Being Brave in the Mists

Are we brave enough to imagine beyond the boundaries of “the real” and then do the hard work of sculpting reality from our dreams? 

Walidah Imarisha


I read a wonderful article this morning written by Madisyn Taylor, who wrote about being in a fog. I related immediately, having just taken my immunosuppressant medications that create all manner of “foggy-ness” for me. Tayler defined it as a feeling of being “muddled and unfocused, unsure of which way to turn.” I resonate with that definition, but beyond the physical fogginess of my mind, I experience an occasional fogginess of spirit. Know what I’m talking about? I would guess you do, since all of us fall into a spirit-fog once in a while.

A fog can feel downright eerie. It isn’t straightforward like darkness, yet we may feel like we can’t see where we’re going or where we’ve come from. We feel fear, as real as our fear of the darkness, afraid that if we move, we might run into something hidden in the mists that surround us. If we’re brave enough to move at all, we move slowly, feeling our way and keeping our eyes open for shapes emerging from the eerie haze.

Maybe being brave is what spirit fogginess is about. Spirit-fog is, of course, is a season of involuntary inactivity (perhaps even precipitated by coronavirus isolation). Although you and I much prefer to be able to see where we are going and move unwaveringly in that direction, maybe we can encourage our spirits to see that being in a fog often brings gifts to us — gifts of stillness, of doing absolutely nothing, a respite from forward inertia, a time to gather up our “brave” to move with forward inertia, even moments of finding for our spirits the Spirit of Comfort and Peace. We might find in the mists of fog the sacred pause that our spirit needs — the kind of sacred pause that creates resilience in us, and perseverance, and whatever we need to be brave.

In the fog, we really do need to be brave. When we are hidden in the mist, we may look within and find that the source of our fogginess is inside us — perhaps an emotional issue that needs tending before we can safely move ahead with steady resolve. The fog that engulfs us may simply be teaching us important lessons about how to continue moving forward even if we have been brought to a standstill by circumstances of life.

If we’re brave, we do not have to wait for the fog to lift. If we’re brave enough, we can center ourselves in the haze, wait for guidance and then move — move on into the unknown places on the journey. I have been a long-time fan of the song “Brave” sung by Sara Bareilles, written by Sara Bareilles and Jack Antonoff. “Brave” is on her 2013 album, “The Blessed Unrest.” The song hits me hard with these words, “sometimes the shadow wins.” I know that to be the hard truth, but I also latch onto the rest of this song’s message: I can be brave! I often think that this section of the lyrics calls out directly to me — calling me, urging me on, encouraging me to “show everyone how big my brave is.”

I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing

Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in

Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly
I wanna see you be brave

Spend a few minutes enjoying this Sara Bereilles song and immerse yourself in the thought of how amazingly brave you are.

“My Soul in Silence Waits”

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Photography by Jim Dailey: January 1, 2020, Lake Ouachita, Hot Springs, Arkansas

My dear, long-time friend, former Little Rock Mayor Jim Daily, sent me this photo this afternoon. Mayor Jim is a hiker, a camper, a photographer and a naturalist. He loves the outdoors. He is a person of profound thought, and he spends a good amount of his time in thoughtful contemplation — on a lake or an Arkansas River, in a verdant valley or on a mountaintop. He frequently blogs on what he calls his “adventures,” and his blog is filled with thoughts about wherever he is and whatever beauty he has found. For Jim, every day is a new adventure, and his adventures hold sway over him. They change him in so many ways

One more thing — As a tribute to my friend, Mayor Jim, I want to introduce you to his Blog, which you may enjoy viewing at this link: Last Pair of Boots

His Blog, called “Last Pair of Boots,” tells a poignant story — of nature’s beauty, of God’s presence in it, of friendships, of Arkansas’ and America’s holy places, of worship and contemplation and prayer. Here’s what Jim says about naming his blog:

The name “Last Pair of Boots” came to me when my ten year old boots broke down and it occurred to me that at my age the new pair of boots might be my last pair. Metaphorically my boots represent the trails and travels of life.

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Whitaker Point … aka Hawksbill Crag! At the Buffalo National River

This is such a thought-provoking description that fits Jim’s love of nature’s splendor. He also hints at endings, not in a melancholy  way, but in words the reveal his life of contemplation and curiosity. Jim’s outings are hiking and wilderness camping, skiing, fishing, exploring, visiting every Arkansas State Park through his job as Arkansas Tourism Director, finding friendships in every small Arkansas hamlet, searching for Arkansas treasures,
finding God in all the places and faces.

I imagine he will hold all of these adventures in his heart now that he has finished his work as Arkansas Tourism Director this past December.

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HamfestWhatever it is …  it’s gotta be something special to celebrate 50 consecutive years on top of the second highest mountain in Arkansas — Rich Mountain — in the beautiful Ouachita Mountains, Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

Congratulations, Jim, for your many years of service to the citizens of Little Rock and of Arkansas. Your wisdom, your love of nature, your unquenchable thirst for adventure and your unfailing commitment will remain as one of our enduring Arkansas’ treasures.

As I mused about Jim’s outings tonight, I asked myself about the places and times that created my contemplative times. They are few, too few.

For whatever lame reason, I do not take the contemplative times I need. I think that my kidney transplant on November 12th pushed me into a soul-need that beckons me to solitude, silence, contemplation, adventure — new things to examine in the stunning beauty of nature. It calls me out of the house and into the sunlight or under the stars of the night. It calls me to breathe in the fresh air of God’s creation and, with that breath, to take in the miracle of God’s presence.

Now that I’m retired and have time, I tend to fill my time with all manner of preoccupation. At times, I feel busy and frazzled and don’t really know why. Why am I unable to make enough time to spend in the mesmerizing beauty of nature, keeping silence in God’s creation? Why do I not spend time beside still waters, listening to the silence of a pond? What is wrong with my soul that it is rarely drawn to God’s quiet places, and my heart that does not often seek God’s presence in silent space?

I dare not answer those questions until I am prepared to make some life changes. But what I can do is to hold near these reminders of what God desires for me until I can change my life. These reminders might even inspire me to seek change:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother.   
(Psalm 131:1-2)

For God alone my soul in silence waits.   (Psalm 62:1)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.   (Lamentations 3:28)

To you, O God, silence is praise.   (Psalm 65:1)

It is never a bad thing to offer God the praise of silence, to invite God into my contemplation and to allow God’s presence in my moments of prayer and meditation. The truth is that God has always been present with me. But my deepest desire is that I be present with God. As the Psalmist wrote, “My soul in silence waits.”

May those words become my words . . . and yours. Amen.

From the Rising of the Sun

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Just after sunrise on Arkansas’ Mount Nebo. Photography by Brad Burleson.

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.

He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the Lord!

— Psalm 113 (NRSV)

The Palmist assures us that the sun rises and sets. The Psalmist speaks to us of the comfort of sameness, of something we can count on. But this Psalm says more. The Psalmist pictures God, not only as One who is to be praised, but also a God who is the helper of the poor and needy. This is a God-image that we need in these troubled times. The Psalmist’s story sings with praise to God, but then continues on, showing us a God who raises up those who are poor and lifts up the people whose needs are great. And nestled in the words of this Psalm are the words we have long heard:

From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same,
the Lord’s name is to be praised. (KJV)

What a comfort it is to know that when the sun rises, God will be God, and when the same sun sets, God will be God — a constant, divine presence. The sun will sink into the horizon, leaving darkness around us. Yet, the next day will dawn, the sun will rise as it always does and God will still be present, ever watching over us.

There are times when I have needed to know that God was in place, times when I was poor in spirit, needy in heart. There are times when sadness and worry have silenced my praise. In such a time, I was unable to speak, unable to even name my silences. In those times, my silences were deep. They were hidden, unspoken places of pain.

What I now know is that my pain would ease, that my spirit would again rejoice, and that my silences would find words. That knowledge enables me to lift my eyes to the sunrise of God and to rest in the assurance of God’s abiding presence with me. 

When storm clouds threaten, God is present. 

When the earth beneath my feet quakes, God is present. 

In sunshine and in shadow, God is present.

Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.

 

 

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I look toward my kidney transplant on November 15th. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

 

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)

Who Has Seen the Wind?

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. . . And the wind? Ah, who has seen the wind go by? Neither you nor I. But when we see the trees bow down their heads, we know the wind is passing by. That is the way the Holy Spirit works: silently and effectively. *

There was never a more needful time for the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit. We inhabit a world divided . . . nations divided by tenuous agreements; white people divided from brothers and sisters black and brown; people of faith divided by differing traditions; immigrants divided from those who claim to “own” this nation; citizens divided from their president; politicians divided by ideology, greed and self-interest. There are so many examples of division. And whether we will admit it or not, division diminishes us.

The divisions among us — the ones we personally experience and the ones we observe — create an unsettled environment around us and an unsettled spirit within us. The acrimony, the hate and the disrespect we witness all around creates an unrest in us. Perhaps, from the weariness of the constant hostility we see, our heart becomes hardened. Perhaps we are closed off from the Spirit Wind that fills us and creates in us rebirth, fresh and new.

We can never think of wind without recalling the day of Pentecost. The disciples of Jesus and other followers were gathered together when a rushing, mighty wind filled the entire house, and all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:1-4) That day was the beginning, and from that day when Spirit Wind came, the holy promise came into view: that God would pour out the Spirit on all people, that sons and daughters would prophesy, that some would have visions and others dreams.

We need it again, the Spirit Wind. We need it to fill us with courage for the living of these days. We need it to fill us with love that can change the world. We need it for the will to save our planet from devastating climate change. We need it to responsibly open our borders, to become again a nation of welcome, to reach out our hands to sojourners searching for safe refuge, to rescue children from the unwelcoming places where they are detained and kept from their parents. We need it to repair the world in all the ways possible to us, to repair its brokenness.

To become God’s people in a broken world, we need the wind of the Spirit. Now.

But how does Spirit Wind come in these days? I have heard of no “Pentecostal” experiences of rushing mighty wind. I have heard of no one who has seen a sudden whirlwind. (1 Kings 19:11)  I do not know of a person who saw the winds cease at the command, “Peace. Be still.” (Mark 4:39)

So how does the Spirit Wind come? I can share only what I know from my own experience, and that is this: when I am very still and very present with God, the Spirit comes quietly, gently — but surely. I do not see her. I do not hear her come with any sound of rushing wind. I cannot touch her. Yet I feel her, covering me, filling me, empowering me. I go away with that sense of being reborn and renewed, like I might be “born from above.”

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Art by Charlotte Nickel, “Mighty Rushing Wind,” acrylic on canvas.

You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.

— John 3:8 (The Message Bible)

 

*From the Carmelite Bulletin, Carmel of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Little Rock, Arkansas, “Who Has Seen the Wind?” Christina Rossetti – 1830-1894

 

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On another note . . .

Please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

 

Sudden Peace and Holy Silence

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But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him!

— Habakkuk 2:20 New Revised Standard Version

On this past Sunday, my pastor brought up a vivid memory for me when he talked about the stark, silent, peaceful beauty of the desert. I listened to him share his experience of a silent contemplative retreat at a Benedictine monastery in the desert. I heard his expression of how keeping silence affected him, with the effects continuing for days after the experience. I heard his description of the ways the barren desert became God’s holy temple. While the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible tells of “keeping silence,” The Message Translation says it like this:

But oh! God is in his holy Temple!
Quiet everyone—a holy silence. Listen!”

The desert does create a kind of holy silence. I remember being in the desert’s silence. I remember the heat of it, the enormity of its sky, the color of beige as far as the eye could see, the silenced sound of it, the sudden peace it gave me. The time was many years ago. The place was a retreat of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans in the desert of New Mexico.

I had spent months of spiritual direction and personal reflection to prepare to make my profession in the Order’s Novitiate. On the day of the covenant service, I spent hours walking alone in the desert wondering why in the world a Baptist pastor would want to enter into a vocation with this Order. There in the dry desert I owned the reality that I was in a dry season of my life. I knew I could not stay in that dry and barren place where my life force was languishing. In the months before, I had been exploring this crossroads in my faith journey with my Franciscan spiritual director. Over time, I had discerned that this was a call from God, and I had entered the Order’s Postulancy. Now I felt ready to move forward.

I had no idea, really, how the Franciscan journey would affect my life. I did not know how, or if, this journey could lead me into a deeper spirituality, but that is what I longed for. I had finished writing my Personal Rule of Life that afternoon. I knew that my formation would take years, that there would be distinct decision points for me after entering the Postulancy (making Novice vows, Professing lifetime vows). These places in the spiritual journey would be decision points in my discernment process that would most surely include moving forward, stepping back, or perhaps giving more time for the Holy Spirit to speak to me before taking the next step. 

I would be lying if I said I did not have second thoughts about my reasons for seeking this spiritual path. I agonized in the midst of my prayer for clear direction. What I was certain about was that I needed something more. My spirit longed for fuller joy in my faith, a deeper connection to God and to the divine within myself, and peace. Mostly peace. The kind of peace that busy, overcommitted Baptist pastors have a hard time finding. 

In my moments of indecision that afternoon, the parched, hot desert spoke to me out of silence. It spoke to me of peace, and I was certain that on this night I would make my Profession of the Rule and become a Novice in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. I was convinced that this faith commitment would bring me peace.

The community prayed over me in the spirit of St. Francis and St. Clare. They laid hands on me as I recited my Rule of Life and spoke my vows, and then they handed me a beautiful San Damiano cross.67401824-A9BD-4B39-857E-97CC62B25B1D I had seen this dramatic crucifix before, but on this night it was even more striking than I remembered. I held it in my hands and gave thanks for God incarnate in Christ, for the hope of glory in us, and for the palpable sense of peace that was enfolding me in that moment.

In Franciscan thought, the incarnation of Christ is foundational. It is not easy to fully describe the spirit and gifts of Franciscan thinking, but its hallmarks are simplicity, reverence, fraternity, ecumenism, ecology, interdependence, and dialogue. Its motto and salutation is “Peace and All Good!” Francis believed that God was nonviolent, the God of Peace. And so it was in that Franciscan order that I found deep, sudden peace.

The years after that took their toll on me and on my faith. Life challenges threatened my peace many times over. But the miracle is that the peace remained. It grew stronger with each trial. It grew stronger with aging and illness and heartbreak. When calamities finished their work on me, peace was still there, every time. In me, where it always needed to be.

I think to end this very serious post with just a little whimsy. I find whimsy so often in the writing of many of my blogging friends. One of them wrote about sudden peace today of all days, just as that idea is on my mind. So I must share it with you. 

I love the honesty in my friend’s words that so vividly describe the aging and changing that sometimes feels so frightening. These are her funny, quirky, very true words that describe a moment of self-realization:

That moment when your flabby underarms slap against your torso, and the sound reminds you of gentle waves lapping on a shore, and you are suddenly at peace.

— Joanna E.S. Campbell

Thank you, Joanna. Spirit-filled moments come to us in a variety of ways, and your picturesque speech reminded me today that I really am “suddenly at peace.” And that sudden peace has happened for me many times in the holy silences of my life.

Just when I needed it the most.

Quiet everyone — a holy silence. Listen!

Thanks be to God.

 

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On another note . . .

please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

 

Lingering in God’s Presence

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Himalayan blue poppies in the rain, Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttarakhand, India

The beauty of God’s creation often takes my breath away. This image did that. When I first saw it, I stared at for quite a long time. You might say it stopped me in my tracks, slowed me down for a moment, caused me to wonder. That’s not a bad thing, slowing me down. It does not happen easily.

So what does it mean to slow down and linger, to linger in God’s presence? One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the very brief story of Anna.

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38 NIV)

What strikes me about Anna is that “she never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.” She lingered in God’s presence. Perhaps God honored her devotion by allowing her to see the Christ child.

And then there’s this small snippet of Joshua’s story:

 . . . When Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:9-11 NKJV)

Joshua lingered in the tabernacle even when Moses, his mentor, left it. Perhaps it changed him. Perhaps because of his devotion in lingering in God’s presence, it was Joshua, and not Moses, who received the honor of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land.

Of course, we are not certain about any of that. Certainly we do not linger in God’s presence in hopes of receiving some reward or honor. At the same time, developing the spiritual discipline of abiding — lingering — in God’s presence brings its own reward.

What are your ways of spending time in God’s presence? Reading scripture? Writing scripture in a prayer journal? Yoga? Walking a labyrinth? Praying? Journaling? Taking in the beauty of nature? Creating a place of silence? The ways of spiritual discipline are endless.

One thing is certain: lingering in God’s presence does not just happen. We enter that sacred space and linger there only if we commit ourselves to do it. Not in a legalistic manner that is more religious than spiritual, but in ways that slowly open us up to craving that time with God, needing it more than we need to “accomplish” our never-ending daily tasks.

When we reach that place, we might discover that lingering in God’s presence is life-giving. We might suddenly realize that we are lingering in God’s presence easily and often, that it has become a part of life.

So how in the world did a blue flower get me here?

I’m not sure, but I think it is because God can be found everywhere, in any moment, in any space, in every stillness, in silence and music and birdsong, in whatever we hear and feel, through anything our eyes can see — even a blue flower covered with dew.

And in that space, we are transformed.

Amen.

Wordless Stillness

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Wordless stillness: a place in Arkansas captured by Steven Nawojczyk

A friend of posts a unique message on her blog on Wednesdays. She calls it “Wordless Wednesday.” In the post, she offers beautiful photo images.

I have often wondered how she came up with the title, “Wordless Wednesdays.” Did she have writer’s block on a particular Wednesday? Did she borrow the title from another place? Did she know that on some days, she would simply have nothing to say, so she just planned it to be on Wednesdays?

It occurs to me that this is a Wednesday and I have nothing much to say. It seems like one of my empty days, when words don’t seem to emerge. My readers probably know that it is a very unusual state of being for me to not have anything to say. It rarely happens.

Sitting in my quiet time without words is a bit disconcerting for me. And yet, maybe without words, I can find a holy stillness, a silence in which God can talk to me. Maybe it is not a bad thing to be without words. Maybe a wordless stillness is exactly where God needs me to be.

A friend of mine has a way with wordless stillness. He loves nature and visits it every single day. And in the places he visits, his keen eye always catches breathtaking views of nature. I am struck by his images every time he posts them. Interestingly, he captures images from one particular place more often than not. He loves that view, capturing Arkansas sunrises, sunsets, and everything in between . . . always from that one spot. He admits it. He tells us straight up that this spot is his favorite view in Arkansas.

But here’s the thing I have discovered about his photographs of that Arkansas scene: what he captures, always, is stillness. Stillness without words.

Maybe wordless stillness is something all of us need to capture. God can find us in that place, that place that feels like Holy Ground. God can comfort us there, encourage us, forgive us, work in us, speak to our souls.

The Psalmist finds silence again and again:

Be still and know that I am God.

— Psalm 46:10 (NRSV)

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

— Psalm 62:5-6 (NRSV)

 

Elijah found silence on Horeb, the mountain of God:

“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

— I Kings 19:11-12 (NRSV)

Wordless stillness. Silence in the presence of God. Holy Ground.

Amen.

The Great Silence

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I struggle with the life of contemplation I most desire. I long to stand on the Holy Ground of God’s presence. And yet, I often fail in my attempts to enter that spiritual space. My mind is filled with thoughts, words, concerns, plans, worries. And with so active a mind, I am hard pressed to meditate on the divine presence of God. I simple cannot seem to find a way to enter the great silence that enables me to hear the whisper of God I so desperately need to hear.

In a recent meditation, Richard Rohr spoke of “the great silence” as he described the prayer of the contemplative. This is his thought:

The prayer of the contemplative is, essentially, an attention to the omnipresence of God. God is omnipresent not as a theological doctrine, but as the great silence that is present in every moment—but from which we are usually distracted by an overactive mind that refuses to wait in a humble unknowing for a pure wisdom from above.

As always, he nailed it, describing the kind of waiting in silence we must do if we are to encounter an omnipresent God. Certain ways of being can move us more fully into the great silence. 

The beauty of nature, the sound of a gentle breeze, the patter of a soft rain can lead us on the contemplative path. Intentional prayer, journaling, experiencing the healing of music, walking the sacred path on a labyrinth — all of these can encourage us into a more contemplative life.

Most of all, we need the longing, our deepest soul desire, to encounter God. The Psalmist expressed such a longing.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God . . .

— Psalm 42:1-2 (NRSV)

Teresa of Avila

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The saints have left us a legacy of wisdom, inspiration and challenge. I often browse through readings by the saints and find myself enthralled in the words, wondering what in their lives prompted the words they have written. Most often, there is a back story that offers a glimpse into their lives.

One of the saints that calls for my attention is Teresa of Avila. I became especially interested in her life during the years our progressive Baptist church worshipped each week in the chapel of Carmel of Saint Teresa of Jesus in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was the pastor of a church where Baptist congregants worshipped in a beautiful chapel cared for and consecrated by Carmelite Sisters, thirteen of them at that time.

How rich an experience it was for us! As we lived out our spiritual commitments in the world, we were blessed immeasurably by the inner life the Sisters modeled before us . . . a life of silence, reverence, prayer and contemplation.

Recently I came across a quote by Saint Teresa of Avila, also known as Saint Teresa of Jesus, that touched my heart.

Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.

Those words were intriguing to me, calling me to a still place. Calling me to allow my breath to lead me to the still place on the invisible path. I contemplated the meaning and what the meaning might say to me. I could not help but wonder what prompted Saint Teresa’s words. And then I looked at her back story. 

It seems that Teresa of Avila was a reformer of the Carmelite Order. The movement she initiated was later joined by the younger Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic, Saint John of the Cross. It led eventually to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites. A formal papal decree adopting the split was issued in 1580. Throughout her life, Teresa founded several new reformed Carmelite Orders.

Saint Teresa experienced years of excruciating pain and serious illness. Her  spiritual life was one of dreams, visions and mystical experiences. Unfortunately, when her mystical experiences, including visions, became widely known, she was treated with ridicule and even persecution. Her religious ecstasies caused jealousy and suspicion. She lived in the period of the Spanish inquisition, a time in history when any deviation from the orthodox religious experience came under strict observation and scrutiny. 

So her experiences of spiritual ecstasy subjected her to the investigations of the Inquisition. In 1576, a series of persecutions began on the part of the older observant Carmelite order against Teresa, her friends, and her reforms. Pursuant to a body of resolutions adopted at the general chapter at Piacenza, the “definitors” of the order forbade all further founding of convents. The general chapter condemned Teresa to “voluntary” retirement to one of her institutions. 

But prior to her forced retirement, Saint Teresa devoted her life to traveling around Spain setting up new convents based upon ancient monastic traditions. Her travels and work were not always greeted with enthusiasm, as many resented her reforms and the implied criticism of existing religious orders. She often met with criticism, including the papal nuncio, who used the rather descriptive phrase “a restless disobedient gadabout who has gone about teaching as though she were a professor.”

Saint Teresa of Avila most assuredly had a great deal to teach us about the importance of an inner life of deep contemplation and an outer life of immersion into the hurt of the world. What a lesson we could learn about doing the inner work that enables us to do the outer work in a suffering world!

So the one who spoke those words about a “still place” had so much more to say when we readthe entirety of her writings. The following are but two small glimpses into her depth of devotion.

This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway. Be bold. Be humble. Put away the incense and forget the incantations they taught you. Ask no permission from the authorities. Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.

Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands

with which Christ blesses the world.

Saint Teresa was a contemplative mystic that showed us a life of silence and prayer. But she was also a brilliant revolutionary in the best sense of that word. We would do well in our quest to follow God to emulate her life that spoke so eloquently of our hands and feet being those of Christ on earth. She showed us deep contemplation and revolution. Our world needs both.