Cultivating the Art of Presence

 

 
The world we live in has become characterized by a compulsive connectivity, but many of the ways that we connect with people, with our physical environment, even the way that we prepare and consume food have become disconnected from our physical bodies. While it’s not all bad, it can be helpful to make a conscious choice on occasion to engage our physical body in the process of connection, especially in areas where our habits are becoming destructive or dysfunctional. Here are three ways that you can choose to cultivate the art of presence:

Preparing for Lent

The season of Lent is considered a time of preparation and discipline.  While advent prepares us for the birth of Christ, Lent is a time when we prepare ourselves for Easter, the commemoration of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

In the early church, the 40 day period of Lent was a time when new converts to Christianity would prepare themselves for their baptism.  This period of preparation was marked by: taking vows of abstinence (choosing not to do something for a period of time) in order to physically discipline the body; devotion to prayer in order to spiritually align oneself with God; and almsgiving, performing acts of charity to demonstrate ones love for God through service.

Over time the tradition evolved to include old converts who would use the celebration of Lent as a means of remembering their own baptism, and re-dedicating themselves to Christ.

Today many Christians continue to observe lent as a way of spiritually realigning themselves by focussing on disciplines of reflection and repentance; and by making ‘vows’ which represent their resolve to live their lives differently.

When setting Lent goals the first thing many people often think of is:  What is something that I can handle giving up for 40 days?  While this can be valuable, it doesn’t quite get to the heart of what celebrating Lent is all about.  While giving things up can be an important part of the process, the real goal is seeing our lives transformed into a greater likeness of Christ.

If you’re considering setting your own goals for Lent, here are some questions that might help guide your process:

What area/aspect of my lifestyle/character do I most want to see change occur in?

What are some steps that I need to take in order to reach this goal?  (These could be things you need to do or things you need to stop doing.)

Which step could I action over the 40 day period of Lent to help me start moving closer to my goal?

How am I going to put this step into action?

Who are the people I need to talk to about my Lent goals so that they are able to help support me and keep me accountable to the decisions I have made?

*This post contains material originally published in the cession|community Lent Preparation Pack.  It is re-published here with the Author’s permission.

Waitangi Day Reflection

Growing up in towns/cities with a mixed Māori/Pakeha heritage I’ve spent periods of my life (depending on where we’ve found ourselves) more engaged with or estranged from my Māori tanga. Still, ours was never a particularly militant whanau. My nan taught us to treat all people regardless of race/religion/etc with respect and grace, if not to agree with every idea they might espouse. Consequently I find myself not apt to dwell heavily on the injustices of the past but rather to focus on positive ways of moving forward as diverse peoples in this land of Aotearoa. This is not to say that I’m unaware of the difficulties some of my friends and wider whanau encounter trying to bridge the various cultural divides we meet day to day but rather that I can’t personally live in a place of anger and distance. This context wraps into my current relationship with Waitangi Day. In one sense I view the day as a holiday to be enjoyed with family and friends; a celebration of and reflection upon ‘nationhood’ for all who consider themselves New Zealanders. But always, in the background, is the itching reminder of the constant struggle we Māori—tangata whenua!—face in defining our place in New Zealand society today and of holding close to our cultural values and heritage, so often at odds with typical ‘Western’ paradigms. Mine might not be the brownest face around, and many of my attitudes pretty enmeshed with a lot of current urban culture, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see or feel the underlying attitudes of a significant number of New Zealanders who don’t see Māori as having any special relevance to the country, who harbour some latent resentment to what they see as unfair ‘positive discrimination’. Despite this, each year it seems to me more and more non-Māori are embracing Māori culture/language/history as part their own identity as New Zealanders: something internationally unique of which they too can have a part and to which they can contribute. Maybe this is a function of the circles—professional, social, faith related—that I find myself in these days but to me this is a great part of the beauty, power, and value that the observance of Waitangi Day offers to all New Zealanders. We can embrace together our diverse cultural histories and respectfully blend them into shared values and stories of the nation we are becoming. My picture of this cultural tapestry holds all viewpoints as valuable and important as we make our way forward; Māori tanga being no more or less important than Pakeha culture or the other newer cultures that make up Aotearoa.  Which brings me back around to the struggle of many Māori: to have our contribution valued equally not just as an acknowledgement of some past significance but as a central part of the ongoing formation of our national story.

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words for 2014

At [pause] last week we spent some time in a collective prayer of examen for Taonga.  We took time to reflect over the events of the past year; to look for God’s fingerprints in our experiences; to celebrate God’s action in us and through us; to grieve over dreams that didn’t come to pass; and to discern God’s vision for our future.

As part of our time together we identified some words which summed up the picture of community we felt God was breathing into us during our time together.

Take a deep breath, inhale each one.  Let it inhabit your senses.

warmth
refuge
belonging
sanctuary

 

[pause] exploring examen

At [pause] last week we spent some time exploring the ‘Daily Examen’ or ‘Prayer of Examen’, a form of contemplative prayer which has grown out of the writings of Ignatius of Loyola.  If you’re curious to know more about its development and history, you can find some great info here.

There is a great ‘short form’ of the five steps of Examen over at gravity |center for contemplative activism

Below you’ll find a short video featuring Chris Heuertz co-founder of gravity speaking about the practice of Examen.  His explanation fleshes it out beautifully.

If you have your own thoughts and reflections about your journey with Examen, or if you’ve found any other helpful resources we’d love to hear about it.  Feel free to respond in the comments.

Typhoon Haiyan: Responding to Crises

When we find ourselves faced with crises like typhoon Haiyan which recently devastated the Philippines, we can easily feel overwhelmed by both the magnitude of the destruction and our own inability to contribute meaningfully to the problem.  The news on our screens, in our Twitter and Facebook feeds, brings us face to face with the realities of disaster.  And yet for most of us our hands & feet are left unable to touch the lands or faces we see before us, to bring the healing and hope we wish we could dispense in an instant.

It can leave us feeling lost, debilitated.

Here are some ways you can mobilize your ‘body’ to reach out in a very real way to those in need.

Pray

Take some time to pray for those affected by, and those responding to this crisis.  If you are unsure where to start and need some help we’ve put together a prayer resource here:  10 for 10,000: A Prayer for the Philippines

Give

There is an old Whakatauki which says,

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi‘         ‘With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive.’

With a disaster of this size, it may seem like you don’t have anything significant to give.  But if each of us shares the little we have, it becomes a whole lot.  Please consider giving to one of the many organisations who are working to provide emergency services and aid to the region over the coming months.  Even a very little can go a long way.

Here are some links to local organisations who are responding to this crisis:

TEAR Fund Christian Action

OXFAM New Zealand

 New Zealand Red Cross

unicef New Zealand