life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

silence 2...

(Note: Steven and I had a harrowing journey from Texas back to Bakersfield Friday through almost Monday. Don't be surprised if Fort Hancock, TX, no brake lights for 1500+ miles, and Volkswagon's anti-shift locks show up in future posts!)

My experience at Mount Calvary has made me begin to think about the nature of silence and how there are many ways to look at it. Much of our view of silence, I suspect, depends on the way we were raised. Some of us were raised in noisy or moderately noisy homes. Some were raised in sedate environments where anything above a whisper was frowned on. I was raised in a rather free, moderately noisy household without a lot of restrictions in the noise area.

Sometimes experiences in life change your perspective, such as my encounter with silence at Mount Calvary.

Personally right now, my attitude toward silence has completely changed. I am in the noise avoidance mode as you can tell from my last post. A television left on grates on my nerves. The constant blather of talking heads makes me irritable, and I want to shout, “Will someone please shut that guy up?!?” I know, I know. There are important things being talked about on the news.... for example, the weather. But what you have to sit through to get to that point can be quite frustrating.

Theological attitudes toward silence also vary. What does silence mean anyway?

I come from a Christian denomination that has read much into silence, but the reading was all negative. “If the Bible doesn’t say you can do something (usually used in reference to worship practice or church organization--funny how it only dealt with that), then you shouldn’t do it.” Silence was (and still is in many places in my denomination) considered restrictive. One doesn’t have to dig deep to see the inherent dangers in such an approach nor flex the imagination much to discover the path to irrelevancy in such things. As I have often said before on this blog, sometimes we ask the wrong or unimportant questions. I think God may often say such things as, "C'mon people! Who gives a rip!?! What about the poor, the addicted, those with different opinions and all the rest I expected you to bless??? Remember Jesus?!?"

I don’t know that the opposite view of silence is any better: silence is completely permissive in terms of practice. This view leads to the same misdirection, IMHO, that the previous view leads to. In other words, we focus on the wrong question or questions.

I would ask the question, “Does silence from the deity have anything to do with behavior?” Actually, I have more questions than that, and more important ones based on where I am in my thought process right now. Certainly enough to lead to another few posts on this subject. Questions such as, “Does silence indicate absence or non-existence?” and “Is silence an appropriate expression of companionship?” and “Is silence a recognition of the failure to communicate?” There are even more floating around in my small head.

Hmmmm. Not too silent, eh?

Stay tuned in the next several days for more.

In the meantime…

Grace and peace,


Friday, January 13, 2006

out of town...

Just a note to let you know that I will be out of town/state for a few days. Next post will probably be Monday. It may be silence 2... or it may be holy eucharist... Check back to see.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, January 12, 2006


One of the things I worried about when I was getting ready to go to Mount Calvary last week (see previous two posts), was their practice of grand silence.

Grand silence is a monastic tradition which includes significant portions of the day/night where the whole community, visitors included, observe silence. That means no talking. At Mount Calvary for the days I was there grand silence began at 8:30 p.m. and lasted through breakfast the next morning. (Breakfast began at 8 a.m.) Granted I slept during part of that time which made it easy to maintain silence (unless you snore). Still, I don't normally go to bed at 8:30 at night or stay in bed until 8 in the morning.

Personally, I was worried that I would run into someone and just strike up a conversation, totally forgetting that I was supposed to keep my mouth shut. And it is an effort to keep my mouth shut at times. (And there are many times in my life I would have been wise to do so! See the last paragraph of this post for one example.)

My fears were totally unfounded. It was a wonderful experience, one that would be difficult to attempt at home, but just delightful there. Why was that?

Our world is a very noisy place. You discover that after spending some time in silence. It has been valuable for me to notice that because of my experience. Noise is quite distracting. The incessant talking when the television is on – talking heads, commercials pushing our consumerist philosophy, pundits alternating between decrying our political woes/solving our political problems – just drives me nuts now. I find very little of value there. (Actually, I found very little of value before I visited Mount Calvary. In fact, most of what Dorothy and I watch of late is the Food Network. Hmmmm.) And television is just one example.

Anyway, being the distractable kind of guy I am (ADD), it has come home to me rather audibly the amount of noise distraction that exists in my world. I had the same experience as a student in Germany many years ago. There was an Arab oil embargo on and fuel was at a premium. The German government passed a law that there would be no driving on Sundays (2 a.m. Sunday to 2 a.m. Monday). I awoke that first Sunday to the thunderous pealing of church bells from all over the city. Wow! And when the bells weren't ringing it was quiet, so quiet that I could hear the tweeting of the train whistle from miles away. I enjoyed that silence as I enjoyed the silence at Mount Calvary.

The second thing that I found quite ironic was my positive experience with grand silence, when at the same time I am decrying of late my experience of the silence of God. Though I haven’t to my mind resolved all of those issues, I have decided to seek God in the silence and have begun sporadically practicing silence as a spiritual discipline. That certainly reflects Elijah's experience. I don't know that it is the same thing as mindfulness (a Buddhist and Christian practice from long ago), but perhaps similar in some ways. I don't know. I'm a neophyte. But I've decided I want to embrace the silence instead of complain about it. I want to join God in his silence rather than criticize him for it. Does that make sense?

One more note.... I actually miss grand silence and told Dorothy so. (One of those times when I should have kept my mouth shut ;-) ) I tried to quickly to cover up by saying that I didn’t mean for her to be silent! You guys out there, if you ever have the positive experience I had with grand silence, you probably won’t want to enthusiastically gush about that to your wife. Not a good idea. Lots of room for misunderstanding, you know. You guys out there, you understand, right?

Grace and peace,


Sunday, January 08, 2006

a long obedience...

I have been professing Christian for over 40 years now. (No applause, please. None is deserved.) One thing that comes with that length of time is the gift of perspective. For those of you who have been reading this blog, you know that I have struggled mightily of late with the current “moment” as I wrestle with the God who appears at moments not to be there. I think this is a struggle in part with trying to break out of the functional deism within which I was raised. And wondering if God is even there. (I thought I was long past this, but I guess not.)

Please forgive my weakness in that struggle. I do not mean to shake your faith. But I do mean to be honest about my own struggles. Be assured that I have not lost my hope in God.

But as I look back at the last several years, a part of that gift has been to recognize that the “now” is not the “all” of life. The moment is in fact just a moment. This moment in no way negates the moments past nor future. They are each pieces of the journey being woven together as our story. Sometimes they cause us to leap ahead with profound new insights. Sometimes they draw us back to the simple, grounding realizations of childhood. And sometimes they lead us right through the proverbial fire and out into the desert. While we may live “in the moment”, I’ve realized that we also live within the memory of moments past. And if we’ve gone down the path for a long enough time, we live within the expectation of moments in the future. More of our story is yet to be written.

This is a gift not to be ignored or treated lightly. And it is a gift, I am convinced, that is not just (or even primarily) for us. It is rather a gift for us to pass on to others who are gripped by the first episodes of doubt. Not the assurance that we have all the answers. Not the assurance that everything is okay and they'll be fine once we understand everything (as if that will ever happen!). Instead, it is the assurance that they too will make it through the path of trial; that though their questions may remain unanswered, they will survive the questions; that God is indeed faithful, though perhaps different and more and deeper and perhaps wilder than what they have experienced or are experiencing now (not to mention the sometimes long periods of silence).

I am convinced that what matters more than anything is a long obedience, by which I mean taking another step on the path set in front of you. I’ve heard of it as a long obedience in the same direction, but my experience with the labyrinth this past Thursday morning (see earlier post) has shown me otherwise. The path can indeed turn from the face of God. It is not pleasant, nor necessarily healthy when we do. But, let’s face it. We do that at times, don’t we?

And I don’t think God is offended by our questions. I have questions still, in spite of the few days at the monastery. The epiphany for me there was less a dramatic experience of God’s presence nor even his still small voice recognizable beyond all doubt. Either or both may happen in my lifetime, I don’t know. Rather, the epiphany I experienced was more the sense that this life with God is a process, a journey, a continuing saga. (I’m old enough now that I can call it a saga, don’t you think?)

I will always have unanswered questions. Always. It is my nature. If I wait to take the next step until all my questions are answered and I have things "figured out," I will never take another step in any direction.

My choices are simple. I can choose to imagine I am walking the path with – or at least toward – God. Or I can believe that I am walking it alone. All that I am called on to do is to set one foot in front of the other on either path. It’s still a path. Either God is still at the center and will reveal himself to me or I am alone. If he is at the center, there is no question that I am and have always been mistaken about him and his nature in at least some of my understanding, no matter how much I’ve thought or studied or experienced. I just need to make peace with that.

I choose to walk believing that he is there and having at least some small confidence that he will reveal himself to me again in his time. At least I trust so.

And so we keep walking....

Grace and peace,


Saturday, January 07, 2006


What follows is an edited version of one section of Thursday's journal while I was at Mount Calvary Monastery and Retreat Center in Santa Barbara, California. I will be posting some of my journalings during that time over the next several days, as well as some thoughts about the experience. For now, suffice to say it was a very profound experience!

I walked a prayer labyrinth this morning (Thursday) for the first time. What a rich experience!

First, there was the joy and trepidation of entering it. This is not something that is part of my heritage. In fact, people coming from my heritage would largely wonder about me for participating in this ancient practice. Plus, I had no clue what I was doing there. I asked Brother Robert, one of the monks, if there were any guides or instructions or anything. No, he told me, just let the Spirit lead you. I didn't tell him he was talking to a hyperrationalist. Oh, well. There's no one quite so desperate as a Restorationist with no written instructions!

Part of my trepidation, though, centered more on whether I would find God in the labyrinth, or at least find some kind of meaning there. Perhaps, coming from the background I do, my greatest fears center in discovering the absence of God, rather than his presence. A worthy subject to explore some other time, and, I am sure, one that is heavily influenced by my religious upbringing, not to mention the scientific method that was both part of my high school science classes and my post-graduate religious training.

Anyway, I found in this labyrinth a metaphor for my life and relationship with God. You begin by entering toward the center, but that takes you only so far into the circle before you hit a big rock. Exhilarating to enter at first, to be sure. I remembered when I was first baptized, when I first committed myself to the way of Jesus. Lewis talks about the cloud of joy that surrounds you for a time. It seems that indeed nothing can separate you from God. Consciously enveloped in that fog of divine love, it is almost as if you have died and gone to heaven.

But soon the path turns and we become distracted. Life interferes. There is work or school, family, children, the struggle of relationships, the stresses of life. Lewis suggests that God removes the cloud of his immediate presence for purposes of maturing us. As one who has experienced the silence of God for awhile – the painful silence of God I might add – it is an extremely uncomfortable experience.

I paid particular attention to the turns in the path, pausing as I reached each one, contemplating what significance the turn might represent in my life. I noticed as I was walking the labyrinth pathway that some turns took you toward the center and some took you away from the center, the thing you were focused on when you first entered the maze. How like life that is! In our darkest moments, we think we are turning from God, or we cannot see him, feel him, sense him in any way. That is certainly true of the periods of silence I have experienced.

You look for God but you are facing away from the center.

What I realized is that God is still there, guarding my back, or at least still well aware of me. I also realized that even with my back to the center, I am still within the circle of the labyrinth, representing his love and care and even relationship. I am still within the sphere of his influence. He is there whether I see him or not, sense him or not. And if I will but keep walking the path, I will end up in the center.

But I get ahead of myself.

Most of the path in a labyrinth is directed not toward or away from the center but in orbit around it. That too was meaningful to me. Most of my life is not directed toward the center, but in orbit around the center. I saw various vistas rather than just the center. Sometimes the vistas represented people, sometimes the environment, sometimes the community of faith. I realized that often we see God best when we look at others.

This is not a new concept to me, by any means, but reminded me that sometimes I see Jesus best in the face of my brothers and sisters in community, or in the people I encounter in life who have no observable faith. The least of these, Jesus called them. How often I miss seeing Jesus or God simply because I don’t see the least of these. God forgive me!

Another thing about those “orbits” around the center.... Sometimes they are farther from the center and sometimes closer. And you can never quite see around the bend either. What is there before you if you are looking ahead is a path that reveals itself as you walk. The next step or two, that is all. Until you face a turn. Then it is a turn of faith because you can’t see round the next bend. Sometimes a turn closer to the Presence, sometimes farther away. Isn’t that how life with God is, though?

As long as you don’t “jump” the outer wall, as long as you don’t sit down in the path and stay there, you are still under the influence, within the sphere of the power of the Center. All you must do is keep walking.

Finally, after walking the path that alternates closer to the center and then farther away, you actually do reach the center. What a glorious thing to bask in the glow of God’s presence. But what I realized while standing in the center of the labyrinth is that the only place left to look or go is outward, toward where you entered. You can’t stay in the center forever. Just as surely as the entrance faces inward toward the center, the center looks outward toward the rings and entrance.

I guess that’s what you call God’s viewpoint.

I think I get the idea.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

next post coming Saturday...

I'm heading in a few minutes for a few days of quiet retreat at a monastery. Your prayers are coveted.

I'll be back in time to post something here on Saturday. That is the current plan. Thanks for sharing in my journey as reflected by this blog. Lord willing, I'll be back to reflect on this in a few days.

Grace and peace,