Monthly Archives: January 2016

God Comes to Us

Blog 4

“Take up your cross and follow me.”

by Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion

“God comes to us disguised as our lives.” — Richard Rohr

Just as thoughts must be released not once, but over and over again during contemplative prayer, so our human weaknesses and flaws must be recognized, acknowledged, and surrendered again and again in our daily lives. Perhaps this is why Jesus does not say, “Lay down your cross and follow me,” but “Take up your cross and follow me.” The Christian path of self-renunciation and deepening interdependence with God and others is a lifelong journey. Francis de Sales knew this and counseled Jane de Chantal, against her will, to return to and embrace the circumstances of her own life. Seeking visions and “ecstasies,” Jane wanted to disappear into God, but Francis proposed instead an “ecstasy of love” lived out in humble service to others. Otherwise, her faith would remain a

Vibrant community life hums all around

Vibrant community life hums all around

mere abstraction or sentiment.

“In our vulnerability we break open the compassionate heart of God in others and for others.” -Jody Johnson

I encounter the limits of my solitude in an unexpected way in my own particular circumstances. I’ve moved to an urban monastery in Phoenix, much like our own Visitation Monastery, to continue my retreat. The vibrant community life hums all around, complete with its shadow economy: an impromptu barbershop is set up on the patio of my retreat house; a neighborhood ‘restaurant’ springs up in someone’s garage on weekends and vanishes by Monday.

My retreat house sits at a distance from the main house. I am alone, by design, and during the day the solitude is nourishing. But as darkness sets in on my first night, I feel afraid. I try to recall the day’s scenes that bespeak a tight-knit and safe community, but it is not enough. I pick up the phone and call the main house. Sister Lydia answers. I explain what is happening and ask if I can spend the night there. “Sure, come right over,” she says. Still, I feel weak and stupid, lacking in faith. If Jane’s spiritual challenge was her strong will, mine is pride, a close cousin. I gather my things, walk to the house, and sheepishly ring the doorbell. I’m greeted with a warm “Come right in; I’ll show you to your room.” No Sunsetquestions asked. This simple act of hospitality is laden with compassion and mercy, and I see clearly in this moment that I am called to do the same for others.

In our vulnerability we break open the compassionate heart of God in others and for others. Giving and receiving become one as part of God’s lived life in the world. Echoing Francis de Sales’ thoughts almost four centuries later, Thomas Keating says, “A new asceticism for people of good will might be the practice of goodness; that is, just being good to everybody.” I am ready to return home, to my life.

Live Jesus. Love now.

 

**********************************************************************************************************

To read more of Jody Johnson’s contemplative blogs from the desert, click here.

Be Still and Know….

Jesus on the Crossby Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion

“Be still and know that I am God.” —Psalm 46:10

Like most journeyers along the contemplative path, I soon learn that silence holds not only peace but challenge. The initial balm I received in stillness has given way to an even louder clamor than before, and the pattern of my thoughts reveals my less pleasing aspects. Whatever one’s issues, problems, or flaws may be, sitting in silence will soon bring them to the surface. Maybe I should just go back to being my anxious, distracted self!

“Do not look at the temptation (to doubt) itself but look straight at our Lord.” – St. Francis de Sales

Jane de Chantal’s primary spiritual challenge was her strong will. Though her intention was good- to love God and to unite herself with God- she wrongly believed that she could accomplish this by force of will. She drove herself mercilessly with devotional and ascetic practices, only to grow more frustrated by her inability to feel God’s love or “consolations.” This led Jane to doubt her faith, which she regarded as the gravest sin of all, and plunged her into an abyss of anguished self-hatred. “Will God never take me out of myself and out of the world?” she cries. Seeing her predicament, Francis de Sales, her spiritual director, advised her: “Do not look at the temptation (to doubt) itself but look straight at our Lord.” In other words, Jane was so focused on herself and her agenda that there was no room for God.

Jane’s willfulness persisted until, at one point in her incessant questioning of Francis, he simply walked out of the room. Jane fled to the chapel where she was finally able to surrender herself on a deeper level. Francis had been waiting for such a moment to be able to help Jane grasp the truth: that all action begins with God. Before Him, we can only wait in emptiness and silence.

 

**********************************************************************************************************

To read more of Jody Johnson’s contemplative blogs from the desert, click here.

Inspired by the Local Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I watched, I admired, and now I pray for the Holy Spirit, who makes diversity a way, come and let us follow.” – S. Katherine

As we mark this holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,  we celebrate the way his legacy is being born out in our local community, giving rise to a new generation of leaders. Here’s a link to an inspired article and companion video piece from the Star Tribune featuring six of these voices of leadership.

“May our existence be filled with windows — for all the world to see/ the beauty that lies inside of us, even when we are under heat…” Brittany Lynch, poet

 

Out of the Stillness…

Jody Johnson on retreat

Jody Johnson on retreat

by Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion

“Lord, what else hast thou said to me by placing me in this holy monastery, but ‘My daughter, walk always in my presence, think of me in all thy ways, and I will direct thy steps?’ “–St. Jane de Chantal

Out of the stillness, time unfurls herself before me like a red carpet, and I am royalty, the Beloved. I walk through a garden of delights. As I practice letting go of thoughts by tuning into my sensory experience, the sounds, smells, and sights of the desert open themselves to me: the lush green of the plants and trees after rain, the smell of the creosote bushes, the trill of birdsong. I observe the constant shifting of light and shadow.

“In calm all becomes sensible and my soul is desirous of experiencing even the lightest breath of Thy grace.” –St. Francis de Sales

Jody_Meal_Blog

“When you are eating, eat.” — Buddhist saying

At silent meals, it is a pleasure to taste my food again. For months I’ve been eating hurriedly and distractedly, reading the newspaper or, worse, checking my cellphone for messages. I’ve come to anticipate the next bite before I’ve finished the one in my mouth. The Buddhists say, “When you’re eating, eat.” So I pause, enjoying the flavor, noting the texture, chewing fully before swallowing. When I do this, I know which kinds of food I need more of, which less of, and when to stop eating.

Could this be a way of living? Jesus says, “Yes!” “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” The kingdom of heaven is compared to a great banquet because it is realized through the lived, embodied experience that begins with our senses. In stillness, we open to the present moment, the only place we can meet God. There is joy. And, we can trust that, if we are fully present and anchored in God in this moment, this event, this decision, then the next will take care of itself.

**********************************************************************************************************

To read more of Jody Johnson’s contemplative blogs from the desert, click here.

I Will Lead You into the Desert

Follow me to the desert... Photo by Jody Johnson

Lead to the desert
Photo by Jody Johnson

by Jody Johnson, Visitation Companion*

“I will lead you into the desert, and there I will speak to your heart.” –Hosea 2:16

I’ve come to the desert seeking silence, or seeking to enter into it more fully. I practice contemplative prayer but, if as Thomas Keating says, twenty minutes of silence is “a brief vacation from oneself,” I need an extended stay! I’ve been restless, anxious, caught up in the busyness of activity for too long. Like many people, I juggle half-commitments, leaving early from one event to arrive late to the next, then wonder why life feels unsatisfying.

The desert offers timeless space to discover, engage, and wrestle with restlessness,” says Father Tom Picton, director of the Desert House of Prayer in Tucson where I am retreating; “The discovery of what is on the other side of the restlessness is the quest! It requires silence, stillness, waiting, and the suffering of ‘not knowing’.” This rings true for me; I long for this stillness, yet the prospect of having so much of it brings its own anxiety: “What will I do with all this time?” “What will God say to me?” “What if I discover things I don’t want to know?” Worries have become my constant companions. As with guests who have overstayed their welcome, it becomes more and more awkward to ask them to leave. Or perhaps they are like old clothes I’ve outgrown but not yet replaced. What will be my new gear, my new habit? I can’t very well walk around naked!

Some guidelines provided by the retreat center are reassuring: “Trust how you are being led. Your journey will likely open up to you as you listen for what is inviting your attention.” It is about being open, aware, and receptive. The daily schedule of silent prayer periods provides the structure and practice to support this awareness. I’ve also brought Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal to guide me on my journey. Though they never visited the desert that we know of, I feel their contemplative spirits at home here. Francis reminds me to get out of the way: “While I am seeking to find out what is God’s desire, I am not employed in keeping myself close to Him in peace and in calm repose, which is certainly His present desire, since He has set me nothing else to do.” Francis also gives very practical advice to gently redirect my intention (and attention) toward God throughout the day. He would have agreed with the last sentence of the guidelines in the retreat center’s brochure: “Be gentle with yourself, relax, and enjoy your time away.”

Jody Johnson

Jody Johnson

*Jody Johnson is a Visitation Companions leader and formation director on a two week study and prayer sabbatical. Tune into her reflections here