Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: solitude

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

Songs of the Birds

I went on a deepening retreat through Gravity, a center for contemplative activism, this past weekend in Schuyler, Nebraska. It was one of the best experiences of my life! I was so happy to be there as we spent 40 hours in silence, solitude, and stillness together.15

  • Deepening my awareness of my true self

On the retreat, I felt like I deepened my awareness of my true self. I was wanting to read the book Coming Home To Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions by Albert Haase before I came on the retreat and when I got there the book was in the gift bag in my room. That was amazing! So I was able to read the book throughout the retreat and on the way back to Tacoma, Washington where I live.

  • The sacrament of the present moment

Here is a great quote from the book that I really love, “…there is nothing to ‘get’ in the spiritual life because we already have it! We simply need to become aware of the Presence who dwells within and in whom we dwell. We need to be attentive to the sacrament of the present moment,” states Albert Haase.

  • I have been wondering about

I love that wisdom of being present to the sacrament of the present moment. This is something that I have been wondering about for a long time now. How do we embody this sacrament of the present moment? It is a mystery that I long to live into throughout my life.

  • Songs of the birds

On the retreat, I was thinking a lot about the themes of vulnerability, cultivating happiness in myself, humility, compassion, my true self, listening, awareness, and courage. I loved hearing the Nebraska birds sing in the mornings as we sat in silence together and as I write this I hear the songs of the birds outside of my window in my little Catholic Worker room in Tacoma, Washington. The songs of the birds seem to speak to me of the unity of God, our solidarity together, and the connectedness of our world.

  • Cultivating happiness

01Before coming on the retreat, I was reflecting a lot about cultivating happiness in myself. I was learning that happiness is not something outside of me, but is something I have to cultivate within myself. And only I can do this. No person or circumstance in life will give it to me. I must find it by myself alone.

  • An integration of happiness

I must learn to value cultivating my own happiness or I will live my life in misery. It is up to me, no one will do it for me. Going on this retreat was an integration of this theme for me. In being at the retreat, I was cultivating my own happiness.

  • Learning to value our own happiness

This quote speaks deeply to me, “…learning to value our own happiness,” writes Joan Chittister, “may be one of the most important lessons we ever learn – both for our sake and for the happiness of others around us, as well.”

  • Contemplative expression

The happiness that I experienced in Nebraska was based on my need to connect to a deeper contemplative life in myself. I believe this is what my true self is crying out for. This retreat met a need in me for that connection to the cry of my true self and a contemplative expression.

  • So mysterious and beautiful

How beautiful that was for me! I have been reading about contemplative experience from Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr, Dorothy Day, and Simone Weil for years, but now I was in the midst of some twenty-first century contemplatives: Phileena and Chis Heuertz. The work they are doing is so needed and amazing! Thank you for everyone who was a part of this retreat! I will never forget the silence we shared together. It was so mysterious and beautiful!

  • Contemplative spirituality for the active life

Back in the fall of 2010, I remember reading Phileena’s book after it first came out. I was so intrigued about the theme of a contemplative spirituality for the active life. Then I read Chris’s books on Simple Spirituality, Friendship at the Margins, and recently Unexpected Gifts about discovering the way of community. Such powerful books for me as I read them.

  • Gravity, a center for contemplative activism

They are two of my favorite writers. So it was an honor to learn from them over the weekend on this amazing retreat. It was exciting for me when I learned a few years ago that they were starting a center for contemplative activism in Nebraska called Gravity and some of their mentors are Richard Rohr and Thomas Keating (some of the deepest contemplatives in the United States).

  • Connect in solidarity and unity

Lastly, I got to do a spiritual direction session with Phileena Heuertz on the retreat where I talked a lot about longing. She told me about her experience of how the contemplative life is lonely. I so appreciated that because that has been my experience too, but I am hoping that more of us who long for a contemplative life can find ways to connect in solidarity and unity.

  • It’s difficult in the ache of longing

Phileena Heuertz says in her book Pilgrimage of a Soul, “Longing signifies a desire for more. It stands in stark contrast to the complacent life. Complacency is a stalemate to the journey. Longing propels us forward. 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.”

Have you longed to become a contemplative activist in the world?

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

Always Remaining Open

IMG_0578_crSometimes my life is closed off to openness.  I want to be locked into who I think God is to me as I have experienced God in the past.  Thinking I understand God has not served me well.  God cannot be captured in what I can say to describe what I think God is.

But I am learning that silence and solitude leads me to deeper mysteries that I cannot always explain in myself.  I am becoming the change I want to see in the world.  I am taking responsibility for my feelings.  I am starting to sense life in me.

This week I have had to just slow down and reflect on my own happiness.  I had to spend some time in silence and solitude while saying to myself within, “I am okay, I am content, just rest in that reality, breathe slowly and feel your feelings.”

When I get in touch with myself in this way it always makes my life a little better.  I am more at peace.  Compassion and love come more naturally.  I start to understand the life of Jesus more.

Solidarity with others seems to make sense.  Forgiveness is always easier.  I seem to be lighter in my mood.  I become more empathetic and sleep better at night.

  •  Christ practiced silence and solitude

Christ practiced silence and solitude because he needed to embody a relational reality to those in his local context.

  •  A mountainside

Scripture says, “…he went up on a mountainside by himself…” (Matthew 14:23). 

  •  An integration with the real

Christ often practiced silence and solitude to embrace reality within the human context he lived in.  Christ lived within the real in his humanity.  On mountainsides, in gardens, in the desert, on long walks, in lonely places, and in homes; Christ practiced silence and solitude to find an integration with the real.  Reality was constantly being revealed through his embodiment of truthfulness in the way he treated others.

  •  Embodying the kingdom of God

Christ was embodying the kingdom of God in his locality through his love for his neighbors.  This was how he lived.  This is how he died.  This is how he grew up.

  •  Expressing love and compassion

His humanity would not be separated from embodying the essence of the kingdom of God in his local context.  All he had was his local context to experience reality.  All he had were the people around him to express his love and compassion.

  •  Following Christ in our local context

Christ’s silence and solitude opened him up to this reality.  He was one with the real in his humanity and we are called to follow him in our local context.  We are called to be his hands and feet in everyday life in the parish.  The mystical imagination is constantly revealing reality to us in the place we inhabit together.

  •  God is always more than our present concept of God

Mary Jo Meadow writes, “God is always more than our present concept of God.  We must always remain open to receive God’s further self.”

How can we practice silence and solitude?

http://www.amazon.com/Communal-Imagination-Finding-Share-Together/dp/1495487423/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432902984&sr=8-1&keywords=the+communal+imagination

The Rhythm of Silence and Solitude

10323779-zombie-horror-Stock-Vector-grunge-zombie-graffitiI love silence and solitude.  This practice is so good for me.  My world is so noisy sometimes that it makes me crazy.

Silence and solitude is so mysterious because it brings me into an awareness of my interior life.  The interior life is real, but unseen.  It defines who I am and reveals my true self to me constantly.

Sometimes I do not know who I am.  What I have, what I do and what people say about me often times create an identity in me that is of the false self.  This is not who I am.  There is something more to me than this.

My practice of seeking God through silence and solitude helps me to grow in the wisdom and truth about who I am.  I come to see my body as a reservoir of wisdom, compassion and love.  The duality of the sacred and secular is broken apart and I start to learn that all of life is sacred.  This sacredness of life paradigm shapes everything I do.

I become more alive than ever before.  I become a lot more free to be myself.  I embrace the serenity of life to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

  •  Jesus went to a mountainside

“Jesus went out to a mountainside… and spent the night…”  (Luke 6:12). 

  •  Silence and solitude was normal for Christ

Christ spent the night on a mountainside.  A night probably consists of at least six to eight hours.  This kind of silence and solitude was normal for Christ.  He saw it as essential for his context.

  •  Part of Christ’s rhythm in life

This was a part of his rhythm in life.  He found the depth of his humanity more as he practiced this kind of silence and solitude.  Have we ever given God our complete attention in silence and solitude like this?

  •  The wonder that the authentic life contains

Marcia Ford says, “Silence inspires awe when it diverts my attention away from the chatter in my head and toward the wonder that the rest of life – the authentic life – contains.”

  •  Developing a practice of seeking God

This is the call of the mystical imagination in the place we live.  We need to develop a practice of seeking God in silence and solitude.

  •  Taking time to be silent

Mother Teresa writes, “We all must take the time to be silent…” 

  •  Saving us from dysfunction in everyday day life

We will never experience the depth of our humanity if we do not give this kind of attention to our communion with God.  We might think this is asking too much, but I would say that this is the radical nature of following Christ in our local community.  Our practice of silence and solitude will save us from dysfunction in everyday life.  Christ is calling us into the depth of our humanity through silence and solitude.

What is your experience with silence and solitude?

http://www.amazon.com/Communal-Imagination-Finding-Share-Together/dp/1495487423/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432489577&sr=8-1&keywords=the+communal+imagination

To Live Among People

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I remember one time running and walking in the neighborhood to discover the freedom of the sky, the freedom of the sun, the freedom of the wind and the freedom of the sidewalks.  I sensed God using this creation to speak to me about the livability of this place I was standing on.  God was reminding me of the many days the sun has shown on this land.

For countless years, this place has had the sun.  The wind has blown here.  The sky has watched over it with faithfulness.

So many people decade after decade have walked these sidewalks.  People of different races, socio-economic status, genders, lifestyles and opinions have lived here.  The rich and the poor alike have lived here.

God was reminding me to listen to the stories of the many beautiful Japanese people in the neighborhood who were forced into prison camps in the 1940’s.  God was reminding me of the pictures I had seen on the walls in a local coffee shop of what Downtown Tacoma looked like in the year 1910.  I think to myself, “What a beautiful place this is.”

It was very integrated before the mall was built in the 1970’s.  Now Downtown Tacoma struggles with its local economy.  It has been exploited and abused at times, but it still contains a lot of mystery and beauty.

As I was running another mile through the streets of Downtown Tacoma on a Saturday morning, God was teaching my soul to listen to everything around me.  God was teaching me to listen to everything within me.

I am reminded of the beauty and mystery in my struggles to embody love in this place with others.  Our listening becomes better and more seasoned with each day we practice silence and solitude in some form.  Whether it is alone in a room, running or walking in the neighborhood, doing an artistic expression or just thinking and learning of some kind; our listening is showing us a lot of beauty and mystery that is hard to see otherwise.

Henri J.M. Nouwen says, “It seems more important than ever to stress that solitude is one of the human capacities that can exist, be maintained and developed in the center of a big city, in the middle of a large crowd and in the context of a very active and productive life.  A man or woman who has developed this solitude of heart is no longer pulled apart by the most divergent stimuli of the surrounding world but is able to perceive and understand this world from a quiet inner center.”

Silence and solitude can exist anywhere.  This posture can be practiced within our relational context as the body of Christ in the parish.  Everyday life is filled with moments where listening is required and demanded of us to see the mystery and beauty all around us.  We need to live into this through the mystical imagination.

No context should separate us from silence and solitude.  It is a way of life in all things.  All our relational encounters are to be practiced in silence and solitude with a deep listening intentionality.

Jesus is our example of this way of life.  We should not be slow to have some receptivity to listening to mystery and receiving beauty in the place we inhabit together.

I love this expression by Karen Wilk of her longing for God to move her to embody a compassionate listening where she lives, “Give me your eyes to see this community and its people as you do.  Give me your ears to listen to their hearts as you hear them.  Give me an open and attentive spirit to recognize where you are already at work.  Fill me with courage that I might ask the right questions, accept the true answers, and follow your leading.  Equip and empower me to engage in this place, to live among people just as you did…”

How can we live among people and care?

http://www.amazon.com/Communal-Imagination-Finding-Share-Together/dp/1495487423/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1432336187&sr=8-1&keywords=the+communal+imagination

9 Things You Can Do to Cultivate a Relationship with the Present Moment  

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I find that the present moment is always slipping through my fingers just when I think I have a hold on it.  But I am finding out that the present moment cannot be contained by me in any way.  It can only be embodied in an evolving fashion in everyday life.

The present moment is constantly teaching me to live my life.  It is calling to me to do away with my anxieties and find what is available now.  There is usually so much wisdom, peace and love in the present moment, but I cannot see it because I am focused on what is missing in life.  This is one of my greatest mistakes as it keeps me from being grateful about the life I have.

This is a lifelong process of learning to live by the rhythms of the present moment.  It teaches me of the mysteries of God and the sacredness of all of life.  When I have practiced appreciating all of life as a gift, my imagination becomes alive and I start to breathe freely.

Here are 9 things we can do to cultivate a healthy relationship with the present moment.

1. Practice silence and solitude

Our silence and solitude will bring us to embrace living in the present moment.  Living in the present moment is impossible without silence and solitude.  Our silence and solitude will cultivate a healthy, functional relationship with the present moment in the place we inhabit together.

2. Embrace an embodied wholeness

Without silence and solitude, we will have an unhealthy relationship with the present moment.  We will abuse the preset moment with our own agendas.  We cannot directly see this relationship with our eyes, we can only feel it embodied in our relationships.  Is it whole or not?

We feel the energy it brings into our locality.  It is either functional or dysfunctional.  This relationship affects all our relationships.

3. Be open to yourself, others, the world and life

David G. Benner says in his book Soulful Spirituality, “Our relationship with the now will always shape every other relationship we have.  A dysfunctional relationship with the present moment will be reflected in a dysfunctional relationship with our self, with others, with the world, and with life.  But on the other hand, an embrace of the present moment opens us up to life and all we encounter.”

4. Embrace the mystical imagination within you

Our self, our neighbors and our locality will be the recipients of a colonial expression of faith if we do not cultivate a healthy relationship with the present moment through silence and solitude.  A healthy relationship with the present moment opens up the mystical imagination among us.

5. Become aware of the ecology of relationship

It causes the mystical imagination to come alive within us.  And this will affect the ecology of relationship in the place we live.  This ecology of relationship will affect all that we are.

6. Go to solitary places often

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place…” (Mark 1:35). 

I believe Christ practiced silence and solitude because he was cultivating a healthy relationship with the present moment in his life.  It affected all his relationships.  It gave him solidarity with others.

Jesus understood the ecology of his relationship with others in the present moment.  That is why he practiced silence and solitude.  It was a part of his passion.

7. Appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now

Thich Nhat Hanh states, “Our true home is in the present moment.  To live in the present moment is a miracle.  The miracle is not to walk on water.  The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.  Peace is all around us – in the world and in nature – and within us – in our bodies and our spirits.  Once we learn to touch this peace we will be healed and transformed.  It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice.  We need only to find ways to bring our body and mind back to the present moment so we can touch what is refreshing, healing, and wondrous.”

8. Find your home and identity in your local community

We need to become connected to the present moment in our local community as the body of Christ in everyday life.  This is our home.  This is our identity.  This is where the true self is discovered.

9. Practice the liberation and freedom of gratitude

It is an on-the-ground miracle to embody living in the present moment in the place we live.  This is where all beauty is found within and around us.  When our bodies become rooted in the present moment we experience an ongoing sense of freedom, liberation and gratitude.

How do you relate to the present moment?  Are you uneasy?  Anxious?  Peaceful?  Tired?  Rested?  Content?  Unhappy?  Disillusioned?

http://www.amazon.com/Communal-Imagination-Finding-Share-Together/dp/1495487423/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1427496064&sr=8-1&keywords=the+communal+imagination

2 Ways that Silence and Solitude Lead Us  

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As I think about silence and solitude, I am drawn to the mystery of God.  It has been my experience that God cannot be figured out.  We can put words to our experience, but nobody has a monopoly on God’s mystery, love and beauty. Sometimes it is even hard to believe in God at all because of the injustice in the world and a narcissistic church.

But through all of this, I believe there is something authentic to be discovered through silence and solitude.  In silence and solitude we can discover who we are in our true self, the authentic self that we already are.  The narcissistic church hates silence and solitude because it becomes exposed for what it is. And narcissists who profess Christianity are the worst expressions of violence, manipulation, greed and hate the world has ever seen.

Silence and solitude has been a practice that has saved my life from extreme forms of cynicism, anger and apathy.  Living in a culture with very little expression of the body of Christ in everyday life, where community is almost nowhere; what does a person do who cares about being an expression of love in the world?  I had stumbled into silence and solitude when I was younger because there was really nothing to be a part of.  There is very little authenticity in the culture of North America where money, profit and status rule the game.

But what does a person do if they care more about justice, equality and compassion than the dominant narrative?  I could care less about money, profit and status.  My identity is so much more than that.  If I live marginalized by the church and the culture I live in because of this stance, I am willing to pay the price of exclusion, judgment and stigma.

Here are 2 ways that silence and solitude can lead us in the midst of our lives.

1. Move us to embody a relational reality

Christ practiced silence and solitude because he needed to embody a relational reality to those in his local context.

Scripture says, “…he went up on a mountainside by himself…” (Matthew 14:23). 

Christ often practiced silence and solitude to embrace reality within the human context he lived in.  Christ lived within the real in his humanity.  On mountainsides, in gardens, in the desert, on long walks, in lonely places, and in homes; Christ practiced silence and solitude to find an integration with the real.  Reality was constantly being revealed through his embodiment of truthfulness in the way he treated others.

Christ was embodying the kingdom of God in his locality through his love for his neighbors.  This was how he lived.  This is how he died.  This is how he grew up.

His humanity would not be separated from embodying the essence of the kingdom of God in his local context.  All he had was his local context to experience reality.  All he had were the people around him to express his love and compassion.

Christ’s silence and solitude opened him up to this reality.  He was one with the real in his humanity and we are called to follow him in our local context.  We are called to be his hands and feet in everyday life in the parish.  The mystical imagination is constantly revealing reality to us in the place we inhabit together.

Mary Jo Meadow writes, “God is always more than our present concept of God.  We must always remain open to receive God’s further self.” 

2. Make us more aware of God’s revelations within us and around us

God is always revealing reality to us in all of life.  Our silence and solitude makes us more aware of these revelations within us and all around us.  Do we have the posture to listen and learn from these revealing revelations in everyday life?

These revelations happen moment by moment in the place we live.  But if we are not faithfully present we will never be able to really understand any of them.  We are moving too fast and being too loud to be receptive to the ordinary moments of divine revelation.

Mary Margaret Funk states, “Furthermore, although such fearful intimacy continues to overload my emotions on occasions, I nevertheless consider it a privilege to be so wholly known by God… and to abide in a place of truth that, while raw and naked and deeply revelatory of my own abiding weakness, is entirely real.”

If God’s nature is always revelation; our posture should be lived in receptivity as the body of Christ in the parish.  Revelations are best understood in the local.  Revelations are best understood in the relational context that we share life with others in.

It is like these revealing revelations are blowing in the wind.  But we can’t grab them with our hands, we can only experience them in our lives.  The condition of our souls depend on our receptivity to these revelations in everyday life.

God will never stop revealing dreams for the earth that we are to be a part of.  God will never stop revealing dreams of beloved community.  God will never stop inspiring the church to listen in its context of everyday life together.  God will never stop living within us in the place we inhabit.

God will never stop teaching us through the ordinary experiences in our lives.  God’s revelations are always integrated with the ecology of relational connection.  Our silence and solitude integrates us to this ecology.  God is calling us to a life of constant inner revelation within us through the mystical imagination in the place we inhabit.

What is one way you have been led by silence and solitude?

http://www.amazon.com/Communal-Imagination-Finding-Share-Together/dp/1495487423/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423675719&sr=8-1&keywords=the+communal+imagination

13 Ways to Create a Life of Silence and Solitude

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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

The Lifelong Process of Understanding  

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I have been on a path to understanding myself for the past two decades.  It all started back in the early 90’s.  It has felt confusing, difficult and impossible at times.  I have recognized that my own humanity is very complex and has very deep levels that I do not always fully understand.

I crave food, sleep, sex, comfort, rest, companionship with others, rhythms, integration, mission, learning, thinking, contemplating, silence, meaningful work, healing from pain, freedom from anger, the disappearance of sadness, looking good, cleanliness, exercise, leisure, celebration, touch, affirmation, happiness, money, possessions and fun experiences.

  •  Listening in silence and solitude

In the midst of sorting out what is a healthy expression of my humanity, I have had to cultivate a practice of listening in silence and solitude.  There are boundaries, liberties and limitation to all the things I experience within myself.  My silence and solitude has helped me to discern what is going on inside of me.

  •  Asking the hard questions within myself

I ask the hard questions within myself constantly to try to understand myself.  I have gotten much better at this over the years, but it is a lifelong process of working out my identity in the parish.

  •  Deepening our own self-understanding

Thomas Merton writes in his book Contemplation in a World of Action, “He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others.  He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas…”

  •  Understanding ourselves

Understanding ourselves is so important to becoming our true self.  Understanding ourselves is a connection point in our relational context.  The more we understand ourselves, the more ability we will have to live relationally in our local community.  When we are on the path of self-understanding, we will start to experience our spirituality more holistically.

  •  Our awareness becomes alive and free

Our awareness becomes alive and free within the mystical imagination.  Our awareness leads us deeper into ourselves and the place we inhabit together.  Silence and solitude creates this self-understanding, this awareness.

  • Becoming whole and centered

Phileena Heuertz says in her wonderful book Pilgrimage of a Soul, “Self-Awareness is central to becoming whole and connected…” 

  •  Looking inside ourselves

If we are not connected to one another in our local context, it is because we are not seeking to look inside of ourselves.  We are not seeking to understand ourselves.  Our awareness of this could change everything within us in the parish.

  •  Our creation in the true self

Silence and solitude is where our identity will not be split into multiple identities.  If we are to embody compassion in our local community, we cannot have multiple identities at the core of who we are.  Our identity needs to be holistically one with our creation in the true self.

  •  Solitude and identity

Henri J.M. Nouwen writes, “Solitude is the place where we find our identity…” 

  •  Cultivating our identity

In the practice of silence and solitude, we will experience our identity.  This is where we will cultivate our identity.  We will cultivate an understanding of ourselves in this way.

  •  Awareness, understanding, integration

Our identity will be integrated with our humanity.  Our humanity will be integrated with the place we inhabit as the body of Christ together.  We will have a hard time finding our identity outside of our practice of silence and solitude.  Our silence and solitude gives us this awareness and understanding.

  •  Intentionality, seriousness, intensity

Our identity needs the mystical imagination that comes from our silence and solitude.  The mystical imagination has an identity that is one with our humanity in the parish.  Silence and solitude need to be practiced with intentionality, seriousness and intensity.  We will never discover our true self that makes up our identity otherwise.

How can we become more self-aware through silence and solitude?

http://www.amazon.com/Communal-Imagination-Finding-Share-Together/dp/1495487423/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419890273&sr=8-1&keywords=mark+votava

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Open ourselves to our questions

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

  • The value of solitude

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

  • Contemplating our aloneness

“Contemplating our aloneness is a frightening experience…”

  • Finding ourselves and the true ground of our being

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

  • A great paradox

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

  • Experiencing solitude

“…experiencing solitude comes at a price…”

  • Letting down our defenses and preconceived notions of reality

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

  • Becoming more fully one’s self

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

  • A deep inner listening

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

  • Solace, refreshment, and revitalization

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

  • Staying put and in place

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

  • Invites perseverance and patience

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

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

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

  • Cultivating our solitude in the wilderness of the soul

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

  • Losing our firm grip on life

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

How have you practiced solitude in your life?

http://www.amazon.com/Power-Solitude-Discovering-World-Nonsense/dp/0824524446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416404631&sr=8-1&keywords=the+power+of+solitude

http://www.amazon.com/Communal-Imagination-Finding-Share-Together/dp/1495487423/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416404412&sr=8-1&keywords=the+communal+imagination