A boy and his Creator

boy-photo

This painting captures the stance of the contemplative, and it is my stance. We watch and listen for the Presence. We stare straight into Reality. We welcome the whole, unfolding adventure, though we never know what is coming. We feel all the challenging emotions from the great uncertainty, and still we stand, and watch, and wait.

Seeing us simply standing before the Light, you might think we are passive, or uncertain, or lazy. You might question our motives. You might wonder if we ever accomplish anything. You might say we better form a plan and get busy and make sure we do not spend too much time being still. You might worry about our sanity. You might even get mad at us and yell something like, “Don’t just stand there. Do something!”

We have lived by those compulsions too. We have danced too fast, spun out of control, and raced around trying to keep busy. We have filled up every minute on the daily calendar. Some of us have even sped to meditation groups. One of us, (me), has even been in a wreck on the Interstate trying to hurry to lead a meditation group.

But none of that is how we want to live.

Sure we forget our calling and get lost all the time. But we do not waste much time beating ourselves up. When we awaken, and realize we have become lost, again, we simply start over: standing before the One Light and awaiting instructions.

All of our creativity arises from this Source. So do any shreds of wisdom we discover. And all the love that ever makes it into our hearts comes from this same Source. When we find a quiet joy on an azure blue-sky day, that too emerges from Source. When a hint of hope pulls back the dark curtain of despair, showing us the deep peace, revealing how we will be okay no matter what happens, then we have surely been in the Presence of that same Source.

Where else should we be standing but here, before the Creator? Be we man or woman, girl or boy, where else should we stand? Be we in a happy place, or greatly troubled in our hearts, where else should we stand? Rich or poor, old or young, liberal or conservative, a person of color or not, gay or straight, frightened or courageous or somewhere in between, where else should we be standing but right here before the Light?

I tell you, I have found a home here. And I am certain that this place, standing like a child before her or his Creator, can be your home too.

If you are not sure how to find this place, this home waiting for you, can I warn you now that it is not found by making plans and looking really hard. It is not located by the best cartographers because there is no map to this home. You can’t locate it by watching more CNN or Fox News, for they never speak of such things. An addiction to checking the latest Facebook posts every hour will not get you there. No book, or CD, or DVD, or text, or tweet, or phone call will ever show the way. In fact, no thing outside yourself will guide you to the home of the contemplative, where we live before the Creator.

O weary traveler, give up trying to get home now. Fall down. Let go of every effort. Abandon the search.

There is this one way: long for the Presence with all your heart.

Become willing to let the Presence find you, even if Presence comes in your dreams, or hides in the shadows until you are ready, or Self-reveals in a most unexpected way. Join the contemplatives from every faith across the globe and long for the Presence with all your heart. This is our way. We stand before the Light, and await instructions.

 

*If you need friends on the way like we do, come sit or stand with us in one of our weekly or monthly groups in the School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net) around the New Orleans region, or find local contemplatives in your area. If you would like a personal companion for the journey, we have many spiritual directors around South Louisiana, or you can consult Spiritual Directors International. May your journey lead you home.

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I’m watching Adele at the 2017 Grammys

Image result for Adele photos

I’m watching Adele at the 2017 Grammys, and she is starting a heartfelt musical tribute to George Michael, the singer who died last year. The arrangement starts with only a piano note and she can’t find the key. She keeps trying but it just will not come. So she stops the song, is obviously shaken, says she doesn’t want to ruin the important moment of remembering someone she loved, and begs the musicians to start over. They do. She finds her note. She finishes the song.

People will do the hateful thing and complain about the mistake. Some will even make fun of her. They will be people who have never put themselves out there, never taken the risk, never gotten up after the fall and risen strong (as Brene’ Brown teaches).

Here is what I want to say about that. Tonight I watched Adele show the tremendous courage to be imperfect before millions of people, and start again, for the sake of love.

Adele is one of the most powerful singers of our day. She has achieved tremendous fame recently, and for good reason, but she is a human. She was obviously cut to the heart by not being able to hear that key. She had every reason to just quit and walk off the stage. But she would not stop. She started again, and finished the job through her emotional pain and tears, for love.

May we support our sister in this moment by sending her love, affirming her courage, and praying that she will be filled and renewed by the grace that says, “We love you just the way you are.” We can be vehicles of the Great Love and send that love to a superstar who is also a human being. Join me will you?

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I’m enraptured

IMG_0052

I’m enraptured by an image from a story shared with me this week by Sylvia, a long-term volunteer at Project Lazarus. In a meeting of residents, staff, and volunteers we heard the pain of what had been a rough weekend. Some residents were relapsing in their addictions, and that had created the terrible maelstrom of downward spiral that tends to suck everyone around it into a dark place. There had been nasty moments of anger. Some residents left. Everyone was disturbed. And the backlash and residue was still lingering around the Monday morning meeting.

Sylvia decided to follow her “first mind” and tell us all about the early days at Project Lazarus. She felt we all needed to hear a story to help us through the rough patch. She shared about the days when AIDS was a very unpopular disease, meaning there was little funding for medical treatment research because society presumed AIDS patients were all gay and so they didn’t deserve treatment. Society was extra cruel in those dark days.

But then she shared the image that captured me. Sylvia said people were dying of AIDS  there with little or no family support. So volunteers from the New Orleans community rose up with compassion and formed 24-hour vigils to be sure no one died alone. A candle was lit outside the dying patient’s room to alert volunteers and staff that the resident’s time was short. Their wounds were often terrible as multiple diseases took over. Many looked like they had leprosy. And in those days there were still questions about how AIDS was transmitted. Volunteers had reasons to fear for their own safety.

Even so, the brave volunteers let love rule. They took turns sitting with the patients through their last days and hours. They manifested healing compassion and lovingkindness. The candles were the sign that extra love was needed as death drew near. And the courage emerged in those who stepped up to serve. A small candle became a symbol of the need for great love. The story has stayed with me all week.

I know our society is going through some dark days. Hatred and anger, fear and alienation, are all dictating the ways many people are responding to each other. And yet there are amazing signs of light appearing across the land too. Candles are being placed outside the door, so to speak, in many neighborhoods across our country. While some people are being openly rejected, just like those AIDS patients were decades ago, volunteers are rising up in waves to show compassion wherever it is needed. The Great Love is being revealed. Hearts are being moved by empathy and the call to action. Despite the dark days in our starkly divided culture, I am seeing the candles appearing everywhere.

One of the local places where I see a candle lit, and volunteers responding, is at the First Grace United Methodist Church. Members there are being trained to walk with immigrants through the process of applying for citizenship. The church has opened its doors for immigrants to gather on Wednesday evenings for Congreso de Jornaleros, the congress of day laborers, in a time of self-empowerment regarding how to deal with the stresses of the broken immigration system. Hundreds respond every week. I have just learned of this mission, and so I have never attended a meeting, but I bet I would see the face of Christ in the volunteers and immigrants there.

And that is what I am searching for in these dark days. I need to see the face of Christ in both the people with great needs and the volunteers who serve them. I see that face at Project Lazarus, Congreso, our Open Table ministry with street friends, and in the people who bring their spiritual search to the weekly and monthly gatherings in our School for Contemplative Living. The candles are being lit all over. People are responding. And those small lights can help push back the darkness.

I’m enraptured by the sight of such candles, tremendous needs, and an outpouring of love. Perhaps you can see them too. If you wish, respond with a candle story of your own. We need the light in times like these.

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The question of freedom

Amy and Lenda Faye

“The freedom question, then, is not whether we can do whatever we want, but whether we can do what we most deeply want.” Gerald May, The Awakened Heart

I heard Gerald May make this point at a retreat for spiritual leaders. He encouraged the participants to listen for what we most deeply wanted by asking, “What do you want in your life and ministry?” He invited us to pair up and respond to our peer’s answer with: “What is your heart’s deepest longing beneath that?” We were then invited to ponder our heart’s deepest longing for several minutes of silence, and when we were ready we answered as best we could. Then the question was asked again, until we were sure that we were at the bottom.

The exercise was intended to help us see that we are often only aware of surface wants and not really in touch with our heart’s deepest longing. Seeing the discrepancy between how we are now living and what we deeply want can be confusing, painful, disorienting, and discouraging. But finishing the exercise can also bring clarity of vision, a path to ease our suffering, a new orientation, and a rise of courage.

I have walked through transitions from the life I was living to stepping onto the new path of my heart’s desire several times. The journey was always hard. The period of not knowing was always hard to bear. Admitting my lack of clarity, while still voicing my longing, was always a challenge because it felt so vulnerable. But when I was being listened to by a wise spiritual director, or a clearness committee, or a supportive men’s group, with no agendas on their part except to help me find my clarity, the result was a new vision of the unfolding path before me.

Last summer I almost gave up the life I love, guiding our School for Contemplative Living, because I thought I was supposed to move out of state and begin pastoring a small country church. The move would have brought us closer to our family, and allowed us to spend much more time with our son and grandson. But it turned out that the church would have also been soul-killing. Thanks be to God, the out-of-state church learned about my habit of welcoming all people before I moved there, and decided to reject my appointment without even meeting me.

At the time, I sure didn’t think their rejection was a gift. Soon I learned differently. After the smoke cleared, I had given up the service of a beloved church community in New Orleans, and that was a source of grief. But I did not end up in a church where people are only welcome if they are white and straight. That would have been impossible to bear. So I lost the chance to serve a prejudiced church, and I lost the chance to serve my beloved church in New Orleans. But I gained the chance to focus on one main thing: creating contemplative communities.

We were hosting a contemplative retreat at our home Saturday, and in the middle of it all the clarity hit me again: I am right where I am supposed to be, and I am so blessed to be living the life I love. I can truly say, “Yes, I am answering my heart’s deepest longing.”

I tell this story because I want you to know, without a doubt, it is possible to live the life you love, to follow your heart’s deepest longing. My thing is gathering people into a community who practice the presence of God, who seek direct experience of the sacred in each other’s good company. But that is my thing.

My question for you is: “What is your thing, your heart’s deepest longing beneath all the other wants?”

Exercise: Stop what you are doing. Take several deep, cleansing breaths. Ask yourself: “What do I want for my life?” Listen for the initial responses. You can even jot them down. Keep asking yourself, “What is beneath that? What is my heart’s deepest longing?” When you finally hear the response at the bottom of your soul, write it down. Keep it simple. Say it in one sentence: “I want….”

Then begin to meditate on the phrase that comes to you. Do not try to figure it out. Do not get caught in the mind’s resistances, the many reasons why that life is impossible. Do not waste time wondering what people will think. Do not try to figure out how that life can work practically. The soul is not practical. The soul simply wants what it wants. Life will dance with the soul to find a way.

How can this be true? The Creator made you with a unique being, an essence, a way that is yours’ alone. The mistake we make is asking what God wants for our lives, as though that is something completely different from what I most deeply want. The challenge is to awaken to our heart’s deepest longing, and to realize that is what God wants.

Don’t sabotage your life by settling for a surface level want as your true life. No, your heart’s deepest desire is not to drive a Mercedes. And don’t sabotage your life by believing the lie that your heart’s deepest longing is impossible, so you might as well forget this silliness.

If the answer at the bottom does not arrive immediately, which it rarely does, do not sabotage your life by giving up. Just keep exercising with the questions: “What do I want?” and “What’s beneath that?” I tell you, your soul knows what it wants most deeply, and when you are able to really listen without judgment, your soul is hoping to whisper your own deep longing in your ear. As Rumi says:

Submit to a daily practice.  Your loyalty to that  is a ring on the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside  will eventually open a window  and look out to see who’s there.

Keep knocking/meditating with the question, and watch for the joy to answer. If you are feeling especially clear, respond to this blog by letting me know what you are hearing of your heart’s deepest longing.

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I’m in a wild place

view-out-the-window

I’m in a wild place that I love, seeking the Wild Divinity and feeling the brush of her fingers across my hair as I canoe beneath the branches of a cypress tree in the Honey Island Swamp.

I am done with living a careful, circumspect, insulated life of clinging to safety.

I am all in for the adventure of a wildness coursing through me, like this winter wind rattling my bones.

I am forming a new relationship with the barred owl, lured outside by her seductive call, entranced by the sight of her silent and powerful flight between the high branches, until she perches to eye me as intently as I eye her. I’m in her wild place, and not yet sure if I am a welcome guest.

But I know I need her wildness, this awakened moment with senses alive and attention captured, and a new friend in the trees. She is a wild creature, and her presence helps me remember the wildness in me.

*

Moments later I’m in another wild place that I love, seeking the Wild Divinity and knowing his nearness in the lively conversation of twenty-four people gathered at the edge of the swamp in our new home. We are in the perfect place for exploring the spirituality of nature writing. We are reading nature authors together voice by voice, sitting in silence to listen well, then speaking what we are hearing within. We are meaning makers.

We are disorderly. No one is dictating acceptable speech, or excluding certain speakers based on gender, or race, or sexual orientation, or creed. Every voice is a voice of the Wild Divinity. And he teaches us what we need to know in multi-layered truth, full of paradox. It’s like the story of asking, “Is the truth this or that?” and the answer is always, “Yes!”

In a xenophobic culture that is suddenly all about fear of neighbor and exclusion of neighbor, that is building walls and expelling guests and blocking safe passage for refugees of war, we are wild enough to practice philoxenia–love of every neighbor–in this house.

We believe we are following the Wild Divinity, who created every child in his myriad images and who loves them every one. He whispers in our ears, “When you gather this community, ‘all are welcome’ means ALL.” We are wild and wise enough to answer, “Yes.”

*

For these very brief moments of one human life, I choose to live in these wild places I love, seeking the Wild Divinity in the barred owl of our swamp and a community of philoxenia. And you, dear reader, are welcome to come be wild with us.

 

For more stories of our wild community see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture (Wipf & Stock, 2014), and the Vimeo on the homepage of our website about the School for Contemplative Living at http://www.thescl.net.

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I’m in a debate

William's SCL talk

I’m in a debate

with a pastor who grabbed me after the lunch break

of a contemplative retreat that I am leading

because he needed to set me straight.

 

“I noticed you referred to God as ‘She’ three times,”

he said, “and I wondered if you know that is not theologically correct.”

“Oh,” I said.

 

He continued:

“In seminary, we learned

that all the Hebrew words for God were masculine terms.

And you upset my wife by calling God ‘She.’”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

“I just like to balance the way we speak of the divine,

and I am drawn to the feminine images of God,

like when Jesus says, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,

how many times I would have drawn you to my breast

like a mother hen draws her chicks,

but you would not.’”

 

“But that is still not theologically correct,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

 

“I notice you are not debating me back,” he said.

“That’s right,” I said.

“I know it upsets some people to hear something different,

but it is okay to be different.

The main thing is that we are all God’s children,

whatever we call God.”

 

I’m in a debate, except I am not debating.

I just want to get back to experiencing the divine.

Because for me—direct experience trumps beliefs

and theological debates every time!

 

We return to the good company of contemplatives

and resume our practice of the many ways

of being in God,

because this feeds our souls,

and theological debates are soul-killing.

 

There is just not enough time

to waste it on whose beliefs or words are “right,”

when we can treasure the many ways

“to kneel and kiss the ground.”*

 

 

*This line comes from the Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi. Contact us through our website at http://www.thescl.net if you would like to host a retreat on the many ways “to kneel and kiss the ground.” If you would like a theological debate, please accept that we will not be debating back.

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I’m in a retreat

I’m in a retreat

that I am leading

and I start crying,

because my heart is full of the love of God for these people,

who I barely know,

and we are coming Home together

to a tender place in the heart

where we are one.

 

We are broken people, and we are one.

We are distracted, messy contemplatives

who are full of longing, needing, and searching,

and we are one.

We are people of faith

who often struggle with our faith,

and regularly fall into places of unknowing,

and we are one.

 

We are also beloved people

who are dropping down into the place of our belovedness

right now,

where we are one.

And that, too, is why I am crying.

 

And I speak as I am led from within

to guide us through each contemplative practice

heading down, down,

into the heart of God

who is the Great Love drawing us Home.

 

We sit still, stand up, walk around,

kneel, move through yoga postures to music, practice drumming,

share our inner leadings to teach each other,

and fall back into absolute silence,

together,

as a contemplative community does

just before we head back out to serve the world.

We bring the Presence with us, as best we can,

calling all our sisters and brothers

Home.

image-of-god

 

You can learn more about upcoming retreats, or invite us to lead one where you live, by contacting us through the School for Contemplative Living website at http://www.thescl.net.

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