Room With a View


Some of you know that, for my graduation, I was given a retreat to a monastery by some friends and family. I went up to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve been there once before, but only stayed one night; this trip would be two days and two nights of silence and solitude (for me, this is a good thing).

When I checked into my modest room, I quickly went to the window and looked out. This IMG_4093was the scene that greeted me: the graves of the monks who have died in the monastery since its founding in the 1940s.

A room with a view, indeed.

I don’t know how this strikes you. Morbid? Disturbing?

For me, it was amazingly clarifying.

In Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr suggests that one of the key facts that a man must come to terms with is the fact that he (I) will die.

Two days of looking out a window at gravestones helps with this perspective.

Rohr does not suggest this to threaten us with judgment, or to insinuate that we all “get busy.” Rather, it’s meant to plant the seed that everything has the same end, and that part of my journey as a man (or human?) is to learn to release: my stuff, my agenda, my dreams, my family, my control, my ego.

I do believe in the resurrection, but I also know that the mortality rate is still right about 100%, and that, as best I can tell, you still can’t take it with you. It seems to me that we try as hard as we can to convince ourselves otherwise, but I wonder what it costs us. We think that we can maintain control and accumulate more and more and more and that we will never need to release.

And yet those gravestones point to a different reality.

In fact, so much of our spirituality has evolved to keep death as separate from us as possible. Last Christmas I was visiting my parent’s (psuedo) country church up in Virginia, and I was struck by the fact that there was a graveyard beside it.

Graveyards are no longer in the design plans of our safe suburban churches.

But what have we lost?

Have churches bought into the cultural message that promises eternal life, if not youth, and encourage us to attach, attach, attach to everything around us?

I am coming to believe that at some point much of life needs to be about surrender. Knowing that someday I will need to make the ultimate surrender helps just a little bit with that.

I’ll take the room with graveyard view, please.



Into the Silence


In just a few days, due to the amazing generosity of people in my life, I am driving up to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, outside of Atlanta, Georgia, for a few days of solitude and silence.

This particularly monastery is a Trappist (or Cistercian) monastery. Now, there are different monastic orders: Franciscans, Benedictines, etc. From what little I’ve learned, the different orders have different emphases: study, poverty, service, etc. Broadly speaking, the Cistercians are focused on prayer and silence. They are not the “most silent” monastic order—my understanding is that the Carthusian monks get that distinction—but silence is a major theme of their life. When you are at the monastery, visitors are generally expected to eat in silence and to talk very quietly, and then only when necessary.

In other words, this is not a place that  is interested in reinforcing my life “as it is.”

If you know me at all, you’d think that my introverted self would be chomping at the bit for this: silence and solitude! No people! Woo hoo!

Well, you’d be wrong.

In a way, I am absolutely eager and ready to go. I am hungry for this, and have been trying to get something like this to happen for months now.

But in other ways, more than ever I know that (a) wherever you go, you bring yourself (or your SELF), and (b) when you really get alone and quiet, you can easily encounter some of the uglier parts of your soul.

As I’ve written before, the “solitary chair”” can be terrifying, because most of us subtly surround ourselves with enough noise to keep us distracted from the real issues in our lives: our brokenness, our deep emotional/spiritual struggles. There are simply things we do not want to see, confront, or deal with.

Silence exposes those things.

On one hand, going away to someplace like a monastery or a campsite or wherever seems like an easy exercise in getting away from the noise of life. But for me, I need to be honest with myself and admit that I can easily carry other “noise” with me: books, music, and my “monkey mind.”

Noise doesn’t always look like Netflix and McDonald’s.

So next week, I am traveling with the absolute bare minimum: no computer, a journal (handwritten!), only the Bible and 1 other text.

My choice is to let God speak and to not distract myself. To try and go deeper, to the next level of foundation in my spiritual life. I want to see more clearly: both God, Christ, other people, as well as my own brokenness and shortcomings.

This is not necessarily something to look forward to.

But I do know that I need it.

(You do too.)

I’m hoping for a deeper revelation of love; a deeper experience of healing and peace; and more centeredness, loving detachment, and clarity in my life.

But I also realize that what I carry into the monastery (including expectations) is not what might be waiting for me. So I hold all of those things loosely, and say (as Mary did), “LET IT BE DONE TO ME.”

If you’ve never gotten quiet and taken the time to really let God speak to you, I’d say (1) I understand; it’s probably pretty scary, and (2) what are you waiting for? 

As C.S. Lewis said of Christ, “No, he’s not tame: he’s dangerous… but he’s good.” 




Hurry Up… and Stop

Advent starts tomorrow.

Maybe your “Christmas season” started at 4:30am on Friday morning; maybe it started online on Thursday night.

Maybe you are already running at 150 miles and hour.

Maybe you are already stressed out due to family tensions and too-many-parties.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s a reminder: Advent is about waiting. 

If you don’t come from a liturgical background (I don’t, by the way), you may not realize that Christmas actually begins on December 25 and lasts for 12 days (hence the annoying song). The season that leads up to December 25 is called “Advent”, which literally means “the coming into being.”

If you follow the Christian calendar, Advent is a period of time reflect on the significance of the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world.

(Which is kind of a big deal…)

So maybe your holiday season has already begun with a frenetic—even pathological—tone. However, it does not need to remain that way.

After all, it doesn’t take a ton of effort to engage in some moments of reflection and thoughtful contemplation this season.

So here’s my question/challenge: What will you do over the next 25 days to slow down, to reflect, to rise above (or stay below, as the case may be) the Christmas (not Advent) madness? 

What if you set aside 10-20 minutes in the morning to reflect and stay silent (or maybe even begin a practice of centering prayer)?

What if you lit a candle each evening at dinner to remind yourself of this light that is “coming into the world”? (see John 1)?

What if you went through a book of Advent reflections?

What if you chose to read through a Gospel (or 2 even) during this season?

Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, but most of us really don’t do anything to actually act like it. We tend to go about our business in much the same way as the rest of the world.

Could this December be different?

Here Be Dragons

On some ancient maps, unknown territories were marked by the phrase, “Here Be Dragons” (or as on this map, they Psalter_World_Map,_c.1265were simply drawn in). It was a way to alert people to the fact that beyond the pale, there was no way of knowing what you might encounter.

Silence and meditation—or mindfulness, ̛as it’s becoming known—is becoming popular spirituality, and its qualities are becoming widely known (I wrote it about a few months back). However, part of my experience with the practice of silence has definitely been along the lines of “Here Be Dragons.”

One of the first lessons I learned when I began to practice silence was that I was really good at covering stuff up. The noise in my life serves as anesthesia to the uglier parts of my soul. The more distracted I am, the less I need to look at the brokenness that flows through my life like a stagnant and rank river. Who wants to smell that? So I add more and more to my life, in the form of iPods, movies, television shows, Netflix, radio, iPhones, constant connectivity, and more and more meetings, people, and parties, all so I can ignore the junk. 

All so I can pretend the dragons don’t exist.

Silence and contemplation aren’t all peaceful, comfortable minutes of bliss.

For me, when I begin to quiet my spirit, my vision inevitably drifts beyond the known borders of my life, into the unknown.

Where the dragons are.

Does this sound overly scary or melodramatic? Maybe. I don’t know.

But I know that when you stop being distracted, stop numbing yourself, there’s nothing to take your gaze away from the stuff that lurks inside you.

Now here’s the good news.

When contemplation and silence is done right, you know you’re not alone. It’s tough sure, because lets face it, dragons are just scary (even when voiced by the oh-so-dreamy Benedict Cumberbatch), but we know that we don’t have to fear being crushed or destroyed, because … and this is amazing… 

God dwells beyond the borderlands as well.

Scripture tells us repeatedly that God is entirely at home silence, darkness, and wilderness. The monastics unabashedly declare, “Silence is God’s first language.”

All this adds up to the idea that, true, we may be strolling into Smaug’s lair, but we don’t walk alone.

It’s our job to sit,to quiet the distractions, and to find the scary parts of our souls.

But ultimately it’s God’s job to slay the dragons.





Gospel Artist :: Enjoy the Silence

photoMaybe we just talk way too much.

It’s not surprising, considering out environment… How quiet is the space you’re in, right now?

How much music is there?

How loud is the traffic?

Is the TV on?

Do we even know what “silence” is? (Never mind what it can actually do in our lives).

A few months ago, I was blessed to be able to spend 2 days in silence and solitude. Don’t get me wrong it was really pretty freaky at times (At times, I was the only person in the entire retreat facility: The Shining, anyone?)

But during those few days confirmed what I’ve been gradually learning more and more in my life:

Sometimes we just need to shut up. 

I just noticed something recently about a familiar story. It’s about a guy named Elijah, and how God reveals himself to him. Through some stuff that happens, Elijah finds himself hanging out by himself in a cave, pretty beat up and at his wits’ end. God decides to show up:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the LORD. The LORD is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the LORD. But the LORD wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the LORD wasn’t in the earthquake. But the LORD wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the LORD wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

The thing that stood out to me is the description of the voice. In English we miss how small this “small voice” was. The Hebrew for small is a word that references the thickness of a hair or a grain of sand. One Rabbi said that the voice could be described literally as “a voice of silence.”

Easy to miss.

As Elijah is looking for something, the biggest and flashiest events that God can muster roll by him. But God isn’t there. And only when Elijah is quiet enough to hear the “voice of silence” can he come to the edge of the cave and hear what God wants to ask him.

So I have two questions for you:

1. What might God want to ask you? 

2. Can you hear the voice of silence? 

So many of us desire direction. So many of us are hungry to hear that centering Spirit, that voice. We are in caves, and we don’t want to be there.

We are waiting to be called.

But we also just won’t. stop. talking. 

We muster our own wind, and earthquakes, and fires by the things we say about God, about what we want from him, when all the time He is waiting for us to just be quiet, so that we can hear that “grain-of-sand voice”.

Are you willing to be silent to hear God? Are you willing to trade your “earth, wind and fire” (never gets old, but just try to watch that video without smiling) for the voice of silence?

Oh yeah, and THIS.



Last time I checked, salt water looks suspiciously like, well, fresh water. In fact, if you live near the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean, there’s a decent chance that the salt water there looks a lot better than most fresh water you’ll see (trust me, I used to live near Lake Michigan).

But there’s just this one thing about salt water.

If you drink it, it will kill you. 

I’m a little fuzzy on all the science, but essentially salt water is four times as salty as the blood in our bodies. As you drink it, the cells inside us are shrinking, and basically we are suffering a “net loss” of hydration with each drink. Keep it up, and you will fry your body’s system, and you’ll be unable to recover.

But, last time I checked, salt water looks suspiciously like, well, fresh water. 

There are things around us, that look like they give us life.

There are things in our environment that appear to help us, but are actually causing a net loss inside us.

There are activities that we think are making things better—that even appear necessary to our existence.

But they are taking a toll.

We are in the season of Advent, which is designed to be a season of reflection and anticipation. Instead, for most of us it’s a season of frenetic activity, consumption, and distraction.

And for most of us, our solution to this “problem” is to run faster, consumer more, and “multi-task” more and more.

But is that actually our saltwater?

Sometimes, the very thing that appears to help us is the thing that is actually beginning to choke away our life. It’s saltwater.

It’s a few more days until Christmas; chances are, your schedule is not going to get any slower over the week.

But do you need to run faster? Check email more often?

Or is that an illusion?

Is it actually producing a “net loss” in your life?

Is it saltwater?



I do “contemplation” pretty well. It’s in my nature to be somewhat quiet and at rest (as my waistline will attest).

But there’s a difference between rest and redemptive silence.

Recently, I have not been able to begin my day in silence the way I have been accustomed to, and I my soul has been paying the price. I’ve realized that taking some time—any time—has a significant positive impact to the amount of peace in my spirit.

It’s easy to assume that we’re supposed to “hit the ground running”. Maybe we’re supposed to hit the ground listening.

Or kneeling. 

To let God speak a word—The Word—to us, before we start speaking back to Him, or to our families.

We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer