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Showing posts from January, 2014

Calls or “the Call”

It seems like all one has to do is pay attention and potential themes for spiritual inspiration and reflection daily jump out at you.One way of saying it is religion is always in public life.Sometimes it is explicitly religious and other times religion is in the public life, but it is implicit.When it is implicit, you have to be alert and pay attention or you’ll miss it.

Such was the case yesterday when I was reading an article online.Gradually it dawned on me what I was reading was implicitly spiritual.It was an article by Andrew Keen, a British-American entrepreneur and social skeptic, as he was called.That description of the guy nearly stopped me in my tracks.I understand an entrepreneur, but social skeptic?That is an interesting vocation!
The article is entitled, “How our Mobiles Became Frankenstein’s Monster.”I hope it is clear that “mobiles” means our smartphones.For a long time, I could laugh at this one.I did not have a smartphone and did not plan to buy one.Wrong again!I rememb…


I cannot recall the first time I heard the term, double-belongers.I probably did not even know what it meant.It is not a term I see very much; I think it is still fairly rare, at least in the circles I spend time.I have no idea whether it is a technical term in the theological world, but it does not matter.It makes some sense to me, even though I am not sure that I am a double-belonger.

Fortunately I learned some time ago that I could learn a great deal from people who are not like me and from traditions that are not my own.The person who introduced this term to me, Paul Knitter, was until recently a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.I know Union.In fact, when I was heading off to seminary, Union was one of the places I gave very serious consideration.It was globally famous even in those days.Before Union, Knitter taught for a long time at Xavier in Cincinnati.
Knitter is a fascinating man.He is Roman Catholic.He studied in Rome and became an ordained priest.And…

Meditate, Cogitate and Activate

This silly little trio of words came to me in a class I was teaching about meditation.But sometimes these little teaching tools come in handy when trying to explain things and help people move from ideas to action.Let’s look at the function of each of these three ideas.

Meditation certainly gets much more attention than it did when I was a kid.Maybe I was out of it when I was younger, but I don’t recall anyone in my church tradition talking about meditation.Granted I did not grow up Catholic, but I am not sure young Catholic kids heard much about meditation either.Perhaps meditation is only a grown-up thing.
I know there is a long and storied history of meditation in Christianity.After studying Christian history and spirituality, I know Christians have always practiced some form of meditation.I know meditation was important in the monastic tradition.Monks have been meditating for centuries.Perhaps the common layperson also was exposed to that, but I am less aware that they were.
In my…

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 kind of people I know a…

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, Wisdom is the Divine.W…

Night God

As part of my daily discipline, I try to follow the lectionary reading.A lectionary is a pre-selected series of readings.The one I follow from the Benedictine monastery has morning prayers, evening prayers, night prayers, etc.If one knows anything about the monastic life, one knows that monks follow a daily regimen that alternates worship and work.In fact, for the serious, classical monks there are seven different periods of worship throughout the day.And this pattern is repeated day after day.

To live your life with this kind of schedule is bound to shape you in ways that most of us are not.For example, contrast your daily schedule with that more worshipful structure of the monks.Even though my daily schedule can be fairly busy and, in some ways, pretty structured, it does not approximate the monastic life.Of course, my goal is not to be a monk.
But a monk’s goal is not to be a monk either!The monk’s goal is to live life in such a way that the monk is living in and from the Presence of…

Vicarious Spirituality

It hit me as I was reading the first journals handed in by students in a course I am teaching.Although I generally don’t think about it this way, I realized in a way I am forcing students to engage spiritual issues.“Forcing” is a heavy word.It makes me a little uneasy when I see myself as being “forceful.”After all, I try to make my classes as full of choice and voluntary as I can.

I am forcing the students just because they are taking the class.I suppose if one is going to be forced, this is about the most benign way force can happen.I certainly am not coercing any of them to take the class.But if they sign on for the class, then they are going to have to engage in some spiritual exploration and spiritual work.The hope is that engagement will lead to spiritual growth and development.I do not map out what the spiritual growth and development has to be.In fact, different people will develop in very different ways.
It hit me that I ask the students to engage a spiritual process and assume…

Life Worth Celebrating

One of the things I know about myself is I prefer the routine and normal.I hope this does not mean I am incapable of living in different kinds of times---special times and, perhaps, even crisis times.I have had some of both, as would be natural for anyone my age.But in the end, I prefer the normal and the routine.Maybe that is because so much of life happens in that sphere.

However, special times do come at regular times.There are the religious holidays. If you are Christian, the two big ones are Easter and Christmas.If you are Jewish, there is Passover and Yom Kippur, which is the most important holy day.Of course, Muslims, Hindus and other major traditions have their holidays, such as the Hindu Diwali.As I write this, I realize a particular day can be a religious holiday for some tradition and just a normal day for another tradition.I don’t know very many Christians who celebrate Diwali.
And then, there are holidays that are not religious.In this country the obvious ones would be Th…