Saturday, October 20, 2012

Office ~ Study ~ Place

I am a very fortunate guy.  I have a great work space at the church and now I have an office at home.  But maybe you can help me.  I really don't want it to be an 'office.'  That sounds so formal and implies that work must be actually done in that space.

I like Pastoral Study.  But I don't like workplace, headquarters, or administrative center.  In monastic life it would be a cell.  As an writer, it would be a studio.  If I painted on stretched canvas it could be my gallery or a creative center.  If I were a jeweler it would be the location of my work bench with burned in dots of gold and maybe a little diamond dust.

It could be a hide-a-way, a hermitage, or an arcade.  If I was rich, it would be a den. I guess it could be a nest, a lair, a hideaway, or even a cave. No, I don't think so.  It will just be my spot.  Not a like a stain or a smudge, but my spot where all is well in the world.  Drop in sometime.  Just turn left past the living room.  I'll leave the light on!

Thanks Suzi!

Singing with the Strings

It took longer than I thought to complete The Sign of Jonas but I hit the finish line early this morning.  What a ride!  I would highly recommend the 1947 - 1952 journal of Fr. M. Louis Merton. 

We all know him best as Thomas Merton even though he was simply born as Tom to Owen and Ruth.  His religious name of Father M. Louis takes him back to 1250 and the only sainted King of France.  The M. puts him in alinement with every Trappist Monk (and a long line of religious vocations) who carry the same first name.  It is the eternal connection to Mary the mother of Jesus.  Father Mary Louis Merton,  Father Louie to his monastic friends, Thomas Merton to the publishing world.

The cross on his grave at the Abbey of Gethsemani simply says  Fr. Louis Merton  Died  Dec. 10, 1968. He rests at the foot of a large and beautiful cedar that stands below the ancient bell tower that calls the community to worship and prayer seven times each day.

Merton is well know as a contemporary mystic who focused on contemplative prayer.  His journal entries in The Sign of Jonas take him through his ordination as a priest, to his leadership as the Novice Master, and on to a wonderful reflection called Fire Watch, July 4, 1952.  Along the way, he speaks frequently about the nature of prayer.

On March 21, 1950 he shared an insight that continues to resonate in my mind.  Prayer comes in many forms.  Sometimes it is public, a part of the literary, or quiet, perhaps personal and private, maybe even formal and ritualized. But it is all flows from the heart of God through the activity of the Holy Spirit.

He says that the various types and styles of prayer represent the same Spirit of God playing different strings of the same instrument.  You are the instrument, the Holy Spirit is the musician, and the harmony of prayer that results is centered in God. 

Merton doesn't offer this invitation, but I will.  Make your music count!  Enter into the concert of human desire as often as possible.  The harmony of your heart will create the symphony of creation.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Sign of Jonas

Cover Sign of Jonas 1953

I just finished a pair of Beeson Center courses that were focused on the spiritual formation of Christian leaders.  One of the class groups was filled with North American pastors while the second had an enrollment of international Christian leaders from ten different countries. 

My effort was to filter their personal experience of Christian growth through the lens of folks like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, E. Stanley Jones, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Theresa, C.S. Lewis and the like.  I also confess that my personal experience seeps through from time to time like a dim light under a closed door.

Merton and the Trappist rule of life becomes the centerpiece of the conversation.  It happens that way because I get to decide who will achieve the priority position.  John Maxwell would say, "Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less."  Merton at the threshold is my way of influencing the conversation!  No secret there.

I am also getting ready for an upcoming group that I will be leading at the Benet Hill Monastery between Parker and Colorado Springs.   I will be doing "A Day With Merton" in January and a six week segment in their contemporary mystics series.

To get ready I am reading and rereading the key Merton biographies and some of his core work.  Right now, I am engaged with The Sign of Jonas.  It is his journal that starts with Advent 1946 and goes through January of 1952.

The copy I am reading is just as interesting as the actual text that I am engaging.  It is an original copy from 1953.  It is not a first edition but it must be very close to the earliest publication.  The inside cover shows a famous black and white photo of Merton walking through the woods at Gethsemani.  Just inside the first page is a library stamp from the Carmelite Monestery of Waverly, New York.  If you turn the next page it has a second library stamp from the Discalced Carmelite Fathers at 514 Warren Street in Brookline, Mass. 

I don't know if it started life  with the Carmelites in New York our with the Fathers in Massachusetts and I don't know where it will go from here.  But I do know where it calls home today.

On May 4, 1947 (six months and one day before I was born!) Merton wrote a prayer.  His journals are filled with reflections, insights, and the daily events of Trappist life within the cloister of Gethsemani Abbey.  But on this day, he wrote a prayer.

You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires.  My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction.  And I do not possess my house in silence.

But I was created for Your peace and You will not despise my longing for the holiness of Your deep silence.  O my Lord, You will not leave me forever in this sorrow, because I have trusted in You and I will wait upon Your good pleasure in peace without complaining any more.  This, for Your glory.

 Even though I was being knit together in my mother's womb...I pray that my soul will intersect with the spirit of this prayer.

Friday, October 5, 2012

First Snow!

Skiers will jump and shout.  Travelers will say 'Oh No!"  The Colorado Chamber of Commerce will offer a fist pump.  But the rest of us will just say, 'Yep, it is Colorful Colorado, and we love it!"

October 5 and we have our first hint of snow and cold.  Of course it will be 60 degrees tomorrow and 70 by the weekend!  So don't fret for us.  (That may be a good title for a country song!)

Actually, it really is a great joy to reaffirm that God has a plan for creation.  The sun rises, the moon glows, and the seasons change.  It is all within the rhythm of creation that demonstrates the harmony of the Lord of Life.  I am grateful!

Some of us have actually been talking about how we develop an attitude of gratitude.  It too is a gift from God.  Like all of creation, our attitude is a gift that we receive so it can be shared with others.  Don't you just love living in a spirit of gratitude!

I remember an old friend from days gone by.  Every time I would ask, "How are you today?"   his response was always the same signature (and painful) reply...."Terrible" he would say.  At first, I smiled.  Then I thought, 'wow, what a bummer!"   Then I just stopped asking because I already knew the response.  The result was not a model of Christian brotherhood.  In fact, I felt compelled to stay clear of his attitude even if he thought it was a cute and clever signature response.

The opposite that "terrible" was my uncle Jess.  In most circles he was better known as "never had a better day" Jessen.  How are you Jess, "never had a better day!"  Funny thing is, he really meant it!
What a gift to live in a spirit of gratitude. 

Today, I am grateful for snow and the hand of God that directs the flow of creation!