About Me

Friday, May 27, 2016

Memorial Day: Re-Membering

Memorial Day---or better, yet, Memorial Day weekend---is a complex holiday.  That does not make it anything less than other major holidays; it is just different.  It seems that the federal holiday has its origins right after the Civil War.  It was an opportunity to remember those Union soldiers who had died in that cause.  Gradually, the “remembering” expanded to include all the men and women who had died in the service of their country.

Earlier it often was called Decoration Day.  I heard this term most of the time when I was growing up in rural Indiana.  I understood it as the time when the old people went to the cemeteries to “decorate” with flowers the graves of their family and friends.  I knew it had some military association, but by my lifetime, the holiday again had expanded to include everyone who had already passed away.  But it was more complex than that.

For many people Memorial Day celebrates the beginning of summer.  That association with summer helps if it hits 90 degrees!  Summer begins and lasts till early September, when Labor Day signals its official end.  Of course, no one in early September thinks summer is finished---or at least, the hot weather has ended!   In many ways, Memorial Day and Labor Day are bookends.

However, for me and for most Hoosiers, the complexity of Memorial Day does not end here.  It is always the weekend the Indianapolis 500 mile race is run.  Even for those of us who could not care less about racing cars, the “Indy 500” was part of the weekend tradition.  In fact, that weekend---the race---culminated a month long build-up to the weekend.  For an Indiana farm boy, May was a time of finishing the school year, planting corn and beans, the beginning of baseball, Memorial Day and the Indy 500.

If I were asked whether it was in any way a spiritual thing, I would have replied negatively.  I never went to church.  Occasionally, I was aware of churches’ having “services,” but I did not see them as spiritual.  They were more patriotic---more nationalistic.  That was ok, but it was not the same thing as spiritual for me.  So Memorial Day weekend never has been a spiritual occasion for me.

And that is still true.  I am happy to remember and celebrate the lives of the American men and women who gave their lives on my behalf and my country.  I appreciate and enjoy being a citizen of this country.  Certainly those of us who are can count ourselves very fortunate.  But being American is not a spiritual thing for me.  It might be for others and that’s ok.

Given all that, is it possible for this Memorial Day weekend to become spiritual?  The answer is, of course!  It is possible for every day to become spiritual! That is the beauty of the life, the time, and the opportunities God gives to each of us.  I thank God daily for my life, my time, and my opportunities.  I know I did not create my own life.  I realize I do not make my own time.  And when my time is up, I can no more stop the ending than I began my beginning!  And I do not create all my opportunities.

So I am thankful.  And I believe being thankful is always a spiritual response.  I am thankful to my parents who gave birth to me and cared for me all those infant days I cannot even remember.  They are both deceased and buried in an Indiana cemetery.  I have no idea whether anyone took flowers to their graves this Memorial Day. But that does not mean I appreciate them any less.

I am thankful to other members of a church family who helped raise me from infancy to adulthood.  And I am thankful to others in the larger community who helped in countless ways to make my life possible.  No doubt, there were even people I did not know who probably helped me.  And there are many more people whom I knew, but never probably knew how they helped me.  A huge number of them also are long dead and inhabiting cemeteries scattered across a good number of states.

All these memories are sacred to me.  They are imbued with the Spirit of God who is for me a God of Providence---a providential Divinity.  In my spirituality God deals indirectly with people as much as directly.  I know as well as I know anything that God was at work in the members of my family, my church family, my community family to bring me to where I am today.  That is a wonderful memory.  And I am happy this Memorial Day to remember these people and their gifts.

As I engage this remembering exercise, one more thing occurs to me.  They were individuals---these people I am recalling.  They clearly were members of groups---family, friends, church, and community.  But in the process of my recalling them, they are pulled together into one group.  They are all re-membered by me and for me.  They are all members of my spiritual clan.  Many may be dead, others scattered around the world, but in my mind in this moment they are re-membered.  They become again in this moment members of my spiritual clan.  And in my thanks, God is present and still providing.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Education and Transformation

I once heard Richard Rohr, one of my favorite contemporary speakers and writers on spirituality, utter a significant line.  He said, “Don’t confuse education with transformation.”  That was one of those moments when I gasped and thought, “Exactly!”  Let me detail that “exactly.”  I do that as one who has been in education for much of my career and care deeply about education.  So the last thing I would say is that I am against education.  To the contrary, education is crucial in this generation and for every successive generation.

I also think there is a real need for education in religious and spiritual circles.  Frequently, I cringe at the ignorance and sometimes stupidity otherwise smart women and men utter in the name of religion.  Of course, I recognize at one point we all start out in ignorance.  We all were little babies!  Once I did not know anything.  But I have learned some things.  In religion, however, learning is tricky.  Not all learning is equal.

I want to put spiritual or religious learning, which I equate with education, in a good light.  After all, I have learned a lot!  I suppose it began in a small Quaker Sunday School, but I will admit I was not a good learner then.  I became more serious in college and then, obviously, got real serious when I did seminary and a Ph.D. in religious studies.  It has been a great thing for me personally.  I say that, even if I were not earning a living teaching the stuff.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        \
I have learned so much about my own faith---Quakerism and Christianity.  I have learned a great deal about Judaism and Buddhism.  I know some about Hinduism and Islam.  I have learned how to think about issues that range from doctrine to ethics.  I still find it really interesting.  But I also came to realize that was not sufficient.

Conventionally speaking, the goal of education is knowledge.  I am ok with that way of looking at it.  If it were someone in medical school, we hope their gain much knowledge.  We don’t want a quack practicing on us!  We want someone who knows what she is doing.  But even for a physician, knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient to make a good doctor.  I would argue the same for a spiritual person.

I could have a ton of religious knowledge and still be a bad person.  To know about eithers, for example, is not to be ethical.  To know about God does not make me religious.  It makes me smart.  To know something does not make you that thing.  I can know about Communism, but that does not make me a Communist.  The same with Christianity.  I can have a Ph.D in it and have knowledge galore, but not be a Christian.  The same goes with other faith traditions.

That is where the other factor---transformation---enters the picture.  Transformation may build on education and knowledge, but they are not equivalent.  Transformation is about coming to be a spiritual person.  It is in some ways about conversion, although that term often gets bad press.  In transformation there is often a “before” and “after.”  It does not have to be an event---my transformation was not an event.  I was not saved one night.

But transformation is about become a different, new person.  In my terms transformation is coming to be a person of the Spirit.  That may happen with some education.  But it truly only happens with the Spirit is at work in our lives with our co-operation.  It is not magical.  There is no cookie-cutter process that I know.  Each of us is unique and the Spirit’s work in and with us has to be uniquely undertaken.

In my understanding transformation has both a “being” and a “doing” component.  Transformationally, I come to be a new person.  Typically, it is not just about belief.  I might get new ideas---new beliefs or doctrines.  But these in themselves are not transformational.  The belief, idea, or doctrine has to be translated into action---the “doing” component.  Often it has ethical implications.  I try to live according to the standards of the Spirit.  Normally, things like the Ten Commandments are guideposts.

The thing I most like about transformation is what it does not mean.  It does not mean you have to give up your way of life.  It does not mean going to church more.  Certainly, it does not mean joining a monastery or getting “serious” in some other stereotypically way.  It means living your life---your authentic life---from the Spirit.  In my own Quaker language it means living your life from the Center---the Divine Center, as I would describe it.

Experiencing transformation should make us more loving, more generous and more grateful.  Usually, transformational living has a service component.  We feel the call to minister to people or to causes.  We want to transform the world to know what we now know.  We know our world has troubles---sin is the theological word.  We want to be redeemers not wreckers.

The dream is to find a way to become educated and transformed.  Then you become a powerful instrument of the Spirit.  You are ready to live, to love and to lead an amazing life.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Even to think about, much less write about, legacy betrays my age.  No sixteen year-old is thinking about legacy.  They probably don’t even know what the word means.  Legacy means to get something from someone.  Typically, it means some kind of inheritance.  It can be used to talk about what people left to you when they died or when whatever they were doing is finished.  Legacy means, on the other side of the coin, what we leave behind when it is all over or when we die.

It tends to be part of the discussion when people talk about making wills.  The lawyer will ask to whom the property will go?  Are you going to give it all to the kids or share some with churches, colleges, etc.?  Of course, if you are dirt poor, this discussion never happens.  Poverty is your financial legacy.

Fortunately, the idea of legacy pertains to things other than money and property.  In fact, I would argue the more important legacies have little or nothing to do with economic worth.  Legacies have to do with other kinds of worth.  Often legacy comes close to reputation.  Simply put, it asks a basic question: what kind of mark did you make?  Again, this is not something you only ask of dead folks.

Certainly, famous people leave a huge legacy.  In our own time we can think of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Or many recall the life and work of Mother Teresa.  As far as I know, her vow of poverty left her without a penny.  And yet what a legacy!  At the other end of the spectrum, some legacies are awful.  Think of Hitler or Stalin and utter disgust is the response.  Their legacies are war, torture and murder...nothing to be proud of.

As you think about it, even young folks---sixteen year-olds can leave legacy.  Again, very well known high school athletes might leave legacies of prowess on the court or the field.  Some musicians might have been spectacular flute players in high school.  Some leave high school legacies of being nerdish.  But most of us got through high school and the legacy was very modest.  There might be two or three who can even remember me or what I did.  I am ok with that!

Sometimes I joke and say my two daughters are the best legacy I am going to leave the world.  But the joke may be on me.  That might actually be truer than I think!  If so, I am good with that legacy.  I must admit, I seldom have ever thought about legacy---at least, when it comes to myself.

Having mentioned MLK, Jr and Mother Teresa leads me to think about the legacy of the Spirit, as I like to call it.  Obviously, they join a whole host of saints from many centuries who left a spiritual legacy and are remembered for their lives and ministries.  Much of that was selfless.  They were not on ego trips.  In fact, they would have claimed all along, they were simply living out their obedience to the God who had called them.

I am drawn to some of the spiritual saints in history.  I am particularly drawn to St. Francis.  Saint Francis has a legacy that is mixed, if you look at his entire life.  Before becoming the spiritual giant that he was, Francis was a spoiled rich Italian kid who loved the high life.  He was a soldier for a while, perhaps seeking his fame in that venue.  But it all came crashing down.  He realized he was heading down a dead end in life.

He gave it all up to assume something that paradoxically seems to be more worthy.  He became poor in order to become rich.  It worked!  Taking a vow of poverty lead him into new ways of living and serving.  When he gave up on being famous, he stepped on to a road that has me writing about him long after his death in 1226.  He would be surprised, but still would not care that he is famous.  To become famous in the Spirit is not an ego trip.

For Christians it all leads back to Jesus, who had nothing going for him in terms of legacy potential.  Born poor, uneducated, without sophistication, a drifter and misfit, he arguably is the most famous person in the history of the world.  That is the irony of the Spirit and the source of all spiritual legacies.  A spiritual legacy is never the goal; it is always a byproduct of obedience to a higher cause.

Why is this important?  I recognize to many people, it is not important at all.  Some might be working for particular legacies; others couldn’t care less about legacy.  I care about it only in the Franciscan sense.  I want to be on the journey of obedience.  Legacy will be whatever comes in the wake of that journey.  Legacy is result.

Don’t worry about results.  Spend time in performance.  Maybe performance is a strange word when applied spiritually.  But life is performance.  I want my life to dance to the music of the Spirit.  I want to act in accordance to the direction of the Spirit.  When I exit the stage, I want the legacy to be spiritual.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Power of Three Letters

The English alphabet contains 26 letters.  Virtually all English words are made up of some combination of these letters. Most of the time when we are speaking or, even, reading, we give no thought to this.  But if we slow down to think about it, human language---English or any other language---is fascinating.  It is amazing to think that we now operate with a set number of letters.  And that a vast array of words is made of various combinations of letters.

At least one English word comes from a single letter. When I self-identify, I use a single letter, “I,” and we all know I mean “me.”  In Greek it takes three letters, “ego,” and in German it takes three, “ich.”  At the other end, we know there are some English words that require many letters.  There was one long word most of us kids learned that I think may have been 28 letters, but I never bothered to check!

I have been thinking about three letter words.  I have no idea how many three- letter words there are in the English language.  What I do know is all three-letter words are not equal.  Some words are more important than others.  Let me illustrate by choosing a couple three letter-words.  One word is “the.”  On a day when I talk a great deal, I might use “the” a thousand times.  It is a good, functional word.  But it does not have much pizzazz.

On the other hand, I think of the three-letter word, “sex.”  Now that one is really loaded with meaning---all sorts of meaning.  To use that word typically involves emotions, thoughts, and all kinds of things.  It provokes reactions and, maybe, strong reactions.  It is not neutral.  So three-letter words are not equal.

As I thought about this inspirational reflection, I had a specific three-letter word in mind.  I want to explore the word, “yes.”  Yes is a word of power---maybe more power even than sex!  I think about times in my life when I heard a “yes” to a question or invitation.  What power there is released when we get a “yes” to something important.  It would be fun to think about all the crucial moments when we heard “yes.”

Hearing “yes” with respect to pregnancy can be mind-blowing.  I would like to think that I was an answer to prayer---if not my parents’ prayer, at least God.  Hearing the “yes” to the pregnancy that led to my two daughters was amazing---still is.  “Yes” to a particular college application has been a dream come true for some students.  It is fun to watch students on my campus receive “yes” to internships, jobs, and countless things they may have their hearts set on.  “Yes” to promotions, to new opportunities, etc. brightens the day of countless people I know and people around the globe.

I enjoy saying “yes” to people.  They feel good and I feel good about making them feel good.  “Yes” builds up people.  It is affirming and confirming.  I suppose most of the time “yes” and positive go together.  Effective leaders find ways to put people in positions where “yes” is the word.

All this is fun to think about.  And yet, there is one more step I would like to take.  I am sure there is a significant role “yes” in the spiritual realm, too.  As a Christian, let me frame it this way.  Is there a God?  Yes.  Does God care about and love you and me?  Yes.  Does God want the best for you and me?  Yes.  Can I know what God’s desire is for me?  Yes.

Specifically for Christians, it goes further.  I think of the various calls to discipleship Jesus offered to folks in the New Testament.  Jesus would approach someone---a guy fishing--- and ask that guy to follow him.  Yes.  Yes is the response of discipleship.  Yes is the response to relationship.  Yes is the willingness to be in community.  Yes is the obedience of some form of ministry.  When I think about ministry, I don’t think about priests and pastors---although they do ministry.  I think about the original meaning of minister---to serve.  All disciples are called into relationship and called into some form of service.

Yes is a powerful word.  In some cases, yes is a life-changing word.  I think of the early martyrs.  If asked whether they were Christian, yes meant that they would die!  That’s a costly yes.  If I am asked whether I am Christian, it is not a life or death situation.

So if my yes to discipleship is not likely to cost my life, what are the consequences of saying yes?  For most of us, it is the cost of relationship.  Perhaps the analogy is the relationship of marriage or deep friendship.  If you have said yes to one of these relationships---to marriage or deep friendship---surely there is obligation, commitment, and cost.  So it is with my relationship with God.  I have said yes and there is obligation, commitment and a willingness to pay the cost.

I am willing to give myself, my resources---whatever I have.  To say yes is not to withhold.  I cannot say yes and be stingy with my time or resources.  I am glad to say yes.  Anything less is a selfish, lonely and, finally, desperate life.

Monday, May 23, 2016

From View to Review

One of the things I routinely do is review new books for a publishing house dedicating to making these reviews available to the reading public.  Of course, I am not the only reviewer.  In fact, I have no clue how many reviewers there are.  I review new religion books.  And of course, I only do certain kinds of books.  I am willing to review books that deal with the New Testament, the history of Christianity and contemporary spirituality.  I am not an expert in Buddhist studies or Islamic philosophy, so even the books I review have a narrower range than you might expect.

It is something I have done for a long time now.  It does take time to read a book and then think about it long enough to write a cogent review that might help some reader decide whether they want to buy that book.  I take seriously the charge I have been given.  If I write a lousy review on some book, the author of that book is going to suffer on book sales.  In many cases I don’t know the author, but I am influencing his or her career!

One of the reasons I like doing it is I am given opportunities to see new scholarship that I probably would not otherwise see.  The way it works is simple.  This publishing house gets books from all sorts of other publishers.  They send me a book.  I get to keep the book.  In return I write a review and that is published.  Countless people read my review and decide whether they are going to buy the book.  In the process I have read many books I am delighted to have in my library and other books I would never buy or read again.

I have never really thought much about the process I go though, but when I gave it some thought, I was intrigued.  I would like to offer the details of that process.  Then I want to suggest it is a bit like making meaning in our lives.  That might seem like an odd connection, but bear with me.

Since I still receive an actual book through the mail, it all begins with opening the mailbox.  It is very much like getting a surprise gift in the mail.  Typically it is wrapped in a brown recyclable container.  I know there is a book inside and I know it will tell me when I have to send electronically my review.  So the first step is to rip open the package and see what I have.  It is like having multiple Christmases!

The review process is actually two-fold.  The first part is viewing the new book.  In the beginning it is literally viewing it.  I pull it from the package, read the title, look at the authors name.  I have seen books that were barely one hundred pages and some they send me might be four or five hundred pages!  I quickly look at quotations on the back; I look for details about the author.  I see whether there is an index, etc.  All these have a bearing on whether the book is going to be useful.

The viewing process gets more serious.  I begin reading.  Literally, my eyes see letters; letters become words; words become sentences and sentences become ideas.  And then I mentally begin to form my “view” of the book.  What that means is I begin making assumptions: it is a good book, a hard book, an insightful book, etc.  It is fascinating that I can move from letters to a view---a perspective on the book.  If I know the author, I may “view” it differently.  In fact, that is what prejudice does to us: it affects the way we view things.

Now that I have my view, I can write a review.  I tell people what I think and why I think that way.  For example, my review might say a book stinks and I offer compelling reasons why it stinks.  That is probably going to be a disaster for book sales!  So I try to be fair.

And now we move to life.  Of course, we look at things---at our lives, other peoples’ lives, etc.  We view things and form perspective, opinion and outlook.  We develop tendencies, i.e. rosy outlook or gloomy outlook.  How we view things often shapes how we experience life.  Our tendency is to make the way we view things into facts.  The way we view things becomes the “just way things are.”

Often we fail to move to the other level: we seldom review things.  We don’t reflect on our views and we never formulate a review.  I think this is what living the spiritual life asks us to do.  The spiritual life, as I see it, needs to build in regular reflection time.  It might be called prayer or meditation.  It might be other kinds of spiritual disciplines.  I’ll use myself as an example.

In my theological view of things, God is active in my life.  And God can be a transforming Presence.  God might be so active in life that I will change the way I view things.  To illustrate: I might have seen myself as a worthless, sinful kind of guy.  God’s transforming Spirit goes to work in me and I begin to see myself as a chosen son of God.  I review the work of the Spirit and realize I view myself and my world in very different ways.  That is something to write about!

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Yearning Spirit

As I try to do every day, this morning I turned to the lectionary reading for some reflection time.  The lectionary is a daily selection of Biblical readings.  It is constructed around the day monks live.  So there are readings for morning and a series of other times throughout the day, culminating with some that monks do before retiring for the night.  I certainly do not do all of them

Given the way my day typically is structured, I more likely look at the morning readings or the evening ones.  Every session has some readings from the Psalms.  I appreciate this since in my growing up years---even in the Quaker context---we were seldom exposed to the Psalms.  Like many I memorized Psalm 23, “the Lord is my shepherd…”  Beyond that, I would not have known there are 150 Psalms and would not have much of an idea what is to be found there.

So reading the lectionary regularly has afforded me the opportunity to be with the Psalms on a consistent basis.  I still feel like I don’t know them well or, perhaps, even understand some of them.  There are some strident, tough passages there.  The Psalmist pulls no punches.  However, there is much real life there---not all sweetness and life.  The question is how God and people deal with this?

When I saw the Psalm for the Morning Prayer today, I was delighted.  It has become one of my favorites.  The first line of Psalm 42 somehow resonates with me.  I have read it often and it happens every time.  The translation I used reads, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”  Other translations say, “yearn for springs of water.”  I have to smile.  Deer become a simile for people.  We are like deer who long for a drink from flowing streams.  A great deal emerges from this comparison.

One key aspect of this picture is a deer that is thirsty.  Thirstiness symbolizes an emptiness or lack.  The deer wants something---water---and ultimately must have water to sustain life.  So key to the story is the longing for water.  The deer longs for a basic, necessary element of life.  Without it, death is certain.  At the metaphorical level, this easily becomes a spiritual point.

That is the part that always resonates with me.  There are many ways of characterizes human life, but one way to do it is to recognize that to be human is to have longings---yearnings.  It may be as basic as acknowledging we have a human will.  We talk about will in the way we articulate our wants and needs.  Necessarily, I will long for the things crucial to life---food, water, and shelter.  But the human usually operates beyond longing simply for the things we need.

We also develop yearnings for things we say we want (but don’t actually need for our lives).  We want to be rich; we want a new car.  The lists of wants can be pretty extensive and, often, expensive.  Sometimes we are happy if we get what we want.  But the happiness does not always last.  Often we wind up wanting other kinds of things.  Sometimes I get the image of panting after things I want, but fail to find real satisfaction when I get them.

When that happens, it is always spiritual.  One way to understand the spiritual journey is to see it as a process of getting what we need and sorting out the wants that do not add anything positive to live.  Spiritually speaking, I realize how perilously close my wants come to being idols.  If I get too much stuff, it takes up my attention and my time.  I wind up cultivating the things that will not satisfy my spirit.

I recognize the peril of getting stuff instead of the Spirit.  I am not surprised by the confusion.  Stuff is usually easier to come by.  Indeed, much of it I can buy.  It is mine.  The Spirit---God---I cannot buy and it never becomes mine in the sense of being possessed by me.  I am sure this is why like a deer, my soul longs for you, O God.”  If I become to preoccupied with stuff, my soul has the good sense to long for the real need---the Spirit who gives life and love.

Spending some time in reflection helps me remember and pay attention to the deeper, healthy longing in my soul.  The Spirit will feed my soul.  Stuff fuels my greed.  More is not necessarily better.  If I don’t spend some time reflecting, I begin warping my longing for things like candy, instead of candor---truth.  Candy is temporarily satisfying.

Candy is not soul food.  The Spirit provides the communion that feeds the soul.  This day I long for that kind of soul food.      

Thursday, May 19, 2016

An Uncommon Life

Rather casually I opened the website to a weekly periodical I read.  It is one of those things I read just because I want to know what is going on in that particular world of religion.  I never go to it knowing what is in it.  And I scan almost all the titles and, then, read a few of them.  It is one of the things I enjoy doing.  I am not doing it for any special end.

And so it was this time when I opened it.  Almost immediately, my eyes were drawn to a photo.  I was taken aback because I recognized one of the two men in the photo.  It is not someone I know real well, so I had to read the caption below the photo to be sure.  And it was the guy I know.  It was Michael McGregor.  I would not expect anyone reading this to know whom Michael McGregor is.

I met Michael at a conference on the monk, Thomas Merton, about whom I write so much.  Even though Merton died a half century ago, his writings still have a significant influence around the world---literally in all corners of our globe.  Merton has not only influenced by spirituality, he also has influenced Michael’s life.  So a dead monk brings together two guys on a few occasions and we have now become casual friends.

When I first met Michael, he told me he was working on a book.  I learned Michael teaches English at Portland State University in Oregon.  He is an affable guy and so I pursued the conversation.  He told me he was writing a book about Robert Lax.  That intrigued me.  I knew Lax was a friend of Merton’s.  They met when both Merton and Lax were students at Columbia University in the 1930s.  They became friends and the friendship lasted until Merton’s death in 1968.  They both converted to Catholicism.  Lax had been Jewish.  Both were poets.  Only Merton joined the monastery, so their friendship was carried out mostly through letters, although there was the occasional visit.

So when I opened the website and saw the picture of Michael, I immediately knew the other guy in the picture was Robert Lax.  The photo was from 1992 and was taken in front of Lax’s house in Pasmos, Greece.  It was then that I remembered Michael telling me about visiting Lax who lived in Greece.  And now I realized what I was about to read was a review of the book Michael has now finished.  Eagerly, I began reading.

Michael entitled the book, Pure Act: the Uncommon Life of Robert Lax.  I knew Lax was fond of the great medieval Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas.  And I knew St. Thomas understood God to be “Pure Act.”  Hence, I understand the title.  As I read the review, I knew I was going to buy the book and read the whole thing.  The review told me enough to whet my appetite.  I felt like I was beginning to get to know Lax and I’ll share some of that.

I remember that Lax was the one who told Merton he ought to be a saint.  Certainly, Merton was not a saint in any of the ordinary definitions of that word.  And I don’t think the Catholic Church will canonize him any time soon---if ever.  And as Lax comments, even he changed his definition of what a saint should be.  I like his later definition.  Here is the revised definition of saint: “What I'd mean by it now is be, hope to be, hope to get to be, the person you were created to be."  Simply, a saint is becoming the person you were created to be.

For those of us who believe in the Holy One and believe somehow God is creatively responsible for our lives, to be a saint is to be the person God created us to be.  With this definition it is easy to see why Lax chose to simplify life.  As the reviewer put it, “Lax spent much of his life stripping away all that was inessential. He ate little, possessed almost nothing, and lived in the sparest accommodations.”  Much of this appeals to me.  I do think stuff can get in the way of holiness!

The reviewer does not think many people will follow the way Lax strived to be saintly.  But his key question should be our quest: what does it mean to be fully human?  If we think the answer to that question is spiritual, then we will find ourselves at odds with much of our culture.  That is why I am sure Michael McGregor chose his subtitle: the Uncommon Life of Robert Lax.  To be a saint is to opt for an uncommon life.

The uncommon life in our culture is a life that is not egotistical.  The uncommon life is not in it for all we can get.  We are not interested in accumulating stuff, accolades or any other form of earthly glory.  Instead we commit to a life of simplicity, of justice, of peacemaking and so forth.  To live an uncommon life is a crazy choice by our cultural standards.  And by spiritual standards the uncommon life is perfectly common.

Knowing about it does not make it happen.  I would like the uncommon spiritual life.  Now I know choose it and live it one day at a time.