Is God there … only to disappear from view?

Is God there … only to disappear from view?

Our spiritual journeys take us on many hikes. Sometimes through difficult canyons with loose footings and steep slopes, at other times a walk in the Meadow surrounded by the majesty of nature and those that love us.

For much of this journey, we recognize God’s presence at the times when we are given the gift of Grace and the associated consolations. These may be times of great love, of reconciliation, of being at peace with God and with one another. These are easy to recognize, wonderful memories to fall back into when we’re not feeling so good.

However, as our journey continues, and we have these highs and lows of God’s presence, of dopamine-filled joy, punctuated by lows of sadness; these things tend to smooth out.

Over time during this journey, we begin to notice, sometimes in the very small things, that God is present when we are not having an uplifting experience. A time when we have a “felt presence” of God in our hearts and at our core. It’s as if the store of God’s grace, of inner peace is held within us, gradually being released, and at the same time being restored. Many things can upset this equilibrium. In the secular world it may be described as work-life balance, stress reduction, mindfulness, and other means to keep us in sync with our soul.

A secular world may tell us that the search we are all along is for happiness. Rather I might suggest that joy is the better option. Joy is pervasive whereas happiness tends to be fleeting. But joy does not mean that we are dancing on the streets like Saint Francis in the 13th century. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course.

Joy is a continuous movement towards God, sometimes loud, but often just quietly resident within us. Being exuded to others as they need it. No more no less.

Sometimes when this quietness overcomes us, when we aren’t getting those adrenalin-filled moments of the earlier consolations, we might think that God has left us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For it is here, with the apparent disappearance of God that we start to become one with God. One with our family. One with those around us. One with nature. One even with our enemies. Perhaps the last part is a bit of a stretch.

This movement where we begin to blend into nature and those around us God delivers us this change, a change that occurs sometimes so imperceptibly that we barely notice it ourselves, and yet the others around us see and feel the difference.

This Thanksgiving I had the opportunity to visit the redwoods in the northern part of California. I’ve been to the Sequoia Forest in California a few years ago and was colored impressed. However, as I walked through the trails in Northern California, with the redwoods towering over me hundreds of feet above me, surrounding me at a cool, refrigerator temperature, saying nothing but deafening me with their silence I was at one with them, and with nature.

Times like this we receive a glimpse, a glimpse of what it’s like to be in the permanent presence of God. Of the majestic nature of what is creation. What is US. And the US is we. And we are one.

The spiritual nature of all faith paths leads us in this direction. To be at one. To coexist in peace with each other and creation. It is a path that we are being led, one which requires us to listen to the power of silence and what surrounds us. All of what’s around us.

So, if God appears to have disappeared from view it may be that you’re not looking hard enough, you’re not listening quietly enough, or you’re pursuing God in your life as if not already present.

Of course, we know God is omnipresent, so perhaps we need to stop looking, and just be. As God is there, and always will be.

Amongst the Redwoods

Reflection and image Copyright 2023 Michael J. Cunningham OFS

It’s Not All Black and White

IT’S NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE

I recently held a contemplative prayer meeting where this image was used as a point of contemplation and reflection. Some of the words that came to mind from the attendees were that this image had a contrast of black and white and yet the majority of the image is, in fact, various levels of gray.

How often do we concentrate on the black and the white? One end of each spectrum of an issue and where we reside on the scale. How often do we hear the comment, “It is black and white to me” Well, for sure, there are some issues that are black and white, and there is no gray at all. However, each time we consider something, even something like this picture of the woods in winter, do we go to that place? It’s either black or white. Have we lost the ability to consider, discern, and listen to the other’s point of view? Here, the gray fills in all the details we might be missing. Missing because we didn’t even have a conversation or want a conversation. Just a declaration, I am right and you and not—end of the story.

In many of the explanations in scripture, it is in detail that we see what Jesus is getting at. By exploring the questions or statements, we go deep into this forest, where the various gray levels are examined along with the black and the white areas. We find out more about where others have come from or are going. It is here that the opportunity to listen, learn, dialog, and come to new conclusions resides. Not in a polarized pure black-and-white world. How does this image affect your thinking about black and white? Are you living in a pure black-and-white world? Or in one with many different shades of gray? Where is Jesus in this image? God Bless, Mike

Invitation to Explore

Black or White

Black or white, right or wrong, us or them.

A colorless world, devoid of beauty,

gray is a color erased, deliberately.

I am judgment itself, in every decision.

From where did I learn such thinking?

“the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.”

Book of Wisdom

Reflection, Poem and Image Copyright 2022 Michael J. Cunningham OFS

The Magnetic Longing

THE MAGNETIC LONGING

Recently I had a bit of a revelation. In theological and spiritual terms we often refer to what we call The Holy Longing. This Holy Longing is God, within us, impelling us to be closer to do his will, to listen, to be kind, and to love one another as we are invited to love God. For those who feel like they have a relationship with God already, through their faith path, their chosen religion, this may appear obvious. The hunger and desire to stay close to God and try and please God is an experiential activity. In the ideal world, we can feel God within us. Whatever channel is drawing us towards God.

However, if there is no feeling or recognition of God in your life there’s still something else going on. There is an innate desire to belong. We want to belong. To be loved. To be cared for. To be a part of a family, a community, a group, the nation. This desire to belong can be found in the word belonging.

We want to and we do “be” in the world. And our longing for the above is all driven by Love. So, the combination of both Be and longing creates a desire within us that we cannot turn off.

This is tricky countryside with a perspective. Belonging is at our core. It’s where our heart our head and our soul converge. It’s where psychology, physiology, and spirituality reside together. We may not recognize this depending on our perspective. Or we may place more emphasis on one versus the other. This is often where we end up with difficulties. My path is better than your path. Your way is less rich than my way. My God loves you more than your God. However, I digress. Regardless of the path we end up still with this need for belonging, you cannot turn it off, it’s persistent. Even in places where we don’t belong, we don’t want to be rejected. Even if we’re not supposed to belong there, again we can’t turn it off.

So eventually I get into the topic of this reflection the magnetic longing. Our longings are often, perhaps always, driven by a need for something. It might be something that we do need, like food or stability in our lives, or something that’s less critical like the latest car, or a new sofa.

Usually, even an unnecessary need, like a new car, leads to fulfillment in the short term. But it never truly satisfies. The only thing that really satisfies is belonging and the relationships it brings. Where we’re with the ones that we love, when we reconcile with those that we don’t, where we are accepted, or rejected because of doing or saying the right thing.

Nevertheless, we have this driving force within us, this magnetic longing, that brings us somewhere further on our journey. It’s extremely difficult for me to try and describe this in a short reflection or some prose as I am trying now. The poem that’s attached describes, perhaps better how we connect our needs, and fulfillment, and more needs in what a spiritual journey. Even if we don’t recognize it as such.

The magnetic longing drives us, not just like a GPS, not like a compass, but more as a magnet pulling us in One Direction or another. Recognition of the source of this magnetic longing may be the answer.

Are we fulfilling our own magnetic longings purely for self-fulfillment. Which usually leads nowhere after the initial party is over. Perhaps after reading this poem that follows, you may recognize the magnetic longing in your life. Maybe there’s more than one, striving either with or against each other. Have a blessed week.

A Garden of Belonging




The Magnetic Longing

Here I go again, needing.

Needing to be a part of the conversation,

Needing to be included,

Needing to be heard.

Needing.

Where does this needing some from,

The internal demon who keeps me wanting to,

Be.

To be myself,

To be with others,

To be wanted.

Where is the switch for this magnetic pulse,

Which keeps me wanting more.

More conversation,

More understanding,

More empathy,

More love.

More love.

MORE LOVE.

For the compass is love,

And Magnetic North is driving me mad to get some,

This north, which is my longing,

Pulling me in directions I am uncomfortable with,

But need to go.

The fork in the road is easily decided,

Not by me,

But by the One who knows the way.

The way, which is my longing,

The longing which is the Other within.

The God who placed the longing there,

If only I can be silent and listen,

Then, I will not see the way,

I will know it.

I will not feel the way,

I will follow it.

I will not fulfil myself,

I will be fulfilled.

This magnetic longing.



Reflection, poem and image Copyright 2023 Michael J. Cunningham OFS

Unfinished business

Unfinished Business 

Our daily lives are smothered with tasks, activities, and deadlines. Some of these are what we might call “soft deadlines” and others are less so. The ones we must make happen. Depending on your role in a family, your place of work and responsibility, or your disposition in your spiritual life, you may be more affected and distracted by these deadlines or what we might call unfinished business. 

Most of us, in some way or another, would most likely like to be achieving more than we can make happen in a 24-hour period. We have sliced up the day and night into periods when certain things are supposed to happen, and we (or someone else) allocate the time in which it is supposed to occur. For example, if you want to have lunch at the San Damiano Retreat where I work, the bell will ring at noon, and you better show up in the next 20 minutes or so if you want you receive some hot and nicely prepared food. Showing up at 1:30 pm might find a kitchen empty of staff and bereft of a savory repast. 

However, it is not just the deadlines for tasks and activities I am talking about here, but rather whether something is finished or not. The poem that follows this reflection, perhaps says this better than my words here, but there is beauty in something not being finished. Not everything, but in many things. 

When you are reading a poem, or gazing at a scene or painting, you enter the creative world of the writer or artist. If you are sitting in a garden on a summer’s day, you find yourself daydreaming, at one with the plants and small animals scurrying around, the birds and insects visiting their favorite plants. You become a part of this unfinished scene that you are living in, you enter the poem or book you are reading, perhaps as an observer, perhaps as a participant. 

All of this requires us to be willing to see things as unfinished. Even the simplest exchanges, such as a conversation with someone should not be hurried just so you can have your point of view established and agreed. Most successful salespeople know that the relationship with the client is what is important, as that is likely to last longer than just an individual purchase, as trust, openness, and dialog become a part of the exchange. 

Our unwillingness to see the world or issues in this continuum of change (or unfinishedness) has a spiritual element to it. If we are open, our hearts and minds can participate in something that perhaps was thought to be finished but turns out was only started. We see this in many aspects of life. 

How do you view see yourself? Are you willing to leave something unfinished, or do you have to complete everything regardless of the outcome? How do others perceive you? As a listener, a doer, a companion? Perhaps all three? 

The Beauty of Unfinished Work 

The Beauty of Unfinished Work. 

Many feel this is the opposite, 

It is the feeling of failure,

Of tasks incomplete,

Of projects that define needs, 

But have a force within them that makes them.


Well … unfinished. 

It is the body of work without all its parts,

The building without a roof,

Not because it never had one, 

But something stopped it from getting topped. 

The grass that will not stop growing, 

Despite incessant mowing, 

It persists, as we irrigate and feed it,

With fertiliser, so it will grow faster …

Only to see the need to cut it again. 

It is the task list which never ends, 

The text messages and emails without a filter,

Or limit.

That make us feel like a failure.

Even though we are not. 

So, why is unfinished beautiful? 

How can the untended garden be lovely,

The child’s unruly hair, gorgeous? 

An untamed sea. 

I can’t tell, why, yet it is so.

When the poem is not complete,

When the movies ending is unsure,

When the lecture ends with a question not an answer. 

It is because, we are there.

We are in the room,

On the boat, 

In the movie, 

Without our eyes, and pens and paint brushes,

Crazily drawing and thinking, and drawing some more,

So we can finish the work.

Or if not finishing, then participating. 

In a real life, worth living, with the door of unfinishedness inviting us in.

Reflection and poem Copyright 2023 Michael J. Cunningham

Spiritual Love

Spiritual Love

What is spiritual love? Many would describe it as agape love. Unconditional love. The love that seems to emanate from an unending source of grace, from a well that never runs out of … well … love. 


In my mind, and I think this is supported by many descriptions and depictions of grace, that grace is God’s love communicated. Let me repeat that, grace is God’s love communicated. Grace is love communicated. 

As few of us, if any, can truly describe what love is, just examples of it being manifest in our lives, we can agree that it is, next to the essentials of living, the most important element in a fulfilling existence. Love is, after all the vehicle by which we receive that inner peace we all seek in our lives, and for those around us. 

What is spiritual love? Well, as we can’t find a good way of defining love, then adding another word as a prefix may make it even more difficult to determine. Or does it? For me, spiritual love is that feeling that is manifest deep inside us when we do something that is not self-serving, but rather serving others. Not when we are doing it just to look good or get our “service hour quota” in for school, work, or our place of worship. But rather, just doing it without intention or expectation. When we respond in a way that is not for ourselves, but for others, without the need for preening or self-congratulation, we may, just may be experiencing spiritual love. 

The source of love is deep within us, and we need to tap into it to make our lives, fulfilling, meaningful and loving. If we do not practice love, we do not get better at it, however, love with an agenda or some deliberate intention may not be the same thing. If we are doing it for ourselves, or for others so they see us in a certain light, then it may be self-serving. 

The examples included in the poem below, are intended to illustrate me talking to myself about spiritual love. A polite reminder of what I should be doing, observing, and considering as I try and ditch my ego and selfish desires into touch for a while.

Spiritual Love 


Spiritual love is a love without agenda,

A love without expectations, 

An intention less love. 

Spiritual love is making the coffee without request,

Smiling at another when you know she needs,

Just another friend without judgment.

It is waking to the day you are dreading, and still leaving your bed. 

Spiritual love is an awakening,

Awakening to the feelings of others, 

As if they are your own. 

Because now, they are your own. 

Spiritual love is doing for others,

When they don’t ask,

Or even know they are in need,

For an unexpected friend, in a day filled with darkness. 

Spiritual love is letting God’s love out,

Not waiting for God to come visit,

As He was not there all along,

Even if we missed his presence, on an Emmaus walk lasting decades. 


Spiritual love is inner peace, 

Leaking out controllably, 

From a reservoir within I barely noticed;

Only my thirst for its content. 


Spiritual love is not controllable,

It has no conditions, 

Or expectations,

Just mindful understanding of the moment we are in.

Together.

Spiritual Love is our blessed Mother,

It is the sun rising,

The rain on a summer’s eve,

Crystals of snow on your face. 

Spiritual love is most of all,

Oneness with each other, 

Of feeling another’s heart as if yours,

Because it is. 

Spiritual love is irreversible; and omnipresent. 

Poem, Reflection and Image Copyright 2023 Michael J. Cunningham OFS