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Posts Tagged ‘contemplative prayer’

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Night Falls: a dark sheet of silence covers up the whirling day,while stone pillows and an indifferent mattress convey me off to sleep.

Thoughts scramble: mischievous chipmunks staying clear of center, yet, one more breath, and I fall hard into the patient arms of the mournful deep.

First Light: a single plaintive bird calls me to awaken, and my sleepy heart moves to the cadence of the feathered choir;

while the dew hangs heavy in the air, and the clouds testify to hidden Fire.

Heart Walking: cherry blossoms chant their alleluia, sweet cantos of fragrant Spring; when the morning dove hints of the coming glory, and of the hymn the tulips were yet to sing.

Journey Inward: the labyrinth calls, my heart aroused takes flight; I gaze upon the wooden Cross just then the clouds dissolve, and  I am swept into the Silence of the Light.

Spirit Rising: time stops and whispering Love says “Come, be with me”, and once again I am young, once more ready to appreciate the lark;

For the blessing of the brightest Light is surely an homage to the darkest Dark!

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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This week I had the privilege of joining with members of our parish bible study group on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady by the Sea at Manorville NY.

Besides time in dialogue on the origins of the rosary and its many forms, the highlight for me was strolling on the sites’s “Rosary Walk”. This circular path begins at a statue of Our Lady and circles back around to the statue thus mirroring the structure of the traditional 5-decade configuration. Beads are physically simulated with bushes: larger ones for the cruciform beads at which we announce the mysteries, and smaller ones denoting the 10 Ave Marias between each.

The way the mysteries were laid out at the mystery stops that separate the sets of 10 was striking. Bronze markers presented each of 4 mysteries: one joyful, one sorrowful, one glorious and one luminous. This accommodates whichever set of mysteries any given pilgrim is reciting on a particular day. The traditional expectation is that one set of mysteries is in mind per round.

With 4 possible mysteries confronting me at each station, however, I found myself reflecting across all of those presented without regard for staying within any given set.

This had an interesting effect on me. I felt moved to see the intersections and interdependencies among them in a fresh way.

Much of our spiritual lives is paradox. In fact, Christianity is full of irony and paradox: a crucified god, a messiah born to poor circumstances, a soter focused on the laity and forgotten of society, and teachings that collide constantly with usual thinking. My walk became a meditation on living at the intersection of the mysteries and not appreciating them singularly.

In great art, the play of light and dark is what renders images striking. In like fashion, the sorrowful moments deepen our receptivity to light, the rare luminous epiphanies when we see so very clearly. The joyful mysteries ( Mary’s “yes” to God) foreshadows the deep sorrows to come in accepting what is unthinkable for any mother: the death of a son. Likewise, the glorious mysteries point to the way of seeing into and beyond the time of sorrows:

” Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” ( Jn 16:20)

Carl Jung spoke of”shadow work” as crucial: examining our inner darkness, facing it, and working through it. Making conscious what is unconscious is spiritually essential or our spirituality remains at the surface and we miss the deeper dive.

In future, I will once again allow the full spectrum of mysteries to parade across my mind as I enter into the paradox filled mystical heart of the Rosary.

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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With a rich and diverse history dating back to around 800 AD, the practice of saying the rosary (or a  place where roses grow) blossomed rapidly.

Over the centuries, many forms  emerged. It was St. Dominic who first referred to the practice of reciting  three bouquets of  fifty prayers each (prayers tracing back to the lay Medieval practice of prayer after  monastic chanting of each of the 150 Psalms of David).

The symbolism is deeply rooted in Western consciousness.

As most species of roses have five petals each, it came to represent the five wounds of Christ and became quickly associated with the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven. The rose is the national flower of England and the U.S. state flowers of New York, Georgia, North Dakota, and Iowa. It is the recognized flower of Valentine’s Day and is often associated with love. It’s fragrance too has come to connote transcendent self offering, humility, grace and peace.

A walk in a rose garden with a set of rosary beads in hand is a wonderful way to invite all of one’s senses to open to the sacred mysteries.

It is the very essence of simplicity: walk slowly through the garden, slow down your breathing. Stop on each bead and breath peace. Bathe in the silence. No need to use a lot of words or any in fact.

Simple, easy, open and thankful.

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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A forgotten well, all veiled in vine,
Speaks in silence of ancient wine;

While nature’s cloak and a good night’s soak,
Turn back the bruise of time.

And the solitary daisy, yellow- sparkling in the Sun,
Whispers sweetly to the stone: ” We’ve only just begun!”

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

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So said St. Francis: a  koan of christendom that invites meditation.

Francis saw fraternity and sorority everywhere.

Creatures ( living and nonliving) are brothers and sisters in the Order of Creation. Adjusting the statement slightly we may pose the challenge this way: ‘Who we are looking for is who is looking.’  Yet, our ordinary conscious experience is of separation, difference and individual expression.

What experience inspires this insight on the part of Francis?

His vision was penetrating and went beneath the surface of form and function, speciation and diversity. The entire Cosmos was personal. In the eyes of wolves, he caught a glimpse of ein sof, the unknowable One. In Sun and Moon, he saw the illumined face of love.

All the exquisite forms and variety formed a choir chanting in unison of the passionate Heart tuning the music of the spheres. Going well beyond expectation and learning, labeling and categorizing, Francis discerned essences.

Doing so requires letting go of  our clinging to unique and divided identity.

It means examining oneself and seeing the degree to which we imprison the mind and soul in ideas about self and other.

We each weave clever and elaborate fictions designed around a history of experiences and language, strokes and slaps delivered by the environment through which we travel. We embody the mandate to separate and judge and build a system of dichotomies – good & bad, beautiful and not, right and left, right and wrong, valuable and not, worthy and unworthy, intelligent and not, ad infinitum.

As Francis knew intuitively, contemporary research is likewise showing how wrong we have been about assumptions of the comparative  intelligence of nonhuman beings.

One case in point is the wisdom of crows: their capacity to use tools and problem solve equal to the capacity of young children. Elsewhere, there was a recent study of the dance of bees and how they compete in their dancing to democratically choose the best next site at which to build a hive. Once decided, after feverish “debate through dance,” they all lift as one body and move together to the new site. All of this is further impetus for our grappling with what Francis saw empirically without the lenses of science as support.

How, then, do we cultivate the sense of the grander truth that lies within appearances and divergences?

It begins by practicing the “via negativa”, systematically dwelling in the tensions forged by our false dichotomies and dissolving them.

The challenge is to annihilate  limiting paradigms by rising up to a third position neutrally suspended above them. Each time we do so, we open our aperture wider and see a bit more clearly what is really there. We lift the veil that our thinking manufactures and throws over the real like a heavy cloak that obscures it.

This is a Western expression of jñāna yoga or “knowledge of the absolute”: discerning the difference between the real and the unreal.

One example: we pose the dichotomy of sentient – non-sentient. We see rocks as non-sentient, trees as sentient yet less so than birds and mammals. We create taxonomies of like and unlike that, while convenient for study, fuel our perception of difference as primary.

Using thought differently, we can confront our convenient divisions and resolve them in a higher sense of unity.

How?

One meditative stream of thought: Dispensing with sentience as the frame altogether, rocks and trees, insects, birds, mammals and human beings are Presence, amalgams of earth, air, fire and water. All were hewn from the same stuff.

I celebrate the variety and I see their unity. We are all sons and daughters of the Sun/Son. We are energy enlivened with purpose, ordained by first cause and evolving along lines laid down before the first micro-second of the universe. We are Light, mineral, Mind, Heart, and a vastness emerges among us.

We can learn much by incorporating this Christic jñāna yoga into our contemplative round.

What/ who we are looking for is already and always is with us.

interior intimo meo et superior summo meo” (“higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self”) (St. Augustine, Confessions III, 6, 11)

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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It’s been about two months since I last posted. The time has been one of frequent travel, fashioning new material to spark fresh dialogues among clients, and a time, otherwise, for  fewer words.

Authentic writing needs fresh perspectives. It  is good for the soul to invite incubation. So, my last 60 days have been about emptying.

It’s been said that nature abhors a vacuum and moves quickly to fill it. Yet, there’s a lot of vacuum in the Cosmos. Maybe this simply isn’t so.

Nature does not abhor a vacuum so much as it finds its shape according to unseen patterns that make it up. Vacuum conjures up  a great and infinite emptiness. On the contrary, the Cosmic vacuum is a plenitude.

Overwhelmed by unimaginable distances, could it be that we mistake the vastness of the seemingly empty expanse of space for the fearsome darkness of “non-being”?

Space-time is an n-dimensional funky quilt that we can only marvel at as we gaze on it abstractly through the lens of mathematics. Nonetheless, the very fact that we imagine it  suggests our intuitive and playful sense of its underlying fullness.

When we silence the mind’s manufacture of crafted sentences and paragraphs, and even briefly hit the pause button, it may just be that we then unleash the deeper depths, wider views, richer hues, and that fertile vastness that buoys all our hopeful imaginings and heartfelt expressions.

I sing a song in praise of true away time, a brief silencing of  our own voice so the poet inside the silence is the voice more clearly heard.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great (Holy) Saturday – April 3, 2010

This is the solemn day on which the Church recollects the time during which Jesus is entombed. It is the time before the bulb re-emerges after a dark winter’s incubation. It is the dark cloud obscuring the Sun that surely will burn brightly and warm the planet once again when its cover moves by. It is the potential within the kinetic, the pause before your next breath, the time of sleep just before re-awakening, and that ever so brief silent pause between two waves arriving at the beach.

The Orthodox reference to the “harrowing of hell” captures the theological import of Christ’s passing into the netherworld to redeem and carry into paradise the souls of the deceased, most significantly, the archetypal Adam and Eve. The presumed stain of Original Sin is cleansed at His incursion into Hell, bringing Light to the darkest of places. Altars world-wide remain stripped of linens and vestments shift to pure white. Mass is not performed until midnight ( or the symbolic start of Easter ( Resurrection Sunday) at another late Saturday night appointed time). The world waits.

The entire Triduum is about preparation and expectation. Waiting is a core theme across all spiritual teachings. On this day before the most Holy of days in Christendom, what is it that we await? How does the mythology of the church relate to our lives and the realities that we construct around us? Where is the relevancy of such mystical events for a post-modern scientific society?

Firstly, that I use the word “mythology” is not meant to suggest that the events we celebrate are any less real. Quite the contrary, it only attests to my intent to apply anagogical reasoning to these events as we must when it comes to mysteries that we know tacitly or in poetic and non-experimental ways. That I love my wife, daughter, and son requires no proof though, were you to ask me to do so, I would resort to the lexicon of the Heart. It is a thoughtful phenomenological detailing that presents the clearest and most robust path to understanding the “mysteries.”

The “Free Online Dictionary” ( thefreedictionary.com) defines anagogy as: “A mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, especially scriptural exegesis that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife.” It defines “mystical” as:

1. Of or having a spiritual reality or import not apparent to the intelligence or senses.
2. Of, relating to, or stemming from direct communion with ultimate reality or God: a mystical religion.

Heaven and the afterlife are metaphors for infinite consciousness, non-mortal being, the Platonic realm of forms ( or the inherent matrix of foundational archetypes that prefigures and predisposes the created to coalesce in its diverse forms), the well of souls ( or the unknowable place from which our individual consciousness came and to which one day it returns), and the ground that informs our deepest dreaming, our prayerful intentions, our moments of insight, epiphany and enlightenment. With this framework in mind, then, I ask: What is it that we await on this “Great Saturday”?

It is summed in three words: the inexhaustible Light! Light plays a major role in all of scripture, Western and Eastern. Light is a powerful and intrinsic need of all living things and it plays a very central role in the story of the life of every human being. We experience the light in very similar ways. After a long winter, few can resist the allure of a surprisingly bright day. People move out of their homes and take to the streets and the open markets and cafes. In the United States, college students from the North, Midwest and Northwest move in a great exodus toward the more direct sunlight on Spring break. In Europe, many head south. In the East, the same applies as people move toward the equator and further south of it to enjoy the beneficient sunlight, the warmth, and the penetrating rays that are so deeply restorative.

The light plays a key role in consciousness and experience from very early in life. We open our eyes after birth for the first time and light streams in. After a period of adjustment, so much of our learning and the development of language and thought is based on vision. As young children, who among hasn’t had a bad night with fears of things emerging from the darkness; those compelling fears that take archetypal monstrous forms. The cure for such moments is pretty much always the same: turn on the light.

Some years ago, while traveling on business, I was awakened around 2 AM experiencing a frightening shortness of breath. I was momentarily terrified. My first thought was to turn on the light after which I dressed and went to the lobby of the hotel where other people were present. On doing so, everything settled down. On long-distance car trips, there are stretches of road across farmland in the U.S or mountain roads where there is very little light. Such driving late at night is especially unnerving and I always find myself less tense when I see lights in the distance: the sign of civilization and the presence of other people.

As I write this, my daughter is on the road somewhere in Illinois on her way back to college after her Summer break. I spoke with her last night and she was stopping in a small town for the night. Her comment was simply: ” It is so dark here. I can’t see a thing. It’s time to stop, get something to eat and turn in. I’ll continue in the morning.” I’ve said before that we are made of the same stuff as stars. Indeed, all that exists ultimately came from the stars. We are light-centric creatures and this need is expressed in many ways in all the corners of our lives. Our language is replete with light references: enlightenment, to light on a flower, alight, delight, daylight, earthlight, light headed, light-hearted, limelight, highlight, etc. We are capable of contemplating the Infinite and so we routinely do in our visions, including the perfect and infinite Light: a light that knows no evening, the Christic Light. That is what we await on this Great Saturday.

How does the mythology of the Church ( and this phototrophic disposition) relate to our spiritual lives and the realities that we construct around us in this post-modern, scientific age? Maths are axiomatic, based on faith in certain logical propositions, and maths can and do arrive at conflicting conclusions. It appears that in this most regal of the logical endeavors of humanity there is more than one right answer. Non-euclidean geometries deviate in key ways from the axioms of Euclid and arrive at justifiable and verifiable conclusions that simply do not square with Euclidean propositions.

So, are there multiple realities and diverse possible worlds? Absolutely. And what about scientific certainties? There are few of them actually. In fact, the uncertainty principle and the two as yet irreconcilable forms of lawfulness (Newtonian and Quantum mechanical) cause us to continue to search for new unifying theories. New maths arise all the time, and have especially done so over the course of the last century. This raises the bar on what it means “to know.” There is a mystical character to number theory. Science applies rarified and esoteric methods and a language of its own ( filled with poetry, by the way) to study the mystery of being. So, in fact, science and mysticism intersect all the time. It is dogma that gets us hung up.

The big objection from many is that scientific truth is “verifiable” and the tenets of religious belief are not. That is so. However, the foundations of “religion” are rooted  in verifiable experiences. We experience the dearth of light and rejoice at its return and that motivation is observable and verifiable. Reductionism to the absurd is illogical and fruitless. One should always avoid the tyranny of one method to study the phenomena around us. Experimentation has its proper place, but historical and phenomenological methods do also.

In focusing less on belief and more on experience, such days as this Holy Saturday present us with archetypal mystery. In our services and prayers, we use poetry and anagogy to know from the inside out, to use intuition and to share something that arises from the collective unconscious. The divine flows through us and the mystery of the Crucified God is emblazoned in the consciousness of Christendom. In Buddhism, similarly, the tension between clear sight and real suffering is the pivot around which engaged Buddhism revolves.

Anagogical reason must and will never take a back seat to logical analysis and experimentation. To even attempt doing so is to do violence to what it means to be who we are. We must ever strive to tell the story of insight, intuition and experience remembering the difference between our models and the real thing. We dress up G-d in many ways, but that the human condition is always searching for the Supreme Ultimate is undeniable. The diverse manners in which we adorn the Mystery are beautiful, but we need to remind ourselves that it is an adornment.

Beneath all the dressings, the liturgies, and the scaffolding of beliefs erected along-side, what matters is at the heart. It is the raw experience of the Presence of the Light that splits the darkness of death. It is the Light of the resurrected Christ that we await. It is the annihilation of the dual nature of thought and the redemption of the world of creaturely selfishness and the sense of being alone. It is all about remembering who we really are and from whence we really come.

Let us await the Light giving ourselves the time today to also study our own inner darkness.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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