17 Feb From Head to Heart
For the past four years, a group of daring souls have been meeting on Wednesday nights to explore a contemplative form of Christianity. We have used patterns for gathering based on the wisdom teachings of Cynthia Bourgeault and The Living School of the Center for Action and Contemplation. One of the challenges for me has been to let go of my desire to control our time or to explain everything that we are exploring. All of us have had to learn how to trust each other and God, and to let go of our usual self-concern with how we appear to each other. In most of our meetings, we have time for singing a few spiritual chants. We sit in silence for twenty minutes, using a form of Christian meditation called Centering Prayer. We have examined various spiritual texts and used certain guidelines for conversation to keep us from falling into our usual defense mechanisms for avoiding the discomforts which come with greater depth of sharing and listening. Especially, when we began these gatherings, I would find myself anxiously wondering how people were feeling, being together in this new and more vulnerable way.
Currently, we are exploring The Rule of Benedict, using a daily commentary by Joan Chittister. I put together some of Joan’s insights for our consideration. At times, we break into pairs. We also listen and speak in the circle of the whole group. Sometimes we sit with a reflection in silence, individually. We space everything with periods of silence.
Last night, we were opening ourselves to reflection on the Benedictine teaching on humility. The longest chapter in The Rule of Benedict is this one on humility. Many of the quotes from Chittister’s commentary that we used were on the call to surrender our will to God’s. Some of the questions we pursued had to do with how to distinguish our wills from God’s, how to cope with God’s will when it seems not to be what we want. Our collective exploration seemed filled with vulnerability. Most of us remember times when we were sure of God’s will for us, only to discover later that what we thought would lead us to “happily ever after” in reality led to heartbreak. That doesn’t mean that God wasn’t in the journey. Sometimes, letting go of “happily ever after” is part of our deeper movement toward God. Many of us are still experiencing realities in our lives which are challenging us to our core. Embracing suffering or disappointment as part of God’s inscrutable will is no easy task. Others have been on the receiving end of abusive religious advice about accepting things as God’s will, when what they really needed to start their journey toward healing was love and compassionate understanding of their suffering.
Our time together last night was not easy, but it was filled with beauty and inspiration. It is humbling to be in the presence of others who are leaning into their life’s work deeply and humanly. The wisdom and the desire in the room for growth and truth was beautiful. It felt holy, but it didn’t feel easy or comfortable. And sure enough, today life has given me the opportunity to practice once again a wrestling with the tension between my will and God’s. Life doesn’t always go the way we want, and the opportunity before me is to decide to resist and complain, or to be with what is in front of me, with a willing acceptance and trust.
Most weeks, we end and exit our meetings in silence. We acknowledge that there might be legitimate need for people to connect about something and allow quiet conversation after we leave the common room. But the idea is to allow each of us to be with the mystery of our lives and God’s presence in them in all of their challenge and uncertainty. At least as we exit, I think, we don’t feel alone. There are others who wrestle with the same limitations and realities as we do. We are not alone in our questions and vulnerabilities. And, sometimes, we sense in our midst a deeper presence and loving wisdom which somehow holds us in all of our incompleteness.
Understandably, churches have chosen to stay in our heads when we come together. It seems safer to do so, not nearly so vulnerable as opening our hearts. But merely thinking about God doesn’t get us to God, just as merely thinking about love never gets us to it. I don’t think that any of us left last night feeling like we had it all together and all figured out. Yet, it felt like we sensed that a greater life was living in and through us, that maybe our challenges, though no more manageable, were somehow more bearable. I think that we sensed a deeper connection with each other and with God, and for the moment, that was enough.