Author Archives: Anahi Salazar

i am because we are

by Elisabeth Barahona

Marriage is a mysterious journey of learning how to consent to God in order to learn how to say “yes” to one’s spouse.  It is a delicate interdependence of honoring both the I and the we in this journey towards marital togetherness.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu provides a powerful framework called Ubuntu that encapsulates how the individual and the community cannot be divorced.  In short, Ubuntu is “I am because we are.” 

The difficulty of marriage cannot be underestimated.  The first years of our marriage forced us to examine painful and ugly parts of ourselves.  We decided that one thing we would always strive for is to be honest with ourselves first prior to compromising on a given issue. Ten years in, we are still figuring out how to live into that.  We have learned that when we begin to feel anger or resentment towards each other, it is a sign that our individual voices have already been muted.  We have to spend time hearing our own voice before we can offer it to anyone else.  That is our individual responsibility; no one can do this for us.  I am learning that there is room for the Ubuntu phrase to also become inverted, We are only if I am.

How can we honor the I in we?  Contemplative Christian practices offer us a model.  These practices (centering prayer, breath prayer, lectio divina) teach us to listen instead of talk.  Prayer becomes communion, rather than just one-way communication.  Submitting ourselves to this Divine presence requires us to show up and to consent to God’s movement.  I am not in charge.  I am not in control.  I am not the one changing or illuminating.  Although a limited analogy, it is as if I am a cell phone showing up to be connected to the power source.  I am doing the work of showing up to prayer, but I relinquish the power and control to the one who is doing the charging.  I am showing up to wait on the Lord to illuminate and change me.

When we wait on the Lord to show up to us, we encounter a God that has always offered this remarkable story of Love.  Contemplative prayer allows us to cultivate the tools through silence, solitude and stillness to tune into the Divine. This invitation has always been extended, we are just learning to accept the invitation.  This invitation is not new, it’s just newly available to us because we are learning to finally listen.  Learning to listen to God’s voice is, in fact, learning how to listen to our own voice.  And listening to our own voice is learning to listen to God’s voice.  I am because we are.  We are because I am.  When our vertical relationship with God is strengthened, our horizontal relationship in marriage is equally strengthened.

Contemplative practices are offering me a model for communion with God that first allows me to find my own voice in this Divine story of Love.  I cannot know my voice apart from God’s.  Our job is to show up.  God’s job is to do the rest. Then, only then, can we truly show up to our marriage with our voice that is now grounded in the I and the Divine we.  We have expanded the circle of love into three way communion.

I am because we are.  We are because I am.  Marriage is a mysterious journey of consenting to the Divine first, which in turn fuels the “yes” to our marital union. Marriage is a painful and amazing process of learning to expand our internal and external circles of love.  Expand the circle from I to we.  We were never meant to do this life alone.  It teaches us about the fullness of what love can be.  The circle is much bigger than we can imagine.


fb_img_1486760090966-187x300 Elisabeth Barahona considers herself rich because she has the privilege of sharing her life with her amazing husband and three children. Professionally, she is a Licensed clinical social worker at Maple City Health Care Center in Goshen, IN. She is an artist, beauty-seeker, life-learner, justice-pursuer and ever on a quest for her soul.

  

This piece originally appeared on Menno Snapshots, the official blog for Mennonite Church USA

The Contemplative Way as a Practice in Death

by Drew Jackson

In William Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure, it was Claudio who said, “Death is a fearful thing.” These words resonate with each of us in one way or another. We all have fears associated with death. Like the child who is afraid of the dark, we fear what we cannot see. We fear that which we cannot know for certain. Fear of the unknown causes us to have great anxiety at the thought of death.

Will the process be painful? Is there any life after death? How will I be remembered when I’m gone, if I’m even remembered at all? These are just a few of the questions that race through our minds when we are confronted with the thought of our own death.

Not only do we have fear of the unknown when it comes to death, but we also fear the loss of control. Death is the ultimate surrendering of control. It is the final act of letting go. This, however, is what causes us to fear because we like to grip tightly to life. We fear death because we don’t want to lose life. Yet it was Jesus who said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

This is the great paradox: that life best lived is lived as a series of losses, a series of deaths. Death is not meant to be a one time event at the end of life but, rather, a daily experience by which by which we learn to continually embrace the unknown, step into mystery, and release the need to control. The last words that Jesus breathed out as he hung on the cross were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” However, we know that this committing or surrendering of the will to God, this death, was not just a one time act but, it was a moment by moment practice throughout the life of Jesus.

The practices of contemplative spirituality, such as silence, solitude, and stillness, make space for us to learn this type of surrender in the midst of our daily lives. Thus, the contemplative way is a practice in “death.” If you have ever witnessed the moment of death you know that death is ultimately silent, still, and alone. The practices of contemplative spirituality prepare us for this. The contemplative way thrusts us into the beautiful struggle of embracing the unknown and losing the need to control.

In silence and solitude we confront our fear of the unknown because we are forced to come face to face with ourselves. We fear what we cannot see or discern, and most of us live without being able to see what lies beneath the surface of our own lives.

We often drown ourselves in noise and busy ourselves with activity because we don’t know what we will discover if we are left to our own selves and our own thoughts. Yet it is when we come to see ourselves that we learn what must metaphorically, die. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “I die every day.” The death he was referring to was the death of what he often called the flesh, or what the mystics call the false self or the shadow self. When we adopt contemplative practices as regular parts of our lives, we are taught how to welcome death to our false self, instead of resist it.

Both Scripture and nature teach us that death is the pathway to life.

Jesus said in John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Without death there can be no life. Learning to practice death through contemplation teaches us what it looks like to live, and live fruitfully. The fruit that results from death to the false self is rarely, if ever, for us, but it is for others to experience life. The Apostle Paul speaks to this when he says in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “death is at work in us, but life in you.” This is the story of the Christian gospel, that death for Jesus meant life for the world. When the gospel becomes a lived reality in our lives, we practice death so that others can experience life.

To some, pondering death seems morbid, but Scripture teaches us that in doing so there is wisdom to be found. This is because pondering and practicing death teaches us how to live. Death shows all of us that we are finite and have limitations. When we learn to practice death through contemplative practice we develop the ability to see our manifold limitations. The practices of silence, stillness, and solitude help us learn that we cannot control everything, and they invite us to practice death by embracing our limitations.

William Shakespeare famously said in his play Julius Caesar, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” In making comment on this quote in his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway says: 

(The man who first said that) was probably a coward…. He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he’s intelligent.

I stand in agreement with Hemingway in saying that wisdom is found in learning to die many deaths. Contemplative spirituality invites us to be those who can say, “every day I die a thousand deaths.” This is wisdom. This, indeed, is life.

Death and resurrection are not reserved for the end of life. Both realities are meant to be experienced every moment. The practices of contemplative spirituality are given to us as gifts that lead us into dying a thousand deaths each day.

As we learn to practice death by way of contemplation, death at the end of life is no longer a fear, but is received as the next logical step. Death is no longer an unknown for us because we already know that life comes through the process of death. We will have lived that reality each day.

At the end of life we will no longer fear the loss of control because we know that the loss of control leads to true rest in God. As we learn death through contemplative practice, we experience afresh what life is like connected to the Source. Contemplation teaches us to die to the desire to go our own way, and to embrace the continual invitation to return to God.

All that death is, finally, is a return to the Source, our final return to God.


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Drew Jackson serves as the Associate Pastor at GraceWay Community Church. He is also a part of the Lausanne Movement. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with his wife Genay, and their two beautiful daughters Zora and Suhaila. 

Questions > Answers.

By George Mekhail 

 

I have changed a lot over the past 18 months. I’ve deconstructed much of my worldview and consider the journey as just getting started. I am a heretic, a pirate and a mystic. I used to see things very differently than I see them today, and I hope that this process of change, growth and evolution only continues. I cannot deny that what I’ve experienced has been healthy.

I often ask myself how I got here, why I’m here and if it’s a good thing that I’m here. I talk to myself more and more these days. I ask: what factors lead to my spiritual curiosity, what moments shaped my trajectory and what common thread has been there throughout? Do I like me more or less? Do I allow others to define me or do I find my value and worth in Eternal things?

I’m learning that asking questions is far more important than answering questions. This is one of the most valuable lessons that contemplation has taught me on my journey.

Let’s be honest: on the surface, answering questions is way more fun than asking questions. If I am answering a question, I am the center of attention. I am on the conclusive side of the discussion. I am in control. But, if I am asking a question, I am deflecting attention. I am teeing up the discussion, for better or worse. I am releasing control. Asking a question opens things up and possibilities abound. Answering a question shuts things down, declaring alternative possibilities irrelevant.

Now there is obviously a time to answer questions, I’m not anti-answers. But I would describe this pivot towards more question asking and less question answering as the largest contributor to this current season of peace in my life. A paradoxically difficult season, filled with extremely challenging days, betrayals, insecurity and instability. But despite the external factors that might be perceived as negative, contemplative practice helps me count them as blessings.

A few weeks back, after some time in reflection, I started to realize that I was feeling misunderstood. I’m not sure if that’s common or not, but this came to light in a recent session with Phileena, my spiritual director. She proceeded like she often does, by asking me to “withhold judgement, consider how it feels to be misunderstood.”

If you’re like me, that is a difficult question. I’m generally unaware of my feelings, often preferring solutions to stillness. So if I feel misunderstood, my next step is typically to ramp up efforts to deliver clarity so I can be understood. Boom. Problem solved, question answered. No feelings necessary.

Except when it doesn’t go down that way. Which is more often the case. It starts a fruitless cycle of frustration which does not satisfy the soul. Even if I successfully deliver clarity, I never actually dealt with the ramifications of feeling misunderstood.

That’s why I love the phrase “without judgement.” Phileena always emphasizes this part of the process, and it took me a while to see its real value. But in my desire to explore why I’m feeling misunderstood, the temptation is to offer simplistic answers which carry unhelpful judgements like “because ‘Nikole’ just doesn’t get it” or “because I haven’t spent enough time explaining my idea to ‘Nikole’.”

In my case, feeling misunderstood requires me to actually FEEL misunderstood.

That’s a huge step. To feel our feelings instead of merely talking about them.

 

Then a deep breath.

 

Man. I feel really misunderstood.

 

Now, without judgement. {I’m not mad, upset, disappointed, proud of myself/others for this feeling. This feeling simply is my experience.}

I am now aware of this feeling. I acknowledge it, I welcome it, I learn to integrate it – without judgement – into my present circumstance.

How does this feeling of being misunderstood relate to my ego? What other questions does this reveal and how do they reveal the unconscious patterns I operate out of daily?

 

Another deep breath.

 

I don’t want to oversimplify a contemplative process that actually requires a lot of hard work. Adopting a contemplative stance in life is like working out, studying for an exam or investing in a relationship. It requires focus and commitment. But the fruit is incredible. Instead of reacting to life, we learn to respond. Reacting generates a lot of contraction. Responding generates expansiveness.

Instead of relentlessly pursuing to deliver answers, I’m learning to reach out and claim the gift of more questions–which have turned out to be critical to my growth. Questions develop our awareness. Furthermore, questions acknowledge that no matter how much “Nikole” doesn’t get it, her experience is also her experience and it carries its own validity.

Contemplation is teaching me that questions are greater than answers, because questions lead to more meaningful connection to myself, to God and to others.

 


GM_blogpic2George Mekhail has been serving as the Executive Pastor at EastLake Community Church since July 2011. He is also the Chair of the Board for Gravtity, a Center for Contemplative Activism. He lives in Bothell, Washington with his wife Danielle, and their two beautiful children, Kingston and Saxyn. He has a deep set love for his family and makes it a goal in life to show up for them. 

Gravity’s Contemplative Activist in Residence

September 15, 2016 – February 15, 2017 

From September 15, 2016 –February 15, 2017 Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism welcomes Chiraphone Khamphouvong as our Contemplative Activist (not) in Residence (CAIR).

The CAIR program supports leading, innovative activists who desire a sabbatical for personal, professional, and spiritual development. CAIR is for bold and courageous leaders who have forfeited the American dream to actively dream of a better world for all people.

For Chiraphone, the CAIR fellowship includes a series of retreats, spiritual directions sessions, enneagram sessions, and mentorship meetings to support her evolving vocation.

As a child, Chiraphone escaped a civil war in Laos, became a refugee in Thailand, and eventually immigrated to the United States. Her familiarity with crisis and hardship led Chiraphone to a life of service in more than 35 countries. Her service work has focused on dignifying and sustainable community development in the private and public sectors of society.

Chiraphone began her service in the Peace Corps in South Africa’s post-Apartheid, where she CK Angkor Window_BWvolunteered as an Education Resource Worker training 600 educators in 28 schools. Most recently, she served as World Relief Cambodia’s Director for Partnerships and Resource Development—the very organization that originally helped Chiraphone and her family find refuge in the United States.

Now at an unexpected crossroad, Chiraphone desires space to process her years of tireless service to discern the next step in her vocation. Chiraphone is making sabbatical specifically around the themes to remain, reflect, and reimagine.

Chiraphone hopes for a better world for all people and, therefore, values Gravity’s emphasis on integrating contemplation and action to help realize that better world. She’s grateful for the opportunity to find restoration through CAIR’s programs and services.