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That pesky ‘something more…’


I don’t believe it matters how we start, when we start, or even where we think we’re heading, the only thing that seems to matter is listening to the part of us that longs for and just knows there’s something more.

We tell ourselves, or are told by others, many things about why we should ignore it (that it’s silly, that it’s selfish, that we’re tired, or bored or mad, or bad) but we don’t often consider, even the slightest possibility, that it could be something infinitely more positive; the Spirit moving within us and calling us on to the next growth stage of our lives.

The nay-sayer inside us tells us we’re too old, or too weak, or too stupid, or afraid to do anything about it. The nay-sayers around us tell us we’re too headstrong, or stubborn, or naive, or selfish if we follow its call. But the voice of Life doesn’t call us for no reason, it calls us because it loves us and it knows that, deep inside, we were created to respond to and to begin searching for that Love-inspired ‘something more’.


I call it the Holy Spirit, the sacred Spirit of Life, the divine Spirit of God’s Love, trying to capture our attention in a gentle, kind, but unsettling and deeply intimate way.  I believe that it moves itself within us, around us, and between us; prodding us out of our comfort zones and calling on us to notice it, to listen to it carefully and then to follow where it leads us, to a more abundant, fuller, richer and more fulfilling experience of Life.

From listening to countless people’s personal experiences of responding to that call, I believe that the place it leads to is unique and different for each and every one of us. But, for me, the place it led to was the reality of God’s felt and active presence in my life and, more importantly, the life-changing sense of God’s ever-present, unconditional Love. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, imagined, or been told it could be at any time before…but I had to find it in my own way; and following that ‘something more’ call was the way that led me to it.


It’s what has given me the confidence to stop always believing what other people tell me and to start believing more in that quiet voice within.

“Start here, start now, start from any place inside or outside, but start…and keep starting…until there is no more will to start” is what the voice inside me was really saying.  “Start out on your true search for me, and leave aside anyone else’s opinion of how and where you’ll find me. Just bring a truly open heart and mind and I will do the rest.”


If, like me, you abandoned belief in God long ago when you rejected what others, in their certainty, told you God was, I invite you to suspend that disbelief. If you believe that your way of relating to God – following a specific religious doctrine – is right and other ways of relating to God are wrong, I invite you to suspend that sense of certainty…and start out on your own, deeply personal pilgrimage.

If the Spirit is moving within you and is calling you to go in search of it, I believe it’s trying to tell you that your certainty there is no God (or your unshakeable belief that there is only one way of relating to God) is keeping your soul from finding the true peace that it longs for. It’s a peace that is experienced in a deeply personal and intimate way; one that will be as unique to you as you are to God.

Love is a deeply personal and intimate experience. It’s the most intimate, subtle, beautiful, life-enhancing and spirit-and-soul regenerating experience known to man. And I’m only talking about genuine, shared, human love when I say those words.


The Love of God, and the experience of that Love, is far deeper, greater and more powerful in its intimacy. It can strip us naked of our preconceptions and rip down our defences in an instant. It can flood us with a tidal wave of forgiveness and unconditional acceptance that is so unsought, and unexpected, it can leave us stunned, tearful and overwhelmed with a profoundly physical sense of gratitude and relief. How do I know? Because I’ve experienced it and, once it has been felt it can never be forgotten.

God has taught me that in choosing to live a life of daily conscious awareness of Him, I must also choose to release my need for certainty and control. ‘I must lose my life to find it’. Because God is mystery, divine mystery, and to live in intimate relationship with Him is to learn to trust in his Love and purpose and to discern when it is calling us to let go of certain fears or situations and to allow his Spirit to lead us to a deeper and richer relationship with Him and experience of Life.

He taught me that doubting what others would have me believe was the starting point of my individual questioning and that it was that individual searching that uncovered, and continues to nurture, the mustard seed of true faith that He planted in me at birth.


My journey to faith in God has been both helped and hindered by involvement with other individuals and groups. It’s grown naturally and organically from personal experience, by learning what is Love and what is Grace…and what is not; through observing the example of others and the effect it has on those around them.

I’ve seen others demonstrate a depth of generosity of spirit that I don’t possess and a height of arrogance that I do. But all of it has shown me what helps us to continue growing as human beings and what it is that tries to crush or stifle that growth.

I hope that, one day, my example and my journey of faith and trust in God will have enough power to provide strong branches of hope and encouragement to others seeking meaning, fulfilment, growth and understanding of what’s truly behind their nagging sense of ‘something more’.


Because all true pilgrimage is not really, at its heart, a journey to the physical site of any religious temple or relic or the regular celebration of commemorative sacraments or rituals. Rather, it’s a way of travelling to the internal place within us where we find a growing understanding of who and what God is, and what meaning this understanding creates within our lives.

It’s where we gradually and ultimately come to see and accept how God moves within our lives. It’s where the first steps of our deeply personal relationship with him are formed and it’s where we learn the healing power of speaking honestly with Him about the doubts and desires of our hearts. This is true, heart-and-soul-felt prayer and this is the place where our personal understanding of and peace with God is both found and made.


It’s where we find the spark of inspiration, the root of our belonging, the way of seeing what really matters and, in the seeing and understanding, it’s where we find our personal pathway to the purpose, meaning and inner peace we seek within our lives.

It’s in these moments, when we speak and listen from a place of truth with God, that we discover how inseparable Truth is from True Love, and how True Love is inseparable from Divine Love. The Love that God is.


It takes courage to start out on a personal pilgrimage, one that trusts more what the Spirit moving inside us is trying to tell us, than the voices around us who want us to ‘stay safely as we are’. But every act of true faith involves confronting the fears within us and the fears of those around us.


So let me be the voice that encourages you. Start walking your own personal pilgrimage, whatever and however that may be, and I guarantee that you will meet with God in a unique, personal, totally-disarming and life-enhancing way…as sure as the sun rises on the distant horizon, each and every day.


I’ve experienced it myself and I’ve seen it happening, time and time again; God responding, in seemingly miraculous ways, to people’s sincere and heart-felt desire to know and to more fully understand Him; and to the commitment and courage of any individual who truly seeks to find Him. Because we all, knowingly or unknowingly, long for and seek non-judgmental acceptance, compassionate understanding and unconditional Love. And these three things I’ve found, after many miles of personal pilgrimage, are simply other names for God.

Sometimes

Sometimes words don’t work.
Sometimes a candle-lit room, accompanied by the sound of rain, says more than the greatest philosopher.
Sometimes pain is our greatest teacher.
Sometimes those that give us life try to destroy us.
Sometimes time doesn’t heal our wounds.
Sometimes choosing life is harder than giving in to death.
Sometimes friends become our family.
Sometimes healing hurts more than the injury.
Sometimes we must let go in order to receive.
Sometimes we don’t live happily ever after.
Sometimes we must create distance, in order to find ourselves.
Sometimes we must embrace our fear and sit with our grief.
Sometimes tears come without reason.
Sometimes it is better to receive than to give.
Sometimes it is “and” and not “or”.
Sometimes there is no explanation.
Sometimes stillness is the best medicine.
Sometimes breathing is all we can do.
Sometimes we are shattered.
And sometimes…
we are held.

(Poem by Carli Youndt, from the anthology Held: Blessings for the depths’)

Credo


I believe in God,

Creator of Heaven and Earth.


I believe in the living presence of Christ,

around us,

among us,

within us.  


I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the Giver of Life.


I believe in forgiveness of sins.

Hacer un fin es hacer un comienzo


I believe in resurrection


and in Life everlasting.


I believe in Love.

Amén

Listen…

This is how it is for me…

It´s the thing that makes sense of the nonsensical and shifts the darkest cloud on the dullest day. It blows aside confusion with the whisper of a breeze; so gentle that it´s almost imperceptible; and yet so powerful that it moves a mountain of anxiety in a moment saying, usually without words, “Just trust that I am here”.

I see it everywhere…in everything and everyone…when I breathe, take a step back, relax and trust. And the more I trust, the more it makes itself visible, heard and present in my life.

Earlier this week, not for the first time and for no particular reason, the Shema prayer came into my mind. It´s the prayer that people of Jewish faith say in the mornings and at night, on rising and before going to sleep. I first heard it when, as a teenager, I worked as an Au Pair for a Jewish family in London during two consecutive Summers. Part of the daily routine was helping their two young sons get ready for bed and, when they were bathed and in their pyjamas, they would put on their skullcaps/kippahs, kneel beside their beds and recite the Shema prayer.

Searching on YouTube to find a recitation of the prayer I came across this video and within it a beautiful description, by female Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, of what God is. It´s a description that so closely reflects how I personally experience God that I felt the gentle breeze flow through me and lift my heart as it moved on its way…

With the kind of synergy that now feels normal to me but is still always welcome when it happens, the weekly Newsletter of my local church (which I typeset when I receive it from the parish priest each Saturday morning) talked about the Shema prayer today.

That felt like a good enough reason to write this post and to share one person´s attempt to convey – through their personal, creative, colourful and joyful video – the Love, the Light and the wholly-interconnected Life that God is. And which is always calling to us: “Shema Israel…”

“Keep these words…today in your heart…”

The value of silence…

Last week a pilgrim, who had worked as a volunteer at the Taizé Community in France, stayed with us in the parroquial albergue in Logroño. As he helped wash and dry the dishes after dinner we spoke about his time at Taize and he explained a little about the community´s Mission; to help unite the Christians of the world in one true message of Love.

Curious to know more (because I believe wholeheartedly in any movement to unite people who understand that God is Love) I visited the Taize website today and found this article on ´the value of silence in our relationship with God´.

Silence forms a massive part of the time I spend in prayer and it´s in this silence that I most deeply and profoundly feel the overwhelming and unconditional Love that God is. I hope you find something in this article that speaks directly to your heart, as it did to mine…

Silence and prayer

Three times a day, everything on the hill of Taizé stops: the work, the Bible studies, the discussions. The bells call everyone to church for prayer. Hundreds or even thousands of mainly young people from all over the world pray and sing together with the brothers of the community. Scripture is read in several languages. In the middle of each common prayer, there is a long period of silence, a unique moment for meeting with God.

If we take as our guide the oldest prayer book, the biblical Psalms, we note two main forms of prayer. One is a lament and cry for help. The other is thanksgiving and praise to God. On a more hidden level, there is a third kind of prayer, without demands or explicit expression of praise. In Psalm 131 for instance, there is nothing but quietness and confidence: “I have calmed and quieted my soul … hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.”

At times prayer becomes silent. Peaceful communion with God can do without words. “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother.” Like the satisfied child who has stopped crying and is in its mother’s arms, so can “my soul be with me” in the presence of God. Prayer then needs no words, maybe not even thoughts.

How is it possible to reach inner silence? Sometimes we are apparently silent, and yet we have great discussions within, struggling with imaginary partners or with ourselves. Calming our souls requires a kind of simplicity: “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me.” Silence means recognising that my worries can’t do much. Silence means leaving to God what is beyond my reach and capacity. A moment of silence, even very short, is like a holy stop, a sabbatical rest, a truce of worries.

The turmoil of our thoughts can be compared to the storm that struck the disciples’ boat on the Sea of Galilee while Jesus was sleeping. Like them, we may be helpless, full of anxiety, and incapable of calming ourselves. But Christ is able to come to our help as well. As he rebuked the wind and the sea and “there was a great calm”, he can also quiet our heart when it is agitated by fears and worries (Mark 4).

Remaining silent, we trust and hope in God. One psalm suggests that silence is even a form of praise. We are used to reading at the beginning of Psalm 65: “Praise is due to you, O God”. This translation follows the Greek text, but actually the Hebrew text printed in most Bibles reads: “Silence is praise to you, O God”. When words and thoughts come to an end, God is praised in silent wonder and admiration.

The Word of God: thunder and silence

At Sinai, God spoke to Moses and the Israelites. Thunder and lightning and an ever-louder sound of a trumpet preceded and accompanied the Word of God (Exodus 19). Centuries later, the prophet Elijah returned to the same mountain of God. There he experienced storm and earthquake and fire as his ancestors did, and he was ready to listen to God speaking in the thunder. But the Lord was not in any of the familiar mighty phenomena. When all the noise was over, Elijah heard “a sound of sheer silence”, and God spoke to him (1 Kings 19).

Does God speak with a loud voice or in a breath of silence? Should we take as example the people gathered at Sinai or the prophet Elijah? This might be a wrong alternative. The terrifying phenomena related to the gift of the Ten Commandments emphasise how serious these are. Keeping or rejecting them is a question of life or death. Seeing a child running straight under a car, one is right to shout as loud as possible. In analogous situations prophets speak the word of God so that it makes our ears ring.

Loud words certainly make themselves heard; they are impressive. But we also know that they hardly touch the hearts. They are resisted rather than welcomed. Elijah’s experience shows that God does not want to impress, but to be understood and accepted. God chose “a sound of sheer silence” in order to speak. This is a paradox:

God is silent and yet speaking

When God’s word becomes “a sound of sheer silence”, it is more efficient then ever to change our hearts. The heavy storm on Mount Sinai was splitting rocks, but God’s silent word is able to break open human hearts of stone. For Elijah himself the sudden silence was probably more fearsome than the storm and thunder. The loud and mighty manifestations of God were somehow familiar to him. God’s silence is disconcerting, so very different from all Elijah knew before.

Silence makes us ready for a new meeting with God. In silence, God’s word can reach the hidden corners of our hearts. In silence, it proves to be “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit” (Hebrews 4:12). In silence, we stop hiding before God, and the light of Christ can reach and heal and transform even what we are ashamed of.

Silence and love

Christ says: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). We need silence in order to welcome these words and put them into practice. When we are agitated and restless, we have so many arguments and reasons not to forgive and not to love too easily. But when we “have calmed and quieted our soul”, these reasons turn out to be quite insignificant. Maybe we sometimes avoid silence, preferring whatever noise, words or distraction, because inner peace is a risky thing: it makes us empty and poor, disintegrates bitterness and leads us to the gift of ourselves. Silent and poor, our hearts are overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, filled with an unconditional love. Silence is a humble yet secure path to loving.

Redemption

The time will come
when that which troubled you
pounds at the door of your heart
no more.
When the endless clouds of confusion
and competing choice
part...
and only clear,
uncluttered
clarity
remains.
When that which seemed so complex,
confounding,
complicated
and weighed-down with worry..
transforms,
as day-light breaks.
Miraculous metamorphosis
And the earth-bound, shadowed, heavy, static shape
that held you down
unfurls its folded wings...
reaches Heavenwards...
breathes deeply...
and then, with silent ease,
takes flight.

Revelation

O soul,
most beautiful among all creatures,
you who so long to know the place
where your Beloved is,
so as to seek him
and become one with him,
now it has been stated:

you 
yourself 
are the home in which he dwells.

Here is a reason to be happy;
here is a cause for joy:
the realization that every blessing
and all you hope for
is so close to you
as to be within you.

Be glad,
find joy there,
gathered together
and be present to him
who dwells within,
since he is so close to you;

desire him there,
adore him there. . .

(The Spiritual Canticle – St John of the Cross)

Our Reflection in the Eyes of God…

The recognition that counts is our reflection in the eyes of God.

He loves us for what we are and what we could become. 

He loves the good in us,

not the successful

or persuasive

or charismatic. 

He ignores the image we try to project

because He knows us from within. 

His is the voice within us that says,

“With Me, you do not have to pretend. 

I know you. 

I knew you before you were born. 

I know you because I made you,

and I made you because I need you

or more precisely

because the world needs you. 

There is a task only you can do. 

Now, therefore, be strong and do it. 

You need not seek praise,

nor shall you be deflected by criticism,

for I will be with you every step of the way. 

When you feel most alone,

that is when I will be closest.”

– Rabbi Jonathan Sacks 

For the Love of God…

On Tuesday of last week I celebrated my birthday; possibly the happiest birthday of my whole life…or, at least, of my life so far. God, who I experience as pure, complete Love and the creator of all that is positive, life-giving and regenerating in this world, is now at the centre of my life in a way that I never imagined would be likely or even possible before. But that´s the thing with Divine Love, once it enters our awareness…and as a result, colours our whole lives…all things become possible.

I looked at the evening landscape in the picture below, out of my kitchen window a few days later, and the final scene of the film What Dreams May Come immediately came to mind. It´s a film that leaves different impressions on different people: some see it as pure fantasy with no relation to the real world; some believe it´s incomprehensible nonsense; and some see the truth that lies within it, because they´ve glimpsed flashes of it for themselves. The overall message is that ´Love saves our Souls´ from the torment of our lived experience and that the real goal of life is to connect to, live through and act from this Divine Love that lives within all of us and which we see sacredly reflected in the beauty of the world that surrounds us.

It´s a message I´ve heard echoed in the weeks leading up to this special birthday, because I´ve spent them in the heart of this Christian community in Spain, living through the Biblical story and shared experience of what Lent, Holy Week and Easter really represent. They tell the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus…a human man who devoted himself to embodying the will of Divine Love and who discovered the power that it has to overcome every obstacle, even death, when we find the courage to trust it and to live by its guiding light.

I´ve found that the spirit of Divine Love moves within us, around us and between us…if we free our minds and our hearts enough to make space for it to work. It is endlessly regenerating and, when blocked, denied or rejected, it returns to itself and then seeks other minds and hearts that are open to receiving it and to welcoming it in. It is always nearby, always open to our invitation, but we must invite it in; through our compassionate actions, our courageous choices, our tender words and our respectful deeds; both towards ourselves and towards others.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”

I´ve learned that it´s not enough to wish for it. It´s not enough to pray for it. It´s not enough to simply speak the words, however well-intentioned, “I welcome you in”. I now know that, to have Divine Love present and active in my life, I must show it that I genuinely want its presence. I must work with it, by finding the source of it within myself and then acting consciously from that source in the things that I think, do and say in my active efforts to connect with others. I must balance my needs with the needs of those around me; because Divine Love envelopes us all equally and what it seeks, to work peacefully and powerfully through us, is harmony and balance within us.

I´ve learned, through sometimes painful personal experience, that this harmony and balance is only achieved when I move my focus from ´suffering and sacrifice´ to a focus of ´awareness and trust´…trust that the things my heart is calling me to do have a Divine intention. And the proof of that ´Divine intervention´ becomes clear to me in time, when I begin to see the positive effects of my balanced choices on the lives, attitudes and actions of those around me, and within myself.

My life so far has taught me that God´s Divine Love seeks to work peacefully and powerfully through us, and that it functions in seemingly miraculous and effortless ways, when we live from an inner place of its empowerment (which is the gift of this Love) rather than a sense of obligation or enslavement to it.

God loves us as much as every other person that we touch with the words, thoughts and actions that give sacred meaning our lives, because our sense of meaning is inspired by the spirit of Divine Love. And, when we live from a place of balanced love, for ourselves and for others, we invite the spirit of Divine Love to work through us, and this repeated choice ultimately becomes the testimony of faith that we leave behind us with the impact of our human lives.

Julian of Norwich was a 14th Century English Mystic who believed, from her own lived experience, that God is Divine Love. It´s the experience of God that I have also, because my heart tells me that it is so, and for the last 6 years (since I was first introduced to her writings by a friend), I´ve felt a great afinity with her; because her core belief is my core belief and it´s the foundation on which all of my faith in God since then has steadily grown.

Every week, I receive a summary of reflections and contemplations from the Centre for Action & Contemplation. It comes as no surprise to me, but fills me with a sense of gratitude and joy, that the contemplative piece they chose to feature on my birthday this year focused on the writings and beliefs of Julian of Norwich. I´ve reproduce the piece below in the hope that it touches something deep within the hearts of others too.

Love Revealed (Click title for link to original CAC website post)
Tuesday, April 6, 2021

What does Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century Catholic anchoress, who spent the majority of her adult life cloistered in a small stone cell attached to a church, have to teach us here and now? She reveals the feminine face of the Divine in all its radiance and reminds us to seek God there. She teaches us that God’s love has nothing to do with rules and retribution and everything to do with mercy and compassion. She shows us that our failings and transgressions are simply an opportunity to learn and grow, and should be honored as such, but not dwelled upon. She translates the sorrows of this life as tastes of Christ’s passion and assures us that all passing pain will be transmuted into endless joy.

Most of all, Julian of Norwich promises that, in spite of appearances to the contrary, all is well. Not just that creation was beautifully made to begin with, and that it will all work out in the end, but that everything is all right at every moment, if we could only look through the eyes of love. Such a perspective is difficult to sustain, Julian would be the first to admit. In rare moments of unitive consciousness—watching the sun rise, maybe, or giving birth, or singing to God in community—we may have fleeting glimpses of the cosmic design and see that it is good. But then the veil drops again and we forget. [1]

Because of our continual forgetfulness, Julian ends her Long Text with an emphasis on divine love. Note that while Julian here uses male pronouns for God, throughout her work she also shows that God is beyond gender by consistently calling God both Father and Mother.

Throughout the time of my showings, I wished to know what our Beloved meant. More than fifteen years later, the answer came in a spiritual vision. This is what I heard. “Would you like to know our Lord’s meaning in all this? Know it well: love was his meaning. Who revealed this to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why did he reveal it to you? For love. Stay with this and you will know more of the same. You will never know anything but love, without end.”

And so what I saw most clearly was that love is his meaning. God wants us to know that he loved us before he even made us, and this love has never diminished and never will. All his actions unfold from this love, and through this love he makes everything that happens of value to us, and in this love we find everlasting life. Our creation has a starting point, but the love in which he made us has no beginning, and this love is our true source.” [2]

References:
[1] Mirabai Starr, “Introduction,” The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation (Hampton Roads: 2013), xix.

[2] Showings, chapter 86; Starr, 224–225.