Sunday, August 21, 2016

Merton channeled by Ron Seitz in Song for Nobody (1993)

“Now, we’ve got to stop all this stuff about ‘just-i-fi-ca-tion.’ Let go and become who you have always been! That’s the one-time, most important thing you’ve got to remember to remember. That’s the real and true meaning of Resurrection—a return to your original source. Go home to God.

“So stop trying to be other than who you are by erecting monuments of your achievements— such things as books, artworks, great ideas—you know, evidence to prove your worth and justify your existence to God. . . . That’s all so much waste.

“See. That’s the true meaning of hope … to trust in the ultimate goodness of creation. Hope doesn’t mean an anticipation or expectation of a deliverance from an intolerable or oppressive situation or condition. That’s what most of us are doing most of the time: wanting something other than what is. As I said, true hope is trusting that what we have, where we are, and who we are is more than enough for us as creatures of God.

“To appreciate this, you’ve got to know that revelation is all around you all the time … Revelation expressing itself as beauty, truth, goodness, and especially love! Creation is lit up with the numinous. Numinous: that’s God saying ‘Hi!’ (laughing).

“And faith is the surrender to this great gift of love: Life!… To be alive in creation … Submit to it—not in the sense of passive resignation—but in acceptance and participation in being!

Helpful hints for making your own Sabbath...

One question in the Gospel today is about the right way to observe the Sabbath; and the question for us is how can we regularly get from the nonstop noise and numbers of our busy world into the deep peace and promise of God’s time? Today I want offer some simple ways to practice sabbath, each growing into the other, that can change the way you live your  daily life.

Start with your breath, with each breath; and take it in as a gift from God: see that it’s the same breath that creates the world, heals the nations, forgives sin, welcomes the stranger, renews the world. Because there’s no other breath, no other world and no other creator. So we take this breath, like our soul, our body of flesh and blood, all the details of our lives, as a gift from God, just in order to just let it go.

But hold it for an instant before you do that. Take each breath as a gift and savour it for a second before you ask this question, just what does Jesus do? Because in every breath we can share his rhythm of receiving and relinquishing, of taking life and death as a give-away gift. In truth we can’t really live our lives in any other manner; we’re designed and built to carry this gift of God by giving it away; it’s almost beyond belief; that God calls us to share even love life and spirit with people and place and predicaments who are all profoundly unworthy, just because  God is utterly shameless in giving it all away to everyone and God seems to have the ultimate chutzpah to ask us to do the same.

But leave that aside for now and let’s use more of our body. Make the sign of the cross with your right hand, two directions, up and down, left right, can’t get much simpler than that; but it can carry some deep meaning; because what we do can carry what we believe, and  we can mark ourselves and the world with that meaning, with what we believe with our thumbs, or hands, our arms, our whole bodies and lives, Marking the world, remembering Sabbath in two dimensions: move up to remember a world higher than any heaven you can concenive where God creates everything, then wide to the sides as God’s love in Christ, and finally back to the centre by the Spirit who constantly calls us home again.

You can start by naming yourself that way when you enter or leave the church (that’s what the water in the stoup by the main door is for), and you can do it three times when you stand to hear the Gospel: “May I hear your word in my head, speak it with my lips, believe in my whole heart and life;” the words might change but the sabbath you hold will abide. You can even do it at a door before you ring the bell, on top of the table, on someone’s forehead, do it whenever you want, wherever you can, to remember God’s love as God’s beloved.

Now to add another dimension to making sabbath, reciting the Lord’s Prayer has something of the sign of the cross in its motions too. But listen to the prayer like you've never heard it before and see how well it points to a three dimensional mystery.

“Our Father in Heaven” actually is a prayer to the “Dadda of the Universe.” It’s   saying that the realm of this relationship is so big and small and intimate that the creator of the cosmos invites us to call out with a word as familiar as Mamma or Papa. Here God comes close enough to call under any circumstances and at any time with this openhearted, openhanded invitation to meet love in the middle of all our lives!

Then we proclaim three imperatives (and feel free to do hand gestures if you like): may your name be holy, may your love reign, and may I take part that this will be done. Do you see what’s happening? The prayer is weaving the world into one, weaving love into our daily lives as well as weaving us into the world of Sabbath saints, and pilgrims: like Mary, “Be it unto me according to your word,” and like Francis, “Make me an instrument of your peace,” — again, God is love, we deliver!

But now there's a necessary stretch where we go from the vertical to the horizontal, and I would say universal, in three requests that take us to three further dimensions of being human.

First request, “Give us today our daily bread.” Just remember food means company: the bread we eat, the wine we drink means grapes and water, yeast and fat and oil and wheat, mixed and kneaded, warmed and transformed, with many backs bent; many hands stretched out to offer food at our daily tables. So when Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood!” I think He is saying “I am willing to be known in this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation.” So then when we pray, “Give us today our daily bread” we’re asking God to let us know who we're eating with -- everyday, everywhere, every time.

Second request, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Take a big breath here because every every crossroad, every Sabbath means rest and renewal and forgiveness and a new beginning; and it is best (as co-creators) if we can participate in that creative renewal as much as we can and let everyone else do so too. And that means participating in God’s forgiveness business as fully as we participate in the rest of God’s creation, even when it’s tough, meaning we allow people, even people we think have sinned against us, to go free to seek their own Sabbath, go their own way.

And I’ll warn you it goes steep uphill from here. The third request is, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” So take a another deep breath, savour, let it go because the truth is, nobody wants to go there — but the glory of the community of the church comes when we all gather in the very place where sabbath makes an end, where God grants a new beginning, right there in the dead centre where we find out that nobody has to go there alone!

Because every time we gather, when we pray, when we share with Jesus, it happens: someone is betrayed and dying, someone is born and wanting, someone’s in trial and someone’s been tempted, someone’s found peace and someone wakes to glory. And God's love is in the middle, sharing the bread of life, the cup of salvation, given by the very one who knows all about it, the one who is carrying us all the way through the time of trial, just like a good friend, a mother hen, the very breath of life, all the way home.

That's it, how to do Sabbath; to paraphrase St. Augustine: Believe what you see, see what you believe and become what you are… For when we say, “Amen," we are saying, "Yes! I believe this is the Body and Blood of Christ and I will be the Body of Christ to others," and it is our own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table, it is our own mystery that we are receiving! For here we are saying ‘Amen’ to what we are, and Sabbath comes once again.

Enjoy it!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

From “Elias, variations on a theme…”

The free man is not alone as busy men are
But as birds are. The free man sings
Alone as universes do. Built 
Upon his own inscrutable pattern
Clear, unmistakeable, not invented by himself alone
Or for himself, but for the universe also. 

Nor does he make it his business to be recognised, 
Or care to have himself found out.
As if some special subterfuge were needed
To get himself known for who he is. …

For the free man’s road has neither beginning or end. 

Thomas Merton

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Maybe God is involved in the bad stuff too...

The Zen Roshi Shunru Suzuki was once asked for a two word definition of Buddhism and he said, “Things change.” If I were asked to define Christianity in two more words, I would say, “Keep Dancing.”

Because there is something deep in the rhythm of our faith journey that is a kind of dancing: in seasons of feast and fast, in penance and thanksgiving, with both long journeys lost and a great homecoming, with birth and death and pain and pleasure and the cross and resurrection, as the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving cuts all across our common life in Christ: I think that’s the heart of it.

It happens even in the silent times when nothing is supposed to happen: those of us who attempt a meditation practice know the various swings between taking in and letting go, receiving and relinquishing. losing track and starting again.

But that two-step dancing rhythm is certainly found all over the Scripture and the Tradition we follow and is close to the heart of the Gospel: even in the very Summary of the Law….

'Hear, O Israel... You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength…This is the first commandment and the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these..."

So you can see one love moving in several directions, dancing and then dividing a number of ways. Thomas Merton used to tell his students in the monastery, “You have to know you have a heart before you can give it away.”  There too, the alternating rhythm, the sense on one side, of being close to God, being seen by God, loved by God deeper than we know ourselves (and knowing that love to be the centre of it all) — and on the other side the difficult vocation of knowing you have a heart  in order to hand it away.
So, both focussing on heaven, the upward call of Christ, as well as on the horizontal call to  see and hear and connect with your nearest and farthest family and neighbours in a self-giving, heartbreaking charity and clarity. Thats the dance of the twofold gift: to take it all in and to give it all away.

So today Jesus, this sign of God’s love, comes to us not only to be, as Augustine writes, closer to us than we are to ourselves, and to bring us to ourselves, but also “to bring fire, baptism, stress until it is finished, not peace but division.”

And we're not used to that and well might you think, “Wait!” What about “my yoke is easy and my burden light,” What about “casting your cares on Jesus”, What about, “I call you my friends?” If all that is true, then what about this other side of this two-step Jesus, who comes “to bring fire… baptism… stress… until it is finished… not peace but division.” Wait.

And Jesus said, “From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three...: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

As Miss Bette Davis says, in the film, All About Eve, “Fasten your seat-belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” Because today Jesus is coming to forecast a confusing time. But I think that this very demanding confusion is the most hopeful and deepest and closest call for the church today: to recall we have a heart in order to give it away just as we have to keep dancing with loving God and loving our neighbours as ourselves.

For as God in Christ continues to join us in exploring what it means to be human and, in that company, can we continue to explore what God and the church might mean in a world where more and more people are less and less interested in any possible definition of religion or relationship, with anything that might be called a God of meaning and mystery, a God of life and love?

I have a working two-fold answer from the early fourth century and the Bishop of Alexandria.  Athanasius wrote that God becomes human so that humankind might become God. You can dance with that a little so that it turns into: “God becomes human so that humankind might become truly human.” Jesus joins us in the very complex middle of the human dance so that we might come to know there really is no place on our journey where we can overlook the possibility of God’s presence in our very human lives, even in all the muck and mystery; that, in fact, there is where the dance is!

This leads to further questions like what Thomas Merton writes:

“Am I sure that the meaning of my life is the meaning God intends for it?  Does God impose a meaning on my life from the outside, through event, custom, routine, law, system, impact with others in society? Or am I called to create from within, with God, with God's grace, a meaning which reflects God's truth and makes me God"s “word” spoken freely in my personal situation?

My true identity lies hidden in God’s call to my freedom  and my response to God.  This means I must use my freedom in order to love… not merely receiving a form imposed on me by external forces, or forming my own life according to an approved social pattern, but directing my love to the personal reality of my [sister and my] brother, and embracing God’s will in its naked, often impenetrable mystery.”

Maybe this has to do with Mother Teresa of India saying that, “The problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.” For with almost 1 .7 billion people on the planet maybe the family is divided more than three against two and two four against three and we need to work and pray with these larger numbers.

And maybe this connects to what the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this from a Nazi prison before he was assassinated in 1944:

'I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. … I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God.’

Can you see that might just be where worship meets the world? As we often say, “We offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice through Jesus Christ our Lord. Send us out in the power of your Spirit to live and work to your praise and glory.” Again, there the dance is!

Let’s finish with a prayer from the Gelasian Sacramentary, circa 750AD. Let us pray:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favourably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world  see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Talking about Silent Meditation...

How do I write about meditation without blathering about breathing when what I am learning, a little, to do is not, strictly speaking, meditation, but simply breathing? 

For the last 18 months I have been exploring and expanding my understanding and experience of what I call breath prayer. Consciously being aware of the actions of breathing: the give and take of it, frequency and fervour, rhythm and pace, depth and demeanour.  It gets bigger over time. Years ago somebody said, look at something you think you know until it tells you something new. I’ve been looking at, listening to, breathing with breathing, and I am learning some new things. 

I could write that breathing is not new for me, is an addictive activity that I started early and never got over, but that just panders to my tendency to play the lounge act of the soul, go for cheap laughs, try to introduce profundity through the family entrance, but what I want to say, and here comes the pamphlet, is that the act of breathing can be the most radical thing in the world. Breaking the world, at least of my daily taken for granted, perceptions of it, breaking it all open to a whole new spectrum of interaction, instructions and experience of intimacy that is closer than right next door, just like the little girl in Poltergeist says, “They’re here!” And to begin to allow breathing to breathe you is to turn around the way we live and move and have our being. Don't be surprised if the pamphlet comes next. 

There is a meeting place in the middle of my body where who-I-am meets something that is both bigger and finer than what I usually see as me, something else that challenges the way I separate the world into categories and choices, me and them, right and wrong, good and bad, all those inadequate and facile dichotomies that get lost and found in here and now. 

But writing about breathing is about as difficult as writing about sex, drugs or good musical comedy.  Because it involves everything you thought you were and more, it stretches you physically, mentally, spiritually, it is essentially unspeakable, unremarkable, simple and difficult, as easy as breathing and as easy to miss. So what I try to do is listen, with my breath, to where I meet the boundaries, and attend to what happens then. 

Half my life ago I read a book called Sadhana which opens with a chapter on a simple breath prayer practice I still use. It is to visualise each intake of your  breath travelled into various areas of the body, from the top of the head to the whole sitting posture, and easing tensions, meeting residual feelings, touching the pain of the day and letting it all go with each exhalation of breath. The process has changed over the years for me but it is almost the same; awareness of the breath moves successively from the head to the neck and throat, tops of shoulders, small of back, belly and spine, hips, seat, pelvis, thighs, knees and calves, and finally the whole breathing body. 

It is both a tool for myself and a gift for others. I use it myself and can share it in fifteen or twenty minutes of shared practice that usually makes the experience available to a gathered group. I can walk them through it and afterwards people know it from the inside in a way that makes it theirs.

Thomas Merton sits again!

Just dance!

Northeast Victoria

Where the Merton Centre might go....

Wednesday, 10 August, 4:32 AM, 3°.

I've been awake for last hour listening to some of Jack Kornfield’s book on Buddhism, Bringing the Dharma Home, and now my mind is racing! I just got up, drank some water, and brought my computer back to bed. Right now I'm using Apple’s own native dictator application and some of its features are quite good -– others are lacking. 

Just talking out, writing about a lot of things right now, in no particular order:

I’ve thought for several years about the Buddhist Christian conversation that could be had by carefully studying Jack Kornfield’s book and comparing it to the contemporary western situation the Christian community is experiencing. It could be helpful and refreshing exercise for all participants interested in discussing it in an ongoing (likely online) community.

I am aware of the need, in my own personal life, for a new configuration between meditation, prayer, study, physical fitness and exercise, community, conversation, as well as personal writing, and publishing in the blogging/social media sphere. And what about authentic corporate worship look like in this context?

Is it time to talk about a new idea for “The Merton Centre” — the metaphor/organisation I’ve carried around for the last few decades; making it less a physical place where classes, gatherings, and programs happen (as it has been in its earlier incarnation), and more a sprectrum of online opportunities for ideas for shared reflections, encounters, asynchronous reading, study and reflection to occur over time and place. This could simply mean an expanded and enlarged webpage offering links to online education as well as other online communities and resources.

I have been exploring some of the options for making a more interesting presence with my current blogspot website: it offers a magazine kind of format where I could do some of the linking I talk about above and would lend itself to a more attractive online presence with photos, graphics, videos, and linkages to other interesting sites. 

With my more sustained writing work on Scrivener I am also finding new options for rearranging previously written texts in new ways to new effect; and it might be time to share some of this work for further conversation on social media. And do I now I need to look at other social media sites in order to understand and exercise better options in placing my writing and offering new ways to relate into the larger community? What might the Merton Centre look like in Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia, Cyberspace?

And where am I now, and how does this corporate work make sense and take place, in my own personal journey and development? 

Considers all these intermediate reflections, jottings for a journal; but I’d love your responses as well… 

And now it’s 6:00am. 

Thomas Merton

Am I sure that the meaning of my life is the meaning God intends for it? 

Does God impose a meaning on my life from the outside, 
through event, custom, routine, law, system, impact with others in society? 

Or am I called to create from within, with him, with his grace, 
a meaning which reflects his truth and makes me his “word” 
spoken freely in my personal situation? 

My true identity lies hidden in God’s call to my freedom  and my response to him. 
This means I must use my freedom in order to love, with full responsibility and authenticity, 
not merely receiving a form imposed on me by external forces, 
or forming my own life according to an approved social pattern, 
but directing my love to the personal reality of my brother, 
and embracing God’s will in its naked, often impenetrable mystery.

Thomas Merton