Room With a View

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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.

 

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Into the Silence

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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.” 

 

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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.

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The Terrifying Chair

photo-5 copy 2What lengths would you go to in order to hear the voice of God?

Assuming first that this word spoken, this whisper is actually the most important thing in the world—more important than our frenetic activity…

… more important than our church involvement

… more important than our spiritual gifts,

… more important than our agendas…

After all, Jesus heard this word spoken to him prior to anything he did. At his baptism, before his public ministry began, Jesus heard the words that I believe we are all ultimately longing to hear:

 “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” (Mark 1:11 CEB)

In order to hear that, I’d like to believe that most of us would say, “Well, I’ll do anything!

And so that’s what we do. We sign on for the latest book, the latest bible study, the newest church, the best set of spiritual friends we can.

But lately I’ve been disturbed by something else.

In order to hear the voice of God, would you be willing to sit in a chair and do nothing for 6 hours? 

4 hours?

1 hour?

10 minutes?

Because most of the time that slowing down, that resting, that ceasing is what we need to do in order to hear that voice, that word, that whisper.

And most of us don’t want to go there; I know I hesitate.

Truth is, I hesitate because before I hear God’s voice, I know I’m going to hear a lot of other voices that aren’t nearly as pleasant….

… And they aren’t the least bit interested in calling me dearly loved. 

What I have found is that all my ministry activities and running and laughing and meetings and small groups and “churching” and serving and traveling and worship orders and presentations and writing(!) and one-on-ones and lunches and phone calls and coffee and committee meetings…

… are actually keeping these other, nastier voices at bay.

And at the first sign of me slowing down, they come roaring in.

This is terrifying, and I am tempted to start running again.

But one of the promises of faith that I am struggling to hold on to is the thought that God wants to speak—indeed already is speaking—this first word of belovedness to me and to you. 

I just have to hear it. I just have to hear it, and sometimes that means fighting through all these other voices, these shouts of death and destruction, in order to get to God’s voice. These other voices lie and tell me that they are my “first words”, but they’re not.

God has the first word in my life, and in yours…

And that first word is “In you I find happiness.” 

The invitation is…

  • slow down
  • fight through the voices
  • embrace the first word in your life

peace

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Saltwater

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?

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My (Half) Day as a Monk

image via wikipedia.org

All I knew is that I needed a break.

Last week, I found myself desperately needing to hear from God. I didn’t know quite know what to do, so I drastically rearranged my schedule in order to try and put myself, as best I could, in a position to listen. About halfway through the day, I thought, “Hey, I just spent the day like a monk would!”

Okay let’s be honest: my understanding of a monk’s life is informed mostly by television, movies, and a few books, but this represents my best guess as to what it would be like. 

  • Monks get silence. St. Benedict wrote that Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times.” After I dropped my daughter off at school, I stopped talking (Full disclosure: In order to keep from being rude, I needed to say, “Thanks,” to a couple people). I turned the radio off, put away the iPod, and just. shut. up.
  • Monks get solitude. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “Christ the Lord is a spirit before your face, and he demands solitude of the spirit more than of the body… To follow the advice and example of the bridegroom, shut the door and then pray… He spent nights alone in prayer, not merely hiding from the crowds but even from his disciples and familiar friends.” I hid my phone and turned off my mail app, in order to be fully present and not distracted.
  • Finally, monks get work. Though the purpose of a monastic life was not to work and “produce” stuff, the fathers of the church knew the value of working with your hands and contributing to a community. In the midst of my silence, I went out and mowed the lawn, continuing to direct my thoughts towards God (and also continuing to remain silent).

Silence and solitude don’t come easy or naturally in our society. Even our spirituality can be shot through and through with activity, busy-ness, and distractedness.

Dallas Willard bluntly writes that, “the life in tune with God is actually nurtured by time spent alone… It is is solitude and solitude alone that opens the possibility of a radical relationship to God that can withstand all external events up to and beyond death. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, 101)

Because I believe in the power of a secret, I won’t divulge all of what I heard from God that day, but I will tell you this much:

He spoke, and I heard. 

A lot of you might say, “I could never take the time to do that,” but I wonder…

  • a lot of us take regular trips to the beach or to the pool…
  • a lot of us carve out time to travel hours (because in Tallahassee we have to) to go see a great band…
  • a lot of us take days full of friends, shopping, and voices…

So why not take some time to seek some silence, and quietness. Take some space to get away from the constant voices in your life to sit at the feet of God?

p.s. to read a little more about the rule of St. Benedict, you can go here and here.