Because Rumi.

Haven’t written anything here for a while….

No excuses (so don’t look for any) … 

My sleep is slowly returning to normal, which also means that I’m beginning to wake up, on my own, quite early. 

I love the early morning dark. 

(I find that morning “I just woke up” darkness is so much different than night-time “I’m up WAY too late” darkness.)

Anyway, read this as the sun was coming up: 

The whole early is a form for truth.
When someone does not feel grateful
to that, the forms appear to be as he feels.
They mirror his anger, his greed, and his fear.
Make peace with the universe. Take joy in it.

It will turn to gold. Resurrection
will be now. Every moment,
a new beauty. -“Green Ears”

Loved that. I’m trying to make peace with the universe. I know that’s where the resurrection is, where the beauty is.

 

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Why I Read the Mystics

This is from a priest, spiritual director and teacher from the 17th-18th century named Jean-Pierre de Caussade. He wrote a little book called Abandonment to Divine Providence that is wrecking my life (in that oh-so-great way) right now.

It is faith which interprets God for us. Without its light we should not even know that God was speaking, but would hear only the confused, meaningless babble of creatures. As Moses saw the flame of fire in the bush and heard the voice of God coming from it, so faith will enable us to understand his hidden signs, so that amidst all the apparent clutter and disorder we shall see all the loveliness and perfection of divine wisdom. Faith transforms the earth into paradise. By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven. Every moment reveals God to us. Faith is our light in this life. By it we know the truth without seeing it, we are put in touch with what we cannot feel, recognize what we cannot see, and view the world stripped of its superficialities. Faith unlocks God’s treasury. It is the key to all the vastness of his wisdom. The hollowness of all created things is disclosed by faith, and it is by faith that God makes his presence plain everywhere. Faith tears aside the veil so that we can see the everlasting truth.

Dang.

What I Learn in the Monastery 2: Simplicity is Possible

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While I am here, I adhere as much as possible to the rhythms they provide: I attend mostly all of the worship and prayers (5 of them daily, beginning at 4AM and lasting to around 7:45PM). The monastery also provides breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu is usually pretty simple, with the main meal being lunch. Dinner tends to be without meat: usually a soup and a salad. There are no televisions, and no computers (besides what you bring). Loud noises, music and “entertainment” are discouraged.

This is so different from how I function at home, especially in regards to food. Though I often fast during the day, I’m a pretty notorious snacker, and I gaze most of the evening. Though technically there are cookies left out all the time for the guests, I find the structure sets an expectation of, well, simplicity. So I eat dinner around 5:30PM, and then not again until 8AM or so. And I really don’t question it. 

Additionally, at the end of a day at home I still tend to fire up Netflix or AmazonPrime for at least some kind of viewing distraction. Maybe for just 45 minutes, but still the contrast is telling.

Being here tells me that this type of life is possible for me: actually I have had enough to eat at dinner, and I don’t need to snack at night. Actually, I can just sit quietly and read a book at night. (At least this year, I haven’t missed Netflix, etc., at all.)

What does it take to bring this back to my “normal” life? How do I embrace more simplicity? More structure? I know that there is a certain complexity to my life—commitments with church and children and my family and friends—but by and large there is also an invitation to say “No” to more so that I can say “Yes” to the important things.

Wake Up Call

Each morning, I read Joan Chittister’s The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, which is a day-by-day meditation on (you guessed it) The Rule of Saint Benedict. I really enjoyed her comments today:

To bear bad things, evil things, well is for Benedict a mark of humility, a mark of Christian maturity. It is a dour and difficult notion for the modern Christian to accept. The goal of the twenty-first century is to cure all diseases, order all inefficient, topple all obstacles, end all stress, and prescribe immediate panaceas. We wait for nothing and put up with little and abide less and react with fury at irritations. We are a people without patience. We do not tolerate process. We cannot stomach delay. Persist. Persevere. Endure, Benedict says. It is good for the soul to temper it. God does not come on hoofbeats of mercury through streets of gold. God is in the dregs of our lives. That’s why it takes humility to find God where God is not expected to be.

 

What I Learn in the Monastery 1: Psalms Are For Praying

Many of you know that I take an annual 4 day silence and solitude retreat at The Monastery of the Holy Spirit outside of Atlanta, GA. Over the next few weeks, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned in the years that I’ve been going. 

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1.  Psalms are for praying. 

The backbone of a monastic “worship service” is singing (or more accurately, chanting) the Psalms. With five gatherings of worship/prayer a day, they get through the entire catalog of 150 every two weeks. 

Mostly, I grew up in the faith assuming that “psalms” = “songs”. That’s true some of the time, but not all of the time. Many times, the Psalms are actually recorded prayers, and what’s great is that they pretty much reflect the entirety of human experience and emotions (including many emotions that I would personally be terrified to express during prayer).

Initially, it was actually a bit challenging, at least partly because I simply wasn’t used to praying other peoples’ prayers (even if they’re written by King David). I always said my own words. But the more I got used to the gentle rhythm and melodies of the Psalms, I could feel them sinking down into my soul, and what’s more I began to find that I could actually identify with a lot of the sentiments that I saw expressed: I may not have physical enemies like the Psalmists express, but I certainly have internal enemies that are certainly out to get me, and so I could use the feelings towards the physical enemies and point them towards the tapes and baggage of my own life.

In addition, I started to feel an actual security and confidence in these ancient, tested words and prayers. A professor in seminary used to say repeatedly, “The thing is to ask yourself, ‘Can I become the type of person that can pray this prayer with integrity and honesty?’” That phrase resonated with me, and now the Psalms have become a bedrock part of my prayer life.

What We Forget About Grace

I was reading The Book of Joy this morning, and this statement struck me:

“Charity is prescribed by almost every religious tradition. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, called zakat. In Judaism, it is called tsedakah, which literally means “justice.” In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is called dana. And in Christianity, it is charity.”

Speaking from the Christian point of view, obviously this is correct. But it struck me that there’s another level that exists, mostly related to the word from which “charity” is derived.

“Charity” comes from the Greek word charis, which means “grace” (which in turn is mostly translated as “unmerited favor”)

To be charitable to someone is to extend grace to them.

As I’m constantly trying to remind people, grace is not something that simply gets us into heaven: It is the constant and consistent attitude that God adopts towards us. 

It goes way past forgiveness, and with the concept of “charity,” it brings us into the equation, where we are able to (well really we are called to) imitate God by extending charity—grace—to those around us.

+e

 

 

My 2017: The Practices

As much as I love to read and consume knowledge, art and experience, it’s probably this much shorter list that had the most impact on my life in 2017.

I believe the heart of the gospel—the “Good News” of Jesus Christ—is an invitation to grow, to heal, to transcend our brokenness and become, very literally, just like Jesus. 

Accordingly, I’m always looking for ways to push deeper into practices and habits that allow me to more tangibly and effectively experience God’s Spirit in my life.

So here are some of those habits and practices—some new and some continued for years now—that shaped my 2017:

Five-Minute Journal

I saw this described in a Tim Ferris YouTube video. It seemed like an effective way to cement a few very powerful habits into my daily life: journaling, being grateful, and trying to re-direct the negative talk and tapes that can derail my life.

There is an official “Five-Minute Journal” product that you can buy, but since I’m so picky about my tools, I just decided to modify the concept, and just use my normal journal (a Leuchtturm1917 Dotted notebook).

Here’s how it works, pretty much every morning:

  1. I write 3 things I’m grateful for (personally, I write these as complete sentences; it forces me to engage more).
  2. I write 3 things that would make today “awesome.”
  3. I write 2-3 affirmations about myself (one of mine is always, “I am LOVED.”)

In addition, I always write a quote from whatever my morning reading was, something that inspired me or challenged me.

There is also an evening/end of day component, but that’s been more difficult for me to develop and maintain:

  1. Three things that happen that made the day awesome/wonderful.
  2. Two or three ways that I could have done a little bit better.

The whole practice typically takes (a) no more than one page in my journal, and (b) no more than 5-7 minutes.

The Daily Office

I want to be a person of prayer. For me, I believe it’s actually the foundational spiritual practice that can change me.

And it’s a struggle. My mind wanders. A few years ago, I discovered centering prayer, which has radically transformed my understanding of prayer and of God. About six months ago, I felt the desire/leading to add a little more to this practice, and I thought about my annual trips to the Trappist monastery in Conyers, Georgia. Part of the monastic life there is to sing/chant the Psalms in their gatherings. I found it to be moving and intriguing, and also I felt a conviction that the 150 Psalms represent such a depth of human emotion and spiritual experience that I wanted to make them more “mine,” and take them more deeply into my own life.

I have had a Book of Common Prayer since about 2002, and over time I have been able to make more and more effective use of it (not being a part of a liturgical community, it was quite a mystery to me for a while).

So I began to follow the “Daily Office” which provides a formal structure for prayer (4 times a day), including a reading of the Psalms.

I added to this to my morning practice of silence and centering prayer, and I loved the way that I began to experience the Psalms on a more powerful level.

You can find an online Daily Office here (look under “Daily Devotions”).

Breathing/Smiling

I can’t remember where I heard it first, but the phrase, “salvation is a life” has always resonated with me. Like it or not, my life in God is lived in the here and now, with all of its mundanity and challenges.

The truth is, I don’t handle conflict or high-stress conversations all that well. But as I learned more about life this year (which, again, is also learning about salvation and “eternal life now”), I encountered some practices that have helped me be more compassionate, attentive and even loving in the moment.

We are physiological beings, and when we encounter high stress situations, certain things can happen that make it difficult for us to respond with the love and compassion that God calls us to.

Specifically, when my “fight or flight” reaction is activated (which, unfortunately, doesn’t take much for me), my brain becomes quickly deprived of the oxygen that is necessary for me to respond with maturity and love. What I am starting to learn is that deep breathing (at least 2-3 deep and slow inhales and exhales) can help keep my brain centered and calm.

In a similar, I am also learning that if I can keep a relaxed smile on my face, I am able to process information better, even in the heat of an intense meeting. Smiling actually releases stress, and helps me to open my mind and heart up to God’s Spirit again, so that I can allow Jesus to “live his life through me.” Most of the time it is a simple act of discipline to monitor the stress of my face, and to deliberately relax.

These two practices continue to have some of the most practical impacts on my day-to-day leadership that I have encountered.

Yoga

This is relatively new to me, but I have recently enjoyed the benefits of focusing my mind and stretching my body. Yoga emphasizes “practice and not perfection”, and thus really connects with my disciplines.