Pathway Poem #8

Tom Hennen was born and lives in Minnesota. Many of his poems are meditations on life in the upper Midwest. Today’s poem, originally found in Love for Other Things, looks at the prairie land he cherishes. I suggest you might want to read this one twice. Listen to the words, see the images, understand the feeling of the poet. Everything flows from the poem’s wonderful first line. But don’t allow you rational side to argue with it. If you can’t say, “Yes,” perhaps you can at least wish it were so.

From a Country Overlooked.

There are no creatures you cannot love.
A frog calling at God
From the moon-filled ditch
As you stand on the country road in the June night.
The sound is enough to make the stars weep
With happiness.
In the morning the landscape green
Is lifted off the ground by the scent of grass.
The day is carried across its hours
Without any effort by the shining insects
That are living their secret lives.
The space between the the prairie horizons
Makes us ache with its beauty.
Cottonwood leaves click in an ancient tongue
To the farthest cold dark in the universe.
The cottonwood also talks to you
Of breeze and speckled sunlight.
You are at home in these
great empty places
along with red-wing blackbirds and sloughs.
You are comfortable in this spot
so full of grace and being
that it sparkles like jewels
spilled on water.

Toward the end he speaks of the spot he sees as being “full of grace and being”. Such language is a reminder that meditation on nature is a way to connect with the inner Reality revealed through what we can see (and not simply overlook). It is a pathway to experiencing the presence of God.

swollen Cahaba–
roaring into the silence
of the waiting woods

Peace,
LaMon

Pathway Poem #5

I continue to share poems from some of my favorite poets. I have found poetry a way of spiritual growth, so I share these that we might grow together.

Today’s poet is Malcolm Guite. The poem is entitled “What if …” It is found in The Singing Bowl: Collected Poems by Malcolm Guite. As always, I encourage you to read this poem aloud. This one is really fun to do so–unless you get tongue-tied.

What if every word we say
Never ends or fades away,
Gathers volume, gathers way,
Drums and dins us with dismay,
Surges on some dreadful day
When we cannot get away
Whelms us till we drown?

What if not a word is lost?
What if every word we cast;
Cruel, cunning, cold, accurst,
Every word we cut and paste,
Echoes to us from the past,
Fares and finds us first and last,
Haunts and hunts us down?

What if every murmuration,
Every otiose oration,
Every blogger’s obfuscation,
Every tweeted titivation,
Every oath and imprecation,
Insidious insinuation,
Every verbal aberration,
Unexamined asservation,
Idiotic iteration,
Every facile explanation,
Drags us to the ground?

What if each polite evasion,
Every word of defamation,
Insults made by implication,
Querulous prevarication,
Compromise in convocation,
Propaganda for the nation,
False or flattering persuasion,
Blackmail and manipulation,
Simulated desperation
Grows to such reverberation
That it shakes our own foundation,
Shakes and brings us down?

Better that some words be lost,
Better that they should not last,
Tongues of fire and violence.
Word through whom the world is blessed,
Word in whom all words are graced,
Do no bring us to the test,
Give our clamant voices rest,
And the rest is silence.

One word of explanation; in the final stanza lines four and five the term “Word” is a reference to the ancient Greek philosophical term logos. It was also used in the New Testament book the Gospel of John. In both contexts, The logos is the prism through which the world was created.

Guite reminds us of how the words we use are filled with destructive power. The poem closes with an affirmation that useful words are more likely to be spoken out of the background of silence. In calm silence, right words, helpful words, even holy words, can arise to bless all who will hear them. May we practice a little silence.

Peace to you all,
LaMon


The Pathway of Poetry

I don’t eat as much fried chicken as I used to, but this rule of thumb is still true. Fried chicken without the skin is not as tasty. Sure, the meat is still there, but something important to the experience is missing. Reading poetry silently is a bit like eating skinless fried chicken.

Some poems have rhyming words as the end of lines, but most modern poetry seems to lack that. However, often poets will craft poems that feature alliteration and assonance and interior rhymes. Many times reading a poem aloud will help the reader not only to taste the poem, but perhaps even get meaning that might otherwise be missed.

Like all the pathways I have talked about, none of them seem to fit everyone and this one may not, at first, attract you, but I hope that you will give it a chance as I share poems for the next several posts.

I begin with a poem by Wendell Berry. It was first published in The Country of Marriage in 1973.

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.*

Is there a phrase or an image that moves you? Is there something in this poem’s path that might help you along the way? I would love to hear from you.

As always feel free to share this post with anyone else, especially if you have found it helpful.

May you know the peace of what “is here”.

*from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 1998, p.90.

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

Pathway(s)

Pathways to God is not strictly speaking about how one can be ‘saved’ in the traditional Christian sense. It is about how we can experience the presence of God. In one Hindu pattern there are three ways–the way of knowledge, the way of selfless work or action, and the way of love and devotion. In Neo-Platonism, the divine can be approached through beauty, truth, and goodness.

As in other religions and philosophical traditions there exist a variety of routes to the presence of God, so in the Christian spiritual tradition there are many practices or disciplines that have been used successfully. One important thing to remember is that not every Christian practice will be effective for every person, nor will one Christian practice always and forever be effective. That is, your particular needs in the spiritual life may change from time to time, so that what was helpful before is so no longer. Other practices need to develop.

For example the practice called Centering Prayer is very popular today among many Christians. It is a way into silence by quieting or emptying your mind. As I noted, many Christians have found this practice helpful. Me–not so much. But I would never denigrate the practice. It has helped a lot of folks. It is one way into silence.

A pattern that has been a better one for me also includes silence, but it is not the same kind. I no longer try to empty my mind, but I want to fill it. I have taken the advice of the Apostle Paul, “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)

There is one who embodies all of these. That one, for me, is Jesus Christ. So, I try to fill my mind with him. In the next few blogs I will share some of the ways that I do this. I hope you will join me.

As always, anything you find helpful that I have written, feel free to share it with others.

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



Silence and the Way of Taize

A few years ago, the University of Virginia conducted an experiment. Each participant was given a mild electric shock. They all said that they didn’t like it and would pay money never to experience it again.  Then each of them were put into rooms alone for up to 15 minutes with all distractions, e.g. cellphones, music access, reading material, removed. They did have a shock button. Within those 15 minutes, 66% of the males pushed the button and 25% of the females! I will let you wonder what that might say in terms of spirituality and gender. My point is that many people in the modern world seem allergic of silence. Silence, however, is important in all spiritual traditions.

I don’t remember when I first became aware of the Taize form of worship, but I have been a fan for many years. True confession though: I have never been to the French town of Taize where Brother Roger and his small band of Protestant brothers formed a religious community after World War II.

Taize worship emphasizes Scripture reading, silence, and simple choruses. Brother Roger was not a fan of long sermons! Many of the choruses come from passages of Scripture, mostly of the Gospels or the Psalms. Brother Roger emphasized singing a simple chorus multiple times in order for the song to move from the lips to the heart.

Apart from the music, the service revolves around Scripture reading and silence. The silence is, for many, an opportunity to meditate on the reading or perhaps to pray as the reading has moved you.

I have only found one church in Birmingham that has an occasional Taize service. The music was wonderful and the Scripture readings were meaningful. However, the periods of silence were hardly long enough to get settled. Perhaps they knew their congregation might have started looking for some shock buttons!

I encourage you, if you are not already familiar with Taize, to find some of its music and listen to it. It can be easily found on the Web and, if you are an oldie like me, you can buy some music cds. (I own ten!) Perhaps listening to and singing some of these choruses will put you in the mood to spend a few minutes of silence alone with your God.

Here is an example with Bless the Lord.  Sing along with it–let the words move from your lips to your heart.

Holy Reading

I am looking at practices that have helped me and countless others throughout history to make the divine spark within us glow more bright or, if you prefer, the divine image within us appear more clear. I am examining ways that have helped me to grow spiritually. We have considered the importance of silence and journaling as two such practices.

Today we look at the practice of Holy Reading. As you might expect, in the history of church it has a Latin name: lectio divina. Traditionally, it was a way to read scripture, but its steps can be applied to many different types of literature. It is reading for formation rather than information. The latter type of reading is important in many contexts, but it is not the focus of Holy Reading. In Holy Reading we are wanting to be formed more and more into the divine image.

Holy Reading has four steps.

The first step is to read. Traditionally the chosen passage is read twice–slowly. You are not reading the passage just to get to a check-off place, but to imbibe its spirit. Read it first, slowly. In the second reading, you may notice a word or phrase that attracts you. You can stop the reading there or continue to the end of the passage.

The second step is to meditate on that word or phrase. You don’t try to analyze it–that is the old desire for information creeping in. You chew on it. You turn it over in your mind. Perhaps you make a kind of mantra for it, reciting it silently or softly. As you do so, sometimes the phrase or word will change. That’s ok. Just go with it.

The third step is to pray. Begin to talk to God about whatever that word or phrase is leading you to. The prayer usually flows naturally from your meditation. You might say that the phrase has moved from your mind to your heart.

The final step is to contemplate. In this case, it simply means to rest in God’s presence after the prayer is finished. Some practitioners say that this is the goal–if we must have a goal–of Holy Reading.

Two other points. First, spiritual growth cannot be simply programmed. These four steps may not all happen each time or in the order I listed them. Sometimes, some of the steps will hardly be needed before one rests in God. I often use a truncated version of Holy Reading as I journal, i.e. I look for a word or phrase that attracts me, then I write about why it seems significant to me. Many times I will then write a short prayer.

Second, I believe that God is at work transforming us, so if a particular practice seems to fall flat on certain days or even over a longer period of time, don’t despair or give up. Let us be faithful to do our part and trust God to do the greater part.

My Most Valuable Practice

In writing about practices that have helped me grow spiritually, I began in the last post talking about the importance of silence. I would add one or two comments. Unless you live isolated from modern life, it is almost impossible to escape the roar of traffic or the sounds of neighbors. I have found a free app called Insight Timer that helps me block out most of that noise with quiet sounds like flowing rivers or tinkling bells. It also allows me to set the timer for 10 minutes (or more or less depending on my desire). If you think it might help you, give it a try.

Now on to practice #2. It is journaling. WAIT, don’t quit reading! I know that journaling may not help everyone, but it is the single most important practice that I do because it helps me with most of my other practices.

The value of a daily journal is at least three-fold. It helps us to know ourselves as we write about events in our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings. It can also help us to relate to God. I often find myself talking to God as I write. It also helps us to concentrate. More about that in a moment.

So, what do I write in my journal? I usually begin by writing some comments on my morning scripture reading. Knowing that I am going to write something, helps me to concentrate on the reading. I’m not just reading to check off a daily accomplishment. I am reading to find something meaningful for me in that moment. Journaling helps me to do that.

I also write about my life. Since most of my journaling is in the morning, I usually detail some of what happened the day before and what I plan for the coming day.

And I usually write some short one or two sentence prayers. Perhaps I will thank God for something that happened the day before or an insight I discover in scripture. Perhaps I will ask God to help me in general or specific ways as I reflect on scripture and my life. It’s sort of like sending a text message to God. (Sometimes, not often, I will write out a long prayer, usually of thanksgiving.)

I do a few other things from time to time, but these seem most important to me. I do not spend a lot of money on fancy journals. I often just buy a spiral bound note book.

I began journaling on December 16, 1977. I have written over 2000 pages, maybe closer to 3000. The goal is to write every day, but I don’t. In the past, I might miss several days in a row. Being retired, it is easier to write almost daily. The important thing to remember is that if you miss a week, don’t give up. Simply start up again on the day when you can.

If you are not already keeping a journal, I encourage you to give it a try in 2018.

(As always feel free share any of this with others you think might benefit. Thanks for reading!)

 

Silent Night, Holy Night

Last month I promised to share some practices that have been used to polish the divine image or fan the divine spark within us. My problem was where to start. Truthfully, I could begin with almost any of the practices, but the Season made the choice for me.

In the month of December the song Silent Night, Holy Night will be sung, played and listened to throughout America and indeed the world. So, I begin this series writing about silence as a spiritual practice.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” Psalm 62:5 This is one of several passages of scripture that affirm silence, often as a sign of trust.

The value of silence is at least two-fold. It helps us to slow down; to recollect ourselves. It seems especially important now in the hectic Christmas Season, but also in the heated political atmosphere that we breathe everyday.

It also helps us to listen–to listen to God, to others, and to our own inner self. The one who talks much, listens little.

As a spiritual practice, silence refers to sitting in God’s presence in silence. If you’ve not done it before, try doing it for just 10 minutes. If your mind begins to wander, recollect yourself with a short prayer like, “I trust in you”.

In the Christmas carol, holiness is born in silence. If we are faithful to practice times of silence perhaps the light within will begin to burn more brightly.

[As always, feel free to share my blogs with anyone you think may profit and encourage them to become followers along with you.]