Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The God of Anticipation

“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life,” Simone Weil famously said, a quote I have used several times in my writings. But I wonder if she would be satisfied with this translation. In her “Spiritual Autobiography,” a letter to a Roman Catholic priest, she declares that the Greek word for “steadfastness” is “more beautiful” than the Latin word for patience, derived from the word for suffering. And one of my favorite biblical descriptions of God highlights his/her/their “steadfast love.”

Perhaps “waiting steadfast* in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life” is a better rendering of her insight. “Steadfast in expectation” sounds like “anticipation” to me.

I stretch this quote because of an “aha” I’ve recently experienced. God is a God of anticipation for me right now—anticipation of the end of the pandemic, but also anticipation of the end of my life.

We see this God of anticipation in our biblical tradition.

“I will be what I will be,” Moses hears from the blazing wilderness shrub as Yahweh commissions him to deliver a message to Pharaoh to “let my people go.”

“Behold I am doing a new thing,” Yahweh says through Isaiah.

“Follow me,” Jesus invited.

“I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided into all the truth,” Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper. “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there you may be also.”

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth,” Jesus said in his final parting.

“I saw a new heaven and a new earth,” the mystic John testified of God’s future. “See, the home of God is among mortals.”

The kingdom or commonwealth of God is even now revealing itself to us. I witness a parallel in the Tao of Taoism and the “thin places” between heaven and earth in Celtic spirituality.

Recently I was quite taken with an ending of a prayer of an MCC pastor and leader that went something like this, “in the names of how you have been experienced in the past and the names of how you will be experienced in the future.”

Anticipation lifts us up. Etty Hillesum, who died at Auschwitz, wrote in her diary that she thought of God as her best self. My own experience is that simply the thought of God lifts me to my better self.

Undoubtedly a spin from my Process theology view—as I reflect on the universe, I see a process that anticipates life, that anticipates sentient beings who make the universe aware of its very existence, how it came to be, its possible meanings, as well as its hope for deliverance from its own destructive elements, whether viral as in a pandemic, or human when we disregard one another and our environment.

That process is how I am thinking of God in these difficult days.

*I chose not to use the seemingly more appropriate word “steadfastly” because it applies to the following phrase “in expectation” rather than the previous word “waiting.”

Recent posts that offer hope during our pandemic:

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Reformation of My Heart

Our friends and
neighbors Cathie
and CJ's hearts.

Like last week’s post, this entry from my book reflecting on the spiritual writings of Henri J. M. Nouwen might help us cope with the worldwide pandemic.

It makes no sense to preach the Gospel when I have allowed no time for my own conversion. –Henri Nouwen, The Primacy of the Heart, p 4.

Recently, during a retreat, someone described himself as a “square peg trying to fit into a round hole,” a metaphor with which many participants identified. But one retreatant who worked at a nineteenth-century historical site pointed out something new to us. In constructing a wooden building of that time, he explained, you wouldn’t want a round peg in a round hole because it could expand or contract, depending on temperature and moisture. It was actually better to have a square peg in a round hole to maintain the grip between the pieces.

In trying to fit into monastic life, Henri was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. He was an extrovert with an introvert’s calling. But the monastic life had a grip on him even if it wasn’t a complete or comfortable fit. This might also be your experience. Not all of us fit a monastic life, but maybe that’s all the better for its firm grip upon us. We are all called to monastic reflection, that is, moments we set aside for contemplation. If we can do this daily, we are all the more blessed.

Retreats are how we are most likely to fit the monastic way of life into our busy lives. It is there we may listen to sacred texts and to one another in new ways, as well as listen to our own hearts, our own centers, and to the God of our hearts. Unprovidentially, many of us want our retreats as full and busy as our everyday lives, and we anticipate a schedule of uplifting, stimulating talks, or we bring many books to read or plan many tasks to accomplish. But we need to find idle time lest we be distracted by time-bound idols.

In a previous book, Reformation of the Heart, I described two insights offered by participants in two different Henri Nouwen retreats I led the year following his death, one at Kirkridge in Pennsylvania and the other at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. At Kirkridge, a physical therapist explained that a wound has to heal from the inside out. At Ghost Ranch, a ceramic artist told us that, in spinning a pot, the shape of the inside determines the shape of the outside. So it is with the human heart. Our wounded hearts must heal from the inside out. And the gospel we proclaim is shaped by how we allow the good news of God’s love to shape our own hearts.

The truth is, however, that healing and love occur in the everyday events of our lives as well as on retreat or in what I call in my workshops “monastic moments,” brief opportunities to look inward. Healing and love may come to us in conversations with our friends, in caring for others, in serving a just cause, in catastrophic personal or public events, in life’s many interruptions, irritations, distractions, sorrows, and joys. Yet to have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to feel, we need moments of quiet reflection to allow those many ways in which we experience healing and love to consciously convert our hearts so that we may be healers and lovers, better proclaiming the gospel.

+Heal my heart, so I may offer healing. Love my heart, so I may love.

I invite you to register and attend an online course/retreat I will be leading in September as part of the Spirituality Program of Columbia Theological Seminary entitled,An Open Receptive Place: Henri Nouwen’s Spirituality.”

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Copyright © 2002 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Being a Good Host to Children

Our neighbor Oscar enjoys our fountain.

With schools closed during the pandemic, parents and children are spending a lot more time together, and so I thought this entry from my book, Henri’s Mantle: 100 Meditations on Nouwen’s Legacy, might be helpful.

Children carry a promise with them, a hidden treasure that has to be led into the open through education (e=out; ducere=to lead) in a hospitable home. It takes much time and patience to make the little stranger feel at home, and it is realistic to say that parents have to learn to love their children. –Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen, 56-57.

Both experience and science suggest that there is a parental inclination to nurture and protect offspring. But love is also a matter of choice. Parental love and especially maternal love is likely to want to hold on to the child; but it is the parent’s will that recognizes and values the child as an independent soul, not an extension of the parental self.

I truly wonder at my parents’ extraordinary ability in the midst of life’s demands and stresses to make my sister, brother, and me feel “at home,” as well as “to lead us out” into our own unique self-expressions. True, stereotypically, my father was more distant and my mother held on more tightly. And, like all people who love each other deeply, we wounded one another in various ways. Yet I am grateful for the comparatively safe environment my parents provided even as they worried about paying bills, the state of the world, as well as what we were up to. I don’t mean just safe from abandonment, neglect, or abuse. I mean also safe for us to cultivate identities, embrace values, and pursue goals different from their own.

With similar awe, I have watched my sister raise three sons, largely on her own, and serve as proud matriarch of an extended family that now includes three daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren—all while pursuing two different professions.

In my view, parenting is the most important task an adult may do, yet it is the one for which most receive the least training. To understand parenting as a spiritual movement, as Henri does in Reaching Out, is a beginning. He places it in the context of the movement from hostility to hospitality, transforming enemy (hostis) to guest (hospes), in this case, stranger to friend. Parents act as hosts and children as guests.

A host has not only the right but the responsibility to set the boundaries of a guest in the host’s home. We are not to welcome another with an “ambiguous presence,” Henri says. We are to be clear about who we are and what are our limits. At the same time, to be good hosts, we are to welcome the guest and the promise or gift inherent in every guest, encouraging the fulfillment of the promise they hold deep within themselves, enabling the development of the gifts every guest brings into the home. As such a movement toward hospitality, then, parenting is as delicate and vital and as fraught with danger as welcoming any guest into one’s home.

Just as we learn through experience to become good hosts in relation to other guests, we learn through experience to become good parents, uncles, and aunts. By the time I came along, I believe my parents were more experienced, relaxed, and secure in their avocation than when rearing my older siblings. And grandparents may be the most experienced of all, especially when they grasp that now their own guests, their children, are hosts in their own homes.

+Help me to be a good host to all children, welcoming their promise, encouraging their gifts, reminding them they are beloved by God.

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Copyright © 2002 and 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

We Are All First Responders

A neighbor's retaining wall.
While expressing appropriate gratitude for the work of professional first responders, it is helpful to remember we are—each and every one of us—a “first responder.” If we learn nothing else from Jesus, his life and ministry and spirituality, we are “the nearest neighbor” to our families, friends, colleagues, fellow responders, neighbors, clients, customers, service providers, as well as the numerous strangers, even “opponents” we encounter, including all those we meet through our social networks and the internet.

“Love your neighbor,” Jesus said, which may be expanded: “If you don’t love your neighbor whom you can see, how can you claim to love God whom you cannot see?” (See 1 John 4:20). When challenged as to who the neighbor might be, Jesus told the parable of a first responder, the Good Samaritan.

In this time of social distancing and sheltering in place, we might add the counsel of musician Billy Preston borrowed for lyrics by Stephen Stills, “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the ones you’re with.” That includes you, by the way.

A reader of last week’s blogpost quoting Henri Nouwen wrote me a story of Nouwen racing to teach his class at Harvard, dropping his usual ten-dollar gift in the hands of the homeless man he regularly encountered en route. That night, however, in his spiritual self examen at the close of day, he realized that, in his hurry to get to class, he had failed to take the time to look the man in the eye or call him by name.

With another reader who describes himself as a “staid old Scot,” we batted around new, safer ways to greet one another, and we came up with looking one another straight in the eyes. I suggest “namaste” as a verbal component, “the sacred in me greets the sacred in you.” I hear that is becoming more common in these days of social distancing. The traditional namaste greeting is accompanied by a slight reverential bow to the person with hands prayerfully clasped.

A folk singer friend, Don Eaton, wrote a refrain that has stayed with me for half-a-century, “I could be the best friend you ever had, but you always look down when we meet.” This is especially true in these days when people are looking down at their devices rather than regarding passers-by or paying attention to the dogs they are walking. The Netherlands has installed traffic signals in the sidewalk pavement because pedestrians are not looking up!

In my view, to really “regard” someone, something, or our environment, we need to look up, metaphorically if unable to do so literally.

Nouwen loved to play with word contrasts. We tend to react to things and people, he said, keeping them at arm’s length and simply trying to “fix” or arrange things, when we would do better to respond. Lest we become mere reactionaries, our better selves may take things and people to heart so that we are able to respond from a place deep within us. Speaking of healers (as well, we could say, of first responders like ourselves), Henri wrote:

Just as we like to reach our own destination through by-passes, we also like to offer advice, counsel and treatment to others without having really known fully the wounds that need healing. (Reaching Out, 67)

Our most important question as healers is not, “What to say or to do?” but, “How to develop enough inner space where the story can be received?” (Reaching Out, 68)

One of the most memorable things Henri said of the place of prayer in our troubling and troubled world fits our experience in the current global pandemic, “Though things may seem to be out of our hands, they should never be out of our hearts.”

Helpful posts in this pandemic:

Atlanta Beltline art.
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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.