Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: contemplative spirituality

I Hope You Had The Time Of Your Life 

170495-bigthumbnailAt the 2016 Spring Deepening Retreat with Gravity, a center for contemplative activism, I experienced profound joy. It was so incredible, so simple, and so peaceful. As Phileena Heuertz shared, the gifts of the silence will not happen in the silence itself, but will be revealed in our active lives.

  • Silence is the language of God

Some of the mystics say that silence is the language of God. On this retreat, I really experienced living in the present moment, learning to love myself, and discovering deeper dimensions of my true self. The silence was a gift from God.

  • Gratitude and hospitality

So today, I am holding the silence with gratitude and hospitality within myself. I long for more silence, solitude, and stillness. This nourishes my soul and gives me the courage to know that the deepest ground of my being is love.

  • See the gifts in my active, everyday life

I am remembering the joy of Schuyler, Nebraska that I experienced on this retreat. My life has sometimes become too lonely, sad, and melancholy for me to see the gifts of what God has placed in me and around me. So I cry for the freedom to live out of my true self and see the gifts in my everyday, active life in the world, in the context where I live.

  • Learning to love myself and others

My false self has had too much manifestation in me and I want to escape the traps of the status quo. Learning to love myself and others is what the silence is leading me to. I am happy as I learn to seek God in contemplation, in mystery, in silence. A contemplative spirituality is my happiness and liberation.

  • I hope you had the time of your life

Sometimes, I like to listen to music so I turned on the radio this morning and I heard an old Greenday song that I haven’t heard in a long time. The chorus stated: “I hope you had the time of your life.” When I think about my time in Nebraska, it felt like the time of my life. I always want to remember the joy I experienced there and integrate that into who I am in the world.

  • Silence, solitude, and stillness

Who would’ve thought that someone could have the time of their life connecting with others through silence, solitude, and stillness, but it happened. Does a contemplative spirituality create in us the time of our lives right here in the present moment? Did Jesus really mean that the kingdom of God is within you, not outside of you, so I don’t have to go around looking for it? Is the deepest ground of our being really love?

  • Consent, gentleness, and letting go

Small Smooth StonesConsent, gentleness, and letting go were themes that really stood out to me. As I discovered that I need to be more gentle with myself and others in everyday life. Gentleness is big in learning to love myself so that I can love others as I live out of my true self.

  • The opinions of others threatening to define me

I discovered that the heart centers need solitude to learn who they are without getting their identity by what others think of them. I always want to be unique, stand out, and push the edges of what I perceive is not authentic. So solitude mellows me out and leads me to find who I am alone without the opinions of others threatening to define me.

  • The seeds of community

Thank You Gravity for the gift you are to the world! We need to be more grounded on the earth that we live on, be more aware of our true self, and deepen our practice of seeing all of life as sacred. This is where the Spirit of love is leading. Contemplative spirituality are the seeds of community within the world we live in.

  • Making choices based on love

Chris Heuertz states in his book Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community, “What I’ve learned is that making choices based on love – love of people – is always the safest way to nurture friendships and community.”

Have we learned to love ourselves and others in everyday 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

20 quotes by Phileena Heuertz, co-founder of the Gravity Center, from her book Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life. One of My Favorite Books of All Time!


  • Avoiding or trying to escape our pain

1. “Cloaked by overactivity, a typical day in the life of many of us is marked with avoidance and escape.  Busyness sometimes serves to help us evade the vulnerable places in our hearts that are wounded and afraid.  Perhaps we numb the pain within by filling our lives with commotion and workaholism, we create a full social life to avoid the interior life, or we try to dull the ache by eating, drinking or exercising too much.  Others do the opposite – in an attempt to avoid pain they suppress or control it by not eating and by other repressive behaviors.  Indulgences of most kinds are often signs that we are avoiding or trying to escape our pain.”

  • Communing beyond words, thoughts, feelings

2. “Contemplation is the development of one’s relationship with Christ to the point of communing beyond words, thoughts, feelings and the multiplication of particular acts…”

  • Distinguishing between the false and true self

3. “Awakening allows for the initial stages of distinguishing between the false and true self…”

  • Sitting in the ache of longing

4. “It’s difficult to sit in the ache of longing, so sometimes we avoid it.  But when we embrace that gut-level discontent, we are moving and growing…”

  • The dream for a better world

5. “In, with and through community the dream for a better world is realized.”

  • A crucial time for listening

6. “The season of longing in our lives is a crucial time for listening…”

  • A life-shattering experience

7. “A dark night of the soul is not an intellectual exercise but a life-shattering experience.  This kind of experience cannot be crafted or sought after – it can only be submitted to.  Darkness of the soul, though terrifying, is a profound grace.  It is an invitation by the Spirit to transformation.”

  • Death is a necessary part of life

8. “Though most of us shun it, death is a necessary part of life…”

  • Standing in opposition to the status quo

9. “Decisions that stand in opposition to the status quo are not for the faint-hearted; they require courage, honesty and risk…”

  • Providing nourishment for the true-self seed of life

10. “Death provides nourishment for the true-self seed of life that has been incubating in darkness.”

  • A necessary season of sitting, walking, living in our pain

11. “In life we sometimes wish our pain would not linger so long.  But for our benefit there is a necessary season of sitting, walking, living in our pain.  When we embrace our pain, own it, we let it transform us.”

  • Getting back in touch with the elements of our own nature

12. “Primitive agrarian cultures teach us something of the value of becoming native to our place – helping us to get back in touch with the elements of our own nature that thrive on rhythm and balance.”

  • Stillness, solitude and silence are not valued today

13. “In our modern world, it is much too easy to overextend our limits toward activity and productivity.  Stillness, solitude and silence are not valued today like they may have been for our ancestors whose days were filled with these qualities simply by the nature of their life’s labor and limitations.  We tend to see restrictions to activity and engagement as something to be avoided.  But limitations and restrictions can be a grace for us.  Within the context of our limitations, God can do for us what we cannot…  Remember, we cannot make ourselves grow; but we can choose to submit to or resist the process.  And though much growth takes place in our active lives, all elements of creation are subject to contemplative stillness as an integral part of our growth and transformation…”

  • Critical conditions to transformation in our lives

14. “Rest, stillness, solitude and silence are all critical conditions to transformation in our lives and the world around us.”

  • The one who neglects contemplation

15. “…the one who neglects contemplation is at risk of being motivated and driven by false-self compulsions…  True acts of service do not build up our egos but bring us into deeper solidarity with the poor, marginalized and victims of injustice…”

  • Transformation is a slow process that takes time

16. “Transformation, which essentially involves healing, is a slow process.  It is rarely full and complete in an instant.  It takes time.  And during that time, it demands cycles of awakening, longing, darkness and, yes, even death…”

  • The very part of ourselves that we are most embarrassed by

17. “Often, the very part of ourselves that we are most embarrassed by or feel most vulnerable about is the exact gift others need from us.  Regardless, embracing these parts of ourselves is crucial to intimacy.”

  • Feeling as if we are being wounded

18. “Love leads us and at times it may penetrate us so deeply that we feel as if we are being wounded.  But that ‘wounding’ is actually for our healing and transformation.”

  • Actions of embodiment are extremely important

19. “In relationship with a God whom we struggle to grasp with our senses, actions of embodiment – being present in our body as well as our mind – are extremely important.  Sadly, Western culture has so prized the mind over the body that the two have been divorced…”

  • Being free of our ego and rooted in love

20. “Living into our true self, being free of our ego and rooted in love allows for true acts of peace and justice.  Without attention to our internal motivations and attachments, we are at risk of imposing our will on the world – deceived into thinking we are doing a virtuous thing – only to find out we need forgiveness for our action…  The ways we interact with the world can be connected so deeply to our false self that we cause more harm than good.  In our misapprehension we do not realize that what we are doing may actually be reaping destruction cloaked in virtue.  The greater our leadership and influence, the greater the potential domination and devastation…”

Which quote do you love the most if you had to pick one?  What do you think of contemplative spirituality for the active life?

Top 5 Things that I Learned Through the Summer of 2014


Now that the summer is over and the fall is here another season in my life has gone by.  As I reflected back on the last three months, it seems God is moving in me in many different ways.  There are so many things I could share, but these are some of the themes that I am coming to a deeper understanding in.

1. A deeper understanding of the importance of gratitude.  Gratitude is not always easy for me.  In fact, it is probably one of the most difficult practices as I live in the North American culture of consumerism where we are always wanting more all of the time.  I have had to discipline myself to be content in the present moment.

It is very easy for me to see what is not and forget about what is, the good gifts that life has brought me in this stage of my life.  I am alive.  I can breathe, walk, run, sleep, enjoy relationships and good food as well as many other things.  I have another year to experience the sacredness of all of life.

2. A deeper understanding of what faithful presence means to me.  This personal practice of faithful presence in the local community or parish where I live has shaped me tremendously.  After a decade of faithful presence in Downtown Tacoma, I am learning to appreciate the small things.  I am learning to experience the hidden yet present God in everyday life.

I am understanding that the kingdom of God lives within me.  And I am becoming an expression of love through my years of faithful presence. Faithful presence is bringing an awareness within me of God’s presence in everyday life within me and around me in all situations.

3. A deeper understanding of contemplative spirituality.  I have been so encouraged by the work of Phileena and Christopher Heuertz who started a center for contemplative activism in Omaha, Nebraska around two years ago called The Gravity Center after working twenty years with the poor around the world.  Their work revolves around the idea that community is not enough to sustain what God is calling us to in the world, we need to develop a contemplative spirituality of silence, solitude and stillness.  Encountering their work has been affirming and inspiring to me as I have thought about this kind of stuff for awhile now.  

4. A deeper appreciation for community.  I am learning to not take my relationships for granted.  Reimagining what love, grace and humility mean for me in my relational context is forming me to be a gentler person who is more mindful and aware of the people in my life who have loved me day by day.  This deeper appreciation for community is a desire in me that will grow more and more as the years pass.

5. A deeper understanding of my own personal vocation.  I think I am getting more clarity around my vocation as a reader, writer, local practitioner, contemplative activist as well as a neighbor and friend to the poor.  It seems that God is grounding my life and shaping this personal vocation for me in ways that are producing more awareness of my true self in the world in the context I live in.

What is one thing you grew in deeper understanding of this summer?

Is It Possible To Live Without Expectation?


God has constantly shattered my expectations in life.  I want God to be this for me or I want God to work in me in this way that I have formulated myself.  This always leads me to frustration and a deformed hope is held onto.  I am learning to evolve, grow, live into my questions and embrace peace.

  •  Living with openness, receptivity and patience

When we practice contemplation as a way of life; we have to live with openness, receptivity and patience.  We need to understand the dangers of our expectations.  We need to understand the dangers in controlling the process of the mystical imagination.

  •  God develops life within us in ways we do not expect

This way of life is mysterious.  God develops life within us in ways that we do not expect.  We will constantly be upset or disillusioned if we put too much weight on the rationality of it all.

  •  Embodying a contemplative spirituality

We cannot live by our rationality if we are going to embody a contemplative spirituality of love and compassion in the world.  We cannot figure God out.  We cannot figure out the mystical imagination.

  •  Beginning right where we are

We are limited in our understanding of life most of the time.  To live out a contemplative spirituality we must begin right where we are in the place we inhabit without expectation and control.  We must live with openness, receptivity and patience.  There is nowhere else to start.

  •  No expectations, no achievements

Kathryn J. Hermes says, “To become a contemplative, one must simply start to contemplate.  I say simply because to begin to contemplate one must be able to honestly begin where one is; just start, and nothing more.  No expectations.  No achievements.  No stories to tell of wisdom gained.  One simply must just begin.  And after fifty years of contemplating God everyday, one must begin the first day of the fifty-first year in the same way…”

  •  Approaching each moment as a beginner

It doesn’t matter if we have lived a contemplative life for decades or years or days, we always approach each moment as a beginner to new revelations.  These are the seeds that could speak to us at any time if we are listening and aware.  So much revelation comes to us in the ordinary moments of everyday life.  We do not expect such ordinariness to enlighten us, but it constantly does over and over again.

  •  We cannot force our growth

We need to learn to have an openness and receptivity as we live as the body of Christ in the parish.  We cannot force our growth.  We cannot force our discipline.  These are good things to strive for, but ultimately revelation and understanding is given by God in ways that take time.

  •  As a gardener preparing the soil

We only begin as a gardener preparing the soil of our lives for openness and receptivity.  Our contemplative way of life helps us to listen and lay down our expectations in how we experience God.  We cannot control God or ever will control God.  The mystical imagination understands such things.

How have you become aware of the life of God within you in everyday life?

Is Contemplative Spirituality Life-Giving?


Life can be difficult sometimes.  I have spent so many hours and days of my life mourning the loses of my dreams and wishing there wasn’t so much injustice in the world.  But I have found that through all the pain and tears that there is a deeper side of life that I must develop within.  As I have explored a contemplative spirituality in community, it has been the most healing way of life for me.

I am finding a way to be grateful for what life is to me in my context in everyday life.  Complaining less and encouraging others more is so important to me.  I am finding a greater love in the small things and ordinary moments of life.  Freedom is becoming more than just a empty word, but am embodied experience.

  •  Flowering of patience and steady perseverance

Richard Rohr in his book A Lever And A Place To Stand says, “Contemplation is no fantasy, no make-believe, no daydream, but the flowering of patience and steady perseverance…” 

  •  Responding to life with more courage

Contemplation will lead us to a consistent perseverance in the parish.  We will be able to respond to the pain and difficulties of life with more courage.  A sustainable perseverance will strengthen us through the mystical imagination.  Nothing will move us from our call to be the body of Christ together in everyday life.

  •  Bringing some sanity to our fragmented lives

Our practice of contemplation will bring some sanity to our fragmented lives.  We will learn to find our strength in God.  This is the only source of our sustainability as a contemplative community.  Contemplation gives us the patience necessary to persevere in all things that life will bring us.

  •  We need the practice of contemplation

There will be the good times and the bad times, lonely times and not so lonely times, dark times and lighter times, frustrating times and joyful times.  There is a season for all of this.  That is why we need the practice of contemplation in the darker times or will soon find ourselves giving up on the body of Christ altogether.  We will become disillusion, like so many have, thinking it isn’t worth the risk.

  •  Not listening to some common narratives

The thought goes: “It isn’t worth the risk to love and care for a place.  We have our lives to live.  And this is not in the definition of life anymore.”

  •  Leading us to a reality without illusions

Contemplation does not leave us to “fantasy, make-believe or daydreams;” but leads us to a reality without illusions.  We cannot tolerate the illusions of our uprooted culture that are always telling us to find something better somewhere else if things get difficult.  The mystical imagination ignores such narratives and embraces contemplation as a way of life.  Our very beings become expressions of contemplation as we live out the gospel in everyday life together.

What is one step you can take today to develop a deeper contemplative spirituality?