working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

Posts tagged ‘contemplative prayer’

abundant life in the darkness

We were 20 minutes out from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport when the pilot came on the speaker with the routine update for passengers. He dutifully reported the balmy conditions that awaited us – even at 10:30 at night, the temperature would be 80 degrees. I fly enough to know the temperature reading is usually followed with a report about the cloud cover, something central to a pilot’s world, but not necessarily to mine. But this time the report made me pause: “Visibility is endless.”

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I looked out the window. It was dark. Really dark. I could see tiny lights on the ground that marked the outer band of development of this sprawling city. But mostly, I could see nothing. Endless visibility? Hardly.

Darkness and visibility don’t go together. Or do they?

The practice of contemplative prayer invites us to quiet our minds, set our egos aside for a moment, and lean back (as Tilden Edwards says) into our spiritual hearts. But when we do – when we actually release the images and ideas and random thoughts that pop into our minds, what’s left is darkness. Just me and my emptiness. And that doesn’t feel great. The darkness we meet on the inside is far scarier than much of the darkness we face in our everyday lives. I long for the light of my thoughts, the brightness of my carefully constructed ego with all of its success and pride and satisfaction in what I’ve built around me. I grasp for ideas and solutions that flow through my mind, eager to climb back out of the abyss.

And yet when I’m able, for whatever reason, to let go, to release what I’m clinging to, to fall into that darkness within, I discover something incredible. That the visibility IS endless. In the darkness, I can see Love. In the darkness, I can see Peace. In the darkness, I can see New Life. 

I’m grateful for the gift of the darkness. I’m grateful for the courage to let go and let the darkness close around me. Because when I release all I have collected to make me feel safe and loved and powerful, I discover true security, true love, true power in the arms of the Divine Creator and Lover of us all. Thanks be to God for the discovery of abundant life in the darkness.

abundant love in the bounty of seasons

The first time I saw the tree, it was in the spring. I was here, at Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, Marriottsville, MD, in May of last year for our first Residency. In between the breaks of our very intense learning about contemplative prayer and leading groups and retreats, I would wander the grounds, reveling in the abundance of blooms. So much was flowering at that time: dogwoods and daffodils, azaleas and crocus. There were colors and blossoms everywhere I looked. The abundance filled me with awe at God’s creativity in living Technicolor.

I don’t know why I fell in love with this particular tree. Perhaps it was the way the branches leaned out over the water, as if wanting to go for a swim. Maybe it was the little birdhouse hung on the lowest branch. Whatever the reason, I was drawn to this tree, and experienced several poignant moments meditating on its beauty.

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Now it is winter. Late winter, to be sure, but still winter, as proven by last night’s snowstorm. We awoke this morning to the quiet beauty of new fallen snow. And I was called to explore! I had brought most of my snow gear from Flagstaff in the hopes that I would actually need it, and so I plunged into the crisp morning, reveling in the stillness. As I came around the lake, I recognized my tree, still standing proudly, with branches arched out over the small lake. And even though the landscape was void of color – covered entirely in white – the beauty took my breath away.

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The branches were bare of leaves and gently balanced the snowfall as gift and treasure. The buds that were just beginning to form spoke to me of the promise of spring, suspended in the reality of this last storm of the season (some would hope.) And in that suspension, there is the hope of transformation. Spring is promised, but not yet present. And yet the tree waits, heavy with the burden of reality while also pregnant with possibility.

Here is abundant life – that trees and bushes and creatures and all of us are held in that waiting time. That while we long for the transformation to come, we are supported and nurtured and guided by the Eternal Love that birthed all of creation. And so no matter what season of living you are experiencing – growth, death, birth, waiting – know that you are held by the One who holds all of creation in love. And in that certainty, you can live out your abundant life!

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