Hesychia: Day 4, Week 1

Every time I sit down to write one of these posts, I have to resist the urge to give a play by play of all we’ve been learning.  I’m sure it will only get harder to resist as the program continues.

This afternoon I found out that I am to be the first “directee” of the first practicum session of the program.  This means I sit before the group and share something real that I want to receive spiritual direction about while another member of the group functions as the “director” and the practicum leader observes.

So tomorrow I pretty much have to bear my soul to half the participants at Hesychia.

Now you’d think playing the director would be the hardest role, but actually most of what she’ll be doing is listening, being silent, and perhaps reflecting back what she is hearing.  Which means I have to talk the whole time.

Introvert’s nightmare.

Dear Jesus, help!

I also have to spend the evening preparing for the session and deciding what I’m going to bring in to share with the group.  It has to be something real, something I’m really dealing with, but I also don’t want to be too personal.  We only have about 25 minutes for the session, so it’ll need to be a relatively short or concise issue that I can explain quickly so we can spend more of the time going deeper.

Here are some ideas:

  • discerning what to do with what I learn with this program (vocational discernment?)
  • exploring my changing concept of God and searching for language/framework that helps express my experience
  • discussing an interpersonal conflict
  • thinking through ways I can participate in the new church community we’re a part of while remaining true to myself and utilizing my gifts

Anyway, I don’t know what I’m going to choose. Maybe we’ll just see what comes up in the moment during the beginning silence.

Speaking of silence, I think that’s the element that I appreciate most about this program, or maybe just about hesychia spirituality in general.  The value of silence.  What silence teaches us.  The way silence prepares us for the movement of the Holy Spirit.  The emotions and distractions that arise in the silence.  The embodied rhythm and pace that silence creates space for and facilitates.

I’m fortunate that I work from home and can spend as much of my day in silence I want.  Yet that silence is full of thoughts and activity as I work online and write reports.  That silence is only outward and not inward.  It is not fruitful in the way that attentive silence is fruitful.

How can I bring this attentive silence into my daily work?  Is it even possible? Maybe that‘s a good question for my spiritual direction practicum tomorrow. How can I pursue this embodied rhythm and life balance when my brain is so fully occupied?

I think that’s one reason the monastic lifestyle stresses manual labor.  That kind of work leaves the mind free for contemplation and prayer. I notice that when I cross-stitch. Although my mind is still occupied to an extent with choosing the correct color thread  and following the pattern, there is also a rote-ness and repetition to it that becomes almost methodical and leaves the mind open to wander and process and move among thoughts.

But my work is pretty much all cognitive.  Unless I’m in the office doing printing and filing or cleaning where there isn’t much mental effort involved, I’m generally thinking critically and creatively at all times.  It’s hard to think about prayer while writing an email to a client who is upset or coordinating multiple schedules to find the best time for a conference call.  My work is restful in that I don’t have to invest the same type of energy that it takes to interact with people face-to-face, but it requires all my mental faculties.

Maybe I will bring this up tomorrow after all.  We’ll see what happens.  I’ll report back, so stay tuned!

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Hesychia: Day 2, Week 1

In case you’re wondering, yes, I did go off in the wrong direction again this morning.  This time it took me about 10 minutes to figure it out.  But it’s not my fault.  My navigator app made me do it.

I’ve been thinking all day about why God sent me to the desert, of all places.  Couldn’t I learn to grow spiritually in a more conducive environment?  Couldn’t I have a retreat in a place with more, I don’t know, water? Greenery? Life? Anything?

The desert is an unfriendly place.  It’s prickly.  It’s dangerous.  Everything about the desert says STAY AWAY.  In my own spiritual journey, the desert has represented suffering, pain, drought, darkness, disappointment, desolation, distance from God…pretty much everything terrible you can think of, that’s what the desert represents for me.

And yet, hesychia is desert spirituality.  It’s spirituality specially shaped and informed by the Desert Mothers and Fathers who fled to the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria in 200-400 AD.  Yep, I took notes!  Hesychia spirituality represents everything my soul is longing for, everything the Holy Spirit within me is drawing me to: rest, stillness, peace, solitude, contemplative prayer.

But why does it have to be in the desert?

As I walked along the paths meandering through the desert behind the retreat center, I kept thinking, I am like the desert.  I can be prickly. I keep people at arm’s length until I feel safe.  In college I was labeled anti-social, although I was really more like un-social.  As much as I love spending time one-on-one with people and having heart-deep conversations over tea or dinner or on a walk, being around groups of people exhausts me.  I often want to retreat. I often want to be alone.  I am extreme, all or nothing.  Even my humor is dry! I am like the desert, but I want to be like the rainforest. I want to be lush and green, warm and inviting, saturated with refreshing water.  I want to be a tree, not a cactus!

So why does this program have to be in the desert? Why does hesychia have to be the spirituality that most resonates within me?

Today as I wandered in the desert, sat on a bench, journaled, wandered some more, I sensed an invitation to receive the ministry of the desert.  The desert has something to teach me, if I am willing to be open to it.  The desert has something that I need, something that my soul is longing for, something that God has prepared before me.

So I have decided to learn to appreciate the desert.  After living in a desert climate for five years, you’d think I’d have adjusted, but I am one stubborn lady!  I still miss the quiet beauty, peace, and comfort of the Appalachian foothills.  Arizona is even more desert-y than California.  If I can’t learn it here, I never will.

Here is what I notice about the desert (positive only):

  • serenity
  • self-sufficiency
  • necessity
  • survival
  • surprise
  • adaptability
  • hidden
  • store
  • away
  • protection
  • boundaries
  • unique
  • unchanging
  • basic
  • rock-solid
  • sand (dust to dust, finite)
  • extreme (hot and cold)
  • dry (notice your thirst)
  • confrontational
  • strong
  • stable
  • fully itself
  • unknowable (air of mystery)
  • teacher
  • slow
  • silent
  • alive
  • simple
  • solitary
  • subtle
  • balanced
  • complex
  • persistent
  • enduring
  • serious
  • counter-cultural

The desert ministers through suffering.  It both mirrors and shapes our inner experience.  It offers empathy, understanding our pain.  It only gives and expects/needs nothing in return.  The desert does not need people to survive.  This is the ministry I must learn to receive while I am here, this ministry of empathy and reflection.

Lord, help me!