Week 4: Trusting the Promise

By Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

“For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:2-3, NRSV

This is the time for realizing
That this deep hope is
For something real.

Impossible
Say the voices around us
Firmly fixed in cynicism, despair.

Impossible
Says the evening news
With its montage of tragedy.

Impossible
Say the politicians
Inciting suspicion, fear.

Impossible
Says the hurting heart
Daring to dream no more.

Impossible
Says the “rational” mind
Trading wonder for logic.

Impossible
Say the statistics
And the violence
And the hatred
And planetary ruin
And hungry bodies
And broken lives…
And…

Yet…

A bright star emerges
In our longest, darkest night
And those wisest among us
Choose to chase it.

What they hear it saying
Through the shining
Is worth the vision
They journey to find.

POSSIBLE
It says of:
Equality
Justice
Kindness
Forgiveness
Redemption

POSSIBLE
It says of:
An end to poverty
A nonviolent way
Radical compassion
Peace on earth
The kingdom of God

POSSIBLE
It says of:
A table of welcome
With a feast spread wide
For all people–
Even those we fear
Even those who fear us–
To come and be nourished
And reconciled
And healed
And blessed.

POSSIBLE
It says of:
Our deepest need
The deepest dream
Of the Holy
Birthed in us
Through us
With us
For us.

This is the time for realizing
That this deep hope is
For something real.

Spiritual Practice: What possibility are you invited to follow this Advent season? What does it mean to trust the promise of the incarnation in the world today?

Holy Curiosity

Lenten Practice: Holy Attention
Daily Act: See the mystery of God in another person. (Talk to that person!)
Weekly Prayer Phrase: Repeat this phrase slowly as you breathe deeply. You may choose to memorize this phrase and repeat it throughout your day.

“AWAKEN ME TO YOUR PRESENCE IN AND THROUGH ALL CREATION.”

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

One of my favorite mystic texts is from the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. He describes an experience of being in the middle of a city, surrounded by people, and suddenly seeing- really seeing– the divine life within each one. “There is no way of telling people,” he writes, “that they are all walking around shining like the sun… The gate of heaven is everywhere.”

In spiritual direction training, I am learning that every person is the mystery of God before me. Essential to companioning someone else in the spiritual life is the cultivation of a holy curiosity toward others. This includes releasing a critical gaze and avoiding the temptation to fix. The role of a spiritual director is simply to notice, in love, God’s movement within another life.

Though I am learning this specific discipline (spiritual direction), this wisdom permeates every encounter with others, known and unknown. I am still a novice at noticing the God-life within other people, but the goodness that grows from this way of seeing is so heart-satisfying that I crave more. In the words of Thomas Merton, it is like “waking from a dream of separateness”.

The phrase holy curiosity stirs challenge and wonder within me. It does not imply a general gaze at others honoring them as sacred (though that is also a meaningful practice!). Holy curiosity implies investment in relationship. It is about seeing God in another life by discovering who they are in their particularities. Barbara Brown Taylor describes this type of encounter:

“What we have most in common is not religion, but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches me that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get- in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing- which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up. Paradoxically, the point is not to see him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery. The moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over. I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead.” (p.102, An Altar In The World)

This practice is not always easy. It can take time to cultivate holy curiosity toward others, and great effort when it comes to people we struggle to love. It can be most challenging, and maybe most important, to be holy curious about those who are least like you.

In a world that often feels fractured by political and religious polarization, what healing could it bring if we really began to see the mystery of God within every person?

And perhaps it is healing also to realize this God-mystery resides within you as well.

There is no way of telling you that you are walking around shining like the sun.

Let’s awaken from this “dream of separateness” together and move toward one another in love.

“The wisdom of the Desert Fathers includes the wisdom that the hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbor as the self… It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is.” (p.93, Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar In The World)

Walking the Ancient Way

by Katie Harmon-McLaughlin

Last night I had the privilege of attending a candle light labyrinth walk in the heart of Grace Cathedral. Two women tended our walking with taizé songs. As I walked into this ancient symbol, I strained to make meaning of it. I wanted to experience the path so badly, that I was missing what the path itself had to say. I wanted to package it up and turn it into the perfect metaphor. I wanted to be able to tell stories for years to come about what happened to me while I walked the ancient way.

Then, a wisdom arose from the walking, gently urging me to release my agenda of making meaning. “You are turning this into an object in your story,” said the voice within, “Meaning comes as grace. You discover meaning. It is revealed. It is revealed by being fully present along the way.”

I took a deep breath and let go of my expectations. For once, I set aside my need to control an outcome. I just paid attention to each curve of the path and to the way my bare feet felt on the cool stone. I paid attention to the lofty architecture that inspires the imagination with the expansiveness of the divine. I paid attention to my fellow travelers- joyful, reverent, seeking. I noticed, and loved, how they walked the way. I walked my way to release, to grace, to longing, to wholeness. Meaning began unfolding all around me unmanufactured, abundant in accessibility.

As I considered the Lenten journey we are on together, and the insight I received in the Labyrinth last night, this blessing by Jan Richardson was on repeat in my heart. I want to share it with you as you consider how you walk this ancient way.

Walking Blessing by Jan Richardson
That each step may be a shedding,
That you will let yourself become lost.
That when it looks like you’re going backwards,
You may be making progress.
That progress is not the goal anyway,
But presence
To the feel of the path on your skin,
To the way it reshapes you
In each place it makes contact
To the way you cannot see it
Until the moment you have stepped out.