The Steady Satisfaction of Stillness

Stillness

“Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd.” translates from Welsh to “Do the little things in life.”. This quote from Saint David has left a deep impression on my life. Seeing God in the little things is of paramount importance to reaping the benefits of a spiritual lifestyle. What does this have to do with stillness? Well, the modern way of life values the ability to move from one thing to another with incredible speed, and even among religious circles the only time we seemingly devote to God is the hour or so we attend service a week. To live a spiritual lifestyle means taking the time to recognize the divine in all things. For example the fact that I woke up this morning and have the ability to type this manuscript is a distinct blessing from God. Taking the briefest moment out of the day to concede the blessings that we are bestowed slows down time just enough for us to appreciate it.

Recognizing the divine in all things is a way to bring the spiritual into our lives. We do not need to be monks or members of the clergy to become contemplatives. Nor do we need to seek hermitage at a monastery to realize the divine present in our labors. I still recommend that every person take a trip to a monastery at some point to take a glimpse at the peaceful lives of the monks, and transmit those lessons to their own lives.

Working at a middle school filled with three hundred students can prove to be a challenge to take a moment and reflect, I challenge myself to practice the art of stillness. Whenever I have even the briefest moment to take a breath and collect my thoughts; I give thanks to the divine for the fact that all of the students are present and that I can share my life with them, no matter how frustrating or challenging it can be at times. Practicing this art, slows down the day allowing for incredible reflections that normally would be thrown by the way-side. It is a simple form of meditation in the workplace.

While I was attending college I had the privilege to take a meditation class. This class focused on zen style meditation of using the breath and emptying the mind. The final was a 10 hour meditation retreat that I found to be a very moving and deeply spiritual experience. Meditation has proven for me to be an invaluable tool to connect with the divine. Within my JVC community; I am sometimes tasked to provide an activity for our spirituality nights, and more often than not I include some sort of meditation in the activity. Meditation gives us a chance to lose our ego self, and realize our part in existence. In silencing our minds for the period, we hear all that is going on around us. From the subtle noises of the house settling, the water heater running, or the wind thrashing the trees about outside; meditation allows us to become part of the snapshot of existence.

Contemplative meditation is an art which can never be perfected, but there is an inherent beauty in it. Practicing stillness does not mean to sit and ponder the meaning of existence all day, but rather to realize the vastness of each moment that is presented to humanity. I have been profoundly influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton (who I have referred to numerous times in my posts) and if interested in further exploring the mysteries of contemplative stillness, I highly recommend reading his works. Taking time to be static and reflect on the divine is a great way to enhance the experience that is life, it provides us with a sense of deeper meaning in what we do as opposed to just actions.

The divine is always speaking to us, through our work, and everything else we do in our lives; all we have to do is take a moment and listen.

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The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Creature comforts of writing a letter

Creature comforts of writing a letter

There are few better feelings than coming home after a long day at work and seeing a little envelope laying on the table with your name in familiar handwriting scribbled across it. I have even taken to exclaiming that “Somebody loves me!” out-loud whenever I find one waiting for me. Receiving a physical piece of mail is a sign that someone out there is thinking about you, and cares enough to put the time into writing a small note with their own hands so you can hold it. Some might argue that texting or emailing, since it is faster is the better option. But in my humble opinion; while emails are nice and quick they just seem like a ghost. I understand the effectiveness in sending emails for business and other pertinent matters, but sending a loved one a personal note via a physical letter is much better.

I would even prefer to receive a stock card from a large chain like Hallmark, as opposed to an email. But, recognizing distinct handwriting on a previously blank piece of paper might be one of the more emotional experiences you can have in an otherwise mundane day. Recognizing that a person has cared enough to take the time (and postage money) to write you a letter is one of the most simple, yet uplifting things in life. Letters are an extension of love from one person to another. Each letter has a story to tell; from the time the last scratch of a pen or pencil has left it’s mark on the paper, to the dropping in a mailbox, sorting in a large mail facility, and the eventual reading of the recipient; it is a long and winding journey that is much more tangible than the linking of satellites and sending of electronic messages.

I have to make an admission, I only have recently turned to writing letters. While I have always held the same convictions about physical mail as opposed to electronic communication, I have only begun to be the sender of these little envelopes of joy. I have been spurred by the actions of one of my housemates who I constantly see writing and receiving letters from loved ones. She even goes so far as to create her own envelopes out of removed pages of magazines (an even more personal and artistic touch). Writing these physical letters to people fits right into the four values of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. It is simple, extends and expands upon community, can communicate values of social justice, and can be a spiritual experience.

The spiritual nature of writing a letter is quite simple. By writing a letter, the author is extending love to the recipient in a meaningful way. Showing our love for each other is just one of the key tenants of Christ’s teaching on Earth. Not only did the early disciples communicate via letters, but modern practitioners also communicate the same ideas through the age old medium. Reading some of the published letters of folks such as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the Dalai Lama, Tich Nhaht Hanh, and Martin Luther King Jr are some of the greatest examples of amazing spiritual writings of the modern day.

Letters are another avenue for us to share our stories. We can write down our experiences to share with loved ones, leaving a tangible and nearly permanent mark upon our existence. Storytelling is one of the things we humans do best, and writing letters to share our individual and communal stories is an amazing act. Views about the world can also be communicated through a written note.

I am challenging myself to write letters to many of the people I am graced enough to call my friends and loved ones. Because after all, who doesn’t enjoy getting a handwritten letter?

The past two weekends have been a whirlwind of excitement for me. The weekend of the 27th of September I was lucky enough to go see Skeletonwitch, Sabaton, and Amon Amarth perform here in Sacramento, and just yesterday I got to see Metsatoll, Tyr, and my absolute favorite band of all time Eluveitie perform. While these metal bands all hold a similar fist pumping, screaming, devil horns throwing place in my heart; there is still something else almost indescribable there.

As I was leaving the venue from the Eluveitie show, I saw Patrick Kistler (Eluveitie’s bagpiper) outside smoking a cigarette. As my own cigarette wasn’t finished I walked up to him and we started having a chat. He expressed to me how he was somewhat disappointed at how small the venue was, but how the intimacy of the venue and the ensuing connection between the fans and the band surpassed his disappointment. Our conversation continued on how music connects people from all walks of life, and more specifically how a group of Swiss musicians can affix themselves with fans from around the world. Between joking around and laughing he reflected on how he views performing a spiritual experience. After our talk we thanked each other, shook hands and went our separate ways.

Thinking of music as a path to the spiritual world is something I have dwelt upon for quite sometime. It is reflected in my chosen path of study with an Audio Production major and Religious Studies minor. Music is one of the most effective means for emotions and ideas to be expressed. Music has the power to move people to tears, provide anthems, a voice to the voiceless, and connect people to others as well as the divine.

Music in religion has been something of great interest to me. In my own independent research I have come across many different notions of how music is a gift. In Sufism music plays a very important role, the thinking is that making music, it is the closest you can be to the divine. Any other art form requires something external of one’s self whether it is painting, telling a story of a prior event, or writing something down; they all require an external force. Music is the exception, any person physically able to make audible sounds can sing or hum a tune. Pure creation from the self. Just as God created the World, so too can humankind create music from themselves.

For myself, music has always been a huge part of my life. Whether playing an instrument, or listening to it; music has been quite possibly the only constant in my twenty two years. It has always been something spiritual to me, even while listening to bands such as Slayer or Behemoth I feel raised to a different, religious plain. Understanding lyrics of the songs are not that important either. Music is just about life. Even if you do not agree with the upfront message present in the lyrics the music can affect your emotions. Even with “negative” music that discuss the macabre, enjoyment can be found. And that enjoyment can make or break an individual’s day.

In my year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps I plan to explore the deeper spiritual implications of music, not just with myself but with my community. I can only speak to my own experiences of this. But I can say listening to bands like Eluveitie I actually FEEL. It isn’t just the subject matter of my ancestors and their beliefs, or instrumentation that hold my attention but something almost completely indescribable. Music can help us all find something in ourselves, and perhaps through it we can find something of the divine in ourselves and the world.

Eluveitie Show

Eluveitie Show

Music As An Avenue To The Divine

First Steps

I have had very little experience writing about myself, let alone writing something that is for all to see. But, being encouraged by the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and other people in my life I decided to take a swing at writing a blog.

I have dedicated my first post grad year to volunteering through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps at a middle school in Sacramento, California. No, my degree isn’t in teaching but I do enjoy passing on knowledge to others.

The work I do at the school varies from assisting in sixth grade science and math classes to more mundane office work. Both of which I view as a form of prayer. Offering whatever work I am doing to God is a way for me to motivate myself, because I believe everything can be traced back to the divine. I reminded myself of this while I sharpened over two hundred pencils which were later used by the students on their benchmark assessments; that God is in the little things. By sharpening those pencils I like to believe that I was helping students attain their goals, albeit indirectly. By serving those students I feel that I have come closer to God, because every little action helps in some way.

Being a month into the year I have found some challenges that were quite unexpected. Living in an intentional community has been exacting of my communication habits. I tend to be rather introverted and do my best communicating non-verbally, and usually only verbally express myself in one on one situations. When others ask how I am doing the normal verbal response tends to be “Dave is Dave”. Needless to say speaking to others in group situations is not my strongest ability. But I have been trying my hand to better myself in this regard.

My pocket is full of a few tricks to occupy my down time. One of the things that has helped keep my sanity in tact is reading. I have read over a dozen books just within the past month. I have been reading everything from Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, to books by Christopher Moore, and even the Dexter series. Getting a library card and utilizing it has been an open gate to these various worlds away and apart of my own. Music has also been a constant in my life, even now I love to sit down and play for a few hours on my bass or drum pad. There aren’t many things better than the feeling of playing an instrument till you are sweaty and tired, it is such an amazing release.

This month has been trying, but very rewarding. The people I have encountered on this journey have joined the accompaniment of some of the best individuals I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Each person in the community brings something vastly different to the table, and without each of us the entire dynamic of the house would be thrown away. I look forward immensely to the times that we will share together this year.

 

“Every moment and every event in every man’s life on Earth plants something in his soul” – Thomas Merton