Author: Gary Reimer

Meditation for February 15, 2021

“He replied: ‘Whether he is a sinner or not I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.’” John 9:25.

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
An odd opening for a meditation! The source of this fragment of a fable is believed to be the Greek poet Archilochus, (7th century B.C.) In spite of its ancient and obscure origins, over the centuries this saying has morphed and been used in everything from children’s stories (The Fox and the Cat,” Aesop) to scholarly essays, (The Hedgehog and the Fox”1953, by British philosopher Isaiah Berlin).

Scholar Martin Laird uses it in the introduction to his book on contemplation, A Sunlit Absence. For Laird, the one big thing in regard to contemplation is God’s mystical closeness to us. He cites Augustine’s famous statement, “God is closer to me than I am to myself.” Laird writes further, “While this is the simplest and most fundamental fact of our spiritual lives, it takes a lifetime to realize it”(page 2).

As I thought about the idea of knowing one big thing in regard to God and our walk of faith, more than one big thing came to mind! For Laird, God’s mystical closeness is expressed in Acts 17:28 where Paul addresses the Athenians, “In him we live and move and have our being.” This big truth defines the very reality we inhabit. There are other big things. Is there anything bigger or more foundational to our faith than the love of God? Paul prays for the Ephesians that they’d be able to grasp the vast dimensions of God’s love deep within their hearts and so be settled and secure in their life with Him (3:17-19). In the same chapter Paul speaks of yet another big reality, that of believers being indwelt by God and graced by his “mighty power” that works within them (3:20).

Is it possible to summarize what we know of God into a single big thing? Of course not. Perhaps another fable is relevant here. In the Blind Men and the Elephant,” (John Godfrey Saxe) the blind men touch different parts of an elephant and use words to describe what they’ve touched.  Their descriptions are completely authentic, completely diverse, and yet completely inadequate to describe the fullness of the elephant. Such is our relationship to the wonder and mystery of God.

And yet somehow by God’s infinite grace we come to know him. The blind man in John 9 knew one big thing, and it was the fruit of his encounter with Jesus. One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see. So it is with us. We know that a mystery infinitely beyond us has touched us. And we sense that this mystery is also infinitely good.

The idea of one big thing has its limits. It may be just another version of “can’t see the forest for the trees.” But the essence of our relationship to God is encounter with him, an encounter that’s the result of his initiative of grace and that’s sustained as we seek his abundant ongoing grace (2 Corinthians 9:8) in prayer and obedience. Keeping the big thing or the forest in view guards us from our tendency to reduce the walk of faith to a subset of spiritual practices or a set of beliefs. It also reminds us of the basis of our relationships with others in the body of Christ whose practices and theology may not be exactly the same as ours. We are a fellowship of people who have encountered Jesus, each of us recipients of his grace and each of us drawn to unique aspects of his wonders.  “If we are living in God’s presence, just as Christ is, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin” (1 John 1:7).

Paul Woodyard
Imago Dei Christian Communities

For Reflection:
1. Everyone’s faith story is wonderfully unique. Reflect on a graced encounter(s) with God that has been formative for you. Can you express the experience as knowing something of God that you hadn’t known before?

2. What one big thing, among the many things that you know about God do you find your heart drawn to in this season of your life and walk of faith?

3. What implications might there be for the practice of prayer in holding loosely what you know about God in favor of being receptive to other things He may wish to impart to you?

For Prayer:
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”
  Psalm 8:1, 3, 4,and  9.

Meditation for February 01,2021

Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, “This far you may come and no farther? “
Job 38: 8 – 11

The Lord sets limits to all things. This far you may come and no farther. While God calls us to grow, He also places boundaries that limit our growth. If we can accept the fact that there are God-ordained purposes to the limitations of our life we can perhaps be more open to acknowledging them and learning how to work within their constraints.

Our lives are as circumscribed as the contours of the sea. If we could draw a topographical map of the shape of our gifts in terms of the present limits of our capacities, we would recognize what God sees and we would know why our grasp is often much shorter than our reach.  This far you may come and no farther.  To accept the God-set contours of our lives doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity, nor does it offer divine justification for us to be underachievers, but it does allow us to consider the possibility that limitations, in themselves, are not necessarily problems to overcome on the road to self-fulfillment.

If we consider the vision we perhaps had for ourselves in our youth and compare it to the relatively less impressive life we have since lived, we might feel like we’ve failed in achieving over potential, or that we’ve been short-changed in life. But could it be that God has directed you as much by your limitations as by your potential? Could it be that you are exactly where you are because God didn’t give you the capacity to be anywhere else at this time? And could it be that He see the limitations of your life more as an opportunity than as an impediment? In directing our lives God is able to use the things we lack as much as the things we have.

Perhaps the Lord has given you a measure of talent, but no more. What is His purpose in this limitation? Perhaps God has given you these few resources to work with, but no more. What is His purpose in this limitation? Perhaps God has given you some opportunities for ministry, but no more. What is the purpose of this limitation? Or perhaps the Lord has given you insight, allowed you to understand this much truth, and no more.  What is the purpose of this limitation?

God establishes limits, and Christian theology assumes that freedom is realized through and in relation to such purposeful constraints. It is the narrowness of the river banks, after all, that gives strength to the river.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities

For Reflection:
1. How have you responded over time to limitations of various kinds in your life? Are there one or two that stand out as being especially difficult to come to terms with?

2. Can you think of examples in which your limitations have served as guides to paths in life that were fruitful and redemptive?

3. From the thoughts in this meditation what opportunities for peace, grace and a renewed perspective on life’s restrictions and limitations can you identify?

For Prayer:
In his sermon to the Athenians, Paul says that God set boundaries on nations, determining their rising and falling. God’s purpose in doing this was that the nations would seek him.
Let’s ask God that we may have hearts that seek him in everything, and that recognize his love and grace to us in areas of frustration and limitation. Let’s embrace the promise that whoever seeks him will find him. And let’s remember (as Paul says in the same sermon) that God “is not far from any one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist.” Acts 17:27,28.

Meditation for Monday November 16, 2020

“He has filled the hungry with good things.”  Luke 1:53.

Every saint has come to recognize the one basic requirement for a growing spirituality—that in order to be filled with the fullness of Christ, we must first be emptied of that which already fills us.  As Mother Teresa so plainly puts it,

  • God cannot fill what is already full, He can fill only emptiness –deep poverty.  We have to be completely empty to let God do what He wills so that we can receive Him fully in our life and let Him live His life in us.

To be open space for God is to imitate Christ, who “made Himself nothing” (Phil. 2:7).  In the example of His own life, Jesus modeled the posture of self-emptying “kenosis” as the most perfect vehicle through which the Father’s will might be expressed.  Mother Teresa urges her sisters to follow the Lord in this same disposition saying,

  • God has shown His greatness by using our nothingness.  So let us always serve Him by remaining in our nothingness, so as to give God a free hand to use us without even consulting us.

Incarnate within us, Jesus continues the life He lived on earth—that of complete submission to the Father’s will.  The Lord receives the offering of our compliance and then draws us deeper into His own relationship to the Father.  Regarding the action of Jesus’ kenosis, now continuing in us, Mother Teresa writes,

  • Jesus wants to relive His complete submission to His Father in you today.  Allow Him to do so. Take away your eyes from your self and rejoice that you have nothing, that you are nothing, that you can do nothing.

Prayer is what helps us to be more given to God.  But a life consecrated to the will of God is always challenged by our propensity to fill our lives by our own volition.   Recognizing this, Mother Teresa wisely asks her sisters to pray for her, that she would not be tempted with self-reliance.  Even when struggling in the depths of spiritual darkness she writes,

  • Pray for me that in this darkness I do not light my own light, nor fill this emptiness with my self.  I want with my whole will only Jesus. Pray for me that He may use me to the full.

Saints, over the centuries, have demonstrated to us how to live according to the paradoxes of the spiritual life—that to become more, we must become less; that to be filled, we must become empty; that in order to gain, we must first let go.  Their obedience to such instincts, and the fruit they have borne as a result, give us confidence to believe that those who offer themselves as space for God will find that space gloriously filled.

Perfect faith is when we are nothing but space for God to be God in us.
Simon Tugwell

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities

For reflection:

1. What has been your experience of spiritual poverty or emptiness in your faith journey? How has this experience evolved over time?

2. What aspects of the pandemic have resulted in loss or a sense of emptiness for you?

3. How does prayer help us to remain in a posture of emptiness and poverty before God?

For Prayer:

Reflect on Mother Teresa’s lovely words: Jesus wants to relive His complete submission to His Father in you today. Sit with this in prayer, recognizing not only the invitation but also the grace and empowerment to submit to God that is implied.

Ancient Streams – Advent Retreat

NOVEMBER  28, 2020
11:30am  – 6:00pm CST

“Hanging out in the Christmas Story”

The story of Jesus’ birth is a full one with many characters, many weavings in and out—a young woman and man in Galilee, an elderly priest and his wife from the elite of Judaism, astronomers from Persia, a jealous king, low class shepherds in Judean fields, a business man–an inn keeper, even animals—a donkey, sheep, (who else was in the stable? cattle? a barn cat? a servant girl?). Then there was the star… and angels… Am I forgetting anyone? Oh yes, of course, a baby, vulnerable and helpless! 

This is a rich story with depth, intrigue, love, commitment, tenderness, aching need and urgency, along with exuberant joy! What if you spent time wandering around in this story this Advent Season? What would it be like to hang out with the characters, ponder what their life looked like when all this happened, walk in their shoes, feel some of what they might have felt? I wonder what kind of unique rendition of the story we would have to tell by Christmas eve. I wonder what kind of an affect it might have on us—this year, in the midst of a pandemic. Even with all the centuries separating us, how might we find the story relevant to us today?

Join us as we explore these questions together and take some time to “hang out” in Galilee, the road to Jerusalem, Bethlehem… in a field, a palace, a cave…During our retreat we will meet together as a group for direction and prayer, followed by extended times for silence. Near the end of our day there will be an opportunity for you to share your experience with others in small groups. Paul Martinson will conclude the retreat by celebrating communion with us, which is always a unique experience.

Our retreat will be a bit different this year, as we have decided that it is best in light of the pandemic to host our retreat via Zoom. This doesn’t mean that you will be on the computer all day. As mentioned above, we will be coming together as a group, and then giving a lengthy time for personal reflection a couple of times during the day, finishing up together. We are disappointed not to meet in person and share in this special day physically present to each other, as we have in the past. However, we also recognize that this venue has some benefits as well—one being that we’ve invited Mary Reimer (spiritual director and leader of Imago Dei, Winnipeg) to join our team as we facilitate the day.  I wonder what other gifts we might receive as we create space in our own homes as a place of prayer and retreat for a day… 

Please RSVP ancientstreams10@gmail.com to register and for more information or assistance with Zoom connection. We’re seeing this as an opportunity to be creative within the restrictions we are under this year, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions or concerns.  We’re looking forward to a meaningful day apart and yet together, for God promises to meet with all who seek Him. 

 

Date: Saturday, November 28, 2020

Time: 11:30am  – 6:00pm CST

Cost: $20.00

 

For more information and to RSVP e-mail Nancy Keery at ancientstreams10@gmail.com

Meditation for Monday November 02, 2020

“All my longings lie open before you, O Lord.” Psalm 38:9.

“It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills… with the wind and the sunshine.… And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing… Somewhere else there must be more of it.”

This quotation from C.S. Lewis’ novel “Till We Have Faces” offers a glimpse into his life-long experience of a mysterious longing, the pursuit of which he described as central to the story of his life ( A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis, Devin Brown). The longing for beauty, joy and for the place of their source was planted in his awareness as a very young child and was part of what eventually drew him to faith from atheism.

The depiction of longing in the quotation is one of goodness. We know the inner tickle of joy when we long for something we’ve experienced as good, and hope that there’s more where that came from. Longing breathes oxygen into creativity, into the appreciation of beauty and into life itself. Yes, longing can also be painful, arising from searing loss, nostalgia or an indefinable ache for something we can’t name. Whatever our experience, longing is not an aberration but part of our human and spiritual nature. And as so many have observed, we bring longing to prayer.

The opening prayer of the anonymous 14th century work The Cloud of Unknowing (cited in full below) begins with a reference to longing that echoes the Psalmist’s words: “God, unto whom all hearts are open, and unto whom all our longings speak…” This line of the prayer from the translation of The Cloud by Carmen Acevedo Butcher carries the implication that in prayer our inarticulate and even unperceived longings are directed to God and known by him.

Butcher highlights another beautiful aspect of the prayer. “I beg you to cleanse and purify the intentions of my heart, with the unspeakable gift of your grace…” She notes the frequent use of a Middle English word translated intent in The CloudIntent, as well as its derivatives, means to stretch towards. The author of The Cloud desires that his readers understand prayer as the practice of stretching towards God. As we witness in the Psalms, we may do so from every imaginable state of heart and circumstance of life. And with the Psalmists we seek God’s grace in purifying the disorder of our longings and desires to align towards him who is our ultimate good. (Psalm 27:11; 51:10-12).

“All my longings lie open before you, O Lord.” We reflected earlier (October 8) on how The Cloud of Unknowing distills our diverse notions of prayer into the simple act of being with God, reaching for him in love and receiving from him. Paying attention to the longings and desires that continually swirl in our hearts and minds and bringing them before God is another expression of this simplicity. Our prayers arise from the gift of what already exists within us, including our longings.

The invitation of prayer is to open and submit to God in the present moment and circumstances, thankful for the longings within us whether joyful or painful, which by his grace draw us to him.

“This longing, this need of God, however dimly and vaguely we feel it, is the seed from which grows the strong, beautiful and fruitful plant of prayer.” Evelyn Underhill. 

Paul Woodyard
Imago Dei Christian Communities

For Reflection:

1. How aware are you of your longings from day to day? Do you find them surfacing in prayer?

2. How might the idea of intention as stretching towards something shed light on our attachments, motivations and our relationship with God?

3. Reflect on the prayer below as an expression of your desire for God and thanks to him for his presence and grace.

For Prayer:

God, unto whom all hearts are open and unto whom all longings speak,
And to whom no private thing is hidden,
I beg you to cleanse and purify the intentions of my heart,
With the unspeakable gift of your grace,
That I may love you perfectly, and worship you worthily.  

 From: “The Cloud of Unknowing.”

Meditation for Monday October 19, 2020

“Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.” 1Thes. 4:4-5

How often in the day do we push ourselves to be somewhere just ahead of where we actually are?  Maybe it’s a deadline, or an urgent need that creates an imperative in us for its fulfillment.  Or perhaps it’s just the tedium of “what is” that makes us want to rush ahead to be somewhere other than where we actually are.  Regardless of the reasons, whenever this mode overly defines our lifestyle the result is always the same—we end up losing touch with our souls.

Often, when I am trying to herd my family out the door to get somewhere, I will catch myself moving ahead to the next position I want them to be, perhaps standing at the doorway with my keys in hand, hoping that this might speed them up a bit.  How is this similar to the ways we often rush ahead of ourselves, as if to force us to pick up the pace?   And how does our refusal to accept or wait for ourselves contribute to feeling separated from our souls?

Feeling disjointed has a lot to do with the inner pace we set for ourselves in the course of our day.   This includes the many ways we overstep the truth of “what is” in favor of our projected ideals of what we wish it were.  “In patience,” we are told, “you shall possess your souls” (Luke 21:19 KJV).  St. Frances de Sales, a 16th cent. spiritual director, wrote similarly that, “to possess fully our souls is the effect of patience, made more perfect as it is less mixed with disquiet and eagerness.”

Peace and patience integrate us towards wholeness.  To “possess your soul” then, is to allow time throughout the day to literally catch up with yourself.  It asserts the reality of “what is” as the starting point of our lives rather than the imagination of where we would otherwise wish it to be.  Being patient with the actual pace of our lives is ultimately a matter of self-control.  And whenever we lose this virtue it leads to a less honorable expression of life.

Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God” (1Thes. 4:4-5).  In other words, self-control better exemplifies a person who knows the sovereignty of God in their lives.  In the context of his letter, Paul was of course referring to moral self-discipline.  But the same exhortation applies to any lack of self-control we exhibit in relationship to our souls.  When the “passionate lusts” of our imagination drive us to live out of sync with the reality of who we actually are we tend to lose our sense of wholeness.  “In patience, you shall possess your souls.”  Perhaps this is what the apostle had in mind when he wrote, “…since we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).

The obvious antidote to “losing our souls” is to simply allow times in our day to catch up with ourselves—times to reclaim the peace that we’ve lost track of in the frenzy and distractions of our busy lives.  To “possess our souls” is to accept the reality of “what is” as more true than even the most attractive and urgent alternatives we can imagine.  And the more we exercise such times of restorative patience in our day the more in sync we will be with the truth of our lives.

The false self prays from where it thinks it should be or would like to be. The true self prays from
where it is.
                                                                                                Albert Haase,O.F.M.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
written for April 15, 2010

For Reflection:
1. What kinds of compulsions cause us to run ahead of ourselves and forfeit peace?

2. How may we live with healthy foresight and yet not be swept into restless agitation?

3. What graces of God and spiritual practices help us to “possess our souls” and stay present to the moment?

For Prayer:
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24.

As we seek God in prayer, let’s give thanks for the day and even the moment that we’re in, being present to our life as it is as a gift of God. Let us receive from God his grace as sufficient for whatever challenging circumstances we may be facing. May we seek the rest for our souls that may only be found in him (Psalm 63:1).

Meditation for Monday October 05, 2020

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”  (Jn. 6:44).

God the Father, through the action of the Holy Spirit within us, draws us to His Son Jesus.  Such is the dynamic relationship of the Trinity with regards to our spiritual direction.  There is no other way for us to approach the Lord than by the grace of the Holy Spirit shed in our hearts by the Father.  And it is this movement of God that we find ourselves responding to in contemplative prayer.  Because of the Father’s love for His Son, we find our hearts being drawn towards Jesus.

There is great mystery to be fathomed in this action that causes us to respond to Jesus through prayer.  The Father’s love which wells up in our hearts leads us to desire Divine relationship.   Through the Holy Spirit within us, the Father draws us to prayerful union with the Son He loves.

St. John of the Cross referred to the love of prayer that draws us to Jesus as a “loving infusion from God.”  The Jesuit writer Thomas Green also spoke of such “infusions” in his book, Opening to God.  Green describes the gift of the Father’s initiative as essential to our spiritual life.  He writes,

  • The invitations to contemplation are those spontaneous moments of prayer when, indeliberately, we are aware of God’s presence to us. These encounters are the very essence of prayer at every stage of our development.
Such “loving infusions,” and the fact that, by grace, they keep returning to us, are God’s way of drawing us to a deeper, more habitual experience of Jesus’ presence through prayer.  Unless the Father first draws us, we will not find within us the desire to seek Jesus.  But though the initiative of our seeking always comes from the Father, our response to this invitation is what ultimately determines our spiritual direction and the fruit we bear in our lives.

God’s loving initiative invites us to yield more and more to its visitation, and to draw nearer to its Source.  Having tasted the goodness of this love we seek it all the more and we patiently await its return whenever we lose the sense of God’s nearness.  Like the Israelites in the desert who travelled according to the movements of the pillar of cloud, and who stopped and waited whenever the cloud stopped, we too learn to wait for the Lord’s increasing initiative in our hearts.  Thomas Green describes this exchange of onus that takes place in the spiritual life as we mature.

  • As we respond to God through our life of prayer and service, the time may come when God takes over more and more—when we do less and God does more.  We become more and more like the clay in the hand of the potter. 

Such exchange is implied in the invitation we sense to yield to God’s initiative in our hearts.  It is the spiritual direction that John the Baptist recognized when he said, “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30).  As we mature in the spiritual life, we too must learn to “decrease” in favor of God’s initiative. Here’s how Thomas Green describes it.

  • From the very beginning, God’s grace is essential to any prayer, to any response of ours; but the time may come when he not only gives us the grace to seek him, but himself does the work in us.  This is what is known as infused contemplation.

That the Father draws us to Jesus is to His praise.  That His mercy invites and disposes us to love His Son is to our eternal blessing.  That we desire because of the Holy Spirit such an increase of God’s will in our lives is what makes us more like Christ in all we do.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities

For Reflection:
1. How may we recognize to a greater degree that our desire for God is a gift of his grace? What hopes and encouragements are present in this reality?

2. While it’s unwise to assess our prayer based on experiences, what occasions have you known in which you were particularly aware of God’s love and presence?

3. What does it mean to yield and respond more completely to God’s work with in us? What does this yieldedness look like both in practice and in the posture of our hearts?

For Prayer:
O God, we celebrate your mercy in drawing our hearts to you in love. We ask for your help to increasingly yield to this work of grace within us. Amen.

Meditation for Monday September 21, 2020

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matt.9:36.

“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.

Scripture reveals God as both seeing and feeling the suffering of humankind and the injustice that is perpetrated against the weak and vulnerable. In Exodus 3:7 God assures Moses that he has seen the suffering of Israel at the hands of their Egyptian captors, and that he will act on their behalf. The Psalmist sees oppression and injustice and declares: “But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted, you see their grief and take it in hand” (Ps. 10:14). And further:  “Lord you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you listen to their cries and comfort them. You will bring justice to the orphans and the oppressed, so that people can no longer terrify them” (Ps. 10:17,18). Among the many beauties of the incarnation is the identification of God in Jesus with humanity in its neediness and suffering.  And God’s desire is that those who walk with him live lives of justice and compassion.

By sheer grace, all of us have been touched by God’s compassion and have known its outworking in our lives toward others. Recent events invite us to reflect more deeply about suffering and oppression, both in the world and close to home. Against the backdrop of the spike in racial tensions in the U.S. over the last many months, as well the extreme and ongoing inequities in our society, Richard Rohr speaks of the need for a conversion to solidarity in which Christians both see and feel the pain of injustice and oppression. According to Rohr, progress in this conversion involves recognizing that we don’t see, and that we’re often blind to suffering and injustice as well as to our own privilege.

Keeping company with Jesus in prayer will lead us to a conversion to solidarity that deepens our awareness of the hardships of those around us. For author Martin Laird, this is a central aspect of prayer. Compassion and solidarity will be the fruit of prayer. He writes:

  •  Fruit suggests something far more organic and nourishing than mere ‘results.’  Fruit bears within it the seeds of new life and provides nourishment for others. The fruit of practice (of contemplation) is compassion born of the fragrant wound of solidarity with all that is. We cannot behold what we are trying to assess (An Ocean of Light, page 128).

Thus the conversion to solidarity that we seek is not about acquiring a new point of view or a more informed assessment of injustice, but rather a growing solidarity with the heart of God in his love for all people. And God’s love is active.  John speaks of following Christ’s example of love in the giving of his life for us, and how real love compassionately supplies the needs of others when it is within one’s power to do so (1 John 3:16,17). And there’s much within our power to do. How encouraging that Jesus assigns eternal significance to a simple act of kindness like giving a child a cup of cold water! (Matthew 10: 42). May God have mercy on us by giving us eyes to see, hearts that are aligned with his love and the grace to act in compassion and on behalf of justice as he directs.

“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of this world.”  Karl Barth

Paul Woodyard
Imago Dei Christian Communities

 For Reflection:

1. What injustices, or to use Barth’s word “disorder,” in our world and close to home do you find the most pressing?

2. What blind spots towards those who are oppressed, in need or who are simply ‘other’ have you come to recognize in your own life?

3. Reflect on Rohr’s phrase, conversion to solidarity. Have you noticed this as being a fruit of contemplation? What opportunities for active compassion do you feel invited to?

For Prayer:

O God, we thank you for Jesus who:
humbled himself and identified with us by taking on human form,
who wept with the friends of a dead man;
who bore real wounds in his body and died to bring us to God.
May we be agents of your compassion to the world which you love.

Meditation for Monday, June 15, 2020

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness”   (1 Timothy 6:12).

In the meditation by Rob Des Cotes a couple of weeks ago (May 28), we were reminded of the importance of persevering in prayer. Desert father Abba Moses is quoted as saying to a young monk seeking guidance: “Go to your cell, sit down, and your cell will teach you everything.” This quote is part of a larger body of sayings from the desert fathers and mothers that teach the wisdom of remaining or staying. As Rob noted, this wisdom applies to life beyond the practice of prayer. It encourages perseverance and patience which enable us to embrace the life God has given us.

Of course staying isn’t always what wisdom prescribes. The desert monasticism of the fourth and fifth centuries owed its existence to an act of collective fleeing. With Christianity being recognized by political powers and increasingly embraced by society, many men and women of faith fled to the desert to practice their vision of discipleship apart from what they perceived as the compromise and decline of the church. And yes, there’s a body of sayings from the desert monks on the wisdom of fleeing!

If we’re to stay with prayer and the life God has given us, what are we to flee from? In the text above Paul counsels Timothy to flee from the love of money which degrades and brings pain (1 Timothy 6:10-11).  We could add another corrupting love from which to flee: “Do not love the world or anything in the world, if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).  And we’re to flee from conformity to the world, being part of systems that cultivate and enslave us to disordered desires and godless agendas (Romans 12:2). For these early Christians, getting off the worldly grid and fleeing to the desert was an expression of their devotion to God.

As we too desire to live lives devoted to God, there are aspects of fleeing as taught by the desert saints that speak deeply to our interior life and our relationships with one another. They understood that to flee physically doesn’t automatically reform one’s heart. Sin and pride will follow us. They also believed that living in community (in addition to solitude) was essential for spiritual growth and the cultivation of mature love. The pursuit of the virtues of which Paul speaks is an ongoing work. With practice and by God’s grace we acquire an internal reflex to recognize and recoil from impulses that dissipate these virtues and dull our love for God and our neighbor.

This inner work is very much the same for us today as it was for these early saints. Their writings spoke of fleeing from obsessional thoughts (Evagrius and Cassian). They were especially concerned with strands of thought that assert one’s own status, dignity or importance. Such thoughts are forgetful of our common humble standing before God and may cause us to imagine ourselves to be superior to others. They also counseled fleeing from obsessional speech, especially speech that judges or prescribes courses of action for others. Speech was to issue from a practiced silence and attention to God, as well as a deep regard and gentleness toward those to whom we speak.

Now as then, the quieting of chaotic thoughts and the cultivation of graced speech happen through the practice of prayer and solitude. We receive grace and help in these areas of need by staying in the blessed place of prayer. And through prayer we take our place with our ancient predecessors in fleeing from the chains of conformity to our world.

For Reflection:

1. ‘Flee’ is not a word we commonly use today. It implies urgency. Reflect on how fleeing might apply to aspects or hazards of the journey of faith. What examples of this have you experienced?

2. How do our patterns of thinking reflect our conformity or nonconformity to the world?

3. How does the practice of silence and solitude affect our speech? What have you noticed lately as being challenges or graces in your interaction with loved ones or others in your circle?

For Prayer:

God we thank you that you are our refuge, and that we can flee to you in all of life’s complexities and trials. We ask for your grace to recognize and flee from things that keep us from abiding in your presence and living lovingly in community. Amen.

Paul Woodyard

Meditation for Monday June 1, 2020

Go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.
Mat. 6:6 (NASB)

According to Henri Nouwen, the chief task of the contemplative is to learn how to enter, and remain, in the solitude of his/her own heart.  Without such familiarity with ourselves we will automatically externalize our souls according to whatever other alternatives we seek for our heart’s expression.  Nouwen writes,

  • We have to fashion our own closet where we can withdraw every day and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.  Without such a place we will lose our own soul, even while preaching the gospels to others.

For the desert monks of the fourth and fifth centuries, the equivalent of the closet was the kellion, or cell, in which they lived their lives in isolation, and where they encountered the deeper truth of their relationship with God.  The cell was seen as a school, sufficient to teach us all we need for the spiritual life.  There is a story of a young monk who came to Father Moses for spiritual advice.  Rather than give him counsel, Father Moses simply told the monk to “Go to your cell and sit down, and the cell will teach you everything.”

Anselm Gruen, a contemporary Benedictine monk and author of Heaven Begins Within You, speaks as well of the transformative and educative power of the cell of our own solitude.  He affirms Father Moses’ advice regarding the benefits of our “inner room” saying,

  • If we stay in our cells something in us will be transformed; we will find order within ourselves.  We will come face to face with all the inner chaos that surfaces in us.  And we will learn how to not run away from it

Prayer transforms us precisely because it opens the eyes of our heart to the actual truth of who we are, and therefore to the truth of God’s actual relationship with us.  For the early monks, encounter with oneself was the precondition for every authentic encounter with God.  And stabilitas—the constancy of holding on, and staying with oneself—was the prerequisite for every kind of human and spiritual progress.

A growing capacity to find peace with our selves, in spite of all the impulses to flee, is perhaps the main discipline we learn from solitude.  That is why the ancient fathers stressed the importance of holding out and not running away from our solitude.  Anselm Gruen writes,

  • Remaining in one’s cell, keeping to oneself, is the necessary condition for both spiritual progress and maturation as a human being.  The tree must send down roots to be able to grow.  Continual uprooting and transplanting only blocks its development. One cannot be a mature person without the courage to hold out and meet one’s own truth head on.

We are to resist the temptation to flee from prayer. If we stay in our cell, we will grow in our true sense of what reality is.  We will no longer be fooled by pretensions, either about ourselves or our relationship with God.  Gruen writes of his own experience, saying,

  • When everything is taken away from me and I really sit in all simplicity before God, at first everything is boring.  I start suspecting that everything I’ve been thinking or saying about God doesn’t add up.  But if I weather this feeling, if I don’t immediately worry about being able to find something meaningful, but simply stay put, then something moves within me, and I suddenly find myself touching the truth.  The truth is at first relentless, but it also sets us free.

The prayerful acceptance of “what is” heals us from our inordinate impatience with life—the very thing that keeps us in such a restless state.  There is a desert wisdom that states, “Cella est valetudinarium,” meaning the cell is an infirmary, a place where the sick can get better.  Gruen adds,

  • It is a place of wholeness, a place for healing, because we sense God’s loving and healing nearness there.  But I can have this positive experience of the cell only if I stay there even when everything in me rebels against it, when I am full of unrest.  Once I have overcome this first phase, then I can begin to experience the cell as heaven.

Jesus’ invitation in John 15 is for us to simply “remain in His love.”  When we consider the many trivial reasons for which we often stray from this love we can see the importance of learning how to remain with God in the secret place of our heart.  There, we will meet the truth head on.  And there we will find the way that leads beyond the illusions of impatience, to a growing acceptance of our real relationship with God.

Rob Des Cotes
Imago Dei Christian Communities
written for Oct. 7th, 2010

For Reflection:

1. Solitude is both inviting and repellant to us. Describe your experience of movement between extreme restlessness and repose in the practice of solitude.

2. What illusions about life and our relationship to God do we trend toward in the absence of the intentional practice of solitude? What realities might surface and stabilize us as we stay in solitude before God?

3. What healing might you seek from God through perseverance in prayer and solitude?

Prayer:
Jesus, we thank you for your precious invitation to remain in your love. May we seek you and find you by staying with our practice of solitude, and may we be continually reminded of the constancy of your love, both in solitude and in community.
Amen.