Thanksgiving: a Day and a Way of Life

As Americans, we enter the Thanksgiving season. Already people are wishing me a “happy Thanksgiving.” I am delighted with that greeting. And I would be delighted if someone next week wishes me a “happy Monday.” But I guess Mondays are supposed to be normal…not so happy, not so awful.

I am not sure I do major holidays very well. I am not against them. They celebrate important events in national, religious, and often personal lives. Thanksgiving is an American deal. In Turkey it is just another weekday! As an American, I welcome it. And I hope it is happy.

I am confident one of the reasons I am not sure about major holidays is the trickiness of expectations. For example, Thanksgiving is supposed to be “happy.” Christmas is supposed to be “merry” and, of course, we return to the “happy” theme for New Years. Clearly, for too many people there are too many lousy things going on to gear up to be “happy” and “merry.” Holiday expectations are tricky things.

The truth is Thanksgiving lasts one da…

Music of the Spirit

One of the things I most like about the semester ending is the fact we are getting near the end of the various books I use.  For example, in one class I have students read Kathleen Norris’ great book, The Cloister Walk.  The book originally appeared in 1996.  I am not sure when I bought it and read it.  I first became aware of Norris’ work with her book, Dakota.  That book is about landscape and a look at place and space.  I came to appreciate a few things about Norris.

I learned that her educational background was poetry.  She is a published poet.  Even of more interest to me was the fact Norris had spent two lengthy periods in a Benedictine monastery.  Like me, Norris is a Benedictine oblate, which basically means she is a “lay Benedictine.”  That commits us to living as nearly as we can the monastic life.  Both Norris and I are married; I have kids.  Of course, that means we cannot be monks in the traditional sense of the word.  But we can make a spiritual commitment to follow that …

First Things First

I have heard the phrase, “first things first,” so many times during my life.  Growing up on a farm, it made perfect sense.  Often there was an order or sequence to the chores facing us.  Clearly, “first things first” implies a logic to how one goes about things.  Usually if you did not do the first things, nothing else would be possible.  Or things would start to go very badly.  

When I left the farm to go to college, I did not hear the phrase as often.  However, it surely applied to much of what I did in college and, then, later in life throughout my career.  It probably also makes sense when we think about having a family.  Likely it also makes sense when it comes to friendships and all the other adventures of life.

It occurred to me this morning when I was trying to do a little spiritual time, that it also very much fits the spiritual life.  Some day, perhaps I will wake up and have nothing planned or nothing to do all day long.  Then “first things first” may not apply.  But that…

Evidence of Divine Presence

The title for this inspirational piece came from a wonderful reflection I read in a periodical I regularly read online.  It comes from Joni Woelfel, whom I have never met even though we have communicated with each other.  I hope someday to meet her and have that face-to-face conversation that I am confident will be very good.  I am sure I have things I can learn from her and that it will be fun.

The enticing title of Joni’s meditative reflection is “The good that rises when the bottom falls out of life.”  I am confident that most of us who live beyond adolescent years know what life feels like when the bottom falls out.  It can come through a variety of causes.  Special lover dumps you; you get sick; you lose the job you like or don’t get the job you covet.  Any disappointment triggers the bottom to fall out.  Of course, some things are much worse than others.

Joni begins her meditation by recalling the time she came home from the hospital.  She was a young mother, but was not in any co…

I Have Seen You

I frequently realize I live in different times than when I grew up.  Since I spend most of my time with college-age students, I spend little time reminiscing about the “good old days.”  I am absolutely certain college students don’t care and they don’t want to hear about “what it was like when I was their age.”  And I don’t blame them.  When I was their age, I surely did not want to hear a bunch of old guys (or gals) talking about their younger years. 

Yesterday was a reminder to me that I live in a different era.  I was invited to do a keynote speech.  That is not unusual.  I have been invited to speak for years now---even decades.  Sometimes it is an invitation from a friend or, as often happens, from a Quaker group who knows me or knows about me.  These kinds of invitations are never surprising.  In many of these cases, the person or group who invites me has a very good idea of what they will get when they invite me.  And sometimes I am invited by students on my campus.  And of cou…

Inward Journey and Outward Pilgrimage

There are so many different ways to think about the spiritual life. And of course, in our country there are so many different variations of religious experiences. There are liberals and conservatives. There are fundamentalists and Pentecostals. Besides the dizzying variety of Christian traditions, there are many different non-Christian traditions. There are the major traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on. There are the slightly more obscure traditions, such as Sikhism, Jainism, etc. And then there are more fringe groups and, even, pseudo-religions.

There are defining doctrines and religious practices. Some of these are specific to a particular tradition or a few traditions, such as the koan, which is used in Zen Buddhism for example. Other defining doctrines or practices are common across the religious board. Something like meditation would be a good example. Christians meditate; Buddhists meditate. And other groups practice this spiritual discipline.

A favorite way…

Preserve Me, Lord

Sometimes I wonder if I would make it as a monk!  Actually I don’t really wonder, because I am fairly sure I would blow it.  There is so much about being a monk that I find attractive.  But I fear that I idealize what being a monk means.  And that is funny, since I have been to any number of monasteries and convents and actually know quite a few monks and nuns.

If I am honest, what really attracts me is not being a monk, but it is the way of life that monks and nuns undertake.  That attraction is deepened by the fact that a group of them undertake that life together in community.  And they do that life together with such intentionality.  I am sure that intentionality is a big piece of the attraction for me and it is probably why I know I would blow it!  That is because intentionality has to be married to discipline to be effective.

So I content myself to staying on the margins of monastic life.  Fortunately the monastic community welcomes people who like to do as much as we can.  An…