The Age-Old Struggle

As far back as Babylonian literature (which we have some record of), we humans have storied the struggle of life—a struggle variously cast as chaos versus order, good versus evil, freedom versus oppression.

Our most popular films and books today still probe this dynamic. The good guys and the bad guys are the stuff of action, conflict, and triumph.

Some people believe this has arisen mostly from humanity's struggle with forces of nature. And, needing a way to articulate this struggle and feel some sense of meaning within it, we have turned to myths and spiritual stories.

There is some truth to that.

But there is another truth put forward by the bible: the physical is an extension of the spiritual. The "battles" we experience within the world and ourselves are rooted in another dimension.

This is the subject of chapter 8 of Sanctuary of the Soul.

The other day my daughter and I watched a TED talk about the universe. Even the physicist who presented it admitted he could not completely wrap his mind around what I would call the eternal nature of matter and dark matter. Even the universe presents us a mystery and a drama and a wondering: will there be a happily ever after? who controls this, if anyone?

Watching the talk, I suddenly felt how small I am and how large is the mind of God. If Satan is simply an angel, he too is small in comparison. Perhaps this is all we need remember. This, and the practice of seeking the Mind that rules not just this world but all that is beyond it and beyond and within time.

As Foster notes, we might be tempted to consult lesser things, and these might bind us: witchcraft, astrology, tarot, palmistry, spirit guides, Ouija boards. They might give us the illusion that we control our share of the world and the universe.

Why live in that place? When we can live in the Eternal, through the connection of Christ and his Spirit?

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Yellow Flames Flutter

The other night I pulled out my house copy of InsideOut. Not sure why. Maybe because it had somehow turned up at my bedside. And the solitude it had poured from seemed to be calling.

I realize that many of the poems are just glimpses, like this one...

Kale is purpling,
bluing and

Or this one...

Little lemon tongues,
wagged off at last.

And this one...

Lightning flashes
and I write
of yellow leaves.

There are longer poems in the book too, but these are the kinds that solitude evoked—a simple focusing on one vision. An awe, if you will, and a willingness to capture that awe in very few words.

So you will not be surprised when I was pleased by Chapter 7 of Sanctuary of the Soul, which suggested poetry (reading or writing it), as a way to embrace silence and release ourselves from distraction.

Foster shares this poem from Robert Siegel...

Yellow flames flutter
about the feeder:
A Pentecost of finches.

Where does Siegel (or anyone?) come up with something like that? First the heart must see... and flutter. Near the feeder, in the yard, perhaps beside a lake or the sea.

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The Voice of God

I know people who claim to hear the voice of God. Sometimes I think they are simply hearing their own wishes.

The human brain has an amazing ability to see patterns, to find or create meaning. We are seekers of symmetry. For this reason, sometimes I have been a person who thought she heard the voice of God, when perhaps I was simply making meaning I wanted to make, when I was collecting pieces for some desired symmetry.

At times I have, therefore, felt very down about the whole voice-of-God issue.

I don't think we will ever get it totally right. Sometimes we are just going to be making stuff up and attributing it to God. Still, if we could even get it right about half of the time, that might move our lives forward in a good way. I would accept those odds, all things considered.

In Chapter 6 of Sanctuary of the Soul, Foster suggests three attributes of the voice of God...

- quality: "a steady, calm force"
- spirit: "peaceful, joyful"
- content: "consistent with [biblical] truths about God's nature and kingdom"

I like these indicators. Maybe it could help me move to the 75% range, if I paid attention.

But even if I never know for sure, I can measure my actions against scripture and church tradition—the voice of God as experienced by a cumulative community over time. It is not all up to me. I can hear through the ears of others who have blessed the world.

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Swallow What You Have Tasted

Gazing on God. If it sounds abstract, then perhaps we need a concrete way to come to it.

In Chapter 5 of Sanctuary of the Soul, Foster suggests three ways...

• behold in Creation
• listen to worship music
• sit in silence

If I were to put deeper words to this, I would take us to the biblical festivals that eventually informed the Church Calendar. I would take us especially to Sukkot.

During Sukkot, the people of Israel built huts outdoors. The huts were mostly open to the sky. And here they spent time eating and sleeping, the very air and its currents reminding them of Spirit breath. Tasty fruits, vegetables, song, silent nights under the stars: it was all there.

My church tradition has very little connection to such ancient festivals or even a modern Church Calendar. And many a day I think this is why we can't, as Foster quotes it, "swallow what [we] have tasted." Or maybe we can't even taste to begin with.

I've done little things with my own family, to try to recapture such concrete experiences of God. But I do wish for a wider community that could teach and support and extend such ways... to help me taste, and see, and swallow the glory of God.

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Collecting Ourselves and Something Else

The poet William Wordsworth defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility."

I love that word "recollected." Something about the sound of it.

And it is that word, hyphenated by Foster into its two parts re-collected, that stood out to me in Chapter 4 of Sanctuary of the Soul.

While Foster spoke of psychological relaxing and surrendering, through sitting still and maybe going over a Scripture in one's mind, I was somehow thinking of daffodils, and how Wordsworth once wrote of them...

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Thinking of the daffodils, I remembered how psychologically relaxing it had been to spend time outdoors every day for a year. So relaxing, in fact, that my body began to develop a new 4-o'clock sense of longing for solitude and fresh air and my cup of tea. A "pattern of life" (as Foster puts it) had developed, and from it came deep times of collection— collection of images, truths, inner spaciousness. I wrote more poetry during that time than I ever have or have done since. I re-collected the past and somehow came out with a larger sense of love.

I don't sit outside daily anymore. It had its time and place. The other day, in Wordsworth style, I allowed myself to simply lie on the couch. The afternoon sun was warm on my arm and I fell asleep. I woke up filled with so many little epiphanies it was almost overwhelming.

Is it important how we go about collecting and re-collecting ourselves? I'm not so sure it is. Sitting still in a chair, going outside with a cup of tea, lying down on the couch in the afternoon, with a sense of wanting to know anew: each can be a basket into which we gather refreshment, vision, and love.

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Steve Jobs, Time, and the Meadow

"He was an amazing man," I said to my Littlest. She looked into my eyes, knew that I was about to cry, and a sweet "I'm so sorry" flowed through her gaze. I read the obituary aloud. We talked of Apple technologies we love, and she was fascinated to learn about the man who brought them to her life.

Through the rest of the evening I kept considering how time was not Steve Jobs' friend. I thought about others like him, who have been as a "candle in the wind." I thought of one of my favorite story tellers, Flannery O'connor. All those who, so brilliant, have died young, leaving the world wondering what it missed because of their early leaving.

Today I noticed this phrase in Chapter 4 of Sanctuary of the Soul: "time was our friend."

Foster was speaking of an experience at a place called Quaker Meadow—a place where, for a day, time seemed to stand still.

Sometimes I think such moments are a hint of eternity. Time is not really our friend; life can never be long enough. But in our Quaker-Meadow moments we taste a hope that we will live on in the mind and heart of God. And we will not go missing from the world.

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Windows to Heaven

Just when I settled on my way, I found that Foster's text turned; it would be a stretch to try to find a breath prayer in Chapter 3 of Sanctuary of the Soul.

That is fine. In fact, it seems often to go this way in spiritual life. We settle on a process, a path, and something shifts.

The shift in this case was from the cerebral to the creative, from words to visions and connections. Foster discussed three “windows to heaven”: the imagination, lectio divina, and the community of the saints.

Most interesting was the brief discussion of imagination and how, in its way, it also infuses lectio and our understanding of community past and present. This is prayer turned painting (especially through the use of icons), prayer absorbed in pictures and a washing-over, prayer as a heritage we share with generations before us.

My favorite quote was, “allow the Lord to give you many delightful images and pictures of God’s desires for humanity.”

I am reminded of the work of scientist John Medina, who discusses how the lion’s share of our brains is given over to the visual. I’m not sure how this works for someone who can’t see, though I imagine that, in vision’s stead, touch can give shape to some kind of “visual” construction. In this case, it would be one of hopeful connections, grace-full constructions.

So I come to this today: God who sees, let me see. A breath prayer, after all.

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