Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Sanctuary of Nature

I had occasion yesterday to spend some more significant time in nature than I usually do.  That in itself is not so strange.  Of course, we all live in some form of nature.  Nature surrounds us; it holds us in its very being.  However, I realize how easy it is to be pretty unaware of nature.  I think this may especially be true for urban or, even, suburban dwellers.  I now fit into that category. 

It may be different for folks who spend most of their time “in nature.”  Growing up on a farm fits that bill.  I would think those folks who have to work outside also are more alert to nature than so many of us who work inside buildings or who are too old or sick to venture outside.  And surely, many of us in the US live in sheltered surroundings.  We move from house to air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned buildings.  Or in the winter, it is from heated houses to heated cars to heated buildings.  Nature can’t get us! 

Yesterday I spent considerable time in rural areas.  I walked in the woods.  I noticed the sounds of birds.  I saw animals that do not live in my neighborhood.  I saw a huge snapping turtle that might have been as old as I am.  I wondered if he had a story as interesting as I think my story is?  I was a bit leery of him; I wondered if he worried about me?  Finally, I wondered how much of life in that natural surrounding I was totally unaware of?  I am sure it was significant!  

As I reflected a bit on my experience, I thought about the meaning of the term, nature.  I assume that virtually everyone would be sure they know what nature is.  And at one level, I am sure virtually everyone does not what nature is.  Most of us would affirm that nature is the physical world in which we live.  It is trees, rocks, and flowers---the earth itself.  Nature can be wonderful or threatening.  Nature delivers absolutely stunning spring days and tornados that ornery spring weather can brew.  Nature can coddle or kill. 

Clearly, the physical world in which we all live is nature.  Sometimes it is spelled with a capital “N.”  Often, we refer to it as “Mother Nature.”  People from all ages have understood nature---or the earth---in maternal terms.  Mother Nature is fertile.  She nurtures us and all living creatures.  I had a pretty keen sense of this maternal, natural world when I was growing up on that Indiana farm.  Sadly, my typical sense of nature now is much more bland.  My earlier maternal world is now more like a “Neutral It.”  That is a wake-up call. 

Maybe that wake-up call is due, in part, to having spent considerable time yesterday “in nature.”  In my closed-up house and closed-up car and closed-up building, it is much more difficult to hear birds, see turtles and feel the breeze.  As I write these words, I begin to sense how spiritual this whole thing is.  And that began to open my eyes and my heart.  That is how the spiritual happens for me.  It opens me---especially my eyes and my heart. 

Perhaps this gives my thoughts too much credit to call it revelation, but that is how it seemed to me.  Revelation literally means to make visible that which was invisible.  With revelation you can now see what was hidden.  While revelation is often a religious term, it does not have to be.  For me it is both religious and very ordinary.  As I began to be aware that too much of my life is spent in closed-up places, I sensed a kind of revelation. 

The first bit of revelation was that closed-up places often are not natural.  Of course, we need to pay attention to the relationship of “nature-natural.”   But it did cause me to ponder my normal environment.  So much of that environment is artificial.  The building (and house) is usually an enclosed, regulated environment---hardly natural.  It occurred to me further that this could begin to confuse me about what is “natural.”  No doubt, a day in Nature can re-orient me to what is truly natural. 

It was at this point the deeper spiritual insight came to me.  If my environment is mostly a closed-up environment, perhaps that can characterize my own life.  For example, if I spend most of my time on my own agenda---doing my own thing---that is a pretty narrow way of living.  Yet for most of us, that must seem pretty normal!  I suppose most folks really hope to get what they want.  But I am not sure this is the natural way humans are designed to live. 

My thoughts turned back to my day in Nature.  As I said, it opened me---my eyes and my heart.  In Nature it is more difficult to be egocentric.  The world is too big for most of us to think we are the center of the world.  In Nature I always realize how small and insignificant I am.  In Nature I see myself more “a part of” rather than the “center” of it All. 

I am using capital letters now because when I am in Nature, I begin to have a sense of the Spirit---the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, including me.  I realized again yesterday that in Nature I had stepped in the Spirit’s natural sanctuary.  I had stepped on to Holy Ground.  But wait; I am there in nature all the time.  I just don’t realize that it is Nature---God’s very Being.  That’s what happens in my closed-up world. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cultivating Our Souls

David Brooks does it again.  Brooks has written another essay that I find fascinating to think about and figure out how to implement in my own work.  The essay is given the intriguing title, “The Big University.”  In effect he looks at contemporary higher education in our country and offers a critique in what it is doing very well and what shortcomings he sees.  Clearly, life at the university is much different than when I was a student.  Of course, there are still similar classes like English and Biology.  But in the case of the sciences, especially, the content is massively different.           

In many cases the delivery of knowledge is also different.  It is hard to describe to current students what it was like in the period before computers---before 1980s or earlier.  Visual aids consisted of overheads!  Writing on a real chalkboard was the routine.  “White board” would have been a term no one understood.  People actually went to the library and read books.  And people actually talked to each other as they crossed campus!           

I am not lobbying for the good old days---far from it.  Even though I am a slow adopter when it comes to technology, I like the fact that I write this on a computer.  I appreciate it will appear as a blog and will go out over Twitter.  Some day, I know, people will laugh at these terms, but right now they are the media for people to share information.  People whom I may never meet will read this and, hopefully, be helped in their spiritual journey.           

What intrigues me about Brooks’ essay is what he sees lacking in contemporary university education.  These easily fall into the category of spirituality.  Hence I would like to focus on those and let his ponderings assist us in our desire to live a richer, fuller life.  The basis of much of what Brooks says presupposes the shift so many universities have experienced in their history.           

He acknowledges many colleges and universities in our country were founded as religious colleges.  Throughout the 20th century so many of them moved from being spiritual to secular.  Religion and philosophy and things related either dropped out of the picture or were marginalized.  In my words many universities became secularly successful and lost their souls.             

Simply speaking, Brooks calls for a return to what I would call soul making---soul work, if you will.  He is interested in how these bastions of higher education attend to our moral and spiritual development.  I share his concern that if these aspects of education are left out or marginalized, society becomes endangered.            

At that point he offers an important recognition.  He says, “Very few of us cultivate our souls as hermits.  We do it through small groups and relationships and in social contexts.”  I like his language that describes our soul work as cultivation.  Being an old farm boy, I know first-hand that cultivation is a key ingredient in successful growth.  Why would it not be so for cultivation of our souls?  I think churches, synagogues and mosques do this kind of work.  But we all know fewer people go there for their soul work.           

Brooks says universities do well the secular work of teaching.  But the cultivating work of the souls of college students is missing.  He offers a number of insights.  I would like to lift up two of them.  While he has the university in mind, I would suggest that there probably are many things we can individually do to help others with this spiritual growth.                  

In the first place he says to younger people we can “reveal moral options.”  He continues to say, “We’re the inheritors of an array of moral traditions.”  He details the Jewish, Christian and others to demonstrate there a different ways to engage moral thinking and moral living.  The key is to learn to do it.  The hope is we can continue to be a society of moral beings.  We all know the chaos and anarchy that will happen if we don’t.          

Certainly to be spiritual is to be moral.  I think it is compelling that all of us who claim to be spiritual have to find a way to help our neighborhoods and communities have a moral sensitivity.  It won’t “just happen.”  It requires cultivating the souls of the youth and adults alike.  It is our work.  It is our ministry.           

Secondly, Brooks calls for us to “foster transcendent experiences.”  I love the way he comments on this.  “If a student spends four years in regular and concentrated contact with beauty---with poetry or music, extended time in a cathedral…waking up with loving friends on a mountain---there’s a good chance something transcendent and imagination-altering will happen.”  To experience the transcendent is to become spiritual.  Beauty adds depth and color to our lives.           

I appreciate the challenge Brooks gives us.  I imagine the challenge to be this: be smart and be spiritual.  Spirituality has many aspects, but surely being moral and experiencing the transcendent is a good way to begin.  To do that is to cultivate our souls.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

On Being Honored

I recently had the experience of being honored for some work I have done.  I am grateful for this gesture and I am sure it means more to me than anyone else.  And the nice thing about being honored is the memory.  Long after everyone else has forgotten the whole thing (appropriately), I can keep remembering.  It becomes history.  But memory is the way history is present, as St. Augustine tells us.  So while others appropriately move on, the memory serves me again and again.  I get to be grateful all over again.           

For me personally this raises a significant spiritual issue.  I’ll continue to use myself as an example, but I suspect I am like many others who like to consider themselves spiritual…or, at least, we are trying to become spiritual.  To be spiritual means many things, but one thing I am confident in is that it means humility.           

I can’t think of anyone who really likes arrogant people.  People who are full of themselves are usually a pain.  Maybe it is pride.  Certainly pride has received bad press throughout the ages.  Pride has been seen as one of the chief sins human beings can commit.  But I confess, pride is a tricky thing for me.  I think it has been appropriate to have pride in my two girls and what they have done in their short lives.  I have pride in my students.  I have some pride in what I do and that seems ok.  Maybe I am quibbling, but pride is not easy for me to deal with.  I don’t have the same problem with arrogance.          

Arrogance is typically a pain.  And arrogant people are a pain and a challenge to my ability to love and understand.  So this brings me back to the fact that I have been honored.  I take some pride---in the sense of feeling good---in what I have effectively done.  I am not the only one in the world who has done effective work, but in this case I am the one singled out for the honor.  I am grateful.           

The spiritual issue here is humility.  I would like to think I am appropriately humble.  Good spiritual people are basically humble people.  A deep spiritual person should not be full of himself or herself.  There should be no tinge of arrogance.  If you are deeply spiritual, you know it has not been totally your show.  It is a dance you do with the Spirit and the Spirit is the One who has done the leading.  You have the humility to know you have only tried to be a decent follower.  You are a dancer, but you are not the lead.           

When I am honored, my humility immediately kicks in.  That is appropriate.  But it can become a kind of false humility.  The real issue for me is to know that I have been honored and been genuinely grateful.  I am not too worried about becoming arrogant.  I am more worried about being “too humble.”  I think we become too humble when we slough off something good with an “aw shucks” kind of attitude.  It is like a reverse arrogance.           

Instead of being arrogant, I can become inappropriately humble and not accept the truth of the moment.  I may be playing with some kind of false sense of spiritual appropriateness.  Or it may even go deeper.  I think sometimes I (and maybe others) have not learned to appreciate fully who we are and the gifts we have.  A false kind of humility is just that: false.  It is not real.  The things for which I was honored are real and I did them.  Of course, others do it, too.  But in this instance I was the one singled out.           

This raises two key issues for me to identify in the process of being honored.  The first is recognition.  And the second is appreciation.  While these may not inherently be spiritual in nature, I argue they are both appropriate in the spiritual world.  Let’s look at each one.          

Recognition is a good thing.  In the case of being honored, I was recognized for what I did.  It is true; I did it.  And it was recognized.  In effect, this means someone else has seen it and said it.  I would have known I did it whether anyone else noticed.  But it was noticed.  Someone spoke publically and I was recognized.  None of us are spiritual or do spiritual things in order to be recognized.  But if we are recognized, it is appropriate.  And it is a nice thing to happen.  I am grateful.           

Not only was it recognized; I was appreciated.  Recognition is nice; appreciation is even better.  Someone and, then, some group said “thank you.”  In some ways I was appreciated both for what I did and who I am.  Appreciation always feels good.  It is affirming.  It is empowering.  I did not do what I did in order to be recognized and appreciated.  I did it because it was my job; it is what I agreed to do to the best of my ability.           

Recognition and appreciation I want to learn to accept in the truth of who I am.  I don’t want to deflect it with a kind of false humility.  And I don’t want to grab it with an unbearable arrogance.  It’s a spiritual growth point for me.  I know I am a better giver than receiver.  And I know that is a spiritual issue.  With this honor I am back in school trying to learn spiritually and to grow.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Trying Too Hard

I think most people would agree that good things typically happen to those who work hard for something.  Of course, we know that sometimes people get lucky.  But we also know that countless folks play the lottery, but usually only one person is the winner.  The rest of the people made a contribution!  Hard work is usually the recipe for success.  And even when it does not look like some people have worked hard to be successful, often it simply means they have worked so hard, it now looks easy.

One of the easiest examples I can think of for myself is public speaking.  I have spoken in so many venues over the years that I have a great deal of experience.  When I was younger, I needed notes or even a full manuscript.  I was too nervous to go without these aids.  And I did not trust what I knew.  Experience speaking began to take care of this.

At some point I realized I actually would be a better speaker if I were not tied to the manuscript or even to my notes.  It took some practice to speak and minimize my use of the notes.  Most audiences did not know nearly as much about my subject matter as I did.  In my head I knew this was true, but it was difficult to trust in my heart.  Sometimes trust come slowly.

I grew into my trust.  As I trusted my knowledge, I was able to engage the audience much more.  I was free to move around and to look people in the eye.  It was like my speaking became more personal.  I was able to “read” the audience in more detail.  I could tell whether they were not understanding my point, which then allowed me to slow down and repeat it in a fresh way if I saw they did not understand.  And as people responded in a more understanding a warm fashion, I was encouraged to do it even more. 

Some might not think it was hard work to move from manuscript to speaking more freely, but it certainly felt like work to me.  And the work paid off.  I was rewarded with success and this made me even better.  Success does breed success.  So it seemed, I had learned a good lesson.  And it is a good lesson.  But it also masked another lesson.

That other lesson is sometimes we can try too hard.  This is a tough lesson to learn for all of us who learn that hard work pays off.  When this is our approach, we have to learn the paradoxical lesson: sometimes we try too hard.  How can this be, we want to complain?  Let’s look at this for some clue.

One of the places I know we are tempted to try too hard is meditation.  Meditation is a key spiritual discipline.  And it also has become a fashionable thing in the business world.  Meditation is touted as a way to be focused, to relax in our jobs and as a health benefit.  I think all these are true.  So why would not everyone meditate?

I suppose the easy answer is many people are too busy.  Others don’t really believe it makes a difference.  And a third group will have tried it and concluded it does not work.  It would be this group that I suspect they often tried too hard.  I know I fit into this category for a while.  People of this kind tend to be the ones who feel all good things come by virtue of hard work.  If you are not succeeding, try even harder.

That usually does not work when it comes to meditation.  As I write this, I am reminded of the old Zen dictum.  That saying affirms, “If you try too hard to meditate, you can’t.”  To meditate means you sit and begin to relax.  You focus.  But you don’t try and, especially, you don’t try too hard.  As I said, this can go against the grain of the tendency of some of us like me.  If I am not succeeding, my tendency is to try harder.  Put more effort into it has been a personal mantra.  In most cases this seems to work.  In meditation it won’t work.

Instead I need to be reminded to relax.  I need some Zen master reminding me: “Quit trying.  Quit trying not to try.  Quit quitting.”  While this sounds funny, it is true.  If someone tells me to quit, I turn that into a work.  I try not to try!  When I write it, it seems silly.  But in the moment I realize I am trying not to try!  The Zen master is right!  Not only will my effort not work; it will prohibit any grow in meditative practice.

I need to learn to sit there and let go.  Letting go sounds so simple---so easy.  Sure, let go, I think.  And part of me wants to say, “I’m trying!”  And that’s the problem.  I am trying not to try!  This is where I need to get back to a trust level.  I need to trust the process will bring to a place I want to be and it us not up to me.  I need to give myself the grace of not trying.

Grace is always a gift.  And grace is always difficult for all of us who are so used to trying.  And if that does not work, try harder.  In many cases effort is the way to succeed.  When it comes to meditation, effort often is a blocker, not a booster.  Quit trying too hard.  Quit trying.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Life in a Hotel

I travel enough to know that I am glad my job does not have me on the road all the time.  I travel enough to keep life interesting.  I like going other places.  Sometimes it is only the neighboring state.  But if I have to be there two days, it means an overnight.  And that means a night in a hotel.  Sometimes I go abroad.  It might be Europe or England where I have been so many times, that it does not feel foreign.  But the hotels are different there.  Occasionally, I go to India or China where the culture and customs are very different.  A hotel stay there can be an adventure.           

I have never thought much about hotels.  And I never thought about them in any spiritual kind of way.  But as I was drawn to ponder hotels in this fashion, I was surprised at what began to emerge.  It turned out to be fascinating and instructive.           

We all know that hotels are places to stay when we are away from our homes or apartments.  A couple of my friends spend so much time on the road I imagine they spend at least as much time in hotels as they do their own houses.  But I know neither one of them would claim the hotels remotely resemble their houses.  In fact, most of us don’t talk about our houses.  We prefer to talk about our homes.  There is a difference.             

No one I know would ever talk about their hotel as their house, much less, their home.  Even if they were to be there for a few days or, even, a few weeks, no one would talk about it as home.  Of course, they might joke around and say it is their “temporary home.”  But everyone knows they are not serious.  And it probably is an indication of how much they miss their own home.  I know I have been there!           

So what do we get when we go to the hotel.  Typically, we ask for a room for the night.  It might be for a few nights, but it also has the sense that this is temporary.  Hence the hotel is temporary.  Only the most rare person would move into a hotel and say, “I hope to live here the rest of my life!”  Even though I have occasionally been so relieved to find a hotel, I never thought about it in any other terms than temporary.           

I know when I get a hotel room, I am going to get a bed.  In fact, that is likely the real reason to get a hotel.  I am not getting the room for the tv, liquor cabinet or shower.  All of these I could manage without having.  But if I am to be gone all night, a bed is nice---not necessary, but surely nice.  However, when I hop in bed, I am very aware it is not my own bed.  I have never been in a hotel that has a bed I like more than my own bed---even though sometimes the hotel bed is much newer and fancier than my own.           

As I write this, I realize it is not my own bed in my own home that is so special.  I could take out my bed or buy a new one and it would not affect how I feel about my home.  The same is true for the rest of the furniture.  Of course, I get furniture in a hotel room.  I sit in a chair and know immediately it is not the same as the old chair that I claim every night at home.             

And I get a television in the hotel room.  Often I have more channels to watch there than I buy in my own tv plan at home.  I appreciate the tv for the news and some sports.  But it is not special any more than my tv at home is special.  I know I can happily live without tv.  My tv is not what makes my home special.           

I suppose one of the biggest differences my home offers that the hotel does not is space.  I don't think I have ever been in a hotel room that has as much space as my home.  And my home is very modest---having downsized since the kids have gone.  But big spaces have never been of much interest to me.  I figure I can only occupy so much space, regardless of how big the room or house is.             

So what has this musing on a hotel room taught me spiritually speaking?  It has taught me to appreciate simplicity, solitude and satisfaction.  A hotel room---even a fancy one---is fairly simple.  I value simplicity---little baggage to carry, literally or figuratively.  Ultimately, life is temporary.  I don’t need much to carry through life.  And if I keep it simple, life is going to be easier.           

I also appreciate solitude.  I value being alone and having alone time to think, meditate and pray.  To be in solitude is also a form of simplicity.  It erases demands and complications from life.  In Thoreau’s words, it allows me to “front” my life and face things honestly.  To be alone means we have to cope with ourselves.           

I also appreciate the ability to be satisfied.  Most people I know want to be happy.  I am good with happiness, too.  It is better than sadness.  But I would much rather be satisfied.  To be satisfied literally means to be full---satiated is the fancy word.  Of course, since we are human we know that being full does not last.  That is why we have to eat again and pray again.  But I do this to be satisfied.  I don’t need extravagance.  To be satisfied is to be content and at peace.  That seems very spiritual.           

Ultimately, I can have all this at home.  However, it is when I travel and stay in a hotel I get to see whether I really can live life the way I want: simply, in solitude and satisfied.  A hotel room is a good place to practice being spiritual.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Vision Statement

I am not sure about you, but I am aware that I get ideas and have no sense of why that idea popped into my head.  That does not mean everything I think is profound.  Some stuff that pops into my head is crazy.  Some of it is random, irrelevant or even stupid.  But sometimes some good stuff pops into my mind.  An idea like that is analogous to someone walking up and handing you a $20 bill.  I can imagine that person saying, “Here ya go, $20 just for thinking!” 

Most of the time, these ideas come and go.  I don’t pay enough attention, so I know I have missed some very good ideas.  Of course, the bad ones should be forgotten.  And I should just laugh at the stupid ones and forget them, too.  When I talk about the good ones coming into my mind, I am not talking about the ideas that come when we are in that half-sleep, half-awake state.  I have in mind more the kind of ideas that come when we are in the shower or doing something that seems totally unrelated to getting a good idea. 

Recently, an idea came to my mind.  I was thinking about vision statements.  That is not a foreign idea for me.  I have lived long enough and been involved in enough institutions to have a passing acquaintance with vision statements.  I have seen some that I felt were pretty effective and others that I thought were a joke.  But I never thought about vision statements in the sense in which it just came to me one day. 

I wondered whether very many people have personal vision statements?  I wondered what I would tell someone if a person came to me and asked me, “Do you have a personal vision statement?  If so, what is it?”  I realized I do have such a statement and I could quickly tell someone what my vision statement is.  That made me satisfied.

When thinking about vision statements for businesses or non-profits, I understand the statement to be the organizational reason for being.  The vision statement is the business or non-profit’s way of stating its purpose or goal.  It usually is simple and short.  If it is complicated or too wordy, then the organization is not really clear.  I think the same thing applies to a personal vision statement.

My personal vision statement is short, simple and general.  That is fine with me.  Let me share it with you and then develop it.  My vision statement says that my life’s goal is “to live and to love.”  I realize cynical people could laugh at it.  Someone might say, “Duh!”  But I don’t care.  It is my vision statement and it guides me day by day.  I could recount the story of when I came to this vision for myself, but that is not relevant here.  Suffice it to say, I have had that vision for quite some time in my life.  I did not have it when I was a kid, but it has been around a good bit of my adult life.

My vision statement---to live and to love---articulates both my goal and purpose for my life.  It answers that question, “what’s the point in life?”  I know I have thought about that question since I saw the 1966 movie, Alfie, starring Michael Caine.  The movie chronicled some of the crazy life of Alfie.  The line from the title song asks the simple question, “What’s it all about Alfie?”  When I saw the movie, I probably knew that was my question, too.  And it is doubtlessly everyone’s question.  My vision statement is my personal answer.  I know what’s it all about for me. 

My vision statement---to live and to love---is general.  My job day by day is to make the general specific.  Daily I seek to live---not simply exist and not to go through the motions.  I don’t want to look back at the end of any day and say, “Well, that was a waste!”  If I can truly live each day, then I will experience a sense of vitality and well-being.  With my vision statement I can do that to my dying day.  We are all mortal.  I need a vision statement that can hold form even if I get sick, even if I am not able to be a productive person in the work world, etc.  I wanted a vision statement that could serve me to my dying day. 

The other part of my vision statement has to do with love.  I don’t want merely to live.  I also want to love.  Love is a meaningful word to me.  Love works with family, friends and even enemies.  I can love my friends and my grandkids.  I can love the world.  And since love is an action word, I cannot be content to talk about love and never be loving.  If I am not loving, then love is merely a word---an idea.   

There are many vision statements a person can have.  I am convinced that most people have some kind of vision.  I doubt that many could articulate it on the spot.  In that sense it is implicit.  If the vision statement has any “punch” to it, then our lives should somehow reflect that vision.  I hope my life reflects in some small part my vision.  I know I have not pulled it off completely, but I have time!

My vision statement is closely tied to how I am trying to make meaning in my life and do it with a purpose.  I am not against having some wealth.  I would like to be happy.  And so forth.  But most of all, I am trying to live and to love.  And I know, that is going to take a lifetime.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Creating a Legacy

I have no clue when I first heard about a legacy.  I doubt I knew anything about it until college days or even later.  It might have been one of those things I heard about, but it never registers.  I doubt very many young folks pay any attention to those kinds of things.  By the time I was teaching and, especially, doing some fund raising, I became very aware of the idea of legacy.  Only recently and only occasionally have I given any thought to my own legacy. 

The word, legacy, often is associated with wills that dead people leave and about which the survivors learn in a court session or with the lawyers.  Often, legacies have to do with money and property.  Of course, some people are quite wealthy and their legacies to their heirs are remarkable.  My parents did not fit that category!  They left me and my siblings almost no money or property.  I did not care.  I did not have them as parents to make me wealthy! 

It would be wrong to limit legacies to money or property.  Basically the idea of legacy is whatever a deceased person leaves behind.  Let’s widen the scope of meaning to include things like favors done, help offered, reputations enhanced, fame achieved, etc.  In effect, your legacy is what folks will remember about you.  Some legacies are so enormous, history will remember them.   

Not all legacies are good.  You can be an utter scamp or scoundrel and that will be your legacy.  Hitler left an absolutely reprehensible legacy---six million Jews dead is an evil legacy!  Contrast that with Mother Teresa to understand the stark contrast.  In my own lifetime, I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Thomas Merton among so many.  But not all the legacies I can bring to mind are famous people. 

Some of my favorite legacies are, indeed, my parents.  I can also think of the friends who helped me negotiate my entire educational pilgrimage.  Without their help and encouragement, I would not be writing this piece.  In a sense, they helped make me the person I am. 

I am keenly aware that I am also creating a legacy.  I am not finished with life, so my legacy is continuing to be written.  I can add to it; I can damage it.  My legacy will be not be about fame nor financial wealth.  My kids don’t care---fortunately.  But I will have a legacy and so will you.  As I think about it, what is done is done.  I still have a choice about what can yet be.  What can I imagine adding yet to my legacy? 

As I think about this, I realize that I want to put my legacy in the context of my own spiritual pilgrimage or discipleship.  I also realize that I don’t care too much about reputation, although that is probably a good reflection of what you actually did.  I would like to focus on three key aspects of the spiritual journey that I can yet improve and make a mark.  Those three are obedience, love and service. 

Obedience is an old-fashioned word that seems oddly out of place in a culture where it is important to do whatever you want to do.  However, if we take the spiritual relationships seriously---in my case a relationship with the Holy One---then doing what that Holy One wants of me is a priority.  Of course, God might ask something of me that is challenging.  Of course, I am tempted to pray, “my will, not thy will.”  But if I claim the spiritual relationship and journey is paramount, then obedience follows commitment.  To do anything else is a lie. 

I also would like to do more around the theme of love and have that a part of my legacy.  When I write that sentence, I am not even sure what I mean.  I suppose at the base level, pass the love test.  But I am capable of more.  I am capable of more love for those who are not my favorites.  I want to push myself further into the zone of loving the unlovable.  Great lovers have the capacity to love sacrificially.  Jesus was a great lover.  I still feel like I am love’s pre-school.  I want to grow up and grow into more, deep love.

Finally, there is more I can do in the way of service.  On this one, my reputation is probably better than I deserve.  I want to upgrade my service in ways that might make a more profound difference.  Again, I would like to serve more broadly than I do.  In many ways it is easy to serve family and friends.  Of course, I don’t want to quit doing that.  But I want to broaden it.  There are folks in the world who need a hand---or a foot or brain---to help them.  I want to learn more deeply what it means to be a servant leader. 

To add to my legacy is not really an end in itself.  That simply is the way I have framed these spiritual reflections.  The end of my legacy will commence with the end of my life.  Perhaps one’s legacy is what will be said about you when nothing else can be said.  I hope my final legacy is a trail of people who can narrate how my involvement somehow helped them in their lives.  In some cases I am aware of what I have done and how I have helped.  In other cases, I am sure, I have no clue how I might have helped. 

Finally I hope the helping side of the ledger outweighs the hurting side.  I confess that part of my legacy would be the negative stuff I wrought in people’s lives.  I am human and, I guess, you are too.  So we are still creating a legacy.  Let’s work on the right side!