The following are thoughts, reflections, and musings from Eric Massanari, Chaplain for Kidron Bethel Village. Eric leads weekly worship and prayer services as well as additional book studies and spiritual enrichment programs, and is available for consultation, visitation, and other pastoral needs.
Eric Massanari | Chaplain
Canyonlands Cairn | Yolanda Kauffman
“The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’” - John 1:35-38
Take a moment to imagine yourself walking that road behind Jesus, having left one teacher and wondering how to approach this potential new teacher. He turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” How would you answer?
Throughout the gospel accounts, we find Jesus teaching people by asking questions. Not just any sort of questions, of course. It is entirely possible for us to ask what I would call closed questions that essentially amount to answers and statements of presumption: What is your problem? Didn’t you realize that was going to happen? Don’t you hate it when….? Don’t you just love it when….? Isn’t this a beautiful day?
Jesus, like so many great teachers, knew the power of living with open questions that invite living our way into life with an open heart and an open mind: What are you looking for? Do you want to be made well? Who do you say that I am? Can you drink from the cup that I will drink?
These are the questions that invite the disciple to listen within for the presence and guidance of God’s Spirit. Oftentimes these are the sorts of questions we will need to return to again and again in the course of our lives: Who am I? What is my deepest desire? Where do I see God at work in my life?
Sometimes the open questions are the ones that lead us deeper into relationship with others: Who is my neighbor? What does this person have to teach me? How is God already at work in your life? If we live only with our iron-clad answers and well-defended assumptions, it is difficult for us to hear the voice of God and to keep growing. When we allow the most intimate and open questions of faith to lead us, then we know we are on a holy and vital path of life in God. As the poet Ranier Maria Rilke once advised an eager and aspiring young poet:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -“Letters to a Young Poet"
"Take A Long, Loving Look"
"Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear." -Matthew 13:16
"...now the ears of my ears awake and
Mushroom II | Yolanda Kauffman
Years ago our family took a vacation to the lake country of Northern Minnesota. One day, while out for a hike on the Superior Trail, I noticed that I no longer heard my wife’s footfalls behind me. I turned and was surprised to see her far back along trail, on all-fours, not moving. Confused and concerned I hurried back and found her trying to place her camera underneath the cap of a large mushroom. She told me that when she saw these giant fungi she grew curious about what the sunlight must look like passing through their broad caps. One result of her efforts is the image you see above.
For me this photo is a reminder that there are so many amazing things to see all around us that we so often miss. Perhaps it is because we are in a hurry, or we’re distracted by many things and many pressing concerns. Sometimes it is our assumptions that blind us: we assume we know what will be seen, so that is what we see. It takes a certain amount of time and intention to look more closely, and with care, at the world around us (not to mention the mysterious world within us!).
One of the gifts we’re given as we age is the gift of spaciousness in our living. We may carry fewer responsibilities and fewer commitments to occupy our time. There may be grief and loss in this for many people, however, this also comes as opportunity and as an invitation to contemplation. Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt once described contemplation as “taking a long, loving look at the real.” It is taking the time to look, listen, and attend to our own inner stirrings and the patterns of life all around us. Contemplation is the “seeing” that orients us to our deepest selves and the Spirit who gives us life.
Perhaps it is a morning walk, a time for devotional reading, drawing, journaling, or simply sitting in silence that invites you into deeper contemplation. Whatever it might be, celebrate the opportunities you have in life to focus less on doing and more on being. God is inherently relational and immanently self-revealing. We will know that God’s love makes each moment a holy moment, and each place a holy place, if we allow the “ears of our ears” to awaken, and the “eyes of our eyes” to open.
"Living Life in Widening Circles"
Tendril | Yolanda Kauffman
I live my life in widening circles
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I,2
What are you living for right now? To what or to whom are you giving your focused attention and your loving intention?
Each moment we are alive we give ourselves to something; at no point is our life hermetically sealed off from the life going on all around us. Our very breath joins us with our world from moment to moment!
Sometimes we are distracted and weary, and we give ourselves to daydreaming or even despairing. Sometimes we follow the anxious rabbit trails of our emotions, giving ourselves to imagined realities like the conversations we wish we would’ve had, the things we want to be different than they are, or the futures we fear or long for.
It is a challenge to bring our attention and intention to what is right here before us—all that is real and true, right here, right now. This is where God invites us to be, because this is the only place God can be fully with us, companioning and guiding us. We live our lives “in widening circles” that are always expanding outward from this moment. Where our path will lead in the future has everything to do with the choices we make in the present.
One simple way to practice more mindful and loving attention to the present moment is to bring your attention to your breath. You can do this when you first get up, or even in the middle of the busiest moments of your day. Simply bring your attention to the cycle of your breath going in and out. If you feel tense, let yourself take a few deep, slow breaths. Offer a silent prayer to God for this life-giving rhythm of breathing. Then, silently invite God to help you notice what needs your focused attention and your loving intention right here and right now. Then offer your life, your love, with your whole heart…
"Aging in the Spirit"
The following story comes from the tales of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, the 4th century Christians who left the cities and sought solitude, simplicity, and a deeper faith in the desert lands of Syria, Egypt, and Palestine:
|One day, abba Arsenius went out to seek the counsel of an old Egyptian monk about his thoughts and experiences. Another brother in the community noticed this and later said to him, 'Abba Arsenius, how is it that you, with such a good Latin and Greek education, ask this peasant about your thoughts?' Arsenius replied, 'Yes, I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not even know the alphabet of this peasant.'*|
The wise Arsenius understood that there are different kinds of learning and different ways of knowing. Even after years of schooling and training he still had something more to learn from his neighbor. Arsenius also knew the difference between wisdom and knowledge; he knew that oftentimes it is wise to stay curious, remain open, and humbly say, "I do not know."
When it comes to the spiritual path there will always be new opportunities for our growing, our deepening, and our becoming. Even though our physical abilities decline with time, and our cognitive capacities diminish with age, the possibility for growth in our relationship with God remains. Each moment we live, each encounter we have with our fellow human beings, brings with it an opportunity to discover the One who "searches out our path and our lying down, and who is acquainted with all our ways" (Psalm 139:3). No moment is too great or small, too pleasurable or terrible, too clear or confounding, to reveal something more to us about the God of Love.
As we age and mature in the Spirit we can give thanks for what we have learned along life's way, and we can also grow in wonder and awe before all that remains a mystery!
*From Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, edited by Benedicta Ward. Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1988.Kidron Bethel Village - A Bluestem Community