When I teach my class on spiritual disciplines, I usually feel renewed in my life.  When I do that, I realize how significant discipline is for many different human endeavors.  I certainly knew the value of discipline in my more active sports’ life.  I suppose as I get older, it still takes a little discipline to keep up some form of exercise.  While I miss those days of long runs or the competitiveness of a basketball game, I still find joy in a walk through the Metroparks.  Discipline with respect to eating and so many other areas of life would likely make us all healthier and saner.  It is no different when it comes to our spiritual life.

As I have taught spiritual disciplines over the years, I have to think about books I want students to read.  As you can imagine, there are a host of books about spiritual disciplines.  Of course, the real trick is actually to get students---and myself---doing disciplines, rather than just reading about them.  For example, prayer is just an idea unt…

Being Busy: a Spiritual Issue

I am convinced when you work on a college campus, everyone is busy.  Talk to faculty and they are very busy, as they will be quick to tell you or complain.  Talk to students and one hears the same lament.  “I’m so busy,” they profess.  We can even ask the staff and they, too, are busy beyond belief.  And certainly, I have those periods where I also whine about being too busy.

I know it is not simply an issue in the academy.  I know some folks in business who are quick to tell you how incredibly busy they are.  I suspect if we were to step into a hospital, the nurses, aides, doctors and others would echo the busy refrain.  Perhaps the patients are not busy, but everyone else is.  I even have to laugh.  So many monks I know would sigh about how busy the monastery has become.  Even though monastic traditions, like the contemplatives, have often incorporated too much to do that they feel like their monastic calling has been compromised.

I wonder if this is a malady that only affects the k…

Focus My Flickering

Recently I was doing some work with the poetry of Thomas Merton, my favorite monk of the twentieth century.  Merton wrote a huge amount of poetry and, in fact, saw himself first and foremost as a poet.  Many people who like Merton a great deal do not know anything about his poetry.  I am told his poetry is not great, but that is ok with me.  I am not a poetry expert.

One of my regrets is not paying attention more in those high school English classes when the teacher was trying to develop an appreciation for poetry.  I am not sure what kind of stupid reason I would have given for my lackadaisical engagement, but love of poetry did not happen.  Clearly the problem was not with poetry; it was with me!  I have been playing catch-up ever since.

I was working with one of Merton’s most famous poems, entitled Hagia Sophia.  Since I know Greek, I knew that translated “Holy Wisdom.”  The biblical image of Wisdom plays a key role in the spirituality of Thomas Merton.  In biblical understanding, …

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 hea…

The Desert and Dessert

When I was younger, these two words confused me.  Sometimes, I misspelled them.  And I see this same confusion among students today.  I know that many faculty claim students are not what they used to be.  My guess is the same thing was being said of my generation.  Spelling may be one of those things we all are sure current students don’t do as well as the older ones remember they once did!

What I do remember is not being clear, which was to spell the arid land devoid of water and the food served at the end of a meal.  Do I use one “s” or two?  And why does English have to be so confusing was the question?  I can only imagine what learning English as a second language might mean.

I thought it would be fun to explore both words---desert and dessert---as words that can have a spiritual meaning.  In this way perhaps we can have a handle on how to remember them.  And as we will see, they are opposite ends of the spiritual perspective.

We can start with the first word, desert.  Perhaps we…

The Advent of New Life

I keep reading because I want to keep learning.  I know one of the tag lines all colleges and universities use is “life-long learning.”  I am not sure that phrase means anything to eighteen-year olds.  For most of them, learning has been life-long: pre-school, kindergarten, secondary education and now college.  Most of them have not thought about learning outside a school context.  So the phrase probably does not carry much punch.

Of course, it has meaning for someone my age.  I don’t have to read; I could actually watch tv all day if I wanted to do so.  I could watch movies.  Many folks are not actively engaged I thinking about life.  If we are lucky, we have a sense of purpose in life, although when people retire, they sometimes lack the purpose that has driven them for so many years.  Life does not come wrapped with meaning.  I think meaning is both discovered and created.   Even if meaning is there to be discovered, it usually takes some work on our part.  It cannot be delivered by…

Poets of the Soul

One of the ways lately I have been thinking about spirituality is focused by the phrase, poets of the soul.  By itself, the phrase may sound nice, but it does not convey anything special.  If I simply used the phrase, poets of the soul, you would not have a clue what I meant by it.  So let me unpack it a bit and give it a context and some specific content.

No doubt, most of us would have some idea about poetry.  Most of us had exposure to poetry in high school, if not before.  Probably some of us would say something like, “exposure, ha, I was forced to read poetry!  It is easy at my age to have some regrets about my education.  One of my regrets is that I did not take poetry more seriously.  I don’t blame the poets or my teachers.  I am sure the blame falls squarely on my shoulders.  I do not know why I would have claimed, “I don’t like poetry,” but that would have been my claim.

It surely means that I have missed out on a real treasure of wisdom, beauty and truth.  It is something I …