Sacred Heart Listening

Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

You will indeed listen, but never understand, you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes… Matthew 13:14

Seeker,
When was the last time you gave life a good listening to?

Remember pressing a seashell to you ear,
to catch that ancient echo
of booming surf?

Recall when someone dear
leaned in close
to hear the heart behind your words.

And that time you were drawn
by a tone, a voice, a word
and held spellbound till all boundaries fell away.

Picture that special person,
far away or long gone,
you’d love to listen to once again?

There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing. G. K. Chesterton

Every minute so much is going on,
in, around,
through and beyond us.

And moment by moment
we choose whether and how deeply,
we are willing to connect with life.

The most potent, most intimate form
of connecting and communicating
is neither talking nor touching but listening.

Let us not confuse listening with hearing,
for they are as distinct from one another
as tourists from pilgrims.

Heart listening, attentive presence,
leads to a communion of souls.
It is the truest way to show how deeply we care.

The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present.
Joanna Macy

Our ever-present Maker
abides in silence,
all the better to listen well to everything.

Such sacred heart listening,
as a loving practice,
is God-like behavior.

Listening is the highest duty of love. Paul Tillich

The listening Christ
taught us to disarm our hearts
by opening ears once deaf to others.

He commissioned each of us
to heal by listening
to our enemies.

For how can we
be followers of the Christ
till we’ve learned how to love those who hate us?

Followers of the way of non-violence,
who bear the crossbars of suffering-love,
courageously choose to listen to the ones who would harm them.

And in times of conflict and division
sacred heart listening opens up
the risky road to reconciliation.

When we set agendas aside,
to listen and be listened to,
our desire un-taps a well of understanding.

Sacred Heart listening
is how Good News is heard,
broken open and proclaimed.

Choosing to listen
is our first step
into the Domain of the Silent One.

Listen, O Israel: The Holy One is our God, the Most Holy alone.
You shall love the Holy One with all heart, with all soul,
and with all strength.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Listen like children drinking in a story.
Listen like trees teaching the wind to sing.
Listen with your eyes, with your touch, with your insides.

May you nurture your listening heart,
open a quiet listening space,
and let the noisy world tumble in.

Is this not how healing happens to us?

joe

Touched by Earth

Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

The Realm of God is like when someone scatters seed on the ground.
Night and day while they sleep and rise, the seed sprouts and grows;
how, they do not know.
Mark 4:26-27

Seeker,
What does it mean to be rooted and grounded; earth between our fingers, dirt beneath our nails?

There is no synthetic soul, no virtual holiness.
Neither by agency, nor rhetoric, nor reasoning
can we manufacture sacredness.

Holiness is free-gifted.
Sanctity presents itself;
an essential quality of each and every being.

But goodness, truth and beauty,
are graced to the gardener,
who has learned to live by earthy wisdom.

For mercy rains down from heavy heavens,
justice erupts from saturated soil,
peace blossoms in the sublime harmony of living communities.

Life is too precious to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love and, finally without hope. Václav Havel

Yet, so many of us earthlings
now find ourselves exiles
on our precious planet home.

Divorced from the cycles
of sun and moon, seas and soil,
we seem destined only to despoil.

Whether boxed in slum squalor,
where neither field, nor forest,
nor flower can grace our eyes,

or barricaded behind
artificial blinds,
where Nature becomes a screen show,

our reverence is three times removed from raw reality
by heads distracted, hearts divided,
and hands calloused only from continuous clicking.

What greater stupidity can be imagined than calling jewels, silver, and gold “precious” and earth and soil “base”? Galileo Galilei

Life herself, in proportions minute and monumental—
our one bright sanctuary in the endless dark—
is soaked with sacred mystery.

When we no longer sense this sacramental presence,
we have traded our common birthright for “urbanality”,
and lost our way back home.

How sad to separate
our souls
from the good green earth,

to desecrate the sanctity of soil
and denounce salt of the earth people
as dirty, pagan, heathen, villain!

For followers of a meek master,
once a worker of wood,
touching earth is our spiritual practice.

By calling upon us to consider the lilies,
our teacher was taught by Nature
to renew our covenant with Creation.

Reconnecting with the loam of our lives
we learn that holy is not heavenly.
It is in the humus of our humanity that we touch mercy.

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  Ephesians 3:17

And it is to the crumbled communion
of countless ancestors under our feet
that every body is commended.

Will you stoop today, be touched by sacred soil,
and sense the first silent stirrings of spring?
Nothing is more vital and urgent for us than growing deeper down.

The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
Psalm 65:12-13

Blessed are you, who wake up to this unfurling Realm,
to till and tend and be touched by resilient soil,
wherein we plant the seeds of possibility!

joe

Wakeful Waiting

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. Mark 13:37

Seeker,
As another year unfolds, what are you waiting for?

We call it longing
because it distends our sense of time,
and so much living is enlarged in the waiting.

Waiting…

for healing to happen,
anticipating a change to come,
expecting a loved one’s imminent return.

Waiting…

for loss to soften,
an ache to ease,
a void to shrink.

Waiting…

for tempers to cool,
a chafed heart to mend,
a conflict to ease, a bloody war’s end.

Waiting…

for a new day to break,
a tired old one to wane,
for the silence of night, or the chorus of dawn.

Waiting…

for a newborn’s cry,
or a loved one’s final breath;
we vigil before the mysteries of birth and death.

Waiting…

for the torrent to abate,
eager for the drought’s release,
we hold out for hunger and injustice to cease.

So many ways
and shapes of expectation,
whetted by keen anticipation.

All the while, and all around,
so much secretly undeclared,
quietly waits to be noticed, savored, shared.

The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. Abraham Heschel

Endlessly empty,
waiting feels like drowsy,
mid-afternoon dullness.

Routines called “ordinary”,
when taken for granted,
numb and stultify.

Immune to golden sunsets and icy mountain peaks,
milky ocean spray and windswept wilderness,
we fail to notice the grandeur and beauty that over-wash us.

Even crisis fails to stir those still blind
to famished children, ravaged lives,
littered oceans, denuded hills, rapacious mines.

Daily life presents challenges and lessons
that measure our attentive presence,
and test our receptivity.

In every golden moment grace hides
in plainest sight
for those with presence of mind and a will to penetrate.

When life, love or loss
lift the veil,
hearts and horizons are transfigured.

In the clarity of astonishment,
there is nothing
ordinary about existence.

Thus poets, artists, mystics come to life;
poised for inspiration,
to crack hearts or mend them.

Attentiveness is 
that heightened state of readiness,
of wakeful watching and wondering.

Wakefulness sharpens connection,
disdains distraction, discards pretension,
unmasks self-preoccupation.

Like a heron intent on a gravelly stream,
or a tail-twitching tabby transfixed in the grass,
electrically-charged anticipation sharpens senses with focus and purpose.

Now we enter a state of expectant attention—
engaged presence—
the opposite of terminal boredom.

Fine-tuning the present, attentive to the peripheries,
scanning the horizon,
wakeful wondering disciples wait.

(God) did not wait till the world was ready,
till (all the) nations were at peace.
(God) came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release. Madeleine L’Engle

Who knows how grace will
greet you this day, this year.
But will she find you awake and ready to receive?

joe

Re-Inhabit Life

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

…every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:17

Seeker,
How do pattern your day with habits to clothe the passing moments of life?

Renouncing the appetites of the marketplace,
the earliest monks
pursued the soul of Christianity into wild and rocky places.

In the desert they re-patterned life,
marking hours in prayerful rhythm,
into a daily office to transfigure routine into ritual.

Ironically, these ritual hours of office,
first formed in ancient cloister,
now shape the routine of office-workers worldwide.

With due attention and wakeful wonder—
practicing soul-stretching habits—
mundane becomes mystical and work an act of worship.

The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us. Our battles with our habits speak of dreams yet to become real. Mary Oliver

How do we re-inhabit our days,
to wear us wider,
and stretch the span of our short sojourn?

Can we invest our brief time
in the sacred art
of becoming fully human?

What might shake us free from self-obsession
and bring us to our knees,
as we negotiate the stumbling blocks of ideology?

And, if suffering-love is more lasting
than faith and hope,
what are we prepared to do, for love’s sake?

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

The trust-filled gaze of an infant
implores us to do our utmost
to make a safer world.

Tender shoots, boldly up-reaching,
beckon us to stoop and tend to beauty,
green with hope’s fullness.

Timeworn, aged hands,
shakily extended,
beg us to slow our pace and inhabit each fleeting moment.

Silent, hungry cries
of kin clad in different skin
fire the desire to simply live together as better beings.

This visible, earthly world is still God’s creation: one should not condemn it as a valley of tears; it is really the miracle work of God. And this earthly life is the life that God gives us, which it is our task to develop. Emil Brunner

Try these soul-stretching habits,
re-solutions for re-inhabiting 
this budding new year:

enter the dark quiet,
and listen for the signal
beneath the static;

seek sole time,
and turn off to tune in
to rhythms deeper;

extend loving attention
and cultivate concern for livelihood,
beyond the immediacy of you and yours;

practice Christhood,
by letting everyone you meet today
know they are Christ-companions, not competitors in your way.

Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may, at any moment, become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself: What else is the world interested in? What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? Dorothy Day

May you resolve
to shape a world
where it is easier for us all to love.

joe

From Segregation to Incarnation

Photo by Joe Grant © 2018 

Be aware, keep alert, for you know not when the time will come… Mark 13:33

Seeker,
Who is sacred to you, and who is not?

We have entered that darkening time
of watchfulness;
a season of ripening contradictions.

Festooned with jingle-jangle,
temples of commerce lure us
with sweet indulgences so very good for the economy.

All the while, in hallowed spaces,
choirs croon
over starlit, snow-globe nativities.

So familiar are those alluring songs
and fuzzy festive feelings,
it is difficult to stay awake.

For unto us and into the DNA
of this deep-divided world, Christ takes fragile flesh;
God-within, all around, among us everyone.

Blinded by brutality,
carved up by inequity,
our fractured family huddles into separateness.

While some bow to the East
and others incline to the West,
we also hark from Global North or South.

And many undertake that desperate exodus,
crossing desert, sea or mountain in search of peace:
possibility and the promise of a new beginning.

From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait… Isaiah 64:4

It is so easy to divide us—
Dives from Lazarus, darker from lighter—
the handful who own more than the billions on the bottom.

With fanatic fervor some commit heinous crimes
in the name of merciless gods.
Others give their lives over to national supremacy.

And many millions more find their souls
somewhere in the middle;
worried and wondering.

It may feel safer to stay distracted,
to tune out distant gunshot terror,
disregard protest, hunger, horror.

We might even decorate our lives
with pious pageantry.
But wishful thinking does not bring peace to birth.

Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited… With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. Thomas Merton

Christ has not come
just for a few or some.
the Holy One wears the skin of everyone.

No fence or barbed-wired boundary wall,
no color, caste or class,
can contain that merciful cascade meant for all.

For Christ bides with us already,
and we will know and be known,
when, as one, we refuse to be gated or segregated.

Under the rain of mercy
all are re-consecrated,
as separations are washed away.

In that blessed-broken body of Christ
there is no room for “they”, no place for “them”
and justice means “just us” – all of us.

May you find your way today to honor the Holy One Abiding-with-us!
joe

Make Room

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

In the sixth month Gabriel the messenger was sent by the Holy One to a hamlet in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young girl engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The girl’s name was Mary.  Luke 1:26-27

Seeker,
Who awaits you in these greatly troubled times?

How do we make room
for hope in the gloom,
and peace to smooth the way in the dealings of our day?

How do we give voice
to understanding and compassion
where heartlessness is always in fashion?

Will you attend that age-old parable
of messengers from the heavens
and signs in starry skies;

of wisdom setting out to meet humility;
and a maid who made room
for unimagined possibility;

of a refugee-God,
brought to birth in poverty,
and swaddled in squalor;

of a liberator nestled amid beasts of burden
in an occupied land,
and hope hosted by a wandering shepherd band?

Will you re-tell that ancient teaching tale,
of flight in the night
from lustful power

that fears the vulnerable,
and dreads the promised restoration
which is most surely coming?

And might you make space
for contemporary connections,
and parallel parables;

of unlikely welcomes and unsettling visitations
of fear and flight, of hearts roomy and ready,
and promise wrapped in powerlessness?

The gift of greatest efficacy and power that we can offer God and creation is not our skills, gifts, abilities, and possessions. Mary offered only space, love, belief.  Loretta Ross-Gotta

The work of Advent consists of this: make room!
Attune your heart to hope, long-expected
by hungry souls and broken lives.

Clear the clutter, quiet the noise,
turn off the soundtrack,
douse the twinkling lights.

Put away your lists and listen
to cries from the earth
that break the heart of the universe.

Set aside presents to be present.
Leave behind plastic pretense
to stand beneath the sky and ponder the Maker of a trillion galaxies,

who cares yet for the smallest places,
and seeks out the dark recesses,
bearing the gift of tenuous new life.

For into each unfolding moment
with or without us, the Christ arrives,
looking only for room and readiness.

Let us not be lost
to the cancer of consumption,
or adrift in self-fulfilling dreams of doom,

or decorated by distraction,
and driven by the appetite for acquisition,
dismissing the catastrophe playing out before our misted eyes.

All we need, to embody this Christ-becoming
is space, in humble, generous hearts
and spirits ripe and willing.

A message of hope sent to enlighten distress.
A promise of peace meant for conflict-torn places.
For Christ becomes flesh in the midst of our mess.

As water sinks to the lowest point and love finds the sorest soul,
Christ seeks out the broken,
bringing to birth restoration that makes the wounded whole.

The slimmest hope is hopeful still.
The slightest flicker glimmers for all.
As earth from darkness rolls away, will you re-turn your life today
to reflect the new light coming?

joe

Live Small

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2018

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt before him and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Mark 10:17

Seeker,
What would it cost you today to live a little more simply?

Change!
Change!
I need your change!

From the recessed doorway
a voice cries out
to the bustling any-town street.

Shapes of purpose-full people
blur by—
unheeding, unseeing, unaware.

You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes… Matthew 13:14

Change!
Change!
I need your change!

Captivated by the call,
a youngster, open-hearted,
turns herself around.

With bright-eyed encouragement,
she addresses the bundled body
that cradles a crinkled cup.

“Don’t despair,
change is coming!
We are working for change!”

“I need your change!”
the voice persists
with urgency.

Blushing,
the kind student leans in.
“I’m sorry… you must be hungry!”

Thrusting a handful of coins
into the cup, she adds,
“Perhaps a sandwich, or another cup of coffee?”

To her great surprise,
the hooded head
slowly shakes in disappointment.

“No…
I need YOU
to change your life!”

…and what does the Holy One require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

It rightly begins
with being just—
the pathway to the repair of relationships.

Looking, listening, asking,
with ready willingness
to be turned around.

This world redeemed
ever needs to be reorganized,
by loving-with-sleeves-rolled-up.

Such feeding, healing, forgiving
gospel work
is only realized in kindness.

For justice
sees and celebrates
our kin in each and anything.

First, be just! Next be kind!
But then we must change
so much more than just our mind.

…and walk humbly with your God.

For sure,
that third invitation
is the hardest turn of all.

…when I experienced the warm, unpretentious reception of those who have nothing to boast about and experienced a loving embrace from people who didn’t ask any questions, I began to discover that a true spiritual homecoming means a return to the poor in spirit to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Henri Nouwen

Live humbly,
simply, slowly!
Keep company with the lowly!

Declarations like these
we seldom see
engraved on marble monuments.

Though it might sound straightforward,
such radical redirection
does not come easily at all.

When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right. Shaker Traditional

May you
content yourself with little.
May you choose a less complicated life.

Share freely
all life’s blessings,
and you shall taste well-being.

And may we all learn to live small,
because large living is costing the earth—
a price paid most dearly by the littlest lives of all.

…blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Matthew 13:16

joe