Archive | August, 2013

By The Sea – Follow The Voice

29 Aug

Thomas Merton was a man with a soaring mind and a deep spirit. Thought to be one of the premier spiritual masters of the 20th century, Merton lived first as a rich, spoiled kid wasting his inheritance and then, after his own awakening experience, as a vowed Trappist monk in a secluded hermitage. He was, by the accounts of his biographers, a man of extremes, but the consistent thread that ran though his life was his profound commitment to contemplation as a means of addressing social justice and human rights. It seems a paradox that contemplation might lead to social action, but the proof was in Merton’s powerful life.

He found his strength in a contemplative approach to life and faith. After intensive interviews with Merton, Michael Ford comments that contemplation for the monk was not a philosophy but a “response to a call, or, more precisely, the echo of a silent voice resonating in the inmost center of our spirit.” That’s the key. Merton didn’t create the contemplative encounter, he responded to something that was already and always present. He heard a voice and followed it.

Joseph Campbell, the well known philosopher and mythologist, used to say: Follow your bliss! That is, follow your heart’s urging, follow the deepest joy you experience, follow that which calls you from the deep center of yourself. Merton did just that; he followed the whisper that he heard in his quiet listening.

It’s dark outside right now and very quiet except for the sound of the Pacific Ocean embracing huge boulders on the beach about fifty yards away. The rhythmical rumbling of the surf repeats and repeats until it becomes the only sound definable in the black night. And in that crashing symphony, there comes a “silent voice resonating in the inmost center” of this moment. It calls and beckons. It invites and welcomes. It is both tender and terrifying. It is beyond reason and rational thought. No one creates it for it is creation itself. It speaks when we listen, and in the hearing of it, we are compelled to follow the voice.

Listen to the inmost center of your own spirit. Listen.

On The Mountain – “Where Are My Glasses?”

28 Aug

For the past few months I’ve been looking for a silver, single-strand, chain-linked bracelet for myself.  I figured my empty right wrist would welcome it.  But I’ve had little luck.  Most men’s bracelets I’ve seen are heavy and bulky, festooned with stones or Harley Davidson symbols, and cost far too much money.  I just want something simple and pleasing to the eye.

Well, two weeks ago, while walking along the sidewalk in Multnomah Village outside Portland, I paused for a moment at a vendor’s tent to explore the wares.  I was there, not to find a silver bracelet, but to be part of a wonderful Saturday morning parade celebrating the Village’s community life…floats, bands, marching units, the typical small town parade.  Displayed in the tent was a wide variety of silver products and so I asked the vendor about a man’s bracelet.  “No, I don’t think so,” he told me.  But as I turned to walk away, he called out “Wait a minute.  Would this work?” and held up a silver, single-strand, chain-linked bracelet.  It was love at first sight.

I’ve worn it every day and I’ve been very happy with the purchase.  But a couple of nights ago I decided to give my wrist a rest and took the bracelet off for the night.  It was a big mistake.  When I bought the bracelet, the vendor had put it around my wrist, carefully lining up the ends, holding the little silver ring on one end poised as he used his thumb and forefinger on the other hand to pull a little trigger that opened the clasp.  The two ends came together beautifully and the deal was done.

The next morning I tried to duplicate his procedure: lay bracelet on the bed, pull one end over my right wrist, hold it there with the fourth finger of my left hand, manipulate the clasp with my left thumb and forefinger, open the clasp, slide the connecting ring into the clasp…voila!  Try again.  And then try agin.  After what seemed like a hundred attempts I called my wife, Sue, and begged for help.

We put our two heads and twenty fingers together, but with no success.  My large, male fingers and her slender but arthritic fingers tried in vain for another half an hour.  Finally, we looked at each other and broke down in laughter…it was, in fact, pretty comical.  Especially when, part of the way through the ordeal, she said: “Where are my glasses?  I can’t even see this thing.”

 Maybe people with fat fingers married to people with arthritic fingers, hoping to make sense of the world through trifocals, shouldn’t even own bracelets.  But you have to laugh at yourself sometime, don’t you?

On The Mountain – “Traveling By Night”

27 Aug

You’ve heard the old saying: “They’re as different as night and day!”  And maybe you know people like that: he likes chocolate, she likes vanilla; he prefers politics to the left, she gravitates to the right; hard rock for him, classical for her.  Day and night.

I once asked Sue, with whom I have much in common, about her favorite time of the day.  She answered: “The morning, of course.  Everything is bright and new; energy is up.  The morning is my favorite time of the day.”  And then, not surprisingly, she redirected the question to me.  “I like the dusk of the day,” I told her.  “I like the long shadows and the slowing down.  It’s rather melancholy.  The early evening, that’s my time of day.”  “Sure,” she said, looking at me like I’d gone off the track.  (I state again: we have 52 years of things in common, so this is not the confession of a problem…just an observation about how two people can be different.}

I think of this now, as dusk approaches and the pine trees are casting very long shadows over the valley below our cabin.  And I think of it because of the word “night” that has just caused me to pause on an early page in a fine book by Michael Ford about four spiritual masters:  Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Anthony de Mello, and John O’Donohue.  Even taken out of context, the sentence stands on its own.  Ford writes: “The way of faith involves traveling by night.”

The spiritual masters, these four mentioned and others, have said in chorus that seekers encounter the Holy out of darkness of the soul, in dark places of life, in the night of our confusions, when all seems hopeless and lightless.  In the darkness, one meets the Other.

I have known this to be true intellectually for some time, but now I understand it a little better.  So many times in my own spiritual travels I have awakened during the early morning hours with a thought or an insight or a collection of words that demand to be written down for more exploration in the light of day.  Sermon ideas, possible solutions to problems, even new lyrics to a tune that had been running through my mind…in the night, there they are.  Maybe when dusk slips its arms around the day, I unconsciously relax my mind and become more receptive to the Mystery that has always been there but unable to break through my rigid agendas.  I just know that dusk does it for me.

Two early mornings ago…at 3:43 a.m. to be exact…I slipped out onto the front porch of the cabin into the brilliance of full moon light, into the deafening silence of the forest at night, into the wonder of a world of stunning beauty and majesty, and into the Presence of that which is always waiting in the darkness.  We had a good conversation.



On The Mountain – “Savoring”

27 Aug

I drove through the Sierra Nevada mountains the other day on the way to a holiday in northwest Oregon. Coming from the Sonoran Desert and flat Southern California, it didn’t take long for the stunning beauty of the mountains to soften the tensions of cross-country driving. Rugged cliffs, towering pines, flowery meadows…all of it swirled around me and held out arms of welcome. I savored it.

Savor. That’s an interesting word. Savor means to find delight in a particular taste or smell, or, possibly, delight in the luxurious sights of majestic landscape. I savored the miles and the moments.

Now, having arrived at the one-room cabin overlooking the Willamette Valley, I’m doing it all over again. Night is quietly settling over the valley below and the Coastal Range of mountains on the far horizon is beginning to fade into the soft haze. Large glass windows make up one wall of the cabin and through those windows I look out over a grassy, green lawn, then across the tops of grape vines planted in neat vineyard rows, then beyond the tops of tall pines, and finally into the hazy valley that is surrendering to the darkness. I’m savoring again.

I’m thinking, too, of a friend who would look at the same landscape and conclude that this same world is heading toward destruction, that ugliness reigns everywhere, and that all this, plus all that lives in it, must be saved for a better life in the future. And while I agree with part of the premise…there’s enough ugliness to go around…I am more and more persuaded that “savoring” is just as important as “saving.” Those of us who wear religious or spiritual labels understand the “saving” language in our traditions, but what we too often overlook is the pure joy, even the transformative joy, of savoring the unspeakable grandeur of creation’s gifts. I wonder if “savoring” might accomplish the same end as “saving” if we put our hearts and minds to it?

By the way, a synonym for “savor” is to relish, to smack one’s lips in pure delight.

Listen carefully. Did you hear that? It was me smacking my lips.