The Taser's Edge

My own emptiness to report

I am not able to distill from either my
mother’s encounter with death or my own exposure to desert-mountain terrain any universal insights about the wonder-evoking power of fierce landscapes. I am left, ultimately, at an end of language, having nothing more than my own emptiness to report, although gradually coming to recognize emptiness itself as a profound and wonderful gift.

-Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes

The Artist and The Contemplative

The Sartorialist is the fashion blog of Scott Schuman, possibly the most-read fashion blog in the whole shootin’ match.  Recently somebody at Intel thought it would be a good idea to do a brief documentary about him, and here is that product:

As I watched, I thought about a couple things:

1.) Schuman’s art requires leisure, 4-5 hours a day walking and attempting to be present to New York, Milan, London, or (most recently) Seoul, looking for 1-2 pictures.  And here’s the jump, if you’ll make it with me: contemplative prayer and good art both require a similar kind of leisure, a similar kind of attention, and a similar cultivation of awareness over time.  (Think Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, just ‘wasting’ her time.)  Maybe it’s obvious that leisure is required for contemplative prayer, but I never thought about just how important it was until Beatrice Bruteau opened her Radical Optimism with a full chapter devoted to leisure.  [Side note: she also says that study requires a similar level of leisure, which would also connect to the best study being the most creative study.]

2) Schuman’s daily process is a long search, but it is nonetheless fully expectant, and it has the right expectations, which the artist has learned over time.  Contemplation too is shaped by a similar expectancy, one which changes and matures over time and through experience.  Just as Schuman doesn’t expect or look for a brilliant photo on every street he walks, so the contemplative doesn’t expect life-changing insight 10 times a week, but this does not at all mean that there is not joyous and hopeful expectation on the part of both artist and contemplative.

Personally, I see a connection between the cultivation of a healthy life, an aware life, and a creative life.  Doing a year-long chaplaincy residency beat the crap out of me, but the twin practices which seemed to be most helpful for my holistic wellness are mindfulness/contemplation (not to claim the two are synonymous) and creative outlet.

Drawn to Solitude

This morning I find myself reading an exceptional book—Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton.  There is a whole lot of wisdom going on here as she writes of the importance of Christian leaders meeting God in solitude.  Although in some ways, I wonder why she didn’t just apply the same truths to everyone, I think she is right that leaders in particular need to be called out on it.  It is leaders who most tend to be too wrapped up in the needs of others to tend to their own souls and their own salvation.

One of the major questions Barton says we should bring into our practice of silence and solitude is “What is drawing me to solitude?”  I sat in silence (my mind racing the entire time) for about 25 minutes just now.  That question was the anchor for meditating.  I tried (after a while) to just let the question rest with me in my solitude.  I had to tell myself not to try to answer it, which seems to be an important part of the practice, in my experience.  That is, I know the answer, but my conscious mind surely doesn’t, as hard as it works and whirs.

My head throws up plenty of answers to please me.  What is drawing me to solitude?  Because I’m under pressureBecause I still don’t have those job apps out.  Because Holly is trusting me with our future, and I don’t know where to go.  Because God is calling me.  Because I’m having more anxiety and depression than I have in recent months, and I want some answers.

They’re all true, or at least factual, reasons that I need this solitude.  But as my most recent CPE supervisor would constantly urge me in his rich Ghanaian accent, I need to “go deeper.”  Deeper tells me that I know some things.  External pressures, outside that solitude with my God turn up the heat on me, and sometimes I feel like I am in mid-fry.  One place Christendom-thus-far and the kingdom of God differ is that Christendom, both in the church and in its secular forms in the form of social pressures, tell me I have a duty, even a ‘calling’ to provide for my family.  In the kingdom of God, I will know that God alone is my provider, my wife’s provider, anybody’s provider.

Where is the kingdom of God to be found, and how do I live as an inhabitant of two worlds, but a servant of only one Master?  Solitude is where I find clarity.  I am surrounded by sandstorm.  I am surrounded by Wizard-of-Oz-ian cyclone.  And I lay down on my back, in sand or on Kansas soil (depending on my metaphor), and I close my eyes.  The sand is real.  The cyclone is real.  But God is with me, and mysteriously God is more real.  With the rare exception, it is in solitude that I have clarity and even eyes to see.  It is there that I am reminded again.  God is with me.  God is good.