Posts

Showing posts from April, 2016

Complexities and Troubles

Everyone who has kids or even grandchildren knows there are teachable moments when they are the teacher and you are the student.  Sometimes you are a willing student.  And other times you did not want to be a student at all!  I recently had one of the former moments.  I was not looking for it, but I was taught and was fine with it.  I was not unwilling.

To set the scene, you have to imagine a room half full of boxes.  A house project led to the accumulation of many boxes.  Of course, a scene like this is irresistible to any young soul.  My granddaughter was sucked right into the middle of the boxes.  You can use them as forts or a maze.  Some of them were so big you get into it and seemingly be lost to the world---or, at least, a parent.  Quite a bit of time went by in the wonderful world of box land.  Then she was finished and wanted to escape.

At one point, a young voice plaintively appealed for outside advice.  She asked a simple question.  “How do I get through this crap?”  The r…

A Nice Day

I don’t know anyone who hates a nice day.At the most obvious level, a nice day usually refers to the weather.Typically, it is warm and sunshiny.In the part of the country I live, nice days can happen in the spring---at least the first nice days we identify.Certainly there are many nice days in the summer.And by summer standards, many of those “nice days” we claimed in the spring would not be true.In the spring a nice day is likely declared if it reaches the 50-degree mark.In the summer that might well be a lousy day!
Fall weather if often the favorite season for many folks.Fall days sometimes are not as hot as the summer folks just survived.And fall inevitably brings the colors that everyone enjoys.I think people may enjoy the nice days of fall because we know we are sitting ducks for the impending weather that winter brings.I am pretty aware of weather.I attribute this to growing up on a farm, but I am not at all sure there is any correlation. I do know growing up on a farm I learned…

Complexities and Troubles

Everyone who has kids or even grandchildren knows there are teachable moments when they are the teacher and you are the student.  Sometimes you are a willing student.  And other times you did not want to be a student at all!  I recently had one of the former moments.  I was not looking for it, but I was taught and was fine with it.  I was not unwilling.

To set the scene, you have to imagine a room half full of boxes.  A house project led to the accumulation of many boxes.  Of course, a scene like this is irresistible to any young soul.  My granddaughter was sucked right into the middle of the boxes.  You can use them as forts or a maze.  Some of them were so big you get into it and seemingly be lost to the world---or, at least, a parent.  Quite a bit of time went by in the wonderful world of box land.  Then she was finished and wanted to escape.

At one point, a young voice plaintively appealed for outside advice.  She asked a simple question.  “How do I get through this crap?”  The r…

Sitting on the Grass

The title of this inspirational piece might suggest connotations of college kids at a weekend party in the spring or summer doing drugs.At least, we might suspect some marijuana to be part of the scene.If we were to approach this lawn party, we would expect to get a whiff of a pungent order that would betray the common college drug.But this suspicion would be wildly off the mark.Perhaps it points out the perceptions and prejudices that still exist in our minds.
Rather let me take you to the truth of the scene.It has to do with Spirit rather than spirits!It has to do with a group of students whom I call friends.I am fond of suggesting to college students that the word, colleague, must surely be related to the word, college.Most faculty assume their fellow faculty are colleagues and I agree.I value very much my faculty colleagues.I appreciate the broad range of knowledge and expertise they bring to the table.I am especially in awe of some colleagues in the sciences and the Conservatory …

Blessings Upon Blessings

I have just finished the last chapter of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World.It has been a rewarding book and the last chapter is a fitting conclusion.The chapter’s title reveals its focus: “The Practice of Pronouncing Blessings.”I very much like the fact she uses the plural, blessings.While blessing may happen one at a time, there is no doubt in my mind everyone is multiply blessed.And I join Taylor in feeling called to be one who blesses, too.
I appreciate the epigraph Taylor uses in the beginning of the chapter.An epigraph is something written that underscores something central to the chapter.Often an epigraph is a quotation that an author uses to begin her own thoughts.The epigraph Taylor chooses for this chapter is drawn from the Talmud, the Jewish collection of commentary on the Torah or the Hebrew Bible.Probably most Christians know nothing about the Talmud. The epigraph (quotation in this case) says, “It is forbidden to taste of the pleasures of this world witho…

Contemplation as Power to Look

For the last few years I have had a special interest in the theme of contemplation.  In fact, I recognize I probably have been interested in it for quite a long time, but never used that word for the experience I saw other people have and wanted it for myself.  As is often the case, I realized that my own Quaker tradition actually “talked about” contemplation and the contemplative experience, although they never used that word.

Essentially, I talk about contemplation both as an experience and as a way of living.  For a few years I have been teaching a class entitled, “Contemplative Spirituality.”  When I see students on the first day of classes, I tell them the requirement is that they become a contemplative.  Of course, they have no clue what that means.  But most of them are up for the challenge.  And that is a huge step.  I am pretty sure no one will be a contemplative if he or she does not want to become one.  So they key question here is to learn what being a contemplative reall…

Importance

Someone recently thanked me for being important in her life.  I appreciate the gratitude and, even more, appreciated the opportunity to think about importance.  Perhaps this is an issue of spiritual immaturity, but that’s probably where I am anyway.  I always hope to find things to ponder that might lead to some growth and a bit more maturity.  As I thought about the gal who thanked me, I would have agreed with her that in her mind I was important to her.  She was right.  I didn’t do that in order to be who I am.  But I was glad to help someone.

As indicated, the spiritually mature person probably never thinks about being important.  That is not their goal.  However, all truly mature spiritual people undoubtedly are important---perhaps in many ways.  But it would not register nor really matter, if they were to come to know it.  For those of us less saintly, perhaps it is a good exercise to think about importance.

Maybe our earlier ego development needs some sense that we are important. …

Lure of Life

There are some old friends to whom I like to return from time to time.Some of my old friends are books.Some of these books were written centuries ago, so obviously I personally know the author.One such book is the Confessions by Augustine---or St. Augustine as he rightly is called.He wrote this magnificent theological autobiography in the late fourth century.People of faith have been reading it for more than a thousand years.
Other friends are living people.One such friend is Alan Jones.I have many of Jones’ books, but the one that still speaks most powerfully to me is his book, Soul Making.Alan was a seminary professor when I first met him.Although born in England, he had already come to this country and was teaching at the Episcopal seminary in New York when we had initial contact.From there he went to San Francisco where he became Dean of the Cathedral in that city by the bay. I loved the title of soul making and, I’m sure, that is what initially led me to buy it.While it is a grea…

Prayer as Gratitude

I have just finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s chapter on prayer in her book, An Altar in the World.I really like this book and the group I am using the book with likes it, too.Most of us in the group commented that we thought her chapter on prayer was written for each one of us.All that means is somehow her experience with prayer resonated deeply with many of us.For many different traditions prayer is something you are “supposed to do,” but many of us feel like we have been utter failures.
I resonated with Taylor when she penned the first line of the chapter.“I know that a chapter on prayer belongs in this book, but I dread writing it.”Some of her best humor comes out in the chapter.She continues, “I am a failure at prayer.When people ask me about my prayer life, I feel like a bulimic must feel when people ask about her favorite dish.My mind starts scrambling for ways to hide my problem.” It is not long before Taylor turns to one of my favorite resources, David Stendl-Rast.She …

Hosted by a Monk

I recently was able to travel to Washington, DC for a speaking engagement.I always enjoy a chance to visit our nation’s capital.Every time I get within sight of the city, I get anxious to see the monuments that I know well.Usually the first sight on the urban horizon is the Washington Monument.As anyone knows who has been to DC, there are no skyscrapers.The Washington Monument appears as a slender, white-yellowish structure reaching to the sky.For me it is the signature piece of architecture in the city.
As I get within the city itself, I like to head to the Mall where the Monument stands.Memories from my own life cascade through my mind.No one my age can forget the marches of the 1960s that occurred on the Mall in DC.There were countless anti-war rallies against our involvement in Vietnam.Those were complex days.We all knew friends who were soldiers in that far-away Asian country.The deserved our support, regardless of how we felt about the war. And no one can forget the famous “I Ha…

Spiritual T Roads

I am assuming that most of us who have a driver’s license and have spent time behind the wheel know what a T road is.  I grew up in rural Indiana and it was not uncommon to be on a T road.  Pretty quickly you learn there are only two options---well at least two good ones!  I know I learned this lesson long before I was old enough to drive a car.  But then I also know I was driving tractors on the roads long before I was sixteen!  Now that I think about it, I am not sure anyone ever wondered if that were legal!

When I assume things, I always am prepared to be on guard that my assumptions may not be shared by all.  For example, I am not sure younger, urban drivers grow up learning about T roads.  Perhaps, they have never heard the phrase and have no clue what I mean.  So for their sake a T road is a road that dead-ends into a perpendicular road---forming a T, as it were.  When you are driving up the trunk of the “T,” you do dead end into the other road.  You have a choice to continue: g…

When Dreams Die

If we have even a little awareness, we realize we don’t live in paradise. Only two people ever did and they blew it!And now the rest of us are living East of Eden, as John Steinbeck put it.In fact that big book of his is a wonderful literary narrative of what life outside of paradise is really like.I know I have enough awareness to realize my life is not paradise and no one I know has paradise life either.
I know how to talk about paradise—at least from a biblical perspective. I have studied the text of the first two chapters of Genesis enough to know what it means and the story it is meant to convey.I have spent enough time with the third chapter of Genesis to have a sense of what Adam and Even were up to when their relationship with God went south.Without going into any details, let simply say God had a dream for Adam, Eve and all their descendants—right down to you and me. But the dream ended badly. Of course, there still are good things happening in life.My own life has had more t…

The Joy of Love

The title of this inspirational piece is the translation of the Latin title of Pope Francis’ latest pronouncements.He issued Amoris Laetitia to address issues of family and related topics.The apostolic exhortation, as the document is called, is the conclusion of a process that began a couple years ago.Through the process there were two synods or meetings of Catholic leaders to consider these various topics.
I followed both of these synods somewhat closely, so much of the new apostolic exhortation is not new.Some of the material was first published in one of the synod summaries after those historic meetings.Of course, there was a great deal of discussion---agreeing and disagreeing with the Pope---during the synod process.And now that the apostolic exhortation has appeared, that same range of response is evident. I had read a fair amount of preliminary conversation about the upcoming release of the document before it had even been released.So I felt conversant with what the issues would…