Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Month: January, 2015

13 Ways to Create a Life of Silence and Solitude


Silence and solitude has been a valuable practice for me as I have grown in my spirituality over the years.  Working through the fear of being alone and with my thoughts has been something I have had to work hard to develop in myself.  I am coming to see silence and solitude as both beneficial and strengthening toward my own posture of work in the world.

This practice is something I cannot live without.  It is essential to my being in the world in a functional way.  It helps me in community with others in everyday life.

The things I care about and am drawn to really come out within me in silence and solitude.  This is how I understand what is authentic for me as I navigate some discernment in life.  I am finding the kingdom of God within me through silence and solitude.  This is a profound blessing and an uneasy path of breaking apart the status quo narratives that I have believed in.

Here are 13 ideas around creating a life of silence and solitude for yourself.

1. Be open to learn from the wisdom of Christ

There is so much wisdom to learn from Christ in silence and solitude.  There is so much depth to experience in silence and solitude.  We need not fear this in any way.  We are all called into the depth of our humanity by Christ.

2. Open up to the kingdom of God within

This is the call to follow Jesus.  We follow Jesus into the depths of our humanity within us.  This is where we discover the kingdom of God.

3. Connect seeking God with exploring the depth of your humanity

Life cannot stop at believing.  We have to cultivate a depth to our humanity through seeking God in everyday life.  This is the call of the body of Christ in the place we inhabit together.  Our communion with God cannot remain a static belief that is not connected to the depth of our humanity.

Sandra Maitri writes, “We suffer because we are living at a distance from our depths – it’s as simple as that…” 

4. Be intentional about your own growth

Our silence and solitude shows us that there is so much more to our humanity than propositional belief.  We need to seek the depth of our humanity all throughout our lives as the body of Christ in the parish.  Our belief should not be a block from entering into the depths of our humanity through an intentional growth of our entire lives.

5. Take responsibility in your life

Belief is always connected to depth or it is dead.  Our belief in God should lead us into the depth of our humanity.  It should not be used as a cliché to keep us from taking responsibility in our lives.

6. Build the bridge between belief and depth

The mystical imagination does not allow our belief to destroy the bridge to the depth of our humanity.  Our silence and solitude builds this bridge between belief and depth.

7. Have a sense of courage

Jenna Smith states, “Depth can be a scary thing…” 

8. Engage the imagination

We need to have the courage to face the depth of our humanity, the potential, the opportunities, the unknown, the fear and the struggle to be marginalized in a world that lives at a shallow level a lot of the time.  Depth opens the imagination in fascinating ways.

9. Embrace a listening spirit

We practice silence and solitude to seek God in everyday life together.  As we seek God in this way, we are creating a depth to our humanity.  Our silence and solitude prepares us to embrace a listening spirit.  There is so much God is wanting to communicate to us, but many times our lives are too loud to understand.

10. Never stop seeking God in some way

We must never stop seeking God in silence and solitude in the place we inhabit.  If we stop seeking God, we will stop living.  If we stop seeking God, we will disappear.

If we stop seeking God, we will not exist.  We will be a human body with no life within.  The mystical imagination always seeks God.

11. Do not cling to a silence you think you have found

Twentieth century influential writer Thomas Merton says, “For inner silence depends on a continual seeking, a continual crying in the night, a repeated bending over the abyss.  If we cling to a silence we think we have found forever, we stop seeking God and the silence goes dead within us…”

12. Develop an experiential maturity within

The noise within us needs to stop or will never listen long enough to embrace the depth of our humanity and develop an experiential maturity within.  The depth of our humanity is at risk within us if we do not practice silence and solitude.  Our silence and solitude is our sanity in this life.

13. Be creative in your listening and communion

It is how we listen to the depth of our humanity.  It is how we commune with God.  It is how we experience life in creative ways.

What is the most difficult part of silence and solitude for you?  Is it a fast paced life or too much noise in your head?


My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in out hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist

Book Review – The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits by John McKnight


This is a wonderfully written book of deep insight and revolutionary ideas.  John McKnight emphasizes how social service systems have co-opted genuine care in society and have left us with almost no community in everyday life in our neighborhoods.  People are put into a forest of services where they are segregated from the everyday life of communities.  Clustered together and dependent on service systems leaves others “clients” rather than “citizens” in the place they live.

We need to move toward a more interdependent society where dependency is not masked by service.  John McKnight emphasizes how professionalism and service providers have taken away a vital component of inclusivity, diversity and human dignity within our world.  Community has become a forgotten value as a result.  This is sad and needs to be reevaluated in our time.

Many people think that services are good.  But what we don’t understand is they leave others dependent.  And this is the kindest way to destroy someone.  Services can become a trap of dependency leaving others as stigmatized, segregated and pushed to the forgotten edges of society.

A Careless Society talks about several different systems we have created in our world that do not show hospitality: professionalism, medicine, human service systems and the criminal justice system.  John McKnight goes on to show how these systems break down the possibility of creating interdependent associations that create community.  It is the breakdown of community in our society that has led to all kinds of loneliness, misery and violence.

This book has influenced me a lot.  I love the work of John McKnight!  He is a true revolutionary voice in our twenty-first century world where community is a strange way of life for many North Americans.  Highly recommended reading for anyone who cares about our future as a society!

  • People who are defined as the problem

“Revolutions begin when people who are defined as problems achieve the power to redefine the problem.”

  • There is a clear need for public servants

“There is a clear need for public servants – not public servicers – and to engage in a new struggle to reinvent America.  The incrementalism that we have depended upon just isn’t working anymore.  We cannot delude ourselves.  We must be true to ourselves and those we represent.”

  • Dependency masked by service

“The enemy is a set of interests that need dependency masked by service.”

  • To create, invent, produce, and care

“We are in a struggle against clienthood, against servicing the poor.  We must reallocate the power, authority, and legitimacy that have been stolen by the great institutions of our society.  We must oppose those interests of governmental, corporate, professional, and managerial America that thrive on the dependency of the American people.  We must commit ourselves to reallocation of power to the people we serve so that we no longer will need to serve.  Only then will we have a chance to realize the American dream: the right to be a citizen and to create, invent, produce, and care.”

  • Deficiency-orientated service systems

“For those whose ‘emptiness’ cannot be filled by human services, the most obvious ‘need’ is the opportunity to express and share their gifts, skills, capacities, and abilities with friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens in the community.  As deficiency-orientated service systems obscure this fact, they inevitably harm their clients and the community by preempting the relationship between them.”

  • Tools of citizenship, association, and community rust

“As the power of profession and service system ascends, the legitimacy, authority, and capacity of citizens and community descend.  The citizen retreats.  The client advances.  The power of community actions weakens.  The authority of the service system strengthens.  And as human service tools prevail, the tools of citizenship, association, and community rust.  Their uses are even forgotten.  Many local people come to believe that the service tool is the only tool, and that their task as good citizens is to support taxes and charities for more services.”

  • Disabled citizenry and impotent community associations

“The result of this professional pedagogy is a disabled citizenry and impotent community associations, unable to remember or understand how labeled people were or can be included in community life.”

  • Living in a forest of services

“By way of analogy, each individual service program is like a tree.  But when enough service programs surround people, they come to live in a forest of services.  The environment is different from the neighborhood or community.  And people who have to live in the service forest will act differently than those people whose lives are principally defined by neighborhood relationships.”

  • Residents are “clients” rather than “citizens”

“There are also low-income neighborhoods where so many people live lives surrounded by services that the neighborhood itself becomes a forest.  People who live in this neighborhood forest are now called the ‘underclass.’  This is an obvious misnomer.  Instead, we should say that the neighborhood is a place where citizens act as anyone else would if their lives were similarly surrounded and controlled by paid service professionals.  A more accurate label than ‘underclass’ would be ‘dependent on human service systems.’  A more accurate differentiation of status would be to say the residents are ‘clients’ rather than ‘citizens.’”

  • The result of a noncommunity environment

“When services grow dense enough around people’s lives, a circular process develops.  A different environment is created for these individuals.  The result of a noncommunity environment is that those who experience it necessarily act in unusual and deviant ways.  These new ways, called inappropriate behavior, are then cited by service professionals as proof of the need for separation in a forest of services and for more services.”

  • Disabled by segregation from community life

“…many vulnerable people are primarily disabled by their segregation from community life in institutions, ‘special’ programs, or service ghettos.  Paradoxically, their lives often improve significantly when they leave service systems and become effectively incorporated in community life…”

  • Working together on a face-to-face basis

“A community is more than just a place.  It comprises various groups of people who work together on a face-to-face basis in public life, not just in private.”

  • Community is about the common life

“Community is about the common life that is lived in such a way that the unique creativity of each person is a contribution to the other.  The crisis we have created in the lives of the excluded people is that they are disassociated from their fellow citizens.  We cannot undo that terrible exclusion by a thoughtless attempt to create illusory independence.  Nor can we undo it by creating a friendship with a person who lives in exclusion.”

  • Joining in association to create an inclusive world

“Our goal should be clear.  We are seeking nothing less than a life surrounded by the richness and diversity of community.  A collective life.  An everyday life.  A powerful life that gains its joy from the creativity and connectedness that comes when we join in association to create an inclusive world.”

  • The economic and community stepping-stones to a viable society

“We cannot invest in growing human services and correctional systems while increasing investments in economy and community.  Indeed, should we invest ever more in failed service and correctional systems, the economic and community stepping-stones to a viable society will vanish under the rising tide of the waters of hopelessness.”

  • The associations in community are interdependent

“The associations in community are interdependent.  To weaken one is to weaken all…  The interdependence of associations and the dependency of community upon their work is the vital center of an effective society.”

  • Vehicles that give voice to diversity

“…community structures tend to proliferate until they create a place for everyone, no matter how fallible.  They provide vehicles that give voice to diversity and assume that consensual contribution is the primary value.”

  • Shared responsibility that requires many talents

“It is obvious that the essence of community is people working together.  One of the characteristics of this community work is shared responsibility that requires many talents.  Thus, a person who has been labeled deficient can find a ‘hammock’ of support in the collective capacities of a community that can shape itself to the unique character of each person.  This collective process contrasts with the individualistic approach of the therapeutic professional and the rigidity of institutions that demand that people shape themselves to the needs of the system.”

  • It is only in community that we can find care

“We all know that community must be the center of our lives because it is only in community that we can be citizens.  It is only in community that we can find care…”

Do the words community and care resonate with you?

Book Review – A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience by John Neafsey


This is definitely a must read book!  John Neafsey looks at the calling to find meaning in life through our authenticity and social conscience in the world.  So much of our work in the world is meaningless and all about getting the most profit we can.  We are being called to a consciousness of compassion, empathy, love and opting for the poor.

Wisdom is on every page of this book as it addresses us both individually and collectively.  Listening to the voice of love within us is so important to be true to ourselves.  John Neafsey goes through 8 different aspects of discovering personal vocation and social conscience: listening, discernment, authenticity, compassion, vision, suffering, conscience and awakening from the sleep of inhumanity.

I picked this book up because it was recommended by Phileena Heuertz, the co-founder of The Gravity Center (a center for contemplative activism in Omaha, Nebraska).  A Sacred Voice is Calling is one of her favorite books she recommends on contemplative activism.  I am so thankful that I read the book!  There is a balance to this book on cultivating our own personal vocation as an individual and also awakening to a social consciousness in the world we live in.

I love the focus on living out the way of the wounded healer.  The wounded healer is one who uses their wounds in life to help others with similar wounds.  Our wounds are not wasted, but allow us to be broken open for the world in love, compassion and empathy.

We are called to social analysis of how we have participated in, supported and benefitted from status quo systems that oppress others bringing exploitation to our world.  This is valuable because our social consciousness is often times given little attention in our spirituality.  But the world matters and we are called to be true to ourselves through working toward the collective good of the communities we live in.

I feel like I have greater understanding and clarity around engaging the world with authenticity.  This book was a guide in helping me to become aware of my true self.  A Sacred Voice is Calling was instrumental in guiding me to look inside of myself and find a sense of love for the world I live in.

  • The scandal of unjust poverty

“God is always trying to get us to pay attention to the scandal of unjust poverty, the deprivations of basic human rights (enough food to survive and thrive, decent housing, education, medical care) that are the daily reality of most of our brothers and sisters in the world…”

  • Something worth listening for

“The image of the still, small voice resonates deeply with many people.  It seems to capture something of the depth and nuance and mystery of the inner voice, the patience and practice it takes to hear it, and our intuition that there really is something worth listening for beneath the noise and activity on the surface of our lives…”

  • Listening for the voice of vocation

“Listening for the voice of vocation, we inevitably encounter a conflicting mix of voices within ourselves and in our world that beckon us in many possible directions.  Which of these we allow to influence our choices will have profound implications, for better or for worse, not only for the quality of our own lives, but also for the future well-being of our loved ones, our communities, and the wider world.”

  • Participating in, supporting, or benefitting from an unjust status quo

“An important element of social analysis has to do with our capacity to question and critically examine our own social position or location in the world.  Though we may be a ‘good person’ who means well, justice still requires that we take a hard look at the ways we may be unconsciously participating in, supporting, or benefitting from an unjust status quo that gives unfair, unearned advantages to privileged persons in our society (e.g., because we are white, or male, of a certain social class, etc.).  It is necessary for us to do this so we can break free of cultural and institutional patterns of ignorance and complacency that hold us back from being truly just and compassionate persons.”

  • The call to authenticity

“…genuine callings are grounded in a sense of personal authenticity, in the God honest truth of who we are.  The call to authenticity is about knowing ourselves and being ourselves…”

  • We do not discover ourselves in isolation

“We are also faced with the complex challenge of achieving an honest integration of personal authenticity and social responsibility.  We do not discover ourselves in isolation, but only within the complex web of relationships and forces that make up the social context of the world in which we live.  Justice requires courageous attention to both individual and collective truth, a discerning awareness of our personal inner truth and a critical consciousness of the larger, collective realities of social sin and social suffering in our world.”

  • Learning to recognize our own depth

“Learning to recognize our own depth requires that we become comfortable and at home with the affective, nonrational dimension of ourselves.  Conscious awareness of our inner emotional experience helps us to become more receptive and attuned to the messages of our inmost self or conscience, which tends to speak in a language that is different from the linear, logical process of our rational mind or consciousness…”

  • Collective dimensions to empathy and compassion

“Beyond the one-to-one connection, there are collective dimensions to empathy and compassion.  Sometimes we have a special feeling for whole groups of people or communities.  Because of our unique personal backgrounds and histories, our hearts may be particularly responsive to certain kinds of people or problems.  Universal compassion for all humanity is a worthy ideal, but on a practical level most people are more likely to personally identify with the sufferings or aspirations of certain groups of people (e.g., children with special needs, oppressed minorities, victims of hunger or war).  Sometimes very specific vocations grow out of a feeling of ‘suffering with’ particular groups of others.  Compassion and our sense of social justice are related in the sense that compassion helps us to appreciate how certain unjust conditions, policies, and ideologies hurt and deprive particular groups of people.”

  • Cultivating our capacity for prophetic imagination

“Each of us, in our own way, is called to cultivate our capacity for prophetic imagination, to find our own way of making the Dream of God a reality.”

  • Love entails pain and risk

“The call to love also entails pain and risk.  We experience growing pains with every step we take in the direction of becoming more loving persons, with every increase in our capacity to give and receive genuine love…”

  • The way of the wounded healer

“Sometimes callings originate in painful life experiences that serve as a kind of initiation into the way of the wounded healer – the person whose sufferings become a source of healing to others.”

  • A way of being true to ourselves

“Taking the risk of saying ‘Yes’ to a call is itself a form of obedience, in the sense not of submitting to a law or expectation imposed on us by external authority but of surrendering ourselves to the internal authority of our true self, our conscience, our secret ‘heart.’  We obey by letting the Voice guide our choices, by allowing it to have a say in our lives.  Following a call, in this sense, is a way of being true to ourselves…”

  • An uneasy conscience may be one of the best places to listen

“…an uneasy conscience may be one of the best places to listen for the whisper of the Spirit that calls to us in a better way.”

  • Realizing our full humanity

“All of us are called to opt for the poor, to open our hearts to the poor, to do something with our lives that will make a difference for the better in theirs.  The secret to salvation, to realizing our full humanity, is to find our own way to exercise this option in a meaningful way…”

  • Success is measured by “upward mobility”

“By conventional cultural standards, success is measured by the yardstick of ‘upward mobility.’  The call of compassion, however, sometimes beckons us in a countercultural direction.  Contrary to our expectation that we will be carried upwards, we experience instead an unsettling downward pull…”

Have you found a personal vocation and a social conscience?

God is Love: Let’s Stop Stoning Others  


What is the meaning of life?  I have asked myself this question for decades.  My understanding right now is that life is about being an expression of love in the world.  Nothing else matters in life.

If God is love – than why do we have a hard time with a kind, gentle, compassionate love that is based in humility?  This is the kind of person Jesus was as he walked the earth.  I want to follow this way of love.

  • The movie called Agora

I recently saw a movie called Agora that was completely sad and disturbing.  The movie was set in the Roman Egyptian time of the fourth century as Christians started to kill all the people who they perceived as worshiping other gods.  They killed them with swords or stoned people to death by throwing large amounts of rocks at them.

There was a respected woman philosopher named Hypatia of Alexandria, one of the main characters, who was trying to bring peace to the land.  But she eventually had to flee for her life as the Christians were taking over everything.  She could not conform to what the Christians wanted her to believe because she refused to live in certainty.  Hypatia lived in her questions as she constantly practiced deep reflection and a religious system that told her she could no longer embody this way of life would be too difficult for her.

The Christians eventually condemned her of ungodliness and witchcraft.  So they arrested her, stripped her naked and stoned her to death.  As I watched this movie, a deep sadness awoke in me of how characteristic this is of Christians today who condemn, judge, stigmatize and devalue others because we perceive them as worshipping a different God.

  • Do we believe God is love?

A friend of mine recently lamented that those who say that God is love don’t seem to believe in it.  They treat others who are struggling or in poverty as if they have no worth or dignity.  If we say we believe that God is love, but show nothing but apathy toward love, this is the worst kind of practice that brings destruction into our world.

  • We are good at stoning others, but not so good at love

This is the worst form of violence.  It is like we are picking up rocks and throwing them at people’s heads until they die because of the wounds being caused by the stones.  Christians are good at stoning others in judgment, but not so good at caring for others out of love.  Jesus never stoned anyone and told those condemning others that he who is without sin should throw the first stone.

What makes Christians think they can condemn people with stones and devalue their humanity in the process.  Doesn’t Jesus say that many will say to him, “Look at all the things we have done for you” and he will reply, “Depart from me because I never knew you?  It seemed you had no desire to show love in the world, but only wanted to throw rocks at others.”

  • Jesus weeps when we throw rocks at others in arrogance and judgment

Jesus weeps when we throw rocks at people in arrogance, judgment and apathy toward love.  But sadly this is what a lot of Christianity has become, a belief system with no practice of love.  This, I believe, is the major cause of atheism in the world.  The arrogant Christian with no love, grace and humility is the most manipulative individual on the face of the earth.

Why do we stone or judge others in everyday life?

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A Story of Small Things


I have seen the small ways of love that do miracles in my neighborhood. Whenever I see others run into each other and exchange a hug, or listen to each other out of concern for one another, or work alongside each other for the collective good of the neighborhood, or partake in hospitality around a dinner table, I always smile.  To me these are small signs of relational miracles taking place before my eyes.

  •  Being awake to the relational revelations

I want to be a part of these small things happening in my neighborhood all around me each day.  To do so, I must be awake to these relational revelations that come at me like the cool breeze on my face on a summer day.

  •  Understanding the small things in everyday life

My friend Nora understands that the small things in everyday life matter so much.  She first started to learn this when she was pregnant with her first child, Maggie, several years ago.  Our friend Alfredo would give her avocadoes or put aside soup as a sign of his neighborliness and care.

  •  The small relational ways God works

Nora came to realize the extent of Alfredo’s care for her family despite the hard time he has speaking English, as his first language is Spanish.  Alfredo did the small things that he could do at the time.  Alfredo did similar good deeds when Nora was pregnant with her second child, Bridget, a few years later.  Alfredo has been a sign to Nora and her husband, Nick, of the small relational ways that God sometimes works.

  •  Making a place that is safe enough for children

Nora has been living in the neighborhood for about nine years as a part of the Tacoma Catholic Worker.  She has raised her two daughters in the urban context of Downtown Tacoma and sees this as a good thing, even in the midst of the poverty there.  Nora does the small things of seeing to it that the place where she lives is safe enough for children, her own and others too.

  •  Striving for a peaceful and respectful neighborhood

She strives for a peaceful and respectful neighborhood where all people have a voice and are seen even if they are poor and marginalized.  Nora embodies a different sense of spirituality to her daughters in which neighbors live out their faith together in everyday life.  She is always showing love and belonging to her children through her gentle voice and her affectionate ways.

  •  It is better to help others!

One day seven-year-old Maggie, Nora’s older daughter, came to her asking, “Are there other people who don’t have a community that helps others?”  Nora looked at her in amazement and just said, “Yes, Maggie, there are people who do not have a loving community that helps others.”  Then Maggie said, “It’s better to help others!”

  •  Being an advocate for the marginalized and hurting

Nora realized that day just how powerfully her lifestyle had impacted Maggie: She had picked up on her embodied expression of spirituality in the neighborhood where Nora is an advocate for the poor, the marginalized, and the hurting in community with others.

  •  Gardening is something that brings people together

Nora loves to work in the neighborhood community garden with her children and others.  She feels gardening is something that brings people together in collaboration and friendship, while providing healthier local food sources.  For Nora, the community garden is a sacred place of putting our hands in the dirt, playing with children and taking in God’s creation on beautiful sunny days.

  •  A place of imagination, play, picnics, laughter, and friendship

The garden is a place of imagination, play, picnics, laughter, and friendship. The garden is a place of growth and healing in a lot of ways to our neighborhood.  It is sometimes the facilitator of great conversations, parties, and important community events such as weddings and celebrations.  The things that might seem to be small to some should never be underestimated in everyday life.  They are the vehicles to deep wisdom and relational care among us, as Nora has learned in all kinds of ways.

  •  The small is beautiful, glorious, valuable, and strong

The small is beautiful.  The small is glorious.  The small is valuable.  The small is strong.

  •  The small is countercultural, relevant, ordinary, and subversive

The small is countercultural.  The small is relevant.  The small is ordinary.  The small is subversive to the status quo.

Artist Luci Shaw has come to the conclusion, “There’s a surprising power in small things …”

  •  The small is actually really powerful

What we think is small is actually really powerful.  But it is not always rational. We cannot understand the small just like we cannot always understand Christ.

  •  We need to embody and “taste” the small as the body of Christ

His ways are too “small” for our imaginations.  His ways are too “small” for us to control and manipulate.  His ways are too “small” to be recognized.  We need to embody and “taste” the small as the body of Christ in the parish.

What is one story you can share of embracing the small in your neighborhood?

Seeing the Person Right in Front of Me


Every person is so valuable to our Creator.

James M. Houston notes, “If God created us in his own image, to be like him, then every single person has an incalculable value …”

  •  Everyone is created with such deep value and mystery

Every person in their humanity is created with such deep value and mystery.  It is so valuable that when this value and mystery lies undiscovered, we live with a disability in our self-perceptions that scar us our whole lives.

  •  Cultivating the communal imagination

We hold such value and mystery toward one another in the parish.  Everyday relational life should be focused on drawing out these assets.  Doing so cultivates the communal imagination.  Searching for the value and mystery in others is one of the ways we learn to love.  It is there, we just have to find it.

  •  Seeing the person standing right in front of me

Barbara Brown Taylor articulates this well, “The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery.  The moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over.  I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead.

I cannot turn others into an object to be manipulated.  I must see their mystery. I must see their value.  Anything less makes me less than human.

  •  Encouraging our mutual humanity

We need to encourage our mutual humanity by learning to see the value and mystery within each of us because we are all created in the image of God. The body of Christ in the parish has to nurture this value and mystery in others. This is where the relational miracles will take place among us, when our value and mystery are liberated.

This is the way Christ related to the people of his day.

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  When a women who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.  Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender.  One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both.  Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?  I came into your house.  You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.  You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.  Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much.  But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:36-47).

I like this story because Jesus is seeing the value and mystery in this woman whom others saw as something less than beautiful.  Others saw her as “sinful” and wrote her off as having nothing of value or mystery.  She was just who they thought her to be.  But Jesus saw her for who she was, as a person created in the image of God.

She had value and mystery to Jesus.  She had human worth to Jesus.  He probably had known this woman in his local context and saw how others had constantly made her to be something less than human.

  •  How we are called to love

Jesus wanted to show everyone what the kingdom of God is like relationally through his interaction with this woman.  Others had a hard time grasping the love that Christ was demonstrating toward this woman.  And yet this is how we are called to love: by seeing the value and mystery in others in the place where we live.

How have you valued others in life?

5 Ways that Listening Brings Us Together


Listening has been the most life transforming practice for me.  Nothing has shaped me more.  Listening has taken me to the depths of my soul and has challenged me to see life in new ways.  Sometimes it is painful and sometimes it leads to joy, but it is the primary way the Spirit lives in me.

Here are 5 ways that listening can bring us together in everyday life.

1. Listening fosters respect and humility

Without listening we become arrogant toward and disrespectful of others.  We destroy our relationships and bring on the unconscious suicide of our personality.  We slowly deteriorate and do not carry ourselves well.

2. Listening cultivates love

We become blind and ignorant.  We become self-centered and begin to hate. As a matter of fact, all hate stems from a refusal to listen.  We are not called to hate as the body of Christ, but we are called to love.  And love is about listening in the parish.

“To live without listening is not to live at all; it is simply to drift in my own backwater,” writes the wise Benedictine Joan Chittister.

In other words, when we don’t listen, we die.  We are living a slow agonizing death without listening.  God is a listener and we are made in his image to listen.

 “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen …” (James 1:19).

James is encouraging us to listen.  He urges us to “take note of this.”  That means he thinks it is important.  I think there is a lot of correlation here with Paul’s encouragement in 1 Corinthians 13 to love above all things.

3. Listening makes us alive

Listening as a way to express our love for others is so important to the body of Christ in place, locality and neighborhood.  The particulars of everyday life need a fabric of relationships where listening is active and alive.

Keri Wyatt Kent says, “Our listening communicates love, often more clearly than our words …”

4. Listening is deeply relational

The communal imagination needs to listen if it is to communicate love.  There is no way around this.  Listening precedes a lot of other less important things that might seem more “spiritual” to us.  In fact, listening is deeply spiritual and deeply relational.

5. Listening is the basis for reconciliation

Thich Nhat Hanh observes such truth when he writes, “Deep listening is the basis for reconciliation …”

Could this possibly be so?  If listening really leads to reconciliation, then the members of the body of Christ have found the key to getting along with each other and those they live with in the neighborhood in the particulars of everyday life.  This would be truly miraculous.  It is in the ordinary, relational particulars of everyday life that God manifests his miracles.

Listening as a means to reconciliation has a big part to play in this.  This doesn’t seem “spiritual” to us, but it is: listening is infused with the miraculous, particular, ordinary aspects of relational living in the parish.  What good news to our lives! Listening is life-giving, and we can all do it through the guidance of Christ, who is the head of the body.

Does listening play a part in your spirituality?

The Kingdom of God is Not a Franchise


In the corporate culture world all you see is the franchise.  There is very little room for the local, organic way of life that is relational.  We have to fit everything into our franchise box.

  • Nothing is creative or unique

Nothing is creative.  Nothing is unique.  Everything is predicable.  Everything is boring.

  • What has happened to beautiful ways of life?

What has happened to the beautiful ways of life that Jesus taught us to live out?  Why is life about prefabricated clichés, boxes and franchised ways of life.  Our North American life has turned into a programed box that we cannot quite seem to escape.

  • We are not allowed to defy our status quo traditions

We are told who we are.  We are not allowed to defy the status quo traditions of family, religion, education, economy, culture, society and media.  But maybe I don’t want what is safe, familiar and predictable.  I want to be alive and not feel boxed in by a franchise approach to life.

C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison write, “You can’t franchise the kingdom of God…”

  • The kingdom of God is a mystery that lives inside of us

The kingdom of God is a mystery that lives inside of us.  This mystery is not a franchise at all.  It is evolving our human consciousness constantly.  It is about love and compassion in the midst of our world.

  • We are created in the image of God

We are the light of the world.  We are created in the image of God.  We are beautiful and authentic beings who long to discover our true self.  There is no greater mystery than this.

  • Stop conforming to black and white structures

I used to copy what everyone else did.  My spirituality conformed to some black and white structure.  But I am coming to see that this is seriously unhealthy and is not the way that life is supposed to be lived.

  • Developing boundaries

Developing boundaries in my life was essential for me to move into what I thought was authentic for me.  Others don’t always understand my decisions, but that is okay.  I don’t have to explain myself to anyone.  I have learned to say no which is a good thing at times.

  • The body of Christ is an organic community

The body of Christ is an organic community not a franchise.  We must work to protect this organic community from becoming an oppressive franchise in the world we live in.  There are too many examples of oppressive franchises and not enough organic, relational community in everyday life together.

  • Leave us on a path of upward mobility and greed

Why do we settle for the franchised status quo?  This is seriously not good for our health, sanity or sustainability as a way to be human.  Franchises destroy our humanity and leave us on a path of upward mobility and greed.  In this narrative we no longer care for our neighbors.

  • Care more about money, greed and possessions than people

Franchises care more about money, greed and possessions than about people.  The kingdom of God is so much more than this as it leads us to value the marginalized, the oppressed and those that corporations leave in poverty with no dignity.  Franchises have virtually no conscience.

  • Free, alive, creative, merciful, compassionate, loving and graceful

The kingdom of God is free, alive, creative, merciful, compassionate, loving and graceful.  When we lose touch with the spirit of the kingdom of God we lose touch with what makes us most truly human.  We lose our lives to hatred, bitterness, resentment, unkindness, disrespect, judgment and apathy.  I want to never lose touch with love.

  • The path of freedom, life and authenticity

This is the path of freedom, life and authenticity.  I have no interest in being a part of a franchise, but desire to follow in the ways of the kingdom of God.  I desire to base my dreams around something more beautiful than a franchise. I want to be my true self and a franchise has no part in the process.

How can we discover the kingdom of God within us?

2 Books I Really Love by Martin Luther King, Jr.


1. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson.

This is a great book as Martin Luther King, Jr. recounts his journey through what was happening through the civil rights movement.  We get to see his personal struggles, his fear, his courage and his passion throughout the book.  Highly recommended reading to understand Martin Luther King, Jr.’s stance on nonviolence, racism, love, community and justice in the world.


“…capitalism is always in danger of inspiring men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.  We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity…”

“The Kingdom of God is neither the thesis of individual enterprise nor the antithesis of collective enterprise, but a synthesis which reconciles the truths of both.”

“Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.  Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation.  It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking…”

“…growth comes through struggle.”

“We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity.  And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality.  May I say to you, my friends, as I come to a close… that we must keep … God in the forefront.  Let us be Christian in all our actions.  But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love.  Love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith.  There is another side called justice.”

“You must not harbor anger…  You must be willing to suffer the anger of the opponent, and yet not return anger.  You must not become bitter.  No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm.”

“Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right.  I think I’m right.  I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right.  But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering.  I’m losing my courage.  Now, I’m afraid.  And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing courage, they will begin to get weak.  The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter.  I am at the end of my powers.  I have nothing left.  I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

“My great prayer is always for God to save me from the paralysis of crippling fear, because I think when a person lives with the fears of the consequences for his personal life he can never do anything in terms of lifting the whole of humanity and solving many of the social problems which we confront in every age and every generation.”

“Often the path to freedom will carry you through prison.”

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…”

“But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.  Was not Jesus an extremist for love…  So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.  Will we be extremists for hate or for love?  Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?…”

2. Strength to Love.

It is clear in this book that Martin Luther King, Jr. believes that the greatest force in the world is love.  Strength to Love has themes of becoming transformed nonconformists, being a good neighbor, dealing with shattered dreams, antidotes to fear, a pilgrimage to nonviolence, loving our enemies and addressing the American status quo lifestyle.  This is a great book to help us to understand Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and passion.


“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking.  There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions.  Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

“Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly form the prevailing opinion…”

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood…”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy…”

“We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism…”

“The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree which we are able to love our enemies.”

“By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up.  Love transforms with redemptive power.”

“Love is the most durable power in the world…”

“In a real sense, all life is interrelated.  All men are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.  This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

“Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that.  Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it.  Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.  Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

“We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith, but superstition.”

“I have discovered that the highest good is love…  It is the great unifying force of life.  God is love.  He who loves has discovered the clue to the meaning of ultimate reality; he who hates stands in immediate candidacy for nonbeing.”

What do you like most about Martin Luther King, Jr.?

5 Books on a Practice Based Spirituality


1. Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire.

If you want to learn about the practice of silence, this books is for you.  Silence opens us to the awareness of the sacredness of all of life.  LeClaire takes on a journey to be intentional about periods of silence in our lives that foster embracing life more fully.

“How often do we race along at a speed too fast to attend to life around us?  How frequently are we caught in the windstorm of noise and activity and thus unable to hear faint whispers that hold the power to stir our souls?”


2. Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Mindfulness is calling out to us in the ordinary moments of our lives.  Thich Nhat Hanh shares in this book the art of a peaceful, mindful way of life in the midst of all the distraction and noise.  This writing is beautiful, powerful, relevant and enlightening.

“Meditation is not to avoid problems or run away from difficulties.  We do not practice to escape.  We practice to have enough strength to confront problems effectively.  To do this, we must be calm, fresh, and solid.  That is why we need to practice the art of stopping.  When we learn to stop, we become more calm, and our mind becomes clearer, like clean water after the particles of mud have settled.  Sitting quietly, just breathing in and out, we develop strength, concentration, and clarity…”


3. Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton.

Written by one of the greatest writers on spirituality in the twentieth century, Thomas Merton shares his ideas about the theme of solitude.  The reflective life of solitude is essential for us to live into our true self.  Highly recommended reading for embodying a contemplative life in the midst of the twenty-first century world.

“Life reveals itself to us only in so far as we live it.”


4. Waiting for God by Simone Weil.

Simone Weil writes to a priest about her reluctance to enter the church because she wants to identify with the outsider. Simone Weil was a controversial twentieth century mystic who died in her early thirties in an act of solidarity with poor labor workers.  Definitely a must read book in our time!

“From my earliest childhood I always had also the Christian idea of love for one’s neighbor, to which I gave the name of justice – a name it bears in many passages of the Gospel and which is so beautiful…”


5. The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring by Parker J. Palmer.

The Active Life is a fascinating book by Parker J. Palmer about the paradox of action and contemplation.  He goes on to talk about work, care, creativity, abundance and community.  Excellent book to explore what an authentic spirituality can look like.

“The quality of our active lives depends heavily on whether we assume a world of scarcity or a world of abundance.  Do we inhabit a universe where the basic things that people need – from food and shelter to a sense of competence and of being loved – are ample in nature?  Or is this a universe where such goods are in short supply, available only to those who have the power to beat everyone else to the store?  The nature of our action will be heavily conditioned by the way we answer those bedrock questions.  In a universe of scarcity, only people who know the arts of competing, even making war, will be able to survive.  But in a universe of abundance, acts of generosity and community become not only possible but fruitful as well.”


Have you become awakened to a practice based spirituality?