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Showing posts from February, 2015

Self-Justification

Recently I wrote a piece on self-forgetfulness.This idea came to me from reading one of Thomas Merton’s latest pieces, The Springs of Contemplation.Essentially Merton says that progress on the spiritual journey requires that we become self-forgetful.Unless and until we begin to become self-forgetful, our “self” will be front and center.Another way of putting it is to recognize that our ego will be the driver of our attention and actions.To be guided by our ego is not bad, but ultimately it is not spiritual.

To be guided by our ego is to be centered on ourselves.In a word, we will be egocentric.Again that is not bad; it is spiritually shortsighted.Unless and until we are able to put God in the center, we will make little or no spiritual progress.The Lord’s Prayer from the lips of Jesus put it very simply: “Thy will be done…”One cannot be egocentric and pray that prayer, “Thy will be done…”
That is why the idea of self-forgetfulness appealed to me.It strikes me as an important building …

Caring for Nature

For some time now I have been aware of the reports and, sometimes, controversy over the whole issue of climate change and nature.Some folks think we are heading toward a climate crisis—global warming and the like.Other folks scoff at such an idea and assume everything is fine.Most of us are scientifically not savvy enough to have a clue how to think about it.I know I am not smart enough to be an expert.In fact, it is a struggle to know enough to have an educated opinion.

What I know is I trust science.Having said that, I also know quite a few religious people put no faith in science.In fact, quite a few religious folks think there is a basic conflict between religion and science.I do not find myself in that camp.I see science and religious as compatible, but different, ways of seeing and understanding our world.I like to think I am both scientifically appreciative of knowledge and religiously motivated to see the Spirit involved in our world and in my life.
Lately, I have been doing a…

Lent: Season of Preparation

As we think about the season of Lent, we realize that there are many different ways in which we prepare for the life that God has in mind for us.  And I do believe God has something in mind for us.  I see Lent as a time for raising our consciousness---a time for becoming both intentional and using discipline.

As I look back over my life, there have been obvious times of preparation.  Every time that I went out for a team sport, there was a time to prepare.  If I made the team, I began by going to practice.  Day after day, I worked on the fundamentals.  I never saw practice as drudgery; I loved playing.

All of the foreign languages that I have learned involved times of preparation.  I had to learn new words---new ways to create sentences.  I had to get used to hearing different sounds.  But what a thrill, after I learned, to live life in a new and different way!

Both of these examples---playing sports and leaning a new language---involved times of preparation.  They are good examples…

Self-Forgetfulness

I like to read in monastic spirituality because the monks and nuns are so clearly focused on the spiritual life.It is their central concern in life.Monastics set aside the usual normal things that occupy most of us in order to be singularly occupied with the search and life with God.That does not make them more than human or even more spiritual than any of the rest of us.But it does give them a singular advantage.

One of the things I am most sure of is the fact that much of the spiritual life is actually simple.I do not know any monk who would not confirm the fact that much spiritual life is simple.Of course, there can be some complexity at times.But by and large, the spiritual journey is simple.We probably are too self-serving to say that spirituality has to be complex.If that were true, then it takes us off the hook from even trying.
In addition to being simple, I also am confident that much of spirituality is practical.This means much of the spiritual journey is applied rather than…

The Real Me

Who am I?That is a question almost everyone entertains and, perhaps, spends a good deal of time in life figuring out the answer.It is not unusual for us to come up with a few different answers in the process of living our lives.I am confident I would have answered that question differently when I was ten years old than I would today as a relatively mature, older guy.

I know there are some religious traditions that scoff at the idea there is even a real me.For example, Buddhists question whether there can ever be a self or a real me.Of course, we can pretend there is one; we can act as if there is one.In my world of illusion I can have a self-illusion.I am sure there are some psychologists who do not believe there is such a thing as a real me.I am hoping they are not correct.
As a Christian and Quaker, I am captivated by the early Genesis creation account that humans are created in the image and likeness of the Divine One.I value that affirmation and hope in some sense it is true.Along…

The Meaning of Silence

One of the blessings of teaching is the chance to continue to read good books.  And often, it means the opportunity to re-read some of my favorite books.  In spite of our society’s penchant for the new and novel, I learned some time ago that there are classics that stand the test of time and continue to speak to humans in all walks of life.  Obviously there are classics in music, in architecture and in books.
One of the classics I have had a chance to read again is Quest for God by the great 20th century Jewish rabbi and theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel.  Heschel is one of the theological giants who came to this country as a result of the Nazi craziness of the 20th century.  Heschel was born in Poland in 1907.  He was educated in Berlin, Germany.  When he was lecturing in 1938 in Frankfort, Germany, he was arrested by the Nazis and deported to Poland.  He was encouraged to leave before he would be killed.  So he fled to London and in 1940 arrived in New York City.  He spent five ye…

Lent: Season of Remodeling

The theme of Lent is preparation for Easter---preparation for real life.  Lent is a special time for me because it allows me a chance again to re-engage a process of making something out of life.  Maybe you are like me.  I get disgusted at myself when I make life worse rather than better.  Lent is always that time and opportunity to listen to God saying, “Oh, you really can do better.  Come on, now!”

A key to this process is to let God come into our inner world and reshape us---remodel us.  In one sense, when we allow this divine Spirit into our inner world, we become an artist of the Spirit.  Unlike a scientist who may be handed a manual, the Spirit grants experiences out of which we make life – make it better or worse.

Albert Einstein pursues this image in this one-liner.  He says, “the greatness of an artist lies in the building of an inner world, and in the ability to reconcile this inner world with the outer.”  Our inner worlds are built.  They are like a house, which will be bu…

Lent Begins

Today is the beginning of the season of Lent.  The theme of Lent is preparation for Easter- preparation for real life.  Lent is a special time for me because it allows me a chance one more time to re-engage a process of making something out of life.  Maybe you are like me.  I get disgusted at myself when I make life worse rather than better. Too often it is appalling how easy it is to make life worse!  Lent is always that time and opportunity to listen to God saying, “Oh, you really can do better. You really can do better.  Come on, now!”

A key to this process is to let God come into our inner world and reshape us – remake us.  In fact, one of the good things about Lent is that it calls us to consider again our inner life.  It is so easy to live life every day without any attention to our inner world.  So much of life deals with externals…with the demands of others, the expectations of those who care about us, our own concern for reputations, and so on.  But our inner world---the inner…

In the Spaces

Recently a writer for the New York Times died.David Carr wrote about culture for that famous newspaper.He is someone I read sometimes, but I was not a regular reader of his material like I am for someone like David Brooks, whom I very much respect and from whom I learn a great deal.When Carr died, he was given much press and was lauded as very smart and quite influential.My interest was piqued, so I read more about him than might be expected.

Carr was still relatively young when he died.He was born in 1956.I was intrigued to track his career.Clearly, he had learned to make a living using words.Jobs like his fascinate me.I wonder how many kids think that they could figure out how to use words and make a really good living?After all, everyone uses words!He just learned how to use words very effectively.He learned how to use words and manage to have people pay to read those words.That is clever!
My inspirational piece would never have happened if I had just read about him and turned the …

Doubting Thomas: My Hero

The story of Thomas, as we find it in the New Testament, has always been one of my favorites.Today is the feast day for Thomas, so I bumped again into the story.If you are not familiar with the story, let me share it.We find it in John’s Gospel.The time frame for it comes after the resurrection of Jesus.The resurrected Jesus was in Jerusalem on Sunday evening appearing to some of the gathered disciples.As it turns out, Thomas was not with them.When Thomas comes, the disciples told him they had seen the resurrected Jesus.

Thomas’ reply is classic.He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (20:25)With these words Thomas expresses what so many of us surely would have exclaimed.I can certainly sympathize with Thomas.After all, Jesus had been his friend.His friend had been horribly crucified only three days earlier by the detestable Roman soldiers.I would be confident Thomas would alrea…

Divine Protection

Recently it dawned on me that my spiritual discipline is a great deal like my physical discipline.I am sure that is not novel, but I also am sure I never thought about it quite like that.Being active physically has been important to me for as long as I can remember.I am lucky in the sense that it has always been something I wanted to do, rather than felt like I had to do it. Perhaps growing up on a farm helped the process.I cannot remember when I did not go outside to work or to play.On the farm there was a great deal of work.But there also was a fair amount of play.Both are healthy.

In due time sports became very important to me.I certainly was no star, but I played with gusto.I had fun and was active.I continue to play long after my eligible years in school were finished.Being physically active was a way of life for me.It was not a matter of virtue.I did it because I wanted to do it; it was fun.
Spiritual discipline has not always been a part of my life.For sure, I cannot remember not…

Home and Away

Most people I know have a home.I have a nice enough home.It is not luxurious, but it is more than adequate.If you were to visit me, you would know that my home has that “lived in” feeling.It is not the kind of place with dazzle and formality.I have been in those kinds of homes.I always feel slightly uncomfortable and on edge.I hesitate to sit down or touch anything.Even though I am fairly athletic, in those kinds of situations I temporarily become a klutz!
It is pretty commonsense to differentiate house and home.Many people know the experience of moving into a new house.In fact, we usually say it precisely that way.We can buy a house and move into it.But it takes a while to have the house become a “home.”That process is likely different for most people.And the process typically has no time frame.Some may know how to become “home-makers” much more quickly than the rest of us.I actually think I am a pretty slow homemaker.
There are intentional things people do to make a “home.”There ar…

Creation, Innovation and Renovation

This inspiration is rooted in a rather serendipitous time I recently had with some athletes, coaches and a professional music composer.While it is not unusual for me to hang out with athletes and coaches, there typically is not a music composer thrown into the mix!But he added a tremendous leavening effect to the dialogue and spurred me to thinking about things about which I normally would not.

The intent of the meeting was straightforward.If people who are not in the same fields or who are not alike spend time together, new and different conversations are likely to happen and, possibly, new ideas arise.I am sure we would have to do it more than one time, but that one time was enough to suggest the possibilities.And they were exciting.And even more, it was a great deal of fun.
I was fascinated to listen to the music composer describe his work.I would not know the first step about composing a piece of music.Whatever musical ability I have is latent---totally unexplored.I have been assu…

Imagination to Be Free

Much of the time I get material from the things I read.But sometimes I hear interesting things.Such was the case yesterday.I was with a group of people whom I very much like.They are gracious.They are warm and quite hospitable.I like to sit back and watch them do what seems very natural.I long ago concluded that people who live in the Spirit do what comes natural to the Spirit.

I think people of the Spirit naturally begin to focus on others, rather than themselves.People of the Spirit know the first thing you do is to welcome the other.They do this even if the “other” is stranger.I am sure they see a stranger who has not yet become a friend.That is a neat way of looking at the world.It certainly is a way of peace making.
It is a way that begins in trust and hopes for the best.Some would call this naïve.The bolder critics would call it stupid!It is naïve and stupid if defending our own ego is the most important thing.We all know the world’s perspective too often is to “get yours before…