But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, “You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.”… I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts – by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved.
———Henri J. M. Nouwen
Category Archives: Missional Living
For the past several years I have been affiliated with The School for Contemplative Living in New Orleans. The following article was written by William Thiele who is the founder and director of the school. I share it with his permission. IB
“What Wisdom Lineage and tribe of beings do I belong to?”
Mark Nepo asks these questions in his recent book: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred. He got me to thinking this morning. The following are some initial responses.
For me, the contemplative tradition of the Christian faith, sprinkled with wisdom from other traditions, is my Wisdom Lineage. This arises easily. I am drawn to wisdom higher than rational thought, deeper than my own superficial reflections on life. I am drawn to wisdom which challenges my thinking mind, which can’t really wrap itself around wisdom. I remember how Richard Rohr contrasted contemplative mind and the dualistic mind in his book The Naked Now and in his sharing while in New Orleans in 2011. My dualistic mind is always analyzing reality into parts so it can feel in control. My Wisdom Lineage arises from the contemplative mind and its spacious vision, which transcends any specific religious tradition. Yet I have been schooled primarily in how that wisdom comes through the stream of Christianity.
This contemplative mind is like the mind of God manifesting itself. Sometimes it arises within me and sometimes it comes to me through my tribe: authors I read and people I know. This Wisdom Lineage comes through people who act as a kind of mouthpiece for the Divine. They are the mystics, saints, and contemplatives in every generation who craft their lives around practicing the presence of God. Their practice tends to lead toward personal transformation and radical engagement with the world.
In thinking of my “tribe of beings,” I look at the men in my men’s group from the Mankind Project, the ecumenical people of my United Methodist church, and the ecumenical and interspiritual participants in the School for Contemplative Living groups. Some of the traits of my tribe include people who are real/honest/truth-tellers, humble, reverent, non-judgmental, welcoming, seekers of personal transformation, lovers, and engaged in serving the world.
People in my tribe are real human beings, meaning we have plenty of weaknesses and imperfections. We struggle with our humanity. Sometimes, in graced moments, we find the courage to see and say our own imperfections to others. This is our honesty at work.
We are truth-tellers who are seeking our own growth and transformation. We do not have a license to belittle another and call that just being honest. Our truth and honesty is about ourselves. We seek our growth by telling truth about ourselves.
Sometimes we even trust a Magician-energy inside us in hopes that our truth-telling will lead to our own transformation. We want to be all we can be, which means being our true selves. We also depend on each other to help us find the truth about life and ourselves, since many false beliefs can disguise themselves as truth. Truth-telling brings our darkness to light so we can coruscate: shine with the glory of God.
In really graced moments the people in my tribe also accept ourselves just as we are. This is our practice of humility. In my experience we cannot do this alone. We need each other’s compassion to find self-compassion. We need acceptance from others to experience acceptance of ourselves. This is our practice of humility: self-acceptance grounded in others’ acceptance.
The people in my tribe are non-judgmental lovers. They have visited the country of judging themselves and feeling judged by others many times. In the end this path was not life-giving. So the people in my tribe learn to recognize their judgments, and name them, without being controlled by them. In my tribe we see that all judgments come back to ourselves and point to areas we need to work on in ourselves. Judgments become a mirror.
The people in my tribe are lovers. They choose a life of love over a life of violence. The real test for the lover is about self-love. This is the basis for all love of others. And self-love is not a product we can manufacture alone. We can’t create it by just trying harder. Self-love has its origins in the Great Love. And that love is manifested through imperfect human beings, along with master lovers like dogs and cats. In my tribe we help each other find self-love through our loving acceptance of each other. Compassion is our intention and practice.
My tribe welcomes others into the community. We are inclusive. We actively seek out people who are not clones of ourselves. This means people of color, other religions, no religiousness, the LGBT community, etc. We do have boundaries in my tribe however. The one group we will usually exclude is those committed to excluding others. This is a weird paradox among us: we will not accept judgmentalism among us. Such people are simply not safe to be around. They tend to fragment community or create artificial community. Only they are not welcome in my tribe.
My tribe tends to practice reverence. They are reverent in their attitudes toward God, at least a lot of the time. They cultivate reverence in their attitudes toward other beings and the whole natural world. They are seeing the sacred all around them, in everyone they meet, and welcoming those sacred beings into their lives.
Finally, the people in my tribe actively engage in service of the world. We set our intention to find a mission and seek to live that mission in the world. We look for people to serve in accordance with our own giftedness and calling. Paradoxically, we often find that others serve/guide/teach us. My people actively engage in giving and receiving with other people in the world. Does that sound like anyone you know? If you look in the mirror, do you see that this tribe is you?
My tribe fills my life to the brim,
 Nepo, Mark, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred, (New York: Atria, 2013), 59.
12What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
Jackie Turner posted a Craigslist ad asking to rent a Mom and Dad for Christmas. She was willing to pay $8 an hour just to have someone to talk to and be with for Christmas. Jackie is an honor student at William Jessup University who has come a long way from her broken and abusive background. The happy ending of this story is that Jackie got numerous responses and, with help of others, is planning a giant party for everyone who responded to her ad. What an encouraging turn of events!
The letters of the scripture passage are written in red because they are the words of Jesus. In a new movement called Red Letter Christianity, Christians seek to pay careful attention to the words of scripture that are spoken by Jesus and base their Christian walks on His direction. We would all do well to be become Red Letter Christians, especially at Christmas time.
Jesus instructs us to remember the lost sheep, but lost sheep like Jackie are often forgotten. Pray that God will give you wisdom to seek out the lost sheep of your neighborhood and community. Take the time to speak, to notice and to touch people around you with His love. It is truly the spirit of the season and the Christian life.
No one should be lost and forgotten at Christmas.
- Is God Out There Looking For Me? (fromthedeaconsdesk.wordpress.com)
“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends.”
Clint Hill was the secret service agent who was charged with the protection of President Kennedy on the day of his assassination and the first to reach his car after he had been shot. For many years he lived with a sense of guilt because he was powerless to prevent that tragic event. The “what ifs” of November 22, 1963, were a source of great pain to him. All of us are nagged by life’s unanswered questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did I fail at that project? What could I have done to make a difference in a bad situation? These, and many others, keep us awake at night.
Joseph Campbell advises us to not bother our family and friends with volumes of questions, but to go forward with our lives with a sense of confident adventure. If we spend our lives trying to figure out everything we miss life. Jesus says, “Sufficient are the troubles of the day.” Imagine a life that is lived in the moment. Such a life is a life of faith and confidence in God. With it comes a belief in a God who loves us, cares for us and wishes the very best for our future.
Let us challenge ourselves to live life to the fullest with great expectation, and put aside the hesitation that keeps us from being all that God intends for us.
- Joseph Campbell’s Approach to Myth (emilysak.wordpress.com)
Listen to others. Let them tell you about themselves. Remember the details so you can ask about them next time you meet. I read of a successful businessman that remembered details about the lives of many people. He kept a file on 3×5 cards with names of children, spouses, family situations, etc. He knew how important they would feel when he asked specific questions. Is it any wonder he was so successful?
That’s just business stuff you say. The Bible says: “I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face. Peace to you. The friends send you their greetings. Greet the friends there, each by NAME.” (3 John 1:13-15)
Learn someone’s name this week.
- The cashier
- The waitress
- The person you pass when walking
- The school crossing guard
- The garbage collector
- The person at church who sits “over there”
If you learn someone’s , you give them an identity. God knows you “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” Jeremiah 1:5
It may not seem like it’s very monastic or missional to be a friend to someone, but the whole world is crying out for friends. Becoming a friend to someone is really a commitment. A friend is someone that we take time to be with, to help and to encourage. It’s really a discipline to be a friend. That may seem like a strange way of looking at friendship. Statistics tell us that the United States is one of the loneliest nations in the world. As we go about our daily walk being a friend is by necessity a part of being a person who is doing the mission of God here on earth. We as contemplative people have a desire to reach out with love to people who need the loving touch that only a person who knows and feels the love of Jesus Christ can give.
A Few Suggestions
- Write an unsolicited note to someone.
- Take someone to coffee or lunch.
- Make a phone call to someone who doesn’t receive many.
- Intentionally develop a new friend.
- Give your time someone.
All of these small things can make a tremendous difference to someone who’s lonely. For in helping relieve loneliness in our world we are truly people who are spreading the grace and love of Jesus Christ who are world. How many times in life have we failed to do what we could do if we just tried? I urge all of you just try. For in trying we can find the glorious blessings that God just has stored up for us.
- Acts 20 – The Answer for a Dying World: Friendship (inchristalonedevotions.wordpress.com)
Abba Isidore of Pelusia said, ‘To live without speaking is better than to speak without living. For the former who lives rightly does good even by his silence but the latter does no good even when he speaks. When words and life correspond to one another they are together the whole philosophy of life.’
—–Abba Isidore of the Desert
The age old saying of our actions speaking louder than our words is seen here in the words of the Abba. . We hear it in the words of Jesus, Buddha and all s world religions. Yet it is still the most difficult task that is faced by anyone desiring to follow the path of Jesus.
Words are easy, cheap, and abundant; actions are difficult, for they require discipline, time, and selflessness. Those virtues are ones that we develop over a lifetime of prayer and study. We are geared toward having answers and not actions. There are few among us who lack the cognitive knowledge of our obligation to our fellow man, but many who just give lip service only to giving and sacrificing for the sake of others.
Christians are called to know and do. We know the commands of God and we have hidden them in our hearts, but that is not the end of the story. Perhaps we even testify to the importance of refraining from gossip and slander, visiting the prisoner, clothing the naked, and feeding the stranger, but we utterly fail at putting action to our words. This dilemma existed in the church of 1600 years ago and it exists today. Perhaps, as the advice of the Abba tells us, we can learn from silence and be jolted into action-action that will become a whole philosophy of life.
- Why Silence? (presencenow.be)
One of the best things about riding a bicycle around town is that you get to observe things up close and personal. Bike riding puts you in the middle of the action. You can smell the smells, feel the heat, and hear the sounds you miss in your car.
In a recent ride along Bayou St. John(a natural waterway in New Orleans) I noticed a mother duck and her ducklings swimming in the bayou. I stopped as she came on shore and began to lead them to a new spot. One of the ducklings began to lag behind the group and suddenly the volume of her “quacks” went up to an ear crushing sound. Sure enough the little slacker knew that it was a signal to speed up and catch up. He did, and the rhymic quacking continued as they moved to a place to rest.
You may ask, how can this relate to the missional practice of a Christian?
Let’s think about that for a moment.
- The ducklings began as a unit. It was not the mother duck that left the duckling behind but the duckling that moved slower than the rest.
- The mother duck had the best and the brightest duckling right behind her.
- The slacker was slowing down the journey.
- The slacker caused the mother to expend more energy.
What missional points can we glean from this little story?
- We must allow for those who don’t follow the crowd.
- We must set the pace of our journey so that all can join.
- We must expend energy and time to help those who are less motivated.
Remember we are called to care for each other as we are on the journey.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.Matthew 5:13
The cashier at the coffee shop,grocery …
The garbage collector
The person who is 50 feet away from you at the office.
The kid in your class that never utters a word.
The members of the church choir.
The person who walks (jogs-they may not want to speak but who knows)by your house every day.
That person you see every time you are in that restaurant.
That just a list to get you started. There are so many more. If you have a few suggestions just post a comment. Take time to be the “salt and light” of the world.
- YEF: We are Salt & Light of the World! (yefnyu.org)
Just recently I was introduced to Dorotheos of Gaza by Professor Emeritus Roberta Bondi from Chandler School of Theology. I find his words an additional treasure trove of desert wisdom that I will be blogging on from time to time. Irvin
In His loving-kindness God has given us purifying commandments so that, if we wish, we can by their observance be cleansed not only of sins but also of passions themselves. For passions are one thing and sins another. Passions are: anger, vanity, love of pleasures, hatred, evil lust and the like. Sins are the actual operations of passions, when a man puts them into practice, that is, performs with the body the actions to which his passions urge him. For it is possible to have passions and yet not to act from them.
——-Dorotheos of Gaza
At first glance Dorotheos seems to be implying that we can approach God with behavior modification. That is not the base point of the teaching. We can dig far deeper by gaining the insight of the undeniable relationship between passion and sin. If we can come to understand that God is seeking to guide us to recognize our passions without allowing them to control us like puppets on a string, we can arrive at a peace that is currently beyond our grasp. Passions and sins are not one in the same. Passions are the root of sin, but passions are not an excuse for sin. The father clearly points out that we can have passions without sin. There are two keys: to observe the commands of God and avoid sin, and to understand that our passions drive us in the direction of sin. With that knowledge, it will be possible to have passions and not sin.
Additionally, I believe that passions allow us to live our lives to the fullest. Our deepest passions are one way we were created in the “image and likeness” of God. We are to go to God and ask Him to gift us with deep passion to live, to love, and to serve. With these passions, we become great servants and productive people. The acknowledgement of evil passions as the root of sin is the beginning of the road to glorification.
- Dorotheus of Gaza: Like Rotten Bread, Externally Good, Inwardly All Mouldy… (enlargingtheheart.wordpress.com)