Long Break

 It has been quite a while since I posted on my blog. Turns out I was indeed very ill and after several ER visits and emergency surgery have been recovering from the major surgery. 
Christmas and New Years were spent in bed recuperating. Too tired and in pain to attend church, I did find myself watching EWTN Catholic television to bring some spirituality into my room. BYU TV is regrettably mostly sports and repeats of series. Mormon Channel, which I had really enjoyed listening especially continuous Christmas music, resumed its looped programming. I am sure with time it will produce more content and what a wonderful station it will become. There must be many others like me who are bedridden and wish to be spiritually fed. 
We had a few church visitors during my convalescence but there seems to be a quota of three meals provided per family event. When my husband became ill while I was helpless, we sure felt like the beaten man on the side of the road needing assistance but none was offered. Sad but true. We realized that childless and no close family meant that we were at the mercy of church members for compassionate service. That is a crucial difference between LDS with big families and those with none. It is assumed that family will be available to assist ill family members be it children or extended family. To this end, families can care for their own with little assistance from the Church. For those of us without family network, the Church should be the second tier of assistance. Unfortunately, our ward is filled with young couples in higher education often struggling to manage little ones. They cannot offer their time or help to non-family members. We learned that we were on our own and cannot or should not expect compassionate service from our ward—at least without demonstrating how we have assisted others. All we needed was someone to vacuum the living room but as women of the church eschew homemaking duties in order to elevate their spiritual duties to those of the level of the priesthood, in my opinion, they have lost the core meaning of Relief Society: Charity and Compassion.

Do not mean to use this platform to be negative, but rather to show this event renewed my desire to be more contemplative because as one learns with walk with the Savior on a moment to moment basis, the more natural it will be to stoop down and assist the beaten fellow along the life’s path. We are to give compassion freely, without quotas, and without a balance sheet. We can only do so with love of the Savior swelling our hearts. Does not matter how often you attend sacrament meeting if your heart is only towards your own family and not the greater church family. Indeed, we hear time and time again how family takes precedence which is great if you have an extended family but for those childless couples or even as just a single person this means abandonment. Any fool can love and serve their own, but it takes a heart closely aligned with Christ to recognize that those without families have even greater need for compassion, love, and inclusion. How do we develop this cardio enlargement? We learn from the consummate shepherd, Jesus, and seek the ONE most precious in his sight.

What practical steps to become more contemplative? Prayer, Prayer, Prayer. Conversation with God is the direct path to inspiration and revelation. Personal tutoring from the Divine will polish off our rough edges. Make the mundane significant. Help the helpless. Recharge our spiritual batteries. Prayer must be as fluent as our mother tongue. A contemplative life is a Christ-centered life. Mine happens to include specific set times during the day. It may initiate with a hymn but definitely occur in a quiet, secluded atmosphere.  

So, even if ward members are too busy to serve non-family, with a contemplative spiritual life we come to see that the Savior is never too busy to extend mercy and compassion to the helpless. He will even call in what I call “the professionals” ie the Holy Ghost and angels for supernatural support. Now that I am recovering I am able and willing to assist others who also have no family support. I believe God cares little if we have a huge family if it means we neglect those without family.  

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Growing the Good Seed Despite Illness

Since my last posting I have been battling ill health and pain. I have not felt much like writing .   Feasting on the scriptures and offering prayers have carried me through.

In a weakened state I have pondered what use my body is. Did you know that even if you are suffering, the word of God can still take root? Imagine that. What the natural condition makes desolate, God makes fertile.

I was reading the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon.   Alma, a preacher, came across a few disenfranchised Zoramites. A group of poverty-stricken people denied access to the synagogues. Instead of feeling depressed about their status, Alma “beheld [them] with great joy; for their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in preparation to hear the word. “Alma 32:6

Poverty had made these people open to hear the truth of God’s word, God’s gospel, because poverty compelled them to be humble. Sickness is a form of spiritual poverty that may compel some to become humble. Of course, Alma reminds us better would be to be humbled by the word rather than be compelled by external circumstances.   However, either way, humility opens a door.

Alma 32 is called the discourse on faith but really it is about the word of God – described as a fertile seed.  “Now if ye give place to that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that it is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, ye, it beginneth to be delicious to me’ . Alma 32:28

So, to take hold of the word, to plant it, and experience its growth is the beginning of understanding and enlightenment.   The verses continue to expound upon the signs of a good seed. It sprouts and brings forth fruit of its own likeness. Of course faith parallels the development of the seed. However, whereas the seed goes on to produce the tree of life and the fruit ‘which is sweet and above all that is sweet’ (vs. 42), faith if allowed to maturate fully becomes knowledge and not faith. It can overripen, if you will.

The good seed’s success is dependent upon soil condition and nourishment. “if ye nourish it with much care it will get root , and grow up, and bring forth fruit.” Vs. 37   Within a sick person’s body, one may wonder where is any good, healthy, nourishing soil?   It lies within the heart or the spirit. As long as the spirit seeks God as the body seeks water to quench thirst, there will be fertile soil where the word of God can take root. Watering and nourishing are only partially fulfilled by one’s Will. The word of God provides the physical materials. Our spirit merely needs to apply faith that is so light that even the frail can carry.

Even while in pain, one can exercise ‘diligence and …faith and …patience with the word.” Vs. 42   And harvest and feast upon ‘this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.’ Vs 42   All of which can foreshadow death and heavenly rewards of partaking of the Tree of Life.

Within the limitations of chronic illness, we always have access to the word and can till the seed and watch it blossom within our spirits. Perhaps on occasion savoring the sweetness of the ripened fruit.

Choosing Yes

Don’t we all want to know what we were created to be in the eyes of God? What is our mission or purpose?   I am not talking about a profession or vocation but more personal than that. Neither am I talking about marital status or motherhood. We are first and foremost created by God and given the title of ‘daughter’ to the Most High. That is the relationship that should be given the most care and attention. If we say YES to that primary divine relationship, all the other gifts, talents, occupations, and relationships fall into a divine order.

How do I say YES yet live in the world? First, one needs to really understand the Father. We have been left a heritage of scriptures to reveal many aspects or titles of God the Father. Read holy scripture daily and deeply. Prayer should be done the same. Speaking, communicating, listening to God will help us learn about ourselves.

Unfortunately not all family members and friends will understand this quest. Some may call us fanatic, self-righteous, even disloyal. And while some individuals not firmly rooted in doctrinal truths can wander on strange paths, the humble and sincere at heart can receive answers about their personal mission in mortality. For each person is created for a purpose known to God.

Are we open to learning what that is? When we choose YES to have a relationship with God, we are also choosing to discover our divine nature and purpose.

No Strings Attached

My beautiful and playful Birman cat, Bella, has recently developed an interest in a metal cross which I had been given. She has even fished it out of barely open drawers to play with it. She is fascinated by the shiny metal and the black string that moves when I pull it from her paws.

Reflecting on her persistence to ‘play with Jesus’, I wondered how easily she is lured by shiny objects despite those objects come with strings attached.   This week I have been more than usual preoccupied learning a new skill for a hobby.  Some of my prayer times had been missed because I was so distracted.  Yet, the ‘string’ attached was a slight waning of my inner spiritual light–ever so slight yet perceptible.  A personal ‘course correction’ was needed.

“God Alone” is inscribed above the entrance to a monastery.  I have adopted that call to mean “God First”.  Prayer before Pinterest.  Scriptures before social media. Do I come to Christ with strings attached? Ties of worldly interest and obligation?   Yet Jesus has no such ties when it comes to me.   He said, ” I stand at the door and knock”. Do I respond by saying, “just let me finish this email”? Or do I drop everything and welcome him in?   I recall the bells at a monastery announcing the times for prayer as though gentle knocks to put God first.

What are the shiny distractions in my life?  What spiritual strings are attached to those?  What are the gentle knocks that exist or that I can create to put God first?  Questions for all of us to ponder.

Are you Martha or Mary?

“But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said under her, Martha, Martha, thou are careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen the good part….” St. Luke 10: 40-42

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a very family centered church.  Men’s and women’s lives center around raising families in the gospel.  Messages directed to women expect most to experience marriage and motherhood.  Yet, there are many singles, childless, or widows who face a potentially lonely time perhaps feeling excluded and ignored by ward members or even leaders.  Sadly,  the real spiritual and emotional needs of such sisters seem to be ignored.  Usually, advice includes ‘serve more’, ‘get involved’ as though service were a unidirectional act that would heal their loneliness. I do not downplay service as a righteous act, just that it simplifies a very complex social/religious circumstance.

I have been in this position both as a long-time single, and then childless married woman.  Instead of bemoaning others’ lack of sympathy, charity, or understanding, I have forged an identity, a religious practice that truly meets my needs.  That is being a contemplative LDS.   What a wonderful journey of discovery, peace, love,  and joy this has brought.   Even if I could rush around as do other people, I choose to create a deep prayer life. I have become as Mary and prefer to sit at the feet of the Savior and listen.

The Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict (a sixth century guide for monastics still in use in Catholic monasteries today) starts with  “Listen…. to the master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” p. 15   In this context, “master” is the abbot who is a representative of Christ.  I love the imagery of the ‘ear of your heart’.  Not normally do I associate the heart with hearing.  Do we hear with our heart?  Do we suspend activity to really listen to perhaps a still small voice?   Noise blocks heavenly communication which is why in our most holy of houses, the temple, we speak in whispers if at all.  We are there to receive instruction.  To listen.

As singles, or childless, or widows we have much more control over our time, over our noise levels. Turn off the television.  Turn down the radio.  Learn to get used to silence and use that silence as an invitation to listen to the Savior through scriptures, meditation, and prayer.  Draw close to the Savior and He will draw close to you and fill any void of loneliness you thought you had.  Solitary life need not be lonely.  On the contrary, it can bring a genuine spirituality that the Marthas of the world do not get to experience.

Contemplative Life vs the World

Contemplation is the practice of tuning out the clamor of the world to tune into God.  The world only wants to hear itself speak and drowns out all signals from the source of truth and light.  So, one can say that contemplation leads one to Christ, whereas the world leads one away from Christ.  It can be scary to seek God and the self-correction that accompanies such interaction, but the world displays cowardice by avoiding all acknowledgement of God despite evidence to the contrary.

There is a story in the Book of Exodus where the freed Israelites were impatient for Moses’ return from Mount Sinai.  A minority rose up and demanded Aaron to mould a golden calf to worship.  It seemed reasonable to worship an idol whom they believed helped them escape Egypt.  This is the image I have whenever the world demands me to follow hedonistic behavior.  How easy for the majority to dismiss God in order to pursue their own sensual pleasures.   Yet,  a contemplative ignores the whims and fancies of the spiritually immature to seek God’s will and God’s way which is not dancing around a golden calf.

But if God is so loving, surely he would allow free agency so people can make up their own mind about issues.  However, scripture tells us that those who strayed from God’s ordinances and have broken His everlasting covenant of eternal marriage have become idol builders and worshippers which will lead to world calamity  (D&C 1: 15-17).  Who willfully chooses calamity? Those who openly rebel against God’s laws, ordinances, and teachings.  Certainly on recent blogs and commentaries about same-sex marriage, proponents spew venom not only at opponents but at the very God who many believe defined marriage in the first place.  The only adjective that describes such vitriol is blasphemy.

Those who believe that God’s love trumps disobedience do not have a complete picture of God.  In modern scripture, again and again God reveals that His anger will only be stayed for so long.  “And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth.” (D&C 1:13). Why? Because the people will not ‘hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles…”(D&C 1:14) Certainly not heeding’ not obeying, not listening are all behaviors contrary to the contemplative life.   A contemplative not only heeds the Lord but CRAVES to listen to all of His words be it through prayer, the scriptures, or His living servants.

The contemplative life is an anathema to the world. It has always been so from the desert hermits, to medieval monks and nuns, cloistered communities and a modern contemplatives who set themselves apart from the world to seek Wisdom, Truth, Love and Peace by drawing closer to the Author of all such–God.

Becoming a Contemplative

My framework for discussions about a contemplative life come from the Cistercian tradition of monasticism. Their foundational text is the Rule of Saint Benedict.   The Rules outline behavior expected of a monk to draw closer to God and maintain harmony in the community.  How does a 6th century rule for Catholic monks apply to a 21st century Mormon? Central to both faiths is seeking God.  Seeking union or communion with God is no greater joy.

The prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon sent an epistle to his son, Helaman, who was admonished, “Counsel with the Lord in all they doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God…” (Alma 37:37) One’s daily life begins and ends with supplication and praise to the Lord.  Prayer and praise are the cadence of a monastic life…the cadence of a follower of Christ outside a monastery as well.

So, a contemplative life is a life centered on prayer and praise.  God is the object of this worship and adoration.  Such a life can be achieved even if pain, fatigue, loneliness, or physical limitations keep us away from practicing our religion in person. When I am in the throes of pain and fatigue which severely limit all activity, I can still pray. I can pour out my soul to God not just in a series of petitions but in adoration for what Christ has done for me personally, for humanity, for eternity. With praise comes joy. Maybe because I deflect attention from my own needs and tune into the Will of the Father.   Indeed, for a contemplative, one’s life acquires a Divine Centeredness.

Reboot

It has been a few months since my last post. Health issues have impeded posting. Spiritual life has been influx but in a way deepening. Need to balance contemplative spiritual devotion with writing and publishing for a public audience. The latter cannot deflect the primary focus of my limited energy. However, there is some value in sharing my journey for others who are seeking greater devotion and peace.

SEEKING GOD

Why would I spend my time seeking God? As some sort of intellectual exercise? To test whether God exists? To escape my personal problems? To avoid ‘reality’? None of these. Simply love.

I have a strong desire to draw closer to my Creator. God, my creator and Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ my redeemer and advocate. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3 To know is not merely a matter of belief, of faith, though it may be at the beginning of the journey. Rather I am suggesting experience no matter how fleeting with The Divine. Knowing in a way that cannot be expressed through reason nor even expressed in words. William of St Thierry expressed it well, “Reason cannot see God, except that he is not…”. Pennington, A School of Love.   Pretty deep stuff but, really, open to all who seek.

As with any journey I start with the guidebook: the road map and rule book if you will. Those would be the Holy Scriptures: The Old and New Testaments, and additionally for Latter-Day Saints The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Our church Sunday School curriculum this year focuses on the New Testament so that will be much of the basis of my personal scripture study.

Next I will seek out the wisdom and writings of modern-day apostles and prophets to frame my journey within the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  In addition, I will consult former and current contemplatives from the Cistercian tradition and consider incorporating certain practices into my life as a lay person. I feel that my physical limitations preclude activity typical to Latter-Day Saints ie children and family life is the focus. My life situation, however, suits the life of prayer akin to contemplatives.

In the coming weeks and months I will be simplifying my worldly activities, social media involvement, downsize material possessions, and create a home environment of love, beauty and simplicity.   At the same time I will increase consistency and frequency of prayer and scripture time. Sounds idealized and impractical. Not suggesting to pull up a dumpster and toss the entire contents of my home into it (though attic stuff could probably qualify), and live on bread and water for the rest of my life. Merely saying that as I mature I feel I can live with less stuff and fewer worldly commitments. Moreover, physical impairment limit activities I can do with any regularity.  So why not turn limitation into a spiritual journey without limitations? We are all invited to “…lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better” Doctrine and Covenants 25:10

 

Without God, life would end at the grave and our mortal experiences would have no purpose. Growth and progress would be temporary, accomplishment without value, challenges without meaning. There would be no ultimate right and wrong and no moral responsibility to care for one another as fellow children of God. Indeed, without God, there would be no mortal or eternal life.

Robert G Hales, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles “Seeking to Know God, Our Heavenly Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ” Ensign, October 2009.

A Contemplative Life

I am a latter-day saint contemplative.  To me a contemplative is one who leads a very simple life that focuses on personal prayer, scripture study, solitude and contemplation. Contemplation is the active waiting for God to speak to our spirit.  In common parlance meditation and contemplation are used interchangeably, but I am using it how Roman Catholic contemplatives would explain it.   A future entry will delve greater into the differences between meditation and contemplation.

In this blog I will discuss my life as an LDS contemplative. What brought me to define myself this way?  How I practice my faith? And what insights I gain along the way?