Holy Conversations

Alisha, Cheryl, Cynthia

Holy conversations happen with small groups like with these friends above, (Cheryl, Cynthia, and Alisha), as we open our hearts and share what matters most to us. This kind of group spiritual direction happens all over town as people gather in various groups supported by our School for Contemplative Living. We do not meet to discuss the weather, the football teams, or national politics. We gather to bare our souls in trust that contemplative friends will hold our spiritual journeys in their hearts and help us know we belong in the human family.

Holy conversations also happen one-on-one as those of us who serve as spiritual directors are blessed to engage in holy listening with friends we meet along their spiritual journeys, (like Claudia in the pic below).

Claudia at Parker

Today was an especially meaningful day in my life as a spiritual director. I was blessed to visit with several participants before and after a sacred yoga group at First Grace UMC. Collette and Ryan joined Karen and me for the first time as we explored the oneness of our heart/mind/bodies. Then when I arrived at the Mercy Endeavors Senior Center I learned that Ms. Louise was the only participant who had not left on a field trip. This African-American widow told moving stories from her 91 years with a tender voice and a resonant heart. Then she sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” as well as a song she wrote her husband while he was away in WWII. She filled my ears with beauty and my heart with sacredness by just being herself.

Then six of us gathered at Loyola University for a centering prayer time and closed with the sharing of our joys and concerns – from surgeries to job celebrations to ministry challenges with college students. Sitting in silence together and sharing our hearts brought a sense of communion, belonging, solidarity, and community.

Then a local jazz musician came for a period of individual spiritual direction, looking at his personal life and service of the world through music. He explored the challenge of trusting the Spirit’s creative lead in his music when there is often pressure to only perform whatever music makes people comfortable. He carefully entered into a place of self-compassion, which is new for him.

Then a long-time resident of the streets of New Orleans told me stories about his journey toward finding housing: the obstacles, the need for long patience, and the willingness to keep the faith that God would make a way someday. He didn’t need to be preached to, as though I could offer any advice or guidance. He needed to be heard, respected, and cared for with simple compassion.

My last guest was a female pastor who came for her first session of spiritual direction. She needed to share the heart-aches, self-doubt, tears, vocational questions, and human loneliness of being in the role of pastor. She needed no advice, no subtle pressure to make preordained decisions about her future, and no quick fixes. She wanted two ears and an open heart of compassion. She needed to wonder how she is seen through the eyes of The One Who Loves Her So, when her own mind betrays her with self-judgment. She needed to be reminded of how she radiates as she serves. And she needed to have her freedom to follow her own Inner Guide affirmed. I think we will walk together for a while, until she finds her way beck Home.

Connecting with people through holy conversations is a treasure for spiritual directors. We are so privileged to be invited into the region of the heart by relative strangers. And we are so blessed to play the role of observer of the sacred, with no pressure to know answers or provide solutions. Knowing the nearness of God in such moments grants us great freedom to radiate lovingkindness as best we can, and to let go of playing God ourselves.

Someday, when I finally become wise and mature, I hope I can master this art wherever I go. Until then, I will stumble along. I need a lot of practice in days ahead. Pray for me won’t you? May I learn to listen long, love well, and mostly keep my mouth shut again tomorrow with whoever crosses my path. Amen.

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How to heal from nastiness

The wounding of our collective psyches from the nasty political debates can begin today with lovingkindness practices. Recently, Rabbi Rami Shapiro lead participants in our School for Contemplative Living through an exercise in drawing the image of God on each other symbolically. This is a way to remember that every being is made in the image of God.
Practice seeing every person you meet today, including the person in the mirror, as an image of God. Envision them and yourself as having that image drawn over the body.

Sure that can seem impossible when a crazy person going 90 mph races into the tiny space between your car and the next car on the Interstate. This practice comes after you call him a jerk and your blood pressure settles down.

Or maybe you would rather start simply, by imagining the image of God on the one you love most easily. Picture that person in your mind, open your heart, and send them some love as you remember they are made in the image of God. Say to yourself: “U R N her/him,” (“You are in her/him”).

Practice: Now try the hard one: look at yourself and see the image of God drawn onto you. Perhaps you could see the Hebrew letters for Yahweh, YHWH, drawn onto your face or whole body. Or remind yourself of the inner Presence by saying within your heart-mind: “U N me.” (In case that got confusing, it is “You in me.”) You could even say a little chant to yourself throughout the day on the hour: “U R N me,” (“You are in me.”) This is not just some sugar sweet imagination by the way. It is a theological truth.

How would any of this help us heal from being over-exposed to the nastiness? The mind wants to focus on something. It jumps around the globe looking for a next focus of attention. The mind left to its own devices can also get fixated on traumatic or terrible images/words/stories, like it is trying to process and assimilate what it is exposed to. The mind and heart need relief. And if we provide relief in the heart-mind, the body will benefit also. The harmful chemistry will diminish and the helpful chemistry will grow inside us. Don’t just accept this because I said so. Google the research!

Now for a final practice in these last few weeks of political nastiness: diet. No, I don’t mean food. Set your intention now to diet from the nastiness in any public forum or social media. Take in as little as you possibly can. Limit your intake from the moment you awaken. If you usually check the latest news on your phone, iPad, or television, resist the temptation as often as you can. Become friends with the delete button. If friends start talking politics, walk away. If the mind starts replaying what you have seen or heard, turn your attention to the image of God practice. This diet can help you through this last month.

Let’s review. How do you heal from nastiness (especially in the political arena)? Practice seeing the image of God on others, and yourself. Say, “You are in her/him/me” to yourself as often as you can throughout your day. Diet from further exposure to nastiness as much as you can. Your heart/mind/body will be grateful.

For further suggestions see previous blogs on “A Contemplative Path,” read Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture, and join or form a local contemplative group to share ways to practice the presence of God with others each week if possible.

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Dropping Everything


Dropping everything I could be doing this morning

on a day of rest from labors,

and dropping down

beneath the wounds of a lifetime,

I go in search of what is very near.


Surrounded by other seekers

through the centuries,

broken, lost, and lonely all,

and sitting in their good company,

we go down and in,

even when there is a mighty tug

to keep distracting ourselves with unceasing entertainments.


We fall down, in fact,

into that spacious place where distractions cannot reach us.

For we have inner work to do:

gathering up all our old wounds

and bringing them into contact

with our deeper wholeness.


On this Labor Day

our labor is holding in loving awareness

all that has troubled us

until it dissolves

into solidarity with all who suffer.

For we know the One who has suffered

sitting here with us

and cherish His coming.


This welcome

makes us willing

to drop everything we could be doing today,

willing to be right here

in His good company,



This summer my calling has gradually become clearer than ever. For decades I have been called to a life of prayer for the world, and in these last decades of ministry I have one leading: helping others find their way into the inner sanctuary, so they too can find True Home. When the tug of distractions has grown strong, I have needed the good company of other spiritual seekers, and still do. And in gratitude I want to dedicate the rest of my life to guiding those I can through their brokenness and wounds into the Presence. May we all know solidarity in our suffering and comfort in finding Home together.

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Face-licking Contemplatives

Furyand Rocky

Meet Fury the cat and Rocky the dog practicing cross-species contemplative face-licking. I bet you never heard of that. Well here’s the story.

Rocky is still a puppy, and he loves to play-bite the face of Fury and drag him across the room by the face. I know it doesn’t sound like brotherly love. But there is never any harm. No blood is drawn. Rocky just likes to demonstrate his mastery over Fury, as kids and especially boys often do.

Fury protests and then does the same thing to Rocky, sinking his teeth into Rocky’s ear or face and pulling. (Fury doesn’t know he is one tenth Rocky’s size, so don’t tell him). Sometimes they growl or screech out a loud meow, so you would think they are hurting each other. But seeking to master each other is play for them, a kind of cross-species brotherly love.

How can you tell it is brotherly love? What comes next is contemplative face-licking. Fury snuggles up to Rocky, sometimes just resting against his side, and then begins to lick Rocky’s giant brown face. Rocky not only puts up with this, he looks like he is in some kind of nirvana state when being licked. Doesn’t that look like brotherly love to you?

So why call this act contemplative? Contemplatives seek to practice the presence of God, who is love, which evolves into love for God, self, and neighbor. (If we are lucky, we also get to experience cross-species love of dog/cat/bird/tree/nature, etc.) We experience the love because contemplative practice reminds us of our innate oneness, and oneness heightens our solidarity with each other.

Rarely do we see it happen in American culture, but I believe God intends to transform us into beings who can play-fight with each other to demonstrate our desire for mastery, and still lick face in the end. Can you imagine politicians arguing policy and then hugging, or religious foes debating doctrine and then laughing together? If our contemplative practice of God’s loving presence was changing us, really transforming us, our sense of oneness with all beings could help us end the idea-battles with a “cross-species” embrace. (We are really the same species but we sure forget that in our self-righteous sparring).

I know in the current cultural climate this sounds absurd, and yet ever day we are watching this happen at the Olympics in Rio. “Foes” battle it out to demonstrate their mastery, and then they finish the race or event by hugging each other. Sometimes in those hugs we can see their true sense of solidarity, respect, and compassion for each other. There is that moment of recognition of each other in each other’s faces. It seems to say, “I know what it is like to be you.” One minute they are trying to defeat each other and the next they are, well, face-licking.

How can this be? Oneness transforms the battle for mastery into solidarity. I believe you can see the very Spirit of God hovering around those Rio moments. Who else can bring such immediate transformation?

Thomas Merton, the monk and contemplative author, put the principle of oneness simply: “once one finds the place at the center where one is being created by God, one finds the place where one is connected to everyone else, everything else in the cosmos,” (“Catholicism,” DVD directed by Matt Leonard, Word on Fire, 2011). When we come down into the center of our beings we find we are connected to everyone and everything. This is the basis of our solidarity.

Martin Laird, an Augustinian monk, expresses the truth in a similar way: “…silent communion with the ground of all being becomes the most natural and simple way of being in solidarity with all humanity and holding all our needs before the Creator of all,” (Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 72). Again, oneness brings solidarity.

So if you would like to experience the transformative solidarity of brotherly/sisterly love, even after we engage in battles for mastery, I have two challenges. Become an Olympic athlete. Or join us contemplatives in practicing the presence of God each day. (Makes being contemplative sound like the easier choice, right?)

In case you should want to learn even more about experiencing the contemplative path, join us for “The Heart of Mindfulness” day retreat in New Orleans this Saturday at Parker United Methodist Church, or just come for any of our weekly contemplative groups, or register for our 7th Annual Contemplative Workshop with Rabbi Rami Shapiro leading us into “The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness.” (Details for any of these are on our website for the School for Contemplative Living at http://www.thescl.net).

So go ahead and try to master your brother or sister. Just try to learn from Fury and Rocky how to finish the battle!

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Mindfulness is not enough


Mindfulness of what is before us, around us, and within us is a great gift and skill to help us through stressful times. But mindfulness is not enough.

Let’s use the beautiful Chihuly blown glass exhibit pictured above as an example. I can be mindful by being aware of the size, shape, beauty, creativity, design and placement of those glass balls. I can bring an attitude of curiosity to the whole scene, wonder what it means, and look for the message of glass balls in and around a canoe. I can be mindful of my own emotional reactions to the scene, and I can let this fill me with awe and wonder.

But mindfulness is not enough for me. Awareness is not enough. Knowing what is happening within and without is not enough. What I really seek these days comes from another dimension. What I seek is to be one with the Source of the creativity that was moving in Dale Chihuly when he made this exhibit.

What I seek these days is the heart of mindfulness, the Source of mindfulness, the presence of the Great Love who moves within me and all that lives. I want more than being aware. I want oneness. I want to be sourced in the Source.

I am writing from a 5-day silent retreat at Rosaryville in South Louisiana. I am participating in days full of two contemplative practices: centering prayer and lectio divina. And today’s scripture for contemplation includes these words from God to us: “Do not fear, for I am with you.”

I am writing from a place of distress, in the midst of a major life transition, after giving up the church I served for nine years and then the apartment where we lived for four years. And when rats showed up where we were house sitting in New Orleans, we had to give up a place to stay too. As you already know, our sense of safety and security are two of the fundamental needs for us humans. So losing that is a big rug pulled out from under us.

This is why I need more than mindfulness. Yes, I need to be very aware of the flood of emotions in these days. I want to watch them and not become reactive to them. I want to remain open to wise decisions about what comes next. I do not want to be pulled under by the undertow of these events. Neither do I want to avoid, or numb, or escape the reality of the events or the feelings that come with them.

At the heart of mindfulness is the decision to hold all of this in loving awareness, to be in oneness with the Great Love who says, “Do not fear, for I am with you.” Letting the divine draw me into union of the spiritual dimension and my human dimension is my need. Letting my being fall into the hands of a loving God who says, “I am with you,” is my task. Bringing my mind down into the heart where God and I are one is my healing.

Sharing our state of vulnerability with the humans around me is a practical expression of my dependence on God. With them I seek union with God. And through them I hope for God to show God’s presence in tangible ways. I expect that. I hope for that. I trust that.

What I need is presence. That is why I say that today mindfulness is not enough. Presence brings healing, hope, compassion, and community. That is why I am in exactly the right place for this time in our lives: spending these days in contemplative community, coming down into the center of being in the company of other seekers, and coming into the Presence.

On Saturday, August 20, I will gather interested friends to spend a day together exploring “The Heart of Mindfulness” through sharing eight contemplative practices together. I can’t pretend to offer these days just to help others. For gathering contemplative community is what saves me. Because there I find the presence of God again and again.

That is where I am today, and that is where I will be in three weeks. If you want to join us, find the details on the website for the School for Contemplative Living at http://www.thescl.net. And if you want to get an idea of what we gather to seek, watch the vimeo that is linked to the homepage called “Monks in the World.” I would love to see you in a few weeks.

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Be Amazed!


“Be amazed!” Joyce Meyer told her audience this simple mantra to live by, and she never knew it would help me in a time of uncertainty. She doesn’t even know me.

Bob and I were visiting at a PJ’s coffee shop in New Orleans this past week. We both started sharing some uncertainties about our futures. Then Bob remembered the phrase from a Joyce Meyer video he had just seen: “Be amazed!” The mantra really got my attention.

We all generally know life is uncertain. We vaguely sense that everything can change in a moment. But we can hardly live with that reality in mind. It mostly scares the you-know-what out of us. We prefer to think things are settled and secure. So we can easily fall into a state of living you can call auto-pilot. We can race through each day of sameness, tumble into bed at night, and get up to repeat the same routine the next day. Everyone lives this way at times.

But then Life has a way of waking us from our sleep. Life changes suddenly, without warning, and the life we knew disappears, or at least alters significantly.

In such times our old friends worry and anxiety love to visit. They tell us a truth we never want to hear – that Life never was secure. They say we have always lived on shifting sand. And in truth, they are right. But worry and anxiety can also create a state of stuckness. They can paralyze us with fears of “what if?” So when we are awakened to the actual uncertainty of this life, how do we respond?

“Be amazed!” is a choice. It is a focus of attention. It is a decision to see the wonder of this very moment. It is a way of cultivating gratitude. It is a way I really want to live in this time of uncertainty. It is also a way to train my own mind, instead of letting it run wild like an unruly child.

Be amazed! – is also at the heart of mindfulness. If the nature of the mind is to run around in circles: one thought triggering the next, one mental scene connecting to the next, one emotion leading to the next, then – Be amazed! – is a way to return to living in the present moment. It hints at the attitude of curiosity that is central to mindfulness. It invites compassion for the life we are now living. And it makes room for connection with the amazing beings who surround us.

Curiosity, compassion, and connection are three hallmarks at the heart of mindfulness. They are ways of being awake to our moments, so that we do not come to the end of a day, or a life, wondering where it all went. And all three are contained in the attitude of – Be amazed!

This is how I want to live through my own time of uncertainty. I really do not know how my life will unfold next. I do not see ahead. But I also am choosing not to just take any job to fill the empty space or to guarantee some extra income. I never have believed in the motto: “Don’t just sit there, do something.” For that way never leads to wise action.

I choose instead to practice: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” And as I sit and watch to see how my life will unfold, I want to practice what Bob quoted from Joyce Meyer. I want to practice – Be amazed!

I am writing from Seattle, an amazing city I had never visited until now. Yesterday we visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in the Seattle Center. We viewed amazing blown glass displays like this:


This afternoon my wife and I plan to take a boat through the Puget Sound to Victoria, British Columbia. I expect we will Be amazed! Tomorrow we plan to see the floral beauty of Butchart Gardens there and to Be amazed! When we return we plan a trip to the Olympic National Park, another reason to Be amazed!

We do not know how the details will work out. There may be some snags, because that is just how Life happens. But instead of letting worry and anxiety rule the day, we will choose to Be amazed!

When we return to New Orleans we will be tempted to fall into routines. The compulsion to live on auto-pilot will be strong. A week from today we will be challenged to see if we can practice amazement even in our usual setting. So here’s a prayer that we, and you, will do the best we can to really live the mantra in uncertain times, to make this our life: “Be amazed!”

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Then it happened…

Then it happened…the dream became reality. The kindom happened in the streets of New Orleans Saturday night. How you ask?

Thirty United Methodists gathered to march in the 2016 Pride parade. We carried banners and posters with messages like “God is love!” and “Come as you are.” The posters named the reconciling churches and ministries around New Orleans, and at least one couple attended worship Sunday based on having seen those posters.

But more important was the reality of making the kindom dream come true. Haven’t you always wanted to live love as a verb? That is what it was like Saturday night. Thousands of people lining the streets saw our banner and posters and responded with an immediate mixture of surprise and joy. We repeatedly heard spontaneous phrases like “All right,” and “Yeah,” and the favorite expression of the night: “Yoohoo!” (It was obvious people did not expect to see Christians affirming God’s love in a Pride parade).

My favorite part was beyond words. The people on both sides of the street put out their hands for high-fives as an affirmation of our message, and we slapped those hands and looked into those faces and exclaimed “Happy Pride!” (In case you have never been there, to me the phrase is like a mixture of “happy birthday,” “merry Christmas,” and “be proud of who you are.” And in an age when the word church is associated with hate and exclusion for many people, we were doing our little part to join Jesus in saying: “The message is God’s love for us and our love of God and Every neighbor.”)

Among our United Methodist marchers were gay and straight members of our churches, and some friends who supported the cause. We were men and women and represented several races. We were united by the love of Christ for all people and by our common humanity, (including the fact that we were all equally tired after spending several hours on our feet in the heat).

I believe our unity expressed what Paul meant in his letter to the Galatians 3:28, (with my slight addition): “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, [or gay or straight, or Black, Latino, Asian, Caucasian], for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” That’s the thing when love is a verb and the life of Christ is lived, walls come down and barriers disappear. False separations and exclusions must end when we realize “we are all one.” And when we live in oneness, the kindom happens.

After studying the origins of monasticism through a course I am teaching for Loyola this summer, I am more convinced than ever that the earliest followers of Jesus spent the first thousand years struggling with how to love God and neighbor. They were not that different from us. Contemplative Christians sought to practice the presence of God and to love their neighbors as themselves. So what does it mean to be a contemplative Christian?

It’s simple really. There are only two parts. Our first priority each day is to practice the presence of God. Being in the presence naturally fills the reservoir of the heart with the love of God. Then that love spills over to the people we encounter each day: ALL the people.

So contemplatives let the love flow out at church and in the streets, inside buildings and outside in nature, with our voices and with our high-fives, directed to whomever is next to us at the moment. And that was the joy in the streets Saturday. We were so privileged to be part of the flowing of God’s love up Decatur street, along Canal, and down Bourbon. The message was not: “God hates you,” like the terrorists act out in America, but “God loves you.” The antidote to hate is obviously to act out love. And what a joy to experience the kindom come through the celebration of high-five slaps in a Pride parade.

Now, go practice the presence of God yourself. Fill up your heart’s reservoir. Then let love flow out in your own best way. Keep glancing over your shoulder as you do. You might catch a glimpse of Jesus alongside you.

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