Wednesday, April 27, 2011


About 40 years ago my friend Ralph said to me, "For somebody so perceptive you sure are shallow sometimes." I imagine I made some sort of glib reply, but what he said stung. Ralph was 3 years older and had begun a spiritual journey. He meditated and did yoga and talked about stuff that didn't seem shallow.

Living with the sting of those words (and the reality they described) moved me along a kind of path, a path of dissatisfaction. Maybe the path had some dogged curiosity in it too.

I've not really left that path. Somewhere along it I discovered I wasn't shallow at all--just hadn't yet gone deep enough to discover what deep places we humans have in us. There's a psalm that says, 'deep calls to deep.' Sometimes the deeper places in our friends remind us just how deep wisdom and compassion go, and sometimes there's something like a tidal pull we feel somewhere in ourselves. It's a kind of recognition that we ourselves go deeper than we've yet discovered.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


It's a rare yet familiar blessing to be pointing toward St. Non's again.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Religion, every religion, conceals at least as much as it reveals. Religion probably muddies up more than it clarifies. Nevertheless, religion has something absolutely crucial to reveal.

Jesus told a parable about this:

‘Have you understood all this?’ They (his followers) answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe (wise teacher) who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.'

If we want to be wise in our spirituality, we'll always be nosing about in the cellars of our traditions, sifting through the records of what our sisters and brothers through the ages have thought was really important to pass on.

If we want to be wise in our spirituality, we'll also be learning to set aside what's not helpful (to set it aside with decreasing frustration that so much has to be set aside; that's just the way it is). Accepting this is just part of growing up.

If we want to be wise in our spirituality, we'll learn to welcome new insights, our own and the many, many fresh insights of others, trusting that God gives us the wisdom to recognize what's needed for in our own times and what's not, trusting that sifting and sorting is part of the vary process of developing the capacity to know the difference.

It's wise to be critical of religion. But for most of us it's foolish to give up on it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wisdom that Knows the Difference

What do you think Jesus meant when he said we have to lose our selves before we find our selves? To begin to work with this central paradox, we have to somehow engage the wisdom that knows the difference.

What do we value most deeply? Is the life we're choosing moving us more and more in that direction? How do we get better in moving in that direction, in fulfilling both the hope and promise of our own lives?

Lectio for this week:

Modern neuroscience tells us that our past reactions are engraved on the synapses that send messages from one neuron to another, making them more likely to send the same message in the future. Paying attention, we recognize how often a moment's experience is followed by an immediate reaction. It can be shocking to realize how impersonal and habitual our responses are. But gradually we realize that mindfulness gives us the option to choose a healthier response. --Jack Kornfield

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 damned-up torrent to life to flow freely.

Rather than an absence of meaning or value, emptiness is an absence of what limits and confines one's capacity to realize what a human life can potentially become. --Stephen Batchelor

The Bright Field
R. S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receeding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Monday, April 4, 2011


The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. I think it was Ann Lamott who said that. It's wonderfully helpful. Even when we really really want to know something right now. Even when we want to know what to do about something that's driving us crazy, or we want to know how to change a circumstance, how to fix something or stop the throbbing of a painful situation. To want to learn how to be patient with life's uncertainties and unknowables is a wise yearning. In fact, if you have that yearning it's probably a sign that you have the capacity to grow in it. The three lectio readings for this week are perhaps a little 'perplexing, but as Stephen Batchelor points out right out of the gate, sustaining perplexity is part of the practice.

As mindful awareness becomes stiller and clearer, experience becomes not only more vivid but simultaneously more baffling. The more deeply we know something in this way, the more deeply we don't know it. Such unknowing is not the end of the track: the point beyond which thinking can proceed no further. This unknowing is the basis of deep agnosticism. When belief and opinion are suspended, the mind has nowhere to rest. We are free to begin a radically other kind of questioning. The task of dharma practice is to sustain this perplexity within the context of calm, clear, and centered awareness. -Stephen Batchelor

Do not give up then, but work away at it till you have this longing. When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don't know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast reaching out towards God. Do what you will, this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God, and stop you both from seeing God in the clear light of rational understanding, and from experiencing his loving sweetness in your affection. Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after the One whom you love. For if you are to the feel the Presence and see God in this life, it must always be in this cloud, in this darkness. -The Cloud of Unknowing

We have not been raised to cultivate a sense of Mystery. We may even see the unknown as an insult to our competence, a personal failing. Seen this way, the unknown becomes a challenge to action. But Mystery does not require action; Mystery requires our attention. Mystery requires that we listen and become open. When we meet with the unknown in this way, we can be touched by a wisdom that can transform our lives. -Rachel Naomi Remen