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Jun 262017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 9/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 9)


Richard’s Rule of Life
My Commitments

Richard’s Personal Mission Statement

I aspire to live a holy life.

I aspire to live that holy life in the midst of my daily activities as an individual, a husband, a father, grandfather, and as a citizen in this world as it is, and as it will become.

I aspire to be in constant awareness of the Mysterious Divine Center I call God; in myself; in each person, each event, and each thing that makes up my life, whether it appears to be good or evil.

I aspire to participate in the holy life with these people, events, and things based on the directives and guidance that flows out of constant awareness of the Mysterious Divine Center.

In light of that divine guidance I aspire to give shape and form to my life and world in a way that will bring an ever increasing consonance, wholeness, and holiness to my own life and that of those I touch.

In the pursuit of this holy life I aspire to challenge myself and others, but also to respect their freedom while being true to my own life call.

Richard Southworth

I want to be this person! In the very depths of my soul I long to be this person! This mission statement is in my previous book, Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough, which was published back in 2011, and it actually predates that time. It is still valid for me today. It is still a good description of the person I feel called to be. I know that I can never fully be that person, but I can move in that direction. Longing for it, striving for it, reaching for that vision gives my life its meaning. Seeing the “just perceptual difference” as I grow toward that goal motivates me to continue on this often difficult journey. This vision calls to me in the midst of all of my other activities, in the midst of happiness and joy, pain and suffering, anger and violence, and it permeates my thoughts and reflections. The vision is the very essence of who I am as a person.

In order for me to continue to move toward becoming that person I need to make specific commitments and hold myself accountable for those commitments. I need to write those commitments down. I need to take the results of my discernment practice and write them down into what is often referred to in the spiritual literature as a“Rule of Life”. I realize that it is impractical to think that I can, or even should, do all of this all of the time, but I am committed to striving to moving in that direction. I am also committed to paying attention of what works and what does not work and making reasonable adjustments as necessary.

My Practice: I am committed to maintaining a regular spiritual practice.

My Practice

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) I am committed to one complete time apart every day as early in the morning as practical to include reading three psalms out loud (3, 51, & 95), reading a section from Preferring Christ, and a twenty minute silent contemplation.

(2) I am committed to a twenty minute silent contemplation sometime in the middle of the day.

(3) I am committed to a daily practice with Winnie in the evening to include at least Centering, Reading, Meditation, and a twenty minute silent contemplation.

(4) I am committed to taking some silent time, without any other practice, sometime each day.

(5) I am committed to reviewing one section of this Rule regularly 
 as part of my practice.

Self Presence: I am committed to paying attention to the way I am present in the events of my day.

My Presence

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Specifically I am committed to monitoring my compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses and to letting go of those thoughts, emotions, and impulses when appropriate.

(2) As a part of that I am committed to monitoring my speech to include both the content of that speech and the tone and delivery.

(3) When I am unable to do that I am committed to withdrawing from the event and taking time apart until I can.

 

 

 

My Presence: I am committed to being fully present in the events of my day. I will strive to be “that man” as described by Henri Nouwen or as I have come to call him “Abbot Richard”.

My Presence

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Who is this man? He is a person who has a great deal of attracting power for those around him. Those who meet him are fascinated by him and want to know more about him. All he comes in contact with get the irresistible impression that he derives his strength from a hidden source which is strong and rich. An inner freedom flows out from him, giving him an independence which is neither haughty nor aloof, but which enables him to stand above immediate needs and most pressing necessities. He is moved by what happens around him, but he doesn’t let it oppress or shatter him. He listens attentively, speaks with a self-possessed authority, but doesn’t easily get rushed or excited. In everything he says and does, he seems to have a lively vision before him which those who hear him can intimate, but cannot see. This vision leads his life. He is obedient to it. Through it he knows how to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Many things which seem of gripping immediacy hardly stir him, and he attaches great importance to some things which others simply let pass.*

Henri Nouwen

My Family: I am committed to supporting my family and to deepening my relationship with each person. Specifically I am committed to:

My Family

Photo by Sandra Marr

(1) Spending time with each of them on a regular basis.

(2) Participating in family events enthusiastically while taking care of my need for quiet and solitude.

(3) Engaging is discussion and speaking my truth in an appropriate manner when I sense that I am called to do so even when my “truth” conflicts with others.

(4) Offering guidance and wisdom in an appropriate manner even or maybe especially when it is difficult or not received well.

Church: I am committed to maintaining my relationship with Walnut Grove Baptist Church for the foreseeable future. Specifically I am committed to:

Church

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Attending Sunday School and Church with my family one some Sundays.

(2) Staying home on those days when my need for quiet and solitude is particularly strong. I will do that without guilt and without apologizing for my decision.

(3) Engaging in discussion and speaking my truth in an appropriate manner when I sense that I am called to do so even when my “truth” conflicts with others.

(4) Being open to opportunities to speak, teach, or serve in ways that are consistent with my ministry goals and objectives.

 

My Ministry: I am committed to sharing my experience and knowledge of spiritual formation and the contemplative lifestyle with others.. Specifically I am committed to:

Photo by Winnie Southworth

(1) Finishing and publishing my second book, tentatively titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer Of Our Own.

(2) Maintaining my blog Turning Around,

(3) Considering the place of both in person and online teaching and speaking in my ministry.

(4) Developing and implementing a marketing plan, including specific goals and objectives, to include my first book titled Choosing Authenticity: Religion Is Not Enough, my second book tentatively titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer Of Our Own, and my blog Turning Around.

 

(Written in June 2017)

____________

Nouwen, Henri J. M., With Open Hands. (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1972), p. 132.



If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer View
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Developing  A Way of Life View
A Guide To Live By

Obedience View
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life (This Post)
My Commitments

(Coming Soon…)

Another series:
Reflection V
Conversion of Heart

Saying Our Prayers Is Not Enough


Follow Us

Jun 142017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 8/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 8)


Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Few of us have the courage to burn—to be totally called, awesomely marked, thoroughly spent, and imperiously sent. The divine summons is ignored, the human vocation is dodged, and the eternal banquet celebrating the final love affair, is postponed because we are so fearful. Ignorance and fear have plagued us from the beginning until now and are responsible for our multiple idolatries.

William McNamara, O.C.D.

McNamara has captured something extremely important here. Few of us have the courage to burn. All too often the divine summons is ignored. Ignorance and fear often plague us. In our context here, many of us have bought into the idea that the Mysterious Other we call God no longer speaks to us personally. Divine Union, so important to the spiritual life, is not even something to be sought after. Said another way, we have all too often come to believe that there is no “Sacred Inner Voice” (or, as my wife put it, no Holy Spirit) to trust and listen to and be obedient to—no opportunity “to be totally called, awesomely marked, thoroughly spent, and imperiously sent”. We have bought into a system where reading and studying scripture and trying to abide by all the dos and don’ts we learn through that process is all there is. We can ask God for help, but there is no real expectation that God will reply—no expectation that God will actually provide the “guidance, strength, and courage” we need.

If we do consider the possibility of God speaking to us through that sacred inner voice the question of being able to trust that voice is often overwhelming. We have only to listen to the evening news to find countless examples of people who have done absolutely atrocious things and claimed to be following God’s leading. We are also well aware of some of the strange things that sometimes go through our own head as well. We cannot bring ourselves to even consider the possibility of “Listening Obedience” to that Sacred Inner Voice—to the Spirit—or of distinguishing that voice from all of the other “voices” that float around in our heads. We have no clue how to really do that, thus “the divine summons is ignored”.

The term often used in much of the spiritual literature for that process is discernment. Adrian van Kaam has referred to the process as seeking consonance**. I like “seeking consonance” because it focuses on the goal where discernment focuses on the process. The dictionary defines consonance as:

agreement or compatibility between opinions or actions.***

In van Kaam’s model, consonance consists of three primary principles: Congeniality, Compatibility, and Compassion. Competence, Commitment, and Balance, are also talked about as supporting principles. All six of these principles are necessary to the discernment process. We will look at each of these principles briefly.

Richard in Church

Photo by Winnie M. Southworth

I sense that I am being called by that Mysterious Other I call God to redefine my relationship with church — I believe that Still Small Voice—the Spirit—is leading me to rethink my commitment to church. Generally, I have learned to recognize and trust that voice, but in this case, I want to be sure I am doing the right thing. To use van Kaam’s model, I want to be sure that this choice is really consonant.

What exactly do I do? What would the discernment process look like for me to consider all of the different possibilities? Do I quit church completely and focus on developing “a religion of ones own”**** apart from church? Do I let go of my relationship with church as a major issue in my life, go to church when I feel led to, and stay home when I feel led to, and not worry about it? Do I let go of my struggle to find a church that works better for me? These and other options rise up in me every time I think of church. Clearly for me that Still Small Voice—that Spirit is calling me to change my relationship to church and I need to respond to that. Yet that voice, as I have perceived it so far, is not nearly so clear about what I should actually do. It is very clear to me that voice is calling me to the discernment process—calling me to seek consonance. What is the consonant answer to these questions? What is congenial, compatible, and compassionate. How does competence, commitment, and balance play into this?

Congeniality: Congeniality is all about being authentic—about being who we really are. Is the guidance I seem to be receiving an expression of who I most deeply am and who I believe I am called to be or is it some ego driven issue? Is what I am considering here the right thing for me personally? All other things aside, and if there were no conflicting issues what is the right thing for me as an individual? Let me be clear, this question is not the same as what do I want to do. It is better expressed as what am I called to do by that Mysterious Other I call God? How am I called to change and grow and be transformed?

I have been to many different churches in many different denominations over the years, some traditional and some not so much, and a few that were downright weird. While I found something that worked for me in some of them I have never felt at home in any of them. I am not, and never have been, a traditional Christian. I do not necessarily buy in to all of the traditional doctrine. I am either bored and/or uncomfortable in most Sunday School classes and with much of what goes on in church in general. Church, as I have experienced it, is not really congenial for me personally.

I know without a doubt that I need to define a relationship with church that is congenial for me. If I am going to continue to attend church, at the very least, I need to find a way to make peace with that. I need to define a congenial way of doing that.

Compatibility: Compatibility calls us to move beyond our own needs and desires and consider seriously the environment we find ourselves in. Is the action I am considering consistent with the rest of my life? Here I have to let go of my own personal needs and desires and consider other things in my life that will be affected. Where I live, how I support myself and such. What else in my life will be affected by the decision I am considering here? It has been said that compatibility is about choosing our battles. Is it worth it?

Church is what church is. I know that I cannot “fix” it. Maybe I could have some impact, but as much as I sometimes would like to, I can never hope to make it over into my image. I know I need to let go of that. It is not the answer. It is not really even part of the answer. I also know that I will never find a church that really is compatible for me. I have tried that without success way too many times over way too many years.
There is also the issue of family. My wife and son both want to go to church, and my wife is involved in a service group there which is good for her. I also have a granddaughter who likes to go with us. When my then eight year old granddaughter decided she wanted to go to church she called me and asked if she could go with me to church. For most things she calls her grandmother, but for this she called me. I feel strongly called to support her in that. I know that they all want me to go with them.

What about the other people at church. I was discussing the possibility of quitting church with my friend and Catholic priest Fr. Patrick Foley one day and he responded: “The church needs both your presence and your discontent.” That adds another whole dimension to the compatibility question.

Compassion: Compassion is all about caring for both ourselves and others. It is about considering both congeniality and compatibility equally. On the surface it seems that having compassion for me personally and having compassion for my family are at odds with each other. On the one hand going to church does not seem congenial for me. On the other hand not going does not seem compatible with the needs and desires of my family. Then there is my friend’s statement that “the church needs your presence and your discontent”. All of these things are important, and they are all important to me personally. The call to growth here is strong, but what would that look like? How am I called by that Mysterious Other to resolve the apparent conflict?

Balance: What is called for here is balance. Balance calls me to look beyond the extremes. It calls me to avoid either/or thinking. It calls me to look for solutions that address both my need for congeniality and and my need for compatibility. Yes, one possible answer here is for me to follow my need for congeniality and just quit church. Sometimes our call to congeniality—our call to authenticity—really does call us to disappoint people that are important to us. Yes another possibility is for me to let go of that need and focus on the needs of my family and the church—to recommit myself to church without constantly wondering if I should quit. But these are not the only two possible answers. What happens when I consider seriously reaching beyond the extremes and seeking balance?

First of all, I can choose not to go some Sundays when my need for quiet is particularly strong (congeniality), and choose to go on other Sundays when I sense a strong need to support my family (compatibility) or when there is some need at church that needs my attention. But my coach brought up something even deeper here, and even more difficult to face up to. I sense in all of this “noodling”, as she likes to call it, a clear calling to change my attitude toward church. I need to see it radically differently, and that calls for some serious spiritual practice. Beyond that, I sense a deeper calling to move beyond accepting or rejecting what is and work toward creating something that, on some level at least, works for me and that might possibility be of service to others. Figuring out what that might look like is beyond the scope of this section.

Competence: Competence calls me to consider whether or not I have the knowledge, experience, and expertise to actually do what I feel called to do. I know how to do the spiritual practice necessary to change my attitude about church. I have engaged in that practice for years and made some significant and successful changes in other areas of my life. I have a masters degree in spiritual formation, and I have worked before to create something new in church. I can do it again if I really am called to that endeavor.
If that were not the case, if there was knowledge, experience, and expertise that I was missing, that would not necessarily mean I was not called in that direction. It could very well mean that I needed to do whatever was necessary to develop that knowledge, experience, and expertise.

Commitment: When we have worked through this process and we have clarified what we believe that still small voice—that Spirit—that Mysterious Other we call God wants us to do. Where does listening obedience call us to go from here? Commitment calls us to actually make it happen in our day to day life. It calls us to clearly articulate what we feel called to do and then make a real commitment to discover what that means. It calls us to turn that calling into actual goals and objectives and to track those goals and objectives over time. It calls us to take those goals and objectives into our examination of conscience practice to be sure that it actually happens.

On the one hand obedience and commitment call us to stay the course. It calls us to, as someone put it, “fake it until we become it”*****—until it becomes a natural part of who we are as a person. That said the process is not over. We need to be constantly open to the possibility that the Still Small Voice will call us to make adjustments to our commitment or even change the commitment over time. Even if the basic commitment stays the same, if we are open some individual goals and objectives may need to change over time. Some things will work and some things will not work over time. What is congenial, compatible, and compassionate may very will change over time due to changes in our life situation. What that Mysterious Other wants for us itself may change. We need to be open to those changes and willing to make the necessary adjustments and changes in our lives.

Passion: Passion is about having “the courage to burn—to be totally called, awesomely marked thoroughly spent and imperiously sent” as McNamara put it. It is about listening carefully to the “divine summons” and being passionately obedient to it. It is about being passionate about the discernment process—about seeking consonance and what we discover through that process. It is about being passionate about “listening obedience”.

 

All of this should be approached as a part of our spiritual practice—as a central part of our prayer practice. We should ask that Mysterious Other we call God to provide the “guidance, strength, and courage” so important to that process and then we need to be open to the response.

I think is important to note here that the Mysterious Other we call God speaks to us in many different ways and through many different people, events, and things. The Spirit often speaks to us through our Sacred Inner Voice, our life experiences, our life circumstances, our family, our friends, our acquaintances, and even perfect strangers. We need to “listen” and be “obedient” to the guidance that can come from all areas of our life.

The actual result of this discernment process will be part of “Richard’s Rule of Life” in the next section.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Identify something in your own life where you feel called to grow or change. Consider seriously each of the topics we have talked about—congeniality, compatibility, compassion, balance, competence, commitment, and passion. Write down the results of your reflections in each of these areas.

____________

McNamara, William, O.C.D., Mystical Passion:  Spirituality For A Bored Society, (New York:  Paulist Press, 1977), p. 4-5
** Van Kaam, Adrian, Formative Spirituality, Volume Three: Formation of the Human Heart, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1986), pp 1-21
*** 
Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.
**** 
Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World,  (New York:  Penguin Group (USA) LLC), 2014
***** 
Moore, Thomas, A Religion of One’s Own:  A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World,  (New York:  Penguin Group (USA) LLC), 2014




If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer View
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Developing  A Way of Life View
A Guide To Live By

Obedience (This Post)
Seeking Consonance

(Coming Soon…)

Richard’s Rule of Life


Follow Us.

May 262017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 7/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 7)


Developing A Way of Life
A Guide To Live By

We have talked about a lot of important things: Attention, Openness, Restraint of Speech, Apatheia, Communion with God. All of these are complex and interesting issues. Thinking about them and even understanding them is not enough. All of them call us to change and growth and transformation. How do we take what we are learning into the rest of our lives? How do we make them a part of how we live our lives—how we relate to the myriad people, events, and things that make up our day-to-day lives? We can and should ask The Mystery to guide us and help us but that is not enough. In my experience The Mystery seldom just reaches down and transforms us. In the end we have to do the very real spiritual work of listening to that guidance and being obedient to it.

Making this happen is not easy. It is counter cultural and often even counter what we have learned in our church experience. It may sound redundant but the very first step is for us to consciously decide what we are really committed to do. It is not enough for this idea to float around in the back of our mind or even in our prayer time. It is not enough for us to say that we will try. As Yoda put it, “No! There is no try.  Do or do not. There is only do!”* What is required here is for us to make this journey absolutely central to the way we live our life. How do we do that? How do we get past “try” to “do”?

The first step is for us to make the commitment to follow this path. But even that is not enough. We need to actually speak that commitment to those closest to us. We need to ask at least one person to hold us accountable. In an ideal situation that person could be one (or more) of those closest to us, but if that is not possible or if it does not work for us for some reason, we may need to find a spiritual director or a life coach to hold us accountable. That accountability is crucial.

For any of this to work we need to be clear about what it is we are committed to. It is not enough for us to say, “I am committed to live a spiritual life”, or even “I am committed to growth, transformation, and conversion of heart”. We need to be clear about exactly what we mean by those terms, and at least some of that needs to be a part of what we communicate to those close to us and what we want to be held accountable for. It is precisely here that the rubber meets the road—where our commitment becomes real. It is here that we develop real measurable goals and objectives that we can hold ourselves accountable for and be held accountable for. It is here that we can begin to know where we are successful and where we are falling short.

Photo by Richard and Winnie Southworth

I want to suggest here that these commitments and goals should actually be written down. Some of the spiritual writings refer to this process as developing a “Rule Of Life”. The classic example of a rule of life is “The Rule of St. Benedict” It was written centuries ago for monks living in a monastery and it has guided Benedictine monasteries all over the world and still does. It has to be adjusted to work for individuals in the modern world, but it can offer us effective guidance as we develop our own “rule”. I highly recommend a careful and slow reading of Norvene Vest’s Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict. Vest takes us through each section of “The Rule” and offers commentary on how it can apply to modern life. She also offers her own personal reflections on each section. It has been a central part of my own spiritual practice for decades and continues to be.

We will go into more detail in a later reflection about spiritual practice and integrating that practice into our active lives. For an example of a rule of life see my own rule at the end of this reflection.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What is your current spiritual practice?  What are your current commitments to change and growth and transformation?  What new commitments do you need to make in these areas?  In your overall life?  Have you ever written them down into a personal rule of life?  Are you willing to do that?  If you have done that do you need to update that rule now?

____________
Best Master Yoda Quotes | Star Wars I-VI https://youtu.be/80sMfx7WhIs
**  Vest, Norvene, Preferring Christ:  A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict (Valyermo, California, St. Andrews Abbey, 1993)



If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer View
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Developing  A Way of Life (This Post)
A Guide To Live By

(Coming Soon…)

Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life


May 142017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 6/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 6)


Prayer
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

As we saw earlier, the dictionary defines prayer as:

a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.*

This definition captures the essence of the way we typically approach prayer. We tend to focus on “supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.” These are all valid and even necessary ways we communicate with God. They are all an important part of what prayer should be, and yet they all focus on our approach to God. If we are not careful this focus can cause us to miss prayer’s deepest meaning: “a spiritual communion with God”. The dictionary defines communion as:

the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.**

It is this “sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings” that is the very essence of prayer for me. It is not enough for me to communicate with that Mysterious Other I call God. “Supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession” is extremely important, but it can take us only so far. What I seek is what the monastics call Divine Union. I want God to communicate with me too. I want God to actually lead my life. I want God to actively provide ongoing “guidance, strength, and courage” for my routine day-to-day interactions with the people, events, and things that make up my life. I want real communion with God—real day-to day two way communication. Nothing else is enough.

Let me be very clear here. Someone once said, “we do not need to listen to God because God has already communicated everything he had to say in scripture”. I simply do not believe that is true. When my wife read this statement she said, “So does that mean that God is dead and there is no holy spirit?” That seems to be a reasonable conclusion to me. Scripture, and other people’s commentary on scripture, can only tell me how the writers of both scripture and the writers of scripture commentary related to God. It can help clarify goals and practices, but it does not and cannot provide real two-way “communion”—real “sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings”. It ultimately does not and cannot take us to Divine Union. It can call us and lead us toward a deeper communion, but it is not that communion, and it is not near enough.

Then how does this communion take place? How does Divine Union actually happen? How does this Mysterious Other actually communicate with us and provide “guidance, strength, and courage”? There is a place deep inside of us I have come to call the Sacred Inner Being where this relationship—this communion can happen. One of the most profound goals of prayer in specific and the whole spiritual life in general is to discover, acknowledge, and develop an ongoing relationship with that Sacred Inner Being. It is here that we can develop real communion—a deep, ongoing, two way relationship and communication with God. It is precisely here that this Mysterious Other can provide us with that ongoing, day to day “guidance, strength, and courage” so central to living a spiritual life. It is here that divine union can happen. That Sacred Inner Being is always there. It is always available to us. Always! We have only to be open to it.

It is through prayer and spiritual practice that we can learn to quieten our ego driven turmoil and be attentive to that Sacred Inner Voice we so often ignore. As we learn to recognize the source of that Sacred Inner Voice in our prayer—in our time apart—over time it becomes a part of the way we approach and live our active lives. That Voice will more and more speak to us in the events of our day. It will provide us with that “guidance, strength, and courage” we need. Over time that voice will lead our lives and we will experience true Divine Union.

Two People Talking

Photo by Winnie Southworth

Listening to that sacred inner voice is not enough. If we are to experience true Divine Union we also have to be obedient to the “guidance, strength and courage” that comes to us through that Voice. We have to live our lives in response to that Voice. This is the very essence of what spiritual maturity is all about—learning to listen to our Sacred Inner Voice and be obedient to it in all of the myriad interactions we have with the people, events, and things in our day to day lives.

As a recent personal example, I have been looking for, or better said, wishing for, a really good life coach. I had convinced myself that I would not be able to find one that would really understand me, or as my grandson’s then girl friend once put it, that “really gets me”. I do not fit the traditional molds. I am not a traditional Christian. I am a strong introvert in a primarily extroverted world. And I am certainly not into the traditional culture.

So I am sitting in a group meeting I participate in. Everyone is engaged in small talk and I am wanting to be at home in my room. There is a woman there who I had never really connected with, but I did know that she was a coach. She started talking about something I was interested in, and I realized she was someone I could talk to. That said the introvert in me was resisting asking her about the coaching. As I was about to leave that Still Small Voice that I have come to trust “said to me” “Richard, you should really talk to her about coaching, and you should do it now”. The resistance in me was palpable, but I was “listening”, and I knew I needed to be “obedient” to the leading of that Sacred Inner Voice, so I walked up to her in the group and asked her about the coaching, something I would normally never even consider. We met a week later and really hit it off. It was clear to me that she really did “get me”, and we developed a coaching relationship that is really special to me.

If I had not been listening, and if I had not been obedient to what came to me I would still be complaining about not being able to find a coach that “gets me”. Let me be clear here, there was no audible voice that “spoke to me”. It was simply that “Still Small Voice” that rose up from that deep place in me that I have come to trust. It was just a clear awareness of what I was called to do, and I was listening to it, and I was obedient to it. I trusted it, and I knew it was guidance from that Mysterious Other I call God. (More about how we “know” and come to recognize and trust that inner voice later.)

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you recognize that Sacred Inner Voice in your life?  Does that voice sometimes speak to you and provide you with guidance, strength, and courage?  Do you trust that guidance?  Are you obedient to it? 

____________
* Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.
** Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia View
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

Prayer (This post)
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

(Coming Soon)

Developing  A Way of Life
A Guide To Live By

Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Rule of Life


Follow our blog.

Feb 202017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 5/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 5)


Attention to Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses
Seeking Apatheia

New versions of the old beast seem to rise from the murky, tempestuous sea of our time with relentless steadiness, with vast armaments, wars, famine and disease, earthquake and flood, with political and social oppression, bad jobs and no jobs, unresponsive and entrenched bureaucracies, brutality and callousness, family and social disintegration, with environmental rape, with trivial, mind-numbing consumer diversion.

Inside us, driving, competing, confused desires and fears bounce us from fleeting pain to fleeting pleasure, making us ever restless, causing us to seek ever more and other there, rarely content with enough here.  That is man becoming without being, adrift without a compass, revolting in revolt, falling through in blindness calling it rising, or in darkness calling it damned.*

Tilden Edwards

The turmoil and violence that we see internationally, in our country, and in our communities ultimately has its roots in the inner turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that drives each of us as individuals. Together they form what is traditionally called the ego. Our ego expresses itself in a seemingly endless myriad of “obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning.” Recognizing, acknowledging, and accepting responsibility for our own inner turmoil is the first step, and often one of the most difficult steps, on a journey toward wholeness and holiness. If we can quieten that inner turmoil, even for a moment, and listen, we will encounter a deep yearning for a new way of life.

It is important to note here that all turmoil is not made up of intrinsically negative things. Sometimes it is created when we overextend ourselves with essentially positive things like taking our children to school, church events, and social events. If we are a working parent, we can get overwhelmed trying to balance work and family relationships and other responsibilities. In one way all of this is good, and yet it can create its own turmoil—its own series of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. It can create its own cycle of “obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning”. We can feel trapped in the seemingly endless series of ego driven demands and needs and desires, however good and even necessary all of these things may seem.

For many of us—even most of us—the turmoil resulting from these “driving, competing, confused desires and fears” seems to dominate our lives.  All of our energy is consumed in the never-ending effort to meet their demands.  We are clearly motivated, and often downright driven, by these and other powerful compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. Much, if not most, of the stress and the dissonance in our lives is the result of these powerful ego driven drives that seem to possess us and to have a mind of their own. Individuals and life events “push our buttons,” and we become ineffective, depressed, and often even mean and violent. In spite of our best efforts, for many of us, these compulsive ego driven drives rage inside of us and control much of our lives. They impact our marriages, our relations with our children and other family members, and our work relationships. Even those of us who are reasonably well adjusted frequently find ourselves surprised by the strength and the power of these preconscious compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses.

At times this turmoil takes the form of a kind of numbness or indifference. We seem closed to the people, events, and things in our life, including those closest to us. On the surface we appear unaffected by the turmoil around us. But like anger or anxiety or fear, the numbness and indifference is just another expression of the turmoil. It is made up of its own ego driven compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses, and it both drives us and limits us in very powerful ways. This numbness and indifference can also be an unconscious, yet powerful, defense mechanism that distracts us from the drives which often seem overwhelming. Boredom is just another form of this turmoil. As Mary Michael O’Shaughnessy, OP has put it: “Boredom is anger worn thin.”

Identifying and owning that hidden ego driven turmoil of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses and the unique ways it expresses itself in our individual lives is crucial to the Spiritual Journey. It is a crucial part of what spiritual practice and prayer is all about. The movement toward the healing of the ego is the very essence of the conversion of heart that is so central to the Spiritual Life.

From this perspective the first goal of the spiritual life is a state referred to in Greek as “apatheia.” “Apatheia means, literally, “without emotions’—or, more precisely freedom from emotions.” It is telling that there is no English word that accurately translates the Greek word apatheia. In fact the concept is very difficult to even describe accurately in English. Typically we use the word apathy. According to the dictionary apathy refers to a “lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifference,” or to a “lack of emotion or feeling; impassiveness.” Even though the dictionary refers to apatheia as the root of the word apathy, the definition misses the deepest meaning of apatheia and assumes that apatheia is a negative state, essentially equating it with not caring about the important things in life.

The Revolutionary is not a person who doesn’t care or who is “impassive,” and yet, as Nouwen points out the revolutionary person:

is moved by what happens around him, but he doesn’t let it oppress or shatter him. An inner freedom flows out from him, giving him an independence which is neither haughty nor aloof, but which enables him to stand above immediate needs and most pressing necessities.**

Quiet River

Photo by Richard N. Southworth

It is the freedom from his own inner turmoil—from his own compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses—that places Nouwen’s Revolutionary squarely in the state of apatheia.

For much of my life I was filled with a strange combination of anger, boredom, and anxiety. These strong emotional reactions filled much of my life, and drove both my inner and outer reactions to the people, events, and things that made up my life. Something happened in my life that I did not like, and I felt angry. Life failed to provide something I wanted, and I felt bored. Faced with a difficult task, I was filled with anxiety. Once those reactions set in I was locked into a series of patterned, often destructive responses—a series of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. There was no freedom of choice, and at times only an iron will prevented me from becoming abusive and physically violent and allowed me to perform most necessary daily responsibilities with reasonable effectiveness. The effort was exhausting and added to the turmoil.

When my therapist told me that it was not possible to actually heal the destructive emotional patterns and the best I could hope for was to learn to manage it better it seemed to confirm my personal experience. She and I were both wrong.

As I have discovered and implemented my personal spiritual practice the conversion of heart I sought began to happen. More and more I have found myself in situations that in the past would have generated strong destructive emotional responses, and the responses did not come. I do not mean here that I was better able to control or manage my responses. I mean that I did not feel angry. I did not feel bored or anxious. As a result of these changes I have experienced a great freedom—“a great freedom from (my) emotions.” More often now I find that I am able to choose my responses to the events of my life in a way that is almost indescribable. In this state of apatheia I am much more aware of, not only my own inner calling, but also the needs and desires of the people around me. Without the inner turmoil I am much more able to live my life in response to that inner calling, but I am also much more able to respond to and care for those around me.

The development of apatheia—this freedom from my compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses—is one of the immediate goals of spiritual discipline including prayer. It is the very foundation upon which transformation takes place. Without apatheia I am so full of my own ego, so full of my own thoughts, emotions, and impulses that I cannot even hear “the divine summons” much less respond to its call. Apatheia leaves me open and available, not only to the divine summons, but to the rhythm of life itself. It is the very essence of what it means to be open.

When we quiet our compulsive thoughts we open ourselves to the gift of inner silence. We allow ourselves to move beyond words. When we quiet our compulsive emotions we allow ourselves to move beyond mad, glad, sad, and scared. When we quiet our compulsive impulses we allow ourselves to move beyond basic needs and desires. Apatheia offers us the possibility of moving beyond our habitual responses. It offers us the possibility of freedom from the inner tyranny of those habitual responses to the people, events, and things in our daily lives. Each of us have different combinations of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses. In my case it was, and all too often still is, anger.  So many of the examples I use relate to anger, but it is important to recognize that your struggle may be something entirely different like overeating or drinking or pornography for example. The possibilities are legion.

Much, if not most of our struggles in the spiritual life ultimately involve letting go of the ego. Richard Rohr is reported to have said about spiritual practice, “don’t expect people to rush to a practice the ultimate goal of which is the destruction of the ego”. He is right on that point, the destruction of the ego is a major part of what the spiritual life is all about—of what prayer is all about. If we are unwilling to face up to that ego we cannot progress but so far in the life of prayer.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses drive my life? What are the consequences of those drives in my daily life? Am I willing to bring those destructive responses into my spiritual practice—into my prayer?

____________
* Edwards, Tilden, Spiritual Friend:  Reclaiming the Gift of Spiritual Direction. (Ramsey, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1980), p. 14.
** O’Shaughnessy, Mary Michael, ???
*** Needleman, Jacob, Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery to the Centre of Christian Experience. (Rockport, MA: Element, Inc., 1980), p. 137.
**** Excerpted from American Heritage Talking Dictionary. Copyright © 1997 The Learning Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Developing Attention  View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech View…
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Developing Apatheia (This post)
Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses

(Coming Soon)

Self Presence
Attention to Our Presence In Events

Prayer 
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Obedience
Seeking Consonance

Richard’s Answer To Question # ?


Follow our blog.

Jan 162017
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 4/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 4)


Attention to Our Speech*
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

When my granddaughter was about five years old she spontaneously exclaimed to my wife, “Wherever I go there is light!” When I texted this to her mother her mother replied, “And talking!” It seems that could apply to many if not most of us. Wherever we go there is talking. Whenever there is a silent moment someone feels an obligation to fill it with talking. We cannot listen and talk at the same time. We cannot be “just open” and talk at the same time.

Most monks take a different approach. Very few monks take a vow of silence these days, but many do practice a discipline referred to as restraint of speech. In many monasteries the monks eat their meals in silence. There is also what is called the great silence which begins after evening prayers and ends after breakfast. Other periods of silence are often built into their daily routine and times of prayer. These times of silence permeate the monastic day and help the monk to stay centered and focused. Those of us living in the busy, noise filled modern world could benefit greatly from such regular periods of silence built into our day.

But the discipline of restraint of speech means much more than that. Dennis Okholm puts it this way:

When words were necessary, Benedict** exhorted them, they [monks] should speak rarely, briefly, directly, and simply; speech that was malicious, gossip, tasteless, or destructive was forbidden. As Columba Steward explains, “The issue becomes more clearly one of stewardship. Language is a gift that can be used thoughtfully or thoughtlessly, humbly or proudly. Someone constantly aware of the presence of God will know when and how to speak.”***

If we think that working periods of silence into our busy schedule is difficult, it is a cakewalk compared to this type of restraint of speech. What might it mean if we considered restraint of speech as a spiritual discipline in our day to day lives?

In our culture our days are filled with words. We are often the antithesis of this call to speak rarely, briefly, and directly. We are prone to speak often, at great length, indirectly, and complexly. We have an opinion about just about everything, and we do not hesitate to express it. My wife and I have had a habit of engaging in conversation our daughters and grandchildren call bickering. The discussions begin innocently enough. One of us says something, often not even addressed to the other. The other responds, and we are off. These conversations occur all too often and last way too long. They clearly could not be described as either direct or simple. Since my retirement these types of conversations have become even more frequent.

We have often tried to analyze the conversations in an effort to limit them, and we generally only succeed in blaming each other and setting off another round of bickering. As I was reading what Okholm was saying about restraint of speech, I realized that all of the blaming aside, this was the real issue. The vast majority of these conversations were totally unnecessary. I was very often speaking when I simply needed to be silent. At other times I needed to listen to what my wife was saying and only comment when I had something useful to add to the conversation and then not to defend my position when we have different opinions. Were I to do that I would speak much more rarely and briefly. If I were to then only speak my thoughts directly and simply the conversations would be brief and there would be little opportunity for the bickering my grandchildren talk about to even begin.

Thinking back I recalled that, as the manager of a health insurance company Special Investigations Unit I developed a reputation for going into negotiation sessions and resolving disputes between the investigators who worked for me and the providers that were being investigated. I would go into these meetings with very little information, sit in silence, sometimes for a fairly long time, and listen to the discussion. In that silence I would often begin to see where the real underlying differences were that were not being addressed. Still not speaking, I would formulate what I wanted to say, wait for an opening, and make a short statement or ask a question that often turned the conversation in a new direction and led to a resolution of the dispute. My comments and questions were generally brief, direct, and simple. I had more than one Investigator ask me after a successful session how I was able to do that. I had no good words for it then, but in truth it was through restraint of speech. I was able to be silent and listen and think, and then I was able to speak briefly, simply, and directly. I did not feel obligated to enter into the discussion until I had something useful to say, and then I was often able to be silent again and let the investigator and the provider work toward a solution with a different focus. The discipline of restraint of speech calls me to do the same thing in other areas of my life. If I can practice that restraint of speech in my relationship with my wife the bickering would almost certainly stop.

Being Quiet

Photo by Mark Southworth

In this world of stand up comics, talk shows, and twenty-four seven news programs we have almost lost the meaning of malicious, gossip, tasteless, destructive, or forbidden speech. It often appears that this type of speech has become the norm. Any attempt to restrain this type of language, even in our day to day conversation, will almost immediately lead to an assertion of the right to express our opinion or to a reference to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech.

For many of us, any real honest look at our daily lives from a spiritual perspective would reveal much speech that would be categorized as malicious, gossip, tasteless, or destructive. Were we to commit ourselves not to speak anything that fell into these four categories we would clearly speak much more rarely and much more briefly. Many of the jokes that we tell, the teasing that we engage in, and the little smart remarks that we make on a daily basis would also be eliminated. When I look back at the bickering that goes on between my wife and I, much of what is said in those conversations would fall into one of these categories as well.

As Steward points out, language is a gift that can be used thoughtfully or thoughtlessly. Someone once said that when we finally realize how much we hurt others by just being ourselves we have a pretty good understanding of what sin is. When my wife and I bicker we are using language thoughtlessly, and in the process we often hurt each other. The cumulative effect of this thoughtless behavior keeps our relationship from being fully the great gift that it can be for us. It also hurts others around us and teaches the same bad habits to our children and grandchildren.

Like most destructive behavior in our lives restraint of speech is ultimately an issue of humility. Am I humble enough to “speak rarely, briefly, and directly?” Do I care about others enough not to speak anything that is “malicious, gossip, tasteless, or destructive?” Am I willing to pay careful attention to what I say and use language thoughtfully or will I be proud and arrogant and ignore how my speech hurts those around me and keeps me from being the person I am called to be? Said another way will I be driven by my ego or will I follow that sacred inner voice where that Mysterious Other guides me. The choice is ultimately mine.

Steward puts it in perspective when he says, “Someone constantly aware of the presence of God will know when and how to speak.” This places the discipline of restraint of speech right where it belongs: squarely in the midst of the spiritual life. The very essence of the spiritual life is developing this constant awareness of that Mysterious Presence we call God in the midst of our day-to-day life, and if we do that, restraint of speech becomes a natural part of that process. As Steward points out we become stewards of the great gift that language is in our lives.

So what does Restraint of Speech have to do with prayer? First of all we should apply it to prayer itself. It seems to me that whenever we pray “there is talking”. Whenever we are talking in prayer we are not listening. We are not open to any response from that Mysterious Other we call God, and that is a central part of what real prayer is. Yes. we should take our concerns to God in verbal prayer—in talking. But then we should be silent and listen for a response.

I was talking to a minister friend a while back, and he told me that whenever he wrote out his sermons at the end he would type “Now sit down and shut up!” Most of us could benefit greatly from adding that silent line to many of our conversations. The Discipline of Restraint of Speech combined with the call to pray without ceasing calls us to take that same logic into the rest of our lives as well.

Question for Reflection

  1. What might it mean if we considered restraint of speech as a spiritual discipline in our daily lives? What if in our day to day lives we were to “speak rarely, briefly, directly, and simply; [what if we avoided] speech that was malicious, gossip, tasteless, or destructive”?

____________

 * An earlier version previously published on my blog Turning Around, January 30, 2008 View…

** A reference to The Rule Of Saint Benedict, a monastic rule used in Benedictine monasteries and often seen as the basis for monastic life.

*** Okholm, Dennis, Monk Habits for Everyday People:  Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants, (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Brazos Press, 2007), p. 40.  The Columba Stewart quotation comes from:  Stewart, Columbia, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998), 51.


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Attention Is Everything View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness  View…
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech  (This Post)
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

(Coming Soon)

Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses 
Seeking Apatheia 

Sacred Presence  
Attention To Our Presence In Events

Prayer 
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Richard’s Answer To Question # ?


Follow our blog.

Nov 282016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 3/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 3)


Developing Openness
Becoming Vulnerable

Jacob Needleman quotes Metropolitan Anthony Bloom as saying:

In prayer one is vulnerable, not enthusiastic…You must be not enthusiastic, nor rejecting—but only open. This is the whole aim of asceticism: to become open.”*

Could this be true?  We should not be enthusiastic when we pray?  We should not be rejecting? Maybe it makes sense that in prayer we should not be rejecting, but we should not be enthusiastic either?  We should be vulnerable?  We should be only open?  This seems to be counter intuitive.  It seems to go against everything we have been taught in church.  And what does it even mean to be open?  In what way are we closed?

The dictionary defines openness this way:

receptive: ready and willing to accept or listen to something, for example, new ideas or suggestions.**

When we pray are we really open?  Are we really “receptive”.  Are we really “ready and willing to accept or listen to … new ideas or suggestions?”  Are we really “not enthusiastic nor rejecting—but only open” as Metropolitan Anthony suggests?  Are we really vulnerable when we pray?  Do we even feel called to that openness and vulnerability when we pray?  Do we even consider listening to be a part of what we do when we take our time apart—when we pray?

Thomas Moore has described modern life this way:

Early Christian monks went out to live in the desert in order to find emptiness.  Modern life is becoming so full that we need our own ways of going to the desert to be relieved of our plenty.  Our heads are crammed with information, our lives busy with activities, our cities stuffed with automobiles, our imaginations bloated on pictures and images, our relationships heavy with advice, our jobs burdened with endless new skills, our homes cluttered with gadgets and conveniences.  We honor productivity to such an extent that the unproductive person or day seems a failure.

Monks are experts at doing nothing and tending the culture of that emptiness.***

Openness

Photo by Teresa Parr

In this busy environment is it even possible to be “only open”?  And what about Metropolitan Anthony’s reference to asceticism as the means to becoming open?  Asceticism has a bad name in our culture today, and we should avoid getting caught up in that debate.  For our purposes I think we can be true to Metropolitan Anthony’s   meaning by rephrasing the statement this way:  “One of the primary aims of all spiritual discipline:  to become open.” And for me it would not be a stretch either to say: “One of the primary aims of all prayer:  to become open to God—to listen to God.”

All that said what specific spiritual practices might best help us to develop that openness and vulnerability?  There are many, and as the statement implies “all spiritual discipline”and all “prayer” can help us develop that openness and vulnerability, but maybe one of the most effective practices is the practice of Lectio Divina or “divine reading.”  Lectio Divina is a practice developed in the monastic tradition as an approach to reading scripture.  As Robert Hale, OSB explains it:

What precisely is the method of lectio divina? Basically, it means that we should read the Rule as we would meditate upon Holy Scripture or a spiritual classic. This means that we should first study the passage very attentively in order to grasp what is there. But then we should go on to meditate on it at a deeper, spiritual level, in our hearts. Even then, we are not halfway through the adventure. We need to go on to pray the text, to render it a vehicle for worship. And finally, we need to enable the text to lead us into a yet deeper level of contemplation of the ineffable God.****

Lectio divina calls us to reach beyond reading for information, which is our typical approach, and to be open to it on a much deeper level.  It calls us to meditate on the text and even to pray the text.  But even that is not enough.  Lectio then calls us to open ourselves to divine guidance in silence and in quiet contemplation.

Although lectio divina was developed initially for approaching scripture it is also a method of approaching any spiritual text.  When we take this practice into our active lives it becomes a method of approaching all aspects of our lives.  It calls us to “read” the events of our life in much the same way.   Essentially lectio divina encourages us to be open to all aspects of those events.

Question for Reflection

  1. When you sit down to take your time apart—when you pray—are you really open to the guidance, and strength, and courage that comes from that Mysterious Other we call God?  When you pray do you really listen for that input? Do you allow your prayer “to lead us into a yet deeper level of contemplation of the ineffable God?”

____________

Excerpt From: Jacob Needleman. “Lost Christiantiy.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/hyyvv.l
**  Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
*** 
Moore, Thomas, Meditations:  On the Monk Who Dwells in Daily Life, (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1994), p.
**** 
Vest, Norvene,  Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary & Workbook on the Rule of Saint Benedict, (Valyermo, CA, 1990), p. vi


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Attention Is Everything View…
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness (This Post) 
Becoming Vulnerable 

(Coming Soon)

Attention To Our Speech 
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses 
Seeking Apatheia 

Sacred Presence  
Attention To Our Presence In Events

Prayer 
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Richard’s Answer To Question # ?


Purchase Choosing Authenticity

Nov 212016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 2/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 2)


Developing Attention
The Power of Focused Attention

As I am fond of saying, sometimes too often and at the wrong time, “attention is everything!” Focused attention is at the very heart of the spiritual life. Without this focussed attention it is impossible to find the emptiness and the openness serious spiritual practice and serious spiritual living requires. Without that quietness and that openness it is impossible for us to listen to our own sacred inner voice where that Mysterious Other we call God speaks to us and gives us guidance, and strength, and courage.

Clearly that attention and openness is a huge challenge in our culture where multitasking is a virtue, and even an expectation. Focusing our attention at best seems impossible, and at worst seems to be almost nonsensical. Modern technology lets us take our work home with us and our personal life to work with us. Our smart phones, our iPods, our tablets, and our computers beep, jingle, and play music to let us know when we have received an email, a text message, an appointment reminder, a phone call, or when a friend has just posted something on a social networking site. When we hear those beeps and jingles, often on multiple devices at the same time, we are obsessed with answering them, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing, including when we are talking to someone else. We seem to think that if we don’t respond instantly people will complain or think we are rude. Sometimes even the people we are with will challenge us if we do not respond to those beeps and jingles. It is an understatement to say that our lives are fragmented and our attention dispersed.

I was sitting in a restaurant the other day, and a woman and her teenage daughter set down at the next table. The girl had her mobile phone in one hand and ate her breakfast with the other. I never once saw her put the phone down or even speak to her mother. As she walked past my table it was obvious that her attention was glued to a social media site. She was still holding the phone up in front of her as they walked out of the restaurant. Clearly her “focused attention” was on the phone and not on her relationship with her mother.

Even when we sit down to take our time apart we often bring all of this busyness with us. We find ourselves filled to overflowing with thoughts and reactions to past events and anticipations and plans for future events. We even bring our smart phones with us into our prayer time, anticipating its beeps and jingles. The very real questions and concerns that should be brought into our time apart are often lost in the jumble of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and impulses that fill our minds and our bodies as we seek to focus our attention on our prayer and listen to our sacred inner voice where God often speaks to us.

Looking out over the mountain

Photo by Winnie Southworth

I wrote part of this section while my wife and I were on a weeks vacation in a mountain cabin overlooking the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. We were miles up a rough dirt road literally on the side of a mountain. Yet the cabin was still equipped with a telephone, a television, and an internet connection, and I had of course brought my iPhone, my iPad, and my laptop with me on this “retreat”. What is interesting to me is that for the first two days I found myself doing almost nothing. I sat in the hot tub, I read some, but I often just set on the porch enjoying the view. It was wonderful, but I felt guilty. A big part of me thought I should be writing or taking care of a dozen other projects I brought with me, or at the very least, thinking about something important. I had to repeatedly give myself permission to, as one writer put it, “Don’t just do something, sit there”. Winnie and I both had to give ourselves permission not to turn on the television, and not to fill our days with visits to local attractions.  We often experience much the same thing when we sit down for our time apart. We are almost afraid to turn off our technology, even for our prayer time. We feel guilty closing the door to our room and asking our family to honor our time apart. We feel anxious setting aside our projects and even our leisure activities.

Without focused attention it is impossible for us to develop the openness necessary for us to really listen, especially to the deeper messages that can only be perceived when we are really open on that deeper level and to the call to growth and transformation that can be found in what we read, and what we hear, and in the events that make up our lives.

The following story is taken from a blog post I posted several years ago:

I often take walks around the neighborhood in the evening as a part of my spiritual practice. They might be called a type of “walking meditation”. One of the discoveries that has come from these times is something I have called “the silence behind the sounds”. Maybe it would be more descriptive to call it “the silence out of which the sounds seem to arise”, but then that would be too many words. Like many of the discoveries that come from the spiritual life, words seem to fail to really grasp the experience.

It has been a family joke that my maternal grandmother would often do a kind of silent whistle as she went about her daily activities. It wasn’t really a whistle. The only sound you heard was her blowing air out and sucking air in. It never quite rose to the level of a whistle. Unfortunately I have inherited that “gift”, and my family often gives me a hard time when they catch me doing it.

A couple of weeks ago I realized that I was doing this “whistle” as I walked around the neighborhood, and I realized I was doing this quite a lot. Harmless enough you might say, but from the perspective of spiritual practice it was a distraction that needed to be acknowledged and released so I could find that interior silence and openness that is so important to the spiritual life. So I began to treat this “whistle” like any other distraction that comes up in my time apart. I introduced my sacred word, and then I found myself synchronizing that sacred word with my steps and with my breathing. Each time I found myself “whistling” I would return to this sacred rhythm.

As the “whistle” began to subside I became aware of all kinds of other sounds I had not even noticed as I walked about the neighborhood with my whistle. There were different birds and insects singing their songs. As I acknowledged and released each of those I noticed the sound of a jet passing overhead, and the background of traffic on a highway in the distance. Then there was the sound of a car passing me on the street, and some children out late playing in a yard, and a couple of dogs barking. I noticed individual houses, each with different lights on, and some totally dark, and I wondered about the life stories behind those windows.

I noticed the sound of my feet on the pavement, and that caused me to stop and be still. I looked up in the sky. There was no wind. There were trees silhouetted against the evening sky and clouds floating slowly and silently by. I gradually became aware of the stillness and the quiet. All of the sounds were still there. The sound of the traffic, the birds, the people. I was somehow aware of all of that, but it faded into the background, and the silence and the quiet behind it became “audible” and “visible” in a strange sense. We often talk about sounds penetrating the silence, but here it was the other way around. The silence seemed to actually penetrate the sounds, and their presence made the silence all the more powerful. And yet, and yet, the silence also made the sounds more audible, and the houses, and trees, and cars more visible. In a strange way I could see and hear the silence, and the objects, at the same time.

This has become a spiritual practice for me–this seeking the awareness of both the silence behind the the sounds and objects and the sounds and objects that rise up out of that silence. Might this just be an experience of that Mysterious Other we call God, present in the silence and in the people, events, and things all around us? Suppose we could live in that awareness? In the end isn’t that very awareness what spiritual practice is all about–discovering the silence and the quiet behind all of life, and at the same time discovering that all of life rises up out of that silence and quiet? What if that practice actually became the way we experienced all of life? What would life, lived in that awareness, look like? What would it feel like? My experience walking about the neighborhood calls me to seek that reality.*

This event is an example of “The Power of Focused Attention”. In it I discovered that I could choose to listen to the things I passed as I walked, to the many sounds in the environment, or I could choose to listen to the silence behind it all. Each of those options offered me the opportunity to listen to that Mysterious Other that can provide that guidance, and strength, and courage so important to our prayer life and to our active life as well. Attention really is everything.

Question for Reflection

  1. When you sit down to pray are you able to let go of all of the thoughts, emotions, and impulses from the busyness of your day and focus your attention on your time apart? When you are with someone else are you able to focus your attention on your relationship with them? Are you able to listen attentively to The Mysterious Other present in either situation?

____________
http://www.turningaround.net/?p=366


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything View…
Introduction

Attention Is Everything (This Post)
The Power of Focused Attention

(Coming Soon)

Developing Openness 
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech 
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses 
Seeking Apatheia 

Sacred Presence  
Attention To Our Presence In Events

Prayer 
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Richard’s Answer To Question # ?


 

Nov 072016
 

This post is part of a series titled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of My Own.  It is Part 1/9 of Reflection IV: of that series titled Listening Obedience | Attention Is Everything.


Boy Sitting On A Mountain

Photo by Brian Hill

 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection IV
Listening Obedience
Attention Is Everything
(Part 1)


Introduction

Listen, O my son, to the precepts of thy master, and incline the ear of thy heart, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father, that by the toil of obedience thou mayest return to Him from whom by the sloth of disobedience thou hast gone away.*

The Rule of Saint Benedict

Much is covered in this first sentence of The Rule of Saint Benedict.  Listening, obedience, sloth, and will are all concepts that cut to the very heart of spiritual practice and prayer, and Benedict has strung them together in a profound way that is both challenging and maybe even disturbing to the modern seeker. I put it this way in my journal some years ago:

There is so much in these short verses. I am still amazed at the way these ancient writings speak to me personally. The message is simple. Listen deeply and profoundly; and obediently live and act on what you hear. This is nothing other than the call to holiness – the call to live a holy life. I want to do that in the deepest place in my soul. “Lord God, come to my assistance.”**

In the context of the spiritual journey listening involves much more than just listening to the spoken or written word. In our day to day life we “listen” mainly for information. We want to understand the meaning of what someone is saying or what someone has written. In this day of television, the internet, and social media, even that is often reduced to short sound bites. We expect to get the essence of the message in a few sentences, and in a few minutes of our time.   Often we are not really interested in the deeper message that may be behind those sound bites.

In spiritual practice and prayer we still seek information and understanding, but it goes much deeper than that, or at least it should. We seek to listen beyond what the general meaning is for what the message is for us personally. We listen not only to the words, but we also listen to our own inner thoughts, emotions, and reactions to what is being said. What in the message speaks to me, and what challenges me to grow and change?  What bores me? What excites me and brings me joy? What in the message is strange, difficult, or maybe even repulsive? Regardless of the reaction, what in me personally is triggered by this message and why?  And critically, how am I called to grow and change and live in response to that message? It is important to note here that we can learn as much, or maybe even more, about who we are as unique spiritual people and who we are called to be, from listening carefully to the things that trouble us as from listening to the things that are attractive to us. It is important for us to listen deeply and carefully to both.

True spiritual listening requires us to be open to the possibility that there is a message for us personally in what we read, in what we hear, and in what we experience, and that message will often call us to grow and change profoundly if we are listening deeply. It requires even the expectation that what is being said or what we are experiencing may lead to our own transformation and conversion of heart. Much in modern rhetoric seems to seek only to change the opinions and actions of others, and in prayer it often seems that the goal of our prayer is to change the Devine.  As I mentioned earlier our prayers often seem like a to do list for God.  In spiritual practice and in prayer we seek to listen first with the expectation that we ourselves will be called to change, both in our thoughts and in our actions—in the way we are actually present in the events of our daily lives. This type of spiritual listening requires attention at the deepest level, and it takes time and effort and commitment.

Ideally this deep listening is not something we do every now and then, or even weekly or daily.  It is not something we just practice in our time apart or when we pray.  If it is to be really effective it has to become an integral part of the way we live our lives.  Then the practice builds on itself.  What we hear in our prayer today is strengthened and clarified as we listen in our time apart tomorrow, and in the ongoing events of our lives.

When we integrate this deep listening obedience into our active lives we come face to face with several important questions.  It almost goes without saying that we are not called to “read” every event, every document, every advertisement, every email message, every text message, every video we see, or every television program we watch, etc. at that deep level.  Taking this practice into our active lives requires discernment.  More on discernment later, but we do need to pay attention to all of the people, events, and things that are a part of our active lives, and reflect seriously on what is important, and what is not.  When we do this we are likely to discover first of all that there are things that do deserve our deep listening obedience and things that we should not even let into our lives at all.   We need to be true to what we discover here.  Where we choose to focus our attention really is critical.

This leads us to obedience. As Norvene Vest points out:

The first word of the Rule is well-known: listen! It is interesting indeed that this Latin word ob-sculta has the same root, and indeed almost the same meaning, as the Latin word ob-oedire, which makes our English obedience. There is a very important connection between true listening and deep obedience; both suggest a turning in order to receive more fully that which is being given.***

Here we are called to be obedient to what we hear. There is the sense that if we are not obedient to what we hear we are not really listening. It is important to note here that we may not be called at all to be obedient to the initial message. But we may be called to be obedient to that deeper message that comes from within us when we listen deeply and carefully. We are often called to incarnate that message into the reality of the way we actually experience and live our lives. We are called to be open and available for the change and transformation and conversion of heart that is available to us when and only when we listen with obedience to the profound longing that is revealed to us in moments of quiet listening—in moments of quiet prayer.

But Benedict does not stop there. He goes on to tell us what keeps us from actually living the holy life we are called to, and what we need to do to move forward on the journey toward that holy life.  Sloth is defined as “laziness: a dislike of work or any kind of physical exertion.”**** For Benedict the failure to be obedient to that still small voice within is essentially laziness, and listening obedience is the key to living a holy life. It is important to note here that, for Benedict, it is not enough for us to wait for the Divine Mystery to somehow change and transform us. In fact it would seem that Benedict would define that waiting as “the sloth of disobedience.” We must regularly renounce our own will and be obedient to the profound calling within us that is found in listening deeply in prayer and to the people, events, and things that make up our lives, and obediently incarnating that discovery into the reality of our lives.

____________

* The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, The 1949 Edition.  Translated by Rev. Boniface Verheyen, OSB of St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas Electronic text (with added scripture references)

** Southworth, Richard N., Unpublished journal entry dated November 28, 1999.

*** Vest, Norvene, Oblate O.S.B. Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary and Workbook on The Rule of St. Benedict, (Trabuco Canyon, California: Source Books, 1990), p. 5.

**** Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


Want more like this?


If you liked this post, check out the other posts in this series:

Listening Obedience:  Attention Is Everything  (This Post)  
Introduction

(Coming Soon)

Attention Is Everything 
The Power of Focused Attention

Developing Openness 
Becoming Vulnerable 

Attention To Our Speech 
The Discipline of Restraint of Speech

Attention To Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Impulses 
Seeking Apatheia 

Sacred Presence  
Attention To Our Presence In Events

Prayer 
Attention To Our Sacred Inner Being

Richard’s Answer To Question # ?


 

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