Jan 27 2012

Friday Florilegium

For this week’s Florilegium, here is a stunning time-lapse video of Yosemite’s beauty.

(Please click the pause button on Music for Dreaming to the right  before watching!)  >>>


Yosemite HD from Project Yosemite on Vimeo.

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained–What are we, that thou art mindful of us? –Ps 8:3-4

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth God’s handywork. –Ps 19:1

God telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. –Ps 147:4

Jan 18 2012

The Child of Tomorrow

When I was seven, I walked into an empty church and was struck by the silence and peacefulness. There was a Presence in that silence I longed to know. A few years later, my family moved to Germany and the rich silences of the ancient churches and monasteries fed my young spirit.

Today I read a poignant New York Times article called The Joy of Quiet.  It both disturbed me and encouraged me to think about how Christ might respond.

The author began with describing an advertising conference whose focus was on how to market to the children of tomorrow.

I was horrified, though not surprised.

What did surprise me was what the marketers decided would be the needs of tomorrow’s child:

Stillness. Silence. The ability to unplug from ubiquitous virtual connection.

The article described “black hole” resorts where people paid for the privilege of no TV, no internet, to go off-grid and disappear, then went further and discussed internet Sabbaths and monastic retreats. One story was about the  author seeking out a Benedictine monastery to walk and think and unplug.

As a student of both monasticism and contemplative living, the article reminded me of something I first considered a few months ago:

The next wave of desert monasticism will be a technological one.

Rather than thousands leaving the cities to seek God and prayerful community in the desert, as Christians did in the 3rd and 4th centuries, I think that we will begin to see thousands unplug for similar reasons from all but the most critical connective technology.

I’m not judging technology as evil, or denigrating it’s ability to connect people across the miles. I am fully enamored with the latest and greatest apps and productivity tools. I facebook and tweet and blog and skype and pin. But I also feel the seepage of energy and a lessened ability to focus and pray after too long in front of a screen. I feel the compulsive thrill of connection when the reward centers of my brain see a “like”–yet must question whether that is a mark of relationship or simply marketing. I feel ambivalence when I try to reconcile my on-line presence and the call toward a contemplative life.

Connective technology is not only all pervasive, but like the root system of bamboo, it’s nearly impossible to curtail, let alone dig up. It often grows over and around any boundaries against it, and cannot be eradicated.

I find, even living alone, that silence, solitude, and stillness is not a foregone conclusion. I have to actively choose it or every moment can be spent listening, watching, surfing, connecting, doing.

The article also pushed me to ask a question:

How might the children of tomorrow be introduced to the stillness and silence of contemplative life, even monastic life?

I’m reminded of my own childhood experience, encouraged and supported by my parents. How often they took me into the churches and let me wander, unhurried, and soak up the prayerful peace.

I’m reminded of Seattle’s St Mark’s Cathedral Compline service, every Sunday night at 9:30pm. Thirty minutes of ancient sung prayer, the service gathers hundreds of people of all ages,  armed with pillows and blankets, to lie in the aisles and up around the altar. Oh, I would have loved it as a kid.

I’m reminded of Godly Play, a liturgical Sunday school curriculum which invites children into prayer, story, and silence for reflection.

I’m reminded of the awe I’ve see on a young girl’s face during the Eucharist at St Paul’s–when Mother Melissa, in her beautiful robes, lifts the bread and breaks it, pausing for a holy and rich moment of silence.

Here is Mystery. Here is the presence of God.

Children need to run and laugh and play.  Children need to bang on pots and yell and impact their environment. But in a culture that offers non-stop visual and auditory engagement through activities, virtual worlds, TV, radio, music–

How can we balance the noisy and fun running around times with dedicated spaces and experiences of stillness and silence?

How can we give them an experience of a different rhythm, a different decibel level, a different way of spending time, a different way of seeking and experiencing Christ?

Monasteries are not commonly known for being a place of retreat for the whole family–I’ve only visited one which embraced that vision. But I would love more such places to open their doors wide and provide child-friendly experiences alongside their adult-centered retreat offerings.

Have you found child-welcoming contemplative or monastic centers where silence and stillness is part of the experience? I would love to hear about them, and your own thoughts about this topic.

Jan 17 2012

Suffering as Idol or Icon

I won’t mince any words. The past six weeks have run the gamut from delightful to downright awful.

In early December, I woke up with heart-pounding, stomach-clenching anxiety like I haven’t had since comp exams.

And it continued. And continued. I finally called my dear friend Kimberlee and she packed me up to her house, put me on the couch, and fed me dinner.  Jack and Jane drew me pictures, which I have taped above my sink. A few days before all hell broke loose, I had waxed poetic to Jack about the Book of Kells and showed him pictures of the illuminated manuscript on-line. He drew me an illuminated picture of my name. I could not see it for the tears.

Later, Kimberlee and I sat by candle-light late into the evening and talked about dreams and regrets and hopes. A healing, holy moment. For awhile the panic abated.

Yet over the next weeks, I continued to lose sleep, have migraines, and stomach aches.  The fear and trembling would strike at the oddest times, then disappear.

At one point, pacing around the living room where I’d had the worst of the panic, I kept saying, “I don’t want to go there again.”

But as clear as can be, I sensed a surprising response: “But Susan, it is a door to your heart, to love and compassion for others. Don’t look at it like a pit you can’t escape, but a door to my redemption.”

Pit or door. Idol or icon.

Suffering can become an idol. We flee from it in terror or sacrifice to it in hopes of relief.  We don’t want to ever go through it again, so we build the walls to keep it out. We move away, or hide away. We offer it tokens to buy an uneasy peace. It can become a petty god, demanding our lives in submission. Idols stop our gaze at themselves–there seems to be nothing more to life.

Or, suffering can be an icon. Never as an end in itself, never to be sought, but when experienced, walked through as a door into a wider reality, a reality where hearts of stone can break and reveal the flesh of Christ’s own love.

A heart that feels grief can also find love painfully present. When I focused on the love, the door opened wide.

I stopped at the exact spot on the carpet where, the night before, grief had filled me,  a beige shag abyss of panic, and realized that I never need flee or appease the suffering again. I could simply step into it…and through. I continued to feel the panic in my very marrow and cry out of the depths with the psalmist, but I did not fear it. God could and would redeem the experience. Every experience. No matter what. And not for me alone, but for others, too. The icon beckoned me beyond.

“God comforts us, not to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.” –J. Henry Jowett

Or as scripture tells us:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” –2 Corinthians 1:3-5


(Not long after this, I got on a plane, weary and spent, to visit my parents for Christmas. During the two wonderful weeks there, my heart began to ease through their loving care and conversation. And a trip to the hospital revealed that, whatever else may be going on, I have acid reflux, which can have very similar symptoms to heart-pounding panic. The treatment helped and I finally slept. Thanks be to God!)


Jan 14 2012


This year, I’m trying a radical (for me) practice: not journaling. After 26 years and thousands of pages, it felt like time to invest that writing energy into my dissertation, blog, and other projects, as well as to take time to go back through the journals to see if there were seed ideas I could develop. I will be occasionally posting excerpts, such as the one below.

From July 23, 2002:

I used to want to be a saint and now I say–

I’ll do what I can in the life I’ve been given, no more, and with no grandiose goal.

Knowing when to say ‘enough’ and rest is more important than spiritual olympics.

God sits with me now and points out the many different colors of green in the trees and that is enough.

Just being present to where I am is enough.

Just to hear the cry of the loon is enough.


Jan 13 2012

Friday Florilegium

Life resolutions from Clyde Kilby (1902-1986), professor of English Literature at Wheaton College and one of the first scholars on the life and writings of CS Lewis and Inklings:

1. At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.

2. Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death, when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”

3. I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual [woman]hood.

4. I shall not turn my life into a thin straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.

5. I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.

6. I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.

7. I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”

8. I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.

9. I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.

10. Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.

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