being present to life

It seems to me that spirit has something to do with the energy of our lives, the life-force that keeps us active and dynamic. Will has more to do with personal intention and how we decide to use our energies. Spirit, for me, has a quality of connecting us with each other, with the world around us, and with the mysterious Source of all. In contrast, will has qualities of independence, of personal freedom, and of decision making.

Sometimes it seems that will moves easily with the natural flow of spirit, and at such times we feel grounded, centered, and responsive to the needs of the world as they are presented to us. This may happen in times of great crisis, when we forget about our personal agendas and strivings and work in true concert with ourselves and others. Or it may happen quietly, with a spontaneous sense of being fully, actively, responsively present to life. At such times, it is indeed as if something in us had said yes. Then, at least for a moment, we are whole.

There are other times when will seems to pull away from spirit, trying to chart its own course. This may happen when we feel self-conscious or when we are judging ourselves harshly. Or it may occur when we are afraid or desirous of something. At such times, we may feel fragmented, contrived, artificial. Our movements and responses may become forced and unnatural, or we may try to avoid the situation by imposing an arbitrary passivity upon ourselves. At such times something deep within us is saying no, something is struggling against the truth of who we really are and what we are really called to do.

  • Gerald May, Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology

imagining justice

The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.

We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.

  • Ursula Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind

the heart of every human

That truth has been inscribed into our hearts
and into the heart of every human being,
there to be read and reverenced,
thanks be to you, O God….

Open our senses to wisdom’s inner promptings
that we may give voice to what we hear in our soul
and be changed for the healing of the world,
that we may listen for truth in every living soul
and be changed for the well-being of the world.

-from Sounds of the Eternal: A Celtic Psalter (John Philip Newell). Click here for full prayer. 

confessions

[a poem by Rachael Barham]

confessions

I say it because I’m with friends
and a couple of glasses of wine and laughter
have loosened my heart
and my tongue:

“Sometimes when a friend asks for prayer
I think, I can’t.
What if there’s no point in praying?
What if there’s no God?”

The smiles and nods
tell me I am not alone.

“But other times
I find my heart rises
to God and to love
with no regard for doctrine or doubt.
Yes, I can pray.”

(I wonder.
Would I have confessed
the first, the moments of uncertainty,
without also confessing the second,
the moments of faith?)

“And then I message back “Praying” 
and feel victorious!”

The laughter lasts a while –
laughter of recognition and relief,
laughter full of unspoken stories,
of relationships with friends
and families and childhood churches
whose belief appears to be
single, unwavering,
that illusive benchmark I suspect
I may never again reach
(though in truth I never did;
I just pretended
–  to myself above all).

Beneath the laughter
there is also pain,
misunderstanding, distance.
The pain of leaving
and the pain of holding on.
The pain of the inner struggle
to find and walk one’s own road
with love and courage,
the new road, now road,
but one that connects
at some crossroads miles past
with the old, well-worn.
Yes, continuity and discontinuity, both.

I say it because I’m with friends
and I need the healing balm
of laughter and confession mixed,
for this truth not to be so serious and heavy,
weighed down by years of silence and taboo.

I say it because I need to hear out loud
that I am not one.
My belief is not single.
Uncertainty and faith
dwell side by side in me.
(Perhaps less disparate than they at first appear,
different ways of approaching the same mystery,
two sides of the same dark coin?)

I say it because I need to balance
the complex victory of “Praying”
with the equally complex victory of “I can’t.”

Most of all I say it
to lay down any claim or need
to be champion of the faith
– that burden is not for me to bear –
and to take up instead the only burden
(at once heavier and miraculously light)
that is truly mine:
the burden of being myself.

– Rachael Barham – (from her blog)

questions of life

[A passage from a soon-to-be-released book appealing for a newly invigorated role for theology in helping us live a good life:]

The most theological thing I have ever done was to plant a church—a community in which Bible scholars, ethicists, philosophers, and, yes, a stray “theologian” proper, have done theology as we have lived theologically. A community in which graphic designers, poets, musicians, sociologists, and even lawyers and medical doctors have become “accidental theologians.” It began almost imperceptibly and quite by accident. We should have known something theological was afoot when we found ourselves spending evenings on a back porch listening to a friend—a Christian Nietzsche scholar perched, with not a hint of ironic self-consciousness, on a stump in the backyard—call us to live lives that amounted to more than a never-ending quest for ever-greater degrees of comfort. I remember waking up at 3:30 a.m. to walk with that friend three miles across town to the train station—simply because walking was more life-giving than driving and the conversation along the way was worth the effort. Summer evenings were spent poring over Karl Barth, Søren Kierkegaard, C. S. Lewis, Kwame Bediako, Marilynne Robinson, and, yes, Nietzsche, with the visceral sense that our lives depended on the words on the pages. The questions of life were theological because theology was the question of life. Where to live—and with whom—was a theological question. We bought houses together; we shared cars. How and whether to own at all was a theological question. Rhythms of work and rest were a matter of deep theological reflection. Art and beauty were perhaps among the most theological questions of all. Theology was a question about the nature of the life we were living together.