a spirituality of tenderness - part 8

NOTE: as this series matures, please know that it is a work in progress, ok? Like me - andprobably you - not all the connections have been finalized nor all the nuances teased into the light.

One of my seminary thesis advisers, the late Dorothee Soelle, told me, "Stating your thesis and offering a critique is always easier than articulating your creative synthesis." Truer words have never been spoken to an overly eager student by a mystical Christian Marxist.  And yet experimenting with a synthesis is essential to an embodied spirituality and ministry even if  it always fraught with challenge.  Perhaps that is why the methodology of liberation theology continues to ring true for those committed to orthopraxis.

+  First, as people who trust God, we choose to live and love one another in the real world, looking to our experience as part of the revelation of God within and among us. Our starting point in faith is reality as we know it rather than intellectual constructs.

+ Second, as we act and respond to oppression and joy in our lives, we periodically gather together in community for prayer, analysis, accountability and critique so that we might simultaneously strengthen our resolve and increase our ability to be in the world as agents of compassion and solidarity.

This quest for authenticity, hope and liberation – action – is always connected to our times of prayer, conversation and analysis – reflection – so that our engagement in the world makes use of our mistakes, our insights and the wisdom of the wider human community and our spiritual tradition.  Liberation theologians put it like this: we are called by God to think critically and hopefully about the human condition and our role in a shared liberation so that we might act boldly on behalf of compassion and justice. The rhythm of our lives, therefore, is shaped by action and reflection. Fr. Richard Rohr, of the Center for Action and Contemplation, writes: “Lifestyle and practice are much more important than mere verbal orthodoxy. (Prius vita quam doctrina, "life is more important than doctrine," says Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, "De Anima", II, 37.)(Center for Action and Contemplation Living School)

Orthopraxy is usually distinguished from orthodoxy. Orthodoxy refers to doctrinal correctness, whereas orthopraxy refers to right practice. What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them (not think about them, but do them), end up changing your consciousness. This was summed up in the Eighth Core Principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation: We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. (Daily Meditations)

With that let me offer a few insights about the first the polarity in a spirituality of tenderness - birth and death – that serves a resource and reference for our maturation in faith. St. Bob Dylan once sang in “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding,” that:

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn, suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

My hunch is that this is both true AND mistaken:  every moment invites us to live fully into its richness.  If we are asleep or shut down – by denial, drugs, deception or death – we are unable to be a part of creation’s call to birth.  We miss the nuance in a loved one’s words or face. We remain self-absorbed and distracted. We overlook the suffering all around us on the street as we hurry to get someplace more important. In this it is true that “he or she not busy being born is busy dying.” And such denial or deception is a premature death, yes? It robs us of the countless moments when we might share tenderness with another and ebb the flow of their pain. One of my spiritual guides, musician Carrie Newcomer, puts it like this on her “Speed of Soul Reflection.”

I believe that one of the finest gifts we give one another is our unhurried presence. When I take time to really hear, to not be thinking about my next appointment or checking my email on the sly, that is when I bring my best self to the conversation. That is when I am most fully alive. When it comes to being in this world and interacting with our fellow human beings, there is nowhere I need to be other than here. There is no better place to be than now.

Why We Are Here
She stood looking out the doorway
Poised to step out into whatever comes next. 
Although I knew that I could not go with her 
I could keep her company while waiting,
Bear witness to the preparing,
And maybe rub her tired shoulders
Which I know is absolutely nothing
And absolutely everything,
Maybe that is why we are here: 
To rub shoulders and play cards,
To be a place to launch
And a place to land,
To murmur on the phone Late at night,
And to say,
"This I love”
"This I saw."

To ask myself, “Where am I courting dying rather than birthing” in my words, actions or thoughts awakens me to the possibilities of being fully alive in the only moment that is truly my own: now. But I need help. I can’t stay awake all by myself. I am too lazy and often too busy or confused, so I need support. Three practical resources that keep waking me up throughout the day have become trusted allies in birthing:

+ Using the phone as a call to prayer: the wise Buddhist teacher, Tich Nhat Han, suggests that we find resources that naturally show up in the course of a normal day; name them and claim them as prayer partners and you will increase the presence of birthing in your life. So, whenever the phone rings – mine, an other’s, one across the street or on the Metro – it is a sacred invitation to return to the moment and be fully present as best as I am able. There are many other natural allies, to be sure, but the phone has become a prayer bell calling me to life.

Praying a blessing while whenever I use water: our spiritual forbearers in Judaism have used “blessing prayers” for thousands of years.  Berakhah benedictions are a way to take every day events and call down into consciousness their spiritual energies and blessings.  Such a prayer begins with “berukh atah Adonai… blessed are you, Lord our God” for… the sun, for this bread, for the morning, etc. Fr. Ed Hays wrote a practical and beautiful collection of berakhah blessings called Prayers for the Domestic Church in which he shows us how to using blessings to become awakened to the holy in such human events as engagements, evening meals, births, deaths, marriages and everything in-between. 

Two years ago during Lent, using the Christian Testament story of the baptism of Jesus as my foundation, I invited the congregation to use the water of their everyday lives to return thanks to the Lord.  “When you wash your hands, take a shower, turn on the dishwasher or flush the toilet – whenever you hear the sound of the Housatonic River flowing on a walk – take that as a sacred call to prayer. And pray the words of Scripture saying, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, who has created me as your Beloved.” Today as I shaved and then showered, I am still praying this affirmation as  water becomes my ally in birthing.

The Jesus Prayer and my breath:  it is easy for me to be anxious – especially around health care matters or during church meetings about the budget. Perhaps like me you read Franny and Zooey in high school? Do you remember the Jesus Prayer that became the novel’s mantra?  It hails from the Eastern Orthodox side of the Christian family and has a variety of forms, but the core is:  Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me. I have found thatnot only can I be set free from my anxiety praying this prayer in the doctor’s offices or church council meetings, but that I can be awakened to the possibilities of birthing in those seetings, too. 

I have to use my breath, however, as an ally.  Breathing in, “Lord Jesus Christ,” and breathing out, “have mercy on me” let's me use what is necessary to find my non-anxious center. There are other breathing prayers, of course, but this has become my favorite.  And mercy is so much better than anxiety. Like one of the singers in The Wailin’ Jennys said in concert: “I am a worrier and fretter, but worrying is like praying for things you don’t want to happen!” So much better to let my breath help me open myself to God’s mercy.

So, that’s the birthing part of this polarity – and I’ve written nothing yet about the blessings of dying – so that will be for next time.


ddl said…
"To ask myself, “Where am I courting dying rather than birthing” in my words, actions or thoughts awakens me to the possibilities of being fully alive in the only moment that is truly my own: now. But I need help. I can’t stay awake all by myself."

I like this a lot. Very worth contemplating. May I quote this? I might use it during Advent. For right now, I need to journal it.

Thank you for this posting. I hope that your sabbatical has been all that you envisioned...and then some. Blessings.
RJ said…
You bet - and glad it makes some sense. Life is good but we don't want this time in Montreal to end. That's part of the "dying" part that is hard but holy... and the next part I will be writing about. But for now I am grateful that this post was good. Be well, my friend.

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