Category Archives: spiritual formation

To be rooted to the land you walk upon

It means something to be where you are from. And not just your family, not just your culture, or your religion or your country… It means something unequivically significant to be an occupier of the land you live upon. I am quite certain that most do not have this sensibility, at least not consciously but perhaps when really pressed, would affirm how important it is to them.

What I am getting at is an extra level down into a deeper sense of one’s place in this world, one’s sense of self, one’s spiritual life, and one’s connection with all that is.

There is meaning to the old saying, “You are what you eat.” In a quite literal sense, our bodies our composed of the food and water that goes into us. What other way is there? This is why, when we lived in Oregon, we drank our water, straight from the land, straight from the spring. No filter, no chemicals. And food… Where is your body connected to if your food comes from thousands of miles away or is processed to the extent that it can only be called, as Michael Pollen terms it, “edible food-like substances.”

So it means something very literally in regard to our physical make-up. But what does it mean to be from the Fox Valley in WI? To have grown up on a farm and lived there your whole life? As a chaplain, living in one of the most “homegrown” cities in the country, it means something to talk to my patients about where they are from and wehter their parents grew up here too. For a person living in city and never having left, to never found one’s self in green space, with one’s hands in the dirt or toes in the sand… This means something to that person. Maybe an ungroundedness or a sense of nature as “enemy.”

There is a profound teaching in observing the greatest tai chi masters (watch a video of one on YouTube). Where do they draw this life force from that allows them to move people without even touching them or to be unmovable themselves?

Helping others without knowing how to help myself

The biggest questions that have plagued me lately cut deep in my soul:

  • How can I help people, when I can barely help myself?
  • How do I provide hope for others, when I myself feel very little hope ?
  • How do I heal, when I am so broken?
  • How do I offer spiritual direction, in the dark night of the soul?

It’s a painful query and I don’t really know the answer. The best I can do is remind myself that when things get basic, I have to get basic as well. How can I take care of myself in this time? I know, in part, how connected our minds and our bodies are to our soul’s… how to even disconnect them? So when I don’t have answers to the existential questions, at least I may find some clarity in my body.

What am I eating, what am I drinking, am I moving (exercising is good, but at least I should be moving), how much sleep am I getting… there is a need to get clean.

Because we are still called to be present with those around us… to hold space in their suffering… and so often we really don’t have a choice, we come with our broken selves and we listen. How difficult it really is to be brutally honest about how I’m doing and not take all the attention on to myself. We learn as we go, and we remember especially in these times how equal we all are as human beings.

I am also reminded by the ancient mystic, John of the Cross, the one who first wrote so extensively on the dark night of the soul:

“When we begin our spiritual journey we often want God to desire what we want, and become dejected if we have instead to learn to desire what God wants. We measure God by ourselves and not ourselves by God, which is quite contrary to the gospel. For our Lord says that those who lose their lives for his sake will gain it, but that they who desire to gain their life will lose it.”

What does “losing your life” mean to you? How do you help others when you are at the end yourself?

One year ago… Unanswered prayer… a response and a theology

As I am sitting here at George Fox Sem, I am reminded of these posts from last year. Enjoy!

Folks, I want what I do to be for the village… the community… the place where the spiritual unites with the physical.

So, for me, taking classes at George Fox Seminary to get my certificate in spiritual formation is about more than just me. I am doing it because it is what I must do… for the community and for God.

I recently finished my semester paper for my class on prayer and as I wrote it with the community in mind it is important for me to share it here. I will be posting it up in sections over the next week or so. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

To read part 1, Starting with Prayer,  GO HERETo read part 2, Prayer and it’s place in the Spiritual Life (pt 2), GO HERETo read part 3, The difficulty of sustaining our prayer life, GO HERE

Unanswered prayer… a response and a theology

Perhaps the one of the most difficult reasons for maintaining a sustainable prayer practice and perhaps one of the most painful parts of being in relationship with a God who is so much greater than any of us. How do I respond to someone who prays for healing of a loved one and does not receive it? How do I respond to someone who prays in his infertility that God would give him children and yet still remains childless? So much pain and so many unknowns…

I do believe that God calls us to compassion and presence, but not necessarily answers. Compassion is entering into the suffering of another, as Jesus entered into our suffering. This is being the presence of Christ to my community. Compassion may very well be just sharing the tears and the burdens while so deeply dwelling in the terrible, “I do not know…” So someone who’s prayers are not answered? It is the spiritual leader’s responsibility to provide compassionate presence… whether it be from myself, or from the community. Again, there are no good answers as to why or how or when or what… It is so much easier to go into this as a leader, even slightly. How much more difficult it is to allow someone to be in their pain, their anger, and their blame! Walter Wangerin, in his beautiful book, Mourning into Dancing, says that we MUST let the griever blame God. Better God blamed than others because God is the only one that can so lovingly take on this blame. This is hard for the spiritual leader trying to give the “right” kind of help.

Unanswered prayer part 2 can be found here.

When we suck again

I may be the master of self-deception and not even know it. See, we can be wise, we can value all the right things, we can study and pray and serve and meditate… And then all of a sudden we realize we are just a big Shit. There is always something… Always something. And it builds up and builds up and BAM!! We suck again. I guess this is why grace is so important. This is what all the saints keep telling us… Without God we are nothing. We need him. It’s why so many of the mystics in one breath talk about union with God and in the next are saying, ”God save me” or “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

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Discipline, Action, Suffering, Death

Stations on the Road to Freedom
Dietrich Bonhoeffer; July 21, 1944
Written the day after his failed attempt to assassinate Hitler

Discipline

If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all
discipline of soul and senses, so that your passions
and your limbs might not lead you confusedly hither and yon.
Chaste be your spirit and body, subject to your own will,
and obedient to seek out the goal that they have been given.
No one discovers the secret of freedom but through self-control

Action

Dare to do what is just, not what fancy may call for;
Lose not time with what may be, but boldly grasp what is real.
The world of thought is escape; freedom only comes through action.
Step out beyond anxious waiting and into the storm of events,
carried only by God’s command and by your own faith;
then will freedom exultantly cry out to welcome your spirit.

Suffering

Wondrous transformation! Your strong and active hands
are tied now. Powerless, alone, you see the end of your action.
Still, you take a deep breath and lay your struggle for justice,
quietly and in faith, into a mightier hand.
Just for one blissful moment, you tasted the sweetness of freedom,
then you handed it over to God, that he might make it whole.

Death

Come now, highest moment on the road to freedom eternal,
Death, put down the ponderous chains and demolish the walls
of our mortal bodies, the walls of our blinded souls,
that we might finally see what mortals have kept us from seeing.
Freedom, how long we have sought you through discipline, action, and suffering.
Dying, now we behold your face in the countenance of God.