Action!

an article by Nancy Phillips
from the February 2012 edition of the Rupertsland News

If our spiritual practices are not grounded in the stuff of our everyday lives,
all of this thinking and praying becomes meaningless.

Over the past while, I’ve written much about contemplative practices, prayer, deepening our spirituality, connecting with God and seeing reality from a different perspective. But if these practices and new ways of experiencing God are not grounded in the stuff of our everyday lives, all of this thinking and praying becomes meaningless.

It has been said that human beings are the only creatures who have been created with the faculty of reflection.  We are able to raise our experience to consciousness.  Rocks and sand may also have experiences but no ability to reflect.  In reflecting on our experiences we begin to realize that we are not only created, but also creators.   In reflecting upon our experiences, we find our purpose.

Our purpose is rooted in our relationship to God. The work of spirituality is to rejoin the one.  God is one.

Our purpose is rooted in our relationship to God.  The work of spirituality is to rejoin the one.  God is one.  Thomas Merton, a modern contemplative, discovered in his reflections that people are inseparable from God and from one another.  In becoming aware of this unity in God with all peoples, Merton had a deep experience of nondualism.  He found that he could not separate God from God’s creation, but also could not separate contemplation from concern for, and engagement in, the needs and problems of the age in which he lived.  God became incarnate and this created a bridge between divine and earthly.

Mature religion, Rohr says, involves changing ourselves and letting ourselves be changed by a mysterious encounter with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Our ability to reflect allows us to become aware of our experience of life at the level of ordinary consciousness – a kind of “one thing at a time awareness”.  But our reflective ability also allows us to center ourselves in the midst of an unconscious awareness at both the personal level and the collective level.  Getting to know God begins with getting to know yourself.   Richard Rohr reminds us in his book, The Naked Now, that only transformed people have the power to transform others, as if by osmosis.  Usually, he says, you can lead others only as far as you yourself have gone.  Too often we try to push, intimidate, threaten, cajole, and manipulate others.  It seldom works, because that is not the way the soul works.  In the presence of whole people; or any encounter with Holiness Itself, we simply find that, after a while, we are different – and much better!   Mature religion, Rohr says, involves changing ourselves and letting ourselves be changed by a mysterious encounter with grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

Use your imagination to create the world God is calling us to live into.  And then move — breathe life into your images of hope and healing and wholeness.

God has given us a new consciousness in what we call “prayer” and an utterly unexpected, maybe even unwanted, explanation in what we call “the cross”.  Part of that new consciousness involves using our faculty of imagination as a first step in creating a better world.  We see imagination being used to span the reality between heaven and earth in the New Testament book of Revelation – in John’s description of images while on the Isle of Patmos.  Great artists create visual images using the faculty of imagination.  The visual images artists create are a bridge between their inner world of image and form and colour and the outer world of art medium – paint and clay.  The images they create are a bridge between inside and outside – materiality injected with spirit.  Images are messengers – angels perhaps – places we have forgotten about.

Use your imagination to create the world God is calling us to live into.  And then move — breathe life into your images of hope and healing and wholeness.

All of this reflecting about image and imagination, the tension between inner and outer is rooted and grounded in our relationship with Christ.  This relationship is described by William Barry as being analogous to the kind of friendship that develops over a long time between two people. They are aware of each other even when they are apart or not engaging directly with each other. Although they may not be talking, at some deep level they are in touch with each other. Ignatius’s idea of contemplative-in-action has such a relationship with God. Engaging closely with God over time, we allow the Spirit to transform us into people who are more like the images of God we are created to be—that is, more like Jesus, who was clearly a contemplative-in-action.

The first step in creating a better world is imagining a better world.  We must spend time on the bridge of our imagination and be open to the energy God is creating to move us to action.  Use your imagination to create the world God is calling us to live into.  And then move — breathe life into your images of hope and healing and wholeness.

We are made holy
by our recognition
of God in us.
God is in all and everything.
But the reality of
God’s presence
only comes about
through human recognition.
Ah then!
We have the power
to sacralize the world.  

By Edwina Gateley; There Was No Path So I Trod One (1996).

If you would like to find out more about contemplation and action, please join us tomorrow for Tools for Responding to God: Reaching Outthe last session in the series Growing towards God,  facilitated by Nancy Phillips.

Becoming Whole Again

from the January, 2012 Rupertsland News article by Nancy Phillips

So here we are at the beginning of another calendar year.  We face that time of the winter when the long, cold darkness spreads out before us without even a hint that Spring will show its face again one day.  This new beginning provides us with an opportunity to reflect and re-think the way we engage with life.  Our New Year’s resolutions may involve a re-directing of our intentions in prayer or spiritual development.

The beginning of a new year provides a good opportunity to reflect on the different ways we engage with our inner selves.  We may have fed our souls by trying some new styles of prayer, fed our minds by trying a different way of studying scripture, such as lectio divina, or tapped into a new way of uncovering our inner spaces through techniques such as journaling.  But we may not have thought of our bodies as an important source of information which may assist in our transformation.

To be a “whole” person, we need to be “healed” in all dimensions of our being – body, mind, heart and spirit.

Our bodies are an incredible storehouse of information about our past history and this information can either aid or hinder our inner growth.  The experience of psychological or physical trauma can deeply affect our ability to live freely as our authentic selves and result in our living a shame-based life.  Maureen Conroy, a Roman Catholic religious and Spiritual Director, explains that we are created in wholeness and for wholeness.  Our journey through life is to reconnect with our original wholeness, our authentic self, our child-like innocence. To be a “whole” person, we need to be “healed” in all dimensions of our being – body, mind, heart and spirit.  Every life issue and experience, positive and negative, Conroy teaches, lives in our body – our issues are in our tissues.  Our body is our closest companion in life – the part of ourselves that we may experience as being the most “real”.  Conroy says our bodies – our tissues, fluids, cells, nervous system and brain – absorb emotional, psychological and physical trauma and pain that is too overwhelming for our psyche to carry on its own.

Suffering can make us bitter and close us down or it can make us wise, compassionate and utterly open.

Richard Rohr, in his book, The Naked Now says that the two universal and prime paths of transformation , great love and great suffering, are the primary spiritual teachers.  Great suffering occurs when things happen against our will.  Over time we can learn to give up our defended state, although, Rohr says, we will inevitably go through the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, resignation and (hopefully) on to acceptance.   Rohr explains that our suffering might feel wrong, terminal, absurd, unjust, impossible, physically painful, or just outside of our comfort zone.  But if we don’t have a proper attitude toward suffering, we can’t transform our pain.  If we don’t transform our pain, we can transmit it to those around us and even to the next generation.  Suffering can make us bitter and close us down or it can make us wise, compassionate and utterly open. Rohr says we should pray for the grace of this path of softening and opening to God.  Our experiences of struggling with our shadow self, facing interior conflicts and moral failures, undergoing rejection and abandonment, daily humiliations, experiencing abuse or any form of limitation are all gateways into deeper consciousness and the flowering of the soul.

The long cold days of winter invite us to look inward.  You may want to spend some time focussed on prayer that engages with your body.  The following exercise may be helpful in bringing about awareness of your body and areas that may be in need of God’s healing grace.

As you pray, experience healing from God that brings freedom from suffering and leaves you feeling empowered and healthy.

  • Enter into a quiet space and become aware of your breath – exhale fears and anxieties and inhale God’s loving spirit
  • Be aware of sensations in your body by slowly scanning various parts of your body from your skull to your feet.  Allow your awareness and your breath to soften tight muscles and anxious thoughts.
  • See yourself in your truest and deepest essence – whole, free, joyful, living life to the fullest.  Savour and experience yourself in your divine essence, your wholeness
  • Visualize yourself at a certain period in your life.  Invite God’s healing light to flow gently into that period of your life, healing traumatic experiences, any form of abuse, emotional neglect, painful encounters with another and so on.
  • Place one of your palms on your abdomen and the other on your chest.  Feel yourself grounded in your body.  Intend for God’s healing light to flow into your body, your mind, your heart and your spirit.
  • Be aware of and feel divine healing energy flowing into painful feelings and attitudes toward yourself that may have developed such as shame, self-hatred or low self-esteem
  • Place your healing hands on other parts of your body and being as you feel drawn to do so, allowing God’s love and light to flow.
  • Visualize Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, surrounding you with love and light.  Feel God’s unconditional love seeping into your core.

You may wish to enter into this prayer experience for inner healing daily for several consecutive days or on a weekly basis for several months.  As you pray, experience healing from God that brings freedom from suffering and leaves you feeling empowered and healthy.  May God’s love surround you always.

Nancy Phillips 

Interested in learning more? Please join us tomorrow night for Tools for Responding to God’s Presence: Reaching In, session 4 of the Growing towards God series, Introduction to Spirituality. We will explore the differences between guilt and shame and introduce the Welcoming Prayer as a tool for deepening our awareness of God’s presence dwelling within us. An opportunity will be provided to engage with Body Prayer as a tool for healing.

Responding to God’s Presence: Reaching In

The Fourth Session in the St. John’s Educational Series Growing towards God
with Nancy Phillips, Facilitator
Tuesday, January 10th from 6 pm to 8 pm
Brown Bag Supper at 5:30 pm (optional)

Growing Towards God: January 10

Tools for Responding to God’s Presence:  Reaching In

Growing towards God: Session 4
Tuesday, January 10 at 6 pm to 8 pm
Brown Bag Supper at 5:30 pm (optional)

Spirituality is about moving beyond ordinary awareness so that we can live our lives in a state of constantly awakening to God’s goodness and presence within us.

On Tuesday night, we will explore the differences between guilt and shame and introduce the Welcoming Prayer as a tool for deepening our awareness of God’s presence dwelling within us.  An opportunity will be provided to engage with Body Prayer as a tool for healing.

Please join us.

Opening Yourself Up to the Gift of Jesus Christ

What I really long for at this time of year is an opportunity to open my heart more completely to the gift of God incarnate —
the arrival of the Christ child.

Each year, I promise myself that I will plan my Christmas season in such a way that I will have enough time to create an Advent focus.  The pull of shopping and social events, plans for family get togethers and promises to friends that we will connect soon, get lost in a frenzy of activity.  What I really long for at this time of year is an opportunity to open my heart more fully and more completely to the gift of God incarnate — the arrival of the Christ child.

But when I stop to think about it, this is exactly the space into which the paradoxical nature of God’s gift to us has the greatest impact.  We long for peace, but instead experience busy, hectic lives.  We long for love but instead experience guilt over not contributing to more charities or making more time available for friends and family.  We long for joy but instead experience the grief of unfulfilled longings.

In his book, The Naked Now, Richard Rohr reminds us that reality is paradoxical.  Everything is a clash of contradictions, and there is nothing on this created earth that is not a mixture at the same time of good and bad, helpful and unhelpful, endearing and maddening, living and dying.  Rohr says Jesus came to teach us about life and about ourselves.  Jesus is the very template of total paradox:  human yet divine, heavenly yet earthly, physical yet spiritual, possessing a male body yet a female soul, killed yet alive, powerless yet powerful, victim yet victor, failure yet redeemer, marginalized yet central, singular yet everyone, incarnate yet cosmic, nailed yet liberated, resolving the great philosophical problem of the one and the many.  Rohr points out that all statements and beliefs about Jesus are also statements about the journey of the soul (birth, chosenness, ordinary life, initiation, career, misunderstanding and opposition, failure, death in several forms, resurrection, and return to God).    Each one of us must learn to live with paradox, Rohr says, or we cannot live peacefully or happily even a single day of our lives.

a sincere inner journey opens us to know in a deeply personal way the mystery of Jesus Christ

To engage in a sincere inner journey opens us to know in a deeply personal way the mystery of Jesus Christ, not just to believe or prove this knowledge in a factual or scientific way.  If we become engaged with this way of knowing from a mystical sense, we can learn how to face and hold the contradictions, and even weep and laugh over them as we gradually become larger “holding tanks” for the contradictions and paradox in our lives.

This ability to hold together the contradictions in our lives and to create an openness or hospitality to the gift of Jesus Christ, born as a tiny baby yet Saviour of the world, is part of the transformation that happens when we are intentional about our journey of faith.

Ignatian prayer

The purpose of Ignatian prayer is to try to make the Gospel and Scripture scenes become so real to us that we can make a personal application of the teaching.

In the past while, the community of St. John’s Cathedral has been inviting us to explore spirituality and ways of growing and deepening our walk with God.  Another tool that we can use to develop our inner space is Ignatian prayer.  The purpose of Ignatian prayer is to try to make the Gospels and the Scripture scenes become so alive and real to us that we can make a personal application of the teaching or message contained within.

During Ignatian prayer we try to use all five senses as we project ourselves back, during an imaginary journey, to the events of Jesus’ life. We try to participate fully in the scene and draw some practical fruit for application to our present day situation.  If this experience of the life of Jesus is alive and real enough, we can experience spiritual healing.

So here is a prayer exercise to help you prepare to receive the gift of the Christ child:

  • Read Luke 2:1-20.  You may wish to choose a shorter section of this passage to focus on.
  • Place yourself in the scene and become a part of it.  Use your imagination to recreate the passage you’ve just read.  What would you notice about the manger scene?  What would it feel like to lay on the straw?  What would it smell like? Uses your senses as much as possible to experience the scene fully.
  • Observe the various characters in the scene.  What are they saying?  What are they doing?  What emotions, responses do you notice within yourself as you experience the scene?
  • When you are finished with the scene, take a few moments to be quiet and experience any new insights that might have come to you.  Are you being called to make any changes in your life as a result of this experience?

May this new way of inviting Christ into the midst of your celebrations be transformational.  If you would like an opportunity to explore more of your inner longing to be transformed by God’s presence in your life, please join us at St. John’s Cathedral, December 6th at 6:00 PM.

Wait.  Be still.   Watch.   Awake.  
Words of madness spoken
into a city alight 
with yuletide.  Restless 
drivers, exhaust rising 
like some toxic incense.  
Hurry on to the next 
Mall, party, obligation, 
Have another drink, chocolate-
coated, and exhausted. 
No.  The horizon holds
a promise.  Time, history 
and all creation groans.  
Too great for containment
in packages. Hidden, 
safe, within the frayed 
fabric of a tired world.  
Slow.  Breath catches deep in 
lungs.  “I am coming soon.” 
Soon.  Lights switch from red to 
green.  We all inch forward.  

Jamie Howison, from Beautiful Mercy: A Book of Hours, saint benedict’s table (2010)

Growing towards God: tools for listening to God

this article is from the Rupertsland News

If we are to begin to open up and uncover the parts of ourselves that long to connect with God, this requires prayer.

In our exploration of spirituality over the next while, it seemed appropriate to begin with some tools for listening to God.  If we are to begin to open up and uncover the parts of ourselves that long to connect with God, this requires prayer.  Talking about prayer can stir up a variety of emotions.  We may feel that we are not very good at praying, probably most of us would feel that we don’t do enough praying, and many of us may feel that we’re never sure if our prayers are getting “through the roof” – actually reaching the intended target of communicating with God.   And when we pray, is it one-way communication – us speaking the longings of our heart to God?  Or is prayer an opportunity for God to speak to us?  How much of our prayer should be speaking and how much should be listening?

Continue reading

Growing Towards God Series

Thank You!

Thank you to Nancy Phillips for presenting the first session from the Growing Towards God series entitled “Intro to Spirituality”.

As Christians we need both an intellectual and spiritual connection to our God. Through reading the scripture and listening to religious teachings, we engage our faith, but how does our spirit engage with God?

With everything that hinders spiritual growth; among them being the daily distractions of modern life, it is hard to maintain a spiritual connection to God.

By teaching us about the importance of our spiritual selves, the foundations of Christian Spirituality and training us to use various tools for prayer and meditation, Nancy is helping us reconnect with God on this deeper level.

We look forward to the next session, Tools for Listening to God on November 8th when we will learn even more.
Please feel free to join us!

Read more about Tuesday’s class Intro to Spirituality

Education Series: Growing Towards God

Growing Towards God: Oct 25 – Feb 7

with Nancy Phillips, Facilitator
Tuesday Evenings, from 6 pm to 8 pm
Brown Bag Supper at 5:30 pm (optional)

Become aware of God’s presence and action in your life.

Intro to Spirituality
October 25th

Tools for Listening to God
November 8th

Tools for Deepening
Our Experience of God
December 6th

Tools for Responding to God:
Reaching In
January 10th

Tools for Responding to God:
Reaching Out
February 7th

more information

Intro to Spirituality, October 25th

with Nancy Phillips, Facilitator
Tuesday, October 25th from 6 pm to 8 pm
Brown Bag Supper at 5:30 pm (optional)

Do you have a longing to explore a deeper connection with God?

Do you have a longing to explore a deeper connection with God? The Congregation of St. John’s Cathedral will be offering a course on spirituality entitled Growing Towards God. The course will run for five sessions, beginning in October and finishing up just before Lent. This will be an opportunity to explore and develop some tools for listening to God and deepening our awareness of God at work within us and the ways in which God may be calling us to respond to the world around us.

Please join us for what promises to be a lively growing experience!

The Fire Within

Spirituality is about God’s longing to be present to us.
We become aware of who we are in the context of our relationship with a loving God.

Have you ever had an experience that you might have described as a “spiritual experience”? What was it about this experience that caused you to believe it was spiritual in nature? What impact did the experience have on you? How did this experience shape your sense of God and God’s presence in your life?

These are questions that focus on an element of our practice as Christians that seems locked in the realm of otherworldliness. You may not see yourself as a very spiritual person and a spiritual experience may have left you feeling puzzled, or perhaps unnerved. It’s also possible that these experiences might leave you with a feeling of deep peace and a sense of connectedness to God.

The term “spirituality” seems to be something we are hearing more about these days. In the past 10 or 20 years, there has been an explosion of interest in the topic, from guests on the Oprah Show to new books on the topic to a surge of interest in Eastern practices such as Yoga and forms of meditation.

The notion of spirituality is often not well understood in our Western culture. We tend to see spirituality as something that might interest only a few, and certainly not something that is in any way connected to our understanding of our practice as Anglicans.

We may see spirituality as something paranormal, other worldly, mystical, New Age-y and on the fringes.
This is a tragic misunderstanding.

We may see spirituality as something paranormal, other worldly, mystical, New Age-y and on the fringes. Yet, Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing says that this is a tragic misunderstanding.

Rolheiser asserts that everyone has to have a spirituality – either a life-giving one or a destructive one. Spirituality, Rolheiser says, concerns what we do with desire. It takes root within us and is all about how we shape and discipline the fire or passion that dwells within us. Spirituality is about what we do with our soul or spirit – the life pulse within us that makes us alive.

A healthy soul, Rolheiser suggests, must do two things for us. First, it must put fire in our veins to keep us energized, vibrant, living with zest, and full of hope as we sense that life is beautiful and worth living. And secondly, a healthy soul must keep us fixed together, to continually give us a sense of who we are, where we came from, where we are going and what sense there is in all of this.

Rolheiser explains that there is a discontent (another word for soul and spirit) in all things and what those things, or persons, do with that discontent is their spirituality.

True spirituality is not a search for perfection or control or the door to the next world;
it is a search for divine union now.

In his most recent book The Naked Now, Richard Rohr explains that much of religion has become a search for social order, group cohesion, and personal worthiness, or a way of escaping into the next world, which unfortunately destroys most of its transformative power. True spirituality, Rohr says, is not a search for perfection or control or the door to the next world; it is a search for divine union now. The great discovery, Rohr tells us, is that what we are searching for has already been given. Spirituality is about God’s longing to be present to us. We become aware of who we are in the context of our relationship with a loving God. Christian spirituality is about our own inner transformation as we become more and more present in our relationship to God. Rohr refers to it as falling into and undergoing God. Spirituality is a new level of awareness within ourselves of God’s presence and action in the innermost parts of our being.

As we grow into adulthood, our minds become more complex and preoccupied with day to day details. Cynthia Bourgeault in her book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, explains that we spend so much of our adult energies thinking, planning, worrying, trying to get ahead or stay afloat, that we lose touch with a natural intimacy with God deep within us. Tools such as Centering Prayer or Christian meditation help us to withdraw from the demands of daily life and listen again to the presence of God deep within us. We need to move beyond ordinary awareness to a deeper sense of connection with the Source of our being. This allows us to become more and more transformed into the person God knows us to be – our True Selves. Bourgeault refers to this as a case of mistaken identity: the person we normally take ourselves to be – the busy, anxious “I” so preoccupied with goals, fears, desires and issues – is never even remotely the whole of who we are.

Do you have a longing to explore this deeper connection with God? As part of the Growing towards God series, Introduction to Spirituality will run for five sessions, beginning in October and finishing up just before Lent. This will be an opportunity to explore and develop some tools for listening to God and deepening our awareness of God at work within us and the ways in which God may be calling us to respond to the world around us. Please join us for what promises to be a lively growing experience!

The Naked Now, by Richard Rohr
The Holy Longing, by Ronald Rolheiser