Imposing Silence Upon Our Cares

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Photography by Jennifer Blackwell

The only people who pray well are those who keep praying!
— Richard Rohr

Sometimes you just need to get away. You need to push back from your daily grind and be in a space that gives you life-restoring energy. The place may be a mountaintop or beside a sea. The place you love might be on a sailboat watching the changing colors of the sky. The need is a time of contemplation although I admit that contemplation is easier said than done.

Richard Rohr describes contemplation using the frightening word, “dying,” something we usually do not want to consider. Still his definition is compelling.

Contemplative prayer is one way to practice imposing “silence upon our cares, our desires and our imaginings.” Contemplative practice might be five or twenty minutes of “dying,” of letting go of the small mind in order to experience the big mind, of letting go of the false self in order to experience the True Self, of letting go of the illusion of our separation from God in order to experience our inherent union.

I am intrigued by the phrases “imposing silence upon our cares!” dying” and “letting go of the illusion of our separation from God.” We readily recall words we have long known: “Be still, and know that I am God,” and we know that we can move into God’s real and palpable presence. Still moving into God’s presence and lingering there is easier said than done. We are slaves to our lives, to our every day concerns and responsibilities. And sometimes times our responsibilities — though they may be important to us — take too much from us, robbing us of our life’s spiritual depth.

Again, Richard Rohr offers deep wisdom:

Each day that dawns is a celebration of the fact that we have been invited to consider how our lives are spent; how we embrace and recoil from the . . . darkness.

So for me, I would like to watch the hued, expansive skies — the moving clouds and the sparkle of the sun. I would like to find silence in the vastness of God’s creation, in a place where my view includes the beauty of verdant green pastures, the sound of the never-ending surf, the feel of the wind in my face, the shadows cast upon a high mountain. It takes the beauty of such a place to calm my spirit and stop the whirring of my mind. In such a place, I can try to enter into the posture of prayer and contemplation.

Don’t be fooled. Contemplation is called a practice because it truly is a practice that we must try again and again. Contemplation is not easy for many of us. It can even be disconcerting because, in truth, contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form — without filters, judgments, or commentaries. Contemplation moves us to the space our soul craves, and in that place we gain a renewal of our spirit.

Anything worth doing is worth practicing for as much or as long as it takes. Yes, at times it feels like forcing ourselves to be still for an interminable length of time and to force ourselves to fully concentrate on petitioning and listening prayer. No doubt, being silent with ourselves can be frightening. “Imposing silence upon our cares” can be threatening. But in the practice of contemplation we can hear God’s whisper clearer and sense God’s presence more deeply and fully.

I wish for you the time and space you need, the time to take in the breathtaking beauty of God’s creation, the stilling of your mind and the calming of your spirit that can guide you into the presence of God.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

— From Psalm 46 (NRSV)

Make Room for the Unimaginable

C0F3E414-0365-4F43-890F-EAF928810C56Don’t you love skies . . . blues and purples, the sun’s brightness, the dark black of night, clouds and stars? It is good for us to look into the heavens and lose ourselves in the beauty of God’s creation, to make room for the unimaginable.

There is a beautiful poem in German by Joseph von Eichendorff, in which the poet says to God, “You are the One who breaks up above us those roofs that we so firmly build, so that we may see the heavens. And therefore I will not despair.”

We do build firm roofs that completely cover us, fences that separate us from neighbors, walls that divide us one from another. And we hear a great deal of talk these days about building a wall that is designed to keep people from other countries out. Visitors living in this country despair at the possibility of being deported. Even those who have been here for years and have followed all the rules.

There was a time when immigrants were welcomed here, encouraged to dream of better lives for their families. It was a time when their dreams brought them to a land of freedom, without oppression. My grandparents dreamed that dream when they came to America with my infant mother. And so life began for them here, among neighbors, in a safe and welcoming haven. My brothers and I are the products of that dream. 

So I am sad about the wall and hope in my heart that it will never be built. 

I am reminded of the Berlin Wall. It stood for 10,316 days, from 1961 until 1989. A guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin, it was sometimes referred to as the Wall of Shame. Over 100,000 people attempted to escape and over 5,000 people succeeded in escaping over the Wall. More than 200 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall, but it stood solidly, forbidding passage. It was a blight on Berlin’s landscape that proclaimed absolute division. I remember the day of the wall’s destruction, June 13, 1990.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB shares a beautiful truth:

Build the walls so lightly that you are still aware that you have neighbors. And build the roofs so lightly that you can look through and see the stars.”

That kind of roof God does not have to break. If we build our life in that form, we are people of hope. If we build any more firmly . . . we should expect that God shatters it all, to make room for the unimaginable, so that we will see the stars.

Faith Breaks Through

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When all seems bleak, we tend to cling tighter to faith. In these challenging days, many people are finding that faith is all they have left. They feel like they are living in a country that has betrayed them and left them vulnerable. For many, this is a time filled with dark clouds and the fear they portend. Columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. describes these days in an op-ed entitled “What Kind of Witnesses Shall We Be?” He writes:

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that since the election of Donald Trump, there has been a spike in right-wing extremism. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, gays, transgender men and women, all of the most vulnerable and marginalized, find themselves under renewed attack: harassment, vandalism and even murder.

It is a tragic state of affairs, to be sure, leaving so many people with nothing but their faith in America and their belief that American people are ultimately good. They are living in fear and uncertainty. Yet, for them faith breaks through to the truth that America truly is a land that promises “liberty and justice for all.”

We will live on in spite of the dark clouds that hang over us. We will take the next step, not in certainty, but in faith. People in every century have learned that in the darkest of times, faith breaks through. That’s good news for us all.

However dark the clouds may be, faith breaks through to truth, holds fast to it, and never lets it go.

– Jean Pierre de Caussade, 18th century

Pastel Sky, Misty Valley

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What incredible gifts we have been given! How magnificent is our world! My friend recently took this photograph of a pastel sky over a misty valley. The image moved and inspired me to give thanks for the nature that nurtures our lives.

We do not live in a colorless world. Instead we feast on brilliant sunrises, breathtaking skies, multi-hued rainbows on the horizon, mists that drop muted colors over us. We are gently caressed with pinks and blues and purples. This pastel sky reminded me to give thanks. This misty valley reminded me to offer praise to a God of grace that fills our world with color.

Nature helps me worship in special ways. It inspires me to pray and to meditate on our Creator. It moves me to tears at times and fills me with laughter at other times. God’s nature is no accident. It is created for our souls and it fills our hearts with joy. If we notice. If we take a few minutes to take it in.

All of these thoughts rose up in me when I saw this pink pastel sky over the misty valley.

Beyond the Clouds

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Mammatus clouds over Weir, Texas. Photo by @jasonweingart.

I always wonder what I might find beyond the clouds. Literally and figuratively, there is always something hidden beneath clouds, something to make one wonder, something unknown that causes us to contemplate the beyond.

Clouds can be harbingers of storms. They can also be breathtakingly beautiful. They bring wonderment at times, if we take time to watch them. They hide what is above, making us wonder what kind of weather pattern formed them.

For me, clouds hold dreams, dreams from the past and dreams that are yet to be. Clouds bring the dreamer in me out into the open. They inspire me to contemplate life and transform my earthly thinking. They take me to a celestial realm where imagination soars. They call out to me to look up, and beyond, so that I can clearly see all things new.

I also strain to see beyond the kinds of clouds that come to me in life. I seek to find what is beyond them. I greet the storms they bring because I know that life is incomplete without its storms. I am even grateful, at times, that they give ne time to pause.

So I cherish cloudy days that paint the sky with the most magnificent art. I often rediscover God in the clouds. I imagine God in fresh, new ways. I wonder about God’s plan that included clouds. And I think that God must truly value beauty and majesty. The clouds prove that.