When words become unclear,
I shall focus with photographs.
When images become inadequate,
I shall be content with silence.
~Ansel Adams

Monday, May 9, 2016

Psalms in the Silence

Be Still and Know that I am God
Psalm 46:10 


We had such a beautiful "Great Silence" retreat this spring.  Every retreatant was able to come.  The weather was perfect, sunny and not too hot.  The food prepared by our very own contemplative chef was tasty and delicious ... it really makes a difference!  Our theme was the Psalms and we found lovely creative ways to enter into them as we followed Walter Brueggemann's Spirituality of the Psalms  to structure our retreat.   



The bible is the grand story of God and God’s people as they journey together.   In the journey there are basically 2 movements within 3 spaces.  We see movements toward God and movements away from God, dancing through life with one another, we move.  



Brueggemann has a wonderful way of inviting us to see those 3 dancing spaces of life reflected in the Psalms:  Orientation, Disorientation, and (often surprising) Reorientation.  As we moved through our retreat, we practiced this rhythm … practicing the rhythm invites us and increases our trust that after every bout of disorientation there will be a reorientation to invite us deeper in our relationship with God, often with a delightful surprise.


We worked with images as we created Psalm Collages and some of us wrote our own Psalms from scratch.  We sat by the lake and we hiked through the woods as, gazing upon beauty, the Psalms came alive for us.  


Perhaps you might like to try your hand at writing a Creation Psalm:

Take your Journal and go on a walk in the presence of God in Creation.   If you can't take a walk, gaze upon a photo of nature that draws you in and allows you to walk in your imagination.  As you walk, breathe in the beauty and wonder you find.   Now … be still in the Presence.   As you become attuned to the nature that envelops you, take time to write down what you notice.  Use these prompts to start writing.  Let the words flow without thinking about them now. 
  • I see … I hear … I smell … I feel the texture of … 
  • How is God present in Creation?  
  • How does God make God-Self known to you here? 
  • What does the beauty of your surroundings remind you of … any memories emerge? 
  • I want to ask God our Creator this about what I have experienced in nature …  
  • I want to tell God our Creator that creation is, for me … or Creation feels like …  
  • When I consider the presence of God in creation, I sense a desire to say the following phrase over and over again …
Consider the impact and effect nature has had on you today and look over what you have written, circling words and/or phrases that you are drawn to.  You are ready to write a psalm employing the Hebrew literary device used by many of the psalmists, known as parallelism, in which the second line repeats the structure of the first line, such as in the psalm verses above.  Note the way the author has used parallelism … Try these exercises:
  • Lists:  Make a short list of things you found on your walk that you are thankful to God for.  Take your list and express your thankfulness to God. (Ps 83:13-15) 
  • Restatement:  The first line is not repeated, it is restated.  Write a statement to God about what you found on your walk in nature and then restate it.  (Ps 148:1) 
  • Questions: Write several lines, each beginning with “Why …”  (Ps 74:1) 
  • Repetition:  Take a word or phrase and alternate with new lines.  (Ps 118) 
  • Addressing the Divine:  Consider new names and images of God evoked by your walk
My personal favorite resource for Psalm writing is Writing the Sacred: A Psalm-Inspired Path to Appreciating and Writing Sacred Poetry by Ray McGinnis 

Enjoy ... Psalms in the Silence!
 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Journey into the Dark Night of the Soul

Oh night thou was my guide

of night more loving than the rising sun

Oh night that joined the lover

to the beloved one

transforming each of them

into the other ...
~St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul 
Have you ever wandered in a rose garden ... and contemplated the rose with its thorns?  For some, the beauty of the rose is unmatched.  As a child I remember the glorious rose bush growing by the front porch.  Every mother's day, my mother cut one of them for each of the two of us and we wore them to church to honor our mothers.   As I consider my own journey of motherhood, it is much like that rose with its thorns, such incredible, deep rose-like beauty it takes my breath away and yet such sudden pricks of the thorns along the way of fear, anger, emptiness ... waiting for a phone call or a text when it has been too long ... letting go.  It simply IS the journey of deep love.  Perhaps we cannot have one without the other in this life we live. 

Remember Mary, mother of Jesus.  Ahhh, Mary ... the deep, exquisite piercing of the thorn in your heart ... tears falling into the dark night ... did you know a simple "yes" would lead you here?

Draw closer and ever closer to the desolation of Christ in the Garden and on the Cross.  "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?," Jesus cries out and my heart shatters.  I find myself being drawn into the depths of Presence, into a place where the rose and the thorn reside together, a beautiful coupling, union with the God who never abandons even if we feel it is so, stillness descends and silence deafens, finding a space of desolation and dark night "remembering." 

I invite you to engage in the way of an adapted "audio/lectio divina" with a youtube video of Loreena Mckennitt's Dark Night of the Soul.

The lyrics of this beautiful song are taken from the mystical writings of the Spanish Carmelite friar, Saint John of the Cross.   Where else would a mystic turn to enter fully into the Presence of Mystery and Darkness of Good Friday?

Take the link to view the images and the words as the music fills the space around you ... Is there an image, word, phrase or melodic line in the music that draws your attention?    Pause for a few moments to let it resonate in your soul ...

If you feel drawn to listen again, just close your eyes and listen.  Allow the music and the words to fill you and draw you deeper inward.  Where are you drawn as this Dark Night of the Soul wraps itself around your soul? 

If you feel drawn to reflection, how is your experience speaking into your life right now?  Is there an invitation here for you?  

If you feel drawn to listen a third time ... How do sense that you will respond to this invitation ... to your life? 

Before moving on ... as the music comes to a close, allow everything ... the images, the words and the music ... to fade into silence ... allow your soul to fade into silence ... rest ... until you sense it is time to move on. 

May you be strengthened in your inner being by this time of contemplation on the Dark Night of the Soul.  May John of the Cross encourage you to trust in the Holy One who is always with you ... even in those moments when you feel you have been abandoned.

Oh night thou was my guide ... 
of night more loving than the rising sun ... 
Oh night that joined the lover .... 
to the beloved one ... 
transforming each of them ... 
into the other.

May you rest deeply within the Presence and allow yourself to be enveloped by Mystery and melancholy as the Dark Night sings in your soul.

Amen.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

a new word for a new year ...

“Amma, give me a word”  ~spiritual seeker asks a desert mother :)

I've never been good with new year's resolutions.  Honestly, when I concentrate on outcomes in the way of resolutions, I usually wind up feeling like a failure because I set unrealistic goals for myself.   It becomes all about the destination ... but what about the journey, the process, the getting from here to there?  

So, thank you dear St. Benedict, I will begin again for always I begin again ... and again ... and again.  The last few years I have been choosing a word for the year in the tradition of the guidance found via the desert mothers and fathers.  

Some years the "perfect" word seems to find me and yet sometimes it doesn't.  Last year my word was longing.  I initially thought that to be a very strange word, and I spent too much time trying to come up with a qualifying word for I wanted to be longing for something.  That sounds so much more productive, right?  And each time I tried to find something to long for, there I went hopping on down the bunny trail to nowhere!   

The word was simply, "longing" and it was an apt word for 2015.   

Last year, having experienced death quite profoundly, I found that my "longing" was hollowing me out, creating within me a vessel with new depth, suspended in time ... waiting, just waiting to be filled when the time was right. 

I listened to Judith Tripp's Well Song and became entranced by these questions ...

Where are you going?
Where have you come from?
What are you doing in this world?

I dwelled for a time just in the seeking ... perhaps allowing my longing from last year to ripen fully and transform into my new word, "fierce."  And as I pondered, perhaps the question became for me neither where nor what but how will you be in this world?  And my answer was, I will be fierce. 

As I have been allowing my new word to  "simmer" within that inner space, I found a flaming spark of passion ... fierce.  Can I let myself live a life with fierce abandon?  Can I reach into the depths of myself and allow that passion to emerge?  It remains to be seen, yes?

When I think of the word, fierce, I think of the desert mothers, those "ammas" of the desert.  Henry Nouwen calls the desert, "the furnace of transformation."  So, I've chosen the desert mothers as my companions for this year that promises change and growth.  I look forward to re-reading material about those fierce women and following their practices in order to make my way through the passion and fervor I sense simmering below the surface.  Writing an acrostic poem I find my longing dissipates ...

fierce year coming
  Flowing river fades up ahead
  Indigo blue I see no more
  Ebb tide empties my sandy shoreline
  Relentless waves recede with a kiss
  Calling me into my desert dwelling
  Emotions erupt as passion blazes
fierce year coming!
  Flames emerge reaching for the sky
  Igniting my soul with a smoky hue
  Energy surges with nowhere to go
  Rivulets of red, orange, and gold
  Chaos threatens, colors merge
  Ethereal mist rises in grey clouds whispering
fierce year coming





As I allow myself to sit with my poetry, I am realizing that "fierce," at least the fierce-ness that I am being called into, means simply to live authentically and to move ever closer to the me I've been created to be.  How lovely! for this is my life's work in a nutshell. 

The source of much of my pondering upon my word emerged from Christine Valters Paintner's Give me a Word 12-day "Abbey of the Arts" free online self-paced journey to invite a word for the year.   If you are interested in finding a little help as you seek a word for yourself, take the link and you will find that sign up is very easy, although I don't know how long the journey will be available into 2016.      

Monday, November 9, 2015

Cairns: Guides on the Path

Cairns represent a trail marker that guides one through uncertain areas in life.  They provide guidance, hope, balance, continuity, and confidence on the journey down the path of life.  ~John P. Kraemer
Cairns at the edge of a Labyrinth in Hood Canal, Washington


Recently, I've become fascinated with cairns, those really interesting stacks of rocks that people leave in interesting places.  Interesting.  When I found the little set of cairns in the photo above at the edge of a labyrinth, that fit my nice little sense of interesting.   That is what cairns have always seemed to me.  I've seen them as markers that people leave behind to say, "I've experienced something holy, amazing, lovely on my journey."   Like the time when "Jacob woke up and thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, but I did not realize it!"     I viewed them much like an altar.

I love Jacob.  I relate to Jacob when I look back at my own journey of failure, redemption, blessing, growth, and mystical experiences.

God appeared to Jacob again after he returned from Paddan Aram and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but your name will no longer be called Jacob; Israel will be your name.” So God named him Israel. Then God said to him, “I am the sovereign God. Be fruitful and multiply! A nation—even a company of nations—will descend from you; kings will be among your descendants! The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you. To your descendants I will also give this land.” Then God went up from the place where he spoke with him. So Jacob set up a sacred stone pillar in the place where God spoke with him. He poured out a drink offering on it, and then he poured oil on it. Jacob named the place where God spoke with him Bethel.    Genesis 35:9-15, NET

Doesn't that sound just like a cairn ... a sacred stone pillar?  And then, I read an article that led me to Cairns:  Messengers in Stone.   I've only just begun reading this little book by David B. Williams, former National Park Service Ranger.   From the back cover:
"Writing our messages with rocks is an ancient gesture that continues to speak to our imaginations.  From meadow trails to airy mountaintops to barren deserts, cairns -- those seemingly random stacks of rock -- are surprisingly rich with stories and meaning.  They can indicate a trail, mark a grave, serve as an altar or shrine, and reveal property boundaries or hunting grounds.  Built the world over as essential guides to travelers, cairns help people connect to landscape, find their path, and communicate with others."
Williams begins his book by talking about destroying cairns!  Why?  It seems that cairns have a critical purpose in the wilderness.  They are markers indicating the way to travel safely.   People who do not understand the way a cairn marks the path tend to create cairns in places that lead to nowhere and people get lost.   Suddenly something which has one purpose, to lead the way, has a new purpose, to mark a personal, individual experience.  As I contemplated this, I began to see the communal aspect of the cairn as marker on the path.   

When I consider the cairns that lay on the edge of the labyrinth that is my life, I think about those spiritual practices that call me deeper into my journey and through which I know the felt presence of God.  I am aware that they have changed over the years, sometimes rolling away and sometimes stabilizing.   I also consider that sometimes I must destroy my dependence on practices and habits that lead me in the wrong direction.   I need a community to breathe with me, to support me in my journey as I deconstruct, let go, move on and rebuild, a contemplative community which listens deeply to God and senses God's movements.   Always I seek a community that needs very few words with which to challenge and guide as I listen to God.  

For me as I pause at the edge of the winding path in my soul, I gaze inwardly at the most beautiful cairn built from silence and solitude by God whose Spirit breathes with me and in me.

So ... how is the beautiful cairn at the edge of the winding path leading you deeper?

Labyrinth at Hood Canal, Washington

And ... what kind of community do you need to be fully yourself as you move down the winding path to wholeness?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Healing the Pain of Silence

For most modern westerners silence feels empty at first, boring, something that needs to be filled.  When we are given encouragement and space to really enter and stay with it, silence can become filled with beauty, with gratitude, with life.                                   ~Seena B. Frost, Soul Collage Evolving

I often hear people talk about silence making them feel lonely or uncomfortable, afraid or reprimanded.  These feelings and a myriad of other feelings lead people to avoid silence when with others, preferring to be constantly stimulated in order to drive away those feelings.

And yet one of the things I know about spiritual disciplines, such as silence, is that there is a symbiotic relationship.  What I mean is that experiencing God in the silence alone enhances our presence in community and being in silence in community enhances our presence in solitude.

The experience people have in communal silence can enriched silence when alone.  Over time silence is filled with Presence, the gentle God who is always with us.  It is never that God is sometimes not with us but it is that we are often not aware of God's presence.  Silence heightens our awareness.



Silence teaches us how to "be" in the silence.  What perhaps people need is not to run from silence but to lengthen and embrace silence.  In the beginning this is very difficult because if we open ourselves up to the Presence who IS silence many painful things begin to emerge, like loneliness.  Sometimes, memories of being silenced by others, especially in childhood emerge.  We may also find feelings of unhealed grief, inadequacy, unworthiness, shame, deep pain, other lost memories, and fears of the future ... just to name a few of the things we may have tucked away hoping never to encounter again.  If we can bring any of those pesky feelings that emerge into the Light to be understood, accepted and let go, then perhaps we become more integrated and whole.   Yes, it is a difficult process but also one that brings the fruits of healing, wholeness, and integration. 

We are invited to ask ourselves about the feelings and the thoughts that emerge.  When we confront long dormant reasons for our feelings of desolation, we may find out why silence is such a painful visitor.  

Hear this beautiful poetry from Rumi and ponder.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks
 
Questions for Reflection:
  • How difficult is the silence for you?
  • What are some of the feelings that emerge for you?
  • How is your soul like a guesthouse? 
  • Who has come visiting you lately?
  • How have you welcomed the stranger within?
  • How has that "stranger" been sent to guide you?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Silently Gazing ... Experiencing Art

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
~Thomas Merton
 
Flaming June by Frederic Leighton, seen beyond the fountain in the Indoor Garden

 
I recently spent a few days in New York City.   I don't do long lines or crowds very well so my daughter found us a couple of smaller museums, the Guggenheim and the Frick Collection.
 
The beautiful woman in orange above drew me in from the moment I saw her from afar.  As I walked into the garden at the Frick Collection, she called me into her world and I stood transfixed, mesmerized by her warmth.  She is vivid and flowing, a vision alive even while sleeping.    

Although I really liked the art at the Guggenheim, I felt the architecture of the building itself was the shining star in my night sky.  
 
Looking up from the center of the Guggenheim Museum, a round building ... 
 with spiraling walkways and many art nooks
My favorite nook art... no idea why I could stand and gaze for such a long period of time upon her ... what is it within myself that feels bound?  And can I be beauty as she is? 

And ... oh my, I do love my favorite artist, my dear Pablo Picasso ... ahhhh, she is stunning!
 
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
~Pablo Picasso

Woman Ironing by Pablo Picasso (1904)
Finally, on our last day in almost our last hour, we made it to St. Patrick's Cathedral ... by accident! 
Not even the noise and activity from traffic and ongoing renovations could dampen the presence of God in such a holy space.  Walking in, turning around and simply gazing upon the Rose Window gave me chills ... I closed my eyes and felt I was back in Chartres, France standing on the Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral.  Praying ... breathing in "Mother God" ... breathing out "Grace and Mercy"
The Rose Window at St. Patrick's Cathedral in NYC
As if I had not received grace enough, suddenly I saw my favorite icon, Our Lady of Czestochowa!  She is stunning as always she is ... I lit 2 candles (you can see them in the lower right corner) and prayed for many things, steeped in the grace of God.  Amen.


This world is but a canvas to our imagination.
~Henry David Thoreau

God has been an artist since creation and creates still today!
Gazing from New York Harbor/Bay, Verrazano–Narrows Bridge in the distant, clouds in the sky ...
Sing praises to God ...
Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who provides rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

Psalms 147:7a, 8

   
Flaming June
Flaming June

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Rhythm of Light and Dark on the Labyrinth

Labyrinth at the Chadwick Arboretum on the Ohio State University Campus
I spent the past week in Columbus, Ohio taking a class at the Methodist Theological School of Ohio and was blessed to work with United Methodist Church/Community Development For all People and the Global Community United Methodist Church.  We had Friday off to work on our Saturday presentation.  I took a break and walked this beautiful labyrinth.  It was hot!  And yet there was a gentle breeze.  Silence descended as soon as I walked toward the path.

I really enjoyed the way the stones of the path were laid.  It was a traditional 11-circuit Chartres-style labyrinth but it was a little different, an interesting juxtaposition of square stones in a circular configuration.  There was a small space between the stones down the middle of the path and it helped me to balance my steps.

As I prepared for this class in Ohio, I began to think a lot about spiritual direction on the margins.  What would that look like?   I've been pondering this question and I decided to bring my chaos and all my thoughts to the labyrinth.  

I started my labyrinth walk at the entrance in the shadows of the trees, walking slowly and deliberately, letting my thoughts wander.  Suddenly I walk into the light and its warmth, so bright I almost couldn't see the path.  It "woke" me up, and I continued on in this rhythm of shady darkness and sunlight brightness.  

Everything that happens on the labyrinth is said to be a metaphor for life ... As I settled into the rhythm of the path, I began to think of "knowing" and "unknowing."  There are many things I want to know about the inner shift that I am feeling in my soul and my life but as I moved to the rhythm of light and dark on that very hot day, as I slowed in the shadows and sped through the sunny spots, I began to sense a peacefulness in the quiet darkness of the shadows.  Lingering, I became immersed in God's presence.  

When I reached the center of the labyrinth and perhaps the center of my own soul, I stood very quietly.  I stepped into each petal looking outward and after drinking in the beauty of the world from that perspective I turned, stepped to the center and looked down, breathing in the God-space.  


Around the circle I went until my circle was complete.  I stepped out, back onto the familiar path and simply enjoyed the gentle rhythm of light and dark as I walked out. 

Someone asked me the other day, "What does the labyrinth "do" for you?"  I honestly don't think I gave him a very good answer that day, but I have been thinking about it and here is what I would say today.  The labyrinth doesn't do anything "for" you.  But if you are open, you may experience ... something.  At the very least, you have committed to walk a certain distance and that is something.  Your walk may be awesome.  It may be Spirit-filled.  It may be reflective.  It may be healing.   It may be peaceful.  It may be ordinary.  And ... it may be nothing.  Whatever it is, that is your experience.  

Today, I would say, "if you get the opportunity, just walk and experience what you experience."  Nothing more, nothing less.  What about you?  Have you ever walked a labyrinth?  What was your experience? 

Perhaps the next time (or the first time) you walk a labyrinth you might read this quote from The Cloud of Unknowing ... and find rest for your soul in the rhythm of light and dark.
Let that quiet darkness be your whole mind and like a mirror to you. For I want your thought of self to be as naked and simple as your thought of God, so that you may be with God in spirit without fragmentation and the scattering of your mind.  ~A quote from The Cloud of Unknowing