The Guest House

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

I am grateful to Ivonprefontaine for reminding me about Rumi’s wonderful poem, The Guest House. It seems perfect for Lent in that it explores an important dimension of hospitality in a way that reminds me of Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness.
Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet. He was a Sunni Muslim, theologian and Sufi mystic. He was the “father” of the Whirling Dervishes (founded by his son, Sultan Walad).

The image of the poem is freely available through Pixabay

Turning stones

Stone Tower III

How far skims the stone on the water?
big bounces, many bounces,
final skip
each stone weighed with outstretched arm
for howls of laughter
for cries of pain.
How deep gashes the body with violent pelt?
Turning stones on the one hand
to the other
turns random stones
from arsenal to cairn no stone unturned

Richard Beck posts a quote from a recent interview given by Sr Joan Chittister for the Jackson Free Press. The question was:

“So, as a woman of faith, as a monastic, how do you see your role and the role of other people of faith in the world?”

Sister Joan’s reply:

It’s a simple one: To see injustice and say so, to find the truth and proclaim it, to allow no stone to be unturned when it is a stone that will be cast at anyone else. It’s just that simple. There is nothing institutional, organizational, political about it. It says: “Where I am, you may not harm these people. You may not deride them; you may not reject them; you may not sneer at them, and you certainly cannot blame them for their own existence.”

Shard Villa (1872-1874) - stone megaphone detail

Photos by Keith Bloomfield and Don Shall

Merton on sanity

We can no longer assume that because a man is “sane” he is therefore in his “right mind.” The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless…

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own? Evidently this is not necessary for “sanity” at all.

The worst error is to imagine that a Christian must try to be “sane” like everybody else, that we belong in our kind of society.

A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann by Thomas Merton in Raids on the Unspeakable.


To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralises his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

Thomas Merton in Confessions of a Guilty Bystander

Gimme a man after midnight

Gimme a man after midnight. Today we are given such a man as our liturgical calendar encourages us to celebrate and embrace the life of Saint John of the Cross. Through his writings he speaks to us of things we often deny and of which we are so frightened that we don’t even go there. For Thomas Merton, St John of the Cross is the Father of all those whose prayer is an undefined isolation outside the boundary of “spirituality”. His poem Dark Night of the Soul describes the purification of the senses and the spirit on the journey to union with God. The phrase dark night of the soul is used to describe the experience which many know by the name of Depression, in which all that has supported our lives loses its value and meaning, in which we aren’t so much as letting go of things, as things have let go of us and we are left with barely so much as a thread to hold on to. His example is encouragement for us to not be frightened of chaos and the abyss.

Strange attractor from Michael Wassmer

Western culture has been frightened of chaos, and anything which isn’t predictable and stable. We have preferred to think that people, information and change should all be managed and controlled. Even the dark night has been no dark night to us as we have controlled even that with our artificial light. I have been joining others in looking at chaos, and with them have been astounded by its order and beauty. Computers have helped us to model chaos’s behaviour, which in real time is, of course, unpredictable and chaotic. But the computer models help us to see that its behaviour is orderly and within boundaries. 
Gimme a man after midnight. The voice that speaks from the other side of chaos is a powerful voice. That is the voice of leadership, the future beckoning us. St John of the Cross lived through his dark night, and the voice of his experience of that night is a powerful voice. So is the voice of the likes of Nelson Mandela. So is the Word of God which only shines in darkness.
Gimme a man after midnight – one who has had the courage to embrace chaos, to hear its voices and not be afraid of its ambiguities and uncertainty, one who is able to speak from his experience of darkness. With him there is the promise of a new day with its possibilities and potential. Otherwise there is just the tiredness of the old day and our refusals to put our old certainties to bed.
Gimme a man after midnight. The voice of St John of the Cross is a companionable voice to all those who have lost themselves in that awful place of darkness which we call the Abyss or Chaos, and from which there seems no way out. 

Spiritual directors

Nouwen in Reaching Out is talking about the lack of spiritual directors. I think I would want to include other consultative roles as well which enable our supervision.
“At least part of the reason for this lack .. is that we ourselves do not appeal to our fellow human beings in such a way as to invite them to become our spiritual leaders. If there were no students constantly asking for good teachers, there would be no good teachers. The same is true for spiritual guides. There are many men and women with great spiritual sensitivity whose talents remain dormant because we do not make an appeal to them. Many would, in fact, become wise and holy for our sake if we would invite them to assist us in our search for the prayer of our heart.
“A spiritual director does not need to be more intelligent or more experienced than we are. If is important that he or she accepts our invitation to lead us closer to God and enters with us into the scriptures and into the silence where God speaks to both of us. Often we will discover that those who we ask for help will indeed receive the gift to help us and grow with us toward prayer.” (98)

Surplus of meaning

a work of art in the Cheshire countryside

It has been good to be involved in the development of an Arts & Faith Network (for the Diocese of Chester), and to be “breathing space” at Stephen Broadbent’s studio yesterday with textile artists, stained glass artists, wordsmiths, dancers, painters, sculptors, actors, authors, poets, cooks, singers, preachers and “makers of pretty things”. Until yesterday the Network hadn’t been much more than an idea shared by a few people and it was difficult to put into words what it was about and what could happen. Now it has got legs, is on the road, and has its own story – “the day we met at Stephen and Lorraine’s, when our exploration of the interaction of arts and faith was facilitated by Simon Marsh with background percussion of water overflowing into a pond…..”

The (overflowing) River of Life
sculpture by Stephen Broadbent
at Warrington at the site of a terrorist bomb explosion
which killed two children.

There were so many good things, including a wonderful rendition of The Rose by Simon (spoken, not sung), and, we discovered a “surplus of meaning” as we joined our own creative endeavours to those of others. Surplus of meaning doesn’t mean that there is too much – rather, there is so much. The meaning of our insulation block sculptures co-mingled with the meaning given to them by others, with meaning pinned to meaning. Of course, Ricoeur was right. There is a surplus meaning as one meaning gives itself to another, transforming itself in the giving. Nothing we can do, or create can provide an adequate container for our meaning. Meaning is so abundant it has to overflow. It overflows into convivial and meaningful community, good times, great company.

There are, though, those in whom there is no sense of meaning – including some in this emerging network who described the meaninglessness of past experiences. Is this where art and faith come together, making sense when we are oppressively or depressively crushed?

Simon Marsh and Sarah Anderson have both posted on the Arts and Faith launch.

>Excuse the repetition


Seams like repetition
a photo of a baseball from thesussman

I can’t remember where I saw it, but … I can’t remember where I saw it. It was a blog post reminding me that repetition is no bad thing, but, I am sorry that I can’t remember where. My repeating myself may be boring.

But repetition may be of a totally different order. Repetition may be re-petition, signifying the return to a subject (any subject) petitioning them to be …. subject and agent. Repeating a subject is re-petitioning that subject for fresh meaning, or insight, or a bit more give. Young children often pester grandparents and parents to repeat the same story. They want to re-petition the story, re-questing the comfort, excitement, romance …… Couples repeat the story of how they first met. Communities and families re-mind themselves of who they are by re-petitioning their past stories to yield something to re-store their memory and identity. I want to repeat reading some books (East of Eden, Wild), some films (Dogville), some music (always Paul Simon or Leonard Cohen) because I am confident that they will reveal new things for me.

But the repetitive strain of meaninglessness that saps our vitality I can well do without – or is there some special grace (or love) which allows people to cheerfully and tirelessly repeat the same routine and tasks time and time again?

Repetition is fundamental to prayer. Repetitive rhythms (the prayer wheel), rosaries, postures and words are all reminders of our re-petitioning. Some give themselves to re-petitioning God through one line prayers for their whole lives. The Jesus Prayer – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” – is a one line prayer repeated over and over again. For some it is a life long re-petition. It is lifted from the story of the Pharisee and the Publican. According to the 19th century Russian spiritual writer, Theophan the Recluse, the prayer’s repetition begins as something on the lips and external to us, travels inwards by focusing the mind till it becomes the heart of who we are.

I wonder. Does genuine and sincere re-petitioning result in us taking the person, the thing, the story to heart? Is that how we come to care so much that we can bear the repetition?

Integrity and teaching


organic growth
“A complex web of connections”
Organic Growth from the Internet Mapping Project
posted by jurveston
These lines from May Sarton indicate something of the integrity of the “good” minister, teacher or human being:
Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
worn other people’s faces … (the rest of the poem is here)
I have worn other people’s faces because it’s safe to be in the crowd. I have worn other people’s faces but they have never fit. I have tried to be clever. I have tried to be funny. I have even tried to be effective. But these faces never fit. We live in a world where standards are imposed and where we are trained from the outside in to conform to certain standards. When Jesus breathed new life into his disciples (John 20:19-23) he seemed to be giving them a very different inside-out spiritual direction for their lives. Parker Palmer, who quotes the above lines from May Sarton, talks about the divided self and the undivided self. A self divided is a self dis-membered and lacking integrity. For Palmer “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” They “join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.”
Palmer goes on to say that good teachers are “able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. … The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.”
When I reflect on the good teachers I have had I find that they are people who refused “other people’s faces”, who committed time to me and gave me their undivided attention. I also reflect that they have been a rather rare breed, but then I may not have been the right student to help great teaching happen with all the others I have known. The good teachers, though. have been more than enough – thank God.

The Realm of Possibility & the World of Accountancy

>I have just started reading a book called “The Art of Possibility” – which talks about us living in the “realms of possibility” as opposed to living at “Measurement central” governed by “survival thinking”. The authors, Zander and Zander write:

“In the realm of possibility we gain our knowledge by invention. We decide that the essence of a child is joy, and joy she is. Our small company attracts the label, “The Can-Do Company” … We speak with the awareness that language creates categories of meaning that open up new worlds to explore. Life appears as variety, pattern, and shimmering movement, inviting us in every moment to engage. The pie is enormous, and if you take a slice, the pie is whole again…

The action in a universe of possibility may be characterised as generative, or giving, in all senses of that world – producing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves. Emotions that are often relegated to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion and compassion.”

People and things increasingly have price tags. They are entered on balance sheets and they are counted in and counted out. (Horrible thing the Government, when they talk about the “head count” being affected by the promised cuts (aka redundancy)). The accountants can’t get their hands on what happens between people. The generation of ideas and life defies logic. We are in the world of mystery rather than accountancy when we focus on the relationship between people and environments. It is sheer magic the way the pie becomes whole again.