Archive for May, 2018

Discernment versus Decision Making

May 31st, 2018


Discernment versus Decision Making
Thursday, May 31, 2018

The holiness of Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), like all holiness, was unique and never merely a copy or imitation. In his Testament, he tells his brothers, “No one showed me what I had to do,” [1] and then, at the very end of his life, he says, “I have done what is mine; may Christ teach you what is yours!” [2] What permission, freedom, and space he thus gave to his followers!

We are each unique incarnations of God, bringing to visible and tangible expression God’s presence in the world. Sr. Ilia Delio paraphrases Francis’ message from his Later Admonition and Exhortation:

When love transforms our actions in a way that Christ is “represented”— then we become mothers, sisters and brothers of Christ. This birthing of Christ in the life of the believer . . . is a way of conceiving, birthing, and bringing Christ to the world in such a way that the Incarnation is renewed. It is making the gospel alive. [3]

So, how do we discover what is ours to do? How do we connect with our sacred vocation in service to the needs of the world? How do we give birth to Christ in the world? How do we renew the Incarnation and give flesh to the Word? First, we must go through a process of discernment. Henri Nouwen explains:

Christian discernment is not the same as decision making. Reaching a decision can be straightforward: we consider our goals and options; maybe we list the pros and cons of each possible choice; and then we choose the action that meets our goal most effectively. Discernment, on the other hand, is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desire. As discerning people, we sift through our impulses, motives, and options to discover which ones lead us closer to divine love and compassion for ourselves and other people and which ones lead us further away.

Discernment reveals new priorities, directions, and gifts from God. We come to realize that what previously seemed so important for our lives loses its power over us. Our desire to be successful, well liked and influential becomes increasingly less important as we move closer to God’s heart. To our surprise, we even may experience a strange inner freedom to follow a new call or direction as previous concerns move into the background of our consciousness. We begin to see the beauty of the small and hidden life that Jesus lived in Nazareth. Most rewarding of all is the discovery that as we pray more each day, God’s will—that is, God’s concrete ways of loving us and our world—gradually is made known to us. [4]

When I moved to New Mexico in 1986, Henri Nouwen personally told me to forget the many things I try to teach and just teach one thing—contemplation! This is why I am still doing it.


Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

May 31, 2018

THE PEACE THAT I GIVE YOU transcends your intellect. When most of your mental energy goes into efforts to figure things out, you are unable to receive this glorious gift. I look into your mind and see thoughts spinning round and round: going nowhere, accomplishing nothing. All the while, My Peace hovers over you, searching for a place to land. Be still in My Presence, inviting Me to control your thoughts. Let My Light soak into your mind and heart until you are aglow with My very Being. This is the most effective way to receive My Peace.

2 THESSALONIANS 3:16; Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.

ZECHARIAH 2:13;Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling. ” …

JOB 22:21; Submit to God and be at peace with him; in this way prosperity will come to you.


THE MORE YOU MANIPULATE and maneuver for control the more anxious you become. Rather than striving for peace of mind through these means, abandon yourself to Me—My hand is the only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul. Let Me help you open your hands and receive all that I have for you. “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” —MATTHEW 18:4 NKJV “For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” —ISAIAH 41:13

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (pp. 312-314). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.


Swallowed by a Whale

May 30th, 2018

Wednesday, May 30, 2018 from Richard Rohr

The gift you carry for others is not an attempt to save the world but to fully belong to it. It’s not possible to save the world by trying to save it. You need to find what is genuinely yours to offer the world before you can make it a better place. Discovering your unique gift to bring to your community is your greatest opportunity and challenge. The offering of that gift—your true self—is the most you can do to love and serve the world. And it is all the world needs. —Bill Plotkin [1]
Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. . . . That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” Vocation does not mean a goal I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. . . . I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity. —Parker Palmer [2]
I believe that the Book of Jonah can best be read as God moving someone from a mere sense of duty or career to a sense of personal call, vocation, or destiny. Notice that this vocation is almost thrust upon Jonah. It sometimes takes being “swallowed by a whale” and taken into a dark place of listening and discernment to let go of our small, separate self and its private agenda. Jonah had to be shoved out of the boat, or he would never reach Nineveh, the place to which God had called him. Eventually, we must allow ourselves to be drawn by our soul’s desire rather than driven by ego needs.
The motivating energies of ego and soul are very different. The soul’s impulse comes quietly and generously from within; we do not look for payment, reward, or advancement because we have found our soul gift, our inherent gladness. To be an oblate—someone who is offered—is quite different from seeking security, status, or title.
Listen, wait, and pray for your unique gift, your True Self. Meditation should lead to a clarity about what you are and, maybe even more importantly, what you are not. I have found it difficult over the years to tell people when something is not their gift; it is usually very humiliating for the person to face their own illusions and sense of entitlement. One sign that something is your vocation is that you would do it for free, even if there is no reward or social payoff. This clarifies a vocation quite quickly.
Parker Palmer writes:
How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity—the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation. . . .

Today I understand vocation . . . not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God. [3]


cannot be rushed. When you are in a hurry, your mind flitters back and forth between Me and the tasks ahead of you. Push back the demands pressing in on you; create a safe space around you, a haven in which you can rest with Me. I also desire this time of focused attention, and I use it to bless you, strengthening and equipping you for the day ahead. Thus, spending time with Me is a wise investment. Bring Me the sacrifice of your precious time. This creates sacred space around you—space permeated with My Presence and My Peace.

Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders. —PSALM 119:27

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war. —2 CHRONICLES 16:9

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. —HEBREWS 13:15 NKJV

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling


May 29th, 2018

Richard Rohr
Finding Our Charism
Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry
Poverty our charity and helplessness our tongue-tied sermon.
Beyond the scope of sight or sound we dwell upon the air
Seeking the world’s gain in an unthinkable experience.
We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners
With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like sentinels upon the world’s frontier.
—Thomas Merton (1915-1968) [1]
When I read this passage from Merton’s poem, “The Quickening of St. John the Baptist,” I think of meditators. I think of what Christian contemplatives have taken upon themselves, “planted like sentinels upon the world’s frontier,” doing something that, frankly and unfortunately, will never fill stadiums. To meditate daily is to have chosen, accepted, and surrendered to a vocation. We must think of it that way. It is a vocation that places us at the center of history and yet also at its very edge, because most people will see us as innocuous, pious, or maybe even self-centered. That poverty might well be our deepest charity, Merton seems to say. We are the miniscule moment that somehow hears, re-creates, allows, and passes on “the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror.”
Archimedes (c. 287—c. 212 BC), a Greek philosopher and mathematician, inspired the familiar aphorism, “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the whole earth with a lever.” [2] Our fixed point—the place upon which we stand as our True Self—is steady, centered, poised, and rooted. To be contemplative, we have to have a slight distance from the world, to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for going into what Jesus calls “our private room” (Matthew 6:6). However, in order for this not to become escapism, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same time, loving it, feeling its pain and its joy as our pain and our joy. So the fulcrum, the balancing point for our lever, must be in the real world.
And what is our lever? I have talked and written a great deal about contemplation and True Self, but not as much about the lever, perhaps because there are so many delivery systems! As Paul so beautifully says, “Now there are varieties of spiritual gifts (charismaton), but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of ministries (diakonon), but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities (energematon), but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
It seems to me that much of the proper work of the church and spirituality should be discerning and empowering people’s actual gifts. There doesn’t seem to be much discernment of gifts, even in seminaries, as to whether one really has a gift for Christian leadership, reconciling, healing, preaching, or counseling. (Most priests and pastors were ordained without ever having led a single person to love, to God, or to faith; and many do not seem to have a natural gift for this.) We seem to ordain people who want to be ordained! We can be educated or trained in offices and roles, but true spiritual gifts (charismata) are recognized, affirmed, and “called forth.” We do not create such people; we affirm and support what they are already doing on some level.


Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

May 29, 2018

I AM WITH YOU, watching over you constantly. I am Immanuel (God with you); My Presence enfolds you in radiant Love. Nothing, including the brightest blessings and the darkest trials, can separate you from Me. Some of My children find Me more readily during dark times, when difficulties force them to depend on Me. Others feel closer to Me when their lives are filled with good things. They respond with thanksgiving and praise, thus opening wide the door to My Presence. I know precisely what you need to draw nearer to Me. Go through each day looking for what I have prepared for you. Accept every event as My hand-tailored provision for your needs. When you view your life this way, the most reasonable response is to be thankful. Do not reject any of My gifts; find Me in every situation.

MATTHEW 1:23; “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’[a]

PSALM 34:5;Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

COLOSSIANS 2:6–7And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.


May 29, 2018

Journal for Today-JDV

David and I agreed as we reviewed this devotional, that even as we were targeting areas of our lives for evaluation, self analysis, and hopefully; change, we are once again confronted by the question, HOW?

Most of what we call “improvement” seems to come from looking in our “rear view mirrors” observing how Jesus has made the changes in us even as we thought we were (or are) working on self improvement or “sin management”. (You know the big four…”We want to look good, feel good, be right and be in control”). We know we need to make a change, but do not know how.

And try as we might, we never seem to make progress working on our own stuff. Progress occurred when we were/are surrendered, connected and engaged, often through contemplative prayer and meditation. We become aware of the change later on as we glance backward. And we understand for a very brief moment, that we had nothing to do with the change, all that was really required was our surrender.





May 28th, 2018

Let Your Life Speak Sunday, May 27, 2018

God’s image within each of us is inherent and irrevocable. God’s likeness is our unique expression of that image, inviting our full and conscious participation. Vocation is one way in which we discover and grow into our “True Self.” I’m not speaking so much about education, career, or livelihood, though in some cases they might overlap. In general, it is a Larger Life that somehow calls us forward (vocatio means “a call or summons” in Latin), more than we call it to us. We do not know its name yet, so how can we call it? If we engineer the process too much, we often mistake a security-based occupation for our soul’s vocation.

Parker Palmer, a Quaker teacher and activist whom I deeply trust, reflects on his own “further journey”:

[There are] moments when it is clear—if I have the eyes to see—that the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me. In those moments I sometimes catch a glimpse of my true life, a life hidden like the river beneath the ice. And . . . I wonder: What am I meant to do? Who am I meant to be?

I was in my early thirties when I began, literally, to wake up to questions about my vocation. By all appearances, things were going well, but the soul does not put much stock in appearances. Seeking a path more purposeful than accumulating wealth, holding power, winning at competition, or securing a career, I had started to understand that it is indeed possible to live a life other than one’s own. . . .

Then I ran across the old Quaker saying, “Let your life speak.” I found those words encouraging, and I thought I understood what they meant: “Let the highest truths and values guide you. Live up to those demanding standards in everything you do.” . . .

So I lined up the loftiest ideals I could find and set out to achieve them. The results were rarely admirable, often laughable, and sometimes grotesque. But always they were unreal, a distortion of my true self—as must be the case when one lives from the outside in, not the inside out. I had simply found a “noble” way to live a life that was not my own, a life spent imitating heroes instead of listening to my heart.

Today, some thirty years later, “Let your life speak” means something else to me . . . : “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen to what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” [1]

In other words, your life is not about you. You are about a larger thing called Life. You are not your own. You are an instance of a universal and eternal pattern. Life is living itself in you. The myriad forms of life in the universe are merely parts of the One Life—that many of us call “God.” You and I don’t have to figure it all out, fix everything, or do life perfectly by ourselves. All we have to do is participate in this One Life. To find our unique niche in that Always Larger Life is what we mean by “vocation.”


Who Am I? Monday, May 28, 2018

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. —Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), theologian and civil rights leader [1]

As conscious human beings, our life purpose is to be a visible expression of both the image and the likeness of God. Each of us reveals a unique facet of the divine, what Franciscan John Duns Scotus called haecceity or thisness. [2] Parker Palmer says it well in his book Let Your Life Speak:

[My newborn granddaughter] did not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want her to take. She arrived with her own gifted form, with the shape of her own sacred soul. . . . Thomas Merton calls it true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or “that of God” in every person. The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity. No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price. . . .

The deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?” . . . [I believe we’ve got to get our own who right before we can begin to address the question of what am I to do.]

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” [3] . .

Contrary to the conventions of our thinly moralistic culture, this emphasis on gladness and selfhood is not selfish. The Quaker teacher Douglas Steere was fond of saying that the ancient human question “Who am I?” leads inevitably to the equally important question “Whose am I”—for there is no selfhood outside of relationship. . . .

As I learn more about the seed of true self that was planted when I was born, I also learn more about the ecosystem in which I was planted—the network of communal relations in which I am called to live responsively, accountably, and joyfully with beings of every sort. Only when I know both seed and system, self and community, can I embody the great commandment to love both my neighbor and myself. . . .

The world still waits for the truth that will set us free—my truth, your truth, our truth—the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being. [4]


with My Presence. I am King of kings and Lord of lords, dwelling in unapproachable Light. When you draw near to Me, I respond by coming closer to you. As My Presence envelops you, you may feel overwhelmed by My Power and Glory. This is a form of worship: sensing your smallness in comparison to My Greatness. Man has tended to make himself the measure of all things. But man’s measure is too tiny to comprehend My majestic vastness. That is why most people do not see Me at all, even though they live and move and have their being in Me. Enjoy the radiant beauty of My Presence. Declare My glorious Being to the world! Which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. —1 TIMOTHY 6:15–16

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. —JAMES 4:8

“For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” —ACTS 17:28

Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. —PSALM 145:3–6

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

Rap: Resistance and Reassurance

May 25th, 2018

Art: Week 2
Rap: Resistance and Reassurance
Friday, May 25, 2018

We’re far more comfortable recognizing the sacred in poetry and psalms than we are seeing it in our own popular culture . . . at least I know I am. Barbara Holmes explores breath and rhythm in rap, an art form of resistance and survival that can lead to contemplation just as effectively as poetry and chanting psalms. I hope you’ll stretch your comfort zone and listen to some rap, perhaps from Kendrick Lamar who recently won the Pulitzer Prize for music. [1] If you’re not familiar with rap, it may be challenging and take practice to understand and appreciate. Give it time, like you would any contemplative practice! [2]
Like all musical genres, rap continues to evolve, but even as it finds more mainstream expressions, it remains a challenging artistic venue. What is most notable is that its emergence surprised its musical and political predecessors. After years of politically correct discourse and the studied attempt to assimilate or integrate, the next generation arrived with a chip on its collective shoulder and with a story to tell. . . .
Kendrick Lamar offers To Pimp a Butterfly, a political reply to police violence and the inherent power within the community to resist, redefine, and defeat racism, against all odds. Lamar seems to be saying that the power of survival is in our tongues. What Lamar offers is more powerful than the songs of overcoming or reward in heaven. He says, “we gonna be alright.” The refrain is repeated in a hard rhythm that sways the reality until the anthem becomes “aaaaaaaaaawwww . . . ite.” This is a promise of “alrightness” enunciated in the language of the ancestors and abiding spirits.
[Sam Behrens writes:]
What makes a protest song [and, I would add, a contemplative song]? Is it the lyrics? Is it the melody? Is it the rhythm? Is it in the artist’s intent? The public’s reception? Perhaps it is something yeastier, harder to pin down—as impossible to triangulate as a single electron in the dense cloud that buzzes around an atom’s nucleus. . . . “To Pimp a Butterfly” is protest [and contemplative] music because it is alive to its moment. . . . [3]
Lamar’s musical reassurance, rhythms and lyrics are grounded in twenty-first-century culture and in the hymnal legacy of the black church, Blessed Assurance Jesus is Mine, I Surrender All. The message is clear: do your part, work while it is yet day, knowing that we may not see the victory over oppression, but victory will come, and in the meantime, we gonna be alright.
The ancestors must be laughing: How could we have forgotten so easily that prophets like Lamar and Tupac arise in every generation? . . . With the rise of police and vigilante killings of black men and women came the art and performance of resistance from the millennial generation. The rappers . . . [tell] the stories that need to be told, remind the community of its history and potential, while chanting desperation and hope.
[1] See
[2] Note that many black rappers reclaim the derogatory N-word, using it to express affection and friendship for their own community (the word is not appropriate for individuals who are not black to use). As you listen to rap, observe your own reactions—in your body and mind—and sit with the discomfort or questions that arise.
[3] Sam Behrens, “Kendrick Lamar Reminds Us That Hip Hop Is an Important Political Player,” July 1, 2015,


Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

May 25, 2018
THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH YOU, My child. Your mind leaps from problem to problem to problem, tangling your thoughts in anxious knots. When you think like that, you leave Me out of your worldview and your mind becomes darkened. Though I yearn to help, I will not violate your freedom. I stand silently in the background of your mind, waiting for you to remember that I am with you. When you turn from your problems to My Presence, your load is immediately lighter. Circumstances may not have changed, but we carry your burdens together. Your compulsion to “fix” everything gives way to deep, satisfying connection with Me. Together we can handle whatever this day brings.

ISAIAH 41:10; So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

ZEPHANIAH 3:17;The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

PSALM 34:19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;


Blues and Jazz: Lament and Improvisation

May 24th, 2018

Art: Week 2
Blues and Jazz: Lament and Improvisation
Thursday, May 24, 2018

Today’s meditation is drawn from Barbara Holmes’ book Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church. She explores the blues—a musical form developed in the Deep South by African Americans in the late 19th century—and jazz—originating in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—as authentic expressions of life. In addition to reading her words, I invite you to listen (and perhaps dance?) to B. B. King or Miles Davis as a contemplative practice. [1]
Like the familiar laments in Psalms, blues artists forthrightly engaged the issues in life that the church would not discuss—such as sexuality, theodicy, and the unabated despair of the people. The lyrics were straightforward and sometimes raunchy, but they captured the life experiences of the listeners. While gospel music promised peace in the hereafter and the promise of God’s presence, the blues became public theology, communal inquiry, and a critique of the church. . . .
The contemplative moment comes as the cause of the blues is considered within the broader context of God’s inexplicable absence or startling intervention. Under every stanza is the silent and unspoken question, “How long, oh Lord, how long will your people continue to suffer?” . . .
No one thinks for one moment that when B. B. King sang, he was saying all that there was to be said about the subject. . . . One or two lines hold the portal open for listeners to mentally supply the rest. This is the contemplative turn. . . . Smoky nightclubs and juke joints become the spaces for contemplation that attends to the details of daily life and the potential for its enrichment and ultimate fulfillment. . . .
Jazz is a way of being in the world, a willingness to break away from rhetorical comfort zones and language hierarchies. When you know that you are “between a rock and a hard place,” then you must respond creatively to the situation. Jazz is the musical version of the communal response to displacement. This is not a black thing; the majority of Americans today are displaced in one way or another. However, the displacement of the African diaspora was sealed by skin color as a permanent social exile. Some amelioration of that exile has only now begun, but only because of the genius of the community for creativity and improvisation upon the main themes of oppression and marginalization.
The improvisational motif in jazz music refers to the spontaneous creation of melodic innovations that diverge and meld with the main tune. . . . When the contributions of the individual improvisations soar, the contemplative potential increases. For in the midst of unthinkable rhythmic and tonal combinations, we also hear the impossible being brought within our reach.
When Miles Davis blows the cacophony that can barely be contained by the word song, we come closest to the unimaginable, the potential of the future, and the source of our being.
[1] Note that a “contemplative practice” can be anything we do with the intention of opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to God’s presence, to Love. Contemplation is the graced experience of union with Love, which is always a gift, never earned or achieved. We practice to be open to receive such a gift.


Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling

May 24, 2018

BRING ME YOUR MIND for rest and renewal. Let Me infuse My Presence into your thoughts. As your mind stops racing, your body relaxes and you regain awareness of Me. This awareness is vital to your spiritual well-being; it is your lifeline, spiritually speaking. There are actually more than four dimensions in this world where you live. In addition to the three dimensions of space and the one of time, there is the dimension of openness to My Presence. This dimension transcends the others, giving you glimpses of heaven while you still reside on earth. This was part of My original design for mankind. Adam and Eve used to walk with Me in the garden, before their expulsion from Eden. I want you to walk with Me in the garden of your heart, where I have taken up permanent residence. GENESIS 3:8; PSALM 89:15;

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 298). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Art: Joy Unspeakable

May 23rd, 2018

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

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

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

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