Every creature is a glittering, glistening mirror of Divinity.
-Hildegard of Bingen
by D. H. Lawrence.
They call all experience of the senses mystic, when the
experience is considered.
So an apple becomes mystic when I taste in it
the summer and the snows, the wild welter of earth
and the insistence of the sun.
All of which things I can surely taste in a good apple.
Though some apples taste preponderantly of water, wet and sour
and some of too much sun, brackish sweet
like lagoon-water, that has been too much sunned.
If I say I taste these things in an apple, I am called mystic, which
means a liar.
The only way to eat an apple is to hog it down like a pig
and taste nothing
that is real.
But if I eat an apple, I like to eat it with all my senses awake.
Hogging it down like a pig I call the feeding of corpses.
Text as published in D. H. Lawrence: Complete Poems (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics, 1994).
Seeing the Divine
The Hindus greet each other by bowing with folded hands against the breastbone. This mini-ceremony means: “I salute the divinity within you.” No workplace can be truly alive until we see the divinity within one another, until we experience behind the breastbone the breath of life, until we insist that our work will not be the humdrum product of a sleeping spirit but a glorious monument to who we really are.
Source: The Common Table
Love and the Pain of Leaving – from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey
Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.
– Henri J. M. Nouwen
Ours is a restless culture. Life has become excessively busy for a large portion of the population. Stress is almost built into our body clocks. I am not a fast driver, probably slower than most. But sometimes I find myself hurrying to get somewhere—switching lanes, passing traffic, going through yellow lights—when it occurs to me that the only thing putting pressure on me to rush is my own state of mind…. Our wants are constantly expanding, and our income usually lags behind. More hours to work, more things to do, and more places to go create pressure. Far from producing a sense of inner peace, this style of life nurtures a spiritual void.
Source: How Much Is Enough?
Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.
Source: New Collected Poems
Two men were once walking through a field when they saw an angry bull. Instantly they made for the nearest fence with the bull in hot pursuit. It soon became evident to them that they were not going to make it, so one man shouted to the other, “We’ve had it! Nothing can save us. Say a prayer. Quick!”
The other shouted back, “I’ve never prayed in my life, and I don’t have a prayer for this occasion.”
“Never mind. The bull is catching up with us. Any prayer will do.”
“Well, I’ll say the one I remember my father used to say before meals: ‘For what we are about to receive, Lord, make us truly grateful.’”
Anthony de Mello
Source: Taking Flight
die for it—
or the world. People
have done so,
their small bodies be bound
to the stake,
fury of light. But
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun
for everyone just
as it rises
under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?
What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it
whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
Source: New and Selected Poems Volume 1
Working on Ourselves
The practice of loving kindness must find its root deep within us. The story is told that Mohandas Gandhi once settled in a village and at once began serving the needs of the villagers who lived there. A friend inquired if Gandhi’s objectives in serving the poor were purely humanitarian. Gandhi replied, “Not at all. I am here to serve no one else but myself, to find my own self-realization through the service of these village folk.”
As Gandhi wisely points out, even as we serve others we are working on ourselves; every act, every word, every gesture of genuine compassion naturally nourishes our own hearts as well. It is not a question of who is healed first. When we attend to ourselves with compassion and mercy, more healing is made available for others. And when we serve others with an open and generous heart, great healing comes to us.
Source: Legacy of the Heart
I believe in both my right and my responsibility to work to create a world that doesn’t glorify violence and war but where we seek different solutions to our common problems.
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
– Romans 12:18
Longing to Give
We all have, without exception, a very deep longing to give—to give to the earth, to give to others, to give to the society, to work, to love, to care for this earth. That’s true for every human being. And even the ones who don’t find it, it’s because it has been squashed or somehow suppressed in some brutal way in their life. But it’s there to be discovered. We all long for that. And there’s a tremendous sorrow for a human being who doesn’t find a way to give. One of the worst of human sufferings is not to find a way to love, or a place to work and give of your heart and your being.
Source: Roots of Buddhist Psychology
Saint Francis and the Sow
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
Source: Three Books
The place of the body and the senses…in the spiritual life is of vital importance in our understanding of spiritual life today. The sacramental principle is inherent in the very idea of incarnation, but in Christianity as in other religions, there is always a tendency to depreciate the body and the senses and to suppose that the intellect and the will are the unique sources of spiritual transformation.
Source: Yoga and the Jesus Prayer by Thomas Matus
The Body and Prayer
It is with the body that the whole thing begins…. Christians should think more about the role of the body in prayer. For the fact is that western prayer is not sufficiently visceral—it is preoccupied with the brain and not with the deeper layers of the body where the power to approach the spiritual is generated.
Source: Christian Zen
To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’
A Reflection of God
Henri J. M. Nouwen
Forgiveness means that I continually am willing to forgive the other person for not being God–for not fulfilling all my needs. I, too, must ask forgiveness for not being able to fulfill other people’s needs…. When you forgive people for not being God, then you can celebrate that they are a reflection of God.
Source: The Only Necessary Thing
A Healing Community
A Christian community is a healing community not because wounds are healed and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pain become openings or occasions for a new vision. Mutual confession becomes a mutual deepening of hope, and sharing weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength.
Henri J. M. Nouwen
Source: The Wounded Healer
The Value of Things
When things are valued too much, they lose their value because they nourish a never-satisfied craving for more. Conversely, when things are received as gifts from God and used obediently in service to God, they are enriched with gratitude. As sages have said, contentment lies not in obtaining things you want, but in giving thanks for what you have.
Source: How Much Is Enough?
Any form of Christianity which is not incarnational, which does not celebrate “the Word made flesh,” which tries to separate us from our own bodies, the bodies of our communities, the body of this earth, is not the Christianity of … Jesus Christ. In Christ, the walls of hostility, the walls of division and fragmentation within us and among us are encountered, touched, healed.
Flora Slosson Wuellner
Source: Prayer and Our Bodies
That’s What Love Does
God loves us so perfectly he lets us be the heroes. God lets us wrestle with the angel of Yahweh, lets us struggle with God and win. When we try to let go and give our life to God, God gives it back to us. Should we be surprised? That’s what love does. That’s the only thing you can get excited about when you’re in love–giving your life to the other and seeing enjoyment in the other. That’s the union toward which God is calling us. The lover delighting in the beloved and the beloved delighting in the lover.
Source: Job and the Mystery of Suffering
A Window on Our Spiritual Lives – from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey
Even though our emotional and spiritual lives are distinct, they do influence one another profoundly. Our feelings often give us a window on our spiritual journeys. When we cannot let go of jealousy, we may wonder if we are in touch with the Spirit in us that cries out “Abba.” When we feel very peaceful and “centered,” we may come to realise that this is a sign of our deep awareness of our belovedness.
Likewise our prayer lives, lived as faithful response to the presence of the Spirit within us, may open a window on our emotions, feelings, and passions and give us some indication of how to put them into the service of our long journey into the heart of God.
– Henri J. M. Nouwen
Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
Source: from “Kindness” in Words Under the Words
Lord, not you, it is I who am absent.
belief was a joy I kept in secret,
into sacred places;
a quick glance, and away — and back,
I have long since uttered your name
I elude your presence.
Source: from Flickering Mind
Crossing the Road for One Another – from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey
We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between gay people and straight people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between prisoners and free people, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics.
There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the street once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might become neighbours.
– Henri J. M. Nouwen
The Litmus Test
The religious traditions were in unanimous agreement. The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience, or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology. Compassion was the litmus test.
Source: The Spiral Staircase
“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard.”
I rejoiced when I heard them announce,
“The time of warfare is past.
No more will brother hate brother
or violence have its way.
No more will they drown out God’s silence
and shut their hearts to his song.”
Pray for peace in the cities
and harmony among the races.
May peace come to live on our streets
and justice within our walls.
With all my heart I will pray
that peace comes to live among us.
For the sake of all earth’s people,
I will do my utmost for peace.
Source: The Psalms (translated by Stephen Mitchell)
Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence. Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument. Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it.
Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
Source: Pseudonym of author Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880
Today, Like Every Other Day
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Source: translated by Coleman Barks
Watch What Jesus Does
God isn’t looking for servants. God isn’t looking for slaves, workers, contestants to play the game or jump the hoops correctly. God is simply looking for images! God wants images of God to walk around the earth…. God wants useable instruments who will carry the mystery, who can bear the darkness and the light, who can hold the paradox of incarnation—flesh and spirit, human and divine, joy and suffering, at the same time, just as Jesus did. Watch what Jesus does, and do the same thing!
Source: Things Hidden
To Be Thought of Kindly
How Time Heals – from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey
“Time heals,” people often say. This is not true when it means that we will eventually forget the wounds inflicted on us and be able to live on as if nothing happened. That is not really healing; it is simply ignoring reality. But when the expression “time heals” means that faithfulness in a difficult relationship can lead us to a deeper understanding of the ways we have hurt each other, then there is much truth in it. “Time heals” implies not passively waiting but actively working with our pain and trusting in the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.
– Henri J. M. Nouwen
To be “thought of” kindly by many and to “think of” them kindly is only a diluted benevolence, a collective illusion of friendship. Its function is not the sharing of love but complicity in a mutual reassurance that is based on nothing. Instead of cultivating this diffuse aura of benevolence, you should enter with trepidation into the deep and genuine concern for those few persons God has committed to your care.
Source: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
I have discovered that the religious quest is not about discovering ‘the truth’ or ‘the meaning of life’ but about living as intensely as possible here and now. The idea is not to latch on to some superhuman personality or to ‘get to heaven’ but to discover how to be fully human.
Source: The Spiral Staircase
Song of the Builders
On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God—
a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside
this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope
it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.
Source: Why I Wake Early
Only One Voice
Only one voice,
but it was singing
and the words danced and as they danced held high—
oh, with what grace!—their lustrous bowls of joy.
Even in the dark we knew they danced, but we—
none of us—touched the hem of what would happen.
Somewhere around a whirl, swirl, a pirouette,
the bowls flew and spilled,
and we were drenched, drenched to the dry bone
in our miserable night.
Only one voice,
but morning lay awake in her bed and listened,
and then was out and racing over the hills
to hear and see.
And water and light and air and the tall trees
and people, young and old, began to hum
the catchy, catchy tune.
And everyone danced, and everyone, everything,
even the last roots of the doddering oak
believed in life.