Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Moment at Heart

I get tired of reading all the reflections on how busy we are, and perhaps I shouldn't spend my time reading them, but...

I did read a piece on my dear On Being blog yesterday by Omid Safi titled, The Disease of Being Busy. What was different about this reflection for me was that he suggested something that I believe might actually help us pause, might not stop making us busy (since it feels inevitable at this point), but might just help us grow in compassion for others, too. Safi writes:

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this
haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

Wow. How is your heart doing at this very moment? Imagine what might happen to us if we asked that question...and listened.

Over the weekend I was talking to a friend about the courage it takes to share yourself; she referenced this blog in particular. It can be challenging to know which parts of my life I want to share, and certainly risky, too. This question, "How is your heart doing right now?" holds much vulnerability in the answer, as well as for the listener who might not be prepared to hear a given response. It takes courage (or heart!) to engage the question.

If I were to tell you about my heart right now, I would tell you about a heart in transition, a heart trying to hold the sacredness of my novitiate year while also holding the sacredness of being with children. I love being in both those places, and I am in liminal space as I dance between the two. This reality also presents the mystery of being created for Love, which I experience in both places, while also being a limited human being, who can only be in one of those places. Oh, if we could only have it all.

And, I think that is what our hearts struggle with, no matter what form it takes: being a whole heart created by God while also being wholly human. It's messy, and it keeps our lives full as we try to do it all, but maybe sharing our unique heart space at any given moment is the real answer. Maybe feeling more deeply connected to someone else in the messiness and busyness of life is the best we can do.

How is your heart doing at this very moment?

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Listen With the Ear of Your Heart

For the past two weeks, it's been parent-teacher conference time at Saint Benedict Center. As I meet with parents and learn more about the whole picture of their children and their development into human beings, I have been reflecting on the ways I am also learning about the nature of God.

Parents are very excited to tell you about their children; I have learned how important it is to let them talk as I make sincere attempts to practice Benedict's art of "listening with the heart of your heart." I try to do this instead of immediately posing questions that will reinforce some of my preconceived notions about the child--something which I have practiced much during my brief time as a teacher.

I was sitting with one particular parent, and all of a sudden it dawned on me.

Having these conferences, I see how it is not just the parents who want to tell me about their children; God is always trying to speak to me about Her creation. Parents want an opportunity to be heard, so does God. God puts the lessons right in front of me; it is me who has to get quiet. Of course there is a place for clarifying questions and personal observations, just as there is a place for daily prayer.

Mary Oliver reminds us in a poem that I quote most often, At the River Clarion:

I'd been to the river before, a few times.
Don't blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don't hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don't hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it's difficult to hear anything anyway, through
     all the traffic and ambition.

As I learn to make space to visit the river she describes, as I imagine who these 1 and 2-year olds will grow up to become in their already budding personalities, as I grow in relationship with life, I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to the daily lessons around me.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

More from Ken Wilber

From No Boundary:

Perhaps we can approach this fundamental insight of the mystics—that there is but one immortal Self or Witness common in and to us all—in this way. Perhaps you, like most people, feel that you are basically the same person you were yesterday. You probably also feel that you are fundamentally the same person you were a year ago. Indeed, you still seem to be the same you as far back as you can remember. Put it another way: you never remember a time when you weren’t you. In other words, something in you seems to remain untouched by the passage of time. But surely your body is not the same as it was even a year ago. Surely also your sensations are different today than in the past. Surely, too, your memories are on the whole different today than a decade ago. Your mind, your body, your feelings—all have changed with time. But something has not changed, and you know that something has not changed. Something feels the same. What is that?

This time a year ago you had different concerns and basically different problems. Your immediate experiences were different, and so were your thoughts. All of these have vanished, but something in you remains. Go one step further. What if you moved to a completely different country, with new friends, new surroundings, new experiences, new thoughts. You would still have that basic inner feeling of I-ness. Further yet, what if you right now forgot the first ten years, or fifteen years, or twenty years of your life? You would still feel that same inner I-ness, would you not? If right now you just temporarily forget everything that happened in your past, and just feel that pure inner I-ness—has anything really changed?

There is, in short, something within you—that deep inward sense of I-ness—that is not memory, thoughts, mind, body, experience, surroundings, feelings, conflicts, sensations, or moods. For all of these have changed and can change without substantially affecting that inner I-ness. That is what remains untouched by the flight of time—and that is the transpersonal Witness and Self.

Is it then so very difficult to realize that every conscious being has that same inner I-ness? And that, therefore, the overall number of transcendent I’s is but one? We have already surmised that if you had a different body you would still basically feel the same I-ness—but that is already the very same way every other person feels right now. Isn’t it just as easy to say there is but one single I-ness or Self taking on different views, different memories, different feelings and sensations?

And not just at this time, but at all times, past and future. Since you undoubtedly feel (even though your memory, mind, and body are different) that you are the same person of twenty years ago (not the same ego or body, but the same I-ness), couldn’t you also be the same I-ness of two-hundred years ago? If I-ness isn’t dependent upon memories and mind and body, what difference would it make? In the words of physicist Schroedinger, "It is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung into being from nothingness at a given moment not so long ago; rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings. The conditions for your existence are almost as old as the rocks. For thousands of years men have striven and suffered and begotten and women have brought forth in pain. A hundred years ago, perhaps, another man sat on this spot; like you he gazed with awe and yearning in his heart at the dying light on the glaciers. Like you he was begotten of man and born of woman. He felt pain and brief joy as you do. Was he someone else? Was it not you yourself?"

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Coping With Reality

This weekend we returned to Villa Maria, PA for an intercommunity formation weekend as we do a few times a year. This time we heard a Marist brother, Br. Don Bisson, speak on religious life as a container. He meant “container” in the sense that it becomes the space and shape that holds our discernment. So, if I chosen to live the monastic life, that is the container that informs my choices.

He spent Saturday morning talking about the process of individuation and transformation that religious life uniquely offers. Each person, consecrated or not, enters into the life process of moving from False Self to True Self, as Merton put it. (Br. Don uses “Coping” instead of “False.”) But, by entering religious life we enter into that process of conversion in a heightened and conscious way.
I loved his use of the term “Coping Self,” as it felt a gentler way of naming our rough edges that need some smoothing on our way to God. He reminded us to be grateful because what we did to cope got us to where we are in our journeys; befriending the gifts received leads us to awareness of God’s grace at work in our lives.

It is no secret that my Coping Self is a strong perfectionist, one who struggles with reality in favor of living in a self-created idealized world. Going back to work with two-year olds is surely helping me live in reality these days though! 

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, God, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. [...] Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I am reading Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber right now (highly recommend!). He speaks of the path that we heard about this weekend, as well as the yoke we seek en route to our True Self:

Well, we might say that there are several "paths" that constitute what I am generically calling "the Path" [...] For example, in Hinduism it is said that there are five major paths or yogas. "Yoga" simply means "union,” a way to unite the soul with Godhead. In English the word is "yoke.” When Christ says, "My yoke is easy," he means "My yoga is easy.” [...] But maybe I could simplify the whole thing by saying that all these paths, whether found in Hinduism or in any of the other wisdom traditions, break down into just two major paths. I have another quote here for you from Swami Ramdas: “There are two ways: one is to expand your ego to infinity, and the other is to reduce it to nothing, the former by knowledge, and the latter by devotion. The Jnani [knowledge holder] says: ‘I am God—the Universal Truth.’ The devotee says: ‘I am nothing, O God, You are everything.’ In both cases, the ego-sense disappears.” The point is that, in either case, an individual on the Path transcends the small self, or dies to the small self, and thus rediscovers or resurrects his or her Supreme Identity with universal Spirit. And that brings us to the fifth major point of the perennial philosophy, namely, that of a Rebirth, Resurrection, or Enlightenment. In your own being, the small self must die so that the big Self may resurrect.

Yes, Reality tells me: Jesus is the Truth. We are the Beloved. Coping with that is easy.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Song for Autumn

I am finally willing to admit autumn is here. We haven't taken the kids out for playtime in a few days, and I have upgraded my coat. While I cannot admit that this is my favorite time of year, the colors are rather beautiful, and this poem from Mary Oliver makes it a bit easier, or at least it gives me something to ponder about the season.

Song for Autumn

In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Living Stories

This weekend was our community weekend. Dr. Diana Hayes spoke to the community and our oblate community on the subject of race. She shared personal stories and encouraged us to share who we are, too.

The story that moved me most came near the end of the day on Saturday. A gay woman told us about a group to which she belongs that advocates for the rights of LBGT elders in the community, while providing them safe space, too. A similar group of young gay people invited them the night before to celebrate Halloween together. She noted that the younger gay community did not seem to have the same prejudices that the elders had; they were more open to intermingling among races, ages, and genders. She said it was the best party because, it seems, it was true community.

In community we celebrate together, support one another, and strive to live right relationship authentically. Today's Gospel reading reminded us of just that: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Our presider reminded us how much that second commandment depends on the first, on developing one's own relationship with God. What I loved about his homily today was that as he shared those words with us, he realized he had nothing more to say. He sort of stopped and admitted, "I don't know what else to say," so he left it at that as he left the ambo. It was such a humble moment. There is only so much talk that we can do; then we have to go live.

I hope we all have opportunities to live stories like the one shared on Saturday, one that enlivens not only those present but those who hear the story, too. We need stories like that more than ever, and we won't be able to share them if we don't start living.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

Geese getting on with living as I was getting on with running

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Back in the Classroom

On Monday I returned to full-time ministry at Saint Benedict Center with my dear 1-2 year olds. So far it has been wonderful; the past three days have been filled with runny noses and running feet!

I have always done a bit of pondering about the nature of God via classroom contemplation, and now the experience continues after a brief hiatus called novitiate. I think about what teachers offer to their students: compassion, mercy, instruction, and wisdom. But, while I often run out of all of those things (sometimes by 9am), God doesn't.

But I have also noticed that novitiate did work some conversion magic as I have found that I am more willing to be patient with these young explorers. It is exciting for me since I used to spend a lot more time worrying about small stuff in the classroom. To think of the infinite patience God has for us is magnificent indeed. May we bring that patience to everyone we meet.

Here is a Mary Oliver favorite on contemplation called Song of the Builders:

On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

Let us walk in the holy presence.