BOOK OF THE MONTH: NO MAN IS AN ISLAND

Week Four: Give Love Away
No Man Is an Island

This is our last week exploring some of the rich themes in Thomas Merton’s classic book, No Man Is an Island.

In this book, Merton is seeking the spiritual life, which, he reminds us in the prologue, is the only real life, the most real life we can imagine or have. The spiritual life is primarily about being or existing as opposed to doing. It’s about our identity as children of God.

We don’t exist for ourselves. We exist (we “are”) for God. We also exist for others, since we love God largely through loving others. This thought leads Merton to quote the seventeenth-century poet John Donne, whence the title of the book comes: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Merton continues this train of thought in Chapter One, which is titled, “Love Can Be Kept Only By Being Given Away.” In this chapter, Merton explores what it means to love. A true love, he notes, wishes the good of the beloved over all other things.

Sometimes it seems easy to love because it gives us pleasure or satisfaction. However, to seek one’s good wholly in the good of another is a different matter. It requires loving the truth, and it demands total unselfishness.

Here are some quotes from this rich and moving chapter on love:

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Infinite sharing is the law of God’s inner life. He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves.

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The gift of love is the gift of the power and capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received.

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If I am to love my brother [or sister], I must somehow enter deeply into the mystery of God’s love for him. I must be moved not only by human sympathy but by that divine sympathy which is revealed to us in Jesus and which enriches our own lives by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

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The truth I must love in my brother is God himself, living in him.

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It occurred to me that today’s post probably should have been the first in our Book of the Month for May since the theme of love is the first to be discussed in Merton’s book . .  but maybe it’s also a good way to end.

Let’s see God living in our brothers and sisters this week. Let’s give some love away, shall we?

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You can read No Man Is an Island here.

Reflection:

Merton week 4

 

 

 

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP ON THE WILD LOVE OF GOD

This is our last week exploring the spiritual poetry of the Flemish mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp (13th c.). I’m so taken with how this mystic explores the mysterious and powerful force of love in her poems. Remember that in these poems, love is personified and should be understood as God’s love.

In the first poem, Hadewijch touches on the slow course of love. It reminds us that spiritual maturity is a lifelong process.

Love’s maturity

 

In the beginning Love satisfies us.
When Love first spoke to me of love—
How I laughed at her in return!
But then she made me like the hazel trees,
Which blossom early in the season of darkness,
And bear fruit slowly.

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In the second poem for today, Hadewijch marvels at the fact that God’s love is complete in and of itself. I find the last three lines of this poem incredibly moving.

Knowing Love in herself

 

I do not complain of suffering for Love,
It is right that I should always obey her,
For I can know her only as she is in herself,
Whether she commands in storm or in stillness.
This is a marvel beyond my understanding,
Which fills my whole heart
And makes me stray in a wild desert.

God’s love is a wild thing! May we all go on an endless search, even into the desert, to meet it there.

Source.

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP ON LOVE’S TRUTH

Today I bring you another poem form the medieval mystic Hadewijch of Antwerp. In her spiritual love poetry, Hadewijch expresses both the agony and the beauty of serving love, that is, God’s love.

In this excerpt from Poem 28, Hadewijch wrestles with the power of love, which can both destroy and raise up. She also asks the question, what do you do when you just can’t go on, when you’ve reached the end of the road and you can’t love anymore? Read Hadewijch’s poem for her honest take on God’s love.

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For this is love’s truth: she joins two in one being, makes sweet sour, strangers neighbors, and the lowly noble.

 

She makes the healthy sick and the sick healthy; she cripples those who are sound of limb and heals the wounded.

 

To the ignorant she reveals the wide roads they must wander in weariness and teaches them all that shall be learned in the school of highest love.

 

Burning desire is taught in the school of highest love.

 

She confounds the experienced, she brings happiness to the wretched, she makes them lords of all over which love herself holds sway.

 

Of this I am certain beyond all doubt.

 

To those who can serve love no more I give this good advice.

 

Let them still beg for her comfort if they falter and serve her with devotion according to her highest counsel.

 

Let them think how great love’s power is, for only those near to death cannot be healed.

 

They have risen high that have received love’s power, and in that power they shall read her judgment over them.

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Source

For reflection:

Hadewijch - love's truth

 

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: THE POETRY OF HADEWIJCH OF ANTWERP

A few months ago, we dipped into one of the letters of Hadewijch of Antwerp, a thirteenth-century mystic who was probably a beguine. Hadewijch wrote many letters and is also well known for her spiritual love poetry. In her poems, love is personified and is to be understood as God’s love, which consumes all things and which fills the lover with a terrible and wonderful longing.

Sometimes poetry can help us approach our faith with new eyes. So today, let’s read one of Hadewijch’s poems. In Poem 8 below, Hadewijch speaks of the the “awesome calling” of being in love and also of its responsibilities and rewards.

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Poem 8

Born is the new season as the old one that lasted so long is drawing to a close.
Those prepared to do love’s service will receive her rewards: new comfort and new   strength.
If they love her with the vigor of love, they will soon be one with love in love.

To be one with love is an awesome calling and those who long for it should spare no effort.
Beyond all reason they will give their all and go through all.
For love dwells so deep in the womb of the Father that her power will unfold only to those who serve her with utter devotion.

First the lover must learn charity and keep God’s law.
Then he shall be blessed a hundredfold, and he shall do great things without great effort, and bear all pain without suffering.
And so his life will surpass human reason indeed.

Those who long to be one with love achieve great things, and shirk no effort.
They shall be strong and capable of any task that will win them the love of love, to help the sick or the healthy, the blind, the crippled or the wounded.
For this is what the lover owes to love.

He shall help the strangers and give to the poor and soothe the suffering whenever he can.
He shall pay loyal service to God’s friends, to saints and men, with a strength that is not human, by night and by day.
And when his strength seems to falter he will still place his trust in love.

Those who trust in love with all their being shall be given all they need.
For she brings comfort to the sad and guidance to those who cannot read.
Love will be pleased with the lover if he accepts no other comfort and trusts in her alone.

Those who desire to live in love alone with all their might and heart shall so dispose all things that they shall soon possess her all.

Source

For reflection

hadewijch - one with love2

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Happy New Year! And welcome back to The Contemplative Writer. I want to thank you for being part of this community. May God bless each of you in 2018. May he lead you into deeper waters of prayer and writing. May he bring you joy in your life and vocation. I’m glad we’re on the journey together.

Friday Favorites are back, and we begin our first installment of 2018 with a prayer for the new year, a prayer for the world, and some fun articles on the book and (coming) movie versions of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Plus some other other wonderful posts! Enjoy, and, as always, let me know if you have something to recommend for next week’s Favorites. I’d love to hear from you.

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May Our Illusions Wilt Under God’s Love for Us via Ed Cyzewski (a prayer for God’s grace in the coming year)

Encountering Silence in Relationships via Encountering Silence Podcast (some paradoxical approaches to silence, for example, in the midst of our noisiest relationships)

The Epiphany: The Journey of the Magi via Exile Liturgy (in this Lessons From Dead Guys podcast, learn about the significance of Epiphany in the life of the Church and in our lives)

Praying for the World with Aelred of Rievaulx via The Contemplative Writer (given the events of yesterday, we may want to revisit this medieval abbot’s thoughts on holding the whole world–not just some countries–in one embrace of love)

Hollywood’s Once and Future Classic: Why it took 54 years to turn A Wrinkle in Time into a movie via Eliza Berman (in case you’re getting ready, like me, for the film release of Wrinkle in March)

My First Love, Revisited: A Wrinkle in Time (a reader and writer reflects on her favorite book and gives a piece of advice: read the book [if you haven’t already] before you see the movie)

The Secret of Great Memoir: The Mature Self via C. S. Lakin (memoir is a popular genre for writers; here’s what you need to know before you tackle it)

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BOOK OF THE MONTH: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A SPIRITUAL READER

Week 3: Bloom Abundantly
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This month, we’re dipping into Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (compiled and translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher). The past two weeks, we looked at selections from Hildegard’s major theological work, the Scivias.

Hildegard was also a prolific correspondent. She wrote letters to rulers, other religious, and friends. These letters are full of admonition, advice, and encouragement.

In the excerpts below, Hildegard writes to Empress Irene, the wife of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Commenus. She speaks prophetic words of encouragement to the empress. Let yourself be encouraged, too:

Listen to what God’s Spirit has to say to you. In winter, God lets the tree He loves hibernate, but in Summer, He makes it bloom abundantly and protects it from every disease. This is you. Remember also that every polluted body of water is purified by the stream gushing from the rock in the East, a clean, fast-running river. Who is like this river? Those whom God grants success and honor. They’re not ruled by the poisonous North wind and its advancing evil.

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Turn to God. Be confident that He has touched you. Continue to give Him the burnt offerings of your heart’s openness. Sigh, and know He hears you. . . . Yes, the Living Eye watches over you. He wants you to live eternally.

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Read more.

For reflection:

Hildegard week 3, version 2.png

FRIDAY FAVORITES FOR PRAYER AND WRITING

Each Friday I share some of my favorite finds related to praying or writing. If I think it could help you pray or write better, or just “be” better, I’ll include it below.

Do you have someone else’s article or post to share? Join the Contemplative Writers Facebook group, comment on today’s post on my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter (@LisaKDeam) to nominate your favorite articles, blog posts, and books by Thursday at noon each week.

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Author Tuesday: The Divine Dance (Mike Morrell), via Cara Meredith (an interview with Mike Morrell, co-author with Richard Rohr of The Divine Dance)

Tuesday Tip with Rich: A Mystic Love via Rich Lewis  (with a quote to encourage you as you pray)

Jesus Is King, America Is in Chaos, Now What? via Ed Cyzewski (no matter what your politics are, read this post about turning to prayer in times of chaos and crisis)

Returning to a Ritual: Reading a Writing Book Each Day via Andi Cumbo-Floyd (with suggestions to get you started)

Why Reading Fiction Is Good for the Soul via Ashley Hales (I agree with everything in this essay because — true confession — fiction is what I love to read the most!)

Practicing From the Inside Out: Balancing Our Working Life via Greg Richardson (how’s your work-life balance right now?)

Featured Book: Finding Grace at the Center

Week Three: Prayer without Judgment or Evaluation

finding-grace-at-centerIn Finding Grace at the Center: the Beginning of Centering Prayer, a collection of essays by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and Thomas E. Clarke, Thomas Keating provides an extremely helpful introduction to centering prayer based on The Cloud of Unknowing, a Carthusian monk’s prayer guide for novices dated to around the 14th century.

Keating is especially careful to avoid overselling what “happens” during centering prayer. One may not expect incredible revelations or to even be fully in control of what happens during this prayer. Rather, intention becomes essential as we enter this form of prayer.

Keating writes:

 

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“[Centering prayer] is not an end in itself, but a beginning. It is not to be done for the sake of an experience, but for the sake of its fruits in one’s life.”

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“The presence of God is like the atmosphere we breathe. You can have all you want of it as long as you do not try to take possession of it and hang on to it.”

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“Accept each period of centering prayer as it comes, without asking for anything, having no expectations. In that way its fruits will grow faster.”

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“We always want to possess. That is why it is so hard to leg go–why we want to reflect on moments of deep peace or union in order to remember how we got there and thus how to get back. But charity is non-possessive. It gives all back to God as fast as it comes. It keeps nothing for itself.”

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“Take everything that happens during the periods of centering prayer peacefully and gratefully, without putting a judgment on anything, and just let the thoughts go by. It does not matter where they come from, as long as you let them go by. Don’t worry about them.”

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Read more…

 

Scripture Meditation: Servants Don’t Need to Be in Charge

“Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38, NLT

How do we live by faith today? Mary faced one of the greatest stretches of faith that anyone could face, and she remained able to fully trust in God’s provision and plan because she knew her place.

As God’s servant, Mary only had to trust what God showed her.

It wasn’t up to Mary to figure out the plan or to provide the means. She didn’t imagine that she was in charge in any way, and with herself entrusted to God’s care, she didn’t have to be worry about what happens next.

Living by faith as the servants of God makes it possible to approach the challenges of each day with a peaceful confidence in God’s provision.

Book of the Month: Finding Grace at the Center

Week One: We Are Made to Love and to Be Loved

finding-grace-at-centerIn Finding Grace at the Center: the Beginning of Centering Prayer, a collection of essays by M. Basil Pennington, Thomas Keating, and Thomas E. Clarke, we find a brief and generally accessible (2 out of 3 essays at least) introduction to centering prayer and contemplation. The most important step at the outset is to reorient ourselves around God’s reality rather than our own.

We simply won’t proceed into centering prayer without accepting God’s love for us, learning to stop expending effort in order to pray, and stepping away from our many priorities and activities.

This opening essay by M. Basil Pennington offers several grounding statements that can provide the foundation we need to move forward into prayer:

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“We have been baptized into Christ. We are in some very real, though mysterious way, Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. ‘I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). As we go to the depths we realize in faith our identity with Christ the Son.”

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“In a movement of faith that includes hope and love, we go to the center and turn ourselves over to God in a simple ‘being there,’ in a presence that is perfect and complete adoration, response, love, and ‘Amen’ to that movement that we are in the Son to the Father.”

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“In practice most of us work as though God could not possibly get things done if we did not do them for Him. The fact is there is nothing that we are doing that God could not raise up a stone in the field to do for Him.”

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“No one else can give God our personal love. It is uniquely for this that He created us.”

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“If we expend great effort, then when it is done we can pat ourselves on the back and salute ourselves for our great accomplishment. This prayer leaves no room for pride. We have but to let go and let it be done unto us according to His revealed Word.”

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Read more…

 

For Reflection

Featured Book November 7.jpg