By Kenton W. Smith, D.Min., DASD
The art of spiritual poetry (theopoetics) is the confluence of two rivers: Beauty and Presence flow together and come to speech effortlessly. Intruders like impatience, performance, and ego are pretenders that try too hard.
Inspiration has a life of its own.
But not from me today.
Meanwhile insistent quail call,
mourning dove, hummingbird,
chilled wet air,
sunlight beaming brightly
from a thousand drops like LEDs.
Heavy clouds passing ever so slowly.
The earth speaks for itself
When did prayer become a way to feel alive?
How did sitting still and doing nothing become fulfilling?
I don’t know,
but I’m never turning back.
The art of spiritual poetry and spiritual direction are best expressed in simple terms. That which is most personal is most common. In Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Lost Skull the fictional archeologist Dr.Henry Walton (Indiana Jones) misadventures into a dangerous cavern where he is trapped by an ageless knight protecting the mythical Holy Grail. Jones is tempted by the knight to discern whether for life or death which of the hundreds of ornate cups is the actual grail? Jones is irresistibly drawn to the most beautiful of all the glittering cups. But he draws back, hesitant, measuring the temptation. Then he sees one unadorned wooden cup hidden among the bright shiny things. Of course, the common cup is the Holy Grail of the Last Supper of the Christ.
Writing spiritual poetry and guiding spiritual direction share Jones’ temptation for the elegant, brilliant, and lofty. Words and images can be bright shiny things. But spiritual experience is humbling, it comes from the other side, and is not ours to control. Spiritual experience has a life of its own shared with us in real time, usually a brief time, and disappears into memory only to be rediscovered at a time of its own choosing.
The temptation of theopoetics and spiritual direction is through elegant knowledge to unintentionally distract others from the Holy Grail of self-discovery. That is, to do for others what they must do for themselves. The nature of spiritual experience like the nature of the natural world is the extraordinary in the ordinary, yet common, plentiful, present, and free for everyone. When I am in session with a directee the human stories are expressed in nothing more than everyday speech. In fact, most often the experience of the experience cannot be expressed or described except in emotion, sensation, wonder and AHAH, or inquiry such as, “What was that?” One directee described spiritual experience as a “whoosh.” But it all threads to one Source.
My hope and desire in theopoetics and spiritual direction and the notions that accompany them is not to define spiritual experience but to invite the reader or directee to set down in their own words, emotions, sensations, or art forms, the quality of their own experience. My belief is that when we do, we will know the Life of life in our own life and there will be no turning back.
1 From an unpublished manuscript, Sitting Still Doing Nothing: Contemplative Theopoetics in a Cultivate Garden and Wild Landscape, p. 101-103.
By Rev. Erik Swanson
I’ve been a pastor for most of my life. I love to promote really good things the church has done through time. I like to celebrate the places where she has lived out the gospel in powerful ways and made healthy contributions to the world. Sometimes, I have gone too far in holding up the good.
Particularly since the murder of George Floyd, I have become ever more painfully aware that there is another side of the church that often gets glossed over. The Church has an underbelly. It has participated in the shadow side of our world. It has turned a blind eye, and participated, in injustice.
Lately, Spirit has led me to engaging with the local indigenous people of the Muwekma-Ohlone tribe. Their chairwoman is a remarkable woman whose people have been through unimaginable suffering- much of it, at the hands of the Church through the mission system. A system of the Church that was responsible for some of the greatest atrocities that humanity can perpetuate against other human beings. Clearly this flies in the face of what Jesus taught his disciples.
I am convinced that we cannot be those who turn away any longer. As those who seek to follow in the way of love, justice, compassion and grace, we have a lot of work to do to actually face into what has been done AND work for healing. Yes, this work can feel enormous, heavy and uncertain of where/how to start.
One way we are taking a small step towards healing is having a conversation with the tribe’s Chairwoman. Would you join us to listen and learn more? We’ll hear her story, the story of her tribe, and how their struggle is currently unfolding. Another way we are seeking to engage this work is by partnering with them in a recycling project, as well as, planning a land acknowledgment. Small acts, but don't we have to start somewhere?
Even if you can't come, would you join me in asking the question: How can I face into injustice beyond my fragility, and wanting to defend or deflect? I am convinced this is holy work. I wonder, for you today, where might you being called to act today?
If you would like to join me in facing this issue head on, with hearts open to what the Spirit might be leading us into, I look forward to seeing you on the zoom screen Sunday, August 14th at noon.
By Brooke Maffia Wang
On what would have been her 72nd birthday, we had my mom’s celebration of life service. A one of a kind spectacle with all the different groups of people who seasoned her life. I planned, with detail, the service to include the simplicity she requested— adding a party favor of dental floss for each guest to take with them. She loved a good party, and dental floss about just as much, and something free even more. A dental hygienist by trade, who saw her patients more like friends. People I’ve never met feel like they know me because she would chat them up while her hands were in their mouth cleaning their teeth.
As I sat in the front row in the long narrow church filled to standing room only, what I was not prepared for, was the palpable wave of sound and energy that washed over me as we sang the traditional and familiar words of the old hymns, It Is Well and Amazing Grace. It felt like being swept up and enfolded in a big hug as all the voices joined in on cue. My eyes filled and it was well with my soul and an amazing grace to be there with this unique group of humans.
Music has a mystical way of resonating with us. A way of expressing what is going on in our soul that words fall short to capture. Jake Wesley Rodgers sings a song called Weddings and Funerals. It has become one of my companions in my life that has been full of spectacles lately. Less than a month after my moms service, I attended my brothers second wedding. A spectacle that also used music to express a different range of human emotion. (My mom and his first wife frequented the cancer center together for about two years previously.)
Wesley’s song gorgeously captures the spectacle (his word) we make of both of these life events and others like them— and rightly so. It’s how we mark time. They are undoubtedly important.
However, what resonates with me in this song (Dare I even call it a prayer?) is what we contemplatives would call being in the present moment. His suggestion that love is made/experienced/lived out in the “everyday miracles” invites me to pay attention. To be fully in each moment. To linger with a “long loving look” at what is right in front of me. It calls me to savor that moment of pure delight in the laughter of my kids down the hall, or when I take in the intoxicating smell of the redwoods on a hot day. It asks me to slow down long enough to feel my feels, embrace the gratitude that I could easily rush past, and to name it as holy.
I’m wondering, for you, today:
* What are the spectacles that have marked time in your life lately?
* What are some everyday miracles you’ve noticed this week? What might they be inviting you into?
* How will you linger a bit longer in gratitude and presence today?
May you be fully present to all the holy moments and everyday miracles that fall between the spectacles of your life.
by Susan Rowland
"Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary.
There are burning bushes all around you.
Every tree is full of angels.
Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb.
Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels,
but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary
by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure."
— A Tree Full of Angels, Macrina Wiedeker
The 50 days of Easter has just finished and Ordinary Time begins. This is the juncture of the Liturgical year that stiches together the two more familiar cycles of the church. The Christmas cycle (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany) and the Easter cycle (Lent, Holy week, Easter, Pentecost). This year Ordinary Time began on June 6 and ends on November 26.
It is somewhat ironic to observe the arrival of Ordinary Time when the world is experiencing such extraordinary events with significant future impact. It can be overwhelming to discern where our energy should focus. Many I know had hoped that 2022 would bring relief from the two years plus of Covid. The dream was 2022 would just be ordinary or normal, whatever that might be.
This liturgical season is ordinary in name only, referring to how the weeks are numbered. But, it is not a time of bland rhythms or lack of inertia. It’s not a spiritual summer break, unless that is your calling. It is active, living hearts attuned to bold callings for change.
Ordinary Time offers an invitation to reflection and action. It is a living out of all we have gathered through the celebrations of the other two cycles. The color of the season is green symbolizing a maturing and ripening within our Spirit as we reflect during these next weeks.
I like to begin with a slow, repeated reading of Acts 2. Here we see the disciples begin to live what they have been taught through parables, the Sermon on the Mount, the bread of life story and so much more. They were surprised by the power that was available, they were just ordinary people now doing extraordinary things. There was no apathy with Jesus’ departure rather an incredible transfer of power to the disciples.
Here are a few other suggestions that might help bring meaning to this season for you:
* Reading the gospels, watching the Master of the Ordinary transform lives with simple encounters.
* Evaluate your practices that may have been rich in Lent, that now feel stale.
* Engage in a daily examen of gratitude that focuses on the simple parts of your life.
As this season unfolds may you “unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure."
By Susan Rowland
The way we love the people we disagree with
is the best evidence we can offer
that the tomb was really empty.
-- Bob Goff
I know the tomb is empty...on Easter Saturday that doesn’t feel good.
On Sunday morning it feels great! Until I realize the tomb of my heart has some things left behind. That is where I shove everything I don’t know how to solve. Like how to make peace with those I don’t agree with on very complex issues as well as the mundane. (There is a right way to load the silverware in the dishwasher.)
As I learn more of the Universal Christ* that would have me be more inclusive, that is kind of exciting. But, when the “issues” present themselves as important to the conversation how do I find a way to honestly listen and know how to respond?
What are the ways we can truly listen to what might rub us the wrong way? We may hear the words and experience a visceral reaction. How can we listen deeper to what might be wanting to be understood?
Can I pause and silently ask myself a few questions before I speak?
* What brought this topic to our conversation?
* Why was that said at this point?
* Do I know what they mean?
* How am I feeling in my body as I listen?
With those pauses I might be able to love someone in a truly resurrected way. We are still in the 50 days of Easter. Watch for the opportunities to keep loving, keep listening, keep being present in a resurrected empty tomb kind of way! (I Corinthians 5:18-20A)
*Richard Rohr – The Universal Christ