Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"What a wonder I was/ when I was young..."

VII. 
Ben and me in woods, 1977

by Wendell Berry

Listen Online

What a wonder I was
when I was young, as I learn
by the stern privilege
of being old: how regardlessly
I stepped the rough pathways
of the hillside woods,
treaded hardly thinking
the tumbled stairways
of the steep streams, and worked
unaching hard days
thoughtful only of the work,
the passing light, the heat, the cool
water I gladly drank.
"VII." by Wendell Berry from A Small Porch. © Counterpoint, 2016.  (buy now)

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Wisdom of the Body -- A Guest Post by Christine Valters Paintner

As someone who's written about using our five physical senses as doors into a deeper spiritual life (
Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God), it is my pleasure to welcome Christine Valters Paintner as a guest blogger this week. She's penned a number of my favorite books and her newest one, The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women, has just been released. For Holy Ordinary, she's written a piece titled "Sacrament of the Senses." I'm sure you'll be blessed by it. I know I was.

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As the twelfth- century teacher Hildegard of Bingen says, “God has a burning love for the flesh.” And there are four stages, she says, in the ascent of holy knowing: “seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting.” --J. Philip Newell, A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul


The Catholic Mass, which is my own home tradition, is often described as “smells and bells.” A full liturgy will often meet and inspire every one of our senses: the scent of incense rising, bells ringing, stained glass windows, singing songs, embracing another at the kiss of peace, eating the bread and drinking wine.

I have always loved the Catholic idea of sacramentality, which means that physical things participate in and reveal the presence of the holy. The liturgy with all of its sensual dimensions is sacramental, the marriage union between two lovers is sacramental, the holy oil of anointing used in healing is sacramental, this bread and wine become flesh and blood is sacramental.

And then there are of course the more ordinary everyday sacraments. The sacramentality of our own flesh which allows us to be present in this world and receive its gifts through our senses.

If we ponder the monastery setting, we might imagine the soaring arches of the cloisters, the fragrant garden in the center providing herbs and medicine for healing and a taste of Eden in their midst, and the songs rising at the Hours for prayer. There is a profound honoring of the way these sensual delights can bring us closer to God.

To have a sacramental spirituality is to honor that our senses are doorways into the holy. When we bring ourselves intentionally to an experience and let ourselves receive it through our senses, the richness of it and the multi-dimensionality of it shimmers forth.

There is even a tradition in Christian spirituality of what are called the “spiritual senses.” The senses were seen as so essential to receiving the gift of the sacred in the world, that there was believed to be parallel interior senses to the exterior ones. There was spiritual vision which was the ability to see God beneath the surface of things. There was spiritual hearing which was the capacity to hear God underneath the noises and distractions. Each sense, including taste, smell, and touch, were imagined as having these inner counterparts, and when cultivated, offered us the ability to encounter God in the flesh and blood reality of the world.

The root of the word savor comes from the Latin word saporem which means to taste and is also the root of sapient which is the word for wisdom. Another definition I love is "to give oneself over to the enjoyment of something." When I give myself over to the experience of savoring, wisdom emerges. Savoring calls for a kind of surrender. We have all kinds of stories in our minds about why we perhaps shouldn’t give ourselves over to enjoyment, whether out of guilt or shame or a sense of fear out of what might happen. Yet we are called to yield to the goodness of life, to bask in it. It is an affirmation and celebration of God’s creation and an echo of “that’s good” from Genesis.

Savoring calls me to slowness: I can't savor quickly.

Savoring calls me to spaciousness: I can't savor everything at once.

Savoring calls me to mindfulness: I can't savor without being fully present.

It also calls for a fierce and wise discernment about how I spend my time and energy. Now that I know deep in my bones the limits of my life breaths, how do I choose to spend those dazzling hours? What are the experiences ripening within me that long for exploration? Do I want to waste my time skating on the surface of things, in a breathless rush to get everything done when all I need is here in this moment?

There is also a seasonal quality to savoring – this season, what is right before me, right now, is to be savored. It will rise and fall, come into fullness and then slip away. When I savor I pay attention to all the moments of that experience without trying to change it.

And finally, there is a tremendous sweetness to this open-hearted way of being in the world. Everything becomes grace because I recognize it could all be different, it could all be gone. Rather than grasp at how I think this moment should be, I savor the way things are.

(excerpted and adapted from The Wisdom of the Body)



Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE is the online Abbess at AbbeyoftheArts.com, a virtual global monastery offering resources in contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of ten books including her newest, The Wisdom of the Body: A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women. Christine lives on the wild edges of Ireland with her husband where they lead pilgrimages and retreats.

Friday, January 06, 2017

"They take Alfonso/ And no one stands up..." What Canst -- or Will -- Thou Say?


Today, after reading Kaminksy's poem below, I was thinking of Martin Niemöller. He was a prominent German Lutheran pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. He is perhaps best remembered for the quotation which seems timely to me:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I've been thinking:

First they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Mexican.

Then they came for the African Americans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a African American.

Then they came for the other non-Europeans, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a non-European.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

While I am a Quaker who loves silence (and have even written a book about it's importance!), as the writer of Ecclesiastes says:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
...a time to be silent and a time to speak...

This is not the time for public silence. It is a time to -- with discernment, but not necessarily caution -- to speak.

Town Watches Them Take Alfonso

by Ilya Kaminsky

Now each of us is
a witness stand:

Vasenka watches us watch four soldiers throw Alfonso Barabinski on the sidewalk.
We let them take him, all of us cowards.

What we don’t say
we carry in our suitcases, coat pockets, our nostrils.

Across the street they wash him with fire hoses. First he screams,
then he stops.

So much sunlight—
a t-shirt falls off a clothes line and an old man stops, picks it up, presses it to his face.

Neighbors line up to watch him thrown on a sidewalk like a vaudeville act: Ta Da.
In so much sunlight—

how each of us
is a witness stand:

They take Alfonso
And no one stands up. Our silence stands up for us.

"Our silence stands up for us."  What canst -- or will -- thou say?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage: Preparing for a Trumpian Administration

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days.

These words of Harry Emerson Fosdick ring true for many of us today as we face the inauguration as President of the United States a man whose values run contrary to ours as people of faith. Well, people of our peculiar faith, at any rate. 

The president-elect claims to be a person of faith, after all. Many of us Friends wonder what kind of faith it is  that denigrates racial and gender differences, speaks of and objectifies women as sexual toys, mocks and slanders those with religious and political positions that don't align with his, praises those who are "principalities, ... powers, ... the rulers of the darkness of this world", ... the list could on. But, this is not the first time that we Quakers have, throughout our multi-century history, often found ourselves on the "wrong" side of government, elected or otherwise.

The question for many of us today is how to respond. How to act. We could give into despair. We could retreat into inaction in word and deed. We could remain silent; safe in our quiet Quaker congregations of mostly middle-class whiteness. I know I could. 

So I've been thinking a lot about what my call is during this time -- and perhaps the next almost a decade. I'm starting with three things.

One, I've just taken the Matthew 25 pledge at Sojourners.There I said I'd make an active, ongoing commitment to protect and stand with vulnerable people in the name of Jesus, particularly in support of these groups:
  • Undocumented immigrants threatened with mass deportation
  • African Americans and other people of color threatened by racial profiling
  • Muslims threatened with "banning," monitoring, and even registration
Second, I'm going to reread one of most the formative books of my faith -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer's
The Cost of Discipleship. My copy of this compelling statement of the demands of sacrifice and ethical consistency is well worn. And while I don't agree with everything that Bonhoeffer writes in it, I am challenged by these thoughts from a man whose life and thought were exemplified a new type of leadership inspired by a Gospel imbued with the spirit of Christian humanism and a creative sense of civic duty.

Third, I'm ordering a copy of the brand new Praying for Justice: A Lectionary of Christian Concern. This book, published by Barclay Press, (a Quaker publishing house), was put into print in no small part in response to the recent US presidential election. As its description says, "this book is not free of agenda. It is an act of resistance. God is greater than any politician, political system, or nation. And now is the time for people of faith to act in tangible, costly, and courageous ways. This book calls upon Christians to live into wisdom, prudence, compassion, humility, and discernment, to pursue the heart of God’s kingdom vision: a society in which all are valued as individuals bearing God’s image."

These are small steps, I know.  But I don't know what they'll lead to. All I know is that I have to do something that affirms my belief as a Christian that my life is about depending upon and following God and not about which politicians "control" the United States of America. My allegiance is not to a flag, but to the Eternal Lover of My Soul. The platform I espouse (albeit not always well) is that of a not-so-simple son of a carpenter from Galilee.

I need to continue to write words of Light and Love and Good News. I need to live a life that models the words of Galatians -- "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." And I may need to speak Truth to Power in ways that are new, but true, to me and my prayer to have wisdom and courage for the living of these days.


Monday, December 19, 2016

desert spirit's fire!: Brent Bill: Holy Silence

"The Quaker view that all of life, including silence, is sacramental is based in the Bible as well as in Friendly faith. It is a practice solidly grounded in Christian theology, history, and Scripture." Holy Silence, page 21.

I've read, blogged, and reviewed several of Brent's books and always appreciate that they're never too long, that he has close connections to nature, the environment, the land (I hope so, because he's a farmer!) and especially that all of them emphasize ways we can live closer to God and to all of God's creation...

desert spirit's fire!: Brent Bill: Holy Silence: Holy Silence : The Gift of Quaker Spirituality by J.Brent Bill on Amazon. "The Quaker view that all of life, including silence, is s...

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Silence in a Noisy Season: Silence Is Not A Waste of Time

“Value the opportunity to think unguided by the world. Learn what you feel you need to know, let other information pass. No moment of silence is a waste of time.”

Rachel Needham, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice: Second Edition, #2:17.

From Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality, 2nd edition

Friday, December 16, 2016

Silence in a Noisy Season: Taking Time Silence -- and God

Do you want to live in such an amazing divine Presence that life is transformed and transfigured and transmuted into peace and power and glory and miracle?” If we can honestly answer, “Yes,” then Kelly’s response is, “If you do, you can. But if you say you haven’t the time to go down into the recreating silences, I can only say to you, 'Then you don’t really want to. . . . For . . . we find time for what we really want to do.'”

quotation by Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, 120.