Posts Tagged With: Spirit

Words and Wonder-ings to Hearten the Creative – Who Is, and Serves, Art

For those who would serve the work of creativity – who must, in order to be true to their life’s (or this moment’s) call – there is a wonder in this serving and seeking.

art-heartsWhether one’s work is with words or mixed media, paint or clay, glass or stone, metal or cloth, threads or tonalities, human movement or drafting, musical instruments or voices, drafting boards or firing ovens, food stuffs or growing things, human interaction/dynamics, the knowledge or wisdom of the ages and ways to educate, or the soul’s own journey – the process of seeing and creating and collaborating is rife with amazement and not-too-few tears.  Carnage is done in shaving off what once seemed precious and necessary to an end product, in seeking what is at heart and truest.  Materials and words and worlds fall at the feet around the tables where we create, as we chase and name the fleeting glimpses we see sideways and fabricate textures with our media that approximate our visions.

If each of us is “God’s work of art” (says Paul’s epistle), I wonder what truth we express in flesh and sinew.

Is it love, most of all?  Are our different textures of temperament and giftedness reflections of the color and variety of goodness?   What were the remnants cut away in our creation, to get at the truth that resulted in each of us?  Our core is important to the Artist, and is a delight to be treasured in this large Creation’s art show.  There we are, displayed next to the Milky Way and the intricacy of a butterfly’s wing.

God’s art in human form is functional too and participates in creating more beauty and spreads the circle ever outward.  We are makers too, splashing life and color with our work and selves like spin art at a carnival which ecstatic children whirl and splatter paint everywhere.  Thus we continue the efforts begun by God and stamped in the hard drive of our hearts, not entirely knowing what we are about, but recognizing when the art we serve approximates in its process or product more closely some element of who we most are, and what is most true about life-love-work-suffering-joy-the human-the divine-the journey.  We often do not know what we set out to name or visually represent, but we know the creating itself is a good and serves.

Our beings and our efforts then are art-in-process.  And we have need of a muse, a companion, an inSpiration to carry us.  Our art-ing often comes forth from the vulnerable and most sensitive centers where we see and feel and breathe and fear and dance and seek, and we need still points and words and ways that tell us that this ‘hunt’ is ‘worthy of all tears’.

And so I share these well hewn words from Carmelite poet Jessica Powers to hearten those involved in this journey which gives joy and also costs the journeyer.   May we know ourselves accompanied, and find our seeking draws us home.

Since the luminous great wings of wonder stirred
over me in the twilight I have known
the Holy Spirit is the Poet’s Bird.

Since in a wilderness I wandered near
a shining stag, this wisdom is my own:
the Holy Spirit is the Hunter’s Deer.

And in the dark in all enchanted lands
I know the Spirit is that Burning Bush
toward which the artist gropes with outstretched hands.

Upon the waters once and then again
I saw the Spirit in a silver rush
rise like the Quarry of the Fisherman.

Yet this I know: no arrows of desire
can wound Him, nor a bright intrepid spear;
He is not seen by any torch of fire,

nor can they find Him who go wandering far;
His habitat is wonderfully near
in each soul’s thicket ‘neath its deepest star.

Let those who seek come home through the vain years
to where the Spirit waits a shining captive.
This is the hunt most worthy of all tears.
Bearing their nets celestial, let them come
and take their Quarry on the fields of rapture
that lie beyond the last gold pendulum.

– Jessica Powers

Categories: Art in Life and Work, Carmelite, Poetry | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Brushstrokes of the Spirit – Day One

I find delight in the companion, tutor, gardener, whole-er, healer, pray-er, weaver, friend, playful one, formator, artist, counselor, therapist, integrator, fruit-producer, gift-giver, embrace, draw-er in to relationship with the Trinity who is the Spirit.  And her* feast of Pentecost approaches in a few days.  My delight in her and dependence on her in the work that I do (through In-Spirited!  Hmmm… wonder who its patron is!) is prompting a few reflections over the next days that I’ll call brushstrokes.

I am not an artist with paint, but I have watched others reverently or courageously or hesitantly or boldly choose color and make first strokes on blank canvas.  The first strokes are not the picture, but they are part of the beginning.  That’s all I seek to do here.  There is no capturing the Spirit – nailing wind or fire down is a ridiculous endeavor.  And yet…  she draws me, she draws us… and this feast provides an excuse to look at her directly in the midst of the Trinity’s relational dance (and perichoresis – intimate indwelling of each other) and celebrate her love-living, especially as she does it in us these days of our lives!

And so, an initial brushstroke and image for your reflection:

Many years ago, in my VERY early young adulthood, I spent four years in a religious community.  You know how memories are some combination of what actually happened, what you remember of what happened, what you have associated with it since, and subsequent learnings and integrations?  Well, I have an amusing memory from my seminary days (that’s what we called the 18 months of novitiate).  And it’s one of those combinations – but I think mostly accurate.

SAMSUNGIn the midst of what we experienced as rather intense formation processes, and what we knew to be the Spirit’s collaboration with our personal/human/spiritual growth, someone expressed well what was felt at times.  “Bird — get off my shoulder!”  It was addressed to the Holy Spirit, and was a comic way to express a very human plea: “I’m on overload.  I’m learning enough about me right now, thanks.  I can’t integrate any more.  And I don’t want more awareness of what seems to be off kilter in my ways of being.”  It might have said something too about how we understood growth, and perhaps that we had to “fix ourselves” by ourselves, but that’s another story, and one that risks an off-target compulsion that leaves little room for grace.

An on-target truth that my sisters and I were experiencing deeply and trying to name was that the Spirit is very VERY involved with us – intimately and constantly.  We just weren’t sure it was a friendly involvement – at least our image captured some of that hesitancy.

Today I am absolutely certain that the Spirit’s involvement in the work of our lives is entirely to be trusted — much more than my own perspective!  And that the Spirit’s methodologies are always good.  If we but open our eyes and ears – partially with the Spirit’s help – we will see so many ways that God is communicating specifically with us and to us, shaping and forming us inwardly and outwardly with invitations.  We will find in our daily experiences opportunities to see and to respond, to learn and to develop.  We will locate the place where the Spirit prays deeply within us, for we do not know how to pray or what to pray.  We can trust that we will experience from the Spirit strength and gentleness, firmness and tenderness; and rest knowing that we are utterly safe in her tutelage.  Jesus has sent the Spirit to us to teach and remind us, to dwell in and with us, to guide and journey with us.  We are never alone – within or without.

SAMSUNGSt. Basil of Caesarea used the image of the Spirit as ‘brooding’, as a mother bird over the eggs in her nest.  It is true that her warmth causes the eventual cracking of the eggs.  And perhaps the eggs, and the baby birds within, might prefer to remain encased and not be ‘cracked up’.  So it is with us.  But the Spirit broods over us, providing heat and safety, and makes us restless within.  Her presence cracks us open from without and within, if we allow it: and she will be there to feed us, as a mother bird remains.  She will help us encounter Christ who feeds us with his very self, and teach us to leap and fly and sing and be who we are, within the love of the Trinity in the world the Trinity loves.

“A bird does not sing because she has an answer, but because she has a song.”  Heard that one before?  The Spirit has a song of relationship and unending love in the mystery of the three/Trinity.  She sings in us and around us.  As we come, over and over again, to new birth with her help… we too learn to sing.  And our singing is a witness to the delight of knowing the Creator, the Son, the Spirit.  It is an invitation to others to take part in the flight, the dance, the growing, the enterprise that is God’s wonderful desire for us, the world, the cosmos – participating in a love that is extending and outreaching, in-gathering and embracing.  Let us sing with the Spirit, not chase her off our shoulders in fear!  The Spirit loves us too.  Speak with her today.

*  I’ve used the feminine pronoun for the Spirit, with no intention of limiting the Spirit to any gender.  There are no limits on God, on the Spirit.  Still, pronouns are helpful in prose, and only come in his/her/it. Given St. Basil’s image (see later in the blog) of a brooding mother bird, I have chosen to utilize “her” here.  I actually love the work of Madeleine L’Engle where she used “el”  as a created pronoun to refer to God (connecting with Elohim).   

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Desert as Destination? Holy Spirit Tours

The Gospels tell us that right after Jesus hears that he is God’s Beloved, and that God is well pleased with him, he is sent by the Spirit into the desert.  Over the years, I’ve studied these passages hearing the words of scripture scholars and theologians, reflected on them in prayer, studied commentaries, written about them as a tool for learning and tasting their truth, heard a psychological rendering or two, led reflections on the account, and read others’ poetry, piety, and prayers.  I am not interested so much in exegetical exploration here.  I do not bring sharpened scholarly tools.  Just a muse, and wonderings.  The desert is a very important place.  And I am always struck by the Baptism-Desert one-two punch.  Influenced by the work of Nouwen (Henri) and others on the Beloved One’s experience, I’m thinking about Jesus signing up with ‘Holy Spirit Tours’ in these short paragraphs.

“Catch the tour camel here… no, actually, you have to walk in the spirit of the experience.  Moving right out from new start into who-knows-Abba-knows what, directly into wild-beasts-no-food-or-water-or shade.  You were named Beloved, and I told you God’s pleased with you, so get going!  You need this time.  Why?  You just do.  Okay, keep walking that way into the sand.  We’re walking…. we’re walking.  You’ll meet danger.  It will sharpen you.  You had plenty of water – enough to wade in – back there.  Here your memory and your need will tutor you.”

I imagine Jesus, still stunned by the baptism, the words of love, the heavens, and John.  As a dear friend and guide has reminded me often, even Jesus had to have to time figure out what being the Beloved meant.  He walks into the desert and just stops.  He looks about, and there’s nothing but sameness.  There’s nowhere to be but here – no interesting distractions or visitor center video clips on this trip.  There’s no one to be but him, and no events to clog his calendar.  It’s a radical shut-down.  As if 20 programs were up on my computer and I just shut them all down and stared at the blank screen. 

For how long does one spin thoughts and entertain oneself, when stark silence is met?  No scrolls, no conversations, no story line.  Just here.  And in the ‘here’, Jesus encounters three temptations.  They are about being fed, being rescued, and being in control.  Through them he learns that he is absolutely cared for – but that does not mean he will not hunger and thirst as if to die from the need.  He learns that he is absolutely safe – but that does not mean he will experience rescue from life’s pain and grief and hurt.  And he learns that he is able to take clear steps and live from who he is boldly and with strength – but that does not mean he will be in control of others’ reactions, of the interaction of circumstances.  He is hungry and thirsty, vulnerable and at risk, powerless and contingent.  Being Beloved does not negate any of these.  But he is absolutely safe – no matter.  He can be confident in Abba’s presence with him, and the Spirit who guided him to this stark retreat.  His path is one he will travel WITH, even as his foretold name (Emmanuel) means God-WITH-us. 

Standing and stumbling and walking in the surety of the relationship he has and is with Abba & Spirit, Jesus can eventually leave the desert for mission.  But integrating that foundation so it’s solid for action takes the famed 40 days – a LONG time.  His needs and his abilities to influence his own life’s outcomes are released to the story he will walk with God.  Each day will be a living the confidence, in darkness or light, tiredness or exultation.  Whatever comes, the desert has taught him what Julian of Norwich will eventually write as another of God’s revelations… that all is well, and all will be well.  There is no assurance of pleasant feeling throughout, or a shield from emotions or arrows or words that harm.  The assurance that the desert destination has identified is deeper than the sand in his shoes or the sun that beats down.  You may die, you may hunger, you may lose control, you may experience harm — you are safe.  I do not leave you.  Live as my Beloved Son, and show the rest you love and know and call that they too are loved the same. 

The Johannine writer eventually will baptize us with our own Beloved phrase, but from Jesus’ lips:  “As the Father has loved you, so I have loved you.”  (15:9)  It’s the next part that is the continuation of the Holy Spirit Tours.  “Live in my love.”  Jesus learned to believe in this in a new way in the desert, and to walk it in his living and mission after.  And in his suffering and death as well.  We must learn to live in this love deeply and truly too, and his deserts and ours teach us that we can, though it takes 40 days to learn the ‘get started’ part of the way.  Wc can live from this living in love… regardless of our own vulnerabilities or fears, hungers or griefs, joys or celebrations, dancing and miracles, wonders and wishes. 

I am not sure often that I have the courage.  I love Willow Tree figurines and angels.  I have that Nativity set, actually.  I bought myself the “Courage” angel when I left home for a two year adventure.  She had both arms reaching high.  Soon after I arrived, I broke an arm off of her.  I laughed and thought… very fitting!  That’s about the level of my courage.  Broken, but still reaching.  Five years later I bought another as a symbol for myself.  And just a few months ago, I dropped her and broke off both arms this time.  I’ve kept her.  She can no longer reach, but she stands with back arched, rooted.  And perhaps that’s the courage – not in reaching, but in being.  For sometimes life’s seasons are definitely NOT poetry, but wild storms.  Still, living in love is the invitation.

Living in the kind of love that is Beloved-love is the only way any of it can make sense, I believe.  And then we too will wish to share the secret of how to with others.  And this is the secret of the Gospel – the Good News.  Only this secret is to be shouted on rooftops, not put under bushel baskets, used liberally like salt, and be a water of life welling up within us.   We are so well loved, and in return we love – God and all the others who are with us or who need the secret too – who need light, water, hope.  For not only ‘as the Father has loved me, so I love you’ but ‘as the Father has sent me, so I send you’

I cannot imagine that Jesus always humanly felt the joy of the truth of the Good News he shared.  He knew human emotions, and their variety and how they are impacted by so many things.  I do not imagine I must always be at ‘cheerleader level’ and tasting the love I profess and live in.  But I must be rooted in it.  Somehow.  And pray for that.  Towards the end of her writings, Therese of Lisieux writes when she feels there is a wall that blocks her from faith.  Still she sings of heaven’s happiness and of God.  She sees no hypocrisy here, for “I feel no joy in this, for I sing simply what I WANT TO BELIEVE”. 

Living in love is an art that includes storing up all the baptism moments, remaining rooted deeply from the desert deepenings, and hanging on. 

“Trust the Holy Spirit tours.  God’s WITH and so we are.  You come from love, you go to love, you live in love, and you serve with your living the building up of a reign of love in ways you can hardly see.  You’re contingent and small, but wondrous and Beloved.  And you are safe in God’s arms.  Remember the Holy Spirit Tours has guided Jesus hither and yon on the journey on the soil and sand of this earth.  You’re in good hands.  So get going.  We’re walking…. we’re walking.” 

Categories: General, Lent, Living in Love | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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