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Showing posts from October, 2016

Love is the Better Option

Periodically, I have the chance to reread sections of Kathleen Norris’ book, The Cloister Walk.The book first appeared in 1996.I had read some of Norris’ work and was eager to read this book when it was published.I knew it was based on her time spent at St. John’s Benedictine Abbey in Minnesota.As one who also is a Benedictine oblate, I was excited to see what her reflected experience would be.I was not disappointed the first time I read it and I delight every time I pick the book up to read parts of it again.
Recently, I had to read a chapter she entitles, “Learning to love: Benedictine Women on Celibacy and Relationship.”I suspect many readers would never bother with this chapter because of the title.I think their mistake would be focusing on the subtitle, Benedictine women, and quickly assume there would be nothing there for them.Instead I was intrigued with the idea of “learning to love.”Maybe it is because I am a perennial student, but I am always pulled into something to learn.…

Be Verbal

The call to be verbal is not always welcome news to anyone who is shy and introverted!Being verbal is about the last thing they hope to hear.But it seems to me this is exactly what the spiritual journey asks each of us to do: to be verbal.Let me explain.

It makes most sense to begin the explanation with a reminder of what all of us knows about grammar.I had a good elementary teacher—although I am not sure I can recall her name or the grade---who taught me the basics of English grammar.I remember her saying something to the effect that the main components of the sentence are nouns and verbs.She is correct; complete sentences have at least one of each.
If we generalize, we can understand most nouns having to do with a “state of being.”If we say “cat,” we point to a group of animals---all of whom may be pretty different---that have in common “catness!”Since I do not share their state of being (genetic code, etc.), I an not a “cat.”
On the other hand, verbs are different.There are a coup…

People of Dark

I continue to enjoy working my way slowly through Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise.It is such a wonderful read because it is built around so many interviews she does with very interesting people.Reading her book is the next best thing to sitting in the interview itself or, even better, being able to be with the various people by yourself.
The latest one that intrigued me was her interview with the writer, Richard Rodriguez.I have read some of Rodriguez’s works and find him an engaging, thoughtful person.I am acquainted with his exploration of his Catholic faith.He also brings to the table his own Latino background.With all of this difference from my own upbringing, I always feel like I have so much to learn.Tippett was able to tease even more insight with her interview. Early in her interview she cites his memoir, Hunger of Memory.She quotes a sentence from that piece.Rodriguez says, “Of all the institutions in their lives, only the Catholic Church had seemed aware of the fact th…

The Prodigal

One of the best-known stories of the New Testament is the Prodigal Son parable.  I remember learning this parable early on in my Sunday School career.  I wonder if most of us do not identify with that story?  I never really felt like the prodigal.  He was the one who grabbed his inheritance much too soon, ran off and blew it on lousy choices.  And then when things got tough, he decided to go home.

There is a part of the prodigal’s action that is funny.  He reminds me of the kid in the class who has so much going for himself.  Often he is charming, a jokester, and sometimes shyster.  He can simultaneously be admired and loathed.

However, there is that part of the prodigal’s action that is lamentable.  It is clear from the outset he is hurting his father.  He is being irresponsible.  There is a feeling of “wrongness” about everything he is doing.  He continually squanders his possibilities in dumb ways.  I never really felt sorry for him at any point.

Often people like me identify with the…

Temptation: All Too Real

From time to time, I find myself returning to Thomas Merton, famous Catholic monk of last century.  In some ways I have no idea why he appeals to me so much.  At most levels, we have very little in common.  He grew up in very global ways; I was about as provincial as it gets.  He had a knack for taking risks; in most ways I think I am fairly risk-averse.  He went from communism to atheism to Catholicism to a strict monastic calling.  I have been a Quaker all my life.  And yet, he speaks deeply to me.

Part of Merton’s appeal to me is his willingness to probe his interiority, cull the superficial from the depth, and be open to growth in the Spirit…wherever that took him.  Ironically, it took this urbane, worldly guy to a strict monastery in the boonies of Kentucky.  Part of him always was looking for an escape to “better things.”  He struggled with himself and that struggle was simultaneously a struggle with God.  And he did this in print.  So fortunately, that survives after his untimel…

Seeking Soul

One of the fun things about my interest in spirituality is that I am a soul seeker!I like that phrase, “soul seeker.”If you are interested, too, in spirituality, then maybe you should see yourself as a soul seeker.I don’t know all that being a soul seeker means.But let’s assume it is one part curiosity, one part sleuth, and two parts intentionality.

I think intentionality is key to most spiritual, soulful endeavors.By itself curiosity is interesting, but usually goes nowhere on its own.Curiosity is a bit like a puppy.It is fun to watch; but it is impetuous.It darts here and there.There is a great deal of fury, but nothing really is accomplished.Ultimately, there is no plan, no advancing, no achieving.These may seem like funny words for the soul seeker, but without a plan, advance, and achieving, then I do not see how one is growing at all.But we do need one part curiosity.
And then I do believe there is a role in spirituality for being a sleuth.I admit that I like this word.The roots o…

Window of Choice

I have been reading very slowly the fully packed book, Becoming Wise, by Krista Tippett.I figure if you become wise, it does not happen with a quick read over the weekend.Wisdom is more organic.You just don’t acquire it.Somehow you grow it.It takes seriously your experiences and marinates them with reflection.I think Tippett is correct: we become wise.And wisdom is not automatic, like growing old is automatic.If you live long enough, you get old.But you can live to be very old and not become wise.
Much of Tippett’s book is a series of interviews with the kind of people most of us would like to meet and get to know.We probably won’t be that lucky, but she is.Many of them joined her for interviews for her broadcast called, On Being.Some of them have doubtlessly become good friends.And all of them became wise.With her book we get to join the conversation and give ourselves a good chance to become wise. Recently, I was reading a section where Tippett talks about herself.In the years afte…

That Other Self

I went out for a jog yesterday afternoon like I have done so many times in my life.In fact, it has been decades now.It is so much part of me, I can’t imagine not doing it.And yet I know someday for whatever reasons, my running/jogging days will be finished.I certainly don’t look forward to that, but it is part of being human.Everyone understands this about life.

So my day was unusual in no way.But as I loped along, sometimes slowing to walk for a minute or so, I had a dawning awareness of something.It was not novel, but it captured my attention and, then, I began to pay attention.
I know I am not a runner anymore.I am either getting too old, have lost sufficient will to push myself, or whatever, but at best I am a jogger.And I am ok with that.In fact, as I indicated already about yesterday’s jog, periodically I slow to a walk before resuming the jog.It was in such an interlude between jog and walk that something dawned on me.
I realized that I had started out to jog with little inten…

The God Delusion

I choose an odd title for today’s inspiration.But it is a deliberate use of the book title of Richard Dawkins’ widely controversial 2006 book, The God Delusion.Dawkins is the well-known scientist who teaches at Oxford University in England.He also is a well-known atheist.And it is atheism that he is really touting in this book.Or, I can imagine Dawkins saying, it is the stupidity of the traditional god that he is bashing as nonsense.

Dawkins is an entertaining writer!He is the kind who would rather provoke than placate.If he can say something that would raise the ire of a believer, he feels successful.“Ah ha,” he might say, “now I have you thinking about what you really believe.”And I would say that is his real point…other than telling you he thinks the God in whom many of us would say we believe is, indeed, folly.I must admit, this does not raise my ire because I know I cannot prove the God in whom I believe.I guess that is why it is called faith.
I read Dawkins’ book some time ago,…

Secret of Acceptance

Occasionally in my reading, I run into a sentence or even a phrase that is arresting.It can be a stunner or a surprise or something that makes me laugh out loud.It is arresting because it makes me stop.Usually when I am reading, I just push on.One sentence leads to another.It is a bit like life…one day leads to the next.But occasionally, there is an arrest.

It happened yesterday as I was reading further in the Thomas Merton journals.No doubt, by now you know that Cistercian monk who died in 1968 is one of my favorites.He was a prolific writer.That is not too surprising because there are other prolific writers.I think of James Michener or some of the science fiction writers whom I do not know.But Merton is a bit surprising when you are aware of his context.
Every other year I take some students to Kentucky where we spend a weekend at the monastery, Gethsemani, where Merton was a monk from 1941 until his death.The students and I try to fit into the monastic schedule which means beginni…

For What?

One of the things I most appreciate with Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise, is all the other voices she brings into her work.In effect, she marshals many and various voices to describe, discuss and deploy the wisdom in our world.Of course, one source of wisdom is history itself.Whether it is the wisdom of sacred scriptures, like the Psalms, or the wisdom of particular people, like Socrates, history is a rich resource.And in my estimation folks don’t spend much time reading and thinking about what history can teach us.Too often, we prefer the stupidity of our contemporary culture!
Another source of wisdom is the wise ones who still are living and willing to teach us.Tippett brings together so many of the voices, as she has interviewed an incredible variety of people in her work as a broadcaster.While I know many of the names she brings forth, I also have met a great number whom I did not know.One especially notable group she has helped me begin to learn is the poets.I have been def…

Life: a Fragile Thing

It is wonderful when the serendipitous happen.What this means is I love it when a “gift” comes and I did not work for it nor even see it coming.That happens more than I probably realized it.But when I realize it, I can enjoy the moment.And then, if possible, I can share the moment.

Just such a gift happened last night.I was doing some “fun reading” which many folks would not consider fun at all.It was still spirituality-focused.I have been working my way through the multiple journals of Thomas Merton, the Cistercian monk who died in the late ‘60s.I have taught an upper level seminar on Merton’s spirituality, so at one level I have a fair sense of what he thinks.He impacted me in my early spiritual and intellectual formation and I suppose I will never “get over” him.Even in his death, he challenges me and reassures me.
Since the Cistercian monastic life is lived with so much silence and Merton was such an outgoing, talkative type, his journals became his dialogue partner.So instead o…

Varieties of Religious Experience

Anyone who has done some reading in religion, philosophy or psychology might know that the title for my inspirational piece is also the title of a very famous book, TheVarieties of Religious Experience, by William James.This book was originally published in 1902.Most things written that long ago I would not bother to read because the assumption is it’s outdated.Sometimes being a classic means it is old, but someone thinks I should read it!In James’ case it is old, but I read it and have re-read it.
I admit I had not thought about the book in some time.But I recently read an account of a person who talked about how important the book was to her.Sidney Callahan wrote a piece for a publication that regularly gives some attention to classic books.In Callahan’s essay we find someone who writes appreciatively of having read James’ classic work and she describes in some detail the power and lasting effect the book had on her.The precipitated my own musing about the influence of James’ thoug…

Taking the Back Seat

I have no idea what the origins of the phrase, “taking the back seat,” might be.We could be narrow-minded and assume it has to do with cars.But a little thought would suggest buggies also had back seats.One could climb into a horse and buggy mode of transportation and still land in the back seat.

Whatever the origins of this phrase, it has at least two clear implications.First of all, you are along for the ride.It does not matter whether it is a buggy, car, bus, or plane; you are along for the ride.And the second implication is that you are not in control.The reins are not in your hands.The steering wheel is in someone else’s hands.
Of course, those examples have to do with real rides in life.But I also realize there are metaphorical rides in life.Often in situations, circumstances, and relationships, I realize I am taking the back seat.Sometimes I willingly step into the back seat.Sometimes, I seem to be thrown into the back seat!In either case, I am along for the ride.And I am not …