Merton Blog 5

As I came to a close in the semester (though probably not within my practice of Merton’s prayer book), I definitely did/do not feel like my struggle with prayer is over. But I am not too discouraged, I mean struggle and conflict is if anything, a sign of life. I always tell my YL kids, ‘when you are pissed at God, or are asking questions that fly in the face of right belief, you are being incredibly faithful, incredibly committed.’ I believe that because by investing so much emotional energy into the journey, they are attesting to the difference God can make in the world and in a life.

Another thing I recognized in my time with Merton is that environment is important. The positive feeling I got when doing this, often was connected to where I was. If I was at school or another populated area, it is not normally a great experience. If I am at the abbey in Mt. Angel, much more room change.

You have called me to be repeatedly born in the Spirit, repeatedly born in light, in knowledge, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence, and in praise.”

Sometimes I am lost, sometimes I feel right at home, but God is in both extremes. Merton seems to make that clear in his writing and prayers. I guess I will see if it ever levels out.

Merton Blog 4

Grant us to seek peace where it is truly found! In your will, O God, is our peace!” As time went on with Merton and my prayer life, peace became a subject I knew/know I have to deal with more. I do not think peace is something defined objectively in the sky and then I have to figure out if I can attain the standard. I think it is something that is particular to me, and my relationship to the world and to God. That said as I pray it is not always that peaceful. I enjoy being quiet but not because I rest in silence, because the voices in my head tend to be more compelling (and at times depressing) than the voices in an evangelical prayer circle. My mind is not often silent, if it is I am somewhere extraordinary. But it does not happen often.

Merton Blog 3

 

Christian holiness can no longer be considered a matter purely of individual and isolated acts of virtue. It must also be seen as part of a great collaborative effort for spiritual and cultural renewal in society, to produce conditions in which all can work and enjoy the just fruits of their labor in peace.” This one was compelling. I reflected on this and wrote, “So what society am I collaborating with? Is it the universal ‘church’? It can’t be because if it is, then really all that means is, I still do individual acts of virtue, with the security of knowing that in doing so, I am united with others, somewhere, somehow, I am pretty sure. That can’t be right because that is what has many of us in this mess in the first place. So what society am I collaborating with? Maybe Silverton? Family? SUMC? The people in my head (If so then there isn’t much I have to change)?”

Merton Blog 2

After the first few weeks (and honestly for the rest of the semester) I stayed fairly consistent to the practice, but still missed or found myself unmotivated from time to time. I realized how I felt less motivated when I was frustrated, something Jesus speaks to specifically. I also found myself reflecting a lot on the question: is prayer for me encouraging because I am relating to God, or because I am learning? I truly enjoy learning and thinking, and a lot of times I experience a time of prayer that seemed encouraging, I look back and find that it was the exact same feeling I get when I am totally challenged by a particular author or idea. I did not ask this questions because I felt like it was a dualism, either it is learning (intellectual experience), or relating to God (personal experience). But on the other hand it seemed like an important thing to break down. I still struggle with this dilemma.

Merton Blog 1

The first few weeks of my prayer practice with Thomas Merton was rocky for a couple reasons. First off, I had been struggling with what prayer was for exactly, and my ability to understand it seemed to be slipping away. Secondly, this feeling had been taking away some of my motivation for prayer, which made a spiritual practice that was built around prayer, a hard thing to stay committed to. What eventually got me in a routine, was the way Merton writes. I love to read, and do so on a much more consistent basis than I pray. Because of this, Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours allowed me to see the wisdom and language behind a prayer practice I could follow. It began to stimulate me intellectually as well as it calmed my soul (some of the time) spiritually. My journal has lots of ‘what am I praying for’ comments, as well as some cynical tangents where I allowed my mind to give in to rabbit trails.

In the first week I wrote down the Examen section from Wednesday during the day, I remember it stuck with me. It says, “One of our great problems is to see clearly what we have to resist. I would say that at the moment we have to understand better than we do the war mentality. IF we do not understand it, we will run the risk of contributing to its confusion is and thereby helping the enemies of man and of peace. The great danger is that under the pressures of anxiety and fear, the alternation of crisis and relaxation and new crisis, the people of the world will come to accept gradually the idea of war, the idea of submission to total power, and the abdication of reason, spirit and individual conscience. The great peril is the deadening of conscience.

Faith practice journal

For my ‘A’ contract I need to turn in my faith practice journal.

The syllabus said to do so via the blog. Since I did my journaling in a notebook (a particular notebook that helps me find release), I will work over the next few days to turn those notes into a presentation on my blog. Below is an idea of the bizarre methods (blurred at the moment) of journaling I have done while practicing the Thomas Merton Book of Hours, as well as the journal I use.

journalblureditjournal 2

*These questions are horrible… which is probably why he wrote them.

– Courtesy of Donald Miller (http://storylineblog.com/2012/10/04/how-does-american-culture-influence-christianity/)

1. If I die and nobody knows my name, but more people know about Jesus, am I truly okay with that?

2. Do I believe God wants me to succeed, or does God want more people to know Jesus?

3. How much effort do I spend planning a performance on a stage in front of strangers vs in smaller groups, contributing to a healthy community with Jesus at the head?

4. Do those closest to me see the same person as those once or twice removed, those who I blog for, write for, lead worship for or preach sermons for?

5. Am I truly willing to be vulnerable about my faults, even if it costs me a bit of my platform?

 

Spirtuality of Relationship

My mother is my compass. I am thankful to have many beautiful and sacred relationships within my family, but the deep connection I have with my mom is unique. I refer to my mom (Amy) as my compass because she is often used as God’s medium for helping me find direction, groundedness, and clear thinking. As a leader of high school boys, I understand how unusual this is, which I believe is why our encounters touch me so deeply and almost always move me to action. As I reflected on our relationship I began to see how much influence she has had over my experiences, though I have rarely asked the questions of journey and pilgrimage behind her depth, wisdom and faith that have affected so many people she has encountered.

As my mom and I discussed the story behind our stories, some of my observations began to make a lot of sense. When I was young my mother did all of the “motherly things” you would expect. She came to our activities, made us lunches, participated in school activities, worked part time, and focused on family. Though I know that those were fulfilling times in her life, I noticed as I entered college a shift in how she saw life and lived into new experiences. Clearly there was a sense of reflectiveness prickling up, and it caused her to see how the experience of being in relationship with God was not just about finding your sweet spot and living it out consistently, but that being in relationship involved remaining flexible to the stages God intends to take us through.

My mom framed her spiritual journey as an experience that is connected to how we grow physically and relationally. This brought up some interesting thoughts on how we can look forward and prepare for engaging God’s relationship by observing how God will change our bodies, relationships, and environments ahead of time. The conclusion being that by understanding ourselves well, we become more in tune with the ways God intends to use us.

Mom discussed a tension that I have experienced as well when trying to view faith as a journey. When I asked her if she had always seen life or faith as a journey or not, her words were, “In theory I would have always answered that question ‘yes.’ But as I have gotten to this age (53) I see the “journey” piece a lot clearer. I see how I’ve moved from one place to the next…” It is easy to say that faith is a journey, but to allow your life to experience faith that way, means putting more trust in God’s vision. If I can be more goal-oriented, or if I can base my faith around specific dogmas, or ways of acting that will always stay constant, it takes less work in submitting my path or pilgrimage to God.

My mom and I have had similar experiences of transitioning between goal-oriented approaches to faith (for lack of a better term), towards a process oriented experience. My mom explored the ways that goals work into her life now (after making that transition) in a way which helps me to stay obedient while attempting to trust God.

She talked about deepening relationship with God over time, and letting that patience dictate the pace and ways in which that goal is present in her life. She said she tries to steer away from measuring her relationship to abstract standards, by working to see herself as God sees her.

This way of thinking could be a major turning point in our ability as Christians, to allow God to take us on a never-ending journey, not just a dead sprint to the finish line. I can attest to the fact that I lose patience, trust and understanding for what God is doing over time, when I fail to see myself the way God sees me. The times that I judge myself, and hold to self-imposed standards which I cannot achieve, I also shift from seeing where I am in my spiritual journey and instead try to figure out the way to win at faith. Succeed at God. Dominate, at being Christian.

My mom is an example of patience and wisdom. Two things that I have found to be essential as God takes me places I do not want to be. Places I want to avoid in lieu of a more ‘Christian’ path, away from Jesus.

I can’t intellectually defeat the existence of God. It is impossible for me.
Sometimes when life gets hard and dark, we become worried faith will be lost, God will be doubted or worse, blamed.

I am totally and utterly incapable of doing that.

I can blame myself, I can find fault in the cosmos or the natural tendencies of society and creation, but I cannot find any reason in my mind, any tragic situation, that God could not explain away through his eloquent, poetic incarnation.

Sometimes it’s a curse. Sometimes it’s not.

Like most things.

Sacred Space.

In a letter written to a young poet seeking his wisdom, Rainer Rilke wrote the following:

“I would finally just like to advise you to grow through your development quietly and seriously; you can interrupt it in no more violent manner than by looking outwards, and expecting answer from outside to questions which perhaps only your innermost feeling in your most silent hour can answer.” (Rilke, 13).

The idea of a sacred space is hard to define, but for me, Rilke captures what it is about a place that in a sense can make it, divine.

I am very influenced by places. Environments, moods, the way a setting feels speaks to my core and often I find myself coming to locations that bring about a preconceived emotional disposition because of my past experience there. Because of this, the quest to find a place that is mine, a place where presence can happen is all sorts of difficult. In the same vein of Rilke’s writing, I seek a place where my introversion can be encouraged, and the temptation to include the outside world in self-critique is less likely to occur.

For me this space is the Mt. Angel Abbey and Seminary. About four miles up the road from Silverton, it is a community of Jesus followers on a hill, overlooking the valley. It is a place where silence is a virtue. It is a place where love abounds subtly and calmly. It is a place where you can feel community, and experience community, without ever having to sign a ‘Visitors’ book or be reminded that you are not expected to participate in offering (unless of course, the Spirit really leads you to).

When I reside in this place I can sit in silence, look out over the rolling hills and small communities of the valley, worship, experience a somewhat wordless sense of community, I can read, drink coffee, have conversation, ask questions, learn and even be different. As someone not very prone to peacefulness, having  a place that is spiritual but not invasive is almost addicting. Being at the Abbey is a reminder of what existence means. A reminder that the opportunity to live and have life to the fullest, could be my bare minimum for existence.

There are two main feelings I experience when I go up to this monastic abode. First as I mentioned earlier, there is a sense of calm and peace that pervades my time. On the other side, there is a sense of anxiousness. A feeling that even attempting to be is an agenda in itself. That learning to rest is not something that happens, but is something achieved, and if I fail to take advantage of my time in solitude and presence-seeking, then rest is in fact lost. I find myself alternating between these two feelings in my sacred space.

The amount of time I spend rushing from place to place, responsibility to responsibility, is reason enough to make the Abbey a regular stop for me as I seek refreshment. On top of that I think what makes it such a positive experience is the fact that I get to observe Jesus followers who operate, think, worship and seek, so differently than myself. The diversity of tradition up on the hill, compared to how I was raised, is distinct. This has encouraged me to walk in the tension of observing incredibly holy people, who are far unlike me and the images of God in which I operate from.

There are certain times in life where titles, people groups, and stereotypes caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses, Liberals, Conservatives, Feminists, and even Catholics… at one point or another had this affect on my nerves. And I am not elevating myself above any of those judgements, but as I come up to the Abbey and look around I cannot help but say, “This has to be real.”

Those people, those traditions, must be a result of some true disciples of Jesus. It’s at my sacred space that I see how my observations and judgements are not what make someone a true follower of Jesus, but it is their inherent value given by God. I am thankful for the disposition of observation and learning I am able to take on in this place, and I pray that it will call me to give value not just to people, but to places, institutions and the less considered pieces of creation in God’s Kingdom.