Presence

keatingFather Thomas Keating, OCSO
03/27/1923-10/25/2018

 

  1.  Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
  3. When engaged with your thoughts, return ever-so gently to the sacred word.  Thoughts include body sensations, feelings, images, and reflections.
  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

 

Presence

Praise and Prayer

Praise is the ability to lift one’s self out of despair to see beauty or the potential for beauty in a situation that may be more akin to despair.  It is the ability to find gratitude in the painful, joy in the most sorrowful, riches in the deepest of poverties.

Prayer is the means by which praise is possible.  It is the foundation on which the house that is praise exists.

Without prayer, there is no praise.

Without praise, there is no prayer.

If we constantly hold our hand out to God, rather than offer God our embrace, we are not able to grow, to move past the open palm.

When we embrace God, especially in the most desperate of situations, the still and quiet  presence overtakes us.  It takes great practice because our nature is to revert to the heat and the red of the emotions, to punish, to persecute, to safeguard our own privilege, our festering safety.

A simple example is snow.  In Saskatchewan, snow comes when it wants to.  You don’t have the choice to run away from it always, and even if you do, it’s going to come back.  Last winter was one of those situations where we had a very warm fall, and were only suddenly slapped with the cold and probably one of the craziest snow storms that I can remember.  There was so much snow that I couldn’t get the car out of the street to commute to work out of town.

I spent a few moments mentioning this challenge on Facebook, frustrated by the snow and wanting to get out.  My spiritual director simply wrote, “Snow and rain, praise the Lord.”  That’s all it took.

A more complicated example is living at home with an elderly parent who believes they can, and are, more capable than they are.  The daily challenge is to try and not react to the buffer that happens at every moment, the need my parent has to assert their presence in my home in such a way that creates a real challenge in terms of boundaries.  Complicating the situation is being left high and dry by my sibling who has simply made the choice to not involve himself in what’s going on.  Because it doesn’t directly affect him, he makes no effort to make the situation better.  My parent sees my partner as a threat and is abusive towards him in a very passive aggressive way, which  makes trying to build a life together challenging.

And yet there still has to be moments of prayer, moments of praise.  Learning to detach from my father’s behavior is beyond challenging.  It’s painful.  But it’s an opportunity for praise, an opportunity to be thankful for the people who are supportive, kind, loving.  It’s an opportunity to take the silence that does happen as a moment for prayer, a moment to be still enough to recognize the storm that’s going on under my own roof as one that will one day pass, one that helps me to recognize that even if I don’t feel like I have a home here, it has helped me to recognize what it is that I need and want.

Snow sucks.  But without snow, the excitement of spring can’t happen.  The joy of summer flowers and the smell of clover can’t happen.

 

Praise and Prayer

Perseverance

mr227

“The Franciscan Virtue of Poverty means doing with as little as you need and keeping things simple. It also means being able to relinquish with an open hand whatever anyone wants or takes away. Those who have a spirit of poverty deal more patiently with loss, because they know that what they owned wasn’t really theirs in the first place–everything is a gift from God.”
                                                                                 -Franciscan Virtues Throughout the Year, 117


All of us to some greater or lesser degree have challenges that seem monstrous, overpowering; these are pains and hurts that may have occurred in the past, may have hooks and chains in our skin, and these challenges are very real.  These hurts can often be stumbling blocks, and many times, end up being walls in our way rather than stones on the pathway.

Those of us in the Franciscan community are aware of a story about how Saint Francis, upon visiting a town plagued by a vicious wolf, befriended the animal and by doing so changed the beasts temperament from a viciousness to a protective nature towards the people of the town.  The wolf became such a friend to the townspeople that they would feed and care for it.  Upon it’s death, the creature was buried as a beloved neighbour.

Each of us have wolves in our lives.  These wolves are thoughts, feelings, emotions, ideas, principles that spark us to anger, to hate, to frustration, to grief, to sadness.  They put their hooks into our flesh and hold us back.  Many of us collect these, hold them as treasured possessions.   Grudges and resentments are saved with more favour than money by many people.  But they don’t move us forward.  Instead, they keep us from persevering and growing.

When we are able to set the wolves free, we find that our attitudes can change more readily.  While there may still be disappointment and challenge that we’d rather not deal with, suddenly the anxiety around it seems not as powerful.

Perseverance, like courage, occurs subtly over time and if often noticed by others before we notice it ourselves.


Right now, our mission in Cameroon is facing one of it’s greatest challenges ever. There is a very real chance that the home in which the mission and orphanage is housed will no longer be available because Msg. Joseph is unable to upkeep the costs of the rent. And yet, I believe, he still reads Mass, still tries to find food for the children, still tries to provide a safe home for them, trusting.

Many of us in our community would like to be able to help Msg. Joseph financially, but we are unable.  We persevere in our prayers and hopes for the mission there, and in our thoughts for Msg. Joseph that he is able to find both benefactors and meaningful employment.  Should you want to help with a one time donation or monthly contribution, click here and then click the donate button on the top left hand corner of the page.

Perseverance

Peace

f6792d95c72525e5dc277c9fb22e2ec6--olive-tattoo-olive-branch-tattooThe olive is a symbol of peace because for the tree to produce fruit, it needs to reach maturity in a place where the tree can establish itself well.  If there’s conflict near an olive grove, any kind of action that might disturb the trees, olives won’t grow.

Violence is everywhere.  I came to understand over the past few months that violence doesn’t have to be physical.  It can be as insidious as passive-aggressive behaviors in an unhealthy relationship, it can by verbal bullying, it can be racism or sexism so ingrained in ideas and practices that we’re not aware of it when and while it happens.  It’s a hard concept to accept because the term has meant something physical that ends in bruising, or bleeding, for so long.

That defining of the term forces us to ask really difficult questions.  One such question that I think a lot of us would rather avoid, but should be looked at, is abortion.  How do we define the conditions in which the violence of an abortion justifies the procedure?   Is prohibiting the right to an abortion violence?  Is the procedure itself a form of violence?  Is there a time when violence can serve a good, or is all violence by its nature invasive, harmful, and destructive?

My assumption is that right now, you’re not feeling very peaceful.

The reality is real peace can only exist when we actively and consistently face the toughest, most painful, most difficult topics of discussion that get in the way of our olive trees growing.

For example, when in activism does protest become violence?  Does protest and resistance ever enter into the realm of violence against a perceived oppressive individual, group, or idea?  And does that entering into violence discredit the value of the protest?

The principle of turning the other cheek, something Jesus taught, asks us to no respond with violence in the light of oppressive behavior, but instead to respond with the calmness of an olive tree slowing deepening it’s roots.  But in order to produce the fruit, the good olives, we also need to develop a bark-like firmness when it comes to behavior that is directed at us personally.

When we are attacked personally, if it is an attack that is undertaken in such a way to provoke a response, the moment we respond we engage in violence.  Regardless of how we may feel justified in our response, we are co-operating with the agreement to do battle and any moral high ground we may have had is lost.

In the case of an abortion, while I believe it is ultimately up to the individual to make the choice, I personally must rest with the belief that it is a form of violence inflicted upon the foetus, and an objectification of a human parentage as a reaction to an animate object that displays evidence of sentience.  It reduces body parts to consumer goods that can be discarded, and at it’s deepest is a patriarchal response.  It cannot exist alongside peace, and I would argue that the need for abortion is symptomatic of a deeper spiritual and emotional disconnect that all people in society, regardless of their sex, suffer from.


Most of us have, if we accept this new way of approaching the term violence, have been on the end of a violent action and probably committed a few of our own.  Peace comes when we let go of the need to be penetrated by the action into our psyche.  There are difficult and painful experiences that cannot merely be wiped from our consciousness because of the gravity of those experiences.  The trauma from hitting your thumb with a hammer is different than the trauma of being shot.  But I believe the process to recover is similar.

It happens in silence, in action within. It requires a commitment to consistently approach one’s self and to see without prejudice the nature of who we are, who we want to be, the mistakes we may have made, to find the patience to forgive ourselves and others, and the courage to walk in new directions.  It requires taking a perspective that includes all of the virtues I’ve been writing on and trying to assimilate them into a kind of cohesion in how we think, feel, act, and pray.  It requires the ability to allow individuals the dignity and respect to be wrong and to make the mistakes that will help them to grow while proceeding on a path that is best for your own well being.

“In peace and self same I will sleep and I will rest, for Thou hast settled me in hope.”

-Psalm 4

 

 

 

Peace

Patience

Patience is not just waiting, or watching.  Patience is knowing–sometimes knowing that we don’t know.

Patience is being comfortable no knowing, and sometimes acting gently, quietly, subtly, not disturbing the surface of the water.

Patience is active.  Patience is making a choice and waiting for the right time to act.

Patience is letting the steam blow out, the temperature drop.

Patience is active consciousness and love of self; it is the virtue of knowing that sometimes God works in seconds and moments, sometimes in lifetimes and over generations.  It’s accepting that there is a stream, a motion, a movement that we are a part of, that we may have some control of, but in the end we must surrender.

Patience is an act of faith.  Patience with others can be challenging, but patience with one’s self can be even more difficult, require more faith than trusting in others.

Patience is knowing that the day will have rain, but the sun will return.

 

Patience

Pardon

Therefore once for all this short command is given to you: “Love and do what you will.” If you keep silent, keep silent by love: if you speak, speak by love; if you correct, correct by love; if you pardon, pardon by love; let love be rooted in you, and from the root nothing but good can grow.

-St. Augustine of Hippo

Pardon

Obedience

Another hard post to write, which is why it’s taken an extra couple of days to get to it.  Trying to sort out why the word obedience has a negative connotation as well as a positive one.

The people I’ve spoken to have given me very similar responses when I ask, “What do you think of when you consider the word ‘obedience’?”  Rebellion from unfair or unjust ideas, especially those of us in the Gender and Sexually Diverse community, crashes up against the idea of obedience like a wave.  It can be mistaken for oppression very easily, and it can also be blind; many are obedient to a way of life they have never questioned, who’s values they have never tested, and who’s benefits either come at high costs to health or family or both.

When I think of obedience, what comes to mind is the will.  That part of ourselves that guides how we make directions and choices, how it weighs between what we want, what we need, and what we don’t want.  Many of us, including myself, have asked how obedience plays a part in my life in terms of taking direction or following instruction.  But there’s a deeper, more significant aspect to obedience that I think is important to examine.

Obedience, especially from the point of view of someone in religious life, is a vow one takes that links their life and choices to the immediate will of God, even and especially when that will isn’t clearly understood, or the direction may seem frightening or challenging.  It’s described in fluffy speak in phrases like “When God closes a door, They open a window.”  And when you hear these sayings, you don’t necessarily consider what that fully means.

As a Franciscan, I’ve had to make some very challenging choices, choices which at one end seem to take me away from what has been safe.  And I don’t feel safe 100% of the time having made those choices.  Many times, people in my life rail up against me for making those choices because they don’t understand, or those choices I make somehow directly challenge their own ideals and values.  Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience were the three vows I took two years ago in Toronto.  To a great extent, these three vows run contrary to what we in Western society hold as worthy, especially as worth in men who are supposed to be providers, protectors, and rescuers.

As a person, a human being, I often resist what the manifestation of obedience looks like because it hurts, it’s painful, it forces me to face fears and confront anxieties that I’d rather not deal with.  I won’t lie!  I’ve often run from facing those fears, only to have to come up against them again later and make the choice again to either face it head on, or run from it and pretend that it’s not real, or that it’s not effecting me.

I am almost fifty years old.  I’ve spent a great deal of my life struggling to learn who I am.  I can say with some certainty that the choices I’ve made in the last two years have been in obedience to the truth of who I am as a person, where I want to be as a person, and the kind of person that I want to continue evolving into.  The virtue of Obedience in it’s purest sense is to know my truth, to live that truth, even in the face and challenge of those who see no value in that truth, or who’s own lives are challenged by the presence of that truth.  It means listening for the quiet voice of God in every moment, in every situation, and hearing what God is saying–taking the time to truly discern what God is saying rather than making assumptions based upon needs and desires.

 

Obedience