(Please see this piece for more “religious”-focused discussion: In Communion: In case it might be of interest—two contemplative practices of a pro-choice Christian)
“Francisco Nejdanov Solomin,” who founded gardenvarietydemocraticsocialist.com, believes in the need to do personally authentic things to promote one’s inner peace as part of healthy socialist practice. The following are additional thoughts on this subject, which for him involves personal religious practice. What is personally authentic to Brother Francisco, a half-Hispanic pro-choice Christian contemplative who is on his own journey, very likely will not be so for you. The last thing he wants is to have this website be divisive with others on the left due to religious content. Please do not read the following if you are not interested in religion or how religion is integrated in Brother Francisco’s contemplative life.
If we are to have a peaceful world and be peaceful inside ourselves, we must respect our differences. Brother Francisco hopes that everyone will be authentically themselves in matters of religion:
My religious practice begins with something that I hope will translate to anyone else on their personal journey–the need for authenticity.
It is with hesitation that I raise the subject of my personal religious practice. I am a radical democratic socialist who has intentionally chosen not to identify politically as a “Christian socialist.” You and I cannot afford to get into our sectarian or non-sectarian corners with those who are culturally like-minded with ourselves while human beings are suffering and the one world we all share is being destroyed due to profit, fear, and greed. I believe in not only economic and political rights but also social and cultural rights. I share about my religious practice in hope that doing so will offend no one while also from time to time encourage, validate, or otherwise help someone else like me who might be searching for greater inner peace and not have much practical experience in how to promote it.
I think that I owe my life to my dear friend and priest the late Father Bernie Dooly. I am not saying that I would have done myself in without him, although that is possible. I am saying that he very quickly, upon meeting him in the late 1980s, taught me that my life could be, to use C.S. Lewis’s term, surprised by joy. I literally experienced a much more joyous and hopeful life because of knowing him. So, how he helped to cause that transformation in me is a subject of interest to me and perhaps to someone else from time to time.
The primary religious teaching he endowed me with may not be completely orthodox, and it certainly is not dogmatic. It was that the first and most important thing God asks from me is to bring my authentic self to our relationship. This idea of being authentic toward God as opposed to fearful was not only liberating but like unwrapping a beautiful gift of validating friendship possibilities with God and my fellow human beings.
I would never expect any other human being to approach religion or existential philosophy with anything other than her or his authenticity. I do not think we will all believe the same thing or should believe the same thing.
For some reason, I have chosen tonight, July 12, 2015, to add a religiously-themed page to this otherwise secular radical democratic socialist website. I hope rather than raising up differences that it is liberating to you that I have done so. I hope that you too will be able to express yourself in your own way, or not at all if that is what you choose, as pertains to subjects of the interior self.
I may from time to time add things to this page, but for now, I want to share four things about my ongoing religious life.
The first thing is that I practice a simple form of meditation, which I learned from Father Bernie, who taught from a book by the Trappist monk Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (1986). This practice does not have to be done as a religious practice, but that is what I do.
Here is my personal thumbnail adaptation of Keating’s practice, although I am somewhat more flexible on some of this than he is:
(a) Come up with a simple word, preferably one or two syllables, that is calming or otherwise seems right to you. I typically use the word “peace.”
(b) Ideally give yourself around 20 minutes both morning and late afternoon or early evening to practice the meditation.
(c) Sit or lay in a comfortable position, ideally with the back as straight as comfortable and with hands resting in the lap or at the side.
(d) For the first minute or so, actively pray or think in some way that makes restful sense to you. I typically recite to myself the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish. After the minute or so is up, say your word to yourself in a quiet interior manner. I am in essence whispering in my mind “peace.”
(e) For the next 18 minutes or so minutes, just relax. Don’t actively try to think or not think, but if it helps, whenever you get bogged down in thinking, gently whisper in your mind your word to calmly put you back into a restful state. If you fall asleep, that is okay.
(f) After 19 or so minutes, gently whisper in your mind your word once more to slowly begin taking you out of the meditation practice. Over the course of a final minute or so, quietly and slowly have your interior self become aware again of your outer surroundings. Sometimes I will recite the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish a second time, or perhaps the 23rd Psalm in Spanish.
That is pretty much it.
The second thing, as you may have noticed, is that my simple meditation practice is often complimented by one or more languages that are not my birth language. This helps me to break a little out of the ruts or painful patterns of “me” and to put a new pattern of mystery and openness into my interior life. I will, one or both, silently read to myself in one or more languages that are not my birth language or silently recite from memory to myself in one or more such languages. Most of the time this other language for me is Spanish. Sometimes I will do this complimentary “other language” practice in association with meditating or literally while I am exercising, such as on an elliptical trainer or walking. As mentioned above, the content often is simply the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm, which I know by memory. Sometimes I will do more, such as silently reading or whispering other Psalms in Spanish or reading from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer in Spanish. Sometimes I will choose a secular poet such as Pablo Neruda. Spanish is a mysteriously rich language to me, but I think that I could get the same benefit with any other language besides the language, English, that I grew up with. There is something liberating to me with quietly experiencing loving words from another language.
The third thing is that I have created my own personal prayer, which is a combination of Spanish with a few Aramaic and Hebrew words thrown in. I won’t give you the English translation or an explanation. The explanation of why I came up with each line is complicated and relates to my life history, natural outlook, and demeanor. Suffice it to say that it is a stark, questioning prayer, because I often see the world in a stark, questioning way, so, in accordance with my authenticity principle, I have such a prayer. I literally carry it around with me, laminated in tiny print, in my wallet. When I am particularly sad, lonely, or confused, I will sometimes pull it out. It is seven short verses. Usually I will just say part of it, sometimes only a few words.
Here is that prayer, Mi Oración Contemplativa:
Valle de la muerte
Abba de polvo
El pan y el vino
Cordero de Dios
Luz del mundo
El leproso y la lesión
Alpha y Omega
La pobreza de espíritu
Los hijos preciosos
Aliento de vida
Más allá del conocimiento
El amor de sacrificio
Hijo de María
The fourth thing is that I have low expectations. I am not someone who walks around on cloud nine. I dislike religious “enthusiasm.” Here is how I describe my religion at page 94 of A Winding Path to Workers’ Gardens/Un camino de bobina a jardines de trabajadores:
If I am to be authentically myself and true to my faith as I understand it, my religion is 100% socialized and focused on needs and not wants. I have learned to love the desert of my impoverished soul. By learning to love this desert, occasionally and gradually green pastures have begun to grow with tiny springs and trickles of water that sometimes become more like small streams. I love this place. The desert interspersed with sporadic gifts of greenness and water is my home. I cannot keep any green pastures, springs, trickles, and streams to myself. To grasp any of them is to see them disappear and to live a false life. I want to share what I have with others. However, this is not focused on sharing my religion, which is admittedly idiosyncratic and personal, but on sharing material things that can benefit others, most of whom have different personal beliefs. Whatever wealth I “have” is not really mine. I worry less and am richer inside where it counts when I recognize my own poverty and seek to live it as a calling.
This is all valid for me personally. It is my faith. This desert has always been with me, although I may try to ignore it with a false life. Now I know I am there, and I accept that I am there. I have learned to be content with what I am, but to work on improving my stewardship of whatever that is.
This type of faith is, I suspect, at least initially unattractive to most people. It is grey, stark, and realistic, grounded in openness to all that is real, including science and whatever resources happen to be available to humanity in our material universe. Like the desert, these resources, which make up the earth, are beautiful to me. I am responsible for doing my part to steward them compassionately and wisely. In the desert, one must be resourceful.
I have learned to love and respect your desert too, whatever it is. I did not create you, and I do not understand the mystery that is you. I can do my best to give you deep and true freedom, economic as well as civil, so that within the context of this freedom you will be in a better position to deal with your own alienation. For some reason, helping you to have your material needs met and to be less alienated also helps me to be less alienated. It is a humanitarian loop. I think it is love between us. I love you now through my active socialism, whereas before I was afraid of you. I may still get angry with you, but I am less afraid of you. You cannot do as much harm to me as you did before.