People who make an annual silent retreat or practice centering prayer may not know exactly what happens there. But they leave the silence refreshed, more aware that they dwell within God's prodigious love, more conscious of how to serve others.  

Eastern Traditions

The human longing for the divine is found in all cultures. Some say that current interest in Eastern religions springs from a disaffection with western forms, especially their tendencies towards domination, sexism and exclusion. A more positive stance identifies Jesus as an Eastern thinker, and encourages explorations which enhance the richness of Christianity. The world's different belief systems follow parallel tracks. As Eli Weisel says, "there are many paths into the same orchard."

While the subject is far too broad to treat adequately in a short space, let's touch on three contemporary examples of this approach. The first is world-wide admiration for the Dalai Lama, who escaped his native Tibet when the Chinese invaded it. Despite his exile and the oppression of his people, he has remained resolutely peaceful, a commitment for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1989.

His travels have introduced many to the essentials of Buddhism, such as: wisdom, the ability to see things rightly, becomes compassion. Those who want more might read his books An Open Heart, The Heart of Compassion or a compilation of essential writings such as the Orbis series on modern spiritual masters.

From Thich Nhat Hanh, many learn attention to the present moment. Whether washing the dishes or eating an orange, we focus on the now, not worrying about past or future. Even our negative emotions, he teaches, should be welcomed, cradling anger as we'd rock a crying baby.

Over a million people annually are starting yoga, a moving meditation. They find that reverencing the body, stretching it and resting it appropriately relieves stress and alleviates pain. They also rediscover the importance of breath, stressed by all religious traditions, but often forgotten in packed schedules. Especially in tension, we resort to rapid, shallow breathing when we need the long deep breath, drawing in energy, releasing negativity. They learn "beginner's mind," or what Jesus called becoming like little children. Finally, they appreciate the absence of competition, the uniqueness of each person, and new movements for the body opening new channels for the brain.

Franciscan/Creation

Sam may not join the Franciscans, but he feels closest to God when he's working in his garden, weeding the tomatoes and admiring the light on their leaves. He's interested in the early roots of this style, expressed in St. Francis' "Canticle of the Sun." Beauty is his door to the sacred. He likes the contemporary version, creation spirituality, reading books by Thomas Barry or Wendell Berry, the new cosmology or the poetry of Mary Oliver which praises nature and finds there the inspiration for living well. 

"To a Franciscan, the whole world is a tabernacle." People who draw energy and inspiration from God's creation naturally want to preserve it. Their spirituality might find expression in recycling, organic gardening, working for cleaner air and water, preserving the rainforest, or dedication to other environmental issues. Sitting quietly beside a stream reminds them of the flow of God's life, the abundance of God's care, the essence of God's nature, which is infinitely creative.