Fruit of Isolation

Mary Magdala Community

Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD  —

Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community

With no bird singing

The mountain is yet more still.

Zen saying

All this “Stay at Home” time is driving me to take a look at my past writings – especially at the time, 10 years ago, when we first gathered in community under the patronage of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles.  Back then, and even yet, I found guidance from John O’Donohue, philosopher and celtic spiritual teacher.  In his book, “Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong,” he asks the question, “What is it that prays in us?”

O’Donohue writes as he explores this question, “Real maturity is the integrity of inhabiting that ‘immortal longing’ that always calls you to new horizons.  Your true longing is to belong to the eternal that echoes continually in everything that happens to you.”

Longing to belong

Being settled, reaching beyond

This was the journey I hoped for as we began our community.  All the settled understandings in me were looking for the beyond of a future with new possibilities.

Some understandings were obvious (or so I thought):

  • The Spirit calls each person to a ministry that they must claim regardless of sex, orientation, life condition;
  • Institutions (particularly ecclesial ones) must serve and not dictate;
  • Plurality of belief and practice makes us strong.

Other understandings would emerge as we carried out the community’s specific call to ministry:

  • We claim the universal call to holiness and to priesthood in that each member is part of the “nation of priests.” (1 Peter 2:9)
  • We are all ministers of sacrament. We bless, we break bread, we absolve, we anoint.
  • We long to belong to the great cosmic array of eschaton, the divine present within and the divine yet to come.

We gather in promise, in the hope of enlivening the deeper and brighter presence of the divine within us, among us.

We have made possible what others say is impossible.  And we do it on a regular basis, well at least every Sunday.  But, now we are isolated – an assault against this Spirit that unites.  Coronavirus is an unwelcome gift that prevents our possibility from gaining in strength and experiencing with each other physically divine love.  So, while we do our best to gather virtually how about that connection with the divine within?

That invites reflection and meditation.

So, I will admit (and I’m guessing I’m probably not alone in this) to watching a “bit more” TV and online stuff these days.  This morning featured a company called, “Calm,” one of the apps (at least 10 and counting) that are all about meditation.  Among other newsy items about “Calm,” the brainchild of 2 young Brits, is that it has a market value of $1 billion.  Had John of the Cross or Teresa of Avila known that their business model had such incipient success just waiting to be monetized 500 years later, maybe they could have promoted it to a wider audience.

Perhaps, but I’m pretty sure their contemplative meditation reached further and delved deeper than soft-talk and soft-music conveyed through ear buds.  Apparently, they do teach how to breathe – always a beneficial practice.

Sometimes longing to belong, or even longing to reduce stress is achievable with the use of a favorite app.  At other times, as in during a pandemic, longing to belong has a goal beyond myself in mind.  Let’s meditate on that.

Begin with appreciating that “I am here” is a first step toward giving thanks for creation and myself in that creation.  Next is the connection between being made and making.  I reflect that I am both creature and creator – “divine making human, human making divine.”  Now lest one think this is a fuzzy, new-age thought to be meditating upon, know that this notion of the connection – divine with human – goes back to the early time of the church, all the way back to the 2nd-4th centuries.  Christians then used the term theopoesis, theo (divine) and poesis (making).  Theopoetics is what its called today – this “god making human and human making god.”

The philosopher, Richard Kearney, has been writing and teaching about theopoetics for years.  Meditating on what he says takes a person out of themselves.  It involves growing in love with the relationship that fundamentally removes me from issues about myself and nurtures my longing to belong.

There’s more to be said about theopoetics.  For now consider your own longing to belong.  Acknowledge that barriers are in place that prevent us from experiencing physical belonging.  So, go deep, take the deep dive.  Be both creature and creator.  I am more than a child of God.  This life of mine is eternal.  It is connected now with divine love and it contains the promise to be divine in all that is to come.

A Prayer   (JR)

From our isolated spaces we long to belong,

to reach beyond our physical bodies and enjoy connecting in the Spirit.

You, Holy Creator, are present in us during this time of isolation,

just as we are present in you.

We reflect upon the life of Jesus in this Lenten Season, on his love

for his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

We also move on and reach beyond to Easter Spirit – to that divine life

we share that has no end.


Thomas Merton, “Zen and the Birds of Appetite”

“What the Desert Fathers sought when they believed they could find ‘paradise’ in the desert, was the lost innocence, the emptiness and purity of heart which had belonged to Adam and Eve in Eden…. What they sought was paradise within themselves, or rather above and beyond themselves.” p.116

One Response

  1. Joe Burke says:

    A few thoughts come to mind. Yes, we are physically separated, but like you say we are the “Body of Christ” (as Paul originally states) To some this is still a foreign image away from the Old grey haired man sitting on a throne up in the sky that most of us grew up with.
    It seems today our image of God has changed so much with our new cosmology, and better interpretation of Scripture, and the multitude of Chittisters, Teilhards, Rohrs, Haughts projecting new ideas into our beings.
    And yes, the goal of oneness at the end of everything. From Oneness to Oneness, that is the goal of creation.
    This separation is our time to examine what we are really about and who we really are. Our consumeristic, capitalistic culture is being tested. I don’t think we will all be other Francises but all spiritual writers talk about “Letting go” and that is what we are doing.

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