Zoom Retreat

I will be offering a retreat on the value of haiku as a spiritual discipline. It is being sponsored by The Ayres Center of Spiritual Development of St. Mary’s Sewanee University. The dates are 6-8 pm on Friday January 15, 10-4 on the 16th, and 10-12 am on the 17th. You may contact Mary Beth Best, the Reservation Coordinator, at reservations@stmaryssewanee.org.

Peace,
LaMon

Practice Paying Attention

As many of you know, haiku is an important spiritual practice for me. It is so because it requires paying attention. However, one can pay attention without writing haiku. I encourage us all to pay attention in 2021. To that end, I share a poem by Luci Shaw from her fine collection Eye of the Beholder: Poems. It is entitled “Attending” with the note that Simone Weil called this “prayer”.

You begin with a singular gaze into any
thing, any Other. As you witness the moment
you practice the discipline of detail. Focus,
allowing yourself the access of steady regard.
It senses your attention and you will
find yourself joined in mutual love.

–Pebble. Bare twig. Raindrop hanging from
twig–a lens for landscape to enlighten the eye.
–Blue hyacinth, its invisible fragrance
drowning the air as you open the door.
Breath until it fills you and lifts you.
–Thunder, so unambiguously itself
unfurling its huge sail over heaven.
Giver of rain and green lettuce. Let it come
and offer your thanks.

A holy silence as the church fills. Hearts wait.
The priest’s homily before Eucharist,
and then, the Host taken without hesitation by our
waiting mouths. Let each be so present that
it leaves its truth, its hint of the real, its crease
in memory. Inhabit it with simplicity,
and find there a wholeness of intention.

It matters not if you understand each metaphor in this poem. Perhaps it would be good to slowly read it again. But whether you do that or not, take a few moments as you rise from you computer screen, to pay attention to some little thing–perhaps something outside in nature, or a painting or portrait on your wall, or the taste of slowly eaten food and drink, etc.

It is in paying attention that we realize our encounter with what is good and true and beautiful–Reality.

May you all walk a good path in 2021.

Peace,
LaMon

Getting Through the Pandemic and Other Troubling Times

My advice is simple: holy habits, daily religious or spiritual exercises. I wrote briefly on this some months ago, but felt encouraged to write in more detail.

What do I do each day as part of my spiritual routine?

First, I light a little candle and sing a short chorus or song. No one would want to hear me!

Then I use a bit of liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer. The liturgy is a prayer that I make my own. Right now this is what I am praying; “Lord Jesus, be with us for morning has dawned and the day has come. Be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of you love. Amen.” Those familiar with the BCP, will recognize that I have altered a prayer for early evening for use in the mornings.

Next I read a passage of scripture from the Gospels. I use the suggestion for the day’s reading found in the BCP, but any regular structure would work as well. After reading, I begin writing in my journal. I reflect on the passage; asking questions, making comments, writing haiku, etc.

Following that I read in others books of the Bible or other spiritual readings. Right now I am reading slowly through Kahlil Gibran’s Jesus the Son of Man: His Words and His Deeds as Told and Recorded by Those Who Knew Him. These are images and thoughts by Gibran who attaches them to imagined people in the time of Jesus. Again, I make comments in my journal about what I have read.

I close my journal writing and my morning devotions with notes about the past day, about the day that is before me, and sometimes with written prayers.

In the evenings, I have a much shorter devotional time. I again begin with a bit of liturgy from the BCP. Then another reading. Presently I am in Brian Doyle’s delightful book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary. Then I pray for family, friends, churches I love, countries I love, and for the environment. I close with the Lord’s Prayer.

The only other element in both morning and evening periods would be short silent pauses with slow breaths in and out.

These holy habits have helped me to get through a lot in these past few months. I am not recommending that you follow in my own pattern, but if you do not have a specific daily pattern of holy habits, I encourage you to start. And if you do, I would love to hear from you about what those are.

help for each day:
enduring difficult times
with holy habits

Peace, LaMon

Simon Weil on Loving God

Recently I have been reading in Love in the Void: Where God Finds Us edited by Laurie Gagne. It contains some of the writings of Simon Weil with a bit of commentary. Weil talks about how we can learn to love God and how it must begin in a mediated way. Only at a later stage may we experience an unmediated connection to God. I think she may be correct. But whether the analysis is accurate or not, I believe she is certainly right about three ways we can love God, as she says, in a veiled way.

I have written three haiku that summarize her thoughts. Perhaps they will help you find a path or way into God’s presence:

we love God
in religious ritual…
love sanctified

we love God
in nature’s simple beauty…
love awestruck

we love God
in our neighbor’s needfulness…
love obedient

May we all grow in the love of God. As always, feel free to share this with others you think would appreciate it. And your comments may help me to walk the paths better. I’ve not yet arrived at the end of the journey.

Peace, LaMon

Human Giftedness

Recently I have turned again to Thomas Traherne’s Centuries. In #342, he wrote that God gave us “an eye to behold Eternity and the Omnipresence of God, that [we] might see Eternity, and dwell within it; a power of admiring, loving, and / prizing, that seeing the beauty and goodness of God, [we] might be united to it forever more” 132f.

The “eye to behold” may be our intuition or, perhaps more likely, our imagination. This is comparable to St. Paul’s insistence that we must consider or reckon our selves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).

Our imagination can lead us to God or away from God! If we live our lives as though there were no God, then that is likely what our life will look like. Conversely, if we live our lives as though in God’s presence, we may ‘see’ God all around us. There is nothing wrong with training ourselves to see things a certain way–especially if that way is full of goodness and beauty.

human giftedness:

holy imagination

always seeing God

Like a gift for music which will atrophy if unused, so this human birthright may fade away if we never use it looking for God.

As always, if you like this, feel free to share it with friends, and perhaps encourage them to sign up to receive it in their email inbox.

Peace,

LaMon

Ecclesiastes Haiku

Recently I decided to read through the Book of Ecclesiastes and write haiku that captures it’s thought. It begins in verses 1-11 with an almost numbing melancholy. Creation seems to be, for the writer, an unending cycle of meaninglessness.

life is meaningless

begins Ecclesiastes–

weariness is the norm

Today perhaps we can appreciate this view in light of pandemic, injustice, and race riots. Disease and violence return like months of the year. But Jesus rescues me from this debilitating worldview. Ecclesiastes expected nothing new, but Jesus brought a fresh breeze from God, that cleanses the staleness of our inner rooms if we will but open the windows of our souls. It is a cleansing that renews my hope for a better day, a better world. It enables me to speak confidently for compassion, justice, and reconciliation.

As always, if you like what I have written, feel free to share it with others and encourage them to become followers.

Peace, LaMon

Making Habits Holy

Ritual is routine infused with mindfulness. It is habit made holy.

The quote above is in a book by Kent Nerburn entitled Small Graces: The Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life. Ritual becomes routine, or even a rut, when it is thoughtlessly done. The habits we develop in life can become holy if we pay close attention to what we are doing.

I have mentioned here before about some of my daily habits like prayer and journaling. However, Nerburn is not writing about things like this that seem important or vital. No, he is picturing small graces or quiet gifts.

He illustrates what he means with a morning ritual.

I take my morning mug of coffee in both hands and lift it ever so slightly toward the sky. I am alone. There is no one to see. This is my private gesture–my acknowledgement, my offering, my moment of thankfulness for the gift of this awakening day. . . . My morning cup of coffee . . . partaken with mindfulness . . . is a small act of worship, an act of consecration, a prayer of thankfulness to the awakening day.

I also have a morning habit. When I first get out of bed, I go the the sink in our restroom. I turn on the facet, running water into my hands, and I rinse my face three times, practicing an ancient Celtic Christian ritual. With the first, I say silently, “in the name of the Father.” With the second, “and the Son”. With the third, “and the Holy Spirit, I welcome this day.” Now here is the key to making a routine into a ritual or a habit into something holy. I must think about what I am saying. And I must mean what I say. I confess that some mornings, I just got through the motions and what I do had no spiritual blessing about it at all. But when I am mindful in doing it, the morning begins with a touch of holiness.

If you have some little ritual that you do most days, I would love to hear about it in a comment. If you don’t have any, perhaps you will be able to discover one that can be a daily blessing–if done mindfully.

paying attention

ritual is like rich soil

nurturing flowers

As always you are welcome to share this blog with others. If you want to receive my blogs in your email, simply toggle the follow button. May your day be filled with mindfulness and peace. LaMon

The Jesus Prayer

Earlier we began to look at various practices that can help people to experience the presence of God. The practice I mention today is peculiar to Christianity, though other religions have their own mantras that might help their devotees to experience the divine Presence.

The Jesus prayer is not found in Scripture, but was developed in an Eastern wing of Christianity called Orthodox. The full form of the prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Shortened forms are also used. The repetition of this prayer was an attempt to follow Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

The prayer can be prayed in two ways: vocally or as a breath prayer. So, as a person goes about his or her daily routine they can repeat softly the Jesus Prayer. Or, they can repeat it silently in sync with their breathing in and out.

It was the latter form that attracted me when I was around 30 years old. The form I used was shortened. I would breath in thinking “Lord Jesus Christ” and breath out “have mercy on me”. I would do this as I walked around the seminary campus. I would do it as I drove. I would do it in quiet times. I would do it before going to sleep. I don’t remember how long I had been praying in this way, but eventually a strange thing began to happen. Sometimes, without thinking at all, I would simply take a deep breath for whatever reason and the words “Lord Jesus Christ” would, uncalled for by me, appear in my mind; and of course, I would breath out and consciously think, “have mercy on me”.

For the past 40 years or so, I have used the Jesus Prayer, off and on, as a way to center my thoughts on the presence of Jesus. It has been a source of strength and peace.

Later I began to use the prayer vocally, but I will wait until next time when I will write about the use of prayer beads and a prayer rope.

praying for presence

repetition stills the mind

peace can enter in

Retreat Reflection on Silence

It has been a while since I last wrote, but time is now my own again! Yesterday, I was copying some retreat notes into another book and remembered an experience I wanted to share.

At a retreat last year, I was meditating on Zephaniah 3:14-20. One line in verse 17 was translated as “He will renew you in his love.” This translation is based, not on the Hebrew, but later translations. The Hebrew text reads, “He will be silent in his love.” While “renew you” fits the context better, “be silent” resonated with me. I was, after all on a largely silent retreat. This was my reflection:

“Pat and I have loved each other for well over fifty years. That love has often been expressed in laughter and exuberance. But it has also been expressed in silence–holding hands on the beach, sitting together on the porch in the mountains. Sometimes God’s love is like that. Or better, our love is like that–God and me. I can sit in silence and know the silence of God with me as a love that words fail to express. I like exuberance and singing, but I also enjoy just sitting in silence with my loving God.”

Where love is present
Silence can be beautiful:
Calm moon-lit waters



Images from a Contemplative Retreat

It was still dark as I walked to the guest cafeteria. The Rosemary bush was waiting:

Early morning walk                                                                                                                              Caressing the Rosemary                                                                                                                        The day’s first blessing

Later walking to the chapel to chant with the monks and praise God another blessing from Nature:

The path to worship                                                                                                                              Covered in Honeysuckle                                                                                                                      Aroma of God

I have always been blessed to experience the beauty and glory of God in Nature. It was no different at Mepkin Abbey whose beautiful grounds boarding on Cooper River afforded ample opportunities for silent meditation.

In blessed silence                                                                                                                                    I heard the presence of God–                                                                                                              Music of Nature

I came to the retreat hoping to grow in love for God and acquiring more of the compassion of Jesus. One day I walked in a labyrinth marked off by wildflowers.

In the labyrinth                                                                                                                                      Unbidden a song arose:                                                                                                                        More love to Thee

In those seven grace-filled days, I also meditated on Scripture. With the psalmist, I learned to sing my own song, “All my life I will sing to you, my Jesus.” Over and over again as I read in the Gospels, I experienced the glad-hearted kindness of Jesus.

Blessed are the kind                                                                                                                              For they are children of God                                                                                                              Kindness is divine

I was loved by God on this retreat and I returned home with more love and compassion for others–at least for a time. The ordinary world often makes compassion difficult, doesn’t it? So, my growth in love and compassion is far from complete. But in that wonderful retreat perhaps I sprouted a new blossom or two.

Trust in God’s slow work                                                                                                                      Transformation takes ages                                                                                                                    For each one of us

Addendum:

  1. As always, as you are moved, you may share this with others.
  2. If you are interested in retreats you may check out this web site: http://www.theanchorage.org.