Sanctuary

As January 20th approaches and confirmation hearings begin for the Trump administration’s cabinet appointments, people all over the country are organizing and preparing to resist any dangerous and hateful action by the President-Elect and his team, churches and other religious communities among them. One of the ways that places of worship are committing to help those affected by possibly harmful legislation is offering sanctuary. This can mean a number of things to communities of faith, but primarily this means housing an individual facing deportation or arrest while lawyers and advocates work out solutions on behalf of them. There was a significant sanctuary movement in the 80’s that sought to protect Central American refugees who were fleeing violence in Guatemala and El Salvador, and it seems that the looming specter of a Trump Administration has ignited the movement once again.

The danger that many feel a Trump presidency poses to the US’s immigrant population centers around his inflammatory and hard right stance on immigration and refugees. Trump routinely promised on the campaign trail to deport nearly 2-3 million undocumented immigrants, saying in an interview on 60 minutes, “What we’re going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records…we are getting them out of our country”[1]. On top of this, he has promised to repeal the executive order known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which prevents those undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children from being deported for a period of two years and allows them to apply for work authorization. Since its establishment, nearly 800,000 eligible individuals have applied for DACA, publicly outing themselves as undocumented with the promise of protection. Senator Jeff Sessions (Trump’s nominee for Attorney General), at his confirmation hearing this morning affirmed that a Department of Justice under President Trump would have the constitutional grounds for repealing the order, confirming the very real threat that these individuals face.

In light of this, churches and religious communities all over the country have come forward to declare that they will provide sanctuary for those individuals facing deportation, in defiance of the incoming administration. Under the Obama Presidency particular spaces have been respected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including churches, hospitals, and schools, and have not been raided to make arrests. However, no one is certain whether or not a Trump administration would maintain this practice. This makes for some very uncertain and frightening possibilities for immigrants and for the churches who are stepping forward to provide sanctuary. No one is really sure what is going to happen.

The church I work for, and many of our neighboring congregations, have been in a process of discernment about sanctuary for the better part of a month. Many of our leadership has been attending training and informational meetings through ISAIAH, and last Sunday a young woman, who is herself one of the “Dreamers” who have received protection under DACA, spoke to our congregation about what is at stake for her if DACA is repealed. She would be separated from her family and deported to a country that hasn’t been her home for most of her life; a country that holds a significant amount of pain and trauma in her memory. When this young woman stood up and told her story through tears I suddenly grasped the importance of this movement. I have always been a supporter of the sanctuary movement, but it wasn’t until I heard her speak that I realized how vitally important the Church’s stand could be.

It seems to me that as Christians it is our responsibility to provide sanctuary to those who seek it. It is not merely an opportunity for service, it is the very thing that the Gospel calls us to do. And, as the Church, called to follow Christ and bring forth the Kingdom of God, it is the very thing we must do. The Jesus we encounter in the Gospels routinely stands in opposition of wayward and violent power, be it state or religious, and implores his followers to care for the least among us. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matt 25:34-36). This theme is encountered throughout Christian and Hebrew scripture; “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:33-34), “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). We are called to provide for those in need and to protect those in danger.

I would argue that the Benedictine tradition also affirms this fundamental principle of Christian hospitality. Benedict says, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me”[2]. This idea of welcoming all as Christ has been on my mind daily since first reading the Rule, and I have tried to drill it deep into my being and to act in accordance with its wisdom. It stands now as a challenge to the Church in the US, as we enter into the next four years under an administration who has promised to target immigrants, refugees, and minorities. How do we welcome all as Christ, while simultaneously refusing to provide aid when we are able? How is it that we can claim to care for the least among us, while allowing dangerous state power to rip apart families and deport millions of our neighbors? It seems to me that we must pick a side, and take a stand.

I am grateful that so many churches have either declared themselves Sanctuary Congregations, or have begun the discernment process to do so. I know that many churches and religious communities simply do not have the space or resources to house undocumented immigrants, but I hope that they will find ways to support the movement with their time and money as they are able. The Trump administration poses a very real threat to so many people in our country, and I truly believe that Christians have a responsibility to stand between the powerful and the victims of power. If our brothers and sisters call for help, we must be prepared to respond in love and in welcome. We must say no to the abuse of power, and to unjust laws that destroy lives. We must reject the fear and hatred that so often divide us. When called on to provide sanctuary, we must provide it.

 

 

If you would like more information about the sanctuary movement here are some places to begin:

ISAIAH – in MN

Sanctuary Not Deportation

Sanctuary 101

Catholic Immigration Legal Network INC


[1] Washington Post

[2] Benedict, and Timothy Fry. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English

*Photo Courtesy of kristintangen.com

The Practice of Joy

“One day a hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. What kind of spiritual guide was this?

But the old monk said to him, ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ So the hunter did. Then the old man said, “Now shoot another.” And the hunter did. Then the elder said, ‘Shoot your bow again. Keep shooting; keep shooting; keep shooting.’ And the hunter finally said, ‘But if I bend my bow so much I will break it.’

Then Abba Anthony said to him, ‘It is just the same with the work of God. If we stretch ourselves beyond measure, we will break. Sometimes it is necessary to meet other needs.’ When the hunter heard these words he was struck with remorse and, greatly edified by Anthony, he went away. As for the monastics there, they went home strengthened.”[1]

 

We’re a few days into 2017, and already the world feels heavy. The politics, the war and violence, the hatred and the fear of 2016 have followed us into the new year. Any hope that we might wake up from our nightmare is all but gone, and we are left now with the important and difficult work of justice, love, and peace. There is no question that the work ahead for those who would stand against hatred and wayward power will be challenging and often demoralizing. There is no question that there will be failures and setbacks, but there will be victories and celebrations as well. The key will be our ability to withstand the onslaught of hopelessness and apathy. For those of us who seek to follow Christ, and who hope to bring a vision of the Kingdom into the midst of our broken yet beautiful world, we will need to develop resiliency. To accomplish this, I believe, we must engage in the practice of joy.

Joy is an experience that does not come easily to me. My range of emotional experience lies somewhere between everything-is-awful-always and things-are-ok-for-now. The middle ground between those two poles is my sweet spot, which doesn’t make me the most optimistic or the most cheerful. For many who know me this may seem like a misrepresentation, and they may point out that I am often bright, and talkative, and friendly. However, like any good introvert, my foray into positive extroversion requires an immense payment of energy. This means that my experience of joy often requires very focused and dedicated work. It is not something that I casually slip into. I need to limber up and prepare myself for those moments of energizing and exciting joy, and I need to practice gratitude when I encounter joy in those quiet moments. I believe that this is true to some extent for each of us. Joy is foundational to our ability to live in this world fully, and as such it requires our attention and our discipline. This is why we must not simply experience joy, but we must practice it.

This is something that monastic tradition has known forever, and is reflected in the story of Saint Anthony above. The desert fathers and mothers understood that seriousness about the work of God and holy struggle were vitally important, but like the hunter’s bow there is the danger of destruction looming within the person who does not practice joy. Our call as Christians is a serious one, and requires that we continually stay awake to the injustice and oppression faced by our neighbor, but without joy we risk losing the capacity for hope and love. If we fail to practice joy long enough, we often find ourselves simply mirroring the anger and the hatred of the oppressor, and engaging in reactionary action rather than the visionary action of the Kingdom. Without joy, it all falls apart.

On Christmas Day many churches, mine included, sang “Joy to the World” as we celebrated the birth of the Christ child. I stood in the pew, and I mouthed the words, but inside I could feel myself rejecting the very premise of the song. I felt a dark cloud hovering over me, and I thought only of the hatred and violence experienced by so many, for so long. I thought of Syria, Philando Castille, Pulse Nightclub, and the kidnapped Nigerian girls. I thought of Donald Trump rallies, ISIS, David Duke, the ugliness of racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia. The song droned in my ears and I refused to participate. I felt like I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, feel joy until things improved. Maybe next year; maybe the next election, or when there is peace in Syria. Maybe I’ll feel joy when the news cycle doesn’t look so abysmally dark. Maybe…But, as I began to consider the New Year, and how I will live into the next 365 days I began to see the failure of that thinking. I know that as the year unfolds, and I seek to live out the call of Christ in my small corner of the universe I will experience anger, and I will experience despair. I will feel impatience and fear. Those are experiences that don’t seem to need our permission to enter our lives, they show up in reaction to events quite naturally. And, if we stand front and center and allow the torrent of anger and frustration to consume us, then they will do just that. Joy, it seems, needs our permission or our attention, to enter our lives. It often requires more effort on our part, and for it to have any lasting effect on our being it demands discipline.

As Epiphany approaches, we may take some direction from the Magi, and seek joy out. The story of the “Wise Men” and their pilgrimage to the Christ child is one that many of us remember from Sunday School. Many a nativity set comes with three, often gaudily dressed Magi, bearing gifts and riding camels. From Matthew’s Gospel, “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’” (Matt. 2:1-2) These are not passive fellows, waiting at home with their feet up for their joy to simply happen upon them. They have taken it upon themselves to seek their joy out. The Magi follow the star over many, many miles “…until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.” (v. 9-10). This is a powerful example of the practice of joy.

How might we seek out joy in our own lives? How might we engage in a practice of joy, understanding it as an important element of our call as Christ followers, as those who seek justice and mercy in this world? When the bigness of suffering seems to cloud our vision, I believe it will be in the small things where we will most consistently find our joy. For me, I have committed to spending more time with my wife, and with those people I love. I have limited my time spent rabbit-holing the endless negativity of certain sectors of the internet. I have borrowed a little more fiction from the library, and have set aside time to read just for fun. I have sought out ways to serve those in need in my immediate community, and I have committed to practicing gratitude in the midst of these efforts. These things are not meant to replace or distract from the work of justice, advocacy, and contemplation. They are supplements that I hope will help me to build resiliency in this coming year. This world is hurting, and it needs the work and dedication of those who are devoted to following Christ. But we must not neglect the practice of joy, or we risk turning into that which we fight against, and losing the vision for what it is we are fighting for. No matter how dark the world may seem, we are allowed the experience of joy, if we will only follow the wisdom of the Magi and seek it out. May our practice of joy reignite our desire to do justice, to seek peace, and to love with our whole selves. Amen.

 

[1] Chittister, Joan. Wisdom Distilled From the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.

*Photo Credit: Kristin Tangen

Stay Awake

But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. – Matthew 24:36-44 NRSV


The Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent always catches me off guard. It’s dark and a little bit scary. There’s a reminder of the horror of the flood, people being taken away, and God is compared with a thief. And here I thought we were just getting ready for tiny, smiling, baby Jesus and buying gifts for our family. We get none of that as Advent begins. We get a warning. Stay Awake.

These two words stuck out to me, as I am sure they did for many, on Sunday morning as my pastor read them. It was these two words that caught her attention as well. It’s a command that many of us are attuned to at this moment in our history. For a lot of us our world is quickly becoming a scarier place, and for many others our fears and concerns are being confirmed rapid fire in the words and actions of people. We are hyperaware of the fear and the danger swirling around us, and so many of us are primed for a fight. Stay awake we hear and we tighten our fists and prepare to stand up and defend those in our midst who are targeted by hatred and violence. We hear Stay Awake and we think about Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Standing Rock, Immigrants and Refugees, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community. Stay Awake because oppression shows up while the rest of us are sleeping.

This is a reminder we need, particularly those of us who hold a significant amount of privilege. Our friends in communities of color, and the LGBTQ community, do not have the luxury of falling asleep. They are awake to the violence and oppression they face on a daily basis. But those of us who might not be directly targeted by policies of a certain President Elect, or by the hatred and violence perpetrated in his name, may be tempted to take a break from the outrage and the fear and do something else for the time being. This is a dangerous mistake. This is the kind of silence that contributes to violence and oppression. Stay Awake, Jesus commands. Do not fall asleep while Muslims in this country are threatened with a registry. Do not fall asleep while immigrants in this country are threatened with deportation and arrest. Do not fall asleep as white supremacists bend the ear of the President Elect. As Christians, called to serve and stand with the vulnerable and the targeted among us, we cannot fall asleep. We must stay awake.

This means that we must also Stay Awake in the small details of our own daily lives. It is so simple to become distracted by the noise on the news or to lean heavily on the efforts of large organizing bodies. While the ACLU, water protectors at Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter are doing incredible and critical work which we should support and participate in, it is vitally important that we begin our work in our homes and places of employment and education. Advent is about repentance which requires a turning away from the ways in which we have fallen asleep to our call as followers of Christ. Often the first signs of this turn up in our most intimate relationships; with our partners or spouses, parents or siblings, friends, and even with ourselves. Do we lash out in anger at home while decrying anger in public? Are we becoming lost in the swell of consumerism around Christmas, but neglecting to find gratitude in simplicity and relationships? Are we abandoning our spiritual practice? These things may seem small or trivial in the grander scale of staying awake, but they are incredibly important.

I often joke that I have inherited the family legacy of a quick temper. Unfortunately, in action, it’s not very funny at all. This isn’t the righteous anger of justice, this is the petty anger of inconvenience. I know that it takes extra work on my part to avoid spikes of anger in certain environments or when I do particular things, and if I neglect that work and let my anger drive me I become empty of any ability to feel compassion and empathy. I’m not able to hear the legitimate concerns or fears of another person when I am in the midst of one of my temper tantrums. Blinded by rage is a very accurate description of the effects of anger. But I am reminded by Jesus to Stay Awake. I cannot afford to be blind. I cannot afford to be asleep. I need to be awake to the small daily interactions that require my care and my attention, so that when I am called upon to stand against oppression and injustice I can do so from a place of health.

At the Stand Up For Racial Justice general meeting a few weeks ago the crowd of nearly 800 people were asked to talk to a neighbor about what or where it is that they go to recharge, to rest and recuperate. I was so grateful for this reminder that in the work of standing against oppression it is important that we act out of a place of health. Movements need people, and people simply cannot act when they are emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or physically exhausted. We need to stay awake to our own needs as well. As followers of Christ we are routinely called into difficult and uncomfortable spaces, whether they be in our own relationships, or in the larger pursuit of justice that looks like Jesus. Sometimes praying for our enemies isn’t as easy as we’d like it to be, and we find that we first need to take some time to pray for ourselves. This self-focused work is just as important as the other-focused work we hope to do. They are simply different sides of the same coin.

For me this inner work is centered around the Liturgy of the Hours and Centering Prayer. I have become uniquely attuned to the ways in which I am affected when I neglect my practice. I begin to feel scattered and reactive. My temper flairs quicker and more intensely, and I become much more concerned with myself than with the needs of others. Thomas Keating says about Centering (Contemplative) Prayer:

“Contemplative prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists”. *

I have found this wisdom to be true in my own life, experiencing the results even when I fail to understand the process. What I know is that my spiritual practice, the care of my soul, is foundational to my ability to give myself to any endeavor; be it my marriage, a friendship, my work, or the pursuit of justice. This sense of the divine in all things is coupled with a greater sense of humility, born of the realization that all of creation is connected in a beautiful and complicated way. This is why I have been so grateful for the discipline of daily prayer. It has awakened me, and helped me to Stay Awake, to the truth of our interconnectedness, to our collective belovedness, and to my own identity as beloved. For Benedict, it was the discipline of ora et labora, prayer and work. The two are interconnected and each serves to build the other up.

The Gospel reading from the first Sunday in Advent paints a terrifying picture of loss and impending doom. In our day, when so many are seeing doom on the horizon, we must heed the command of Jesus and stay awake. It will be so easy for us to be swallowed by our fear and our anger, and to turn from the important work ahead. Apathy becomes a tempting idea when hope seems lost and power seems absolute. But as followers of Jesus we must stay awake. We must build ourselves up for the work ahead, and we must care for and about those small daily tasks and interactions that empower us to do the work of justice. Our world cannot bear the burden of our slumber. It needs for us to stay awake.

  • Keating, Thomas. Open Mind Open Heart. New York, NY.: Continuum, 1991. Print.

Together

It has been a very difficult week, and I don’t think I have any new words for how people are feeling. For myself I’m feeling grief, anger, and sadness. I’m feeling guilty and ashamed. And I’m feeling betrayed. Betrayed by my own ignorance, and by the Church, at least its expression here in the United States.

What was clear to me when the final announcement was made that Donald Trump would be the next President of the United States, was what a small world I was living in. I went into the evening confident that there was no way in hell the country would elect someone as dangerous and divisive as the current President elect. Even as he gained more and more states I felt confident that the map would begin tilting in Hillary Clinton’s favor. Any minute now. My wife and I watched well into the night and were eventually left stunned and dumbfounded. It felt like a nightmare. It still feels like a nightmare. But, it is now clear to me that I have almost no idea what the rest of the world looks like outside of my own safe little echo chamber. I don’t understand the hurt and the pain of huge swaths of our country. I don’t understand an expression of Christianity that sided with a person like Trump who extols the virtues of power, aggression, and self-obsession. I do not understand.

This week, article after article has encouraged those of us who reject sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and hatred in all its expressions, to get organized and let the incoming administration and the world know that we will not sit silently while hatred and fear become the law of the land. Yesterday, that call was made more urgent by the news of Steve Bannon’s appointment as Chief Strategist in the Trump cabinet. Bannon, the former head of Breitbart, is a white nationalist who peddles in xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and hate. If there was any hope that President Trump might tone down his alt-right agenda, it must certainly have flown the coop by now. I am echoing the call of many, and asking that we make our voices heard. That we not be conquered by despair and apathy. I am asking that those of us who try to follow Jesus make it known that policies of hatred and bigotry are not consistent with our vision of the Kingdom. I am asking that we stand in solidarity with those who are targeted by these policies, even when (especially when) that requires us to place ourselves, mind and body, between victims of oppression and the oppressor.

But, I am asking us to do something else as well. Something that struck me as I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. One of my professors mentioned that Bonhoeffer has been a comfort to her in the last week, and it inspired me to return to his writing. In a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge, dated 14 August 1944, Bonhoeffer writes:

“In the long run, human relationships are the most important thing in life; the modern ‘efficient’ man can do nothing to change this, nor can the demigods and lunatics who know nothing about human relationships. God uses us in his dealings with others. Everything else is very close to hubris. Of course, one can cultivate human relationships all too consciously in an attempt to mean something to other people…it may lead to an unrealistic cult of the human. I mean, in contrast to that, that people are more important than anything else in life. That certainly doesn’t mean undervaluing the world of things and practical efficiency. But what is the finest book, or picture, or house, or estate, to me, compared to my wife, my parents, or my friend? One can, of course, speak like that only if one has found others in one’s life. For many today man is just a part of the world of things, because the experience of the human simply eludes them. We must be very glad that this experience has been amply bestowed on us in our lives…” *

Here is wisdom for us today, written over 70 years ago by a man imprisoned by a totalitarian government hell bent on the destruction of the other. We must be about the business of people, before we can be about the business of politics and religion. It seems that often, even our own families can be torn apart by the destructiveness of partisanship, politics, and doctrine. It sounds so trite, but the most important work we can do in the service of equality and justice, is at home and in our neighborhoods. It is the work of affirming the dignity and belovedness of all people, starting with our families, our friends, our neighbors, and the members of our worshipping communities. One of the things that struck me as my wife and I watched the election results, and as it became clear what message was being sent to women in this country by a Trump Presidency, was the realization that I still had so much work to do dismantling my own unconscious sexism. This realization was spurred by the love I have for my wife, for my mother and my sisters, and for all the incredible women in my life. These fundamental relationships require so much care and focus, and are often our starting points for healthy relationships with others. If our relationships at home are a mess, that often shows up in other ways and can interfere with the ways we encounter the world. The fostering of relationships is the beginning of justice, and is central to the call of Christ as we encounter him in the Gospels. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” **.

This means that for those of us seeking to stand in solidarity with the victims of hateful ideologies we must also begin the more fundamental work of building relationships with those we want to stand with. If we speak a powerful truth but are unable to realize that truth in the expression of our own lives, I think we may be nothing but clanging symbols. Can I still believe that racism is bad if I don’t know any people of color? Of course I can, but my call to destroy the systemic walls that separate us ring a little hollow if I haven’t even begun to destroy the walls in my own life. We must be about the business of human relationships, and stop seeing groups of people as one of many items in the “world of things”.

I would place politics and religion firmly within Bonhoeffer’s “world of things”, at least as it applies to the way we encounter people. This entire election we have talked about voting blocs as if they were not made up of individuals with their own stories and contexts. I have conveniently focused my own outrage on the right, or Evangelicals without actually engaging the people around me who might claim those identities. As we organize efforts to combat the evils of racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia it will be important for us to find the balance between denouncing dangerous ideas and holding those who encourage them accountable, and engaging productively and proactively with those in our own lives who think differently than we do. This will require a healthy dose of humility and patience, and if I’m honest, I don’t know if I have that capacity yet. I certainly wouldn’t expect it from anyone else either. I’m only suggesting that we will need to find ways to be about the business of human relationships if we want to see the kind of lasting and powerful change that looks like the work of Jesus.

Again, this is why I love the invitation of Benedictine Spirituality. At its heart the Rule of St Benedict is about how people live and work together. What has struck me this week as I encounter the Rule is how many chances a disobedient monk is given in the monastery. When a monk is disobedient he may be instructed to eat alone, or work separately from the rest of the community. And yet, the monk remains under the care of the Abbot. In chapter 21 Benedict says:

“The abbot must exercise the utmost care and concern for the wayward brothers, because it is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick (Matt 9:12). Therefore, he ought to use every skill of a wise physician and send in senpectae, that is, mature and wise brothers who, under the cloak of secrecy, may support the wavering brother, urge him to be humble as a way of making satisfaction, and console him lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Cor 2:7).

I am less concerned with who we may assign the role of excommunicated brother in our own contexts, than I am with the Rule’s demand that we engage with those who we might otherwise dismiss. I’m not suggesting that it is the job of the oppressed to reason with the oppressor, but I am suggesting that those of us who can must be about the business of human relationships across the dividing lines in our contexts. It is the only way that a better world will be made possible.

I’m with Bonhoeffer here. I believe that human relationships are by far the most important thing in life. I think that so many of our divisions are curated without either side knowing one another. We fear the other because we don’t know the other. That doesn’t mean that all people are gentle and lovely once you get to know them. It doesn’t mean that hatred and fear are not governing principles for some people. It just means that much of these dark and frightening ideologies are grounded in the fear of the unknown. It means that to truly love someone, they must be known to us in a way that honors their authentic self-expression rather than our characterization of them. This election revealed to me how sheltered I am from the experiences of people unlike myself in this country. It has challenged me to work intentionally on the relationships I already have; seeking to always provide a safe space for expression and conversation, dignity and respect. It has also challenged me to engage with people outside of my existing circle. Not to observe them like some kind of anthropologist, but to build relationships that can traverse ideology, class, and experience. So that I can curate a practice of empathy and compassion. That is the foundation out of which justice flows; love rather than fear. If we continue the practice of dismissing people and dehumanizing them, despair wins and we keep fighting the same battles over and over again. I refuse to let despair win. Not anymore. If we’re going to fix this, we are going to need to do it together.

*Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, and Eberhard Bethge. Letters and Papers From Prison. New York: Macmillan, 1972.

**Benedict, and Timothy Fry. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.

Psalm 120

I am grieving. I am afraid. I am sorry.

 

In my distress I cry to the Lord,
   that he may answer me:
 ‘Deliver me, O Lord,
   from lying lips,
   from a deceitful tongue.’


 What shall be given to you?
   And what more shall be done to you,
   you deceitful tongue?
 A warrior’s sharp arrows,
   with glowing coals of the broom tree!


 Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,
   that I must live among the tents of Kedar.
Too long have I had my dwelling
   among those who hate peace.
 I am for peace;
   but when I speak,
   they are for war.

 

A light shines in the darkness…

Political Idolatry

So, it’s Election Day and I couldn’t be any more exhausted by the spectacle of the last two years. I’ve already heard folks on the news discussing their relief that this day has finally come. That finally the nation will put to rest this campaign rhetoric, stump speeches, and stupid CNN countdowns. I think I can understand this feeling, though if I’m honest I am feeling a little differently. At this moment, as the polls are opening, and lines are forming, I’m feeling a twinge of fear, and a healthy mix of shame and disappointment. I do not feel very good about the state of our politics, our religious institutions, our national media, or even with the fundamentals of how we as citizens interact with each other. Mostly, the last two years have left me feeling pretty gross.

And that’s where I am feeling the most challenged as a follower of Jesus. How do we engage with a world so toxic without becoming a part of the toxicity ourselves? This has always been a challenge for the world’s religious, but it has been highlighted for me as the election has droned on. We have seen commentary after commentary about the Evangelical vote, and have witnessed the complete and total high-jacking of the Gospel in service of a political platform by leaders on the right and the left. We have made idols of our politics and the fruits of that labor have been on national display for the last 18 months or so. When we make and worship idols, whether they be politics, religion, or God herself, we find ourselves quickly descending into to traps of tribalism, violence, and fear. It didn’t work for the Israelites in the wilderness, and it’s not working for us now.

Christians on the political left and the political right often read the Gospel as an affirmation of their politics, but then quickly flip it around to commandeer the supposed authority of the Gospel for their own political position. This is why we see so many articles and blogs about how Jesus would or would not vote, as if that question makes any sense at all. This is not to say that the Gospel is not political, of course it is. But if we encounter the person of Jesus as someone who came to operate within the existing power structures of empire, I would suggest that we take a second look. Over and over again we will encounter a Jesus who simply has no time for the politics of the day, or for the institutional structures that maintain them.

Greg Boyd in his book Myth of a Christian Nation says, “…we must also recognize that people who have diametrically opposing views may believe ‘they too’ are advancing the kingdom, which is all well and good so long as we don’t christen our views as ‘the’ Christian view. As people whose citizenship is in heaven before it is in any nation (Phil 3:20), and whose kingdom identity is rooted in Jesus rather than in a political agenda, we must never forget that the only way we individually and collectively represent the kingdom of God is through loving, Christlike, sacrificial acts of service to others. Anything and everything else, however good and noble, lies outside the kingdom of God”*. This is a powerful reminder to me that our responsibility as followers of Jesus, in the midst of the ugliness of politics, is to serve one another in humility and love. This includes those that we disagree with, even those who we believe are the enemy. Enemy love and sacrificial service are the Jesus platform, and this orientation radically repositions us in the context of politics and empire.

The reason I feel so gross this morning as the polls open, is that to this point I have not seen the willingness to serve one another, or the humility required for enemy love. Not only has it been absent from the broader public, but it seems to me also absent among those of us who claim to follow Jesus. This is certainly true for me. I have spent this entire election routinely participating in the kind of dark and angry rhetoric that dehumanizes those who disagree with my politics. I have justified my politics by using the Gospel and the person of Jesus as talismans of my own political agenda. I have dismissed entire groups of people as unworthy, simply because of their political or ideological positions and choice of leadership. I have done all of this while pretending that it was my faith leading my politics, rather than the other way around.

I want to be clear, I am not saying that Christians should not vote, or be politically active. I am voting today because I believe it is important for us as citizens of the empire to demand better of our leaders and systems. I can tell you as well that I do believe that the rhetoric and policy of one of the nominees is flat out dangerous and wherever I am able I try to criticize those ideas that I believe cause harm. I am asking that we reconsider how we do politics. I am asking that we lead with humility and service, and that we strive to affirm the belovedness of all people, regardless of politics or ideology. If we are unable to do this, then the fallout from the election tonight will just continue to drive us apart and make the world a truly more dangerous place.

In Chapter 4 of the Rule of St Benedict the monks are instructed, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away from someone who needs your love”**. I’m going to reflect on this chapter as this day unfolds, and I hope that it will inspire me to reconsider the ways in which I have approached my politics. I hope that those of us who follow Jesus will relinquish our grips on the empire way of doing things, and claim instead the service and humility of the kingdom of God. I hope that we can begin to come together, affirming our essential belovedness, and live into the wonder of the beloved community. Because, when the polls close and a new President is elected, there will be a lot of healing that needs doing, and I want to be a part of that.

*Boyd, Gregory A. The Myth of a Christian Nation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005.

**Benedict, and Timothy Fry. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.

Spiritual Junk Food

We are seven days away from an election that has dominated the national consciousness for over a year. An election mired in sexual assault allegations, email security, racism and xenophobia, and even some violence. Not only that, but last week water protectors in North Dakota were violently removed from sacred land facing destruction by the Dakota Access Pipeline. We have continued to witness police brutality against African Americans, the steady stream of Syrian refugees fleeing their homes, and the assault on Mosul. This is just a handful of the messages and stories we are consuming daily, and if I’m being honest, I’m starting to get spiritual gut-rot.

Honestly, it is exhausting to be an informed and concerned citizen. The constant stream of negativity that comes across our Twitter feeds or cable news is simply too much for one person to bear. It feels like we’re being continually pushed down before we’re even able to stand back up. The temptation is to say screw it, walk away, and shut out the world. I have some video games that haven’t been played in ages, maybe I could spend my time trying to kill dragons instead. Sometimes it seems that this tactic might be more productive than trying to engage a world that feels so damn broken.

But, for those of us trying to follow Jesus, this temptation is one that we need to resist. We cannot simply exit the world emotionally without also turning our back on Christ. In July at St. John’s Abbey, our Oblate Retreat was led by Sister Christian Morris. Sister Morris asked us to consider where we could see Christ dying in our midst. This struck me as a very powerful lens through which to see the world, and the seemingly hopeless litany of tragedy and evil that often comes with it. Sister Morris played a video for us that strung together images of Syria, Black Lives Matter protests, gun violence, and other tragic narratives that we have encountered over the last year. As the video ended she reminded us, however, that the story doesn’t end with the cross, but with the empty tomb, asking us to stand in hope of resurrection. It reminded me of Tony Campolo’s famous sermon “It may be Friday now, but Sundays coming…”

Now that’s all well and good, and I do think that this is the challenge and the duty of the Christian; to proclaim resurrection to a world that proclaims death, but sometimes that duty feels just too damn difficult. While the grace of God can swallow whole the horror of this world, sometimes as people, we just get tired. And often we find that our spiritual health works an awful lot like our bodily health. When you get tired and run down, your spiritual immune system weakens, and all that toxic sludge starts to eat away at you. You begin to believe in the hopelessness, even calling it realism. Apathy starts to take the place of empathy, and before you know it, you’ve retreated from the world completely. Often we don’t even realize this has happened until we’re already bogged down in it.

Joan Chittister says it perfectly in her book Wisdom Distilled From the Daily:

“…without prayer, the energy for the rest of life runs down. The fuel runs out. We become our own worst enemies: we call ourselves too tired and too busy to pray when, in reality, we are too tired and too busy not to pray. Eventually the burdens of the day wear us down and we no longer remember why we decided to do what we’re doing…And if I cannot remember why I decided to do this, I cannot figure out how I can go on with it. I am tired and the vision just gets dimmer and dimmer”. **

I think this is where Benedictine spirituality has a lot of wisdom. For Benedict, the monastery is governed by the rhythm of the Work of God, the Liturgy of the Hours. This constant and daily prayer and recitation, along with the monk’s daily tasks, grounds the community in the present moment. It reminds the individual that there is something greater than the fear and negativity one might encounter, and it reminds the community that only together can we challenge the prevailing narrative. This is what Benedict is saying in his introduction, “First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to (God) most earnestly to bring it to perfection” *. By centering ourselves first in the spiritual well-being of our own person, and then in the community, we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, or rather, the light within the darkness of the tunnel. As Chittister said, it reminds us why we are doing what it is we are doing.

I have found this to be true from my own experience. When I begin to feel weakened by the stress of my own life, and overwhelmed by the negativity and tragedy of the world, the first thing that I often neglect is my spiritual practice and the small daily tasks that need to be completed. This often snowballs, and before I know it I’ve binge watched some show on Netflix, the dishes are stacking up, laundry is out of control, and the thought of a time of silence makes me shudder. I completely disengage from the world and from myself. I ignore the news in favor of entertainment, and I neglect silence in favor of distraction. This is spiritual junk food, and as I said before, gut-rot is imminent. I know what it is that I need. I know that I need some good old, organic, free range, spiritual discipline. I need to ground myself in the rhythms of prayer, and the discipline of my daily tasks. This is the practice that plants me firmly in the moment, and rejects the temptation to try and predict the future based solely on the crushing negativity of the world around me. I think this is what hope looks like; a lived life in the face of a world that says life isn’t worth living. As stupid as it might sound, every time I light my candle for prayer, or finish cleaning the dishes, or take the dog for a walk, I feel just a little bit more hopeful. It reminds me that life is good, and re-energizes me to proclaim resurrection in the face of death. Spiritual burnout is inevitable if we are not grounded in the present, in the daily.

For myself, I am rededicating myself to the discipline of daily work and prayer. I intend to spend this week tidying up, domestically and spiritually. I will proclaim resurrection first in my own heart, so that from a place of fullness I can proclaim it to the world. There is so much happening in our world that requires our attention, and the work of our hands. Let’s not neglect our own spiritual, mental, and physical health. Let us act out of a place of wholeness, grounded in the present moment. No more spiritual junk food. It just makes you sick.

 

*Benedict, and Timothy Fry. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.

**Joan Chittister “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily” (Seriously, this is one of the greatest resources our their concerning Benedictine Spirituality)

Belonging

I’ve been reflecting lately on the importance of community in the health of the individual. Finding myself in a time of transition between a number of communities I have been confronted with the loss of community, or at least the perceived loss of community, and with the uncomfortable task of trying to establish new connections in new communities. At the same time, I have tried to remind myself of the vitally important connections that remain even when the structure of community as I have experienced it fades away. It’s exhausting. I long for that community structure that offered so much reprieve from all the other stressors in my life. The comfortable one that I knew and loved. I can feel its absence like a lost loved one. I suppose in essence I am mourning. It was this sense of mourning that really got me thinking about community as an aspect of spiritual health.

Benedictine spirituality is founded on the principle of community. The Rule was written to offer guidance to monasteries in the 5th & 6th centuries, and Benedict’s first chapter is explicit that the monk that lives with other monks in a monastery is to be preferred to the lonely, itinerant monk. The subsequent 72 chapters illustrate the ways in which monks are to live in community. The monks are instructed to eat together, to work together, and to pray together. They are to be obedient to each other and to the abbot, and to seek to outdo the other in mercy, humility, and service. It is in these acts of community that the monks are brought into ever closer communion with God, illustrating the immanence of God in midst of community. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” *.

This is why most of us go to church. Because we have experienced the closeness of God most intimately in the gathering of people around ritual, music, and fellowship. I know for myself, the worshipping community, at its best, has been the place where I find comfort, support, and challenge. It’s been a place where I can safely allow my vulnerabilities to be seen and still find acceptance and love. At its worst, it’s been a place where vulnerability is seen as inconvenient or inappropriate. Where competition and divisiveness are allowed to interrupt the stated purpose for gathering in the first place.

It is this diversity of possible experiences that can make the loss of community so anxiety producing. We are not guaranteed a community that will support us. We are not promised the same level of trust and mercy that we may have encountered in previous communities. It’s like breaking up with a person you were in love with, and then comparing all subsequent suitors to that one who made you feel so safe and cared for. It’s a difficult process that many of us have to face. We lose and leave communities for so many reasons. Maybe we move, or get a new job. Maybe we are called to a new community, or perhaps the community is simply unable to gather anymore. For whatever reason, this loss is something we all face. And for many of us, this loss is the first time we may realize how vitally important our communities are to our spiritual and mental health.

I wonder if so many of us ignore the importance of community because of how radically connected we are every second of every day. At any moment we are able to communicate with many thousands of people on Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat. We often find some level of value in the number of “friends” we can accumulate on our various social media platforms. Now, there are plenty of good arguments for the veracity and effectiveness of online communities, but I wonder if those online communities that truly create a sense of belonging and support are the minority, rather than majority experience. For myself, I often think that my “online community” offers the appearance of community, just enough for me to neglect the more intensive work of building lasting community relationships face to face. This may postpone that feeling of loss, but eventually I find myself realizing that my Twitter followers and Facebook friends cannot offer the kind of belonging I need to experience that closeness that drew me to community in the first place.

In the midst of thisexperience of loss, and this entrance into new community, I have been especially grateful for those relationships that are the foundation of my belonging. My primary community is that experience of belonging and acceptance with my wife. When it seems that all other connections fall away, or are unable to fit within the busyness of daily life, I am fortunate to have the nurturing and loving belonging in the community of marriage. This is where all of my experiences of community have their beginning. I am grateful also for those other relationships that are able to survive and continue in the face of transition, busyness, and time apart. Without these experiences of belonging, the loss of a particular community would be simply too heavy to bear.

This desire for community, and spiritual community in particular, is built in to the faith tradition I claim as my own. In the person of Jesus, God revealed God’s relational essence. Jesus is simply not interested in claiming a position of above and beyond, but rather claims a position of among and within. Jesus reveals God to the people by intimately connecting in community. It is the foundational structure of the Jesus movement. This structure is confirmed again and again by those traditions that react to a Christianity that loses touch with this primary value by refocusing again on the community. Monasticism, Anabaptists and Quakers, emergence Christianity, and New Monasticism. There is a sense that this return to community is healing in and of itself, and this seems to me to be absolutely true.

It is this belief that has challenged me to push through the awkwardness of establishing new relationships and new communities. I know the healing that can come from a safe and accepting community, and I acknowledge that, for myself, I simply cannot be without it. I am hopeful that I will find belonging in a lasting and loving community, and I continue to pray that we all might find this belonging. Find that community affirms and supports you. That challenges you, and asks you to challenge yourself. Do not settle for accumulating followers, and don’t let the loss of one community prevent you from seeking another. We all need belonging, we need community. Thanks be to God.

 

*NRSV

Caring for the Sick, Including Ourselves

I woke up this morning to a congested head, a headache, and the chills. I don’t often get sick, but when I do I always feel compelled to just push through it. I don’t have time to get sick. There is simply way too much to accomplish in twenty-four hours, and I am not about to neglect those duties. Of course, I often pay the price for this later, but I never seem to learn well enough to do it differently the next time around.

So, this morning, I forced myself out of bed for Lauds. I could barely keep my head up, but I was determined to start my day the way I wanted to start my day, illness be damned. I made it to the Benedictus before I couldn’t keep my head up any longer. I popped a couple Dayquil and crawled back into bed. As I drifted off into sick sleep, I thought about what being sick in the monastery looks like. What would Benedict have to say about my inability to make it through prayer?

Luckily, Benedict is very explicit in the Rule. Chapter 36 is entitled “The Sick Brothers”, and in it Benedict lays out the care for brothers who are ill, and the overarching theme of this chapter is radical compassion as spiritual practice. Benedict says, “Care for the sick must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ” *. For Benedict, caring for the sick is not only our duty as Christians, but is an opportunity to serve another as we would serve Christ. This compassion for the sick even supersedes some of Benedict’s most rigorous rules. The sick are given their own room, they receive a personal attendant, and they even get to eat meat. It’s as if Benedict throws the book out the window in order to serve the sick brother or sister.

This is where I confess my own shortcomings when it comes to caring for the sick in my own life. As I said before, when I get sick I feel like I cannot take time to recover, I need to power through it and just hope it goes away eventually. This lie I tell myself filters into the way I treat those around me who are sick. My wife often receives the brunt of it. When she feels sick (as she is right now), I find that my first thought is, “Well, get over it”. Not compassionate in the least. It’s hard for me to understand why someone would let sickness stop them from doing the things they need to do. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t. This judgmental and unreasonable response to another person’s need is completely antithetical to the nature of Benedictine spirituality, and of decentness itself. But, if I refuse to care enough about myself to consider my health and recovery, how can I ever expect to care for someone else who needs my care and compassion?

I suspect that I am not alone in feeling like I simply do not have time to get sick. So much of this feeling is wrapped up in my fear of being perceived as weak. As an American man it has been programmed into my mind that sickness equals weakness, and the worst thing an American man can be is weak. So we push through it, neglecting our own self-care at our peril. A survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that 36 percent of men only went to the doctor when they were really sick, and psychologists who looked at this survey speculated that societal and cultural sensibilities about what is “manly” may also play a role. “According to one study by researchers at Rutgers, for example, men who strongly endorsed old-school notions of masculinity – the ideal man being a strong, silent type who doesn’t complain about pain – were only half as likely as other men to seek preventive health care” **. Even if we don’t fully endorse this image of what a man is, we’ve picked up enough messages over the course of our lives that remind us to be tough, and to push through the pain. Unfortunately, this masculine myth may help to explain why women tend to outlive men. We’d rather appear tough and capable than take care of our own health needs.

Part of becoming whole selves is the requirement that we care for our own well-being. This is something that is often rejected in our culture of efficiency and productivity. We apply these values even to our health and our relationships. We avoid the necessary maintenance of our bodies and minds so that we will not be perceived as lazy, or unproductive. It’s bad enough that we do it to ourselves, but this poor treatment of our own needs often is transmitted to those around us. This is exactly why I struggle to be compassionate when my wife becomes ill; I’m buying into the myth that sickness equals weakness, and weakness gets in the way of my productivity.

I wonder if this mindset plays a role in the battle for Paid Sick Leave in congress. Many people in this country have to decide between missing work and losing out on a paycheck, or recovering from an illness. It seems like common sense that people should be able to recover and not be put in economic danger, but our cultural value system rejects this notion. Time is money, and time off shouldn’t be rewarded. A New York Times article published last week discussed the Obama Administration’s rule that all federal contract workers will be required to provide paid sick leave to their employees. This piece-meal effort to enforce paid sick leave nationwide is in response to congresses refusal to pass the Healthy Families Act. The article states that “…more than 35 percent of private-sector workers do not have access to paid sick leave” ***. That is a huge number of people who may not be able to recover from an illness, or be able to care for a sick family member, without jeopardizing their economic position. This is not an experience that I know personally, but I cannot imagine the fear that illness might represent to those who cannot afford to recover. I hope that our leaders will do the right thing and mandate paid sick leave nationwide.

To care for the sick is to see a person as worthy of love and compassion. It is to recognize the Beloved in them. Benedict’s admonition to serve the sick as we would serve Christ, reminds us that the love of God in Jesus is to be found in the hands and feet of our brothers and sisters, and our willingness to care for their needs as we would care for our own. This means that we must learn to recognize the Beloved in us, so that we can also learn to care for our own needs. If we cannot see our own worthiness, we will never be able to see it fully in someone else. When we can see our brothers and sisters in this light, we will find that we are willing to throw whatever rules impede our compassion, straight out the window. So, rather than continue to play into the myth of sickness equals weakness, I’m going to get up, take a few more Dayquil, and go get my wife and I some soup. Just like Benedict would do.

*Benedict, and Timothy Fry. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.

**http://www.everydayhealth.com/mens-health/men-and-doctors-understanding-the-disconnect.aspx

***http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/30/business/economy/paid-sick-leave-government-contractors.html

Practicing Silence

It happens like clockwork. Thursday rolls around and that checklist in my head starts to flash red. So many tasks to be completed, so many things to write, and read. So many people to visit and call. Class to attend, work to be done. Each week, right about now, I start to breathe a little quicker, my eyes begin to dart and my heart rate kicks up a notch. For some people it’s the start of the week that causes the most stress, for me it’s the end. On Monday, I usually feel organized and prepared. By Thursday, the wheels have come off and I’m playing a dangerous game of organizational triage. It’s so dang predictable.

This is when I need to remind myself that there is a peace to be found in the chaos, and its name is silence. I don’t mean simply turning off Spotify while I write a paper or clean the house. I mean silence inside and out. Silence that fills my entire being, body and soul. This is my antidote.

Silence is part of nearly all spiritual practice, because the ancients and mystics of all faith backgrounds understood that peace is found in the silence. St. Benedict had very strict feelings about silence in the monastery, saying, “Indeed, so important is silence that permission to speak should seldom be granted even to mature disciples, no matter how good or holy or constructive their talk” *. Benedict reminds us that a flood of words most often leads to problems. Gossip, slander, complaining. Thus, when we refrain from speaking we build up sturdy walls against such dangerous floods. This is true also for interior silence. When we allow our minds to spin wildly around the business and negativity of our weeks and our days, our work and our relationships, we find that we are unable to know inner peace. We simply spin out of control. This is what happens to me on Thursdays around 10 A.M.

Joan Chittister speaks of silence in her book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, saying:

“Monastic spirituality says it is the clamor of the self that needs to be brought to consciousness. Monastic spirituality says it is the cry of our own passions that mute the cry of others. Monastic spirituality says people who cannot live comfortably with silence can never live comfortably with noise.

But silence is a frightening thing. Silence leaves us at the mercy of the noise within us. We hear the fears that need to be faced. We hear, then, the angers that need to be cooled. We hear the emptiness that needs to be filled. We hear the cries for humility and reconciliation and centeredness. We hear ambition and arrogance and attitudes of uncaring awash in the shallows of the soul. Silence demands answers. Silence invites us into depth. Silence heals what hoarding and running will not touch.” (Chittister **)

This is the healing I need, and I am fully aware of the ways in which I hoard and run in my own life. Running for me often looks like procrastination. It offers moments of relief in a world too full of tasks and relationships for me to manage. I feel so overwhelmed that I just turn on Netflix for an episode…or two…or a season. But eventually the world snaps back into focus and I have less time maneuver it than I did before. This is where I start to say “I have no time for silence”, which is a complete cop-out, but an effective one nonetheless. However, all the practitioners of silent or centering prayer that I have read; Thomas Keating, Henri Nouwen, they suggest something in the area of 40 minutes a day. 20 in the morning, 20 in the evening. If I have time to watch one episode of Ancient Aliens, I can manage 40 minutes of silence a day.

This is not simply a spiritual notion, as the science of silence has started to back up the claims of the desert fathers and mothers, the yogis and mystics. An article on Huffington Post discussed the number of ways that noise and distraction harms our physical and mental health. Studies have shown that noise pollution can raise blood pressure and risk of heart attack, and create a greater sense of stress. A 2013 study, focusing on the effects of noise on mice, found that silence might actually lead to the creation of brain cells in the hippocampus. This Psychology Today article links to a number of studies that illustrate the benefits of silent meditation, with results like decreased pain, decreased anxiety and stress, and an increased sense of compassion and empathy. The mystics have had it right all along.

We live in a world that values production and hard work. We see people who work themselves to death, and we celebrate their dedication and come to believe that this is what success looks like. But this is a dangerous way to live. When we don’t take the time to settle our bodies and minds we soon find that we lose whatever sense of control we were aiming for in the first place.

Ultimately, silence is a settling into the experience of God, into the Ground of All Being. It heals us because this presence is itself healing. Thomas Keating in Open Mind, Open Heart, says:

“The root of prayer is interior silence. We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Deep prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and feelings – our whole being – to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond words, thoughts, and emotions. We do not resist them or suppress them. We accept them as they are and go beyond them, not by effort, but by letting them all go by. We open our awareness to the Ultimate Mystery whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing – closer that consciousness itself. The Ultimate Mystery is the ground in which our being is rooted, the Source from whom our life emerges at every moment.” (Keating ***)

This freedom to settle into the experience of Mystery and silence is one that offers us peace and healing in a world that demands certainty and offers cacophony. It is a way for us to care for ourselves, and to claim our identity as Beloved, and to extend that love out into the world. Whether we enter silence as a way of being good to our own bodies and minds, or as a way of resting in the presence of the Mysterious God, it is clear that it is a wise thing to do. So, now I’ll shut up, get up from this desk, and start taking my own advice. Peace.

*The Rule of St Benedict

**Joan Chittister “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily”

***Thomas Keating “Open Mind, Open Heart”