Spirit Island

Making decisions when you’re under assault is a bad idea, especially if the decisions have anything to do with what’s assaulting you. To decide, you need the wind and wisdom of all your feelings, not just the ones pressing into you when you’re hurt or in trouble or when your personhood is called into question.

Decisions aren’t what you need. You need safety. You need repose. You need a harbor that you can attach yourself to in order to remain attached to the self that is you.

What you need to visit your spirit island. I learned this name when I was in Minneapolis for a conference. I was walking across a long, wide bridge, occasionally reading the descriptions of what I was seeing. I was struck by a brief description of a Lakota island, “Spirit Island,” and I knew that this place would be with me for a while.

Spirit Island was made of rock, was a nesting location for birds and a spiritually significant place for native people. One description I read said that it had no soil. It was removed in the 1960s when St. Anthony Lock and Dam were built.

I’m twirling around the notion of spirit island and how we all have one. It is the place where you sense your roots deepening. The spirit island is the place where you are at home, even when nothing around you brings peace or helps your heart reside. That spirit island is the home of your soul when your surroundings are chaotic, untrustworthy, or dangerous.

It’s, at least, in the inner chambers of your soul, where God speaks in definitive ways. Go in and find that island. Sit there. Wait there. Listen there.

Significant, Lasting Change

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

What is contemplation? Simply put, contemplation is entering a deeper silence and letting go of our habitual thoughts, sensations, and feelings. You may know contemplation by another name. Many religions use the word meditation. Christians often use the word prayer. But for many in the West, prayer has come to mean something functional, something you do to achieve a desired effect, which puts you back in charge. Prayers of petition aren’t all bad, but they don’t really lead to a new state of being or consciousness. The same old consciousness is self-centered: How can I get God to do what I want God to do? This kind of prayer allows you to remain an untransformed, egocentric person who is just trying to manipulate God.

That’s one reason why religion is in such desperate straits today: it isn’t really transforming people. It’s merely giving people some pious and religious ways to again be in charge and in control. It’s still the same small self or what Merton called the false self. Mature, authentic spirituality calls us into experiences and teachings that open us to an actual transformation of consciousness (Romans 12:2). I think some form of contemplative practice is necessary to be able to detach from your own agenda, your own anger, your own ego, and your own fear. We need some practice that touches our unconscious conditioning where all our wounds and defense mechanisms lie. That’s the only way we can be changed at any significant or lasting level.
From Fr. Richard Rohr’s newsletter

Advent Post #21

“His mercy extends to those who fear him.” (Luke 1:50)

My son fears things. At least that’s what he says. And we have to take him at his word. Sometimes I think it’s his way of keeping us talking when he should be asleep, but that’s for the other blog.

The point is we spend a fair amount of time, and only at night, telling him that there’s nothing to fear, that we are with him, that we are together, and that we are safe. His fear returns and we repeat these things. We have a psalm between he and me that we repeat, one we read from a book someone gave him. These things address his fear or his comment about it.

Bryce’s fear is not like the fear mentioned in this text. My boy’s fear is about the images of things his brain smashes together before sleeping as he processes the whole wide world of his day. Mary’s fear–the fear mentioned in her song–is a fear of respect, awe, and devotion. Those who fear God get mercy.

I’m not sure there is a better message for us. Whether victims or victors, successful or unsuccessful, Godward or aimless, there is a clear comment about God and us. His mercy extends to those who fear him. When the increasing hunger in us is God and God’s life, for God’s things, for God’s rule and ways of ruling, we get mercy.

This is a tool, this mercy. Indeed, mercy is the equipment that we need to live into the future. Consider that Mary was destined to live with Jesus, parent and raise him with Joseph, watch his growth and monitor her own. If there was something she needed, just to do those things, it was mercy.

Her life would be filled with much more than being a mother, even though that role and trait would make and mark and transform her. She would need mercy to do all of what God called upon her to do. She would need the compassion that comes from an unending source of love. She would require, for all her mornings and all her nights, the untiring stream of care coming from the hand of God.

I get tired of my son’s pleas about fears. I do. Especially when I think he’s testing us. I don’t like his tests. But because he fears, the little voice in my head says that I have to respond. I don’t want him to fear and if I can play a part in decreasing those reckless emotions, I will. My wife does better at it than me for sure. But I try. I repeat the psalm we share, I look in and scan the place, and I tell him he’s okay.

I need the habit of uttering these words to myself when I lean into the boy’s room. His mercy extends. His love comes. His compassion is present. I have enough. I have more than enough. For his fears and for mine. May his fears remind me that there really is nothing to fear and that there’s only mercy surrounding us.

A Detour Off The Bike Path

The other day I took a detour off the bike path, turning down to where I usually see pedestrians walking close to the edge of the water near the Pier.  I had cycled by this spot many times and once was even intrigued to stare into the tunnel where people were going.  So I rolled around a flagpole and pedaled into the unknown corridor.

It was a gateway to the riverwalk, which happens to be one of my favorite places in the city.  I spend no time on the riverwalk.  I’ve been down there before, for a boat tour, for a short walk.  Perhaps I love the place so much because I haven’t spent time there.  Because it’s so out of the way.  Nonetheless, I pedaled through the tunnel.

A couple sat on the hard sidewalk on a blanket with a brown bag between them.  They were too good-looking to be homeless; that’s the thought I had as I watched them for those moments.  Around us was pictorial of the city’s history.  I think that’s what it was.  I didn’t stop and read the tiny words under the blocks of beautiful images.

A different but joyful detour from a few years ago

I pedaled on, saw a cafe dedicated to Monet, felt a hundred water sprinkles on my arms, my shirt, and my face.  There were places people could eat.  I thought of the couple behind me, the pair that sat on the ground instead at one of the tables.  I saw a dog who saw me as I rode by.  I spoke to the walkers on the walk.  Everyone was smiling.  I thought to capture a photo of a sculpture but didn’t.  I thought about something someone told me once that God had told them to tell me.  I made a note that I’d return to see the sculpture, to take that picture, to remember what God may have been saying to me.  At the end of my little stint–because I turned around at the Dusable bridge–was the architectural boat tour office.

I rode the same path back to the Lake, saw the same rain-soaked tables, the same couple with a burrito between them.  I felt the same water spraying me, refreshing me with what I needed.  I was on my way to park for a while.  The half way point would give me a marker to spend some time in prayer.  But riding through the riverwalk, I had already felt that I had been with God, that I had been praying all along.  And it was true.  I had been praying.  Those moments, even the eye contact with the chocolate lab, were prayer-filled.  And I told myself that all that had come from a detour off my path.