Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Thoughtful Pause

My quote from Viktor Frankl in last week’s post about our very human desire to leave “an immortal ‘footprint in the sands of time’’ made me remember a poignant archeological find. Fossilized footprints of several human-like ancestors crossing volcanic ash millions of years ago were discovered in Africa.  As archaeologist and anthropologist Mary Leakey described her discovery, at one point only the female paused and briefly turned, as if to gaze in another direction—at a scenic vista? Looking back toward home? The road not taken? Toward an ominous sound? Then the footsteps continue on an otherwise straightforward path. Leakey concluded, “This motion, so intensely human, transcends time.”

I was deeply moved to think that her momentary pause was recorded in the sediment of ground for all time, now known by people like me she would never know or even imagine but whose imaginations are captivated by her mysterious turn. Was hers an “ah-hah” moment, a sentimental reflection of things past, a vision of another possibility, or simply a cautionary glance? 

The image is an icon, the story is a parable, a Zen story or koan whose inscrutability is the very thing that attracts me, causing my own thoughtful pause, stilling what Buddhists call my “monkey mind.” 

In the preface to my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, written for spiritual seekers rather than a particular faith group, I write of “the thoughtful pause.” I mention poets as “secular mystics” whose choice of words and cadences, like scripture, require a thoughtful pause after each phrase or line to allow seeds of comprehension to germinate. For me, the thoughtful pause is the food of the spiritual life. 

Lord knows we need thoughtful pauses, bombarded as we are continually by IMs, texts, tweets, e-mails, news, spam, ads, pop-ups, radio, TV, cell phones, iPads, iPhones, iTunes, honking horns, rumbling condenser units, sirens, overhead planes, police helicopters, and shrill beeps telling us our food is ready, the dryer is done, our time is up! I could go on Walt Whitman-like with several pages of things that vie for our attention, but you get the idea. 

To take a moment to turn, to gaze, to think, to contemplate, to reflect, to really see—is almost countercultural. Yet that’s a purpose of the contemplative life. During workshops I encourage what I call “monastic moments” for people to turn inward to consult themselves, their stories, their heart before engaging in dialogue. Otherwise, too often, someone else will speak up before others can formulate their own thoughts, their own answers. 

Jesus often searched out a lonely place to pray. If he needed to do so, given his apparently natural affinity for the sacred as well as the relative quiet of first century Palestine, think how much more we need to find such places!? And he said, “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door…” The room implied is a pantry, at the center of a house, with no windows—in modern terms, no distractions, no Windows (sorry, I couldn’t resist). 

My youthful prayers were filled with words. Now my prayers are filled with silences. I need the silence to offset the noise of my life, to (in the words of technology) re-set, re-boot, refresh. 

The woman who turned so long ago reminds me of all the saints whose thoughtful pauses gave rise to insights passed down to us. And she reminds me what I also need.

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations to this ministry are welcome! 


Gay and bisexual Christian men are invited to join Chris Glaser and David Mellott as they lead a retreat on “Claiming the Blessings! (Despite the Burdens)” Oct. 4-7, 2012, on the scenic grounds of Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Pennsylvania. 

Readers of this blog are invited to check out the new content on Chris Glaser’s homepage.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Has Been

Not long ago I enjoyed a phone conversation with my brother in which we discussed looking back at our lives from the perspective of age, both being in our 60s. We laughed about our “tired gene” which has mellowed us, as well as made us less gung-ho to initiate major new life projects.  And we talked about what big dreams we had when young.  

What precipitated our talk was my volunteering with a task group of alumni from Yale Divinity School shaping our 35th “cluster reunion” (classes of ’76-’78) this October. I mentioned that one of the young reps from the alumni association working with us had suggested we might want to talk about how we are “winding down” our ministries and other careers. I caught a whiff of denial, perhaps, as one of my former classmates quickly countered we might not be winding down at all, but preparing for our “next big thing.” I told my brother that I kind of felt like I was winding down—working just as hard, mind you, but with no great expectations as in younger days.  

Propinquity would have it—maybe even grace—that a writer detailing the LGBT movement within mainstream Protestant U.S. churches asked me at this time to be among those reviewing the manuscript for accuracy. I am grateful to be remembered for the various roles I played as an activist helping LGBT people claim our memberships, ministries, and marriages within the church and culture.  And to know that we are at least on our way to complete success. Career-wise for me (he said wistfully) I just wish it had come a little sooner. 

As I encourage former classmates to come to the reunion, I am learning what high achievers they have been in their various vocations, denominations, non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and humanitarian causes. They have worked hard applying what they learned in seminary to the world. Jesus would be proud. 

As those who follow this blog know, I was also reading Viktor Frankl’s epic Man’s Search for Meaning during this time. I can’t help but chuckle at my choice of texts at a time when “man’s search for his glasses” might be more pertinent! But Frankl, a concentration camp survivor who founded the psychiatric school of logotherapy, remarks on our desire to leave “an immortal ‘footprint in the sands of time’”: 

Usually, to be sure, man considers only the stubble field of transitoriness and overlooks the full granaries of the past, wherein he had salvaged once and for all his deeds, his joys and also his sufferings. Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with. I should say having been is the surest kind of being. 

And, instead of envying the future of the young, Frankl says the old instead may affirm: 

“Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the thing of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

Having been is the surest kind of being.” We can be proud of work done, love loved, joys welcomed, sufferings endured. Being a “has been” doesn’t sound so bad, does it? 

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite, Donations welcome! 

For a related post, check out “I Wanted to Be Famous!” (June 1, 2011) on this blog.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A God of Sensations

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations to this ministry are welcome! 

Most communication around God and the life of the spirit is visual or auditory. Cathedrals were built and artwork painted and sculpted to visually inspire awe and reverence. Biblical writers, preachers, theologians, teachers, and contemplatives have used words as bread crumbs leading to spiritual paths and insights. 

But there is another way I believe God and spirit may be experienced: kinesthetically. It is primal and prerational, our first encounter with something beyond ourselves. It begins in our mother’s womb, immersed in embryonic fluids, nourished and protected by our mother’s flesh. We feel the pulsing of her heart. On a men’s retreat, I heard the Franciscan Richard Rohr speculate that men’s love of drumming may come from that early memory of our mother’s heartbeat.  

I hope it’s not just me that takes pleasure in idiosyncratic kinesthetic experiences. It will date me, but as a child I took pleasure sitting in the car, enjoying its gentle rocking motion as a service station attendant wiped the windows clean. Before I could do it for myself, it made me feel good to have someone tie my shoes. And I loved going to the barber, with his gentle touching and trimming. 

A source of humor for my partners and friends, as a child and as an adult, I enjoy the vibration of someone vacuuming. I used to follow whoever performed this task from room to room for the kinesthetic pleasure of it. It’s not the same when I do it myself, so it must have something to do with the feeling of being taken care of.  

And being held, in a mother’s lap or a loved one’s arms, is best of all.  

What prompts this reverie?  For weeks now, painters have been pressure-washing and painting our complex, and today is our turn. We have a friendly relationship, though my Spanish is as wanting as their English. Despite my reliance on verbal communication as a writer and speaker, reader and listener, just their presence is enough for me to feel cared for. 

And that’s true also of my experience of God. Though I read and pray, the good feelings come when I sit in silence, in contemplation, enjoying an intuitional feeling of being surrounded by God’s presence. I wonder now if that’s what Henri Bergson, the earliest process theologian I read in college, meant when he wrote that intuition is as necessary as reason. Intuition may also be primal and pre-rational. No doubt science can explain it, possibly through genes or neural patterns or evolutionary biology. But there’s also no doubt we can enjoy it. 

Many search for a sensational and supernatural God, an overwhelming, intervening, and transforming God of drama and spectacle. Jesus noted that desire when he resisted those looking for signs and wonders, instead welcoming and healing souls most often with his gentle touch.  

I enjoy a God of gentle sensations: a breeze on the hairs of my neck, the warmth of a loved one, the caress of the water as I swim, the sensuality of my sweat as I run. I believe that God’s gentle touch is built into our natural world.  


Chris will be co-leading a retreat for gay and bisexual Christian men at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center, Thursday dinner Oct. 4 through lunch on Sunday Oct. 7, 2012, in Pennsylvania, open to the public. We will consider the “good things” of our religious traditions that help us thrive.

Check out my latest Huffington Post article: "That's What I Want in a Church!"


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Blessed Are the Job-Creators..."

Copyright ©2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations to this ministry are welcome!

More enervated than inspired by this year’s campaign season, I thought of writing a parody of Jesus’ Beatitudes (you know, “Blessed are the job-creators…”) or maybe collect Jesus’ sayings about the way things are and the way things should be and place them in contemporary U.S. contexts (such as the parable of the laborers in the vineyard whose time cards differed but whose pay was the same).

But the problem with parody is it’s likely simply to antagonize, and contemporizing Jesus’ sayings might bring heated debates why I chose this example rather than that example. And rage and contentiousness bring, as they say, more heat than light—in other words, more of what we have now.

Then, intending to open my Bible to the gospels, it accidentally fell open to Psalm 37. Reading it really helped me, and I had a strong desire to simply use it as my post today. I encourage you to read it all, but here are tantalizing excerpts that might offer much-needed equanimity for the weeks ahead:

Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

God will make your vindication shine like the light,
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.

Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for God…
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.

The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to kill those who walk uprightly;
their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.

I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
            or their children begging bread.
They are ever giving liberally and lending,
and their children become a blessing.

I do wish Christians—progressive and otherwise—would read the Bible more. I wish prejudiced Christians would read beyond the few verses by which they exclude others to the many texts that welcome the most vulnerable. And I wish they believed more of the Bible than the part that saves only them.

If you read the sayings and parables of Jesus, you will know who and what I am voting for.