“This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
-George Bernard Shaw
fashion me like
clay into a wild
fleshing out of You,
in this place.
As one who
Serves & protects & nurtures all…
but especially the most vulnerable.
So be it!
teach me to marvel at the Beauty,
As a child, angels
would whisper wonderful things
in my ears as I slept:
“when you seek you, will find…
when you seek outside you are just dreaming,
when you seek inside you Awaken…as a rose in bloom.”
When I was a boy I was called
Clinical (by white coats)
because I used to
smile when I said that
told me there are 8 billion names for the divine
in the world
& I only knew a few.
Poets are like monks:
Words their meditation & prayer.
one word can make a heart
one word can make a heart
- Hard Work
The spiritual life is a gift. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who lifts us up into the kingdom of God’s love. But to say that being lifted up into the kingdom of love is a divine gift does not mean that we wait passively until the gift is offered to us.
Jesus tells us to set our hearts on the kingdom. Setting our hearts on something involves not only serious aspiration but also strong determination. A spiritual life requires human effort. The forces that keep pulling us back into a worry-filled life are far from easy to overcome.
“How hard it is,” Jesus exclaims, “… to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23, JB). And to convince us of the need for hard work, he says, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24, JB).
- The Small, Gentle Voice
Here we touch the question of discipline in the spiritual life. A spiritual life without discipline is impossible. Discipline is the other side of discipleship. The practice of a spiritual discipline makes us more sensitive to the small, gentle voice of God.
The prophet Elijah did not encounter God in the mighty wind or in the earthquake or in the fire, but in the small voice (see 1 Kings 19:9-13). Through the practice of a spiritual discipline we become attentive to that small voice and willing to respond when we hear it.
- From an Absurd to an Obedient Life
From all that I said about our worried, overfilled lives, it is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when he is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction he calls us.
Thus our lives have become absurd. In the word absurd we find the Latin word surdus, which means “deaf.” A spiritual life requires discipline because we need to learn to listen to God, who constantly speaks but whom we seldom hear.
When, however, we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. The word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means “listening.” A spiritual discipline is necessary in order to move slowly from an absurd to an obedient life, from a life filled with noisy worries to a life in which there is some free inner space where we can listen to our God and follow his guidance.
Jesus’ life was a life of obedience. He was always listening to the Father, always attentive to his voice, always alert for his directions. Jesus was “all ear.” That is true prayer: being all ear for God. The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.
- The Concentrated Effort
A spiritual discipline, therefore, is the concentrated effort to create some inner and outer space in our lives, where this obedience can be practiced. Through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen. A spiritual discipline sets us free to pray or, to say it better, allows the Spirit of God to pray in us.
- A Time and a Space
Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and a place for God, and him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and a space to give him our undivided attention. Jesus says, “Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to the Father who is in that secret place” (Matt. 6:6, JB).
- Inner Chaos
To bring some solitude into our lives is one of the most necessary but also most difficult disciplines. Even though we may have a deep desire for real solitude, we also experience a certain apprehension as we approach that solitary place and time. As soon as we are alone, without people to talk with, books to read, TV to watch, or phone calls to make, an inner chaos opens up in us.
This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings, and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distractions, we often find that our inner distractions manifest themselves to us in full force.
We often use these outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. It is thus not surprising that we have a difficult time being alone. The confrontation with our inner conflicts can be too painful for us to endure.
This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important. Solitude is not a spontaneous response to an occupied and preoccupied life. There are too many reasons not to be alone. Therefore we must begin by carefully planning some solitude.
- Write It in Black and White
Five or ten minutes a day may be all we can tolerate. Perhaps we are ready for an hour every day, an afternoon every week, a day every month, or a week every year. The amount of time will vary for each person according to temperament, age, job, lifestyle, and maturity.
But we do not take the spiritual life seriously if we do not set aside some time to be with God and listen to him. We may have to write it in black and white in our daily calendar so that nobody else can take away this period of time. Then we will be able to say to our friends, neighbors, students, customers, clients, or patients, “Tm sorry, but I’ve already made an appointment at that time and it can’t be changed.”
- Bombarded by Thousands of Thoughts
Once we have committed ourselves to spending time in solitude, we develop an attentiveness to God’s voice in us. In the beginning, during the first days, weeks, or even months, we may have the feeling that we are simply wasting our time. Time in solitude may at first seem little more than a time in which we are bombarded by thousands of thoughts and feelings that emerge from hidden areas of our minds.
One of the early Christian writers describes the first stage of solitary prayer as the experience of a man who, after years of living with open doors, suddenly decides to shut them. The visitors who used to come and enter his home start pounding on his doors, wondering why they are not allowed to enter. Only when they realize that they are not welcome do they gradually stop coming.
This is the experience of anyone who decides to enter into solitude after a life without much spiritual discipline. At first, the many distractions keep presenting themselves. Later, as they receive less and less attention, they slowly withdraw.
- Tempted to Run Away
It is clear that what matters is faithfulness to the discipline. In the beginning, solitude seems so contrary to our desires that we arc constantly tempted to run away from it. One way of running away is daydreaming or simply falling asleep. But when we stick to our discipline, in the conviction that God is with us even when we do not yet hear him, we slowly discover that we do not want to miss our time alone with God. Although we do not experience much satisfaction in our solitude, we realize that a day without solitude is less “spiritual” than a day with it.
- The First Sign of Prayer
Intuitively, we know that it is important to spend time in solitude. We even start looking forward to this strange period of uselessness. This desire for solitude is often the first sign of prayer, the first indication that the presence of God’s Spirit no longer remains unnoticed.
As we empty ourselves of our many worries, we come to know not only with our mind but also with our heart that we were never really alone, that God’s Spirit was with us all along. Thus we come to understand what Paul writes to the Romans, “Sufferings bring patience … and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom. 5:4-6, JB).
- The Way to Hope
In solitude, we come to know the Spirit who has already been given to us. The pains and struggles we encounter in our solitude thus become the way to hope, because our hope is not based on something that will happen after our sufferings are over, but on the real presence of God’s healing Spirit in the midst of these sufferings.
The discipline of solitude allows us gradually to come in touch with this hopeful presence of God in our lives, and allows us also to taste even now the beginnings of the joy and peace which belong to the new heaven and the new earth.
The discipline of solitude, as I have described it here, is one of the most powerful disciplines in developing a prayerful life. It is a simple, though not easy, way to free us from the slavery of our occupations and preoccupations and to begin to hear the voice that makes all things new.
Excerpts from the late Henri Nouwen’s Making All Things New
In the first chapter of the gospel of John the writer tells us that Jesus came to us as the Word – the Logos of God and that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the Cotton Patch Gospels translation, Clarence Jordan translated that phrase as the “Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” It goes on to say in this gospel that this Word Who became flesh – Jesus – was “full of grace and truth.” What a lovely and mythic combination. The very embodiment of grace and truth came as flesh, as one of us, to show us exactly who God is and how God lives: full of Grace & Truth.
Beyond the definitions of the words, I know very little about grace and truth, aside from the fact that I am desperate for the former and usually run from the latter. But when I look at how Jesus lived and acted and treated people as we have on record in the four gospels, I begin to see just what God’s grace and truth look like: love towards enemies; speaking truth to corrupt power, religiosity, and delusional hypocrisy; mercy for the poor and the sick and broken – the perfect embodiment of compassion and mercy in flesh and action.
Jesus says the Truth will set me free; and I have been told by others much wiser than me that the truth will indeed set me free but not until it is finished with me first. The truth will set me free but it will also crush me as well. In my reading, in my life, in being with others on their spiritual journeys, it has also been my experience that the truth is always about death and resurrection simultaneously. I am set free by it, but ego and flesh are sometimes crushed by it as well.
Well, grace is that disquieting and uncomfortable reality that God loves and accepts us as we are where we are and with or through no effort of ours. What is so raw and unnerving about God’s grace is the truth that there is nothing I can do to add to or take away from God’s grace and love for me and others. God does not grow to love me more, for God is in perfect totality, so divine love is expressed in perfect totality. It is me who comes to love God more and more (or less and less); it is me who surrenders more (or less) the love that is without merit and end. God does not change, I do. God’s love and grace do not change; my openness and acceptance of them does. God’s grace is now as it was in the beginning – eternal and free flowing.
I have also learned that it is in that space, that creative tension between where I am (finite and wounded) and where God’s grace is (perfect and healing) that the amazing gift and work of transformations begins.
“Flannery O’Connor put it well when she said that “people don’t realize how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross. It is much harder to believe than it is not to believe.”
Blessing carries with it not the promise of a trouble-free life, but the promise of God’s active presence among the people who seek to do God’s work in the world– even in the face of the worst the world can give.”
-Kimberly Long, The Worshiping Body, page 64
MYSTICISM IS WHERE RELIGIONS START. Moses with his flocks in Midian, Buddha under the Bo tree, Jesus up to his knees in the waters of Jordan—each of them is responding to Something of which words like Shalom, Nirvana, God even, are only pallid souvenirs. Religion as ethics, institution, dogma, ritual, Scripture, social action—all of this comes later and in the long run maybe counts for less. Religions start, as Frost said poems do, with a lump in the throat—to put it mildly—or with a bush going up in flames, a rain of flowers, a dove coming down out of the sky. “I have seen things,” Aquinas told a friend, “that make all my writings seem like straw.
“Most people have also seen such things. Through some moment of beauty or pain, some sudden turning of their lives, most of them have caught glimmers at least of what the saints are blinded by. Only then, unlike the saints, they tend to go on as though nothing has happened.
We are all more mystics than we choose to let on, even to ourselves. Life is complicated enough as it is.
Everyone knows that there are many ways a conversation about money can go wrong. That’s especially true when talking about faith and money.
The most common way a conversation about money goes wrong is when people hear guilt and shame rather than grace and gratitude. Although shame is not a helpful emotion, like weeds in Spring, it usually emerges when talking about money, whether a person has significant wealth or a person has very little. More often than not, the consequence of shame is silence. This is why conversations about money are the most difficult of all conversations at home, in the workplace, and in faith communities.
Conventional wisdom suggests that sex is the most intimate of all conversations. Research indicates that, in fact, money is the most intimate. Why? Because when we talk about money it makes us vulnerable. (Again, this is true whether one is wealthy, poor, or of modest income.) The vulnerability exposes our money stories that often raise painful family histories, mismanagement, fear, and even survival. Shame is the emotion that seeks to stop the conversation and shut down vulnerability.
The antidote to shame is courage. Vulnerability is the pathway to courage, and courage is the pathway to a whole-hearted joyful life, filled with gratitude and generosity, that goes far beyond money [emphasis added]. This is what I have learned from renowned author, speaker and University of Houston Research Professor Dr. Brené Brown. Building capacity for courage is absolutely crucial to have honest and healthy conversations about money. I have learned this from work with congregations around the country and in my work as a pastor with a local congregation. As I become vulnerable to sharing my “money story” with congregations, it helps create a safe space for others to be open
about their struggles. This spiritual practice of open story-telling reduces shame and increases the capacity for courage in communities of faith.
I take a cue from Saint Paul when speaking about money. The apostle tells us that everything that is good in our lives springs from the well of grace–God’s undeserved and unmerited favor–and the only appropriate response to this grace is gratitude.
Begging to Give
Saint Paul is emphatic about God’s goodness toward us. Encouraging the churches in Corinth to give generously, Paul says, “God has given grace to the churches of Macedonia.” As a result of this grace, the churches were compelled to overflow with generosity toward others. Even though they were suffering what Paul described as “extreme poverty,” they were begging to give to others. Their generosity came from a deep well of joy. What is most remarkable is the utter absence of talk about how much money is available to give. That was beside the point. It’s beside the point for us, too. Paul is talking about a desire to give that comes from joy. Increase the joy of the Lord, and people beg to give. Joy is the opposite of shame.
Can you imagine people begging to give?
A poor Haitian farmer told me this proverb, “The one who never eats alone, will never go hungry.” It was his way of saying when you share what little you have, you will always have enough for yourself. Saint Paul is saying the same: when our hearts are rooted in God, trusting in God’s faithfulness, you will always have enough to share. And notice what happens when we share: everyone has enough; no one suffers (II Corinthians 8:15).
When you and I share what we have with others, it creates a groundswell of gratitude in the hearts of many, who in turn share what they have with others. Our sharing becomes part of a much larger work of God among people in the world.
Don’t you want to be part of such a movement of God? There is no shame in sharing. It’s not about the amount you have, it’s about the joy of giving.
-Rev. Roy Howard, Faith and Money Network
Rev. Roy Howard’s workshop on September 11, 2018, will enter the difficult conversation of money through the work of Dr. Brené Brown, Researcher, and Professor at the University of Houston, who has written extensively about vulnerability, shame and courage. Building capacity for courage to be vulnerable is what reduces shame and fear in discussions of money. This courage is absolutely crucial to have honest and healthy conversations. We will discuss how Brené Brown’s work applies to money, share our own money stories, and develop strategies for deepening the courage to be vulnerable. The purpose is to grow in gratitude and generosity in all areas of our lives and in particular the financial area.
Workshop Event: Vulnerability, Shame, and Courage – The Practice of Stewardship
September 11, 6:00-8:00 pm
Potter’s House in Washington, D.C.
Workshop Leader: Rev. Roy Howard