April 25, 2010

Peace in Silence

Words! Words! Words! I'm so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
Don't talk of stars Burning above; If you're in love,
Show me! Tell me no dreams
Filled with desire. If you're on fire,
Show me! Here we are together in the middle of the night!
Don't talk of spring! Just hold me tight!
Anyone who's ever been in love'll tell you that
This is no time for a chat! Haven't your lips
Longed for my touch? Don't say how much,
Show me! Show me! Don't talk of love lasting through time.
Make me no undying vow. Show me now!
Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme!
Don't waste my time, Show me!
Don't talk of June, Don't talk of fall!
Don't talk at all! Show me!
Never do I ever want to hear another word.
There isn't one I haven't heard.
Here we are together in what ought to be a dream;
Day one more word and I'll scream!
Haven't your arms Hungered for mine?
Please don't "expl'ine," Show me! Show me!
Don't wait until wrinkles and lines
Pop out all over my brow,
Show me now!

These words are from the musical My Fair Lady. Eliza Doolittle is singing to Freddy. Having spent hours and weeks and months being schooled in 'proper' English, she is understandably frustrated when Freddy continues to protest his love verbally, without any action.

Nouwen makes a similar observation about our world. “Words…form the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of our existence…Recently I was driving through Los Angeles, and suddenly I had the strange sensation of driving through a huge dictionary.” Words can inform, but they can also separate us because we start to tune out the noise around us, even if it is someone we care about who is talking.

I wonder what the Desert Fathers, who Nouwen suggests we look at in The Way of the Heart, would have thought of Twitter and texting and all the other ways we report on our minute by minute thoughts and events. The Desert Fathers went away into the desert to be quiet and be with God. Why is silence important to us 1500 years later? Nouwen offers a three-fold answer. Silence makes us pilgrims. Silence guards the fire within. Silence teaches us to speak.

A pilgrimage is a silent journey. It can be inward—seeking enlightenment or a real journey to a holy destination. To be on a true pilgrimage, as opposed to a trip, is to be silent so God can speak. “Speaking gets us involved in the affairs of the world,” says Nouwen. A pilgrimage into silence takes us out of the world.

Once we are on a silent, listening pilgrimage we discover the second important aspect of silence. It “is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive.” Nouwen warns that too much talking and ‘sharing’ can become “more compulsive than virtuous…something precious has been taken away from us.” When we “faithfully care for the inward fire…when it is really needed it can offer warmth and light to lost travelers.”

In silence we may just find that peace which the world cannot give. Jesus promises, “But the Advocate,the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:26-27) The inner fire of the Spirit is a gift from our Lord, to be nurtured in and by silence.

Paradoxically, by learning to be silent and to guard the inner fire of the Spirit, we can learn to speak Truth, healing, restoration, and communion. Nouwen reminds us, “Out of his eternal silence God spoke the Word, and through this Word created and recreated the world.” Learning to abide in God’s silence teaches us, however imperfectly, to speak and participate “in the creative and re-creative power of God’s own Word.” Perhaps, like Eliza Doolittle God wishes we would use less words and more responsive action...??

What is silence? How can it be found? In our wordy world these are valid questions. Silence can be a bit intimidating or even frightening. To be alone with our thoughts might reveal something we don’t want to know. We might hear a call from God that will transform us. Like this snow storm sweeping down across the desert, it can threaten to overwhelm us, because we are so used to being around words--spoken, written, texted, Facebooked, TV, etc.

The letter to the Philippians advises, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil.4:6-7)

This week try to use some of your time with God to be simply silent. If you, like me, are walking, don’t take along an i-pod, just walk and enjoy the sounds of nature and offer thanksgiving to the Creator of all. If you are just taking time out during the day to spend time with God, you might sit outside or in a quiet room where there are no distractions. 

Sometimes it helps to find a verse or short prayer to repeat as an aid in shutting out the outer noises (and inner ones). I often use the Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Another sentence I use is from psalms; “Be still and know that I Am God.” Breathe in on part of the sentence and out on the second half until you are less and less aware of the things around you.

Next week we will explore more of Silence, esp. the Joy of the Lord that can be found in being still in God’s presence.

April 18, 2010

Where there is God, There is No Need

Our first step toward a Way of the Heart is in finding solitude. According to Nouwen, “ministry and spirituality touch each other…is compassion. Compassion is the fruit of solitude and the basis of ministry.” Solitude frees us to stop judging and “become free to be compassionate.” He adds, “solitude molds self-righteous people into gentle, caring, forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own great sinfulness and so fully aware of God’s even greater mercy that their life itself becomes ministry.”

So what is solitude. The first thing that comes to my mind is being alone with nothing and no one around—out in the desert perhaps. And according to Nouwen that is where we need to end up—with getting away from everything to: “A nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something…The task is to persevere in my solitude,” a struggle that is “far, far beyond our own strength.”

However, we are not all monastics, and there are gradual steps toward solitude that will be as individual as each one of us. It starts with setting “apart a time and place to be with God and him alone.”

Jesus told his disciples, and us, “Come away to a quiet place and pray.” I think that the song “The Call” by Celtic Woman (click the link to hear it) embodies the whisper in each of our souls that urges us to come away and be with God. Listen to the voice inside that says:

“Open your heart
I am calling you
Right from the very start
Your wounded heart was calling, too”
The Call, Celtic Woman

When we take time to be with God, in solitude and persevere in silencing the “confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations [that] jump around in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree” we might just start to discover that God really is calling and waiting to love you and me.

Nouwen, in Out of Solitude, says "In solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone.... In solitude we discover that life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared."

There is a song from the musical “Carousel” that reminds me of the difficulties and rewards of persevering in our quest for solitude. It is well worth the struggle, because at the end we discover that we “never walk alone.”
You’ll Never Walk Alone

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never walk alone.

This week I’d invite you to find a few minutes (or longer) every day to set aside the frantic multi-tasking that is the norm for most of us. Let go of striving to meet expectations, be they your own or from others, just for a little while.

You & I may not be able to be like Mother Teresa, who suggested, “Spend one hour a day in adoration of your Lord and never do anything you know is wrong, and you will be alright,” but start with a short time and try to make it longer each day, as an appointment with the One who loves you.

If you are sure you don’t have any spare time, even for God—take an inventory of a day in your life. Write down what you do every half hour through the day, then ask yourself which of these give glory to God and/or which might be given up or changed to give a window of time to be with God. (Do I really need to spend that ½ hour reading Facebook?) I'm going to TRY and take a walk a few times a week and rather than spending it planning my next activity, just enjoy being in nature and with God.

Next week we’ll see what Nouwen has to say about finding peace in the silence that you have started to create in your solitude.

April 11, 2010

Way of the Heart

During the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost I’ll be sharing some thoughts about Henri Nouwen’s book, Way of the Heart. The Way of the Heart was written in 1981 as a guide for Christians to minister and live more deeply into the Heart of God. Nouwen explains, “This book found its beginning in a seminar at Yale Divinity School on the spirituality of the desert…We represented very different religious traditions…Together we tried to discover what the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century have to say to the men and women…in the twentieth century.”
Nouwen was born in 1932 in the Netherlands. Although he was a Catholic priest, his writings are well known across denominational lines. He lived and taught much of his life in the United States before moving to the L’Arche community in Toronto, Canada. Living within this community of mentally handicapped people influenced him greatly. Most of his 40 books deal with the unconditional nature of God’s love and forgiveness for us. Nouwen died in 1996.

One of my favorite songs from the Disney movie Bambi is “Love is a Song”. It sings of the heart of God as understood by Nouwen, even though it is about the love of mother and fawn.

Love is a song that never ends
Life may be swift and fleeting
Hope may die yet love's beautiful music
Comes each day like the dawn

Love is a song that never ends
One simple theme repeating
Like the voice of a heavenly choir
Love's sweet music flows on.

In order to draw near to God, we are called to live as witnesses to Love and Light. Like John the Baptist we must “testify to the light, so that all might believe through [us. We are] not the light, but testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone…” (John 1:7-9, paraphrased)

In The Way of the Heart, Nouwen addresses the question: How to witness to the Light amid the noises and demands, the fears and stressors of 20th century life? A question that is even more imperative now, for the noises and ‘darkness’ appear greater than ever. He asks, “What is required of a man or a woman who is called to enter fully into the turmoil and agony of the times and speak a word of hope?”

By looking at the Desert Fathers and Mothers (4th century ascetics who left the world to become more in the world) as his inspiration, Nouwen suggests that Solitude, Silence, and Prayer are the avenue to living as the Heart of God. What can these early monastics teach us about love, joy, peace, faith? Is it possible to find grounding for our own frenetic days where solitude, silence, and prayer are hard to find? Nouwen says, “The words flee, be silent and pray summarize the spirituality of the desert. They indicate the three ways of preventing the world from shaping us in its image and thus the three ways to life in the Spirit.”

In the next six weeks, I invite you to join me in discovering a deeper relationship with God and with yourself. In my April newsletter I quoted Nouwen’s encouragement, “…now you are being asked to let go of all these self-made props and trust that God is enough for you. You must stop being a pleaser and reclaim your identity as a free self.”

By centering our hearts in God, perhaps we (you and I, together, dear reader) can discover who we are as a real, authentic, forgiven, and beloved child of God—a ‘free self’. Enter into the Way of the Heart and let the Spirit of God act to free you.

During this week, I offer this hymn as a meditation aid.

At your feet, O Christ, we lay
your own gift of this new day;
Doubt of what it holds in store
Makes us crave your aid the more;
Even in a time of loss,
Mark, it Savior, with your Cross.

Yes, we would your Word embrace,
Live each moment on your grace,
All ourselves to you consign,
Fold up all our wills in thine,
Think, and speak, and do, and be
Simply that which pleases thee.

Hear us, Christ, O, hear our prayer;
Hear, and bless our deepest care.
May your love to us impart,
Loyal singleness of heart;
So shall this and all our days,
Christ and God, show forth your praise
(William Bright, 19th Century)

How can I offer back to God/Christ each moment and allow Christ to ‘mark it with your cross’?
How can we ‘fold up all our wills in thine’?
How might this submission to God’s will ‘show forth your praise’?

Next week we will look at how Solitude can lead us deeper into Love. See you then.

April 3, 2010

Happy Easter 2010

The disciples and women who followed Jesus thought their world was destroyed when the Lord was crucified. Yet, even though they were distraught, the women followed Joseph of Arimathea to the burial site. “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.” (Mark 15:47)

It was the women, not the men, who adored the Lord with their presence, even in His death. They knew that Jesus’ body had not been fully and properly prepared before his burial and so:
“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:1-7)

The love of the women was rewarded when they were honored with being the first witnesses to the Resurrection! They thought that all they could do was wash and anoint His dead body. In their great grief they didn’t think about anything except going to the grave to ‘do the proper thing.’ It wasn’t until they got close to the grave that they remembered the stone over the entrance and asked ‘Who will roll away the stone’.

Imagine their conversation on the path to the grave.

“I am glad we were able to get all the spices we needed,” Mary sighed. “I was worried the market might not have them all or that the price would be too much.”

Mary Magdalene patted her friend’s arm, “The cost would not have mattered. I would have paid whatever the merchant asked. Assuring that the Rabbi is properly honored is more important than anything.”

“Wait! I just thought of something.” Salome stopped in the middle of the dirt path. “There is a great stone over the door to the tomb Joseph used. How will we get in?”

The trio of women stared at each other, aghast.

“I’m sure there will be some gardener or passer-by who will help us,” Mary Magdalene nodded decisively, as if her words could cause it to happen.

“Maybe…” Mary frowned and looked at Salome.

The other woman shrugged. Together they followed Mary Magdalene deeper into the garden. With heads bent they did not notice that their friend had stopped until Salome bumped into her.

“Look…” the woman from Magdala pointed at the grave.

“What?” Salome and Mary asked simultaneously. Then they saw it, too.

“The stone is rolled away already,” Mary Magdalene stated. “I wonder who did that?”

She hurried toward the opening. The other women ran after her, heedless of the solemnity of their purpose. At the door, the three women stopped. The shelf where Joseph had so tenderly laid the broken, bloody body was empty.

“He is gone,” Mary gasped in horror.

“Look!” Salome whispered.

The three women inhaled fearfully when they saw a shining figure sitting where the body had been. The figure held up a hand in a calming gesture.

“Do not be afraid; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here,” the messenger announced. “Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

The women looked at each other in astonishment.

“Did you hear that?” Mary Magdalene was the first to speak.

Salome and Mary could only nod and stare at the figure who bowed in blessing and disappeared from sight.

“He is risen!” Mary Magdalene repeated. “He is not dead!”

“What does that mean?” Salome asked almost fearfully.

Mary smiled and raised her arms in adoration. “It means nothing will ever be the same.”

“Alleluia, He is Risen!”
“The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia!”

The traditional Easter acclamation rings out in churches and between friends today. The Empty Tomb turned the world upside down as the people of Thessalonica realized. “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…” (Acts 17:6)

How does your understanding of the Resurrection turn the world upside down? This video is one way that the women’s story does indeed change the perspective of life. (Be sure to watch all the way through!)

What if the women were right?

The women at the tomb did not find what they expected. Our lives should be forever changed by what we find when we open ourselves to God. As Henri Nouwen (The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life) says:

Dear God, I am so afraid to open my clenched fists! Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to? Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands? Please help me to gradually open my hands and to discover that I am not what I own, but what you want to give me. And what you want to give me is love, unconditional, everlasting love. Amen."

Like my grandson on the monkey bars, we can learn to trust God enough to let go and not hang on tightly...

I invite you to join me during the Easter season (from April 11 until the end of May) when I’ll be meditating about living more fully and openly, in Christ, based on Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart. See you next week.