Trying to think about life and how God makes it full

Merton on the difference between Contemplation and Individualism

“Contemplation is a gift of God, given in and through His Church, and through the prayer of the Church. St. Anthony was led into the desert not by a private voice but by the word of God, proclaimed in the Church of his Egyptian village in the chanting of the Gospel in Coptic—a classical example of liturgy opening the way to a life of contemplation! But the liturgy cannot fulfill this function if we misunderstand or underestimate the essentially spiritual value of Christian public prayer. If we cling to immature and limited notions of “privacy,” we will never be able to free ourselves from the bonds of individualism. We will never realize how the Church delivers us from ourselves by public worship, the very public character of which tends to hide us “in the secret of God’s face.”

Seasons of Celebration [SC]. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: 26-27


March 28, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, merton, religion, wisdom | Leave a comment

Retreat on the East Coast

101_59691.JPGFor the past 3 days I’ve been staying at Tollesbury, doing the spiritual input for the combined Retreat of 3 Christian Outdoor Centres: Fellowship Afloat Charitable Trust (FACT), Christian Youth Enterprises (CYE), and St. George’s House (SGH). The 3 Centres try to get together twice per year for mutual learning, encouragement, and relationship building. There are real synergies that develop where groups doing similar things in different contexts get together in intentional ways. They’re all such good people too, friendly, open to new learning, passionate about the outdoors and the Creator of the natural playgrounds that are also their places of work.

Naturally, there was also sailing to be done (my foot handled that very well, I’m pleased to say), along with 5-a-side football competition (won by FACT), quiz, and the usual FACT abundance of good food. The weather


was fabulous, and the photos are taken on Thursday morning as I sat on the deck of one of the accommodation boats enjoying coffee and sunshine while the tide came in – bliss!

Below, I’ve put the note I did for the 3 sessions I ran:

  1. Contemplative worship, centred around Ps 40:1-3, and helped with Johnny Cash and U2.
  2. Group Discussion questions prior to the input session.
  3. Input session on Liminality and Communitas, based on Luke 8:22-25.

Continue reading

March 9, 2007 Posted by | communitas, contemplative, culture, Environment, god, jesus, liminality, mission, religion, wisdom | Leave a comment

Merton, asceticism, and how it can integrate with Lent

Christian asceticism is remarkable above all for its balance, its sense of proportion. It does not overstress the negative side of the ascetic life, nor does it tend to flatter the ego by diminishing responsibilities or watering down the truth. It shows us clearly that, while we can do nothing without grace, we must nevertheless cooperate with grace. It warns us that we must make an uncompromising break with the world and all it stands for, but it keeps encouraging us to understand that our existence in “the world” and in time becomes fruitful and meaningful in proportion as we are able to assume spiritual and Christian responsibility for our life, our work, and even for the world we live in. Thus Christian asceticism does not provide a flight from the world, a refuge from stress and the distractions of manifold wickedness. It enables us to enter into the confusion of the world bearing something of the light of Truth in our hearts, and capable of exercising something of the mysterious, transforming power of the Cross, of love and sacrifice.

Seasons of Celebration [SC]. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: 131-132

March 5, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, god, jesus, merton, religion, wisdom | 2 Comments

Meditation on Temptation

The temptations of Jesus I’ve looked at on this Retreat were at the beginning of his ministry, and at the end of his life. Temptation is there in the midst of life, ministry, and even in death. There is no ‘fair play’, there is no neutral ground. There is only God’s will, or, other than God’s will.

But there is also grace, forgiveness, fully human life, and life after death. Thanks be to God, through our Saviour, Jesus Christ!

Brother Ramon says, “…if Jesus is brought nearly to death in the Garden of Gethsemane, and is actually brought to death on the Cross of Calvary, then there is no need for me to be ultimately afraid – as if this world were ever threatening and meaningless. If the gospels tell the true story, and if the Saviour entered into the darkest depths of Gethsemane and Calvary for me, then he gives the lie to all the bleakest and darkest experiences of humankind as the ultimate end.”

Temptation, failure, and death are not the end.

Jesus endured all of life and death, and came out the other side as a resurrected Saviour promising the same resurrection to us, and giving weight to the promise by showing it in himself. Amazing!

I’m so aware of how easy it is to write these words in the comfort and beauty of this place. I’m not one who endured the Holocaust, or the Twin Towers, or the Viet Cong, or the mind-numbing pain of grinding poverty every day with no hope of escape.

But if the gospel is true for me in this place, it must also be true for everyone in every circumstance. I have not had to die a hideous death. But Jesus has, and so brings the hope of the resurrection to all those who do die hideous deaths. And he is able to bring this hope because he didn’t succumb to temptation. He submitted himself to God’s will in those instances of time, and in doing so brought hope to all of humanity for the rest of time. Hallelujah! What a wonderful God….

Brother Ramon prays:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me,
Body of Christ, save me,
Blood of Christ, inebriate me,
Water from the side of Christ, wash me,
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me,
Within thy wounds, hide me,
Suffer me not to be separated from thee,
From the malicious enemy defend me,
In the hour of my death, call me,
And bid me to come to thee
That with thy saints I may praise thee
For ever and ever. Amen.

March 1, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, religion, Temptation, wisdom | Leave a comment

Temptation in The Garden, Part 2: Luke 22:40-46

The passage begins and ends with, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation”. So, being in prayer is another clue, weapon, defence, against falling into temptation.

Jesus spends his last night in prayer. He must be as susceptible to temptation as anyone else. Why else would he be tempted by the devil at the beginning of his ministry? And here he is at the end of his ministry talking about temptation.

Lord, help me submit my will to yours, as Jesus did in the face of temptation.

So, it seems that prayer, purpose, scripture, and submission to God are essential in overcoming temptation.

I thank you Lord that you’re teaching me about these things in life, and teaching me through these things within daily life. I still feel weak in the face of many temptations, but nevertheless, you’ve kept me Lord, on fairly solid ground. Help me to intuitively know the difference between the voice of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the devil, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

February 28, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, religion, Temptation, wisdom | Leave a comment

Temptation in The Garden, Part 1: Mark 14:32-42

Temptation was at hand, even in the last hours of Jesus’ life. He didn’t want to go through with the Cross, but he submitted himself to God’s will. Then poor old Peter got it in the neck on behalf of the others, when Jesus found them asleep. He told them to keep awake and pray so that they don’t fall into temptation.

There’s something about being alert to temptation, and being alert and alive to God’s will, even in the face of death. I wonder if I would’ve done any better than Peter, James, and John if I had been there in the Garden with Jesus. They would’ve had a few glasses of red wine at the meal beforehand and were probably feeling the effects of it late at night. I bet they started off in an attitude of prayer, fully intending to pray in solidarity with Jesus – especially when they could see he was so distressed.

Someone else’s pain is never as close as your own. Therefore, its natural that we don’t respond to someone else’s pain in the same way as we respond to our own.

But that’s where God is different to us. He responds to the pain of the world in such a way as to make the world’s pain his own – he feels and suffers along with the world.

Jesus feels the stress of my pain. He is greatly distressed in the Garden, exceedingly sorrowful at the thought of taking upon himself the sin of the world with all its madness and corruption, and because of it, himself becoming separated from his heavenly Father.

Consequently, he has the very human response of wanting God to take it all away from him. And he also has the deeply spiritual response of submitting his will to God’s, and actually going through with it.

Jesus had a big enough sense of purpose to carry him through the temptation, submit himself to God, and complete the task.

February 27, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, religion, Temptation, wisdom | 2 Comments

The Children’s Voice: Address to the Plenary Session, Earth Summit, Rio Centro, Brazil 1992

I remember reading this back when it first came out. I was living in New Zealand at the time. It’s a fantastic speech from a passionate girl (as she was then); she continues to be passionate and outspoken about environmental issues, as Wikipedia shows. This was the speech that moved me to become interested in the way we live, globally. When you read this, try reading it as a prayer – God knows, the world needs actions to come from words such as these. HT to Earth Mama for the post.

Hello, I’m Severn Suzuki speaking for E.C.O., the Environmental Children’s Organisatin. We are a group of twelve and thirteen year olds from Canada trying to make a difference: Vanessa Suttie, Morgan Geisler and me. We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways. Coming here today, I have no hidden agandas, I am fighting for my future.

Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak for countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard.

I am afraid to go out in the sun because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don’t know what chemicals are in it.

I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my Dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. And now we hear about animals and plants going extinct everyday – vanishing forever.

In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will ever exist for my children to see.

Did you have to worry about these little things when you were my age?

All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions.

I’m only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realise, neither do you!

You don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer.
You don’t know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream.
You don’t know how to bring an animal now extinct.
And you can’t bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert.
If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it.

Here, you may be delegates of your government, business people, organisers, reporters or politicians – but really you are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles – and all of you are somebody’s child.

I’m only a child, yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong; in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil – borders and governements will never change that.

I’m only a child, yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards saving our planet. In my anger, I am not blind, and in my fear, I am not afraid to tell the world how I feel.

In my country, we make so much waste; we buy and throw away, buy and throw away, and yet northern countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to lose some of our wealth, afraid to share.

In Canada, we live the priveleged life, with plenty of food, water and shelter – we have watches, bicycles, computers and television sets.

Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent some time with children living on the streets.

And this is what one child told us: “I wish I was rich and if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medicine, shelter, love and affection.”

If a child on the street who has nothing is willing to share, why are we who have everything still so greedy?

I can’t stop thinking that these children are my age; that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born; that I could be one of those children living in the favellas of Rio; I could be a child starving in Somalia, a victim of war in the Middle East or a beggar in India.

I’m only a child, yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environemental answers, what a wonderful place the earth would be!

At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us how to behave in the world. You teach us:

not to fight with others;
to work things out;
to respect others;
to clean up our mess;
not to hurt other creatures;
to share – not be greedy.

Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?

Do not forget- why you’re attending these conferences, who you’re doing this for – we are your own children.

You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in. Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying “Everything’s going to be all right.We’re doing the best we can. It’s not the end of the world.”

But I don’t think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities? My father always says “You are what you do, not what you say.”

Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us. I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words.

February 26, 2007 Posted by | culture, Environment, wisdom | 1 Comment

Ash Wednesday


For quite some years now, I’ve dipped into the Sacred Space website to help me pray. I don’t use it all the time, in fact, I don’t think I’ve used it at all for the past year. But today, being Ash Wednesday, I did use it again. I find it can be a really good way to stop and be still in front of my computer, and notice God again in my place of work. Below is printed the thought they suggest we think about for the day, and chew on for the rest of the week.

We are at the start of Lent, the time of the year when the church invites us to test our freedom, and to question the notion: I can take it or leave it alone. Try that with grumbling, drunkenness, talking about yourself, stealing, gambling, or other habits that diminish our freedom. What habits make you hard to live with? Lent is about regaining control of our own lives, especially in those areas that damage other people. We don’t admire those whose appetites or habits lead them by the nose. Nearly all of us have habits, or even addictions, that keep us from God, and harm both ourselves and others. These seven weeks before Easter help us to focus our energy on improving.

February 21, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, religion, wisdom | Leave a comment

Merton and the Interconnectedness of humanity

I think this thought from Thomas Merton is counter-culturally radical in the context of our isolationism and fractured relationships with each other and our neighbourhoods. But it also rings true when you consider how connected the world is through globalisation. To understand what he’s trying to say (I think) requires a degree of humility and the ability to be self-critical – and then, for it to be really meaningful, means acting upon it.

Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and “one body,” will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labors is not my own: for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement. Therefore the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time. It is seen, above all, in my integration in the mystery of Christ.

From: No Man Is An Island. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 16

February 19, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, merton, religion, wisdom | 7 Comments

The Valley, Part 2: Mark 9:14-29

And even writing these words, I’m aware that in the midst of Retreat there are mountaintop and valley experiences to be lived.

I find a sheer joy simply in ‘being’ here; away on Retreat in a beautiful setting. I simply want to enjoy being here. To look at the sea, listen to music, drink coffee, and eat my special chocolate biscuits. I’m away, I don’t have to work, and it’s good for my soul.

But I’m also aware of the discipline of Retreat, and the active ‘mindfulness’ of applying myself to the scriptures, to the opening of myself to God, to ‘working out my salvation’ as I speak with, and listen to, God – as well as being honest with myself. And in this passage, Jesus seems interested in faith and prayer.

Are they, faith and prayer, the dynamic equivalents of the mountain and the valley? Prayer on the mountain, and faith in the valley?

It’s interesting to me that I think I notice my writing becoming a little distant from me. By that I mean, I think I’m writing for someone else to read. I wonder if it’s noticeable. I do recall my earlier Journal notes had more of my pain expressed in them, which reflected the times I was living through then. Those times are different now, and not as painful. But I don’t want to end up writing in the third person and so lose the expression of my own heart. But perhaps this simply reflects that part of the valley through which I’m walking now.

I do want to be a man of prayer; I really do want to know God; and I do want to be able to deal with the mess and the pain and rawness of human life in ways that bring healing, and hope, and salvation. Lord, hear my prayer….

February 8, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, god, jesus, religion, wisdom | Leave a comment