Tag Archives: Questions

Scraping at the clay of your heart

John O’Donohue writes in Anam Cara, “It is destructive to interfere with the rhythm and wisdom of [the soil’s] darkness.” He writes of the importance of letting things that rise up in your soul sit for a while. If you were planting potatoes and someone told you that you needed to plant them deeper, it wouldn’t be so good to dig them up and replant them. Even worse if the next day someone else told you that you planted them too deep, so you dug them up again and planted them more shallowly. Nothing will grow if you keep scraping at your garden.

“People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of their hearts. They have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that now explains why they are the way they are.” O’Donohue mentions that trees grow both up into the light and down into the darkness. “Negative introspection damages the soul… You cannot dredge the depths of the of the soul with the meager light of self-analysis. The inner world never reveals itself cheaply. Perhaps analysis is the wrong way to approach our inner dark.”

We must be kind to ourselves. We must live the questions we have, as Reiner Maria Rilke writes, without seeking the answers too soon. (See the quote HERE) O’Donohue… “Life itself is the great sacrament through which we are wounded and healed. If we live everything, life will be faithful to us.”

I have had to learn this through so many years, thanks to good mentors, spiritual directors, and teachers and many humbling experiences. As I look back on my writing from even five or six years ago, I see how much I tried to think my way through things. Questions, problems, faults, woundings… I was always looking for some answer that would make it all ok so that I didn’t have to struggle with it anymore. The hardest thing to hear was, “Ok, I will sit with this for a while” and then not hear anything for days or weeks. Or, “Well, Nate, I want you to stop thinking about what you should or shouldn’t do and sit with what your heart wants to do…”

I appreciate hearing people remind me to be kind to myself, but how did I do that? Even now, when I know I need to be kind to myself, it isn’t easy. Hearing it over and over, though, helps it to stick. And so sometimes, in the midst of the questions and the struggles, the best thing is some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or a morning with some really good coffee and bacon… or sometimes it is just going for a walk. If I can go to bed and remind myself, Nate, the problem will look different in the morning. Maybe better, maybe worse… but different. Let it sit and see what happens. This is how we keep from scratching too much at the surface of our souls. We live. We let up. We do something kind for ourselves. And we let  our hearts and our lives grow deep into the darkness and grow up into the light.


My heart and calling to spiritual direction

Spiritual direction has a bit of a negative connotation in our independent and “don’t-step-on-my-toes-or-tell-me-what-to-do” culture. It has, however, been an accepted and necessary component to the spiritual journey within every historical faith and spiritual tradition for thousands of years. How is it that now, we think we do not need it?

From the moment I head-first dove into my spiritual pursuit of connection with God, I have felt a deep, deep calling to support my community on their own spiritual journeys. For me, this looks very much like spiritual direction. As I am finally engaged in my formal education of this very important offering, I welcome insight, but also those who would engage me in this process. You can go to the page on Spiritual Companioning for more information on what I am offering.  I very much encourage you to read what I have written there.

At the heart of my passion is the need for those who will ask us the right questions. MaryKate Morse writes in Presence journal:

[Spiritual direction] is an art because listening to a person speak while also seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit requires a creative attentiveness to the process. Spiritual directors impose no expectations on time with our spiritual directees beyond believing that God is present and loves. The questions themselves are spiritual because we are not doing therapy or disciplining individuals toward a church’s or faith’s particular understanding of the spiritual life. We are not trying to teach doctrine or resolve a crisis. We ask questions to discover where God is moving in someone’s life.

This art of asking the right questions is one I have been interested in and focusing on for many years now. There is a need for focusing on it and at the same time, letting go. I will reflect more on this in the next post.

When life makes us raw…

It’s so easy to ask the questions of why good things come to those who do evil or why bad things happen when I work so hard to do what is right. We want answers, don’t we? “God, can’t I get a break once in while? Why is this so hard? Dammit… I thought we were past this…”

It is so important for me, personally, to remember that God does not play the tit-for-tat game of allowing evil when we do wrong and rewarding us when we do right. It is so comforting to see the times when Jesus affirms this. “Teacher, what has this man or his parents done that he should be blind all his life?” He refuses to play this game, which is very much a lower-consciousness human tendency. “He was born blind so that God’s work might be done in him…” Isn’t this the case for all of us?

The beauty of the God I serve is that he has shown me that his love is constant… even when I am bound to ask, in the wake of tragedy and hardship (and especially ANYTHING that causes stress), “Why, why… WHY?!?” Life keeps us so raw in the storms and deserts and challenges. I am living it so deeply, these days. Changing, changing, everything is changing… some things slip away, some new stresses added… all of it coming with drama. And in the midst of it, I want a damn reason. We humans have always wanted a reason.

And here we have a God who doesn’t always give us a reason. This is the wonder of the divine mystery. This is what makes truth… a being in the midst of paradox and tension. To relax into this is to embrace our divine sonship and daughtership. It is to live awake to our own union with God and the love he/she always has for us. The rain and the sun fall on the good and the bad, making thorns and flowers grow. It’s not an easy truth.

Reflections on tradition and community

My friend Marc, had some questions regarding tradition and community in response to my reflections on our ceremony, and I think it’s worth a post.

I am curious to know what place (if any) you think tradition has in the concept of community. Communities are constantly changing — people come and go, they age, structures are built and torn down, etc. — but perhaps ceremonies (weddings, graduations, national anthems sung before ball games, etc.) play an important role in maintaining a steady hand amid all the flux. Certainly, there are plenty of ways to have a wedding, but at what point is a wedding no longer a wedding and becomes something else? Is it OK if it becomes something else entirely? How does that affect the community? Are certain communities more adaptable to change and, if so, is that adaptability something that can be intentionally developed or does it just happen?

I am currently working toward a Master’s in Public Administration, so I am so eager to hear your thoughts about tradition, change, and how communities can address the two. (Government is infamously slow to change, but I think the public’s longing for tradition can play a big role in that.)

There is a huge place for tradition, ceremony, and ritual in community. As Marc said, communities are constantly changing and yes, government has been slow in adapting… I would say, to an extent, religion has as well. Tradition helps us stay grounded in history which is absolutely essential if we are to adapt to change well. It’s a paradox really. Adapt yet ground in history. So, we as a community must know and celebrate (or even lament) our history, and yet we must continue to build new ways of doing ceremony and ritual.

Tradition often gets developed unintentionally, but ritual and ceremony MUST be developed intentionally. Continue reading Reflections on tradition and community

Protecting the questions and living into the answers

You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve spent my whole life listening to people giving me the answers. Parents, education… college… grad school, books, television, friends, government, the news, church, Google… the list goes on and on. Answers, answers, answers. Everyone is right and everyone else is wrong. Hmmm… It’s easy. Slick. Comfortable. Quantifiable… to have the answers. We can put everything (God, people, ourselves) in a box and move on. It’s easier for us to have fun, relax, and worry about nothing but our own worlds when we can explain everything away. Ahhh… peace at last.

The only problem, though, is the thought that I am right and everyone else who disagrees must therefore be wrong. We are, from this point on, isolated into communities who think only the same as I do. There is no unity… only a cordial (or not-so-cordial) “agreeing to disagree.” Well, I have quickly tired of this way of being… this divider of community. My sincere hope is to bring people together to truly be in community even while we think differently about things… even while we can honestly say “I don’t know.” To do this, I will hereby be a Protector of the QUESTION.

To protect the questions, we must know that it is here, in the questions, that we can truly and always unite. No matter where our stories have taken us, it is the questions that are universal.

“What does it mean to belong?” “Who is in control and why does it matter? How much control do I have?” “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life?” “What is the lonely for?” “How much stuff is enough?” “What does it mean to be a man.woman.mother.father.son.daughter?”

These questions, and so many more, are the questions that bring us together. When we begin to “love the questions themselves,” we are able to learn from each other, not fix or correct each other. It is then that life guides us into the answers… something that will not happen if we cannot begin to love the questions. This is why I will continue to protect them for you… and ask you to join me. We need more protectors of the question… then we will be able to live into the answers together.