The Solitary Voice | Volume viii, Number 1 Easter, 2001 Editor: Helen M. Schnelzer
Single light lit
Candle called Paschal
I watch in Chapel
rest without correction
and I see the trail
of white descend
comet of heaven
in the vagueness
of my poor sight
grasp a new blessing
in the new light of Easter
in the morning
and evening of my life
An early Board member of the Solitaries of DeKoven, Mark presently serves as the rector of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Texas.
A selection from Laurence Freeman, OSB, “Touching Reality,” (Unpublished retreat). 1998, pp. 64-65.
Our experience of God takes us beyond thought. The way we experience God is itself mysterious: simple, ordinary, something we repeat day-by-day, but beyond description. It is always new because the journey extends beyond all boundaries – it’s always a learning experience and, therefore, it's always slightly upsetting to our hopes and our pre-formed concepts.
The experience of God cannot be limited to any one particular aspect of life, such as the religious aspect. There's a verse at the end of a long passage in the Book of Ecclesiastics where the writer is describing different features of God, praising the Glory of God, then, having said everything he can say, he says "we could say much more and still fall short. To put it concisely, God is everything" (Ecc.43:27).
The practice of meditation has meaning because it expands our capacity for everything: to find God as all in all. But it's very important to remember that sometimes what we experience is nothing, or seems like nothing. We often reject this type of experience of God as something that has no significance for us; it's not really an experience of God at all, we say – it's nothing; it's failure; it's boredom; it's suffering; it's loss; it's absence. We write off this whole realm of experience as if it were meaningless. But it is a form of experience, a way of experiencing the everything of God.
...the whole of life is unbroken prayer.
If it can be accepted, it becomes a very rich and fertile experience because our experience of Reality involves both absence and presence – or what we call absence or presence. It involves both suffering and joy – or what we call suffering and joy. What we call fullness and what we call emptiness. This is where our commitment in Faith to the experience of God . . .must be a whole-hearted commitment, expressed, for example, in our commitment to meditate day-by-day, come what may. Not only because we find meditation peaceful and pleasant, but because in our commitment to meditation as a way of faith, we are accepting everything and discovering our capacity to know God, to touch God and be touched by God as part of the mystery of which we are a part, in everything.
Origen, one of the early Christian writers, said that "to pray without ceasing means to join your prayer with your daily work." In other words, the whole of life is unbroken prayer. We can find God in everything, not only in specific times of prayer, but in life as a whole, in everything that happens. A part of this great prayer of life is what we call prayer. I think if we can understand that, we understand how we experience God. Those times of what we call prayer are vitally important, but they're important because they make us realize that the whole of our day, the whole of our life, is a prayerful experience of God.
That is why meditation bears fruit, not in dramatic experiences during meditation, but in our daily work, in everything we do, and in the way we can accept and embrace whatever happens. God is everything, all in all. Our life and our meditation become one.
Reprinted with permission from GJ Ryan and The World Community for Christian Meditation + Weekly Internet Meditation Group, August 29, 1999.
The Rev. Doug Earle
For century upon century, seekers have been drawn to the desert in their quest for a deeper life in God. What is it about the desert? What does this motif have to say to us?
… a beautiful place – a life-filled, grace-filled place – if
we had eyes to see.
When my wife and I were first married, we spent time passing through the desert. We lived in the central highlands of Mexico, and our journeys to and from San Antonio and Puebla meant that we had to pass through a significant portion of the Chihuahuan desert. The road from Saltillo to Queretero was long and boring. It was stark, dry, and intimidating. There were few towns or signs of population, just scrub brush and scraggly mountains in the distance. The landscape produced strange and unpredictable perspectives that made driving a challenge. Everything that lived there seemed to have thorns, fangs, or both. It was not a hospitable place. It was a place to get through, not a destination.
At least, that’s the way it first appeared. But as we drove that road so many times we began to see the desert differently. At times it could be <![endif]> quite beautiful. Sunsets and sunrises could be spectacular. The rare storm was a sight to behold and convinced us there must be a God – we could imagine why the Greeks came up with Zeus hurtling his thunderbolts from Mount Olympus.
Though we could see no houses or villages, large groups of people would appear selling the bounty they had gathered. In season, they would have ‘tuna’ – the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. There was always honey, sometimes nuts, frequently moonshine. They’d be selling skins and live animals too – snakes, coyote, ocelots, bobcats, quail, hawks, and eagles. They had textiles woven from the tough fibers of plants and dyed with herbal tinctures. You see, the desert, with all its harshness and terror, was also a beautiful place, a life-filled place, a grace-filled place – if we had eyes to see. We had to stop, look, see what didn’t appear at first to be there.
Journeys into the spiritual desert call us to do that also. The spiritual desert is the place of contemplation: it is the moment to stop, be still, look, and see what doesn’t appear at first glance to be there.
In the earliest centuries of the church, a group of men and women seeking God went into the desert to live a life of prayer. These ‘desert Fathers and Mothers’ were known for their holiness and piety and for their wisdom about the spiritual life. In the desert they acquired wisdom. What is wisdom? Wisdom is knowledge born of reflection on experience.
Wisdom is knowledge born of reflection on experience.
Thomas Keating, monk and writer on contemplative prayer, notes that often desert experience can be an exercise in ‘chewing on the de-composition of our own corruption.’ That is an exercise that you might attempt, but … it will only get you so far – it won’t give you true wisdom.
True wisdom is learning born of experiences of an entirely different order. True wisdom comes when we get beyond the composition of the corruption of our lives, and become engaged and enraptured and consumed by the love of God, which is among all things and within all things.
In the Gospels, we hear the story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, goes off by himself, into the desert, where he is faced by three temptations – to turn stones into bread; to throw himself off a high pinnacle to prove himself; and to gain absolute worldly power by changing his allegiance from God to Satan. These temptations are not unique to Jesus – they are temptations that arise from basic, human instinctual needs. They really are symbols of the temptations of security, esteem and power – the three classic areas where our false self tells us we will find happiness.
But underlying them is a commonality, a fourth temptation. This is the temptation not to live with integrity, to forsake our highest calling for something lower. Like Jesus, we are called to lay temptations aside in the search for something higher. That’s where repentance comes in. Repentance means to ‘change the direction in which you are looking for happiness. The call for repentance is the invitation to take stock of our emotional needs and to change them for something higher.’ (Keating, Mystery of Christ, p.37)
There is something that intrigues me about this story, and it’s what is implied and not said. We call this story the ‘temptations of Jesus in the wilderness’ but really the temptations are just a moment in a much larger time Jesus spent in the desert. The story tells us he spent a long period in the desert in preparation and fasting. Then he had this dark night of temptation, following which it is said, ‘Angels came and ministered to him.’ Another way of saying that is that when Jesus chose integrity over security, esteem, and power, he experienced grace. Grace comes to him, supports him, and engulfs him. Jesus has the contemplative moment. He sees what he has not seen though it’s been there all along. That’s really the most important part of this story. For if you look at Jesus’ ministry that follows, what characterizes it is grace – the profound, consuming proclamation of the mercy and love which God has towards all people. I think Jesus spent a long time in the desert, after the temptation, discovering that even in that harsh, dry, place God’s grace, mercy and love were present, alive and active.
In the spiritual life everything that is true of Jesus is, in some sense, true of us as well. As we enter into the desert of our lives – the desert of our relationships with, our spouses, children, friends, priest or church of our God; the desert of our work, our daily life and tasks; the desert of our human institutions; whatever desert you may find in your life – we are invited to change the direction in which we are looking for happiness in security, esteem and control. But especially we are invited to receive angels – to discover even in the dark dry places that the grace of God is already present, the love of God is there to sustain us, to enliven us, to catch us on fire.
…to discover even in the dark dry places that the grace of God is
already present …
One of the ancient Desert Fathers was a monk named Arsenius the Great. He lived a hermit’s life in the desert of Egypt and was renounced for his holiness. One day a small band of pilgrims made their way to him, and approached him asking how they should live and pray. Arsenius looked at them, and then lifted his hands, which burst into fire with the love of God. “Become this,” he said.
We lose sight of … the experience of what God intended for us …
That is what desert time is about. It’s not a time for chewing on the decomposition of our corruption. It is an invitation to discover that even in the desert we may be consumed by the love of God. It is to gain wisdom – the knowledge born of experience that God is even in the deserts, the dark night of the soul, and the brokenness of human hearts.
Being a native of south Texas, Doug is very familiar with the desert. He is a board member of the Solitaries of DeKoven and the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, San Antonio.
It was the wildflowers of these hills and woods that first opened a very important contemplative and spiritual doorway for me many years ago. It was they that showed me the difference between the idea of something and the reality of that thing.
The first time I really saw the flower for what it was I also grasped the blessing of spiritual realization, of spiritual mindful awareness, of carrying the kingdom of heaven within myself. I understood that the idea of my spirituality paled in comparison to the reality of my spirituality, that I was not a human being having an occasional spiritual experience but that I was a spiritual being who just happened to be having a momentary human experience.
Seventeen years of walking these hills and woods with my many friends, the flowers being some of them, so it seemed like a good idea to replant some of those ‘mentor’s’ in the small meadow that is part of my property.
We are in many ways like my small meadow. There has been much planted within and around us from our field of experiences that is foreign to what God originally planted within and around us. These foreign plantings can begin to crowd out the flowers and grasses of God’s planting.
We loose sight of, and at times miss, the experience of what God intended for us to grow up with and we miss the grace of having God’s plantings growing along side of us, we also mistake the foreign plantings for what is important in our life. We lose sight of the purpose of our spiritual life and replace it with the transient experiences of our human life. All because we fail to realize the difference between what is now planted in and around us by society, culture and humankind’s definitions as opposed to what God planted there for us to grow alongside.
The weeds and foreign grasses can be replanted by God with the simple, silent, humble, patient, loving, hopeful, peaceful and innocent flowers and grasses of God’s meadow. For while we may lose sight of God and of our spiritual journey while looking through the foreign weeds and grasses, God is faithful and never loses sight of us. God is always ready to replant, if we will only ask.
I saw God looking back at me through those wildflowers one day long ago in these hills and woods.
Bill Kolacek, a part-time counselor and pastor to a church in the Hood (ghetto) of Chicago, lives a semi-eremitic life in a rural part of the Midwest. His writings appear regularly in The Solitary Voice, and we are thankful for his willingness to share his walk with the Lord.
The Board of the Solitaries of DeKoven met on January 25, 2001 at St. Paul’s Church, San Antonio following the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. All members were present. At this meeting the Board:
· Received the Treasurer’s Report.
· Invited three retiring Board members to remain on the Board for another year. All accepted.
· Received a report from Chairman, Bishop MacNaughton on Sister Brigit-Carol’s stay with the Sisters of the Love of God in England. All work, publications, bead production and distribution will be ongoing in Sister’s absence – the Board will continue to oversee her temporal affairs. Sister will continue making her prayer beads.
· Received a report on the Companions from coordinator, Suzanne McQuinn.
· Received Sister’s quarterly report.
· Next meeting will be held April 26, 2001
The Rev. Travis DuPriest
I used to petition God neurotically until God stopped me and asked me to slow down and rest. In other words, to pray with him.
Yes, the present moment is a sacrament.
Much of what we call prayer is really making room for God, giving God a chance.
Authentic prayer will always be simple.
We are the only ones who can answer prayer. God alone prays. We try to listen, try to hear, try to respond. Our life is the answer to prayer.
Meditation is a short retreat.
The Reverend Travis DuPriest, Ph.D. is the director of the DeKoven Center, Racine, Wisconsin, and the Book Editor for The Living Church. He is also a published poet and author.