Category Archives: Contemplation

Holding Common Space

Common Space Interfaith Initiative’s first interfaith gathering was held at St Scholastica Monastery in Boerne, Texas in 2008. The idea was, and remains to this day, to share contemplative practices between faith traditions, and this particular retreat was a sharing of Christian and Buddhist meditation practices. We had 24 Christians and one Buddhist show up–my co-presentor. We were no doubt asking for that by hosting it at a Christian monastery, go figure!

Times haven’t changed at all in terms of our ability to predict the balance of attendees from different faiths at particular events, although it strikes me that Christians may be the most existentially curious group and perhaps the most open to learning about other traditions. It’s extremely hard to find out what will call some people to want to share space with strangers from different paths, but for me it’s about creating peaceful understanding in a complicated world. As far my role as facilitator goes, I’ve stopped altogether trying to identify individual needs and now just see my role as “one who holds space.”

There seem to be three key ingredients to holding common space between faiths: the first, finding a neutral location; another, the need to co-opt a capable co-presentor from the other traditions; and lastly, the need to present a form of “safe” practice, not one potentially at odds with the belief systems of your colleagues in circle. 

Thankfully, Common Space here in San Antonio no longer needs to borrow space from churches and monasteries, although I was extremely grateful for the early help. The neutral ground we have found for ourselves is in a community center which houses different non-profits, a local theater, and some other small businesses. Our meeting rooms are attached to a church, so we have the benefit of access to larger space if we need it, for presentations, visiting speakers, and so on, but the automatic association is not with Christian space. We have our own entrance and there is no religious symbolism to be seen on our route in or out.

Finding the co-presentor who is considered an authority by his or her faith colleagues in circle can be a challenge, and may take some time to finesse. However, once the right person comes your way, you stand a much better chance of gaining group members from that faith. With many potential attendees, the question is one of tradition and having the authority to speak. For instance, in a Sufi environment, Muslim attendees usually want to know the lineage of the prayer leader, to be sure they are properly authorized to lead.

Once the pragmatics of the space have been negotiated, “safe” practice become the key to having people return. The space has to be a place of comfort where attendees do not feel any risk of spiritual dissonance, including the risk of participating in a manner that  goes against their belief system. Here, I’ve found the silent meditative practice of Centering Prayer particularly useful: those in circle can choose a sacred word for their practice in keeping with  their tradition and we can alternate the texts used to open and close the circle between traditions.

There is so much more to say here, but I’ll follow up on these themes in later posts. Suffice to say that it is an honor to hold space between faiths, to provide that fertile liminal ground where peaceful miracles can happen. This liminal space between, however, is a fragile, delicate thing that needs to be nurtured like a wild rose: the petals can fall very fast without proper care.

 

Please follow, share, and like posts at the Jacamar Door:

Rumi: On Nature and the Horse

RUMI & NATURE

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die as Man, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel-soul,
I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, ‘To Him we shall return.’

“Is the sweetness of the cane sweeter
than the one who made the canefield?
Behind the beauty of the moon is the moonmaker.
There is intelligence inside the ocean’s
intelligence
feeding our love like an invisible waterwheel.
There is a skill to making cooking oil from animal fat.
Consider now the knack that makes eyesight
from the shining jelly of your eyes.
Dawn comes up like a beautiful meal being served.
We are hungry and distracted, so in love with the cook.
Don’t just be proud of your mustache
as you drive three donkeys down the road.
Instead of gemstones, love the jeweler.
Enough of these exhaling sounds.
Let the darling finish this
who turns listening into seeing.”

“Be like the sun for grace and mercy.
Be like the night to cover others’ faults.
Be like running water for generosity.
Be like death for rage and anger.
Be like the Earth for modesty.
Appear as you are.
Be as you appear.”

“Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
Why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?

Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim the huge fluid freedom.”

RUMI & THE HORSE

“The mind is an ocean…I and so many worlds
are rolling there, mysterious, dimly seen!
And our bodies? Our body is a cup, floating
on the ocean; soon it will fill, and sink…
Not even one bubble will show where it went down.
The spirit is so near that you can’t see it!
But reach for it…don’t be a jar
full of water, whose rim is always dry.
Don’t be the rider who gallops all night
and never sees the horse that is beneath him.”

Please follow, share, and like posts at the Jacamar Door:

Contemplation (from ‘Seven Days at the Shore”)

Contemplation

 

My version of sitting quietly with God

Is no kind Eden.

Sounds, thoughts heckle,

Like skinheads in a bar,

Hating my couth look.

Stillpoint

Is a faraway shade moving in slow,

Ominous.

I dread the possession,

Yet seek it;

Eyeballs strain further within,

Socket flesh tight.

Like a dark whale rising

He comes.

And there’s no, no, no room for me.

I slap and flash and flail,

Occipital urgency

To get out, get out

Now.

Tendrils of dream climb my spine,

Like interweaving snakes,

Selfish helix, hemlock rising fast.

Did twin snakes coil Eve’s tree,

Not one?

I watch them come.

And plead for Him to find me

When they’re done.

Please follow, share, and like posts at the Jacamar Door:

Dame Gertrude More — The Fifth Confession

THE FIFTH CONFESSION

Tell me, O Lord, I beseech you, what can my soul pretend, if it seeks anything with you which is an impediment to my truly loving you? What can I, I say, pretend, seeing no peace or comfort can be found, but in you alone? What do we when we desire comfort outside of you, but deprive ourselves of a most happy liberty, which they enjoy who desire nothing for time or eternity, but (without all regard of themselves) to be perfectly conformable to you?

If we would live without all intention or wish but of enjoying you (which cannot be done but by a truly humble and faithful soul), the devil could not overcome us by any wile. We should easily retain true peace with ourselves, with all the world, and, above all, with you. For when we adhere to any created thing, we become a slave to our passion and are in imminent danger of sin. No way is plain, secure, easy, and without peril of all error but this: that the soul seeks nothing but you, her creator: this is the way in which a fool cannot err. This is the way, without question, in which a soul without all impediment adheres to you, the fountain of all true wisdom, who willingly illuminates our needy souls, if we will but give you our heart and soul for yourself.

You consider not our former sins after you have once blotted them out, but do most bountifully and abundantly bestow your grace upon those who have had the manners of beasts in time past and do refresh them with the sweet dew of your grace. This, having been tasted in their soul, makes them loathe all that is less than you. Neither can they take any content but in hearing your name, speaking to you, and longing for you, after you have wounded their soul with your divine charity.

Oh, let me sit alone, silent to all the world and it to me, that I may learn the song of love and praise of you which is infinitely due to you from me! This song none can sing but those that truly love you, and whose only consolation is to be without all comfort as often and as much as it shall please you. In nothing, as you know, do I put any joy or comfort but in sighing after you, who cannot here be seen by us as you are.

Oh, teach me those virtues which draw a soul so out of herself into you that she becomes insensible to all things but you! These virtues are true humility, which knows not how to exalt itself, perfect subjection to you, and discretion, which can only be taught by your majesty, and yet is so necessary that no virtue hath more virtue in it than partakes of true discretion. For without that, we, instead of true virtue, practice absurd follies. O my Lord, above all things let me seek your glory, and may you be praised by all creatures for all eternity! Amen.

pretend: lay claim to

 

Eternal,

 I seek you in silence, but am so often distracted by things that I think are you but are shades of you. And, of course, by all those things that aren’t you at all. Silence my monkey-mind; strengthen my resolve to find you; and stop, stop me feeling like I’m playing at this, an habitual dilettante. My soul is immersed in me. Draw me out and to your eagle-eye view, your wound of love, that just for a moment is a glimpse of totality that only you can gift.

 Amen.

Please follow, share, and like posts at the Jacamar Door:

Home as a Magical Vessel

I’ve recently started homeschooling my 11- and 12-year old girls. Not through any burning desire to shun the system, or any distaste for public teaching, but to accommodate their burgeoning acrobatic gymnastics schedule as they train for international competition.  Thankfully, I’m not left to my own devices with their whole curriculum. They have 2 days a week of structured schooling at a co-op and 3 days with me as I marshal homework and other enrichment.

I have to tell you that faced with the frightening responsibility of getting their education right, I find I’m more excited about my children’s potential than ever. We are reading aloud together, sometimes 2 or 3 times a day, books that hum with adventure, daring, and good deeds. We nature-walk, choosing insects and plants that capture their interest, finding them in a handbook as we go. We cook and paint. Our quiet time is truly contemplative, a time for recharging busy bodies and minds. None of these things we could do with any traction before as their time was always taken elsewhere, behind closed doors, in very structured space.

They have both had at least 6 years of public elementary school. They co-op with 50 other kids and have their best friends at the gym, so I don’t worry about socialization or character development. I do worry about them keeping pace academically with their contemporaries nationwide, and I guess we have various forms of standardized testing open to us to help us evaluate that.

What I am truly grateful for is the chance to fully participate in the intellectual growth of my kids. If they must be corrected, it is with the consistency of someone who has time, love, and sufficient knowledge of the child to follow through with measured consequences. I have the time, interest, and motivation to meet my own child’s mental and physical needs. It takes an exceptional teacher – and I have taught, in community college and university settings – to get to the core of those issues and get that right on an individual basis. For most, that is a level of engagement too far, both in terms of personal comfort and logistical pragmatics.

So, I will keep you posted! Our home has changed from being mostly a place of retreat at the end of a hard day of sensory assault, to being the crucible in which the excitement happens, concepts take shape, and ideas about life and the world take form. Lightbulbs go on and there is joy! It is a change I plan to embrace moment by moment.

Please follow, share, and like posts at the Jacamar Door:

The Celt’s Spiritual Journey — Peregrinatio

The spiritual journey of the Celt, as Esther de Waal reminds us, is captured in the term “peregrinatio” meaning search, quest, adventure. The Latin holds further riches: this journey is not linear, a complication suggested by the repeated sound at the start of the word–we are likely to cover the same ground more than once, whether by chance or by design–it is a wandering, in which the goal is uncertain and it is also, perhaps, an exile.  We are experiencing a leaving-behind, likely more than once, where footing that had once seemed firm has become unstable, and we must keep moving for our spiritual survival.

“Peregrinatio” is a state of being in which, however, the uncertainty of the goal does not presuppose the failure of the task: the journey IS the task and the Celt will find his God with him in many different forms and in many different places as he travels if he should but choose to notice.  The odd thing about the term is that we are almost more motivated by the things that have happened to us, by those things that have moved us on, than we are by the quest for God: the Celt finds God already present, in every detail, every action, in every piece of time, but the ground is crumbling behind him at every footfall–the only way is forward, and it may be hard to find a place to rest.

Of course, for the contemplative, the journey is an interior one. The journey is not so much a quest for God as a journey to our place of resurrection, to the new heaven and new earth of the true self.  For the Centering Prayer version of the contemplative, this is entirely in keeping with the true self that Thomas Keating urges us to seek in Christian meditation; the true self is what remains when the distractions of ego and indoctrination are let go–the Christ self, God’s image within is free to emerge. The Celt is much more accepting and forgiving of what is, I think. God’s image is there for the finding in every small detail–He is the God of small things.  We can purge and refine if we want to, but the Celt finds God in the imperfections. Far more important to the Celt than the perfected spirit is the propensity to love.  Refinement has its place as a tool to find “the stillness at the center” but to love and engage is far and away more preferable to living in rarefied detachment.

 

Please follow, share, and like posts at the Jacamar Door:

The Silence of Angels and Men

Or, Reasons I Do Centering Prayer

 “You will feed with pleasure upon everything that is His.  So that the world shall be a grand Jewel of Delight unto you: a very Paradise and the Gate of Heaven.  It is indeed the beautiful frontispiece of Eternity: the Temple of God, and Palace of His children. The Laws of God…command you to love all that is good, and when you see it well, you enjoy what you love … They command you to love all Angels and Men.  They command all Angels and Men to love you” (Thomas Traherne, Centuries).

            Centering Prayer is a form of silent contemplative prayer that allows us to rest in the silence at our center where God resides.  We use a “sacred word” of our choice – something like “God,” “Jesus,” “Trust,” “Peace,” “Yes”; mine is “Agape,” Greek for “divine love” – to bring the mind back to silence when questioning, busy minds start to make noise. The sacred word symbolizes your consent to God’s grace and action in your life as you seek the place of safety and silent intimacy with Him that is at the center of every one of us.

Silence at the Center

             As Christians, we believe that the piece of God, the part of the Trinity that lives and acts in every single one of our souls, is the Holy Spirit.  Our souls are the part of us that are most like God, and it’s our souls that with continual measures of faith, hope, and charity in our mundane lives will gradually become more and more Christ-like.  Indeed, the attempt to become like Christ is at the heart of all serious Christian endeavor: who hasn’t at some time wished they had just one tiny piece of Jesus’ compassion, patience, or resilience?   Galatians 2:20 suggests our potential for identification with Christ:  “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”  In 1 John 3:2:  “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is,” we see again our capacity to be Christ-like.  Doctrinal teaching and the examples of great Christians before us tell us that acts of piety – prayer, fasting, study, action – help refine us and encourage this process of transformation.

             While I fully appreciate and practice transformation through the spiritual disciplines (and, thus, my own action) – and while it speaks to my head – my heart still craves direct, passive experience of God’s own action in my life.  I can say with certainty that seeking God in the silence at my center has made me more open to and aware of God’s presence and action in my life and in the world around me.  I have a greater sense of connection with things and of my place in God’s universe; the glimpse of an ecstatic sense captured by Thomas Traherne, writing in 1662, “You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars.”  

            In 1997, Arundhati Roy wrote a book with the title “The God of Small Things.”  Centering Prayer helps me to find, and to see well, a bountiful God in the detail of daily living; in the curve of my daughter’s face, in the symmetry of an insect or leaf, in the smell of sage at dusk.  So that while, in this moment, God is transforming me, He is also transforming every part of my environment into Christ.  Christ’s face becomes everywhere and ever present.  The regular practice of contemplation or meditation is training me to listen beyond the noise of me to something other.  To a voice or presence of infinite calm, infinite love, and boundless peace.  To rest in that presence, even if only for the most fleeting instant, is to accept God’s eternal offer of profound relationship from his innermost dwelling place within you.

            I know that the place I come closest to knowing and experiencing the part of God, His Holy Spirit, that lives and acts in me, is in this place of silence.  I know that God works to transform me from the outside in but also, profoundly, from the inside out.  By dwelling for a while in the darkest recesses of me, and by waiting for God in that place, I know I will find Him, and that, when I do, He’ll gently remind me He was there all along.

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;

my God, in whom I trust.”  (from Psalm 91)

 

Please follow, share, and like posts at the Jacamar Door: