Posts Tagged ‘contemplation’

Here I Am, Stuck In The Middle

December 28, 2016

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.  –Stealers Wheel

Here we are. Wednesday. Christmas and Advent three days behind us. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day three days ahead. Stuck in the middle again.

Gifts, gift giving, special church services–all behind us.

Resolutions, parties, football–all ahead of us (Americans, for football that is, don’t know about the rest of the world).

Maybe you can feel stuck with no where to go, like Stealers Wheel.

Or maybe like TS Eliot in his poem Burnt Norton, where he talked about the still point–at the still point of the turning earth, there is the dance, and there is only the dance.

It can be that pause in the middle.

Just time to stop the rushing and anxiety. 

It’s the time in the middle to pause. Be still.

Everyone is posting their 5-ways for this or 10 steps to that (known as click-bait in the industry-people click on those numbered lists then continue on, but see the ad).

We don’t need 10 resolutions. Or 5 steps to a better year.

We just need to be. In the moment.

It’s not a resolution, it is a way of life.

Lent For Non-Lent People

February 10, 2016

Today begins the season that we call Lent. The season traditionally calls for sacrifice, introspection, and focus on God.

I grew up in a family and church that did not really call for much difference after perhaps an Ash Wednesday service. I have a virtual friend, Jon Swanson who writes a very good blog called 300 Words a Day and wrote Lent for Non-Lent People. He comes up with very good questions to ponder during Lent.

Lent points us toward Easter. Christmas gets huge society play as non-christians also celebrate with gift giving, food, and parties.

Easter gets less society play–although the “Easter Bunny” and candy are popular sales items in stores.

Do you give up things for Lent? As a Methodist in a Lutheran town (if you’re from a city you wouldn’t understand, but if you are also from a village, well), we sort of made fun of, or at least chuckled about, what the Lutherans gave up for Lent. I’ll never forget the guy who gave up watermelon. You couldn’t buy a watermelon in February if you wanted it in those days! Then last week I heard about another guy who is giving up watermelon.

That, of course, is not taking the season of life seriously.

I have another friend who gives up his daily can of beer, fried foods, and desserts. He’s in his 80s. He wonders why he feels so good physically during that time and loses up to 15 lbs. (All of which he replaces on Easter Sunday!)

Right now, I’m at a conference. I’m usually very busy during these things, but this year seems to be crazy. Monday I was up at 3 am to catch a 6 am flight from an airport 90 minutes away. I arrived at the site at 11:30 and immediately began meetings which included dinner. Back at my room at 11 pm. Tuesday keynote sessions and meetings non-stop all day. Back at my room at, er, 11 pm. Today, 7 am breakfast meeting, maybe a little break to catch up on writing this morning, and meetings all day.

How do I find 15 minutes to remember God? To ask what he wants of me today? To ask him to help people I know and people I don’t. It recently dawned on me that I could also ask him to help me. No, I can’t do it all alone.

How about you? Have you found time to be alone with God, his word, his companionship? Maybe Lent gives you a good excuse to start.

Preparation Forms The Spiritual Life

February 4, 2016

Teenagers watch their favorite athlete. They try to mimic his or her style. They fail miserably at becoming a top athlete.


They didn’t mimic what they didn’t see–the work ethic of the top athletes. They practice and work out and eat right as a way of life.

Unless…they are like “Johnny Football.” The curse from my dad was to make me a Cleveland Browns fan. Although I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the NFL, the curse lingers. And the geniuses drafted a known problem child but thought about bringing excitement to the town.

This is a kid who had one good year in college. Came to the pros as a cocky kid imitating the swagger of some top pros. Except–he forgot about the work ethic. And there is a lot of work that goes into being a top pro player.

Dallas Willard used the first example in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines as a metaphor for the life with Jesus.

We ask “What Would Jesus Do?” thinking about acting like he acted in public.

Do you ever think about Jesus’ preparation. He knew the Scriptures thoroughly. We know from a snippet of a story from when he was 12 and was studying with the great teachers at the Temple.

He studied, memorized, thought about the Scriptures. He could quote and interpret flawlessly.

We know his practice was to go off alone and pray.

Jesus put in the hard work of living a life of preparation in order to “be a pro.”

If we want to be like him, it’s not just asking what he’d do in a situation. Or wearing sandals and growing a beard. Or acting like we know it all.

There is the hard work of constant study. Reading and thinking about the scriptures. Praying, meditating, contemplation as we grow into a deeper relationship with God and our knowledge and wisdom increase.

That work need not be joyless. But it needs to become a way of life. Then we are ready to act like Jesus because it is just a natural part of our lives.

It’s easy to coast. But the fruits that come from a spiritual life only come to those who are prepared.

Meditation and Contemplation

October 15, 2014

The Website Lifehacker recently published a post on the Myths of Meditation exposed. It started my thinking about how confusing the terms can be in this era.

We have ancient sources on humans practicing both meditation and contemplation. The Bible, especially in the Psalms, talks about meditating on God’s words and contemplating God’s wonder or mystery.

There is a rich Christian heritage of contemplation including some of my heroes such as St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, John Climacus and many more.

Then the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru to the Beatles, helped popularize an Eastern form known as Transcendental Mediation. But that method actually invaded Europe and America by the early 1800s. Alan Watts and others popularized a form of meditation in the Buddhist tradition of Japan–Zen. That was a Beatnik thing (if you remember them).

If you have looked me up on LinkedIn, you’ll have noticed that I describe myself as a “contemplative Christian.” Contemplatives try to “empty” our minds typically by focusing on something such as a word or a scene (out in nature for example) and experience God. There are many writings of people who have experienced God in this way. I have had that experience a few times. It is unforgettable. The apostle Paul also writes about a contemplative experience he had.

Meditation typically is focusing on something to change the body or learn something. In the TM tradition, there are areas of the body known as energy centers (chokras) that are the source of a particular energy plus the universal energy center at the top of the head. Each of these “chokras” has a unique sound that helps the meditator focus on that particular energy.

So the energy center at the top of the head, the universal one, has the sound “Om” that you’ve probably heard of. Business people are taught that the seat of strength and power is the gut and the sound is “Ram” (pronounced with the soft a as in European languages and not the short a of English). You focus on the center and recite the “mantra” associated with it as you sit quietly. (Incense and gongs are optional.)

In Christianity, we might read a story in the Bible, my favorite is the road to Emmaus, and focus on the story. Sitting quietly, play the story over in your mind. Maybe making yourself the “fly on the wall” listening in. Maybe taking the place of one of the pilgrims and asking Jesus what he means.

Don’t get carried away by the terms or worry about them. Or be concerned that you’ve become “New Age.” Any time you stop, slow down your thinking, and focus on God, it’s good. Both meditation and contemplation are good for both your body and your soul.