The men have jumped into our newly-formed spiritual direction group. Month by month our capacity to listen to God with and for each other is growing. We are encouraged and challenged. We are also learning we are as different in character as we are together in purpose, and that seems just right.
Chronos and Kairos
Some of us are more tuned into linear or “chronos” time. (Chronos and Kairos in Greek Thought). If you are an engineer or scientist of some kind, you’re probably prone to emphasizing sequential, goal-oriented and, perhaps, scarce or developing time — maybe you are even wearing a chronometer! Your orientation to time might be as it is because you are more attuned to left brain processes, along with much of the Eurocentric world (Left and Right Brain Thinking). I’m not sure this always follows, but maybe you will be more aligned with an “apophatic” approach to meditation (Apophatic and Kataphatic Meditation). I told the group I would be in big trouble if I were not linked with people who lean this way, since I pretty much lean the other direction.
Let’s not make an “either/or” distinction, here. But the “other direction” is being more tuned into “kairos” time. I think fewer people “land” here these days (pun intended). The disposition seems out-of-date. Not too many of us are farmers, but if you are, you probably tune into the seasons and see things according seeds sprouting and crops ripening “when the time is right.” Like a farmer, you may feel an immediacy about time, like “right now,” like “It rained last night and it is the right time to plow.” You might have expectations of time based on intuition or your experience. You might orient this way because you are more attuned to right brain processes. Maybe you are more of an artist, an ardent listener, or a seeker of timeless things. Or maybe you are searching like the mother in Everything, Everywhere, All at Once — I don’t agree meaninglessness is at the heart of the universe like that movie does, but I respect their right brain pursuits. I’m not sure this always follows, but if you’re built in this way, you might have more of a “kataphatic” approach to meditation.
It started with a story
All those thoughts and links above come from the story I now carry about how our group gathered. I enjoyed listening to the interplay of all those dispositions as we prayed, sang, and took each other seriously. Several of us offered a story about a loss we had commonly experienced. We were in varying degrees of being unsettled or moving on. It was moving to share such a profound subject with someone, in which our deepest loves and suffering were surfacing.
I won’t tell you the substance of our dialogue, of course. But one of us named what they were doing to themselves as a “purity test.” This jogged another person to describe a scene in the Bible in which God purified someone’s mouth with a live coal during a vision in the Temple (later noted as Isaiah 6). This caught my attention because I had just that day been singing along with an old song on YouTube about that scene:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said,
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The [doorposts] on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Of course Isaiah’s story has been repeated for centuries and music has been written for the angel’s to sing! If we have not had such an experience ourselves, yet, we long to!
Left brain folks focused on the prophet’s lips
Everyone had their own way to enter into our mutual discernment.
Some were more “left-brained.” If you have a linear mindset, which is characteristic of left-hemisphere processes, then what is past is lost and what is not yet realized can be disappointing in that you don’t have what you need.
The specificity and constraints of language are instigated in the left brain, so it is no wonder some people noticed and were most were moved by which words were spoken in the story above: “Woe is me, I am lost,” and then by the Lord speaking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The left brain is where wild thoughts go to be tamed and abstractions go to become projects.
We were listening together, and some people leaned more into apophatic mediation. It is a wordless and imageless way. As you become empty of what distracts or upsets you (usually the energies of left-brained processing), you become one with the love of God you seek. When teachers help us to do this, they often start by helping us find a centering word or phrase that supersedes the din of our inner dialogue and the many voices that lead us to judge ourselves and which assign us self-improvement projects. That kind of meditation helps us stop our endless self-examination and self-centeredness (An example from Martin Laird).
Right brain folks having their own revelation
Others were more “right-brained.” If you tend to experience the world with your heart and senses first, your instinct is to seek the thin places and turn into them.
The experience of the prophet in the temple was eternal; it has that sense of “kairos” even if you just read it for the first time a minute ago. It happened in God’s time, so much so, it feels fresh to people reading about it 3000 years later. It is a promise, not just history. As our group met, we made a thin place and we entered into that eternal now. Our thin place experiences do and should have a staying power like Isaiah’s. I was very happy to be reminded that. Even though I felt the loss of my previous spiritual experience, it was good to accept how amazing it was for the season it lasted. Whatever touched eternity in it could not be lost. What is gone is still beautiful in kairos time; it flowered in is season.
As we were listening together, some people leaned more into kataphatic meditation. It is a image-rich way to pray. As you connect with the eternity of this present moment, you become united with the Creator in creation. The experience of God’s grace grounds you in the One who was and is and is to come. When teachers help us do this, they often start with a story or a metaphor, not a principle or a manual. Visual, musical, or literary art, a statue, a tree, a sunset, etc. are all aids (like the icon, below) all help us connect. Jesus is the best example of this kind of mentoring. He leads us to know God beyond our arguments for or against such knowing. He helps us to become an “I am” in love with “I am” (An example like Ignatius of Loyola).
We are both/and beings
Obviously, we all have left and right hemispheres to our brains, barring some catastrophe. But if you are an American or under 35, you are probably more oriented to the left brain. One of the reasons we love the character Data so much in Star Trek: Picard is because he is succeeding in developing his right brain, too; he is becoming fully human, like we want to be.
By nature, we are both/and beings, right and left, spirit and material, time-bound and timeless. If we live in love, we can be a big help to each other as we find our own way into wholeness. We often see ourselves best when someone who loves us sees us. When we seek God together, we rarely end up oriented the direction we began. Our various starting points often combine to lead to a startling and encouraging new place.
In our group the other night a deeply felt problem, a focus on woe and a snippet from a story about a vision left me moved to turn again today and find joy in the presence of God in me and around me. I hope my story helps you find the hope in your own.