Saturday, August 30, 2008

Olympic Pathway


  • Sit in an empty theater, library or a park and bask in the quiet.
  • Pray naked, literally.
  • When there is an option between words and silence, try silence.
  • Step aside and yield the path to another.
  • Develop the habit of napping without guilt.
  • Open your hand and heart to willingly receive something good.
  • Live with peace and goodwill towards all you meet today.
  • Practice solitude.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mount Hood


In meditation we should not look for a "method" or "system", but cultivate an "attitude", an "outlook": faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, joy. All these finally permeate our being with love in so far as our living faith tells us we are in the presence of God, that we live in Christ. ~Thomas Merton, from The Climate of Monastic Prayer

The snow was lightly falling through the evergreen forest as I awoke. I knew the road over the coastal mountains would be winter trouble if I tried to drive the two hours to the monastery. We live at the beach in northwest Oregon coastal village, a place not known for severe winters. I called the Abbey, cancelled my room and gave myself a gift of a monastic retreat at home.

Once a year, I treat myself to a retreat at a monastery. I withdraw from the busy schedule of family life and professional life, drive two plus hours over the Oregon coastal range to Mount Angel Benedictine Abbey and spend a few days in silence, solitude and prayer. Sometimes, I stay at the coast and enjoy a retreat at home. Our children are grown and away, allowing me to enjoy a day of silence and solitude in our home without much extra effort.

Taking a spiritual retreat is nothing new. Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to spend time alone with God in prayer. He invited his followers to do the same: ‘Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.[i] The apostles had just returned from their first preaching tour, excited about what God was doing through them. Hundreds of people were healed and set free from bondage to sin and evil. News spread. More and more people were “coming and going”, wanting access to Jesus and His disciples. Right in the middle of this ministry success, Jesus did the unpredictable. He called people to withdraw from the crowds to refresh themselves with time alone with God.

Through this single sentence found in Mark 6:31 we can discover a simple guide for treating ourselves to a day retreat. In the next few weeks, we’ll look into this verse to discover a pattern for spiritual refreshment through the gift of a day retreat.

[i] Mark 6:31.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Low Tide Peace

Pax et Bonum

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

~Franciscan Peace Prayer

I don’t read the newspaper very often. When I do, I’m reminded why I’ve given up the habit. Page after page, we read stories of wars, violent deaths, crime and corruption. Who doesn’t hunger for a little peace and goodwill?

In my travels, I ran across a Latin phrase scattered across the hilltop town or Assisi, Italy. Home to the 13th century saint, Francis and his friend Clare, the village of Assisi is a contemporary hot spot for spiritual pilgrimage. A swift walk down Via San Francesco from the Piazza del Commune you discover store after store crammed with tourist trinkets honoring the memory of Francis and Clare. One of the most common trinkets you’ll find is the letter Tau, a “T”, hanging on a leather cord. Francis loved the letter Tau, claiming it portrayed the cross of Christ. The letter Tau is widely recognized today as a symbol of St. Francis, a symbol of his selfless and joyful way of life, his spiritual vitality, his peace and goodness. Pax et Bonum.

In addition to the letter Tau, observant pilgrims find a Latin phrase, Pax et Bonum. all over Assisi, carved in stone on pillars, painted on the ceiling of the community hall in the Mayor’s palace, emblazoned upon flags and banners, adorning postcards and hand decorated ceramics. The letter T in the Latin word et is most often found capitalized to emphasize the Tau representative of Franciscan spirituality. Pax eT Bonum.

Peace and Goodwill. This is the dual gift sung by the angel choir to shepherds “watching over their flocks by night”, at the birth of Jesus: Peace on earth, goodwill towards all.[i] Frances revealed the way to find these two gifts, personally, in our daily lives. First, we strip away our arrogance and our self-centered attachment to material security. Frances is said to have stripped himself bare before his parents and the Bishop, handed his clothes to his father and walked naked through Porta Nuova down through olive orchards to the ruined church of San Damiano. The rest of his life he wore the course brown clothes of beggars. He is widely recognized as one of the most selfless humans who have ever lived, bringing peace to his world through the emptying of self.

Second, we celebrate the goodness of God discovered every day in the ordinary lives of creatures and nature. Sun and moon, wind and rain, bird and beast. These are our brothers and sisters. They teach us to live more fully in the simple gift of life. Peace comes by laying down our life for others. Goodness comes by picking up the gift of each day through living more intimately connected to God’s good creation. Pax et Bonum.

[i] Luke 2:14.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Natural Cathedral


Take a look with me at a fascinating language pattern. I didn’t learn this until well into my twenties. The grammatical pattern I speak of involves verbs. As we all know from our elementary education, the verb is the action word in a sentence. The “voice” of the verb describes the quality of movement of the action. In the active voice, the subject acts upon the object. In the passive voice, the subject receives the action from the object. In the middle voice, the subject actively participates in the action as a recipient. The actively—receptive quality of the middle voice in grammar makes it tricky. It is the voice of mystery and meditation and the contemplative voice. It’s also the voice of relationships.

Take this grammar lesson and send it into daily life. The Active Life performs the action. The Passive Life receives the action. The Middle Life actively welcomes or encourages the action to happen. Every day, we participate in all three forms of action. Whether it is a result of upbringing, personality character, birth order or just the mystery of life, we tend to spend much of our time one of the three camps and call it home.

Take a look at life from the Middle: here lies the inner courage to willingly allow stuff to happen which may not feel good at the time but will help me get healthy and grow. We don’t do much. Most of the action is done by someone else. The movement comes from something external to us. All we’ve agreed to do is to open our mind, our heart or our will to let something happen which otherwise probably wouldn’t happen.

Life in the Middle. Middle way people can be accused of being wishy-washy. They can seem a tad indecisive. They are more like Horatio than like Hamlet. More like Sancho than Don Juan. More like Watson than Holmes. The Middle way people have no problem playing supporting roles. Such people actually find great pleasure in supporting the main action. Middle voice folks love company. Come on in, the water is great. There is a natural invitation from the Middle to join together, live together, and form significant relationships.

The voice from the Middle tells us that relationships are not seen as means to some other end. They are gifts in themselves. The Active camp wants to climb up the ladder of relationships and take the lead to accomplish higher ends. The Passive are reserved, shy, a bit too withdrawn to step forward into relationships or leadership. The Middle voice reminds us that we are made to love. To be human is to love: to love God, to love ourselves, to love others. The Middle voice shows others the way of love by compassionately serving others. Middle folks find themselves laying down their lives to help for others. That is the meaning of compassion, the willingness to suffer on behalf of others. This is the voice from the Middle.

Reflect upon these three voices of action: the Active, the Passive and the Middle. Which camp do you find yourself in most often? How does that camp feel to you? What troubles does that camp present? If you discover you are a take charge Active voice person, try spending a 24 hour block of time laying low, moving out of the spotlight, allowing things to happen rather than controlling everything, just to experience life from the other side. If you know you are a Passive voice person, see if there is any resentment or bitterness built up inside you from feeling that you’ve been walked on, used as a doormat and not appreciated for who you are. Try letting go of that stuff. No matter what camp you find as home, try becoming more aware of the other types of action within the human family. Above all, take a little time this week, in daily life, to pay more attention to the voice from the Middle.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


One of my all time favorite films is the original Star Wars movie featuring Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and those two endearing robots, R2D2 and C3PO. The quirky C3PO captures the pinnacle of new computer technology, a robot that is fluent in over six million forms of communication, able to interpret diverse linguistic data across the galaxy and logically give you the exact odds of survival as you face impending disaster. The only problem is you can’t get the guy to shut up.

C3PO is a literal motor mouth, offering non-stop practical suggestions for every situation, arguing with R2D2 about every move, and forever worrying about his joints rusting. In one of my favorite scenes in the film, C3PO offers a delicious alternative to all his normal fussiness. During hyperspace travel, he informs the crew he’s going to take a mechanical break. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll shut down for a while.” With the push of a button on his metallic frame the machine shuts off. Like C3PO’s metal body, the silence is golden.

Where can a human get one of those switches? Ever had one of those days when you arrived home from work exhausted, settled into the newspaper on the couch, drifted off for a brief ten minute nap and woken up three hours later, wiping drool from your mouth wondering if it’s time to get up for work, confused why it’s dark, only to realize it is ten at night. You’ve found the C3PO button.

Actually, shutting down involves more than merely taking a nap. That’s the easy part. Anyone can take a nap. Kids do it. Grandpa does it. Cats and dogs do it. Oddly, when you’re five years old, adults force you take naps and you resist. When you’re an adult, you want to take naps and the kids in your life keep you so busy you have no time for such luxuries. Even adults who have no kids have a hard time taking naps. Overworked adults consider naps the proper activity of children and the elderly. Active American adults who nap are viewed as lazy or sick. Pretend to doze off during your lunch break in your cubicle at work and watch your workmates raise their eyebrows and talk behind your back. Naps are for babies. Naps are a waste of time. Maybe you should have stayed home if you have the flu. Why don’t you just take the rest of the day off.

Busy people get embarrassed when they see you napping. Instead of asking questions about their own workaholism, they jokingly shame you about activating your C3PO button. Fortunately, as C3PO well knows, there are other options in the galaxy. Consider the Italians. Every working day in Italy, the banks close from noon to two. Most workers head home for a two hour midday break, including a plate of pasta and a nap for dessert. The afternoon shift begins around three and lasts until around seven. This is the norm for big corporations, little family run business and for rural farm workers. It’s the Italian way.

One of my favorite Italians, Francis of Assisi, was known for withdrawing from the 13th century rat race and “shutting down for a while”. He found solitude in abandoned churches. He feasted on silence by fasting from speech. In the biographical film on the life of Francis, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Italian filmmaker Franco Zeferelli captures the essence of the life of a saint found in silence. One of Francis’ life long friends, Bernardo, has come down to San Damiano church to try and convince Francis to give up his foolishness and return to Assisi. As Francis listens to the lengthy discourse he continues what he was doing, rebuilding the ruined church building, stone by stone. Finally, Francis looks up and speaks. “Words, words, words, Bernardo. I too once believed in words.”

When we are dead and gone, what will people remember from our lives. I doubt it will be our words. For better or worse, they’ll remember our character. Francis was known to say, “Preach the love of God, and if necessary, use words.” We communicate our lives through our character, lifestyle and our actions long before a single word emerges from our lips. Listen to the wise words of the ancient sage from the Book of Ecclesiastes: Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.[i]

There lies the real challenge to shutting down. Find that button and you’ll make C3PO look like a rusted pile of scrap metal. For thousands of years, people have shut down by simply knowing when to zip their lips. Who hasn’t offered “the sacrifice of fools” and regretted it later. Better to learn to listen. Better to value silence and let our lives speak for themselves without the need to fill the gap with words. Cultivate the holy and healthy habit of napping without guilt. Like C3PO, on occasion, we are wise to value the golden silence among the crew as we zip across the galaxy at the speed of light.

[i] Ecclesiastes 5:2.