Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My hut lies in the middle of a dense forest;
Every year the green ivy grows longer.
No news of the affairs of men,
Only the occasional song of a woodcutter.
The sun shines and I mend my robe,
When the moon comes out I read sacred poems.
I have nothing to report my friends.
If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after
so many things.

--Ryokan (1758–1831)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays." 

-- Søren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Jesus condemned no one except hypocrites.”
-- Kallistos Ware

Saturday, September 12, 2015

“To be a contemplative is to be an outlaw. As was Christ. As was Paul.”
--Thomas Merton

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

"If I could summarize nonviolence in one word, it would be: patience."
--Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Monday, September 07, 2015

"Flee for a while from your tasks, hide yourself for a little space from the turmoil of your thoughts. Come, cast aside your burdensome cares, and put aside your laborious pursuits. For a little while give your time to God, and rest in him for a little while. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind, shut out all things save God and whatever may aid you in seeking God; and having barred the door of your chamber, seek him." 

-- Anselm of Canterbury

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Riley's Route to the Eternal Now, by Wayne Amos

What is the secret of those rare moments of ineffable happiness, when all the world is in tune? 

After many years in New York and Europe, I was back in the plains-states visiting my cousin Riley on the farm he had never left. We walked through the fields and sat on a log. Alert, amused, Riley whittled on a stick as I told stories of London, Paris, Madrid.

The leaves of the cotton woods rustled in the summer breeze. A redbird called, its notes so clear they seemed to split the air. I forgot my story as I listened to the leaves and the bird and felt the same inexplicable happiness I had felt a lifetime ago on this same farm.

I was 15 then, Riley 20. Riley had wanted to get the ploughing done and was working all night.  I had just learned to drive the tractor and was eager to help. We took turns ploughing and sleeping in the haystack. The hired girl would bring us coffee and sandwiches at midnight.

When I awoke at 11:30 the three-quarter moon had risen. The tractor droned powerfully, its light eating into the furrows. At the end of a row Riley would jump down and hold a book in the light for half a minute. He was memorizing a poem, something by Walt Whitman about "... rich, apple-blossom’d earth! Smile for your lover comes!"  He was a great reader; the librarian used to say he checked out more books than anyone else in the county.

As I was watching the scene, some strange sort of light seemed to turn on for me. I saw the moon, the tractor, the field, the trees, the house, the haystack, as if from all sides at once. It was so beautiful, so magical, I feared to breathe lest I change something. Time seemed to stop, and I wanted it never to start again.

And now, sitting on a log many years later, I felt the same ineffable happiness. I heard the bird, the leaves. I was in the scene, part of it.

I tried to explain to Riley but knew I couldn’t. I recalled the tractor, the moonlight. I was there, I said. The moon was there. Oh, it was hopeless trying to put it into words. But Riley nodded, and suddenly I realized something. Riley knew all about that magic. He had experienced it often.

“You know the secret!" I cried. "What is it?"

Riley smiled and put aside his whittling.

"No-one can explain it," he said. "Oh, I’ve found hints in many of the books I’ve read. But first I felt it, just as you did.  And so did the men who tried to write about it. They felt it independently, separated by oceans and centuries; yet they all shared the same experience."

"But what is it?"

"If I had to put it in one sentence," Riley went on, "I would say, ‘Full consciousness brings joy.’ One of the mysteries is that the Universe contains innate joy. Once you fully open your senses to anything—a sunset, a waterfall, a stone, a blade of grass—the joy comes.  

“But to open the senses, to become really conscious, you have to drop out of the future and the past and remain for a while on what T.S. Eliot, in his poem, ‘Burnt Norton’, called ‘the still point of the turning world,’ the present. The only true reality is the present. The past is gone; the future is not yet.  

“That long-ago night was beautiful to you because of the unusual circumstances. Waking up at midnight in a haystack turned you upside down. You stopped planning into the future and thinking into the past. You were there in the Now.  

“Children have these moments frequently. But they grow up and lose the capacity. Yet, with the dim memory of ecstasy and the hope for more, they pursue this hope for the rest of their lives, forever grasping and forever analyzing. They’re on a journey which has no destination, except death. For this reason, most men do actually live ‘lives of quiet desperation’.

"Schopenhauer said that most men are ‘lumbermen’. They walk through a beautiful forest always thinking: ‘What can this tree do for me? How many board-feet of lumber will it produce? Last year I netted such and so; this year I must do better’. They are always in the past or future; they are always becoming, they never are.

“Then through the forest comes the artist, though maybe he never painted a picture. He stops before a tree, and because he asks nothing of the tree he really sees it. He is not planning the future; for the moment he has no concern for himself. The self drops out. Time stops. He is there, in the present. He sees the tree with full consciousness. It is beautiful. Joy steps in, unasked.

“It is not important how you explain this; it is the feeling, the experience that counts. Some people believe everything in the Universe—a field of wheat swaying in the wind, a mountain, a cloud, the first snowfall of winter—has a being, an intelligence and soul of its own. When we can think of things in this way it is easier to love them, and love is the prime ingredient of these experiences. But our love must not be possessive. William Blake put it perfectly when he said, ‘He who binds to himself a joy, does the winged life destroy; but he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.’

"Martin Buber says we can learn to love the world— things, animals, people, stars—as Thou.  And that when we do love them and address them as Thou, they always respond. This is probably the greatest thrill of all—the response of joy to joy.

"I believe most men can have their glimpses of the eternal, their timeless moments, and almost any time they choose. Many of our little practical tasks—say we are hoeing the garden, picking fruit or trimming a hedge—require only 1/100 part of our consciousness. We use the other 99 parts daydreaming of tomorrow or remembering yesterday. If we can only watch the movement of our hands, the trembling of a leaf, feel the sun on our skin, the breeze in our hair and eliminate quickly the constant intrusion of thoughts of past and future, if we can successfully do this for even tens of seconds, the joy will come.

"The eyes will shine with a new light, and if a stranger passes during one of these moments and you exchange a glance, the chances are," said Riley, "that he, too, will share in the mystery."

Driving back to town alone, I stopped the car and walked down a winding lane. Pulling a leaf from a bush, I tried to "see" it. But I found immediately that I was planning tomorrow’s appointment. I studied the leaf, stared at it—and was remembering some trivial thing from the past.

Suddenly, out of the clear sky came a clap of thunder: a plane breaking the sound barrier.  In the silence that followed I heard, to the exclusion of all other perceptions, the musical call of
a meadow lark. There was strength in the loud, brief song and a flutelike delicacy, peaceful, plaintive; and, over all, there was a joyous acceptance of the eternal now, astride the centuries and millenniums.

Originally published in Reader's Digest, February, 1965

Friday, September 04, 2015

"Our first task, in the realization of our own vocation and in the expansion of the kingdom among our contemporaries, is to find our own spirit because this is our life-line with the Spirit of God.  In doing so, we come to realize that we participate in the divine progression and that we share the dynamic essence of God’s still point: harmony, light, joy and love.  To fulfil this destiny we are called to transcendence, to that continuous state of liberty and perpetual renewal, that complete passing into the other.  In our meditation we begin to enter this state by our renunciation of words, images, thoughts and even self-consciousness, everything which is in itself contingent, ephemeral, tangential.  In meditation we must have the courage to attend solely to the Absolute, the abiding and the central.  To find our own spirit, we must be silent and allow our spirit to emerge from the darkness to which it has been banished.  To transcend we must be still.  The stillness is our pilgrimage…"

-- John Main OSB, Word Into Silence

“I have this hunch that people really find Jesus compelling, and they see what Christianity really could be. But what they see instead, so often, is an institution that tries to protect itself and promote itself.  I think they want to have a place where they can speak the actual truth about themselves in the world and they don’t have to pretend.”

--Nadia Bolz-Weber, Why Every Church Needs a Drag Queen

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

This. This is a prime reason why I became a theologian--why I think about and study about and write about (and endlessly irritate my friends about) theology. Because theology--how we think about God--has very tangible effects on our lives and the lives of those we interact with. Theology can be life-giving or death-dealing. It can be the engine behind the greatest heights of human goodness (such as Mother Teresa) or the most despicable lows of human depravity (such as the Spanish Inquisition).

This poor woman--Rowan County (KY) Clerk Kim Davis--is acting out of conviction to some very bad theology. It is theology, taught to her, that has made her think in smug and exclusionary and legalistic terms. It is theology rooted in a deep-seated fear of Divine judgment and punishment, making it more important to appease a violent God than to follow a compassionate Christ. It is theology that slavishly follows the dead letter of the text (in a highly selective fashion) instead of walking in the light of the living Spirit.

Jesus, in warning about false prophets (those who claim to speak the will of God), said "You will know them by their fruits." St. Paul further elucidated on what the fruit of the Spirit looks like: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." The author of the letter which we call 1 John wrote, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." Again, St. Paul defined what love looks like: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." It is interesting that Paul's list of what love (and God) looks like begins with patience and kindness and also includes not dishonoring others.

What a contrast that is to the God which Kim Davis has shown the world. Her's is a very different God altogether, I would say.