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Beginning in Silence
The morning light begins to illumine the Eastern sky. I can hear the waves of the Strait of Juan de Fuca pounding upon Dungenness Spit and then off in the distance is the haunting call of an eagle. This morning there is only a slit through the gray clouds allowing the yellow and golden colors of the morning sun to shine forth. Other mornings the sky is alive with color, with beauty, with grandeur. Off in the distance is the baritone voice of a seal and the squawking of seagulls playing in the wind.
A description of prayer was offered by St. John Damascene (c 676-c 787), “To pray is to offer one’s heart to God.” My prayer begins in silence before God’s presence, resting in God’s love and enjoying his gifts of creative splendor. Prayer begins for me, not with words, not with speaking to God, but with silence, being with God.
This morning I invited Jesus to sit in the lawn chair next to me and enjoy the morning’s drama and beauty. Together we watched, together we enjoyed, together we pondered the beauty he had created by the word of his mouth. This is prayer. Nothing accomplished. Nothing startling or miraculous, only Jesus and I sitting together, watching, enjoying, marveling.
In addition to petitions and intercessions, in addition to confessing sins and praising our Savior, prayer can involve much more. To enjoy the gifts of God in creation is also prayer. Prayer also involves being lost in the loving presence of God. It is being still before the lover of our whole being; it is resting in the One who knows me completely and still loves me completely. This is intimacy with God in Christ. Though I do not often “feel” God’s presence and I do not often experience God’s miraculous hand stretched out, though the miraculous does happen, I bask in God’s love and love is what transforms my life.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “Somewhere we know that without a lonely place, our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence, words lose their meaning; that without listening, speaking no longer heals; that without distance, closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a solitary place, our actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the spiritual life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.” (Spiritual Formation, pp. 21f)
And so my “prayer time” begins in silence.
Wondering and Wandering
by Rev. David Hicks
Observing the rhythm of the liturgical church year is a powerful way to reflect deeply on the Christian journey. We are currently in the season of Epiphany which begins after the season of Christmas and ends on Ash Wednesday. One of the main stories associated with Epiphany is the visitation of the Magi to the Holy Family in Bethlehem.
We don’t know much about these “wise ones” but in many ways their journey becomes our journey, and it is a journey that is characterized by wondering and wandering which led them to Jesus. Their wondering kept them looking to the stars, pondering, reflecting, asking questions. And their wandering propelled them out on a journey beyond what was comfortable and established in order to experience what they had been wondering about for so long.
One of the reasons why I love the inclusion of the Magi story into Scripture is because their journey is out of the box. There is nothing usual or predictable or ordinary about it. These were pagan astrologers, from other parts of the world, speaking a different language. These were not orthodox men of the faith, they were not even Jewish, they probably didn’t even have a monotheistic view of God. Their customs were strange, their worldview was strange, how they came to be there was strange, everything about them was radically different from the young couple holding their young child. And yet, their journey eventually brought them to Jesus and their presence and their presents were welcomed and received by the Holy Family.
Our quest for God is often marked by the unpredictable and unordinary. We too are heading in a direction that is unclear and unforeseeable. And the journey is seldom smooth sailing. There is risk involved. There are dangers along the way. Our wondering may open up questions and reflections that some might say lie outside of that which is proper and acceptable. Our wandering may, to some, look like we are wandering away from faith when in all actually we are desperately trying to wander toward a deeper, more authentic faith. And so, we head out, because something is stirring within us, even though we may not yet be able to identify or articulate it. Hope and curiosity drives our wondering and our wandering.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn to accept and embrace our wondering and wandering as an expression of our own deep desire for greater intimacy with God? Wouldn’t it be great if we could accept and embrace the wondering and wandering of others without judgement or criticism, and without trying to hurry them along with the narrowness of our own pre-conceived ideas of what is best for them. Together being communities of wonderers and wanderers driven by and toward the expansive love, grace, and mercy of God. A place where both our presence and our presents are welcomed and accepted without fear or prejudice.
Bon voyage and happy trails!
by Rev. Terry Tripp, CFDM Co-Director
Did you know that I love sculling? Which means I row a single person shell. I row year-round on Puget Sound in the Bay on which I live. Every movement of the body makes a difference in how the shell moves through the water and how one stays afloat.
I sit in a seat that slides up and down the small cockpit of the shell. My feet are strapped to foot holders and I have long oars that are locked into riggers which extend about two feet out from either side. To keep from flipping the shell, I must concentrate on every movement. My body must be carefully positioned to balance the boat—always square, aligned with center.
The stroke begins with legs flat. The handle of my oars are pulled into my sides with the ends of the blades just off the water. Hands push forward, one leading the other as the ends I hold overlap, keeping them level. My back follows outstretched arms, seat glides up the slide. Just before I reach the end of the slide, I turn the oars so the blades can catch the water. Timing is critical. In they go. I push, legs first, then pull with my back and, finally, arms and hands One stroke completed.
Presence. Presence to my body, always.
This presence reminds me of God’s invitation to be present to God in all moments. It is neither easy nor comfortable. It requires the willingness to embrace what is in the moment. What is may be painful or joyful. But it is always vulnerable. It is like the movement of rowing well; always aware that one might slip and catch the water in the opposite direction and flip the boat. Yet, staying with the intention is to say, “I am here, I want to hear you, God, and I want to experience you–one movement, one moment at a time.”
Rowing has been a metaphor for my life in God. Sometimes it goes great; other times it is stormy and hard. All the times it teaches me to move in rhythm and hope. Can I become aware of my experience of life in sequence, and abandoned to a love I can’t control, yet move in rhythm to its beat?
I have no resolutions (!) for this new year. I have hope, though, that I will be present to each moment; that I will be willing to observe myself in action and change course if need be; that I will reflect on life as the playfield of God’s action in the world; that I am a part of it. And I will trust God to do all this in me.
Paul said something like this about “hope” in his letter to the Roman faith community while he was in prison: (my translation)
“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God, through Christ, who gives us grace – so then we can hope in sharing life with God. Not just that but also, we know that our suffering produces in us endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
We recognize this hope by the love that lives in us by God’s Spirit.”
So, no resolutions, just hope that God will produce in me, through life, a presence to God’s action and movement within.
Just as I am physically present to my rowing, I hope to be present spiritually to my soul, recognizing this movement by the growth of love. May love grow in you this new year of 2020.
Space in My Heart
by Rev. Mona Chicks, contributor
When I was a child, the Christmas season was magical. I was entranced by the lights that shone throughout the dark nights. The crisp quality in the air readied me to wear heavy coats and boots. I looked forward to getting new books and toys that were specially picked out for me, instead of the hand-me-downs that were my usual fare. We had feasts in the homes of people from church throughout the month, and people walked around with smiles on their faces. There was joy in the air.
As an adult – a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, daughter-in-law, and church-worker – Christmas has taken on a different quality. It isn’t so much magical as it is stressful and chaotic. Amidst all the responsibilities, planning, events, baking, cooking, trips to the post office and the airport, the month of December can feel ominous.
In the midst of the chaos, though, I want to learn to seek Jesus. I yearn to find opportunities to make space in my heart for Him. As in so many things, Jesus tells me how when he said,
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4 NIV)
What if I made space for Jesus by starting to approach the Advent season like I did as a child? What if I sought out the wonder and the expectation that I felt back then? I suspect the true meaning of Advent and Christmas would begin to invade.
I would find hope, letting the light of Jesus shine into the depth of my soul, like the lights on and in our homes drive away the darkness and bring cheer to long winter days.
I would find peace, being present in the moment instead of worrying about all that yet needs to be done. Experiencing God’s peace can be as simple as it is enjoying a meal with friends, considering the dearness of a person for whom I am are choosing a present, or praying that God will use the gift of my time and talent as I prepare for an event.
I would find joy as my expectation becomes Jesus rather than checking off boxes on a to do list. And because God is gracious and honors our re-ordering of our lives, somehow the important boxes still get checked.
I would find love in the most important relationships in my life – my relationship with Jesus deepens because I am looking to Him instead of to myself. My relationship with family and friends are buoyed as I allow Jesus’ love to seep out of me toward them.
But most importantly, I would find Christ. God promises that if we seek, we will find, if we seek with all our hearts.
So, seek first the Kingdom of God. All these other things – the cookies, the decorating, the endless task list – will come to you.
This Advent season, may you find space in your heart, in your life, and in your spirit for Jesus.
Strength Made Perfect in Weakness
By Mark Cutshall, Spiritual Director
Do you ever get lost in a thicket of words from a directee and silently confess to yourself, “I don’t know where all this is going.”
The first few times it happened, I panicked. Like a hungry squirrel in winter, I raced around inside trying to find a nugget from Tilden Edwards or David Benner I could offer my directee. Nada. Nothing. I had to fast from another’s faith, and feast on my own, true God.
Do you ever lose focus with a directee when it matters most? Recently, one of our kids, who somehow grew up overnight when we weren’t looking and turned 21, had a friend who totaled our car. The next day in a direction session, I felt deflated, unable to fully listen to the story my directee had entrusted me to hold.
Having been a spiritual director now for four years, I feel more and more human. Growing self-awareness mirrors back new wrinkles of my own nagging limitations. Still, in these crevices of self-doubt I find myself lingering longer with the questions, laughter and laments of the directee whose story holds me closer to my Creator.
Jesus told Peter, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
What was Jesus asking Peter to consider, to embrace? For me, it’s when I own up to my ego, that I rediscover my fault lines and need for continuous healing.
Sometimes, in that moment, I’ll sense an unexpected invitation. It reaches me upstairs in my mind on the way to my heart. Like a hummingbird who finds a way to comes near, the invitation is to stop, listen, and pray again, with eyes wide open: “You, Jesus, have found me. You loved me into being and companioned me all those years when I had no idea. Stay near, for I can’t do this alone. Keep leading me, holy Trinity, so that through my broken pieces I may hold the story of another who can find their hope in You.”
Getting lost in the thicket, again, is inevitable. So is Grace. In the in between, I wait, watch, receive and feel alive.
My Roots Go Deeper
by Gwen Shipley, Director of Formation
Be the change you wish to see is cliché by now. It rolls easily off the tongue but is not nearly as accessible as that favorite sweater you reach for this time of year–or is it?
The distinct seasons of the Northwest make it the perfect climate for growing things. For instance, we are the world’s largest hop-producing region. On the lane I have been privileged to call home for most of three decades, there is a different crop growing in every direction I look: apples, pears, alfalfa, and yes, hops… As summer turns to fall this year, the cooling Concords that used to sacrifice their aroma before September sunsets is now just an olfactory memory, replaced by new homes and the sound of barking dogs. The rest, however, remains unchanged…rooted, growing, producing. Still.
In the spring of each year, the trees, gray-brown and silent through the winter, begin to flirt with the idea of turning green. Look closely and you will see swollen nubs up and down the branches where new shoots will appear, followed shortly by delicate flower petals that eventually become infant apricots, miniature apples and the tiniest teardrop pears. After a long summer of taking in nutrients, soaking up the Cascades’ spring runoff, and lounging in the sun’s heat and energy, they will offer up their mature bounty in service of the world’s hunger.
The hop vines—bines, actually–behind our historic kiln will hang heavy, collapsing under the weight of their lupulin-laced cones into a waiting truck bed as the top-cutter slices them from their wires. They will be processed and shipped the world over. What were once vulnerable seedlings will have grown into acres of lush, climbing vines 20 feet tall. Each year, when we return from our week-long beach trip, we marvel at the metamorphosis that has taken place.
What if this kind of change we long to be and see can result from so little effort—from indirect action? What if by regularly and intentionally putting ourselves in God’s way, something transformative can happen in us, growing fruit simply because we are rooted in deep soil? This is the role of spiritual practices like silence, solitude and stillness, combined with the often more familiar habits of scripture, community, worship and service.
RELAX. The sign in my bedroom reminds me every morning of the perennial invitation to learn the unforced rhythms of grace, echoes of, it is God who works in you… I stop to notice with a slow breath and a listening pause, taking in the presence of God. My roots go deeper.
This time of year, especially, I am reminded that seasons do change, growth, transformation does happen. Harvest does come.
Director of Formation
by Margie Van Duzer
There are seasons in my life where I have a sense that God is at work in me, appearing to be helpful in my sanctification process. Then there are those times where I’d have to say not so much…. These last few months have been in the not so much category. I am not saying God is not at work, nor am I saying I don’t see God at work – I am just saying that I don’t see God at work shaping me into being more the person that I think God would want me to be. I feel stuck.
I was complaining to God about this recently, especially about my chronic struggle with anxiety. I am so tired of it and wish it would just go away. I then go down the spiraling thought process about how little faith I truly have, how this proves what a weak Christian I really am. Who am I to be guiding others in the life of spiritual formation? You get the picture.
It was in this mode that I began reviewing the readings for our next CFDM Guidance conference. This September we are spending time looking at some of the mystics in church history. Once again, I was struck by how much I admire one of my favorite mystics, Catherine of Siena. She only lived into her early thirties but was a powerful spiritual force in the 14th century. If you are discouraged about the state of the church today, just investigate that time period. Evelyn Underhill says Catherine lived in a time of “almost unequalled ecclesiastical degradation.” At one time there were even three popes not just one, due to clerical corruption and power struggles. And yet Catherine taught of church unity, played a significant role in convincing a pope to move back to Rome from Avignon, and was sought after as a spiritual director by many women as well as men in church leadership. People flocked to her. She had a godly authority that was powerful. She was a wonderful model of deep theological truth combined with an intimate love and connection to Jesus. And yet….
Catherine was very self-aware and one thing she struggled with was what we now call holy anorexia. It begins with fasting as a spiritual discipline but then shifts to symptoms of anorexia. Catherine was aware of this shift and prayed that she could eat. She tried to stop fasting but could not. “Over and over I have prayed and do pray and will continue to pray to God for the grace to live as other people do in this matter of eating…it very often makes me sad that I have not overcome it….I for my part don’t know what else to do about it….” She referred to this as a “weakness”.
This reminds me of Paul’s own thorn in the flesh that he prays God to remove yet God tells him “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” (2Corin. 9). I have heard this over and over and somehow, seeing it in Catherine’s struggle, encourages me anew. She was incredible. She clearly had such a love for God and about as much influence as one individual could have for God’s kingdom, and yet still struggled with her own weakness that caused her to doubt her faithfulness to God.
But during this struggle, she continued to affirm God’s mercy. I have framed in my prayer room a prayer/poem written by Catherine that my son hand stamped for me. The central line in the writing is simply “I know that mercy is your hallmark, and no matter where I turn, I find nothing but your mercy.”
I have recently read that the word mercy in English is the translation from Greek word “eleos” and the Hebrew word “hesed”. The Greek word has the same root for olive oil, oil that is associated with comforting balm. The Hebrew word means steadfast love. We Americans might think of mercy as simply being released or forgiven from something we have done wrong, but it is so much more than that. It is fundamentally God’s incredible love that is a balm to our brokenness, soothing to our soul. Even when the wound still exists.
Rather than focusing on my weakness, Catherine’s words remind me again of God’s soothing mercy. I am steadfastly loved in the midst of my falling short. I am reminded again that my life is about living into this mercy, no matter what I may feel about my spiritual progress. Catherine embraced this mercy in the midst of her own personal struggles. I pray I can more fully follow her lead.
As I Hear the Birds Sing
by Judy Aiton, CFDM Alum
Earth springs forth its Mercy,
Space and time to no avail.
Tender shoots rise,
Upping their magic,
Encouraged by the Son.
Oh, merciful One,
Lift high my wings
To see the beauty of it All.
Light of dawn,
Moves the day,
Then rest and sing
A show of Truth,
Beloved child of God.
As I listen to bird songs in the morning, I hear praises to God. “Glory to God in the Highest” welcomes the day into existence. In like manner, Humanity sings its symphonies of the heart–so many voices in various keys, creating beauty in the silence, a harmonious whole.
Yet suffering hearts of those who cannot sing, exist. They, too, speak in their silence adding to the work, yearning for grace. In the quiet rest of our hearts, we can listen to our own suffering. In that, by the grace of God, Light shines and sheds the Truth in our sorrow so we may sing again, adding to the beauty of life on this earth.
Hope springs forth.
*CFDM encourages practices that help us notice how God is present in all things. To learn more, visit http://www.cfdmnorthwest.org.
Wild and Free
by Rev. Terry Tripp, CFDM Northwest Co-Director
It’s a sacred space to be lost in wonder
To safely rest in the midst of you
Lord fill my heart till its full-on hunger
It’s a holy thing to be wild and free
This verse from Jason Upton’s song has resonated in my mind since I heard it recently. And it came home to rest in my heart as I watched my 5-year-old grandson swing without fear at the family cabin. His heart, full of hunger for the thrill of the ride, is heard in his joyful laugh. John doesn’t hesitate to jump into air, believing that his legs will skillfully manage the stick he is supposed to land on. Though he climbs to a platform 5 feet up, for him it is as tall as the vulnerability in him to take the jump.
The vulnerability of it, the wildness of it, the freedom of it; brings to mind what Jesus meant when He describes entering the Kingdom of Heaven this way in Luke 18:16, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” This is one of several illustrations in that chapter, Jesus uses to describe entering the kingdom He came to inaugurate. In some way or another they all point to vulnerability as the opening to our soul’s home.
We are invited to be vulnerable; to divest ourselves of surety, to trust an unknown outcome, to lean into God doing something in us before we know anything of it, to not defend ourselves before others, to trust in what we don’t get in life as God’s goodness to us, to in fact believe in a God who invites us to an upside down view of the world.
An upside-down view requires us to show up with who we are, be present in the moment, intend love, not grasp for control and leave the results of our encounters to God’s hands. The world would have us right-side up, in control and accomplishing our spiritual lives. Rather we are invited to jump and look from the bottom up; accepting that therein lies the paradox: we must take the vulnerable jump – hunger for God – without knowing what holy place we will land in.
John’s swinging is wild and free, hungering for the freedom of flying in the air. He leans back looking up into the madrone tree branches above him and the big sky that hovers. It is not perfect, but to him, who only knows he wants to land on the stick; jumping with hope and hunger for the ride is worth the vulnerability of it all. We land in the Kingdom by hungering for God with vulnerability, finding ourselves on a wild and free ride.
This is what we teach and invite others into tasting in CFDM. We are now accepting applications for the fall start of the Spiritual Formation Program and calls for the Year of Discernment in the Spiritual Direction Program. Join us for the ride!