Friday, May 18, 2012

Sacraments of the Ordinary


In the Middle Ages, people carried a book of brief prayers called a breviary, or a Book of Hours, to help them pause for prayer. In our time, we're so busy we need to pause just to take a breath! Yet it only takes one breath to enter the kingdom of heaven on earth. This is not really a book of hours, but a book of moments.

If we go 101% into this ordinary moment, it is an extraordinary moment in eternity. Such a moment can provide energy and clarity for hours. This moment is not a "High Feast": it is what the Church once called "the Ordinary of the Seasons," a sacrament of the commonplace that re-ignites the wonder we felt in childhood.

How we limit ourselves in believing that we must do something new, something edgy, something extreme to experience a glorious adventure. If we are awake, a glass of water is breathtaking, a dandelion miraculous, the eyes of a friend an infinite journey. To the awakened heart, every atom of the earth is made out of love.

The momentary meditations in this book will refresh you throughout your busy day. They require no religious belief or sustained concentration. In fact, they invite you to de-concentrate and relax your awareness. Relaxation is power.

Spirituality is generated in the body, not out of the body. That is why the practices in this little Book of Moments do not transcend our earthly experience, but celebrate it. You can practice these moments of enlightenment in the midst of your work - at the desk, the bus stop, the garden, the kitchen sink.


Bowing is an ancient art. Most of us have forgotten how and why we bow.

A beautiful lady taught me to bow and kiss the soil: a very difficult spiritual practice! Every time I started to bow, I thought of something else I had to do before my forehead touched the ground. Have I ever completed a single bow? When I do, I will be in Heaven, and Heaven will be the Earth.

Bow just to bow. Touch your head to the earth because it's sacred beauty is an end in itself. The one who bows, the bow, and the one to whom you bow, are they not all the same?

This is how God becomes dust.
Touch your forehead to the earth,
bow down to the light in your body.
When the light within lifts up your head, crying
"Do not worship me, for I am you,"
bow down, bow down.
All around you, dripping with quietness,
flowers are doing this to rain.
The golden moth that lives one day
is doing this to flame. The moon
does it to the sun. One breath
does it to another.
Receive yourself.
Bow down and drink.
Be the mother
of your heart: this
is how dust becomes God.

Return to the Ordinary

Behind most versions of "spirituality" is a flight from the Ordinary. Do I live from one High Feast to the next, fleeing from the Ordinary in between? From one appointment to the next, fleeing from dis-appointment?

Disappointment is also revelation: a chance to return to the glowing heart of the commonplace, where I am always "in the beginning" with the Creator. All that is fresh rises from the ashes of disappointment, motherground of the commonplace. The Ordinary is the womb of creation.

Just Listen

Just listening brings you immediately into the present moment, freeing your mind from thoughts. It is the purest meditation practice, already built into the temple of your body.

In pure listening, past and future vanish.

Early in the morning, listen for the faintest furthest sound. Let your attention expand to the horizon of hearing. Let the vanishing of the bird's song lead you into deeper silence. Let each sound that arises be an invitation to the silence that follows.

Touching the Earth: Weight as a Sacrament

God said to Moses, Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. ~Exodus 3:5

Go outside in your own backyard when the grass is still wet with dew. Take off your shoes. Stand with eyes closed in the cool grass and breath.

Don't just breathe through your nose: breathe through the soles of your feet. An ancient Chinese manual on the martial art of Tai Chi says, Today men breathe through their nostrils, but the ancient masters breathed through the soles of their feet.

Feel the weight of your body as a sacrament rather than a problem, a doorway to the Earth rather than something that needs to be reduced. Gravity is a sacred force: the sign of the Mother's hug.

Let your breath flow out of the ground into your legs and hips and belly. As you exhale, release the pent-up tension in your muscles. From your face right down to your ankles, give it up to gravity. All your tension discharges into the ground, yesterday's stale thoughts and worries released in the wet electrical grass. The touch of the earth brings you into this day. This is the only day there is.

Now, be a toddler just learning the dignity of standing and walking on this earth. Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the real miracle is not to walk on water but to walk on the green earth. Lakota sage Black Elk says, Let every step you take upon the earth be as a prayer.

Sakyamuni Buddha taught that there are Four Human Dignities, and they are all dignities of the body: lying down, sitting, standing, and walking. We usually take a stand in our heads, on some abstract point of politics or religious belief. Why not just stand in your bare feet, on the living earth?

Walk slowly.  Feel the sensation as your left foot lightens and lifts into the air, the right foot pressing into cool grass, spreading like a hand to receive the earth, widening with body weight. Feel your weight roll from the heel toward the ball of the foot. Feel your toes gently grasp the earth, one last caress, as the right foot leaves the ground.

Walk this way for three minutes, that's all. It is not meant to be a rigorous discipline, but a momentary wonder.

Saint Augustine wrote, solvitor ambulando: It is solved by walking.

Walk to walk, without destination, an ever-arriving pilgrim. Walk just to experience the living dignity of a human body in its ordained place, connecting heaven and earth. Your body is the electrical link between soil and sky, the sacred cord with which the Creator is bound to creation.

Awake in a human body, wherever you stand is holy ground.

I Am Love

I invite you to say it quietly inside. "I Am Love." Close your eyes, relax the muscles in your belly, breathe in a long yet gentle breath. Then as you breathe out, say it deeply. I don't tell you, I invite you, only if it feels right. "I Am Love."

Our Creator plants this song in every heart. Not "I love you," but "I Am Love."

"I love you" is possessive, contracting the heart with a silent demand for private attention. But "I Am Love" expands the heart with a love that makes no claim upon its object. Indeed, "I Am Love" has no object. It is the song of the Self, the all-pervading subjectivity, the triumph of cosmic person-hood.

Only because our being cries, "I Am Love," is "I love you" possible. Maybe we don't listen to this song because we're afraid of being consumed in the fire of love's unity.

I desperately want to individualize myself. I attempt to articulate my own personal voice. This feels like a worthy enterprise at first, yet it arises from incomplete understanding.

My "individualism" can be as self-limiting as it is expressive. "Individualism" is a subtle form of fear: fear that my ego might dissolve. I fear falling back into raw unprocessed love, the consuming fire of love before "I," love before duty or devotion, primordial love exploding as the light source of my original innocence.

What would happen if I let go of my anxiety about being "original" and "individual"? Even for a few moments, moments of deep meditation, what if I allow the voice of my little "me" to be quiet, and I sink into my real originality, the first Word of creation, "I Am Love"?

No worry. I discover that God's Word of Love articulates me far more creatively than I could articulate myself. This song, "I Am Love," sings me as the ocean raises a wave, as a diamond sparkles one facet of its infinite beauty. The more I surrender to the One, the more I become uniquely Me. This is the secret of divine Love.

A glimmer of sunlight on the sea does not worry about whether it lives an instant or a thousand years. It sparkles and dissolves, sparkles and dissolves, ever born, ever dying. Each glimmer is utterly unique, yet part of one sun.

How does my heart beat? "I Am Love." How does my breath breathe? "I Am Love." Maybe the world gets dark, maybe I suffer illusion and fear, because I forget to begin by loving myself?

Sing it 777 thousand times a day: "I Am Love." Through this song all creatures keep creating themselves, so that they can do God's work. Even a fly sings, "I Am Love" and becomes a fly.

Only we humans are vain enough to imagine that loving ourselves is a problem. Who could I love if every cell of my blood, flesh, bone and marrow were not the ocean of Love? Who could I love if each proton in each atom of my body did not sing, "I am made out of Love!"

Whisper it, friend, first like a secret, then like a bell on a temple, then like a storm that carries everything away.

Breathing the Sun

You've been working inside, staring at your computer for many hours. Perhaps you've had several days of gray weather. Then the sun comes out. Is this not grace? How will you celebrate this sacrament?

All of your energy comes from the sun. Your food is energized by photons of sunlight. Whatever you use for fuel, its warmth and fire originate in the sun. When you feel depleted, you can use the sun to re-energize: it is always there, whether behind a cloud or not.

Go outside. If you can't go out, open the window and stand in the sunlight. Close your eyes and agree to be here in your body.

Be aware of breath-in-body, each inhalation filling you from the soles of your feet to your eyeballs. Absorb the radiance dancing through your eyelids, solar energy bombarding your nerves with billions of photons. You can see this energy even with eyes closed.

Using your breath as a vehicle for the sunlight, conduct the solar energy through your forehead, down through your lungs, to your heart. Literally inhale sunlight into your solar plexus, where it is stored and distributed into every cell of your body.

Inhale today, exhale yesterday. Inhale the radiant energy that re-creates you now.

After twelve deep breaths of sunlight, spend a few moments sitting in silence. This allows the photons, conducted from breath to bloodstream, to permeate the cells of your body. You don't need to visualize or imagine this because it is actually happening in the quantum field of your energy-body. You will feel it without imagination.