Pain, Presence, and Practice

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Today, images of some of my paintings co-mingle
 with thoughts on practicing the Presence.
More of my art and style can be discovered
at my site Hello Lovely.

This summer at The Practice
(an experimental gathering

where we immerse ourselves

in God's dream for humanity),

a group of us dared to design

personal experiments to explore:

How would life be different if Christ were fully present?

My own experiment entailed deepening my centering prayer practice
(adding a second evening sit to a daily 20 minute morning sit)
and awakening to Christ’s presence
within my ongoing struggle with anxiety. 

I longed for clearer awareness of Christ moving in the pain
of my anxiety and depression and to daily surrender
more of my self. 

Words from David Benner came to mind as I
considered how desperately I need to
step away from the tools in my
well-stocked self-transformation arsenal:

 Jesus did not come to encourage our self-transformation schemes. He understood that rather than longing to receive his love in an undefended state, what we really want is to manipulate God to accept us in our false and defended ways of being.” 
David Benner

As the summer experiment unfolded, I discovered:
gratitude, pain, and the following fruitful lessons
for living more fully in the Presence.

Letting go and hanging on
are not mutually exclusive.

Shortly after committing to the experiment,
I underwent treatment for Chronic Migraine,
and it became necessary to eliminate
all pain relievers as well as
my anti-anxiety prescription. 

While my intent was to see Christ moving within the anxiety,
I had not planned on the added variables of naked sobriety
and throbbing migraine! 

Already acquainted with the challenges
of letting go
in contemplative practice—the greater
challenge for me proved to be
hanging on 
to the anchor of Divine Love
while letting go of pain relief and self.

The depth of my longing matters.

As my strength failed, my longing
to experience the Presence deepened. 

It seems I am able to live in gratitude
and prayer when wellness is
in adequate supply;
yet my heart burns brighter
with desire when that supply is diminished. 

In the upside down kingdom,
my weakness is my wealth,
and like the blind beggar Bartimaeus
(Mark 10:46),
my desperation
somehow is prosperous.

Living fully is not the same
as living comfortably.

During the experiment, there were lonely, depleted, and stressed-out days which felt anything but full…ugly pity parties where my outlook turned cynical, the path to gratitude hidden. 

I felt locked out of the garden with amnesia for hope. 

Yet I kept seeking grace.

I kept surrendering
this stone heart in my practice. 

I brought the stone imperfectly
with its cranky edges
to trustworthy friends
who prayed over me. 

I persevered in releasing conscious mental chatter
into the mysterious cloud of centering prayer. 

Here’s the thing.

While the physical pain did not lift, 
in the waiting,
divine light changed its shape. 

As tears replaced bitterness,
I experienced Christ emerging
 as the SALT in those tears.

This just never gets old.

It is to be ushered into a lighter realm
of heart-fullness with clean, new eyes.

Where Jesus is present,
beauty emerges.

Typically, I sense the Presence most easily
when I am out in nature, but a few days
ago, Christ met me in a mundane chore
while exiting the grocery store.

Beyond 80-years young, she was frail and struggling
to collapse and load her clumsy walker
into a shopping cart.

I watched as the little shopping list
in her fingers floated to the ground,
and before
I could rush over to retrieve it,
she bent painfully low. 

I could not take my eyes off her. 
She met my gaze as she sighed “It’s not my day.” 

When I asked “What can I do to turn it around?”
it was Christ who responded; who touched
my left shoulder with a trembling arthritic hand,
fixed blue irises on mine, and spoke. 

“Your smile is enough.”

I pushed my cart away from that place
undone with beauty, freshly aware
of the richness and depth
of the kingdom right under my nose.

What is life like where Christ is fully present?

Mysterious, beautiful, and healing...
qualities I am forever seeking to capture
in the pieces I create for others.


An excerpt from Teilhard's The Hymn of the Universe
came alive for me as a result of this summer experiment:

"Suffering holds hidden within it, in extreme intensity, the ascensional force of the world. The whole point is to set this force free by making it conscious of what it signifies and of what it is capable...If all those who suffer in the world were to unite their sufferings so that the pain of the world should become one single grand act of consciousness, of sublimation, of unification, would not this be one of the most exalted forms in which the mysterious work of creation could be manifested to our eyes."
Teilhard de Chardin

Peace to you right where you are.



Friday, June 17, 2016

I prefer not to struggle.

I will always opt to sip the Dramamine-Champagne cocktail
on board over mouthfuls of seawater while shipwrecked.

But crashing waves and struggle have much to teach,
and my soul is cherished far too much to be left high and dry.

So I must intentionally let go of my preference for safety
and submit to the flow.

Let go of patterns of self-preservation and self-transformation.

Let go of fear and welcome another opportunity
to be led to a new land.


I am so grateful for brave souls helping us to
make sense of the shipwreck, and the other night
at The Practice it was my pleasure to listen to,
and even chat for a moment--
soul to soul--with Jonathan Martin.

offers a tender glimpse of what surrender looks like in those painful, desolate in-between rocky places where it's hard to breathe or see mercy.

Within these pages, I sensed a poetic buoyancy that
filled me with hope.

"Stay a little longer" is nearly impossible for me to vocalize without choking up...perhaps because it delicately conveys such tender longing in the midst of so much global despair right now.

If you are at the moment shipwrecked, I pray
that today, with new eyes, you will begin to see hope is on the way.

I pray you will find inside moments of stillness and quiet,
a gently burning flame which seeks to purify,
enlighten, and accompany you on the journey to shore.

The Contemplative Companion posts by Peter Haas
arriving each morning to my inbox never fail
to point me to that light with heartwhispers like this:

*The images here of our son  (age 14 at the time) on a summer boat ride reflect a contemplative state I feel yet cannot adequately name with language...and the balance of images are of
the Japanese Gardens near our home which capture the inner
landscape of beauty to which I am always seeking to return.

Peace to you right where you are.


Mystery and Macarons

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The longer I live, the less I know...
not that Paris can ever TRULY be known.

While visiting in 2012, we mostly did the
flaneur thing...strolling beautiful boulevards
without a particular destination in mind,
wide eyed and awed by the care and
creativity poured into architecture,
fashion, food, and even street protests.

It was intoxicating stuff, and I imbibed
the light and too many baguettes.
We rented an apartment near Notre Dame
to live as though we were true Parisians.

The art and cuisine filled up our fleshy senses;
yet a pervasive spiritual emptiness crept in.

Perfection lit almost every corner,
the French were mostly kind
with our endless faux pas...yet
an undeniable soul disconnect

Where does Grace hide when breathtaking beauty
reigns supremely everywhere?

We took in the Royal Opera, historical treasures,
and sculpted gardens, yet their beauty reflected
no divine light for me.

"The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life.
You might never have been, but you are, because
the party wouldn't have been the same without you.
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don't be afraid. I am with you."

~Frederic Buechner

Reflecting on that trip now, I wonder if
there was within me an unwillingness to
become vulnerable enough to fully welcome in the light.

In a defended state, maybe I resisted allowing
my head to enter my heart while at the
impeccably executed party with the light show
which is Paris.

Maybe as I raced through it all,
I forgot to savor and slow down.

Maybe I missed Grace in Paris because
I avoided stillness and any shadow side of beauty.

Shadow side of beauty? Ha!
If only I had caught a reflection
of myself in a gilded mirror.

"Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God."
~Matthew 5:8

"Blessed are the poor in spirit."
~Matthew 5:3

What I am learning is that the Divine Presence
is always moving in the flow of pain,
in the suffering, and with the eyes of my soul,
I can glimpse it transforming into joy.

Grace somehow
holds the paradox
of joy and sorrow together...
like buttercream in the center of
a billowy two-sided Paris macaron.

Luscious Grace flavors every bite
with a gentle sweet invitation
to taste, transform,
and share.

Grace is never in short supply.
Its fragrance is everywhere
right here and right now.

Beautiful joy and terrible sorrow happen.

Grace holds them together.

Peace to you right where you are.


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