Today’s post is by Carl McColman
A phrase from the Lakota language, mitakuye oyasin, means “all are related” or “all my relations.” It’s a way of seeing: of recognizing that we exist not as some sort of isolated cells over and against our environment or are communities, but that our existence, our very lives, are indeed integrally bound up together with all other beings, with the world and the cosmos. We are all related. We are all connected.
This in turn reminds me of Julian of Norwich, who wrote “the fullness of joy is to behold God in all.” So not only are we connect to all, but that if we learn how to see, we can behold God in all to which we are connected. In scripture we read, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Psalm 139:8).
God is everywhere: in the celestial regions as well as the underworld, and of course everywhere in between. Perhaps this is why we can say with confidence, mitakuye oyasin, all are related: because everything is knit together in the silent presence of God.
What all this means, of course, is that silent prayer or contemplative practice cannot be divorced from the rest of life. Spirituality is not something apart from everything else we do; it is knit into the fabric of our undivided lives, the same way that breathing is. In silence we pay attention to our breath, and then for the rest of the day we continue to breath, whether we attend to it or not.
In contemplation we rest in God’s presence, whether we feel or consciously experience it or not. Likewise, throughout the day we rest in the Divine, regardless of how attentive we may be to this fact. But the invitation is more than just cognitively acknowledging the Divine, but rather to enter into the fullness of joy. Learning to see God means learning to find joy.
Several times the Bible notes that “God is love” — but I think we can make the case that “God is joy” also. St. Paul calls his readers to “rejoice always” (I Thessalonians 5:16), and when he lists the fruit of the Spirit, joy is second only to love (Galatians 5:22). The Greek word here is χαρά, “chara,” meaning joy or delight — it’s related to χάρις, “charis,” the word for grace or gift. As it is God’s nature to love, so it is God’s nature to give, and to exude joy and delight. To gaze into God is to gaze into joy.
Now, in truth, much of life may seem anything but joyful. We suffer, we hurt one another, we encounter disease or abuse and death. Where’s the joy in all that?
I don’t believe God calls us to rejoice in suffering itself, but rather to rejoice in God even in the midst of suffering. That may not “feel” any different — I think joy is something deeper than the mere emotion of gladness, as lovely as that may be. Joy is a calibration of our inner compass. It gives us strength and faith to persevere in times of suffering and to bring light into the dark places of our lives.
Finding joy in beholding God in all means not that life suddenly becomes uniformly pleasant, but that we become conduits of God’s grace in any and every situation we find ourselves. It means trusting that God is present, here and now, regardless of what we may feel or think. Trusting that Divine presence, and learning to see it even in the most painful places, means not that we will never suffer again, but that suffering will never overcome us. For we will always bring the hope of joy with us, wherever we go.
Mitakuye oyasin. We are all related, and we are one in God. When I sit in silence, I pray to the one who brings joy to everyone and every situation. In following my breath, gently and silently, I train myself to more faithfully discern that joyful presence in every time and place.
Of course, I still make mistakes and I still fall down. But the grace is always there, waiting to be seen, to be beheld, to be shared. With every breath we have a new opportunity to share the joy.
Carl McColman is an interfaith-friendly contemplative Christian writer, speaker, retreat leader and spiritual companion. Formed by the teachings of the saints and mystics and ancient practices like lectio divina and silent prayer, his message is simple and timeless: God calls each of us to a joyful, creative life of love and service, and the wisdom of our spiritual heritage shows us the way. His books include Answering the Contemplative Call and The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. His writing appears in The Huffington Post, Patheos, and Contemplative Journal, as well as on his own blog/website, www.silence.today.