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In the Storm Still

Exploring "engaged presence" in the midst of the turbulence of our times.

 - reflections excerpted or carefully crafted to accompany you in your practice of 'engaged presence,' as you draw the world of crying need and awesome complexity into your heart and center.
In the Storm Still comes in regular installments as reflections, resources and reminders for engaging spirituality in times like these. Created by Joe Grant, Louisville, Kentucky. Reproduced with permission.

Watchful Wondering

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2017

And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.  Mark 13:37

How much of today’s majesty has already passed you by?

Delayed, in a roomful of waiting,
I turned away from vacant faces
illumined by hand-held devices.

Facing a wall of glass,
I scanned a sky abuzz with traffic
beyond the shining aircraft ranks.

Silently, suddenly, grace sneaked up;
a peripheral vision
to seize my attention.

Between gleaming tailfins,
agile and airy among whining engines,
a red-tailed hawk hovered.

The soaring freedom of a raptor,
hunting amid the congestion,
awakened wonder.

Such beauty on the wind,
a miracle among flying machines,
an unexpected gift to enlighten the day.

As quickly as it emerged,
the hawk dove and disappeared,
leaving me awestruck at this holy visitation.

Instinctively, I turned to my companions,
hunting for a sign that someone else
had witnessed the momentary marvel.

No-one looked up,
all eyes were downcast,
not another soul had noticed!

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…  Isaiah 63:19

So much of life is waiting…
for healing to happen; for change to come;
for loss to soften, or a loved-one’s return.

for an ache to ease; a void to shrink;
for work to be over, war to end,
for a new day dawning, or an old one to wane.

for the rains to start,
for the torrent to cease,
or an end to indignity, poverty, disease.

to be entertained with something new,
something better, something more
than what’s waiting, all ready, outside the door.

Any miraculous moment, taken for granted,
in the routine of so-called ordinary existence,
blinds and numbs us to grandeur.

Accustomed to glorious indulgences —
sunsets, icy mountain peaks, milky ocean spray, windswept wilderness,
and teeming cities — we overlook the beauty that graces our days.

Likewise, we become deaf and blind 
to littered roads, deforested hills,
hungry children and ravaged shorelines.

Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  Mark 13:33

Anticipation offers lessons
that test the meter of our receptivity,
and the nature of our expectations.

Like a tail-twitching tabby, stock-still in the grass, 
electrically-charged anticipation
hones the senses with focused purpose.

Every moment, graces await,
hiding in plain view,
for those with presence of mind to wait or pursue.

In the clarity of astonishment,
a veil lifts and we understand
there’s nothing ordinary about existence.

sharpens perception 
by dropping distraction and letting go preoccupation.

To be attentive is
to be full of readiness;
watchful, waiting, wondering.

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.  Mary Oliver

Expectant attention is the opposite of terminal boredom.
Tuned-in to the present, aware of the edges,
on the lookout for signs in the times, watchful and wondering disciples wait.

And may you be awake,
when grace comes rushing out to greet you.


Love is Listening

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2017

I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Holy One’…  John 1:23

Who in your world cries out for your attention?

If listening is what lovers do,
our Maker is all ears;
attuned to every creature’s cry that voices hopes and fears.

Authentic prayer abandons words,
with nothing else to do,
except unwrap its golden gift—a hearty listening to.

Contact with people who are crying out… is one of the most important nourishments in our lives.   Jean Vanier

“Listen” and “silent” are anagrams,
and any quiet listener
will learn who and how to love.

The first and final sound we speak
is the breathy gasp that draws us in,
the sigh that carries us out.

Have you followed the music
of your lungs this day,
or attended the breathing of your neighbors?

We do not simply catch our breath,
we gratefully received and graciously returned it;
for this is the calculus of contemplation.

Choosing to stop and listen,
with attentive heart attuned,
is the first brave step toward true encounter.

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.  Revelation 3:20

Deeper listening
extends a wide welcome;
hospitality to make us whole.

Open-hearted hearing weaves us
into one another’s stories;
implicating and entangling us in larger lives.

Listening with soul
demands presence and availability;
a willingness to drop the protections of privilege.

Blessed are the listeners who tread
the sacred soil of other lives,
and bare their soles to bear silent witness.

Then Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Most High; let it be with me according to your word.’  Luke 1:38

In days like these,
who pays attention
to humble aspirations?

And who cares to heed
the voices of women
and girls?

Yet redemption rests
entirely on the response of
such faithful, fearless voices.

When a blessed peasant girl
declared her consent,
the messenger of mercy took heed, while all Creation gasped.

Let anyone with ears to hear listen!  Mark 4:9

Listening likens us to the Most High
and makes us messengers of gladness,
declaring to the wilderness of our times…

To everything and everyone… Love listens
With careful attention… Love listens
For the little people and the lost… Love listens
To hopes, hurts and hungers… Love listens
To the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor… Love listens
To fears, failings, shame and sorrow… Love listens
To regrets and rejections… Love listens
To a world of pain and possibility… Love listens

This poor soul cried out, was heard by the Holy One, and was saved from every trouble.  Psalm 34:6

With Advent upon us,
may we take to heart and breathe this truth:
Love is Listening!

And may you cultivate a hearing heart,
ever ready to receive and 
always eager to return forgiveness.


A Healing Season

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Photo by Joe Grant © 2017

That evening they brought many possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.’  Matthew 8:16-17

Who in your world is crying out to be heeded, holding on for healing?

To erect a barrier,
or construct a divide
takes the effort of just one side.

Building a bridge will always require
foundations of trust
that both sides desire.

All who work with prophetic purpose
must beware the twin entrapments;
corrosive cynicism and coercive self-righteousness.

Desire for retribution,
no matter how justified its claim,
unleashes the diabolical profanities of blame and shame.

Conceding our commonalities,
receding to white-black boundaries,
steals space for understanding, depletes oxygen for dialogue.

To deny any possibility of restoration
only reinforces divisive systems that fail
to reverence complicity, connection and care.

The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble… They can never be solved, but only outgrown…  Carl Gustav Jung

Where might we sow the seeds of relationships,
to sprout and surprise us with listening ears,
sheaves of shared sorrows, and the salve of outstretched hands?

The trajectory of Spirit, like radiant sunshine,
thrusts ever outward,
reaching for communion, wholeness, generous inclusion.

But we can’t envision what we don’t see,
we won’t heed what we don’t hear,
till we hone the healing arts of love.

Radical resolution lies
in looking harder, listening longer,
with hearts open to woe and wonder.

To outgrow the confines
of all we think we know,
we must plow the furrows of our longings and loss.

‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ Matthew 13:14-15

Those willing to live
and love with abandon,
will surely know the sting of alienation.

For we cannot splice spirituality
from humanity’s deepest cravings
and darkest inclinations.

We begin
the new habit, getting up glad
for a thousand years of healing.  Susa Silvermarie

As you embrace your day with contemplative care,
may you feel, in your bones, hurts and hungers
you can never fully understand.

Even as you taste sweet unanimity,
may you recoil at the bitterness
of discrimination and isolation.

Liberated to lovingly listen,
may your eyes widen to every unfreedom;
slavery, poverty, addiction, exploitation.

May your yearning for peace of heart
illumine the failures of war
and daily desecrations of violence.

Longing to belong, may your hospital home
welcome fellow pilgrims guised as foreigners,
migrants, exiles without refuge or shelter.

May this thankful season inoculate you
with the warmth of humble great-fullness,
leaving room at your table for the possibility of healing.