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Showing posts from September, 2013

One Person's Good

One of the pleasant things that can happen while you are reading is finding something you had not been seeking.It happens to me quite frequently.It can make me feel like a kid who finds a treasure.Usually, I want to yell, “hey, look at this!”But normally there is no one around…or worse, I am sitting somewhere with some people and if I yelled that, they would think I am daft or, perhaps, throw me out the door!

Last evening I hit one of those gems that made me want to yell to someone.But no one was at home with me.And the neighbor above me already thinks I am crazy enough…no need to add evidence!So let me share that tidbit with you.
It comes from Dorothy Day.Fewer and fewer people these days know who Dorothy Day was.Dorothy was a Catholic saint, although she obviously has not been canonized.I doubt that she will be, but to me she is a saint.In her early life through the 1920s and 30s, she was active with the communists.She was an agnostic and, as we would say today, she lived in the “fast…

Apple Picking

I recently went apple picking; I did not anticipate being moved by the Spirit.My daughter and her husband have wanted to go to an orchard and pick their own apples.So much for the supermarket and the ease of simply walking through the checkout counter!Trudging through the orchard is so much more fun!

Actually, it was a pretty day.There were wispy clouds and a brisk and windy day. The wind was motivating.And the people flocked all over the place.Eden was never this crowded!But the kids were a hoot.They dart in and out of the rows of trees.And the little ones who would scramble up a tree to try to wrest the apple on the highest branch from its flimsy attachment.It made me remember my own early-climbing days.
There is a difference between the apple plucked from the shelf of the local grocery store and the fresh one.The store-apple does look inviting---usually shiny and picture-perfect.It masks itself as “the ideal apple.”But when you pick a fresh apple, still hanging on its branch, it is n…

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 I like to …

Oops is Not a Good Word

When I said it, I knew my attempt at humor did not work.Oops!Instead of a laugh, I could see the slightly furrowed brow and a hint of pain.Oops!What I had intended did not work.In fact, it turned into a mini-disaster.There was no need of an ambulance or first-aid.There was no bleeding.But I had caused a slight hurt.Oops!

There was no physical pain.There was no malice on my part.In fact, I meant well.I was trying to cultivate a relationship.Instead, I damaged it.Oops!There are all sorts of words that describe these kinds of situations: unintended consequences, hurt, destruction.I rather like the innocuous little word, oops.It must be one of the earlier words we learn and use.Surely it is pre-kindergarten.
Oops!It is a vibrant word.It is only one syllable, but it is a long syllable.If you say, oops, you can drag out the sound for a long time.Maybe if I write it “ooooooops,” you get the sense for how long a syllable can be!It I say it this way, it probably signals a big boo-boo.Today’s b…

Death: Life’s Curtain Call

In theory we all know that death is inevitable.When I type those words, I know the truth of them.I know them intellectually.This kind of intellectual knowledge has little affective effect.I can type those words without any feelings.It is as if the truth of that knowledge has no immediate effect.But that does not change the fact.

At some point the inevitability of death begins to impinge on our own lives.Death no longer is merely an intellectual idea.It is no longer merely a possibility.It becomes reality.Often it takes on an affective element that moves us to feel things.It affects us---sometimes mightily.
Certainly at my age I think about death more than I did when I was in my teens or twenties.Appropriately most folks in that age range should not be troubled with concerns about death.But they should not totally ignore it.The inevitability of death should help us learn to live life with some useful purpose and quest for meaning in our lives.Because we are likely to live a long time d…

Leaving Room for Doubt

Although I am not Roman Catholic, I feel like the Pope is in some sense “my” Pope.  Of course I don’t think the Pope is my Pope in the same sense as a Catholic must see the Pope as his or her Pope.  I know quite a bit about Catholicism and I hang out with a fairly substantial group of Catholics.  I am a lay Benedictine monk, which means I am free to participate with the Benedictine monks in their life and worship.  I am grateful for everything the Catholic community has given to me.

But I am still not a real Catholic in the sense that someone must be if he or she is actually a full member of the Church.  And I recognize the Pope is the Head of the Roman Catholic Church and, as such, has a special relationship with all those who are full members of that Church.  But to see the Pope in that role is to have a too narrow view of the Papal Presence in our world.

I am convinced the Pope is also more than Catholic.  In many instances the Pope speaks to the entire human race.  When the Pope spe…


I have been reading again some excerpts from Martin Marty’s writings.Many of you know I like the kinds of things Marty has written now for nearly sixty years.What Marty writes about all things religious is great in and of it.But he quotes so many interesting people and this adds spice to the mix.

It was in one such piece that I encountered another friend of mine, the late Henri Nouwen.Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest who came to this country.He was one of the early, popular writers on spirituality.He was one of those writers who helped me begin to read and appreciate spirituality.One of my favorite times was the occasion when I hosted Henri for a couple days where I used to teach.
The words Marty gleaned from Nouwen have to do with hospitality.As I understand it, hospitality gets at the heart of discipleship.Listen to Nouwen’s words.“When hostility is converted into hospitality, then fearful strangers become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them.” I f…

Opportunistic Spirituality

I use the word, spirituality, with frequency.I am also aware that this word is tossed around in many different ways.In fact, I do think that many of us use the word without being very clear what it means.Sometimes, I think some folks want to use the word to say something like, “I’m religious, but not really into religion.”Usually that means they are not part of an institutional form of religion.For many, that simply means they gave up going to church or to the temple.

When I use the word, spirituality, I am wanting to point to the “lived experience” aspect of religion.Spirituality always begins with experience in my understanding.For example, it is one thing to say, “I believe in God.”It is quite another to say, “here is how I experience the God in Whom I believe.”That is spirituality.
It is for that reason I consider dealing with spirituality to be more difficult than dealing with religion.Religion---at least, in the Christian sense---typically begins with doctrine or belief.If one wer…

The Edge of Autumn

On a recent run through the park area I almost always choose for my route, I noticed the sky, the air, and general sense of “place.”  This is both good and bad.  It is good that I was taking notice.  And it is bad because it lets me know how unaware I typically may be.  I know as well as anyone how important awareness is for the spiritual journey.

But that day I was aware.  The keenest part of my awareness was how the late afternoon had “the feel of autumn.”  As autumn approaches, the light in the sky comes at a different angle and intensity.  At least in my part of the country, the air does not immediately go from summer to winter.  Autumn is usually announced with some cool nights and early mornings.  Then it might even get fairly warm, or even hot, during the day. 

It struck me that autumn had not yet come, but I was on the edge of autumn.  I am not sure I had ever thought about it that way.  As I normally think about edges, they usually are sharp.  Maybe because it has been those…

Keep the Faith

I was involved in conversation with one of my good friends yesterday.  The topics ranged widely due to frequent interruptions.  But if you are in conversation with good friends, it usually does not matter. Of course, it is nice to have conversations that are focused, intense, and eminently satisfying.  But life often interrupts.  And true friendships survive all interruptions!  “Keep the faith!”

The fact that life interrupts is a good thing and, sometimes, a bad thing.  We are all living our lives.  Most of the time, I don’t think about it in these terms.  I move from commitment to commitment.  In my case, commitment often means classes.  I teach one class and, then, move on to the next one.  You all have your movements through the day.

We are living our lives.  And that is exactly where spirituality takes place…in the midst of living our lives.  I think people mistakenly assume that spirituality (or religion) is what one does when one takes “time out.”  During the “time out,” one goe…

Practical Spirituality: Do Good

Sometimes I may not be fair to religion when I separate it from spirituality.To me they are quite related, but are not the same.I am certainly not against religion.After all, I tell people I teach it!However, I also find that I am more at home in the arena of spirituality---the spiritual.This is not the place for an extended essay defining both and arguing why I think they are not the same. Suffice it to say, religion for me (and most folks I know) is first and foremost in some doctrines.  For example, people are quick to tell me they do believe in God---or don’t believe in God.  Obviously for those who believe, there often is more they believe in, and it may well be the case that their beliefs inform their actions.  Spirituality for me is first and foremost experience.  I know this can sound wishy-washy.  But spirituality is about experience of the Holy One.  This usually has implications for actions in our lives. So it is that I am intrigued by what I believe or what my experience …

Narrowly Escaping Death

It was not these words used in the title, “narrowly escaping death,” that lured me into reading the article in the newspaper.  Those words were buried near the end of the article.  Rather it was the two pictures that drew me.  One picture was an ordinary looking guy holding a rather battered briefcase.  He was standing in front of a lovely green background of some trees.  He was a fairly old guy, handsome enough in his own right.  There certainly was nothing special about him---a story on some business guy or someone’s grandfather, I supposed.

The other picture was something else.  It showed three guys walking away from what looked like a war scene.  They were covered with dirt, clothes tattered---almost looking like miners emerging from deep underground.  The figure on the right was carrying a briefcase.  At first sight I would not have guessed he was the same guy I just described in the above paragraph.

He is a survivor of the World Trade Center fiasco.  He is now retired and living…

Precious Learnings

I continue to be fascinated by life and potentially what it can teach us.  Each new day I try to be open to the wonder of it all.  Looked at this way, I can appreciate all of life.  Seen this way, life does not always have to be going well.  Health and wealth are not the only things that count.

For example, I am fascinated with babies and how they begin to grow.  I am intrigued both by what we learn and how we learn.  I am disappointed when I squander my chance to learn, when I close down and shut off God and God’s world.

A long-time friend of mine, Gene Roop, has written a book of reflective poetry entitled, Heard in our Land: Prayers of Life.  One prayer I very much like he calls “Precious Learning’s.”  It begins, “Thank you, God, for those who share their experience, the most precious learning’s from their life.  How to trim trees and enjoy a meal; how to plant seeds and play with a lover; how to care for a friend and respond to hate; how to express anger and mend torn clothing.  G…

Paying Forward

I had not really thought much about it until my friend mentioned it in his remarks to me and some of my younger student friends.  He is a pretty “big person” in our part of the world.  He is a name of national prominence.  I feel fortunate to have a good relationship with him.  Apart from a good friendship, I don’t get any special things from him.  The best thing is his willingness to take time to speak to my student friends.

The “it” he mentioned was in the phrase, “paying it forward.”  There he was in front of us saying the real reason he was spending time with us was to “pay it forward.”  It was appropriate.  He did not have to do this.  He wasn’t going to get anything personally from doing it.  In fact, we could actually be seen as a pain in the neck for him!  But he wanted to pay it forward.

Most of us know what this means.  Usually it comes out of recognition that somebody or, even, a few others did things for us when we were younger.  It could have been opportunities for someth…