The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden.
My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter.
For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by.
There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real.
A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different.
I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to.
But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard.
I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward.
I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction.
I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me.
In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past.
As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine.
I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.
Background: I suspect that the contents of this practice were inspired by James Finley’s understanding of Thomas Merton’s words, as expressed here.
This practice will ask you to relive a stressful experience. It is wise to begin to think about that now. Please practice discretion and self care as you select an event. There is no need to choose something to distressing.
And now, bring to mind the feeling in your body at times of stress and busyness.
And now, in your imagination, place yourself in a general sort of situation that might cause this feeling. A meeting at work. A difficult class. An unwanted confrontation. A procedure you would prefer to avoid. Furnish your imagination with sights, sounds, and smells.
And now! make it real. Place yourself in an actual event like this that you recently experienced it. Continue to use your senses. Linger on this experience if you can.
And now! see a toddler. The child is at play. But the child is serious about, it too. There are toys before the toddler. This child is holding them carefully, turning them over, feeling them, listening to the sounds they make. The child’s parents are sitting in a love seat. The smile of the child’s father is only in his eyes. His mother smiles with her lips though. The parents are adoring the child. Watch this scene for as long as you want.
And now! The toddler is you. And you are the toddler. All the things that felt so serious and important are the explorations the child was making into the world around themself.
The mother-father on the love seat is God. You can climb up there and sit between them, if you wish. They will help you climb up.
Background: This is a modified version of a practice which appears in Richard Rohr’s Just This.
Their is much of value in the first several steps of this practice. It might be that you are ready to work through to steps 9-11. However, don’t rush into it. It might take weeks, months, or even years. The first 8 steps are quite a powerful practice on their own.
Place your feet flat on the floor.
Rest in the Silence.
When you are ready, feel embraced by her. Let the Silence flow over you.
As sounds or distracting thoughts threaten to disrupt your practice, realize that the silence still exists, beneath the distractions. Look for the silence beneath these things which rise up. All that happens comes out of silence and will sink back into it.
Continue to be embraced by it.
At some point, you may just be ready to shift your vantage point. This step is the optional one: Shift the seat from which you see the world. It began in the head, with thinking. Feel this vantage point move down the physicality of your body. Let yourself reside in the heart, now. See the world from this place.
Continue to dwell in the silence and bring it in.
You will know that you are authentically occupying the heart space when you experience a clear vastness.
When you are ready, release this practice. Sit in a time of wordless wonder.
Background: Julian of Norwich is responsible for one of the most famous phrases in all of mysticism, “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” In her vision this is said by Jesus. He is responding to her distress. She states that if God had just stopped sin from happening, then “all should have been well.”
Jesus response is that sin is necessary. But it doesn’t matter. And that’s when he gave Julian the phrase which she then gave the world: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
It seems that the phrase has lots of resonance with those who do not know the wider context. It certainly appealed to me before I researched it. I like knowing the full story though, because it helps me to understand part of the appeal.
The Jesus of Julian’s vision uses her very own language. It is almost as if she says “Things were supposed to be good.” And that response is so very affirmative and over the top, that it puts it to shame. It is a little bit like the contrast between saying “he is risen.” and “he is risen indeed.” The second statement goes further than the first.
It seems like the appeal of this statement is in the promise that in the widest possible view, the outcome of everything will be so much better than we could have possibly hoped.
Place your feet flat on the floor.
Sit straight and comfortably.
With the next inhale, think “All shall be well.”
With the next exhale, think “And all shall be well.”
With the next inhale, think “And all manner of things shall be well.”
Repeat steps 5-8 for most of the time you have to devote to your practice today.
When you are ready, release these words and sit in a time of wordless union,
An Audio version of this practice is available below:
Background: Visualizations are journeys that begin with the words written by someone else. Often, these words are not much more than a setting. The most successful experiences I have had with visualizations are the times I accessed some child-like imagination and playfulness and allowed myself to go beyond where those written words would have taken me if I had just stuck with the script. Like most spiritual practices, it is wise to begin a visualization by reading through the entire description to get a big picture about what, specifically, is going to happen. After that first read through, I will then engage the practice.
After reading through the whole thing, I recommend rereading a few sentences, then picturing what they describe. Taking the suggestions about sensory input is a very important part of the process. Do not rush through experiencing the temperatures, textures, tastes, and sounds of these words. If your imagination takes you some where new, continue to ask yourself what it feels, smells, and sounds like where you are.
This visualization is written in a narrative format.
Today’s visualization is rooted in the fact that Jesus’ baptism occurred just before his time in the desert. Great journeys are often begun in a ritual such as this one. I hope that today’s visualization commemorates the beginning of your Lenten journey.
Find yourself sitting at a table on the shore of a beautiful lake. It is almost uncomfortably warm. But a gentle breeze comes in carrying dampness and cooling it to a nearly perfect temperature. The sky is so very blue. If you would like, loved ones are nearby. They do not have to be.
You get up and look to the stone staircase. This lead down and into the lake. Over and around these steps is an elaborate gate, a sort of trellis. Vines and flowers are woven into it. The grass is soft under your bare feet. You walk to the gate and open it.
The first several steps are above the water line. The stones are smooth, but much firmer than the grass. At the third step you find yourself ankle deep. The water is only a bit of a shock.
On the fourth step you look up to meet the gaze of a kind teacher. It might be someone you know. It could be Jesus. The person might not be alive now. And yet, they are here with you. The teacher smiles. You smile. You are knee deep, now, in the refreshing water.
When you are chest deep, you are next to the teacher. The teacher’s arms are firm. You trust them as you lean back and are, lowered all the way into the water. There is some fear. It is unnatural to be underwater, trusting in another. The teacher, of course, lifts you back up.
“This is my wonderful child. I am well pleased in them.” Where are those words coming from? You cannot be sure.
This strange lake does not get deeper than this. You are not meant to go back out the gate you came in, today. Walk across the lake. The teacher will come with you while you are in the water. He might speak to you. You might hear the words the teacher says.
This is the beginning of an adventure. You will return to this shore you set out from. But not today. Eventually you reach that far end of the lake. What waits for you there? Will the teacher come with you? Continue this visualization if you wish.
This practice originally appeared in our recent Email Exploration, “God Breathed.” It brings together the concepts in exercise 58 and in exercise 49
Background: There are two important realities to hold on to with today’s practice. Both of these have been explored in past emails.
The first is that God breathes in us, just as portrayed in the book of Genesis. This act of breathe-in-us is in fact what makes us human; perhaps it is how we get the image of God in us in the first place.
The second is that each and every breath is wholly unique. It never was, and never will be.
One of the implications of these two facts considered together is that it is not only each of our own breaths which can be said to be unique. Each breath from God is a wholly unique experience.
The Practice: 1. Release your worries and concerns. Note your breath. 2. Become present to this very breath with your inhale. 3. Become present to this very breath with your exhale. 4. Note the feeling of the breath as it comes in. 5. Note the feeling of the breath as it goes out. 6. With the next inhale, note that this experience, this particular breath is different than all the breaths that ever came before. 7. With the next exhale, note that this experience, this particular breath, is different than all the breaths that will ever come after. 8. Continue this pattern. Be present to this breath, here and now. Note that the specific sensations are different than the last breath or the next one. 9. Notice that the ‘you’ who is breathing this particular breath is in some tiny way different than the ‘you’ who breathed that last breath. 10. Notice that the ‘you’ who is breathing this particular breath is different than the you who will breathe that next breath. 11. When you are ready, bring to mind the reality that God is breathing this breath into you. 12. Bring to mind the reality that you are breathing this breath into God. 13. With your next inhale, receive a breath from God that is different than all the breaths God has ever breathed into anyone. 14. With your next exhale, breathe a breath into God that is different than all the breaths anyone will ever breathe into God. 15. With your next inhale, as you receive a breath from God, note that the wholly unique character of this very inhalation is a direct result of the interplay between God’s breath and yours. 16. With your next exhale, as you breathe out a breath to God, be aware that the wholly unique character of the interplay between you and God. 17. Continue this pattern until it is time to release it. Then, spend some time in wordless union.
This practice original appeared in our Email Exploration, God Breathed.
Background: Recall that one way of understanding the “name” which is sometimes rendered as Yahweh is to see that these letters were meant to resemble the breath. That is, God’s name is not a series of sounds like any other name. God’s name is something quite different; it is the act of breathing itself. For more information and a practice that focuses only on this idea, click here.
At the same time, God is said to have scooped up a handful of earth. God breathed into it, and then it was a human being. We can experience God’s ongoing breath as in us as an act of ongoing creation. We can live in this reality that with each of our inhalations, God is breathing into us. With each of our exhalations, God is recieving our breath. For more information on this practice and a practice which focuses only on this idea, click here.
The Exercise 1. Take a deep breath in. 2. Exhale. 3. Release your expectations and worries as you take 2 more deep breaths in and out. 4. As you inhale, experience this as the first half of God’s name, 5. As you exhale, experience this as the second half of God’s name. 6. Repeat steps four and five for a few minutes. 7. As you inhale, feel God breathing life into you. 8. As you exhale, feel your breath going out into God’s lungs. 9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for a few minutes. 10. Now, bring these two practices together: inhale. Receive that breath from God, even knowing that this is the first half of God’s truest name. 11. Exhale: breathing out a breath received by God. This receipt is the second half of God’s name. 12. Continue steps 10 and 11 for most of the time remaining that you had reserved for this practice. 13. When you are ready, release your images and experiences. Sit in a time of wordless union.
If you would like to try a practice which combines this one with an awareness of this present moment being the only one we have, this present breath being the only breath we ever breathe, click here.
Background: Much of my spiritual growth over these last few years has been around opening my mind to the reality of the divine feminine. I suppose it was one of those, “When-the-student-is ready,-the-teacher-appears” things, that Phileena Heuertz’s Mindful Silence was so impactful to me. In particular, she talks about a period in her life that she found it helpful to see herself as within God’s womb.
If you had asked me about being in God’s womb even a year before that, I would have found some made up reason to be uncomfortable with it. The reality is that I had not truly made peace with the fact that both men and women are made in God’s image.
The exercise below was inspired by Ms. Heuertz’s experiences as portrayed in that book. If you are going to read only one book about the contemplative path, it should be that one. If you are going to read more than one book about the contemplative path, you ought to think about picking up one of mine. 🙂
On the subject, this exercise will appear in the soon-to-be-released Contemplating Lent. Stay tuned for more details.
Close your eyes. Sit in a comfortable position.
Take 3 deep breaths. Try to fully empty your lungs with the exhales and fully inflate your lungs with the inhales.
Imagine yourself dwelling in the womb of God. It is a place that is safe, comfortable, and warm.
Feel all your needs for food and oxygen being met through a cord that reaches into your body through your navel. Know that you are protected in this place.
Continue those deep breaths. Luxuriate in the way you are being nourished and prepared for what is next.
Take all the time that you need.
God is within you. Know that this is true. Take a deep breath.
Live in the paradox that even as you are in God, God is in you.
God may be small, now. But a divine spark is within. See this spark as a child in a womb.
Know that you are nourishing this God-spark. It is growing strong and healthy in the dark mystery within you.
As you continue to breathe deeply, and hold to the image that you are in God’s womb, cultivate this idea that God is also in your womb.
Sit in this comfortable paradox, this warm, nourishing safe reality for as long as you need, today.