Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Milada Vigerova

Photo Thanks to Milada Vigerova

I’m posting quotes as we go through the fuzzy zone of being new parents again in these next days. This quote comes from Timothy Jones (Workday Prayers, 39):

Sometimes our words get in the way of what we want to express and do. We may pile them on even after they cease being truly wise or thought out. In these times, silence is usually more helpful to others than our words. “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength,” the prophet said (Isaiah 30:15). On the job today, in what may be a wordy, noisy world, consider ways to nurture a silence that gives others room to speak, that gives God room to move.

A Home for Your Introversion

Photo Thanks to Dana and Peter

Photo Thanks to Dana and Peter

I was talking with my big brother, Patrick Winfield, weeks ago. I had been on his heart and he followed the rule that when somebody is on your heart for a couple days, you call. Among our words was this notion of our uniqueness.

We talked about personality. Winfield is an extravert. He’s orange. I’m an introvert. I’m gold. The colors come from some staff exercise he had us conduct years back at Sweet Holy Spirit, where we picked pictures and found out our colors and the associations with them. The colors became an abbreviation we use in our chats. We’re identified by our pictures, by our colors.

While we were talking, we got down to something specific: people need a home for their introversion. People like me. People like my sister, Vicky, Winfield’s wife. Introverts need space, created room, to be at home.

Sometimes we forget this. We, as introverts, impacted by our peopled calendars and social days, forget that we need that space to cultivate quiet. We require solitude for the sake of our selves.

But this isn’t just true for introverts. Introverts need that cultivation space for personality maintenance. Everybody needs that quiet room for the sake our the soul. Parker Palmer talks about the internal space being created in activism and not only quiet. Howard Thurman talks about the soul need for centering down. Centering down and being active don’t prevent solitude; they can foster it. In other words, it doesn’t have to be quiet around you for your soul to have quiet.

But the soul, the interior, unseen part of you that is really you, needs space to be free, space to be home. That home may be a physical place or an internal place. It may be in a broad sweeping valley; it may overlook a breathtaking mountain; it may be deep within your consciousness.

That home is for the introverted and the extraverted. Where do you feel at home? Where does your heart move when it needs relief or quiet or calm? Have you given your heart that space lately?

Lessons from Exile

by Leeroy2Having been outside the mainstream for years, African American churches have learned valuable lessons that have given special meaning to spiritual practices and ideas. White Christians may be familiar with them in theory, but to know them from the underside, from the outside, and from the margins is an exercise in growing in new grace.

Silence is the anchor of speech

It’s easy for Christians to speak. We fill our ears, speak truths, and proclaim the gospel. We have good reason for our proclamation. But we hear less. It’s harder to be silent.

Silence is a corrective. For black and brown people, silence is a deepening, strengthening, and centering discipline. It is a discipline that was learned as black folks were taken from West African shores, unable to communicate in their native tongues, and pushed to find a way of hearing themselves, hearing their God, and, eventually, speaking about their pain.

It is learned still when life in the United States is unfair and unjust and when the rules for black and brown people are set to maintain injustice. In her book Joy Unspeakable, Barbara Holmes says that silence and contemplation bolster the interior life of a community, and ultimately sustains it.

Silence doesn’t remove the power of speech. It anchors it. The quiet is constructive because it narrows the focus on what needs to be said. It opens us to seeing what is real. It enables us to say what is wrong and, of course, what is right.

When we’re quiet, we have an opportunity to confront the pain of another. We learn to openly and realistically face our losses. We hear, reflect, and see what has set us apart from our Christian relatives.

The black church is instructed by the presence of God through other folks and notices in the silence those who are as concerned about speaking truth as we are.

I’m thankful to the folks at Leadership Journal for publishing my piece and for David Swanson’s earlier framing and partner essay. Read the full piece here.

A Prayer From The Chapel

This prayer was adapted from Nouwen’s Open Hands and was in the chapel a few weeks ago:

Dear God:

Speak gently in our silence.

When the loud noises of the outside world,

And the loud inner noises of our fears

Make You seem so far away;

Help us to know that You are still there–

Even when we can barely hear you.

Help us cling to that still, small voice

That says, “Come to me, all you who are

Weak and overburdened,

And I will give you rest–

For I am gentle and humble of heart.”

God, let that loving voice be our guide this day.

May we find rest in Your love,

And bring that love to others.

We ask now for healing

Of body, mind, and spirit,

In Your holy name.


Thurman on An Island of Peace

A beautiful and significant phrase, “Island of Peace within one’s own soul.”  The individual lives his life in the midst of a wide variety of stresses and strains.  There are many tasks in which he is engaged that are not meaningful to him even though they are important in secondary ways.  There are many responsibilities that are his by virtue of training, or family, or position.  Again and again, decisions must be made as to small and large matters; each one involves him in devious ways.

No one is ever free from the peculiar pressures of his own life.  Each one has to deal with the evil aspects of life, with injustices inflicted upon him and injustices which he wittingly or unwittingly inflicts upon others.  We are all of us deeply involved in the throes of our own weaknesses and strengths, expressed often in the profoundest conflicts within our own souls.

The only hope for surcease, the only possibility of stability for the person, is to establish an Island of Peace within one’s own soul.  Here one brings for review the purposes and dreams to which one’s life is tied.  This is the place where there is no pretense, no dishonesty, no adulteration.  What passes over the threshold is simon-pure.  What one really thinks and feels about one’s own life stands revealed; what one really thinks and feels about other people far and near is seen with every nuance honestly labeled: love is love, hate is hate, fear is fear.

Well within the island is the Temple where God dwells–not the God of the creed, the church, the family, but the God of one’s heart.  Into His Presence one comes with all of one’s problems and faces His scrutiny.  What a man is, what his plans are, what his authentic point is, where his life goes–all is available to him in the Presence.  How foolish it is, how terrible, if you have not found your Island of Peace within your own soul!  It means that you are living without the discovery of your true home.

From Howard Thurman’s “An Island of Peace Within One’s Soul” in Meditations of the Heart

Favorite Paradoxical Questions

I’m reading Christian Wiman’s plunging book, My Bright Abyss.  Christian is a poet, which means he’s a thinker and feeler and imaginative person.  I’ve come through the early chapters of his meditations, small but full chunks about art and death and love and sorrow.  He’s turning to the reality (the notion?) of God in the section I’m reading now.

He opens by restating something I’ve heard from you.  Christian says behind all of our beliefs, whatever they may be, is the child’s insistent question: Why?

This question has been your favorite for a while.  Like cornbread or chocolate or cookies, the word comes from your lips with regularity.  I can anticipate it the way I can you being the first to rise from bed.

And with your question comes the distant penetrating truth that whatever I say, whatever your mama says, exhausts.  Our answers, however clever, will meet an end, will stall in silence.  We will not answer every creation of your curiosity.  You have too many questions.  You’re too interested in each answer.

And it shows me how deep conversation can go, how full an answer quickly offered can turn into another invitation.  At my best, I take a breath and come up with another answer, one that can make sense to you.  And even while I’m answering it, I know that that shrunken answer won’t be fully true.

I want to tell you the exact truth, the best answer, even when I know you won’t grasp it.  Why?  You keep asking.  We keep trying.  And when we don’t know how to answer, you’re still waiting.  And we sit in quiet and ask silence to tell us.

Heard Enough?

I’ve accepted the fact that when I’m on my bicycle I’m doing more prayerful work than I am exercise.  When I do get to it, I maintain the same distance, about 18 miles, and even pedal within the same time frame, approximately 1.5 hours.  But I’m pretty sure that I get more spiritually out of cycling than I do physically.

Of course, I also resist such artificial splits.  I think physical exercise is spiritual.  I think God relates to us through our physical frames.  God made those bodies, knows them well, and wouldn’t have us detaching our selves from them.  I’ve written about this in pieces before, but the more I think of it, the more riding becomes a time of prayer.

The other day I wasn’t riding as well.  The wind was against me.  It was, at least, in my face.  I resolved that there was a difference.  After about four miles, I conked out, slowed down, got off the bike, and walked for a minute.  Then I turned around, got back on the bike, and rode home.

I was frustrated.  I wasn’t tired.  But I didn’t have the normal course in me that morning.  I listened to my body.  It wasn’t saying much.  My legs felt heavy.  The air around me was loud.  I heard myself during all those similar days when I felt the same way, back when I would mutter a mantra like, “Keep pedaling.”  Or, “You can slow down, but don’t turn around.”

I’m not good at turning around.  I’m not good at changing course.  I’m excellent at seeing an end and getting to it.  Detours, changes, adaptations, and enhancements–terrible things they are–though I’ve learned how to do them with some facility, are not what I’m naturally constituted for.  I am the person who gets to the destination.  With screaming feet or aching legs or a throbbing head, I don’t turn away from the path.

So, on those days when I’ve quit, I’ve bemoaned such failures.  That’s what they are to me, failures.  Because I tell myself, when I begin, what the day’s ride will be.  The minimum is always what I did last time.  I don’t make allowances for weakness, for less sleep, for crankiness, or for the weight of the two dozen things I’m thinking through while I ride.

The other morning, I rode back and felt the wind gently pushing behind me.  It was as if I was finally riding in the right direction.  When I trailed around the Point, I stopped at sat in a circle of rocks and listened to the water lapping against the stones, trading claps with green leaves overhead.  The wind and water sang to the tunes of the birds flapping around the area.  I stretched my legs and took an unnecessary breath.  I told myself that I hadn’t quite earned a seat.  I had more riding to do.  The message coming inside the wind said to me quickly, almost sharply, that there are things that I can’t do.

I got up, hardly motivated to listen to more than that.  It was an answer to many things.  I didn’t need to hear the voice of the wind.  I didn’t want to hear the voice of the Spirit.  I had heard enough.  And I didn’t have to travel my normal course for it.