Author Archives: Phileena Heuertz

Active Contemplation in Response to Socio-political Upheaval

by Phileena Heuertz

Our recent presidential election has exposed and emphasized a great rift in the people who make up our nation. Political, economic, social, and religious ideologies may not have ever been more at odds with one another.

Our new millennia has brought with it so much change. It’s as if our world has been advancing at a faster rate than ever before, and it’s hard for us all to keep up. So some of us are nostalgic, looking backward to bygone days when America seemed simpler and safer. While others are dreaming, look forward to what America can be. What’s critical is that we examine what America is, right here, right now.

That’s what the current socio-political climate is giving us a chance to do. And it’s clear that we as a people are severely divided in our experiences and our perspectives. But I gather when it comes to our values, we all hold a lot more in common than it appears; values that our Declaration of Independence upholds as inalienable rights:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And so rather than demonize one political party or another, or one person or group of people or another, let us find ways to see and hear how one another desires these rights, as a people, as a society, as an American family.

We belong to one another. Let us find ways to see our self in the other. For ultimately we are not battling each other, but illusory ideologies that threaten our common humanity.

Many of us have felt very overwhelmed by the president’s first thirteen days in office and the upheaval his executive orders have caused. Being overwhelmed can lead to apathy and disempowerment. So let us resist such paralytic responses by taking a big deep breath. Then, in addition to fortifying a daily contemplative practice, consider the following commitments related to constructive ACTION that you can take:

Be (A)lert.

These times require we not sit idly by. Recognize that if you feel relatively unthreatened by the current administration that that is a luxury for you. Recognize the populations of people who are genuinely afraid (women, LGBTQIA persons, blue collar workers, the disabled, immigrants and refugees) and stay accurately informed about how Trump’s executive orders and administration may impact their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Imagine what you would hope from others if it were your life that felt threatened.

Be (C)ourageous.

Be willing to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable members of our society regardless of political party, race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Be (T)houghtful.

Before you react to the socio-political climate, practice a little restraint and think. Let thoughtful observation of your own biases and compulsions inform the way you interact with others.

Be (I)nquisitive.

Stay curious. It’s easy to dehumanize the “other” when we don’t personally know her or him. Get to know people who look different, think different, and behave differently from you.

Be (O)pen.

When we feel threatened, our basic physiological reflex is to self-protect. But we are more than our physiology. We have consciousness and inherent power to transcend our impulses. Rather than close up and withdraw or close up and attack, let’s dare to remain open, knowing that the greatest threat we face is betraying our highest potential to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, and co-create a peaceable society.

Be (N)ourishing.

During trying times on a personal or collective scale, men and women committed to contemplative activism will practice restraint from their impulses to fight or flight and choose the more challenging way of nourishing that which is hurting. Our society is hurting. Our neighbors are hurting. Members of our family are tired and afraid. Consider what you can do to nourish the people around you and the spheres of influence you inhabit.

And if these commitments are difficult for you, as they surely will be at one time or another, remember that contemplative practice makes such embodied commitments possible. Now more than ever perhaps, we must adopt regular contemplative practice. For spiritual practice like contemplative prayer and meditation open the mind and the heart, releasing our best selves to co-create Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness for all.


*header photo credit: Christian Battaglia

Integrating Contemplation and Action: An Aid Worker’s Reflection from the Refugee Crisis in Morocco

Recently, Chris and Phileena visited our team in Ifrane, Morocco. I’m one of about 40 university and post-graduate students offering emergency aid to the thousands of refugees and immigrants desperately making their way through Morocco.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the retreat which was focused on integrating contemplation and action—something which was rather new for most of us.

Whenever we are presented with new ways of doing things, there’s naturally some level of skepticism that arises. Contemplative prayer practices were very new for us. At first it was somewhat awkward. But it didn’t take long before I started to appreciate the practices.

As Chris rightly pointed out in one of his remarks, it’s advised that one tries out a new prayer practice for at least six months before deciding whether they like it or not. I have personally realized that I don’t even need to wait for six months in this case, because based on the various exercises we tried, I’ve already detected the positive impact.

As we spent time together during the retreat, it came into focus that we are living in a seemingly chaotic and fast moving world: the current global migrant crisis, economic uncertainties, the constant flow of information (both good and bad, relevant and not so relevant), terrorism, and lots of distractions here and there etc.

This tense reality makes a lot of people ever more anxious, afraid, and depressed. Many, people on our team included, feel like we’re drowning in the sea of noise and need.

Being able to find stillness, calmness, and focus in the midst of our stormy reality (needs of refugees, information saturation, problems, anxieties, chaos, noise etc.) has become more important now than ever before.

Furthermore, the need for discernment to be able to navigate through it all, to determine how to respond to the dire needs of our neighbors as well as our own families, cannot be underestimated.

This is why contemplative prayer practices are so very important. These exercises for our soul help restore inner peace, equilibrium, and focus, which in turn help acquire and develop the discernment needed to effectively manage and resolve the various issues we face daily in our personal lives as well as with the unrelenting demands of the immigrant and refugee crisis.

Just like Jesus, who always elevated the discussion when confronted with questions and issues, we also do not necessarily have to have answers to all the questions and problems we face. We only need to ensure we’ve got the central focus right. When this central aspect which consists of inner peace, stillness, calmness, oneness, inner equilibrium and discernment are firmly in place, then we can be able to face any challenges that come our way and effectively navigate through all that life throws at us. Contemplative practice helps us realize such centeredness.


Theo

Theophilus Balorbey, an Aachen Peace Prize laureate (2015), is a student volunteer with the International Aid Committee (Comité d’Entraide International-CEI) in service to migrants & refugees in Morocco. He is passionate about contributing his bit towards making our world a better place for all humanity.

Contemplative Prayer Fosters Solidarity

by Kent Annan

 

When writing my new book, Slow Kingdom Coming, my attention kept getting drawn to themes of contemplative activism and of doing good better—that is, to very Gravity-like themes!

My work with Haiti Partners over the years has given me a deep appreciation for values like solidarity with people in poverty, justice for the oppressed, and loving our neighbors with respect. I share these values with Phileena and Chris and admire their thoughtful approach to integrating spirituality with building a better world.

Some of the spiritual practices they teach at Gravity, like lectio divina (divine reading), have helped shape me and my relationships with people on the margins of society.

The practice of group lectio divina with my friends and partners in Haiti has been an incredible experience for integrating contemplation with action and learning to do good better in relationship with people in poverty.

One of the predominant themes that has emerged in relationship with my Haitian friends is that of respect. How can people of different socioeconomic status, race, and gender genuinely respect one another, essentially affirming the value of the other and our need for one another?

I’ve learned that living into respect of one another requires just a few critical commitments: listening, imagining, and promoting rights. And the practice of shared lectio divina has helped us grow into and live into these commitments in our interactions with one another in daily life. 

During the first year I working in Haiti I had the opportunity to introduce lectio divina to my Haitian and American colleagues. One morning, thirty very different kinds of people sat in a circle listening to Scripture. Because not everyone spoke English, the text was translated to Creole to make sure everyone could participate. The Scripture text was read several times with a prayerful pause between readings when the group was invited to reflect audibly on what they were hearing.

Afterward, a Haitian school principal told me we should do this again. So we did. Since then we’ve shared the contemplative practice of lectio divina with thousands of people.  Remarkably, group lectio divina has a natural way of affirming our commitments to respect through the values of listening, imagining, and promoting rights. 

Listening. In a country where about half of the people are illiterate, listening to sacred text together makes room for everyone. One doesn’t have to have the ability to read to participate. As we practice listening to the Scripture and listening to one another’s response to the Scripture, we deepen our capacity for listening to one another in daily life.  Likewise, listening guides us in the ways our community practices justice and mercy.  

Imagining. As we collectively and prayerfully listen to Scripture, each of our imaginations are naturally activated. As our hearts open more to the wisdom teaching of the text we imagine more clearly the reign of God and how we can each take part. Over time our activated imaginations move us more deeply into respectful ways to practice justice and mercy.

Promoting rights. Whether someone in the lectio divina group is an illiterate subsistence farmer or holds a theological degree, is a man or a woman, is sitting in a cathedral or on a rickety church bench over a dirt floor, everyone shares common ground and is on equal footing. Each is able to share about their experience of God and life, and is naturally respected for doing so. Our practice of respect for one another in shared lectio, forms us to walk more humbly and respectfully with our neighbors as we attempt to exercise justice and mercy.

For eighteen years now lectio divina has helped shape me and my understanding about the importance of respect in the work of justice. The people I’m with usually hear God much better than I do, and I’m grateful they let me sit in the circle with them.

Shared contemplative practice, like lectio divina, creates a safe place where there is no high or low, everyone comes to the circle as an equal, one to be respected, and to learn from. And as we deepen contemplative prayer, we are formed and transformed, becoming the people we long to be, building the world we all want to live in.

Slow Kingdom Com #4455

 

*Adapted from Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan, copyright @2016. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

 


Kent AnnanKent Annan is author of Slow Kingdom Coming (May 2016), After Shock(2011) and of Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle (2009). He is co-director of Haiti Partners, a nonprofit focused on education in Haiti. He’s on the board of directors of Equitas Group, a philanthropic foundation focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia.

When Life is Like a Jar of Mekong River Water

by Craig Greenfield


The Mekong is a broad brown river that runs through Cambodia and Vietnam. Craig Greenfield, a veteran of Cambodian slums and inner city ministry explains in his new book, Subversive Jesus, how a jar of Mekong River water helped him find the balance between activism and contemplation. This is an excerpt…


At first the water in the jar looked murky and muddy. But when I placed the jar on a table, the silt in the water gradually sank to the bottom of the jar.

As soon as I picked it up, everything churned up again, but the longer I left it in stillness, the clearer the water became.

In the same way, I sensed God calling me to rest in him and his peace. I heard his gentle whisper, “Be still and know that I am God.” In silence and solitude with God, I knew that my heart, mind and soul would settle and clear.

As Phileena Heuertz has said, “Through activism we confront toxicity in our world, through contemplation we confront it in ourselves.”

For years, I had pursued the heart of God through activism in the slums of the world. The subversive Jesus I had come to know and love had placed a youthful passion in my heart for justice and the poor. But I had come close to burning myself out by pursuing his Upside-Down Kingdom in my own strength.

Now, God was subverting my drivenness and destabilizing my arrogance by calling me back to the very things that would give me the power to continue for the long haul. In this complex dance between contemplation and action, I had been out of step too many times to mention, each foot tripping over the other. But it was a dance that I needed to stumble my way through.

Mother Teresa, who probably knew better than most what it meant to be a contemplative activist, said, “We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

This is not about external silence, which Mother Teresa would not have found in Kolkata, but rather an internal slowing down in order to become aware of God’s presence.

Evenings at our community home in the Downtown Eastside can feel overwhelming and out of control. Some of our homeless friends smell of the streets and unwashed socks. Many who are consumed by their addictions or mental illness have lost interest in personal hygiene. Some do not know what it means to talk quietly, including my own children—and my wife Nay says they get it from me.

But regardless of what might have happened during our often chaotic house during the evening—whether a spontaneous jam session on the guitars, or the painful detoxing of someone withdrawing from crack—at nine o’clock, everyone knows that it is our community’s time to gather for listening prayer.

Drawing on the rich prayer tradition of St. Ignatius, we seek silence in the cloister within our hearts. Through Ignatius, we have learned that we don’t have to retreat to a monastery to find space for prayer, but can be in silence together and become aware of God’s presence right in the midst of our chaotic inner city neighbourhood.

And in that place of inner silence, we invite God to shine light on our day.

The churned up water of our hearts slowly clears.


 

CraigCraig Greenfield is the author of Subversive Jesus: an adventure in justice, mercy and faithfulness in a broken world.

Craig is the founder and director of Alongsiders International, a grassroots movement working in a number of Asian and African countries, equipping young people to walk alongside those who walk alone – vulnerable children in their own communities.

Contemplative Life and Parenting

by Mindy Durias

 

The alarm rings. It’s 5:00am.

I drag myself out of bed, prepare my favorite French pressed coffee, grab my stack of books and settle on the loveseat for the hour or so I have before the rest of the house begins to stir. I read words of wisdom and hope from a Jewish Rabbi, a Buddhist monk, and a Franciscan priest. The words sooth like a healing balm for my longing heart. In the silence, they ring clear and true, resounding in my soul.

Gradually, little ones enter my quiet revelry. I kiss them and send them back to their beds for just a few minutes more, while I read and enjoy the last few sips of coffee.

Ten minutes later, I place my friends back on the book shelf and call the kids out of their rooms. The next hour rushes by like a raging river at flood level. By 7:15am, 3 of the 5 kids are fed, my husband has left the house for a meeting, most morning chores are complete and it’s time for prayer. The 3 youngest kids and I settle in the living room for a 10 minute time of silent reflection. It’s the season of advent, so we focus our thoughts on the Christ light that shines in our darkness. Then they leave to play, while I set out my candle and mat for a 20 minute centering prayer sit alone before the rest of the day’s demands consume my attention. I light my little candle and settle in. Grounded, upright, peaceful. I’m still, silent and alone in the living room.

A w h o l e m i n u t e , m a y b e t w o p a s s b e f o r e t h e y c o m e . The distractions.

I hear the kids and their realistic sounding light sabers re­enacting scenes from Star Wars downstairs. One is yelling, “Action!” Another is whining that they don’t want to be Darth Vader again.

DuriasKids

I inhale deep and exhale, feeling the rising annoyance in my heart, quickly forcing its way to my tightening throat.

Next the family dog trots into the living room, walks towards me, sniffs my face, passes gas, and exits­leaving a stench that rivals any honey bucket. Trying to remain centered, I breath deeply again, but the lingering smell is overwhelming so instead I hold my breath.

The kids continue their filming downstairs, planes are taking off and landing at the nearby airport. A train rumbles by 300 yards from our house and the wave like sounds of the freeway intensify as rush hour hits.

My teenage son exits his room and lumbers past me to the kitchen to see what’s left from breakfast and the dog returns standing at the sliding door four feet from me, whimpering to be let out.

Inhale, exhale….Inhale. And. Exhale.

My soul calmly says, Yes.

My heart questions, What good does this do?

While my mind screams, Why the hell can’t everything and everyone be quiet for just 20 minutes!

This is reality.

Why do I do this to myself? Wouldn’t it make more sense to practice centering prayer at 5:00am, when not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse? Before people, planes and pets can hijack my attention.

Sometimes I do just that. And it’s wonderful! True bliss. It’s a precious gift to sit in complete silence, stillness and solitude. I know that my heart has emptied and expanded in those undisturbed times. I’ve come to embrace more fully who I am and who I am not. I’ve found a place of unshakeable belonging in the the heart of God through blessed hours spent in complete silence.

But if I’m being honest, sometimes after a quiet and undisturbed prayer sit, instead of gratitude flowing freely, I enter the rest of the day with a discontent that challenging to admit and even harder to shake.

Too often, I’ve left a time of uninterrupted prayer wishing that it would never end­wanting that same silence and stillness to last all day long, so that I can feel calm and near to God. But, that desire is itself an illusion, unless I were to abandon my life and become a hermit. My true colors, in these moments, are completely exposed when I enter back into the usual business of daily life as wife, stay at home mom and teacher and struggle to remain calm and present with life taking place all around me. I struggle so to see God within myself and all things and say yes to what is happening through the challenges presenting themselves moment by moment.

This is my life. Noisy, fast paced, ever changing, demanding and relentless. Full of people to love, serve, care for, and listen to. Work to be done and not enough hours in the day to do it all. Does this sound familiar?

I’m sure that my lot is not that unique. In this day and age, what I’ve described is probably seen as just normal­the way things are. So I wonder then, how are we to cultivate silence, stillness and solitude when these very things are so counter cultural?

It’s not too difficult to see the appeal of the desert mothers and fathers, who left all normal way of living to find God. While I’m certain even their lives presented obstacles of their own in the search for union with God, I imagine it being at least a little simpler being.

Embracing and entering fully the blessed life I’ve been given by God, I’m beginning to see that the deep work of transformation within is being greatly assisted in praying with and through the many distractions of life. Why fight them or try and escape them? They will always be there in one form or another. The needs of partners, children, friends and neighbors. Deadlines and obligations of work. The hustle and bustle of a world that never slows down, not even for a single moment of the day.

I am experiencing in the acceptance of distractions that true silence, stillness and solitude is only cultivated within and not at all dependent upon the environment surrounding me. In fact, the distractions serve as a beautifully poignant contrast to the non reactive, gracious and peace-giving presence of God within. They help me to more clearly see the mystery of the divine Presence of God right here, within the mundane and ordinary stuff of life.

Isn’t this what I long for most in silence, stillness and solitude after all? To be present to God in all the moments of my life? To see divine light as it pierces the darkness and hardness of my own soul and the world around me?

Distractions. I can either view them as obstacles that obstruct my view of God within. Or I can choose to see them as the very things that usher me into the presence of God! For Christ, pure heavenly light itself, always shines brightest through chaos and darkness. If only I show up and wait for this light to dawn through the shadows of the blessed distractions in my life.


 

 

Mindy Durias

Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

Finding Our Divine Center: A Father’s Reflection

by Ashton Gustafson

It was one of those days where I had simply just had enough. My inbox was overflowing with other people’s agendas, my voicemail was full, the list of to-dos grew every time I looked at it, and the smallest inconveniences were creating an unrecoverable derailment of my peace and purpose for this day.

I’m sure this sounds dramatic, but we have all been there haven’t we?  We take on more and more, we overcommit, we say a half-hearted ‘yes’ to avoid a full-hearted ‘no’, and then something small and insignificant causes a boil that our cup’s brim cannot contain.  This “happens gradually, then suddenly” as Hemingway said.

I drove home, pulled into the garage, and then closed the garage door closed behind my taillights. That was the first shield I had felt from the war zone of the day and I paused in my car for about a minute and still could not shake the overwhelming emotions that brewed from an assault of email grenades and Mr. Fix It voicemails.

Before I walked into our home to greet my wife and daughters I knew that I had to go sit, be still, and center myself before I was going to be in the right mind to be with them for the evening. “Hey Brynn, I’m going to take the girls into the back room to do some centering prayer.” “You’re going to do what?”, she said. “We’ll be back”, I said.

The girls ran up to me with their homecoming hug routine and immediately I gave them the marching orders. “Girls follow me! We need to center.” “Ok Daddy!” My orders were fulfilled like it was something we had done a number of times before. But we hadn’t ever done this and I honestly didn’t know what I was about to do.

I closed the door and we sat in a circle with our legs crossed. Sterling’s right hand was in my left hand, Story’s left hand was in my right hand, and they completed our circle with their available fingers that together weren’t even eight years old.

I asked them to close their eyes. They giggled. And then I began. “Ok, hold my hands….”

Click to hear this moment as it was recorded.

There it was. In the stillness we made room for a moment to interact with the Divine and every bit of angst, resentment, and frustration that I brought into the house with me melted away. I was centered, we were centered, my little cognitive universe was centered, my heart found its rhythm again, and all was well with my soul and the little souls I was holding hands with.

In that moment, joy entered the room as wide as the sky and an ocean of love poured back into my being. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that same energy move through the little hands of my three and five year old daughters. I left that room ready to BE with the ones I love and was gently reminded of someone once telling us that we have to become like the little ones to get it.


 

Ashton Gustafson

Ashton Gustafson is a highly sought after public speaker, nationally recognized Realtor, artist, musician, poet, amateur cosmologist, and currently in pursuit of more things to become. He writes about the art of living, finding beauty in the hidden places, and making music with your life, relationships, and business. In addition to his writing and speaking, Ashton is currently a partner at Bishop Realtor Group, Meadowlake Management, and Muse Capital in Wichita Falls, TX as well as A.G. Real Estate & Associates in Waco, TX.    

centering prayer & the process of transformation

by Mindy Durias

 

I often think about these words from Jesus,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

What was so special to Jesus about children, that he would gift them the kingdom of God?

I’ve been raising children of my own for 16 years now. And there are a few things I’ve picked up along this journey that give me some insight as to what Jesus might have deemed so special about children.

For starters, children, especially those 2 or 3 and under, are intrinsically trusting. Whatever you tell them, they believe it. When they are told by someone, I love you, they don’t question it. They don’t ask for proof, demand to know why, doubt whether it is earnest, or deny that they deserve it. They simply receive it as fact. They are loved. They belong.

Little children not only don’t struggle with being loved, they also don’t hesitate to give that love away. They don’t ration out their love only to those they deem worthy or withhold love from those who hurt them until they receive apology. Very little children extend boundless grace. They love without judgement, prejudice, selfishness, or hesitation. They forgive effortlessly. They hold no memory of wrongs done to them. They love others for the pure joy of it. Much like God does.

However the most enlightening thing I’ve seen time and again, is that little children, without trying, know God. They know God in a way that we adults are almost incapable of. Unconditional love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, kindness and generosity are no mystery to children. They live in harmony with God in these attributes. I might even say, children live in union with God. Not just my own children, but all children.

Then what happens? Obviously, most children do not remain in this state of union with God. Some may do so longer than others. But all of us, through lifes many experiences, eventually leave the God we know and mirror so well as children. Some so early in life, that they don’t even remember having ever known God at all.

This was the case with me. I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I knew God. And so it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I even began searching. For years, I looked for God outside of myself. And while those years taught me a lot, I wouldn’t say that I ever felt near to God necessarily. And I didn’t feel like I was living a transformed life for sure. Any difference in me was of my own making. Not something I would attribute to God, when I was honest. In fact, looking for God outside of myself brought me to a place where I didn’t think I wanted to go on searching anymore. If God was out there, he certainly wasn’t near and I was weary of turning over stone after stone only to find myself still alone.

Then I was introduced to Centering prayer. All of a sudden, God went from being something that I was unsuccessfully looking for outside myself, to something I was curiously looking for within myself!

And what a treacherous journey it has been. The child in me that once was in union with God, has grown up and created layer upon layer of massive concrete walls between herself and God. Turning inward and realizing this has been incredibly sobering. There are days when all I can do is sit in silence, staring at the walls within myself, and weep and wonder how these walls will ever be broken through? How will I ever make my way to God within? Especially when it seems like this demolition is going to proceed brick by brick. Oh how I wish that God would bring in an iron wrecking ball and lay waste to the walls I’ve built between us. But that’s never happened.

Yet, I’m learning to see this as grace. For even the removal of a single brick can at times be so excruciating that I can barely breath. But with the tearing down of each old brick, cracks are forming. I’ve begun to see light through the cracks that show me small glimpses into the rich garden of my soul where my truest self lives in union with God. She looks like a small child, dancing and singing a simple song of love and joy.

And her name is Enough.

As of late, God has brought me to the biggest wall I’ve encountered yet. A wall that I began building at a very young age, judging by its size. It’s not only massive, but seems to also be fortified with extra protection. Like barbed wire put up to keep trespassers out. I’ve learned that all I can do is sit and wait before a wall such as this. Wait for God to do what I cannot do for myself. Slowly and gently, in silence and stillness the wire has been removed, allowing me to approach the wall and touch it. And as soon as I touch it, I know what this wall is.

It actually has a name too. Mother.

I created this wall with every painful memory I’ve ever had in relationship to my mother.

For months, all I could do was sit before this wall named Mother and weep. Because she was not the mother I wanted her to be, the mother I felt I needed. I grieved this, until I felt empty and numb. And yet the wall remained. Seemingly un-effected, ever pressing in on me and weighing me down.

Day after day, I would come and sit. Then one morning recently, as I prayed a thought came. Usually, I lay my thoughts down and come back to them later, after prayer. But this one would not let me go. It was this:

I accept who I am and who I am not.

I accept who I am and who I am not.

Over and over again, like a skipping record these words played. This was big! I am notoriously hard on myself. As the words repeated, they resonated more and more deeply. Filling my entire being with acceptance of all that I am and all that I am not.

What happened in the moments that followed are nearly impossible to express in concrete language, but I’ll try.

With one deep exhale it was like a mighty damn broke open. The wall of hostility and pain came crumbling down and tears started to fall uncontrollable. It was acutely painful and at the same time filled me with intense joy! In that moment it was like I knew the work of forgiving was done and that I was in a new place of being able to truly love and accept who my mother is and who she is not.

On the next inhale, it was as though the door to a giant empty ballroom had been flung open as I took in a breath so deep that it seemed as though my lungs would expand forever. And with that breath that enormous, empty space was flooded with peace. Such sweet peace! I knew then and there that God had done what I was completely unable to do for myself; breaking down the wall of hostility and hurt I held towards my mother. And the heaviness of that wall pressing in on my soul was simple gone.

Through Centering prayer, God has shown me the light and free child that I truly am, by breaking through the walls of shame, vanity, selfishness, perfectionism, distrust, passivity and much more that I erected. Graciously teaching me to love who I am and forgive what I am not. And God has enabled me to do what I doubted was ever possible. Extend that same grace to my mother.

As I enter into solitude, silence and stillness I’m reminded of the child that lives within the-still-to-be demolished walls of my soul. I see her twirling and laughing with God. I hear Jesus beckon,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And I wait.

For God to remove all that’s left keeping me from reuniting with my true self–a little girl called Enough.


 

Mindy Durias
Mindy Durias
 lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

Coming Home to God: A Family’s Experience with Centering Prayer

by Mindy Durias

Our world is moving forward at an unprecedented pace.  The ability to be so easily connected to one another has made this planet very small indeed.  Endless information and people around the world are literally a touch away. Yet, it is quite possible that we have never been more disconnected from our true selves and to God.  The moments of our lives are filled with the buzz of technological noise that never sleeps.

As a mother of five children, in this age of concrete technological advances and scientific breakthroughs, I wrestle with how to communicate the abstract, mysterious, and intangible relationship we are created to share with the Divine.

In the past three years, I have been practicing contemplative prayer as a way to connect more intimately with God. This has included introducing my children to Lectio Divina as a way to listen to the Spirit of God speaking uniquely to their individual hearts. They have been very open and receptive to this practice, and consequently have grown in their day-to-day awareness of God speaking into the moments of their lives.

Lectio Divina is a very accessible contemplative prayer practice.  Especially in the sense that it allows for verbal response.  This makes it one of the easier practices to introduce to anyone unfamiliar with contemplative prayer, and to children in particular.

But what of the apophatic (non-verbal) prayer practice Centering Prayer? This prayer has been transformative in my life.  I’ve found abundant grace in the silence, stillness and solitude of this practice.  It has helped me to disconnect from the noise and activity of life and find myself in God’s embrace.  And more profoundly, Centering Prayer has created a deeper awareness of who I truly am in God.  In the practice, I’ve come home to myself and God.

In the fall of 2014, I decided to experiment with my children and see if they would have a similarly positive experience with Centering Prayer.  At first, the struggle was to find language to communicate the practice to children ranging in ages from five to sixteen.  It became clear right away, that while she could understand what Centering Prayer was, my five year old was not ready to sit in silence, stillness and solitude for any amount of time!

My other four children ages nine, twelve, thirteen and sixteen also quickly grasped the concept of the practice, so we began trying it out.  We started with three minute sits.  Gradually, we lengthened the time to five minutes, then eight, ten and so on-until we reached the twenty minute mark.  That is where we are now.  Our intent is to practice everyday after breakfast and before we begin the rest of the day.

It has not been perfect.   In fact, some days it feels like a complete waste of time.  Wiggling limbs, wrestling in chairs, bodily noises, rough starts to the day, the irritation of relational conflict, you name it.  We have experienced it.

Yet, I keep reminding myself, that this is a practice.  A perfect experience should never be the goal.  For no such experience truly exists.  The fruit of the practice itself, is seen in the rest of life.  My hope is that we are becoming more aware of God in everything.

So, we continue to practice.  To open our hearts together to the presence and action of God within us.  We enter with the invitation of Psalm 46:10 which says, “Be still, and know that I am God”.

Little changes have been made along the way to accommodate the needs and development of each child.  Currently, most days my husband, sixteen and thirteen year old and I sit for twenty minutes together.  Then, my twelve and nine year old and I sit for ten minutes together.  Our five year old talks about joining us when she is bigger.  For now, she is learning Breath Prayer and the beauty of God being as near to her as every breath she breathes.  It is perfect for where she is at right now.

In Centering Prayer we are all learning to come just as we are, and to find our true home in God who continues to affirm that we all belong.  

In this place of belonging, it is my hope that each of us will choose to embrace one another in love and help bring healing to this world in search for peace with God and humankind.


 

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Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

 

Are You Living a “Normal” Life?

by Damien Faughnan

 

Last November, my acupuncturist bluntly stated, “The way you are living is not normal.” It stung, and not just because he was sticking needles in me at the time! The truth is, I spent last year in a fog of being “too busy.”

 

Since then, I’ve been immersed in a conversation with myself about what constitutes a “normal” life. I’ve been asking myself: Why? Why do I do this to myself? Why have I succumbed to living as a human “doing” when I really want to be a human being?

 

I know I’m not alone. I hear it from my clients and from my brothers in Illuman. In our so-called “advanced” world, we have created a way of living where we are all too busy. Too busy for sitting and listening. Too busy to create and nourish community. Too busy to just be.

 

And this appears to be worse if you have kids! I hear my friends who have kids tell me that they are run ragged trying to manage their kids’ schedules. It would appear that we are raising really busy kids too.

 

We’ve not been helped by technology. What is supposed to make our lives easier and simpler is, in fact, demanding more and more of our attention. Emails, social media, breaking news; they all battle for our attention. And we now have a new condition for those who can’t disconnect: FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out).

 

People experience anxiety because they are afraid of missing something, and thus they constantly have to check their digital device. Who isn’t overwhelmed with a daily avalanche of email? I have clients who come home from work, have dinner, and then go back to work, fighting a never-ending battle with the ever-filling inbox.

 

The unexamined life is not worth living, or so they say. With all of this “busyness,” how do we stay grounded and connected?

 

I know that lots of us crave a different relationship with technology, our work, our families, and our community. We want to be connected and grounded. This is precisely why we need a spiritual practice.

At a very basic level, it challenges us to “show up” and be fully awake. It challenges us to both live differently and engage in a different way of “knowing.” I know it challenges me to be centered, grounded, and genuinely connected.

 

I’m a work in progress. That’s what the spiritual journey is all about. I’ve made some significant changes in order to better manage my commitments, my travel, my use of technology, and my engagement with the world. I am also choosing to continue to grapple with the question: “Are you living a normal life?”

 


Faughnan,Damien_mini Damien Faughnan is an executive coach who works with senior executives seeking to become more effective leaders. He serves as Chair of the Board for Illuman, a non-profit that supports men who desire to deepen their spiritual lives. Damien is happily married and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. Illuman is an organization for men dedicated to safe-guarding and expanding Fr. Richard Rohr’s transformative men’s work. 

How to Make Time Stand Still

by Kelly Pigott

 

Take a look at these two pictures.

dinosaur vally 1  dinosaur valley 2 

My wife snapped them at the same spot in Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas about six years apart.  Aside from the obvious size differences in my children, you’ll notice the baby fat on my son’s arms has disappeared, replaced with lean muscles from playing mega hours of tennis.  My daughter’s cherubic figure has been replaced with that of a young girl.  And my hair looks decidedly, um, lighter.

Moments like these remind me of the relentless motion of time. And the constant battle I have to wage against our modern era’s unhealthy view that time is a commodity.  That it’s the enemy.  Or that it must be strictly managed in order that we can be more productive.

These notions lead us to the same mistake that some of the ancient Jews made with the concept of the Sabbath during the fleeting days of Jesus.   They spent an inordinate amount of time arguing about Sabbath laws: how much weight one can carry, how far one can travel, or whether or not starting a fire was technically “work.”  But by failing to practice the “spirit” of the Sabbath—to stop and be still—they blinded themselves to the fact that the Lord of the Sabbath was standing right in front of them.

Contemplatives have long pondered the notion of time, and in particular, our unhealthy obsession with either the past or the future.  One of them was a 14th century anonymous monk in England who wrote the Cloud of Unknowing.  Just about every book written on contemplative spirituality since owes a great debt to this sage, for his wisdom has been passed on from one generation to the next through such stalwarts as John of the Cross, Ignatius, and Teresa of Avila, to name a few.

It’s important to note, too, that this monk lived in England during a time when life was not good.  His nation was in the middle of a bitter campaign against France known as the Hundred Years’ War.  And plagues swept through the region in giant waves, completely decimating entire towns.

And yet, he had the presence of mind to guide his young novitiates through the disease, violence, and chaos of his age with wisdom like this, “Time is made for us; we’re not made for time.”  He goes on to explain, “God, the giver of time, never gives us two moments simultaneously; instead, he gives them to us one after another.  We never get the future.  We only get the present moment.”

My guess is that this was a tough lesson for the new monks.  It must have been hard to relish the moment while you were hauling diseased bodies to the massive open graves.  And yet, somehow this 14th century monk learned to do it.

Our world is much different than it was in the 14th century.  Or even the first.  And yet, in some ways it is the same.  We may not argue about Sabbath laws anymore, but my guess is that if Jesus appeared in front of us today, we might miss him because we were gazing at yet another cat picture on Instagram.

And we may not be haunted by plagues, but the memories of mistakes we’ve made can still conjure guilt and shame and remorse.  Or a trauma from our past can still bring to the surface the hurt and the anger and the feeling of injustice we experienced.  Consequently, we walk around for the rest of the day feeling sick.

“Time is made for us,” the author of the Cloud of Unknowing admonishes.  Sounds good.  But how do we put that into practice?

One way is to recover the ancient Christian practice of living in the now. Or as I like to put it, to make time stand still.  Because what’s all around you at this very moment is simple, beautiful, and profound.  But you have to make the effort to notice it.

You have to stop.

Breathe deeply.

And become aware.

Allow the drive to always be elsewhere pass you by.

Answer the voices in your head that call to you from the past or the future with, “What I have is this moment, and this moment is good.”

And give your brain permission to stop filtering out the mundane, and instead, to give priority to it.

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but as my son and daughter snuggled next to me at the state park I pondered how quickly they had grown.  It seems just a little while ago I was rocking them to sleep at night.

My son interrupted my thoughts.  “Can we go now?”

“Not yet. Give me a moment,” I said.  I inhaled deeply.  Juniper.  I sensed my children jiggling next to me.  Impatient.  I saw a vulture floating effortlessly on wind currents scanning for food.  I heard the steady trickle from the Paluxy River in front of me, and the shutter clicks from my wife’s camera from behind.  My son studied a flat rock and placed it in his pocket, probably to skip across the water later in the day.  A breeze pushed my daughter’s hair back, and caused branches to sway back and forth to some ancient rhythm that still echoed in this canyon.

And…time…stood….


Kelly Pigott is the University Chaplain and Associate Professor of Church History at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where in addition to church history, he teaches courses in ministry and spiritual formation.  He has written numerous journal articles and serves on the editorial boards of two academic history societies.  He has twenty years of experience as a pastor.  Most recently, he contributed a chapter to the book, “Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future”(Paraclete Press) edited by Tony Jones.

He has a weakness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cheeseburgers.   He likes to take long hikes in the mountains, roast marshmallows over a fire, skip stones across a lake, and camp in his trailer with his children Nathaniel and Eliana.  He feels most like a kid when he rides his bike around the park.  He is very much in love with his wife, Susan, who teaches Old Testament and Hebrew.  And he wishes that Mark Twain had written one of the gospels. 

Follow Kelly on twitter at @kellypigott

 

One Day Only :: Support Gravity through Giving Challenge

One Day Only :: Support Gravity on May 21st!

Omaha Community Foundation Charitable Challenge

It’s that time of year!

Time for “Omaha Gives,” a once-a-year charitable challenge that people from all over the world can participate in.

Gravity is developing the contemplative consciousness of people like you, to make the world a better place. And we need your support.

Donate any amount during the 24 hours of May 21 to help us qualify for matching funds. (Minimum $10 donation qualifies.) Learn about matching funds here.

 

Who Can Give:    Anyone can give from anywhere in the world!

When:                   Wednesday, May 21, 2014, between 1:00am and 11:59pm.

How Much:           At least $10. The more the better!

Where:                  Use this link.

 

The more gifts given in a single hour to Gravity qualify us for an added bonus gift of $1,000. So if you’d like to give more than $10, you can make multiple $10 gifts to help us get the bonus. The hours between 1:00am and 6:00am are prime time for this challenge.

 

Join us as we dare to build a better world.

 

Gravitas

An article by Leo Adam Biga in Metro Magazine

 

1After serving the poorest of the poor, an Omaha couple now helps heal fellow healers. Grounded in faith, spirituality and social justice, Chris and Phileena Heuertz are anchoring this healing vision in the heart of Omaha, at Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism.

“We want to offer these little glimpses of hope and tools of nourishment for the activist soul to keep going, to keep fighting for a better world and not give up.”  Read full article here.

 

 

Couple’s New Omaha Center Hopes to Keep Humanitarians Healthy

An article by Casey Logan in the Omaha World Herald

 

2In the age of noise and distraction, it is an invitation to silence and solitude. For the spiritual person, it is an exercise to deepen a relationship with God. To Phileena and Chris Heuertz, it is the core component of the Gravity Center, an organization aimed at fueling a new activism and helping others “do good better.”

It is a way to share the practices that sustained them in the face of unimaginable suffering and a failed humanity. It is the merging of their two worlds. It might be the bravest thing they’ve ever done.  Read full article here.

 

Unity in Silence

An article by Chris Heuertz at Duke Divinity’s Faith and Leadership Blog

 

prayer sit

 

It’s always an eclectic group that gathers — an occasional Buddhist, versions of Christians, sometimes a Hindu, even quite a few nonreligious people show up. All of them care deeply about their spirituality. All of them value the mysteries only discovered in silence.

 

Read full article here.

 

 

 

 

 

Following my Children to God’s Heart

by Mindy Durias

I am pretty new to contemplative prayer, but not new to faith.  I have spent more than half of my life seeking God and learning about Him. But two years ago I was introduced to contemplative prayer.

To be honest, I struggled with it at first.

I found that there were obstacles in my own heart and mind that got in the way of me embracing solitude, silence, and stillness before God.

  • Fear that I wasn’t doing enough, a wrong perception of what I was doing;
  • Doubt that there would be any benefit, anxiety wondering what might be stirred up.
  • And most of all doubt that with my busy life raising five kids I could make room for this way of spending time with God.

However, I was so intrigued by the idea of it that I continued thinking and reading about it, even sporadically trying out a few different prayer practices.

I did not realize it at the time but I was saying “yes” to God.  Even with the inconsistent time I spent in contemplative prayer, God was clearing away all my fears, doubts, wrong perceptions and anxieties.  God was introducing Godself to me in a new, very personal way.

After the first year of getting my feet wet, I began considering how I might share this with my children.

I have five children, ranging in ages from four-fourteen years old. I had just begun to recognize the treasure that contemplative prayer was becoming in my own heart and was curious if this way of praying would be possible for my children to engage in.

From the very beginning, I was apprehensive. This was unlike anything I had done with them before. We had sought to understand scripture together, prayed, memorized scripture, talked about God and created opportunities to serve Him.  But this was to be totally different.  I realized that contemplative prayer would not be teaching them more about God, but it would be introducing them to God.

Lectio Divina, meaning “divine reading” or “sacred reading” is an ancient practice of praying the Scriptures. This was the first contemplative prayer practice that I taught them.

Day after day, I was amazed by how quickly they were able to enter in.  It dawned on me that they did not have the heavy burden of anxiety, fear, and doubt that I carried coming into contemplative prayer.  Nor did they feel compelled, as I so often do, to interpret the text they were hearing.  Their hearts were ready to receive God just as God is.  

In truth, as I led them in Lectio Divina and heard them respond to the living Word of God spoken to them, I was humbled.  They would say things like, “I hear God saying I love you, I am with you, don’t fear, you are mine, you belong, rest in me, you do not have to try harder…”  My own heart was healing as they affirmed these things which, as it turned out, I really needed to hear.

They were enjoying Lectio Divina so much that I decided to teach them Breath Prayer. Known as the “Jesus Prayer” or “Prayer of the Heart,” early practitioners would repeat to the rhythm of their breath the phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” In time, the prayer was shortened to, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” or simply, “Jesus, mercy.” These words, or other similar words of your choosing, are repeated silently within.

Being a completely non-verbal way of praying, I was curious how they would do.  Once again, they jumped right in!  Yes, they had things that would distract them from time to time, mostly things in their physical bodies-the pulsing energy of a child that I wish I still possessed.  But much less so than I would have thought.  I realized that as children they don’t have the on-going to-do list in their head shouting at them to be productive.  During Breath Prayer, they were not  wrestling in their minds with the demands of life.  This, too, served as a teaching tool for me.

For several months, we would do Lectio Divina followed by Breath Prayer.  To be truthful, it was not always great.  Not because of them, however.  In hindsight, I can see that  the days when it was particularly difficult for us to enter into contemplative prayer usually were the result of where I was at.  I was setting a negative, rushed, closed, tone to our time.  If they were struggling to engage in the prayer practice that day, it was because they were following my lead. Such is the mirror of parenting.

At the beginning of this year, I decided to teach them Centering Prayer. This prayer practice is grounded in a relationship with God, through Christ, and is a practice to nurture that relationship. It facilitates resting in God. Centering Prayer offers a way to grow in intimacy with God, moving beyond conversation to communion.

I thought this to be a challenging step to take, simply because I had heard that it can be the most difficult of contemplative prayer practices. It requires a letting go of yourself that I was not certain children could appreciate or understand.  However, I felt that we were all ready to give it a try.

We had practiced listening to God through His word and responding in faith with Lectio Divina.  We had quieted ourselves and connected with God’s constant presence and grace towards us in Breath Prayer. It seemed we were ready to at least attempt to be still and sit for an extended time with the divine presence that dwells in each of our very hearts.

I spent a few days introducing Centering Prayer to them, allowing them time to think about it and to ask questions.  We began slowly.  First sitting for five minutes, then eight, then ten.  Currently we sit for eighteen minutes.  When we debrief after our prayer times, I regularly hear words like, “Centering Prayer is my favorite,” or  “Was that really fifteen minutes?  It seemed like two!”

What I am realizing is that children have no trouble at all resting in God’s presence.  They have no preconceived notions of what God should be like or expectation for God to speak.  They are comfortable with God’s silence and just love the chance to curl up in God’s lap and be held.  They are comfortable with the lack of need to do anything or say anything in these contemplative prayer practices; because they feel no need to perform for God or say anything to please God or others.  They do not have any deep wounds that they are concealing from God or fear that God will not love them just as they are.

Oh!  If I only I could be more like my children!  Isn’t this precisely what Jesus taught?  That we should become like little children–who are neither afraid of God nor doubt God’s all encompassing love and acceptance. I am certainly seeing with fresh eyes that to become like a child is not a digresson. It is a progression toward intimacy and union with God.


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Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

 

Introducing Gravity’s First Contemplative Activist in Residence

February 28 – April 17, 2014 

From February 28-April 17, 2014 Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism welcomes Nikole Lim as our first Contemplative Activist in Residence, a visiting practitioner sabbatical.

The CAIR program supports leading, innovative activists who desire a sabbatical for renewal and 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 of the earth’s citizens.

The CAIR fellowship includes participation on the Africa Solidarity Pilgrimage, spiritual direction sessions, weekly contemplative prayer sits, weekly mentorship meetings, participation at Gravity’s first spring Grounding Retreat, and housing provided by Gravity.

From documenting a widow with leprosy in the jungles of Vietnam, to providing scholarships for survivors of rape in Zambia, furthering social justice through the arts has been a vital part of Nikole’s international vocation. By providing the platform for voices to be heard, Nikole strives to shift paradigms by fighting against stigmas of oppression.

Nikole is the co-founder and executive director of Freely in Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring dignity to survivors of sexual violence by providing educational opportunities and platforms for women to fulfill their dreams. Operating in sub-Saharan Africa, Freely in Hope provides psychological counseling, health care, entrepreneurial courses and high school and university educational scholarships for young women who are survivors of or vulnerable to sexual violence in slum communities. Nikole graduated with a degree in Film Production from Loyola Marymount University and resides in the Bay Area. Her heart beats for young women whose voices are silenced by oppression and desires to see every heart restored.


 

Out of Blame, Into Becoming

by Kevin Harris

 

For about 20 years, Chris and Phileena Heuertz directed the organization Word Made Flesh. With communities around the world, they seek to serve Jesus among the most vulnerable of the world’s poor. They incarnationaly live among those in difficult situations such as sex slavery, prostitution, and with child soldiers. A commitment to friendship, submission to one another and community are woven into the DNA of their organization, but they found that at times the tragedies and grief that they experienced while doing life with those on the margins slowly wore down some of their staff members to the point of burnout.

Chris and Phileena discovered that nearing burnout was an invitation to go deeper to delve into contemplative spirituality. To be actively engaged in mission and the lives of others with redemptive impact, they found the need to root their work and activism in a spirituality that helped them to rest in God and dismantle their notions of their false selves (the image we have built of ourselves and who we think we are that serves to please, satisfy and protect our ego) to more fully live out of their being beloved. Contemplative spirituality includes disciplines with the purpose of learning to “create space to be still and rest in God beyond words, thoughts and feelings. It is to abide in the love of God, to attend to the inner life, and to simply be with God in solitude, silence and stillness” (Phileena Heuertz in Pilgrimage of a Soul).

After finding that this contemplative spirituality helped to sustain them and fuel their activism within their communities at Word Made Flesh, Chris and Phileena founded Gravity │ a Center for Contemplative Activism to help others engaged in difficult work and ministry to “do good better”….
Read the rest of the post here