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28
Mar

Zimbabwe and South Africa Reflections

By: Kent Ira Groff

As many of you know, I got back from South Africa and Zimbabwe Ash Wednesday Mar 5. I’ve downloaded a few photos for Facebook. Thank you for all your prayers and love. Folks ask how was it? I say, “Amazing–challenging and rewarding and everything in between.”

South Africa seems advanced (one week there in Johannesburg and then Cape Town where I went to Robben Island and saw the cell where Nelson Mandela spent 17 out of his 27 years in prison), arranged by my former Lancaster Seminary student Thulani Ndlazi, who had me lead two retreats.

Zimbabwe’s people are resilient and welcoming in the face of high unemployment and inferior infrastructure (five weeks there). I was stationed at Mhondoro Presbyterian High School (90 miles southwest of Harare on a “road that is no road” as my host Chaplain Staben Maenda would say), without Internet access. I framed my time there as “walking” with students and teachers: I would sit at an outdoor stone table and kids would gather around, ask questions, converse and pray; or I’d sit in the faculty staff room and the same thing would happen. I preached four out of five Sundays and led four Bible Studies for the staff and teachers. Their Gospel singing is something to be experienced! Wow.

01
Sep

Boxed In

By: Kent Ira Groff

Welcome to Kent Ira Groff’s blog: www.LinkYourSpirituality.com Here I hope to create dialog about things that get in the way of your spirituality—and things that encourage genuine contemplative living.

NOTE: Mostly I write this blog and my “weekly reflections” for three audiences: First, everyone who knows me realizes I have a heart for persons struggle with institutional religion yet who genuinely seek for a meaningful spiritual connection, commonly referred to as “spiritual but not religious.” Second, I write for folks who are members of a faith community, commonly called “lay people.” Third I write for trained leaders of faith communities, commonly known as “clergy.” But in this blog, I’m writing especially for the clergy. Actually, all three overlap, because many ex-clergy have left their institutions, and spiritual seekers often become active members and even leaders. I sent the following as a letter to Dr. Barnes and to the editor of The Christian Century.

01
Sep

Boxed In

By: Kent Ira Groff

Welcome to Kent Ira Groff’s blog: www.LinkYourSpirituality.com Here I hope to create dialog about things that get in the way of your spirituality—and things that encourage genuine contemplative living.

NOTE: Mostly I write this blog and my “weekly reflections” for three audiences: First, everyone who knows me realizes I have a heart for persons struggle with institutional religion yet who genuinely seek for a meaningful spiritual connection, commonly referred to as “spiritual but not religious.” Second, I write for folks who are members of a faith community, commonly called “lay people.” Third I write for trained leaders of faith communities, commonly known as “clergy.” But in this blog, I’m writing especially for the clergy. Actually, all three overlap, because many ex-clergy have left their institutions, and spiritual seekers often become active members and even leaders. I sent the following as a letter to Dr. Barnes and to the editor of The Christian Century.

01
Apr

When Waiting Is So Difficult

By: Kent Ira Groff

Despite the fast pace of life in the postmodern world, we still spend huge gobs of time waiting. In a few days, I’ll be arriving at Denver International Airport an hour and a half before my flight time—to wait. When I served as a hospital chaplain, patients used to joke about the playing the game of “hurry up and let’s wait!” It’s par for the course not only for medical appointments; we wait in lines at supermarkets and shopping malls.

But much more difficult is the matter of waiting for big events in life—to get a report on a medical test, to hear back after a job interview, or hardest of all, to wait as someone who’s dying when suffering is intense. Those who serve in hospice ministries become gifts for so many.

Somewhere along life’s way, it’s occurred to me that there are three ways I can wait in the small and huge events. I can wait anxiously, lethargically or expectantly.

28
Nov

Holy Imagination

By: Kent Ira Groff

“It is at the level of imagination that the fateful issues of our new world-experience must first be mastered,” says the early twentieth-century poet-theologian Amos Wilder. Visualizing yourself as complete can be a method of focusing and a form of prayer. Imagination also creates a powerful way to pray without words for another: You visualize the person in your mind’s eye as already whole and complete, holding the person in the light—a practice called kything prayer.

Imagination can also transform struggles into gifts. Philip Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and author of the memoir My Dyslexia, tells his story of being placed in the “dummy class” at a separate table in elementary school because of his perceived stupidity for not being able to read.

Then one night, with the moon glowing outside his window as his mother read aloud to him, he decided to imagine himself into being a boy who could read: “I invented a character who could read and write. Starting that night, I’d lie in bed silently imitating the words my mother read, imagining the taste, heft, and ring of each sound as if it were coming out of my mouth. I imagined the words and their sounds being a kind of key with which I would open an invisible door to a world previously denied me.”

27
Aug

Honest to God Prayer: Grace in the Grit

By: Kent Ira Groff

We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and so moving that it doesn’t seem at the time anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before. —F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reality is bittersweet. On the wall beside me I’m looking at metal sand castings, made by my son in middle school, representing the ancient faces of comedy and tragedy. Life is full of blessings and brokenness, the one often filtered through the other. Our idealistic dreams soon clash with practical and political realities. We have to eke out a livelihood yet still long for meaning and purpose through our work. We cherish intimacy, yet our closest relationships cause the deepest pain.

What the old miners in Colorado, where I live, called “pay dirt” provides an apt metaphor for our experience of the spiritual life: only by paying attention to the dirt will we ever see any flecks of gold. Sometimes all we seem to see is dirt. When we do find gold, it usually surfaces through some combination of the surprise grin of circumstances and the long-term grit of our own and others’ toil and sufferings.

29
Dec

Table Blessings

By: Kent Ira Groff

To make spirituality enjoyable for all ages from 3 to 93, many of these table prayers use hand gestures. Permission is granted to use any of these. Like folk music, you may add your own variations. The first six are usable for interfaith gatherings; the last two are specifically Christian.

Prayer with Hands as Grace at Meals
Leader: Invite group to join with the motions, repeating the words after you:
This is my daily bread (hands out in front, cupped, palms up);
Take it
(lift both hands slightly, palms still up);
Bless it
(place one cupped hand over the other);
Break it
(hands like breaking a loaf of bread);
Give it to everyone I meet this day
(lower hands, open toward others).
Second time: Invite group to follow the motions and say the words you.
Third time: Invite the group just to do the motions, without words.

Open-Eyed Grace: Gracias!
This table “grace” can be used at home or at church, temple, or community gatherings.
Leader say: “Be aware of our unity with all people and creation… breathing in the same air with rich and poor… Notice the food… smells… colors… Imagine the seeds… the dark soil, the bright sun… farmers planting it… migrant farm laborers harvesting with their hands.

11
Dec

Spirituality & Depression: Prozac Days & Dark Nights

By: Kent Ira Groff

Note: This blog is adapted from my book What Would I Believe If I Didn’t Believe Anything?: A Handbook for Spiritual Orphans (Jossey-Bass, 2004).

The dark night of the soul has a long history. It is especially linked with the fifteenth century Spanish mystic John of the Cross, whose childhood poverty contained a seed of his suffering and genius. Young John worked in a hospital and went to school by day. He would study late into the night. Thus as a youth John had already made “night” his friend. Scriptures and science shed light on the dark night.

“Moses entered the thick darkness where God was,” says the Torah in Exodus 20. Right after receiving “light” in the Ten Commandments, Moses enters the dark via negativa, hiding out in the shadow of the divine wing, close but unable to see directly.[i]

Nicodemus came to see Jesus by night, when Jesus told him, “You must be born anew.”[ii] The Apostle Paul, after encountering Christ, retreated at once to Arabia, then to Syria. Only after a three-year “blackout” period did Paul contact the establishment church in Jerusalem.[iii] Plotinus, Denys and Gregory of Nyssa in the early church spoke of the abyss of God’s love as a “dark ray”—which we now know scientifically as black light.

23
Sep

The Digital Divide: Exchanging Wisdom across Generations

By: Kent Ira Groff

The Digital Divide: Exchanging Wisdom across Generations

Many, many… have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now… You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as some day, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement.” —A mentor to Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

 

When my son was in his twenties, I enlisted him to help me learn the complexities of a new computer. Sitting next to me, he noticed the anxiousness and impatience in my voice, and I realized there was more going on than my anxiety about a computer. I heard his crisp words: “Just relax. Don’t panic, Dad; one thing at a time.” I had an instant flashback: I’m seeing myself, as clearly as yesterday, next to my son on the front seat of my car, saying those same words to him as he clutches, shifts, and brakes, anxiously learning to operate a stick shift transmission, just as his two older sisters had done before him.

10
May

Negative Capability

By: Kent Ira Groff

“An unanswered question is a fine traveling companion. It sharpens your eye for the road.” —Rachael Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

Our culture programs us to value answers. Yet scientists will tell you that empty space (the Greeks called it kenosis) can be essential for discovery. The poet John Keats gave us a fine phrase that’s now found its way into science and literature and spirituality.

In a letter to his brother dated December 21, 1817, Keats referred the state of unknowing as “Negative Capability.” He tells how he was walking home from a Christmas drama with two friends. Keats describes one of them, Dilke, as a person who has “already made up his mind about everything”: he would never learn anything new. In a moment of irritation, Keats’s insight dropped in.

“Several things dovetailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a [Person] of Achievement, especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when [one] is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without an irritable reaching after fact & reason.”