Tag: Christian spirituality

The Important Sound of Silence

I took this photo of a viewpoint sign in Rocky Mountain National Park.

I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks rise and fall on the air. In late summer and early fall, elk calls bugle through the park. Then, on many winter days a soft, white layer of snow breathlessly quiets the scene. Would you think of this “utter, complete silence” as a sound, as Andre Kostelantez did—even “one of the greatest sounds of them all”?!

This brings questions to my mind:

  • Where/how do we find silence?
  • Why is silence important/needed?
  • What can we learn in silence?
  • Do we tend to avoid—maybe even fear—silence?

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Andre Kostelantez and learned that he was a Jewish/Russian immigrant to America who became one of the most successful conductors and arrangers of music in history. Among many accomplishments, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

I personally knew an orchestra musician who spoke of silence as if it were a sound. She was my daughter’s violin teacher. She drilled into my daughter the concept that a “rest” in the music was an “important nothing.”

Music rests, seasons of silence, “important nothings”; these provide natural, satisfying rhythms to music and to our lives. This is a principle that God seems to have woven into creation. As physical, emotional, and spiritual beings, we need times of silence that can become “the greatest sound of all” to us.

 Nancy Swihart has learned to embrace this life-enhancing principle. In her memoir, On Kitten Creek, she describes the times of silence on Kitten Creek farm that have become to her, as Kostelantez expressed it, one of the greatest sounds of them all:

“On prayer walks I do most of the listening,” writes Nancy. “Up here in this sky-drenched pasture a comforting solitude is one of the greatest gifts the farm has provided—placing my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distraction.”

Nancy has learned to seek and relish these important-nothing rest times that give meaning and lilt to the music of her life.

Have you found ways to incorporate regular seasons of silence into the flow of your days?


This post was first published in 2018.

Christmas Contrasts

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Awe, wonder, and gratitude.

That’s what I feel when I consider these contrasts of the Christmas story:

  • Angelic heavenly hosts—A cold, rocky hillside
  • Sophisticated, wealthy visitors—Rugged sheep herders
  • Riding high on camels—Trudging over hills with lambs
  • A king killing babies—A baby born to be king
  • The maker of heaven and earth born into his creation
  • On the shortest, darkest days of the year, celebrating life and hope

What other Christmas contrasts come to mind? What emotions do they call forth in you? What hope do they give you?


Photo: Unsplash

 

 

Courage, Dear Hearts

Listen to / read this poem prayer for those weeping in the night, struggling emotionally and spiritually, perhaps physically, during this season.

Listen to the poem:

COURAGE IN

Encourage each one,
dear God,
their heart desire
to know.
Distill the cry
of “help”
to nesting purr
of “with”—
so they can face
the day
and all it holds…
the night
and all it hides…
to see
in darkness, treasures,
awake
with second sight.

~Catherine Lawton

(poet/author of Remembering Softly and Glimpsing Glory)

Giving Thanks To “A Worthy King”

For Christ the King Sunday (Nov. 20) I again share this poem:

Worthy to Receive Glory

Made to honor, we give fealty,

We seek true north like a needle.

But to look for your king

in a pulpit, disappoints;

in a government, fails;

in the mirror, distorts.

Look instead with the eyes of your heart

to the Wounded who heals;

to the Throne that is true;

to the Lamb who was slain,

Christ the King.

–Catherine Lawton

(Excerpted from the book Glimpsing Glory)

In Revelation Chapter 5, Christ the King is depicted as a Lamb who has been slaughtered. All the magnificence of Heaven bows down and worships this Lamb.

In Isaiah 53 we are told “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

Then why do we continually seek the pretty, the popular, the powerful, the persuasive, and the polished to emulate, venerate, and follow?

More questions: Have we ever given thanks to God for entering into our humanity and suffering with us and for us? Have we given thanks for the privilege of suffering with him and for him? Are we giving our hearts, our allegiance, our lives to the slaughtered Lamb who lives? the wounded one who heals? Are we willing to bring our wounds to the Lamb for healing? to transform us into wounded healers?

This Thanksgiving I want to join my thanks giving and praise with the angels and those who “fell down and worshiped” the lamb as they held aloft bowls filled with “the prayers of the saints” and as they sang a “new song”:

You are worthy …

for you were slaughtered

and by your blood you ransomed,

for God,

saints from every tribe and language

and people and nation….

To the one seated on the throne

and to the Lamb

be blessing and honor and glory

and might forever and ever!

(Rev. 5:9-13, NRSV)

Giving thanks,

 


Photo: Photo: “Thanksgiving” Stained-Glass Windows used by permission of Library of Congress

Be(e) Doing Good

As my husband and I make our backyard garden a hospitable place for creatures, pollinators, and people … I watch the bees on flowers (like in these photos I took). The bees inspire me by the goodness of their work: They seem to remind the plants to produce, and the blooms and blossoms respond by flourishing. Honeybees pollinate and gather nectar within about a two-mile radius, reminding me of the interconnectedness of nature and of us all. They risk the journey of flying out to forage, then back to the hive laden with pollen and nectar, despite the perils of nature’s predators and humans’ poisons. Thus they store up honey that will feed the hive in winter as well as the people who respectfully extract and enjoy the delicious, surplus honey.

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As I watched a “bee doing good” this week, I was reminded to “be doing good” myself.* And this poem came to me:

Be(e) Doing Good

As you buzz about (many things)

    are you singing, bringing out

    the fruitfulness of life?

As you wing from place to place

    do you cherish each colorful face

    in the garden of life?

As you pollinate far and wide

    are you ever calling forth

    the Creativity of Life?

As you gladly sip secreted nectar

    will you with honey feed

    both the world and the hive?

Catherine Lawton


*”Jesus … went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38)

This post was first published at GodSpace

 

Walking Together On The Way

Hiking the Camino de Santiago

GUEST POST by Judith Galblum Pex

Having just returned from two weeks on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, I’ve concluded that multiple-day walking is one of my most satisfying activities. The Camino is a 750 kilometer ancient pilgrim’s route currently hiked by about 350,000 people a year from all over the world.

I love the simplicity and freedom of life on the trail—getting up early in the morning and walking from point A to point B without all the distractions or to-do lists of everyday life. Being out in nature the whole day relaxes, focuses, and calms me. Though I haven’t done it as much as I might like, I believe that all these trails are designed to traverse through natural settings; both the Camino and the Israel Trail, which I hiked seventeen years ago, certainly cross stunning landscapes.

A highlight of the Camino was the people we met. Simply by deciding to walk the Camino, we entered into a special group of people who, for a period of time, all had the same goal. We developed an instant camaraderie and even a surprising intimacy with some. We belonged to the same band or company, an innate need for every human being. (And this happens to be the title of my soon-to-be-released novel: To Belong.)

On the Camino, we found ourselves walking alongside folks, sitting together for drinks or meals, and meeting in the evening at the hostels. Not all, but certainly many of the “pilgrims,” as the hikers on the Camino are called, are there to find answers to big questions or solutions to life’s problems. As we hiked along with our backpacks, we could easily share how Jesus came into our lives, lifted our burdens, and gave us purpose.

Camino means “way” in Spanish, and for me, a walk like this is a metaphor for traveling through life, each of us on our own path. Jesus said, “I am the way,” (John 14:6). As we trek, we develop rhythms and instinctively look for the smoothest and flattest paths—though climbing mountains gives us a better perspective on the entire landscape, what lies ahead and from where we’ve come.

If you don’t carefully follow the trail symbols, you can easily go astray. At one point, we found ourselves traipsing through a wheat field with no markers to be seen; but after we found our way back, we realized we gained something in our unexpected detour. Life is also like this. Having a good guide, a book or an app, was super important on the Camino in the same way that I need the Bible to direct my life. Whom we walk with is important on the trail. Good, compatible companionship makes all the difference; I’m thankful every day that John and I are good hiking and life partners to each other.

There’s obviously a reason that the Bible often uses the words “walk” and “way” and their synonyms, especially in Proverbs, a book of wisdom literature. “I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, and when you run, you will not stumble” (Prov. 3:11,12). In Ephesians 5:8, Paul the apostle writes, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

~Judy Pex, May 31, 2022


Photo credit: Judith Galblum Pex

 

 

The Long Cold Stare of January

JANUARY

A captive to granite gray stare,

I shiver and hunker there.

Clouds shudder also and

shake loose frozen crystals

flashing slivered light.

Now silver gleam the gazing eyes.

I rise unblinking, captivated.

As I awoke from sleep one morning, these words came distinctly to my mind: The long, cold stare of January.

I don’t know where those words came from. But they came clear and definite and stayed with me. I wrote that phrase in my journal, thought about it a while, looked outside at the wintry landscape, then composed the (above) poem.

I live in northern Colorado. January is our coldest month. And it is a long month, 31 days. The cold, short days and long nights can make one feel captive. It is a season when people, those who can afford it, like to travel to places like Mexico, Florida, or Spain. Other people may dream of warm beaches during January. But the weather often keeps us indoors and isolated. One can feel captive.

One can also feel captive in an uncomfortable way when people stare at them. Cold stares are especially disconcerting.

Feeling trapped, fearful, impatient with your situation can make your outlook seem hard and gray. But, truly, there is beauty in every season. Opening our hearts to “see” that beauty can turn those cold, gray eyes to a silver gaze.

Contemplatives speak of the “gaze” of the face of Christ that holds, sees deeply, and can draw out the inner radiance of one’s true self.

Recently I was reading a story that described the “silver” eyes of some Scottish Highland folk. I had never heard eye color described as silver before. Polished silver is not necessarily a cold-looking metal. A warmth seems to gleam from deep inside.

Hidden in every hard place is hope. If we look for it with eyes to see, it will eventually gleam forth; and then, rather than be captives we may become captivated by the presence of love and even joy.

~Catherine Lawton


Photo by Kacper Szczechla on Unsplash

This post was first published at Godspacelight 1/18/22, here slightly edited.

Holy Stillness

Treasures of Darkness : Holy Stillness

I have found that spiritual, emotional, and physical healing can begin even in times that are darkened, cold, alone, silent … when I still my heart and contemplate the “treasures of darkness” (Isaiah 45:3). One of the sweetest treasures of darkness is the realization that we are not alone. This realization encouraged me anew this winter as I contemplated that nature also experiences the waiting that has become more acute for us during a pandemic winter.

In much of the Northern Hemisphere, at least, we have been waiting for lighter, warmer days of nature’s renewal. And during these days of Lent we also recall, again, Jesus’ crucified body waiting in a dark, cold cave of death. When Jesus “woke up” in that cave of a tomb, did he open his eyes to darkness? Or did his open eyes, his very breath and resurrection-life energy, shine light into the darkness even before the stone rolled away? John wrote that Jesus is the light and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

We can experience moments during periods of waiting that are holy, even healing. One morning this past winter I sat in meditative prayer in a corner room of our basement. That room has two windows with below-ground-level window wells. During the summer, toads and tiger salamanders dwell in the window wells. My grandchildren like to look for them. During winter, these denizens of the deeps dig into the earth and wait in darkness, finally emerging again in late spring. On that cold, sequestered pandemic morning I was thinking about these creatures—and my own sense of waiting—when this poem came to me:

Holy Stillness
There is no heartbeat
in a seed
Yet life waits
in that brittle encasement
as surely as in the stilled
breathing and slowed
beating heart of
toads and salamanders
in winter deeps and
sleeping bears in caves
Waiting, waiting, we wait
in lengthened nights and
chilled soil and cloistered suns
for warmer, lighter, moister days
to dawn
From on high—and pulsing
in the depths—we hear
“Wait… Wait… Be still…”
and “Coming—
I did, I am, I will.”

~Catherine Lawton


(This post was first published at GodSpace on 3-27-21.)
Photo: Ehud Neuhaus / Unsplash

We Don’t Know How To Pray As We Ought

“Prayer is like breathing.” “Prayer is asking.” “Prayer is relationship.”….A myriad of beliefs, teachings, and books about prayer….A lifetime of experiences of prayer….And we are still learning what prayer is and can be. Do you have questions about prayer? I’m sure we all do. This poem I wrote (below), which is included in my book, Glimpsing Glory, expresses many of those experiences, questions and what prayer has come to mean to me. Do these words resonate with you and your experience in some way?

WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO PRAY AS WE OUGHT

If I say ‘please,’
will my waiting heavenly Father give what I ask?
If we all hold hands in a circle,
will others’ faith make up for my lack?
Will it help if I tell God
every minute detail of what I need and want?
Will adding the words ‘In Jesus’ name’
make Sovereign God less resistant?
If we pray on our knees,
will the Almighty see and honor our humility?
If we acknowledge God’s feminine side,
will Our Mother have mercy?

If we pray in angelic languages,
will the Spirit understand us better?
Will loud and preacherly, or whispered prayers,
bend God’s ear closer?
Will candles or incense lift the sense
of my prayers to God’s holy nostrils?
Will my tears of regret, sorrow and repentance
make God’s heart thrill?
If we listen long enough to find and pray God’s will,
will it have to be done?
If I breathe my devotion all day long,
will I be favored to approach God’s throne?

Yes … maybe … and no.

Does the Spirit, Who searches hearts intimately
and knows the mysterious
mind of the Father,
intercede for us in groanings
both kind and efficacious,
all because of Jesus’ self-giving,
others-empowering love most gracious?

Can my will be transformed by God’s will,
my hands and feet join God’s actions,
my heart be energized by Father’s love,
my desires unite with Spirit’s intercessions,
my labors yoke with Jesus’ work,
and my prayers find fruition in co-creation?

Yes … yes … and yes!

~Catherine Lawton

from Glimpsing Glory: Poems of Living & Dying, Praying & Playing, Belonging & Longing

Moments Morph into Poems

Our lives are built of moments in time and space. And just as one moment of your life doesn’t define you, so one poem doesn’t define a poet.

Some moments of my life I wouldn’t want anyone to remember. Some moments beg interpretation. But not every moment of life warrants being grappled with or immortalized in a poem.

Some of my poems come out of my humanness / humanity; some come from the living workings out of faith; some come out of my searching, listening, and questioning; some poems come out of the sensations of a moment in time.

Some moments that inspire poems are microcosms of creation’s cosmic array, snapshots of life’s bigger pictures. Some poetic moments are unique flashes or epiphanies that I wish could be repeated but will likely never come again, at least not quite the same. These moments can change us if we allow them to, if we open our hearts to receive what they have to give. I think that is true, to some extent, of poetry as well.

I don’t sit down to make lines and rhymes, but to use words, rhythms, and metaphors to paint pictures of life’s moments of observing, noticing, being present to someone or something in a new way … of seeing a sometimes-startling new depth or aspect or facet of a fleeting, evocative, life-giving moment.

Poems come to the poet out of living moments that, penciled on paper, morph into verses of word art that can bring meaning to the reader’s own moments.

~Catherine Lawton

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