Thursday, April 23, 2009

The authentic self and the undivided life

I'm reading a book called A Hidden wholeness: The Journey toward an Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer.

Palmer writes that he suffered a period of serious clinical depression and found his way out through what he calls a 'circle of trust'. Palmer also writes extensively about the damage we do to ourselves when we lead 'divided lives'. Lives in which we hide, bury, obscure our 'authentic self'. Eventually if we're not careful, we lose that self.

We need to nurture that authentic self and lose the divisions we've built over the years. And one way to do that is to surround ourselves, as much as is possible, with true friends. "Friends", he writes, "with whom I can be authentic."

To do that he comes "together with people who bring out my better self, friends with whom I can be authentic. I make it a point to connect, whenever possible, with people with whom I have a history of shared joy and shared pain, who call forth in me this feeling of safety."

As I read those words I immediately thought of the few people in my life with whom I can be authentic, who "call forth in me this feeling of safety". That is a gift beyond anything else - the gift of ones self.

To each of those people, I thank you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The sound of sheer silence

I've been thinking a lot recently about the need to listen to the still small voice of God.

Because God doesn't come to us in HUGE ways .... not, as I heard recently, as an 11' angel at the foot of our bed. In the book of Kings Elijah discovered that God was not in the fire nor the earthquake but in the 'sound of sheer silence'.

Just as God came to Elijah in the sound of sheer silence he comes to us in very subtle ways. For instance, I was struggling over Holy Week and wondering where my 'place' is/was in the church. I am passionate about my participation as an acolyte but was having some difficulties. So one evening a lovely woman took the time to seek me out and tell me something that was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. In my mind she was the 11' foot angel that I needed. But if I hadn't listened ... with my heart and not just my ears .... I might easily have missed the voice of God within her words.

As well, when I got an email the other day from a friend asking if I would be interested in joining an organization to which he'd belonged for years I realized that contained in his words was the still small voice of God.

Because I had been thinking of just exactly that!

In fact only a few days before he sent me the email I had attempted to find the website but had been unsuccessful. I'd not said anything to anyone and yet, when his message came, I was initially quite startled because of what I first thought of as a coincidence but then realized that this was a gentle nudge from God. Because there's a great saying that there is no such thing as coincidences, just God working miracles anonymously.

So if I'm accepted into this organization I will update this blog and keep you posted on the new direction in my life. I'm excited as I haven't been for a very long time. Pray for me, a sinner.

"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."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Always be Joyful. And never stop praying.

I was reading a business article today about the need to remain focused in this struggling economy, and my thoughts (obviously I didn't remain focused on the article!) turned to prayer.

I'm a very visual person and have discovered that one of the most effective prayer techniques for me is with iconography. I have dozens of icons throughout my house and draw much comfort from simply being in their presence. My eyes often land on St. John the Baptist while I'm watching TV and I don't find that odd at all. I don't believe that prayer means stopping what you're doing (say for an hour on Sunday mornings) to pray. I believe that prayer can be - should be - with you always. I don't always manage it but I believe it.

Brother Lawrence, in his book The Practice of the Presence of God, wrote of being in prayer - in communion with God - no matter what he was doing. Washing dishes, gardening, walking, sweeping .... no matter what, Brother Lawrence was in prayer. The Dalai Lama has said that he is in prayful meditation when he listens to the daily radio news. Proof that our minds are phenomenal machines.

In the very early days of discovering my own spirituality the first Biblical passage that captured my attention was St. Paul's words to the church in Thessonalica. 'Always be joyful, and never stop praying' were his instructions to the Thessalonians. I printed out that passage, added some flower clipart and posted it over my desk at work. Where it stayed for years. I have it still. Funny though, until today, I always thought of it as one single command but during the writing of this piece I see it as two separate and unique instructions that feed each other. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. And to actually BE joyful at all times one must never stop praying. Separate but combined. A cool realization.

When I first began to use icons in my prayer life I spent most of my evenings alone in my church. Even though it was an Anglican church there were icons on every wall. I used to take a stool, pile up a stack of books and place a candle at just the right height in front of the Saint I felt most drawn to at the time. Thomas was often a favorite for me back then as I recall. Another icon, one of Christ Pantocrator which had been written specifically for the church, was in the Lady Altar where I spent many hours in quiet contemplation; on the floor, in a pew, often (thankfully no one ever discovered this) actually curled up right on the altar so that I could be as close as possible. I would begin to pray - in ways that I thought were "right" - but often found my mind wandering. Initially, when that happened, I'd give my head a shake and try to 'get back to prayer'. I added in a somewhat altered 'Jesus prayer' in an effort to keep focused but still found that my thoughts wandered off. While one part of my mind was reciting 'Lord Jesus Christ, most Holy Son of Mary, have mercy on me a sinner' (my own version of the prayer) another part was struggling with concerns or issues. I kept thinking I was doing something wrong, that I wasn't praying 'correctly'. [Talk about needing to give your head a shake!] But then I read somewhere - I think it might have been in a book about St. Therese de Lisieux - that I really needed to pay attention to those wandering thoughts because they are God's way of bringing forward things that matter. And, wandering thoughts about what to make for dinner aside, I think there is a great deal of truth to that; I've remembered it to this day and I allow myself to follow the wandering thoughts.

So while there might be a lot to be said about remaining focused there's more to be said about the need to listen to that still, small voice inside you to discover what really matters.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

With Her

This time is difficult. Wait for me.
We will live it out vividly.
Give me your small hand:
we will rise and suffer,
we will feel, we willl rejoice.

We are once more the pair
who lived in bristling places,
in harsh nests in the rock.
This time is difficult. Wait for me
with a basket, with a shovel,
with your shoes and your clothes.

Now we need each other,
not only for the carnations' sake,
not only to look for honey--
we need our hands
to wash with, to make fire.
So let our difficult time
stand up to infinity
with four hands and four eyes.

~ Pablo Neruda

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Easter Homily by St. John Chrysostom

Let all pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast; let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord; let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward; let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late; for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last and He serves the first; He rewards the one and praises the effort.

Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; you rich and you poor, dance together; you sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day; you who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded: enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one: let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed; let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shone from the grave; let no one fear death, for the death of our Saviour has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh.

When Isaias foresaw all this, he cried out: "O Hades, you have been angered by encountering Him in the nether world." Hades is angered because frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and, lo! it encountered heaven; it seized the visible, and was overcome by the invisible.

O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished. Christ is risen and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen and life is freed. Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead: for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power for ever and ever.