Friday, August 28, 2015

Real Soul Making

Some books I continue to return to in order to get a spiritual reminder or a spiritual boost.  One of those books is my friend Alan Jones’ book, Soul Making.  I find reading Jones a challenge, but always rewarding.  However, I also know that when I assign that book in one of my spirituality classes, the students seldom like it!  That usually makes me a little sad.  It is as if the students reject a little part of me.             

I think Jones’ book is so important to me because it came at a time when I was in a significant spiritual growth phase.  Simultaneously, I was also trying to figure out whether I could teach spirituality and, if so, how I would do it.  The idea of “soul making” was an eye-opener for me.  Growing up in a fairly rural Quaker meeting (church), I had only heard that language that affirmed people “had” souls.  Of course, at death the soul left the body and for many folks, the soul is what went to heaven.             

I never thought much about that.  When you hear stuff like that as a kid, you usually take it at face value.  At least I did.  So I assumed I “had” a soul.  But then in college I was asked to read classic authors and to learn to think, analyze and make up my own mind.  I still see that as a very healthy process.  I know religious fundamentalists do not see it as healthy; in fact, that is a threat.  But I am not a religious fundamentalist, so I am ok with thinking, analyzing and still making up my own mind.          

So I read Alan Jones and others who suggested that we “are” souls.  I began to see my soul more as an animating spirit.  I learned the language of soul is closely related to the idea of spirit.  Spirit is like wind or breath.  It was easy to connect soul to breath.  If I quite breathing, I “lose” my soul.  That does not necessarily mean my soul “dies.”  But it does mean when I quit breathing, my soul (my spirit) transforms---that is, it takes on another form.  When I die, I no longer will be an embodied soul, as I am now.           

But I do not want to talk about death.  Instead I want to talk about love and life and how those connect to soul.  It is here that I latch onto one of my favorite lines from Jones’ book, Soul Making.  He says, “Love is a gift or it is nothing.  Insofar as we are able to reject strategies of possessiveness and manipulation, the conditions are already set for the development of real soul making, real loving.” (131)  I find sentences like that riveting.  It speaks of a truth deeper than I think I have yet known, but to which I am drawn.           

For a long time, I have been convinced that life and love go together---real life at least.  I am sure you can live without love, but it is not real life.  And as much as it chagrins me, I am confident that Jones is correct: love is a gift.  For some of us, this is fearful.  It causes us to fear because we are afraid we won’t be given the gift.  And if we happen to have been given the gift of love, we are tempted to hoard it out of fear that we will never be given any more.  We see love as a scarce commodity.           

But it’s not like that.  Love is a gift and the Giver offers it lavishly.  The Holy One deals with an abundance strategy, not a scarcity model.  But some of us find this hard to believe---that is, we have little faith.  So we are tempted to manipulate our situations to create or compel love.  Jones is quite right to advise us to reject such strategies of manipulation and coercion.  I really can’t compel you to love me.  I can try and you may have to fake it.  But genuine love is a gift.  I can only receive and say “thanks.”           

I like how Jones links real soul making and real loving.  Again that seems deeply true to me in ways I probably cannot articulate.  And I can add that real soul making and real loving amount to real living.  That is what the whole spiritual journey is about as far as I am concerned.  I am on that journey.  I am very content to call it soul making.             

I am happy to call this soul making cardiac development.  Of course, I am playing around with the word for “heart.”  Soul making is nothing more than the development of my heart---its enlargement, softening and deepening.  A heart developing in this fashion not only becomes more and more a loving heart.  It becomes a compassionate heart.  When this happens, we rightly begin to talk about that person as a person “with a heart for the world.”  That is a big heart!           

I am sure that a big-hearted person is a deeply soulful person.  This kind of person would be so soulful that it would be evident when you come into the presence of that person.  Their being would exude soulfulness.  They would reek of the Spirit’s scent.  Just being with them makes you feel better and more well.             

That kind of person models the soul making process.  Somehow they have done real soul making.  I am sure it is coming to know the gift of love, accepting it and incarnating it in such a way they become ambassadors of the Spirit in our world.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Importance of Interviewing

It may seem odd to be talking about interviewing in a spiritual reflection.  I never thought about it until recently when I was asked to interview some students for a special program.  It is funny that I never thought about this before, since I have interviewed students for many things over decades now.  But it hit me and I realized interviewing can be a spiritual experience. 

When I say it could be a spiritual experience, I don’t mean I was interviewing the student for some kind of religious job.  We never talked about God nor religion.  On the surface no one would get any kind of clue that it was about spirituality.  Perhaps it was only in my mind.  But let me unfold my understanding.           

I was set to interview a young man and the appointment was made.  From his name, I assumed he was Asian or, at least, Asian-American.  As far as I was aware, I have never met him nor had I ever seen him.  I asked him to tell me a bit about himself.          

I know this is not an unusual request when you are in an interview process and the interviewer does not know you.  It seems like such a common question, we are not likely to realize how profound it could be.  However, it typically is not very profound.  Instead of the profundity of the potential answer to who we are, the interviewee normally would talk about descriptions of himself that are not very revealing.           

In my case, some of this did come from the young man.  It turns out he was born and spent his early years in Korea.  He came to the USA to study and to gain some global experience.  He is a junior in college and shared that his major was business.  None of this seems remotely spiritual.  It could have stayed at that level and it never would have occurred to me that interviewing would be spiritual.           

It was only after our conversation deepened a little more that I realized it was becoming spiritual.  I realized in the beginning I had actually asked the young man a question of identity: who are you?  That has the potential of becoming profoundly spiritual.  However most of the time, we answer that question at such a superficial level, the spiritual is not even hinted at.  As long as we stay with things that describe our role---like being a college professor---we don’t enter the spiritual realm.           

This young man began to enter the deeper waters of identity when he shared that he has spent some time recently dealing with depression.  He was tempted to despair.  He shared that his dreams for himself had fallen away like leaves off a tree.  He returned home and felt like he was being drawn into a dark hole of nothingness.           

But there he was right in front of me with a smile and as much optimism as I could imagine.  Through effective help and significant effort, he had come back to life.  Religious people could even say he had been saved.  My point in the reflection is simply to say the interview had become spiritual for me.  Let me explain.           

One important facet of spirituality has to do with identity---who we are.  I suppose most of us assume we know who we are.  And we do at a superficial level.  But many of us don’t really know who we are at a deeper level.  This becomes routinely obvious in my teaching of undergraduates.  They are usually surprised when they begin to realize they don’t actually know who they are.  And I suspect that many of us who are “adults” have lived long enough that we assume we surely have come to know who we are.  But often, we are not much further along than the college junior.           

Identity is a spiritual issue for me because my assumption is that who we are is tied up with who God (or the Spirit) is.  While I realize not everyone would agree with my assumption, nevertheless I press on to suggest that we all have a deeper self---what Thomas Merton and others call our “true self.”  Until we begin to know that true self---and it is only known in relation to the Spirit---we don’t really know who we are.           

My time with the chap from Korea lead me to think about life metaphorically as a preparation for an interview.  Imagine coming in to engage the Spirit in an interview.  The invitation is offered; tell me a bit about yourself.  My function in life is pretty irrelevant.  More pertinent is whether I know my deeper self.  Has that self been depressed or despaired?  Has it loved and been loved?           

What are my commitments to my friends and, even, to my enemies?  What have I done to help and heal the world?  In this interview the Spirit will be less concerned about my net worth and more about my spiritual worthiness.             

I don’t see this interview as meeting God at the proverbial pearly gates when I am dead.  Instead, I imagine the Spirit as the ever-present interviewer for the job of living day by day and living with as much fullness, meaning, and joy as I can muster.  That really is the job I want---the job of a fully lived life. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Eye of the Soul

I recently read an interesting article.  Part of the interest was how much my own experience overlapped with the author, Joni Woelfel.  Although she has written a few books, I have never heard of Woelfel.  Now she is someone I want to meet and get to know.  Books have a way of bringing people together.  So I now have a new hope---to meet Joni Woelfel.           

Woelfel’s article is graciously entitled, “seeing the past with the grateful eye of the soul.”  I was drawn in by those words.  I loved the phrase, “eye of the soul,” which is why I entitled this inspirational piece with those words.  And the overall theme of her essay is focused on the past and on memory.  Memory is seen through the eye of the soul.  That would be very good in and of itself.             

What she writes about is her growing up on a Minnesota farm.  Of course, mine was an Indiana farm---but close enough!  Neither has anything in common with New York City or any other urban area.  She talks about grandfathers and that brought warm memories of my own grandfather, whom I saw nearly every day on our farm.  Of course, he is long since dead, but the memories are still very sweet.  And Woelfel’s grandfather is also long since dead, but the memories are what precipitated her essay.           

But the essay is about more than her grandfather.  It was about the farm and about a way of life that basically no longer exists.  Her family farm is long since gone---as good as dead.  And so is my family farm.  But there are memories.  And oddly, there is also a kind of hope.  In a very real sense all of us as humans are situated squarely in the present---sandwiched between past and future, between memory and hope.  That is where life is lived out.           

Finally what riveted me in Woelfel’s essay was not her grandfather, but it was a tree.  It is with the image of a tree that the author is able to coagulate all he memories of farm, grandfather and the rest.  She talks about the last time she and her husband visited the old place.  “A craggy tree still stands on the grassy, rolling hill of the pasture, overlooking what used to be our farm.”  She then turns the image into a powerful metaphor for the enduring in the midst of the temporal---the passing into nothingness.          

Her commentary is rich.  She writes, “Yet year after year, like us, the tree persevered and each spring came back faithfully to witness the daily unfolding of life on the farm and our dreams and prayers drifting across the fields.”  I was brought inside her thinking, enabled to participate fully in the unfolding of her teaching.  She added one more piece about the tree.  “It stood before God, alone, its roots sinking deep into the soil…”  I felt finished.           

But she had one more artful move.  She moved from the tree to its metaphorical link to hope.  She says, “That enduring tree serves as a metaphor of what it means to allow hope to wait as a sentinel with us as we experience this earthly mystery of transition.”  I loved the idea of the tree linked to a “sentinel of hope.”  As you know, a sentinel is a watchman.           

The tree metaphorically watches the transition of time---a transition that is sweeping us along as surely as it swept her grandfather and the family farm along.  I began to go further with her idea.  Being swept along with time is not bad; it is just fact.  The tree is our sentinel of hope.  It has roots sunk deeply into the soil.           

That suggests to me the same “tree-possibility” is our privilege, too.  In fact, I call it a spiritual privilege.  The tree-possibility as spiritual privilege brings us back to the soul.  If the tree suggests hope, then the key is not the tree, but hope.  And hope is a soulful thing for me.  It is hope that is the sentinel, not the tree.  And hope asks us to have eyes of the soul.           

With eyes of the soul we can also look forward with hope.  The transition does not only go backward to the past; it goes forward, too.  Hope helps us transition hopefully to a good future.  Especially, if we have our selves grounded with deep roots in the Holy One who is the soil of our soul.  If we are rooted and grounded in God, then like the tree, we are able to weather the storms and embrace the good weather and good fortune that spiritually can come our way.             

To have an eye of the soul is to have the ability to see things as they are.  We gain an eye of the soul as we get to know ourselves as spiritual children of the God of love.  This same God calls us into deep relationship and the relationship is the soil of our soul.  Our soul, then, is given the discerning eye to see clearly what the future offers us and how we get there.           

The future will be sure if what we desire is the will of God.  The eye of the soul comes to see that will, desire it, know it, and finally, live it.  If we do this, sweet memories will be ours.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Beginning of Day

I enjoy reading a range of things because of what they can teach me.  Even though I feel like I already know quite a bit about what I am reading, many times I am offered a new angle or perspective to understand something.  Recently I was reading a blog on spirituality.  I ran into a little story from Hasidic Judaism.  I know some things about that special Jewish group that tends toward the mystical.  There is something about the Hasidic spirit that resonates with my own Quaker spirit.
           
The story is about a rabbi who is asking his students or disciples a question.  “He asked, ‘How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?’”  In and of itself, this is not a spiritual question.  It is an interesting question, but just not specifically a spiritual question.  It is interesting because it is not easily answered.  As an early morning person, I have often wondered that too.  I am doubly intrigued because you can get reports that are very specific.  We might hear, for example, that sunrise happens at 6:31 tomorrow morning! 

Hence I was intrigued to read on in this little Hasidic story.  When does night end and day begin?  One of the rabbi’s students had an interesting answer.  It reminded me of my farm days.  The student said, "Day begins when, from a distance, you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep."  Now that made sense to me.  If I can tell the difference between a dog and a sheep, it has to be light enough for details to emerge that would say, “That’s a dog.” 

However, that was not good enough for the rabbi.  He did not think that was sufficient to answer, when does night give way to day.  We are given no reasons why this answer did not suffice for the rabbi.  He simply says, “No.”  Apparently more precision would be needed. 

Another disciple stepped in with a potential answer.  Intriguingly, the disciple offers it as a question---a question that is a potential answer.  The disciple asks if it is possible to distinguish night from morning “when you can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?"  That is an answer that does not come out of my world.  We had no fig trees on my farm!  I would not have known a fig tree if I saw one.  But I assume it looks nothing like a grapevine. 

But again, this was not the right answer for the rabbi.  Again, he says, “No.”  His students and disciples now were probably a little exasperated.  So they plead with him: "Please tells us the answer then."  I can feel for them.  So many times I have been in that place where you just know you are guessing for answers.  Perhaps in the beginning, you think you know or can figure out the answer.  And then at some point, it is clear you have no clue.  So come on, rabbi, give us the answer! 

And he does come through with his answer.  And of course, it is a spiritual answer.  "It is," said the rabbi, "when you can look into the face of other human beings and you have enough light in you to recognize them as your brothers and sisters. Up until then, it is night, and darkness is still with us."  It is a great answer and, yet, a mystifying answer. 

It is a great answer because it does take sufficient light to be able to recognize a face.  I have both a brother and a sister in my family.  So I could read this story literally.  In sufficient light in a morning, I would be able to know whether the other person is really my sister…or just another person.  My sister is also a person, but in the light of day I recognize her as not just another person, but as my sister. 
 
However, I am confident the rabbi wanted us to hear the story at a deeper, spiritual level.  It really becomes day for me when there is sufficient “light” that I can see the other human person is also figuratively my brother or my sister.  In the spiritual family we are all brothers and sisters.  Spirituality is not about blood relationship.  It is about faith relationships.  And it is about love relationships.  And it is about communal relationships. 

When we understand it in this fashion, we understand that much of our world is still living in darkness.  When we see it this way, we know that it might be noon and the sun is shining brilliantly, but we are still “in the darkness of our night.”  As long as we can see other human faces and not understand them as our brothers and sisters, we have not come into the spiritual light of the day. 

I am confident this is what Jesus and other spiritual leaders through the ages came to teach us.  They want us to be able to see things as they really are in the light of the day.  At the beginning of day, they want us to be able to see all the brothers and sisters in our world.  They want us to be at work creating and caring for the family of God.  We are children of the light.  Let us live as children of the day.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Precariat: New and Troubling Word

I was reading a favorite periodical when I spotted the headline with a word that I don’t think I had ever seen.  The headline read: “The ‘Precariat:’ stressed out, insecure, alienated and angry.”  I’m not sure I had ever seen “precariat.”  I could guess what it meant.  The opening line of the article assured me I knew its meaning.           

“Inequality.  Class fragmentation.  Social and economic exclusion.”  Those words paint an unfortunate picture.  And that’s just the point.  The author of the article, Vinnie Rotondaro, is writing about the world’s large and growing group of people living precarious lives right above the poverty line.  This clearly does not include me; I have been very fortunate.  But that only means that I need to know about this sad phenomenon and see it for the spiritual issue it is, alongside being an economic and political issue.           

The author makes use of much of the scholarly work being done by Guy Standing, a British economist, who is Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.  His work is new to me and pretty impressive.  Standing suggests there is a new “emerging social class” that is “defining the new normal in societies across the world” and that class he calls the precariat.           

Standing elaborates in a helpful fashion.  “The lives of people in the precariat are defined by precariousness, or ‘precarity,’ he says. They experience pervasive economic insecurity and uncertainty, inconsistent work and labor relations, and increasingly, a lack of control over time.”  As I read this, I am aware I know many people whose lives are characterized by this kind of precarity.  I don’t see them in my sphere of work.  I see them on the margin of my work.           

I see them sometimes at McDonald’s when I stop for coffee.  I overhear tidbits of their lives that suggest way more precariousness than I have to experience.  Many folks have that kind of economic security.  They remind me of the migrants who descended on tomato fields in my boyhood Indiana.  They also were marginal to my normal world.  While they were not on my farm---we did not have tomatoes---they were on the edges of my town and my life.  And then, they were gone---often on north to Michigan to pick fruit in the autumn.             

And so I realize I have been exposed to precarity all my life.  Apparently those numbers are growing very fast.  And I don’t doubt it.  And they are going to affect the world much more than those migrants ever affected my life.  Standing estimates that the number in this group in many countries is approaching 405---that is countries like Spain and Italy.             

The new awareness that I bring to this is an awareness I did not have in my youthful Indiana days.  That awareness is that precarity is also a spiritual issue.  I realize this can be subtle, since the economic and political facets are usually much more visible.  But it is also spiritual.  Let’s develop this a little bit.           

A key component of spiritual is the inherent dignity and worth of an individual.  For those of us who grew up in the Jewish and Christian traditions, this inherent dignity and worth of human beings is grounded in the very creation story of Genesis.  Adam---and all human beings---is created in the image and likeness of the Holy One.  We are icons of the Divinity Itself.           

We are called “very good” at our creation.  Many of us who have children know this creative pride when we see the ones we bring into the world.  No sane parent looks at his or her little one and thinks, “What a piece of worthless junk!”  No parent wants his or her child to grow up in a situation of precarity---on the edge and brink of all kinds of disasters.  We know we are vulnerable, but no one wants someone else to be hurt.           

But that’s exactly what seems to be happening around our globe.  Our way of living is causing countless others to the margin.  The way the world is functioning puts people in precarious ways of living.  When I see this as a spiritual issue, it means I have to find a way to care.  Caring is the easiest form of love.  If you can’t care, there is no love in your heart.           

So if I claim to be spiritual, then I am on the hook to care.  And if I care, then I necessarily have to find a way to share.  Caring and sharing are bedrock spiritual ways of living in our world.  Of course, they are very general statements.  Each one of us has to find specific and particular ways to express the caring and sharing.  I am not part of the plutocracy---the .0001% who own a huge portion of the world’s wealth.  I can’t do it their way.           

I probably don’t have enough money to share in a way that makes much difference except for a very few individuals.  But I can work to change the situation.  And I can join others to make a bigger difference.  This is a ministry I willingly take on.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Encounters at the Well

Recently I had reason to engage a biblical text that I have not read for a while.  It is a very familiar story to me, so I was glad to hear it again. The story comes from John’s Gospel and it narrates an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at a well.  Since I used to teach a seminar on John’s Gospel, I have thought about this rather long passage and read a fair number of commentaries to gain a deeper understanding.           

The passage is far too long to give consideration to all its aspects.  So we can pick off a few salient features that have something to do with our spiritual life today.  In the first place, a little historical background might be useful.  I almost always want to laugh when I begin to share some of the historical background.  I laugh because Jesus really should not be at that well at that hour with that woman!           

Going to the well to fetch water is a standard thing that must have happened in those ancient times.  However, because of the heat of the day, the normal time to go would be morning or evening.   And going to the well typically would have been a woman’s role.  Water clearly is a powerful spiritual symbol, as it is a necessity for life itself.  In fact, this sets up the central teaching of this story.  That teaching comes toward the end of the story when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that he is a Source of life.           

We also know this story is meant to stretch us (and the people of his time) when we realize Jesus is talking to someone with whom he should not be associated. The Jews and the Samaritans where like the Hatfields and McCoys in their day.  In fact, the Samaritan woman probably had gone to the well at noon because she was not supposed to be there when the regulars went in the morning or evening to fetch water.             

Even at this level, the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was spiritually loaded.  Jesus asks her for a drink.  Only a couple lines later, the revelation is happening.  Jesus tells her that if she really knew what was going on, he could give her the “living water.”  As it so typically happens, the woman misunderstands and scoffs, “you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep.”  I imagine her really saying, “Yeah, sure!”           

When I read this story, I have much more in common with the woman than I do with Jesus.  She is an outsider.  She has to be careful because she could get in trouble.  She is a woman, so that means she needs to be extra cautious in a place with strange guys.  It is safe to assume that she went to the well to get water, not to get saved!  And to presume that is what Jesus was doing is to miss the point.           

What Jesus wanted was to give her some sense and some participation in the very Source of Life that Jesus intimately knew, namely, the Divinity Itself.  Jesus wanted to share, to be sure.  He would share water.  More importantly, he was willing to share something about the Living Water.  He would share his connection to the Water that would never leave her thirsting again.             

His invitation to the Samaritan woman was an invitation to convert.  As a lad growing up in Indiana, I sometimes would hear “conversion” language and it almost always meant an altar call and much drama.  I don’t discount this kind of experience, but it has never been my experience.  Then I learned the classical languages.  In Greek the word for “conversion” literally means, “to turn around.”  It also means to “get a new mind.”  I push that to mean, “start living with a new outlook, a new commitment, a purposeful life.”           

That is what I believe Jesus was offering the Samaritan woman on the hot, dusty day at noon when she came to draw water.  When you view the story in this fashion, you can see that it was literally a transforming encounter at the well.  In that sense I think it becomes instructive of the possibility for each and every one of us.  The question is what or whom will we encounter when we go to the well?           

As the story unfolds, the well represents the place and occasion where we encounter the life transforming word and work of the Spirit.  In most instances it likely will be in the midst of our ordinariness, rather than some special occasion.  It is in this sense that I think this kind of “well’ turns out to be our altar-in-the-moment.  We will be invited to convert: to turn our lives around and live with more purpose, depth and love.           

This kind of well encounter probably will not be a one-time deal.  Instead, we will go often to the well and repeatedly be asked to convert---again and again.  As we begin to get it, we may be asked to be part of a community of converted ones---people like us who have turned full time to love-work and the bringing of justice to a world sorely in need of being saved.           

We will not be asked to be saviors.  But we will be asked to be servants---servants of the One who is present at every well in the world.  We will be servants ready to assist that One in whatever encounter awaits the next Samaritan coming to the well.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Finite Resource

I had occasion recently to speak to our soccer teams.  On my campus the women and men’s soccer teams do much together.  I actually think that is a good idea.  I believe it builds into their programs a brother-sister dynamic.  Each team has a cadre of others who support and uphold them through a long season.  Friendships develop that are healthy and, often, long-term friendships.
           
I appreciate my involvement in the life of so many athletes.  I was once an athlete and, I suppose, in my mind always will be an athlete.  No doubt, I inflate the stories about how good I was.  Maybe that is the privilege of old age!  I was very average in every sport I played.  But I was able to play and to play is to learn.  I learned so much during the growing up years when I played on teams.
           
So the coach asked me to come and share some wisdom with the players.  It is easy to agree to do this.  But then, it hits me that I am not sure I have any wisdom to share.  And if perchance I have some wisdom, I am not at all clear an eighteen or twenty-year old wants to sit and listen to me.  I recognize we are on the same college campus, but the world of an eighteen year old is very different than my world.
           
I thought and pondered for a little while.  An idea came to me.  For me it is a spiritual idea---a spiritual theme.  I am not sure it is for them.  And I did not couch it as a spiritual issue, but I would like to pursue it as a spiritual theme in this inspirational piece.  I decided to talk about what I labeled as a finite resource.  I did not spend time defining the word, finite.  Maybe I should because so often college students do not have a very good vocabulary.  They probably have a better chance of understanding the word, infinite, than the idea of finite.  But I forged ahead to talk about finite resource.
           
When I used that phrase, “finite resource,” they had no clue what I might mean.  So I told them: the finite resource is time.  We are all participating in using up that finite resource.  I have less of that finite resource left than they do.  In fact, they are still so young, they don’t even think about it as finite.  Maybe at eighteen, life does seem nearly infinite.   But it is not!
           
Time is our common word to describe this finite resource.  We note it, we measure it, we value it and, too often, waste it.  It is odd the way humans talk about this finite resource and how we “spend” it.  Sometimes we even “kill” it!  As I begin to think about it with the various ways we describe it, I get the sense that it is a spiritual issue. 
           
In the first place it is spiritual because it is gift---a pure gift.  I did not cause myself to come into being.  I don’t create the gift of this day and the life I still have.  And I cannot create tomorrow, nor can I prevent tomorrow.  I can capture today on film or a snapshot, but I cannot stop time.  Because I recognize it as a gift---a gift of God the way I understand it---I can learn to say “thank you” for the gift.
           
I have been graced with this day and I say gracias---thanks.  My deal is just like the deal everyone on the planet gets with the resource of time.  My day lasts twenty-four hours.  The same is true for some guy in China and a woman in Egypt.  Knowing it is a finite resource leads me to want to treasure the gift I have been given and do something special with it.  I don’t want to waste the gift and squander the finite resource.
           
I figure if God is going to gift me with this day---with time---the second thing I can do is accept the gift and do something special with it.  When I say special, I don’t mean it has to be spectacular.  On most days I am not capable nor do I have the opportunity to be spectacular.  But I can make it special.  A couple ways I try to do this is through ministry and through service. 
           
In my understanding everyone is capable of ministry.  We do not have to be ordained to minister to people.  Most of my ministry is very simple.  I am a good listener.  That is a ministry.  I am an encourager and supporter.  That is an effective form of ministry.  It does not have to be spectacular nor does it require a theological education.  Anyone can do it.  But it is a choice and needs to be executed---it needs to be an action.
           
The other way I try to live out the gift of my time is through service.  One way of thinking about service is to see it as an action of giving yourself away.  Through service you become a gift to someone else.  Paradoxically the gift of time that you were given turns into the gift of you giving someone else something special.  Again, it does not have to be spectacular.  Almost nothing in my service is spectacular.  In fact, it is remarkably non-spectacular.  It is made up of countless little actions.  But together they add up to a satisfying life.
           
And maybe that is the point as we deal with our finite resource---time.  Being alive means we inevitably are using up the resource.  The real question is whether we can do it in a meaningful and purposeful fashion.  Are we living a life worth living?  And one sure way to tell that is to ask ourselves whether our life is a satisfying life.  I am working on it.  That is my spiritual journey.