Diversity is necessary

I have just come to the end of a two year spirituality course. Centering prayer is the method of prayer most strongly endorsed by the leaders of the course. My own formation has been in Ignatian spirituality – a very different lineage and method.

The immersion in the course taught me that both these systems are good. Both lead to encounter with God, both lead to deep inner transformation.

In a sense this is a pluralist view – there are many paths and all paths may be good.

But in recent weeks this has shifted to a more unitive position. For us as humanity to get a full sense of God the different paths are not simply good, they are necessary. I, as an individual, cannot walk all the paths. I will always favour one method over another, but for the glory of God to be revealed we need people to walk different paths. Between us we have the revelation of God.

For the whole to be revealed, I must be true to my path, you must be true to your path, and we must learn to have a conversation.

Diversity is necessary and we need to learn how to engage with deep curiosity about the gift the other has been given through following their path.

The symphony requires each instrument to be true to their part.

Facing the past

The idea of exploring our past to come to some kind of inner healing is not that old. Depending where you are in the world, it is probably only those who are just now becoming grandparents who really began to explore in a systematic or therapeutic setting how the past has shaped them.

That process tends to follow a similar pattern to grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

We seem to be at a new phase now where we are having to face into the way the past has shaped us collectively. We seem to be caught in a perpetual loop of denial and anger. For some the pain is too evident to deny and the anger drips from every word. For others, the individual response – ‘I wasn’t there’, ‘It wasn’t my action; my choice’ predominates.

The question I have is how do we learn to move through all of this as a society together? Each country, each community has its own pain. This is work for humanity. This seems to me to be the work of the 21st century. Who will be our leaders?

Low expectations

Over the last year there have been three instances where I have been blessed with low expectations. I know that we are accustomed to thinking of that in a negative sense. But what I am trying to convey is that I have been willing to simply show up and let the experience and interactions unfold as they may.

The three instances I call to mind are all significant. Not one is trivial in any sense. All were potentially fairly high stakes. And yet, I was able to simply show up and let it unfold.

There is tremendous freedom in low expectations. I guess as I reflect on the essence of the attitude, I realise that it is that I don’t need anything in particular from the encounter. I am willing to receive whatever comes my way.

Such an attitude is a grace – I cannot will myself to desire anything other than that which I desire.To be open to receive whatever comes in the absence of specific desire is a real gift. I can be present to what unfolds as it is, without it needing to be other. As a result I am able to notice the gifts of what is, without regretting that which I hoped for.

I hope the grace of low expectations will take root in my life.

Honesty

David Whyte is a writer of poetry and prose. He writes on things which deeply move the human spirit. In his book ‘Consolations’ he writes about honesty.

‘Honesty is reached through the doorway of grief and loss… The ability to speak the truth is as much the ability to describe what it is like to stand in trepidation at this door, as it is to actually go through it and become that beautifully honest spiritual warrior, equal to all circumstances, we would like to become. Honesty is not the revealing of some foundational truth that gives us power over life or another or even the self, but a robust incarnation into the unknown unfolding vulnerability of existence, where we acknowledge how powerless we feel, how little we actually know, how afraid we are of not knowing and how astonished we are by the generous measure of loss that is conferred upon even the most average life.’

a robust incarnation into the unknown unfolding vulnerability of existence

This certainly rings true for me. It seems to me that there are two different levels at which we can engage with honesty. The simpler level at which we can choose to reveal what we know to be true or we can conceal it or actively deceive. This is not complex.

But it is clear, to me at least, that there is also a subtler level. And here there is a spectrum. The degree to which I am able to be honest is the degree to which I am willing to enter my own wounded spaces, my own vulnerability. It speaks directly against any kind of ‘brutal honesty’. Whyte goes on to write:

‘Honesty is not found in revealing the truth, but in understanding how deeply afraid of it we are. To become honest is in effect to become fully and robustly incarnated into powerlessness.’

I pray for the grace of courage, I desire to be ever more honest. This quality of honesty cannot help but be clothed in compassion.

Asking questions

I’m not quite sure why I find asking questions difficult. I have a theory, but mostly it is a story I have told myself to make sense of some of my quirks.

In the last year I have begun to ask questions. The last month or so has taught me that my default of trying to operate out of my assumptions is just a recipe for distress.

I am beginning to recognise that actually whatever I may have to say will be far better received if I begin by inquiring about the current paradigm.

Before I offer my solution, to say: I think we have a problem, what do you see?

Before I offer my insightful advice, to ask: where do you think you are?

It is ridiculously simple, but sometimes subconscious messaging can mean we overlook the glaringly obvious.

 

Blind spots

I have come to see, quite recently, that I have a few blind spots. Areas in which I cannot trust my own discernment because my unconscious desire to avoid certain things is still far too powerful. The scale of my judgement is weighted and I am unaware of it.

At least now I’m not entirely unaware of the weighting, but I still have no sense of how the scale is skewed, so I cannot trust my own discernment in these circumstances. If I make a choice without consultation I am most likely to make a poor decision.

It is truly humbling.

But what strikes me here, is not so much that I have blind spots – I’ve been coming to terms with that for a while now. It seems to me that I’m always going to have these blind spots. These areas where I know I cannot trust my own discernment. And what I most need in this space is the small circle of people I trust to speak the truth.

This is why community is so important. I need people in my life who I can go to and say help me to see.

Let me be clear – the insight here is not ‘I need to work on my blind spots and my discernment.’ No! The insight is that I need to cultivate and foster the relationships which will help me navigate the spaces where I am blind or partially sighted.

Self-acceptance

When I signed up to the Living School run through the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque I did so because I knew the work of Richard Rohr, and I had just discovered Cynthia Bourgeault. I knew nothing at all of James Finley.

When I first encountered Uncle Finley’s teaching it took me a while to recognise that I needed to treat it a bit like music – just let wash over me and trust that what I needed to remember would stick.

Nearly two years on, I can safely say, that James Finley’s teaching was the reason I needed to be part of the Living School. His words have washed over me again and again and again. And in the repetition I have found deep healing.

Several days ago I found another of his videos – in this one he is talking about the writing of Thomas Merton (You can find it below). Near the end of the formal talk before the question and answer session he quotes Merton:

I’m coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to become what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself. And if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself. For it is the unaccepted self that stands in my way and it will continue to do so as long as it is not accepted. When it has been accepted it is my own stepping stone to what is above me, because this is the way man has been made by God. Original sin was the effort to surpass oneself by being like God, that is unlike oneself. But our Godliness begins at home. We must first become like ourselves and stop living beside ourselves.’

I think I’ll be chewing on this for a while yet!

Contemplating presence

I’ve just come back from a pilgrimage in the Holy Land. We spent some time in Jerusalem, but it was at the Sea of Galilee that I had a greater sense of presence.

Ignatius of Loyola wanted to go to the Holy Land to touch the physical places that Jesus had touched. The image I have in my head is of Ignatius at the site of the Ascension (or at least that which is claimed to be such…) touching the rock. I was more aware of Ignatius in Jerusalem than Jesus.

In Jerusalem I had very little sense of walking where Jesus walked. Even the mass inside the tomb in the Holy Sepulchre – touching the rock on which he was supposed to be laid was somehow silent.

But as I sat with my feet in the water of the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help but think about the water molecules. It is possible that water molecules that were in this body of water 2000 years ago are still present today.

As I looked across the lake to hills of the Golan Heights, that view would have been much the same. My feet in the water, which itself is the same and not the same as it was then.

It was in the water molecules that presence came. And with presence, for a moment, peace.

Community

In my last post I offered the first half of a beatitude – Blessed are the truth tellers…

I had no end to that beatitude until I received an email from a friend who had also been on the pilgrimage.

Blessed are the truth tellers, for they will have the truth told to them.

It is a beatitude I will return to over and over again.

What is striking though is that it needed the participation of both of us to create it.

In a sense this beatitude is the symbol of my own journey of the last couple of years. I lead quite a solitary life, but in recent times I have become aware of the terrible lie we have been sold in individualism. We need community; real community.

It is humbling, and perhaps a little humiliating on occasion, to realise just how much I need others.

This beatitude is symbol to me of the humbling end of the spectrum. And it is to this that I cling in hope when I am confronted by those encounters which are more humiliating.