Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Efficiency vs Presence

Normally we think of absence as the antonym of presence. I wonder, though, if efficiency is likewise an antonym for presence. It is difficult, if not impossible to be both efficient and fully present in the present moment.

This morning was quite foggy. As I drove into town, I began to notice spider web after spider web, orb webs strung between power lines. The fog made the lighting just right for viewing these normally invisible works of art and the drive became a treasure hunt as I admired each web.

To see them required that I become less efficient. I was still attentive to my driving, but instead of rushing along above the speed limit, I moved a little slower and savored the journey. I recalled a homily I heard several years ago when I was part of the Two-Year Academy for Spiritual Formation. It was about “marveling.” Marveling is paying attention, seeing the world around us with a sense of awe and wonder, even if what we are seeing is something as ordinary as a spider web.

What I discovered was that as I marveled at the webs, I began to see trees, flowers, and other things along my route with fresh eyes. Instead of thoughts about the day ahead, instead of worries about the future or past, I was fully aware of the present moment.

Such awareness is something I long to practice more regularly. I want to be one who appreciates the present, who can see with freshness even the ordinary things of life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My Friends the Trees

Along the route I walk in the mornings are some small trees, part of the landscaping at an office park near my house. Three years ago, I watched as two trees planted there fell ill and died. They were replaced, and because all the other trees had several years’ growth on these two “newbies,” I grew interested in watching to see if they would catch up with the others.

I silently cheered them on, regularly encouraging them to grow as I walked by them. When winter came and their branches were bare, I waited for spring to see if they had survived. I was happy to see their new leaves and to watch them live through hot, dry stretches of summertime. They are now well-established, but I still keep an eye out for them, to see how they are progressing.

Going through a disorienting season of life, my morning walks have been a time for me to sort through the myriad of emotions, events and questions that arise in me. I take to heart Augustine’s quote that “it is solved by walking.” I sometimes get so lost in my thoughts that I forget to check on my two tree buddies.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was walking and thinking, I had this strong sense of companionship, of others being present with me. No people were around and I realized what I sensed was the presence of the trees, encouraging me as I had encouraged them. It seemed to me that they were praying for me.

Because God created those trees, as well as me, we are bound together as creatures, alive an indwelt with the presence of God. We embody God differently, but the Creator’s mark is on and in us all. So should it be so far-fetched to sense the trees praying for me?

Shortly after I had this experience, I discovered this poem by Rabindranath Tagore in a daily email I get from Father Richard Rohr, which assured me that what I experienced was not so improbable:

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.
I asked the tree, "Tell me about God";
then it blossomed.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Pain and Pearl

Each of us needs an opportunity to be alone, and silent, to find space within the day or in the week, just to reflect and to listen to the voice of God that speaks deep with us.
                                                                                --Cardinal Basil Hume

That phrase—speaks deep with us—I first overlooked because this quote is part of a larger quote I read, and then upon rereading it, I misread it. Finally, I saw it for the treasure that it is. Here’s my reflection around it, out of what I’ve been experiencing in my life in recent months:

Be still, still enough to get past the surface junk, the masks that fool even me. Get past the ego, the place at which it all gets quite painful and ugly, the place where I understand deeply and humbly that I am the vilest offender, the chief of sinners, broken beyond repair by my own hand. It is then, at that moment, that God can come and begin to speak deep with me, picking up the shards of my shattered image of myself. Instead of gluing them back together to make a rough, bumpy replica of what I was before, God tosses those aside and instead picks up what I could not see, blinded as I was by the brokenness. God picks up the pearl lying amid the broken pieces, breathes life into it, and holds it close to God’s heart.

The pearl, born of suffering and love, is the seed of God in me, there all along, but not visible to me until I was still and silent and alone for long enough that all that blinded me to it was seen by me for the falseness that it is.

God has been speaking deep with me in this season, in the desert, both words of challenge and words of affirmation, all of it truth, deep calling to deep. I can’t prove it’s God, yet I know for certain it is. The pearl is love, my true self. Even when it is trampled by swine, cast aside for shinier baubles, or abused by those who would try to selfishly hoard it, it lasts. It was created in suffering, so it can withstand suffering. It is divine, so it cannot be possessed by manipulation or force.

I am learning of this pearl within me. It is in all of us, but it is hard work to find it, and most of us will not choose the work; it must be forced upon us, unbidden and unwanted. Even then, we can choose to mask the pain of it with distraction and denial, rather than live with the pain of being stripped, broken and exposed in all our filth and ugliness.

Even if we stay with the work, the painful work, long enough to hear God speak deep with us, long enough to discover the pearl, it remains elusive, unpredictable and undomesticatable, because it is enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The pearl’s discovery is not an arrival, but a threshold, a place of beginning again, not without its own pain, but with a wisdom that can only happen through the hard work of being broken.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


What will be I do not know,
only now, only what is.
The candle’s flame,
a quiet space,
a broken heart,
breath moving in and out,
witnesses to this moment.
Worship now.
Shed tears.
Live. This is life.