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Showing posts from March, 2015

Life as Story

I am working my way through a book now that is quite challenging and very rewarding.  Fortunately, I am reading it along with a group that I lead.  The folks in the group are great troupers.  They are plugging along with me.  They are not complaining---no whining!  I fear if I were using it in a normal college class, there would be some grumpiness about how “hard” it is.  The book is by Christian Wiman and is entitled, My Bright Abyss.  The subtitle is revealing: Meditation of a Modern Believer. I don’t know Wiman and have to confess that I had not even heard of him.  He is a poet.  He also is a lecturer in religion and literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.  He has been editor of Poetry magazine, which one publication calls “the oldest and most esteemed poetry monthly in the world.”  Wiman was born in 1966 and as a relatively young man of thirty-nine was diagnosed with incurable cancer.  That obviously added a powerful, new twist to his life story.
He talks about growing …

Designing Your Life

The title of this spiritual reflection is a direct theft!It is the title of a wildly popular class at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA.Stanford is one of the highest quality colleges in the world---an elite school which sometimes must seem like that for the elite.It is one of those places which almost never elicits the response, “Where’s that?”And if you went there, you would never be asked, “Is that a good school!”

I found out about the course at Stanford from a tweet on some site I follow on Twitter.The article that described the course was fairly long---certainly for a tweet.Some of the material covered was interesting to me, but not really pertinent to this inspirational reflection.But one focus I found fascinating and, in some ways, see it to be suggestive of the spiritual journey.I would like deal with that focus.
Early in the article, mention was made of four areas that were covered in the course.I admit I was a little stunned by the four areas.I was not stunned by them, bu…

Experience of Divine Presence

I enjoy finding pithy or great summary statements.I just found one in my favorite Quaker book.Thomas Kelly wrote the popular Quaker book, A Testament of Devotion, which actually is a series of lectures.Some of these come out of his experience of WWII.Kelly spent some time in Germany watching Hitler come to power.He returned to this country.One of the chapters is entitled, “The Eternal Now and Social Concern.”The core ideas were originally a lecture delivered to a gathering of German Quakers.

The summary statement embodies so much of what I have been taught when growing up as a Quaker.Kelly writes that the central Quaker message affirms “The possibility of this experience of Divine Presence, as a repeatedly realized and present fact, and its transforming and transfiguring effect upon all life…”If I can unpack this amazing sentence and understand it, I will have my own central message.And more importantly, if I can embody this message and live it out, then I truly will be engaged in the…

Incremental Inspiration

I would claim that I have been inspired at times in the past.Since I know Latin, I know the word literally means to have air or the spirit blown into us---“breathed into.”Normally the language of inspiration involves the Deity.For centuries people would think that God inspired people.To this end, inspiration carried the notion that it was an opening or access to special or revelatory knowledge.In this sense inspiration was always a gift.Inspiration came from the outside.

I don’t disagree with any of this.I do think inspiration is a gift in the sense that it comes from without.This does not discount hard work or study.Often they are prerequisites for inspiration.I also like the idea that inspiration comes to us if we are open.I suppose it is theoretically possible for inspiration to come to someone who is closed and not looking for anything.However, the normal and expected coming of inspiration happens to those who are looking for it.
I also believe that God inspires people.Of course, …

The Spiritual Search

One of the things I have come to value is the daily lectionary.A lectionary is a schedule of readings used by many Christian traditions.It is a useful tool for anyone looking to engage in some kind of daily or regular worship and reflection.As a young Quaker, I had never heard the word, lectionary.We never used that, although I was aware of a few people using the Upper Room devotional booklet, which was a similar idea. I first encountered the lectionary with my Catholic and Episcopal friends I made when I went to college.The lectionary always had some readings from the Bible, including readings from the Psalms.Sometimes, these Biblical readings were augmented by a reading from a figure from Christian history or some more contemporary author.The lectionary moved one through the liturgical year.I realized the lectionary helped me avoid simply picking out my favorite passages.It moved me through much of the Old and New Testaments. The lectionary I choose to follow is provided by the Ben…

A Sense of the Past

One of the journals I regularly read is the National Catholic Reporter.While I am not a Roman Catholic, it is important to me to know what the Catholic Church is doing.I know there are over one billion Catholics in the world---about one out of every seven people on the globe is a Roman Catholic!Those numbers are staggering to this Quaker who is used to dealing with small numbers.

It is instructive to follow the Catholic Church through the lens of the NCR, as it is often called.It routinely reports on the current Pope and current issues facing the Church.Some of these issues are solely the issues of the Catholic tradition.Some of the issues are also issues for Quakers and the rest of the Christian group.And some issues are issues for every major religious tradition.
I have been reading this periodical for so long, I have my favorite authors.One such author is the Benedictine nun and activist, Joan Chittister.I am not a personal friend with Chittister, even though I have been to her Ben…

Peaceful, Happy and Strong

It is hard for me to imagine anyone seeing the three words that form the title of this reflection---peaceful, happy and strong---not wanting a share in all three.Can you believe anyone would say, “Nah, I prefer war to peace. I prefer conflict to peace!”Can you imagine anyone saying, “I much rather prefer sadness and despair to happiness!”And it is just as difficult to hear someone saying, “Heck, I’d much rather be weak and hurting than be strong.”Anyone in his or her right mind wants to be peaceful, happy and strong.

The real question is not whether I prefer these attributes, but how do I get them?Is there anything I or we can do to make them come true?Or do we simply have to wait, sit back and hope to become peaceful, happy and strong?The good news is, there are some things we can do to bring peace, happiness and strength to ourselves and to others.
I encountered these ideas recently when I was reading one of my favorite books which I use for a class.The book is by Thich Nhat Hanh, a…

Imagination and Illusion

I have long been fascinated by imagination.We only have to spend a little time with kids to witness the power of imagination.Even fairly young kids---toddlers---can imagine with the best of them.Imagination is the formation of ideas and images, which are not present to us.Imagination is, as the dictionary tells us, a creative ability.Imagination is able to create worlds that don’t yet exist.Imagination fosters alternative worlds.Imagination is the key to the future.

If memory is the key to the past, imagination is the key to the future.Memory often is quite a treasure.Memory is the way we capture mentally those times, which have passed.Memory preserves.I have fond memories of some of my own childhood days.I have quite fond memories of the times my two little girls were growing up, learning things and beginning to make lives of their own.I am very thankful for the gift of memory.
And I am just as thankful for the gift of imagination.By imagining we are able to create future possibiliti…

Titles: Trust, Tease or Toss?

I have always been fascinated with titles.When you read that sentence, you probably think of book titles.Certainly, most people would say that book titles are important.I would not disagree.But when you think about it further, there are many other kinds of titles.

Since I have paid off my old car, I have the title to that.It shows that I now own it.The bank owns the title to most of our houses.So apparently, a great deal of property comes with titles to show ownership.But not all ownership is individual.Some things are owned corporately.The college where I teach is a private school, so that means there is ownership.But it is owned corporately.The appointed trustees, in fact, oversee their ownership responsibilities.But no single person owns the campus or the buildings.The same idea pertains to national parks.All Americans, in effect, own Yosemite National Park.Even though it is in California (and I don’t live in CA), you and I and all of us own it.
Since I stayed in school long enough…

Innovation in Spiritual Things

In addition to being involved in the world of religion and spirituality, I also have been fairly involved in the world of innovation.Much of this grew out of collegial work that I have done with a friend of mine.I will admit that I never thought too much about innovation before he and I began doing some thinking and, then, some writing on the topic of innovation.A couple things occurred to me in the process.

In the first place I realized that it did not matter too much whether I used the word, innovation.In fact, I have been fairly innovative much of my life.When I learned the meaning of the language of innovation and looked at my experience, I recognized there was a match.Part of my misunderstanding was thinking that innovation was solely a business word.I knew businesses needed to be innovative---especially in today’s climate.And since I was not in business, the language of innovation did not apply to me.I was wrong.
Secondly, I realized that innovation can be learned.While there …

Inspiring Friendship

The concept of friendship has been an important one for quite a long time for me.And I am sure the phenomenon of friendship has been important to me since I was in the first grade, at least, and probably even before then.I have taught a few times a college class on spiritual friendship.Every time I have done that, it has been a special occasion.It seems that teaching a course on friendship creates a special opportunity for significant personal development among the students. And fortunately, I am the beneficiary of that experience, too.

I have studied the idea of friendship, so I probably know more about the history, the philosophy and theology of friendship than most people know.I have valued the way Aristotle talks about different kinds of friendships.I appreciate the way Cicero, right before the time of Jesus, developed some profound ways of understanding how friendships are formed and how they should be lived.Friendship came to be a very important idea in the history of Christian …

No Music on Bad Days

Anyone who has lived a few years knows that there are times when life is not good.There are times when things don’t go very well.We are assaulted by things that are not to our liking.We can be sick, disappointed, or denied.We can watch others get what we thought was rightfully ours.We can try so hard, get so close and still lose.Some days life is just not much fun.

I also think this is true for the spiritual life.Anyone who has been involved in the spiritual journey for any length of time knows all days are not equal.It is not unusual for the early days of the spiritual pilgrimage to be pretty good.Often there is that initial burst of enthusiasm.Not surprisingly, God can seem to be right there in your corner.The spiritual tradition calls these graces of God “consolations.”Consolations are good.In fact, there are a bit like spiritual goodies.
The truth of the matter is, however, we should not be thinking we are entitled to these spiritual goodies.It is important to recognize they are g…