Quotes from Richard Rohr

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And the award for the ‘Most Literal Blog Post Title Ever’ goes to…

I’m sitting in a (very noisy) cafe, reading ‘Silent Compassion’ by Richard Rohr and I wanted to share two fabulous passages (I’d tell the guy sitting across the table but he doesn’t look like he’d appreciate them).

I think that when you recognise something as beautiful in your life, it partly emerges from the silence around it. It may be why we are quiet in art galleries. If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate something as singular and beautiful. If it is all mixed in with everything else, then it’s singularity, as a unique and beautiful object, does not stand out.

There are two kinds of silence. There is the natural refreshing silence of the introverted personality or the pause between conversations. But there is also a spiritual silence, a silence that does not need to be filled with nervousness laughter or a joke or any attempt to be clever of show that you are informed and an insider. Such spiritual silence demands a deep presence to oneself in the moment

I want to say that this book is the best one I’ve every read but I’m only up to page 8 so I’ll reserve my judgment for a minute. I should also probably have read it before I went away and used up my quota of silence for the next five years.

Jamberoo Abbey- part three. The slightly more profound bit.

I’ve just been reading over my notes/journal/poorly formed ideas and have been reminded that I absolutely decided that I would stop complaining, that it’s an awful character trait and I need to rid myself of it immediately. Not quite sure why I decided that it was so terrible, but I seemed to think that it’s an important thing to stop. And promptly forgot about it. Oh well.

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I know that I tend to talk about ‘proof’ a lot, in that I often say that I’m never going to find proof and that I should just move on and dispense of the need for it. And then soon after I’ll write another post about it so clearly I haven’t moved on and proof and I are destined to always be more than ‘just good friends’.

But it’s occurred to me that I may have been looking in the wrong place.

Relating to the whole proof conundrum, I actually have a half written post about the Multiverse vs. God and how they relate to each other and the whole general mish-mash, but I don’t think that I’ll ever post it because my lack of knowledge of the scientific intricacies will be glaringly obvious and someone will end up telling me my fortune (probably legitimately) in the comments so I should probably stick to more abstract topics and not ones that contain strings of words along the lines of ” The extra 6 or 7 dimensions may either be compactified on a very small scale, or our universe may simply be localized on a dynamical (3+1)-dimensional object, a D-brane”***

Anyway, I digress.

Basically, I always come back to ‘proof’ so I should just freaking embrace it I guess. Unless, of course, ‘proof’ exists in a whole other sphere to faith (a parallel universe, maybe? See what I did there?) and trying to find a common ground between the two is going to end in a futile frustration. Perhaps the need for ‘proof’ is buying in to the Western scientific paradigm, when actually ‘faith’ exists completely separately. It’s like…. I’m trying to think of a good analogy here. Feel free to add one in the comments.

As I see it, proof is an intellectual stance and a thought pattern where one thing is contingent on another. Faith doesn’t exist there. Faith is set apart from our thinking and our reasoning; it resides with our emotions and our passions, our instinctive desires and needs.

Maybe what we need is a ‘faith in God’ rather than a ‘belief in God’.

Mind you, it’s very hard to avoid the language of belief. I’ve had to rewrite the next few lines several times because I kept falling back on it and I’m sure that I will time and time again in the future.

The deep, soul touching feelings that we have, the tears that come to our eyes or the catch in our breath when we hear beautiful music or see an amazing cloud or a breathtaking stream of sunlight, feel the spring breeze on our face or hear of an heroic act. These things touch us so deeply and profoundly, yet why?

Numberless times everyday I am transported by something I see in nature and I like to think that the reason our heart is possessed by these is that God doesn’t try to connect with us through our intellect. God wants to connect with us through the transcendent, through the beautiful or even through the mundane that can so often be amazing.

Whenever we see or hear or smell something that touches us in a place that we just can’t explain or justify, that, for me, is our soul connecting with God.

Our most authentic desires; beauty, nature and art, are gifts from God and our heart stirs when, on some level, we acknowledge this. We don’t need them on any physical level but we need them so, so much. They speak to an indefinable part of ourselves that seems to get little credence these days.

We have been trained out of listening to our intuition, of trusting our hearts ands following where our instincts lead. Maybe, if we really want to follow the trails that God intends us to lead or live our most authentic life we need to be more in touch with the nameless places that within us, that call to us on a soul level.

Maybe the more that we make an effort to notice beauty, to create it on our lives and in our words and to help others find it when things just seem too hard, the closer we get to an awareness of God.

And I suppose not complaining so much does connect in with all that, doesn’t it?

***That’s copied from Wikipedia. I don’t know what it means. I now have a headache.

Jamberoo Abbey- part two of three by the looks of it.

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The reason that The Abbey is largely cloaked in silence is because that is the environment most conducive to the Benedictine call to ‘listen to the ear of your heart’. The nuns dedication to a life of constant prayer necessitates a quiet serenity.

I thought women were supposed to be good multi-taskers but clearly not.

Obviously the ability to engage in a truly productive silence is far more finely honed in the women who live there; those of us who lob in for a brief moment then go back to the franticness of our lives miss something in the translation. The depths that are necessary for a truly transformational experience can’t be reached in a weekend. I imagine that spending time in true contemplative silence is like descending to the depths of the ocean; it must be done slowly and in a considered manner (or your head explodes). Obviously, given that I am the World’s Crappest Prayer, talking to God for the entire time was going to be a bit too much for me. I found the first evening quite hard, being away from the four people I love, with none of the coping mechanisms that I usually have when dealing with existentialist bleakness (that would be Cointreau and The West Wing, by the way).

But once I had made peace with the fact that there were no conversations or radio or distractions in general, the thing that I found notable about existing largely in silence was the fact that I didn’t have to concentrate on other people. Removing the “meeting new people and being socially ‘on’ for the weekend” factor was enormously relieving and meant that the inner dialogue about what I said, how I had said it and how I am perceived was gone. This meant that a whole layer of mental subterfuge was stripped away immediately. What’s left when you can’t worry about what other people think about you or watch television or argue with your spouse? Well actual quality thoughts, one would hope.

The first thing that I realised? That I am so lazy and entitled and my life is so completely blessed that its next to impossible to see where God is moving in it. When essentially everything that happens to you is good and fulfilling and you have all of your material needs met, then it makes sense that it would be a struggle to identify God in the everyday. Is it possible to be so spoilt that you lose sight of, or fail to see God at all? Is this why those of us in the developed world are becoming so secular and fractured from our spiritual selves?

When reading ‘God’s Smuggler’ (it’s on Kindle if you’re interested) there was story after story of people obtaining a Bible, for example, that seemed to be such an improbable culmination of coincidences that it was easy for them to say ‘This is God moving in my life’. When I read stories that describe amazing experiences that people have; really ‘boom’ obvious God moments, I get irritated that these things don’t happen to me. If something incredible happened then it would make it so much easier to believe! I say.

But then I realise that half the time I wouldn’t notice if something amazing happened. If an improbably gift arrived, for example, would I notice it in between the books from amazon and the shoes from Ozsale and the makeup from Ebay that arrive at my house so regularly?. I wouldn’t notice if God tried to get my attention by creating a mini-miracle.

Of course I’ve always railed against the idea of a God that gives us ‘stuff’, a God that endorses stupid-big mega churches and $5000 hand bags and prayers for a flasher car. But that is from my developed-world privileged perspective. Who am I to question whether God moves in these ways amongst those who have little?. If God knows me at all then she wouldn’t try to get my attention or respect or whatever by sending me a bejewelled Bible (there aren’t enough WTFs in the world for that thing).

I guess in my case, God would have to get my attention by planting an irrational desire to seek the holy and transcendent like a dog with a bone for years (oh, hang on…).

(The next post is the deep one, I promise.)

Jamberoo Abbey-part one.

Two weeks ago I actually left the comfort of home and travelled to New South Wales to visit Jamberoo Abbey. The Abbey was featured on a not-awful-reality-show years ago and ever since then I’ve wanted to visit (even though I’m fairly sure that was right in the middle of my ‘I’m an atheist and you’re an idiot’ phase so who knows what was going on there?). I planned to go last year but pulled out because comfort zone and all that but I finally made it and I so incredibly glad that I did.

It didn’t take a whole lot of planning obviously (because one plane and one bus is something that even I can organise) but it took a lot of mental fortitude to leave my children- hence the postponement from when this was meant to happen back in December.

This is the kind of conversation I had in the weeks leading up to it;
“So what’s happening with you, Eva?”
“I’m going up to Sydney for a silent mediation retreat type thing and I’m so excited (I called it a ‘meditation type thing’ because I don’t know what kind of circles you hang in, but in mine you don’t announce that you’re going away to pray and attend chapel 6 times a day)
‘Great, Sydney! Where are you going to eat/shop/ sightsee?’
‘Actually I’m going to get straight on a bus and travel for several hours into the bush where I’ll spend two days in silent contemplation. Then I’ll get back on a bus and go straight home. I’M SO EXCITED!’

At which point the person wanders off to find some a bit more interesting who doesn’t consider that sort of shenanigan to be a good time.

I suppose that describing the goings on of a weekend when you essentially did nothing doesn’t make for particularly good blogging. I read, I went to Vespers and Compline and Lauds and all those other lovely things that make you realise how important it is to insert ‘sacred pauses’ within your normal day. I did go shopping, because there was a little book shop and it was lovely to spend some time looking at Catholic books instead of the more easy to find Protestant ones that I usually find myself reading (this photo is of my stash. Too tiny, but click if you’re interested).
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Now, becoming Catholic has always been a concept that has loitered around the periphery of my mind (my family blames a show called ‘Brides of Christ’ that screened here in Australia during the ’80s). I’m fairly sure at this stage that it’s never going to happen, principally because it seems like a lot of effort for something that I don’t really feel hugely convinced about. I do feel drawn to it but I think that its more of a cultural thing that a deep conviction. Heck, I have enough trouble actually calling myself a Christian. There’s a whole lot more baggage you have to take on board to get to Catholic-city. There’s more side-eye WTF about Catholicism for me than there is about Christianity in general so I’d have to go all Saul/Paul to convert at this stage. Which would be entertaining for all I’m sure but unlikely.

But there are things that I love about Catholicism which are able to be integrated with my own beliefs, as much as I’ve criticised people who cherry-pick bits and pieces of spirituality for their own gratification. So much wisdom is to be found within the great Catholic writers and thinkers. Ignatian spirituality is wonderful, and I’m looking forwards to eventually finish Julian of Norwichs’ ‘Showings’ (actually one of the Nuns recommended to more digestible Julian book that you can see in the photo) and I loved “The Way of the Pilgrim” (which prompted me to buy The Philokalia. Have you ever tried to read that?? Jesus. I’ll get back to it when I finish rereading Summa Theologica for the third time).

In between bushwalk and sitting and listening to the Nuns singing, I finished reading several books (Gods Smuggler, Six Sacred Rules for Families and Something Other Than God), journalled (as much as I do which isn’t much) and contemplated life and all that it entails.

Of course the crushing realisations of how I can be a better mother and person that come when you have time away from your children and real life made an appearance early on, but once I got through the general self-loathing part of the weekend it wasn’t half bad. Somewhat surprisingly (because I thought the pressure of YOU ARE IN THE PRENSENCE OF NUNS, GET YOURSELF A RELIGIOUS EPIPHANY!! would mean that I’d end up playing Candy Crush for two days) I did have some useful and potentially meaningful spiritual thoughts. Potentially, because if I don’t actually follow up these ideas then they will just fade away into nothing, wont they? I’m going to have to pursue some rabbit holes a bit further, I think, but I do like a new idea to wrestle with.

I’ll elaborate more on these next post. Not because they are amazing and merit their own space but because this is already stupidly long and rambling.

Incidentally, do you have any idea how many subscribers you lose when you abandon your blog for four months? About 40, that’s how many.

Not expired!

Well how about that? I’ve been getting emails from WordPress for a while now telling me that if I didn’t renew my blah blah by blah blah then my website would disappear. And I didn’t really think I could justify the expense given that I barely post so I decide to leave it to see what would happen. And I’m still here!

‘Not paying bills in order to see what happens’ rarely ends this well, I find.

Some things may have disappeared given it’s free wordpress now but it’s nice to see it is still here when I need it.

Guest post- There Is Love

Today’s guest post comes from unkleE, one of my favourite bloggers, who writes at Is there a God?. I think that you will find this thought provoking.

There is love, and it can be found.
Scene 1. A busy market place.

The old man lifted his head and tried to listen through the noise of traders shouting their wares and the hum of the crowd. He looked towards the middle of the market at Speakers’ Corner, where the usual arguments continued, day after day, year after year.

The only thing everyone seemed to agree on was that no respectable philosopher could believe in the gods of the populace, and if a God existed at all, he was distant and didn’t care about humans.
But here was another voice, and another viewpoint – one which the old man had never heard before – talking about the gods as if they mattered.

The crowd was listening too, but not for long. Soon some of the younger men recommenced their vehement arguments, drowning out the stranger.

Slowly he stood up and walked slowly into the centre of the group. The crowd hushed, for he was an elder and respected. He eyed the stranger, then said:
“Let’s hear more of what you have to say tomorrow; when we have listened we will consider.”
The next afternoon the elders assembled and invited the stranger to speak. He spoke about his God, not just one of a pantheon, but the Lord of the universe. the Almighty who cared for mere mortals:
“God wants men to seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he isn’t far from any of us.”
His mind was racing and he heard no more. Could it be that God was a being who could be sought and known, rather than just a concept to argue about? But how could one seek such a God? If he called on him, what answer would he receive?

Scene 2. Night time in an inner city cafe.
The band was setting up on the small stage. Sam sat in the corner at the back, facing her third cup of coffee, hoping no-one would sit at her table and try to make conversation.
The band began with a couple of up-tempo songs. A businessman sacrifices everything to get to number 1, only to find he has become a number too. A callous “ladies man” leaves a trail of broken dreams in his wake but ends up lonely.

Sam’s mind wandered, then she re-focused. “I told myself I wasn’t going to think about Liam tonight” she reminded herself, and turned her attention back to the stage, where the mood had changed.
Over a soft background of slow chords, the pianist sang gently of dreams that had failed, hopes that had been dashed by life. But, in the end, reassurance: “There is love, and it can be found”.

Then another song about love – the strong love that hangs on when the going gets tough. “Love is hard” the chorus went.
“You’re not wrong there” Sam thought to herself, but somehow, she felt hope for the first time in weeks.
She could move on. Perhaps there truly was love in the world. Perhaps there was more to life than she had worked out so far? Perhaps she had been looking in the wrong places?

Scene 3. A dusty country road.
Matthias was more excited than he had been for a long time. Walking with the other young men, his mind went back to the funeral where they had laid his father to rest .A hard working man he had been as tough as the nails he used in his work, but always struggling to make ends meet in these oppressive times. And in the end, totally disillusioned.
Every week he had met with the other elders and prayed for release from the oppression, prayed that God would hear their pleas and rescue their nation from virtual slavery. But it never happened, and so he lived his last days in despair.

Matthias had few expectations of life and few hopes. Certainly not hope in God. But this group somehow felt differently. Their natural leader was still young himself, but he seemed to have the wisdom of an older man – if you could ever get a straight answer from him.

They questioned him as they strode along. “Where is God in these dark days? Is there any hope?”
“God sees everything that happens.” the leader responded.
“That’s not really an answer to the question,”a young man retorted and the leader flashed him a smile: “Did I promise an answer to the question?”
Matthias thought for a moment, then asked his own question: “So how can we ever know the truth about God?”
He half expected another cryptic reply, but instead the leader said quite seriously: “If you keep on looking, I promise, you will find what you need to know.”
This reply left Matthias with more questions. What did he need to know? Would he give God another chance?

Postscript:
These stories are fictional but based on real events. Story 1 happened in a marketplace in Athens, recorded in Acts 17:16-28 in the Bible. Story 2 is based on the album Surviving (about 1980) by Sydney singer/songwriter Ross Nobel. Story 3 reflects the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:8.