Friday, March 26, 2010

Faith alone...

Faith alone can give us the light to see that God's will is to be found in our everyday life. Without this light, we cannot see to make the right decisions.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, p. 38
We are all bound to seek not only our own good, but the good of others. Divine providence brings us in contact, whether directly or indirectly, with those in whose lives we are to play a part as instruments of salvation.

Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness, Image Books, 1963, p. 40

I'm sorry to have been so out of touch recently. Difficult personal circumstances, involving among other things regular visits to a friend in hospital, have conspired to keep me distracted and unable to focus on writing on the scattered occasions when I have been able to sit down at the keyboard. But I haven't forgotten this blog, nor have I forgotten that this Lent is drawing down through Passiontide towards Good Friday.

Meanwhile, I thought I'd just post these snippets from Thomas Merton, which seem to sum up the things God has been showing me this last week or so...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Something Different…

an unedited repost from inward/outward

How are you doing at this point in your Lenten journey?

I don’t mean, have you successfully stayed away from candy or caffeine or cigarettes, or whatever you “gave up for Jesus” this year. I don’t mean, have you prayed, rested, or helped others more; or worried, complained, or bought stuff less.  I just mean, I wonder how you’re doing, feeling, being as we turn the corner to the week that leads up to the week that leads up to Easter.

Is excitement or dread becoming more predominant? Is there increasingly space in you for “a song every day, a song every day” (to quote Abraham Joshua Heschel from yesterday’s entry)? Are you feeling bold and proud to be among Jesus’ friends, eager to see what happens, or are you already shrinking away into the crowd a bit? Are you glad to be taken again on this adventure of faith or ready to have a different adventure? There are no right answers; I’m just wondering how it is for you.

At this point on the path that is inevitably winding its way to a cross, I find myself wishing that something different might (please, please, please) happen this year. I don’t want to watch him go through it all again. I don’t want to try to go through it with him.

I’m so bad at it, this part of the story. All these slow hours leading up to the hours that lead up to his death. Another execution, like that isn’t our answer for everything we don’t know what else to do with. And do any of us know what to do with Jesus, really?

What do we do with undeserved, lavish, scandalous love? Generally, we condemn it. We refuse it entry. Or we turn it into a revered treasure that gets hung on the walls of our inner and outer sanctuaries, but isn’t allowed to change our lives. In some immature way or another, we kill it.

The days now grow stumbly and slow ... and yet go all too fast. Will my failures and disappointments and good-intentions-but-ultimately-refusals to love go to my grave with me? If I could really let them die this time, might they become catalysts of resurrection?

Will anything be different this year, Jesus? Will I?

Kayla McClurg facilitates inward/outward and other points of connection for The Church of the Saviour.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Heroically faithful?

What matters in the contemplative life is not for you or your Director to be always infallibly right, but for you to be heroically faithful to grace and to love. If God calls you to Him, then He implicitly promises you all the graces you need to reach Him. You must be blindly faithful to this promise.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions, 1961, p. 244

This seems very close to the lesson God is trying to teach me this Lent. Nothing else, it seems, will do. What we have here seems to be very close to Jesus’ own journey to the Cross. Only his faithfulness, only his preparedness to go, despite the dreadful awareness of the consequences he showed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 6.36ff; Luke 22.39ff) as far as his Father called him to, trusting only in the bare knowledge of his Father’s love, allowed the Cross to bring to us, to all creation, the healing grace that will make all things new. Merton is right: it is a heroic faithfulness to which we are called if we are to take up our own cross and follow him. God grant us the courage to trust that the grace is there, will always be there, to bring us through…

Sunday, March 14, 2010


O Lord, this holy season of Lent is passing quickly. I entered into it with fear, but also with great expectations. I hoped for a great breakthrough, a powerful conversion, a real change of heart; I wanted Easter to be a day so full of light that not even a trace of darkness would be left in my soul. But I know that you do not come to your people with thunder and lightning. Even St. Paul and St. Francis journeyed through much darkness before they could see your light. Let me be thankful for your gentle way. I know you are at work. I know you will not leave me alone. I know you are quickening me for Easter—but in a way fitting to my own history and my own temperament.

I pray that these last three weeks, in which you invite me to enter more fully into the mystery of your passion, will bring me a greater desire to follow you on the way that you create for me and to accept the cross that you give to me. Let me die to the desire to choose my own way and select my own desire. You do not want to make me a hero but a servant who loves you.

Be with me tomorrow and in the days to come, and let me experience your gentle presence. Amen.

Henri J.M. Nouwen, A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee, Doubleday

I don’t know that I had as beautiful a purpose as Nouwen had in mind for this Lent, but certainly I had a purpose. I felt that this Lent would be somehow crucial, yet I misunderstood, partly at least, that word “crucial”. Like most people of my time, I had thought of crucial as “important or essential as resolving a crisis” (Merriam-Webster) first, and, even as a Franciscan with some shreds of school Latin left, only secondly as relating to the way of the Cross.

I was wrong. God has chosen this Lent to show me even more clearly my own poverty, my own powerlessness—my own desperate need for hiddenness and silence—by taking me a way that is a million miles from the clarity and decisiveness of that dictionary definition. This is a way of darkness very like, in some ways, Paul’s and Francis’. It most certainly involves dying “to the desire to choose my own way and select my own desire.” It even involves dying to the desire to select my own terms of surrender.

A couple of years ago I wrote a post entitled Of God and Cows, which might be worth clicking over and re-reading. In it, I pointed out that the only way effectively and kindly to care for cows was to earn their trust. The only way through times like this is to trust God, to trust blindly, in fact—something which goes against everything a Western man (or woman, but perhaps especially man) has been brought up to believe, and against which every fibre of my being wants to scream. But it is the only way. As CS Lewis once wrote:

If human life is in fact ordered by a beneficent being whose knowledge of our real needs and of the way in which they can be satisfied infinitely exceeds our own, we must expect a priori that His operations will often appear to us far from being beneficent and far from wise...

You are no longer faced with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence... the assent, of necessity, moves us from the logic of speculative thought into what might perhaps be called the logic of personal relations.

CS Lewis, The World's Last Night and Other Essays, Mariner Books

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Use of Prayer…

What is the use of prayer if at the very moment of prayer, we have so little confidence in God that we are busy planning our own kind of answer to our prayer?

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, p. 24

Listening in the spiritual life is much more than a psychological strategy to help others discover themselves. In the spiritual life the listener is not the ego, which would like to speak but is trained to restrain itself, but the Spirit of God within us. When we are baptised in the Spirit—that is, when we have received the Spirit of Jesus as the breath of God breathing within us—that Spirit creates in us a sacred space where the other can be received and listened to. The Spirit of Jesus prays in us and listens in us to all who come to us with their sufferings and pains.

When we dare to fully trust in the power of God’s Spirit listening in us, we will see true healing occur.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8.24b-27)

The hole in our soul…

Do you realize with what difficulty surrender will come to a fixing, managing mentality?  There’s nothing in that psyche prepared to understand the spiritual wisdom of surrender.  All of the great world religions teach surrender.  Yet most of us, until we go through “the hole in our soul” don't think surrender is really necessary.  At least that’s how it is for those of us in First World countries.  The poor, on the other hand, seem to understand limitation at a very early age. They cannot avoid or deny the hole in their soul.

The developing world faces its limitation through a breakdown in the social-economic system.  But we, in the so-called developed world, have to face our limitations, it seems, on the inside.  That’s our liberation theology.  We must recognize our own poor man, our own abused woman, the oppressed part of ourselves that we hate, that we deny, that we’re afraid of.  That’s the hole in our soul.  It’s the way through, maybe the only way, says the crucified Jesus.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 66, day 71

Oh, this is hard. It’s the hardest thing I know to face my own broken, beaten self, the part that actually has followed his Lord this far on the via Crucis, and has the wounds to show for it. But I know that for me at least it is the only way, and all my attempts to evade it, and everyone else’s well-meaning efforts to help me evade it, are no use at all.

Why is it so hard for us simply to accept what our dear brother Paul has long since taught us, that “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me…” (Galatians 4.19b-20) and “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3.3) These are not pious platitudes—they are Christ’s absolute truth, bloody, broken, glorious. Only in that death will we live forever; only in that defeat will we triumph…

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Beginning of Blessedness…

The dark night is not an abstract notion on some list of spiritual experiences every seeker is supposed to have. The dark night descends on a soul only when everything else has failed. When you are no longer the best meditator in the class because your meditation produces absolutely nothing. When prayer evaporates on your tongue and you have nothing left to say to God. When you are not even tempted to return to a life of worldly pleasure because the world has proven empty and yet taking another step through the void of the spiritual life feels futile because you are no good at it and it seems that God has given up on you, anyway.

This, says John, is the beginning of blessedness. This is the choiceless choice when the soul can do nothing but surrender.

(Source: Dark Night of the Soul: St. John of the Cross)

Mirabai Starr, with thanks to inward/outward

This fits closely, it seems to me, with my post on Monday. There is so much we do not understand, cannot understand, of God’s ways with man and time. We simply do not have the senses required to perceive it—we might as well try and see ELF radiation with the naked eye. All we can perceive are the effects God has on the heart of man—ultimately I think, what we know as the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23).

All our prayer is to be prayed in the dark, then; all the light we know is the light of Christ, and that the patch directly before our feet, the next step (Psalm 119.105)

Don’t think, though, that all this is something esoteric, reserved for the special people, the chosen ones. All it is is love. David had it right:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
   my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
   too great and too marvellous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
   like a weaned child with its mother;
   my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

(Psalm 131)

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

Trust the Stream

“There is a river, whose streams gladden the city of God...” (Psalm 46:4).

The stream flowing through our lives is from eternity to eternity. It is artesian. It is totally adequate. Everything we need is borne by that stream. Its origin is the realm beyond, and it carries infinite resources. In this space-time realm, conditioned as we are, the stream can seem to be a trickle. It seems puny against the drugs we’re battling, against the divisions among us or the power of greed that fuels our economy.

When we’re up against all the world’s needs and lacks—the way we perceive life—the stream seems inadequate. But in fact, it is a powerful, surging, cleansing tide that purifies all it touches. It is a grace torrent. It flows irrespective of merit. It carries everything that a human being has ever needed—and could ever want. Whatever we need will flow by at just the opportune moment. Our problem is that we’re not attuned to the stream. We don’t see it. We’re not even looking in the river’s direction.

But when we wait in expectancy, looking at the stream and then recognizing what we need as it floats by, we simply reach out and take the gift. It’s an effortless way of living. Usually we’re not attuned to effortlessness. We’re too busy striving. We’re holding forth and carrying on and trying to reach our goals. The wisdom of the stream is the opposite of this. What I’m talking about is moving from a conceptual awareness of God’s care—the idea of God’s providence—to trusting the flow of that stream that carries everything we need and will bring it at just the opportune moment…

Jesus found it difficult to understand his disciples’ anxiety. He was so in the river, he was so aware that the stream carried everything that was needed, that he couldn’t understand why others were having so much trouble with the idea. What he says is to set our minds on God’s realm, God’s justice, before everything else. Everything else will be given by the stream. This is different from achievement and different from making things happen. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, Jesus says. You’ll have plenty to think about when tomorrow comes. Now the stream is flowing.

Once we get accustomed to noticing the stream, and we spend more time near the stream, taking from it what is being given, there comes another step: actually getting into the water and resting in its flow. Even when the flow is a torrent, we know we are safe. We trust the flow. We become non-resistant. We become receptive. We trust the power of the divine presence, which longs to take our one little life to its divine destination. Even if we’re in deep water, we trust the flow and are not afraid. We simply wait in expectancy to round the next bend, looking in wonder at the view. Always a new view. Effortlessness, expectancy and wonder are how we live, rather than striving.

Faith, in the biblical sense, is trusting the flow and revelling in the view and being carried beyond all existing boundaries. Faith is being excited about the final destination, even when the destination is mystery. When Jesus says, “Believe in God, believe also in me,” he is saying, “Get into the stream with us. It’s a stream of pure grace and mercy. Go into its depths and find us there.”

(N. Gordon Cosby, reposted complete from inward/outward)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Just like the Cross…

When I was young, I wanted to suffer for God. I pictured myself being the great and glorious martyr. There's something so romantic about laying down your life. I guess every young person might see themselves that way, but now I know it is mostly ego.  There is nothing glorious about any actual moment of suffering—when you're in the middle of it. You swear it's meaningless. You swear it has nothing to do with goodness or holiness or God.

The very essence of any experience of trial is that you want to get out. A lack of purpose, of meaning—is the precise suffering of suffering! When you find a pattern in your suffering, a direction, you can accept it and go with it. The great suffering, the suffering of Jesus, is when that pattern is not immediately given.  The soul can live without success, but it cannot live without meaning.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 86, day 94

I can so witness to the truth of Rohr’s words here. The experience of meaninglessness, the sense that almost any circumstances than the present ones would be more godly, more formative, more obviously holy to oneself and to the world, is overwhelming. Nothing, it seems, could be farther from the tragic dignity of suffering for the sake of one’s faith. The present circumstances are just a mess, bloody and tangled and degrading, “nothing to do with goodness or holiness or God.” Just like the Cross, really, when you think about it…

Friday, March 05, 2010

Odd metrics…

Well, that’s sort of comforting, I suppose…

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?

(Hat-tip to Sue, who scored 33.3%…)

Stop counting…

The most important, the most real, and lasting work of the Christian is accomplished in the depths of his own soul. It cannot be seen by anyone, even by himself. It is known only to God. The work is not so much a matter of fidelity to visible and general standards, as of faith: the interior, anguished, almost desperately solitary act by which we affirm our total subjection to God by grasping his word...

Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness, Image Books, 1963, p. 56.

It’s as if what is unbreakable—the very pulse of life—waits for everything else to be torn away, and then in the bareness that only silence and suffering and great love can expose, it dares to speak through us and to us. It seems to say, if you want to last, hold on to nothing. If you want to know love, let in everything. If you want to feel the presence of everything, stop counting the things that break along the way.

Mark Nepo, with thanks to Inward/Outward—source:

Hiddenness, even from oneself. Is that what it comes down to? The Spirit’s work in the depths beyond the reach of self-knowledge, analysis. “And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8.27) To lose everything, even one’s own sense of what is going on in one’s own heart, to consciously allow the tearing away of all that is not God—surely that is the furthest reach of faith, beyond which is no-thing but God.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Grace upon grace…

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8.28)

St. Paul says here that God both initiates and cooperates in all human growth.  All we can offer is the good will of love.  God “works together with” us, which means both our workings are crucial.  We are real partners. Every moment, God is trying to expand our freedom to love.  Can you imagine that?

God is forever trying to make our choices more alive, more vital, more clear, more true. So much so, that God even uses our mistakes and our sins in that one providential direction. Nothing at all is wasted, nothing!  If that’s not the providence of God, what else would be “providential”?

God seems to be working for our wholeness, for our liberation, for our integrity probably more than we are.  At least that is what the saints always say.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations, p. 187, day 200

For more than 20 years now I’ve found this passage to be one of the most comforting, most heart-warming verses in the entire Bible. I don’t know that I can really add much to Rohr's words here, except that reading them in the CAC Daily Meditation has made my day!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

How much God loves us…

God made a covenant with us. The word covenant means “coming together.” God wants to come together with us. In many of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we see that God appears as a God who defends us against our enemies, protects us against dangers, and guides us to freedom. God is God-for-us. When Jesus comes a new dimension of the covenant is revealed. In Jesus, God is born, grows to maturity, lives, suffers, and dies as we do. God is God-with-us. Finally, when Jesus leaves he promises the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit, God reveals the full depth of the covenant. God wants to be as close to us as our breath. God wants to breathe in us, so that all we say, think and do is completely inspired by God. God is God-within-us. Thus God’s covenant reveals to us to how much God loves us.

Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey

I’ve been thinking about God’s love for us this Lent. I remember my disappointment when I first discovered that the word “Lent” comes merely from the Middle English lenten, lengthen. I wanted it to have some meaning that conveyed more of the sense I had of Lent as a time between, a waiting time. A time when the usual preoccupations are placed in abeyance—for that is what fasting is—in order that we can see clearly the way of the Cross, the way we all must walk if we follow our Saviour.

Nouwen’s words here, the movement from God-for-us, through God-with-us to God-within-us, describe somehow our own journey on the path of faith. Well, mine at least. It is not till we realise that, in some way we cannot yet understand, the universe is in the hand of one whose love for us, whose will to our good, is beyond any love we have ever known, that we can understand why Christ would be born, fragile flesh out of fragile flesh, to walk among us, Emmanuel, God-with-us, touchable, woundable, able to be killed. It is not till we have seen his love, known his smile, the warmth of his hand lifting us, his voice saying, “Do not be afraid…” that we can begin to understand the Cross. And it is only as we stand with his mother beneath that cross that we can see what resurrection means, how far he had to rise that blessed morning that he met the other Mary in the half-light and asked the reason for her tears. Unless they are our tears too, we cannot know what Jesus meant when he said that we will know his Spirit, because he will be in us. (John 14.15-17) Only as we weep now for all the world’s loss and pain can the risen Christ dwell in us (John 17.23), for his hands are wounded still, and his side pierced. His glory, his victory, carry his woundedness beyond death to everlasting life—and so shall we be ourselves (John 17.22,24)—for he is forever the Lamb who was slain, yet lives, and his death has brought us life that will outlast the stars (Romans 5.10).