Contemplative Times, Issue # 9
The Newsletter of Meditation Chapel
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The Meditation Chapel Vision
Meditation Chapel nurtures unity and world peace through the sharing of divine stillness and sacred listening. We support groups of all faith traditions in offering and sharing the contemplative experience through the sacramental use of technology.
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Laura Waters, Editor, Contemplative Times
A TEACHABLE DISPOSITION by Pamela Begeman
The Lord will give you bread in adversity
and water in affliction.
No longer will your Teacher hide,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
And your ears shall hear a word behind you:
“This is the way; walk in it,”
when you would turn to the right or the left.
– Isaiah 30:20-21
The spiritual journey is a narrow path found by few, and thus necessitates guides, wisdom figures, practices, and companions to swim against the current of cultural, familial and egoic programming.
Even more so, as the journey deepens, I have many times needed a hand through the swamps and fires of purification and dark night cycles. As one of my teachers quipped, “We’re not all crazy on the same day!” – meaning I need the steadying influence of spiritual companions and wisdom figures to guide me through the mapped and unmapped unfolding of the divine-human adventure, not to mention as objective witnesses to help me see what is unconsciously operating in me.
To have a teacher is to put oneself under the authority of a person’s wisdom and experience, which is also true when committing to a set of practices or an intentional spiritual group. This is not a passive doormat disposition, but one of humility. I come as a child with curiosity, wonder, attentiveness, receptivity. If my defenses and resistances are active, what can I possibly receive? Do I come with a teachable disposition?
With this is my responsibility to discern and verify everything in my experience. I ponder and practice it in my own life to see what works and does not work at this moment in my unique life circumstances. I practice being responsible for the stories and programs that hinder my understanding, evolution, and transformation. I recognize arising body sensations and constrictions as the transmission of higher teachings disrupts and triggers the crystallized parts of the self. All the questions, reactions and resistances are then invited into the light of the witnessing presence within. Welcome to the Light, the healing Light of the Spirit. “Welcome, welcome, welcome. I let go of my desire for security, affection, control and embrace this moment as it is.” (See the Welcoming Prayer practice).
I have had teachers from many religions and from many wisdom traditions. My daily practice and rule of life is my ever-present and evolving teacher, as are the trees and my dog’s ever-wagging tail. I have had both good and bad experiences with spiritual teachers; every experience has been invaluable. Most of my teachers are now beyond form, guiding from the conscious circle of humanity or the communion of saints. I pray to my teachers and ask for help every day because I need it.
Perhaps the most valuable gift I have received is that which shows me the way back to the Indwelling Presence, to the inner source of wisdom and guidance, which is why the quote from Isaiah is one of my favorites. In my case, the ability to hear the still, small voice within was programmed out of me in my early teen years. Thankfully, that connection has been restored. When recollected and re-membered, I hear/sense/feel the inner promptings that know the difference between what is true and what is false, that knows the next right action or right restraint, that knows how to navigate the journey with clarity and intention. The importance of contemplative practice of discernment, of listening deeply for these promptings, cannot be overstated. Nor can it be rushed or forced. It operates in its own time with its own language of gut sense, guidance from synchronized patterns and confirming signs, and sometimes words.
Ever more so, I have learned there are no mistakes. When I am awake and willing, everything serves my transformation and becomes my teacher.
If we approach our guides and resources with a calm mind and discernment, and if we are willing to let their teachings transform our daily activities, they will help lead us toward the full awareness we seek.
~ John Richard Sack
Follow Your Bliss to Make a Difference by Karen O’Brien
Often discernment is as easy as figuring out what it is you love doing, and then figuring out how to do exactly that, for the good of others.
I love making things, but never thought of that as being a special skill that could help anyone in any manner, until in college, when I spent one particular spring break with a team of medical and nursing students in rural Kentucky. Being neither an aspiring doctor or nurse, I went along to clean and stock the clinic. However, when the woman running the clinic, a nurse practitioner, found out I was a budding artist, she immediately took me out of the clinic and got me making stuff. Among my many “artistic tasks” were painting handmade birdhouses, making folk toys, and putting colorful, hand painted labels on fruit preserves— “fundraising crafts” sold to benefit the clinic. I even carded, spun, dyed and wound artisan quality wools into skeins–another “fundraising craft” for the clinic—which, by the way, I hadn’t a clue how to do, prior to the day I was assigned the task.
At the end of the week I was lauded for my efforts by this nurse, who told our team teasingly, “I host regular rotations of medical staff at our clinic, but when I get someone in here who’s an artist—well, now that’s a special gift that needs exploiting!” Of course, this wonderful nurse was, in large part, just trying to make me feel useful and included. Her “special gift” was finding out what people loved doing, and giving them the opportunity to do just that, for the benefit of her clinic. She had cultivated an “awareness” that impressed me greatly, and I have tried to emulate her for much of my adult life, looking for people’s talents and assisting them in using those talents for good. Had I not, I would have missed out on working with many, many talented people, like Pat.
Pat was the head of housekeeping and maintenance in the Florida hospital where years later I worked in “mission integration”—a fancy term for the department that helps staff see and do their jobs as their calling. Pat certainly believed being the head of housekeeping was a calling. She had always loved “home-making”, and viewed our hospital as one big “home” that needed her attentive care. She told me that without the cleanliness and order her department offered the hospital, tempers would fly, disease would spread and chaos would ensue. Pat always worked with energy and good humor, and her positive attitude was contagious. Many of Pat’s staff, in and out of the same patients’ rooms every day, became the ad hoc chaplains and social workers for many of them. Under Pat’s encouragement and direction, her staff were some of the most generous donors to our annual toy drives, canned goods collections and clothing drives for our economically disadvantaged patients and their families—and this while raising families themselves, on a housekeeping staff salary.
Pat loved “home-making”, but she also loved making dolls, many of which accompanied our medical staff on overseas medical missions, once another staff member told me about Pat’s skills. Bringing dolls to Haiti or rural Peru for our young patients might seem like a “nice thing” to do, but it’s much more important than that. A doll can calm and soothe a child, who is terrified of the foreign-looking, foreign-speaking medical staff poking around their little body. A doll also serves as a friend when “mommy” and “daddy” can’t be with them in the recovery ward, and often goes home with the child as their new and only toy.
Pat’s dolls were beautifully and lovingly made. These dolls were especially sought by our medical staff for their overseas trips, so prior to these trips, Pat and some of the nurses would organize “doll-making marathons” at someone’s home. We’d all arrive with our sewing machines and make dolls all day, tucking into potluck brunch and dinners, chatting and having a blast. It created camaraderie between departments, as well as many dolls.
Often we think we have to do something really special with our lives to have made a difference, but I think what really winds up being the most rewarding kind of life is one filled with all kinds of small gestures, lovingly done. Meditation and centering prayer lead us into a deeper awareness of not only the needs of others, but also our own special and particular “gifts” for meeting those needs. Consider how you are using your gifts for others. Maybe the thing you like doing best is the “gift” that’s missing in the lives of others…
Blood red crystals
10, 20, 50 and more
Moving slowly through
Fingers and thumb.
To praise God
To acknowledge Mary.
Held to the light
Glows like a flame
Burning from my heart.
Given from Fatima
A plea for prayer…
This holy rosary.
~ Marcia Stoner
Teacher of Truth by Tissy Palack
I have been trying to put into words the idea of a teacher as experienced in this life. The more I think about it, I am convinced that there is not one person, place or thing that can teach the depth and breadth of the Divine God. It sure can be a savored experience that mixes all the emotional flavors of the human condition in every waking moment. Teaching goes on through the myriad combinations of beings, places, encounters, thoughts and words.
I’m still solving a big puzzle of a nonbeliever whose unshakable balance surpasses my expectations. Through the silence, many have taught me better than anyone with words could teach. But it is the combination of the spoken and unspoken that has been keeping me curious, unbalanced and balanced, in the end. I rely on my own difficult and pleasant emotions to gauge my understanding of anything.
What this led me to is the one place where the true wisdom resides. My human heart with the help of this body’s sensations is the ultimate teacher of Truth and apart from this space, I have not learned anything. May I never look further than my heart to learn the truth that I must learn in the capacity to which I am able, at any given moment. May I rely on my breath, as this is my connection to all that was, to all that is and to all that will be in the present moment. May I surrender to the wisdom of the heart and breath as they conspire to mold this being into the Silent and Gentle Spirit’s liking in each moment.
After writing these lines, I realized that a song from I often listened while growing up must have influenced my understanding. The song written in my native language Malayalam by Rev. Father Abel Periyappuram, C.M.I. and was sung melodiously by playback singer K.J. Yesudas. Translation of the song follows:
In Search of God
Searching for God, I walked
Crossing the oceans, I wandered,
Neither there, nor here was God
Nor in the deserts was God
Where are the footprints of God?
On Earth I searched and found not
Where is the beautiful abode of God?
In the skies I searched and found not
Have not seen have not seen, thus saying
The streams of the woods glided by
Won’t see won’t see, thus saying
The birds went fly, flying by
At last I turned inwards within me
Into my Heart, I entered
‘Tis There, the Abiding of the Divine
‘Tis Love, the Image of the Divine
‘Tis Love, the Image of the Divine
|The Examen is more of an attitude than a method. It invites us to find the movement of the Divine in the people and events of our day. The Examen is simply a set of introspective prompts to follow or adapt to your own character or spirit.|
THE EXAMEN AS A SPIRITUAL TEACHER by Colleen Rusch
As I considered spiritual teachers and guides in my life, I realized my Examen practice gave me a foundation to identify those rather random teachers.
I have landed on two questions in my Examen: What has stretched my space for love, beauty or joy. I think it may be defined as a spaciousness. Essentially what has attracted me to abundance. And on the other side of that question is what made my heart smaller or made the space in my heart shrivel?
Most of the time those questions are answered in a relational experience. It may come as I listen to sharing in meditation. It has come watching someone extend generosity. It has come as watching someone listen well. It has come in stories of a restored relationship. It comes through gentle responses to outrage. It comes through kind words. It comes as a sacred imagination; someone can see a realm of beauty and love that is still gestating, and the labor pains have just begun. But they offer a word or hope that stirs my ability to also hope.
I guess what I am circling here is I watch and listen for the random gifts that draw me to see love. Often, they are people who see everyone is the object of great affection, maybe not because they themselves are so capable of that love, but they have entered the great exchange: Receiving mercy and giving mercy. Having received compassion, compassion is extended.
The teaching is often in the small acts I note when I can be present and attentive. Again, it is living relationally with others and creation. My radar is alert to that beauty. It usually feels like spaciousness to live in the now, trusting where you are has a fullness of God’s presence. That can teach me every day and guide me to loving in the present. People with a wingspan that embraces life wherever they are on the journey. I watch and listen to learn that kind of spacious living.
The other question in my Examen is what has made my heart smaller or made the space in my heart shrivel? That too is a spiritual teacher. Noting when my own heart “sees small.” What made me shrivel? What smallness did I embrace thinking I needed to guard “mine.” Those too are teachers. They guide me to leave a dry, barren space and remember there is an alternative that I can be present to.
These are daily practices because that is how I have to keep reminding myself that my spiritual teachers are in the unexpected and simple spaces.
WELCOME TO OUR NEW GROUPS/FACILITATORS
What: Silentium Spiritual Practice Group
What: Centering Prayer Group in English
What: Meditation Group: A Spring Within Us, by Richard Rohr’s
What: Action and Contemplation Group
New Action and Contemplation Group by Mary Ann Holtz
There are clear signs that the Holy Spirit is at work in those of us who have been consenting to God’s presence and action in us, moving us to want to bring that presence and action into our work for justice, peace, and care for the whole Earth community.
Many gathered for the Contemplation to Action workshop with Fr. John Dear on January 23, 2021. Afterward, I heard from folks who want to explore more about the action side of the two-sided coin of Action and Contemplation.
Kathleen Rector and I held this desire in prayer and are happy to announce our new group on Meditation Chapel. Like all MC groups it will be open to MC registered folks and will include a time of contemplative prayer/meditation, followed by a time of lectio divina and sacred sharing.
We will begin the first series of gatherings on Saturday February 20, from 3-4:30 U.S. Eastern Time, in the Wisdom Chapel. In the first six meetings (during the Lenten season) our lectio divina will focus on quotes from Richard Rohr’s Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, which is a short book about the interconnection of contemplative practice and action in the world for healing, justice, and nonviolence. (While there is no need for participants to have the book, here is a link to purchase it: https://store.cac.org/products/dancing-standing-still-healing-the-world-from-a-place-of-prayer).
During the sixth gathering we will listen to the Spirit with each other for how to proceed in following meetings.
All are welcome to join us as often as you are able.
I will co-facilitate with Kathleen Rector. My background: 30+ years Centering Prayer, 35+ years psychotherapy in a church setting, 35+ years social justice/peace/earth community educator and activist. I have facilitated various kinds of groups, including group spiritual direction using Shalem materials for a group of psychotherapists.
Kathleen Rector is a Centering Prayer practitioner, has been an activist for many years, and recently completed the 18-month Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats program offered by Shalem.
If you would like to be on an email list to receive the lectio quotes prior to the meetings, please email me, Mary Ann Holtz, at email@example.com.
|ART IN CONTEMPLATION|
Picturing Faith by Arthur Aghajanian
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” – Psalm 119:105
As I was growing up, the meaning of faith and belief overlapped. I never had the difference explained to me by a respected authority, and I’m not sure how much a religious education would have helped. Usually sure of my beliefs, I’ve nevertheless had to mature quite a bit to comprehend faith in any meaningful way. In the process I’ve found that the right image can ground me in a deeper understanding of the difference in these two words.
“Faith” as translated in the New Testament came from the Greek word pistis, meaning trust. “Belief”, originally referring to trust, had by the sixteenth century come to mean mental acceptance. Belief in something means our imagination can make sense of it. Belief lies in the head, while faith often goes beyond our ability to conceptualize. Faith is an experiential knowing; a sense of connectedness with one’s true nature.
The ineffable quality of faith reminds me of how art functions when it transports viewers beyond what it describes. If both belief and faith can be expressed visually, finding the right images might imprint the meaning of each more powerfully. We might think of institutional propaganda as the classic example of asserting belief through images. But how exactly can one picture faith?
In John, Chapter 20, Thomas the Apostle doubts Jesus’s resurrection until he can see and touch him in the flesh. This is the scene of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas (1601-02), a painting that, unlike others on the same subject, doesn’t merely illustrate that lesson or support religious doctrine. The artist’s unconventional approach to his subject matter results in an image of faith that echoes how it manifests in our own lives. It is a representation of the “unknowing” that is necessary to faith, and so unlike belief.
This difference lies in the fact that belief is an intellectual assent, where faith is an ongoing act of trust. Faith doesn’t exist outside of life as a framing device. Instead it is a daily commitment, often silent and unnoticed and a fitting description for what we see occurring in the painting. Caravaggio’s version of the Doubting Thomas story is a modest interpretation: the holy nature of the event is not presented in a grandiose manner. Christ’s face is diminished in shadow and the three apostles (Thomas, Peter and John) appear in a non-idealized way, through signs of age and poverty. Their status is not evident in the way they are dressed, nor do they possess any recognizable attributes. The scene becomes all the more real for us in the psychology of expressive faces and body language, and the lack of an identifiable setting adds to the feeling that this could be happening anywhere and at any time. Typical of Caravaggio’s work, religious figures are humanized, making them more accessible to viewers, the overall scene detached from anything that would appear supernatural. Thomas examines a wound rendered with tactile realism like a curious scientist searching for empirical evidence.
If we understand faith not as a proposition to be accepted or rejected, but an invitation, we may begin to participate in a dynamic process of unity. This movement deeper into self and presence becomes a relational experience with God. Caravaggio’s painting reproduces this dynamic in the arrangement of the figures as well as their relationship to us. We are brought into the scene by both our proximity to the figures and their life-size scale. Jesus makes himself vulnerable, answering Thomas’s need (as God answers ours in faith) by guiding the disciple’s hand into his wound as Peter and John are welcomed to look on. The figures are grouped in an arc and joined as one, their heads united to form a diamond at the top center of the picture plane. The intimacy of faith is seen in the huddled bodies and attentive faces suggesting both human drama and emotional depth. The painting is an invitation to the viewer to step into transformation through surrender and love.
Each of us holds a set of beliefs, which color how we see life. Like lenses for different life situations, our beliefs help us make sense of things. But faith lights our path with a living quality that guides us to our deepest selves. Once there, we must willingly surrender to what is. Similarly, when we enter the space of the painting, we are invited to participate in a unique moment of transformation. This is partly the result of the artist’s use of co-extensive space, within which we stand as a fourth observer of the wound. Free of distractions, we witness the singularity of the moment. Instead of the clear, even light of belief, Caravaggio employs his famous tenebroso technique to paint the illumination of consciousness as a mysterious light. Jesus and his side seem to be its source, into which the disciples have just stepped. They are poised in mid-movement, emerging from the shadows of ignorance into awareness. When we practice faith every moment has the potential for what the Greeks called ecstasis, or a stepping out of oneself into the light of our true selves, illuminated by a higher consciousness.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas presents faith as an intimacy with the body of Christ, when we are most human. As Thomas’s finger enters the wound, the blunt physicality emphasized points to the human dimension of resurrection. Witnessing and participating in Thomas’s recognition we return to our own experience inspired to touch the source of life through our own faith. Belief may sometimes be a necessary starting point. Yet only when we leave behind our limited mental constructs are we free enough to recognize the holy- as Caravaggio did in the messy lives of the people of his day- glowing in beautiful ways.
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