Keep Open, Look Closely


“The mystics invite us to remember what we all too often forget: That great mystery we call God, is everywhere present in the world, suffusing creation with the being of the Holy. Once in a while, if we keep our eyes open, if we look closely enough, something amid the familiar reveals itself, offers itself to us in a new way. What we know, what we have learned, is taken apart. Is remade. Remakes us.”
~ Jan Richardson, Source: In the Sanctuary of Women

I’ve been exploring this quote from various vantage points this Lenten season. Lent is a 40 day season in the Christian calendar (exclusive of Sundays) that guides people of faith towards the promise of Easter. It is a season for intentional reflection looking for the sacred within the familiar.

Lent invites us to let go of that which distracts us so as to become steeped in that which is eternal. Last week I gathered with an ecumenical group for the purpose of listening. It’s sad but true, that Christians don’t always play well in the sand box together. It is a hopeful sign when various branches of the Christian tradition gather for a shared purpose. The method we chose is Centering Prayer a simple yet profound form of becoming quiet so to hear what (paradoxically) can only be heard in silence.

Thomas Keating a Trappist monk re-introduced this ancient practice of Centering Prayer. He invites us to:

‘Spend 20 – 30 minutes sitting in silence. Choose a ‘sacred word’ that will help you return to silence when distracted. Our word can be ‘God, Jesus, Abba’, or a feeling word ‘love, peace, hope, quiet’. Centering Prayer is like a deep-sea diver who slowly slips into the water and sinks deeper and deeper. When a distracted thought inevitably arises, it is as if the diver bobs back to the surface. It is then we quietly speak/think our sacred word, which allows us to sink yet again into the depth of silence.’

It is in this silence says Keating that we are able to ‘hear God’s voice speaking into the depth of our being’. Being quiet can be a counter cultural act. In the midst of our busy schedules and over stimulated brains, quiet offers us respite and renewal. For me there is something powerful about shared gathered silence. I can’t quantify it or measure it but as the Quakers would put it ‘a sense of common ground emerges that can only be found through silence.’

Perhaps you reading this have no faith tradition or are from another faith tradition. For you too the invitation awaits, that in silence we discover ‘something within the familiar’ that otherwise may have been missed.

Where do you go to be quiet? Perhaps walking your dog, savoring your morning coffee, working in your garden, hiking in the woods, sitting in a church/temple/mosque, walking on the beach? Where do you go to move beyond distractions and simply be? For me a favorite place is kayaking on the water, sometimes simply floating, becoming immersed literally and metaphorically in my surroundings.

Kayak lone paddler photo

Wherever your quiet journey takes you, to solitary places or community, I hope that you too hear a voice of blessing that can only be received in silence. Travel well.

Note: If you live on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the 4th Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. a community wide group meets to practice centering prayer. For location contact me at kharrop@fbcbeverly.org.

Lent: Clearing Out the Clutter

Cluttered-garage-300x225Lent in the Christian calendar, is a season that invites us to reflect upon the health of our relationship to God, our neighbor and with the self we long to be.   When taken seriously, it is an opportunity to identify those attitudes and behavior’s that don’t serve us well.

In the early days of the English language, they used an archery term, ‘sin’,  for missing the target, missing the mark.  A ‘sinner’, was one who ‘missed the target’.  I think we are each aware when we too, ‘miss the mark’.  Perhaps we forget about God.  Perhaps we think we are God.  Perhaps we are indifferent or unkind toward a neighbor.   Perhaps we no longer strive to become a better person (more generous, kind, forgiving, courageous, selfless etc. ).

Lent invites us to cast off  unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.  In their place we are invited to explore and experiment with new ways of being that are in harmony with God, neighbor and our true self.

I’ve been thinking of this interior de-cluttering, as my wife and I have been preparing to move.   We have lived in the same house for twenty years.   It is amazing the ‘stuff’ that one accumulates. For the past month we’ve been jettisoning 20 years of ‘treasurers’ from our home. Our goal is to downsize by 1/3.

I find that this process of de-cluttering, of letting go, has become a ‘spiritual practice’.  It is a way of remembering and honoring where we’ve been, while making room for what will be.

Sometimes, we have to remove the clutter in our mind and heart, to make room for that new work that God desires to bring about.  It is often a difficult and emotional process.  Inherent in this letting go, is the belief that God will be faithful and in time, bring a blessing into the newly created space.

The Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 14: 33: “God is a God not of disorder but of peace.”   This Lent I invite you to join me in making space for that new work, which God promises to bring.  I wish you a blessed Lent.