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Reflections on rhythms in my life

by davesandel on October 8th, 2011

Following our July Transforming Community retreat, during which we were asked to notice the comings-in and goings-out of  desire, I am learning more about how to do just that.  My desire takes on shapes and asserts itself toward goals, many of which I wouldn’t have called spiritual until now.  But Rolheiser’s description of imperialistic fire that rushes through me in a restless longing for “mystical union” (Holy Longing, chapter 2, part 1, etc.), and Sheldrake’s assertion that “God is to be found at the heart of all desire” (Befriending, p. 23) free me from some, at least, of my self-censorship.

So I don’t squash or rush away so quickly from sexual desire, regardless of its object.  Instead, I notice it and talk to God about it, attempting to share my experience and perceptions with Him.  I don’t fight my body as long when it is tired.  I am enjoying the experience of getting to know my body on its terms rather than those I’ve tried to impose on it.  Following Eckhart Tolle’s suggestion in A New Earth, when I want to know what my hand is feeling I don’t ask my mind, which is too busy with itself to really care.  Instead I am learning to go straight to my hand and let it speak up to my mind.  And so, when my back is stiff or my eyes are heavy, it is becoming easier to respond to those feelings instead of analyzing them or excusing them as nothing more than expressions of weakness to be overcome.

In other words, instead of “top-down” processing, which begins in my brain and descends to the rest of me, I am learning how to do the “bottoms-up” thing.  And just as people who drink a lot of beer enjoy the feeling that comes with that movement, I’m learning to enjoy it too.  Desire is a function of every cell in my body – every cell made by God and wanting to experience incarnation.  I’m learning to let that happen.


On to solitude and silence.  I am very grateful for Rolheiser’s decision to put Henri Nouwen’s earthy quote about meditation and contemplation in The Holy Longing: “My time apart … is full of distractions, inner restlessness, confusion and boredom.  It seldom, if ever, pleases my senses.  But the simple fact of being for one hour in the presence of the Lord and of showing him all that I feel, think, sense, and experience, without trying to hide anything, must please him” (Gracias, p. 69).  In this simplest of self-disclosures, Nouwen liberates me from much of what throttles down my energy for contemplative prayer and meditation.  I’ve shared this with several counseling clients; their response is similar.  The idea of giving God an hour of all the confused, back-on-itself thinking that I notice in my head when I stop doing anything else – well, that’s just too sweet.  God, I give you the most real part of myself, the part that is left when I stop doing STUFF.  It might not look like much, and it sure isn’t satisfying to me.  AND THAT’S NOT A BAD THING!  This might be counter-intuitive at first, but not at last.  It makes more sense than I ever could have imagined.

Which doesn’t mean I’ve become that conscientious about giving hours to God.  I am however, giving shorter times.  Five minutes at a time for a week, then seven, then twelve.  At least that’s the idea.  I haven’t chosen times or places for this activity, which I think for me is a good idea.  I have done much more of it in the times of transition from waking to sleeping, and again from sleeping to waking.

This practice is allowing me to become still in public.  Waiting in lines or in traffic, sitting outside with the sunshine and the birds, or walking through a grocery or library or mall are now sometimes simple joys for me, framed with this more particular intention of presenting these moments to God.  I have ridden my bicycle to a nearby park in Urbana, where there is a beautiful labyrinth to walk in and then walk out.  It takes 30 minutes or so, and I read a King James psalm while I walked.  That was a good experience, but I am learning to feel the same stillness waiting in line at the store.  Once again, just too sweet!

My wife Margaret and I have been scheduling blocks of time into most weeks for a two-hour retreat.  We spend about 90 minutes separately, mostly in silence, and then get back together and talk about our experiences.  We have found beautiful places for these retreats: local parks, a campus church/Christian library, our own church (Vineyard in Urbana, IL), the Indianapolis Art Museum (that’s one of my favorites), the Chiara Center in Springfield, IL (we haven’t been there yet, but are planning …), Our Lady of Fatima retreat house in Indianapolis.  It’s good for us to get away from our home for these dates with each other and with God.  These are times when I finally find time to journal.  At the art museum I’ve begun spending time with a few paintings, and writing what I see and feel.  In the process, I rediscovered Sister Wendy Beckett and her marvelous ability to do this kind of meditation directed by art.  She is very inspiring to me.

Following up on the experience I had with spiritual direction at the TC retreat with Richard Hudzik, which I intend to continue, Margaret and I sought out a somewhat more local spiritual director for us.  We found Mark Miller, a pastor in Indianapolis whom we have known for many years.  He is finishing up his D.Minn. in Spiritual Formation at Denver Seminary, and we all jumped at the chance to spend time together in this way.  We travel to Indy (a two hour trip) once a month for an hour each with Mark.  We will have our third meeting tomorrow (10/6).

I’ve invited several of my counseling clients to work together with me in understanding more about spiritual direction.  The “methods” are interesting to all of us.  Examen, lectio divina, silence, solitude, service are just a few examples of the so-simple idea of framing even the most mundane activity with an intention to practice God’s presence.  We are learning together.

I’m reading more now than I have since college 40 years ago: the hundreds-of-years-deep bibliography of spiritual formation has captured my mind and my heart.  It has also captured a big piece of my ego.  I think I read too much, because I’m hurrying through one book to get to the next and not enjoying the process of “eating” each one.  On the other hand, I’m developing the discipline (following the example of our spiritual director) of “working” a book after I read it: writing a reflection and outline of the book and then compiling quotes from it.  That takes as much time as reading.  But often I notice a panicky feeling inside my gut about getting done with this book and on to the next.  Then I know I’m off track.

There are two things I’m working to absorb: that everyone, not just me, ends their lives with lots left undone.  And also a simple thought from Dallas Willard: “Now that you have studied a number of ways in which we can be with Jesus and with his Father, it is time to take what you have learned and make your own specific plan for your life with them, what you do on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday … and what you do not do, managing to step out of the everlasting busyness that curses our lives.  Didn’t God give you enough time to do what he expects you to do? (Careful how you answer that one!)” (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 252)

During a quiet moment of inspiration last week at the American Association of Christian Counselors conference in Nashville, I thought, “Why do I read anything except the Bible?”  I want to get more balance there.  The angst inside me is relieved when I touch the Bible, open it, read it, which I do rarely except in a counseling session.  I am grateful for being able to pay attention to this trouble inside me, to notice it, to sit with it, to wait on my desire to catch up with the idea of reading.  And at the same time, I’m grateful for learning to push myself a little and read the Bible more.

Reading List July-October (more or less chronological):


Ruth Haley Barton            Sacred Rhythms

Eckhart Tolle            A New Earth

            The Power of Now

Daniel Siegel, M.D.            The Developing Mind (part)

            The Mindful Therapist (part)

Robert Mulholland            Invitation to a Journey

Emilie Griffin            Wilderness Time

Ian Morgan Cron            Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me

William A. Barry            The Practice of Spiritual Direction

            Spiritual Direction and the Encounter with God

Richard Rohr            Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Adult Christianity and How to Get There with Ronald Rolheiser (audio)

Brian A. Williams            The Potter’s Rib: Mentoring for Pastoral Formation

Philip Sheldrake            Befriending Our Desires

Ronald Rolheiser            The Holy Longing

Dietrich Bonhoeffer            Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Sue Monk Kidd            When the Heart Waits

Firstlight (audio)

Henri Nouwen            The Way of the Heart

Helen Cepero            Journaling as a Spiritual Practice

Karl Barth            Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (part)

Cindy Thomson            Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland

Pat Conroy            My Reading Life

Tina Rosenberg            Join the Club (part)

Michael Reagan            The Hand of God: Thoughts and Images

Francis Chan            Erasing Hell

Rob Bell            Love Wins

Sister Wendy Beckett            Sister Wendy on Prayer

Hermann Diem            Kierkegaard: An Introduction

Foster/Willard            Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible (notes)

Kathleen Morris            The Virgin of Bennington

Dallas Willard            The Spirit of the Disciplines

Dennis Lee            Dinosaur Dinner (poems for kids)

 Ruth Haley Barton            Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership

            Invitation to Solitude and Silence

Henri Nouwen            In the Name of Jesus

Evelyn Underhill            Concerning the Inner Life

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