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Showing posts from May, 2015

Pathways of the Heart

Recently I learned that one of the leading commentators on contemporary spirituality is very ill.Phyllis Tickle is someone I do not know well, but she is one whose writings I have followed.She was educated in traditional religious ways.Instead, she was a writer and editor.She had some short teaching stints in a couple colleges, but she came to her fame as an editor, most noteworthy as editor in the newly constituted religion division at Publisher’s Weekly.

Tickle spent most of her life in Tennessee.In 1977 she moved with her physician husband, Sam, to a small farm---a very different setting than the urban Memphis she left.Perhaps the most important facet of her training is the fact the she is a mother of seven, one of whom died nearly as soon as he was born.Factors like this shape our perceptions and understanding about life.We are all products of our experiences.
In a touching news article, reporter David Gibson, narrates this latest saga of Tickle’s health issues and offers her pr…

Faith as Creation

I love what I do.I have been privileged to be involved in spirituality for many years now.I have done it through teaching and a variety of what I like to call ministry venues.I like the Latin basis of our word, ministry.Literally, it means to “serve.”I am content to think that I have spent a great deal of my life serving.
I am convinced that is one of the aspects of the Christian journey.Everyone who walks this path has an obligation to serve.But I also am sure that it is not a Christian thing.I know Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others encourage the same walk of faith.I suspect part of the reason service is a given in these major religious traditions is the fact that they all are grounded in love.Love inevitably issues forth in service.Love will put us all at the feet of others.Sometimes we literally will be called to wash their feet as the story of Jesus in John’s Gospel narrated.And sometimes it is more metaphorical that we are put at people’s feet.In that sense we are to se…

Trust and Faith

Out of my rather aimless thinking recently, an important idea moved to the front of my mind.Recently, I was on a flight.That is not unusual.I am not one of those business folks who seemingly fly all the time.But I do a fair number of flights in a year’s time.So there was nothing unusual about this one.

I began to think about the process of having moved on board the flight.There are the usual instructions to fasten seat belt, what to do with the life preserver in the event that you go down in water, etc.I wondered if I could remember any of this in the event of the real danger.I fear my assumption that I have heard it all before and know it all would be severely tested!I need to pay more attention.
It began to dawn on me, as I thought about the process of flying, how much trust is demanded of the passenger.Again if we were to think about it, we would realize how true that is.And yet, like me during the flight instructions, we pay little attention to one of our central assumptions, na…

Angels of Annunciation

It is a wonderfully fulfilling moment when I am reading something and a phrase or sentence jumps out to capture my attention.Sometimes it is simply the way the author puts it.Other times, there is such a profundity of thought that I am temporarily arrested and can read no further.In a recent reading I had such a moment.There was a phrase that I found that made me go, “Wow.”
The author was discussing something that was not that novel to me.I understood what she was saying, but was not prepared for the phrase that leaped out at me.At one point, the author talked about the “angels of annunciation.”It was not Advent or Christmas season, when you expect the theme of Annunciation to be to the forefront.It was not in the context of the liturgy. I know the word, annunciation, means “announcement” or “pronouncement.”Most folks know what an angel is.Even if I don’t believe in angels, I know what the typical meaning is.I know the word, angel, comes from the classical languages and means a “messe…

Memorial Day: Re-Membering

Memorial Day---or better, yet, Memorial Day weekend---is a complex holiday.That does not make it anything less than other major holidays; it is just different.It seems that the federal holiday has its origins right after the Civil War.It was an opportunity to remember those Union soldiers who had died in that cause.Gradually, the “remembering” expanded to include all the men and women who had died in the service of their country.
Earlier, it often was called Decoration Day.I heard this term most of the time when I was growing up in rural Indiana.I understood it as the time when the old people went to the cemeteries to “decorate” with flowers the graves of their family and friends.I knew it had some military association, but by my lifetime, the holiday again had expanded to include everyone who had already passed away.But it was more complex than that.
For many people Memorial Day celebrates the beginning of summer.That association with summer helps if it hits 90 degrees!Summer begi…

The Art of Remembering

In this country we find ourselves at Memorial Weekend.Clearly, the description of the weekend is unambiguous: memorial means remembering.It is the “Remembering Weekend.”There will be parades to highlight the festivities.The little parade in my suburban town is so quaint and tiny, it is hilarious.Of course, there are the boy scouts and girl scouts.There are all the Little League baseball and softball players.The fire trucks gain attention because the siren going off in your ears at a distance of 15 feet is dramatic!And finally, there are always the politicians!

The other thing that is a staple for Memorial Weekend is the visit to the cemetery.Now that I am living in a much larger, urban context, I am less aware of folks going to the cemetery.When I was a kid, I did not really understand this ritual.No one significant in my life had died.There was no one “living in the cemetery,” as I once put it, that I felt like I wanted to visit.
But when my grandparents began to die---one by one-…

A Good Word for Confidence

I know what to do with pride.All the spiritual literature tells us to be careful about pride.In the Christian list of sins, pride ranks right up there.Pride is usually linked to our egos.Pride typically is rooted in an egotistical attempt to have it our own way.So I get it, when it comes to pride.
However it gets tricky, because that might imply the best way to avoid pride is to be a loser in life.Don’t anything good or important and you will have no problem with pride.Be a disaster and pride will never haunt you.We can poke fun at this perspective, but it can teach us that aiming to be a loser in life is stupid.And most people are not stupid. As I thought about it some more, it occurred to me that an alternative to pride is confidence.I would never argue they are synonyms.Clearly, they are not the same thing, but I do think they may be related. As I ponder both ideas---pride and confidence---I came to this distinction.I see pride as the outcome; it is a result.Pride is what one thi…

Home on the Range

The title for this inspirational piece is not really my creation.Most of us know a song by that name.It was a song I learned at an early age.It is a western song, but that is about all I knew about it.With a bit of research, I learned that the words of the song are part of a poem written in the 1870s by a Kansan physician, Dr. Brewster M. Higley.It came to be a song in the 1940s and quickly became very well known.

I ran across the phrase, home on the range, as I was reading an article.Home on the range was only part of the title of the article.The full title reads: “Benedictine nuns make their home on the range.”I was really intrigued by it and wanted to delve into the article itself.I was not disappointed.
The first sentence of the article sets the context.“Sr. Maria Walburga Schortemeyer is at home wading through the mud and manure of a barnyard in boots, work pants, a fleece jacket and her white veil.”I did not even need a picture to imagine the scene.I could imagine the good Sist…

Tradition and Convention

My favorite monk, Thomas Merton, makes an interesting distinction in his book, No Man Is an Island.Merton differentiates tradition and convention.Merton talks about tradition in very positive terms. I like the way Merton defines tradition.“Tradition is living and active…Tradition does not form us automatically: we have to work to understand it…Tradition really teaches us to live and shows us how to take full responsibility for our own lives.Thus tradition is often flatly opposed to what is ordinary, to what is mere routine.”I will unpack this lengthy quotation as we consider the meaning and impact of tradition in our spiritual lives.
But first let’s get a sense for how Merton uses the idea of convention.Then it will become clear how he differentiates convention and tradition.“Convention,” says Merton, “is passive and dead…Convention is accepted passively, as a matter of routine.Therefore convention easily becomes an evasion of reality.It offers us only pretended ways of solving the…

God's Dwelling Place

If you are a careful reader of these inspirational pieces, you might think that you just read one on God’s dwelling place.And indeed, you did read one with a very similar title.I did write one that basically said God’s dwelling place was not some building, like a church, but actually was the people themselves.The bottom line was God dwells in people’s hearts, not in buildings.

I had not planned to return to this theme so soon.But in my daily lectionary---the readings provided by the Benedictine monastery that I follow---I was pleased to see the reading from the Psalm for the Morning Prayer.The first Psalm reading came from Psalm 84.I don’t know the Psalms well enough to be able to say, “Oh, Psalm 84: I know exactly what that one says.”But when I read the initial line, I realized I had heard this line many times.And then I realized I want to pursue the theme of God’s dwelling a little further.
The initial verse of Psalm 84 says, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts.”I…