Wednesday, December 23, 2009


One of my regular daily practices is to go out to my back yard, weather permitting, and do some tai chi and qigong routines.  Chi/Qi has an elusive meaning but it refers to "energy" or "spirit."  And I do find these exercises both refreshing physically and also spiritually.  It feels like a contemplative dance or wordless prayer in motion where the Spirit is my partner.  It seems like every time I go out to do this practice I see one or two little neighborhood hummingbirds.  I just love seeing them!  Today, in the midst of my routines a white dove came by and stayed on the roof of a shed in our backyard just a few feet away from me.  I was just thrilled.  I whispered to it that I would dance for it.  Later it left and the neon green, black, red, and yellow hummingbird came shimmering by for a visit.  God is present in all that is but sometimes it is easier than in other moments to see, and be aware, and be delighted.  I hope someday to always be alert to those visitations.  This life is a gift, and God puts so many good things in our path to see and enjoy.  Merry Christmas, happy holy-days, everyone!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Waiting for Clarity

People are asking me how the wine is coming along from the pinot noir I started this fall.  That was the case last night with a student at a dinner at the seminary.  I told her that the wine is still in larger containers doing its slow, quiet work of settling and clarifying.  The wine is very cloudy now and I will wait for a few months to see if it clarifies by itself.  I have clarifying agents that I can use if it becomes necessary that will help clear the wine without altering the taste.  Once it is nice and clear I'll bottle the wine.  Well, when the seminary student and I were talking about waiting for clarity we both smiled and I realized that we've got another theme in spiritual life here!

Often in spiritual direction I am sitting with people, sometimes for months or even years, as we wait together in prayerful attentiveness as my friend is seeking clarity about various life questions:  What direction am I being called into in ministry?  How do I best respond to this relationship?  How should I address a particular concern with my spouse or partner?  What does God want from me in my workplace?  If I take this particular job I'll have to give up many other important things.  What is the right thing to do?  My prayer life seems to be changing, but what will that do to my relationship with God?  I keep getting variations on the same dream--I wonder what this is trying to tell me?  Now that I'm moving to retirement I wonder what I should be doing in my life?  There are a whole host of questions that come with faithful, reflective, contemplative living.  The Christian spiritual tradition offers various tools for discernment, for seeking God's direction (our deepest, truest direction) amidst the various pushes and pulls and interests that come with important life situations and decisions.

Out of these many contributions from the Christian tradition, I'd like to highlight an aide to discernment that comes from the Quaker community--the clearness committee.  Although I'm not going to go into detail about how a clearness committee process works in this reflection, I would like to emphasize some aspects of it from which we can all benefit.  A person (or people) is seeking greater clarity and sense of direction, of God's direction, in a particular life question.  He or she calls together some members of the community to sit with in one or more sessions that is marked by prayerful silence and questions of a particular kind.  The members of the committee believe that the truth that the person is seeking already resides within that person.  But the various considerations and interests that come with living in this world cloud his or her knowing, and the committee's job is to ask the kinds of questions that help the person engage the issues deeply and clear away the clouds to discover that inner truth or direction.

Whenever we are seeking clarity about a life issue it can be helpful to have people that can be with us, non-judgmentally and faithfully, in ways that are like a clearness committee.  A spiritual director-companion, a some friends, a pastor or therapist, some wise elders in your faith community, some family members that can be loving but also a bit detached from the situation, a colleague at work or school, or others that God may provide for you can be invaluable if they can help you freely explore your own deepest concerns and desires about the issue.  These are not people who are trying to tell you what to do--they are not advice-givers.  They trust that God resides within you and your deepest inner knowing will take you where you need to go.  They can sit with you in prayer, be a companion you in the waiting for clarity, and can ask you the kind of questions that help you do your best inner sifting of values and concerns and open you to the imaginative and prayerfully intuitive work that will eventually clarify your truth.  Sometimes that inner direction comes quickly, but many times it is a process that takes a long time before you have clarity.  Having some faithful friends can be helpful--they can be "spiritual clarifying agents."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Endings and New Beginnings

I love to get out for walks.  Always have.  And one particular route I often take is along the San Pablo Bay on a regional trail system.  When I come upon the "trail's end" sign it gives me pause, both literally and as an opportunity to reflect on endings and new beginnings in life.

The season of the church year when I am writing this meditation is Advent.  In the quirkiness of the church's liturgical calendar the end of the year has already happened and a new year begins with the four weeks of Advent that lead to the celebrations of the Christmas season.  This is also a time in nature's cycle when, in my part of the world, the days are shortening and the darkness is increasing.  Things are getting colder.  In Michigan, the land of my birth, much of the plant life has gone into dormancy for the winter and it looks pretty dead.  Endings are all around.  And yet, spiritual traditions often whisper of new life and hope.  Advent is such a time of anticipating new birth.

It seems that my life has seen many small endings, and new beginnings.  I expect that is also true for you.  Experience teaches that the end of one trail may open up the possibility for a new journey to begin, new territory to explore, new life to be lived.  But those times where endings are happening and new beginnings might not be clear yet is often touched with melancholy, darkness, unknowing, perhaps even disorientation or grief.  These are times where we are invited to live in hope...that life will emerge anew, and sometimes unexpectedly, beyond our control.

When Teresa of Avila, one of the great spiritual Doctors of the Church, died in 1582 there was found in her prayer book the following words which have become known as the "Bookmark Prayer."

Nada te turbe,
nada te espante;
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda.
La pacientia todo lo alcanza.
Quien a Dios tiene nada la falta:
solo Dios basta.

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

Endings are bound to happen. Change is a constant in this life. But the love of God is everlasting and with that love is a creative energy that will not be thwarted.