Monday, October 20, 2014

How majestic is your name in all the earth?

 Every year in late October, a group of my friends and I get together for two days of immersing ourselves in nature. It began as a one-day hike in the hills of the Appalachia, somewhere from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, but mostly in Virginia where most of us reside.

Somewhere along the way, because of the interest of new members of our group, a day of bike riding was added to the hike, so the one-day excursion became a two-day event. The group has expanded from six to ten or twelve members. We have been doing this for close to twenty years.

This year we spent one of the days fishing on a charter boat. The chance to experience a different kind of nature than the forests and mountains was wonderful. Being able to experience the water, the gulls, the fish, the sunrise and the stories of the captain and his mate brought a different perspective on nature than in previous years.

The interplay between human kind and the environment is never clearer than on the water. The men who make their living on the water are directly affected by what is done. For instance, on the Chesapeake Bay, there is a fish called the menhaden that is used to make fish oil for supplements. They are also the fish that stripers and blues feed on. Because they are over fished for the supplement industry, there are fewer fish for the watermen on the Chesapeake to catch.

In spite of these problems, the chance for a group of men to enter nature in a significant way each year is a treat. Most of us work in environments that are replete with computers and other technological environments where nature is far removed from us. Because of how nature is continually being exploited, like the menhaden in the Chesapeake, we need to be reminded that we are a part of nature, not above it. We should be stewards of the natural world, not abusers of it. Psalm 24: 1-2 states:

1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him.
2 For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas
and built it on the ocean depths.

Many of us “moderns” could learn from native peoples around the world who have much more of a reverence for nature than we do. To learn to be awestruck by the incredible surroundings that sustain our very existence on the planet. From the blood eclipse several weeks ago, to the sunrise over the water this morning, everyday, every hour, is filled with wonders that we need to pause in order to observe and honor.

Psalm 4: 1-4
1 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Journey with Ronald Rolheiser

 Father Ronald Rolheiser is a well-known Catholic writer on spirituality who wrote a book titled The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. The book really made more sense to me that many books on spirituality I had read. I started buying all his other books, but kept coming back to The Holy Longing for more inspiration.

I used the chapter called “A Spirituality of Sexuality” in mentoring several couples for getting married. I used the chapter called “A Spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking” as required reading for my cross-cultural groups. I took many quotes from the book to share in a course I teach at EMU called dealing with suffering and loss. To say that I was influenced by his writing would be an understatement.

But the way it most influenced my thinking had to deal with his “four nonnegotiable essentials of a healthy spirituality” outlined in chapter three of his book. The four are: 1) Private prayer and private morality. This has to do with our relationship with God, and deals with deeper contemplative prayer forms than “now I lay me down to sleep” before going to bed. 2) Social justice. This deals with our relationship to the poor and marginalized. 3) Mellowness of heart and spirit. This looks at how legalistic and uptight we become in our religious practices and helps us to avoid such uptightness. Finally, 4) Association with a community of faith for true worship and communion.

Few Christians would argue about the relationship to God or meeting for worship in a community of faith, but social justice would cause a few to doubt Rolheiser’s definition of an essential of a healthy spirituality. I buy wholeheartedly these three essentials, but was caught up short by “mellowness of heart and spirit.” Nowhere in my study of Christian spirituality had I come across this concept. I decided it was worthy of further development and decided to write a book on the concept.

I wrote to Father Ron from an email address on his website. I was hoping that he would endorse my project and get one of his publishers to consider the concept since my work was to be based on his ideas. I never heard directly from him, but his assistant answered every email and was very courteous. According to her, he was very supportive of the idea, and even suggested books for me that had influenced his own thoughts on the idea of mellowness. He also said he wanted to read my book when it was published.

I received the name of an agent with whom he worked, but after an initial expression of interest, never received anything back from that agent in spite of several attempts at opening communication again.

In the meantime, I cajoled my sister into writing the book with me. After writing an introduction and several chapters, we set out on our own to seek a publisher. To our great delight, Herald Press, the publisher for Mennonite Church USA and Canada, agreed to publish it.

Herald Press contacted Rolheiser to do an endorsement of the book for us since we had borrowed so heavily from his ideas and quoted him a lot. He graciously declined stating the amount of such requests he receives and his limited time. Quite understandable.

So the book is now published with the title The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening. I asked Herald Press if they wouldn’t send Rolheiser a copy of the book since we based our book one of his basic ideas. They agreed.

Imagine my delight when today I received a personal letter in the mail signed by him. “Thank you for writing this and developing the concept of a ‘spacious heart,’” he wrote in his letter. “I much enjoyed the book.” In addition he wrote, “thank you for your wonderful insight and balance.”

I must confess, that after reading so many of his books, and admiring his view of spirituality, to receive these complimentary words from him made me more than a little proud.  


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Collective Memory, Collective Unconscious

Whenever a friendship that I make with a Mexican deepens, whether rich or poor, educated or not, the question comes up: “What do you think about the USA stealing from Mexico more than half of our territory?”

We could quibble about whether the land was stolen or not, but most US Americans are blissfully unaware of the history surrounding the acquisition of most of what is currently the southwest of the US, starting with Texas and moving west and northwest to include Arizona, New Mexico, California, Utah, Nevada and most of Colorado. We seldom pause to wonder why most of these states have Spanish names, and have myriad Spanish town names within their borders.

More than eight generations have passed since the time when the US gained a large chunk of Mexican territory. No one is alive who experienced that event. Yet the event lives on in the collective memory (psyche) of the Mexican people. It was a humiliating and traumatic defeat, and any relationship a Mexican begins with a US American is shadowed by that collective memory.

I grew up an ethnic Mennonite. Our people also have a collective memory of persecution that goes back nearly 500 years. I know that this inherited memory affects how I view the world and how I act. I see it in other ethnic Mennonites who have different migratory patterns than my group and who live in varying parts of the world.

http://tinyurl.com/jwxhsvr
For example, the Old Colony Mennonites who live in northern Mexico signed an agreement with the Mexican government in 1920 to allow them to be exempt from military service and to allow them to be exempt from attending public schools. This agreement has never been revisited, in spite of the fact that many things have changed over the 95 years since. They are sorely afraid that making any changes will make them feel persecuted once again for their beliefs and have to leave their land; just like when they had to leave Russia and Canada.

In my own experience, I say that I am for the marginalized; that the God of the Bible is on the side of the poor and the oppressed. I write and teach that we should be “hungering and thirsting for justice” when in fact I mostly sit on my hands when it comes to doing anything. I am an example of “Die Stille im Lande,” the “quiet in the land.” I find it difficult to join marches and political protests. I, like the Old Colony Mennonites in Mexico, because of my collective memory, am afraid of being persecuted and losing what I have.

Vincent Harding, an African American Mennonite pastor who joined Martin Luther King’s movement in Atlanta while founding a Mennonite Voluntary Service unit there for MCC, eventually left the Mennonites because they displayed the same ambivalence   toward political protests as I. I am not proud of this either for me or my people, but recognize why it exists. Of course, many of my ethnic brothers and sisters around the world have been able to break out of their collective memory and work more directly for the marginalized and the oppressed. And people whom we have proselytized are not affected by the same collective memory. They reach back to the original Anabaptist movement, from which Mennonites sprang, as a reason why we must protest oppressive laws.  

With the idea of a collective memory in mind, the recent eruption of anger in Ferguson, Missouri, should come as no surprise. Our African American brothers and sisters have over 500 years of slavery, mistreatment and oppression to feed their collective memory. No matter how much progress has been made, our country is no where near healing the trauma that was caused by those years of oppression. Like my Mexican friends, my African American friends, whether rich or poor, educated or not, bring this subject up whenever we have any serious discussion.

Recent neuroscientific research has postulated that collective memory is passed on through our genes. Carl Jung has long theorized that humans are born with a collective unconscious. This collective unconscious can be both universal, i.e., shared in common by all humans, or particular, i.e. shared in common by particular groups of people. According to my unscientific observations, shared above, I believe this to be true.


Collective memory shapes us and forms us. No matter how unique we are as individuals, there are many unconscious factors that make us behave as we do. I believe that we can overcome these tendencies through contemplation, taking our nighttime dreams seriously, and getting to know people different from us to get to understand their particular collective memories. But that is a topic for another blog . . .

Friday, September 5, 2014

Herald Press publishes new book on spiritual formation Clymer brother and sister co-write

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ont.— Many people have grown tired of the pat answers that the church and religion have provided regarding questions about faith and meaning in life.

A new book addressing the deepest questions of the soul, The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening, was released by Herald Press in early September. The authors, siblings Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis, offer 12 keys, or insights, for unlocking the heart for spiritual growth.

Don is a spiritual director and Spanish professor who has led cross-cultural semesters at Eastern Mennonite University, in Harrisonburg; younger sister Sharon is a writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader from eastern Pennsylvania.

Twenty years ago, this brother and sister pair would not have dreamed of writing a book together. Growing up in a family with 11 children, the younger ones scarcely knew the older ones, according to Don and Sharon. So how did they decide to write a book together?

Don says he began hearing chatter at family reunions that Sharon was taking courses on spiritual formation and direction at “some Kairos” place in Pennsylvania. Don himself had begun taking similar courses at Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s Summer Institute for Spiritual Formation, so after years of “barely knowing that each other existed, we began to share our discoveries with each other,” he said.

Don was reading Ronald Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality during the summer of 2009. “I was really taken by this book. All the things I had studied in my program at the seminary seemed to come together.” He started meeting with a small group of interested college students to practice the “four nonnegotiable essentials of a healthy Christian spirituality.” One of Rolheiser’s essentials was termed “mellowness of heart.” Don said, “I thought a lot about what this concept meant and gave a number of devotionals on the subject. I felt there was enough material on ‘mellowness of heart’ for a book.”

Don and Sharon spoke about their mutual interests during a family gathering in early 2010. Don felt that Sharon’s experiences with many people as their spiritual director and her bout with cancer gave her an unusual depth of understanding. “I also knew that she was a great writer,” said Don.

Sharon had read Rolheiser’s Holy Longing while a student at Kairos: School of Spiritual Formation, in Lancaster, Pa., and was intrigued when Don began exploring the mellowness of heart concept. “When he first asked about writing a book together, though, I was hesitant,” Sharon said. “I wondered how I could do this, being so physically drained from six months of chemo treatments while finishing my spiritual direction training.” But she began to process the idea.

Don’s experiences teaching a senior seminar at Eastern Mennonite University dealing with suffering and loss had deeply moved him as he discovered the frequency of brokenness among students. Added to the brokenness were their questions about faith and God. “I wrote the book with them in mind, hoping that I could guide them toward a deeper commitment to God and a more ‘spacious heart,’” explained Don.

Impetus for Sharon came from knowing of spiritual seekers who long for emotional and spiritual intimacy with themselves, others, and God. “I wrote to encourage more understanding that gaining self-knowledge is not narcissistic, but actually helps one know the Source of life and love,” Sharon said.

In The Spacious Heart, Sharon describes some of her fears of getting involved in spiritual direction. Eventually, she said, “my [spiritual] director’s companioning me, and her deep listening, reflected love to me. This allowed me to heal and grow in intimate, close relationships with others and with God.” Still, Sharon had no plans to become a spiritual director herself. “But the Spirit and my own heart kept drawing me,” she recalled. She enrolled in training at Kairos in 2008 and began taking on those seeking spiritual direction in 2009.

Sharon uses many stories in the book, some from her spiritual direction practice, others from her upbringing, feeling that stories help people understand where they come from and where they want to go. “I wrote to encourage all who are disillusioned with church or old faith paradigms, who long for stories of spiritual awakening, and who aren’t able to go to a spiritual director,” noted Sharon.

Don first became involved in spiritual direction as a mentee, and then took training to be a spiritual director. He has been giving spiritual direction since 2003. Both Don and Sharon also blog regularly at www.donrclymer.blogspot.com and www.spiritsongsl.blogspot.com, respectively.

The authors hope that the book reaches a wider audience than those in the Mennonite church, including as a possible textbook for classes on spiritual formation. Marva J. Dawn, who wrote the foreword for the book, has praised the book’s emphasis on justice and other “traditional” Mennonite issues. “Several of the traits that are usually associated with Mennonites make this one of the best books on spiritual disciplines that I have ever read,” wrote Dawn.

Mary Herr, who cofounded The Hermitage retreat center in Three Rivers, Mich. with her husband, the late Gene Herr, noted the fact that there are not a lot of Mennonite-authored books on classic spiritual disciplines. Herr said, “A book by Menno writers on spiritual disciplines is sheer gift. So grateful for the book.”


The Spacious Heart is available for $16.99 from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or www.MennoMedia.org, as well as at bookstores.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Contemplating Life

“When the external life and the inner life are working together, we always have beauty, symmetry, and actual transformation of persons—lives and actions that inherently sparkle and heal, in part because they can integrate the negativity of failure, sin, and rejection and they can spot their own shadow games.” ~Richard Rohr

This pithy statement from Richard Rohr’s daily meditation of August 28 is true but a bit more complicated than it appears. Arriving to “actual transformation” is hard work and takes many years to complete. Integrating our image of God with the “negativity of failure, sin, and rejection” doesn’t happen automatically.

We avoid facing our shadow self like the plague. It is much easier to project our sin and failure on other people rather than owning up to them. Jesus identified the phenomenon when he said in Matthew 7:5, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, nearly 2,000 years later, called it “projection” and identified the projected items as the “shadow.”

We put up false fronts, called personas, to keep other people from knowing the real person behind the front. These false fronts come from what is expected of us from our socialization—culture, family, church, occupation. They are not completely bad; we need them to function. They become bad when we begin to believe that these false selves are our real selves. They become bad when we repress the bad stuff and project it on others.

There are two ways to get to know your shadow, according to Jung. Think of a trait in someone that you can’t stand. More than likely that is a part of your self that you have not dealt with and you project it onto the person you can’t stand. Or ask your spouse or close friend if you are like the person you can’t stand. If they are honest, they will identify the shadow traits you try to conceal.

Most of us don’t have the courage to do this, however. We’d rather mosey along living under the pretense of our personas and our false selves. That is, until someone inadvertently yanks the mask right off your face. That happened to me when someone told me that they thought I was experiencing a spiritual crisis. I was wearing personas of churchman, missionary, and Bible teacher. The statement, a mere observation with no intention to hurt, cut me to the core. It exposed my pretense and made me turn inward; to contemplation among other spiritual disciplines.

Contemplation allows us to see the false selves for what they are: false. If we started contemplation as part of our daily “rhythm and rule,” we would eventually be able to discern the true self from the false self. Most of us, however, are not capable of doing that on our own. We need some kind of crisis like my own mask “off-ripping” to look for help. When we reach that point, we need a guide to help us along the way; a spiritual companion, a spiritual director or a counselor. And we need time.

Once we begin the painful yet liberating process of contemplation, we are confronted with all the shadow traits we had been projecting on others. Fortunately, we also find the true self buried under the garbage of our false selves—the God image within us. This God-image carries his eternal love for us as well as his unbounded mercy and grace.

When the shadow and the God-image confront each other in contemplation, the God-image transforms the shadow and we “have beauty, symmetry, and actual transformation of persons,” just as Rohr claims. When these two opposites are integrated, we have “lives and actions that inherently sparkle and heal.” This does not happen overnight, however. For me the process took years and I am still a beginner on the journey.


Without contemplation, we have superficial lives that are resentful, that grumble and that poison. We see too much of this around us, even among Christians. My wish is to encourage people to begin the process of contemplative transformation before a crisis hits, to turn inward to find the true self before too many personas are established. I would rather be around people who “sparkle and heal” than people who grumble.