Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why do I avoid this blogging?

There a whole bunch of reasons for this: deep seated unworthiness; I'll make a fool of myself; there'll be hate email. You know the drill -- especially when it comes to this kind of writing.The list goes on.

But there are other considerations as well. My theological vision has changed drastically in the last six or so months. I arise early greet the dawn daily and am a student of meditation. I write and compose mandala drawing every morning and have done so for years. The lifelong resources that companioned me no longer seem to bear the deep meaning they once had. Like the Sufi mystic Lalla, I've had to pull back from too much reading and spend time focused inwardly. I'm into a new future -- an emergent paradigm as the religious writers put it.

The other part of my reluctance is the mechanical side of being computer literate. I just don't get a lot of this. I've been without help since my college student Peter graduated last May. He was a patient business major who worked in the university's IT department. After a semester without assistance, I've hired a bright religion major this time who claims interest in the subject and a capacity to work with these machines.

So I'm going to press on and hopefully, not lose my nerve. I, like many of you, choose the life of Silence as a spiritual necessity. It is an intentional thing, i.e, deliberately placing myself "in tension" between past and future within the presence of the heart. It's a huge shift internally from the life of the intellect into the sacred place of coherence. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

I don't care about religious politics on either side. Like those hearty souls who opened this path for me (us)in the desert, I'm on the side of an articulate unknowing. I'm exhausted at taking sides as though I actually know what the future holds. At our peril, we ignore the divine imagination's richness in favor of weak abstractions that satisfy the intellect but starve the soul. I must surrender. That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Written on Christmas Eve, 1513

I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much,
very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can
come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within
our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see.
And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering,
cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you
will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power.

Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel's hand is there.
The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too,
be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering,
that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all!
But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together,
wending through unknown country home.

And so, at this time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greetings,
but with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and
forever, the day breaks and shadows flee away.

~ Fra Giovanni ~

Friday, October 29, 2010

I'm b-a-a-a-a-ck again. . .

and wondering where to take this effort. I pick up bits and pieces and practices to share, but there's so much more real content to explore, isn't there?

Just found It's a ministry of the British Jesuits
and definitely worth a look.

I've never written for an anonymous audience before. It's a little terrifying. In a classroom or church setting I enjoy the wonderful "loop" of communication that appears as restless minds and bodies engage challenging ideas with me. Faces tell me whether they've "got" it or now. And all questions are valid. Like Rainer Maria Rilke, I love and cherish the questions. The more difficult the better. I'm not interested in answers any longer. They, like so much of my religious training, comes from the past. And, in my humble view, the past ain't gonna get us to the future.

Years ago I was outside church working the crowd after a Sunday morning liturgy where I'd been homilist. Over the rustle of voices I heard a woman's voice call my name in a thick Richmond, VA, accent. It was that slow intonation that women of her generation and stature saved when they wanted to get their son's attention for something specific. (There's a different one for husbands I later learned.) It was clear Betsy had something that needed my immediate attention.

"That was one of the best sermons I've ever heard." Pause. Her tone was exasperated. Then she started to pound on my chest with her index finger. "You'd have made a wonderful bishop, you know. But you simply won't follow the rules."

That's pretty much the summation of my life and spiritual journey. I won't follow the rules. My years in a religious community were a disaster. I will respect a tradition as long as I'm allowed to question it. Perhaps that's why the solitary life is so appealing to me.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Been away and now organizing and academic year. . .

I need a little more breathing room and I'll return to this important bloggin work.

I never seem to get out of the book of Genesis for some reason. Working right now on the nature of human desire, the bodying of life as the continual expression of creation. So much in the Hebrew language that doesn't translate easily. Whew! More than I bargained for.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Just found Christine Valters Paintner's work. . .

She's an artist/writer with a gracious, attractive manner of presenting monasticism using only an awareness of the boundaries of the heart. At least that's how I'm understanding her right now. I've listed her blog below at Abbey of the Arts.

My focus has often been limited by adherence to dogmas, doctrine and a moral code that always seemed to escape my grasp. I guess it worked for the people who wrote it but it was never a mirror in which I could see much that was positive or healthy about my own life.

Much of this journey into solitude has been the careful, conscious setting aside of what never worked for me. I maintain respect for all religious practice but realize that a simple way of compassionate awareness, kindred community and profound silence is as much as I can manage most days.

May we worship and live in spirit and truth.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Catching up reflection . . .

There's a nagging feeling within that has to do with a sense of struggle between time and talent and task. How do I make it all fit? I ask myself.

This last month has gone quickly. I've been reading and writing a lot but little of it is probably of interest here even though it's about the emerging shape of the spiritual life. I really haven't found the boundaries of this blog yet because I've never done this before. And I don't want my efforts and opinions to take it over in favor of your interests. But we can discuss that.

I've been getting ready to teach a class in pastoral theology and practice but it's online. I've never done that. The department head assured me that everything would go fine. I'd be introduced to something called Blackboard and, best news for a solitary, I could do the whole thing from home. Still not convinced I can project the content but we'll see.

I read fancy blogs with lots of art work and wonder how they do it when I can barely edit this one. And I know that much written work, especially in academia, is going paperless. Have you priced textbooks lately? Spent last week at my seminary alma mater in Alexandria, Virginia. A simple paperback was nearly $100. But there are few publishers willing to take chances with a long print run.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How do you "pray?"

I'm setting that apart in quotes for a reason. Like me, you may not find most of the conventional ways to your liking any longer. What about liturgical prayer? I know that some use the Divine Office and/or lectio divina.

Are there ways you'd like to share with others? I'm sure there are readers besides me who would be interested.

Next "Raven's Bread" newsletter will be coming your way shortly. . .

So I'm adding a couple of blogs that Karen sent my way. I also submit Meg Funk's work because I like her common sense approach to life as seen through the Benedictine spiritual lense.

Right now I'm reading Field of Compassion: How the New Cosmology is Transforming Spiritual Life by Judy Cannato. ( She had my attention from the opening paragraph:

This book is for mature readers only. It is not a self-help program. It is not
about building self-esteem. It is not intended to convince you that God loves
you. Neither is it an attempt to tell you about the many potentially deadly
crises that beset our world. . . The purpose of this book is twofold. First, I
want to invite you, my fellow human beings. . . to take up. . .the invitation to
transformation that will change the way our species lives. Second, I would like
to suggest ways that we may walk through this new terrain together. . .Karl
Rahner said that we are 'pressured' from within to evolve.

I like her approach and, for me, she delivers on her promise. She's one of the few popular religious authors I've found who is drawing on the work of Rupert Sheldrake and others interested in "resonant field" thinking. We live in a field of activity that forms us all the time. We change or transform because something enters the field and alters the energy that's there.
It's a "detractor" that sets up a new interest or center. The detractor goes by many names and shapes and forms. Religion often sees it as evil because it threatens to upset the way things have always been.

I'm rereading Martin Buber's I and Thou as part of my own research. He leaves me breathless at times with his grasp of Truth. I love reading a book where I just simply have to stop from time to time to allow its absorption to occur. There is no way I could have appreciated him in my 20's the way I can now. Along with it bought Kenneth Kramer's commentary which greatly deepens the reading for me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Away for a bit of research and study last week. . .

I try to keep my written/teaching/preaching material current. Though I draw deeply from the wells of solitary work, I feel compelled to gather with others at certain intervals. Printed materials are helpful, of course, but conventional publishing is years behing what's really going on. Editors are usually the ones who tailor the final written text to a market niche and a place on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. Often important content is lost in the transition.

I've made a commitment to gather with others every few months as we explore the living edge of our own search. There are writers, teachers, psychotherapists, physicians and people from the arts community. Many of us have had great losses, deep depressions, addictions -- all the experiences that make us kind of "damaged goods" in the eyes of others. We all face what I call "disturbances of soul" that have no easy resolution. There is often no real welcome for us in religious circles if we are openly honest about ourselves.

So we find another way. Ours is the path of surrender. It's the way of the desert in Early Christianity, the medieval martyrs and of those who are currently part of a different narrative of salvation. I'm not usually happy being grouped with progressive Christians. I don't know what that means and I don't care about it. To surrender is to give up all knowing, all l labels, denominations, colors, genders, contests with wins and losses. It's the way where go with Moses into the terrifying place in the rock and hide there while the Divine passes. We want to feel the wholeness of that Presence and ourselves within It's embrace. Many of us remember our times dancing before the Golden Calf, an idol that left us exhausted, depressed and nearly dead.

Sunday, June 20, 2010 is a wonderful resource. . .

If you don't know her work, Mary Margaret Funk is a Benedictine nun living in Beech Grover, Indiana who writes and reads prolifically. I found her some years ago thanks to a Trappist friend who has been present when she did some teaching. Her approach, as is so true with women in general, is grounded and real. Right now she's taking her readers through A Day with Jesus written in the early '60's by someone identified only as a monk of the Eastern Church.

By the way, when I'm done with a book, I'll send it to the Raven's Bread library in NC for those who want to read it. I'm especially interested just now in articulating the spiritual/body connection that seems to have slipped the minds of most writers in the West up 'til recently.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

New book from Cyprian Consiglio.. . .

I signed up to review a book here and there and actually have one to offer tonight. (I do a lot of academic reading in scripture and theology but I'm not sure it's to every one's taste. If you think it might be, let me know and I'll share it with you as well.) This week I received Prayer in the Cave of the Heart: The Universal Call to Contemplation by Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., published by Liturgical Press in Collegeville.

Consiglio is a student of Fr. Bede Griffiths whose work I admire greatly. He's part of the effort among contemplatives to find the intersection between East and West and to invite readers into prayer that makes them "present to the Spirit who is already present to us." I found the book readable and well-founded in strong patristic and biblical scholarship with a clear respect for other traditions outside traditional Christianity. I've been down many of these routes myself and can appreciate the kind of homework he's done for many years. Like Fr. Bede, he lists his address as an ashram in India.

Currently I'm reading Judy Cannato's Field of Compassion and will let you know what I find there later.

May have already mentioned this, but I'm been very interested in Jewish mysticism for the last couple of years. Currently reading two books by Rabbi Arthur Green and having email exchanges with him.

Periodically I take a few days in a seminary library to reflect and study. I regularly use a Roman Catholic seminary in Emmitsburg, MD, an Episcopal seminary in Alexandria, VA, where I have friends on the faculty and the Union Theological Seminary (Presbyterian) in nearby Richmond, VA. I've never spent time in a Hebrew seminary but would relish the opportunity.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

How are you holding those involved with the oil spill?

"Spill" is one of those euphemisms for disaster.I'm seeing this as just one more piece of the earth's path of transformation. It overwhelms me most of the time until I can get spiritual "feet" under me. How are you present to this?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Early in the morning. . . .best intentions. . .

Like many of you, I arise early. My Bunn coffee maker is usually ready to roll about 0230 or so. The old Latin introit for Easter Mass used the words "Et valde mane . . ." to characterize the time when the women went to tomb to find it empty of Jesus' mortal body. "Valde mane" is a mythical moment in which the new day arrives in midst of darkness. It isn't a matter for clocks to measure. It is an activity that is part of the Mystery.

For me, a great work of music has an integrity and life of its own in performance. It shares in the mythical and emerges out of the duration of Eternity. True dawn is the perception of the soul's stirring into the coming day. Like the resistance and release of a beating heart or the awareness that comes between inhalation and exhalation of breath, the soul's purpose is renewed within the gift of Life itself.

Having said all that, I often sit down in the evening with the intention of doing something profound for my unseen "audience" out there in cyberland. It is there that I've discovered another mythical moment. It is the end of the day when my brain turns to mush and I'm falling asleep over the computer. Then I procrastinate and promise that "tomorrow will be better. . . I'll get a piece together for Silentium." And I do it again.

So I'm trying Saturday afternoon instead. Don't know if there's any more clarity than I might achieve in the evening but at least I haven't gone to sleep -- yet.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Links to other sites for those in solitude.

Here are some places we might find companionship with others on the journey. These are courtesy of my friend Bishop John/Ionnes in South Africa. +John is a hermit whose Trinity Priory serves many seeking help. He is compassionate and wise man who has been my online friend for a little over five years. +John is a great admirer of the Carthusian way. He maintains an online Yahoo Group called Monasterion that has collected a significant number of vowed religious from both Eastern and Western Christian traditions.

Signing up is fairly easy. Simply go to and apply for an email address. When you have it, go to Groups and enter Monasterion in the request box. If you like what you see, send an inquiry to Bishop John who will add your address to the list. There is much wisdom there. John spends a lot of time making sure the Group is worth the effort.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Received "Raven's Bread" today and some emails.

I encourage the posting of comments. That's what Silentium Altum is for. It is a living record of vital experience and deep faith. Because it's public, I'll do my best to ride herd on the contents in an effort to hold space as sacred.

In the printed newsletter I noticed that some readers are making their written work available. What a wonderful way to share this journey! Please keep us all informed. If you have a website or Facebook account and feel comfortable sharing those addresses, post a comment and let us know about it.

In order to post you will need to create an account that Google will recognize. I didn't find the process too difficult to follow.

Thanks to those who are responding to this effort. . .

Working with this space is a developing discipline for me. But I'm apprehensive also. The cyberworld is a virtual reality far removed from my experience. It's an invention of culture meant to keep me busy so that my real spiritual work of emptiness never gets done. At least, that's how I experience it. The endless "weapons of mass distraction" are meant keep my body busy so that my attention is hijacked. I could spend all day doing research on this machine? But I'm not here to live someone else's ideas any longer. That's not what Solitude offers me.

Where did all these TV sets come from in public places? Who is playing all the recorded saxophone music in the stores and restaurants? I have to breathe with careful attention just to stay in my body and not be overwhelmed by all the stimulation.

Socrates said something about the distraction of handwriting. He saw it as an enemy of oral presentation. I got an email from a friend this week talking about how college students using laptops were at least four degrees removed from anything real. It's virtual, invented, made up. They sit in a classroom but parts of themselves and their attention are somewhere else. And I wonder where they really are. I see only their physical forms. And here am I in all of this? How can I keep from raging pointlessly?

Handwriting is still my tool for most things - with fountain pens that I have to fill myself out of an ink bottle. I'm stickin' with this because it invites me to stop and pay attention to an act that is essentially meaningless. It's part of my preparation for something else. The act of journal writing is part of my spiritual practice -- 3,000 words a day. I've been doing it since 1983. I breathe, light a candle, give thanks as best I can (something I learned from a Jewish prayer book) and try to show up "here" -- wherever that is on any given day or in any given moment. Just listening deeply is still so difficult for me. It's taken years to stop all the doing. And the Holy Silence awaits my attention. I need receive the gift.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Appreciate those of you who tuned in. . .

I'm hoping more readers of the Raven's Bread newsletter will be joining us shortly.

Maybe a living network will grow from this for those of us whose spiritual life leads us to a place of Solitude. I capitalize Solitude because for me it represents a sacred capacity. There is nothing negative there. It's a quality beyond mere words and ideas. It is a beyond that is beyond.

The din of culture annoys me with its lies and attempts to create a virtual reality that is unsustainable. My life depends on practices which encourage the soul's refuge in Silence.

Right now I'm in a hotel in Amish country near Lancaster, PA. Ann and I started taking short driving trips in spring and fall a couple of years ago to get on ground level again after years of flying. There's so much we've missed being captives to the competitive driving of interstate traffic.

Outside I can see a hitch of six Belgian draft horses pulling a "honey wagon" full of fertilizer over the fields. The driver is young and skillful and vulnerable to accident and I doubt he can outrun the smell of what he's delivering. This not "big farming" where the activity is all motorized and the tractor is air conditioned and fitted out with a TV to keep the driver busy and conveniently away from his work.

There's an incredible integrity to what the Amish driver represents for me. He works in Silence among powerful forces that could conceivably kill him if he doesn't pay attention in the here and now. Farm machinery can be dangerous. I grew up in rural America and learned from it. I know who this driver is and what he's doing.

I pray for his safety and attention in this moment and give thanks for his spiritual work so tied to the earth.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Welcome to Silentium Altum

All this began innocently enough when I offered to do reviews for Raven's Bread. (I described myself to Fredettes as a "voracious" reader.) Then I realized that the world of publishing and information was, in large part, electronic now. Duh!

While not exactly a Luddite, I'm not real crazy about anything more complicated than the our toaster oven or the Mr. Coffee next to it. So it is in this spirit that I offer my talents as a collector and disperser of information among us. If you allow for some growth on my part, I'm sure things will be work out.

The readership of RB is a select population. I want to honor that in a special way. I'm guessing that many of us are alumni of SCHOLA, that wonderful effort of Beatrice Bruteau and Jim Somerville, and/or MONOS. I will attempt to serve in that spirit.

This blog will be a special discipline for me -- a spiritual opportunity to stay out of the way of the sacred "work" we are doing together in the world. I'm happy to share aspects of my personal history privately through my email given in the profile or the RB newsletter. We are all people who respect privacy. That's why we're here.

I co-moderate a Yahoo group called Monasterion if you are interested. Most of the heavy lifting is done by Bishop John, a scholar/hermit in South Africa. I fill in as needed and offer gems of wisdom from time to time.

I'm sure many of you know the, a great resource and forum for sharing from many of the world's great traditions.

I'm happy to allow our reflections in any direction you might want to go. My personal prejudices lean toward kenosis, the way of emptiness in the Christian tradition. I'm especially taken with Simone Weil's brief but powerful corpus of writing. I keep wondering what it means to be an ascetic in today's world. There's a long history of self purgation attached to this. How do we, to use her language, "attend" to a life that serves the world?

There's a starting point. Blessings, David