Reflections from St Scholastica: Seeking Solitude

Seeking Solitude

I came here seeking solitude,

And found I like the quiet,

But am afraid of the alone.

I came here spent and desiring rest,

And found bounding energy

Yearning for outlet.

Busy energy-

Worldy energy.

“Rest,” You said, “Be still.”

But I find myself restless

And in perpetual motion.

In obedience and with discipline of will,

I sit.

Quiet.

Unmoving.

Eyes closed and thoughts clearing.

And finally,

I sink into Your grace.

-Cari Kaufman

Written on retreat at St Scholastica, 2/25/2011

Reflections from St. Scholastica

I am just returning from a three day personal retreat in Fort Smith. My dear family gave me the soul space to make a retreat to a monastery and retreat center not far from our home to spend a little time seeking and resting in God.

Choosing to go to a Catholic retreat center  was, well, a good bit out of my comfort zone(I am not, nor have I ever been Catholic), but I found heart sisters there none the less.  More importantly, God met me there.  Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some reflections from this trip with you.  I hope that you are blessed by them.

This next reflection was from my first evening at the retreat center.  Enjoy!

St Scholastica Retreat Center, Fort Smith, Arkansas

2/25/2011

Dear God,

How do I seek you? How, How, How?

I am riddled with how, and how come, and when and where and why. And I am sorry that my human need to understand overshadows my soul’s desire to obey. Have patience with me, Dear Father. I am like a young child, full of wonder, but just cresting into the age of exerting my independence.

I’m not sure why I’m here in this place. To seek you, I know. To draw near to you, to spend quality time with you, but my busy mind doesn’t know how to be quiet. My heart doesn’t know how to be still. Nouwen spoke of how his intellect was a hindrance—always looking for ways to spread your message, but often losing out on the golden moments of absorbing it himself.

Even now, if I’m honest, I write with a dual purpose: both to put words to and process how I am feeling and to express to others that this humanness is not something to hide—that it is a shared experience.

I am learning that in this monastic community are the perfect picture of the inhale and the exhale of solitude and community. There is a place for both. But I am afraid of the community today because I’ve come seeking solitude—is it wrong to engage others?

I leapt at the chance to take supper with the monastic community here: both out of curiosity and an also a visceral need to share this experience with another human being. I find myself in the common areas more than my room to listen to laughter and concern and conversation of others. It is music to my soul, but I’m afraid that it is escape—a distraction from the disruption of God in my life. Is it? Am I defiling this sacred time? Am I running away from you?

I don’t understand this way of being. I only know DO-ing. Give me something to do and I am comfy, cozy there. My God, this just being, this act of presence—I find my skills rather shoddy.

Help me, Lord, to quiet my mind—my spirit, my heart and just know that there is no wrong way to spend time with you. Save not at all. That by making this sacrifice of time, I am already drawing near to you. I am not being graded on this experience. Meet me here, Lord. Let me see you and feel you and hear you…Amen.

You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires. My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction and I do not possess my house in silence.” – Thomas Merton

Upgrade Your Spirit- Forgiveness

As we head into this Christmas weekend, my thoughts turn to healing relationships.  To mending broken pieces and patching torn places.  To human love in its purest form.  To Forgiveness.

I read this recently and it resonated deeply with me…I want to share it with you:

Forgiveness is made possible by the knowledge that human beings cannot offer us what only God can give. Once we have heard the voice calling us the Beloved, accepted the gift of full communion, and claimed the first unconditional love, we can see easily–with the eyes of a repentant heart– how we have demanded of people a love that only God can give. It is the knowledge of that first love that allows us to forgive those who have only a “second” love to offer.

I am struck by how I cling to my own wounded self. Why do I think so much about the people who have offended me or hurt me? Why do I allow them to have so much power over my feelings and emotions? Why can’t I simply be grateful for the good they did and forget about their failures and mistakes? It seems that in order find my place in life I need to be angry, resentful, or hurt. It even seems that these people gave me my identity by the very ways in which they wounded me. Part of me is “the wounded one.” It is hard to know who I am when I can no longer point my finger at someone who is the cause of my pain!…

It is important to understand our suffering. It is often necessary to search for the origins of a suffering.  It is often necessary to search for the origins of our mental and emotional struggles and to discover how other people’s actions and our response to their actions have shaped the way we think, feel, and act. Most of all, it is freeing to become aware that we do not have to be victims of our past and can learn new ways of responding. But there is a step beyond the recognition and identification of the facts of life.  There is even a step beyond choosing how to live our own life story. It is the greatest step a human being can take. It is the step of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all of us love poorly. We do not even know what we are doing when we hurt others. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour– unceasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.  The voice that calls us the Beloved is the voice of freedom because it sets us free to love without wanting anything in return. This has nothing to do with self-sacrifice, self-denial, or self-depreciation. But it has everything to do with the abundance of love that has been freely given to me and from which I freely want to give. – Henri Nouwen

I am praying for you this Christmas- that your hearth is warm and your family is near, that your heart is full of love and laughter  and hope.  I am sending love your way! Merry Christmas! Happy Birthday Jesus!

There are still 4 posts left in the Upgrade Your Spirit series.  Check back next week for more reflection on deepening your relationship with God.

Upgrade Your Spirit- Finding Community

“Community is like a large mosaic. Each little piece seems so dull and insignificant.  As individual stones, we can do little with them except compare them and judge their beauty and value. When, however, all these little stones are brought together in one big mosaic portraying the face of Christ, who would ever question the importance of any one of them? Together in the one mosaic, each little stone is indispensable and makes a unique contribution to the glory of god.  That’s community, a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.”- Henri Nouwen

Finding ways to engage the community of believers is the central teaching of Strings Attached Ministries.  Learning to plug into and act as a vital part of the Fellowship of Christ is key to truly deepening your relationship with God.

We have focused in the past weeks on deepening our quest for solitude and time to BE with God alone because it is a spiritual discipline that often gets overlooked and laid aside when our lives get busy.  And frankly, because it is the part of MY spiritual walk that I am most called to at this time (Yay- that you are experiencing this learning curve with me!)

However, when I was discussing this series with a friend recently, she asked a question that gave me a moment of pause. “If you are plugged into community, how does solitude fit?”

Hmmmmm….

Then I ran across this in my reading.

“Solitude is not a private space over against a public space of community, nor is it merely a healing space in which we restore ourselves for community life.  Solitude and community belong together; each requires the other as do the center and circumference of a circle.  Solitude without community leads us to loneliness and despair, but community without solitude hurls us into a void of words and feelings.- Bonhoeffer

“A void of words and feelings-“ wow….ummmm….ouch.

This is where I live my life often when I find myself stealing moments with God instead of scheduling time with Him. (Here’s a hint….I am not a very good thief. Stolen moments never happen.) You see, I am learning that it is a fallacy to think that we grow closer to each other only when we talk, play, or work together.

“Solitude is inseparable from community because in solitude we affirm the deepest reality of our lives together, namely, that as a community we are like hands pointing to God in prayer.”-Nouwen

So what does the discipline of community look like? Doesn’t that sound strange? Discipline of community? But without discipline, community becomes a ‘word that refers more to a safe, homey, and EXCLUSIVE place than a space where new life can be received and brought to its fullness.” It requires discipline because to create space for God among us requires us to look past our differences and prejudices and constantly recognize the Spirit of God in each other.

We are called to a level of fellowship far deeper than potlucks and small group studies.  The Greek word used to describe this community is koinoniaKoinonia is a word so rich in meaning no single English definition quite suffices.

“To create a bond between comrades is the meaning of koinonia when people are recognized, share their joy and pains together, and are united because of their common experiences, interests and goals. Fellowship creates a mutual bond which overrides each individual’s pride, vanity, and individualism, fulfilling the human yearning with fraternity, belonging, and companionship. This meaning of koinonia accounts for the ease by which sharing and generosity flow. When combined with the spiritual implications of koinonia, fellowship provides a joint participation in God’s graces and denotes that common possession of spiritual values.

Thus early Christians had a fellowship with God, sharing the common experience of joys, fears, tears, and divine glory. In this manner, those who shared believed their true wealth lay not in what they had, but in what they gave to others. Fellowship is never passive in the meaning of koinonia, it is always linked to action, not just being together, but also doing together. With fellowship comes a close and intimate relationship embracing ideas, communication, and frankness, as in a true, blessed interdependent friendship among multiple group members.” –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinonia

Community requires a deep understanding of those we choose to fellowship with.  It is vital to our walk with Christ to find and engage a community of believers, those that  walk alongside us, that hold us accountable, and that love us for who we are.  It is also vital that we are our true selves within this community, open and honest and willing to be vulnerable.  This is not an easy feat in this world.  It requires….that’s right….discipline.

Take some time today to reflect on the following questions:

  • Am I a part of a community of believers?
  • Am I truly plugged in or am I ‘just playing church?’
  • Am I open- willing to be vulnerable or am I faking it?
  • How would my walk with Christ change if I truly plugged into fellowship with other believers?

You are a vital piece of the puzzle. Without you our picture is incomplete.

Are you plugged in?

Upgrade Your Spirit- Knowing by Heart

I hope that you have already begun this with us.  This journey into Scripture memorization. It’s been a little scary at times.  My fear of failure or of letting someone down (who will I let down by memorizing scripture, really?) has plagued me throughout the past couple of weeks creating an ongoing dialogue in my  head about the efficacy of this discipline.  I must be doing something right. This practice is vehemently opposed.

If you grew up in Awana or in Sunday School, you are no stranger to scripture memory.  I didn’t.  I heard the phrase “to hide it in my heart,” from my children.  Conviction comes to me in the form of children’s quiet questions and wise smiles at times.  My babies, they memorize God’s word for Awana, and they memorize God’s word for school, and they memorize God’s word to speak blessing over their spiritually ill-educated Mama when she needs to hear from the Lord and is too weak to seek it.  They are God’s greatest blessing to me.

I started to seek out passages to memorize last year when starting the practice of reserving “quiet time” for God.  I found that repeating a Bible passage over and over again became the metronome for prayer, starting out as the focus, but fading into the background after a few moments.  Then these words became blessings to me in times of crisis.  Apparently I am not alone in this.

“Personally, I regret the fact that I know so few prayers and psalms by heart. Often I need a book to pray, and without one I tend to fall back on the poor spontaneous creations of my mind. Part of the reason, I think, that it is so hard to pray ‘without ceasing’ is that few prayers are available to me outside church settings.  Yet I believe that prayers which I know by heart could carry me through very painful crises.  The Methodist minister Fred M orris told me how Psalm 23 had carried him through the gruesome hours in the Brazilian torture chamber and had given him peace in his darkest hour. And I keep wondering which words I can take with me in the hour when I have to survive without books. I fear that in crisis situations I will not have to depend on my own unredeemed ramblings and not have the word of God to guide me.” –Henri Nouwen

You can still join us.  We are memorizing the entire book of Ephesians over the course of the next 7 months.  You can read about how to make a Scripture Memory book here and why we are embarking on this journey here.

Lord, help me to learn your word. Help me to hide it deep within my heart. Help me to let it soak in and help me to let it spill out Love over everyone I touch. Guide me with Your word, Lord. Amen

What passages bring you comfort through the difficult times in your life?

Upgrade Your Spirit – Scripture Reading and Contemplation

We have talked about contemplation and prayer as a way to deepen our relationship with God.  Spending time simply in God’s presence, with no underlying agenda, ruminating on his attributes and his graciousness is a vital part of our spiritual lives. A part, I feel gets forgotten, or left out, or run from.  We live in a world of activity- a world of doing, but we are human BE-ings for a reason.

Contemplative scripture reading is not the same as Bible study.  It is an extension of your “quiet time” with Jesus.  It is the discipline of having “empty time” just to be with Christ in His word.

“To take the Holy Scriptures an read them is the first thing we have to do to open ourselves to God’s call.  Reading the Scriptures is not as easy as it seems since in our academic world we tend to make anything and everything we read subject to analysis and discussion.  But the word of God should lead us first of all to contemplation and meditation.  Instead of taking the words apart, we should bring them together in our innermost being; instead of wondering if we agree or disagree, we should wonder which words are directly spoken to us and connect directly with our most personal story.  Instead of thinking about the words as potential subjects for an interesting dialogue or paper, we should be willing to let them penetrate into the most hidden corners of our heart, even to those places where no other word has yet found entrance.” – Henri Nouwen

Contemplative reading is engaging God’s word in a way and at a time in which you have the space to allow his words to soak in.  It is reading with intentionality, being and staying present to the reading of it and allow those words to speak to where you are.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are mornings when this is more of a discipline than a joy.  When intentionality and presence go out the window and I read his word out of sheer obedience, but what Nouwen said about prayer applies to scripture reading as well,

because God is greater than my mind and my heart, and what is really happening is not measurable in terms of human success and failure.”

Add contemplative reading to your daily practice and I promise you will hear God’s word for your life.  It is amazing how deeply his word resonates with me on a daily basis.  I pray that you will find this in your life as well.

Upgrade Your Spirit: When Prayer Seems Useless

Solitude.  Contemplative Prayer.  Presence.  Just Be.

This is what I am called to of late.  In the interest of full disclosure, I truly meant to move on to the next discipline in the series, but frankly I am struggling with this one-contemplative prayer – so I feel the need to sit with it for a while.  I am mystified by this-  drawn to it. Romanced by the thought of true quality time with my God.

Here’s what is really hard though:

Just BE-ing. NOT DO-ing.

Anyone fight this battle? I feel so useless when I move into the presence of Our Lord with the singular goal of spending time at His feet.

Henri Nouwen echoed my frustration today:

“Why should I spend an hour in prayer when I do nothing durin that time but think about people I am angry with, people who are angry with me, books I should read and books I should write, and thousands of other silly things that happen to grab my mind for a moment? The answer is: because God is greater than my mind and my heart, and what is really happening in the house of prayer is not measurable in terms of human success and failure.

What I must do first of all is be faithful. If I believe that the first commandment is to love God with my whole heart, mind, and soul, them I should at least be able to spend one hour a day with nobody else but God. The question as to whether it is helpful, useful, practical, or fruitful is completely irrelevant, since the only reason to love is love itself.  Everything else is secondary.

The remarkable thing, however, is that sitting in the presence of God for one hour each morning—day after day, week after week, month after month—in total confusion and with myriad distractions radically changes my life. God who loves me so much that he sent his only Son no to condemn me but to save me, does not leave me waiting in the dark too long. I might think that each hour is useless, but after thirty or sixty or ninety such useless hours, I gradually realize that I was not as alone as I thought; a very small, gentle voice has been speaking to me far beyond my noisy place.

So: Be confident and trust in the Lord.

–        The Road to Daybreak

Oh…wait…this contemplative prayer stuff….it’s not about me.   It’s all about love.  Whether I find myself able to DO it right (anyone else sense the paradox here?) or not is simply not the issue.

Prayer is an act of love.  Quality time. Listening, obeying and trusting, all those things that build wonderfully strong relationships here on earth are the same things that create a strong relationship with God.  In the grand scheme of things my “to-do” list is far more useless to Him than taking an hour and attempting to focus my undivided attention on Him.

What about you? Do you find it difficult to carve time out of your day just to BE with God?