Yesterday was lovely, if in some ways unexpected. I’ve learned to “go with the flow” over the years and it’s so much easier to do that when the people you’re “flowing” with are relaxed and kind. I look forward to the same sort of reception today with the “Senior Sisters” at our Provincial House. Speaking about Advent is easy for me as I think about themes for discussion. My favorites are stillness and expectation and reflection on how those qualities can permeate our days and calm our nights. Give it a try…
Lent seems to be moving so slowly. Easter is late this year. I have to look diligently when outside for signs of spring – just the tiniest sprigs of green against the house – hoping that the still freezing temperatures will not overcome them. The view from my window is so monochromatic (whew! Where did that word come from this early?!) I’m not sure I can trust the sun this morning to effect a change. I feel as if the silence is so big everything would break if I moved more than my fingers on the keyboard. Traffic is silent. The birds seem to be hiding from the neighborhood hawk. Everything seems like that line from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “All creation waits on tiptoe to see the children of God coming into their own.”
How difficult it is to remain still and just BE. There is always so much to do. I’m sensing that the impulse of being is more important now than ever. Can you feel it? Can you allow your body and mind to acquiesce to it in hopes of learning some new truth? Let us breathe…and hope.
A strange thing happened just now as I went to the USCCB website for the lectionary readings of the day (always my first stop upon arising). When I clicked on the calendar, an empty space appeared. Thinking it was my recalcitrant phone, I did the same with my computer. Same result: empty page. I clicked on February 4th and 6th and both showed the readings of the day but today was empty. I’m supposing it was some kind of a glitch at the Bishops’ office but decided to treat it as “reader’s choice.”
I opened my trusty Ancient Songs Sung Anew – not exactly at random. Today I am participating in an event at the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Schenectady, NY, a place where I spent several graced weekends leading retreats some years ago. One of my favorites was based on Psalm 46. As I opened to it this morning, I was not disappointed to find the title, God’s Presence in a World Torn Apart. Here are some of the hopeful lines.
God is for us a place of refuge and a mighty strength always present to us in our time of need…Though storms may blow and the seas themselves begin to foam, and the foundations of the world are shaken to their core…like a stronghold to our ancestors, our God is with us now…And like the light of morning, God’s presence breaks as dawn, and nothing is ever shaken there or broken down…Be silent, then, and in the stillness know the transcendence of our God. Know too the immanence of the One present in each being…Like a stronghold to our ancestors, our God is with us now. (p. 115)
I will hope to remember these words as I watch the State of the Union address this evening.
action, Celtic Benediction, creativity, God, health, hope, John Philip Newell, new life, prayer, reflection, renewal, rest, rhythms of time, seasons, stillness, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, unfolding
On this dreary Saturday morning it is clear that the earth has shifted into the season of Autumn. As the rain taps out a wake-up call on the roof, I wonder if we will see the usual splendor that accompanies October. Some say because of the hot, wet summer we had, the trees will not provide us with that gift this year. I always hold out hope though, and it will last in me for a few more days. For now, I am relaxed into morning by a prayer of John Philip Newell that expands the rhythms of time and the seasons into a God-like view.
For the night followed by the day, for the idle winter ground followed by the energy of spring, for the unfolding of the earth followed by bursts of unfolding, thanks be to you, O God. For rest and wakefulness, stillness and creativity, reflection and action, thanks be to you. Let me know in my own soul and body the rhythms of creativity that you have established. Let me know in my family and friendships the disciplines of withdrawal and the call to engagement. Let me know for my world the cycles of renewal given by you for healing and health, the pattern of the seasons given by you for the birth of new life. (Celtic Benediction by J Philip Newell, p. 76)
Everything is so still this morning. It reminds me of the line in Paul’s Letter to the Romans where he says that “all creation is on tiptoe, waiting for the children of God to come into their own.” That image is my favorite translation because it is so visual but also because it implies for me an intense use of both ears and eyes. We won’t see it if we have our eyes closed and we won’t hear it if we’re not really listening. Even if all of our five outer senses are engaged, there needs to be an interior readiness for the in-breaking of God’s presence. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is an incremental thing, sparked either by our own silence or by a communal encounter of recognition. Deeper than silence, the stillness becomes palpable and we know something that we didn’t know before – indescribable but deeply true. Again it is John Philip Newell whose prayer suffices for this morning.
It is when we are still that we know. It is when we listen that we hear. It is when we remember that we see your light, O God. From your Stillness we come. With your Sound all life quivers with being. From You the light of this moment shines. Grant us to remember You at the heart of each moment. Grant us to remember. (Praying with the Earth, p. 44)
Today we have a strange confluence of Church events. This morning we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent when we normally prepare to wait a little longer for the celebration of the Incarnation. We have, however, by liturgical rules and the calendar, run out of days before December 24th – Christmas Eve – which ushers in what is never a moveable feast: Christmas Day! So perhaps we are brought up short in our spiritual preparation and need to step back to assess our readiness.
For me, this is a moment of “Stop the world; I want to get off!” as I can already hear the preparations in full swing downstairs. As I look at lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, I hear again and again the promise of God’s faithfulness and know that these reminders will remain and even be strengthened during the Christmas season when the appearance of the Christ as a tiny child is the evidence. I need now to find moments of inner stillness in this day of heightened expectation, to stop and breathe into the great mystery of love that is unfolding in the silence.
Can we stay in the waiting while on the verge of the bursting forth? Only as we breathe the peace that we long for. Breathe now…just breathe…
I’m sitting in the dark quiet of the Sophia House, our satellite “office” of the Sophia Center, where I am the only one up and moving. (Somebody has to make the coffee and start the water for tea!) We are here – 5 of us – for 24 hours of consideration of Advent. The questions we will consider today constellate around the idea of the Christ coming into the earthly realm for the benefit of the world. We have all been convinced of this since we were very young, as most Christians are. The lens through which we will look, however, is one of our responsibility to participate in the mission of Jesus as he is present and active in our lives today. Two questions will guide us:
- How can my longing for Christ to be born into my heart affect my awareness of responsibility for change in my life and/or in the lives of others?
- Might I more easily or frequently pay attention to God in stillness? Where might I find more silence in my life?
These are the two sides of what Thomas Merton spoke of long ago in his book, Contemplation in a World of Action, and might prove helpful for us as we journey through this season of Advent toward a new arising of Christ consciousness in our world and in our own hearts.
When I was leaving the kitchen with my coffee this morning, one of my housemates asked, “What today’s blog topic?” My answer was as simple as it was true: “I won’t know till I get back upstairs.” So up I came. I sipped my coffee. I looked out the window. I wondered about a lighthearted line or two from the Sufi poet Hafiz. I read Alan Cohen’s entry for this date…Nothing felt right.
What finally came was a distinction that I have been experimenting with for awhile now: the similarity but difference between the concepts of silence and stillness. The dictionary makes quick work of the definitions. Silence is the absence of sound. Stillness is the same but more; stillness is defined as the absence of movement and sound. I think of hearing people when I was a child telling their children to “keep still.” I thought they wanted them to stop talking. I wonder if they knew they were telling them to stop squirming. As I think back, I recall how strange a directive that would have been in our family. My parents never told us to keep still. I guess we were a rather placid trio, not too fidgety.
My purpose now in bringing up the topic is the benefit of adding stillness to my practice of silent prayer. Although it’s more about the mind than the body, I realize that quieting my body is much easier than stilling my mind but if I do bring my body into total stillness, my mind seems more able – or at least willing – to let go of the torrent of thoughts as well.
Just one more word: hush. I have begun to say that word quietly but aloud as I begin to quiet down. It has – for me – the quality of a mother rocking her crying child and the miracle that happens when she practically croons the words…”Hush, now…Hush…”
“Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil, for you are at my side. With your rod and your staff you give me courage.”
These words from Psalm 23, probably the best known of all the psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures, jumped out at me this morning. Then I read that Jesus called his apostles to come away from the crush of the crowds “to a deserted place” for some rest – most likely, for a chance to gain some clarity and reassess what was happening so as to refuel for the re-entry into the ministry that was theirs.
Having arrived in Stonington, Maine yesterday to the shared joy of being with a dozen colleagues whose presence I have enjoyed variously at different “wisdom schools” over the past ten years, I am aware of a similar call to “come away” for fearless and deep reflection on our call to meet the challenges in our country today. Our work will be rigorous and internal, but work it will surely be. Perhaps the outcome will be so subtle as to go undetected by “the crowds” but we will surely be more committed to our spiritual practices and more certain that there is a way forward, although its evolution may still be in seed, thereby impossible to comprehend.
This message itself may be similarly “impossible to comprehend” but I am reminded of a quote on a card that has been in my small treasure box for decades. It says: In the stillness is the dancing, and this morning, that is enough for me to know.
Over the last eleven years I have become part of an ever- expanding community of seekers under the tutelage of Cynthia Bourgeault, author of groundbreaking books and leader of retreats and “schools” offering insights into the deep stream of wisdom that exists as the bedrock of Christianity and, one could add, of all the world’s major faith traditions. This past week there has been a steady stream of e-mail messages among us – mostly brief but meaningful – as a result of the outcome of our national elections. This morning, I re-visited the 29 of those received that I have saved for further pondering. It seems to me that they echo the last line of this morning’s gospel reading which says, By perseverance you will secure your lives. (LK 21:19). Here are just a few of their “wisdom words” for your consideration:
Jane: I am holding hope and stillness along with sadness.
Bob: Business as usual is over. Time to dig deep and find ways to connect our lives more fully with what is broken in the world. Time for risk-taking in our own lives.
Lisa: …time to be still, quiet and receive…time to re-member.
Bill: Today, maybe even for just a short while, we weep. The tears can purify the heart and keep us from acting with too much anger and/or reactivity…