Tag Archives: contemplation

Birthing God

9 Dec

The days are getting shorter still. The nights are dark and the days are gray. We bundle up, hunker down, light candles, and wait. Advent is upon us, yet again.

Our bodies signal to us to slow down, turn inward, and hibernate. Yet Rumi, in his poem “The Body is Like Mary,” invites us to resist the urge to shut down altogether. He asks us to acknowledge that we, along with Mary, are in holy labor. There is work to be done. There is beauty to share. There is life and love to offer. There is a God within who needs to be born:

The body is like Mary, and each of us has a Jesus inside…

God is really there within, so innocently drawing life from us with Her umbilical universe–infinite existence…

though also needing to be born. Yes, God also needs to be born!

I will have a child in the next few weeks. I will, once again, go through the painful and sacred process of labor to bring life into this world. Yet even while I wait, there is other birthing to be done in the twilight of Advent. In the quiet darkness, we can tap into the desire to create beauty through a loving touch, a simple gift, a safe space of active listening, or a piece of art.

Christ is in all of us. We are co-creators, offering God’s light to the world around us. In these moments of Advent, when quiet reflection leads to a gentle birthing, sprinkling love and light, we know that yes, Jesus is coming and yet yes, Jesus dwells within.

Extravagant Wastefulness

23 Oct

Sara Groves has a new album coming out soon. In preparation for that, she allowed a film crew to follow her around while she ran errands, and what came out spoke to me loud and clear.

She speaks about how pragmatism has infected every institution, including the church. We focus on usefulness, and as a singer and songwriter, she thinks it is the artist’s job to push back on that undercurrent. Artists, in order to create, need to take up an amount of space that seems extravagant and wasteful to the rest of the world.

I have found that to be true as a writer as well. My professor would say, “If writers don’t take time to be contemplative, who will? That is our role in society, to be brave enough to do nothing. To sit and think. To go on long walks in the rain and to not speak until we have something to say.” When I went to study writing, I worked hard and fast. I was considered productive and useful. As my teacher, she pushed me to slow down, to count doing nothing and sitting and thinking as the most necessary part of the process. Writing stopped seeming like production and started feeling like art. It started to feel decadent and wonderfully extravagant. If I rushed, I could produce something, but it didn’t glow. I had to embrace the subversive parts of the creative process. I had to be wasteful with my time.

Groves reminds us that the push to be useful is so strong that when we take a break to contemplate or create or do nothing, we feel guilty. We have to carve out time to take Sabbath, to take a long walk, to let God speak to our hearts. The children, the older folks, the artists, the homeless, they are good at taking up this space. They have let go of this drive to be useful and sit in the pocket of being. They are inviting us into this extravagant wastefulness where we are not useful, we are not productive, but there is space for God to speak. There is space for beauty to be created.

Being a working mom, I am struggling to carve out that time. I want to return to it, but how? Taking a whole day off does feels extravagant and wasteful. And essential. So I am beginning as I always do, with small steps. I am going to pick a day each week to stay away from my phone and computer. I am going to let my child invite me into a whole day of extravagant play. I know, deep down, God will meet me there in that space. The space the world may call wasteful, God calls sacred.

How To Be a Person

22 May

Wendell Berry has a poem titled “HOW TO BE A POET (to remind myself).” Even if we do not fancy ourselves as poets, I think it has some helpful tips in reminding us how to be a person. If you are anything like me, we can all use a reminder sometimes:

Make a place to sit down.

Sit down. Be quiet.

You must depend upon

affection, reading, knowledge,

skill – more of each

than you have – inspiration,

work, growing older, patience,

for patience joins time

to eternity. Any readers

who like your poems,

doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath

the unconditioned air.

Shun electric wire.

Communicate slowly. Live

a three-dimensioned life;

stay away from screens.

Stay away from anything

that obscures the place it is in.

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.

Make the best you can of it.

Of the little words that come

out of the silence, like prayers

prayed back to the one who prays,

make a poem that does not disturb

the silence from which it came.

My writing professors challenged us to be contemplatives. They told us to sit and keep sitting. To sit in silence, to sit and think, to sit and question, to sit and do nothing at all, and to count all of this sitting as possibly the most important part of the creative process. They challenged us to get off of the screen and write in a notebook. One professor, in trying to get us to communicate slowly, assigned a measly two pages of writing a week, but he expected each sentence on those two pages to be perfect, to add to the silence, to have a rhythm and a life all their own.

This poem speaks to me, then, as a writer. But as I said, I also think it can speak to me as a person. Just this week a friend lost her father. I told her there are no words, and she agreed. We remained in the silence. I asked my young students how they discern the will of God and their first answer was, “Sit still. Reflect. Listen to the silence.” Each time we meet we carve out time to sit, quietly. They were skeptical at first, but they have come to love those few minutes. They look forward to it. They benefit from it. “Good sitting,” I say as we blink our eyes open together. They agree. The ordinary room feels sacred.

Together, we are getting better at finding a place to sit still, finding a silence to work from. It feels countercultural, and it feels like as we get better at sitting, we are getting better at being human. Maybe from this place we can hear the prayers prayed back to us.

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