Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Tenderness and shutting down the chatter within...

Well, the jury may not yet be in on my exploration of simply "preaching from the heart"on Sundays, but I liked it. Worship felt more honest to me - less contrived - less like a command or paid performance and more like a conversation in faith. For the next two months I'm going to do my best to nourish this experiment - and then see where Advent might lead us.

This week I'm using two of the lectionary texts - Isaiah 53: 1-12 and Mark 10: 35-45 - as part of my emerging spirituality of tenderness series. Both texts make it clear that we must practice resting and trusting in the Lord by faith. It really does not come to most of us automatically. It certainly doesn't to me. Left on my own, I can't tell you how many times before my morning tea and prayers I find myself fretting about the chatter in my head. 

What deadens us most to God's presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort... than being able from time to time to stop that chatter. Frederick Buechner

Stopping the chatter with tenderness is an essential ingredient in becoming people who live, share and embody tenderness towards others. But damn if it doesn't take a lot of practice at first. Maybe always. Thomas Merton cut to the chase when we wrote:

If we strive to be happy by filling the silence of life with sound, productive by turning all life's leisure into work, and real by turning all our being into doing, we will only succeed in producing a hell on earth. If we have no silence, God is not heard in our music. If we have no rest, God does not bless our work. If we twist our lives out of shape in order to fill every corner of them with action and experience, God will seem silently to withdraw from our hearts and leave us empty.

Small wonder Jesus continues to tell us that there are so few workers willing to practice inner tenderness by shutting off the chatter. He urges it and models it, he lays down his life as evidence that real inner peace can transform personal pain into redemptive compassion. But mostly, and I include myself in this, we don't really trust him enough to put it into practice. We are as Richard Rohr says essentially functional atheists who don't trust resting in the Lord. The way we live our lives show that we believe it is necessary for us to solve everything by ourselves. 

On what was almost our last night in Montreal, we went to Taize worship at the monastery on Boulevard Mont Royal. It took a bit of wandering through the massive structure to find the small worship space - in the catacombs - but the quest was well worth it. In addition to the beauty of the simple music and the careful attention to the worship aesthetics, I was moved to tears by the fact that the whole liturgy took place on the floor. I know I've noted this before, but the geography of this worship communicated some important truths to me that went far deeper than some of the French words I couldn't comprehend. Yes, there were provisions for those whose bodies did not allow sitting on the floor. That is what compassionate people do, yes? 

But for those who could, everything - music, prayer, conversation and silence - happened in humility. There was no hierarchy. No division between insiders and outsiders. No unnecessary divisions. Just an encounter with being an equal - we're all in this together - we're all servants to one another as the gospel lesson for this Sunday instructs: "when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."

I've been sick with the stomach flu since after worship on Sunday so I've had a lot of time to think and pray about this. I'm eager to see where it all leads us in worship this week.

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