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,

Home.

 

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.

Posted in Contemplative Wisdom, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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!

Posted in Contemplative Wisdom | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mindfulness is not enough

Chihulyglass

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.

Posted in Contemplative Wisdom | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Be Amazed!

Beamazed!

“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:

Chihulyglass

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!”

Posted in Contemplative Wisdom | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Contemplative Wisdom | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Last night I dreamed

Global prayer

Last night I dreamed that the kindom of God had already come.

Every single child of God was welcome like kin/family.

Every being born in God’s image, which is every being, was there.

The tall and the short were all welcome. Really!

The people with all skin colors were welcome, even white skins.

The differently abled were all there, faces beaming.

The people who love their own kind were there, and even those who love the other gender were there. Weird huh?

All of the people who believe their beliefs are the only way to get into the kindom were welcome, (even though some groups had to be segregated to prevent shock!)

The people who believed they were the only righteous people were there, (though they each had private rooms to prevent a nervous breakdown from over-exposure to the rest of us).

The children led the rest of us around by hand, showing us how to love, since some of us had forgotten that loving God and every neighbor was all that really matters – ever.

The old people were reverenced instead of ignored.

The quiet people were asked to guide the rest of us, and the loud-mouths were silenced.

Jesus was there, but not on a throne. He was just going around the room hugging each person with the greatest delight, like welcoming long lost family members home. He did not miss a single person. And of course, his best buddies were the people we thought would never make it to the party.

And there was so much dancing, and so much joy. And there was crying too. It turns out that all human emotions were welcome in God’s kindom.

I could go on and on but you get the picture. Go to sleep and maybe you will dream the kindom too! Or better yet, we could make God’s kindom happen together. Let’s start now.

(If you want to join a local kindom party, some of us will gather to walk in the New Orleans PRIDE parade Saturday night. Come hang out and walk the walk with us: Here’s a link to the Facebook invitation for Reconciling United Methodist’s participation in the parade, which includes location/directions:

Posted in Contemplative Wisdom | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Love Religion and Xenophobia

Kenbe and Sam

John O’Donohue, Celtic poet, opened his book Anam Cara with these lines:

“It’s strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you.”

Yes, Life is strange and mysterious, birthing unique beings and constantly revealing the unexpected. Every cell on the planet is unique. Every single person is strange, different from us. Differences can scare us when we encounter a stranger. So it is no wonder that religions often seek to create comfort and security with pat formulas and fixed rules of behavior and systems of exclusion and inclusion. The weird part is how religion can exclude strangers, different people, since every being is different.

In xenophobia people fear and hate the stranger, anyone who is not exactly like them. When xenophobia rules, they seek to exclude those strangers with walls, and deportations, and such. Xenophobia is the Exclusion Religion. In the face of such fears all around us, aren’t we glad when followers of the Way of Christ get things right, and we give allegiance to the Love Religion, not the Exclusion Religion.

In the photo above, my grandson and my nephew do not even know anything about differences. They do know they both love video games! And they know they love each other. There was that time when my grandson fist noticed that my nephew’s prosthetic leg came off, and so he knew something was different. So he asked if my nephew was a robot. When I said, “No, he just has a different leg,” he said, “Oh.” And they kept running in circles and giggling. Philoxenia is love of the stranger. It chooses love of the next person, who is always different in some way, not exclusion.

Jesus was our Master in this Love Religion. Sure the Dalai Lama said his “religion is kindness.” But long before he existed, another spiritual Master said ours is a Love Religion, and love of God/neighbor/self is the heart of the religion. And every other command falls underneath the Love command. The Love Religion is thus the opposite of xenophobia.

Romans 8:14-17 is a passage affirming the inclusivity of the Love Religion. The author says, “ALL who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters…The same Spirit agrees with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Don’t ever forget our message in the contemplative spiritual community. For us, All means ALL!

In Acts 2: 17 the prophet Joel quotes God as saying, “I will pour out my Spirit on ALL people: young, old, men and women, and slaves.” That same Spirit doesn’t play our religious Exclusion Game. Spirit keeps busting boundaries we create, and delivering the truth of ALL.

In verse 4 of this same story from Acts we find that people from every nation under heaven were gathered in Jerusalem and “they were ALL filled with the Holy Spirit” as “a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house” and there were “individual flames of fire alighting on Each One of them.”

In the action of Fierce Wind/Spirit Fire every wall of exclusion is broken down and the full inclusivity of God’s ALL reigns. This is what happens when the kingdom of God is manifested. The wild, uncontrollable Spirit does whatever She/He wants to, blows wherever He/She chooses, and our work, our priorities, our plans, even our lives and relationships are turned upside down.

I happen to have personal experience of this whole business of saying, “Wait a minute there Sprit, this is not what we had planned!” So does Rev. Jan Richardson, who wrote these words in her poem “Final Instructions”:

The palaces you build

are always temporary;

soon the blaze will

burn the spectacle down.

 

Remember the gifts this fire

once brought, illuminating

landscape on a cold night,

revealing the shape of things.

 

Follow your longing

to hang upside down in trees,

letting dreams tumble out….

 

Now this is what I say:

 

There is a fierce wind sweeping through this world,

a Spirit fire burning down every wall we build up,

leaving much we loved in ashes,

raising a new love to life in that place.

 

Trust the fierce wind/Spirit fire mortals

more than you trust what you have made

with your own hands;

for that power has birthed stars and galaxies,

both great and small, near and far,

and it wants to bring new birth in you!

 

More than that,

what will be born

is part of the great Love Religion arising,

replacing congregations who exclude and enslave

with new collectives:

people who know their inner sanctuaries,

who meet in the divine Center

across the invisible web of divinity

connecting us all.

 

Surrender all forms of xenophobia this day and practice philoxenia, as a follower of the Way of Christ. And follow the Torah, which repeatedly says, “You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers….” Give your full allegiance to the Love Religion, even if it costs you everything!

Posted in Contemplative Wisdom | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments