poets as spiritual mentors

[A reminder of the spiritual potential in poetry and stories – and a recommendation for anyone looking for a prayer guide as we begin the season of Ordinary Time]:

Indeed, many of us might include a poet or an author, whether dead or living, among our spiritual mentors. On a quiet evening, curled up with a good story, we have encountered the memorable character, the articulate phrase, the evocative image, the small suggestion, the smuggled truth, the shattering epiphany, which changed us, and we weren’t even looking to be
changed. It enriched our lives, and we didn’t even know our own poverty. We were not the same people afterward.

Sarah Arthur, At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time

solitary work becomes communal

No one can know in advance how one will be used, or when, or what one’s life will count for in the long run. The young Pablo Casals, while pouring his life energy into years of practice on the cello, could not guess that when Franco came to power, he would stop playing for three years, and that the silence would be heard throughout Spain as if the streets were full of demonstrators….

When the need for bread is met we discover that we have other hungers, and none so deep as the hunger to be understood. The artist helps us to interpret, understand and communicate feeling. When the artist is successful we are led into communion with ourselves and with the world, and the solitary work becomes a communal work. For want of this we walk on parched land.                                                    

Elizabeth O’Connor – Servant Leaders, Servant Structures

how we respond

How we respond to [our children’s] stories carries more weight than any other form of moral instruction, and that is why we need to realize that the formal scope of “narrative theology” or “narrative ethics” necessarily includes the stories our kids tell us over dinner….

Ultimately, children develop the capacity for morally mature intimacy through our capacity or our willingness to offer such intimacy to them, such due regard, such kind but firm or clear-eyed critical respect. We offer that to them in part by the quality of our responses to the stories they tell.
– Catherine Wallace, For Fidelity

wisdom is gained by practicing

In biblical terms, it is wisdom we need to live together in the world. Wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right, and noticing what happens when that practice succeeds and when it fails. Wise people do not have to be certain what they believe before they act. They are free to act, trusting that the practice itself will teach them what they need to know. If you are not sure what to think about washing feet, for instance, then the best way to find out is to practice washing a pair or two. If you are not sure what to believe about your neighbour’s faith, then the best way to find out is to practice eating supper together. Reason can only work with the experience available to it. Wisdom atrophies if it is not walked on a regular basis.

– Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World (2009)

what liars lose

The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities.

When relationships are determined by manipulation, by the need for control, they may possess a dreary, bickering kind of drama, but they cease to be interesting. They are repetitious; the shock of human possibilities has ceased to reverberate through them.