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Archive for September 5th, 2009

Earlier today, I began to recite the word “beauty” repetitively, and the word did indeed stay with me all day.

A small variation on the practice is what I am calling “the next good phrase I read or hear.” Simply, as I read or have conversation with people from this moment forward tonight, I will pay attention to the next phrase I come across that inspires reflections about encountering the sacred.

I will then allow the word to seep into my thinking as before in a 5 minute meditation awaiting whatever random or quasi-random connections take place. After that, I will look for the next word and then the next. While there is no magic to how many times to do it, I will elect three as the number of repetitions for the exercise.

To get started, I have been meaning to begin reading the bestselling novel by the late Stieg Larsson, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” So, opening to the prologue, I begin reading ………………………….

In the last section of the third paragraph, I read: “… and the exchange between the two men seemed like a ritual attaching to a mystery…” What a beautifully crafted and intriguing phrase.

Removing it from the context of this novel, with all due respect to the novel’s author and with full intent to come back and continue reading ( now, even more-so, having discovered such elegant prose), I let my mind wander over this phrase to form patterns of  its own accord:

“A ritual attaching to a mystery.”

So much of spiritual life involves ritual of one form or another: acts of preparation, vesting, the use of incense, song, liturgy, readings and a very definite cadence.

In encountering the sacred, we always need to shift gears and, as distractable creatures of sense, mood and memory, the process is essential. Each of us has to find his or her own approach, but it always involves a process: preparation – some ritual action, and then hopefully an opening  to the miraculous.

Whether or not we get to the miraculous largely depends upon the depth and quality of the first two stages: preparation and ritual action.

When I arrive at the local ashram for yoga class, we begin by kneeling and then collectively bowing to one another, followed by all saying aloud – “namaste”. We then are guided to the asanas, one by one very slowly, from the “corpse” posture of deep relaxation to a sequence that seems to follow in a very orderly fashion.

In Tai Chi, (using the Yang family long form) the sequence of movements are prescribed and the goal is to smoothly execute each move and then just as smoothly to transition to the next. The smoothness or lack thereof is the critical issue and is the chief difference between the novice and the master.

At Mass, the opening prayers and call to worship are followed by readings and then the Gospel, and only then the Eucharist. Whatever the spiritual practice, there is some manifest form of the three-step process.

So, the ritual, as Larsson eloquently expresses it, attaches to a mystery.

The ritual involves a clearing, a time to make room for the indwelling and the opening up of the Spirit Within. So it is with all forms of prayer. Sacraments demand sacramentals ( the appurtenances and trappings, the table settings) just as mystery stories demand first the full development of place, time, and character development as the context for the main event that stimulate the reader’ s fascination. The reader is drawn in ever more deeply, until the story and the reader ( ideally) are one. We experience what key characters experience and we enter into a special time with no regard to the movement of the hands of the clock.

I find myself recalling the differences made by theologians between ordinary time ( Chronos)  and sacred time (Kairos). Symbol, ritual movement, and ritual word and chant (as well as dance) are all merely the stage setting, though indispensable. The preparation makes way for the arrival of the Holy, the mysterium tremendum, the feeling of integral communion with the One.

Now, back to this fascinating novel.

© The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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One of my idiosyncrasies on greeting someone for the first time on any given day is to ask: “What’s the good word?” Not a phrase or a sentence but just a single word.

Usually, the one I ask draws a blank. The idea of the mantra is a spiritual practice with considerable history. John Main has institutionalized as a Christian contemplative practice. He asks those meditating to repeat a single word over and over again as they quietly empty themselves of all the other thought.

So, today, I open by asking  myself this same question. “What’s the good word?” .. and I commit to its repeated recitation throughout the day ( “pray without ceasing”) noticing any thoughts or images that it attracts.

The word that springs to mind is “beauty“.

My mind starts associating things to it that act as if exerting a gravitational pull on all other incidental thoughts:

For starters – potpourri, my daughter’s face, my wife’s touch, the Sun, the night sky, the fragile rose, the feeling of warm water in a shower, the sound of rain, the sound of crickets after dark, the laughter of children, the smile of an elder, that feeling one gets immediately after solving a mystery or problem on which a lot of time has been spent in search of a solution, sitting quietly in my office, puttering in my library.

I read last evening that recent research published by the American Psychological Association has produced evidence that anger does not offer release or catharsis but only feeds the anger and produces more of it.

Thoughts that associate to anger or anything depressing or dark should logically have the effect of adding further pitch to the darkness. The word for the day should act as antidote. Also, logically, if anger feeds anger and makes for heightened distress and acrimony, one should be on safe ground expecting that joyful thoughts and words of Light should have the counter effect of making more Light.

Beauty: In Koine Greek, the word for beautiful is horaios, derived from the word hora, or hour. At its root, horaios means “being of one’s hour” or, in other words, being true to one’s time, one’s nature, one’s true character without pretense or delusion, or forcing.

© The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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