In my mother’s kitchen pantry, there were always a few items we could go to when the refrigerator seemed a little vacant, or even if it was full when nothing there could really satisfy our particular hunger.
When you are feeling a spiritual or emotional hunger in a moment, what is your “go to” that is not merely distraction but truly lifts up your downcast soul? Is it music? physical exercise? a song? a passage of scripture? laughing with a friend? poetry? a novel? an old hymn? Go to your “pantry” and feast on the goodness you have stored away with God.
Spiritual practices can by grace lead to Holy Encounter. While complying with Stay-at-home orders, the following practices are offered to alleviate a sense of disconnection, ease the tension of uncertainty, and approach the Life that is lived from a Divine Center.[i]
Be attentive in this day to what you can do. While your usual ways of serving might be limited for now, let your acts of mercy be primarily in your home.
For one day, let humility guide you into courteous respect, solicitude, and tender love for others by fasting from the use of sarcasm, ridicule, teasing and having the last word.
Choose to practice loving Listening:
Everything is different now. Make a list of all the things you now miss that a month ago you took for granted, and offer your gratitude for them to God. Make a list of the people taken for granted, and offer your gratitude for them to God—then check in with them by email, phone or text. Or for those of us who remember how, send a thank you note by mail.
Early morning. Sit quietly and watch the light begin to brighten the sky. Notice it move through the trees. After a time, taking steady breaths, slowly rise and whether you’re inside or outside, walk directly into a patch of light. Inhale and feel the light on your face. Be still and know the unnamable One. Inhale and receive God’s peace. As you exhale whisper your gratitude to God.
Afternoon. Go for a walk. Feel yourself move in rhythm with your breathing. Allow your senses to focus on details—sunlight on a branch, the shimmering surface of a puddle, moss growing on a stone—and touch the things that have captured your attention. Allow yourself to feel wonder about them.
Evening. Sit quietly outside. Allow your breath and the air you are breathing to become one. Keep breathing slowly until you feel, with each breath, the spaciousness of God.
Think about the things that are used to define you.
While social-distancing is wisely the universal and global practice for the duration of this pandemic, I know I’m not alone. The invisible and always present Jesus, is still closer than my next breath.
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[i] Kelly, Thomas. A Testament of Devotion. (San Francisco, Harper & Brothers, 1941), pg.3
[ii] Nepo, Mark. The Book of Awakening. Gift edition first published in 2011 by Conari Press,
an imprint of Red Wheel / Weiser, LLC, San Francisco, CA . Copyright © 2000 by Mark Nepo. Introduction to gift edition © 2011 by Mark Nepo
[iii] Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracey, Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. (Harpercollins, NY. March 24, 1988), pg. 211
The sun rose this morning in a pale-yellow sky behind the faithful stand of trees at the edge of our lower field. Its rays reach in through the windows of my living room—and the windows of my soul—and bids me to awaken all the more to what still is beautiful.
The earth continues to turn. The stars hold their places in space, and the planets’ orbits are steady in their positions and paths. On this tiny patch of ground on which I live, buds have burst open on the trees, grass rolls out new green at my feet, and squirrels scurry, chattering and chasing each other.
In this mandated Pause, while all movement in travel, entertainment, work, business, education, even whole cities halt, I wonder if this is a divine invitation to humility. Certainly, as social distancing is more and more stringent, we human beings are exiled from our lives as usual. Worldwide poverty moves into my neighborhood. We are ordered by our governor to withdraw further into ever more solitary lives.
St. Isaac of Syria records that an elder was asked “How can someone acquire humility?” The elder offered some guidance and closed his remarks saying, “In sum: exile, poverty, and a solitary life, all of these give birth to humility and cleanse the heart.”[i] Exile. Poverty. Solitary life. Humility.
It is humbling for us humans who are accustomed to ruling over the earth and others, to be halted by a microbe. In contrast to the squirrels’ hurry and scurry—which has been our normal pace—we are now made to lie low, to be still, to acknowledge our finitude. I wonder, as we collectively acknowledge that we are NOT gods, if we can “be still and know” the ineffable and unnamable One.
The Corrymeela Community’s morning prayer includes their intention, “We make room for the unexpected; May we find wisdom and life in the unexpected.”[ii] While the unexpected disease has aggressively moved in, we are learning how frighteningly slow we’ve been to make room for it. What wisdom may we find; what life?
I am grateful for the witness of Nature, that she continues faithfully morning by morning proclaiming God’s handiwork. And for the witness of the Psalms and prayers that have carried other generations through plagues and pestilence. They do call to mind the ancient memory that God IS, and is not far off; that the Lord is my Shepherd and therefore I have all that I need. Even now.
And that consoles me. Yes, I am confronted by the equally true reality that my body is mortal and finite. I do not know the hour of my death, but that was true even before the outbreak of a global pandemic. From the Reality of God’s shepherding sufficiency and grace I will once again choose to live. How shall I orient myself in this hour for Life, to live this moment and every moment? I will myself to be attentive in this day to what I can do, to work and prayer, to ponder even as I reach toward hopefulness: “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Still, and again, amen.
Jean's next post will include spiritual practices to guide us in this time. For more information about spiritual practices and Jean - please visit:
[i] An excerpt from Daily Readings with St. Isaac of Syria, introduced and edited by A.M. Allchin ; translated by Sebastian Brock. (Springfield, Ill.:Templegate, 1989), pg. 70
[ii] Morning prayer from Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community by Padraig O’Tuama. (Canterbury Press, August 22, 2017), pg.
As I begin preparing my heart for advent, I think of the expectant words of Jan Richardson,
“In the cave of our hearts, in the fabric of our lives, in the soul of the earth, You continue, Oh God to be Born”. (In Wisdom’s Path).
Birth, only the process of continuation. The work of God, never ending, not fully recognized. I wonder what our lives would look like if we truly lived in the space of continual revelation? What is being incubated right now? What would be birthed in us?
Healthy birth happens when the time of incubation is complete. When a child is born too early, problems occur. So, we sit with the tensions of readiness. This is the gracious space where the Holy One meets us, loves us and enters fully into the beauty, the creative process of our lives. It is a place of where impatience can grow and we desire to hasten the process. We may ask the childlike question, “Are we there yet?”
In this space we are given a Divine invitation, the invitation to slow down, listen, and cooperate with the continuation process. It is a place where trust and endurance can grow. In our haste to run for results, or to move ourselves out of mystery or pain we can bypass the work of grief, anger, fear, or anticipation, to name a few. What if God whispers to us, “Not yet” or the dreaded, “Not this”? Can we trust the Holy One in those places?
As you step closer to this advent season, if you are able, take some time with these images. What is God doing in your life right now? Where are the tensions in your life, that may in fact be birthing canals? Invite God into your own process of continuation. Take time to notice places where you desire to hasten the process. These are places for stopping, honoring and listening. Could these places of tension become places of invitation and hope?
Oh God, fill us with wonder and compassion as we wait for what is being born in us today. Oh come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
I recently re-read Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser. It was first published in 1999, just as I was beginning full-time pastoral ministry. Twenty years later, after retiring from being a pastor and with the benefit of life experiences over the past years, this book provided an entry for cultural and personal reflection. I appreciate Rolheiser’s humility in stating upfront his focus on Christian spirituality and “acknowledges God speaks in many and diverse ways, and no one religion has a monopoly on truth.” My experience of listening and experiencing God in different cultures and through different people has resulted in greater freedom, joy, and awe. I have caught glimpses of God in a variety of pools of wisdom in and outside the Christian tradition.
Foundational to this book is the belief that everyone has a spirituality, but it is not clearly understood as to its meaning and source. Rolheiser uses the word eros to describe the fiery energy at the center of our lives – a sacred fire of creative energy that drives our spirituality and Christian practices. He suggests we are not restful or serene creatures, and eros is connected to our seeking and searching. For me, the words wrestling, passion, desire, intimacy, and longing come to mind.
Twenty years ago, Rolheiser already recognized our cultural context was post-Christian and post-modern. I was certainly not as aware of this shift as I am now. In hindsight, the significance of this transition for individuals and religious institutions in the West means we are navigating new terrain and traveling off-the-map. Phyllis Tickle described an every 500-year cycle of historical upheaval as rummage sale. We take furniture out of the attic and decide what to keep and what to let go of to make room for new acquisitions.
A key quote from Holy Longing continues to resonate with me for its relevancy in our current cultural context:
“Each generation has its own dark night of the soul, its own particular temptation to despair, as it tries to find peace of soul and make peace with its God. Our own dark night of spirituality is very much shaped by our naiveté about the nature of spiritual energy; by a conspiracy against death and prayer caused by narcissism, pragmatism, and unbridled restlessness of our age; and by our inability to hold in tension a series of dualities.”
My experience of carrying tension within myself and with others during this rummage sale moment feels vulnerable, risky, and isolating. Rolheiser writes, “Accepting to carry tension for the sake of God, love, truth, in principle, is the mysticism that is most needed in our day. Almost everything within our culture invites us to avoid tension and resolve it whenever possible even at the cost of some of our more noble instincts....Waiting in frustration and consummation is not our strong point"
Connecting mysticism with holding tension in our off-road terrain is a hopeful insight regarding a way of faithfulness with only enough light for the next step. For some, mysticism is suspect, but the writings of the mystics have shaped my spirituality and the Quaker tradition. For instance, the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, recounts many mystical experiences in his journal. Friends across time and places have gathered together in the silence of Waiting Worship to listen together seeking guidance, comfort, and encounter with Presence in their midst.
Some of my favorite Christian mystics include Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, and the unnamed author of the Cloud of Unknowing. These mystics offer a language of interconnection and hospitality toward themselves and others. Their understanding continually disrupts and invites us to expand our framework regarding the how and why of God and how we make meaning of our world. I find the notion that we must all be mystics and live in mystery, to be life-giving and expansive. This mystery is not something to be solved but a mystery that continues to unfold and suggests we must wake-up to all the different ways of knowing. This unfolding invites us to trust our inner experience in addition to the certitude often valued in statements of doctrine and belief.
What helps us wake-up? How do we make space for our new understanding of experience and learning? What allows us to hold tension as we seek connection and meaning within the pressure of unanswered questions and shifting times? A word closely associated with the mystics is contemplation, which describes a way of life that allows for inner stillness and silence that opens up and syncs the knowing of the head, the heart, and the gut. This movement of integration allows us to heal our distorted and limited vision and wake-up to experiences of Divine encounter all around us. We will take a more in-depth look at this invitation in the next blog post.
 Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing: The Search for A Christian Spirituality, 1st Ed. in U.S.A (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 41.
 Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012).
 Rolheiser, 40.
 Rolheiser, 224.
 Rolheiser, 216.
Recently, while finishing up my morning quiet-time routine, I reflected on the important place that this morning routine has on my preparation for the day. As I sat and reflected, I had the impression, of climbing up on a ladder attached to the high dive platform of a swimming pool. This impression had me feeling resolved to go through with an action that I had done a number of times before, making a high dive. I was used to the pattern of getting up on the diving platform by climbing the ladder and standing there, mentally preparing for the dive. I imagined a brand new pool and felt the comfort of looking around, knowing that all was in order, seeing how clear and still the water was, and knowing that just like all the previous times, I would stride to the end of the board, dive off and enter the water cleanly, knowing just what to expect and being met with those expectations. On the other hand, I also imagined myself in a derelict building, the lighting was dim, the walls were dingy, the water was a bit murky, and the ladder was slippery. Now, I did not have the sense that I had been up there many times before, and I was not ready because I did not have a routine. I had some fear that when I dove, some mishap might occur.
I see this high dive platform experience as a metaphor for my morning routine, a jumping off point for my day. As inconsequential as my process of having a cup of coffee, reading the bible, reflecting quietly, and then writing in my journal might seem to another person; for me, it is life-giving because it is a routine that I depend on to bridge from the world of sleep to the world of endless possibilities for my day. Will I view the day from the well-established and supported platform, or from the slightly off, unsure platform? I’d like to go into the day saying;
“I am a creator today, just like my Creator! What is on my agenda today, what do I want to create? Perhaps I will create a happy occasion for another person, maybe an opportunity for someone to achieve a goal. I might create a barrier against harm for myself or others. I could create space for my own contemplation and growth. Or, I might make some art that will cause someone to feel, to sense, to remember, to experience, or to wonder. All of these are possibilities. I can take advantage of the open invitation to create and I believe that what I make will be useful, edifying, encouraging, comforting, or loving for another person, for myself, and for my community. I am a creator!”
The book of Genesis prompts us that mankind is made in the image of God. Being in the image of God grants to us the ability and determination to create. When I think about creating and shaping the moment, I see it as an opportunity. Recognizing my role as a creator is both liberating and empowering, while at the same time, I recognize that being a creator comes with responsibilities. And what are those responsibilities? Is it to be true to my art? Is it to steward my resources? Is it to use my gifts to bless others? These are all good aims, good and true. And why do I say that? Because I have the belief that this is what my art of creation is, the shaping of goodness and light. Regarding the opportunity and responsibility of creation, what else is there for me to do but to trust the Spirit’s leading?
In following those leadings, I accept the core responsibilities of a creator; stewardship, integrity, and blessing others. When I move forward with stewardship, integrity, and blessing, I am able to proceed, even if the exact details of my day are not known. For I can live in light of the following questions. In this moment, in this day, am I stewarding the gift of creativity? Am I preparing myself to be creative by my recognition of God’s leadings, and the needs and opportunities around me? In being true to the art of creation, am I acting with integrity to take what I have been given and share it faithfully with those around me? Sometimes a prompt to speak or act may make me uncomfortable. To be faithful in the moment requires me to disregard the doubt and discomfort. I do not know who needs to hear or receive and I don’t know who will benefit if I am faithful. Finally, am I creating blessings for others by kindness or faithfulness or goodness? What am I creating today that helps others, serves others, and influences others for good?
My morning routine does prepare me for the moments of the day. I can choose to view the world as a beautiful place in which I can contribute on a daily basis or as an ugly or difficult place I want to avoid. Each day I have that choice, and each day I can steward the moments for the purpose of blessing others. My morning routine of reading, writing and silent prayer and reflection provides the springboard for me to enter in to the day in a pleasing and energizing way.
Hello, I'm Kathi Gatlin. Thanks for stopping by!