Art: Joy Unspeakable

May 23rd, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Joy Unspeakable
Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Last week I shared reflections from our CONSPIRE 2018 presenter Barbara Holmes on art that ordinarily has not been considered “sacred” by Western culture. Over the next few days I’d like to share more of her insights on music from African American culture and the black church. While there has been a growing interest in Christian contemplation over the last several decades, much of it has been through a Euro-centric lens, focusing primarily on silence and solitude. Holmes draws attention to the many unsilent, embodied, and communal contemplative practices that can lead us into the gift of contemplation, union with God.
Holmes begins her book Joy Unspeakable with this evocative poem, tracing the thread of creative expression from the birth of the universe through the Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers (who were dark-skinned, though they’re often portrayed as white), through slavery and the continued oppression of people of color. Again, I invite you to read the poem aloud, perhaps a couple times.
Joy Unspeakable
is not silent,
it moans, hums, and bends
to the rhythm of a dancing universe.
It is a fractal of transcendent hope,
a hologram of God’s heart,
a black hole of unknowing.
For our free African ancestors,
joy unspeakable is drum talk
that invites the spirits
to dance with us,
and tell tall tales by the fire.
For the desert Mothers and Fathers,
joy unspeakable is respite
from the maddening crowds,
And freedom from
“church” as usual.
For enslaved Africans during the
Middle Passage,
joy unspeakable is the surprise
of living one more day,
and the freeing embrace of death
chosen and imposed.
For Africans in bondage
in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is that moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor,
testifies about Divine suffering,
and whispers in our ears,
“Don’t forget,
I taught you how to fly
on a wing and a prayer,
when you’re ready
let’s go!”
Joy Unspeakable is humming
“how I got over”
after swimming safely
to the other shore of a swollen Ohio river
when you know that you can’t swim.
It is the blessed assurance
that Canada is far,
but not that far.
For Africana members of the
“invisible institution,” the
emerging black church,
joy unspeakable is
practicing freedom
while chains still chafe,
singing deliverance
while Jim Crow stalks,
trusting God’s healing
and home remedies,
prayers, kerosene,
and cow patty tea.
For the tap dancing, boogie woogie,
rap/rock/blues griots
who also hear God,
joy unspeakable is
that space/time/joy continuum thing
that dares us to play and pray
in the interstices of life,
it is the belief that the phrase
“the art of living”
means exactly what it says.
Joy Unspeakable
the unlikely merger of
trance and high tech lives
ecstatic songs and a jazz repertoire
Joy unspeakable is
a symphony of incongruities
of faces aglow and hearts
on fire
and the wonder of surviving together. [1]


Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

May 23, 2018

APPROACH EACH NEW DAY with desire to find Me. Before you get out of bed, I have already been working to prepare the path that will get you through this day. There are hidden treasures strategically placed along the way. Some of the treasures are trials, designed to shake you free from earth-shackles. Others are blessings that reveal My Presence: sunshine, flowers, birds, friendships, answered prayer. I have not abandoned this sin-wracked world; I am still richly present in it. Search for deep treasure as you go through this day. You will find Me all along the way.

PROVERBS 16:9 ; In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.

COLOSSIANS 2:2–3;My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

ISAIAH 33:6:He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.



May 22nd, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Art: Week 2

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Before 500 BCE, religion and poetry were largely the same thing. People did not presume to be able to define the Mystery. They looked for words that could describe the Mystery. Poetry doesn’t claim to be a perfect description as dogma foolishly does. It’s a “hint half guessed,” to use T. S. Eliot’s phrase. [1] That’s why poetry seduces and entices you into being a searcher for the Mystery yourself. It creates the heart leap, the gasp of breath, inspiring you to go further and deeper; you want to fill in the blanks for yourself.

Poetry does this by speaking in metaphors. All religious language is metaphor by necessity, yet I must insist on this to every new group of students, especially Protestants who tend to understand the Bible in a more literal way. Religion points toward a Mystery that you don’t know—can’t know—until you have experienced it. Poetry gives you resonance more than logical proof, and resonance is much more healing and integrating. It resounds inside of you. It evokes and calls forth a deeper self. When religion becomes mere philosophy, definitions, moralisms, and rituals, it no longer has the power to transform.

For poetry to be most effective, I believe it should be spoken aloud, embodied. After all, God didn’t think, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). God spoke, and creation vibrated into existence. Isn’t it just like our Creator to imprint the subtlety and mystery of creativity in the thisness of each voice?

Cynthia Bourgeault says that she gradually learned the value of speaking the scripture aloud before beginning to prepare a sermon on it:

Nine times out of ten, when I finally read the passage out loud during the proclamation of the Gospel on Sunday morning, I hear exactly the phrase or innuendo that I should have preached on, but that escaped my reading eye.

Virtually all spiritual paths begin their training with breath and tone—conscious breathing, following the breath, vibrating the mantra—and for good reason: these are the actual tools and technologies for engaging and energizing our more subtle inner being. [2]

Poetry, like chant, is meant to vibrate through the uniqueness of our own voice for it to come alive. Don’t take my word for it! Find your favorite poem and see if it becomes real in a new way when you say the words out loud.

One of my favorite poets is Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). Here is one of his poems translated from German by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows. If you can, read it aloud slowly, musically.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand. [3]


Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

May 22, 2018

WHEN THINGS DON’T GO AS YOU would like, accept the situation immediately. If you indulge in feelings of regret, they can easily spill over the line into resentment. Remember that I am sovereign over your circumstances, and humble yourself under My mighty hand. Rejoice in what I am doing in your life, even though it is beyond your understanding. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. In Me you have everything you need, both for this life and for the life yet to come. Don’t let the impact of the world shatter your thinking or draw you away from focusing on Me. The ultimate challenge is to keep fixing your eyes on Me, no matter what is going on around you. When I am central in your thinking, you are able to view circumstances from My perspective.

1 PETER 5:5–6 

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”[a]

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

JOHN 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 294). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.


May 21st, 2018 by Dave No comments »

The Psalms
Sunday, May 20, 2018

So much of our lives is dictated by our preferences, what we like and don’t like. We all naturally gravitate toward what we find attractive, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But we need to be aware that there are things deeper than our preferences. If we do not recognize that, we will follow them addictively and never uncover our soul’s deeper desires. Often the very things that don’t appeal to us have the most to teach us spiritually.

If you’re like me, you’d much rather spend time in the classical, medieval, or renaissance galleries than in modern exhibits. We tend to be attracted to whatever version of art makes us feel comfortable or reflects our worldview. We play this game of preference even in what we we’ve deemed the “sacred art” of the psalms. We prefer the calm bucolic scene of Psalm 23, but cringe when the psalmist mirrors back to us the messiness, violence, and confusion of being human. St. John Cassian (c. 360–c. 435) taught that the psalms carry in them “all the feelings of which human nature is capable.” [1]

Poet Kathleen Norris writes of her experience singing the psalms three times a day as a guest in a Benedictine monastery:

The psalms demand engagement, they ask you to read them with your whole self, praying, as St. Benedict says, “in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.” [2] . . . You come to the Bible’s great “book of praises” through all the moods and conditions of life, and while you may feel like hell, you sing anyway. To your surprise, you find that the psalms do not deny your true feelings but allow you to reflect on them. . . .

But to the modern reader the psalms can seem impenetrable: how in the world can we read, let alone pray, these angry and often violent poems from an ancient warrior culture? At a glance they seem overwhelmingly patriarchal, ill-tempered, moralistic, vengeful, and often seem to reflect precisely what is wrong with our world. And that’s the point, or part of it. As one reads the psalms every day, it becomes clear that the world they depict is not really so different from our own; the fourth-century monk Athanasius wrote that the psalms “become like a mirror to the person singing them.” [3] . . . The psalms remind us that the way we judge each other, with harsh words and acts of vengeance, constitutes injustice, and they remind us that it is the powerless in society who are overwhelmed when injustice becomes institutionalized. . . .

In expressing all the complexities and contradictions of human experience, the psalms act as good psychologists. They defeat our tendency to try to be holy without being human first. [4]

The Psalms—like all great art—lead us to a truer image of ourselves, reality, and God.


Chant: Discovering Your Voice
Monday, May 21, 2018

Chant is singing our prayers. Chant is vocal meditation. Chant is the breath made audible in tone. Chant is discovering Spirit in sound. —Robert Gass [1]

My colleague, Center for Action and Contemplation faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault, sees the psalms as a powerful prophetic art form . . . that was always intended to be sung, not simply read. It is in the singing that something deeper is revealed. Cynthia writes in her book Chanting the Psalms:
The word psalm, of course means “song.” Technically there is no such thing, then, as a spoken psalm. That would be an oxymoron, like a two-wheeled tricycle. But if psalms are really songs, that means we need to sing them. Which brings us to the awkward matter of making friends with our singing voice.

Many of us carry the lifelong shame of having been told we do not have a singing voice, and therefore assumed that our right to sing was forever imprisoned by the voice of judgment that first declared it unworthy. The damage done is not just to our instrument of musical expression and exploration, but to that of spiritual expression and exploration as well.
When we work with our voice, we work with the core elements out of which the world came into being and through which it is sustained: breath, tone, intentionality, and community. These four elements can serve as sacred tools to explore the mystery of creation with something other than our minds! A whole different part of your being is engaged, and a whole different intelligence and perceptivity flows from this engagement.

It’s easy to fake our speaking voice. We can manufacture hearty tones, imposing authority, or superficial cordiality. The speaking voice also quickly takes on all the artificialities and constrictions of our personality.

From time to time I try an experiment where I ask each person to introduce themselves with “hello, my name is. . . .” Then I introduce the plot twist: “Ok, let’s do the same exercise again—only this time, chant the “hello, my name is. . . . ” I demonstrate a monotone chant, and off we go.

The results range from hilarious to poignant, depending on your take. It is typically a total unmasking of whatever we’ve just heard. Some voices that seem shy and retiring take on a beautiful, resonant timbre, and people look at each other in newfound appreciation. Some of the heartiest of the speakers turn out to be all bluff, struggling to find a wavering note as if suddenly exposed.

What is happening? The greatest challenge in sacred chanting is the same as its greatest opportunity: it strips away the masks and forces us to work with what’s real.


MAY 21

I, THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, am with you and for you. What more could you need? When you feel some lack, it is because you are not connecting with Me at a deep level. I offer abundant Life; your part is to trust Me, refusing to worry about anything. It is not so much adverse events that make you anxious as it is your thoughts about those events. Your mind engages in efforts to take control of a situation, to bring about the result you desire. Your thoughts close in on the problem like ravenous wolves. Determined to make things go your way, you forget that I am in charge of your life. The only remedy is to switch your focus from the problem to My Presence. Stop all your striving, and watch to see what I will do. I am the Lord!

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? —ROMANS 8:31–32

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. —MICAH 7:7

Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. —1 CORINTHIANS 12:3

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

Unselfconscious Awareness

May 18th, 2018 by Dave No comments »

Unselfconscious Awareness Friday, May 18, 2018 (Richard Rohr’s Daily Devotional)

The power of imagination and art is at the level of soul, where we do not consciously know what is happening. Therefore, we cannot engineer it, do not need to understand it, nor can we fully stop its effects! If we “perfectly understand” how God is changing us, if we try to be too rational about it, we will only fight grace, try to personally steer the soul (dangerous!), and, of course, take argumentative sides.
God works best underground and in our unconscious, by rearranging our assumptions and presuppositions—frankly, when we are not in control. The work of grace and healing mostly happens “in secret” as Jesus himself seems to say (Matthew 6:1-13).
An artist friend, Barbara Coleman, writes of an insight she learned while painting with her young daughter:
Great art . . . needs technical expertise as well as unchecked creativity, passion, and expression. Great art seems to be created through a person. Somehow one’s ego, self-consciousness, and expectations must be released before the piece is completed. . . .

When my oldest daughter was three, she would sit and paint for long periods of time in my studio as I painted. I was thrilled with her work . . . and I told her so. I praised her extravagantly, hoping to encourage her. I would say, “Oh, you really are a great artist!” and things of that sort. As soon as I would begin this personal praise, . . . her work would become sloppy or careless or she’d just get up and leave. Clearly my praise was having an unintended and very undesirable effect on her. I was making her self-conscious and distracting her from her discoveries. She began to turn to me for praise and approval, and the possibility of self-doubt was introduced. . . . It didn’t take long to redirect her focus back to her work, once I stopped praising her and addressed my comments to what was on the page. Understanding and discovery are their own rewards.

Being unself-conscious and being willing to lose oneself in the work is vital for a child and an artist. . . . How can we free [ourselves] to learn and have the experience of creating art? As a parent and art teacher, I find that the more [we] can focus on the immediate artwork at hand, the more satisfying the experience becomes. By not emphasizing a product, and by focusing on process instead, the work becomes more successful as well. The more [we are] able to reach a state of awareness in which [our] self-consciousness disappears into the desire to participate and see what [we] are trying to express, the more the art [and, I would add, God] can reach [us]. [1]

(Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling)
with your plans held in abeyance. Worship Me in spirit and in truth, allowing My Glory to permeate your entire being. Trust Me enough to let Me guide you through this day, accomplishing My purposes in My timing. Subordinate your myriad plans to My Master Plan. I am sovereign over every aspect of your life! The challenge continually before you is to trust Me and search for My way through each day. Do not blindly follow your habitual route, or you will miss what I have prepared for you. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” —JOHN 4:24

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. —ISAIAH 50:4

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” —ISAIAH 55:8–9 NKJV

God Breaks In

May 17th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Art: Week 1

God Breaks In
Thursday, May 17, 2018

Today Barbara Holmes continues exploring the contemplative in surprising places:

We are told that Jesus hung out with publicans, tax collectors, and sinners. Perhaps during these sessions of music, laughter, and food fellowship, there were also . . . moments when the love of God and mutual care and concern became the focus of their time together. Contemplation is not confined to designated and institutional sacred spaces. God breaks into nightclubs and Billie Holiday’s sultry torch songs; God tap dances with Bill Robinson and Savion Glover. And when Coltrane blew his horn, the angels paused to consider.

Some sacred spaces bear none of the expected characteristics. The fact that we prefer stained glass windows, pomp and circumstance . . . has nothing to do with the sacred. It may seem as if the mysteries of divine-human reunion erupt in our lives when, in fact, the otherness of spiritual abiding is integral to human interiority. On occasion, we turn our attention to this abiding presence and are startled. But it was always there.

. . . Art can amplify the sacred and challenge the status quo. The arts help us to hear above the cacophony and pause in the midst of our multitasking. The arts engage a sacred frequency that is perforated with pauses. Artists learned . . . that there were things too full for human tongues, too alive for articulation. You can dance and rhyme and sing it, you almost reach it in the high notes, but joy unspeakable is experience and sojourn, it is the ineffable within our reach.

When you least expect it, during the most mundane daily tasks, a shift of focus occurs. This shift bends us toward the universe, a cosmos of soul and spirit, bone and flesh, which constantly reaches toward divinity. Ecclesial organizations want to control access to this milieu but cannot. The only divisions between the sacred and the secular are in the minds of those who believe in and reinforce the split. . . .

All things draw from the same wellspring of spiritual energy. This means that the sermonic and religious can be mediated through a saxophone just as effectively as through a pastor. . . . How can this be? . . . [Can] tapping feet and blues guitar strokes . . . evoke the contemplative moment and call the listener to a deeper understanding of inner and outer realities? . . . The need to create impermeable boundaries between the sacred and the secular is . . . a much more recent appropriation of western values. . . .

Historically, most efforts to wall off the doctrinal rightness and wrongness of particular practices failed. Instead, hearers of the gospel inculturated and improvised on the main themes so as to tune the message for their own hearing. Given Christianity’s preferential option for the poor, the cross-pollination of jazz, blues, and tap with church music and practices could be considered the epitome of missional outreach and spiritual creativity.


Young, Sarah.

May 17, 2018

Jesus Calling

AS YOU SIT QUIETLY in My Presence, remember that I am a God of abundance. I will never run out of resources; My capacity to bless you is unlimited. You live in a world of supply and demand, where necessary things are often scarce. Even if you personally have enough, you see poverty in the world around you. It is impossible for you to comprehend the lavishness of My provisions: the fullness of My glorious riches. Through spending time in My Presence, you gain glimpses of My overflowing vastness. These glimpses are tiny foretastes of what you will experience eternally in heaven. Even now you have access to as much of Me as you have faith to receive. Rejoice in My abundance—living by faith, not by sight.

PHILIPPIANS 4:19; And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

PHILIPPIANS 3:20–21;But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the LORD Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

2 CORINTHIANS 5:7 ;For we live by faith, not by sight.


Perplexed into Contemplation

May 16th, 2018 by Dave No comments »

Perplexed into Contemplation
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The imagination offers revelation. It never blasts us with information or numbs us with description. . . . We find ourselves engaged in its questions and possibilities, and new revelation dawns. . . . The imaginative form of knowing is graced with gradualness. . . . The imagination reveals truth in such a way that we can receive and integrate it. —John O’Donohue [1]
I must confess that I tend to prefer the older forms of art and music to much of what I see and hear in pop culture. Often when I listen to music on the radio today, I often scratch my head and say, “I really don’t get it!” But maybe the point is for us to not get it when we encounter something new or unfamiliar.

One of our CONSPIRE 2018 teachers, Dr. Barbara Holmes, suggests that both art and contemplation have a related goal: shifting paradigms. Art and contemplation lead us to wonder, but first they perplex us. Mature spiritual leaders make room for and welcome the prophetic—the challenging, new, and unexpected—even while holding onto the essentials of our wisdom traditions.
Holmes writes in Joy Unspeakable about how the Gospel is being re-envisioned by young people:

To reconsider your circumstances using the perspectives of a new generation is a difficult and contemplative act. It is contemplative because it requires the recognition that the world as we know it is not of our own making. Another generation has its hands to the plow: they will not engage the world as we did; they are singing a new song. [2]

If Christianity is to survive and stay relevant, we must welcome new songs, new expressions of the sacred through beauty, celebration, lament, defiance, and calls to repentance and action. To do so requires bringing contemplative practice beyond pews and prayer mats to the ways we engage on social media, the streets, and the evening news. Contemplation is not only for so-called sacred spaces; it can touch and change all of life.

Ronald Rolheiser writes:
God cannot be thought, but God can be met. Through awe and wonder we experience God and there, as mystics have always stated, we understand more by not understanding than by understanding. In that posture we let God be God. In such a posture, too, we live in contemplation. [3]

Reverend Holmes continues:
[Art is] contemplative because [it] ignites memories of the awe and wonder that we tend to discard after childhood. . . . When we decide to live in our heads only, we become isolated from the God who is closer than our next breath. To subject everything to rational analysis reduces the awe to ashes. The restoration of wonder is the beginning of the inward journey toward a God who people of faith aver is always waiting in the seeker’s heart. For some, the call to worship comes as joy spurts from jazz riffs, wonder thunders from tappers’ feet, as we ponder Lamar’s prophetic insolence and Beyoncé’s black girl magic. Each artistic moment is just slightly beyond our horizon of understanding. Perhaps we are confounded so that we might always have much to contemplate. [4]


MAY 16 I AM YOUR LORD! Seek Me as Friend and Lover of your soul, but remember that I am also King of kings—sovereign over all. You can make some plans as you gaze into the day that stretches out before you. But you need to hold those plans tentatively, anticipating that I may have other ideas. The most important thing to determine is what to do right now. Instead of scanning the horizon of your life, looking for things that need to be done, concentrate on the task before you and the One who never leaves your side. Let everything else fade into the background. This will unclutter your mind, allowing Me to occupy more and more of your consciousness. Trust Me to show you what to do when you have finished what you are doing now. I will guide you step by step as you bend your will to Mine. Thus you stay close to Me on the path of Peace.

They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers. —REVELATION 17:14

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. —PROVERBS 19:21

To shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. —LUKE 1:79

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

New Images Help Us See New Realities

May 15th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Art: Week 1
New Images Help Us See New Realities
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Let there be light. —Genesis 1:3
The light of divine revelation . . . pierces but does not castigate the darkness. —Barbara Holmes [1]
Just as Pope Francis has catalyzed a worldwide imaginal change today, Francis and Clare of Assisi created a very different imaginarium for many people in their time. They showed us that Christianity could be joyful, simple, sweet, and beautiful. As St. Francis is often quoted as saying, “You must preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” This demands no “belief” or theology whatsoever, but only eyes wide open.
Even art shifted in response to the Franciscan movement—as we can see in the humanistic art of Giotto—eventually leading to the Renaissance where all things human could be honored and celebrated as good in themselves. St. Francis is hardly ever pictured with a book, like so many saints. Many paintings of Francis do not even include a halo. It is not necessary. His enlivened body is already the halo. Francis is usually shown dancing, in ecstasy, with animals, or with his arms raised; his hands were hardly ever folded in prayer, as was the stereotypical style.
In the great basilica in Assisi where Francis is buried, there is a wonderful bronze sculpture of Francis inviting the Holy Spirit. Instead of looking upward as is usual, he gazes reverently and longingly downward—into the earth—where the Spirit is enmeshed. Francis understood that the Holy Spirit had in fact descended; she is forever and first of all here! There are artists who inherently understand incarnation.
One person, symbol, or idea can set the course of history, and its meaning, in one direction instead of another. We recognize some individuals who “turn” history, art, music, and politics in new and unimagined ways, such as Francis of Assisi and, now, Pope Francis. Picasso (1881-1973) did this for painting, Martha Graham (1894-1991) and Michael Jackson (1958-2009) did the same for dance, and Albert Einstein (1879-1955) did it for physics and cosmology.
Leonard Shlain suggested that artists paved the way for new physics:
Art and physics, like wave and particle . . . are simply two different but complementary facets of a single description of the world. Integrating art and physics will kindle a more synthesized awareness which begins in wonder and ends with wisdom. . . .
Shlain observed that several Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Modern painters “contributed directly to the emancipation of color.” Monet immersed “the viewer in the delight of color for color’s sake.” Seurat, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Cezanne all used color in new ways to set mood and perspective and to create vitality. For Matisse and Fauvist artists, “color was an end in itself . . . the colors in a painting were the painting.” Shlain wrote:
Einstein’s realization that light (which is color) is the quintessence of the universe paralleled the apotheosis [i.e., glorification or divinization] of light by the artists. Before Einstein made his discovery, Claude Monet announced that “the real subject of every painting is light.” Echoing this sentiment, Einstein later commented, “For the rest of my life I want to reflect on what light is.” [2]
Today I invite you to pay attention to light—its colors and the wonderful shadows it casts—and see the world in a new way.


Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

May 15, 2018

SPENDING TIME alone with Me is essential for your well-being. It is not a luxury or an option; it is a necessity. Therefore, do not feel guilty about taking time to be with Me. Remember that Satan is the accuser of believers. He delights in heaping guilt feelings upon you, especially when you are enjoying My Presence. When you feel Satan’s arrows of accusation, you are probably on the right track. Use your shield of faith to protect yourself from him. Talk with Me about what you are experiencing, and ask Me to show you the way forward. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to Me, and I will come near to you.


10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down


16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

JAMES 4:7–8

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.



May 14th, 2018 by Dave No comments »

Icons and Images of God
Sunday, May 13, 2018

If God is creator, and we are made in God’s image or Imago Dei, then we are, in our essence, creators. We are, in our essence, artists. Therefore, when we open ourselves to the expression of creativity, we also open to the movement of the Divine within us. —Christine Valters Paintner and Betsey Beckman [1]
Our divine DNA carries the creative impulse of the Creator. In my dear friend James Finley’s words, the human longing for creative expression is part of our “God given godly nature.” Even if you don’t consider yourself creative or artistic, it is an inherent part of your being.
Author Ken Gire writes:
God stretched out the heavens, stippling the night with impressionistic stars. [God] set the sun to the rhythm of the day, the moon to the rhythm of the month. . . . [God] formed a likeness of [God’s own self] from a lump of clay and into it breathed life. [God] crafted a counterpart to complete the likeness, joining the two halves and placing them center stage in [God’s] creation where there was a temptation and a fall, a great loss and a great hiding. God searched for the hiding couple, reaching to pick them up, dust them off, draw them near. . . .

In doing all this, God gave us art, music, sculpture, drama, and literature . . . as footpaths to lead us out of our hiding places and as signposts to lead us along in our search for what was lost. . . .

We must learn to look with more than just our eyes and listen with more than just our ears. . . . We must be aware, at all times and in all places, because windows are everywhere, and at any time we may find one. . . .

What do we see in those windows? What do we see of who we are, or once were, or one day might become? What do we see of our neighbor living down the street or our neighbor living on the street? What do we see about God? [2]

Many have called icons windows for the soul. The word “icon” comes from the Greek for image or likeness. And, as I’ve shared, God’s image and likeness can be found everywhere. Icons—and other forms of art—are invitations to look beyond the brushstrokes, colors, and shapes to the deeper mystery and meaning. As we pause, look, and listen with our hearts, we are changed.
Over the next two weeks I’ll explore how art moves us out of our limited boxes of rationality and into a contemplative stance that can imagine new possibilities. In the words of essayist and novelist James Baldwin (1924-1987), “Every artist is involved with one single effort, really, which is somehow to dig down to where reality is. . . . Artists are the only people in society who can tell that society the truth about itself.” [3] I hope you’ll join me in considering the deeper questions of life and contemplate the image and likeness of God alive in the beauty of paint and poetry, music and movement.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The imagination retains a passion for freedom. There are no rules for the imagination. It never wants to stay trapped in the expected territories. The old maps never satisfy it. It wants to press ahead beyond the accepted frontiers and bring back reports of regions no mapmaker has yet visited. —John O’Donohue [1]

Being made in the image and likeness of the Creator isn’t about “getting it right” or rationally understanding God. Jesus taught us that being “perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) is more about loving than having correct beliefs or following the rules. How do we grow into such loving likeness?

Each of us has our own unique imaginarium, an unconscious worldview constructed by our individual and group’s experiences, symbols, archetypes, and memories. For example, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, and Protestants live in quite different imaginaria. God comes to us in images that we can trust and believe, that have the inherent power to open our hearts. Spirituality tries to move beyond words to evoke our imaginaria at the unconscious level, where real change must first happen.

If your inner imaginarium is rich, intelligent, and not overly defended, you will never stop growing spiritually. My advice? Read more poetry and literature; watch movies; listen to music; visit museums. The artist is a prophet, someone who helps us be self-critical and creative so we don’t stay stuck in the status quo. The prophet models and embodies a new way of thinking and being that allows us to imagine a larger, more inclusive way to live.
You cannot even imagine something or do something until you first have an image of it inside you, which is surely why Einstein said, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. . . . [It] encircles the world.” [2] In Art and Physics, Leonard Shlain (1937-2009)—an author, surgeon, and inventor—made the case that images come before our capacity to verbalize or name what we see:

Whether for an infant or a society on the verge of change, a new way to think about reality begins with the assimilation of unfamiliar images. . . . Because the erosion of images by words occurs at such an early age, we forget that in order to learn something radically new, we need first to imagine it. “Imagine” literally means to “make an image.” Witness the expression we use when struggling with a new idea: “I can’t picture it,” “Let me make a mental model,” and “I am trying to envision it.” If, as I propose, this function of imagination, so crucial to the development of an infant, is also present in the civilization at large, who then creates the new images that precede abstract ideas and descriptive language? It is the artist. . . . Revolutionary art in all times has served this function of preparing the future. [3]

Perhaps, like the prophetic mystics of all traditions, the great artists of each generation can help us transcend our dualisms and move us beyond the exclusionary frameworks that are comfortable for us . . . if we have the ears to hear or the eyes to see and the willingness to engage!

MAY 14
I AM A MIGHTY GOD. Nothing is too difficult for Me. I have chosen to use weak ones like you to accomplish My purposes. Your weakness is designed to open you up to My Power. Therefore, do not fear your limitations or measure the day’s demands against your strength. What I require of you is to stay connected to Me, living in trusting dependence on My limitless resources. When you face unexpected demands, there is no need to panic. Remember that I am with you. Talk with Me, and listen while I talk you through each challenging situation. I am not a careless God. When I allow difficulties to come into your life, I equip you fully to handle them. Relax in My Presence, trusting in My Strength. For nothing is impossible with God. —LUKE 1:37

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. —DEUTERONOMY 31:8

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. —2 CORINTHIANS 12:9

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

An Alternative Community

May 11th, 2018 by Dave No comments »

An Alternative Community
Friday, May 11, 2018

One of the core principles at the Center for Action and Contemplation is “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” [1] Nonviolent activist and author John Dear shares the story of a woman and her family who are doing just that.
A few years ago, I was in Oakland, California, and stopped by to visit my friend Anne Symens-Bucher and the new community she and her family had started. The mother of five, a lifelong peace activist, and secular Franciscan, Anne, along with her husband, Terry, founded Canticle Farm, a peace and nonviolence community right smack dab in one of the most violent, run-down blocks in the country. They wanted to explore the connections between poverty, racism, violence, guns, prisons, war, and environmental destruction and seek a viable alternative right there in the thick of everything. . . .
Canticle Farm developed slowly, but after several months, they had fifteen community members living in five houses connected by a large backyard. That backyard became the center point of transformation. Like every other house in the neighborhood, their little houses were separated by fences. . . .
“When we took down the fences between our yards,” Anne told me, “we were also taking down the fences in our hearts. That’s when we really began to know and love our neighbors and make peace with one another. At the center was the garden. Mother Earth was transforming us.” . . .
They knew that making peace in inner-city Oakland meant going deep into contemplative nonviolence, and that meant somehow connecting with Mother Earth. They decided to hold hour-long silent meditation sessions every day. . . .
Then they launched Canticle Farm Sundays. They started with a Eucharistic liturgy. While doing this, they reached out to their neighbors and invited them to lunch and to help out with the organic garden. And they offered them seeds to start their own gardens. As they got to know their neighbors and heard their concerns, they began afternoon programs on various practical items such as cooking, growing medicinal plants, and making herbal medicines. In the process, their neighbors became their teachers. . . .
Canticle Farm’s powerful mission statement:
Inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle Farm is a community providing a platform for the Great Turning—one heart, one home, and one block at a time. The Great Turning—the planetary shift from an industrial-growth society to a life-sustaining society—is served by Canticle Farm through local work that fosters forgiveness in the human community and compassion for all beings. Canticle Farm primarily focuses on the poor and marginalized as those who most bear the burden of social and planetary degradation, as well as being those who are first able to perceive the need for the Great Turning. Rooted in spiritual practice, Canticle Farm manifests this commitment by engaging in the “Work That Reconnects,” [2] integral nonviolence, gift economy, restorative justice practices, urban permaculture, and other disciplines necessary for regenerating community in the 21st century. [3]



I can bring good even out of your mistakes. Your finite mind tends to look backward, longing to undo decisions you have come to regret. This is a waste of time and energy, leading only to frustration. Instead of floundering in the past, release your mistakes to Me. Look to Me in trust, anticipating that My infinite creativity can weave both good choices and bad into a lovely design. Because you are human, you will continue to make mistakes. Thinking that you should live an error-free life is symptomatic of pride. Your failures can be a source of blessing, humbling you and giving you empathy for other people in their weaknesses. Best of all, failure highlights your dependence on Me. I am able to bring beauty out of the morass of your mistakes. Trust Me, and watch to see what I will do.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. —ROMANS 8:28

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. —PROVERBS 11:2

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. —MICAH 7:7

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling –

Intentional Communities

May 10th, 2018 by JDVaughn No comments »

Intentional Communities
Thursday, May 10, 2018

Jack Jezreel is the founder of JustFaith Ministries, an organization that offers resources to sustain people of faith “in their compassionate commitment to build a more just and peaceful world.” [1] Jezreel describes the need for and qualities of a healthy Christian community (which we might apply to other kinds of religious and non-religious communities):
Big-heartedness always draws close to the other, always draws the other close. Francis of Assisi, Benedict, Dorothy Day, Jean Vanier—like Jesus himself—draw people naturally into relationship. And the hunger of the human heart that God put in us is not just for casual and recreational relationships. We long for relationships of meaning. We long to be connected, for healing, for vocation, and for mission. . . .
The challenge before [Christians], again, is to claim our tradition. From the description in Acts of the early Christian community that “shared all things in common,” [Acts 4:32] to the early monastic families, to the development of the hundreds of [religious] communities around the world, to the Catholic Worker communities of the 20th and 21st century, intentional community is what we’re all about. Or at least it ought to be.
The spiritual logic of a community of faith is that they can live a smaller but living version of what they seek for the larger world. . . . When I say community . . . I mean a community that makes very intentional commitments, including . . . engagement with those on the margins, justice education or formation, simplicity, prayer, and peacemaking. . . .
Our tradition suggests that it is very difficult to live a life of integrity apart from the support, encouragement, witness, challenge and celebration of a community. Community is, if you will, the medium in which so many other important things of the Gospel can happen. Community is an engine for peace, it is fuel for justice. We are made for each other. As a species we have always known we could not survive, could not flourish without each other. Whatever is to prosper, grow, or multiply will only happen with the nourishment of people who are for each other in a significant way. . . .
I am interested to see many more forms of intentional community than what we see today. . . . I would like to see the equivalent of Jesuit Volunteer Corps communities connected to every parish, where young people might commit to live for a term of two or three years, committed to the work of justice and peacemaking. [2] I would like to see the parish encourage members to purchase homes in the vicinity of one another and in neighborhoods where there is greatest need, as an expression of the parish’s work. . . . I would like to see every parish have a version of a L’Arche community. [3] I am interested in the construction of simple homes, affordable and available for both poor and rich, to create neighborhoods where all can live and interact and be helpful to each other.


Jesus Calling 

Sarah Young

May 10, 2018

DO NOT RESIST OR RUN from the difficulties in your life. These problems are not random mistakes; they are hand-tailored blessings designed for your benefit and growth. Embrace all the circumstances that I allow in your life, trusting Me to bring good out of them. View problems as opportunities to rely more fully on Me. When you start to feel stressed, let those feelings alert you to your need for Me. Thus, your needs become doorways to deep dependence on Me and increasing intimacy between us. Although self-sufficiency is acclaimed in the world, reliance on Me produces abundant living in My kingdom. Thank Me for the difficulties in your life since they provide protection from the idolatry of self-reliance.

JOHN 15:5

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.


We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.


20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.