Unrelenting Love

For the last several years I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening to music on a regular basis. It correlates with the years that I rode a motorcycle (no car stereo) and also moving to NOLA when there is just so much good music around me.  Somewhere along the road I stopped listening intentionally to the music.  Since getting a record player for Christmas, a car again and have discovered Google Play Music I’ve been listening to music a bit more.  Adding this dimension to the contemplative practices I’ve been cultivating in my life this year has incited profound, and often emotional, moments in my day to day routine.   These are two songs I keep returning to.

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Psalm 13

Lord, how long will You forget me?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long will I store up anxious concernswithin me,
agony in my mind every day?
How long will my enemy dominate me?

Consider me and answer, Lord my God.
Restore brightness to my eyes;
otherwise, I will sleep in death.

My enemy will say, “I have triumphed over him,”
and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in Your faithful love;
my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance.

I will sing to the Lord
because He has treated me generously.

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Our Communion by David Crowder Band

Love, flawless unrelenting love we can know
Hope, sacred reverential hope starts to glow

In the recesses of your heart where love’s still known

Sweet dreams of heaven changing our waking lives
Breath, taken in and bringing what was dead to life

In the recesses of your heart where love had died
Let it rise and lead you cross a great divide

Awake, looking for another way to get back home
Life, resurrected, swallowed death made us whole

In the recesses of your heart where love will grow
Heaven give us roots and wings and lead us home

Oh great God give us rest
No more fear from all of this
Oh great God give us rest
Let your light come down on us
Oh great God give us rest

*     *     *

Here’s to crossing the great divide and finding where love still grows.

Encounters with Silence: Into the Silent Land p.1



Saint Joseph’s Abbey – I took this picture while at a retreat last Fall.

“Jesus Christ is My Monastery”

 The first book that I have chosen to work through is Martin Laird’s Into the Silent Land:  A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation.  It is one of the more accessible reads on the contemplative life that I’ve come across.  The first two chapters are primarily concerned with building a theoretical framework for contemplation and Christian mysticism.  I’ll share more in depth about this in a little bit.  The next three chapters speak into the pragmatic aspects of meditation: the importance of body posture, a “prayer word” and working though other distractions that come along.  The final two chapters are centered on the emotional journey of contemplation.  It is in the Epilogue where I wish to begin this three part review of this book.

Into-the-Silent-Land-9780195307603Laird wrote a parable that he titles “Tales of a Monastic Failure”.  This is a story of a young man in search of a “real” monastery and joins an Order as a novice.  He gets really good at being a monk and twice approaches the Abbot for permission to take his religious vows.  Both times the young man gets rejected.  I’m cutting in where some years pass for the young man and although remaining a novice he hasn’t approached the Abbot a third time…

One day the abbot asked the novice master, “What about that man who was so intent on making his profession in our monastery. Is he no longer interested?” “He doesn’t mention it much anymore,” said the novice master. “Is he unhappy?” asked the abbot. “No, he seems content enough,” responded the novice master. “He doesn’t say much to anyone. He goes about his tasks in the garden; he consoles the old monks in the infirmary, and encourages the new ones in the novitiate.” “Bring him to me,” said the abbot.  The man was brought to the abbot who began to question him: “I was wondering if you were still interested in making your profession. You don’t seem as keen to do it as you once were when you were making such a thorough study of our tradition. Have you gone off the idea altogether?” The man looked at the abbot. The lines beginning to show round the man’s eyes reflected the fact that he’d been in the monastery a number of years now. But his face had the freshness and peace of those whose poverty had taught them they had nothing to defend. The man said to the abbot, “Jesus Christ is my monastery.”  – Laird, Into the Silent Land pg. 134

What does it mean for Christ to be my monastery?  I’ve been asking this question over and over for the past couple of weeks.  I frequently go up to our local monastery – Saint Joseph’s Abbey – and it is so quiet there.  The lake’s water is always still.  It sits on acres and acres of land with a hundred different trails that invite you to walk down.  The cathedral stand tall, solid, unphased by the storms that pass through.  The monks spend their days in the stability of Benedict’s rule – work and prayer.  Silence abides there and provides rest for the soul.

My interior life looks a lot like my exterior one right now.  It’s a big house next to a busy street with sirens going off all day and night – mostly at night.  The neighborhood is busy with lots of noise and becoming increasingly violent.  The stability that our house brought us has also been taken as our landlord has allowed his mortgage to go into foreclosure.  In little less than a month it will be sold to the highest bidder and, it seems, we will be looking to relocate yet again.  How can this chaos be transformed into a monastery?  Working out an answer to this question seems to be the bull’s eye of Laird’s book.  This first part is, going along with the metaphor, learning how to aim.

Union with Christ and Turning off the Interior Video

There are certainly moments in life where we experience on a visceral level only what can be described as God’s absence or his forgetfulness.  Yes, yes, in our minds we believe God loves us, is on some level working toward his ultimate goal of restoration and resurrection BUT our interior castles feel cold, dark and lonely.  It is an echo chamber for our own voices and we only use it in hopes of hearing another return our calls.  Mother Teresa put it this way in one of her letters that were posthumously published:

“Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

And the Psalmist expressed it like this: “How long will You forget me?  Forever?”  It feels like abandonment.  It feels like a betrayal of friendship as you are left more or less to the mercy of the elements.  More often than not these turns in relationship happen suddenly, without a moment’s notice.

Laird begins this book with a rather bold statement:  this separation is an illusion.  Now, the image of God that Laird describes is not some cheesy evangelical notion that God is this little chatter box, always trying to talk to you and if you can’t hear him it’s because you’re just not “tuned into the right frequencies”.   No, the separation is an illusion because God is the ground of our being:

God is the ground of the human being. Various Christian traditions may argue over orthodox or heterodox ways of understanding this, but there is clear and authoritative testimony based on living the Christian mysteries that if we are going to speak of what a human being is, we have not said enough until we speak of God.  – Laird, Into the Silent Land pg. 9

Peel away the various hats we wear, psychological profiles, personality tests, personal narratives (both real and imagined) and all the other things that inform our sense of identity  and what is left is a person contingent upon the creative love of God.  The task is being aware of this grounding.  Laird calls this awareness our “Christ-self”. Our Christ-Self is a union that begins at baptism, is consummated in the Eucharist and cannot be severed.  Further more our Christ-selves, who we truly are, are “hidden in Christ” (Colossian 3).  Meaning this grounding of identity cannot be taken away when all of a sudden we lose our jobs, or move to a new city or any of the other things that cause us to reevaluate “who we are” from time to time.  Our Christ-self is the bed rock because of our contingency toward our Creator.  On this level we can never be separated from God.

What of these experiences which make us feel so intensely that the opposite is true?  Laird calls these experiences which foster up the illusion of separation as the human condition.  Our human condition distracts us, makes noise and tempts the mind to be occupy itself with “the constant chatter of the cocktail party going on in our heads” (Laird, pg. 15).  It fools us into believing we are not contingent but are autonomous from God but when we set our hearts and minds to achieving the stillness of the monastery, however, we are flooded with the sudden joy and knowledge that we are not alone.

The struggle in gaining more awareness of the Christ-self is turning off what Laird names “The Interior Video”.  It’s a video inside us all that constantly streams memories, stories and messages that offer an identity that is often destructive and painful.  It’s a video that manipulates are deepest insecurities and fears.  It tells us we aren’t good enough.  We’re too fat or ugly.  We won’t amount to much in life.  Our value is based upon how we perform.  We are not truly loved for who we are.  God is not there.  This internal video needs to be turned off by building Silence into our lives.  Silence, then, is a shift of our attention from “the screen of thinking mind on which both thoughts and feelings incessantly appear, as they are meant to, to the ground of the heart, this immense valley of awareness itself in which thoughts and feelings appear” (Laird, 28).

The aim of our interior videos is to keep us ignorant of the truth that our identity, the Christ-Self, is located in our hearts.  Practicing Silence pushes out the noise of those things which try to tell us who/what we are and allows the God that is with us to speak, to heal, to restore and to provide stability…to build his/her/whatever monastery.

2014: A Year of Discernment

I don’t write often.

It’s mostly because I’m tired and I barely have the heart to share with those closest to me what I’ve been through over the past several months let alone write out thoughts, ideas or work through implications of messages I keep hearing over and over again.  I don’t have the will or the imagination for it.  The things that I could write about, I just can’t.  Partially it is because the events and experiences that have moved me deeply, that have deconstructed my hope and left me sad in ways that are beyond the limits of language are still just too near.  But there are also boundaries that exist because of my current position in mission and community that put constraints on what I should and should not write about.  A friend of mine, whom I’ve never met, puts it this way…

 “Trust me on this. Being a part of a team, a community, a diverse neighborhood, working with refugees and people who have been consistently marginalized by the world, being in the precarious position of asking people to support us–these are all unique constraints on my writing life. And I am grateful for them, truly. But it sort of makes an odd conundrum–the louder my life, the quieter my writing.”

From her post “Upside-Down Art

Aside from the mommy and working with refugees part – that’s where I’m at.  Life is loud and writing, for me, has always been a form of participation with the Silence.  It’s what happens after silence.

So…what to do with this space?

2014 is going to be a year where Amanda and I will be doing a whole lot of discernment, of waiting, of listening.    We’ve stepped out of organizational ministry positions that we’ve been in and don’t really have an idea of “what’s next”.  Which is fine, we have plenty to work towards and our relationship is in a good place. Amanda will be taking her LCSW exam next spring and I need to finish my thesis.  In the meantime I intend to relocate the Silence by working through a number of books this year and writing about them here.  From time to time I’ll also return to my project of going to Saint Benedict’s Rule.

Here’s the list:

This should be an interesting journey and you’re welcome to come along.

The Storm is Coming

I’m cleaning out “My Documents” folder this afternoon and came across this meditation that I wrote during one of my retreats at the monastery this last year.  In lieu of a new post I’m putting this up.  It’s probably as close to a statement of faith (or about Faith) that I’ve put to paper in a long, long time.

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Lesson from the Wicked Servant

Matthew 25:14-30

The situation of the Wicked Servant speaks of two scenarios.  The first is found in the plain text reading of this parable.  The wicked servant did nothing with the talent that he was entrusted with and faced the consequences of a hard and severe master.  The simple truth told in this scenario is that if we bury what the Master has entrusted to us (our Faith) we end up burying ourselves.  The second scenario is implicit in the fears of this servant:  what if he invested it all and, unlike the other servants, lost everything?  What would the Master do to him then?  Perhaps Jesus does not give this as a possibility in this parable because in the divine economy of faith, hope and love there is a promise of only multiplication, of profitable return beyond measure.

This is the promise of the Resurrection.  In picking up our own crosses we are not burying our “talent” but putting our faith on display for the world to see.  Thus resulting in a true and pure knowledge of the Father and his will; which is everlasting life.  We are therefore limited by nothing and bound by nothing.  We need only to constantly hold nothing back in order to see, to taste, to know the bottomless depths of the Mystery of God’s own death and resurrection.

What then is Faith?  In a word, Faith is the social ethic of hope found in love.  Love (as agape can only be understood in the context of the gospel story) gives the ontological grounding for Hope.  This means that our hope isn’t some whimsical fantasy but is based in the promise of Christ’s resurrection.  Faith therefore, is the process of orientating the way we live our daily lives toward the promise of a reality that is restored unto God.  This is why when both Catholics and Protestants begin the conversation at Faith it is woefully shortsighted.  For both sides see Faith to be the fountainhead for both Hope and Love – but really it is the inverse.  Faith is, indeed, a great work because it is the process of building a house on the rock (Matthew 7) but a builder would not endeavor such a task unless he had the promise of the Hope that the house would survive the storm.  Rather than Faith, both sides should focus their energies on Love.  For Agape is the thing we could not attain on our own.  We are utterly contingent on the Love demonstrated on the Cross (Romans 5:8).  Without it we would remain without both hope and faith as the Storm approaches.

What, then, do we do with the talents our Lord has placed in our trust?  If we are to keep the faith we are to go all in.  For a “talent” as understood in the English language is an unmerited gift in need of development.  So we go all in with a single minded devotion to develop all that the Lord has entrusted to us because we have that sacred promise that came from Jesus’ own lips:

…on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of hades will not overpower it.  – Matthew 16:18b

EwSB: Rules VIII – XX

Wish You Were Here

Rules VIII – XX:  An Advent Reflection 

Deus, in adjutorium meum intende;
Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina.
Domine, labia mea aperies,
et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.

O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

I think it is in these chapters is where Saint Benedict’s desire for an ordered, balanced and yet aspiring life comes out the most clearly.  This prayer that begins the night office is thematic of what he wants to instill into future monastic communities:  God, come to my aid.  Do not wait.  I love you.  His instructions on form and structure are brief and rather utilitarian.  Yet, his words demonstrates how grounded in reality he is.  For his instructions are laced with comments like “Making due allowance for circumstances…” or “…unless perchance (which God forbid) the brethren should rise too late and part of the lessons or the responsories would have to be shortened…”.  This last one actually made me laugh.  You mean that because someone doesn’t show up on time the entire thing must be made shorter?  I wonder how that would play out in Mass.  Would the priest and deacon put a little skip in their step through the prayers and Eucharist?  What about in the protestant churches I grew up in?  Would that require the pastor to spend less time giving the sermon he or she has prepared?  Would the worship band need to cut out a song?  Or would they just run everything else late, keeping the production in tact?  What sort of lecture would the tardy person receive afterwards for the inconvenience?  It’s funny to think about but we all know the truth of the situation – the worship service would go on without the tardy member(s) and he or she would simply have to catch up.  Far too often it is the production of the worship service that takes priority over the togetherness.  Logistically there is a certain element about it that makes sense.  Would the church service ever start if we waiting for all 1500 member to be present for it?  But then, for me anyways, the questions is begged, “What is the purpose of gathering together for worship?”

There’s not a singular answer to that question but the way of discerning through it is fraught with consumerism for both the Catholics and Protestants.  I’m not wanting to get too hung up on personal preference of style because I think that is unavoidable.  A steadfast and consistent participation requires that on some level I am having a good time.  For me, give me the stained glass, murals and tabernacles over colored lights, fog machines and projection units any day.  Ten years ago that was a different story for me.  So yeah, personal preference matters if one is going to be consistent but it is all too easy to turn than into an expectation that the worship service is there to serve me and my needs.  Other people have gone on about consumerism in the church Ad Nauseum.  I don’t really care to add to that but rather I’d like to respond to the question by suggesting that Benedict’s posture of worship gives us a vision for what togetherness looks like and, in turn, answers the question.  We worship not only to express great thankfulness and a deep sense of joy for the work God has done but also to orientate our thoughts, actions and even our schedules to the continued work of God.  Benedict earlier calls this a spiritual craft that we are all becoming proficient in.  We gather together to help each other become better worshipers.  Our weekly rhythm of gathering and dispersing is how we order our time while we wait.  In many ways the monastic life is perpetually in Advent as their prayers and worship orientate the monk toward the coming of God.  The monk works. The monk waits. The monk prays:  God, come to my aid.  Do not wait.  I love you.

Michelangelo's "The last Judgement"

Michelangelo’s “The last Judgement”