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Showing posts from April, 2015

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…

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 something we might not have ma…

Something Special

One of my favorite authors, the late monk, Thomas Merton, had a great answer to the person who asked him what he wanted to be?Merton responded, “I want to be a saint.”The first time I read that line, I sat back with the exclamation, “Whoa!”That is an audacious aspiration.I can’t imagine telling someone I want to be a saint.Perhaps, the real reason I would never tell someone that I want to be a saint is the fact that I really don’t want to be a saint! It is probably true that Merton and I don’t really mean the same thing when we say, “saint.”Since I did not grow up Roman Catholic, I never had anything to do with saints.Occasionally, the authors of the New Testament were called saints.Reference would be made to St. John or St. Paul.Since these guys wrote what we now call “Scripture,” there was no way I would have aspirations equal to them. I think the only other saint I would have recognized was St Valentine.He was a great saint, as far as I was concerned.Of course, I knew nothing abou…

Faithful Not Safe

Recently I had the occasion to return to some readings that I did long ago.Because of an article I am writing, I needed to go back to my Quaker roots for some ideas and Quaker way of putting those ideas.I returned to one of my favorite Quakers of last century, Douglas Steere.I knew Douglas as an acquaintance, but not well enough to call a friend.He was a long-time professor of philosophy at Haverford College in the Philadelphia area. In some ways Douglas Steere became a role model for me.He was one of those seasoned veterans who come along early in one’s career.Douglas was an academic---a good academic.But he also was a man of the Spirit and a man of the world.Douglas was involved in the ecumenical movement long before most of us knew what the word meant.He read Catholic literature, much of which today we would talk about as the Catholic spiritual literature.He chose to spend a month in a European monastery and that shaped his own Quaker Christian spirituality. Douglas was involved i…

Real Business of Life

Recently I have been doing some background research for a paper that I have agreed to write.The paper offers a comparative look at my favorite monk, Thomas Merton, and the Quaker perspective on contemplative spirituality.Certainly, Merton thought and wrote quite a bit about contemplation.In fact, his monastery in Kentucky is rightly called a contemplative monastery.Without going into a full explanation of contemplation, let it simply be understood here as a way of trying to live life in the Presence of God.

Quakers historically have not used the language of contemplation.That meant that I would not have know much about the topic and would probably have answered negatively, if I had been asked whether Quakers were contemplative.Now I would say that Quakers share much of what contemplation means without using the term or the normal contemplative language.
I had just hit graduate school when Merton died in 1968.Hence, I never had the chance to meet him.I have read a great deal of his wri…

Lucky to be Alive

With a title like this one, you might expect this to be a reflection by someone who has just survived a near-death experience.It could be one who escaped from a nasty car accident or a near-miss airplane landing.Lucky to be alive sounds like the relieved words of someone who stood in front of death’s door and turned around to walk away.“Praise the Lord,” we expect to hear them mutter.

But my reflections have nothing of the drama suggested in the first paragraph.I have not had a near-death experience.I have certainly thought about dying and being dead, as I suppose is natural for anyone my age.I have fortunately never been in a nasty car accident.I have had some scary enough (for me) plane takeoffs and landings, but nothing that was disastrous.So I guess I have lived a fairly eventful, normal---maybe---boring life. That does not mean I cannot feel lucky to be alive.I do feel lucky.Let me elaborate.I have often quipped that there was no committee meeting scheduled when I was conceived…

To Miss a Life

Sometimes all it takes is one sentence.Sometimes all it takes is one sentence to be sufficient focus for an entire inspirational reflection.In fact, some sentences contain so much richness, it takes more than one meditative setting to begin to digest everything in a few words.Some writers seem to be directly and intuitively connected to the Holy One.The words that pour forth from their pen are, as if, immediate revelation.It is almost like the Divine Being Itself has grabbed the pen.

One writer I find like this is Walker Percy.I have not read as much of him as I wish, but when I do, I am spiritually floored.For example, in his novel, The Second Coming, we find this single sentence, which is actually a question.“Is it possible for people to miss their lives in the same way one misses a plane?”This question arrests me.It grabs me and won’t let go.In many ways it is a rather simple question.On the surface it is even a bit playful.Immediately, I smile and almost break into a laugh.But ult…

Without Preaching the Gospel

Although the title for this inspirational reflection comes from inside the text of a small article I read online, it was the title of that online article that lured me into reading.I routinely read quite a few religious and spiritual websites just so I can be more aware of what’s going on in the world.And it is literally in the world.Once upon a time, you were current if you knew what was going on in your city or state.Really “with it” people had a good national awareness.When I was growing up, I don’t think I knew anyone who had been abroad.In those days on the Indiana farm, to go to New York City or DC was tantamount to going abroad!

With the internet things have changed.The world is as near as the click of the mouse.So I try to follow the global news, particularly in the spiritual sense.If I am dealing with students in my class who may live till 2085, I need to help them live with an awareness of the shrinking world they inhabit.I have to be careful of my own perspective and prejud…

Insight: A Look Within

It was while I was reading a really interesting book that I had an insight.The insight itself is not what I want to give focus.Instead I became intrigued by the process of getting an insight.What happened?How did the process happen?Was it a matter of luck or is there really something I could do to enhance my chances of getting insights?Let’s pursue this idea, especially with respect to spiritual insight.

The word, insight, is fairly simple and straightforward.It is a compound word, “in” and “sight.”Literally it means to “see within” something.It means looking “inside” something (it could even be a person).In that sense we get an “inside look.”But it also is a little trickier than this.
If we were standing outside a house and peered into a window, we would not say that we had “insight” into the house.We merely would affirm that we had looked “inside.”And if I open a drawer in my house, I would never say that I had “insight” when I looked inside.I simply looked inside.So insight is more…

Starving for Wisdom

There are a number of reasons I continue to read new and disparate things.As I get older, I don’t want to become more boring!That assumes some of my students now consider me to be boring.I realize I do not get to decide whether someone thinks I am boring.I could be the most exciting human being in my state, but if an eighteen-year old college student decides I am boring, then for them I am boring.What I think does not matter for them.

I continue to read because I am curious.I learned long ago that nurturing my curiosity makes me more interesting and more knowledgeable.I have the best chance of being interesting if I am interested.That goes for a number of things, but I am convinced it clearly is true for spirituality.I like to have a wide range of interests.Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, the old farm saying goes.As one who grew up on a farm with chickens, I learned the truth of that lesson the hard way!
So I was very intrigued reading the Op Ed page in the New York Times.It wa…

Ears of God

I like reading a variety of things that help me on my daily spiritual trek through life.Help comes from many and, sometimes, odd venues.Daily newspapers, magazines, preparation for classes and even notes on the wall have provided inspiration over the years.I am thankful for the myriad of revelational sources.But among the lot, no doubt the biblical text still ranks right up there as very important.

I am not one who thinks every verse in the Christian Bible is significant.I am ok thinking that the Bible, as a whole, is inspired.But it is difficult for me to think every sentence or word is divinely inspired.That would require an extensive discussion, of course, on what “inspiration” means, how it happens, etc.I actually don’t have too much interest in that discussion and, certainly, have no interest in pursuing in here.Suffice it here to acknowledge that inspiration means to help, encourage, to light up your life.God certainly does that; but so do other people.
One of the best things I …