increasing and decreasing

I have an increasing sense that the most important crisis of our time is
spiritual and that we need places where people can grow stronger in
the spirit and be able to integrate the emotional struggles
in their spiritual journeys.

Fr Henri Nouwen

“Christian spirituality, the contemplative life, is not about us.
It is about God.
The great weakness of American spirituality is that it is all about us:
fulfilling our potential, getting the blessings of God, expanding our influence,
finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can
get an edge over the competition.
The more there is of us, the less there is of God.

Eugene Peterson


(snow encrusted camel / Julie Cook / 2017)

Have you ever found yourself holding a cup or glass of liquid that comes all the
way to to very top…
Someone has either over poured or just wasn’t thinking…
and so now obviously, you can’t add nary an ice cube to the glass without
sending the contents cascading outward and downward…

To add the ice, you’d need to first sip out a good bit or pour out a little
of the liquid, making room for the ice.

And on top of that, you have to be oh so very careful while just trying to get
the glass up to your mouth without sloshing everything everywhere.

If then our lives are just as full, filled to the very brim…
full of external entities, as well as full from within from our very
egotistical selves, how can there any space or room…for anything?

And yet we somehow think we can continue squeezing in just one more thing
or taking on one more little extra…shoving and pushing much like an
overstuffed suitcase.
Obviously we can’t sit on our lives trying to get things sufficiently and
tightly closed…
so clearly something is going to have to go.

Much like the time I was once returning from a trip abroad and my suitcase
weighed over the allotted allowance by 7 pounds….
I had a choice…either I was going to have to pay a hefty fee for being overtly full,
or as we did, I had to scramble right then and there at the check-in counter,
yanking things out while my aunt was stuffing my residual into her lighter bag.

These are the moments when we begrudgingly realize that there is simply no more
room to take on anything or anyone else for that matter—
as there is neither room nor space to truly do justice to whatever or whomever
we are trying to squeeze in…

Squeezing for the sake of squeezing just doesn’t make much sense…
as it’s truly just a waste of energy and time.

So its time to let go and lighten the load.

And what better time is there than a new year—
the perfect time to sort and purge.

Yet it’s one thing to purge ones world of excessive stuff, emptying closets,
drawers, shelves…hauling this and that to the Goodwill or even the dump….

But the real question, the looming question, the question that is really about life and death, is how does one purge one’s self of the excessive stuff of self?
How does one make room internally, opening up space for a God who wants to be
invited in?

Since this is the time of year when we are reminded of the need to be about change…
as well as the importance, or lack thereof, of both our internal space and of our
place in this world of ours,
perhaps we are now more open to the notion of a truly crucial need.

We must decrease, as He must increase…..

This is to be an action, not a reaction, that is to become a conscious action
in that it shall be a lasting process….
A process which requires both thought and time—as it will not be accomplished
in the blink of an eye or within a day, a week, a month or even over the course
of a year…but rather over the remainder of one’s lifetime.

This isn’t about losing weight, exercising, getting organized, being thrifty…
it’s about change…a change for the sake of a relationship…
and for a life… not fleeting and overwhelmed, but focused and everlasting…

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and
has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances,
that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two,
thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body
through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace
to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit
to the Father.

Ephesians 2:14-18

Waiting and arrivals

“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life”
Simone Weil

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(Illuminated manuscript from the Book of Hours, the Annunciation 1410)

We have entered a new season within our faith…
Those seasonal cycles of the Church.
For we have now entered the season of waiting…
Otherwise known as Advent.
Taken from the Greek word, parousia, meaning arrival.

As in we are waiting for an arrival.

Yet do we not seem to spend our lives waiting?

Waiting on things to take place, to happen, to hurry up, to change, to come or to go….

However Father Henri Nouwen, in his essay Waiting For God, reminds us that
“for many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go.
And people do not like such a place.
They want to get out of it by doing something.”

So waiting seems to be something we are relegated to suffer.

But Father Nouwen continues…
“Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state
determined by events totally out of our hands.”

“But there is none this passivity in scripture.
Those who are waiting are waiting very actively.”

“Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction
that somethings happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.
A waitng person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment.”

“A waiting person is a patient person.

The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and to live the situation
out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.
Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and
therefore want to go elsewhere.

“Waiting, then is not passive.”

“To wait open-endedly is an enormous attitude toward life.”

So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that
God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear.
The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment,
trusting that new things will happen to us,
new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction.

“That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.”

And so we begin to wait…
actively and radically waiting….

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.
You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8

(Father Henri Nouwen’s words taken from Watch for the Light
Readings for Advent and Christmas
/ Plough Publishing House

Hope found in a love that does not seek control

“He is lifted up as a passive victim, so the cross is a sign of desolation.
And he is lifted up in glory, so the cross becomes at the same time a sing of hope.
Suddenly we realize that the glory of God, the divinity of God,
bursts through in Jesus’ passion precisely when he is most victimized.”

Father Henri Nouwen
From Action to Passion
Bread and Wine
Reading for Lent and Easter

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(the blackberries are blooming / Julie Cook / 2016)

Father Henri Nouwen recounts in his reflection From Action to Passion the story of a dear friend who was dying from cancer. This friend, who was in his early 50’s, had been very active his entire life. As an adult he had worked tirelessly as a social activist.
Always doing, always giving…

This once active, constantly moving, individual was now finding himself lost in his illness and the maddening and ever growing frustration of his inability to go, to do, and now simply even to move.
His body weak and ravaged by disease, he was now on the receiving end of constant care by nurses and doctors. He was beginning the downward decent into that dark place of despair…
not knowing how to cope as he was now on the receiving end of life verses the active giving and doing end.

The thought dawned on Fr Nouwen that there were many more like his friend who were suddenly finding themselves at the same crossroads of life…being faced with that haunting question…
“how can I still do?”
Be it illness, accident or age at some point or another we all will be faced with the same challenging question…

Father Nouwen realized that his friend, as well as others, had come to see their self worth based solely in their ability to “do”.
And if they were no longer able to do, then what good were they…

Father Nouwen found his answer, the answer not only for his friend but for all of us, playing out during the final days of Jesus’ life on earth.
It was found in the dark of night, found in the garden of Gethsemane, on the fateful night in which Jesus was handed over to the authorities and arrested on grounds of treason.

It is noted that in the Greek translation of the Bible that Jesus was “handed over.”
Other translations offer the word betrayed…but it is within the phrase “handed over: that we find our answer to our question…

Father Nouwen notes that Jesus’ life can be divided into two very distinct parts and or actions.
The first part of his life and ministry was one of doing..preaching, teaching, traveling, healing..
The second half, and maybe even the most important,
was when he become the recipient or the one who was now “being done to”—
He was now on the receiving end verses the doing end.

His passion in turn became a type of waiting.
Waiting for things to be done to Him…
Waiting for questioning,
Waiting for a trial
Waiting to be flogged
Waiting to be sentenced
Waiting to be executed
Waiting to die
Waiting to rise…
All done with quiet determination, patience and a willingness to wait rather than control the situation.
Whereas Jesus could have easily orchestrated things in His favor, He willingly submitted to “being handed over” and to what all that would entail, even unto death…

So now we all come to see that our life’s vocation(s) can become one of receiving and waiting verses giving and doing.
Yet at the same time we know that there is a very real and difficult relinquishing of this control.
And it is in the ultimate giving of Jesus that we see our own example of action within the waiting and the receiving…

These are hard words to hear for those of us who are active, have found our worth in doing, giving, offering, speaking, teaching, helping…
“How on earth,” we hear ourselves lamenting, “can I be of service, viable, helpful, productive, beneficial, worthy… if I am to become passive, a recipient, a receiver…?”

Yet the answer is found and must be claimed in the Passion of Christ.

To be handed over, willingly…
to relinquish,
to let go,
to let God…

“Into your hands…”
“It is finished…”

We see that it has been a Love freely given…
It is a passionate Love steeped in selflessness
It is a Love that receives as much as it gives
It is a Love that gives of itself rather than seeks control
and it is a patient Love content on waiting

“So together we began to see that in the midst of our suffering and passion,
in the midst of our waiting, we can already experience the resurrection…”

Fr Henri Nouwen

Middle ground

“Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner?”
Henri Nouwen excerpt From Action to Passion
Bread and Wine Readings for Lent and Easter

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(a visiting dragonfly / Julie Cook / 2016)

Living in a time filled with…
the chronic pursuit of a middle ground,
the incessant scrambling of meeting half way,
the constant yearning for compromise…
the mindless steamrolling to level all playing fields….

Our society anguishes to create the equilibrium of the overt…
Striking any negative or counter thought or action into a thousand pieces…

Society screams that anything and everything is perfectly okay…by gosh by golly!…

Yet that’s the thing…

It’s not ok.

No matter how much the culture police shout.
There is no waffling or fence riding, not magic middle…

Despite being the culture of infinite choices…
the “that’s okay” while “that’s ok too…”
The time in which each individual may have what they want while doing what they want…
be it legal or illegal,
sinful or saintly,
of the norm or over the top…
Is waning..

We just want it all to be…
Copacetic,
Acceptable,
Non confrontational,
Happy
And by all means…
Peaceful…

Yet the question remains…

The same question asked ages past…
Just as it is asked today…

Will you be my disciple or my executioner…?

Will you pick up your cross and follow me?
Will you follow me on this journey to hell and back?

Or

Will you say you will follow only to…
abandon me
deny me
ridicule me
forsake me
beat me
nail my hands and feet to a tree…?

Will you honor me when it means to dishonor Caesar (your government, your culture, your status quo)
Will you acknowledge me when it means to ignore your peers, your entertainers, your athletes, your politicians, your friends…

The ultimate yes or no..
No maybe,
No let me think about it,
No can we just strike a balance…
It’s either
Yes
Or it is
No

“There is no middle ground here.
Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say “Yes” or “No”
That is the great drama of Jesus’ passion”
he had to wait upon how people were going to respond.
How would they come?
To betray him or to follow him?
In a way, his agony is not simply the agony of approaching death.
It is the agony of having to wait…”

Henri Nouwen
From Action to Passion

The time for a decision is now
The time of waiting is finally over….
Will it be yes?
Or will it be no?

time being a relevant thought

To be a Christian who is willing to travel with Christ on his downward road requires being willing to detach oneself constantly from any need to be relevant, and to trust ever more deeply the Word of God.
Fr.Henri Nouwen

Time is a brisk wind, for each hour it brings something new… but who can understand and measure its sharp breath, its mystery and its design?
Paracelsus

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(grave markers found in the cemetery at the Sligo Abbey, County Sligo / Julie Cook / 2015)

The hour grows late and it appears as if I have run out of time…

There once was a time when these markers, these words, these remembrances were thought well of—for they marked the lives lived of those who once mattered to someone else.
They mattered to those in a certain time who thought well enough to remember, to mark and to recall the lives, the times and the deaths of others who mattered…

For there once was a time to celebrate, a time to mourn and a time to remember…

It also appears that there has been a time to forget…

For Time has simply had his way…sweeping gently away the physical reminders of that which once was…as the names, the lives and the times of those once thought well enough of… have slowly faded…as time has now long passed since the days of remembrance for the lives and times of those who now lie buried here…as they, their lives, their times are now forgotten and simply abandoned to the ravages and march of Time…

For some of us Time will be quickly passing…
While for others it will be a time slowly to depart.
Yet all of our time will surely wane…
Making way for a new time…

As the questions hang heavy…when did those who had taken the time to recall and remember, take the time to simply walk away, disappear and forget…?

For it seems that at some point in time each and everyone of us will indeed have our day and our time… yet…
Just as quickly, our days and time will surely pass…as we too will simply be a name, a date, a time of a life and time that once was…leaving others in a different time to wander and wonder..
Which in turn leaves only just one question….before our time has waned and is to be forgotten…

… how shall we then pass those days and that time…?

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice”
John 5:28

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