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Monk in the World guest post: Sam Troxal

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Sam Troxal’s wisdom on marrying Haiku with other contemplative practices:

I searched for a lake
or some other sacred place
my own front porch

I live as a monk in the world by listening—learning to listen. Maybe I really should say I want to learn to listen, hugging the words of Thomas Merton’s prayer that even when I am off course, “the desire to please the Holy does in fact please the Holy.”

For the longest time I didn’t know that the Spirit was speaking. That’s the beauty of the Spirit: it’s always speaking, even when I’m not listening. I caught a sound here and there, not sure where it was coming from, or maybe it was my imagination. More often than not, I forgot all about it. But the Spirit keeps speaking—calling. That’s the word: calling. I think the Holy is calling me—to do, to be.

So, there I was in my usual distracted state a few years ago when I was invited to a leadership role in my congregation. Having spent most of my life as a Pentecostal until coming out of the closet, I felt unprepared for leadership in a mainline congregation where I now was. So I read. Church growth seemed the obvious place to start, but books on spirituality started falling across my path—or, as a friend asked, were they being laid there for me?!

As for the books being laid in my path, they weren’t on mainline spirituality for others, rather they were books on spirituality for me. Eventually the message got through to me, I can best serve my faith community from my own spiritual center.

rain splatters outside
grandpa watching from the door

Some people seem able to hear the Spirit speaking through all the chatter of life, but listening comes harder for me. For me, that means starting and ending each day with morning and evening prayer. Much of my life I felt like I was rushing through life… but to nowhere in particular. I rushed out the door in the morning with breakfast or grabbing it on the way. I skimmed through the news, listened to NPR, as I settled into my workday. Evenings were just as hectic so I rushed from morning to night, day after day. There were weeks where I felt more machine than human.

Prayer helps me slow that down; I don’t seem capable of doing it on my own. At first I even tried to race through that, keeping to a one-month cycle of Psalms. When the Spirit pointed out that I wasn’t really savoring them I heard the call to slow down. Then slow down some more. And then just simply open my prayer with psalms—no schedule, no cycle, just begin prayer here with the psalms and move the bookmark at whatever pace the Spirit leads, but savor the words.

sitting on the porch
haiku roll across the grass
morning prayer

In the morning I need lectio divina. It’s a way of looking out at my day, what is the Spirit calling me to be aware of today? Can I listen to the Spirit’s guidance in the day ahead? I need to start here. And just maybe carry the listening into my day.

Inspired by Christine Valters Painter’s Lectio Divina – The Sacred Art: Transforming Words & Images into Heart-Centered Prayer, I started dabbling in haiku. Honestly, at least some of my interest was to find a quicker route through lectio before work. But, as I discovered—and the Spirit chuckled at my naïveté— haiku was going to be anything but quick.

Many mornings—now noon and evenings, on drives and walks, at work and throughout my day—I pore over haiku. Sometimes, all I hear is a phrase. They may linger there for the day—or days, or weeks. I’m learning to listen. I don’t get to wrap them all up neatly. Sometimes the Spirit just wants a phrase to linger in my soul.

not every haiku
gets finished or right away
to carry around

In the evening I need examen. Here, it is about looking back over my day. Where did I see—or miss—the Holy in my day? The more I do it, the more practiced and familiar I get, I start recognizing the Holy more in the moment.

One examen brought to my attention a coworker whose appearance always brought out a groan within me. If I had to talk, I talked past her. Over time—and this will clue you as to how embarrassingly far off I have been—I discovered three coworkers who caused me to groan. But I prayed them in examen: how did I see them in myself. I began to understand them and found more patience for someone I had something in common with, not to mention toning down some of my own arrogance. I started talking to them—enjoying them, even.

I’m starting to get this listening thing. The more I listen, the more I hear the Holy speaking—calling— from the moments and people in my life.

to see Christ in all
the nice and the downright rude

Sam TroxalSam Troxal lives in Bloomington, IN where he works as a healthcare enrollment counselor assisting the least of those among us with insurance. He is a member of First United Church where his favorite role is Sunday morning doorkeeper. He is an oblate of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in their oblate intensive which meets for one week each year. You can read his blog here.

Click here to read all the guest posts in the Monk in the World series>>

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4 Responses

  1. There is so much in this sharing to ponder but what touched my heart are the two haiku featuring the porch. There is nothing like my porch as sacred space – watching the sun rise over the hills changing the color on Mt Diablo (a sacred place despite the name), the birds joining in the Liturgy of the Hours. While in transition, we prayed for the home that God wanted to provide us – my one request: a porch with a house attached. Thank you, Provident God for this sanctuary! Thank you, Sam, for sharing you story and haiku.

  2. The mystery of synchronicity continues to amaze me and deepen my awareness in the connectivity of all things. Just yesterday, I felt a strong call to explore Haiku again, to slowly give voice to my contemplative silence rather than expecting I could wax eloquently as I once did as a pastor – who left the church and moved to non-profit work and lost theological fluency. I wanted to expound in my journal about the impact Meister Eckhart is having on me and what’s happening is just too deep for many words. Seeing this blog immediately led me to stop and explore the nudges towards Haiku. These lines easily flowed:
    I am an echo
    Crying to return to God
    “Love you too,” I shout!
    Thank you for helping me find my Voice.

  3. Sam,
    I hope we will see you at the Intensive in Beech Grove next week – how wonderful to read your guest post!

  4. Thank you … I feel particularly moved and touched by your journey and process. I am still on the fast turn of this wheel on the edges, pulling into the center with the call to be in that Center only to hear too many distraction that keep me from listening more deeply.
    If that makes any sense.
    Spirit speaks and I’m fumbling to listen.
    love and light to you