The Faith-ing Project

One of the things I have learned over the last couple years is that spiritual practices like meditation can be life-changing.  This lead to the creation of  The Contemplace.

The latest evolution in my spiritual journey and my online musings is the Faith-ing Project.  My vision is a place that can offer readers a new spiritual practice every day for a year.  I have been writing, organizing, and compiling for months.  I am just about ready to go!

The Faith-ing Project does not yet have a home or website.  But it does have a need.  And that need might just be you.  Are you:

  • Interested in spiritual practices?
  • Able to give these practices about 15 minutes a day?
  • Willing to offer feedback, criticism, and push back?

If this sound like you, please email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com   ask me your questions, or just let me know you are interested.

I am putting together a team of testers who will receive an email with each days practice.  In exchange for trying the practices out and sharing your experiences,  I will give testers free access to content that will eventually become paid on the site, and I will post thank yous, and links to content you might wish to direct others to.

Thanks for reading!

Jeff

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God’s first encounter with Moses is like a case study in what he was like; both us and beyond-us, both near and distant, both alien and human.  According to the book of Exodus, God said,

“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I

have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.

 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh

to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and

bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

It seems to me that God was trying to help Moses see the close and human side.  He told the man that  he stands in solidarity with his people.  It seem like this wasn’t enough for Moses; he resists.  And he resists in a way I find particularly interesting.  He says, “Who am I?”

This is interesting because, up to a certain point, we have established that God knows who this is.  The whole thing begins with the burning bush saying Moses’ name.  What happens next, it seems to me, indicates that a related question Moses needed to ask was, “Who are you?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the

sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you

have brought the people out of Egypt, you[b] will

worship God on this mountain.”

 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites

and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’

and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

I have been there.  Maybe you have to.  Dealing with somebody intimidating, powerful, somebody it is hard to speak your mind to.  So we take this approach where we just say, “Hey, I am good with the whole thing.  But just in case somebody else isn’t, what are we supposed to say?”

 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[c] This is what you are to say

to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,[d] the God

of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God

of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

People so much smarter than me have said so many interesting things about the meaning and nature of the name that God gives here.  Richard Rohr talks about how the insights of a rabbi lead him to understand that the name, which we take to mean something like “I am who I am” sounds and feels like a breath.

Breath, which is where life begins.  Breath, that center piece of meditation.  Breath, that process that begins with birth and ends with death.  Just as God is both with us and beyond us, just as he as empathic and an alien, burning-not burning bush, God has a name which is much like our names, and also so very different than our names.

There is a tradition of declaring God’s name unsayable.  And yet, to the extent that God’s name is a breath itself, we say it more than we say any name at all.  Declaring His name unsayable is a way to point at God’s transcendence.  It is a declaration that we can not limit, contain, and fully understand God.  And yet, that act of breathing, is an act of waging peace, an act of taking control of ourselves.

 

So Near, So Far

There are many ways to follow Jesus.

The one that resonates with me these days is the path of the mystic.  I believe that a deep connection to God is possible.  I am experiencing a  connection that  runs deeper than words, ideas, and doctrine.  Experiencing this connection is an act of waking up to a reality that has been present all along.

I have been moved, recently, to take another look at Moses’ first encounter with God in the desert.  This passage, in Exodus chapter 3, has shaped my understanding of God… and perhaps more importantly, it has shaped my daily practice as a mystic.

At it’s most general, this encounter is a study in contrasts.  More than ever before, God is right there with us. And at the same time, he is so beyond us.  Where it begins, Moses’ life has fallen apart. He has fled the only life he has own. He has gone from being a prince to tending his father-in-law’s sheep.  He sees something strange: a bush which is on fire but not burned up, and he goes to investigate. And by the third verse, the God-is-here/ God-is there dynamic is already present:

 

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

On the side of the fact that God is other:  he appears as a a burning bush. As if this isn’t weird enough, it’s a fire that doesn’t consume what it has taken over.  And as if that weren’t weird enough, he is an all-powerful, talking, ominiscient burning bush. When Moses approaches, he is told that he has entered some place new and special, and that he should not come any closer.

And yet!  The very first words that God speaks are Moses’ name.  God identifies himself as the god of Moses ancestors. This is a God who understands.  He expresses both knowledge and empathy. He beckons his child to him.

  Perhaps it is because he is overwhelmed with these two intense realities that this happens next:

Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God

And this is speculation, but perhaps God is responding to his overwhelmed prophet in what he says next.  Maybe this is God’s attempt to get Moses feeling close again:

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.”

 

So.  There is lots to be said.  And so much that can’t be said.  I feel that this is just a set up to some of the awesome stuff that will happen in the upcoming verses.  

But it’s pretty amazing all on it’s own.  I think it’s worth sitting with and chewing on:  A God transcendent of all our weaknesses and limitations, but one who is intimately involved with every aspect of our realities nonetheless.  

So for now, I think I will stop to breathe.

The Great Naming

A hand reached into the fertile Earth.  Scooped it up, and lifted it into the heavens.

When it reached those divine lips it became something more.  

There was that first kiss then.  That breath. A whispering of your name.

But I didn’t have ears to hear it yet.  They had not been formed.

And so I will live this whole life, and I will never say who it is that you really are, God.

And yet, I will breathe your name.  Again and again. For this whole life that I live.

 

And someday.  I will stand fully in your presence.

There will be a new name for me on a white rock.

And you can say your name to me again.

I will open my mouth.  I will kiss you again.

And I will say the name that has always been yours.

 

Either, or; Both/And

Sometimes, I delude myself into thinking there is this either/or.

One way of expressing this dualism is through the question,  ” Which is best: prayer or meditation?”

A deeper way to view this is to think about positioning myself to hear from a God who is outside of me versus orienting myself to quiet the mind.

The problem is that the prayer road seems rather ignorant of the convoluted workings of my inner landscape, and The meditative path seems to be functionally agnostic.

I began to find a way beyond this either/or when I realized that quieting all the noise that happens in my head (meditation) is the best way to hear from God (prayer.)  But this?  It is just the tip of the iceberg!

Today, I had this realization that an encounter with God is a thing that is so awesome, so holy, so worthy.  It is something like sex, in that it is an interaction which happens on so many levels at once.

More than any other interaction, this is the one that demands the fullest, most authentic ‘me.’  And so, a self-centered act of meditation is a necessary preamble to an other-centered reaching out.  And at the same time, the best way I find God is not by reaching out and out and out, beyond me…   Despite all appearances, the place I really find God, is by an inward journey, finding God at the very most inner place of all!

And so it seems that suddenly, these are not different acts at all, but meditation and prayer live in the same kind of mutually interdependent dance that God and I exist in.

 

Who am I?

It is said that St. Francis passed an entire night asking, “Who are you, God?” and  “Who am I?”

 

Turning this into a breath prayer: “Who are you”?” (exhale)  “Who am I?” (inhale) is one of my favorite practices.

 

Tonight, there were moments of transcendence.

 

There was a timeless time that I lost myself.  I was asking the questions but would have been unable to tell you which question applied to me, the asker, and which question applied to the entity who is not (at least apparently) me.

 

My inability to know who I was doesn’t feel like I lost the knowledge of myself.  Rather, it feels like I fell into a deeper truth that I am, in some way, God. I think this might be connecting to that divine breath that turned the primal fist full of Earth into the first person.  I believe we still carry this divine spark, this image of God. I think, for just a moment, I was there, at that part of me so deep that it stops being me and it starts being something… magnificent.

 

From Five Psalms by Mark Jarman

First forgive the silence
       That answers prayer,
Then forgive the prayer
       That stains the silence.
Excuse the absence
       That feels like presence,
Then excuse the feeling
       That insists on presence.
Pardon the delay
       Of revelation,
Then ask pardon for revealing
       Your impatience.
Forgive God
       For being only a word,
Then ask God to forgive
       The betrayal of language.
-Mark Jarman

I Just Want One More Hug

When my kids were younger,  all 3 of them went through a stage that was equal parts endearing and frustrating.   It was a time of not wanting to go to bed.   A period of inventing countless,  increasingly absurd excuses.

“I need a drink.   I have to go to the bathroom.   I forgot my stuffed animal.”  Children are deeply manipulative creatures.   Eventually they would happen upon reasons that were hard to resist.   “I need a hug.  I need a kiss.   Can I have a back rub?”

I broach this topic here because I am learning that there are parts of me that are like my children.   They don’t want to let go.   They don’t want to release their hold.

People call it the false self.   And the monkey mind.  It is the reason that meditation needs to be learned; because there is a part of us that resists.

It takes the form of needing to move,  wiggle and itch.   Or the thoughts and feelings that just won’t be released,  that keep coming back,  as annoying as the single fly that threatens to ruin the picnic.   Or the desire to shave a few minutes off the end of a meditation session to respond to a facebook notification.

My false self,  my monkey mind, it is no less clever than young kids.   I am a thinker.   And when I’m letting go,  my mind offers me these tantalizing rabbit trails,  fragments of thoughts,  compelling metaphors.   Much like kids,  my mind closes in on my weakness.

I totally understand the value of an approach I associate with  Zen Buddhism:  Ignore every itch.   Sit for the entire time.   Do not compromise anywhere.

I get it just as much as I get parents who draw a line in the sand.  No you may not have another drink,  a stuffed animal,  or even a hug.    Bed time is bed time.   End of story.

I could just never make that work.   Treating my kids that way just created this tornado of ugly emotions and suddenly everybody is wide awake  and feeling unloved. (or maybe that was just me.)

In the same way, when I take that militaristic stance to an intrusive thought,  I get pulled into dualistic experiencing of the world.   When I refuse to scratch an itch,  I grow to hate that itch…   In the words of eminent sage  and theologian Pauly Shore,  I harsh my mellow.

Perhaps my wonderful kids were a bit spoiled.   Maybe my meditation practice suffers.   I can live with those possibilities.

 

Swallowing the Key

I am learning that most of the difficulties we face are self-created: If we could only get out of our own way, things would be so much easier.

There was a time I believed that their was this impenetrable wall between myself and God.  I thought that there was no way to cross this divide.  I thought there was no possibility of union.

I am learning that I built this wall.  The good news is that I built a door in the wall.  The bad news is that I locked it up and swallowed the key.

A lifetime ago, I would have told you that my brokenness and failings are what keep me away from God.  And that is a little bit true.  I have this sense that this is, at best, half the story, though.

The other half of the story?

This separation from God is really about my unwillingness to own the best parts of “me.”  Sometimes I think about this as the primal breath that God breathed into dirt that made me a human being.  I have heard it called my true self.  And also Christ within me.

This unnameable place is both mine and God’s.  My failure to experience his connection to me is my failure to own these most intimate parts of my very nature.

The Broken Heart Above

I was in prayerful meditation, and the Leonard Cohen song, “Come Healing” was playing.

He sang:

“O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The heart beneath is teaching
To the broken heart above”

And I was so struck by this image; it is not, perhaps, what was intended, but it welled up within me, forcefully.  It is something that felt right and true.

The image was of a broken hearted God, saddened by the fact that the world is far from where it could be.  I have been deeply pondering the idea of “I am” recently, and the idea of mindfullness and presence.  I am convinced that a divine attribute is to be wholly here and now, in this very moment.  Assuming this is true, God would, be fully aware of hurt, pain, and heart ache.  Every ounce of it in every single being alive.

And at the same time, we are headed to this redemption, this mending of all that is broken.  God’s awareness of this, too, must be much more complete than mine.  And so, while God is fully aware of the pain he is also, I think fully hopeful of a time beyond our current hurt.

*******

I feel like two post scripts are necessary to the above paragraphs.  If you are untroubled by the things I wrote above, you might not find it necessary to consider the following…

Post Script #1:

I am keenly aware that the idea of a disapointed, sad, and angry God have been used as a manipulation tactic for far too long.  I do not endorse or believe in a God that is broken-hearted by every single choice we make which falls short of perfection.  I think his sadness would be an act of solidarity with our sadness.

Post Script #2:

The idea of attributing any emotions to God at all, is a mixed bag for me.  I do not think that God’s experience of sadness fully resembles my experience of sadness.  One major reason for this is that God, being infinite, could I think be fully broken-hearted and fully hopeful at exactly the same time.  It seems that this would be very different than my human, finite experience of being half-way broken hearted and halfway hopeful at the same time.