Tag Archives: Contemplation

Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton (a Book Review)

Merton provided words for what I was experiencing and what I wanted to nurture in the life of prayer. More than devotional stick-to-it-ive-ness, I felt and wanted to continue to feel drawn to simply be with God.

But, while my heart desired more than accountability or discipline, I’ve also known by experience that, for me, the sense of being aware of God’s presence often occurs within the frame of my disciplined life. When I am making space, clearing time, attentiveness to the God who is always present occurs more freely. The opposite happens when I slip out of disciplined rhythms or Continue reading

The Bleak Winter Sun

The bleak winter sun
fights to display its light, its warmth
fighting through a soft layer of
middle-gray clouds.

They, like a mouse nest blanket
try to warm the earth,
taking the sun’s role
(a prideful move).

I watch down here,
down on this windy earth
and
experience the duvet of pride.

[This same rat's nest clogs my soul.]

I yell within,
“Move out of the way!”
(Repent!)
…nothing changes.

I measure:
Spring will come,
spring will come.
Things will be

made right, made new.

The old turns to the new; we fall but upward.

It is through struggle and question that we’re grown; it is God’s presence in the wrestling that we find as our greatest consolation.

This gift is only discovered when the old desire to win, to stand out, or make a name for ourselves fades away. The old turns to the new; we fall but upward.

The early desires are a part of the human experience, a natural lean. They’re the foundational, security building hierarchy of needs sorts of things; we’ll scratch and dig all night for them.

But then the dawn comes and we realize that getting to the gold of China is futile with our fingernails, so we sit up, look across the rim of the hole we’re in, and see the first rays of the Morning Sun.

We pause and watch. This moment has a restful, simple eternal feel to it.

With each inclining degree of light, our questions and our strivings shift. Personal security and personal name no longer preoccupy; instead, we feel a simple warmth to pour into the lives of others, and a freedom to fade, as the sun will also do later in the day, across the western horizon. There to go, there to go.

It’s this awakening of time that Rohr is speaks about, this coming to, or being awakened, to a life that has questions and pursuits (these have been worked at for years). Answers have come but then their paradox follows; a volley like this bats across the years.

More than a question is suffering and struggle. As we carry the scars that come along in our time, our demand for answers fades, replaced by the soul’s desire to just be with God who becomes our consolation more than any gift he could send. It is God alone we come to desire; it is God alone we desire to share.

 

[Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr (Book Reaction)]

 

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton [Book Reaction]

What did I hope to discover when I opened New Seeds of Contemplation? – I hoped to hear a word of wisdom, something from Merton that was infused in his walk, that might inform my own.

The most affective quote from the book:

When humility delivers a man from attachment to his own works and his own reputation, he discovers that perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own deeds and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to serve God in perfection for his own sake alone. (58)

This thought and action is at the heart of everything else Merton wrote in New Seeds; everything else was a step in practicing self-forgetfulness. Not self-debasement or self-destruction, but a revelation that your true self can only be discovered when you lay aside your ego (or rather, the Spirit of God cultivates a new, living life in its place).

This letting go of your ego, your agenda, and the agenda of the current time and culture (e.g. things that clash with Jesus) is the heart and soul of spiritual formation, or as Merton phrases it: Contemplation – life lived in uninhibited union with God, his will in us, for us, and breathed out in our motions.

In order to “get there,” Merton provides a strong point:

“Everyone of us forms an idea of Christ that is limited and incomplete. It is cut according to our own measure. We tend to create for ourselves a Christ in our own image, a projection of our own aspirations, desires and ideals. We find in him but we want to find. We make him not only the incarnation of God but also the incarnation of the things we and our society and our part of society happen to live for.

Therefore, although it is true that perfection consists imitating Christ and reproducing him in our own lives, it is not enough merely to imitate the Christ we have in our imaginations.

We read the Gospels not merely to get a picture or an idea of Christ but to enter in and pass through the words of revelation to establish, by faith, the vital contact with the Christ who dwells in our souls as God.” (156)

This is life. This is “contemplation.” The Gospels and the things in our lives that cause remembrance of Jesus are the seeds of this new life. We must learn the art of cultivation.

What is, “Competence in Spiritual Theology?” (inf. by Thomas Merton)

I’m reading *Thomas Merton: Twentieth Century Wisdom for Twenty-First Century Living* by Paul Dekar this morning. The phrase, “competence in spiritual theology,” just came up (p.38). I’m pausing to explore how I would define competence in spiritual theology.

Often, competence sounds like the master of many elements and the ability to merge them together into one practice (like a doctor’s ability to know many cures). In spiritual theology, the adverse seems true: competence in spirituality is the mastery of one necessary thing (Luke 10) in order to enter into the many elements of life with the single necessity at the front of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Simply put: competence in the spiritual life is the capacity for a free flowing love of God expressed in prayer and work (or interaction with others and creation). Competence comes as being set free from the rule of anxiety, judgement of others, empty speaking, and other expressions of dead-living.

How do you nurture competence in spiritual theology?

Nurturing true life will always start with Jesus. Our first step in nurturing is to know Jesus; to live, we pursue the person of Jesus as the Gospels introduce him.

The slow introduction to Jesus will find us receiving an invitation to, “Come and follow.” Through obedience (the life lived by grace through faith in the person and works of Jesus), we will find ourselves entering the practice of willing (or seeing) only one necessary thing, which is the true reign and presence of our loving Father who intends to make all things new.

This awakening, which is nurtured only when we’re walking with Jesus and in the likeness of Jesus, will reveal to us our degree of “competence,” or rather, the degree that we truly are awake to the presence and reign of God in the present moment.

Notes on the Zoo Trip with Jude’s Preschool

The hallway of Jude’s school was filled with Jude’s friends excitedly telling me their names. “I’m Jude’s daddy,” I’d say before we’d talk about the animals they were excited to see. (Most of them wanted to see an armadillo, which I don’t believe the zoo has on purpose.)

Carmella, Arturo’s mom, was at the school when Jude and I arrived; she was holding Selena and later asked me to keep an eye on Arturo during the trip. I say I will. She walks over to Arturo and he gives his mother and baby sister a kiss.

The bus ride:
Jude was nervous and teared up when I didn’t get on the bus with him right away; he had his heart set on us riding together. His emotion is free flowing, and that’s a gift, though I hope it doesn’t cause him pain later.

Jude and I eventually sit together and smile at one another as I hold his hand.

The zoo is packed with preschool students and families. Our group, led by Jude’s teachers Karen, Julie, and Debbie, sticks close together as we adventure toward “Africa.” We had our hearts set on the lions who were sleeping on rocks when we got there. As they say, the journey is made by walking.

Arturo enjoyed climbing on top of things and saying, “Uude, come here! A picture,” as I got my phone ready to snap. The peace sign is a favorite of Arturo’s.

I ended up as the pack leader, occasionally talking with Essence’s mother who pushed Essence in a stroller and Leo’s mother who pushed him in a stroller too. Essence and Leo (pronounced “Ley-Oh”) are the ones slated to inherit the earth in Jude’s class.

Essence is a beautiful, smiley African American girl who loves it when her class friends come make her smile (a favorite activity of Jude). Essence can walk, sort of, but her little walk, though confident, is unstable; she nonchalantly misses chairs and plops on the ground with the quick, recoiled determination to make that chair work for her.

Leo is a young Latino boy whom Jude has befriended since the start of the school year. Leo smiles a beautiful smile and warms our hearts when he talks with two sticks he holds in his hands; he sings that way too. He moves his sticks around and waves them and the people who know him know exactly what he means. I just marvel and smile.

We traveled a fast pace to and from Africa; the little legs of our troop were too excited with each new animal to notice how tired they were until they relaxed on the bus later.

Lunch time was a big favorite for the kids. I helped open bags of carrots and milk cartons. When the kids started letting plastic bags float in the wind, I ran to catch them. They discovered this could make a fun game; I could tell that in their giggles, yet I was spared the game by God’s grace; the kids just stopped letting their bags float away.

One mother and father noticed I didn’t bring a lunch. Knowing little English, she motioned to me when I wandered close their way. She pointed at a bread sack and said, “You?”

“Me?” I asked.

She pointed the bag’s opening my way and I reached in, not really sure what I was going to pull out, but soon discovering there were a bunch of sandwiches in there wrapped in napkins. They were stacked back in the bag like bread you buy from the store.

“Thanks!” I said with a smile as she opened a cooler with Orange Crush. I nodded at her husband to say thanks to him too.

This was my first sandwich with ham, jalapeño, avocado, and tomato, plus a white substance that I couldn’t tell what it was; it was round like a piece of provolone cheese but crumbly like feta. I had never had it before. The jalapeños were a hidden surprise in the sandwich that helped me appreciate the gift of the Orange Crush.

We wandered to the busses after a little more exploring after lunch. The kids were getting tired and the teachers were feeling the kid’s lowered energy. I was glad my only charge was to watch after Jude and Arturo (a request I made of Karen on Carmella’s hinted request that morning).

The kids talked about wishing they’d seen an armadillo at the zoo as we drove home. Giraffes and the hippo were nice though too.

Why wouldn’t I want my family to be in a school where you can see resurrection happen every day? Resurrection life truly comes as a constant surprise, an unexpected gift, like springtime leaves that come from nowhere.