Tag Archives: Joan Chittister

When I Stopped Praying

Tiny Island

Closing Shop on God

I haven’t prayed in a while.

Not because I’ve been too busy to take the time. Not because I don’t have anything to say to God. Not because my life is going swimmingly.

I haven’t prayed in a while because I’m worn out.

It’s one of those seasons when I wonder whom I’m talking to or why I’m talking. I often ask myself if anything would change at all if I stopped reaching toward God.

The last six months have been a period of person upheaval and painful growth for me, and my spirituality has had to transform along with the rest of my life.

I am a person of spiritual practice — I make gratitude lists, I journal, I write poetry and songs, I sing hymns and light candles before bed, I set up altars in my room, I carry prayer beads, I meditate.

These are habits woven into my life, but recently, in the wake of painful transition, they’ve all kind of slowed down. They’ve all gotten quiet.

This is not new. Scripture and tradition are full of great teachers and seekers who have walked through times of darkness and silence from God. No one needs to feel alone in that process, and I certainly don’t. Yet, the prayers of others don’t seem to fit for me these days. No prayers seem to fit at all.

So I stopped. I untangled my spiritual practices from the weaving of my life. I stopped speaking to God, with words or music or movement. I closed up shop, spiritually, and went dark.

Become a Prayer

Nothing happened, of course.

No bolts of lightning, no sudden light of revelation, no voice of the Almighty.

Just quiet, and the smallest kind of transformation.

Here is the truth I have learned: closing up shop and going dark, quitting your spiritual practices, telling God goodbye — these things are still prayer.

Our very breathing, our very being itself, is sufficient.

[P]ain and need and vulnerability lead us directly to God.
Then we do not need to practice prayer. We become a prayer.
We throw ourselves on the heart of God.
(Joan Chittister, The Breath of the Soul, 37)

As the Psalmist cries, “My whole being clings to you!” (Psalm 63:8) There have been days when clinging is all I can muster, and that is enough.

I do not always have to pray. I can let my life pray for me. I can let the spirit intercede with groans deeper than language. If that is the only prayer that fits, that is the prayer I will pray.

I do not always need to reach toward God. God will reach toward me. I love how the poet Rainer Maria Rilke expresses this:

Because someone once desired You,
I know that we, too, may desire You.
Even if we renounce all depths:
when gold lies deep in the mountains,
and no one’s there to dig for it,
one day the river brings it to the surface,
reaching in stillness into the stones,
into their fullness.
Even when we don’t desire,
God ripens.

When I read that, I think of all those great teachers and seekers who have gone before into the darkness. When I am out of faith, I can lean on their faith. I can lean on their doubt. I can lean on their desire.

When I do not desire, I can allow myself just to be in that place, trusting that the movement of love is not dependent on me. The web of the world will carry me anyway. God will ripen anyway.

Waiting in the Tomb

I’m sure there will be a day when I pray again. My heart will heal and re-open, and a new chapter of my spiritual life will begin. There will be prayer beads and poems and hymns sung again.

Until then, I cling. And I become prayer. And I desire (or not).

And I trust that the whole while, I am transforming and God is ripening.

It is a season of Holy Saturday, an in-between waiting. Something is happening in the quiet darkness of the tomb. I cannot see it or control it, but I know it is coming.  I know that life is coming out of this death, even before I feel its first breath.

Cling. Become. Desire.

Enough for now.

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Filed under My Faith Journey, Spirituality

Detour Reflections

Listen to everything.
Because everything in life is important.
Listen with the heart:
with feeling for the other,
with feeling for the Word,
with feeling for the God
who feels for us.
Joan Chittister, The Monastery of the Heart, 9-10

Think, dear [one], of the world you carry within you…
What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 46-47

Ripening into Rightness

It’s evening, and I’m tired. But, as so often happens, the day doesn’t quite feel complete until I pull on my running shoes and move out into the world one more time. I have lived here for three years ago, and it is this sacred practice of running that has always connected me to this place, to all the places I have kept.

The air is misty; clouds drift between trees and houses like wandering spirits. Back lit by the setting Western sun, the sky is magnificent, perfect. As I pass, neighborhood cats eye me warily. They do not vacate the sidewalk at my approach but seem to occupy it all the more firmly. The sound of laughter and chatter from backyard get-togethers drifts past, and I realize how deeply I long for community and togetherness, how lonely and unsatisfied I have been. These have been three years of trial, of transformation.

Still, my time here has seemed important. It feels as though I’ve been gathering the pieces of my identity toward my core, like cabbage collapsing in on itself to form a head. The cabbage isn’t ready for harvest until it has time to pull itself inward, to center itself tightly, to ripen into rightness.

Detours and Pools of Light

Over the next few weeks, I will be pushing through to complete my Americorps term of service. This year has been an unexpected detour in my life – a detour into public school work, a detour into full-time volunteerism, a detour into the lives of inner-city children.

Coming to the other end, I feel a sense of solidity and completeness. Perhaps this period of my life has indeed ripened into rightness. Who can tell how the detour changes our experience of particular journeys, or whether we can even call the path we end up taking a ‘detour’ at all? Once we have stepped onto it, the path we take becomes the way we go. There is no other way.

I think often of the story Anne Lamott recounts of her pastor Veronica’s description of how God directs our lives by revealing one pool of light in front of us at a time into which we can step. We wait, marooned in that tiny pool of light, until the next step is illuminated for us. (Traveling Mercies, 84)

I know well the fear that another pool of light may not appear, and the relief and gratitude when it does.

For tonight, I am cherishing each step. I am allowing myself space to reflect, and I am honoring that precious world within me with my whole love.

And I am waiting for the next pool of light.

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Filed under Musings, My Faith Journey

More Than Now

Remember that
life is for coming to see,
one day at a time,
what life and God
are really about.

Life grows us more and more –
but only if we wrestle daily
with its ever-daily meaning for us.

God is calling us to more
than now –
and God is waiting
to bring us to it.

Joan Chittister, The Monastery of the Heart, 10-11

Routine and Dissociation

We love our routines. Sometimes we love them so much, we stop feeling them altogether.

We shower, eat breakfast, make the commute to work – all without even noticing our experience, without even living our own life.

Have you ever had that experience of driving somewhere familiar, and realizing when you get there that you don’t remember – not even a little bit – taking those familiar streets and turns? It always unnerves me a little, that I can be operating a moving vehicle while my mind is completely somewhere else.

Dissociation, my therapist calls it. The practice of habitually numbing your experience, consciously or unconsciously, as a method of survival.

Maybe we do it to give our overtaxed brains a little break. Maybe it’s the only chance our spirits get to fly off into fantasy or imagination. Maybe we just hate making that same drive all the time.

Missing the Golden Thread

When we’re so overwhelmed with worry and busy that we’ve relegated as much of our existence as possible to our unconscious, we’re dangerously close to something very dark and very deep.

When we’re missing the very moments of our lives, we’re missing a precious chance to feel the breath in our lungs, the sunshine on our shoulders and cheeks, the touch of strangers brushing past. These are not just small happenings of our days, they are fleeting glimpses of God’s presence that weaves its way through our lives like a shining golden thread.

This week, begin to drop some of those things that have filled up your conscious mind, so you can make room for those unexpected glittering flecks of God’s presence.

Drop your worry, so you can notice the trees that line the street you live on – their shape, the way they’re touching each other, the sound they make in the breeze. Drop your sense of busy-ness, so you can notice warm water against your hands and face, soft clothes, firm hugs. Be aware of this one moment in this one day.

The Duties of the Soul

Julian of Norwich wrote these beautiful words:

The soul must perform two duties:
The first is to always wonder and be surprised.
The second is to endure, always,
taking pleasure in God.

Indeed, God has called us to more than now. God has called us to continual wonder and surprise, to find delight and pleasure in every day we live.

– – –

What small experiences in your day remind you that God is present? How have you experienced taking pleasure in God? What gets in the way of your maintenance of a sense of wonder and surprise?

P.S.

Have you read Joan Chittister’s new book, Monastery of the Heart, yet? You should. It’s beautiful and heart-opening and lovely. If the above quote doesn’t convince you, let me know and I’ll offer some more passages.

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Filed under Spirituality, Theology and Faith