Friday, June 29, 2007

Contemplation 101

I am reading Patricia Hampl's "Blue Arabesque: A Search for the Sublime." She writes prose as lush as the Matisse paintings that she describes. The following is a quote from chapter 1 and has been an enormous help in my trying to be more comtemplative:

"Can you say," I once inquired of a sixty-year-old cloistered nun who had lived (vibrantly, it seemed) from the age of nineteen in her monastery cell, "what the core of contemplative life is?"

"Leisure," she said, without hesitation, her china blue eyes cheerfully steady on me. I suppose I expected her to say, "Prayer." Or maybe "The search for God." Or "Inner peace." Inner peace would have been good. One of the big-ticket items of spirituality.

She saw I didn't see.

"It takes time to do this," she said finally.

Her "this" being the kind of work that requires abdication from time's industrial purpose (doing things, getting things). By choosing leisure she had bid farewell to the fevered enterprise of getting-and -spending whereby, as the poet said, we lay waste our powers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Two perfect summer days. The light was so vibrant this morning that I took my camera with me when I went for my walk. I remember reading somewhere long ago that when we take pictures we are really taking pictures of light. I don't know whether that is still true with a digital camera, but it certainly seemed so this morning. I took 42 pictures, mostly of weeds, but really of the transforming Light.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Discovering Self

Today I came across a passage that precedes yesterday's quote from Thomas Merton: "A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It “consents,” so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree....For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self."

Merton himself spent a long time searching and even after entering the monastery he still did not stop discovering his true self. Many people come to a good sense of self during their late teens. It took me almost twice those years. While I am now pretty comfortable with who I am, who God has helped me become, I want to keep open to further discovery.

I came to love e. e. cummings in college. One of my favorite quotes from him is "To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else --means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." He was one of several writers who encouraged me through the years in my struggle to come to terms with myself.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The True Self

I am reading James Martin's My Life with the Saints, a very engaging spiritual autobiography.
I would almost describe it as a page turner. (Just before starting it I returned a novel to the library after reading only 20 dreary pages.) Chapter 4 "The True Self" begins with a quote from Thomas Merton's New Seeds of Contemplation: "For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self." This reinforces my reflection a few days ago about each weed being exactly itself for the beauty of the whole scene.

Sometimes when we look at ourselves we don't like what we see. God made us who and what we are to make our part of the world beautiful. Acknowledging who and what we are and making the most of our gifts is the way to holiness.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

True to self

The other night a friend told me that this year in Disneyworld the figures are not covered with flowers but with a variety of green plants in different shades. I'm sure this must have been in the back of my mind when I went for my walk this morning (Actually it was more of a stroll. The wind of the last three days had stopped and everything was still and the morning sun was warming the cold air. It made me feel like moving slowly.) As I crossed a little ditch I was struck by the wild variety of shapes and textures and shades of the green weeds. I stood still and was caught up in how the many different weeds were creating something beautiful.

As I continued strolling I got to thinking how important it was for each weed to be itself to create the beauty of the whole. That makes me think how important it is for me to be true to myself so that my part of the world is a beautiful as God wants it to be.

It is tempting at times to try to fit in and conform to what others expect of us, especially if we think we are weeds. But God made us each different to add our specific bit of goodness and truth and beauty to the world. It is crucial that we acknowledge who and what we are and be exactly that person. That's the way we honor and express the Divine in us and make our part of the world beautiful.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Stillness as Prayer

Four years ago I traveled through the Dolomites in northern Italy. Spectacular mountains. I caught myself often humming "Finlandia," with the words to "Song of Peace"
We stayed one night in the Panorama Hotel on the largest high mountain meadow in Europe, whose name I've forgotten. I was wakened in the morning by the sun and got up and started to do my usual centering prayer, but I couldn't contain myself and hurried out to see the early sun on this meadow surrounded by even higher mountains. It was glorious.
As I walked I started thinking that I should be trying to talk to God since I had skipped my usual morning prayer. Gradually the words came to me that I entered here yesterday, especially the lines, "Be still and know that I am God within you. No need to talk nor think nor make a plan." The first verse was complete in my head when I went back inside and wrote it on the back of an envelope. Some of the second verse was forming but I didn't really finish it until I got home.
This experience helped me understand that being still is itself a prayer. Whenever I am caught up in beauty, even if I don't think of God directly, I am caught up into the Divine. My early morning walks have become that kind of experience for me.