Friday, June 27, 2008

Bad Joke # 2

An amnesiac comes into a bar.
He asks, "Do I come here often?"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Just for Fun: Lego Secret Vault

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Worlds Apart

...The difference between the grinding-gears energy of "trying harder" and the radiance of the broken, crucified life...

Monday, June 23, 2008

First-Aid Treatment

On the days when I feel (for various and often mutually contradictary reasons) that I will never be able to become Orthodox, I often find it helpful to read these particularly insightful and inspired/inspiring blogs:

My Two Favorite Jokes

These probably reveal my relatively low maturity level, but they make me laugh every time.


Q. What did the Zero say to the Number 8?
A. "Nice Belt!"


Guy walks into a bar.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Stewardship of Pain/Listening to Your Life

"The Stewardship of Pain" by Frederic Buechner

...I thought a lot about what the stewardship of pain means; the ways in which we deal with pain. Beside being a steward of it, there are alternatives. The most tempting is to forget it, to hide it, to cover it over, to pretend it never happened, because it is too hard to deal with. It is too unsettling to remember...

Stewardship of pain... I think it means, before anything else, to keep in touch with your pain, to keep in touch with the sad times, with the hard times of your past for many reasons. I think it is often those times when we were most alive, when we were somehow closest to being most vitally human beings.

Keep in touch with it because it is at those moments of pain where you are most open to the pain of other people -- most open to your own deep places. Keep in touch with those sad times because it is then that you are most aware of your own powerlessness, crushed in a way by what is happening to you, but also most aware of God's power to pull you through it, to be with you in it. Keeping in touch with your pain, I think, means also to be true to who in your depths you have it in you to be -- depths of pain and also in a way depths of joy, because they both come from the same place.

When I think of stewardship of pain, I think also of that strange, dark, harsh parable Jesus tells of the talents, which doesn't turn out at all the way you would expect. You remember, the master gives the three servants talents. He gives one five talents, another, two, and another, one talent. Off they go. He comes back on the day of reckoning and asks the five-talent man what he has done with his money and he says, "Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more." The Master says, "Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your master." The two-talent man has made another two.

The one-talent man, you remember, says, "I was afraid and I went and hid my talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours." The Master says, "Wicked and slothful servant! Take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."

To begin with the negative part of it first, it seems to me that the one-talent man represents what I said before, somebody who buried the richest treasure he had, not just pain, but the most alive part of himself, buried it in the ground. He was never able to become who he might have been. I think the outer darkness the Master casts him into is not to be thought of so much as a punishment, as it is to be thought of as the inevitable consequence of what it means to bury your life. If you bury your life, you don't live your life. You don't meet other people who are alive. You are alone; you are in the dark.

"From him who hath not, it will taken." Those hard words. That if the life is buried, if the pain is somehow covered over and forgotten, instead of growing, you shrink. You become less; you become diminished.

The positive side of it, of course, is the other ones, the ones who came back with more than they started out with. As the parable says, they traded with their talents. They traded with their lives -- a wonderful phrase. We were made to be life traders, because I have what you need, which is me, and you have what you need, which is you. That is the joy into which the Master invites his servants.

Pain can become a treasure if we treasure it to the point where it can become compassion and healing, not just for ourselves, but also for other people. If you want to see that sort of thing in operation, the treasuring of pain, the using of pain to the healing of yourself and others, someday attend an open meeting of AA or any of the related groups. That is exactly what those people are doing, sharing their hurts, their experiences and their joys.

And remember the cross. It seems to me that the cross of Christ in a way speaks somewhat like this same word, saying that out of that greatest pain endured in love and faithfulness, comes the greatest beauty and our greatest hope.

...It is marvelously strange that one person's pain becomes a means of healing for another."
And more from Buechner:

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace."

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


...the difference between trying "harder" and trying "lighter" (or rather, "more lightly").

"Your right hand supports me. Your gentleness makes me great." Psalm 18:35

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The New Normal

"I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity,
and remember their sin no more."

Jeremiah 31: 33-34

In researching the passage, I found this sermon, "Branded by God"--really compelling.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Precarious Prayer

"I think most people have trouble with prayer because prayer is really an act of love, and therefore demands vulnerability. As with love, the more we try to control prayer, the less prayer can happen. Yet the desire to defend and protect oneself is understandable. Prayer is where we most directly face the truth of ourselves and of the world: it is risky business indeed. When I feel the fear associated with this vulnerability, I find it reassuring to remember that the word prayer comes from the Latin root precarius, meaning to depend upon grace. From this root also comes our English word precarious."


May goes on to speak about the various ways we try to control prayer. "It seems we will do almost anything to domesticate prayer, to restrict its inherently radical nature. We try to confine it within private habits and institutional structures, going through its motions without facing its disturbing, endless freshness...It is difficult for most of us to even think about prayer without being concerned about 'doing it right' or comparing our prayer with someone else's."

Interestingly, May is not against either private or public prayer, made-up-on-the-spot or ritualized prayers--any or all of these can be true prayer, just as we can use any or all of these as subtle defenses against God and our true hearts.

So what are the alternatives? One alternative that he speaks of is the practice of becoming aware of the prayer that we find spontaneously arising from within our hearts, without censoring, manipulating, interfering or "meddling" with it, no matter how mundane or trivial or raw and frightening it might seem upon various occasions.

The theologian Walter Wink also discusses this, in the context of the "travail," the labor and birth pangs of the created order as it suffers and is renewed.

He quotes St. Paul: "The Spirit also helps us in our present limitations. For example, we do not know how to pray worthily, but God's Spirit within us is actually praying for us in those agonizing longings and groans which cannot find words," and goes on to say,

"We learn to pray by stopping the attempt and simply listening to the prayer already being prayed in us. And what we hear is a strange kind of help. The Spirit groans in us inarticulately, wordlessly. It teaches us to pray by inducing us to give words to these groanings. Our task is simply to bring the Spirit's utterances to language, to consciousness, to awareness. Before we even make ready to pray, then, before we realize that the universe is in travail in us, before we even allow the groaning to rise to consciousness, God has already initiated our prayer...We do not turn to God and try to make contact through prayer. The Holy Spirit is already groaning in us. We would not even think of praying had not the Holy Spirit's groaning in us prompted us to do so. We are able to pray only because God is always, incessantly, praying in us...When we pray, we are not sending a letter to a celestial White House where it is sorted among piles of others. We are engaged rather in an act of cocreation, in which one little sector of the universe rises up and becomes translucent, incandescent, a vibratory center of power that radiates the power of the universe...The God of the Bible invents history in interaction with those 'who hunger and thirst to see right prevail.' How different this is from the static God of Greek ontology..." (Walter Wink, UNMASKING THE POWERS)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Not As The World Gives"?

Jesus said, "Peace I give unto you, My own peace I leave with you, not as the world gives do I give unto you."

What is the peace that the world gives, and how is it different from Jesus' peace?

For one thing, in the world's system, you are allowed to be peaceful only to the extent that you are "right." You have to be not merely vigilant, then, but hypervigilant, and not merely competent, but hypercompetent, because you're more or less on your own.

And as well as having at all times the right opinions, mindset, knowledge, and understanding, you yourself must be right, as defined by the culture that surrounds you. In the memoir Operating Instructions, writer Anne Lamott quotes her friend the priest Tom Weston on the five rules of being alive in America:

"The first rule is that you must not have anything wrong with you or anything different. The second rule is that if you do have something wrong with you, you must get over it as soon as possible. The third rule is that if you can't get over it, you must pretend you have. The fourth rule is that if you can't even pretend, you shouldn't show up. You should stay home, because it's hard for everyone else to have you around. And the fifth rule is that if you are going to insist on showing up, you should at least have the decency to feel ashamed....I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed."

By contrast, I think of Paul's description of the Christian community in Corinth:

"Brothers and Sisters think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many of you were influential; not many of you were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In Praise of Risk

"Nothing in this world is truly motionless, and I suspect nothing in the next world is, either. We human beings think in terms of perfect ends, but I doubt that God thinks that way. I have a hunch that God has a lot more to do with tender beginnings than with efficient ends....

...We choose safety over freedom; we entrench ourselves in inertia. We dull and occupy ourselves so completely that we stifle our desire, anesthetize our yearning...This does not remove us from the ongoing birth of creation, but it deadens us to it...

... Love does not permit homeostasis to be the end of things. If we so choose, whatever stability we have can be the source of endless beginnings. Our equilibrium can be gestation rather than stagnation. Homeostasis can be the place where we wake up to our yearnings, however painful, and claim them as our own. We can choose to follow our desires for more than what is instead of more of what is. We can say yes to the invitation of love and begin to open up and reach out again. Every time we say yes we upset our stability. We sacrifice our serenity. We risk our safety. We become vulnerable to being hurt. And creation shines more brightly."

The Awakening Heart by Gerald May

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Richard Rohr writes, "Don't go after your sin directly, or you will only confirm your stance and your willfulness." For instance, if your sin has to do with an inordinate need for control, you will automatically try to fight it from a controlling stance and with a controlling style. His cowriter Dietrich Koller writes, "In the transformational work of repentance one doesn't strive for ideals, but discerns spirits...[it] is the work of grace alone. It is comparable to the seeds of the kingdom of God, which grow by themselves. It comes about 'automatically,' which is the word used by the Greek text of Mk. 4:28 to mean 'self-growing' What we can and must do is remove the thorns and thistles by continually interrupting ...our false pattern...The idealist strives for sublime ideals--and comes to grief on them. The work of spiritual development for transformational repentance does not blindly become enslaved to the ideals, but perserveres in sober alertness, before which the spirits unmask themselve...

These false 'pattern-spirits' have no real creative work; they can only exaggerate or distort our holy gifts. Anything can be distorted--and for a long time we won't even notice it, because the sheer activism of our pattern has put us to sleep. With the charism of the 'discernment of spirits' we engage in diagnosis: Am I now ruled by genuine pride or false pride? Authentic self-love or narcissism? Spiritual knowledge of guilt of neurotic guilt-feelings? ...The spirit of subservience or grown-up obedience? ...Genuine tolerance of suffering or cowardly conformism...?"
The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective

Friday, June 6, 2008

One Author's Portrayal of What It Might Have Felt Like To Be Jesus

From Anne Rice's The Road to Cana:

"'Mother,' I said. 'There are things I know, and things I don't know. Sometimes knowledge comes to me unexpectedly--in moments of surprise. Sometimes it comes when I'm pressed, and in my sudden answers to those who press me. Sometimes, this knowledge comes in pain. Always, there's the certainty that the knowledge is more than I will let myself know. It's just beyond where I choose to reach, just beyond what I choose to ask. I know it will come when I have need of it. I know it may come, as I said, on its own. But some things I know certainly and have always known. There's no surprise. There's no doubt.'"

(then a few paragraphs later:)

"'There come these moments....these heart-breaking moments when we first feel joy and sadness intertwined. Such a discovery that is, when grief becomes sweet. I remember feeling this perhaps for the very first time when we came to this place, all of us together, and I walked up the hill above Nazareth and saw the green grass alive with flowers, the tiniest flowers--so many flowers, and all of it, grass and flowers and trees, moving as if in a great dance. It hurt....It hurt...But it was to be cherished...forever.'"

From the Contemplative Outreach Folks, With Disclaimer*

Contemplative Prayer

We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. In the Christian tradition Contemplative Prayer is considered to be the pure gift of God. It is the opening of mind and heart - our whole being - to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Through grace we open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing - closer than consciousness itself.

Centering Prayer

Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate the development of Contemplative Prayer by preparing our faculties to receive this gift. It is an attempt to present the teaching of earlier times in an updated form. Centering Prayer is not meant to replace other kinds of prayer: rather it casts a new light and depth of meaning on them. It is at the same time a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. This method of prayer is a movement beyond conversation with Christ to communion with Him.

Theological Background

The source of Centering Prayer, as in all methods leading to Contemplative Prayer, is the indwelling Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The focus of Centering Prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ. It tends to build communities of faith and bond the members together in mutual friendship and love. “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Wisdom Saying of Jesus

Centering Prayer is based on the wisdom saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
“...But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will repay you.” Matthew 6.6 (New American Bible)
It is also inspired by writings of major contributors to the Christian contemplative heritage including John Cassian, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Francis de Sales, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Thomas Merton.

Centering Prayer Guidelines

Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within. (cf. Open Mind, Open Heart, chap. 5)
The sacred word expresses our intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
The sacred word is chosen during a brief period of prayer asking the Holy Spirit to inspire us with one that is especially suitable for us.
Examples: God, Jesus, Abba, Father, Mother, Mary, Amen.
Other possibilities: Love, Peace, Mercy, Listen, Let Go, Silence, Stillness, Faith, Trust, Yes.
Instead of a sacred word a simple inward glance toward the Divine Presence or noticing one’s breath may be more suitable for some persons. The same guidelines apply to these symbols as to the sacred word.
The sacred word is sacred not because of its inherent meaning but because of the meaning we give it as the expression of our intention and consent.
Having chosen a sacred word, we do not change it during the prayer period because that would be to start thinking again.
Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
“Sitting comfortably” means relatively comfortably so as not to encourage sleep during the time of prayer.
Whatever sitting position we choose, we keep the back straight.
We close our eyes as a symbol of letting go of what is going on around and within us.
We introduce the sacred word inwardly as gently as laying a feather on a piece of absorbent cotton.
Should we fall asleep upon awakening we continue the prayer.
When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so-gently to the sacred word.
“Thoughts” is an umbrella term for every perception, including sense perceptions, feelings, images, memories, plans, reflections, concepts, commentaries, and spiritual experiences.
Thoughts are an inevitable, integral and normal part of Centering Prayer.
By “returning ever-so-gently to the sacred word” a minimum of effort is indicated. This is the only activity we initiate during the time of Centering Prayer.
During the course of Centering Prayer, the sacred word may become vague or disappear.
At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
The additional 2 minutes enables us to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.
If this prayer is done in a group, the leader may slowly recite a prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer while the others listen.

The Guidelines

Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
When engaged with your thoughts*, return ever-sogently to the sacred word.
At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
*Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections

Some Practical Points

The minimum time for this prayer is 20 minutes. Two periods are recommended each day, one first thing in the morning and the other in the afternoon or early evening. With practice the time may be extended to 30 minutes or longer.
The end of the prayer period can be indicated by a timer which does not have an audible tick or loud sound when it goes off.
Possible physical symptoms during the prayer:
We may notice slight pains, itches, or twitches in various parts of the body or a generalized sense of restlessness. These are usually due to the untying of emotional knots in the body.
We may notice heaviness or lightness in our extremities. This is usually due to a deep level of spiritual attentiveness.
In all cases we pay no attention and ever- so-gently return to the sacred word.
The principal fruits of the prayer are experienced in daily life and not during the prayer period.
Centering Prayer familiarizes us with God’s first language which is silence.

Points for Further Development

During the prayer period, various kinds of thoughts may arise.
Ordinary wanderings of the imagination or memory.
Thoughts and feelings that give rise to attractions or aversions.
Insights and psychological breakthroughs.
Self-reflections such as, “How am I doing?” or, “This peace is just great!”
Thoughts and feelings that arise from the unloading of the unconscious.
When engaged with any of these thoughts return ever-so-gently to your sacred word.
During this prayer we avoid analyzing our experience, harboring expectations, or aiming at some specific goal such as:
Repeating the sacred word continuously.
Having no thoughts.
Making the mind a blank.
Feeling peaceful or consoled.
Achieving a spiritual experience. (cf. Open Mind, Open Heart, chap. 6-10)

Ways to Deepen Our Relationship with God

Practice two 20-30 minute periods of Centering Prayer daily.
Listen to the Word of God in Scripture and study Open Mind, Open Heart.
Select one or two of the specific practices for everyday life as suggested in Open Mind, Open Heart, chap. 12.
Join a weekly Centering Prayer Group.
It encourages the members of the group to persevere in their individual practices.
It provides an opportunity for further input on a regular basis through tapes, readings, and discussion.
It offers an opportunity to support and share the spiritual journey.

What Centering Prayer Is and Is Not

It is not a technique but a way of cultivating a relationship with God.
It is not a relaxation exercise but it may be refreshing.
It is not a form of self-hypnosis but a way to quiet the mind while maintaining its alertness.
It is not a charismatic gift but a path of transformation.
It is not a para-psychological experience but an exercise of faith, hope and selfless love.
It is not limited to the “felt” presence of God but is rather a deepening of faith in God’s abiding presence.
It is not reflective or spontaneous prayer, but simply resting in God.

For information and resources contact:
Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. 10 Park Place - P.O. Box 737 Butler, NJ 07405
* My Disclaimer: I don't do this enough! I am always looking for loopholes and shortcuts...But anyway, I find this process of always gently returning to be helpful in church re. distracting thoughts.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

No Theory

Yesterday, I came across this poem by David Ignatow:

No Theory

No theory will stand up to a chicken's guts
being cleaned out, a hand rammed up
to pull out the wiggling entrails,
the green bile and the bloody liver;
no theory that does not grow sick
at the odor escaping.

At first when I read it, I thought, yeah, that's right, Christianity and all theodicies represent only the theoretical, and therefore cannot begin to speak to the suffering in this world. Reality, by its very starkness, trumps everything that has to do with faith.

But then I thought, wait, what about the body and blood of Christ? Nothing is less theoretical and more visceral than incarnation.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Thoughts II

By watching parents in church with their small children, I think I am learning a little about how to deal with my own frenetically wandering thoughts; I've noticed that when the children "act up," the parents are very patient with them, not harsh, and just keep gently repositioning them, so to speak (occasionally, a parent will takes a child out of the service for a moment and then bring the him/her back). For the littlest of children, the fruits of this process are not even, or are barely, in sight, yet the parents don't abandon their kind steadiness and consistency. It doesn't seem to be about punishment at all, but rather, about a slow and extremely incremental training process, which reminds me of the title of Eugene Peterson's book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. And it makes me think of a verse from a hymn I haven't heard or sung for years:

Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be,
That which is not now, nor could be,
Then shall be our own.

So I see that it is counterproductive to scold, fight, argue, or engage with unhelpful thoughts during worship, but rather, I need to simply, even gently reposition my attention, and proceed from there.

And even thoughts that seem to be--and probably are--worth following/developing, can be filed away for later, since the purpose of the service is Presence, not analysis or cogitation.

All of this feels rather grounding. I think of the Peterson translation of Ps. 131:

"I've kept my feet on the ground.
I've cultivated a quiet heart."

This mention of the ground makes me think of how we stand in worship and prayer, and how "grounding" it is.

Peterson's translation continues:

"Like a baby content in its mother's arms,
my soul is a baby content."

However, I haven't seen this verse translated in that way in other versions, where it's always a "weaned child," connoting, perhaps, a toddler. Indeed, nursing infants and babes-in-arms don't seem to have all that much difficulty in church, generally, since they aren't yet mobile (I vaguely remember that stage of mothering as relatively simple compared to the toddler stage!). This is how the NKJV has it:

"Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me."

More on this next time...