The Contemplative Companion for Monday, July 25, 2016

“Brothers and sisters:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed…” – 2 Corinthians 4.7 – 9

Teachers and commentators throughout church history have typically interpreted the “earthen vessel” as our physical body. But in my view this can foster an unhealthy dualism between flesh and spirit. So, I prefer to picture our reality more interrelated: the body is spirit and the spirit is body. One can’t really tell where the spirit ends and the body begins. We are a spectrum of energy manifesting at different levels of intensity and form.

Another way of seeing this is to interpret the treasure as love and the vessel as relationships. 

We have the treasure of love in the earthy vessel of our relationships. It is the relationships in our lives where we most vividly get to see the surpassing power of God at work, and where we are often afflicted, perplexed, persecuted and struck down.

In this way, the relationship becomes the container and stage of partaking in the drama of love – which is our animating power and purpose. Love fills us and quickens us to life, enabling us to endure and rejoice no matter what might be occurring in the relationship, because love is from God and transcends yet infuses all our human relationships.


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The Contemplative Companion for Friday, July 22, 2016

“The love of Christ impels us…
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.” – 2 Corinthians 5.14, 17

Each day is a manifestation for Life to show us itself more completely.

It unfolds through our participation.

Each day is a whisper of love from the beginning, connecting each of us to each other and to the Source from which All springs forth.

In the silence, I begin to remember. I begin to see. I begin to be free from the house of mirrors called myself, and return one shade deeper into the house of love called Christ.


© 2016  The Contemplative Companion

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The Contemplative Companion for Thursday, July 21, 2016

“I remember the devotion of your youth,
how you loved me as a bride,
Following me in the desert…” – Jeremiah 2.2

Today, we highlight the joyful and abundant gifts of the monastic tradition, especially the role asceticism has played in grounding the contemplative disposition with the body. Christianity, and indeed, its tap-root Jewish monotheistic faith and scriptures, were both shaped by the influences of the desert. From Israel’s wandering in the desert to Jesus’ temptations in the desert, the desert is a location of encounter – disclosing our self to our self.

Here is one reason why re-accessing the wisdom of desert monasticism is important for our era: Churches everywhere struggle to describe why they exist. Most can’t figure out why so they focus on what they should do. Programs. Ministries. Services. Events.

From the broad depth of the monastic Christian tradition, wouldn’t it be inspiring if more churches defined their mission something like, “the primary reason for our existence is the cultivation of God devotion as individuals and as a community”? If that were so, perhaps the next question would be how do we cultivate such devotion? The primary answer is through the daily spiritual practices, such as meditative prayer, lectio divina, a daily rule of life, prayer of the hours, regulation of food, sleep and other activities of self-soothing, to name a few. In  sum, the ascetic aspect of being.

Asceticism has long been overlooked among most Protestant church communities, in part because it was associated with Reformer Martin Luther’s criticism of “works righteousness.” Be that as it may, every theologian and pastor of every generation can agree that when Jesus calls us to “pick up our cross and follow him” (Matthew 16.24), Jesus is grounding the Christian journey in an epic confrontation of the totality of the self – body, emotions, thoughts – with the totality of the Gospel. And that wholistic confrontation is asceticism. It is an embodied spirituality. Not just a spiritual spirituality.

A helpful modern writer on this is Richard Valantasis. Here are three of his books, and of them, I highly recommend Centuries of Holiness, which is a compendium of short essays on many themes related to the spirituality of asceticism and the history of desert monasticism.



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The Contemplative Companion for Wednesday, July 20, 2016

“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.” – Matthew 13.3 – 9

This passage of scripture is an enduring reminder from Jesus about the importance of our receptivity to transforming  influences that have the capacity to heal us and release us into an enriched quality of life.

Many have commented on the meaning of this farm wisdom for our lives, and there are wonderful interpretations. Today, perhaps a question will open the passage up a bit more.

What is the soil?

What if the soil is taken to be our attention. 

We have attention that is distracted by the thought-birds.

We experience attention that is shallow, surface deep.

We have attention that multi-tasks and is cramped by busyness.

And we have attention that is receptive and bears abundant dividends.

Beneath our attention is a stronger force – the energy of intention. The desire of our heart. The longing of our soul. The openness of our mind. The consent of our will.

Yes, the mixture of intention and attention makes for rich soil.


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The Contemplative Companion for Tuesday, July 19, 2016

“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.” – Matthew 12.49 – 50

Relationality. It is easy to divide the world up. It is more difficult to live from within our connected wholeness. I find that looking at the image of our beloved planet earth from space helps me to remember relationality – especially when those I am inhabiting earth, continent, country, city, home provide opportunities to react to their behavior or way of being. What keeps us separate is fear, mostly. And also the way fear kicks into high gear biochemically in our brains in a cascade of emotions that psychologists call “flooding.” When flooding occurs, it is nearly impossible to remember relationality or love. Our reptilian brains kick in and we often become angry, defensive and irrationally reactive. In this state, we forget the wisdom of Jesus and the invitation to see everyone as a sister/brother, co-member of the human family dwelling on the same sphere in space.

To help me remember this relationality and the mystery of reality, this summer I’ve been enjoying reading a new author I recently discovered in my study of Christian asceticism and apophatic theology. Her name is Katherine Keller and she is Professor of Constructive Theology at the Theological School of Drew University, New Jersey.

Keller’s book title is inspired by Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – 1464 CE), a Christian mystical theologian and astronomer who grew up along the Mosel River in Germany, just south of my own birth city of Traben-Trarbach. Cusa is the latinized version of Kues, which is today known as  the enchanting village of Bernkastel-Kues. Here is the quotation that inspires the book’s theme. Cusa writes, “And the more that cloud of impossibility is recognized as obscure and impossible, the more truly the necessity shines forth.”

Commenting on this, Keller notes that Nicholas of Cusa “offered as a nickname for God: posse ipsum, possibility itself…Thus Cusa, speaking of the cloud, precipitates a fresh event of the speech that unspeaks itself, of what had been called negative or apophatic theology…Such a theology performs its negations for the sake of the most positive relations possible. This nonknowing is to its alternative knowing as im/possibility  – the most impossible possible – is to its possibility…And what becomes possible, let alone knowable, except what comes into relation? Entangling us in whatever we do know and much of what we don’t know, the cloud of our relations – or is it a crowd? – seems to offer itself as the condition of our every possibility. We know nothing beyond our relations…So we hope here not for complete knowledge but for an incomplete ignorance. Such an ignorance does not close in on itself in defeat or exhaustion. It finds in the limits, ruptures, and fogbanks of consciousness new relations to – anything that matters.”

There is so much goodness and wisdom in this passage it’s hard to know where to begin. It certainly conveys hope amidst the difficulties and impossible situations we seem to be confronted with as a civilization and species. When I zoom into our cities around the earth, I see far too much pollution and poverty for it to be a healthy model of future well-being. So much of our progress and development is based upon the destruction and tearing apart of resources – whether that is trees or atoms or coal. The transformation of one resource for the sake of another is part of the process of life – and yet can we hear the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, who wrote the canticle of creation, a mystical hymn of the possibilities in awakening to our relationality:

O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
to you belong praise, glory,
honour and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light;
he is strong and shines magnificently.
O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
and for the stars
which you have set shining and lovely
in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Brothers Wind and Air
and every kind of weather
by which you, Lord,
uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you give us light in the darkness:
he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
bringing forth
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of you;
and for those
who bear sickness and weakness
in peace and patience
– you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord,
and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility.

© 2016  The Contemplative Companion

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The Contemplative Companion for Monday, July 18, 2016

“You have been told what is good,
and what the Lord requires of you:
Only to do right and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6.8

Rabindranath Tagore, the 19th century Bengali polymath sage, told stories of what it meant to do right, to love goodness and to walk humbly in God. Here is a line from one of his poems called “None But God’s Presence.”

“Shatter all from this beggar’s bowl: put out this lamp of the importunate watcher: hold my hands, raise me from the still-gathering heap of your gifts into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.”

The phrase that catches my attention and is, “the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.” Is this God’s uncrowded presence or your uncrowded presence of love to our brothers and sisters who suffer?

Amidst all the gifts we have been given and all the gifts we might give – what is most needed is the bare attention, the bare infinity of an undistracted, uncrowded presence. Perhaps presence is the foundation of doing right, loving goodness, and walking humbly.


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The Contemplative Companion for Friday, July 2016

“Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go, tell Hezekiah:
Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David:
I have heard your prayer and seen your tears.
I will heal you: in three days you shall go up to the LORD’s temple;
I will add fifteen years to your life.
I will rescue you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria;
I will be a shield to this city.” – Isaiah 38.4-5

Silence becomes a temple for the offering of tears, and in that silence an atmosphere of healing emerges where in the words of Thomas Keating, anything is possible.  And not only healing, also an adding of life – perhaps in quantity but certainly in quality.

And not only that, as individuals dwell in the shelter of silence receiving the divine therapy and the increased quality of interior freedom from the unconscious wounds of a lifetime, it has an impact on others – indeed, in the words of Isaiah, our consent to God’s love and presence in the silence becomes something of a shield against the ordinary thoughts and afflictions of being human amidst other humans, and a shield of grace neutralizing the afflictions of our interior thoughts. This is a rescue we all need – from our own interior negative thoughts and emotions, and from the unconscious, fear based behavior of others.

Similarly, Jesus promised: abide in me and you will experience abundant life and fullness of joy.


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