Knowing Who You Are
It is important at least to tell from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are—even if we tell it only to ourselves—because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about and what being human is all about. Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell.
Living the spiritual life is being spiritual in every situation in which we find ourselves. For example, if you come home tired and you don’t feel like cooking, and you suggest to your spouse that you go out to eat and your spouse doesn’t think you should spend the money, what is your reaction? Do you sulk, pout, fix dinner angrily, and become silent during dinner? Your immediate reaction is the barometer of your spiritual life. What if you’re at work trying to meet a deadline, feeling pressured, stressed, and somewhat put upon, and your boss brings in a new project that is important and asks that you begin working on it today. What is your response? Do you smile sweetly and feel anger rising in your throat or lower back? Do you begin a litany of the things that you are already involved in that are taking time and energy and that you just can’t do one more thing without falling apart?
Your immediate reaction is the barometer of your spiritual life. You can begin the journey of holiness by examining your reactions and attitudes to the daily doses of life you are given, for if you cannot find your spirituality there, it is unlikely you would find it if you were free of all responsibilities and had the luxury of thinking of no one but yourself and God. It is the day to day, the minute to minute, the joy and the sorrow, the bitter and the sweet that is the training ground for holiness. So pay attention to your life.
… If I am to let my life speak things I want to hear, things I would gladly tell others, I must also let it speak things I do not want to hear and would never tell anyone else! My life is not only about my strength and virtues; it is also about my liabilities and my limits, my trespasses and my shadow. An inevitable though often ignored dimension of the quest for “wholeness” is that we must embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of. …
Our lives are “experiments with truth” (to borrow the subtitle of Gandhi’s autobiography), and in an experiment negative results are at least as important as successes. I have no idea how I would have learned the truth about myself and my calling without the mistakes I have made.
Let Your Life Speak
The inward journey is a necessary part of healing. This process takes us deep beneath our surface awareness to places sometimes forgotten; but, nonetheless, places that inform our daily interactions and decisions. As we fill our lives with things we deem important, we often are pushed and pulled away from a primary relationship with God. Our self-reflection allows us to find our way back to God. This journey provides us with the opportunity of turning away from external distractions and turning towards an expectant God.
There's something about the very process of growing up that wounds us. We all grow up wounded. Our sense of separation increases through our adolescence as we continue to internalize all of these messages that we get from our culture about who we are and what we ought to be like.
Our sense of being a separated self with an identity conferred primarily by the identity-conferring values of culture grows and grows. I have a sense of being okay or not okay to the extent that I measure up to these messages, and we fall further into that world of separation and alienation, of comparison and judgment, of self and others.
The result is what the contemporary Benedictine teacher Thomas Keating calls
"the false self," the self conferred by culture. Our identity is wrapped up in
that false self. …
[The] Greek word for repentance that we find in the gospels in the New Testament [is] metanoia or the verb metanoiata.
In terms of its Greek roots, to repent means "to go beyond the mind that you have," and the mind that you have gotten from culture. From all of those messages, the identity you have is one that you've gotten from culture. To repent means to go beyond the mind that you have to a mind in Christ.
The meaning of the Hebrew word for repentance is very rich. It's shoo-vog, and the home of this word in the Hebrew Bible is the Jewish experience of exile. To repent is to return. That's the meaning of the word. To return from exile, to return from that state of separation, to begin that journey of return from the separated self to a new self in God.
Listening for the Voice of God
Peace is a Benedictine value, and we need it now. Benedictine spirituality is a spirituality consciously designed to disarm the heart, to soften the soul, to quiet the turmoil within. It is a vision of nonviolence in a world for which violence is the air we breathe, the songs we sing, in our national anthems, the heroes we worship, and the business we do. … Be soft with others, the [Benedictine] Rule teaches, and you will have peace. Be simple in your needs, and you will have peace. Be humble in what you demand of life, and you will have peace. Be giving in what you take to life, and you will have peace. Refuse to make war on the innocent others in order to vanquish your political enemies, and you will have peace. And stop the wars within yourself, and you will have peace. Peace comes from not allowing any part of us to control the better rest of us. Peace depends on our being gentle with ourselves, gentle with the earth, and gentle with the other.
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003
Place for Reflection
Every major religion has some form of spiritual practice of attention or mindfulness. Whether it is meditation or simple awareness, spiritual depth occurs when there is focus and singularity. The number of possessions that we have, the amount of material goods that fill our lives, the clutter that seems to gather all around our living areas crowd out attention and focus. Our minds, thoughts, energies are dispersed in myriad directions, and in the cacophony of competing claims on us, we cannot seem to find our center, our sense of clarity, our touch with the sacred, our experience of God. One way to begin to reclaim that holy core that exists within us is to create a simple space within your own home where what is divine may be drawn out. You can begin the process yourself by trying the following exercise:
1. Choose an area of your home that you find particularly attractive or peaceful. It might be a room, or a corner in a room. It might be a closet or a stairwell. It might be windowless or flooded with light. The size of the space is not important.
2. Begin to clear out that space until it is completely empty of everything.
3. Bring a chair or a sitting pillow into the room and sit for several minutes, feeling the emptiness of the space.
4. Be attentive to the images and impressions that float across your mind. What do you feel is missing in the space? What does the space seem to 'want'? If you were going to meet God in this space, what would you want it to look like?
5. Record in a journal your thoughts and ideas.
6. Begin to bring items into the space one at a time. You might bring such things as a candle, a favorite rock, an icon, a cross, a vase of fresh flowers, a beautifully woven blanket, a holy book, a beautiful piece of glass, a table, etc. Avoid bringing in several items at once because it is much too easy to begin to "fill" the space rather than "draw out" from the space.
7. Again, sit in your space being mindful of the change in the space as each item is added. If you feel you have put in too much, take out items one by one just as you put them in. You will know when you have just enough—the space will feel hallowed.
8. When it is "just right," take off your shoes, enter the space, and offer it and yourself to the God who is One.
9. You will find that you do not have to force yourself to go into your sacred space. The space and the Spirit in the space will call you from the busyness of your life into that inner stillness where hope and holiness meet.