Meditations

What to Do on Missing God Who Is in Hiding

From 14th century German Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart:
“The mind is sometimes lacking in perception and is very apt to imagine that God has passed it by. Then what is to be done? Exactly the same as you would do if you were in the greatest comfort. Learn not to vary in the depths of woe but behave in every way the same. Your best chance of finding God is to look in the place where you left God. As it was with you when you last had God, let it be now while you have lost God — then you will find God.

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Does it ever seem to you that you have misplaced God, or that God has misplaced you? How did you react? How helpful does Meister Eckhart’s advice seem to you?

To the Light of September: A Poem by W. S. Merwin

“When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground

but they all know
that you have come
the seed heads of the sage
the whispering birds
with nowhere to hide you
to keep you for later

you
who fly with them

you who are neither
before nor after
you who arrive
with blue plums
that have fallen through the night

perfect in the dew”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Merwin invites readers to experience September as a time of “now and not yet” (a phrase which also describes our experience of the Reign of God). As September deepens, what previously hidden truths about your relationship with God are becoming more clear?

Giving Up and Giving Thanks

“It turns out that there is not much difference between giving up and giving thanks because both these prayers require us to look beyond ourselves. Both of these prayers force us to look beyond our accomplishments, our resources, and our good deeds. Both of these prayers challenge us to surrender our sense of entitlement about what we deserve or what we have earned. Both of these prayers challenge us to rely upon the grace and mercy of God, the great lover of humble souls who are giving up and giving thanks. Giving up does not mean being lazy or failing to realize our full, God-given potential. Giving up simply means realizing that God is not as impressed with our accomplishments as we are. Giving up means realizing that God is God, and we are not.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: Consider visiting a place (either physically or spiritually) where you may have things you still need to give up and for which you still need to give thanks.

(Meditation and reflection questions from “The Gifts of God for the People of God” by Furman L. Buchanan, Forward Movement, 2019).

Practicing Commitment

How can this be? Summertime is almost over! Our attention turns to new beginnings and new commitments — to a new academic year, to new efforts and energy for work, perhaps to a new program year here at the Cathedral. What about a new commitment to God? Consider this, from “The Way of Love: Turn” (Church Publishing 2014):

“Followers of Jesus who wish to experience the intimacy of [a dynamic relationship with him] and develop a conscious understanding of the Christian framework eventually engage the spiritual practice of commitment. Like any practice, a spiritual practice builds our capacity for something. The spiritual practice of commitment builds our trust in Jesus’s teachings, and in turn, Jesus himself. It takes us beyond intellectual belief and into a relationship with the relational God, walking together on God’s graceful way. Allow yourself to imagine a relationship with God. Imagine that God loves you unconditionally, and imagine returning that love for God. If you do not feel it, simply pray for the capacity to love God as much as God loves you. Imagine that for today, you could commit to this relationship with the God of grace, even though your life is not perfect. When we deepen commitment, sometimes we must clean up loose ends. Do you need to forgive God for letting you down or not giving you something you asked for? Imagine forgiving God. You may leave God tomorrow if you wish, or you may choose to continue loving God tomorrow. Sit with the possibility — the freedom — of both for a minute. Imagine loving God today as much as God loves you. Make it a practice that you take up one day at a time.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: How do you react to the word “imagine” in this selection? What would “forgiving God” be like for you? How willing are you to commit to a relationship with God just for today? For tomorrow? One day at a time after that?

The Long Green Season

From The Way of Love: Learn (Church Publishing, 2018):

For roughly six months [June through December] we are in the ‘green’ season of church decor and slow, organic growth…Except for the major and minor feast days sprinkled throughout these months, there will be no great [liturgical] drama. In other words, the ‘Time after Pentecost’ is like ordinary Christian life. It is time to get on with everyday faithfulness in prayer, study, work, hospitality and recreation. The agricultural parables Jesus told about the coming kingdom, of its slow but often surprising growth, characterize this time. [In Mark 4:26-27 Jesus says] ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise day and night, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how’. We go about our daily tasks, sleeping and rising, working and praying, and God gives the growth often secretly, ‘we do not know how’. And so, our days are sanctified. It happens quietly, day in and day out, through the round of the liturgical year…As we live into these rhythms, we are brought into harmony with the cycles of nature, while the mysteries of the Incarnation take flesh in our own.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: How are you experiencing the daily rhythms of this “long green season”? What hints of “new and surprising growth” is God giving you this summer?

August: A Poem by Mary Oliver

When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: The poet describes holy time spent in places “nobody owns”. When have you spent time in places like that? She delights in the taste of blackberries and the sights and sounds of “dark creeks”. For her, the blackberries are worth the cost of her “ripped arms”. What tastes, sights, and sounds have enriched your summers? Which have challenged you?

The Blessed Gates of the City: A Poem by Scott Cairns

The governors are lately resolute,
to shut for good the heavy gates, the gates
that long have served as open, wide embrace
receiving those whose sufferings elsewhere
have set in motion their late trek toward
new life. The governors have thus obliged
many men in uniform to wrestle closed
the heavy gates, but note, the heavy gates
will not be moved. The citizens therefore
have come out with festive gear and giddy
spirit to watch the doomed attempt to doom
those coming to the gates. The heavy gates
will not be moved. Pray for the now chagrined
men in uniform, that embarrassment
will not lead then into further sin, further
failure to be men with wisdom enough
to refuse the governors when those same
governors forsake the deeper mandate.”

(The image is “Raining Love in the City of God” by Augusto Sanchez)

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: This poem comes from a collection titled “Anaphora”, a word which in the Eastern Church refers to “the specific liturgical moment when the elements — the bread and wine — are consecrated, when they become…the Holy Mysteries”. How does this liturgical reference affect your understanding of, and reaction to, the poem?The text can easily be interpreted as a reflection on contemporary immigration politics. Do other similar historical moments come to mind as you read? How certain is it that Cairns wants readers to see “the blessed city” primarily as a point on a map?

California Hills in August: A Poem by Dana Gioia

I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion.
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain—
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: The poet walks readers through a landscape unfamiliar (and perhaps “unbearable”) to many of us. The blessings here require patience and a willingness to let go of expectations. When in your life have you had to wait patiently, and look diligently, for hidden blessings? How did God help you find them?

Spaciousness, Salvation, and Love (Vacations, too!)

This, from “The Way of Love: Rest” (Church Publishing 2018):

“Every risk we take for love, each step we take toward greater consecration, leads us deeper into the spaciousness of love. In biblical Hebrew, the letters yodh and shin combine to form a root that connotes ‘space and the freedom and security which is gained by the removal of constriction.’ From this YS root come works like ‘yesha’ and ‘yeshua’, referring to salvation. When you think about it, it makes sense that space would be intimately associated with salvation. Space is freedom: freedom from confinement, from preoccupation, from oppression, from drivenness, and from all other interior and exterior forces that bind and restrict our spirits. We need space in the first place simply to recognize how compelled and bound we are. Then we need space to allow the compulsions to ease and the bonds to loosen. In the Hebrew sense, our passion needs elbow room. To the extent that space is permitted in grace and our own willingness, we discover expanding emptiness in which consecration can happen, room for love to make its home in us…People in our modern developed world are ambivalent about [many] kinds of spaciousness. On the one hand, we long for space; in the midst of our overactive lives we yearn for peace, stillness, and freedom. We look forward to vacations, we yearn for our minds to be free of preoccupation. On the other hand, we are liable to become very uncomfortable when such spaces do open up. We do not seem to know what to do with them. We fill our vacations with activities and compulsions; we fill our minds up with worries and obsessions. We know we need rest, but we can no longer see the value of rest as an end in itself; it is only worthwhile if it helps us recharge our batteries so we can be even more efficient in the next period of productivity.The ancients knew the value of spaciousness for its own sake…God did not take that day of rest simply to recoup energy to begin creating another universe during the next workweek. Resting was valuable in its won right. Spaciousness is holy.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: How do you experience spaciousness and/or emptiness? How much free time do you build into your vacations? Into your daily or weekly routines? Try setting aside a block of absolutely free time soon. Resist the temptation to fill it up ahead of time, and see what happens!

Practice, Practice, Practice

From “The Way of Love: Bless” (Church Publishing 2018):
” ‘Practice’ is an important word [when it comes to prayer]. It suggests that prayer is something we do over and over, for the rest of our lives. Some words from Artur Rubenstein’s autobiography came to me when I was musing about this mysterious work. At the time of his writing he was the foremost pianist in the world and could fill a recital hall just by showing up. So I was surprised and a tad disappointed when he confessed that he disliked practice and that he sometimes cheated by excessive use of the pedal. If you are not a pianist, you should know that holding the pedal through a passage of notes creates quite a pleasant blur of sounds. The expert is not fooled, but we ordinary folk don’t know the difference. It has taken me awhile to realize that Rubenstein could as well have been talking about any kind of meaningful work, including the work of God. At first I wanted to excuse him. Surely he was entitled to cheat a bit and coast on his reputation. Maybe he was getting bored with Chopin and could find nothing new in his music. Yet even as he cheated — primarily himself — he recognized the need for the musician’s equivalent of a rule of life. His fingers might fly over the keyboard because of his innate giftedness; but that innate giftedness could come to fruition only because of his lifelong commitment to the hard work of practice. Like the rest of us, he could coast for awhile, but he knew that too much lazy use of that pleasantly blurring pedal had placed him on a slippery slope. Even those of us who are not Rubensteins know that faithful practice is rarely an ecstatic experience. There are, of course, those times of breakthrough, when we are aware that we have reached a new place or that stubborn old obstacles have melted away. But most of the time we just keep at it… Having a regular time and place for prayer can be a great help. We turn up regularly whether we feel like it or not. In other words, we keep our appointment with God with the same degree of conscientiousness that we bring to our appointments with our boss, or our therapist, or the plumber who comes to unplug the sink.”

For reflection in solitude or in the company of others: What does your present practice of prayer look like? How do you respond/react to the author’s assertions about the need for a regular place and time for prayer, and a commitment to showing up? In your practice of prayer, what — if anything! — have you experienced as the equivalent of Rubenstein’s “excessive use of the pedal”?