Monday, November 29, 2010

The Gift of a Path

Lectio for the first week of Advent

Psalm 84

Blessed is the one whose strength is in you, in whose heart is the pilgrims way.

Passing through the valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs; the early rain spreads it blessings.

Pilgrims journey from strength to strength until each appears before God in Zion.


A path is created by clarifying one's aims and removing what gets in the way of their realization. It is carved from commitment and opened up by letting go. It entails both doing something and allowing something to happen. A path is both a task and a gift.

A path is nothing in itself. It is the impression left by the tread of feet of those who went before. The relief of recovering a path is that of being reconnected with others like myself. Not only can I resume an unimpeded journey to its goal, but I have returned to the fold of my kin. A freshly discarded bottle is as reassuring as a signpost or a bridge. For a path is a subjective space. Its free and purposive trajectory is created and maintained by those who use it. Leave it for a year or two, and grasses and weeds will reclaim it. As you walk along a path, you are indebted to every man, woman, child, and dog who preceded you. And each time you place a foot on the ground, you maintain the path for those who will follow. In pushing aside a fallen branch, you take responsibility for those who will come later. --Stephen Batchelor

The Way It Is, William Stafford

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Be willing to be blind

Lectio for November 22

There's a certain kind of practical mysticism where most (all?) religion meets. A certain place that lifetimes of search point to, a common WONDER and WAY we sense but can never adequately define or even describe. Here are three short passages to enrich the contemplation of this practical mysticism.

Be willing to be blind, and give up all longing to know the why and how, for knowing will be more of a hindrance than a help. –The Cloud of Unknowing

There’s a thread you follow.
It goes among things that change,
but it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are following.
You have to explain about the thread.
While you’re holding it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen. People get hurt or die.
You suffer and grow old. Nothing you do
Can stop times unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread. --The Way Things Are, William Stafford

The problem with certainty is that it is static; it can do little but endlessly reassert itself. Uncertainty, by contrast, is full of unknowns, possibilities, and risks. –Stephen Batchelor

Monday, November 15, 2010


Lectio for November 15

The glory of God is a human being fully alive. --Irenaeus

Emptiness is not something sacred in which to believe. It is an emptying: a letting go of the fixations and compulsions that lock one into a tight cell of self that seems to exist in detached isolation from the turbulent flux of life. This emptying leads to a falling away of constrictive and obstructive habits of mind that--as in removing a barrier across a river--allows the dammed-up torrent of life to flow freely. --Stephen Batchelor, Living with the Devil

Philippians 2
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My deepest me is God

Mysticism begins when the totally transcendent image of God starts to recede; and there's a deepening sense of God as immanent, present, here, now, within me. Augustine's line was "God is more intimate to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself." St. Catherine of Genoa shouted it in the streets, "My deepest me is God!"

So you must overcome the gap to know—and then Someone Else is doing the knowing through you. God is no longer "out there." At this point, it's not like one has a new relationship with God; it's like one has a whole new God! “God himself is my counselor, and at night my innermost being instructs me,” says the Psalmist (16:7).

The mystics are those who are let in on this secret mystery of God's love affair with all souls, and recognize the simultaneous love affair with the individual soul—as if it were the only one God loves. It's absolutely our unique affair, and that sets the whole thing on a different and deeper ground than mere organized religion can ever achieve by itself.

Richard Rohr
Adapted from Following the Mystics
through the Narrow Gate (CD/DVD)


Early this morning I dropped a just-poured cup of coffee (half coffee, half milk) on the floor beside the washer and drier. What a lousy feeling.

I got paper towels and began wiping it up, but much of it was under the drier and some under the washer. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what a mess, what a bother. Shifting washers and driers makes one late for work. Not getting to milky messes soon makes worse messes.

What is the combination of feelings and thoughts we have at times like these?

Whatever they are, mindfulness suggests that we don't avoid them and we don't identify with them.

It was hard for me not to identify with one loathed consequence or another: be late and be behind at work or leave that sticky mess to dry under the appliances. No way to win.

You might snicker to read this, but moments like these can be deeply spiritual, can in a funny kind of way take us into the Cloud of Unknowing, the One Hand Clapping, the To Have Your Life You Must Lose It.

However, just picturing the Pushmi-Pullyu of Dr. Doolittle is probably a better fit for spilled coffee!

As we experience binds like these, to see one bit of ourself pushing and the other pulling--and to laugh at the glory and bumble of being alive really can be wonderful.

It's a laughter not immune to tears, however. Somewhere a parent or sibling or teacher helped solidify those binds in a tender psyche, and along that path rules became laws of great consequence. To break them is to be a baaaaaad boy or girl. Taking a moment to hold these childhood experiences of ourselves and others empathetically is powerful medicine.

The sequence goes something like this:

Less bound.
More free.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Freedom--or the 'Vexation of Engagement?'

Lectio for November 8

After his awakening, the Buddha spent several weeks hovering on the cusp between the rapture of freedom and, in his words, the 'vexation' of engagement.

Our words, our deeds, our very presence in the world, create and leave impressions in the minds of others just as a writer makes impressions with his pen on paper, the painter with his brush on canvas, the potter with his fingers in clay.

The human world is like a vast musical instrument on which we simultaneously play our part while listening to the compositions of others. The creation of ourself in the image of awakening is not a subjective but an intersubjective process. We cannot choose whether to engage with the world, only how to. --Stephen Batchelor, Buddhism Without Beliefs

(In the parable of the Good Samaritan) the first question which the priest and the Levite asked is: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" --Martin Luther King, Jr.

May our listening
be like those cozy old halls
where cellos sound best

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Once more, with feeling!

A core element of wise practice in meditation as well as life is 'letting go.' In formal meditation you usually let go of whatever you're thinking with your out-breath.

Christians often refer to letting go of a problem or a burden as 'giving it to God.' Letting go is a wonderful practice.

But 'letting go' can have a downside. The downside of letting go is letting go without knowing exactly what we're letting go of. Letting go can unintentionally be a kind of repression or dissociation. Another way of stuffing our feelings.

In formal meditation I try to 'follow the instructions' and let 'breath sweep mind,' which is to say not bring my present chatty voice into the next moment. But instructions also say to 'see things clearly' and 'with lovingkindness.'

I find I'm not yet skillful enough to consistently do all those things in the span of one breath. I found a few years ago that I was actually slowing or even holding my breath to better understand what it was I was about to let go of--trying to be faithful in holding what I was feeling in kindness before dismissing it--I would literally become faint from lack of oxygen.

I begin to realize that learning to meditate is like learning to do anything else. You have to move slowly. You have to learn scales with your left hand and then your right hand. You have to practice your serve and then your volley, your forehand as well as your backhand.

Now, if I sense a strong emotion associated with a thought, if I sense something rumbling or stirring that's somehow significant (while continuing to breathe!) I hold that thought-sense-feeling for a moment or two. Savor it, letting it speak for itself if it can. Letting that sense be felt if has no words. I do my best to hold this kind of stuff like a wise parent holds a child.

This doesn't mean I always know what I'm holding. But it does mean I'm usually holding most of what comes along with lovingkindness and with as much clarity as I have at the time. And I have a strong sense that along with slowly becoming more mindful I'm slowly becoming more whole.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lectio for Nov 1

Kindness, Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Michah 6.8: God has shown you, O Mortal, what is good. And what is it the LORD requires of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?