Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Month: November, 2014

Book Review – Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird  


This is a wonderful book full of wisdom and enlightenment from one of the most beloved writers of the twentieth century.  Henri Nouwen frames spiritual formation into seven movements of the spirit as we progress through different stages of life.  Highly recommended!

The first stage of formation makes up the early movements in one’s life: from opaqueness to transparency, from illusion to prayer.  The second stage makes up midlife movements: from sorrow to joy, from resentment to gratitude, from fear to love.  The third stage makes up mature movements of the later years: from exclusion to inclusion, from denying to befriending death.

This book is one of Henri Nouwen’s best and was compiled by two of his students Micheal J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird after his death.  If you want to understand the depths of spirituality in the twenty-first century context this book is a great one to read.  It inspired me to greater depths, authenticity and understanding in my own process of spiritual formation.

The movement that really resonated with me is the one that talks about moving from resentment to gratitude.  This is a movement of the spirit that is alive in me right now.  I am trying to figure out the healing aspects of gratitude in my body that goes way beyond just my intellect.  Gratitude is an embodied practice that God’s life in me is revealing constantly.

This is where I want to live.  This is where I come alive.  This is where I find healing and wholeness in my context of life.  I have appreciated Henri Nouwen’s wisdom about the movements of the spirit.

  • Our everyday existence

“The spiritual life is not lived outside, before, after, or beyond our everyday existence.  No, the spiritual life can be real only as it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now.  Therefore, we need to begin with a careful look at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year, in order to become more fully aware of our hunger for the Spirit…”

  • The almost complete absence of silence

“One of the most depressing aspects of contemporary life is the almost complete absence of silence…”

  • God cannot be “caught” or “comprehended”

“God cannot be ‘caught’ or ‘comprehended’ in any specific idea, concept, opinion, or conviction.  God cannot be defined by any specific emotion or spiritual sensation.  God cannot be identified with good feelings, right intentions, spiritual fervor, generosity of spirit, or unconditional love.  All these experiences may remind us of God’s presence, but their absence does not prove God’s absence.  God is greater than our minds and greater than our hearts, and just as we have to avoid the temptation of adapting God to our finite small concepts, we have to avoid adapting God to our limited small feelings.”

  • We no longer have any time, but rather time has us

“Time constantly threatens to become our enemy.  Time enslaves us…  Indeed, it seems that we no longer have any time, but rather time has us.”

  • Characterization and labeling

“Characterization is common but narrow.  Labeling is always limiting. It reveals a lot about our own insecurities and gives us a false understanding of the real nature of our neighbors.”

  • The careful balance

“Somewhere we know that without a lonely place, our lives are in danger.  Somewhere we know that without silence, words lose their meaning; that without listening, speaking no longer heals; that without distance, closeness cannot cure.  Somewhere we know that without a solitary place, our actions quickly become empty gestures.  The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the spiritual life and should therefore be the subject of our personal attention.”

  • How you live your losses

“The question is not whether you have experienced loss, but rater how you live your losses.  Are you hiding them?  Are you pretending they aren’t real?  Are you refusing to share them with your fellow travelers?  Are you trying to convince yourself that your losses are little compared with your gains?  Are you blaming someone for what you have suffered and lost?”

  • Community and solidarity

“Community and solidarity are at the heart of the movement from sorrow to joy.  When you begin to feel the pain of your life in relation to other people’s pain, you can face it together…  And when you experience it with somebody else, you can be compassionate.  This is how healing begins.  Not by wonderful answers, not by ‘do this or do that.’  It starts by experiencing the powerlessness of not-knowing-what-to-do-together.  That is why it’s so important that we grow in compassion.  As we feel and live the pain of our own losses, our grieving hearts open to a wider world of suffering and loss – to a world of prisoners, refugees, AIDS patients, starving children, and the countless human beings living in constant fear.  Then the pain of our life connects us with the moaning and groaning of a suffering humanity.”

  • Resentment is one of the most vicious qualities of life

“Many of us live with cold anger – the deep feeling that life has let us down, that we suffer unjustly, and that nothing will be done about our complaints.  Resentment is one of the most vicious qualities of life because it makes human relationships and community life so difficult.  It prevents us from seeking forgiveness and robs us of our joy.  It takes away our inner freedom to act creatively and makes us cling to negative feelings as our only way to find an identity.  We then become what we are against and regress to the small satisfactions of unexpressed anger.  It is from this passion that we must be freed in order to live a grateful and Eucharistic – that is, a thankful – life.”

  • Gratitude enables us to let go of anger

“Gratitude is the attitude that enables us to let go of anger, receive the hidden gifts of those we want to serve, and make these gifts visible to the community as a source of celebration.”

What do you like most about the writings of Henri Nouwen?  What are your favorite books by this great writer?

Book Review – Lost in Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness by Esther De Waal


I love this book by Esther De Waal.  She draws our attention to the art of attentiveness.  This is such a crucial theme in a society that is easily distracted from a deep interior, authentic path.  This book helps us to recover this lost practice in our time.

Esther De Waal emphasizes seeing with the inner eye, silence, attention, awareness, darkness, mystery and gift.  She uses many quotes from others like twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton in the writing.  This book opened my eyes to the beauty of wonder, gratitude, attentiveness, awareness, authenticity and mystery.

Lost in Wonder is an enlightening book of wisdom, depth, insight and truthfulness.  This book could bring us to a place of understanding ourselves better, practicing silence and receiving all of life as gift.  Esther De Wall dares us to become fully attentive and alive in the world we live in.  She shows us a way of openness to mystery which is risky and counter-cultural.

  • In danger of failing to be being fully alive

“If we fail to find the time to stand back, to give ourselves a break, a breathing space, we are in danger of failing to be fully alive, or to enjoy that fullness of life for which we were created…”

  • Openness to mystery

“It is risky, counter-cultural, to start out on something with open-hands, open mind, open heart, but above all with openness to mystery…”

  • The recovery of silence

“…the recovery of silence.  Here is one of the most immediate and the most powerful of instruments for deepening and enriching my life – one which I neglect at my peril but one which I might want to evade since it could be frightening to encounter this interior silence which lies at the root of being.”

  • The art of silence

“The art of silence is an art form which, like the art of seeing, is virtually neglected in the West…”

  • Silence is not absence but presence

“Silence is not absence but presence…  Silence and stillness are gifts which are gentle, fragile, to be handled with care, above all in allowing time to wait and to listen.  For silence is to lead into listening…  To listen means to be open, ready to receive, attentive to something or to someone outside of myself…”

  • Becoming aware and awake to the present moment

“…when we become aware and awake to the present moment, we are also awake to God, and then everything can become a moment of miracle, a mysterious reality.  For God is only found in the reality of this present moment…”

  • Things that are painful

“Things that are painful must be brought out into the open and faced, faced in the right way so that they will lead us forward…”

  • Darkness and suffering

“Darkness and suffering are inevitable, inescapable, often appearing unexpectedly, without warning, at any point in our lives…”

  • Wonder and gratitude

“When we fail in wonder we fail in gratitude…”

  • Experiencing all of life as gift

“When I am fully alive I look around me with eyes that are open, astonished, and ears that are attentive, and as a result I experience all of life as gift…”

  • Wonder and attention go together

“Wonder and attention go together.  Wonder begins with giving rapt attention to what is immediately in front of us…”

  • Close to mystery

“Attention, wonder are close to mystery…”

In what ways have you explored attentiveness in everyday life?

Book Review – Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement by Dorothy Day


This is a great book by Dorothy Day!  One of the best books on the Catholic Worker Movement.  Dorothy Day advocates for developing a life of voluntary poverty where we learn to love the poor, oppressed and marginalized in our world.  She looks at critiquing the systems (such as war) that contribute to poverty in our time.

Some people say that Dorothy Day was the most influential Catholic in American history.  She was a legendary social activist throughout the twentieth century before she died in 1980.  The Catholic Worker Movement started back in the 1930’s in New York during the great depression in the United States.  The church wasn’t doing much to care for the poor, so Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin opened houses of hospitality where they practiced the works of mercy together.

Loaves and Fishes is about this amazing movement of hospitality, community, peace, social justice, love and compassion.  Dorothy Day sought to see Christ in the poor throughout her life.  This book shares how she went about doing that.  She liked the phrase “love is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”

As I live in a Catholic Worker community in Downtown Tacoma, Washington in the Northwest part of the United States – I have found this book to be extremely helpful in understanding the life of the movement.  This book draws attention to the idea of personalism, where we take personal responsibility for caring for the poor instead of depending on the government to do that for us.  Institutions are a bad substitute for genuine care and hospitality that we are all called to.  Through reading Loaves and Fishes, you will be led to more of a compassionate, human life.

  • Love and freedom grow in us through community

“Love and freedom – they are great and noble words.  But we learn about them, they grow in us in the little ways I am writing about, through community, through the heart-rending and soul-searing experiences, as well as the joyful ones, which we have in living together.”

  • Poverty is a strange and elusive thing

“Poverty is a strange and elusive thing.  I have tried to write about it, its joys and its sorrows, for thirty years now; and I could probably write about it for another thirty without conveying what I feel about it as well as I would like.  I condemn poverty and I advocate it; poverty is simple and complex at once; it is a social phenomenon and a personal matter.  Poverty is an elusive thing, and a paradoxical one.”

  • Holy Mother the State taking over more and more responsibility for the poor

“In our country, we have revolted against the poverty and hunger of the world.  Our response has been characteristically American: we have tried to clean up everything, build bigger and better shelters and hospitals.  Here, hopefully, misery was to be cared for in an efficient and orderly way.  Yes, we have tried to do much, with Holy Mother the State taking over more and more responsibility for the poor.  But charity is only as warm as those who administer it.  When bedspreads may not be ruffled by the crooked limbs of age and bedside tables will not hold the clutter of those who try to make a home around them with little possessions, we know that we are falling short in our care for others.”

  • The importance of voluntary poverty today

“This and other facts seem to me to point more strongly than ever to the importance of voluntary poverty today.  At least we can avoid being comfortable through the exploitation of others.  And at least we can avoid physical wealth as the result of a war economy.  There may be ever-improving standards of living in the United States, with every worker eventually owning his own home and driving his own car; but our whole modern economy is based on preparation for war, and this surely is one of the great arguments for poverty in our time…”

  • We must give far more than bread, than shelter

“Easiest of all is to have so little, to have given away so much, that there is nothing left to give.  But is this ever true?  This point of view leads to endless discussions; but the principle remains the same.  We are our brother’s keeper.  Whatever we have beyond our own needs belongs to the poor.  If we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly.  And it is sad but true that we must give far more than bread, than shelter.”

  • The one action of the present moment

“Young people say, What good can one person do?  What is the sense of our small effort?  They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment.  But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”

  • All we have to give is our time and patience, our love

“It is too easy to forget that all we give is given to us to give.  Nothing is ours.  All we have to give is our time and patience, our love…”

  • A revolution which has to start with each one of us

“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?  When we begin to take the lowest place, to wash the feet of others, to love our brothers with that burning love, that passion, which led to the Cross, then we can truly say, ‘Now I have begun’”

What do you think of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement?

Book Review – The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See by Richard Rohr


This is one of my favorite books of all time!  I love Richard Rohr’s perspective on the ways we have become stuck in our dualistic thinking.  In fact, we seem to hide behind our dualistic thinking in the name of Christianity, the Bible and God often times.

Richard Rohr gets to the heart of learning to see as the mystics have known and practiced throughout the centuries.  It all comes down to seeing the sacredness of all of life without dualities.  We cannot go on judging, labeling and categorizing everything that has the nature of mystery.  If we do, we cannot love the paradoxes of life that have so much meaning to offer.

The Naked Now is about presence, wisdom, suffering, love, inner experience, practice, becoming human and the kingdom of God.  This book shows us that contemplation is countercultural and leads us out of our dualistic thinking.  We learn to see as the mystics, who had a rich interior life, deep discernment and the abilities to embrace mystery in all of life.

This is one of the best books on recovering mysticism, contemplation and necessary paradoxes in everyday life.  Rohr helps us to become aware and conscious of our dualistic thinking is so many profound ways.  If you are wanting to understand dualistic thinking and how this has affected our spirituality in the Western world of North America, this book is a good one for you to read.  Highly recommended!

  • The contemplative mind withholds from labeling things or categorizing

“In effect, the contemplative mind in East or West withholds from labeling things or categorizing them too quickly, so it can come to see them in themselves, apart from words or concepts that become their substitutes.”

  • Inner experience and actual practices

“Too often, religion offers more doctrinal conclusions, more competing truth claims in the increasingly large marketplace of religious claims, but seldom does it give people a vision, process, and practices whereby they can legitimate those truth claims for themselves – by inner experience and actual practices.”

  • Cannot really love reality with the judgmental mind

“You cannot really love reality with the judgmental mind, because you’ll always try to control it, fix it, or understand it before you give yourself to it.  And usually it is never fixed enough to deserve your protected gift of self.”

  • Becoming so defended that you cannot love or see well

“Never underestimate the absolute importance – and the difficulty – of starting each encounter with a primal ‘yes!’  Isn’t this what we consistently see in great people and those who make a difference?  To start each encounter with ‘no’ is largely what it means to be unconscious or unaware.  You eventually become so defended that you cannot love or see well…”

  • Presence is wisdom

“Wisdom is not the gathering of more facts and information, as if that would eventually coalesce into truth.  Wisdom is precisely a different way of seeing and knowing those ten thousand things.  I suggest that wisdom is precisely the freedom to be present.  Wise people always know how to be present, but it is much more than that.  Presence is wisdom!  People who are fully present know how to see fully, rightly, and truthfully.  Presence is the one thing necessary, and in many ways, the hardest thing of all…”

  • Learning to become human

“With dualistic minds it is always one or the other – it can never be both.  The result is that we still think of ourselves as mere humans trying desperately to become ‘spiritual,’ when the Christian revelation was precisely that you are already spiritual (‘in God’), and your difficult but necessary task is to learn how to become human…”

  • Dualistic thinking is not naked presence

“Ultimate Reality cannot be seen with any dual operation of the mind, where we eliminate the mysterious, the confusing – anything scary, unfamiliar, or outside our comfort zone.  Dualistic thinking is not naked presence to the Presence, but highly controlled and limited seeing.  With such software, we cannot access things like infinity, God, grace, mercy, or love – the necessary and important things!”

  • The ego hates change

“Why so much status quo?  Once you know that the one thing the ego hates more than anything else is change, it makes perfect sense why most people hunker down into mere survival.  Whether because of abuse and oppression or other causes, defended and defensive selves will do anything rather than change – even acting against their own best interest…”

  • The kingdom of God is the naked now

“Jesus’ primary metaphor for this new consciousness was ‘the kingdom of God.’  He is not talking about a place, or an afterlife, but a way of seeing and thinking now.  The kingdom of God is the naked now – the world without human kingdoms, ethnic communities, national boundaries, or social identifications…”

  • A tree of continual and constant fruitfulness

“The contemplative, nondual mind is a tree of continual and constant fruitfulness for the soul and for the world.”

  • Preoccupied with enemies

“When you are preoccupied with enemies, you are always dualistic…”

  • Contemplation is simply too countercultural

“Today, contemplation is simply too countercultural for most of us who get caught up in that normal world of buying and selling, working, and raising children.”

  • Love and suffering

“Only love and suffering are strong enough to break down our usual ego defenses, crush our dualistic thinking, and open us up to Mystery…”

  • Learning to live with paradox

“Each of us must learn to live with paradox, or we cannot live peacefully or happily even a single day of our lives.  In fact, we must even learn to love paradox, or we will never be wise, forgiving, or possessing the patience of good relationships…”

  • Strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves

“We mend and renew the world by strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves, and not by demanding it of others or trying to force it on others.”

How can we learn to live in the naked now?

Book Review – Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day by Macrina Wiederkehr


I love this book!  It is a book about living mindfully through seven particular times throughout the day that will help us to be grateful, aware and compassionate.  These seven pauses include: matins (the early morning hours when it is still dark), lauds (sunrise), terce (midmorning, the heart of the workday), sext (hour of light when the sun has reached its peak), none (hour moving toward evening), vespers (twilight hour, quiet of evening) and compline (last hour of the day).

This rhythm of pausing seven times throughout our days is a peaceful way to approach everyday life.  We begin to root ourselves in the present moment of our experience and begin to see all of life as sacred.  It is a way to slow down and cultivate awareness of the beauty of life.  Our own belovedness becomes known more deeply in our souls.

Macrina Wiederkehr’s book has helped me to become more mindful in my life.  I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to create some healthy rhythms.  This will help us to become aware of God’s presence within us and in our world.  No other book will help you to embody this authentic path quite like this one.

  • When ordinary experiences speak to us

“There are times when ordinary experiences that have been part of our lives day after day suddenly speak to us with such a radiant force it seems as though they are miracles…”

  • The gift of mindfulness

“We all have the potential to give ourselves wholeheartedly to whatever it is we must do.  This is the gift of mindfulness…”

  • The sacred connections that are possible in daily life

“Never underestimate what little acts of love can accomplish.  Do not take lightly the sacred connections that are possible in daily life…”

  • Practicing remembering who we are

“Waking up requires practice.  We practice remembering who we are.”

  • Your work is your love poured out

“In you contacts with people each day, you will be blessed if you remember that your work is your love poured out.”

  • The pauses can be our teachers

“The pauses throughout the day can be our teachers…”

  • Bringing a new kind of presence into our day

“As we grow in mindfulness, we bring a new kind of presence into our day…”

  • Longing to live in the present moment

“I long to live in the present moment.  I want to stop trying to control the hours so that new paths of inspiration are free to unfold within me.  I want to remember that I have the potential to be a blessing in the lives of those whom I live and work.  Take my scattered thoughts, my fragmented moments.  Breathe into them and draw them into your centered heart.  Open my eyes that I may see the grace that waits for me in every moment.  You are the Source of every moment’s blessing.  Teach me to live awake.”

  • Peace must begin in our own hearts

“Deep as our longing for world peace may be, we know that peace must begin in our own hearts.  For this reason we widen our thoughts about peace so as to include our personal lives, our attitudes, thoughts, and actions…”

  • I believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is

“I will believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is: I believe in my power to transform indifference into love.  I believe I have an amazing gift to keep hope alive in the face of despair.  I believe I have the remarkable skill of deleting bitterness from my life.  I believe in my budding potential to live with a nonviolent heart.  I believe in my passion to speak the truth even when it isn’t popular.  I believe I have the strength of will to be peace in a world of violence.  I believe in my miraculous capacity for unconditional love.  I believe the truth about myself no matter how beautiful it is.”

  • A disorder that cries for our attention

“Our driven state is a disorder that cries for attention.  Just what is it in our bodies or in our society that causes us to live as though there is no tomorrow?  Perhaps our driven condition has something to do with the difficulty many people experience in trying to live in the present moment.  It is true that, for the most part, no one applauds us when we pause from working.  The applause often comes when we are working overtime, when we are going beyond the call of duty.  There may be times when working beyond the call of duty is admirable, but making a lifestyle of this manner of working borders on compulsion and may be more of a sickness than a blessing.”

  • Being attentive to your soul

“If you want to be attentive to your soul, you must find ways to honor your need to acquire a sense of rhythm in your life…”

  • The darkness of suffering

“There are times when the darkness of suffering opens up whole new vistas of growth and insight in our lives that, perhaps, we could never have learned in the light…”

  • Silence is like a river of grace

“Silence is like a river of grace inviting us to leap unafraid into its beckoning depths…”

How do you live mindfully through the days of your life?

Book Review – Contemplation in a World of Action by Thomas Merton


Thomas Merton writes about the renewal of contemplative life in this book Contemplation in a World of Action.  This is one of Thomas Merton’s best books!  The problem of identity that we face is crucial if we are to live authentic lives.  This is a big theme in the book.

It seems that Merton is speaking to the twenty-first century church, but this was written in the 1960’s.  So profound and prophetic for Merton’s time fifty years ago as well as ours today.  I am always captivated by the eloquence and grace in which Thomas Merton writes.

After studying over 80 books written by or about this great mystic of the twentieth century, I am moved to a deeper contemplative life myself as I live out my active life in the world.  No writer has shaped me like Thomas Merton.  I am so grateful we have his writings today to help us with understanding a contemplative spirituality.

This book will open our eyes to the importance of cultivating a mystical imagination in our active lives.  There is no future for the church without this.  If we want to engage the world with compassion instead of judgment, this is an essential book to teach us new ways of authenticity, honesty and courage.

Thomas Merton leaves behind a legacy that we should all cherish.  He was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century.  His writing constantly subverted the narratives of modernity.  And this book particularly, Contemplation in a World of Action, could bring renewal to our interior lives as we struggle with the embedded dualities in the Western world.

  • A great deal of variety and originality

“Authentic renewal is going to demand a great deal of variety and originality in experimentation…  But renewal must be bought at the price of risk…  The winds are blowing and a lot of dead wood is going to fall…”

  • Evading the identity problem

“One of the most characteristic American ways of evading the identity problem is conformism, running with the herd, the refusal of solitude, the flight from loneliness…”

  • Our life does not consist in magic answers

“Our life does not consist in magic answers to impossible questions but in the acceptance of ordinary realities which are, for the most part, beyond analysis and therefore do not need to be analyzed.”

  • Honesty, humility and courage

“There are some problems in life which are not to be solved except by being lived with all honesty, humility and courage that grace and nature can provide for us.”

  • A courageous commitment in the face of anguish and risk

“To have identity is not merely to have a face and a name, a recognizable physical presence.  Identity in this deep sense is something that one must create for oneself by choices that are significant and that require a courageous commitment in the face of anguish and risk.  This means much more than just having an address and a name in the telephone book.  It means having a belief one stands by; it means having certain definite ways of responding to life, of meeting its demands, of loving other people and, in the last analysis, of serving God.  In this sense, identity is one’s witness to truth in one’s life.”  

  • A more authentic and honest way

“The question remains: can we adjust our life and our view of life in such a way that it will be capable of being lived in a more authentic and honest way…”

  • Lack of identity is a disaster

“In the contemplative life above all, lack of identity is a disaster…”

  • The inner transformation of consciousness

“A merely external practice of silence and enclosure will never do anything by itself to guarantee the inner transformation of consciousness which the contemplative life requires.  We have to reexamine all our practices with a serious willingness to admit that our present conceptions may simply be inadequate.  They need to be made much deeper and much more alive – and perhaps given an entirely new perspective.  In this way we will show ourselves truly alert to the new needs of a new generation, aware that in this alertness we are being open to grace, obedient to the love of the Holy Spirit…”

  • True discipline

“True discipline is interior and personal…”

  • The crisis of real growth in the contemplative life

“The purpose of discipline is, however, to make us critically aware of the limitations of the very language of the spiritual life and of ideas about that life.  If on an elementary level of discipline makes us critical of sham values in social life (for example, it makes us realize experientially that happiness is not to be found in the usual rituals of consumption in an affluent society), on a higher level it reveals to us the limitations of formalistic and crude spiritual ideas.  Discipline develops our critical insights and shows us the inadequacy of what we had previously accepted as valid…  It enables us to abandon and to discard as irrelevant certain kinds of experiences which, in the past, meant a great deal to us.  It makes us see that what previously served as a real ‘inspiration’ has now become a worn-out routine and that we must go on to something else.  It gives us the courage to face the risk and anguish of the break with our previous levels of experience.  It enables us, in the language of St. John of the Cross, to face the Dark Night in full awareness of our need to be stripped of what formerly gratified and helped us.  To adjust to a new level of experience is at first painful and even frightening, and we must face the fact that the crisis of real growth in the contemplative life can bring one perilously close to mental breakdown…”

  • The ordinary authentic real experiences of everyday life

“…it is very important in the contemplative life not to overemphasize the contemplation.  If we constantly overemphasize those things to which access is unavoidably quite rare, we overlook the ordinary authentic real experiences of everyday life as real things to enjoy, things to be happy about…  But the ordinary realities of everyday life, the faith and love with which we live our normal human lives, provide the foundation on which we build those higher things.  If there is no foundation, then we have nothing at all!  How can we relish the higher things of God if we cannot enjoy some simple little thing that comes along as a gift…  We should enjoy these things and then we will be able to go on to more rare experiences…”

Which quote stands out to you most?

Book Review – Waiting for God by Simone Weil


Simone Weil is a mysterious twentieth century mystic, philosopher who died at a young age in her early thirties.  This is a fascinating book where she talks about how she does not want to be a part of the church because it will separate her from others who lead a common life.  She had a deep love for God, but struggled with the church in her time.  Her death was a result of fasting to the point of health complications and starvation on behalf of poor labor workers.

This woman led her life outside of the box of the status quo Christian tradition as most mystic do and are marginalized because of it.  In Waiting for God, Simone Weil has an emphasis on beauty in the world, friendship and simply waiting for the precious gifts of life without grasping after them.

The idea of creative attention in loving our neighbor has been a path of authentic engagement for me as I live in my local community.  Creative attention has stirred my soul to love.  This book has inspired in me a different way to hold the church, my neighbor and my own soul.

I love Simone’s stance toward the church, the world and others.  She did not want to live separated from others and did not like systems that fostered this separation.  May we all have the courage to follow her example of deep love and compassion for the world we live in.

  • No friendship where there is inequality

“There is no friendship where there is inequality.”

  • The universe is beautiful on all levels

“…we must have faith that the universe is beautiful on all levels…  It is this very agreement of an affinity of perfect beauties that gives a transcendent character to the beauty of the world.  Nevertheless the part of this beauty we experience is designed and destined for our human sensibility.”

  • Co-operation of divine wisdom in creation

“The beauty of the world is the co-operation of divine wisdom in creation…”

  • Absent from the Christian tradition

“…we might say that the beauty of the world is almost absent from the Christian tradition.  This is strange.  It is difficult to understand.  It leaves a terrible gap…”

  • By loving our neighbor we imitate the divine love

“By loving our neighbor we imitate the divine love which created us and all our fellows.  By loving the order of the world we imitate the divine love which created this universe of which we are a part.”

  • Being made of creative attention

“Love for our neighbor, being made of creative attention, is analogous to genius.”

  • Developing the power of attention

“Happy are those who pass their adolescence and youth in developing this power of attention…”

  • The capacity to give one’s attention is a miracle

“Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance; the love of our neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made up of this same substance.  Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention.  The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle…”

  • We obtain the most precious gifts by waiting for them

“We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them.  Man cannot discover them by his own powers, and if he sets out to seek for them he will find in their place counterfeits of which he will be unable to discern the falsity.”

  • Not the slightest love for the Church

“But I have not the slightest love for the Church in the strict sense of the word, apart from its relation to all these things that I do love.  I am capable of sympathizing with those who have this love, but I do not feel it…”

  • Friendship has something universal about it

“Friendship has something universal about it.  It consists of loving a human being as we should like to be able to love each soul in particular of all those who go to make up the human race…”

  • Distance kept and respected

“There is not friendship where distance is not kept and respected.”

  • Transform bond into friendship

“When Christ said to his disciples, ‘Love one another,’ it was not attachment he was laying down as their rule.  As it was a fact that there were bonds between them due to the thoughts, the life, and the habits they shared, he commanded them to transform these bonds into friendship, so that they should not be allowed to turn into impure attachment or hatred.”

  • The soul loves in emptiness

“In the period of preparation the soul loves in emptiness.  It does not know whether anything real answers its love.  It may believe that it knows, but to believe is not to know.  Such a belief does not help.  The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry.  The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying.  A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no bread.  It goes on crying just the same.”

  • Beauty is a miracle

“Beauty is always a miracle…”

What do you think of this twentieth century mystic Simone Weil?

Book Review – Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher L. Heuertz


In a world that has lost a sense of community in everyday life together, Christopher L. Heuertz’s book Unexpected Gifts brings us back to a place of discovering this beautiful way of connecting with one another.  He shares 11 challenges that can also turn into gifts as we persevere to live into a sense of community: failure, doubt, insulation, isolation, transition, the unknown self, betrayal, incompatibility, ingratitude, grief and restlessness.

I loved how the book reminds us of our need to recognize that grace weaves our lives together in unexpected way as we commit to relationship with one another.  As it is a struggle to be human at times, Christopher brings to our attention how necessary community is in the twenty-first century.  Without community, our journey in this life will become even more difficult as we are not meant to live in isolation, fear and resentment.

I particularly was struck by the theme of finding our common life together through the similarities we hold rather than our differences.  This means a lot to me because as I am living in community I am seeing how important compassion is to binding lives together around the unifying principle of connection, solidarity and empathy.  People are not so different from me than what I had originally thought.  Our commonalities and diversity collide making something beautiful through relational connection in everyday life.

The book addresses that life is to be lived through a paradox where we find unexpected gifts as we do not give up on the practice of sharing life together with others.  Community reveals to us how much we struggle to find mature ways to love others.  Unexpected Gifts will help us to love in a world that doesn’t give a way of love much of a chance to flourish and shape us.

I love this book because it brings up honest questions about doubt.  Can faith and doubt co-exist?  Christopher says yes and encourages us to explore safe places in community where our questions can be respected and held lightly as this is a necessary part of our growth.  Romantic ideals of community are put forth as having little value as Christopher is very honest about how difficult community is to create with one another.

Inclusiveness, friendship and creative absence are all important to the contents of the book.  Christopher has found that as we pursue community we also need times away that are creative, nurturing and bring us a new perspective from our insularity.  There is great wisdom to be found here as taking time to care for ourselves is essential through solitude that leads us back into deeper relational connection in community.  Everyday rhythms and rest go hand in hand.

This book is a great one for anyone looking to discern the challenges and gifts that a life of community can bring.  It takes courage, humility and an openness to discover our true self to live into this.  Christopher L. Heuertz is one of the best guides to help us on this journey to live into our humanity deeply.  Highly recommended reading!

  • Grace in community

“Grace in community brings us closer together, not in a way that creates unhealthy fusion but in one that validates the human struggle we all face.”

  • Overidentify people by their differences in relation to us

“Sure, it’s possible, and more likely probable in most cases, that our false centers are simply an identification with the groups to which we belong.  It’s usually unintentionally fortified and almost always perpetuated without negative or harmful motivations.  But when we don’t recognize the false center we’ve created in ourselves, we perpetuate exclusive environments that overidentify people by their differences in relation to us.”

  • Immature expressions of love

“It’s important to note that in authentic relationships and dynamic communities, most betrayals are simply immature expressions of love.”

  • Community is a place where we are free to ask tough questions

“Community is an incubator in which faith and doubt can coexist.  In tension and in safety, community is a place where we are free to ask tough questions.  And when we don’t have good answers or the doubts start to take us to dark places, community is there to remind us of God’s faithfulness.”

  • Community isn’t the romantic ideal so many believe it to be

“…community isn’t the romantic ideal so many believe it to be.  It’s difficult.”

  • Ambiguous and messy attempts to find our way back to one another

“…in community there really are no resolutions, only ambiguous and messy attempts to find our way back to one another.  Attempts that, in our humanity, often create new tensions.”

  • Awkward and inappropriate efforts of tokenism

“Until we confess the poverty of our friendships, many of our attempts to foster inclusion run the risk of becoming awkward and inappropriate efforts of tokenism.  It doesn’t feel good to be the ‘token’ anything in any community.  It diminishes everyone’s humanity to be misled by communities that appear to be inclusive but are actually using minority members for cosmetic purposes.”

  • The incubator of our imaginations

“Let our failures further unite us, illuminating the hidden beauty within us.  May our doubts lead to greater faith.  Let us never become so isolated that we lose the fragrance of the blossoms under our very noses.  May isolation expose our divisions and lead us to healing and wholeness.  Let our transitions be grace-filled, accepting and honest.  May we come to truly know ourselves, receiving the beauty and terror of our humanity.  Let our love not lead to betrayal.  May we find better ways to negotiate chemistry and compatibility without losing one another or ourselves along the way.  Let our gratitude be sustained, leading us away from unspoken resentments.  May we never forget to celebrate, even as we grieve.  May we live faithfully in the undramatic – the incubator of our imaginations – bearing witness to hope…  And in discovering the unexpected gifts of shared space, live the way of community.”

  • Keep showing up even when it’s unappreciated or unnoticed

“Just think of the dazzling, deep discoveries we’d find if only we had the fortitude in our friendships, communities, or vocations to keep showing up, even when it’s unappreciated or unnoticed.”

  • Bound together, committed to a common life

“Though we exist as individuals, each imbued with our own unique identities and expressions of faith, the loom reminds us that we’re bound together, committed to a common life.  Our grief over our broken unity mingles with joy over our collective bond…”

  • When our lives are woven together

“In community we join together lives that are bursting with promise and potential but that are also marked by grief and sorrow.  We exist as individual strands of a larger narrative.  When our lives are woven together with others’, something new emerges – rich in texture, vibrant, and transcendent.”

  • Tensions we struggle to navigate

“Yet it’s these painful community experiences, these tensions we struggle to navigate, that hold surprising gifts…”

  • Doubt and questions are a natural part of faith

“We all know that the doubts will come – they should come, if we’re honest – but they don’t have to overcome us.  Together we remind one another of God’s presence, faithfulness, and nearness.  We do this with courage and humility.  We accept that doubt and questions are a natural part of faith; that they belong in our lives and our communities.”

  • Bound by a commitment to one another

“…community is not just a collective of people united around a cause.  Rather, it’s a group of people bound by a commitment to one another – and community becomes the loom that weaves them together.  A loom that takes all our colors and pieces, fabrics and faults, and interweaves us to create something greater than ourselves…”

  • Accepting the flawed parts of ourselves when we’re alone

“In our own freedom, we still go about making mistakes, disappointing ourselves and others, living with guilt, shame, regret, or fear that the consequences of our worst moments will catch up to us.  Many of us have a hard time accepting the flawed parts of ourselves when we’re alone – a struggle that’s even more difficult when we’re in community.”

  • Nurturing communities that make space for doubt

“What does it look like to nurture communities that make space for doubt, for the honest questions we’re afraid to ask?  The questions we’re not supposed to ask?  How does community sustain us when we feel we can’t go on alone?”

  • Making space for absence

“One of the more difficult disciplines in forming community is making space for absence.  This can be especially tough in the early stages of community formation because people hate to miss out on the life and rhythms of their community.  But if the development of a community isn’t marked by periods of withdrawal, retreat, or other forms of creative absence, there can be a tendency for the community to close in on itself.”

  • Our communities won’t always be able to offer us everything we need

“Our communities won’t always be able to offer us everything we need, nor will we be able to give back all that they need from us.  This is tricky because sometimes we can’t see it when we’re submerged in community life.  The insulation of shared rhythms and life sometimes convolutes our perception.  That’s often when we need to step back, to refocus.”

  • Creative absence is an unexpected gift

“Creative absence is one of those unexpected gifts that seems to benefit everyone involved…”

  • Cutting off needed parts of the body of community

“We’re fractured and divided…  The sad truth is that we are the ones cutting off needed parts of the body of community, leaving us unable to participate in many of the activities community was designed for.”

In what ways have you discovered unexpected gifts in community with others?

Book Review – The Power of Solitude: Discovering Your True Self in a World of Nonsense and Noise by Annemarie S. Kidder


In this book by Annemarie S. Kidder she explores the discipline of solitude.  The first part of the book engaged me as she talks about how we need to have longing for eyes to see ourselves, others and God more clearly.  I was encouraged to see my eyes as having longings.  This is becoming the desire of my life that I am longing with my eyes in new ways to reimagine all of life differently than what I had known.

There are a lot of themes about community, connection and solitude as integrated together.  The paradox of this is mysterious and risky as it puts us into a posture of living out our questions.  This path of mystery, risk and the unknown will help us to find our true self that has been buried within many years of illusion that we have created throughout life.  I like how she goes into the roots of this practice through the Benedictine’s rule of life.

Overall, this book will help us on our journey to an awakening in our soul to value this liberating practice that is paradoxical, mysterious and vulnerable.  We need to find space to detach at times from engaging the world that we know to get a new perspective on life.  This is essential in the twenty-first century as we navigate a highly changing culture.  Highly recommended reading for anyone searching for an authentic path in life.

  • An invitation to solitude, where I can recover the boundaries of a true self

“Community, whether loose- or tight-knit, has the potential of drawing out our ingratitude, our unforgiving nature, our potential to manipulate, our inclination to force our preferences on others.  Like a mirror, community reflects back to me the dissonance between my own will and that of the group.  It issues an invitation to solitude, where I can recover the boundaries of a true self, consider whether I am just talking for talking’s sake, and observe the degree to which I am buoyed or drowned by it.  Community exposes vices – and virtues – I never thought possible, and it shakes me awake from the dreamlike pleasantries of an imaginary self I thought whole and well.”

  • Open ourselves to our questions

“…open ourselves to our sacred questions: the questions of our attachments and ties, our passions and dislikes, and the immediate and practical claims placed on us by our environment.”

  • The value of solitude

“Those shoved to the periphery of society and forgotten behind bars give eloquent testimony of solitude’s value.”

  • Contemplating our aloneness

“Contemplating our aloneness is a frightening experience…”

  • Finding ourselves and the true ground of our being

“Practicing solitude and detachment leads to an increased vision of union with all things.  In the paradox of separating ourselves from the external world, we find ourselves and the true ground of our being…”

  • A great paradox

“It is a great paradox.  What seems to limit our self-expression brings us to a deeper expression of self.  What appears to confine prepares us for new freedom.  What appears like death births life…”

  • Experiencing solitude

“…experiencing solitude comes at a price…”

  • Letting down our defenses and preconceived notions of reality

“When we stop identifying with our doing, we can begin being, and as we stop doing just for the sake of doing, we can begin communing and seeing the stranger as part of ourselves.  In communing with one another, we let down our defenses and preconceived notions of reality.  We receive the true presence of the other, and in doing so we receive the presence of Christ.  Communing presupposes an act of solitude in which we allow both ourselves and others simply to be. And in that being, in that sacred solitude, we recognize Christ in others and ourselves.”

  • Becoming more fully one’s self

“The cultivation of solitude is a process of individuation and self-definition, of becoming more fully one’s self…”

  • A deep inner listening

“How do we enter into a deep inner listening and an acute awareness of ourselves and God so that we may be set free in Christ?  We do this by embracing and entering into solitude with longing eyes and open hearts…”

  • Solace, refreshment, and revitalization

“…we receive solace, refreshment, and revitalization in solitude…”

  • Staying put and in place

“Staying put and in place is uncomfortable and disquieting.  It means sticking things out in the situation in which God has put us and in the context of the people we find there.  But it also creates in us the recognition that our self-worth is not defined by our work.  The one doing the same type of work, year in year out, may be closer to the truth than the one forever looking outside of self for fulfillment…”

  • Invites perseverance and patience

“Stability blocks the escape route and invites perseverance and patience on our part…”

  • Opening myself up to see and understand what has kept me asleep

“Our task is to ask questions that fit our height and weight, questions also that are not bigger than life but come in bite-size format.  No one can answer for me or offer a one-size-fits-all tool that will magically fix everything.  The question for me – at this point… in my journey, in my interconnectedness with others – will be a gauge, a barometer of my internal state.  Rather than being a springboard toward a resolution and a defined end, it is a tool to measure my state of awareness, my being awake to the blinding and binding ties, inviting utter honesty to myself and to the God who made me.  No one has to know how I am doing with the answers, or whether I am finding any answers at all.  What I am concerned with is opening myself up to see and understand what has driven me and what has kept me asleep.”

  • Cultivating our solitude in the wilderness of the soul

“Living into such realized solitude takes us into the wilderness of the human spirit and of God.  Our loneliness… reconstructs the loneliness of God…  Thereby, we are confronted with our aloneness and taught to live there.  By cultivating our solitude in the wilderness of the soul, our aloneness converges with the aloneness of God, drawing spirit to Spirit and uniting the two as one.”

  • Losing our firm grip on life

“By losing our firm grip on life, by contemplatively measuring our present pain and discomfort against the eternal now, we are ‘losing our life’ and entering into solitude before God in whom the temporal and the eternal converge and connect and unite.”

How have you practiced solitude in your life?

Book Review – A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life – Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World by Parker J. Palmer


This was the first book that I read by Parker J. Palmer almost ten ago when it first came out.  I was introduced to themes of a hidden wholeness, the wisdom of the soul, the paradox of solitude and community, exploring the true self, creating circles of trust, listening, living the questions, awareness of the inner teacher and nonviolence.  This book is one of my favorites!  The work of Parker J. Palmer in this book is wonderful and much needed in a world that is divided from a hidden wholeness within.

The title of the book comes from twentieth century mystic Thomas Merton who used the term “a hidden wholeness” in his writings back in the 1950’s and 1960’s throughout his astonishing life.  I loved the analogy of the soul being like a wild animal in the forest.  If we are too loud or aggressive it will run away and we lose sight of it fast.  Palmer talks about how we must be gentle, silent and nurturing toward our soul or we will scare it away within us.  It will become buried or go in hiding.

Becoming divided no more is something I have been thinking a lot about as we are all called in our own context into a hidden wholeness.  Building community and circles of trust where we do not save or fix someone, but learn to listen allowing others the chance to explore the inner teacher within is so important in this piece of writing.  Parker J. Palmer is coming from a Quaker tradition where the process of exploration and discernment is essential in a person’s life.

This book is so helpful to understanding the paradox between solitude and community in twenty-first century spirituality.  It has helped me to have a deeper appreciation for discovering my true self as the greatest gift to the world that I can offer.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking at exploring an authentic path in life where they are no longer divided.

  • How can I affirm another’s identity when I deny my own?

“I pay a price when I live a divided life – feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I am denying my own selfhood.  The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness.  How can I affirm another’s identity when I deny my own?  How can I trust another’s integrity when I defy my own?  A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open – divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within – things around me get shaky and start to fall apart.”

  • The divided life is a wounded life

“The divided life is a wounded life, and the soul keeps calling us to heal the wound.  Ignore that call, and we find ourselves trying to numb our pain with an anesthetic of choice, be it substance abuse, overwork, consumerism, or mindless media noise.  Such anesthetics are easy to come by in a society that wants to keep us divided and unaware of our pain…”

  • Solitude and community are essential

“Of course, solitude is essential to personal integration: there are places in the landscapes of our lives where no one can accompany us.  But because we are communal creatures who need each other’s support – and because, left to our own devices, we have an endless capacity for self-absorption and self-deception – community is equally essential to rejoining soul and role.”

  • Choosing to live divided no more

“When I was living my outer life at great remove from inner truth, I was not merely on the wrong path: I was killing my selfhood with every step I took.  When one’s life is a walking death, the step into literal death can seem very easy to take.  Medication may offer temporary relief from depression of this sort, but the real cure goes beyond drugs.  We can reclaim our lives only by choosing to live divided no more.  It is a choice so daunting – or so it seems like in the midst of depression – that we are unlikely to make it until our pain becomes unbearable, the pain that comes from denying or defying true self.”

  • Welcoming the wisdom of the soul

“We can survive, and even thrive, amid the complexities of adulthood by deepening our awareness of the endless inner-outer exchanges that shape us and our world and of the power we have to make choices about them.  If we are to do so, we need spaces within us and between us that welcome the wisdom of the soul…”

  • Holding solitude and community together as a true paradox

“If we are to hold solitude and community together as a true paradox, we need to deepen our understanding of both poles.  Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self.  It is not about the absence of other people – it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.  Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other.  It is not about the presence of other people – it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.”

  • Desiring to be seen and heard

“When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honored.  If your problem is soul-deep, your soul alone knows what you need to do about it, and my presumptuous advice will only drive your soul back into the woods.  So the best service I can render when you speak to me about such a struggle is to hold you faithfully in a space where you can listen to your inner teacher.”

  • Telling our vulnerable stories

“Instead of telling our vulnerable stories, we seek safety in abstractions, speaking to each other about our opinions, ideas, and beliefs rather than about our lives.  Academic culture blesses this practice by insisting that the more abstract our speech, the more likely we are to touch the universal truth that unites us.  But what happens is exactly the reverse: as our discourse becomes more abstract, the less connected we feel.  There is less sense of community among intellectuals than in the most ‘primitive’ society of storytellers.”

  • An open question expands rather than restricts exploration

“An open question is one that expands rather than restricts your arena of exploration, one that does not push or even nudge you toward a particular way of framing a situation…”

  • We can share silence and laughter only when we trust each other

“It takes good friends to sustain silence and laughter because both make us vulnerable.  Silence makes us vulnerable because when we stop making noise, we lose control: who knows what thoughts or feelings might arise if we turned off the television or stopped yammering for a while?  Laughter makes us vulnerable because it often comes in response to our flaws and foibles: who knows how foolish we might look when the joke is on us?  We can share silence and laughter only when we trust each other – and the more often we share them, the deeper our trust grows.” 

  • Faithfully holding the tension between the reality and possibility

“The insight at the heart of nonviolence is that we live in a tragic gap – a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be.  It is a gap that never has been and never will be closed.  If we want to live nonviolent lives, we must learn to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility in hopes of being opened to a third way.”

What stirs in you about a hidden wholeness?