The naked traveler,
Stretching against the iron dawn, the bowstrings of his eyes,
Starves on the mad sierra.
But the sleepers,
Prisoners in a lovely world of weeds,
Make a small, red cry,
And change their dreams.
Proud as the mane of the whinnying air,
Yet humble as the flakes of water
Or the chips of the stone sun, the traveler
Is nailed to the hill by the light of March’s razor;
And when the desert barks, in a rage of love
For the noon of the eclipse,
He lies with his throat cut, in a frozen crater.
The she sleepers,
Prisoners of the moonward power of tides,
Slain by the stillness of their own reflections,
Sit up, in their graves, with a white cry,
And die of terror at the traveller’s murder.
Thomas Merton, Selected Poems (New Direction Publishing Corporation: 1959) 24.
It is a difficult
lesson to learn today,
to leave one’s friends
and family and deliberately
practise the art of solitude
for an hour or a day
or a week.
For me, the break
is most difficult …
And yet, once it is done,
I find there is a quality
to being alone that is
Life rushes back into the void,
fuller than before!
Ann Morrow Lindberg (from daily meditations at the North Umbria Community)
In observing a day (Maundy/Holy Thursday) when Jesus must have been immersed in prayer which would prepare him for the work of the cross, some thoughts from Rob Bell on the subject:
“God’s desire is that the divine energy that made the world would flow between us and in the process draw us closer together. Prayer is tapping in to the same energy that formed the universe. That’s why people say that they can feel prayer. It’s because we can. Praying connects us to the people and things we are praying for. Prayer enlarges our perspective. Praying gives us a bigger heart. Praying makes us feel things. Praying changes things but prayer [also] changes us.”
Rob Bell, (Nooma: Open, 2008 )
As a parent of a three month old, I’ve noticed a few rhythms that inevitably surface in the baby’s schedule: feeding, awake time, and rest. Funny how I go through these same rhythms myself but with complete mindlessness. However, when it’s a person that I’m responsible for keeping alive, I’m forced to pay a little bit more attention. It’s amazing how difficult it is to align myself with these new rhythms. While feeding Esme her bottle, I want to be doing something else. I’m inclined to go on the internet, read a book, call a friend– do something that is productive and worthwhile.
Any pediatrician will tell you about how important it is to make the feeding time “special”. And the most important thing is to make eye contact. Eye contact lets the baby know that I’m there, that I’m paying attention, and that I can be trusted.
In spiritual terms, this is called ‘being present’.
What would it look like for me to apply this discipline found in feeding the baby to all of the relationships in my life? Funny how I interact with people with such mindlessness and capitalistic urgency. I’m always on my way to something else, constantly thinking about the next thing on MY agenda, and don’t have time to ‘give’ anyone. Unfortunately, most of my urgency is related to furthering my social status, material wealth, or any other form of total selfishness. Our glorious American human nature is all about capitalizing and maximizing.
Interestingly enough, when I really don’t want to engage in authentic conversation, I’ll avoid eye contact at all costs. It happens when I’m passing a stranger on the street, the teller at the bank, or the clerk at the grocery store. Not only that, but when I want to avoid human interaction, I’ve noticed I’ll even avoid eye contact with my friends, my wife, and my three month old daughter. Its really just the best way to isolate myself and stay in my own little world.
So as you can see, feeding the baby has become so much more than just feeding the baby. It’s practice. I practice my own habit of healthy human interaction. I practice focusing on something other than myself. I practice looking at someone straight in in the eye. So the rhythm of hours spent staring at Esme’s eyeballs while she sucks down her formula might actually develop a discipline of being present to others.
I have no idea what the lyrics mean, but for some reason, listening to this song (Flume) by Bon Iver sort of seems like ‘spiritual experience’. Apparently his latest Album, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ came unexpectedly after spending a long period of time in solitude at a cabin in Northern Wisconsin.
Posted in music
It seems to me that monks are not the only ones who can take part in the ‘contemplative life’….and this life is not defined by becoming a monk. Rather, this sort of life is one that is characterized by a “life totally abondoned to the Holy Spirit”.
There can be no doubt that the monastic vocation is one of the most beautiful in the Church of God. The ‘contemplative life’, as the life of the monastic orders are usually called, is a life entirely devoted to the mystery of Christ, to living the life of God Who gives Himself to us in Christ. It is a life totally abondonded to the Holy Spirit, a life of humility, obedience, solitude, silence, prayer, in which we renounce our own desires and our own ways in order to live in the liberty of the sons of God, guided by the Holy Spirit speaking through our Superiors, our Rule, and in the oblation to God, in union with Jesus Who was crucified for us and rose from the dead and lives in us by His Holy Spirit.
Thomas Merton, The Monastic Journey (Sheldon Press: 1977) 11.
Recently I’ve become more and more fascinated with spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation. Along this journey I’ve found a growing interested in monasticism. I think I’m drawn by its simplicity and the freedom found in the discipline of letting go of outside distractions– success, wealth/material accumulation, and social status. More and more I’ve found myself noticing God and finding life in the small things such as washing dishes, tiling a wall, reading prayers, or cooking a meal.
At first glance, I doubt that I could ever journey into monasticism or a more contemplative life in general. Don’t you have to be catholic? celebate? holy? Do I have to start using words like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’? I’m totally a novice when it comes to this sort of thing. But I think that possibly the heart behind monasticism is a way of life that breeds a sensativety to the spiritual and all things real.