Reflections on G. MacDonald 4

…The worship of fear is true, although very low: and though not acceptable to God in itself, for only the worship of spirit and of truth is acceptable to Him, yet even in his sight it is precious.  For He regards men not as they are merely, but as they are now growing, or capable of growing, toward that image after which He made them that they might grow to it.  Therefore a thousand stages, each in itself all but valueless, are of inestimable worth as the necessary and connected gradations of an infinite progress.  A condition which of declension would indicate a devil, may of growth indicate a saint.

More signs of hope

As a Christian, the fundamentalism of some who practice the faith deeply disturbs me.  It disrupts the spirit of embracing “The Other” that Christ so adamately demanded of those who would follow Him.  I stumbled upon this clip while perusing through Youtube, and find a rational, balanced, faith-driven assessment of the faults of fundamentalism, particulary as it relates to holy scripture:

Time to Breathe…

At last!  Ten minutes to 7 on Sunday night, and I am finding some downtime to enjoy after a hectic afternoon of lesson planning and certification work.  The week looks fairly planned out, with room for the unexpected, if need be.

Today’s liturgy at Emmanuel offered strength to face the afternoon.  Last week- pretty bad.  On the faulty assumption that I could get everything in the world done if I was merely jacked up on 5 cups of coffee per day.  Bad move.  When will I learn that my own steam will never be enough?

So, time to ponder.  Picked up Abraham by Bruce Feiler at Borders.  I have already read through Walking the Bible a few times, and although I could not stand the documentary he made out of that book, I still enjoy his writing style and ability to really connect with his subject matter.  Abraham is a slim book compared to Walking, but what from I skimmed in the Borders cafe, it looks like a good read.

Today I made it to the adult study group session at Emmanuel.  Class usually goes from 9am-10, and since I have choir rehearsal at 9:30, I thought it just wasn’t an option to come.  On the contrary- apparently several of our choir members join in the discussion, and then leave half way through.  Dave, my fellow tenor (and might I say, becoming a bit of a spiritual big brother to me) invited me to stop by last week, so I said “what the heck?”

Discussion focused on the Magnificat, Mary’s prayer to God after Elizabeth’s greeting to her (Luke Chapter 1: 46-55).  Here it is in context:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.

Our discussion led to an analysis of Mary’s perception of God.  This soon led to a focus on the words “He has filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He has sent empty away.”  Given the scriptural emphasis on the “first being last, and the last being first,” and taking into account the current poverty levels around the world and the”riches” we enjoy as Americans- well, where does that leave us?  How can we “empty” ourselves before we are sent “empty away?”

Anyway, I hope all enjoy a peaceful night.

Pax,

wanderingtree