30 June 2017

A Place of Joy

Good Morning! A new day is dawning. It might feel like yesterday, with that same moody atmosphere but the sun rises (or the earth turns, to be more accurate) and the blue sky emerges, and already the day is becoming its own shape. Maybe it still feels the same as yesterday, but it is a new day filled with thousands of possibilities. Your door is about to open, you are about to step through, and you get to choose which way to go.

Make it a choice of joy.

These are notes to myself, you know, for, to me, the summer months challenge me as I grow weary of the hot, humid weather. 

But I need to look beyond.

Try to embrace the season by noticing the things to be thankful for. To lift these things up in thankful prayers.

The beautiful dappled light coming through my curtain in the kitchen. My candlesticks with flickering flames. Morning birdsong. The scent of coffee freshly ground. Cosy pajama pants. The crepe myrtle bursting in bloom everywhere. Putting on a favourite top and cardigan. Refreshing afternoon rains. Fresh raspberries. An encouraging word spoken to me. A letter in the mail. Opening a new book. Sitting down with a cup of tea. An unexpected smile from someone.

There are so many, that as I start to focus on those lovely things of the everyday, I forget that the weather might be miserable as I begin to notice something so small like the lovely plants in my yard (especially these autumnal coloured leaves) and feel this deep sense of appreciation. Yes, even amidst the heat.

All the positive thoughts eclipse any frustrating thoughts that may lurk, and I find myself praising God because it is all a gift.
This is how I am making my choices of joy all day.

27 June 2017

Notes of a tale slowly unfolding

Mere draft notes of a tale slowly unfolding...

Many times she awakens with a start, as thoughts demand her attention. She's the writer sort. Always keen to learn about things, so those page-filled evenings toss jumbled in her mind as she sleeps, and on occasion they crash together. Hence, the awakening with a start. Sometimes it is related to the topic of the previous evening. It could be a study of people under a controlling government, or a forest filled with mysteries and elves. The imagination is limitless, as even the sky cannot hold down ideas. Let them toss and be thrown about; this could be the start of the next beauty-filled story, or a grand idea. May the hours that pass in darkness create the opportunity for goodness to form and become realized for the first time. 

For most people drift aimless and almost unconscious of life and the world. If they cannot see the world, how would they ever see the truth hiding in tiny moments, and delights in glimmers, cast swiftly along your daily path?

But no, this writer sort is one who defies that persona. As one who pays attention and appreciates the small nuances that usually go unnoticed. Here is one who sees what lies underneath the landscape covering something. Mystery only intrigues her to pursue and seek out. Don't try to dismiss her timidity. She is observant, taking notes. Some one will probably look at her with a questioning gaze, but she doesn't care. She lives not for the approval of others.

She occupies the threshold of a kingdom invisible. At this specific point in time and in space, only with the faith of the imagination can it be seen. It all is left to imagine, but it will not always be so. And even today there are glimpses of the kingdom. Such a heavenly realm surely spills out of some of its goodness to that dwelling place of future residents. Indeed, the creative spell is upon the land. The grass is evidence. A flower is proof. Every bloom holds a notion of something more beautiful than we can even imagine, but we can try. In each moment of beauty, we can know it was made possible by a love so strong, it has passed through the deepest, fiery depths of hell and came back, alive.

This love that has come back is in everything. Its presence is what makes the spheres circle their star. It drives their pursuit to get closer and closer to the centre. If this love is in everything, it is in you as well. It means that as the planetary spheres seek the centre, so does your soul. The thoughts that wander and the dreams that wonder all seek to take you there to the deeper place of centre. Everything is drawing you to it. 

And she, this writer sort, this dreamer who pens these words wanders deeper into the mysteries because the mysteries of unanswered questions is where bits of the heavenly realm toss a crumb over the threshold. But only if you are dwelling there amidst the mysteries can you see that tiny glimmer of that which is to come.

22 June 2017

Crumb -y Thoughts

The name warns you ahead of time. There is no promise of a neat, tidy event. It won't be a pretty scene of perfection. Not with crumb cake. It might look pretty now, but beware. Powered sugar will likely fall on the table cloth. The crumbs will inevitably break off and stray onto the dish, but gather it in with your fork. It is just as tasty. The scent of cinnamon rises and I smile because cinnamon is a favourite spice of mine. Combine that with a tea cake, and you have a delighted gal. 

Every so often a weekend warrants some cake to go with tea. I make a proper brew in a small pot and add cake on a pretty English dish and I am instantly back in England, enjoying a tea break. A normal, daily occurrence it is when I am in England. They just know how to master the tea breaks. Here, it is not quite the norm, but I crave it (that must be the English in me).

When it is part of my day, you will see me at my table with a book propped open as I try to fork a piece of cake as I turn the page. It forces me to slow down and just enjoy some quiet moments, without being distracted by other things.

This late morning tea is so lovely. The light is nearing the zenith and my kitchen is illuminated with natural light. Here in the heat of summer, I keep cool inside. But the moment you step outside, it is a different story. The humidity is thick. With a lot of rain lately it hasn't been scorching, but still it is summer. All that tropical air is settled in. Thankfully, air conditioning keeps me chilled so I can enjoy a pot of tea whilst pretending that it might be a bit nippy outside. The reality is, of course, there are many more months ahead that I will have to keep pretending.

20 June 2017

What is Within You

Lay before God what is within you, not what should be within you.
- C.S. Lewis

Draw me in, Lord, closer to Your wondrous love at the centre. You are there. You are here. The blessings of this life are present in all the good in every single day. Paths are cut for me to follow. Thankfully Your plan doesn't rely on me to create the path, no, You have done that for me. I do not have to have knowledge beyond my own, but I need to trust that You are guiding me to the best place and that You will use me through whatever talents I have to offer.

Help me be present in the everyday, and be filled with Your love, so it comes out in all that I say and do.

I pray that my thinking
always leads to You.

Discerning with every moment,
falsity with what's true.

Allow me to look not just at the window You set before me, but through it so as to see what You have out there beyond myself. In all Your goodness, may I always trust and keep faith in that.

Lord, You have all of me. Sometimes I know not what to pray, but to simply be silent and focused on You is a prayer in itself. I pray for the Spirit to guide me and lift up my own feeble words and thoughts. I have so little to offer, but in You it is enough. I do not need to be somebody important as the world sees it. I just need to be me. Please help me to see my purpose in the everyday, and then nudge me to strive toward it with love in my heart.

16 June 2017

Learning from History

These men and women little realized that their partial allegiance was in fact a guarantee that Hitler would get and hold control: they became the supporters of the very movement that would enslave them. (pg. 218)

I have been lax in my writing blog posts because of this book - Darkness Over Germany: A Warning From History by E. Amy Buller. I haven't been able to put it down. Published in 1943 (in the midst of war, mind you), it is absolutely a book for our times. The author was concerned with why the youth of Germany so quickly bought into Nazism and how it became their religion, filling them with lies. But the issue was much deeper, because the spiritual need of the country was real.

We have much to learn from history. These stories she tells are of her own conversations within Nazi Germany, and they leave such a lasting impression we need to pay attention to as we move through history. She was a British educator. She traveled into Germany countless times through the 1930's as the Nazi Party grew stronger and stronger. She talked with professors, farmers, workers, political leaders, Nazis. The book is filled with these conversations.

They have put into this movement the sort of confidence a man has in his faith and not in his political party as a rule. So that we see something very much like religious power and drive that is really a sort of hysteria. This, I think, is partly due to the last war and all the unsettled, evil years since. (pg. 31)

A lack and/or collapse of confidence in politics, and society's inability to argue well and make good decisions is what prompted much of the strife told within the pages. This environment allowed the party to rise up and give "worth" and "purpose" to the youth of Germany. The crisis in Germany after WWI was very dreadful, including the economic dilemma and unemployment. The citizens wanted to see that their homeland would be strong again, they wanted jobs, they wanted to feel important, and Hitler spoke to those needs they felt deep within.

To a generation without faith, the Nazis gave a brutal philosophy and millions of lives have been sacrificed to free the world of this false answer to a real need, but let us not fail to understand that it was caused by real need.
-Amy Buller

12 June 2017

Turning From the World to God

The climate in which monastic prayer flowers is that of the desert, where the comfort of man is absent, where the secure routines of man's city offer no support, and where prayer must be sustained by God in the purity of faith.
- Thomas Merton

I am starting a new book I got in Oxford - Thomas Merton's Contemplative Prayer. It is a small book, but it is packed tightly with thoughts that will challenge every reader. In fact, he writes that the book is for fellow monks, but some laymen might find interest in it, since we are all bound to be people of prayer. I would be one of those common people. 

I took my book to Concord Coffee one morning to spend some time waking up with a latte and also waking up my inner prayers.

He writes about how simple and uncomplicated prayer should be. The earliest monks prayed so simply and somehow things have gotten over-complicated in our modern day. Many times the earlier monks would pray the Psalms. Psalms is a place of expression, and the book holds "special efficacy for the ascetic life, in that it revealed the secret movement of the heart in its struggle against the forces of darkness."

This is turning from the world to God. Conversatio monastica.

Here is awakening inner dialogue with God not just for selfish, live for self, false reasons, to which we can all be inclined. This is what we must confront. Within ourselves we must shed the worldly notions that all promote the illusion to be narcissistic is to be filled and happy. Those things will crumble in our hands.

The climate of our prayers then should be of awareness and gratitude, according to Merton, who also stresses that it should be quiet an private, not made with loud voices to draw attention to ourselves. Here is when we can go deep into an inner sanctuary that can help us understand beyond ourselves in the meaning more drenched in purpose. The challenge is to be quiet and in solitude is not appealing to most people. It is too much to be silent in a world of noise. It goes against the rush of our days and what culture tells us to do. It disrupts our lives.

If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance. (Isaac of Nineveh, Syrian Monk)

I don't know about others, but I have always been one to go against the grain. I don't feel the need or urge to follow just because everyone is going that way. There has always been this rebel sense in me. Perhaps it was fostered growing up as I was given the space to think for myself. So to me, solitude is a gift to be felt in gratitude.

I love how Merton describes the silent and often wordless prayer as being "watchful listening of the heart".

08 June 2017

Confessions of a Bibliophile

Not just a bibliophile, as one who collects books, but also a voracious reader who seeks to read all the books possible, because there are so many!

Bookworm? Book lover? Bibliomaniac?

There are probably many words to describe this kind of situation. A situation where I have no more shelf space for books, so there are stacks on the table, and on the TV stand (they kind of block the TV actually, but I never watch it. I am reading instead.). I live in a tiny little home, and if I really run out of space, there is a whole other side of my queen bed that could easily hold some stacks. Just kidding (sort of). Or, I could just forgo my blankets and do this.

If you gave me a week to do nothing but read books I would rejoice, but then at the end of the week I would mourn that the week of reading was over, and I would need more time. because there would be more books to read. There are always more good books to read.

Such is the dilemma of an avid reader. The more I read, the more I find and discover all that I want to read. One book leads to many others. An author might refer to a book or an author that I want to read next. Or while reading, I might be reminded of a book I wish to read, like a classic that this book might have stemmed from. Sometimes things I read in a book will remind me of another book I mentally add to my reading list.

Is this normal? Do other people do this?

Or, I might travel to a place like Oxford, and come back with a suitcase weighing a ton because stacks of books are crammed in every nook. My self-assigned homework assignment is then to read all those books. I gladly jump into it, but other books come along eventually, crossing my path. Before I know it, I am reading 4-5 books at once and there is more beckoning. 

That's how I like it. Books upon books upon books to read.

I bought a tote bag at the Bodleian Library in Oxford this Spring that reads "When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Now, thankfully, I am blessed with a good job and a steady income, so I am not lacking in money that I ever need to make this decision, however, books would be at the top of my priority list in such a situation.

05 June 2017

Echoing Silence

But love laughs at the end of the world because love is the door to eternity and he who loves God is playing on the doorstep of eternity....
- Thomas Merton

It is not by chance that I found this book by Merton, on the vocation of writing. I seem to stumble upon books at just the right time. I have been thinking a lot about writing lately, and how I can better fulfill my purpose through my love of writing. The book has been opening up a world of thoughts, contemplations, and I find myself underlining passages everywhere. Merton was a Catholic who joined the Gethsemani Trappist Monastery and became a monk living in Kentucky back in the 1940s. My aunt and uncle have been to the monastery several times to visit, enjoying the nature and retreat from the busy world that it is.

I read his words that challenge me with insights:

When everything is "creative", nothing is creative.

What we call creative today (he wrote these thoughts in 1960) is not original or unique, but usually something that is more aggressive or vulgar (he says this in regards to sale techniques that might be called creative). It is so true that we praise something as being creative when it is actually so familiar to us and could go against what we believe to be good and honest. We are surrounded by that, rather than true creativity.

So what is real creativity, we might ask? 
What it is not, is all the destructive and negative actions used in frustration and anger, which actually causes us to lose the true elements of creativity.

There is no true creativity apart from God. That is the great summation. 
The theology of creativity is recovering our likeness to the image of God, he writes, "since God is love, then for man to be restored to the likeness of God, all his acts must be pure and disinterested love."

Creativity is possible, then, when we can forget our own limitations and allow ourselves to be lost in the immense and expansive creative power of God, whose "love is too great to be seen or comprehended."

Indeed, we look inward at ourselves too frequently, which leaves us dry and lacking while we wonder why. As we try to fill ourselves with the outward knowledge and inspiration, we should instead be emptying ourselves in Christ. It is then we can move into being truly creative with a focus on Christ rather than the world and its approval. I think this is when our true selves, as God intended us to be, begins to shine through and we lose the urge to mimic others and instead become truly creative.

02 June 2017

True Awakeness

True awakeness implies receptiveness to God's voice, both inner readiness for the Lord and knowledge of ourselves. "Who art thou and who am I?" Such is the question of the person who is awake.
- Dietrich Von Hildebrand

I stumbled upon a book (not an unusual thing) in the Selby Library Bookstore as I was getting ready to check out with the cashier. It was on the $1 cart I almost walked by with barely a glance, and the weathered fabric-covered spine caught my eye, as the older books always do. The title drew me to pick it up. It was called Liturgy and Personality. This title certainly peaks my interest, and then I saw the author was Dietrich Von Hildebrand, and first published in 1943.

Sometime last year I watched an interview by Eric Metaxas with Alice Von Hildebrand, the wife of Dietrich, who is still alive today, and in her 90s. The talk was intriguing, thought-provoking, and she was quite feisty. She talked about why she is the enemy of feminism (and an advocate for femininity). I had never heard anyone talk about it like that before. Dietrich was Hilter's enemy number one, and with his rise to power, Dietrich left Germany to fight Nazism from the outside.

Needless to say, with this tiny bit of knowledge, I was intrigued, and I added the book to my little stack of purchases. I just finished reading this book, and it had good reasons why the liturgy helps develop one's character (or true personality) through different avenues. He went through various faults we might have, such as a lack of reverence (rooted in pride):

The man who lacks reverence is blind to values and incapable of submission to them. (pg59)

Another fault we can fall into is going through life asleep, never noticing the good around us, never hearing the things of value. We self-beguile. But the liturgy helps us "stand consciously where we objectively stand in truth". Samuel Taylor Coleridge would call this "awakening the mind's attention", and this, indeed, is how we are called to live each day.

The liturgy withdraws us from this daily process of becoming blunted, it lifts us out of spiritual slumber, the obtuse "taking things for granted," being dazzled by the new only because it is new. (pg. 124)

Dietrich then discusses a spiritual maturity, or a discretion that is essential for true personality. This aspects deals the most with other people, as we test our maturity in circumstances that require thought and not sudden outbursts that ideally would not be shared in such a setting. He talks about having a sense of different levels in ourselves that approaches a good at the proper depth for the occasion. 

The question is not whether a person is reserved or expansive, but whether or not the level of expression and indulgence corresponds in its depths to the depths of the experience. (pg. 150)

I think this books helps explain why I feel it so important to experience the liturgy in various ways (prayers, services, hymns, communion, singing the gloria patri, etc) that might feel so repetitive and trite to some, but it is so essential to opening oneself up to the mysteries of God as well as learning more about your true self. This book dives into that,