Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: compassion

Believing In My Compassion

114701740204911777tsNbL8fcIt has been a few days now since I got back from Nebraska from an amazing silent retreat. In my home at the Tacoma Catholic Worker I am learning to breathe deeply, walk mindfully, and live from my true self. A day before I went on the deepening retreat with Gravity, a center for contemplative activism, I wrote in a journal on April 14, 2016 the following thoughts.

  • Journal Entry: April 14, 2016

Staying present in the now takes me to a place of courage, compassion, honesty, humility, and groundedness. When I have feelings of frustration, anger, pain, and grief I need to step back and believe in my compassion. I need to be more “selfish” in a way, to be aware of my deepest needs and feelings, not to get focused on others, but lean into my own “selfishness” and my own truth. I want to be so grounded in this with sensitivity, intuition, and honesty.

This is where my gifts lie. My experiences always leave a trail of gifts behind them that come out in beautiful, mysterious ways. Sometimes I can see them and sometimes I can’t. Generosity, patience, humility, sensitivity, and responsibility are so alive in me in these moments.

I believe in my gifts, in the intuitive, sensitive, and compassionate person that I am!

  • The joy of the true self

At the retreat, I experienced a lot of joy and that joy is coming from my true self. My life has been so bombarded with melancholy the past several years and often it leaves me confused, disorientated, and lost. I feel like the prodigal son who has lost his true self. My expectations have made me resentful, angry, and depressed.

  • Dying to all my idealistic expectations of life

So I am learning to die to all my idealistic expectations of life, to be grateful for what is, to take joy in the present moment. This is so hard and painful, but beautiful. I seem to hate the dark nights of the soul that God seems to be leading me to. I don’t understand them at all.

  • Am I completely lost?

img_1333Am I losing my faith? Am I completely lost? Am I really loved by God? These are the questions that I am living in.

  • Living in my vulnerability

Maybe I’ll never have answers and I am coming to see that I am okay with that. Living in the humility, vulnerability, and loss of it all is leading me to find the kingdom of God within. My feelings and needs are speaking to me of something deeper, something I don’t quite understand yet. Maybe it has something to do with community, engagement in the world, and a practice of contemplative spirituality.

  • Seeking God in my pain

The deepening retreat has brought to my attention that I need to seek God in my pain, especially when I am embedded in loneliness. As I remember Dorothy Day and her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, it is always comforting to know that her presence and legacy goes before me to create some kind of path for authenticity, peace, community, and hope.

  • Learning to smile a little more

But I am learning to smile a little more, be more gentle with myself, and connect with what I love in life. These are some of the fruits that have come from this beloved deepening retreat. I am thankful to God for the possibility to become a contemplative activist in the world!

  • We can’t skip over or outrun darkness

Phileena Heuertz writes, “When I set out on the Camino, I hadn’t fully realized what I was getting into. Darkness came in waves. I couldn’t avoid or go around the dark physical and mental feats I faced. I had to pace myself with it and go through it. We can’t skip over or outrun darkness; neither can we hide from it in the busyness of life or in a time of extended rest…”

How have you been running from the difficult stuff of life?

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 our 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

28 Simple Ways to Become Compassionate


We are trying to do something new at the Tacoma Catholic Worker where we live in relationship with so many who are marginalized and have no voice in our culture.  This saddens me because the poor have so much to offer us.  Many of them no longer believe that others care about what they have to say or who they are.  Even though we do many services for those on the margins, we are reluctant to really listen to them and the things they care about.

So we are trying to be better listeners to the poor, oppressed and marginalized in our neighborhood.  This week at our Tuesday night liturgy meal, I facilitated a conversation with a bunch of people about their thoughts on a specific question.  The question I came up with was: How can we become more compassionate people?  The question thrown out there was especially for those who might feel marginalized and voiceless.

Many people who come to our liturgy are extremely poor, with no homes, very little money and a lot of mental illness.  Some are depressed, most are hungry for food, thirsty for something to drink and hurting for relationship.  Some of the people have given up on God or been rejected by the church because of the way they look and act.  Some are drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, immigrants, have recently come out of prison, unemployed, disabled, struggle with their physical health or are working beneath a livable wage job where they get treated unfairly.

But on this day I found out that those who feel like they have no voice have some prophetic things to say to us.  I am coming to see that there is no salvation outside the poor.  It is the poor who save us from the illusion of the affluent life of meaninglessness that it seem many of us pursue on a path of upward mobility.  Why are we so afraid to listen to the cries of the poor?

This night I broke out of my fear to open myself up to really listen to those who Jesus said what you do for one of the least of these you are doing to me.  We need to listen more to Jesus through the poor.  This could change everything about how we experience life, care for others and live in community.

Here are 28 ways that were expressed in our conversation about how we can become more compassionate toward those who feel marginalized.

1. Focus on what we have in common with one another

2. Show love and respect

3. Share some food together

4. Don’t be so judgmental

5. Take a posture of understanding

6. Listen and hear others

7. Have more availability for others to take showers in our homes

8. Engage in action that comes from the heart

9. Become open to the wisdom they bring to us

10. Be compassionate toward yourself first

11. Live for the benefit of others

12. Find ways to be together

13. Share our assets

14. Daily acts of kindness and reflection

15. Cultivate patience

16. Have a true motive of genuine care

17. Come out of your own box

18. Respond to suffering

19. Get to know each other

20. Share our thoughts and stories

21. Share our lives together

22. Engage in the process and conversion of compassion

23. Walk with others

24. Take it slow

25. Stop to pause before we immediately respond to someone

26. Realize that we all want the same thing, not to be dehumanized

27. Help someone out while feeling with emotion

28. Refuse to be bitter and hateful

What has touched you through this story?

Reimagining God in the Face of Our Neighbors


I am discovering that Christ is reborn in the face of my neighbors that I encounter in everyday life in the place I live.  This is fascinating, frightening and wonderful.  When I learn to see my neighbor, I learn to become aware of Christ’s presence in the world.

  •  Being present to our neighbors

It is now the work of all of us to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our context of the world.  To love ourselves well is to love our neighbors well too.  When we live a life of reflection and rest, this brings greater capacity to be present to Christ through being present to our neighbors.  In this encounter we experience the reality of God through the face of our neighbors.

  •  Neighbors teach me of the divine

How wonderful it is for me to experience the goodness of God through a kind word, an affirming encounter or meaningful work together with a neighbor who is teaching me of the divine by their very presence.  I also learn of the divine through times when neighbors frustrate me or treat me less than human.  This calls me to greater responsibility of forgiveness, humility and compassion within myself.  And God has called me to be an expression of love for all people in the world with the divine nature of compassion that lives within me.

  •  Compassion lives in all of us

This compassion lives in all of us because we are create in the image of God, who is compassion and love in essence.  Compassion is the greatest value we can express in our world.  Compassion is stronger than violence, fear and hatred.  A lot of the times, compassion is experienced as a give and take through ourselves and our neighbors in everyday life.

  •  Loving God in the place we inhabit

Loving our neighbors in the parish is why we practice refection and rest.  This is how we become human.  This is how we love God in the place we inhabit together.  There is no way around this.

  • God cannot escape us in the form of our neighbors

We are called to be an expression of love.  Our reflection and rest is only authentic if we love our neighbors in everyday life together.  Within our locality, God cannot escape us in the form of our neighbors.  Our neighbors are all around us.  God is working within us and all around us constantly.

  •  This mysterious working in and around us

Our humanity becomes sensitive to this mysterious working in and around us.  Our reflection and rest helps us to reimagine this mystery.  Our reflection and rest embraces God through the diverse faces of our neighbors.  This is the way of Jesus.  This is the path of wisdom.

  • Seeing others as they are

Ken Gire in his book Seeing What is Sacred writes, “To better love God and other people is the goal of the reflective life.  But before we can love them, we must see them.  And we must see them not as we would like to see them or as they would like to be seen.  We must see them as they are.  Otherwise we don’t love the person.  We love the image we perceive the person to be.  If we are to love people as they are, we must see them as they are.  Which means seeing all that lies hidden within them.”

Have you learned to practice seeing in others the image of God?

Why Do We Get Caught Up Trying to Change the World?


Today I want to be faithfully present to what is right in front of me.  I am done with trying to change the world.  Losing myself to a way of relational love, doing the small things that are simple, letting go of control, this is where I am being shaped within.  These things have been difficult because sometimes I am left misunderstood, unacknowledged and frustrated.

But I am coming to understand that there is power in community, there is power in small acts of love, there is power in humility, there is power in vulnerability.  I am afraid to give my life to these things sometimes.  After many years of struggling to be myself, I am learning to have serenity, compassion, grace and gratitude.  I am learning to be my true self.

As I breathe today the common air we all share, I want to live face-to-face with real life people in real life contexts in the place I live.  This neighborhood where I have rooted my life this past decade has become a place of practice of love, grace and humility.  I have the opportunity to love someone today who I may see tomorrow, next week, a month from now.  My compassion to listen will keep me from harming the world I live in.

These are the things I want to focus on today as I have a good 24 hours to live into who I am in the present moment.  These 168 hours that have been given to me this week will be hours of learning to love.  I am drawn out of my pride and into vulnerability.  I am drawn out of my confusion and into compassion.

This world will not discourage me, even though I cannot change it.  I will let it be and just love it.  I will love others and find some power in that.

  •  Stop trying to change or fix others

We need to stop trying to change or fix others.  This is the call of being present to others out of love for them.  Presence has an attentiveness to it.  We need to be present to one another as friends who care deeply and love.  We will have to let go of some control.

  •  Getting down to what is right in front of us

We will have to let go of the cliché that we can “change the world.”  This vision is too big, too abstract.  Let’s get down to what is right in front of us: real people in real life contexts who live in our neighborhood.  These are the people we are called to love and become faithfully present to relationally.

  •  Faithful presence is slow, organic, face-to-face

Faithful presence takes time.  It is slow.  It is organic.  It is not a project or program.  It is real face-to-face relationship in the context of everyday life together.  This is such a challenge and this relational presence will test our faith as the body of Christ.

How can we stop trying to change the world and become faithfully present to what is right in front of us?

Book Review – Compassion: Living in the Spirit of St. Francis by Ilia Delio


This book is a wonderful portrayal of themes from the life of St. Francis as he became an expression of compassion in his time.  Illia Delio talks about developing compassion in our lives as we follow living in the spirit of St. Francis.  She shares how compassion is another name for community, how we were created to be in relationship to one another as in expression of love and compassion.  Encountering God in the other is an essential theme in the book as compassion always starts interiorly within us.

  • Compassion unites what is separated and binds together what is otherwise opposed

“Compassion is the shared experience of creaturely life.  It unites what is divided and binds together what is otherwise opposed.  Compassion grows out of seeds of love within the human heart.  It is born from the deepest center within and unites our deepest selves.”

  • This weak person is God and God is here in this weak flesh

“Compassion is a way of being in relationship with another that accepts the other in his or her weakness and responds to the needs of the person with mercy…  Too often we reject people in their weaknesses; we refuse those with needs different from our own needs; we have no time for the poor or weak person.  We are embarrassed by the weak and we seek to avoid them because we cannot accept or believe that this weak person is God and God is here in this weak flesh…”

  • Seeing the world through the eyes of love

“Love changes the way we know things.  Love is not blind affection or mere satisfaction.  Rather, love is the highest good that seeks and desires the highest good in another.  To love is to know the good in another without questioning the good of the other or trying to understand the good of the other.  The wise person is one whose knowledge is shaped by love and who sees the world through the eyes of love…”

  • Letting others be without projecting unto others our demands and expectations

“Compassion is another name for Christian living.  It is accepting the limits of our humanity without asking why.  It is letting others be without projecting onto others our demands and expectations.  Hence, it is believing in the human person as the hidden presence of God.  To see the pain and weakness of another is to see the crucified Christ, the love of God on the face of frail humanity.  It is to recognize that this person at this time is the face of Christ; this person is God’s love incarnate.  If I reject this person, I reject God.  If I hate this person, I hate God.  There is nothing I can do to the neighbor that I do not do to God…”

How can we learn to live with compassion in everyday life?

The Practice of Mindfulness


Almost every time that I have heard of the idea of mindfulness I would think of Buddhism instead of Christianity.  Buddhism is often times thought of as a way of life while Christianity is often thought of as a set of beliefs.  I am coming to understand Christianity as referring to the practice of following Christ as a way of life.  This is so rare and unusual that a lot of people cannot relate to the practice of love and mindfulness as it relates to Christianity.

  • Jesus was the most mindful person who ever lived

Jesus seemed to practice a mindfulness in all that he did.  I would say that Jesus was probably the most mindful person who ever lived.  Mindfulness is a fruit of contemplation that helps us to listen, cultivating awareness and compassion for those around us.  Mindfulness is about a wisdom that Jesus teaches us as the body of Christ in the parish.

  • Becoming a mindful community

In order to be sane we need to practice mindfulness.  Without mindfulness we become selfish, individualistic people who do not care about much in life.  This is not what the body of Christ is called to in everyday life together.  We need to be a mindful community that practices contemplation.

  • Being in touch with reality

This is what the mystical imagination is made up of.  Mindfulness is about being in touch with reality, experiencing reality and letting this reality shape us.  All truth is mindful of reality.

  • Mindfulness leads to compassion and care

Mindfulness helps us to experience the truth of who we are.  Mindfulness helps us to experience our place in a proper context.  We learn to care, show compassion and gratitude.  Mindfulness guides us into all relational revelations in the place we inhabit.

  • The teacher of mindfulness

There is no greater teacher than Jesus on the practice of mindfulness.  He was an expression of mindfulness during his life in his local context.  Jesus had a mystical imagination that cultivated mindfulness.

  • The gift of mindfulness

There is a gift in mindfulness.  This gift of mindfulness allows us to see the many possibilities before us as the body of Christ in the parish.  The possibilities of love, compassion, grace and humility live in little seeds within us.  They need to be cultivated through the mystical imagination.

  • Cultivation and potential

We can dedicate ourselves in ways we never thought possible to the practice of mindfulness through contemplation.  Macrina Weiderkehr says, “We all have the potential to give ourselves wholeheartedly to whatever it is we must do.  This is the gift of mindfulness…”  We can give our lives in mindfulness to things that really matter to our local context.  This gift can be cultivated our whole lives.

How can we cultivate mindfulness in our lives?