Posts Tagged With: mystery

Casting Down the Compass of the Wither and the Why: Living With the Spirit, Part II

wpid-2014-08-18-20.11.23.jpg.jpegThe soul that walks where the wind of the Spirit blows
turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love.
It may lament like Job or Jeremiah,
echo the wounded hart, the mateless dove;
it may rejoice in spaciousness of meadow
that emulates the freedom of the sky.
Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing;
it has cast down forever from its hand
the compass of the whither and the why.

I promised Jessica Powers’ poem on Living With the Spirit in three parts over a few days.  Alas!  Robin Williams’ death sent my reflections another direction — along with many more.  And there are so MANY MANY things happening throughout the world and in and around Church these days that merit so much conversation, reflection, prayer, work, silence.  Still, my path leads me back here — to the next stanza of Powers’ poem above, and a few thoughts below.  See if any of this invites your integration with what is going on in the world or your life too.

If we walk where the wind blows, we go hither and thither, without a whither or a why.  This seems inefficient, at least!

wpid-20140818_193149.jpgI am presently reading a 2014 title by Sarah Lewis which I recommend – The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.  I’m not far in, but two early images strike me, and enter into dialogue with this stanza as I muse.

One is the perspective of an archer, committed to her art.  There is built-in to the craft of pulling bows and launching arrows compensations that must be made for curvatures, and deliberately aiming off-target in order to actually find the target, let alone anything near center!  Huh?  How can this be?  The human body bends.  And eyes see from a perspective, and over a curving landscape.  If one wants to be near the mark, one must learn – counter intuitively – to ‘aim’ off the mark.

The second image is that of finding oneself in a place where the curvature of the earth at its horizon is obvious to the eye, and what that does to our ways of perceiving.  In Utah, over the Bonneville salt flats, Lewis notes that mountains look like they are suspended in the sky.  Their base is beyond the horizon, and so they do not ‘reach’ the ground, as the ground that is seen does not have mountain on it!  And if one then starts to walk in a line directly towards these mountains, the sense of curvature occasions the footprints in the flats to reveal that the most direct route between two points – on this earth – seems to be a curved line!  We meander naturally, with no knowledge of having done so!

So we aim “off” to find “true”, and when we walk “true” we end up walking “curved”!

So what can keep us truly true?  What do we depend on?  What can we depend on?

Jessica’s words say it simply:   “the soul…. turns like a weather-vane toward love”.

We do not understand.  We cannot understand, so very much.  Instead, this is the advice.  Celebrate that very incompleteness!  Try to be as responsive as possible to the turns that the Spirit takes and listen to and for Love, who is a Person (or – more accurately – persons), who is our intimate and friend, who is our path and our goal and companion, who also whispers how to be love too – which is our noble call.

We do not control our way.  If we follow the Spirit’s wind-breath, we will lament, be lonely, rejoice, and dance freely.  What we know most and best is that we do not know much at all.  (Ah, well Jessica Powers IS a Carmelite — friend of John of the Cross, and her words echo his of unknowing paths.)  The soul, “always it walks in waylessness, unknowing”.  This is simple fact.

When we grasp to know-Know-KNOW, we aim our arrows at the centers of targets and they fly past.  Our most authentic ‘knowing’ is a commitment not to waste time chasing knowing, but to relax into the mystery named in the last blog on this poem.  Our way-going can perhaps be best described as  a simple intention and a humble listening to wind’s (and Spirit’s) slight breaths.  It requires that we “cast down forever” from our hands “the compass of the whither and the why”.

For most of us, relinquishing our compasses and submitting to willy-nilly wandering seems nonsense.  It’s not responsible!  It’s not proactive!  It’s not adult or the best use of human potential!  It’s lazy!  It’s not self-actualizing!

OR… it is the absolute and only way to the truth that we are and the way we can go.  It is our true self, deepest identity.  And “may your inner self grow strong” (Ephesians) in just this way!

The quote under my senior picture in my high school yearbook read “A bird does not sing because she has the answer, but because she has a song”.  So, we are invited to sing… and with our distinct voice… as we wander.  This will call us, challenge us, draw us to healing, send us over edges, help us be with and lead others.

bagger vanceThis week I re-watched the 2000 film “The Legend of Bagger Vance”, which connects for me here as well.  (Hey – the Spirit uses all kinds of things, yes??)  You’ll remember the film’s setting at a golf tournament, and Bagger  Vance (Will Smith) appears as caddy (as well as a wisdom figure? divine messenger?): he helps a WWI vet (Matt Damon) to face himself, his past, his life and to choose to go forward with all he has.  The game of golf is the field of formation, and Smith’s character continually invites Damon’s to let the field tell him what to do, and to find his authentic swing in response to the field, as it brings forth an investment of who he truly is, and he is to give it all in that moment, in that one swing.  Words to us too?

The only authentic way – I’d dare to say that Powers’ instructs us to in this poem, and a way that echoes her Carmelite saint patrons – is to listen to love by living with the Spirit.  Live each moment, let the Spirit turn your soul, your weather-vane, toward that love – whatever joy or grief or dance it leads you to or through – with no compass, but with all your you.

May we each and all find our true ways of living this – in peace, and for good.

Categories: Carmelite, General, Mystery, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Keep the Vigil of Mystery – It Matters: Pondering with Jessica Powers

“To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener.
It is to keep the vigil of mystery,
earthless and still.
One leans to catch the stirring of the Spirit,
strange as the wind’s will.”

I am attracted, these days, to this poem by the gifted Carmelite Jessica Powers (1905-1988).   Her way with words I’ve long loved, and I’ll offer you this work in three parts over the next few days, with a few lines of wanderings/wonderings for your reflection and mine.

To live listening, to keep the vigil of mystery – these are wise invitations to the seeker. I wonder – can you and I learn to truly WAIT?  WAIT = Why Am I Talking?  Does my talking serve listening?   The freedom of the other?   The truth of a human experience or challenge?   The beyondness of an encounter with LIFE, GOD, LOVE, A HUMAN PERSON, or SELF?  Are my words echoes that come out of silence,  or noise that protects me from the rawness of experience?

Could it be that we live speaking instead of listening because we feel somehow safer or in more control when we guide the dialogues we have with others, with life’s complexities, with our own confusions or cluelessness?  What would it take to lay down the burden of managing mystery and to instead hold vigil in the darkness?

At times this may indeed feel raw, vulnerable,  intimate – and remind us once again of what we do not understand.  Without a GPS to tell us exactly where we are, a Google or Bing access to explain the unknown, and an app to help us navigate with ease… will we be okay?

At this time of year,  I liken it to the reaction we might have as we step onto an empty beach or look up at night – away from city lights – at vast darkness or uncountable stars.   Does sheer space in those contexts scare us,  make us feel small?   Do we feel inconsequential before multi-billion grains of sands or a night sky-view that hints at a cosmos we cannot begin to see or imagine from where we stand?  And in our more daily moments?   Do large joys or sorrows overwhelm us?  Does not-knowing disturb us, and send us into calculating or strategic plans that remake the real contours of complexities into manageable microbits?


Powers’ words invite us to listen to the Spirit – to recognize all moments as opportunities to stand small and naked and clueless before mystery – and to learn trust.  Those moments at the beach or beneath the night sky bring me peace, in the midst of wonder – and likely bring that to many of us.  Our intuitive selves know that these experiences are safe and whole-ing.  They can quiet us, even help us to relax by evening us out, reminding us of the large, of the gift we have in living in it without grasping, and refresh us with joy in our being part – a precious part – of something very VERY large. (Think universe, cosmos, creation, and the Creator bigger-than-this-infinity LARGE!)

This awareness can become a lifestyle – and one more relaxing and whole than endeavoring to protect ourselves from life’s big  questions or managing mystery.  We can find joy in being little, known, poor, unknowing.  But this indeed is not an easy journey for we who express our discomfort with this reality, our alienation from this truest identity, in manifold ways.  We circle.  We project.  We protect.  We narrate.  We analyze.  We fear pain.  We have known hurt.  But being bigger than we are and trying to microwave meaning and skip over transcendence with reality-for-dummies strategies simply does not work.  We can be taught, and allow ourselves to be drawn out and allured into deserts and spaces where we can learn trust and heal from our own first person singular ways of doing frenzy.  We can allow ourselves to rage or weep, laugh or dance, and ask for whatever we need for the next steps into living mystery and listening to life and living with the Spirit.  And we can support each other on this journey as true community and pilgrims in process.

With time, and Grace’s enduring work in and with us, we may find that Living Loved and finding our refuge and home and mission from there may prove to be our truest experience of Mystery, as we – and all – are wrapped within the Trinity’s love.  And our vigils with these truths will guide us to reengage in living with integrity,  and provide us a way to reboot when we stray back to lesser living and efforts to manipulate or be our own source, wisdom, control.  They may also help us as individuals, and as a human race, to make better decisions towards peace and stewardship and solidarity and creativity.  And is that not a need for our very survival at this point?

So,  let’s listen to the Spirit today some… do our part to be faithful to the journey.  It matters if we do.  It matters that we do.

“By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, 
in quiet and in trust your strength lies.”

(Isaiah 30:15)

Categories: General, Mystery, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Where is He hid? – Jessica Powers and “The Hidden Christ”

The call to presence these days invites us to open our own eyes and heart to the Infant Jesus in tender flesh, to Mary and Joseph, to animals and feedbox, visitors and travelers, vulnerability and poverty and great joy. The Child reaches out for care and love, and as we draw near perhaps we can see his newborn glance take us in.  And so, as we reflect these days to Epiphany (January 5th), these reflections from others continue to be offered to feed our encounter and our silence.  

Carmelite Jessica Powers (Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD) is well known for her well crafted words in poetry. Follow her seeking. Where are you to seek?

empty cave by jerusalem

The Hidden Christ

I went into the Christmas cave;
there was no Child upon the straw.
The ox and ass were all I saw.

I sought His stable where He gave
His goodness in the guise of bread.
Emptiness came to me instead.

Filled with my Father’s words, I cried
“Where have You hid Yourself?” and all
the living answered to my call.

I found Him (and the world is wide)
dear in His warm ubiquity.
Where heart beat, there was Christ for me.

I went back to the Christmas cave,
glad with the gain of everywhere.
And lo! the blessed Child was there.

Then at His feasting board He gave
embrace. He multiplied His good
and fed in me the multitude.

Categories: Christmas, General, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Presence to the Mystery in the Manger: Sister Maura Eichner, SSND

Another day, another way to be with the Mystery in the manger, and some words and wisdom offered (which will continue through Epiphany, Jan. 5th, 2014).

The call to presence these days invites us to open our own eyes and heart to this Child and his family, to the visitors and travelers, to song and embrace, to all this season in holy night and early days, in incarnation flesh, and vulnerability holds.  It asks us to hearken to this Word, this Proclamation, this Love, definitively present and spoken directly to our world, to creation, and to each of us each and all of us.

sister maura eichnerStill, these gifts from others may help us travel the distance into our own silence to encounter.  So, shhhh… let us… See. Listen. Treasure. Ponder. Hold and be held. And then be still. And perhaps be moved to worship. To song. To poetry. To service. To sharing. I’ll meet you there.  Rejoicing!

Today, find two poem selections from Sister Maura Eichner, SSND (School Sister of Notre Dame). I was fortunate enough to have Sister Maura as an undergrad professor, after having dined on her poetry in adolescence and early young adulthood.


Atonal Carol for the
Present Moment

Son of God
you took life
from a gentle girl
the Jewish wife

of Joseph. You
also wholly took
our laughter, grief,
ironies and jokes.

Take us, too,
again, again,
on this lonely planet
world of men.

Orbit our veins,
look out our eyes,
be a now
surprise! surprise!

Like that human girl
who cradled you,
Son of Man,
we need you.


Love Travels Far

Love travels far
To be home.
Carols echo –
“Come, O come. . . .”

God is where
He chose to be –
Living in you,
Living in me.

Categories: Christmas, General, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being with the Mystery in the Manger: “First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engle

SAMSUNGThese days call for ways to be with the Mystery in the manger, and you’ll find here some words and wisdom (through Epiphany, Jan. 5th, 2014).

This call to presence invites us to open our own eyes and heart to this Child and his family, to the visitors and travelers, to song and embrace, to all this season in holy night and early days, in incarnation flesh, and vulnerability holds.  It asks us to harken to this Word, this Proclamation, this Love, definitively present and spoken directly to our world, to creation, and to each of us each and all of us.

Still, these gifts offered here from others’ reflecting may help us travel the distance into our own silence to encounter.  So, shhhh… let us… See. Listen. Treasure. Ponder. Hold and be held. And then be still. And perhaps be moved to worship. To song. To poetry. To service. To sharing. I’ll meet you there.  Rejoicing!

For our initial reflection then, a poem from Madeleine L’Engle, found in A Cry Like a Bell.

First Coming 

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

– Madeleine L’Engle

Categories: Christmas, General, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mystery versus Surety: NCIS!

Ah, well, mystery sounds to be a wonderful thing.  There is in the concept a lovely mist, a suggestion of breadth, a hint of wholeness – holiness even.  There is a beyond and a greater, a more and a majestic.  But surety… well, it’s just much more practical.  And let’s face it, it can be depended upon.  We can stand on it, and it’s not going anywhere.

Given a choice between mystery and surety, most of us would likely choose what’s sure.  Western culture is committed to the pragmatic, the solution-oriented, the idiot’s guide to you-name-it, to arriving at our pre-determined destination – with our GPS or accurate GoogleMap or MapsOnUs printout that showed each step of the way. 

Mystery?  Well, it doesn’t just show up in the grand.  It’s a part of every day life – and it’s sometimes darn uncomfortable.  We go to workshops to learn how to manage it.  We speedread a grief book to get past it.  We take a shot or a pill, or put down a bet, to be rid of it.  We take relational indicators for online dating to define a compatibility before risking it.  We fill schedules and keep sound going in our homes to avoid it.  We buy organizing closets and consultants to straighten it.  We oversleep or overmedia to anesthetize from it.  We read medical websites to be amateur experts on it.  We color or collagen to forget it.  We get degrees, get consultants, get a plan, get ahead, get a lead, get ANYTHING to have something in our hands that we’ve GOTTEN that makes sense of things or puts things in place.

NCIS is one of my all time favorite television shows.  At the end of an hour, I’m pretty sure of what’s happened in a case.  Ah, but the characters – Tony, Gibbs, Abby, Tim, Ducky, Ziva, oh – and Jimmy and Leon – they are familiar (well-loved!), and yet they are mysteries.  And they are mysteries to themselves at least as much as they are to one another.  That’s one of the things that brings me back to see the show week after week, at least as much as the story lines: the fun of watching the communication between all these mysteries in process as the mystery they work on is wrestled with, strategized and revealed.  Their work confronts the unknown and often uncomfortable – violence, death, human motivation, great commitment, evil, good, subterfuge, truth, deception, power, powerlessness.  In the hour they come to some – pleasant or not – outcomes.  But what about  they themselves?  What outcomes do they reach?  And anyway, what is outcome in a life?  It’s a walking in mystery step by step.  We come to see each cast member over time – in and out of relationships, aging, finding their way, seeking meaning, engaging in commitments that define them, and seeking commitments they want to define them.  And we like who they are, though they are characters in a show.  We care about how they live out who they are, and the step by step journey, especially when it is difficult or dark.  We’ve seen them emerge, be shaped by their experiences, and give differently to their next moment because of the last ones.  We can see that the mystery of their lives is really okay… and we root for them.

It’s easier to be at ease with mystery and where it takes us when we look at someone else’s life, or at NCIS!  Inside our own lives, mysteries can feel scary or overwhelming, out of control or just annoying.  Large transitions, big successes, terrible losses – these bring us face to face with mystery in life.  Death, joy, love, children, commitment, betrayal, birth, passion, vocation, ecstactic moments, the quick-slow flow of time, creating, releasing – in all of these we find ourselves encountering a more, a mystery.

The fact is, regardless of whether we prefer surety or not, and regardless of what amount of energy and money we spend seeking it, mystery finds us.  How can we ever come to be at home with it?

I’m convinced that escaping it is the wrong move.  First, it’s not possible.  This makes it not just the wrong move, but a kind of dumb one!  (Not that I don’t take – and haven’t taken – it many times myself!).  Second, it makes of our life a fleeing from what is, instead of a standing in what is. 

I believe learning to live at home with mystery takes practice and practice and more practice… done simply and peacefully.  It takes standing in a moment that is mystery and breathing.  It takes not running, but being in it – whatever the emotions it engenders – and just noticing what arises.  The emotions are reactions – the thoughts too.  The mystery is the truth we encounter. 

At this time, before Lent quite lands in our living, I think about the paschal MYSTERY.  Of course, death and resurrection in the life of Jesus are mystery.  And isn’t it in our lives as well?  We live in the same pattern of dying and rising, ebb and flow.  Christian faith tells us it is good to live there.  What?  Really?  Are you SERIOUS?  Good to live DEATH and resurrection?  This is a mystery that we come to know in fall and spring, death and birth, endings and beginnings.  Notice, I didn’t say I entirely ‘get it’ or am comfortable with the pattern either.  It just IS the pattern.  It’s one embraced by God who lived it fully in Jesus.  Get it?  No.  Living it?  Yeah.  With him.  Yeah, how else?  I am still practicing too! 

It may be good to remember that we are trained culturally to maximize our focus on the solution, the strategy, the rising, what we think is the good.  We try to minimize or avoid the unknowing, the costs, the cluelessness, the unpredictable, what looks like ultimate endings from our limited view.  No wonder we often have such problems with life as it is.  We are not doing life wrong somehow if we experience ebbs and flows, if we know mountains and valleys, death and resurrection… we are experiencing life.  If we think to experience life only as flow or highs or understandable graspable joys, we are apt to be projecting what we want life to be like on the wall and trying to jump into our own projection!  It isn’t real.  Joy can only be here – in where we are.  And God with us here.

So, enjoy surety when it arises.  Find the perfect recipe, the perfect route to Grandma’s house, the best mechanical anything (I don’t do mechanical!), a really good tech practice.  But expect mystery to show up everywhere.  And, if we can, let’s think of the learnings of NCIS!  Perhaps if we can learn, as an exercise, to watch our lives from the outside a little, we may be able to accomodate more and value more the mysteries that we are, the mysteries we encounter, and the mysteries of one another.  And even enjoy them… smile at them… laugh knowingly at them (a great Abby look!).

Don’t go play CLUE after reading this.  It has an answer.  Go, be clueless for awhile.  Happily.

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s an In-Spirited Blog About?

This blog is an extension of IN-SPIRITED* with a particular contribution to make.  It seeks to reflect on living and breathing; seeking life and being found by God; being on mission, being human and being holy; knowing one is already rooted in love and embodying more and more what one believes.  And it does so, inspired by the image shared by Annie Dillard in The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

In this wonderful text, she describes the experience of being human as very much like the experience of walking in the fog.  We see “tatters of clearness through a pervading obscurity”.  This is not disturbing, I believe.  It simply is what is.

We human persons are bound by limits while stretched across horizons.  Our energy, our field of vision, our perceptions and conceptions and misconceptions, our stories and histories, our connections and cultures and collaborations and isolations, our griefs and our joys, our experiences and our interpretations and ruminations – these communicate with the broadest strokes of reality.   We are small and large – circumscribed and beyond definition.  We have names, but no apt labels.  We can analyze the composition of our bodies, count our heartbeats and breaths, and xray our structural make up – yet not capture the human heart or locate the individual spirit. 

We are mystery, and we live in mystery.  Yet we often forget this, because the mysterious of life is so very ordinary and concrete in our experience.  It is the air we breathe, and we forget the wonder.  We catch glimpses of what is most true.  And the mystic and the artist and the prophet and the pray-er and the pilgrim among us describe these glimpses best through image and metaphor, color and light.   They help us see the truth by hinting at it. 

And so, this blog intends to play with images, glimpse and hint at truth, and see what tatters of clearness might emerge.  It seeks to see, and necessarily will do so from where I am.  Undoubtedly, like one of the blind men in the Gospels who is on the journey to sight, when I see my perception of what is before me is no doubt sometimes a bit “off”.  The not-quite blind man saw people that looked like trees walking.  My words can only hint at and serve my own vision and limits and gifts…. describing my own tree people… my own tatters of clearness through my own pervading obscurity.  That’s fine.  I have no illusion that I hold any total vision.  This too is how we enrich each other – with shared visions and dialogue – and a portrait of the really real takes shape between us like a multi-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.  The dialogue is a discovery, and a grace.  And we build on the words and vision and descriptions of those before us – family and friends and saints and companions.  Together we learn, while reverencing that what we experience of the whole is as limited as we are. 

So the blog is not so much about meaning making, as a listening – an obedience (living with an open ear), and exploring mystery with myth and metaphor, images and creativity, word-art and willingness.

I look forward to conversations and reflections, new friends and dialogue partners, and depend – as ever – on the Spirit and the Spirit’s holy manner of working! 

                                                                                                                            Joanne M. Cahoon

* In-Spirited, LLC is described at and

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: