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Archive for November, 2017

‘Deep Stillness’ requires a ‘Still Place.’  There is, of course, the ‘inner place’ that must become ‘Still.’  Even after all of these years I am still amazed – and a bit taken aback – when I become aware of the diversity and intensity of my inner noise; the noise that calls me to distraction.

I found that I also need a ‘Still Place’ where I can go and withdraw.  For the early monks – and for all monks since then and for all of us seeking to find this ‘Still Place’ – this mean finding a place free of unnecessary distractions, a place where God can find us (by the by, gentle reader, I like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s belief that ‘God seeks us;’ we are the ones hiding from God).

The monk had his cell.  The cell itself was simple; yet it was anything but simple for a monk to inhabit his cell.  I do not have a cell, as such.  I do, however, have a chair.  I can eliminate some of the external distractions; I can even eliminate the light.  The elimination of my inner distractions, however, continues to present me with the greatest challenge (I do not believe I am alone when it comes to this ‘greater challenge’).

Creating stillness so that God can find me also entails some other consequences (initially they were unintended; now they are more intentional).  I quickly learned that in order to inhabit this ‘Still Place’ that I had to become vulnerable – to become awake and aware.  I was challenged to face myself and to do so without evasion, prejudice, or judgment (as an imperfect human being I will not accomplish this ‘perfectly’ but I can become more ‘consistent’).  The monks also struggled with this challenge of ‘facing oneself.’  The monk would become tempted to leave his cell (literally) and I am tempted to leave my ‘Still Place’ – symbolically and literally.

I have another wonderful book, The Desert Christians: Sayings of the Desert Fathers.  One of the ‘Fathers’ that is often quoted is Abba Antony.  He writes: Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so do monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with [persons] of the world lose the intensity of inner stillness.

Abba Antony’s words call me to be awake and aware, intentional and purposeful.  His words remind me of how easy it is for me to evade the ‘real work’ involved in ‘Deep Stillness,’ in Hesychia.  His words remind me as to how easy it is for me to yield to the temptation to live a life of chronic busyness and chronic distraction.  How can God find me if I am busy and distracted?

Do I truly believe that God is alive within me?  If I do, then why do I choose to hide from God?  Why do I choose chronic busyness and chronic distraction?

This morning I leave us with the words of Evagrius, a Desert Father: Cut the desire for many things out of your heart and so prevent your mind being dispersed and your stillness lost.

 

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Gentle reader, you might remember that when I was 18 years old I spent a year in a monastery.  Among other things, the monastery was a place of profound stillness.  ‘Stillness’ is close to being the ‘heart’ of the monastery.  Each day began with a common, disciplined practice of stillness: an hour of sitting meditation (once a week each of us entered into an hour of ‘kneeling meditation’).

‘Stillness meditation’ is an intimate, moving and powerful experience.  The experience was enhanced because we sat in silence-stillness with others; we were all touched by the sacred stillness.  We were truly in community.

Over time I came to realize that this simple practice grounded everything else that happened during the day; this experience was THE taproot that nurtured and sustained us, individually and as a community.  It was the taproot that sustained our manual labor, our common prayer, our study, our dialogue with God, and our love.  I found that it grounded the entire mysterious process by which I-We were drawn closer to God.

In my studies I learned that the ancient monks of the Egyptian desert had a name for this real, elusive and critical aspect of the spiritual life: hesychia.  This Greek word can be translated in different ways, depending upon the context: stillness, quiet, tranquility, deep peace.  In the monastic literature, hesychia is often synonymous with a certain quality or depth of prayer – or awareness of God’s presence.

John Climacus (known by many as ‘John of the Ladder’) was an Egyptian Monk (6th-7th Century).  John described hesychia as ‘worshipping God unceasingly…[an] inviolable activity of the heart.’  In this place of stillness, everything other than God faded from consciousness.  For many, God’s touch, God’s presence, became palpable (an aside: during my twelve months in the monastery on two occasions I did, I think, have such an experience; fleeting experiences they were).

In this stillness one can become conscious of living IN God.  ‘[The one] who has achieved hesychia has arrived at the very center of the mysteries,’ declared John Climacus [Gentle reader, if you are not familiar with ‘The Ladder of the Divine Ascent’ written by Joh of the Ladder, I invite you to check it out].

Each monk had a Spiritual Director; my Spiritual Director was Brother Gerontius.  I remember asking him how one could ever arrive at such a place – this place called hesychia.  How was I to learn to let go of the things, the activities, the ideas, the inner noise that hindered me from allowing hesychia from taking root in my life?

‘Deep Stillness’ is the commitment of a lifetime.  Hesychia, Brother Gerontius told me, was both an end to be sought – ‘the very center of the mysteries’ – and the means by which one might (‘might’ is an important word in this context) gradually (think: lifetime) come to this end.  In other words, hesychia is a practice, a spiritual discipline.

This spiritual discipline might involve at any moment a withdrawal from unnecessary activity, a careful scrutiny of the character of one’s relationship with self, with another and with God.  It might involve a particular way of meditating or praying.  It will involve a willingness to open oneself to engage in jihad (yes…that was the word Brother Gerontius used in 1962); jihad is the inner spiritual war that we wage with ourselves.

Hesychia also involves a gradual realization of a deeper level of honesty and transparency – being honest and transparent with/to oneself and to God.  ‘Deep Stillness’ – hesychia – was a tap root and, to mix metaphors, a touchstone for almost everything that mattered in one’s life.

Your duty is to be, and not to be this or that.  ‘I am that I am’ sums up the whole truth.  The method is summed up in the words ‘Be Still!’ –Ramana Maharshi

 

 

 

 

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How often do we Christians forget that we are called to bear witness to the truth that God has gathered all people into one family?  Why do I say that we Christians have forgotten this?  I invite you, gentle reader, to stop, step-back a bit and look around.  Whether we turn to the East, or to the West or to the South or to the North or even if we look inward what we see is the devastating fear that we have for one another.

It is no accident, of course, that in the Christian Scriptures the most often repeated phrase is: ‘Be Not Afraid!’  Yet we are fear-full – at worst we become our fears.  Fear resides between races, religions, nations, and continents.  Fear resides between the rich and the poor.  Fear resides in all four quadrants – East, West, South and North.  Fear resides within the heart and soul of too many of us – and, sadly, it resides within we who claim to be followers of Jesus-the-Christ.

Fear, we know if we have been paying attention, breeds and nurtures and sustains divisions among us, it breeds and nurtures and sustains suspicion, hatred, violence and destruction.  We are not those who pass the person in the ditch (think: the Parable of the Good Samaritan); we are the ones who wound and throw the other(s) into the ditch.

Paradoxically, our easy access to social media and instant ‘news’ has increased our ‘fear of. . .’   One message we are receiving: ‘homo homini lupus.’  We humans – we Christian Humans – are being wolves to one another; sadly, too many take pride in their wolfishness; the ‘Lamb’ is in hiding.

Fear supports and encourages fragmentation, not family.  We fragment from family into fear-full tribes.  Fear-full tribes become protective and judgmental.  Fear-full tribes rationalize guilt-free attacks (think: preventive attacks) on the ‘other,’ on the ‘stranger.’

We Christians are called by Jesus-the-Christ to scrape the scales from our eyes so we can see clearly, to get the wax of fear out of our ears, and to hear the truth – ALL are children of God and ALL are, therefore, part of God’s Family.  If we believe that ‘God is Love’ and if we ‘trust God,’ then we Christians can choose to heal the wounds, to invite and accept ALL into the human family and become those that rescue the ‘other(s)’ from the ditch and cease being the ones that wound and throw the ‘other(s)’ into the ditch.

God sees us as one family.  God wants us to see the ‘other(s)’ as ‘family.’  The ‘other(s)’ meet God though us; we convince by our presence.  We convince that ‘God is Love’ by loving.  We convince that ‘Fear is Fruitful’ by being afraid – by becoming our fear.  Love conquers Fear.  Fear destroys Love.

I am sitting here this morning asking myself: How do I feed the lamb of love and starve the wolf of fear?  How do I feed the wolf of fear and starve the lamb of love? 

I imagine myself turning slightly to my right and on a little hill I see Jesus-the-Christ sitting, waiting patiently for me to choose.  There is an inviting smile and expectant gaze that is calling to me – no words are necessary.  I can feel the pull of His Love.  I can also feel the pull of the Beast of Fear that is also waiting for me to decide; if I turn just a bit to my left I can see the Beast of Fear.  The Beast, too, is smiling – a knowing, familiar smile.  The Beast, too, is waiting patiently…no need to rush or convince.  I am aware of the Beast’s invitation.  I notice that the path in front of me is now forked.  I can take a step to the right or I can take a step to the left.  This one step will make all of the difference.

I choose.  I take a step…

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Recently I began to reflect once again on ‘The People of the Book.’  You might recall, gentle reader, that ‘The People of the Book’ include Jews, Christians and Muslims.  During my current reflections I have found myself focusing more on the relationship between Christians and Muslims.

When I worked in Singapore I had the privilege and opportunity to serve the leaders in the Muslim Community there.  I remember asking the president of MUIS (the Islamic Religious Council) ‘What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?’  His response was simple, clear and insightful: ‘It is the parables of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount and whatever in the Gospel that can be isolated as the teaching of Jesus.’  If only we Christians were as clear.

When I consider seeking the common boundaries between and among us, I come back to this expression ‘people of the book’ [ahl al-kitāh].  ‘The People of the Book’ can, I believe, be employed as a common boundary concept (if not a unifying idea).  In the Qur’an (the Torah, the Gospels and the Qur’an are three scriptures that provide me with spiritual grounding) the people of the book is limited to Jews, Christians and Muslims.  For many of us (people of the book) this concept has been broadened to include all communities possessing scriptures (Hindus and Zoroastrians, for example).

The People of the Book are the spiritual and physical descendants of Abraham whose monotheistic faith is basic to all three faith-traditions; Abraham’s faith predates the Torah, the Gospels and the Qur’an.  This idea alone opens a pathway to find common boundaries between and among us.

Abraham represents the ‘father of our faith traditions’ and he represents the rational person who spends much time and energy in quest of the knowledge of God; a quest, a search, and a seeking that each of us is called to make.

The Qur’an says, ‘Set your faith, that is to say, “your person,” straight in the religion as a man of pure faith’ [Q.30:30].  ‘Pure faith’ is the faith of Abraham.  Abraham, in the Qur’an, is often called the ‘man of pure faith.’  The verse continues: ‘This is the original creation upon which God fashioned all of humankind.  There is no altering God’s creation.’

Because of our ‘parents’ (real and symbolic) we are – or we choose to become – a Jew, a Christian or a Muslim.  Our common heritage, our common ground/connection, is Abraham.

We ‘the People of the Book,’ are called to affirm this monotheistic truth: There is no God but God!  This is another pathway to seeking common boundaries between and among us.

As a result of my interactions, connections and long conversations with Muslims and as a result of my reading Muslim scholars I am convinced that the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an did not expect Jews and Christians to give up their religion and to become Muslims unless they freely chose to do so.  The request was to observe God’s continuous care for all humankind.

I find it interesting and hopeful that the original request that the Qur’an made of Jews and Christians was simply to accept that we are here to care for all humankind and to accept Muhammad as a Prophet and Islam as an authentic religion and to do this without giving up our own faith.

For many ‘People of the Book’ this is another pathway to finding common ground/boundary with one another.  Sadly, for me at least, there are those in all three faith traditions who are threatened by even considering these two ideas.

I will close with this verse from the Qur’an (this verse occurs twice in exactly the same way – Q. 2:62; 5:69):

‘Surely those who have faith, those who are Jews and those who are Christians, and the Sabeans, whoever, has faith in God, and the last day, and does good works, will have his reward with his Lord.  No fear shall come upon them, nor will they grieve.’

 

 

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A TEACHING STORY. . .

Gentle reader, you might remember that I love ‘Teaching Stories’; some call them parables.  This morning I was looking through some papers searching for a poem and found, instead, the following teaching story.

I invite you, gentle reader, to take some time and reflect upon this story and see what emerges into your consciousness – a question, a feeling, an observation, an insight.  Then, to note what emerges, to hold what emerges and perhaps to savor what emerges.

I also invite you to image yourself as the ‘fish pond’ that others throw stones into.  As a result of the stones being tossed into you – the pond – what are the ripples that have moved out into your life, into your world?

Here is the story:

 Cherokee Teaching Story

My grandfather took me to the fish pond on the farm
when I was about seven.  He told me to throw a stone
into the water.

He told me to watch the circles created by the stone.
We watched the circles grow and touch all of the pond
and the banks of the pond.

My grandfather then asked me to think of myself as
that stone-person.

‘You may create lots of splashes in your life, but the waves
that come from those splashes will disturb the peace of all
your fellow creatures,’ he said.

‘Remember that you are responsible for what you put in
your circle and that circle will also touch many other
circles.  You will need to live in a way that allows the
good that comes from your circle to send the peace of
that goodness to others.  The splash that comes from
anger or jealousy will send those feelings to other
circles.  You are responsible for both.’

That was the first time I realized that each person creates
the inner peace or discord that flows out into the world.
We cannot create world peace if we are riddled with inner
conflict, hatred, doubt, or anger.  We radiate the feelings
and thoughts that we hold inside, whether we speak them
or not.  Whatever is splashing around inside of us is
spilling out into the world, creating beauty or discord with
all other circles of life.

Remember the eternal wisdom: ‘Whatever you focus
on expands!’                           –Attributed to: Jamie Sams

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To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength. –Criss Jami

Among other things, a leader is charged to hold in trust those who freely choose to follow. Given this, a leader is called to be committed to the ‘growth’ of all of those who freely choose to follow.  The leader is also called to be committed to the ‘growth’ of trusting relationships – whether it be the relationship between the leader and a direct report, or it be a team, or a department, etc.  The leader is also called to be committed to the ‘growth’ of the organization – an organization is simply individuals and relationships writ large.  The leader is also called to be committed to his or her own ‘growth.’  The growth of the others is rooted in and depends upon this final ‘commitment to growth’ – which, makes it the first commitment.

Growth requires one to be vulnerable.  Among other things, in order to grow it is crucial that a leader acknowledge his or her imperfections, limitations and growing edges as well as acknowledging his or her strengths. ‘

Embracing this commitment requires the leader to trust that the vast majority of the led will not purposefully take advantage of the leader’s being vulnerable.  We also know that there is always a few of the led who will take advantage and this brings us back to the concept of the leader carrying the wound-hurt-pain gracefully.

If a leader can remember that each person who chooses to follow is also vulnerable.  Each person also lives a story that involves joys, sorrows, wounds received and wounds delivered – each person is truly a fully human being.  Being vulnerable also means Being Accepting – taking the risk to accept both one’s self and the other(s) as fully human beings (think: imperfect human beings).

Finally, being vulnerable means that one is willing to take a stand: speak his or her truth, hold self and the other(s) accountable; support the unsupported.  Consider the following ‘Five Most Difficult Things for a Leader to Do’:

  • Return Love for Hate
  • Include the Excluded
  • Admitting that “I” am wrong – seek forgiveness
  • Offer Forgiveness – seek healing [for self and for the other]
  • Be Vulnerable

As Leslie Perlow noted: ‘It is important to recognize the cost of not speaking up.’  Your silence can – often does – compromise your integrity.  Your silence can – often does – undermine the very relationships you need in order to be a leader rooted in integrity.  Your silence will also help guaranteed the silence of the other(s) – the other(s) will not speak up at the very times it is crucial for them to do so.

This is the unresolved question: Where do I belong?  And what price do I pay for where I choose to stand? –Diana Trilling

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Simply saying, ‘I was wrong,’ and meaning it, embracing it, is an expression of vulnerability. –James Autry

 A question I hold and a question I invite you, gentle reader, to hold is: How gracefully do I carry my wounds?  As I noted in PART I, leaders (by situation or by role) are called to learn to carry their wounds, their pain, their hurt, gracefully.  They will choose – remember gentle reader, we have choice – not to inflict a wound in response to their own inflicted-wounds (as imperfect human beings we will, at times, choose to inflict a wound in response to our being wounded).  These leaders will choose not to be spite-full or revenge-full.  They will choose not to hold a grudge.  They will choose not to use their power or authority to punish the wound-deliverer.

Leaders who choose to carry their wounds gracefully also experience, over time, that others will also choose to learn to carry their wounds gracefully.  They will also choose to learn to respond in ‘grace-full’ ways when they are wounded.

Being vulnerable also means that you, the leader, are able to recognize, name, admit and accept your mistakes.  I am recalling the young leader who in the early 1950s made a mistake that cost the organization millions of dollars.  The young leader recognized, named, admitted, and accepted his mistake.  The CEO’s response was this: ‘Mr. B., I just spent millions of dollars educating you.  I want to know what you learned.  I also want you to know that I will fire you if you ever come close to making this type of mistake again AND I will also fire you if you stop taking risks.  Now get out there and do your job.’  This young leader, 30 years later, became the CEO/President of this company and guided it through its most challenging ‘wounding.’

Being vulnerable also means that the leader takes the risk to say, ‘I don’t know.’  Anyone who has been in the designated leader role as a consequence of his or her skill, ability and competence knows how difficult it is to even consider uttering these words – especially if he or she is ‘expected’ to know.

Being vulnerable also means that the role-defined leader will surround him or herself with folks that ‘know more than they do.’  This involves, but is not limited to, ‘hiring-up’ rather than ‘hiring-down.’  The number of leaders (executives, managers, team leaders, etc.) that ‘hire-down’ continues to be staggering.  This ‘hiring-up’ also pertains to promotions.  How many role-defined leaders chose not to promote those who are more ‘competent’ and hence might well become a ‘threat’ to the leader?

Does your philosophy of leadership include a commitment to the growth of those who freely choose to follow you?  If so, consider what types of growth are you willing to embrace?  Consider the following five dimensions of growth – which ones are you, the leader, committed to helping others develop or develop more fully: Physical Dimension, Intellectual Dimension, Emotional Dimension, Spirit(ual) Dimension, and Social-Relational Dimension.

Consider, gentle reader, that the more we consciously develop these five dimensions in ourselves the more likely we are to support their development in those who freely choose to follow us.

As leaders are we willing to serve those who freely choose to follow us so that they have the opportunity to grow in these ways?

Do those served grow… –Robert K. Greenleaf

 

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