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When the Heart Waits, by Sue Monk Kidd

by davesandel on August 30th, 2011

When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions, by Sue Monk Kidd, 1990

217 pages

Read and reviewed, 8-2011

A short back-cover quote from one of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr, drew me to this memoir by the author of The Secret Life of Bees.  It’s the second of three memoirs, which she completed before she began writing fiction.  I stopped reading only occasionally, and with reluctance.  Sue Monk Kidd lets me get to know her.  She tells stories on herself.  She waits on God while not avoiding the darkness involved in that.  She shares ideas and quotations from so many good books and authors.  She has done her homework, personally and academically.

Her marriage made it through the mid-life quagmire, although it was touch-and-go at times.  So did her faith, although her Christianity took turns toward more depth and less dogma that she certainly didn’t expect.  As she gradually surrenders her shame in perhaps disappointing others, she exults in the journey toward her own feminine, and even more toward the feminine side of God.

One chapter (Chapter 7) titled “Incubating the Darkness” mattered the most to me.  The words and ideas here rushed at me, taught me.  Gave me more language to describe my own experience with God, sent me to some less “bright” places in the Bible.  She quotes T.S. Eliot: “I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you, which shall be the darkness of God.”

Sue Monk Kidd loves telling stories, and then applying them to spiritual life.  Her kids inspire her over and over.  So do animals, and trees, and storms, and weather, and monks (the real ones), and her friends, and her husband.

At the same time she lives a lot of life, she must be a voracious reader, given her terrific ability to track down and share so many good ideas and quotes from authors of many centuries.  She credits her sources in the back notes, and I kept looking back there to see what great book she had found this time.

The plot isn’t surprising, and that’s the only little tweak for me.  She begins her mid-life work, learns to let God use her spirituality and His own tools to process it, and comes out of it in the end.  This is not a novel, of course, so I should shut up about the predictably happy ending.  She writes pretty deeply about the dark times, but I wonder how I’d feel if I was going through something like this myself and began to read this book.  I hope I would notice my eyes getting wide and my mind opening up.

Sue Monk Kidd wrote this book for people like that.  Because she was a person like that herself.  I look forward to passing this book on to people in that situation.  And I’m curious to hear what they have to say.

Outline of When the Heart Waits:

  • Waiting and Transformation
    • Chapter 1. The Long Way Round
      • Mid-life Darkness
      • Entering the Question
      • Call to Waiting
      • The Spiritual Art of Cocooning
      • Staying in the Circle
      • the Long Way Round
    • Chapter 2. Quickaholic Spirituality
      • The Instant Society
      • Shortcut Religion
      • Biblical Waiting
      • Addiction to the Quick and Easy
      • Rules of the Quick and Easy
        • Make Life Happen
        • Eat Dessert First
      • Yeasting
    • Chapter 3. From False Self to True Self
      • Waiting Song
      • The True Seed
      • Whittling Away
      • The Self with a Capital S
      • The Egocentric Ego
      • Not I, But Christ
      • Night Prayer
      • The Collective “They”
      • Naming False Selves
        • Little Girl with a Curl
        • Tinsel Star
        • Rapunzel
        • Little Red Hen
        • The Woodman
        • Chicken Little
      • The Embracing
  • Passage of Separation
    • Chapter 4. Crisis as Opportunity
      • The Threefold Cycle of Waiting
      • The Night Sea Journey
      • Sources of Crisis
        • Developmental Transition
        • Intrusive Events
        • Internal Uprisings
      • Crisis as Separation and Opportunity
      • From Kansas to Oz
      • Prayer of Faith
      • Groanings of the Heart
      • Expressing the Climate of Your Soul
      • Pathos and Joy
      • Spiritual Equinox
    • Chapter 5. Letting Go
      • The Diapause
      • Clinging
      • The Stages of Letting Go
      • Uncurling the Fingers
      • The Courage to Be
        • Let It Be
        • Handing Yourself Over
        • “The Whole Point Is to Let Go”
        • Die and Become
      • The Bridge
  • Passage of Transformation
    • Chapter 6. Concentrated Stillness
      • A Silhouette of Grace
      • The Spiritual Cremaster
      • The Prayer of Waiting
        • Sitting at Jesus’ Feet
        • Sitting While Jesus Prays
        • Sitting by the Road
      • Together in Stillness
    • Chapter 7. Incubating the Darkness
      • The Darkness of the Womb
      • “Tip Me Over and Pour Me Out”
      • Night Travelers
      • Eastering
      • Live the Questions
      • Hold the Tensions
      • Healing the Wounds
      • Taking Up Your Cross
      • God in the Dark
      • A Journal Entry
  • Passage of Emergence
    • Chapter 8. Unfurling New Wings
      • Wobbly Wings
      • Christ Born in You
      • Gifts of the Soul
        • The Mothering of God
        • A Return to the Earth
        • Attunement
        • Authenticity
        • Compassion
      • Come to the Edge
  • Notes

Some quotes from When the Heart Waits:

 “There is a deep and profound movement of soul that takes us from an identification with the collective ‘they’ to a discovery of the individual ‘I,’ and finally, as we shall eventually see, to an embracing of the compassionate ‘we.’” – p. 8

“Waiting does provide the time and space necessary for grace to happen.  Spirit needs a container to pour itself into.  Grace needs an arena in which to incarnate.  Waiting can be such a place, if we allow it.” – p. 13

“When important times of transition came for Jesus, he entered enclosures of waiting – the wilderness, a garden, the tomb.  Jesus’ life was a balanced rhythm of waiting on God and expressing the fruits of that waiting. “ – p. 14

“For over a year I lived and worked inwardly with the symbology of caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly.  I accepted them as God’s gift to me – healing symbols that went beyond the usual sentimentality attached to them.  We tend to forget, I think, the power of a symbol to mediate grace and move us toward change.” – p. 15

“The monk at St. Meinrad took his hands and placed them on my shoulders, peered straight into my eyes and said, ‘I hope you’ll hear what I’m about to tell you.  I hope you’ll hear it all the way down to your toes.  When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing.  You’re doing the most important something there is.  You’re allowing your soul to grow up.  If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.” – p. 22

“Thomas Merton observed, ‘The imagination should be allowed a certain amount of time to browse around.’  Creativity flourishes not in certainty but in questions.” – p. 25

“ ‘Come to the altar,’ the preacher said.  ‘God will take care of what’s bothering you right now.’  Not a word about the desert that lies between our wounds and our healing, our questions and our answers, our departure and our arrival.  Nothing about the slow, sacred rhythms of spiritual becoming or the spiral of descent and ascent that makes up waiting.  When it comes to religion today, we tend to be long on butterflies and short on cocoons.” – p. 27

“At the opening session we were each given a sheet of colored construction paper and asked to tear it into a shape that represented our life.  We all got busy creating lovely, colorful shapes.  These were then collected and placed on a board to form one big collage.  I thought our exercise had ended, but someone came around with a large glass bowl to collect the pieces of paper we had torn away – the refuse, the little scarred scraps we had intended to discard.  The bowl was placed on the altar.  It was symbolic of all our collective wounds – the confetti of scars and torn places we would like to be rid of.  Gathering them, embracing them, placing them on the altar  – only then can we begin the process of transforming them.” – p. 28

“I began to get a picture of God waiting.  The parable of the prodigal son would be more aptly named the parable of the waiting father.” – p. 29

“I glimpsed the portrait of a patient God who enters into the experience of those who wait … I saw God making a home with us during our waiting, sharing the experience, no questions asked.  Creating a ‘merciful being together.’” – p. 29-30

“The natural gradient in us is toward growth.  Whatever we use repeatedly and compulsively to stop that growth is our particular addiction.” – p. 31

The collective “we”: “We may like to think that we’re individuals living out our own unique truth, but more often we’re scripts written collectively by society, family, church, job, friends, and traditions.  Change begins with this recognition.” – p. 56

“So if all those roles were suddenly stripped away, what would be left?  Who would you be then? … I am, I thought.  That’s all.  I was shocked by wonder at this unbidden and penetrating ‘knowing’ of who I was … That’s how such splinterings of God often pierce us.  In an unsuspecting moment the scales fall off our eyes, the optical illusions vanish, and we’re standing before what Rudolph Otto called ‘the mysterium tremendum’ ­– the bare mystery of simply being.” – p. 57

“As he was swallowed into the belly of a great fish, Jonah entered the cocoon – the dark womb in the sea where his metamorphosis took place.  Here we allow ourselves to be ‘digested’ – to be changed in substance.  (No wonder we’ve made this story into a Bible tale for children.  It’s much too scary for us adults.) … In my six-year-old VBS class the children fell into a discussion about how they would manage to escape … start a fire in his stomach! … stomp on his tongue! … ‘I’d call my daddy and wait till he got me out.’  All these years later her simple wisdom still resonated in me: call on God and wait.” – p. 80

“Waiting is allowing holy waters to close over you.  It means having the deep round about you.  It means taking the ‘night sea journey.’” – p. 81

“In Daniel Levinson’s celebrated study of life’s stages I found four natural developmental transitions delineated: early childhood to age three, early adulthood from 17 to 22, midlife from 40 to 45, and late adulthood from 60 to 65.  Levinson points out that these transitions are also times of termination; we must accept the losses each transition brings.” – p. 83

“What did Erik Erikson’s famous eight stages of life-development … have to say about mid-life? … the crisis called ‘generativity vs. stagnation.’ On one side, the person experiences a tug toward growth, a need to draw on deeper internal resources … on the other side, she feels the pull to stagnate, to become static, stuck, bogged down.” – p. 83

“She smiled, and if I live to be 110 I’ll never forget the beauty in her soul at that moment.  She told me, ‘I looked death in the eyes and I said, I want to live! But if I die, I die.  And it will be well.’  I can’t explain it, Sue, but in that moment something in my innermost being shifted.  I knew that my experience with cancer was going to be the most transforming journey of my life.  Whatever happens, I’m going to be okay.’  She had come upon the ‘epiphany’ buried in her crisis … and it became the transforming crucible of her life.” – p. 85

“The word crisis derives from the Greek words krisis and krino, which mean ‘a separating.’  What is it we’re being asked to separate from?  What needs to be left behind? … It’s equally a time of opportunity.  The Chinese word for crisis is composed of two characters.  On top is the sign for danger; beneath it is the sign for opportunity.  That character graphically illustrates the saying, ‘Crisis is really another name for redirection.’” – p. 87-88

“(Perhaps) most Christians don’t know how to have a crisis – at least not creatively.  We either say it’s God’s will and force ourselves into an outwardly sweet acceptance, remaining unaffected at the deeper level of the spirit … Or we reject the crisis, fighting and railing against it until we become cynical and defeated or suffer a loss of faith.

“Yet there’s a third way to have a crisis: the way of waiting … People who choose this way aren’t so much after peace of mind or justice, as wholeness and transformation.  They’re after soul-making.  If you choose this way, you find the threshold, the creative moment or epiphany, within the crisis.” – p. 88

“Part of living a crisis creatively is identifying and understanding the feelings that come with it.  Otherwise, we don’t have a crisis; it has us.” – p. 93

“I spent time writing my feelings in my journal.  I spoke them to my counselor.  I prayed them.  I dreamed them.   I danced them.  I drew them … Few of us seem to know the healing that can come from expressing our feelings through symbols.

“Symbols are the language of the soul.  Because they give us a way to communicate with the soul, they open doors for transformation.  Unfortunately, symbolism has become a foreign language for many.  Theologian Paul Tillich believed that Protestants were particularly in grave danger of literalizing or impoverishing their symbols.” – p. 96

“Jesus certainly believed in the spiritual power available within symbols.  I am the vine; I am the door; this bread is my body; this wine is my blood: with these words he was creating symbols … and giving us a way to contact deeper realities.” – p. 97

“The symbols I found during this time were ways of creating a story for myself to live in – a story that began to hold me up like a pair of arms.” – p. 97

“Meister Eckhart wrote that God laughed into our soul, bringing us joy.  He also believed that God suffered.  I had no problem with his suffering.  It seemed to me that many times when I was crying, I heard God crying too.  Perhaps, like my daughter Ann, I need to listen to God laughing.” – p. 99

“The numbers on the alarm clock read 4:38 a.m.  It took a few seconds for the mystery to register.  I had awakened for the spring equinox.  I slipped from beneath the blanket and tiptoed to the back door.  I stared into the night, my heart pounding.  Above me, far beyond the bounds of my comprehension, God was threading the night with spring.  I stood still and let the darkness move inside me, too.” – p. 100

“Shifting from a self-centered focus to a more God-centered focus is terribly hard.  I think we’ve gone wrong by assuming that such a radical movement can be achieved by simply setting our jaw and saying one or two prayers of relinquishment … It’s a winding, spiraling process that happens on deep levels.  And we must begin at the beginning: by confronting our ambivalence.” – p. 102

“Thomas Kelly spoke of four steps in the process of self-abandonment.  First, pry open your eyes to the ‘flaming vision of the wonder of such a life.’ Second, begin where you are, and begin now.  Third, if you stumble, don’t waste a lot of time with regret.  Just begin again.  These three steps involve self-initiatives, things we’re more or less able to control and do ourselves.

“The fourth step, however, moves in a completely different direction. ‘Don’t grit your teeth and clench your fists and say, I will!  I will!  Relax.  Take hands off. Submit yourselves to God … let life be willed through you.’” – p. 106

“Thomas Merton suggested that on this last level we … let go our letting go.  We stop struggling, stop saying, ‘I will let go, I will, I will.’  Instead, having done all we can, we allow God to work directly on the more secret and deeply ingrained attachments we have to self.  We allow God to release us through the experiences, encounters, and events that come to us.” – p. 106-107

“Merton writes, ‘This is where so many holy people break down … But it is in this darkness that we find true liberty.  It is in this abandonment that we are made strong.  This is the night that empties us.’  Perhaps there has to be a phase of active praying, hanging on, turning loose, sweating, trying, and trying again.  But the question we should ask is, Have we stopped there? … We need to quit forcing things and enter the darkness of true liberty, where we give up self-efforts and allow God to intercede and draw us to our moment of readiness.” – p. 107

“Let it be … such beautiful words.  They show us how to begin our own incarnation journey.  We’re being asked to nurture the implanted seed of the divine nature and bring it forth in our souls.  Each of us is Mary.” – p. 111

“The waves rolled in and out full of whispers.  Die and become. Die and become. … ‘What kind of music plays in your heart when you learn that part of loving is knowing when to allow another to walk away?’ asks Alan Jones.  I’ll tell you what kind: the sweet and painful little aria, ‘let it be.’” – p. 117

“That spring the words ‘die and become’ blended with the words ‘let it be.’ … In such ways God draws us, inch by inch, prayer by prayer, wave by wave washing over us, until we finally open our hands once and for all.” –  p. 117

“The creek – swathed in mist, almost floating in mist – splashed far below.  I felt as if I’d come to the brink of my prayers and searching.  Letting go is like crossing a bridge, I thought.  My legs felt weak as I started over the bridge … Something told me that I had come to my moment of readiness.

“I told God that walking the bridge was my way of expressing the movement inside me, a way of letting go of self-will, egoistic ways, culturally ingrained images, things that were past, old illusions, crumbled myths, fears, and lies.

“My letting go wasn’t complete and perfect.  I know that. … But I sensed that this was my moment to express the shifting I felt inside.  It was the beginning of leaving behind the first half of my life and those ways of living it that no longer worked.  What I was walking toward, I had no idea. … There was that awful ache again.  Letting go can be so wrenching.  There were huge weights in my shoes even then.

“On the other side of the bridge I sat down under a redwood, feeling spent but oddly light … And I thought about that old saying: ‘When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the spirit laughs for what it has found.’” – p. 118

“What do we humans know about creating a cocoon for spiritual transformation … where we become stripped and stilled, in which the ego patterns of a lifetime begin to move away from the center?  How do we create the threads that hold us in the painful, uncertain, solitary darkness of waiting – and hold us not only in the waiting but through the waiting?” – p. 123

“Merton: ‘We don’t have to rush after it.  It was there all the time and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us’ … I learned that there’s hardly anything upon which God heaps more grace and guidance than chrysalis making.” – p. 124

“I’m caught off-guard by God’s grace-fulness, by a graceful universe, by the grace of the ordinary.  We’ve underestimated the presence of grace among us.  We’ve built up a callus over it with our cynicism and the religious uncertainties that render us incapable of being surprised.” – p. 125

I was seeing myself at prayer.  I was praying.  My still heart , my silence, the very posture of waiting against a backdrop of darkness was my prayer … not the sort of prayer we usually think of … not about talking and doing and thinking.  It’s about postures.  Postures of the spirit.  It’s turning oneself upside down so that everything is emptied out and God can flow in.” – p. 126

“T. S. Eliot wrote about a still point, a spiritual place where there’s no going forward or going backward.  A point within us where we’re fastened, and around which everything turns. ‘Except for the point, the still point, there would be no dance,’ he wrote … Almost daily the delicate threads of my cocoon would start to unravel, and I would have to go back and find the inner anchor from which to hang.” – p. 126-127

“Meister Eckhart believed that an artist isn’t a special kind of person but that each person is a special kind of artist.” – p. 128

“In the mornings of my cocoon days I often found the still point by lighting a candle and watching its silent flame for five or ten minutes.” – p. 128

“Three inward postures of the spirit: sitting at Jesus’ feet (like Mary), sitting while Jesus prays (in Gethsemane), and sitting by the road (like Bartimaeus).” – p. 130-143

Mary’s “attention of the heart” is an ancient contemplative phrase that has appeared in the spiritual writings of the Church from the earliest centuries … a tenth-century saint named

Simeon wrote that attention of the heart is the primary aim of spiritual work – that it guides us to the center of our being … I envision attention of the heart as the combination of two interior states: attentiveness and devotion.  When Mary sits still in the divine presence, she’s a perfectly blended portrait of each.” – p. 132

“Attentiveness is vital to waiting.  The word wait comes from a root word meaning ‘to watch.’  … To wait on God meant to watch keenly for God’s coming … Unfortunately, much of this meaning has been emptied out of our experience of waiting … We denigrate it to idling … you know, killing time.” – p. 132

“Devotion – cultivating tenderness and passion for the one who made us and sustains us (loses ground to our emphasis on) learning about god over being with God … Brother Lawrence writes, ‘Often I find myself attached to God with greater delight than a baby at his mother’s breast.” – p. 132-133

“I looked down at my son, overwhelmed that I could be the object of so much devotion that he would wait an hour and a half in a deserted school corridor with a love note scrunched in his hand.  I pulled him close against me, so close that he said, ‘I can hear your heart beating against my ear, Mama.’

“I held him even closer, delighting in my child who was delighting in me.  That’s what happens when we wait in the posture of Mary.  We delight in God, who delights in us … Our very posture says, I love you, God.  And sometimes, though not always, the moment rises inside us like a sound, and we can almost hear God’s heart beating next to us.” – p. 134

“Did Jesus ask his disciples to pray in Gethsemane?  To plead his case?  No. Sit down and rest, he said.  I’ll pray.

Sit here while I pray … Jesus wanted me, too, to sit while he prayed.  What could this mean?  Could it be that the prayer of waiting is being still and believing that Christ prays within us?  I was thunderstruck by the idea.” – p. 135

“It’s rest that characterizes this posture of waiting.  To sit while Jesus prays is to take on a holy repose, relax the soul, find our rest in God.  Rest in me, Christ seems to be saying.  Rest in my prayer.

“Most of us have no idea how tired we are inside until we become still.” – p. 136

“Rest is just as holy as work.” – p. 136

“The Greek word for rest is hesychia, a term that also came to mean praying … to sit while Jesus prays brings us to this kind of nesting in the heart, a replenishing rest in which we can be still and listen to the prayers and words that the Spirit whispers inside us.” – p. 137

“I might as well tell you, I fell into the story of Godot (from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot) almost as much as the story of Bartimaeus (and his trust and faith).  Without warning I would feel stuck, unable to believe that I could find my way through.  My waiting would grow bleak … But we need to allow this disorientation.  It’s okay to doubt and to feel the remoteness of God sometimes.  If we do nothing else in our waiting, we should be honest with ourselves.” – p. 140

“The prayer of waiting and stillness will eventually reorient us and ignite the warmth of hope … in a spiritual white-out, I sat still and tried to become Bartimaeus, to muster my faith … I was having a hard time.  A voice within me said, like Bartimaeus, be a beggar.  I hadn’t considered that element of the story …

“Beggars know how to open their hands, trusting that crumbs of grace will fall … reduced by necessity to … trust, living off hope, living not with clenched fists but with palms open, ready to receive.” – p. 141

“I began to try to find the beggar part of me.  I sat in my stillness, in my blindness, in my beggar clothes … Sometimes in my stillness I heard myself repeating, God comes.  Light is stronger than darkness; God comes.  Bread rains from heaven; God comes.

“Slowly my hands opened to catch the crumbs.” – p.142-143

“The bird taught me anew that we’re all in this together, that we need to sit in one another’s stillness and take up corporate postures of prayer.  How wonderful it is when we can be honest and free enough to say to one another, ‘I need you to wait with me,’ or ‘Would you like me to wait with you?’” – p. 144

“The week before Easter I began to sink into an inscrutable inner darkness unlike any I had ever experienced.  A spiritual night.  An abyss of unknowing.  At times I felt abandoned and afraid inside its roundness.  At other times the darkness felt strangely nurturing, swollen with the mystery of becoming.” – p. 145

“A pensive look came over my daughter’s face.  ‘I kind of wish they could have become chickens instead of Easter eggs,’ she said.

“My daughter’s words caused me to think how sad it really is when we don’t incubate the new life pressing to birth inside us.  How sad when we cut it short, forcing unformed answers and refusing to hold the tensions of pain.  How sad when we become empty, painted shells hanging on God’s tree.” – p. 147

“To incubate means to create the conditions necessary for development.  What were those conditions, I wondered.  Then it hit me: darkness.  Everything incubates in darkness.  And then I knew that the darkness in which I found myself was a holy dark.” – p. 148

“We’re carried in God’s womb, in God’s divine heart, even when we don’t know it, even when God seems far away … First God was only ‘up there.’  Then God was ‘all around.’  Next I began to see that God was also ‘within me.’  And now, most shocking of all, I was finding that I am and always was ‘within God.’” – p. 149

“I’m a little teapot, short and stout.

Here is the handle, here is the spout.

If you turn the heat up, I will shout,

‘Tip me over and pour me out!

“ ‘Tip me over and pour me out’ is the underlying theme of the spiritual dark.  In the classics of spiritual literature it is often referred to as the ‘dark night of the soul’ or the ‘dazzling darkness.’” – p. 150

“The one and only sermon I ever heard preached on darkness was riveting … the minister pointed out that the most significant events in Jesus’ life took place in darkness: his birth, his arrest, his death, his resurrection.” – p. 151

“Unraveling illusions not only about ourselves but about God … both demands and creates a temporary darkness.  It’s almost as if the burning up of old patterns and the accompanying illumination that comes from discovering the True Self create a light so bright that it blinds us for a while.” – p. 151

“God often seems absent.  We begin to encounter Deus absconditis – the sense that God is playing hide and seek.  I believe that what we’re experiencing, however, is the hiding of an old way of knowing and experiencing God, the crumbling of our ‘creation’ of who God is and the divine system that our egos have invested in.” – p. 152

“One cowboy turned to another and said ‘Hey!  Those Indians are lighting their arrows.  Can they do that?’ … Hey! Can life do this?  It’s not supposed to be like this!’  If we can get past the shocked denial, we’re able to enter the dark … give ourselves permission to ask questions.” – p. 153

“Like me, the ‘night travelers’ I spoke with were not only appalled by the darkness but outraged that old answers no longer worked … (we hugged each other), knowing that their night was my night and my night was theirs.” – p. 154

“Our stories are the best ‘bread’ we can offer one another.” – p. 154

At sunset the day before Easter, I knelt in the pew, as is the custom.  I had come to remember Jesus in his tomb, in his darkness, in his waiting.  I wanted to wait with him the same way I’d waited with the wounded bird in my backyard.” – p. 154

“I felt the tensions pull until there was a small crescendo of pain inside me.  The darkness closed in.” – p. 155

“Have we Christians forgotten the transforming value of a question?  When we extinguish questions from our lives, there’s little if any developing consciousness … Kierkegaard distinguished between Christendom and Christianity: he said that the former is what we’ve made of the latter.  Like our fear of the dark, the fear of questions in the spiritual life belongs to Christendom, not Christianity.” – p. 158

Really asking such questions is praying.  The question can get bigger and bigger.  Sometimes my soul has to get on tiptoe just to hear it.  Jesus was a master at using questions to pull people into self-confrontation and growth.  ‘What are you looking for?’  ‘Do you want to get well?’  ‘Who do you say I am?’  ‘Why do you not understand what I say?’  ‘Do you love me?’  The New Testament is full of them.” – p. 158

“There’s an art to living your questions.  You peel them.  You listen to them.  You let them spawn new questions.  You hold the unknowing inside.  You linger with it instead of running into half-baked answers.” – p. 159

Anthony de Mello: “Wisdom is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of traveling … To know exactly where you’re headed may be the best way to go astray.  Not all who loiter are lost.” – p. 159

“We’re filled with an array of opposing tensions and pulled between them: good and evil, hope and despair, love and hate, forgiveness and revenge, venturing forth and staying put, the urge to wholeness and the pull to fragmentation, acceptance and rejection, commitment and freedom, community and solitude, intimacy and autonomy, psyche and soma, doing and being, consciousness and unconsciousness, the masculine and the feminine.  Living with such conflicting dualities has torn the curtain of our interior life … The shadow side doesn’t disappear, of course.  It grows in the dark and plays havoc with our lives … We may allow the unblemished side of us and disregard the part that’s wounded.

“Before long we have an entire hidden orphanage inside us … lost sisters, unlived lives.  At midlife these orphans cry out to be heard.” – p. 160-161

“God calls us to the unifying and healing of our soul.  God is beyond opposites.” – p. 161

“In the clash of opposites, the pain and conflict pull the strands of our lives back and forth in a miserable tug of war.  This wrestling, which Merton called ‘agonia,’ is seen vividly in Paul’s exclamation, ‘I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate’ (Rom 7:15). – p. 162

“ ‘How long must I bear pain in my soul?’ wrote the psalmist (13:2).  Long enough – that’s the answer.” – p. 163

“Rainer Maria Rilke said that the person who suffers needs to stay with it, must  not be a ‘waster of sorrows.’ … Refuse to ‘waste our sorrows.’  Dare to ritualize both our pain and our healing.” – p. 165-166

“Creative suffering can be contrasted with neurotic suffering, in which a person takes on a self-pitying style of living because she gets sympathy or control or security from it.  Neurotic suffering is untransforming and isn’t undertaken for the reason of becoming more whole.  It doesn’t end in resurrection but in despair and alienation.” – p. 167

“A line from Rilke played through my head: ‘Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect, and border, and salute each other.’” – p. 167

“A voice said to me, God suffers with you.  God weeps with you.  God lives your darkness.  This is the recognition that turns our darkness into a shining thing.  Years earlier I had read some writings of Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who argued that God ‘experiences’ our sufferings and grieves with us.  Our soul is so connected with God, he said, that it’s impossible for the divine Being not to share our anguish … the God who empties and waits.” – p. 169

“Once, when I visited a monastery around Christmas, I passed a monk walking outside the church. ‘Merry Christmas,’ I said.  ‘May Christ be born in you,’ he replied.” – p. 181

May Christ be born in you. That’s the mystery at work as we unfurl new wings – even small, fragile wings.  There’s a story about a young man who sought out a wise old man and asked, ‘What great blunder have you made?’  The old man replied, ‘They called me a Christian, but I did not become Christ.’

“The seeker was perplexed.  ‘You did not become Christ?  Is one supposed to become Christ?

“The old man answered, ‘I kept putting distance between myself and him – by seeking, by praying, by reading.  I kept deploring the distance, but I never realized that I was creating it.’

“ ‘But,’ the seeker insisted, ‘is one supposed to become Christ?’

“His answer: ‘No distance.’” – p. 182

“We tap into an inner radiance that I call delight.  I’m speaking of a unique kind of response to life that can co-exist with our most painful realities.  I’m speaking of the joy of saying YES to life in the core of our being … Delight comes by way of scars … It gnaws out through the scar.” – p. 184

“Delight can become a way of life, a way of journeying.  There’s a saying ‘Religion is not to be believed, but danced.’ … The point of the spiritual life is that you dance the music God pipes in you.” – p. 185

“We’re also called from plodding to dancing.  The True Self presents us with dancing shoes.  Like Dorothy, we take off our heavy leather shoes and lace on the new slippers.” – p. 185

“We’re all familiar with Jesus’ saying that we must become like little children, but I’d never come to termswith the idea that God did the very same thing.  God became a little child.  Our hearts warm at the thought of the baby at Bethlehem, but do we really relate to God as child?” – p. 185
God as playmate?  Wasn’t God supposed to be really serious?  Did God actually want to play with me?  Incredible!” – p. 186

“Gradually I learned to “go delighting.”  I began to laugh more, ride horses, climb up into my children’s treehouse, tussel in the grass with my beagles, and throw unexpected picnics on the den floor.” – p. 187

“I shuffled along in the grocery store parking lot with my sixteen-year-old son, preoccupied.  “Hey, Mama!  Do you want a ride?” Bob asked.  I was about to say, ‘Certainly not!’ when Delight intervened.  She stepped into the cart with me.  As we sped off, the solemn, suffocating tone of the day evaporated almost instantly.  I felt opened up and breathed into again by God.” – p. 187-188

“Can including the feminine in our picture of God help us balance the dogma and theological approaches of religion with a revaluation of story and personal experience?” – p. 189

“My spirituality went through a metamorphosis in which I started to care – really care­ – about how I related to creation … and to the desecration of God’s art – the scarring of my own mother’s face.” – p. 190

“Jesus implied that the kingdom is now (Luke 17:21, Matt 3:2).  Contemplatives tell us that this moment is it.  Now is all you really have.  It’s the only place where you and life intersect.” – p. 191

“The waiting of the cocoon … routed my ego-dominated need to think mostly in terms of memory and anticipation and taught me to be where I was, taught me that time isn’t a straight line along which we travel, but a deep dot in which we dwell.” – p. 193

“In the first we hear the words but not the music … At this level we tend to live by time, so mired in chronos that we don’t even realize that there’s kairos (living in time) in the world.  As we grow in contemplative awareness, however, we hear the words and the music.  We wake to inner things, to the interior life, to the glorious lilt of the soul … Finally, in the third stage of attunement, we become the music.

“We can move through all three of these stages of attunement in a single hour, or never budge from the first stage in an entire lifetime.” – p. 195-196

“The spiritual journey is one of becoming real.  Waiting can offer us the gift of authenticity … realizing that it’s okay, really okay – not only to imagine who we truly are inside but to say who we are, welcome who we are, and even be who we are.” – p. 196

“The soul must be continually nourished, like the body … Many times we starve our souls, although we wouldn’t dream of starving our bodies.  Or we offer them only shallowness – a spiritual ‘junk food.’” – p. 199

“The soul craves experiences that offer it the rich depths of God.  Silence, solitude, holy leisure, simplicity, prayer, journaling, the Eucharist, rituals that touch the space of Mystery, symbols and images, the Bible, laughter, delight in the divine Presence, deep encounters with creation, and the merciful coming together of human hearts.  All these feed the soul.” – p. 199

“Meister Eckhart was adamant that compassion was the aim of all spiritual growth.  I think that’s one reason I like him so much; he had a big heart.  He said, ‘If you were in an ecstasy as deep as that of St. Paul and there was a sick man who needed a cup of soup, it were better for you that you returned from the ecstasy and brought the cup of soup for love’s sake.’” – p. 199-200

“As the True Self is born within us, the initial movement of soul is from the collective ‘they’ to the ground of an authentic ‘I.’ That’s holy ground, yet God calls us to a ground even holier: God calls us from the authentic ‘I’ toward a compassionate ‘we.’  The illusion of separateness is shattered.” – p. 200

“Once divine compassion wakes us and stretches out its tender arms inside us, we’re never the same again … We want to relive the pain of those around us as much as we’re able.  And by relieving theirs, we relieve God’s.” – p. 202

“Real compassion flows from God within – from plenitude, not ego or neediness … Jesus was walking, talking compassion … we become Christ, showing an uncanny interest in the poor, the excluded, the despised and the least.” – p. 202

From Annie Dillard: “Yes, it’s tough, it’s tough, that goes without saying.  But isn’t waiting itself a wonder … ?” – p. 204

“(Let us) welcome the gentle push of God, who is both our wings and the wind that bears them up.” – p. 205

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