going deeper into transformative silence...

As a follow-up to yesterday's post about discerning, watching and waiting rather than rushing forward into action half-cocked:  Parker Palmer posted this poem by Gunilla Norris called "Inviting Silence." He notes that shared silence is a unique community event - a contemplative "action" - that invites hope and healing in a fractured time.

Within each of us there is a silence 
- a silence as vast as the universe.
We are afraid of it... and we long for it.

When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space... created
from silence.

In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species...
an endangered fundamental.

The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.

Sharing silence is, in fact, a political acdt.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.

Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves.  It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.

We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.

Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.

That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
"Remember to breathe, remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children's children.
Let us practice for life's sake."

Late in the evening yesterday, after worship and naps and supper, I received an email from a person who had been in worship. I had encouraged the gathered folk to try to find 30 minutes that day to DO nothing. The writer wrote: Well, you were right, I didn't make 30 minutes. I suspect that was true for most people, too. It is hard for me. It takes practice. And commitment. And there is precious little encouragement for quiet waiting in our culture.  Small surprise when someone reminded me that nine years ago my candidating message was entitled, "Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace" based upon Eugene Peterson's reworking of Matthew 11: 28-30.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

So much has changed over nine years - and yet so much remains the same. Most of the time these days when I encourage Sabbath rest and/or the exploration of contemplation I sense a quiet but brooding resentment: we've HEARD that before - been there/done that with you - can't we have something NEW?!? Truth is, no: not only do I only HAVE one real message in me - like most preachers, I only share the same sermon over and over in slightly new ways - but this is the key to our healing and renewal.  Rest. Trust. Be still and know that I am God - and you are not. Middle class folk resent and resist radical trust (ie faith) unless or until we have a life threatening illness, catastrophe or tragedy. And even then, some choose to become cynical while others embrace denial in its many modes and only a few elect to go beyond the obvious. Many are called, indeed, but few choose to journey down the narrow path of trust. 

I closed yesterday's reflection with a thought that is changing my understand of my call: while the
life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus have a unique role in history, what is of deeper value for us is their metaphorical wisdom. My suggestion was that one of the truths the four gospels share with us has something to do with James Fowler's "stages of faith." Now some have suggested that Fowler is too mechanical in his developmental outline. This may be true, but he also offers us a spirituality based upon the work of Erik Erikson that is as useful as either the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram.  So my take away goes something like this:

+ Like Jesus we all come into the life of faith as children: we are born and need nurture, love, guidance as well as the cultivation of our innocence and awe. This is the age of trust and mistrust. During this stage we will learn about autonomy and shame, guilt and doubt as well as the importance of initiative and hard work. Faith is simple and tender, a reality Fowler calls intuitive as it is based on a child's contextual experience.  As our childish faith ripens, it takes on a literalism that believes every word of Scripture is true. This is the mythic stage of faith.

+ In time, with compassion and healthy boundaries, we become an adolescent like Jesus: there is a gospel story of Jesus remaining back in Jerusalem after Passover teaching the elders. When Joseph and Mary return for him in a panic, like all teens he gets cocky and tells them to back off.  This is our stage of separation from childhood authority, where one part independence and two parts peer pressure launches a search for deeper truth. Faith here involves questions, rejection as well as yearning. Fowler speaks of this as a "synthesizing" stage where we draw from both questions and the wisdom of others as we experiment with making faith real and our own.

+ As young adults, faith is like that of the silent years in the story of Jesus: clearly he played with his tradition, took it seriously and even likely shared an apprenticeship with a wise elder in the form of the John the Baptist archetype. There is testing and evaluation taking place at this stage of faith, there is also the hard reality of developing a vocation, a public life and perhaps a family. The goal here, in the words of Thomas More, is to create a religion of our own. That is, to come to a personal sense of peace with a faith tradition and to explore in ways that bring us satisfaction. For a variety of reasons,some get stuck and remain as adolescents who are always questioning or rebelling. Whether grounded or unsettled, this stage of faith is all about personal meaning where some go deeper and others chuck it all away.

+ At some point, and in the story line of Jesus this involves the pinnacle of his public ministry, we not only face profound challenges but come to realize that life is not all about ourselves: more often than not this is midlife and we start  to question again all of the old rules, rites, rituals and behaviors in our quest for meaning and zest. Sometimes this is destructive, sometimes it is unsettling, but the quest is real. Some deny their inner longing and do not come to any deep sense of peace: in the Jungian world these folk become cynics or old fools. A few stay with the pilgrimage and re-enter faith with humility after having made peace with the fact that there are truths greater than our ability to comprehend. In this, I see both the journey of Lent as well as the Passion Narrative writ large.

+ And then there are those who embrace and encounter the resurrection and ascension and those who oppose it: some are illuminated and at rest and some are bitter and oppositional until they die. Only those willing to spend time in silence and uncertainty reach Fowler's sixth stage of "universalized" faith. Some are too easily bored or distracted to do this work. Others are too afraid or wounded. But a few, even through their brokenness, keep at it. In today's reflection, Fr. Richard Rohr puts it like this:

I often use this line, a paraphrase of Albert Einstein: "No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it." Unfortunately, we have been trying to solve almost all our problems with the very same mind that caused them, which is the calculating or dualistic mind. This egocentric mind usually reads everything in terms of short-term effect, in terms of what's in it for me and how I can look good. As long as you read reality from that small self, you're not going to see things in any new way. All the great religions taught a different way of seeing, a different perspective. This alternative vantage point is the contemplative or non-dual mind. It is what we usually mean by wisdom.

The word contemplation has ancient roots, but for a long time it was not taught much in the Western church. Contemplation was finally rediscovered again through Thomas Merton's writings in the 1950s and 60s. What is contemplation? Simply put, contemplation is entering a deeper silence and letting go of our habitual thoughts, sensations, and feelings. You may know contemplation by another name. Many religions use the word meditation. Christians often use the word prayer. But for many in the West, prayer has come to mean something functional, something you do to achieve a desired effect, which puts you back in charge. Prayers of petition aren't all bad, but they don't really lead to a new state of being or consciousness. The same old consciousness is self-centered: How can I get God to do what I want God to do? This kind of prayer allows you to remain an untransformed, egocentric person who is just trying to manipulate God.

As Rohr concludes, unless there is an inner change born of an altered consciousness, we are
just fooling ourselves. At the same time, that altered consciousness calls us into
engagement with acts of compassion that simultaneously educate us even as our hearts are broken.

That's one reason why religion is in such desperate straits today: it isn't really transforming people. It's merely giving people some pious and religious ways to again be in charge and in control. It's still the same small self or what Merton called the false self. Mature, authentic spirituality calls us into experiences and teachings that open us to an actual transformation of consciousness (Romans 12:2). I think some form of contemplative practice is necessary to be able to detach from your own agenda, your own anger, your own ego, and your own fear. We need some practice that touches our unconscious conditioning where all our wounds and defense mechanisms lie. That's the only way we can be changed at any significant or lasting level.

For a full lifestyle change, I believe we need both action and contemplation. The state of the communal soul is the state of the social order. As Jack Jezreel, founder of JustFaith puts it, "The world cannot be changed by love to become just unless we are changed by love to become whole, but we cannot be made whole without engaging in the work of making the world whole. Personal transformation and social transformation are one piece." 


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