Life Skills #12 – Transformational Suffering (Discussion Notes)

.WFTM – Jan 14, 21, 22, March 18, May 3, June 5, 24

(1) Beginning to Talk About Suffering

*Read over these quotes. What seems new, even perhaps confusing? What sounds familiar, but something you need to remember? What emotions are you feeling?

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read.” James Baldwin


“In the middle of the pain there is some hidden gift. I, more and more in my life, have discovered that other gifts of life are often hidden in the places that hurt most.” Henri Nouwen


“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching . . . . I have been bent and broken, but–I hope–into a better shape.” Charles Dickens


“I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me up against the rock of ages.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon


“We never know the wine we are becoming while we are being crushed like grapes.” Henri Nouwen


“Just as bread needs to be broken in order to be given, so, too, do our lives.” Henri Nouwen


“Pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap.” Jerry Seinfeld


“Spirituality is about what we do with our pain.” Richard Rohr

(2) Longer Quotes with Wisdom to Hear

*Can you talk about what you’re hearing in these words?


“I’m not surprised by the fact that inexplicable and terrible things happen in a cosmos as complicated as ours, with sentient beings like us running the show. But I am emboldened by the fact that surprise is the only constant. We are never really running the show, never really in control, and nothing will go quite as we imagined it. Our highest ambitions will be off, but so will our worst prognostications. I am emboldened by the puzzling, redemptive truth to which each and every one of my conversations has added nuance, that we are made by what would break us. Birth itself is a triumph through a bloody, treacherous process.We only learn to walk when we risk falling down, and this equation holds–with commensurately more complex dynamics–our whole lives long. I have heard endless variations on this theme–the battle with illness that saves the life that follows; the childhood pain that leads to vocation; the disability that opens into wholeness and a presence to the hidden wholeness of others. You have your own stories, the dramatic and more ordinary moments where what has gone wrong becomes an opening to more of yourself and part of your gift to the world. This is the beginning of wisdom.” Krista Tippett

*How do these quotes reinforce, or add to, what we’ve seen in the first one? If you talk about that, talk about it in terms of your own experience, not just thoughts or beliefs.

“We are faced here with a phenomenon which has been widely attested by countless Christians who have lived out their Christian and human existence without looking for any cheap consolation. Countless incurably sick who discovered through their sickness a new awareness of themselves. Countless individuals for whom a new dimension in their life was opened up through their own misfortune, through the loss or even the treachery of someone they had loved. Countless people who, through all disappointments, separations, mis-hits, failures, humiliations, setbacks and disregard, transformed their lives and acquired a new personal quality; through suffering becoming more mature, more experienced, more modest, more genuinely humble, more open for others–in a word, more human.” Hans Küng


“By trying to handle all suffering through willpower denial, medication, or even therapy, we have forgotten something that should be obvious: we do not handle suffering; suffering handles us–in deep and mysterious ways that become the very matrix of life and especially new life. Only suffering and certain kinds of awe lead us into genuinely new experiences.all the rest is merely the confirmation of old experience.” Richard Rohr

For Further Consideration (either before or after our conversation)


“For in grief nothing ‘stays put.’ One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. round and round. Everything repeats. . . . How often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say,‘I never realized my loss till this moment’? The same leg is cut off time after time.” C. S. Lewis


*To what kind of loss do you think Lewis’ words might apply? Have you ever experienced that kind of loss? What was it like? How were you changed?

Closing Prayer
“And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven and the name of that river was suffering–and I saw the boat which carries souls across the river and the name of the boat was love.” [Abba, thank you for the boat of your love that carries me across the river of suffering.] Saint John of the Cross

Life Skill #11: “Being the Beloved”

.WFTM**, 2-23, 3-13, 3-26, 4-9

(1) The Experience of Being the Beloved

Take each passage below separately. If you can, mark phrases you want to talk about–words that touch you or amaze you. Do the first passage then the second.

“You are . . . God’s special possession . . . .” 1 Peter 2:9

“What we need is a knowing that is deeper than belief. It must be based on experience. Only knowing love is sufficiently strong to cast out fear. Only knowing love is sufficiently strong to resist doubt. The reason that [Gerald] May calls such knowing ‘contemplative’ is that it results from meeting God in a contemplative state. It comes from sitting at the feet of Jesus, gazing into his face and listening to his assurances of love for me. It comes from letting God’s love wash over me, not simply trying to believe it. It comes from soaking in the scriptural assurances of such love, not simply reading them and trying to remember them or believe them. It comes from spending time with God, observing how [God] looks at me. It comes from watching [God’s] watchfulness over me and listening to [God’s] protestations of love for me. . . . Contemplative or existential knowing may be supported by belief, but it is never reducible to it. It is based in experience, the direct personal encounter with divine love. The goal is, as stated by Paul, that we might know the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, and so be filled with the utter fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19).” David Benner

“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). He comes to you from within, where you may encounter the mystery of Christ’s presence in and through your own thoughts, feelings, hopes, imagination, dreams, and love—as well as your shame, your secrets, your rage and jealousy, and all the many ways you resist love. Because God is love, Christ in you represents the coming of love into the totality of your being, but this is not a sentimental, ‘feel-good’ love. The love of Christ is a force for healing, an agent of transformation, and a challenge to metanoia . . . .” Carl McColman

*Talk about something from above that encouraged you when you think about being God’s beloved. Share from the heart.

(2) Hindrances to Being (Feeling like) the Beloved

What are some hindrances to you actually feeling that you are God’s beloved? See if any of them show up below. Note thought you want to talk about.

“Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one–for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one–for God himself has given us right standing with himself.” Romans 8:33f.

“God is asking me, the unworthy, to forget my unworthiness and that of my brothers, and dare to advance in the love which has redeemed and renewed us all in God’s likeness. And to laugh, after all at the preposterous idea of ‘worthi-ness’.” Thomas Merton

“Faith is the courage to accept acceptance, to accept that God loves me as I am and not as should be, because I’m never going to be as I should be.” Paul Tillich

“If I make anything out of the fact that I am Thomas Merton, I am dead. And if you make anything out of the fact that you are in charge of the pig barn, you are dead. Quit keeping score altogether and surrender yourself with all your sinfulness to God who sees neither the score nor the scorekeeper but only his child redeemed by Christ.” Thomas Merton

“To please God . . . to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness . . . to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son–it seems impossible . . . but so it is.” C. S. Lewis

(3) More Possible Hindrances

Each writer below is trying to make a point. Do you need to hear any of these specific messages? Discuss these one at a time.

“I get so tired of beholding my brokenness. But the deeper I go into the depths of it, the deeper I experience my belovedness too.” Jonathan Martin

Oh, night that guided me,

Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,

Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,

Lover Transformed in the Beloved!

John of the Cross

“I focus on doing more for God

when I should focus more on being with God.

I open my hands to receive from God

when I ought to open my hands to release what blocks God.

I seek to find God, for God to bless me

when I ought to consider how God

has already found me

has already blessed me

how near God is

how real, how true

how fully, ever present.

What wonder is this then, that

in every moment,

in every circumstance,

in every gift or loss,

when God is at work

I am more likely thinking about

my next meal

my next deadline

that driver who cut me off?”

William Britton

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For Further Consideration (before or after our next meeting/maybe during)

*These are additional warnings of “hindrances.” Is there anything here you need to watch out for?

“As long as I keep running about asking: ‘Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with ‘ifs.’” Henri Nouwen

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life, because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” Henri Nouwen

“The sequence of events is quite predictable. The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.” Henri Nouwen

“All of these mental games reveal to me the fragility of my faith that I am the Beloved One on whom God’s favor rests. I am so afraid of being disliked, blamed, put aside, passed over, ignored, persecuted, and killed, that I am constantly developing strategies to defend myself and thereby assure myself of the love I think I need and deserve. And in so doing I move far away from my father’s home and choose to dwell in a ‘distant country.’” Henri Nouwen

Further Questions to Ask of Yourself

*Is it true that in this life you’re “never going to be as you should be?” Do you hate yourself for that? Should you? Does God hate you for that?

*Do you think that fear of judgment will keep you in line better than unconditional love? Can you trace that idea to its source and critique it?

*Can you quit keeping score? Do you laugh at the preposterous idea of ‘worthiness’?

Closing Prayers

“Thinking about Jesus is not the same as being with Jesus.

God help us all to be with Him.”

Geri Scazzero

“Beloved silence: Thank you for listening to my confessions and failures.

Under the shadow of your light, my darkness is no more.”

Peter Traben Hass

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**Wisdom From the Margins (the book we’re using)

Life Skills – Silence and Stillness (week 10)

WFTM*: 1-8, 1-11, 2-25, 3-27, 3-29, 2-1, 3-7, 4-3


“Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.”
Psalm 4:4 NIV

Introduction: What We Expect of God
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind [like the wind that withered the grain and brought the locusts in Ex. 20] tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake [like Saul’s deliverance from the Philistines in 1 Sam 14], but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire [like Moses experienced at the burning bush], but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a [lit. “sheer silence.”] 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:b–13 NLT


Observation: God did not make himself known in a dramatic or anticipated (previously experienced) manner, so as to say to Elijah, “Don’t limit me or what I can do with your expectations.” Perhaps we too still expect God to “appear” only in the spectacular.


*How do you expect God to come to you? Have you ruled that out? Have you been looking in the wrong places? (Selah.)

(1) Beginning the Conversation (Notice what “grabs” you.)
“When we can stand aside from the usual and perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen. . . . Silence brings us to back to basics, to our senses, to our selves.” Gunilla Norris


“Unless I am silent I shall not hear God, and until I hear [God] I shall not come to know [God]. Silence asks me to watch and wait and listen, to be like Mary in readiness to receive the Word. If I have any respect for God I shall try to find a time, however short, for silence. Without it I have not much hope of establishing that relationship with God . . . which is going to help me root the whole of my life in prayer.” Esther de Wall


[having compared contemplative prayer to water poured into a basin] “It takes time for the water to settle. Coming to interior stillness requires waiting. . . . In solitary silence we listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls us the beloved. God speaks to the deepest strata of our souls, into our self-hatred and shame, our narcissism, and takes us through the night into the daylight of His truth . . . .” Brennan Manning


Susan Cain’s book Quiet “ . . . focuses on introverts, making the case that they have a kind of intellectual advantage. And their edge stems largely from greater amounts of solitude, from the degree to which they’ve swapped motion for stillness, chatter for calm. They’ve carved out space for reflection that’s sustained and deep. This isn’t necessarily a matter of being unplugged, of ditching the hyper-connectedness of our digital lives. It’s a matter of ditching and silencing the crowd.” Frank Bruni


*Did some phrase or idea from above catch your attention? Why did it?
*How could you more effectively “ditch and silence” the crowd?


(2) “The Evangelical Problem” (Pay attention to your emotional response.)
“I believe silence is the most challenging, the most needed and the least experienced spiritual discipline among evangelical Christians today. It is much easier to talk about it and read about it than to actually become quiet. We are a very busy, wordy and heady faith tradition. Yet we are desperate to find ways to open ourselves to our God who is, in the end, beyond all of our human constructs and human agendas. With all of our emphasis on theology and Word, cognition and service–and as important as these are–we are starved for mystery, to know this God as one who is totally other and to experience reverence in his presence. We are starved for intimacy, to see and feel and know God in the very cells of our being. We are starved for rest, to know God beyond what we can do for him. We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.” Ruth Haley Barton


*What emotions arise as you hover over these words?
*What here seems particularly for you? . . . related to your story or experience?


(4) “The Human Problem” (Look for what applies to you.)
“It’s not enough to believe in silence, solitude and stillness. These things must be experienced and practiced, and practiced often enough to be routine, to create new habits. And so I come to a full stop. I sit quietly. I don’t petition God, give thanks, or meditate on some divine attribute. I don’t look out the window in wonder. Good things to do, but not first–not yet. Because unless I can first remember that it doesn’t depend on me, that I can’t do what needs to be done, then all is lost. And until I do this numerous times a day, every day, there’s a slim chance I’ll ever remember that. Everything argues against stopping–against remembering: the to-do list, the desire to be productive, the expectations of others, ego, habit. And therefore, ruthlessness is required in establishing this essential practice. I have the potential to be used by God in important ways–but I squander that by flitting from one thing to the next without stopping to ‘recollect’ myself. These are the most important moments of my day. Nothing else I do will be so informative–and formative. Nothing else will save me from myself. Nothing else will prepare me to attend to God and others, and to what’s going on with me. Would it be more important to take these moments to love my spouse, feed a homeless child, memorize Scripture, or engage in worship? No, for unless I first submit to utter inactivity–unless my activity flows from my practiced inactivity before God, I cannot trust that my activity will be anything but smoke and noise. No one needs my hurried self–the one that to me seems so indispensable–the one in such a rush to help. Something must be done, but first–only stopping will do.” William Britton


*Does naming this (what’s described above) a “human problem” seem fair? What would your diagnosis of yourself be in this regard, if you were to write it out?
*If you were going to work on experiencing silence and practicing stillness in the weeks to come, what would that look like? (What would the RX be for your diagnosis?)

CLOSING PRAYER

“Heavenly Father, you do not lead us all by the same path. Here in your presence, take our yearning to speak with you and what words we have, and make of them a prayer worthy of your love for us. Lord you’ve heard the cry of our hearts and seen our deepest needs. Before we leave this gathering, we want to ask you . . . to commit each person here into your loving hands. If you have us . . . if we have you, God, we will want for nothing. You alone suffice.”


*Each week’s quotes usually come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day). Sometimes specific readings are recommended. In that case, 2-16 refers to the reading in the book for February 16th, etc..


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.

Life Skills: “Spiritual Reading” (week 8 notes)


(1) “Lectio” – Reading as Praying, Praying as Listening
“This is a special and unique way of reading. It is a slow, reflective reading, reading with a longing to be touched, healed, and transformed by the Word. It is not at all, then, a hurried reading. It is quality reading rather than quantity. Just as when you sit down at the dinner table, you do not necessarily eat everything on the table, so too, when you approach the table of the Scriptures, you are not there to cover territory. Nutritionists tell us that to get full benefit from the food we eat, we should chew slowly. In other words, eat contemplatively. The same is true of the food of the Scriptures. To be fully nourished by the richness hidden in these words you must hover over them slowly and reverently as one who is certain of finding a treasure. . . . It will penetrate us, heal us, and open our eyes to the truth. . . . We are information seekers. We love to cover territory. It is not easy for us to stop reading when the heart is touched; we are a people who like to get finished. Lectio offers us a new way to read. Read with a vulnerable heart. Expect to be blessed in the reading. Read as one awake, one waiting for the beloved. Read with reverence. . . . “[This] is reading with the desire to be totally transformed by the Word of God, rather than just to acquire facts about God. . . . The disciple [is] encouraged to hover over the Word of God in the Scriptures as the Spirit once hovered over the birthing world. . . . Always read the Scriptures with a heart ready to repent.” Macrina Wiederkehr


“Meditation begins when your heart is touched.” David Benner


“I strain toward God; God strains toward me.
I ache for God; God aches for me.
Prayer is mutual yearning,
mutual straining,
mutual aching.”
Macrina Wiederkehr

*Let’s take the first reading above apart together. What phrases jumped out at you? What do you want to say about it? How did it affect you?

(2) Reading as Imaginative Guided Meditation
“In another approach you attempt to employ all of your senses. You place yourself in the story as one of the characters. As much as you can, listen to the sounds, smell the smells, feel the surroundings, etc. Imagine expressions and tones of voice–maybe gestures. Try to imagine what your character might have been thinking or feeling. Open your heart to hear how God may be speaking to you. Can you identify with your character? . . . or perhaps with another character now that you see through your character’s eyes? Read slowly, multiple times, with expectation, and as much longing for God as you can. Ask God to meet you, and don’t force anything.” wgb

*Can you mention a character in a Bible story where one could practice this method of devotional reading? (e.g., Peter when Jesus called him to walk on the water)

(3) Reading Without Any Fireworks
“I know that I need to be very quiet. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10. RSV) God also speaks in silence and darkness. So when nothing comes, when darkness prevails, then too, I lay my Bible down. My word is silent darkness. I carry the dryness, the emptiness, the silent darkness with me through the day. It is only in darkness that one can see the stars. I have seen too many stars to let the darkness overwhelm me. Even though You are silent, still I will trust You.” Macrina Wiederkehr

*This happens.

(4) Reading Gone Wrong
“Bonhoeffer said that beyond reading the Bible as God’s word to us, the time had come to begin reading it ‘against ourselves as well,’ accepting the word’s power to implicate us as well as to redeem us.” Charles Marsh

“Most of the Bible is a history told by people living in lands occupied by conquering superpowers. . . . This can make the Bible a very difficult book to understand, if you are reading it as a citizen of one of the most powerful empires the world has ever seen.” Rob Bell

“Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experience and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes–promise, exodus, resurrection and spirit–come alive.” Jürgen Moltmann

*Did it ever occur to you to let the Bible critique you or implicate you? Is that hard to do? Does your social position complicate that?

“We are all interpreting the text to some degree. We are all privileging–deferring to–certain values, doctrines, creedal commitments, traditions, or biblical texts. Something somewhere is trumping something else. . . . The only question is whether you are consciously vs. unconsciously using a hermeneutic . . . . When your hermeneutic is operating unconsciously it causes you to say things like ‘this is the clear teaching of Scripture.’ . . . What is interesting to me in this phenomenon is not that we are all engaging in hermeneutics, acts of interpretation. That is a given. What is interesting to me is how self-awareness, or the lack thereof, is implicated in all this. . . . Denying that you are engaged in hermeneutics–betrays a shocking lack of self-awareness, an inability to notice the way your mind and emotions are working in the background and beneath the surface. I think statements like ‘this is the clear teaching of Scripture’ are psychologically diagnostic. Statements like these reveal something about yourself. Namely, that you lack a certain degree of self-awareness. For example, saying something like ‘This is the clear teaching of Scripture.’ is similar to saying ‘I’m not a racist.’ . . . Self-aware people would say things like ‘I don’t want to be a racist.’ or ‘I try not to be racist.’ or ‘I condemn racism.’ But they would never say ‘I’m not a racist.’ because self-aware people know that they have blind spots. . . . They have unconscious baggage that is hard to notice or overcome. And it’s the same with how self-aware people approach reading the Bible. Self-aware people know that they are trying to read the Bible in an unbiased fashion. . . . [and] to let the Bible speak clearly and in its own voice. But self-aware people know they have blind spots. They know that there is unconscious baggage affecting how they are reading the Bible, baggage that they know must be biasing their readings and conclusions.” Richard Beck (WFTM, 2-6)

“What you think is a natural or an obvious reading of the text is actually not natural or obvious. You just haven’t questioned your own perspective or the perspective of the church that you’ve been raised in.” Chris Hoklotubbe

“White Christianity suffers from a bad case of Disney Princess theology. As each individual reads Scripture, they see themselves as the princess in every story. They are Esther, never Xerxes or Haman. They are Peter, but never Judas. They are the woman anointing Jesus, never the Pharisees. They are the Jews escaping slavery, never Egypt. For citizens of the most powerful country in the world, who enslaved both Native and Black people, to see itself as Israel and not Egypt when studying Scripture is a perfect example of Disney princess theology. And it means that as people in power, they have no lens for locating themselves rightly in Scripture or society — and it has made them blind and utterly ill-equipped to engage issues of power and injustice. It is some very weak Bible work.” Erna Kim Hackett


*What are you feeling after a couple careful readings of Beck’s argument?

____________________________________

For Further Consideration (for before or after our discussion)

“We usually see only the things we are looking for–so much so that we sometimes see them where they are not.” Eric Hoffer

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? . . . A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.” Franz Kafka


“Here’s my point: academic theology can be like the bars of the lion’s cage—it keeps our experience of God objective, prosaic, safe, undemanding. I say this as a person who deeply appreciates academic theology. I’ve read hundreds of academic theological works, and, occasionally, I give theological lectures in academic settings. I view these as valuable endeavors. But none of it is to be confused with the experience of encountering God subjectively. Subjective experience with the divine is a phenomenon that occurs within a heart that is open to God: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God’ (Mt 5:8). But the intellect can be employed as the steel bars that keep us a safe distance from the lion. . . . If you honestly want to encounter Jesus, here’s what I recommend: read the Gospels on your knees for six months, asking Jesus before each chapter to reveal himself to you. Seriously, try it. Don’t be surprised if you eventually find yourself inside the cage face-to-face with the Lion of Judah. Then you’ll have to decide what to do with your life now that you’ve gone through the wardrobe, entered Narnia, and encountered the real Aslan.” [If you have bad knees, it also works if you just sit in a chair. wgb] Brian Zahnd


“Christians too often read events through a hermeneutic of decline. That is, we often interpret changes in societies negatively. Whether those changes are political, economic, or social, we fall into despairing conservatism, imagining a better past and a decaying future. We must read the events of the world, not in eagerness to discern decay or decline, but with a view toward God’s presence in the world. Reading skills honed by a sense of divine presence enable us to interpret the signs of the times in light of the Savior of the world, a world he never ceases to love. Such reading draws us away from being mere spectators or speculators and toward concrete involvement in history.” Feasting on the Gospels

*Do you have a tendency to read our changing world in a solely negatively or dystopian (or an “Omega generation” – assuming the soon coming end of the world) manner? Is there a possible alternative? How could a different reading affect how you live?

Recommended: How to Read Slowly by James Sire

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Each week’s quotes usually come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day).


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.

Life Skills: Walking

Solvitur ambulando
(“It is solved by walking.”)
St. Augustine

One nineteenth-century observer quipped that the average New Yorker “. . . always walks as if he had a good dinner before him, and a bailiff behind him.”


Walking and Nature
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Friedrich Nietzche


“I come to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. . . . It is as if I always met in those places some grand, serene, immortal, infinitely encouraging, though invisible, companion, and walked with him.” Henry David Thoreau

Walking and Science

“The physical movement of walking activates the subcortical region of the brain, including the limbic system with its sensitivity to emotional states. Clearly, something far deeper and older than culture goes with me into wilderness.” Belden Lane


“The American psychologist William James knew this from his own experience of depression. He learned that in choosing to walk (as if he were alert and alive), he could generate the very intentionality he lacked. Going through the outward motions, even in a cold-blooded way, made possible the inner disposition.” Belden Lane

“Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. God for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience last around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential state of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.” Maria Popova

Walking and Mindfulness

“We are men who live in tension, we are also contradictory and inconsistent men, sinners all. But men who want to walk under the gaze of Jesus.” Pope Francis

“Learning to walk slowly with conscious awareness is a first step toward mindfulness.” Belden Lane

“I walk as though my feet were kissing the earth.”

“Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.” Maya Angelou

“You either walk toward love or away from it with every breath you take.” Brian Doyle

“At its heart, the journey of each life is a pilgrimage, through unforeseen sacred places that enlarge and enrich the soul.” John O’Donohue


“I reach out my hand to God that [God] may carry me along as a feather is borne weightlessly by the wind.” Hildegard of Bingen

*Does one of these quotes especially appeal to you? Can you say why?

Extended Quotations to Discuss

(1) On “Walking Well”

“Walking well is a mental state as much as a physical one. How to walk? . . . To walk out of your front door as if you’ve just arrived from a foreign country; to discover the world in which you already live; to begin the day as if you’ve just gotten off the boat from Singapore and have never seen your own doormat or the people on the landing . . . it is this that reveals the humanity before you, unknown until now.” Walter Benjamin quoted by Tom Hodgkinson


(2) “Eyes and No-Eyes”

The old story of “Eyes” and “No-Eyes” is really the story of the mystical and unmystical types. “No-Eyes” has fixed his attention on the fact that he is obliged to take a walk. For him the chief factor of existence is his own movement along the road; a movement which he intends to accomplish as efficiently and comfortably as he can. He asks not to know what may be on either side of the hedges. He ignores the caress of the wind until it threatens to remove his hat. He trudges along, steadily, diligently; avoiding the muddy pools, but oblivious of the light which they reflect. “Eyes” takes the walk too: and for him it is a perpetual revelation of beauty and wonder. The sunlight inebriates him, the winds delight him, the very effort of the journey is a joy. Magic presences throng the roadside, or cry salutations to him from the hidden fields. The rich world through which he moves lies in the fore-ground of his consciousness; and it gives up new secrets to him at every step. “No-Eyes,” when told of his adventures, usually refuses to believe that both have gone by the same road. He fancies that his companion has been floating about in the air, or beset by agreeable hallucinations.”


*What effect do these quotations have on you (insight, conviction, excitement, encouragement, shame, regret, etc.)?


(3) Bonhoeffer in Barcelona

“At the same time, the year in Barcelona inevitably broadened his social awareness. Covetous of finery though he may have remained, he judged himself ‘ever more sensitive to the plight of those who really are in need and cannot be adequately supported.’ It angered him to see Olbricht speak gruffly to an indigent who’d stopped by the church asking for help. Beyond the comfortable sphere of the German colony, in neighborhoods to the south and directly east, on his daily walks or in the cafés or in the course of some pastoral effort, Bonhoeffer discovered a different cast of characters. He would describe them vividly and with tenderness of heart, these men and women with whom, at one time, he likely would have never ‘exchanged even a single word.’ In this way he met ‘vagabonds and vagrants, escaped convicts and foreign legionnaires.’ He met ‘German dancers from the musical revues,’ ‘lion tamers,’ and ‘other animal trainers who have run off from the Krone Circus during its Spanish tour.’ There were ‘German-speaking misfits,’ among them ‘contract killers wanted by the police. All of them had heard of the sympathetic Berliner and sought him out for counsel. Bonhoeffer grew to enjoy their company, too: the ‘criminal types,’ the ‘little people with modest goals and modest drives, who committed petty crimes,’ and those driven by wild, wayward passions—the ‘real people’! And the stories they told, vivid and honest ‘to the last detail,’ gripped him with a blunt force, as of the gospel’s concern for the least of these his brethren. These people labored ‘more under grace than under wrath,’ Bonhoeffer was sure; and they were ‘a lot more interesting than the average church member.’ In a letter to Helmut Rößler, a former classmate in Berlin, Bonhoeffer described himself as learning to accept people ‘the way they are, far from the masquerade of the ‘Christian world.’ ” Charles Marsh


*Do you think this quotation is relevant to our discussion? If so, how? Have you ever had this kind of experience? Is there a lesson here for you?


(4) Cultural Ideas about Leisure


“More and more, work enlists all good conscience on its side; the desire for joy already calls itself a ‘need to recuperate’ and is beginning to be ashamed of itself. ‘One owes it to one’s health’— that is what people say when they are caught on an excursion into the country. Soon we may well reach the point where people can no longer give into the desire for a vita contemplativa (that is, taking a walk with ideas and friends) without self-contempt and a bad conscience. Well, formerly, it was the other way around, it was work that was afflicted with the bad conscience. A person of good family used to conceal the fact that he was working if need compelled him to work. Slaves used to work, oppressed by the feeling that they were doing something contemptible. ‘Nobility and honour are attached solely to otium and bellum [war],’ that was the ancient prejudice. Nietzsche’s point is: if we managed to remove our collective guilt about enjoying ourselves, then the culture of only taking time off when we are allowed by some outside force or by some inner self-controller might be damaged. The word leisure, incidentally, comes from the Latin licere, meaning ‘to be permitted.’ We have given responsibility for our free time to others, and we only have ourselves to blame.” Tom Hodgkinson

“In Buddhism the beggar, the tramp, the vagabond is not a subject for reform or liberal hand-wringing, but, on the contrary, he represents an ideal of living, of pure living in the moment, of wandering without destination, of freedom from worldly care. In Hindu culture, too, we find the figure of the Sadhu, a middle-aged man who, having performed his worldly responsibilities in the form of service to employer and family, decides that he will wander off with a begging bowl. He abandons all possessions (‘Imagine!’) and takes to the road. He is a holy figure, admired.” Tom Hodgkinson


“This [very negative] attitude to vagabondage was enthusiastically taken up by Nazi Germany in the mid 1930s. A list of ‘anti-social elements,’ issued by the Bavarian Political Police in August 1936, included beggars, vagabonds, gypsies and vagrants. Such freedom-seekers could, if necessary, be taken into ‘protective custody’ (i.e. concentration camps) where they would be forcibly taught the values of hard work and discipline. “Arbeit Macht Frei” ran the legend above the gates of Auschwitz, ‘Work Makes Us Free.'” Tom Hodgkinson


*Do you think these quotations are relevant to our discussion? If so, how? Do you wrestle with the idea of “leisure?”


(5) St. Teresa’s Famous Poem
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with
compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
with compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

*How would you restate Teresa’s words in just one sentence–relating it to our topic of walking well?


CLOSING PRAYER

“Heavenly Father, you do not lead us all by the same path. Here in your presence, take our yearning to speak with you and what words we have, and make of them a prayer worthy of your love for us. Lord you’ve heard the cry of our hearts and seen our deepest needs. Before we leave this gathering, we want to ask you . . . to commit each person here into your loving hands. If you have us . . . if we have you, God, we will want for nothing. You alone suffice.”


Supplementary Readings (for before or after the group time)

Set aside at least 5-10 minutes of quiet, take some deep breaths, and ask God to touch what needs to be touched in you by one of these readings.

From Mary Oliver “When I Am Among the Trees”

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
   but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, 'It’s simple,' they say,
and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled."

Thomas Merton’s famous prayer

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

               Nor do I really know myself, 
               and the fact that I think that I am following
               your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. 

               But I believe that the desire to please you does in
                fact please you.

               And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. 
               I hope that I will never do anything apart from that
               desire. 

              And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the
              right road though I may know nothing about it.

              Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem
              to be lost and in the shadow of death." 

              I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will
              never leave me to face my perils alone."

Each week’s quotes usually come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day).


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.

Life Skills: The Practice of Sabbath

Introduction (Keeping the Focus)
“Has anyone already started working on a practice? If you have, can you share what that is, and specifically, how you practice it?” (one or two people)

Quotations to Prime the Pump

“The burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:30b NLT


“Truly my soul finds rest in God . . . .” Psalm 62:1a NIV


“Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.” Mark 6:31 NLT


Sabbath “. . . invites us to rest. It asks us to notice that while we rest, the world continues without our help.” Wendell Berry

“Sabbath is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production.” Walter Brueggemann

“Resting in the presence of God, without work or speech . . . one becomes more aware of the companionship, grace, and love of God than one has been of the companionship, demands, and duties associated with other people. . . . Contemplative practices . . . are exercised more or less in solitude, making the first cluster [solitude, Sabbath, and silence] in many ways the key to the rest.” Brian McLaren

“And now we’re all tired. We dream of that day when our work will be done, when we can finally wash the dust of it from our skin, but that day never comes. We look in vain for the day of our work’s completion. But it is mythical, like unicorns and dragons. So we dream . . . . [But] God, out of the bounty of his own nature, held this day apart and stepped fully into it, then turned and said, ‘Come, all you who are weary and heavy-laden. Come, and I will give you rest. Come, join me here.’” Mark Buchanan

“As long as we are working hard, using our gifts to serve others, experiencing joy in our work along with the toil, we are always in danger of believing that our actions trigger God’s love for us. Only in stopping, really stopping, do we teach our hearts and souls that we are loved apart from what we do. During a day of rest, we have the chance to take a deep breath and look at our lives. God is at work every minute of our days, yet we seldom notice. Noticing requires intentional stopping, and the Sabbath provides that opportunity. On the Sabbath we can take a moment to see the beauty of a maple leaf, created with great care by our loving Creator. . . . Without time to stop, we cannot notice God’s hand in our lives, practice thankfulness, step outside our culture’s values or explore our deepest longings. Without time to rest, we will seriously undermine our ability to experience God’s unconditional love and acceptance. The Sabbath is a gift whose blessings cannot be found anywhere else.” Lynne Baab

Questions for Discussion

  1. Which quote really affected you (convicted, provoked, challenged, etc.)? Talk about that.
  1. How does the inclusion of the Egyptian exile image in quote #2 strike you regarding your Sabbath-keeping?
  2. “Solitude, Sabbath and silence” – which is most difficult for you to practice? Quote #3
  3. How do you “join God” on the Sabbath so that it is a valuable exercise? Quote #4

REMEMBERING APPLICATION:
Moving From Head to Heart,
Moving From Words to Deeds,
Moving from Self-love to Love of God and Others

  1. After this discussion, is there something specific, measurable, and realistic that you are going to practice in order to develop sabbath keeping as a new skill?
  2. How does the practice, as you understand it, make you more able to be a person who loves well (who practices compassion and justice)?

CLOSING PRAYER
“Heavenly Father, you do not lead us all by the same path. Here in your presence, take our yearning to speak with you and what words we have, and make of them a prayer worthy of your love for us. Lord you’ve heard the cry of our hearts and seen our deepest needs. Before we leave this gathering, we want to ask you . . . to commit each person here into your loving hands. If you have us . . . if we have you, God, we will want for nothing. You alone suffice.”

The quotes from this week come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day).


For further consideration (to do before or after the session)

Set aside at least 10 minutes, find a quiet place, settle yourself when with some deep breathing, and read through these words slowly, phrase by phrase, asking God to make clear to you what you need to hear most. (Maybe write that down on a 3.5 card.)

“Sabbath-keeping is the primary discipline that helps us to live within the limits of our humanity and to honor God as our Creator. it is the kingpin of a life lived in sync–with the rhythms that God himself built into our world–and yet it is the discipline that seems hardest for us to practice. Sabbath-keeping honors the body’s need for rest, the spirit’s need for replenishment, and the soul’s need to delight itself in God for God’s own sake. It begins with the willingness to acknowledge the limits of our humanness and then taking steps to live more graciously within the order of things. . . . I am not God. God is the only one who can be all things to all people. God is the only one who can be two places at once. God is the one who never sleeps. I am not. This is pretty basic stuff but many of us live as though we don’t know it. . . . There is something about being gracious and accepting and gentle with ourselves at least once a week that enables us to be gracious and accepting and gentle with others. There is a freedom that comes from being who we are in God and resting into God that eventually enables us to bring something truer to the world than all of our doing. Sabbath-keeping helps us to live within our limits because on the Sabbath, in so many different ways, we allow ourselves to be the creature in the presence of our Creator. We touch something more real in ourselves and others than what we are all able to produce. We touch our very being in God. Surely that is what the people around us need most.” Ruth Haley Barton


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.

Class Notes for Life Skills #4 – Waiting

Quotations to Prime the Pump

“I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5 NLT
“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.” Psalm 62:5, 6 NLT


“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Simone Weil


“A waiting person is a patient person. The word ‘patience’ implies the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Impatient people expect the real thing to happen somewhere else, and therefore they want to get away from the present situation and go elsewhere. For them the moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are.” Henri Nouwen


“We don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. But what we find . . . is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. Even if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other side of the continent, we find the very same problem awaiting us when we arrive. it keeps returning with new names, forms, and manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us: Where are we separating ourselves from reality? How are we pulling back instead of opening up? How are we closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter?” Pema Chödrön


“We dare not get rid of the pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. . . . Fixing something doesn’t usually transform us. We try to change events in order to avoid changing ourselves. We avoid God, who works in the darkness–where we are not in control! Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control. We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning.” Richard Rohr


“Waiting for clarity of call, waiting until God shows us the next right step, waiting for the Spirit to go ahead of us to light the way. When it’s not clear to us what is invited, we wait, watch and pray. And we trust that sometimes the Spirit is working just fine without us, as much as we’d like to help. There’s an art to the waiting, I’ve learned. Wait expectantly without expectations. Watch for what wants to unfold now, not for what I want to unfold. Pray that I may see what is being invited without imposing what I think would be the best solution. Waiting is not passive and disinterested. Waiting is not turning away. Waiting is an active, prayerful stance, a time of alert openness, a space of listening from mind-in-heart. . . . ” Leah Rampy


“Another will is greater, wiser and more intelligent than my own. So I wait. Waiting means that there is another whom I trust and from whom I receive. My will, important and essential as it is, finds a Will that is more important, more essential. . . . in prayer we are aware that God is in action and that when the circumstances are ready, when others are in the right place and when my heart is prepared, I will be called into action. Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.” Eugene Peterson

Questions for Discussion

  1. Which quote really affected you (convicted, provoked, challenged, etc.)? Talk about that.
  2. Do you “hate to wait?” Why is that?
  3. How do you know when you’ve waited long enough?

  • REMEMBERING APPLICATION:
  • Moving From Head to Heart,
  • Moving From Words to Deeds,
  • Moving from Self-love to Love of God and Others

  1. After this discussion, is there something specific, measurable, and realistic that you are going to practice in order to develop “waiting” as a new skill?
  2. How does the practice of waiting, as you understand it, make you more able to be a person who loves well (who practices compassion and justice)?

The quotes from this week come from Wisdom From the Margins*: 2-25, 3-4, 4-7, 4-14, 6-3, & 6-14 *This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day, or the ones here in italics).


For further consideration (to do before or after the session)

Three possible ways to go deeper:

(1) Set aside at least 10 minutes, find a quiet place, settle yourself with some deep breathing, and read through these words slowly, phrase by phrase, asking God to make clear to you what you need to hear most. (Maybe write that down on a 3.5 card.)

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some states of instability–and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually–let them grow, let them shape themselves without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you. And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


(2) If you’re looking for a specific way to practice waiting, this is something you could start to work on–waiting for the other person to continue talking instead of jumping in to take your turn! Oy! FOTFL.


“When a pro interviewer feels a subject is holding something back on a particular topic, they’ll often use the power of silence at the end of the answer to draw out more information. Here’s how journalist Jim Lehrer describes it: ‘If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you’ll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he’s already said or he’ll go in a different direction.’ try counting to three–or five if you can stand it–after your subject answers a tough or thoughtful question. This method can seem agonizing at first, but–used with empathy–it works wonders to develop a deeper rapport between two people. . . . of course we’d all like to think of ourselves as attentive, curious students of the world, but one little thing gets in the way: our own egos. it’s not our fault–we’re hardwired that way. After all, talking about ourselves feels as good to our brains as money or sex. That’s why ego suspension is so essential to cultivating the kind of curiosity that lets you connect with others. Robin Dreeke . . . explains: ‘Most times, when two individuals engage in a conversation, each patiently waits for the other person to be done with whatever story he or she is telling. Then, the other person tells his or her own story, usually on a related topic and often times in an attempt to have a better and more interesting story. Individuals practicing good ego suspension would continue to encourage the other individual to talk about his or her story, neglecting their own need to share what they think is a great story.” Courtney Siete


(3) If these prayers resonate, try praying either or both of them through the week:

Abba, help me walk rather than race, receive rather than grasp, and relax rather than strive. Help me step into the flow of your divine life rather than living a frenzied version of my very human life. Help me focus on being with you and leave the results to you.

Abba, keep me from moving on before what you’re doing manifests itself. Cure me of impatience (my hurried self), impulsivity (my thoughtless self), and anxiety (my fearful self).


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill @ wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible. (If you know of someone for this, please let me know.)

THIS WEEK’S DISCUSSION: Slowing Down

  • Keeping the Focus
  • Has anyone already started working on a practice? If you have, can you share what that is, and specifically, how you practice it? (one or two people)

B. THE PRACTICE OF SLOWING DOWN

QUOTATIONS TO DISCUSS

“Nothing can be more useful to a man than a determination not to be hurried.” Henry David Thoreau

“The one who hurries delays the things of God.” Vincent de Paul

“When the Spirit of God descends, patience is His inseparable companion.” Tertullian (cf. Galatians 5:22, 23 “The fruit of the Spirit is . . . .”)

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.” A. W. Tozer

“He who believes will not be in haste.” Isaiah 28:16 RSV

“I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time.” Pope Francis

“Jesus walked a lot. . . . This gave him time to see things. If he had been moving more quickly–even to reach more people–these things might have become a blur to him. Because he was moving slowly, they came into focus for him, just as he came into focus for them. . . . While many of his present-day admirers pay close attention to what he said and did, they pay less attention to the pace at which he did it.” Barbara Brown Taylor

“Jesus moved slowly, not striving or rushing. He patiently waited through his adolescent and young adult years to reveal himself as the Messiah. Even then, he did not rush to be recognized. He waited patiently for his Father’s timing during his short ministry. Why is it then that we hate ‘slow’ when God appears to delight in it?” Peter Scazzero

“When we’re in full possession of our powers–our education complete, our careers in full swing, people admiring us and prodding us onward–it’s hard not to imagine that we’re at the beginning, center, and end of the world, or at least of that part of the world in which we’re placed. At these moments we need . . . to quit whatever we’re doing and sit down. . . . When we sit down, the dust raised by our furious activity settles. . . . We become aware of the real world. God’s world. And what we see leaves us breathless: it’s so much larger, so much more full of energy and action than our ego-fueled action, so much clearer and saner than the plans that we had projected.” Eugene Peterson

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

*Which quote really affected you (convicted, provoked, challenged, etc.)?

*Can you describe what you feel (body and soul) when you’re rushing?

*To put it mildly, everyone wanted something from Jesus–yet Jesus never seemed hurried or frenzied. Do you really need to hurry?

*Is it hard for you to relax? Do you “hate slow?” What do your answers say about you?

REMEMBERING APPLICATION:
Moving From Head to Heart,
Moving From Words to Deeds,
Moving from Self-love to Love of God and Others

After this discussion, is there something specific, measurable, and realistic that you are going to practice in order to develop slowing down as a new skill?

How does the practice, as you understand it, make you more able to be a person who loves well (compassion and justice)?

For further reading: Wisdom From the Margins*: January 8, March 6, 11, 17, 19
*This is the book we will use for this discussion.


For further consideration (either before or after the discussion):
Are you wary of decisions made hastily? . . . of the “first decision?” What does that look like in your actual experience?

Do you factor in the realization that meeting goals will often take much longer than you expected?

Do you keep busy to outrun that internal voice that shames you with charges that you’re not good enough? Are you good enough?

__________________________________

If this discussion seems like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. We meet on Tuesday evenings at 7:30pm EST. Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible. (Bill, at wm_britton@mac.com)

Life Skills Course Philosophy & List of Topics

This post might be characterized as something akin to “inside baseball.” If you’re participating in the Life Skills discussion, don’t feel compelled to read it. This is just FYI IYI (if you’re interested.) This is the context that shapes what we’re doing, and how, and why.

The overarching and suggested goal in our weeks together is that group members become aware of, informed about, and sympathetic to a list of traditional “spiritual practices” or disciplines–especially those practices that most of us have never been taught–or are learning only recently. Learning and doing a practice to the point where it becomes a skill is the penultimate goal. The ultimate goal of learning such skills is growth in living a life of compassion and justice (“loving well”). (Mt. 22:38-40)

The mastery of these practices (disciplines, habits, routines, rhythms) will create certain corresponding life “skills.” Developing even one of the skills will be liberating and transformative. Each group member is encouraged, over the course of our weeks together, to chose one new practice (a potential new life skill) to be employed long after the class is completed. (Really developing one skill will be much better than dabbling in 5-10 different practices.)

These life skills (disciplines, practices, habits, routines), when ultimately adopted and integrated into a person’s life will lead to a life characterized (1) by more often “being with God”–not just “doing for God” or “doing it without God”–(2) by personal flourishing, (3) by growing in love for God and others (compassion and justice), and ultimately, (4) by making God’s loving, redemptive presence known on the earth.

To these ends, each group member is encouraged (1) to attend and participate in the weekly meetings whenever possible, and (2) in any case, to make a habit of reading one reading from Wisdom from the Margins on a daily basis. (This could involve the corresponding calendar day’s reading, or one of the readings that will be provided from the book for background to the weekly lesson. Doing this will become a sort of healthy daily practice in itself, and will greatly supplement everything that is explored in our discussion times. My suggestion is that you pick a time and place, and begin to make this a habit. Another suggested practice is (3) to do what’s called an “Examen” at the very end of the day. A simple version simply involves looking back over your day, and asking yourself what brought you life, and what drained you of life. These few moments of mindful listening to your emotions, when practiced regularly, create an opening for God to guide you. It’s very simple. Very revealing. Very brief. Even so, it can become another anchor in your day when you purposely, if briefly, create space for being with God.

An individual who adopts the daily reading habit, the Examen habit, and just one other skill during our 16 weeks together, will be on the way to measurable life-change, and will have achieved my dream for those who join in these discussions!

Bill

_________________________________

Life Skills Discussion Weekly Plan

Here is the most recent (reordered and tweaked) weekly plan for our Life Skills discussions, which began February 1, 2022. (If you’re not involved and would perhaps like to be, please contact me at wm_britton@mac.com.)

Practices (Overview)
Solitude
Silence
Slowing Down
Waiting
Sabbath
Stability
Contemplative Prayer
Fixed-time prayers
Spiritual Reading
Embracing limits
Releasing Control
Abstinence
Transformational suffering
Appropriate Smallness
Loving well (private & public)

___________________________

Here are examples of what the classes are like:

Week one: https://richerbyfar.com/2022/01/30/life-skills-week-one/

Week two: https://richerbyfar.com/2022/02/02/solitude-class-notes-week-2/

Life Skills (week one)**


Typical Weekly Session

*The Welcome
“Welcome to our group! We’re meeting together in order to learn practices that will inform and form our lives. (“Life Skills”) Our group intention is to cultivate an atmosphere of safety, compassion, and respect for each individual’s unique experience and contribution.”

*The Prayer
“We know you are already present to us, O God, so we ask you to enable us to be equally present to you, to each other–and to ourselves. We consent to your work in us. As we learn new practices, may we be delivered from the ‘pace, power, and priorities’ (Villodas) of our world.” (60 seconds of silence)

*Managing Expectations
This is not a Bible study or a counseling session. Our time together is as much about “unlearning” as about learning. The approach may be unfamiliar at first, so give it some time. It works!

*Suggested Guidelines
–Come to the group with an expectation of learning something new and helpful.
–Keep your sharing at the “I” level–make it personal (what you think or feel), not preachy (what you think others should think or feel). 
–Please keep the focus on your own experience.
–Resolve to practice patience and exquisite tenderness toward others.
–Stick to the topic, and avoid controversial comments.
–Refrain from commenting on, correcting, advising, or offering solutions to the person who is sharing (No “fixing.”)
–Be sensitive to how many times you share, and for how long. We may have a large group at times. Let others have their turn.
–Hold what you hear in confidence. Help us keep this a safe space for everyone.
Specific to on-line meetings:
–Mute your microphone when you’re not sharing so as not to distract others.
–Please don’t make video or audio recordings of our meetings.
–Keep your background as non-distracting as possible.
–Mute your microphone when you’re not sharing (even if you’re home alone). 

A Spiritual Exercise for this Topic (Colliers)

This will be something different each time (most weeks).

Week One: orientation and introduction to “skills/practices”

“. . . everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” Jesus in Mt. 7:24, 26

[oftentimes] ” . . . Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief.” Brian McClaren

“That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Training means arranging life around those activities that enable us to do what we cannot do now, even by extreme effort. Significant human transformation always involves training, not just trying.” Dallas Willard

“You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not [God]. You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require it nor demand it.” Annie Dillard

For discussion:

*Do any of these quotations affect you (encourage, surprise, confuse, challenge, disturb)? Can you explain your response?
*Can you pick a quote that is important to you, and attempt to explain its main message to the group?
*What would you say about a life of faith and spiritual “practices” after this discussion?

To consider for later:

If you had to explain to someone what a Christian is, what would you say?
Did your answer mostly emphasize ideas and beliefs, or behaviors?
Is your experience of the life of faith more about “trying” or “training?” Does what you’re doing seem to be working?

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**These are notes for a Life Skills discussion that starts in the evening on Tuesday, February 1, 2022. If you think you may in interested in joining this weekly discussion, please contact me at wm_britton@mac.com, and I’ll send you a link. (The discussion will be based on the book Wisdom From the Margins.)