This is actually part two of "More Love...and Some Civility," that I published on 1/18/13. I have surrendered to (and thus become more comfortable with) the reality that I am an intuitive writer. I have always thought in pictures and symbols first and "translated" them into words...either to be spoken or written. It made creating published material (like sermons and teaching sessions) difficult for mass consumption. I don't have the usual "sermon library" that clergy seem to collect over the decades of doing that work. The largest body of written material is contained in this blog site...dating from 2009 (and newsletter articles, and a few articles for professional publications. I also wrote a devotional commentary on 1,2,3 John and Jude in 1985...which is out of publication).
I originally had the idea for the first part of this after a long contemplative session early last week (week of 1/14/13). I did some research to act as a pivot for what I wrote on 1/18. I haven't gotten to that part yet. Not sure what today will bring, because, while I did contemplative prayer time early this morning, the imagery shifted. So, in essence, what you will be reading is what I have "seen" and now assembling in words. It took me walking our dog a ways to get this "firmed up." Duchess (our 15 yr. old Schnoodle) is a great assistant to me in this regard. Onward....
I have been practicing forms of contemplative prayer for about 40 years. I say "forms," because contemplative prayer mentors have a variety of methods for getting into the center of being. My three most influential teachers in this prayer form have been Arthur Micheal Ramsey, Fr. Tom Schultz, and Thomas Merton. I literally walked with Archbishop Ramsey during the three years I was doing graduate studies at Nashotah House Theological Seminary...one of the Episcopal Church's now 10 seminaries. I literally walked and sat with Fr. Thom Schultz, a monk of the Order of the Holy Cross (OHC)...one of the Episcopal Church's monastic orders. I almost entered that Order as a novice in the early 1980s...then met Denise, my now wife of 31 years. My mentor for that vocation, the late Lincoln Taylor, OHC, only smiled and said, "this does not surprise me," when I announced that love was in the air. I never met Thomas Merton. He died tragically in Bangkok, Thailand in 1968...the year I graduated from high school. I have read everything he ever wrote and almost everything written by those who did walk with him...including Henri Nouwen.
Contemplative Prayer is not easy and requires both discipline and commitment. What I found in parish ministry was not fertile ground to support contemplative life. As I say what I am about to say, please know that I love the Episcopal Church. I was born into it, raised in it and truly love being a priest in this part of the Body of Christ. However, this is part of my imagery from early this morning and hard to say. The Episcopal Church, on a parish level, is very good at stoning its prophets and spiritually killing its priests. The ground of parish ministry is fraught with land mines. I stepped on more than one in the 33 years I did that work. It does not easily support or tolerate what emerges from deep prayer into the life of the faith community. Most clergy survive by become "company folks...towing a party line of sorts. True story: In one of my parishes (not the one I retired from, btw), I had stepped away from my office to spend some time in the church to collect my thoughts and pray the office of Matins. While absent (a space of about 30 minutes total), my secretary received a call from a parishioner asking to speak with me. When told that I was in the church for a time of prayer and would call him back upon return to the office, the parishioner became irate and sputtered (as my secretary told it), "Dammit, we don't pay him to spend time in church praying! Go get him! I'm a busy man!" She did not, and he then got busy on the phone drumming up some instant hate. Ultimately, nothing came of it. No, it was not an emergency (for which I always had standing orders to interrupt me). He wanted to talk about a maintenance issue.
While that story is an intense sample and does not often happen, it is characteristic of what we call "parish ministry" in this era of societal life. I did alter my discipline of prayer, and I paid a hefty price for the loss of the most important piece of what brought me into ordained life (see my posting of 1/2/13 to learn of my life as "a total asshole"). Again, I love being a priest, and truly did answer a call and claim on my life by Jesus. I wouldn't change that journey. I certainly would like to see the Church be what Jesus intended for it rather than what it has become. That is another story for whenever.
My contemplative modality includes using tonal music as a background for creating a sensory environment conducive to "letting go." Here is where science and spirituality have a convergence. Planetary movement does have a sound frequency. I learned this from reading several physics books over the years that deal with quantum mechanics and astro-physics (uh, it's kind of a hobby...don't ask). I further learned by hearing the "sound of our planet" at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. When we took our daughters on a history vacation in 1997, three days at the Smithonian museums was part of that adventure. The Air and Space Museum had a room that showed a number of ongoing measurements of planetary movement...including the sound that earth makes as it rotates and moves on it's revolution. Here it is: 136.10 Hz at C# .
Don't just trust me on this. Look it up. Fascinating research!
About four years ago, I was talking with a Buddhist teacher in Kansas City. Somehow, we got on the subject of the tonal chant, "Om." It's origin is so ancient, no one seems to know how or when it started. It has Sanskrit credentials, but it is more universal than simply middle/far east cultures. Native American chants often use the same tonal note as a basis for music they produce. Guess what?! The "Om" tone starts at C# at 136.10 Hz.
Now there's a kick for ya!!
Four years ago, I purchased a tuning fork that is set at 136.10 Hz and began creating a tonal chant by striking the tuning fork and placing it gently against my right temple (right side important....right brain....intuitive). I still use the tuning fork. I carry it in the bag with my Cheyenne prayer drum...which goes with me (usually) on my trips to South Dakota.
Now, there is music available on iTunes. My favorite for contemplative music is Ananda Giri's "Oneness Om." It is 50 minutes, 40 seconds long. It fit's into the hour I use each morning for this type of prayer.
Contemplative Prayer is a letting go of ego structure. It is a journey into internal emptiness. One enters with intention to "hear" one's soul and to "listen" for that still small voice of Divine Love. The ego fights this kind of work, because it loses control. Words and true prayer are actually not so compatible. I'm a Christian. Do I meet Jesus? In more ways than one! It is fundamental encounter. It does not translate into words. There is only one word for this encounter. Love. Pure love. It is the essence of what we know as holy.
Now is the moment for some clarity...and the purpose for which I seem to be writing today. Music folks know that, when one sings in a particular key and at a particular frequency, anything that is outside that key or relative frequency creates sounds that can best be described as being like fingernails on a chalk board. It clashes...like colors not in the same wave spectrum.
In our faith culture, we suffer greatly from Dissonance. I quote George Friesen. He is a "friend of a friend" on Facebook (someone I would really like to get to know), who sums up nicely what a number of us are experiencing:
"I've seen individuals I've known since childhood, filled with anger and rage...What I have concluded is that what I'm seeing in these folks is really fear masquerading as anger. And what do I think drives this fear? I believe it's a search for home, a home that no longer exists and never will again. We see this in some of the communities being built today with the explicit intent of creating a 'Truman Show' environment, if you recall the movie. The challenge is how to make these millions of lost souls come to accept their new home. It won't be easy."
I John 4:17-18: "God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we are free of worry in the time of Judgment...our standing in the world is identical with Christ's. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life is one not yet formed in love." (quoted from "The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language" by Eugene Peterson. It is a faithful translation from the original Greek)
I will expand this. God is Love. When the ego is suspended, we encounter the Love of God in that form of Divine given to us by God as a means to fully encounter that Love. We don't make it, or own it. It is a gift. Every single person is made in that image...our souls are "tuned" to that eternal tone. When we hit that tone, everything about the world we live in changes. There is no room for...or need for...fear (which leads to anger, which leads to hate, which is the source of bigotry, judgmentalism and all kinds of destructive behavior).
The fifteen year old who killed five people in Albuquerqui? Like the other mass murders of recent time, it ultimately is not about guns (though irresponsible attitudes about firearms allow them to be available to unwell people). It is about a society that lives on fear that is acted out in ways that are as far from the Law of Love as one can possibly get. Folks, this is our fault. We teach our kids to hate and to end that hate in ways that end lives. That kind of anger and hate course through the veins of social media...especially yesterday.
We are living, in large measure, dissonant lives...calling this normal and healthy. And we want to return to this?! It is not our true home. Never was.
Let's take a break here.