A few years ago, I set off on a journey to the heart of Christian contemplation, both in practice and with studies. I began doing Centering Prayer, a form of meditation rooted in monasticism and the teachings of the mystics, and reading works from the mystical margins of Christian tradition—St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Theresa of Avila, Bonaventure, the Patristic fathers—and sharing all this with an international contemplative community. It’s been thrilling. The work transforms me from the inside out, and will have a profound on my writing, teaching, and living for years to come.
Because I love and trust language so much, the hardest part about these past years has been my inability to talk about what I’m learning. I put down a book or return from a symposium feeling like my internal furniture has been rearranged, but I can’t say how, or why, or what. I’m a blubbering fool. (more…)
On a good morning of writing, the words leave my head entirely and reside in my fingers. Writing is a quiet business. Once I tried to explain this to a spiritual director—the way my heart stills and the room pulses with silence—but she didn’t believe me. How can you work with words and be quiet at the same time? Surely it’s impossible. (more…)
Cancer does this: Shake you out of the status quo and drop you into a different realm, one where your everyday priorities are rearranged and suddenly small talk, the cleanliness of the house, even your job ambitions seem ridiculous. Instead you give yourself over to what really matters: Being present to one another. Doing everything possible to tend to health and well-being. Emily and I call this place of intensity Cancerland. Life-threatening illness does a marvelous job of helping you reprioritize.
But so do other things, like the death of a loved one or losing a home or experiencing trauma. The last time our country did a collective gasp and had to reprioritize was 9/11. The recent election shocked some of us into a new way of seeing the world. Our national shadows—the parts of us that fear the Other, that wants to eradicate whatever seems to threaten our wellbeing—are now out in the open. They’ve been there all along, as people of color and immigrants and trans folks have been trying to tell us. But now we’re all plunged into a new reality: Shadowland, a country where democratic processes are scorned and fear has taken the reigns. (more…)
God makes Adam and Eve, places them in the garden, and tells them not to eat from the tree of knowledge. They screw up. God kicks them out to spend their lives toiling the fields and suffering in childbirth. To this day we bear Adam’s curse—our inclination toward evil.
Or at least that’s the story most of us know, and rebel against accordingly. At the Re-Imagining, the feminist theological revival that happened in the nineties, women proudly chomped on apples as a symbol of their willful embrace of knowledge. Liberal Christians reject the doctrine of original sin, replacing it with Matthew Fox’s “original blessing.” All of us Christians struggle to overcome millennia of unnecessary shame about human nakedness. There’s even a movement to reinstate the good reputation of snakes. (more…)
Your primary job as an artist is to seduce other people into paying attention. You are not creating anything new; you are re-creating what already exists so that people will recognize it and deal with it. You describe activities and name states of being so that the people who witness your work will have a fuller vocabulary for their own life. You help people see what has been in front of them all along. You help them remember what has been buried so deep that they couldn’t find it on their own. You enable them to see themselves a little more clearly. –Vintia Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story
During 2016 I arrived at surprising clarity about my spiritual path: I’m a contemplative, albeit one who walks her daughter to school in the morning, struggles with a perpetually cluttered house, and writes as my primary practice. To contemplate is to stand in the temple. The world with its dirty socks and hidden cruelties and winter sunrises is my temple. I stand in it when I pay attention. (more…)