Formation in Practice

We hope that in reflecting on the growth that can come from chaos, you will find it meaningful to share in discussion of these questions with others.

What are the focal concerns of your life: those things that matter most and give meaning and value to all else?

What pulls you from lethargy and calls you to engage Life? Where do you draw close to the restorative power of God’s creation?

When and how have you discovered the goodness in waiting and slowness?

When have you hit the red line of your own limits – and how did you respond?

What limits have given life to you, which you did not choose? Have you made peace with them?

Do you have struggles that you hide from God? What keeps you quiet? What would it take to share them?

What examples of conflict and conflict resolution did you have growing up? How did they shape the way you deal with conflict now?

Faced with threat, are you more prone to fight, flight, freeze, or fawn? Why is that?

When have you met Jesus on the hard road? How did you know it was him?

How are you being “pressured from within to become more”?

The Rest of My Life: An Interview about Vocation

Q: Take us back to the beginning: when did you first start to have a sense of a monastic vocation, and what was it that was drawing you?

I first started going to an Episcopal church in college. I was very eager to learn more and go deeper, so I met with the priest there regularly, usually at least once a month, to ask him a bunch of questions (and leave with a bunch of books). Eventually, I approached him and said that I was interested in talking about – well, I didn’t call it this, but – vocational discernment. He was the one who suggested a monastic vocation to me, based on some of the things he’d been hearing from me and seeing in me over the previous months. And while it didn’t immediately click, something about it planted its roots in my brain.

I was thinking about it every day. Finally, after a few months, I sent that priest an email and said, “I think I need to meet with you again, because – to my surprise – this idea is just not leaving. I think about this every day now.”

I will also say that I remember even being a kid and not having much of a religious context, yet being fascinated by monks or monk-like figures that I encountered in pop culture. I loved the Jedi in Star Wars. I loved the book series, Redwall, about woodland creatures living in Redwall Abbey, a monastic setting in a forest in England. I remember I really loved watching the Disney film, the animated Robin Hood and seeing Friar Tuck. So as a child, I had these Jedi warrior monks and these monastic woodland creatures whom I just loved. I found them so fascinating, even though I had no broader context for it. But, it’s interesting that even though this vocation certainly started explicitly when I was in college, there was also just something attractive about it for me, in the ways I encountered it, from an early age. Read More

A Word with the FSJ: Fasting for Peace in Gaza

The brothers of SSJE pray regularly for the cessation of war, the safe return of captives, and just and lasting peace for the Holy Land. We spoke with Christian Calawa, a regular worshiper at the monastery, about a recent experience of prayer and fasting for peace in Gaza that he helped organize.

Can you describe for us the basic outline of the fast?

The week was a 5-day fast with a core group of people down in DC. Some people had to come and go, but there were five of us who went without food for five days. There were a lot of people who joined remotely, largely in New England and some outside of New England and the East Coast, who joined in prayer twice a day, on a Zoom meeting that was structured. It was all very interfaith. We went from spiritual breathing exercises in the Ayurvedic tradition, to Compline, to other forms of prayers. But a lot of this was born out of a feeling of helplessness, a feeling that this world is very big and a lot larger than we’re able to engage with meaningfully in the way that we want to, that feeling being one of paralysis, and acceptance, and trust and belief that prayer is meaningful action, that prayer is not a passive thing to a God who is absent, that our prayer and intercessions are real and worthy of time. This is way we can participate as members of the faith community. It largely ended up being Christian.

We had a couple different themes. We were down in DC, and we spent one day each in front of big DC institutions: the White House, the Capitol building, the Israeli embassy, the Holocaust Museum, the Washington National Cathedral. Each day, the prayer was pointed toward the institution we were sitting outside of. There was prayer for wisdom, prayer for peace, prayer not to be bound by the normal political order that would often be slow or ineffective or managerial, prayer for meaningful action. That included all different forms; we weren’t very prescriptive on what prayer meant or what we wanted it to mean. I think allowing space for people to pray for deliverance, for justice, for aid, things both practical and impractical, that ultimately the God who is sovereign over all of this would be in control, that good may come out of the seemingly endless darkness was surrounding a lot of this. Read More

On the Hard Road

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We never thought life would be like this, never considered we could lose so much. Death keeps shattering our plans and expectations with loss. Everything is upended. The world feels doomed, and things don’t make sense anymore. What will happen next?

It’s hard to believe he’s gone. We’ve been together so long.

The doctors said there’s not much they can do.

If I lose this job, I don’t know how to keep supporting them.

We can’t go back. We have to find a way here.   

Our words of disbelief and grief today could echo back, nearly unchanged, those spoken two thousand years ago, when two grieving companions talked together on the road to Emmaus. They shared their grief at losing Jesus, their friend, whom they expected would save them, but who was betrayed, killed, and buried. They talked of the body missing, and people supposedly seeing angels.

As these two walk to Emmaus, Jesus comes walking alongside them. They don’t recognize the one they love. The man asks about their conversation, sees and hears their sadness, and then shares about his own suffering, speaking through the language of scripture.

 

 


Our words of disbelief and grief today could echo back, nearly unchanged, those spoken two thousand years ago, when two grieving companions talked together on the road to Emmaus.

 


 

 

Hard as it is to believe, this is resurrection: feeling loss and disorientation, long talks of grief, and receiving a stranger’s compassionate presence. Easter does not come with quick fixes or easy answers. There are times when we do not even see that Jesus is here, alive, with us: Jesus came to Mary as she visited the tomb, and she supposed him to be a gardener; he came to a frightened community gathered behind locked doors; to a group out fishing for whom he provided breakfast; and to these two friends, on the way and linked in sad talk.

This is still true: Jesus comes where we are now, amid difficult emotions, perplexing questions, as we walk and eat. Frederick Buechner wrote: “Jesus is apt to come into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable moments. … He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.”

One way to see Jesus is to stop and look back. Ignatius of Loyola taught that reflecting and then giving thanks is a key way to pray. I see Jesus more easily by looking back. In the past day or more, for what are you most thankful? Perhaps a kind word or gesture, a fear unmanifested, a beauty glimpsed, a memory recalled. “How did you receive love? When were you most fully alive?” Sometimes it’s only after an experience that we can see what it truly held and meant for us. When the two disciples finally recognized Jesus in Emmaus, they were then able to remember their “hearts burning within” while Jesus spoke to them on the road. Recognition comes later. We have to stop and look back to not miss it.

 

 


Hard as it is to believe, this is resurrection: feeling loss and disorientation, long talks of grief, and receiving a stranger’s compassionate presence. Easter does not come with quick fixes or easy answers.

 


 

 

To see Jesus, we often have to seek company. If you feel blind and weighed down in grief, you are not alone. Many of us feel the same. Like the two companions on the road, speak your grief to compassionate friends and strangers. Pray even when God feels absent. Jesus is present alongside us including when we do not see him.

Pray your pain. If you’re wanting help with words, about half of the psalms are honest examples. Start with Psalm 13 and Psalm 102. Lament is a cry of pain and a cry of trust. It is stark and boldly real about pain and suffering, and it assumes being heard.

Lament is not just for Lent or Holy Week but for life. Even God grieves! In Genesis 6, God “grieved in the heart” at how people behaved. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. From the cross, Jesus cried out with words from Psalm 22, trust and question in tender, wrenching symmetry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Lament is our ancient prayer and part of being human.

Consider this: How do you know when children are upset? They flail, cry, hit, stomp, and resist. How do children look when at ease, trusting? They slump, lean into us and objects, hug back, and rest.

As a child of God, I find that one way I am praying is like a child: with my body. I hit the air with my fists, then slowly push and pull as with a heavy object. Tensing arms and clenching fists, I curl or twist and stay in that tension offering my constricted self. This is a way of praying, expressing the pain.

Then I let go and relax, leaning against a wall or lying on the floor, letting my whole weight be supported. Taking deep breaths, I trust God holds me fully. I also stand with my arms outstretched and tilted back imagining I am floating in the ocean, or alternately tilted forward as if floating on a cloud. These are ways of expressing and feeling trust.

Music beckons the body to move, to dance, to express sighs too deep for words. Pray with music that prompts such tensing and hitting pain or such floating trust – or find music that invites both. Children of God, pray your confusion and pain, what is hard to bear. Ask for grace to trust and move in such a way that you can feel free to express and receive what is true for you.

 


Children of God, pray your confusion and pain, what is hard to bear.

 


 

Psychiatrist Curt Thompson encourages us to not deny our losses or diminish them by trying to compare our experience with someone else. Your grief is real, and it is yours. Thompson suggests writing down each day at least one thing you have lost or are losing. Then also name a couple things for which you are thankful. In this way, pray both grief and gratitude.

A tree with a large broken limb hanging down inspires both these moods of prayer in me. I let one arm bend, droop, twist, and hang, feeling the weight of what is broken and hurts. I then raise the other arm upward like healthy limbs in gratitude. Like the tree, I experience both realities at the same time and thus pray weight and wonder, grief and gratitude.

Jesus persistently comes to us, with us, alongside us – including when we do not see him. Not in dazzling power, but in the glimmering presence of shared stories, Jesus walks and eats with us. Pray your story wherever you are in its unfolding, perhaps with movements, shaking pain or floating trust. Jesus is with us, grieving with us, listening with love, and gently fanning our soul’s faint embers into flame.

 


Jesus is with us, grieving with us, listening with love, and gently fanning our soul’s faint embers into flame.


 

Questions for Reflection

– When have you met Jesus on the hard road? How did you know it was him?

– How does your body ask to pray? Do you pray with walking, or dancing, or other forms of movement? Will you try a new way of moving your prayer?

– Pray both grief and gratitude. Which one feels more present to you right now?

 


Is it possible this this is easter: the pain, the grief, the confusion, and the loss we know only too well? On the hard road of life, Br. Luke Ditewig promises us, we do and will encounter Jesus, who comes alongside us even when we do not see him. This is resurrection.

The Brakes: Learning Conflict Resolution

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“Oh, That I Had Wings Like a Dove”

 

I didn’t experience healthy examples of conflict resolution growing up. My parents were not happy in their marriage, and while there was no physical violence, wars of words were an everyday occurrence. Bullying was prevalent all through my primary and secondary education, with antagonism coming from both peers and teachers. Apparently if you wanted to motivate someone to behave and perform the way you wanted them to, there was no method more powerful than invoking fear and shame. You’re lazy. We’re just trying to learn how to live with you. You need to grow up. Why can’t you get your act together? These phrases I’ve heard and experienced my whole life.

Maybe this is why I have always had difficulty with conflict resolution. Throughout my life, I’ve wondered why there appear to be so many others who engage in conflict and emerge unscathed.

What about you? If you are like me, you may know the experience of having been bullied as a child and/or adult. You may have been singled out for ridicule based on your looks, your clothes, your interests, or your intellect. Perhaps you have been at the receiving end of verbal abuse from a teacher, mentor, employer, or someone whom you held in high esteem. Maybe you have felt dismissed by a friend, family member, or spouse, and have felt unworthy of love, respect, or dignity.

According to an article published online by Psychology Today, verbal aggression not only damages a child’s self-esteem, but also has been found to alter the development of a child’s brain. Studies show that emotional pain affects the same part of the brain as physical pain, and that verbal aggression can be internally absorbed by the body. Author Peg Streep summarized the science this way: “Words are powerful—they can lift us up and beat us down, soothe us or wound us.”

To be honest, my tendency when I feel threatened is to exit the scene as quickly as possible. Among the rotation of Psalms that we Brothers pray during Morning Prayer at the Monastery is Psalm 55. Its subject is conflict, and I feel similar to the Psalmist when we chant their words: “And I said, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee to a far-off place and make my lodging in the wilderness. I would hasten to escape from the stormy wind and tempest.’”

 


My tendency when I feel threatened is to exit the scene as quickly as possible.

 


 

 

This passage often takes me back to a memory from early high school. It was customary at band camp to dress the freshmen up in silly outfits one evening at dinner and then to rehearsal directly after. I remember being made to wear a tutu, wig, tiara, and make-up. I felt nothing but shame and humiliation. My fight, flight, or freeze response kicked in, and I chose to run as fast as I could. After a brief search, I was eventually found in my room by an upperclassman who calmed me down and talked me into participating in the initiation with my peers. But I’ll never forget that my initial reaction was that I was in danger, and rather than confronting it, I ran.

This insight to “flee” has carried over into my adulthood. I can attest to many instances throughout the years when, in a state of distress over some internal conflict in our community, I’ve fantasized about “switching communities” – which would be a life-sized version of the “flight” response. In truth, most of us belong to more than one community at a time, and it can be tempting in the face of conflict to simply imagine leaving. We might be prone to wonder: what would it be like if our immediate community (where we may be experiencing conflict more acutely) and our “outer” communities (where relationships may feel easier or less dangerous) switched places? Would being surrounded by different people assuage the intensity of conflict that we experience within our current inner circle?

Since becoming a monk, I’ve learned that this fantasy is inspired by a principle called acedia, which the desert monastics nicknamed “the noonday demon.” Acedia is the idea that the grass is greener in other pastures and that, by remaining in our current situation, we are missing out on all that would heal and complete us. While periods of discernment about a change in circumstances might sometime be warranted, usually, the process of healing and completion can often be found – through God’s grace – exactly at the place that is the current source of our pain. Leaving would rob us of that chance.

And yet, if we are going to stay, we need to learn strategies for how to engage in conflict well. In an increasingly fast-paced and volatile world, where everyone is talking and no one is listening, learning strategies for self-awareness and the strengthening of the “brakes” of our minds is crucial.

 


If we are going to stay, we need to learn strategies for how to engage in conflict well.

 


 

 

I want to share some strategies that have proved helpful for me, and which we all—especially those of us who profess Jesus Christ (the prince of peace) as Lord—can employ to strengthen our brakes and foster an atmosphere of safety within us and around us. I hope that these strategies will allow us to experience grace-filled resolutions at the source of conflict. Maybe even to be among the peace-makers in our own orbit.

First, it is crucial that we practice a healthy awareness of our bodies, which helps to facilitate how we experience the world around us, especially when we are in a place of uncertainty. Regardless of brain-type, everyone is equipped with the reptilian brain response of fight, flight, or freeze. Unless you have well-honed self-awareness skills, limbic responses can exacerbate conflict through misunderstanding and miscommunication. When teaching neurodiverse children and adults about their ADHD brains, Psychiatrists Edward Hallowell and John Ratey use the metaphor of having a Ferrari engine for a brain that is ill-equipped with bicycle brakes. The key for those folks—and the rest of us—is to learn strategies that strengthen the brakes.

 


The process of healing and completion can often be found exactly at the place that is the current source of our pain.

 


 

When I recognize a limbic response in my body resulting from a situation of disagreement with another person, especially someone in my inner-circle, I try to reorient my response to one of curiosity rather than aggression. Curiosity helps me to investigate my feelings by asking a standard set of questions: “What do you mean when you say…..?” “Could you tell me more about that?” By asking the person questions from a place of curiosity, I am better able to determine why I am experiencing anxiety. Is what I thought I heard accurate, or did I misunderstand? Are the feelings I am experiencing in the present situation authentic, or are they tied to either a past situation or preconceived anxieties about the future? Limbic signals received during a disagreement or conflict with someone close to us can feel like—and therefore remind us of—past trauma. But that does not mean that trauma is occurring in this present moment. This truth recalls a slogan used in the room of 12-step recovery: “Feelings are not facts.” I have learned that it is more accurate to approach feelings as theories, which—just as in a scientific laboratory—need to be tested quantitatively. Once we determine their accuracy, then we can respond with the intention of preserving the dignity of both us and our perceived adversary.

A second call to awareness stems from the covenant that we enter into at our Baptism, and which that we reaffirm liturgically throughout our lives as Christians: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” We answer: “I will, with God’s help.” Communities of belonging require, in a sense, that we share a particular vulnerability with each other. To be vulnerable is to let down our guards; to expose our hearts with the assurance that they will be handled with reverence and care. This does not mean that accidents will never happen and that our hearts won’t be injured or even broken. What it does mean, hopefully, is that our hearts will be handled with the intention of care and respect. Taking part in an intentional community presupposes that we will do the same with the hearts of those who form that community with us. I am always struck by the passage in the third chapter of the epistle of James: “For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”

We’re all made in the image of God and, through our Baptisms, we have been joined one to another as children of God; we are called to let that identity guide us, in moments of conflict, towards words that uphold the dignity of one another. I recall a time when I was in a particular state of anxiety about a disagreement with someone and was having trouble viewing that person compassionately. I was worried about an upcoming difficult conversation, and didn’t have high hopes for it ending amicably. My spiritual director said something that was a great help and has served me well many times since. They said: “When you sit down together, begin with a prayer and know that Jesus is in the room with you both. As you proceed with the conversation, be aware of God’s presence and then ask yourselves, ‘What does Jesus want for the both of you at the outcome?’”

 


We’re all made in the image of God and, through our Baptisms, we have been joined one to another as children of God; we are called to let that identity guide us, in moments of conflict, towards words that uphold the dignity of one another.

 


Forgiveness and reconciliation do not necessarily require resolution, but they do require empathy, compassion, respect, and dignity, which should help to forge a path forward. Disagreement doesn’t have to lead to estrangement—which is too easy to forget when we are experiencing intense feelings and emotions. The key is to recognize each other’s willingness to be vulnerable and to work out the source of tension together in a safe atmosphere.

Sometimes, to create a safe atmosphere, it may be helpful to have a facilitator join you. If it’s agreeable, ask someone else to listen and guide your conversation with the goal of helping you both reach a dignified solution. We need to foster a safe environment in which we can see each other’s wounds and then mutually salve them for healing.

Third, recognize that it’s okay to be angry. The visceral experience of anger is not an enjoyable one, but it is necessary, especially in the face of injustice (whether our own or that of another). Being angry is not itself a sin, but how we deal with and entertain that anger is what can potentially lead to sin. If our anger leads us to a place of vengeance and retribution, then it is probable that we’re in murky waters. But is it also possible that our anger could lead us toward a grace-filled resolution and healing?

In this book Self Discipline, an early member of our community, Fr. Arthur Hall SSJE, points out that Jesus experienced the full array of emotions in his humanity that we do—and this includes anger. Yet, Jesus shows us the proper handling of anger through his example. Take this scene in the gospel of Mark:

Again, he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to good or to do harm on the sabbath; to save a life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

In Jesus’ example, we see that his anger led to healing and wholeness, rather than to fear, shame, or retribution. First, we acknowledge that we are angry, and then we need to think how that anger can be used constructively for the betterment of all involved, rather than for destruction. If we can practice this locally, in our one-on-one relationships, it is possible that we could begin to learn to do this more fully on a societal level as well.

I have to admit that I am far from perfect in employing the strategies mentioned above. Sometimes, my brakes fail and I have to approach my colleague, friend, Brother and say, “I’m sorry. I ask for your forgiveness. Could we press the reset button and begin again?” The cure to my instinct to flee the scene is instead to stay put: to approach the other with humility, to acknowledge lessons learned, and to ask to begin afresh.

The ancient monastic teaching around stability advises that, as long as a safe environment has been fostered, we must stay grounded at the source of our pain, to work through our differences, so that any breech may be healed. We have to remember that Jesus is God Emmanuel – which means “God with us.” What does Jesus want for those who are engaged in conflict? Healing and wholeness. He teaches us to stay. And we can know that he stays with us.


 

Questions for Reflection

– What examples of conflict and conflict resolution did you have growing up? How did they shape the way you deal with conflict now?

– Faced with threat, are you more prone to fight, flight, or freeze? Why is that?

– What helps you strengthen your own "breaks"?

 


Even a monastery is not free from conflict, and in this searching, honest reflection, Br. Jim Woodrum confronts his own tendency to want to flee when things get tough. Find here practical suggestions for dealing with own personal fear responses, as well as practical suggestions for strengthening the internal "breaks" that allow us to deal with conflict more healthily.

Anxiety: opening up to God

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The first time I had a panic attack it felt like I was having the worst case of heartburn imaginable while simultaneously trying to breathe through a tiny straw. I was sitting at my desk in my dorm room during my junior year of college. I remember it was a beautiful fall day, and I had the window open. I was struggling to finish a paper when suddenly it all hit me.

My memory of that first panic attack is blurry, but I remember coming out of it laying on my bed looking out the window. I just kept begging myself to breathe deeper and deeper. My hand was on my chest, feeling my heart pounding away.

I have had a long, winding journey with anxiety. I’m in a much more stable place in my life now, but I still need to work on my anxiety on a daily basis. It is something I normally do not like to talk about, but in my last five years as a monk, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people I’ve talked to who have experiences with anxiety. I do believe we are in the midst of a mental health epidemic, and it does not help us to stay silent about our experiences. I do hope what I say can be of benefit to someone.

 


I do believe we are in the midst of a mental health epidemic, and it does not help us to stay silent about our experiences.

 


 

 

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Know Limits

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Heat radiated off the pavement as I cycled past tree-dotted lawns. The temperature had already reached ninety degrees, and it was still climbing. My breathing was labored, tunnel vision had set in, and my thoughts were focused on just getting around one more bend in the road. One hundred more feet. One more rotation of the pedals.

This was just outside of Belmont, in northeast Mississippi, during a heat wave in August 2021. I was three days into a bike trip south on the Natchez Trace Parkway when I hit my limit.

I mean this in a very literal way. I could not make myself move forward. You may not have had a physical experience like this, but I imagine that you will have experienced something similar in another part of your life. Commitments piling up with not enough hours in the day to address them, no matter how hard you work. The red numbers staring at you on your budget sheet, with no possible way to close the financial gap. Demands on your time and attention from family or friends that you emotionally cannot meet. Your story is your own, but I would bet that something like this is, or has been, a part of it. Read More

Patience and the Crucible of Life

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines “patience” as “the calm abiding, a quiet and self-possessed waiting for something”; however the etymology hints at the normal context, which is often very difficult. “Patience” comes from the Latin patientia, which is a “quality of suffering” – suffering with calmness and endurance, what the scriptures call “long-suffering.” And suffering you often are when you are forced to relinquish your desires, or when you are left to wait without recourse. Patience is oftentimes not pretty and may feel vapid; sometimes there is a storm before the calm. It is one thing to wait in eagerness for something delightful we anticipate will unfold. It is another thing when we must be a patient patient because we are not in control over suffering – our own suffering or that of someone else whom we carry in our heart.

Here is a disclaimer. Sometimes we should not be patient. Some things we encounter in life are urgent, and we must act now.

But in the normal gestation of life, we must often wait. Without our learning patience, we will miss being present to a great deal of life. Life entails so much waiting. When the answer is not forthcoming, when something is not being resolved, when the door is not being opened, when someone is not acquiescing, when we have lost any sense of controlling some circumstance, we may experience a certain anguish or anger. To experience the fullness of our life, we must learn to wait well. Saint Francis de Sales advises, “What we need is a cup of understanding, a barrel of love, and an ocean of patience.”  Patience is a quality of waiting.

Patience does not come easily to most of us, for several reasons. Our ego, how many of us grandstand our own importance on the stage of life, can be a great impediment to patience. What I want, and when seems right, when I am entitled. It took me many years to distinguish the adoring love I experienced amongst my own family-of-origin from my true place in the world. For some of us, the context of learning about patience has very little to do with us, personally, and everything to do with others. They have their place, their needs, their hopes and desires. I must wait my turn. Sometimes there are many people in line ahead of me. The Jesuit priest, Anthony de Mello, describes the necessary shearing of the ego that can happen as we grow older: “Before I was twenty, I never worried about what other people thought of me. But after I was twenty I worried endlessly about all the impressions I made and how people were evaluating me. Only sometime after turning fifty did I realize that they hardly ever thought about me at all.” The stage on which many of us learn about patience is discovering we are seldom THE STAR and more often the extra. We have an important and unique part in life, but so does everyone else. We must learn, listen, and become patient in the waiting.

Having to wait may prove to be a crucible to your soul, burning away what does not belong. You will not always get what you think you want in life. Jesus describes himself as “the gate” and “the door,” and sometimes he bars the way (John 10:1-9).  As I reflect back on my own life, I teem with relief and gratitude for so many things I thought I wanted but was denied. (In my younger years I was nicknamed “Curtis Armtwist.”) I realize now that had this-and-that or such-and-such have happened, I would have ended up in a very different place.

Sometimes, by God’s grace, we are denied our dearest hopes. T. S. Eliot writes of how we often want what proves to be the wrong things, and how “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: so the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing” (T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) in Four Quartets: East Coker, III, 11. 23-8). Patience can even mean learning to be grateful for the doors that did not open before you, and, therefore, the new direction in which you turned which has brought you to where you are.

 

 


Finding the goodness in waiting, in slowness, is quite countercultural; however our having to wait may turn out to be a great kindness of God towards us.

 


 

Finding the goodness in waiting, in slowness, is quite countercultural; however our having to wait may turn out to be a great kindness of God towards us. The scriptures consistently refer to us as “children of God” (not “adults of God”). Children are not developmentally ready to know everything at once. There is a progression in our capacity to know, which God knows. The apostle Peter awakened to this realization. He writes, “Beloved, while you are waiting, be at peace… and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:9, 15).  Our experience of having to wait may, in actuality, be God’s experience of waiting on us until we are ready for more. Take heart. Simone Weil, the great French spiritual writer and political activist of the 1940s, writes how “waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”   

Here’s one more benefit. Adding the phrase “patient waiting” to your soul’s vocabulary may be a helpful intervention to the onset of anxiety. There is a freedom that can be gleaned in your being powerless to know the future. God knows. God knows what you do not know, and God knows that you do not know. In the beginning of creation, God creates an interchange of light and darkness to fill each of our days. It is as true for the sky as it is for the soul. We can only bear so much light. Light can be as blinding as darkness. The eyes of your heart will be enlightened with as much light as you can bear (“The eyes of your heart,” an evocative phrase of Saint Paul in Ephesians 1:18). When you are in the dark, God is not in the dark. The psalmist writes of God: “Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike” (Psalm 139:11. See also 1 John 1:5). If you are in the dark about something, your waiting invites patience for the dawning. The dawn will come in the fullness of time.

 

 


When you are in the dark, God is not in the dark.

 


 

Waiting patiently is not a limp submission. Waiting patiently is an active presumption that God is at work in our life in ways beyond what we could ask or imagine (See Ephesians 3:20-21).  When you have no choice but to wait, open your eyes and open your heart to what you otherwise might have missed. You do not have what you are waiting for – what is next – but you do have what is now. Don’t cut in line. Be present to what is now, even if it is full of struggle. You will find the companionship of God’s real presence in the waiting, which is the fruit of patience.

 

I waited patiently upon the LORD;

he stooped to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the desolate pit,

out of the mire and clay;

he set my feet upon a high cliff

and made my footing sure.

– Psalm 40:1-2

 


Questions for Reflection

– Do you struggle with waiting? What is it about the experience that is hard for you?

– When and how have you, conversely, discovered the goodness in waiting and slowness?

– What practices help you to stay present and grounded in times of waiting?

 


Patience does not come easily to many of us, for many reasons. Yet in this moving reflection, Br. Curtis Almquist suggests a few of the many reasons that being forced to wait can actually be a gift. We are all invited to discover the countercultural (and surprising) goodness of waiting.

Awake: Focal Practice as a Path

Download, print and share: AWAKE: Focal Practice as a Path

 

Awake, awake to love and work!
The lark is in the sky;
The fields are wet with diamond dew;
The worlds awake to cry
Their blessings on the Lord of life,
As He goes meekly by.

 

Singing these verses in our monastic service of morning prayer – in an indoor chapel, from a printed page – evokes memory, imagination, and desire (“Not Here for High and Holy Things,” words by George Anketel Studdert-Kennedy). I remember the many early morning walks I have taken; I imagine the worlds around me on every side full of crawling, flying, burrowing creatures, continually drawn into being by the breath of their Maker; I yearn for yet further, deeper relationship with God’s world as its beings sing their million-throated witness to Life in its fullness.

But when the hem of my habit is drenched with the same diamond dew; when I have responded to the relentless song of the first robin by rousing myself out into the enfolding half-light of dawn; when my own ears have heard the blessings cawed and warbled into the clinging mist before the work of human worship has even begun; it is then that I know, by the Creator’s grace, the heart of the hymn of creation. My boots flecked with grass, my beard slick with the fine spring rain, singing a hymn becomes more than an aid to memory, imagination, or desire. My mouth is full of praise that has become my own because it has also become the world’s praise resounding through my voice, returning to its Source.

Praying morning prayer daily; singing a familiar hymn with devotion; getting out of bed because that first enthusiastic robin is singing her heart out; lingering to witness the primeval moment the sun breaks the tree line and the world is, once more, gifted with light…

Even if our own list would differ substantially, we know intuitively that these activities share an underlying kinship. Read More