Reflections by Jerry Webber

Monday, October 26, 2009

Silence at the Crossroads

In ancient Greek culture, temples often would be built near the intersection of two roads. Men or women who were travelling and came upon the intersection might not know which road to take in order to get to their destination. So at those crossroads they could go into the temple, meditate in silence until the way forward became clear to them, then continue on the journey.

I find that to be a remarkably helpful symbol for life.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Writing Myself into a Corner

I wrote the poem (previous post) about delight and belonging yesterday morning. I reflected on it later in the day and again this morning.

I don't claim to be a premier poet. I don't write poetry in order to be profound or to publish poetry. Mostly I write for myself. I write what bubbles up within me. Sometimes the act of writing poetry is a way to get onto paper what my inner landscape looks like at that moment. Most of the time it's not noteworthy, but is simply a helpful exercise for spiritual reflection.

Every once in a while something I write resonates very deeply within me and feels like a truth that I hadn't yet considered in my head. My soul tells me something about life and reality that my head has blocked out and my ego has resisted. While it may feel new, the words imagine a reality my soul has tried to tell me about for a long, long time.

I noticed yesterday one way this often happens for me in poetry: I write some words into a poem that paint me in a corner. The words trap me. And to get out of the corner, I must gently let myself down into a deeper, more interior listening in order to hear the voice of my soul. In some ways it's like giving myself an ultimatum, then listening to see how my soul responds.

Yesterday in the middle of the poem, I wrote, "This you must get / and come to believe / with your life: . . ." And I didn't know what the next line would be. I wrote myself into a corner in order to listen for what would come next.

What do I believe you must "get, and come to believe with your life?" If I thought about it long enough, I'd probably respond with several things. I wasn't interested, though, in what my mind thought about what I must believe and live. I wanted to hear what my gut said, what lives in me at the level of soul.

Then I wrote almost immediately as I listened: "The energy of delight will carry you home." I don't recall that I've ever thought that before consciously. I hadn't read those words anywhere. I don't often think about delight . . . though delight has been with me more than usual since working with the Genesis 1 - 2 accounts recently for a spiritual formation study. I don't do delight very well. I'm much more accomplished at earnestness. That delight arose in the poem was a surprise to me.

The more I listen for what arises from that well of soul, the more familiar I become with the voice that is uniquely mine, the voice which God has planted within me, and with which I am invited to speak into the world. This is one of the ways I'm learning to attend to that voice.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Poem about Where You Belong

The years spent building your own castle
will not come back to you;

The stones of your dreams
and the mortar of who you should have been
now blocked in place.

Delight never did live there,
but a dull obligation
to some shadowy ideal
handed to you before
you could refuse to
take it.

This you must get
and come to believe
with your life:

The energy of delight will
carry you home;

all the small things you carry
will be gone
before you arrive,

even the stuttering steps
that are your heritage
cannot keep you -- in the
end -- from the place
you belong.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Overheard: Richard Rohr on Spiritual Power

Untransformed people seem to think that problems can be solved by external force, which is to change things from the top down or from the outside in. What the Word of God moves us toward is several kinds of spiritual power. That’s where things are not just externally changed but really transformed, and not transformed from the top down but from the bottom up, not from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. Or as Jesus puts it, “Clean the inside of the cup and dish, and the outside will take care of itself” (Matthew 23:26). . . .

Spiritual power, however, is the ability to influence events and others through one’s very being. Evolved people change others interiorly through who they are, and through their sharing of wisdom, but not through mere external pressure. It is a slower process, but much more long lasting.

[from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden, 88 - 89]

"Danger" Poem

I tell my story of a stormy night
when the oaks were uprooted
and the mangled bottoms
pulled out of their foundations.

You watch how it happened to me
as an onlooker curious
to see if anyone, finally,
fell over the edge.

The easy chair was comfortable;
it was safe to hear
the edge-story from there.

Something stirred in you about
the time one foot stepped
onto air -- I saw it in your
eyes -- but you quickly
retreated to solid ground.

Someone has to explore beyond
the "danger" sign;
maybe your day has not yet come.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thoughts on Being God's Will

Most of my life I've considered God's will as a bull's-eye to hit square on. If you miss the bull's-eye, you miss God's will. Since each moment of life comes as a unique moment of opportunity, to miss the bull's-eye at any point means to run the risk of missing all the moments that would flow out of that opportunity. It's a dicey proposition.

It seemed easier to miss God's will than to do God's will. I think many of us have lived with that fear. Some of us, because God's will seemed so out of reach, gave up altogether.

I think differently about God's will these days. I don't talk so much about doing God's will as I talk about being God's will. Doing God's will implies that the bull's-eye speaks to what we do with our lives, how we earn a paycheck, what we do to pay the bills, how we spend our time.

"Should I move there or stay here?"

"Should I take this job or that job?"

Doing God's will involves our choices and decisions. It entails our actions, where I do and what I do.

On the other hand, being God's will is simply another way of saying that the first issues in life concern our being, our essence, the core of our life.

Who we are is more important than what we do. We don't hear that message often from culture. We are enculturated to do, do, do. Our compulsion, therefore, is toward doing the will of God.

Being God's will means that our first task in the spiritual life is attending to the God-connection within us, allowing God to birth in us the person God created us to be. We attend to what lives in us at soul-level. We open our lives at the deep layers of our being in order to be shaped and formed by God's Spirit.

In order to live in this state of being, we are invited to some sense of our original purpose. Why am I here? For what purpose did God create me? What does my original and authentic self add up to? What unique essence has God placed at the core of my soul?

This sense of being gets worked into my life as the spirit or essence with which I do whatever it is I do. So rather than find a bull's-eye of doing, I express my unique personhood in whatever I do.

It also means that I carry my unique being or essence wherever I am. God's will -- and my life -- becomes transportable. God's will is not about living in a particular location or having a certain job. Wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I live life with a certain spirit, a particular essence that is the fingerprint of God within me.

Being God's will is more important than doing God's will. In fact, being precedes doing. If you do it out of your unique connection to God, you can do God's will anywhere . . . as long as you take your self there.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tonight: A Poem about Wednesdays

Tonight again
I will stand up and talk
emerging from my cloister
to furrowed brows and tilted heads

a new roomful gathered under the artificial lights
who have mostly grown tired of themselves
and their flimsy inheritance

I will tell my strange stories
and talk my nonsense
to nervous laughter
and curious stares

casting seed from my meager pouch
across that carpeted space

some of it will be trampled on the way out the door
and some lost among the thickly packed chairs
and some carried discreetly, carelessly to the hallway trash
and two or three kernels I will not see again
for twelve months or so
until the fragile sprout breaks the soil
stretching downward and upward
toward a home
long hidden

If you are that one
tonight I will come.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Forget Technique . . . Build a Life

The Christian spiritual path can easily be turned into another set of practices and techniques that we are to master in order to have a spiritually formed life. After many centuries in which spiritual disciplines and practices were ignored by large numbers of Christ-followers, today the language of spirituality seems to be everywhere. Books and seminars tout the benefits of spiritual exercises. The spiritual life is presented as a series of practices, techniques for experiencing God's presence.

I read the books. I hear the presentations. It's easy to believe that the Christian spiritual life consists of a series of techniques to which we should devote ourselves. I know this is communicated to folks because I often deal with persons on the back end of this blitz. I talk with folks who feel that they've messed up the technique, or they feel paralyzed because they cannot get the technique right. They can't get the prayer just right. They can't sit silent enough for their centering prayer practice. They feel guilty because lectio divina eludes them.

Rather than get caught up with technique, the aim of Christian spirituality is to connect us more intimately to God. The spiritual life enables us to be attentive to the God-connection at the center of us, the connection that anchors the soul.

Spirituality is not a performance or a series of practices to master. Rather, spirituality is a life to live, a life-giving connection with God that nourishes and sustains, a life that is offered willingly and sacrificially for the benefit of the wider world in God's name.

Any techniques we may utilize are merely in the service of building a life. They are not the end toward which we aim, but tools that help us grow in the graces of God.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Overheard: Gerald May on Relinquishment

It is important to note that the spiritual growth process involves far more relinquishment than acquisition. In our culture, we are conditioned to expect growth to involve acquisition of new facts and understandings. . . . Although some new facts and representations may help us along the way. . . the essential process is one of transformation, not education. It is, if anything, an unlearning process in which our old ways are cleansed, liberated, and redeemed. . . . Obviously, we cannot “conduct” spiritual growth. At bottom, it is God’s work. It is grace.

(Gerald May, Addiction and Grace, 105-6.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Our Real Spiritual Guides

Who wants Trouble and Suffering? I'd like to avoid them if possible, to have them visit the house next door, but never show up on my porch. If they do come to my address, I'm not likely to throw out the welcome mat. I don't want to show Trouble and Suffering even a glimmer of hospitality . . . they may find a room and stay!

Actually, my knee-jerk response to Trouble and Suffering is to mumble and moan and -- sometimes quietly and sometimes passive-aggressively -- groan about "my miserable lot in life."

I may come around to prayer about them, and my first prayer is most always, "God, get them out of here!" Sometimes Trouble and Suffering come as a situation, sometimes as people, sometimes as an expectation or obligation. Removing the situation or the people or the expectation/obligation to a far away place seems to hold promise for getting rid of my stew. "If the presenting problem is removed, the thing that is touching my sensitive spot, then I'll be better," the thinking goes.

And then I come to what is going on inside me when Trouble and Suffering come around. Why my extreme reactions? What has this pair touched off within me? What turf am I defending? What do I have at stake in this situation emotionally?

I cycle through these patterns often. The situation can be as small as a minor irritation on a given day at work or it can be as major as daily life with a terminal disease. Either way, it seems like removing Trouble and Suffering would make for a more pleasant existence.

Only it doesn't work that way. Even when Trouble and Suffering are sent packing, I'm still left with myself, my own inner landscape. I may be free of that which was pushing my emotional buttons, but I'm not free of my own interior. The wound within me lives on.

In fact, one of the huge fallacies in modern life is the thinking that goes something like this: "My life would be wonderful and put together if she were gone . . . or if this situation were better . . . or it he would treat me right . . . or if I had the right job." We act as if -- and may even believe! -- that our happiness is dependent upon everything being properly arranged in the outer world.

This isn't to excuse all the crud that happens around us, nor to excuse the perpetuators of the crud around us who take advantage, abuse, and live mindlessly. It is to say, though, that I'm not responsible for their crud, only for my own.

In my most aware moments I realize that Trouble and Suffering may be the best spiritual guides I have. They put a finger on my tender places, on the spots where I am still developing, the places where my stance toward life is immature and incomplete. They invite me to become more attentive to my own interior landscape, to become familiar with what lives inside me, to notice what jerks me around on the inside, to see myself as I really am, not as I want to be (or think I am).

It pains me to admit that Trouble and Suffering are my best spiritual guides; I know from experience, though, that it's true.