Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal- Starbucks Mysticism

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St Placid Priory, Lacey, WA

Here at St Placid Priory, my ongoing discoveries in the contemplative enterprise have been eye-opening, soul-expanding, and at the risk of hyperbole, even a little mind-blowing. And, although I will never grow appreciably better at navigating these things, they are the stuff of life’s best acquirements. 

But, for all that, I admit I’d likely not make a good career contemplative. Those brave and hardy souls who risk it all to face God so closely, so regularly, are a breed unto themselves. The monastic experience is so rich and good – for a time.

However, I also need my present reality – a corner chair at a local Starbucks. This lively interchange of strongly felt opinions (poorly considered in many cases), postured pretensions, all with a sprinkling of social anxiety, is just as real. Equally fraught with the beautiful danger of God-among-us. In true Celtic fashion, it is as much a thin place as any other, the ridiculously unexplainable. All while sipping a hot Americano (that came out wrong, didn’t it?).

I am still very much a marketplace Christian. The agora is yet my home, despite my penchant for the numinous and otherworldly. My vocation is to pursue the heart of monasticism amid the mire and stress of busy, workaday folks. In the rat’s nest of holy chaos that is the avenue, the neighbourhood, the hospital bed, the lover’s bed (mine, of course, not just random!), the early morning rush hour, all of it awash in the presence of the God who sees.

I am called to be a mystic in the mess where mystery meets mammon (no extra charge for the clever alliteration). I guess that, alone, is a significant rediscovery of my time here. I am coming to miss the buzz of the city. Perhaps even long for it. If spirituality can’t work here, then it can’t work anywhere. Otherwise, it’s not spirituality, or some inauthentic version of the same.

Whatever else may come from my days here at St Placid, at least I can say with confidence that I don’t belong here for any length of time. The outside world calls me back to share my hard-earned discoveries. And this notion, this understanding, draws me to these contemplative moments in very specific ways. 

I dive down deep with God to rummage around in there together. I let God mess in ma bi’niss. Revealed to me are tiny snapshots of my soul that, surprisingly, is more calm and rested than I might otherwise have expected. Armed with these pictures of the potential stillness and breath available to all, I am then called back out to where little people fight big dragons. Out where tears fall with no one to dry them, or just with whom to sit and cry together.

Far more than any silence, or spiritual gymnastics, or fancy Desert Father talk, the prayerful in-this-world life speaks most readily to who I am and prods me toward what I need to become – a Starbucks-mystic-martyr-monk (for this alliteration, I’ll gladly take donations).

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I’m the coffeehouse cliché (and okay with it)

I want to be a ready, willing, and eager purveyor of Jesus to the crowds. Simply put, a lover equally of marketplace and monastery for the purpose of sharing God’s mysteries. Someone possessive of contemplative spirit called to witness to a hurting, unjust world the great riches of the gospel. 

Lord, help me do exactly that, even if imperfectly.

 

St Placid – Silent Notes from a Noisy Journal, part 4

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St Placid Priory – Lacey, WA

Six miles of damp, spongy pavement pounded out this morning. Running – the healing constancy of deep, rhythmic breathing. So good in this environment. It’s little wonder that Portland, Oregon is America’s running capital. Every back road, trail, and alley is afoot with runners. It houses Nike corporation and its disciples, of which I am, apparently, one of the faithful. I’m a committed convert to the marriage of time, distance, and pain. 

Baffling to non-runners, it is, in its own way, contemplative space. And, these days in particular, as I struggle once more on the longest road, the one leading toward daily sobriety, it becomes apt metaphor in the slow process of change. 

Hanging like a shadow over it all are those who would pooh-pooh this whole sober-running enterprise, suggesting in my case that it is classic avoidance – the via negativa of the dry drunk. In this scenario, one merely transfers addiction from one thing to another, trading booze for the self-emasculation of hardcore running.  

“Well, he may be running,” say they, “but it doesn’t mean he’s dealing with anything related to addiction.” To such self-righteous do-gooders who feign any real interest in me preferring, instead, bookish platitudes I offer the following retort(s):

  1. Um, f*** off.
  2. Okay, that was overkill. Thank you for your concern, but…
  3. Do you think I am unaware of this?
  4. Despite the built-in danger of avoidance, is this not much better than alcohol-induced madness?
  5. Give me half a chance to work through this on my own terms, please.
  6. I’m back in A.A., working the steps. I’ve got this. Well, my Higher Power’s got me. So, relax. 

Phew, now that that’s off my chest, some brighter notes.

I’m awash in the effervescence of expectancy. The more I consider who God has made me to be, the passions that drive me, the skills that help me, the more I prayerfully consider my options. What doors and windows are availing themselves through which to move into bigger sky? What new field of dreams might await my conveyance? 

More every year, I believe that so much of this is more our decision than the theologians lead us to believe. Jesus tells us that we gain our lives by giving them away. But to give something away is first to own it. We cannot give what we do not own. Otherwise, it’s just passing something down the pipeline that found its way into our hands. Once we own ourselves, there is real sacrifice, but greater reward, in relinquishing ourselves to love and serve our neighbour.

God has given all of us a vocation. It is for us to discover it. Then, it is largely up to us how to fulfill it. For me, that may be changing. Imperceptibly at first, baby steps toward cave openings through which new shards of light are reaching out, tempting me in. Sitting here in this place, dedicated as it is to the rigour and welcome of the spiritual life, its delightful chaos, there grows in me a light. It is yet dim and inconsistent. But it grows moment by moment.

I want to do all I can to fan it into flame.

 

Silence of the Fall

Around this time last year, I took time for spiritual refreshment in Ocean Shores. What follows are a few of my thoughts on that time away…

It is surprising just how many toxins build up in our spirits when we neglect regular periods for silence, solitude and spiritual refreshment. What an affront to our self-referentialism to discover that the world has gotten along famously without our invaluable contributions. Nevertheless, it remains an immensely challenging undertaking to willingly disengage for a few days in order to re-engage the deeper things – God and those archetypal realities of our meager existence.

My house stands in need of significant repair, my wife deserves my attention, my sons need a father and my employer needs me to make the trains run on time. To retreat from our responsibilities requires our brazen intention to be vulnerable before God with no guarantee of visible returns on the investment of time.

Be that as it may, I took three days last week in Ocean Shores to enjoy silence, contemplation, reading, writing and sleep; not necessarily in that order! It’s enlightening how a good, long drive is always like Drano to a clogged soul or foggy mind. I guess that’s why there are so many good road trip stories. Few things are so fast acting in ironing smooth the unsightly spiritual wrinkles that beset us. And, for me, there is absolutely no better time to do so than the fall. Everything feels different in the fall. There is a hesitancy about the passing hours that seems somehow not so…insistent. The world is not so in-your-face cheery and the sunlight’s less gaudy rays lie slanted on blushing trees, caressing the sadder sky in reassuring gestures that although winter is crouched and ready, she too, must pass like autumn before her.

Pursuing silence in the fall has always offered far more treasures for mystics like me. I am reminded of a line from a Chris de Burgh song, “there’s nothing quite like an out of season holiday town in the rain.” Amen to that. Take away the touristy stores full of shiny, campy bobbles attractive only to our covetous need for yet more worthless shit and we’re given permission to exhale.

Our need for silence mirrors Jesus’ similar need. It’s instructive to see the unabashed willingness of Jesus to turn his back on the madding crowd and escape to the hills under cover of night to meet his Father. He understood his own personal rhythms well and could thus obtain maximum benefit from such times of solitude. From there he changed the world. It is just that self-awareness for which I yearn. In such times an unseen door opens that invites us to see what God sees – and what God sees is remarkable…

Thanks to Lois Keffer for the use of your awesome Photoshop pic!