contemplative way

The contemplative way of spirituality is the way of stepping aside from anything and everything we think or feel that would distract us from what is present right here and now–the conscious awareness of God’s presence.

Singing to the Corn

Dave Brisbin | 11.12.17
It often helps to hear deep spiritual truths as expressed in faith traditions other than our own. We can become so familiar with our own traditional expressions that we don’t hear them anymore…they become enveloped in colloquial meaning and lose the ability to shock us into deeper awareness. And we do need to be shocked. Native Americans did not put their energy into buildings or infrastructure. They didn’t value the physical trappings of Western societies and lived nomadically within the systems nature provided. They saw life, meaning, and purpose from a vastly different perspective—one that Jesus was trying to convey as well. 

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When Crowfoot, the great Blackfoot chief says, “What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset,” when Waheenee of the Hidatsa tribe writes, “Often in summer I rise at daybreak and steal out to the corn fields, and as I hoe the corn I sing to it, as we did when I was young,” they are speaking of the meaning of life encapsulated in the immersion in a singular act in a specific moment. All life and meaning coming to a single point of awareness. Jesus would call this Kingdom, and if we can’t learn to sing to the corn again, we won’t really know what he means.

Life Happens

Dave Brisbin | 11.5.17
Maria Montessori said that play is the work of the child. She recognized that the playful activities of childhood influence the pattern of the connection between nerve cells in the brain, the development of motor skills, language, socialization, personal awareness, creativity, emotional wellness, problem solving. And if play is the work of the child, then toys are the tools. And yet, the child knows nothing of this. The child just plays, and all this development happens in the background as by-product. John Lennon wrote in a song that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. As adults, we often dismiss the play of the child as meaningless childhood expression, missing the deeper significance. 

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In the same way, we miss the deeper significance of life because we take our work and tools literally and not as the play and toys they really are. Our work and tools have no real intrinsic meaning. Everything we build with our hands and tools will be lost in time. But what comes as by-product, from a direction in which we were never looking, is the eternal, deep truth-understanding of life—as we simply show up day after day, working, striving for excellence, taking care of customers, co-workers, family, friends. If play is the work of the child, then work is the play of the adult, and once we realize that the real meaning of life is what happens as process rather than outcome, we can really start to live.

Out of Control

Dave Brisbin | 10.22.17
Looking at the record of increasing human awareness of the intimacy of God’s spirit recorded in scripture: from a wild, fearful presence on a mountaintop, to the shepherd-like pillars of cloud and fire leading the people of Israel, to the cloud standing outside the tent speaking to Moses, to that presence settling on and filling the tent and eventually the temple, to filling Jesus at his baptism, to the apostles at Pentecost…what of us? How do we move from the awareness of Spirit standing outside our tent to resting on and filling us as well? How do we receive the Holy Spirit? What does that even mean? And how do we know if we have that filling? 

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There are clues all over scripture to guide us, but only if we really pay attention to the context, to the backstory, to the larger experience of the people that show us what it really means to ask and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. Much more than a verbal asking, a spoken prayer—and much more than the speaking of tongues, the awareness of God’s presence filling our tabernacle is life changing on every level.

Signs

Dave Brisbin | 10.8.17
Ever notice how it seems to take longer to get somewhere you’ve never been than to get back again? Why is that? Watching every turn, wondering if you missed one, if there’ll be a street sign, how much longer…? I always like to look at a map of the whole route before letting the GPS lady lead me around by the nose. There is a certain amount of anxiety involved in going somewhere for the first time that is relieved once we have some idea of the overall shape of the journey. And what’s true for external journeys is certainly true for interior ones as well. We are always looking for signs and prophecies, plans and God’s will to help us see the way before we actually travel the way.

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But what Jesus is constantly telling us is that we won’t get the kind of sign we’re looking for if what we’re looking for is certainty. All we get is the “sign of Jonah,” the general shape of the Way that descends into the belly of the beast before it ever leads anywhere else. Jesus is saying that life is shaped like this, that the nature of the journey doesn’t require certainty or even clarity, and if you persist in clinging to those obsessions, you’ll never open to the trust that really is the engine of the only Way to Father.

The Gift of Subtraction

Dave Brisbin | 10.1.17
Meister Eckhart said that the spiritual life is much more about subtraction than addition, but what does that mean? Many spiritual teachers have spoken about the fact that life is divided into halves, but what is the distinction? Putting the two together, the first half of life is about building the physical platform for survival, happiness, meaning, purpose, identity—it’s about acquisition both physically and emotionally…about addition. The second half is about undoing all that, about the subtraction of layer after layer of manufactured identity and the illusion of certainty. It’s about coming full circle back to the garden where we play with Presence in the cool of the evening and become vulnerably secure in trust. But what does a second half of life journey cost and look like? 

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How do we know we’re in it? Here, Paul comes to the rescue with a beautiful moment of vulnerability and self-disclosure at Romans 7. In a passage that has traditionally been hard to understand, in this context, we see Paul showing us the push and pull, the disorientation and frustration of moving from the first half practice of law-following as righteous addition to the gift of finally letting go of the effort to be good enough, subtracting our way into the weakness that makes us strong in God’s embrace.

Outrunning the Rules

Dave Brisbin | 9.10.17
Anyone who’s played football had to learn the playbook and how to run the plays in the book, but the real play of football begins where the playbook ends. What do you do when the playbook has delivered you the ball, put it in your hands, and now it’s just you, a field full of linebackers, and a goal line? A great chef begins where the recipe ends and jazz players are defined by the music they make beyond the printed page. It’s a great irony that the church has traditionally told us that God will bless us if we just obey the rules, the law…especially considering that Jesus spent most of his precious time trying to tell us and show us that we can only begin to see the blessings God is constantly showering on our lives once we outrun the rules: 

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transcend them, graduate beyond them, fulfill them by becoming them—living with their original intent written on our hearts. Until and unless we begin to see that Jesus is trying to grow us up and over mere acquisition and obedience as the means to God’s love and approval, we’ll never experience the freedom of simply running downfield with abandon, the ability to make a feast out of whatever ingredients each moment provides, or the creativity in flowing with music that has never been written, and will exist only as long as we are playing.

Process to Person

Dave Brisbin | 8.6.17
When Jesus says that he is the Way, truth, and life, if we’re to take him at his word, what he is saying is that he is both a person and a process. The implications of this statement are radical, but we typically don’t even consider them as the church has come to focus almost exclusively on Jesus as a person and has lost the promise of process: finding the person/truth that makes us free. But though the processness of Jesus may be lost on us, it wasn’t on his first followers who called themselves “talmidey urha,” Aramaic for Followers of the Way…not followers of Jesus. 

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And even though Jesus was understood as identical with the Way, still their distinction pointed directly to the fact that we as followers actually do need to follow a Way, a process of becoming more and more identified with both Jesus and Way. So now as modern Westerners, we need to follow a process of unlearning that will take us from the person of Jesus we think we know to the process of Jesus that his first followers knew, that will then take us to the person of truth that will make us free.

A Palace in Time

Dave Brisbin | 5.21.17
Reading an article by a pastor who now consults and coaches other pastors on growing church attendance, building programs, and time management created a moment of dissonance that I needed to process. In coaching pastors on protecting their time, to focus their time on necessary growth, the author stated that a pastor can only have meaningful relationships with 120 people at a time, and in a church that group is always changing and needs to be managed to the point of actually changing phone numbers and cutting off access to those outside the current 120. Sounds harsh, contains truth, sounds antithetical to Jesus’ principles, but Jesus had inner circles as well. Hence the dissonance. How to balance?

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And what does it say of our view of time? The ancient view of time and timekeeping was so different than ours, it may be hard to make hard and fast comparisons then and now, but it again points to the necessary balance between mother and father, accomplishment and relationship that is key to kingdom living. Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes that we modern people are fixated on space, of filling formless time with things and accomplishments, but that God sees time as holy in itself, that the first thing God made holy was time—the Sabbath, a palace in time. To see time in a new way may help us to create a better, more holy balance between space and time in our own lives.

Circle Dance

Dave Brisbin | 11.27.16
Coming off Thanksgiving and probably the loudest family gathering ever, I realized that the gratitude we all felt and hadn’t quite put into words, was being expressed through sheer volume: through the day long dance of family members moving in and out of conversations and laughter and food and games. It was a constant motion, a giving and receiving that blurred into one thing that I suppose we could describe as family or love or long-familiar relationship. When we look at God from a Christian point of view, we’ve been asked to see three persons in one God, but what does that mean, and why is it important? What does it offer each of us day in and out? 

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The early church fathers come to the rescue here, giving us the word that for them came closest to what they saw when they looked at God: “perichoresis.” It literally means “circle dance” in Greek, and when we think of the ancient Greek traditional dances, whirling and turning so fast that individual dancers blur into one constant motion, we begin to see the point. Love needs a beloved; giving needs a receiver. If God is love, then God is already and has always been a blur of motion where love and beloved, giving and gratitude blur into one thing, one God. And in that notion of constant motion, we can see where we fit in, where we can enter the dance and be one with the blur.

Stark Raving Honesty

Dave Brisbin | 11.20.16
When a person gets up to accept and award or honor, whether a politician to a movie star, I’ve always wondered what exactly is meant when he or she inevitably says they are “humbled” to accept this award. That statement can be authentically heartfelt and can mean many things, but if we really break down what humility means, is it really humble? What is humility and why does Jesus hold it as such a primary value? In Jesus’ stories and parables, it is obvious to scholars that he is tapping into the ancient Jewish tradition of the “anawim…” those who are poor and lowly, meek and gentle, those who have been oppressed and marginalized to the point that they have nowhere left to turn except directly to God. 

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Jesus was born anawim to anawim parents, and what he’s really pointing to is that we are all really anawim, completely dependent on God for every breath, if we would only see the truth. And that is the real point: that as AA puts it, humility really is stark raving honesty—the ability to see ourselves as we really are. Completely dependent and imperfect, yet completely loved and accepted at the same time.

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Everyone is recovering from something… Admitting this is the first step in spiritual life, because any unfinished business in our lives–trauma, unforgiveness, fear-based perceptions–fosters compulsive behavior and keeps us from connecting spiritually and emotionally.

Since we’re all recovering, we accept everyone right as they are—no expiration dates or deadlines. We don’t tell anyone what to believe or do. We present points of view that we hope will engage seekers in their own journey; help them unlearn limiting perceptions, beliefs, and compulsions; give opportunities to get involved in community, building the trust we all need to find real identity, meaning, and purpose. In other words, to engage the transforming Way of living life that Jesus called Kingdom…non-religiously understood from a first century Hebrew point of view.

 

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