Yutori ~ Spaciousness

ゆとり~ Yutori

The Japanese have a concept called ‘yutori’ – an idea that connotes a sense of spaciousness, elbowroom, leeway, reserve, margin, allowance, latitude… time.

From a conversation with her Japanese student, poet Naomi Shihab Nye explains,

It’s a kind of living with spaciousness. For example, it’s leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you’re going to arrive early, so when you get there, you have time to look around.

[The Japanese student] gave all these different definitions of what yutori was to her. But one of them was: “After you read a poem, just knowing you can hold it — you can be in that space of the poem, and it can hold you in its space, and you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.”

Shihab Nye relates this to poetry when she continues:

I think that’s the essence of — a kind of exchange is what poetry is interested in too: the feeling that you’re not battered by thought in a poem, but you are sort of as if you’re riding the wave of thought; as if you’re allowing thought to enter. You’re shifting. You’re changing. You’re looking. You are in a sensibility that allows you that sort of mental, emotional, spiritual interaction with everything around you. I think it’s very, very helpful for mental health, actually.

I really wonder, sometimes, what it would be like to live without that apprehension that you could have a thought, shape a thought, change a thought, look at the words in a thought — that you could take a word and just use that word — I think I’ve said this 40 years ago in a poem — use a single word as an oar that could get you through the days just by holding a word, thinking about it differently, and seeing how that word rubs against other words, how it interplays with other words. There’s a luxury in that kind of thinking about language and text, but it’s very basic, as well. It’s simple. It’s invisible. It doesn’t cost anything.


When Shihab Nye says “Your life is a poem“, she may not realize how she borrows from Christian thought, “for we are God’s poems (poiema ~ ποιημα) created in Christ Jesus to inspire good art” (my paraphrase of Ephesians 2:10).

What is the poem your life is inspiring?

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River of Life Exercise

Image from miriveroflife.org

I have envisioned the spiritual journey as a unique and living curriculum through which God reveals Himself, His ways, His purposes, and His understanding of who we are.

Thus a practice like “Practicum of a Soul Friend” is meant to explore more about who you are, how you are in relation to others, and who you are to God.

Spiritual Journey may connote some sense of pathway, but Jesus reveals that everyone born of the Spirit is like the wind: “you hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from, or where it is going.”

Thus this poem by Antonio Machado invites an open awareness of the path before us:

Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino …

Pathmaker, there is no path,
You make the path by walking.
By walking, you make the path …

“Machado’s reminder is simultaneously daunting and comforting” writes the “On Being” editor,  “— both a call to step forward into uncharted territory, as well as reassurance that there’s no right way to walk the wilderness of your own life.”  Having said that, Scripture gives insight on the path:

The Psalmist sings,

You have shown me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand is eternal pleasure.

The writer of Proverbs enlightens,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
 In all your ways know him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

To make all our ways a way of knowing God – – to discover being in His presence is a wonderful invitation. Kristin Lin of On Being writes:

“In walking your path, it can be helpful to look back on the shape it has already taken — to take inventory of all the moments and people that have honed you into who you are today.

This River of Life exercise is designed to help you reflect and discover where you’ve come from. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to work through it.  (This activity was originally developed by Joyce Mercer. It is edited and adapted with permission to On Being).

… As you finish depicting your river of life, review the whole diagram. Do its symbols and words seem to portray how you think and feel about the whole of your life? Is there some important element left out? Make adjustments as needed. Remember that no diagram can possibly capture all that shapes your journey.”


Let me know how you imagined the river of your life.

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The Answer to Prayer is Prayer

Many are looking for answers; some are looking for better questions.

Along the way, as we pray, our Life becomes a Prayer. I was reminded by Thomas Merton’s encouragement: as we come to God “the desire to please you, pleases you.

When I came upon the following quote, I was struck by how the desire to pray is a prayer in itself; feeble, tentative, confused or passionate…

“The answer to prayer is prayer – more prayer, fuller conversation, more listening, more straining to hear, more reflection on what is actually heard, on what has really happened.”

Ann and Barry Ulanov, quoted in Candlelight, Susan S. Phillips.

The “more-ness” of this is not an exhortation to self-striving or hoarding a good thing; it is an invitation to the more that is found in relation with the subject and object of prayer. We may want more; but we often don’t know what we want; we want to be heard; we strain and strive; we learn to rest and speak or be silent when we are with the One who made us for Himself.

May your answer to prayer be the prayer that God beckons from you and with you.

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Prayer: A Bridge between Longing and Belonging

The following are excerpts on prayer are from John O’Donohue’s chapter entitled “Prayer: A Bridge between Longing and Belonging” (in his book, “Eternal Echoes“):

One of the most tender images is the human person at prayer. When the body gathers itself before the Divine, a stillness deepens… for a while [people coming together for prayer] have become unmoored from the grip of society, work, and role…

A person at prayer evokes the sense of vulnerability and fragility. Their prayer reminds us that we are mere guests on the earth, pilgrims who always walk on unsteady ground, carrying in earthen vessels multitudes of longing…

Prayer is an ancient longing; it has special light, hunger, and energy… it should not be reduced to the intermittent moments when we say prayers in words. Prayer is a deeper and more ancient conversation within us…

Prayer issues from and increases humility… prayer is not the monopoly of the pious; neither is it to be restricted to the province of those who are religious or spiritual…

Your true longing is to belong to the eternal that echoes continually in everything that happens to you…

Prayer is the art of presence. Where there is no wonder there is little depth of presence. The sense of wonder is one of the key sources of prayer… a sense of wonder can also help you to recognize and appreciate the mystery of your own life… Wonder, as a child of mystery, is a natural source of prayer…

Prayer is the voice of longing; it reaches outwards and inwards to unearth our ancient belonging. Prayer is the bridge between longing and belonging. Longing is always at its most intense in the experience of vulnerability…

The great thing about a community at prayer is that your prayer helps mine – and mine helps yours…

In prayer the forgiving tenderness of God gathers around our lives. God infects us with the desire for God… Real prayer has a vigilance that is constantly watching and deconstructing the human tendency towards idolatry.


Let me know how you are learning to bridge between longing and belonging.

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Come With Bread

Jean Vanier, the founder of l’Arche homes for mentally and physically disabled adults, writes a tender and powerful book, “Becoming Human.”  In his chapter on “The Path to Freedom”, he writes about companionship and the need for accompaniment along the journey to freedom. He writes:

An accompanier is someone who can stand beside us on the road to freedom, someone who loves us and understands our life.  An accompanier can be… a friend – anyone who can put a name on our inner pain and feelings. Accompaniers may be… those who have experience in untying the knots that block us in our development. They may be… people who have grown in the way of God, who seek to help us understand each other’s humanity and needs, and who help us recognize God’s call to communion, inner liberation, and a greater love of self.

Accompaniment is necessary at every stage of our lives, but particularly in moments of crisis when we feel lost, engulfed in grief or in feelings of inadequacy. The accompanier is there to give support, to reassure, to confirm, and to open new doors. The accompanier is not there to judge us to to tell us what to do, but to reveal what is most beautiful and valuable in us, as well as to point towards the meaning of our inner pain. In this way, an accompanier helps us advance to greater freedom by helping us to be reconciled with our past and to accept ourselves as we are, with our gifts and limitations…

The word “accompaniment,” like the word “companion,” comes from the Latin word “cum pane,” which mean “with bread.” It implies sharing together, eating together, nourishing together, walking together. The one who accompanies is like a midwife, helping us to come to life, to live more fully. But the accompanier receives life also, and as people open up to each other, a communion of hearts develops between them. They do not clutch on to each other but give life to one another and call each other to greater freedom…

Accompaniment is at the heart of community life in l’Ache, but it is at the heart of all human growth. We human beings need to walk together, encouraging each other to continue the journey of growth…


It is with great insight that Vanier recognizes the role of companionship in the process of “becoming human.”  And when he writes, “an accompanier is someone who can stand beside us on the road to freedom,” it resonates with the word Jesus’ used to describe His Holy Spirit in John 16:

Unless I go away, the “Counsellor” will not come to you… He is the Spirit of truth – and He guides you into all truth.

That word translated “counsellor” in the NIV, or “comforter” in the KJV, is the word “para-kletos” – one who calls you to His side.  In effect, Jesus’ Holy Spirit is our “companion” – just like Jesus who accompanies us “with bread” and friendship.

Therefore those who would follow Jesus will find themselves to be companions with others along the way. Grace to you on the journey to freedom.


For more, see “Friendship.”

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Noseblind to our own Scent

The entitled never really know the extent to which they [we] are entitled.

The rich never really know how prosperous their [our] bank account is.

Bigots never really know the extent to which they [we] are racist.

And the self-righteous never really know how insufferably sanctimonious they [we] are.

In effect we are “noseblind” to our own scent.

We live with it all the time so that it becomes hidden to our awareness until the shock of it confronts us through some other sense or some other person. Susan S. Phillips puts it like this:

“Our own stories are so close to us that we can’t get the focal length necessary for a comprehensive view.”

Some of the view within my Focal Length:

As a white male, I am entitled in ways that I have happily taken for granted – sometimes thinking I’ve earned everything I’ve got without the awareness of how others have been impositioned or disentitled in the process.

As a Canadian, I am personally and communally rich in ways I have not noticed until I’ve travelled more of the “Two-Thirds World”. If we compare ourselves only to 1% of the most prosperous, we are prone to forget we still make up the top 10% of the wealthy in the world.

As a white man growing up in the mostly white world of my formative years, I had no idea the extent to which I naturally absorbed the prejudices of my cultural atmosphere until I started making friends (not just acquaintances) with people of other cultures and races.

As a human, I have tended to be blind to my own insufferable sense of self-satisfaction. I might judge others by their actions, but judge myself by my (good) intentions.

You may be reluctant to admit any of this yourself. That’s fine; I don’t have to convince you. It takes a mighty humility to overcome a mighty pride, and I don’t have that power.

You might think none of this applies to you. It may be difficult for you to smell the ways in which you are entitled, rich, racist, and/or self-righteous. You might live in victimhood and never realize the ways you’ve maladapted to manipulate to get your way. But who am I to say that to you?

I say again for the record: we become noseblind to our own scent, and we need another way to sense it; we need other people who can carefully and persistently reveal our odour to ourselves – for it takes a great humility we don’t naturally possess once we leave child-likeness behind.


To become aware of your own self-righteousness, see: “12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me).”

For more in this theme, see: “Acknowledging Our Debt.”

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The Sound of God’s Voice

Image from yesofcorsa.com

“For the past seven months,” reported CNN Religion Editor, Daniel Burke, “Nick Cave, the Australian musician and songwriter, has been answering letters from fans and posting them to his website, The Red Hand Files.”

“The letters are profound and personal, even intimate. They ask about loneliness, about grief, about the voice of God. But what’s most unusual about the questions is their recipient. He’s not a pastor, psychiatrist, or even an advice columnist. He’s a rock star.

In his punk rock days, Nick Cave says, he was obsessed with the Gothic drama and wrathful God of the Old Testament, channeling His energy to hiss and spit at the world.

“I was a conduit for a God that spoke in a language written in bile and puke,” Cave said. “And for a while, that suited me fine.”

But then, Cave says, he took up the Gospels:

“I slowly reacquainted myself with the Jesus of my childhood, that eerie figure that moves through the Gospels, the man of sorrows, and it was through him that I was given a chance to redefine my relationship with the world,” Cave wrote in 1996.

Raised Anglican, Cave said he has all but given up on organized religion, yet still longs for a world infused with magic and awe.

Like a lot of artists, his spirituality is idiosyncratic and undogmatic. He believes humans are hard-wired for transcendence, which can be accessed through creativity and imagination.”

The Sound of God’s Voice

A few months ago, a fan asked Cave what the voice of God sounds like.

“Does God even have a voice, or does divinity make itself heard in other ways? Perhaps God might sound a bit like Nick Cave” the fan suggested.

The musician offered his own take on God’s voice:

“Perhaps, God would have the combined voice of all the untold billions of collected souls, an assembly of the departed speaking as one — without rancour, domination or division, a great, many-layered calling forth that rings from the heavens in the small, determined voice of a child, maybe; sexless, pure and uncomplicated — that says,

‘Look for me, I am here.'”


How have you heard the voice of God?

The Experiencing God study puts it like this:

God speaks to us by His Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.

Or

“Look for me, I am here.”

“Listen for me through all the ways I speak… I am here.”


The Invitation to Seek

Jesus invites, “come to me… learn from me… find rest for your souls.” He promises, “seek and you will find… for everyone who seeks will find…”  Jeremiah uttered prophetically some 600 years before Christ, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

or

“Look for me, I am here.”

“Listen for me to speak into your life… I am here.”


For more, see Daniel Burke’s full article:  “A rock star was asked what God’s voice sounds like. His answer is beautiful.”  I take this story to be another example of the prophetic echo spoken into our day.

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