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)

Glistening Waters

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You simply cannot underestimate your emotional response to the sight of the ocean and its sunlit glistening waters. It’s almost like being able to take a deep breath when you haven’t breathed deeply for weeks, even months. This morning, for a few minutes of a lovely vacation, I looked down from our balcony to watch the stunning Gulf waters light up like tiny fireworks, such a beautiful escape from reality.

Still, you cannot escape when the world keeps turning, Hurricane Dorian threatens communities, and there is, once again, a reason to grieve the headline news of the day. How disheartening it is when the president of this nation goes lower and lower in his determination to dehumanize people and cause irreparable harm.

All the glistening ocean waters in the world cannot ease this sadness — learning the stories of very sick children who have 33 days to leave hospital intensive care units and return to their countries, while mourning a nation that seems to be disappearing.

Anthony Marino, director of immigration legal services, described the horrific dilemma: “I don’t know how they expect parents to pull their children from hospital beds, disconnect them from lifesaving treatments and go some place where they are know they are going to die. But that is what they are telling them to do.”

Often, I have posted the poignant and beautiful words written by my friend, Maren. I must do that today for the readers of my blog. Maren has captured the emotion of our shared grief.

 

PRAYER FOR THE SICK CHILDREN DEPORTATION

God, whom I’ve called
to sit with me all night long,
when I rocked children
with sore throats, swollen tonsils,
coughs that wouldn’t let them sleep,

when I promised
a precious one
everything would be better
as they pulled on their ear lobes,
or cried to be brave
with their broken bones,

rest your hands and heart
on parents who have come here
with their children
to be treated for
cancer or cerebral palsy,
cystic fibrosis or HIV,
eye malignancies,
short bowel syndrome,
heart disease,
or during the long wait
for a transplant.

For this government
is taking the lullabies away,

and in this new and cruel
deportation
turned Make-a-Wish
into Lose a Hope.

 

Visit Maren’s blog at: https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com/2019/08/30/prayer-for-the-sick-children-deportation/

Beauty. Serenity. And a Spark of the Divine

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Loon Park on Arkansas’ Lake Maumelle. Photography by Steven Nawojczyk. Entitled “Beauty. Serenity.”

In the middle of the natural beauty of Arkansas, my friend took a photograph and entitled it “Beauty. Serenity.” It prompted me to ponder that for a few moments.

Beauty. Serenity.

I wondered what in my life brings beauty and serenity to me and to those around me. The questions trickled through my mind slowly as I tried to place qualitative and quantitative strictures on beauty and serenity. (As if one could really quantify the whole of what beauty is or see pure serenity through a human lens.) My quest to try to interpret beauty and serenity went on into the night and into the rise of a new day. Still I could not nail it down. It is as elusive as a butterfly in flight, defying explanation.

As for beauty, it seems to be something I can see, something I can look at and see what lies beneath shapes and colors and texture and form. It is when something I see takes on life, and in it, I see a spark of the Divine.

To truly see beauty, I must intentionally expose myself to it and to its full potential. The blossom of a flower. The trees in a verdant forest. The ocean waves moving gently upon the shore. The sparkle of a flowing stream. The majesty of a range of mountains and the vibrant green of a valley.

In each of these visual images, I might very well see a spark of the Divine. But I must first look, and see, and linger before such beauty long enough to see its depth. I must look into a blossom and into the leaves of a forest. I must gaze upon the glory of a mountaintop and walk slowly through a valley of green. I must sit at the edge of the sea and watch the waves greet the shore.

And then there’s serenity, the state of being that always seems to escape me. Serenity is the peaceful sense of calm that envelops a person’s soul and spirit. But I must first allow it, embrace it, and welcome it. When I can do that — and I readily admit that I seldom can — the spark of the Divine I will see most clearly is the light of the spark within myself. I love the wonderfully positive affirmation written by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.

We have in us a divine spark that you can see. It’s a Light that shines in the human being. It’s our direct access to truth, our direct access to God. The purpose of all the spiritual practices that exist are to awaken that spark, to give it life, to give it energy, so that it can transform you. 

God, I would be transformed. Awaken that spark within me, so that its light will become a part of my very soul, Enliven in me the spark that brings transformation to every part of me that yearns for your Divine impulse.

The spark of the Divine is beauty and serenity all at once. It is in the moments that stop us in our tracks that we can truly see the beauty around us and within us.

It is in those unforgettable moments of life’s splendor, when we allow serenity to fully embrace us in gentle arms of peace, that we finally know deep rest.

It is when beauty and serenity link arms to surround us that we can truly know the spark of the Divine within. I recognize that spark, ever so often, in just a handful of my best moments. Even for that seldom-experienced grace, I am most thankful. 

So I wish for you the same kind of grace, that you might see beauty, know serenity, and visualize, within yourself, the spark of the Divine. The blessing I leave with you is best expressed by the 14th Century Persian poet, Hafiz.

I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.

 

 

 

 

 

Broken Pieces

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I spent some time this week picking up seashells on the beach. The truth is that I did not pick up even one whole shell. I collecting shards of seashells, broken pieces of what was once wonders of nature. So I contemplated what I would do with the broken seashells, and I determined that I would create a piece of wall art with the shell pieces.

My favorite shells, in fact, are the broken ones, the ones that have been dashed against the rocks and coral and yet somehow made it to shore. If you’ve never seen a broken shell, you’ve never seen the full beauty of a shell. If you’ve never seen a broken Tritan’s Trumpet shell, you’ve never seen the winding beauty of the core of the shell. If you’ve never seen a broken Cowry Shell, well, you’re missing an unusual work of nature.

You see, even though they are broken, the pieces have beautiful markings, each one a different pattern, each one colored differently. In fact, because you don’t have a perfectly shaped shell, the colorful markings become the focus. I think I can create something beautiful by putting together these broken seashells.

It is also true of our lives. We often find ourselves broken, having to do the best we can to gather the broken pieces of our selves and create something beautiful. Fortunately, I have learned not to discard the broken pieces of myself. I have learned, instead, to pull together my brokenness and re-create a worthy self.

We don’t get through this rocky, stormy life whole. But we do have every opportunity to make something beautiful out of our broken pieces. I hope you will do just that.