Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Word Magic

The morning that I write this, I woke early thinking of how I would shape my talk on Henri Nouwen in Seattle this coming Friday. Some of my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Then it occurred to me that a friend, J. Marshall Jenkins, and the Dalai Lama were downstairs awaiting me for morning prayers. As I sometimes do, I got up at 5 a.m. to enjoy an entire hour alone with them, my thoughts, and hopefully with God. With coffee, of course.

It pleasantly reminded me of my visits to Mt. Calvary Retreat House in Santa Barbara, arising in the darkness, picking up a cup of coffee in the coffee room, and finding a nook or cranny or outside space to think, read, or pray—a memory reinforced when our dog came downstairs and I took her out for her morning necessaries and I saw a bright full moon and a handful of visible planets and stars—a contrast to the abundance of planets and stars in the night sky over Santa Barbara, but wondrous nonetheless. I picked up The New York Times in our driveway, remembering today was Science day, being a Tuesday, with its special science section.

And I realized my thrill—no doubt partly induced by my half-decaf coffee—was due to the magic of words. Thinking of Nouwen’s words and how my words might characterize them; anticipating Marshall’s words in his book, A Wakeful Faith: Spiritual Practice in the Real World, with which I’ve been doing a kind of lectio divina for a number of weeks, and my newly acquired book by his holiness the Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, experiencing both challenges and agreement in each; looking forward to reading the morning paper; and finally, eager to sit here writing this post and soon my Nouwen lecture.

I was so giddy by the time I concluded with the Lord’s prayer, I could hardly contain myself!  Those of you who are not morning people may be rolling your eyes right now, and believe me, I do restrain myself when Wade comes down for breakfast before going off to the office.

As if to sober me up, I happened onto a review of a novel by Bruce Wagner, who last year wrote of the “depravity” of Los Angeles in Dead Stars, and now apparently finds among “Buddhists, gurus and spiritual pilgrims” similar “narcissism, self-aggrandizement and the ravenous appetite for fame and renown” in The Empty Chair.

I gave myself up to a moment of self-doubt about why I write this blog, and in my younger years, this might have stopped me cold. But older, I have realized that everything we/I do is prompted partly by ego—how we view ourselves and how we think other people view us—and our need to be heard. In fact, one entry in psychologist and pastoral counselor Marshall Jenkins’s book confirms this: “What we think others think of us—or what we think they would think of us if they really knew us—shapes our self-concept.”

Too many of us are derailed by the snarky and sometimes jealous comments of others, those Henri Nouwen describes as trying to hook you in your wounds “to dismiss what God, through you, is saying to them.”

For me, the magic of words is that they engage me in a community of many voices, some uplifting and affirming, some challenging and humbling, even when I am alone.

Related post:

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  1. Thanks, Chris. words do have so much power these days. I guess,always. I try to imagine if i had to convey everything i thought important without words. What you said about what others think hit me hard cuz they can be a tyranny to me due to the expectations i infer from them. Sure makes me think about the words i use. Meditation times are vital. And thanks for the reference to Dali Lama's book. My brother is trying to make sense of convergence of science and spirituality. He so wants or needs spirituality to be something he can prove and show proofs like science. ah. we are all on journey. I arrived at journey early on thanks to you know what.

  2. Very nice reflection that resonates very strongly with me. As you will note, I've cited it on my Facebook page along with Richard Rohr's meditation for today.