Writer’s Retreat

coffee shop

I’m here at my favorite Santa Cruz coffee shop, at the end of five days of work and play.  I’ve been traveling by Amtrak (bus, train, bus) to my varied destinations, writing as I go.

My first stop was Berkeley, where I spent most of the day in the Graduate Theological Union Library, perusing dozens of books related to my work.  I’ve kept my library card since seminary, so I checked out several books that most attracted my interest.  From Berkeley I headed by train to Merced, where I led a workshop for forty United Methodist Women on “Climate Justice and System Change.”  It gave me the opportunity to share some cutting edge ideas with concerned people of faith.  I had considered presenting a slide show, but decided an interactive workshop would be livelier.  It was!

After the workshop I traveled five hours from Merced to Santa Cruz.  I don’t mind the time it takes to travel by train and bus.  It cuts down on my carbon footprint and instead of driving I have time to read, write, rest, and pray.

Arriving in Santa Cruz on Saturday night was a kick—so much wild energy, so much going on.  And I have such a peaceful, beautiful place to stay—my friend’s guest room, just a 10-minute walk from downtown.  She and I got together for a walk and dinner Sunday evening, and she joined me for Salsa dancing on the beach, but most of the time when I’m in Santa Cruz I just come and go on my own, wandering and doing my own thing.  I visited places I used to enjoy when I lived here:  West Cliff Drive, favorite beaches, the Santa Cruz Public Library (yes, I still have my library card and yes, I checked out a book).  Oh, and Lulu Carpenters coffee shop, where I spent many hours writing among the UCSC students and their laptops.  Writing retreat headquarters.

It seems that I need plenty of free time in order for the creative process to kick in.  Here in Santa Cruz I take that time, watching the dolphins at play, watching the waves come and go, following my thoughts and watching them dissipate as the waves disperse on the shore.

Now I’m ready to go home.

I’m grateful that the God I know is not the kind to order me around, because I’m really not the obedient type.  I don’t like hierarchy and I don’t like following orders.  I like the “mother hen” metaphor for God that Jesus used when he said, “How often I have longed to gather you as a mother hen gathers her flock, but you were not willing.”  I’m often like a baby chick running around after whatever attracts my fancy.  Even so, God can work with me.   I experience God as inviting me, drawing me, attracting me, even wooing me (as process theologians say) through concrete situations in my wanderings through life.

The Joy of Living

A recent view from my front deck.

A recent view from my front deck.

This is my third day of recuperation from knee surgery—miniscus repair.  I’m resting and reading, getting good care from Guari, making my way around on a walker.

This “time off” couldn’t have come at a better time.  These past months I’ve been going through a transformative period in my life, and now… I’m doing one thing at a time, slowly, and following it through to the end—a great practice.  In addition to entrusting family members and the world to God’s care, my meditation and prayer have been deeply impacted, for days now, by my re-reading The Joy of Living by Yongey Mingyur Rimpoche.  He presents the basics of Buddhist teachings and relates them to the cutting edge of neuroscience in elegantly simple language.

I’m so ready for this further breakthrough that I feel myself going through—if only I can stay true to myself and to “what is”—the Absolute, Truth, the Great Mystery, the Dharma, the Tao, the Holy Spirit, the Mind of Christ, Love, God.  No, these words don’t all mean the same thing.  Each tradition offers unique insights and points to unique experiences.  But they are all ways of trying to express the Ineffable, the Ground of Being through which all things come and go.

Spaciousness.  Blessed spaciousness.  Peace.  Joy.  The joy of living.

I’m feeling profoundly grateful.  A song we sang at a recent singing circle expresses it well:

“A million tomorrows shall all pass away, ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.”

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Clearing

The Last Supper: Finally Freed from Storage

I’ve been doing a lot of clearing lately:  clearing out the “granny cabin” and fixing it up for a friend, clearing out boxes of stored items, sorting closets and cabinets, clearing out extraneous “stuff” from our house and yard, throwing out junk and giving things away.  At the same time I’ve been letting go of several ongoing responsibilities and clearing my calendar of all but the most important things.

It’s time.  I’ve been through a period of sustained activity, with deadlines and hurdles along the way.  Part of the pressure that has kept me going is concern for the world.  As I wrote in Shaking the Gates of Hell, I fear that the Powers that Be are creating a living hell on earth, and that we the people, sustained by Spirit, are the only ones who can turn things around.

The key for me is “sustained by Spirit.” Running on adrenaline and caffeine doesn’t work well for me in the long run.  It depletes my energy and leaves me exhausted.  I need some time every day for spiritual replenishment.  And periodically I need to step back and take a thorough inventory, to re-examine my life, relationships, activities, and priorities.  Now is such a time.

I came across the following poem recently, called “Clearing,” by Martha Postlewaite:

Do not try to save the whole world

or do anything grandiose.

Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life

and wait there patiently,

until the song that is your life

falls into your own cupped hands

and you recognize and greet it.

Only then will you know

how to give yourself to this world

so worthy of rescue.

Resistance and Contemplation

IMG_1058Contemplative prayer is the practice that grounds my personal relationships and my work.  This grounding in prayer is a means through which the Holy Spirit, when I am open, equips me with clarity, compassion, and courage to resist the Powers that would destroy and diminish life.  As Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

I write about this my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization:

We are called to resist being taken over by the forces of a culture that would have us believe that comfort and pleasure and ease and looking good are the most important things in life. We are called to refuse to worship our culture’s dominant gods of money and domination, to resist the lure of materialistic values that keep so many enthralled, and instead to value human life and the natural world. By so doing, we plant seeds of hope and honor the Creator.

Prayer is crucial in this process. Prayer is an act of humility, a way to acknowledge our utter dependence on God and our gratitude for the new life we have received in Christ. In prayer, we open ourselves to the clarity, guidance, and empowerment that only the Spirit can bring. Prayers of intercession and petition have immeasurable effects on our lives and on lives around us. Prayer “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as Karl Barth recommended, helps us develop the ability to discern God’s activity in current events. Contemplative prayer and meditation can help us stay grounded in the present moment and give us a sense of freedom from time. Prayer can also enable us to discern the inner effects of the Powers. Regular ongoing prayer can help us resist collective thinking and to understand our own inner dynamics, so that we can know which of our impulses are based in anger or fear, and which are Spirit-led, guiding us in the direction of God’s call and empowering us to move toward creative transformation. The inner journey and the outer journey together constitute the spiritual life. Prayer is essential. So is action. In Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation, James Douglass wrote of the inner and outer journeys as two sides of a mountain, as two parts of a whole way of life:

“Contemplation is an encounter on the dark side of the mountain, in the soul. Contemplation, the struggle to experience reality as it is, in the life-giving water of the One, is the acceptance of the upward wind of the Spirit and the disciplined loss of my self-control. I struggle for the power of the powerless, where I would lose myself, where only the Spirit moves. . . .

“Resistance, on the bright slope, is the struggle to stand against a murderous collective self and to express communally the living unity of all . . . in the One. Resistance is active opposition to the death forces discernible in every modern state. The confrontation of resistance therefore takes place on the bright side of the mountain, in the sunlight of public or collective consciousness, where [people] struggle with the powers of war, racism, exploitation.”

Contemplative prayer and other spiritual practices can equip us for resistance against social, political, and economic “death forces” in the outer world. Such practices repudiate the values of domination, violence, and greed. They also constitute resistance in their own right. Douglass sees contemplation itself as a form of resistance:

“The Spirit is received through a painful resistance to, and renunciation of, the claims of the self on the climb into greater darkness. Contemplation receives by resisting. At its center contemplation is receptivity to the wind of the Spirit, but it is conditioned by my active resistance to the fears and claims of the self: claims of comfort, security, self-control.”

If we neglect to nurture our relationship with God through prayer, we lose ourselves in outward activity and we forfeit what peace, freedom, and clarity we have attained.   Open me to your Spirit, O God.  May I practice your presence throughout this day.

Voice of God, Voice of the Earth

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Yesterday I played on the trampoline with two of my little granddaughters.  We laughed so much.  We spent part of the time lying on our backs watching the little cedar helicopter seeds spin slowly down on us as the wind blew.

Fall is arriving.  Today is the Autumn Equinox.  And right on schedule, the rain started last night and will continue, at least through today.  It’s reassuring, especially given the changes in local weather patterns due to climate change.

I didn’t let the rain deter me this morning from my usual practice of praying outside.  I set up a blanket and my meditation pillow out on the deck under the eaves, and all my senses immediately engaged in the drama taking place all around.  The wind, rain, trees, a few birds that weren’t hunkered down, even a single burst of lightning and a rumble of thunder–they all played their parts.

For me, prayer is more listening than talking to God.  Prayer can mean being at peace in the present while eagerly open to divine communication.  God’s communication sometimes comes to me as call, clarity, insight, comfort, or assurance of God’s love.  But often the “message” is simply silence, spaciousness, that paradoxical “emptiness” that the Buddhists talk about, full of what Christians call the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday I heard God’s voice in the laughter of my grandchildren, and in my own laughter.  This morning I heard God’s voice in the voice of the Earth.  There is no separation.  The voice is one and the same.

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