Skip to main content


Showing posts from November, 2016

Spiritual Commitment

I was reading along in a very nice little book and hit these lines about commitment.The author, Mitch Albom, uses the voice of one of the main characters of his nonfiction book about faith to reflect on commitment.The voice belongs to Albom’s old rabbi of the Jewish synagogue where he went until his college days.The old rabbi, Albert Lewis, says “the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.”
The rabbi continues in a way that surely would have many people saying, “Amen!”About commitment he says, “I’m old enough when it used to be a positive.A committed person was someone to be admired.He was loyal and steady.Now a commitment is something you avoid.You don’t want to tie yourself down.”I also think I am old enough to know that commitment was usually a positive word.I can think of a range of situations in which commitment would have been seen to be positive.
For example, growing up was full of sports for me.Commitment would have been presupposed to be part of a team. If you were going to pl…

Novice at Love

I continue to work my way slowly through Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise.I figure if I have any chance of becoming wise, it surely will be a slow process.Each of her chapters is rather long.And each one is a big topic.Right now I am creeping through the love chapter.That certainly is going to take a while.
Fairly early in that chapter Tippett shares about her own marriage and divorce.That is always a story of love and love gone awry.I appreciated her poignant account of it.She said, “When my marriage ended, I walked into a parallel universe that had been there all along; I became one of the modern multitudes of walking wounded in the wreckage of long-term love.”  I suspect for many of the multitudes of the walking wounded, the story continues in that parallel universe.But there is where Tippett had a turn of events.And that is what attracts me to her thinking and writing. She realized that love in her life continued.Listen to her words.“This is the opposite of a healing story---i…

Thankfully the Holiday is Over!

Of course, the title of this inspirational reflection is partly in jest.But part of me is serious when I say, thankfully, the holiday is over.Both aspects need some clarification and development.

It is clear that I offer a word play on the most recent holiday, namely, Thanksgiving.Actually, I am quite good with Thanksgiving Day itself.I appreciate that it is totally an American holiday.When we grow up Americans, it may be difficult to revel in that fact.Truly, it was when I was abroad one November that I realized all my family and friends “back home” were celebrating Thanksgiving and I was simply doing what routinely was to be done on Thursday in the country where I was living at the time.I missed Thanksgiving.
I like the idea of Thanksgiving.Certainly I and most of the people I know have been very fortunate.We all have much for which we can be thankful.I am ok with taking a day during my year and making it a special Thanksgiving Day.I can do that without falling into the trap of thi…

Thanksgiving: a Day and a Way of Life

As Americans, we enter the Thanksgiving season. Already people are wishing me a “happy Thanksgiving.” I am delighted with that greeting. And I would be delighted if someone next week wishes me a “happy Monday.” But I guess Mondays are supposed to be normal…not so happy, not so awful.

I am not sure I do major holidays very well. I am not against them. They celebrate important events in national, religious, and often personal lives. Thanksgiving is an American deal. In Turkey it is just another weekday! As an American, I welcome it. And I hope it is happy.

I am confident one of the reasons I am not sure about major holidays is the trickiness of expectations. For example, Thanksgiving is supposed to be “happy.” Christmas is supposed to be “merry” and, of course, we return to the “happy” theme for New Years. Clearly, for too many people there are too many lousy things going on to gear up to be “happy” and “merry.” Holiday expectations are tricky things.

The …

One Person’s Good

One of the pleasant things that can happen while you are reading is finding something you had not been seeking.  It happens to me quite frequently.  It can make me feel like a kid who finds a treasure.  Usually, I want to yell, “hey, look at this!”  But normally there is no one around…or worse, I am sitting somewhere with some people and if I yelled that, they would think I am daft or, perhaps, throw me out the door!

Last evening I hit one of those gems that made me want to yell to someone.  But no one was at home with me.  And the neighbor above me already thinks I am crazy enough…no need to add evidence!  So let me share that tidbit with you.

It comes from Dorothy Day.  Fewer and fewer people these days know when Dorothy Day was.  Dorothy was a Catholic saint, although she obviously has not been canonized.  I doubt that she will be, but to me she is a saint.  In her early life through the 1920s and 30s, she was active with the communists.  She was an agnostic and, as we would say to…

Image of God

Even though I grew up in the Quaker tradition, I don’t think I was a very good Quaker.  But I was also not a bad Quaker.  In retrospect I probably would say in most ways I simply was not a Quaker.  I was a normal, middle class farm kid whose parents went to church like most of the families I knew.  “Going to church” in my case, meant going to Quaker meeting, as we called it.  If that is what you do every Sunday, it is easy to assume that is normal!

If I had gone to a Methodist church or a Catholic church, I would have claimed that as my identity: I would have been Methodist or Catholic.  In all likelihood I would not have been any better at being Methodist or Catholic than I was at being Quaker.  Going to church was what people did.  But that did not make it important or, even, relevant in my life.  After all, I was clear that basketball and girls were more important and, certainly, more relevant!

Things began to change for me late in high school.  There was nothing dramatic---certainly…

Conversion: Learning to Live

Every so often I run into a quotation that stops me in my tracks.  That happened yesterday when I was finishing one of Thomas Merton’s books.  Periodically, I teach a seminar on Merton’s spirituality.  I have done this multiple times.  I like Merton and I suspect I will get something new every time I teach that seminar.  Often I have read the book before, but somehow a particular quotation never hit me like it does the current time through the material.

Merton was a Catholic monk who died tragically in 1968.  He wrote a great deal and was ironically very famous even as a silent monk in a monastery in the hills of Kentucky.  So even though he could not speak that much in his monastery and would have to get the abbot’s permission even to receive a visitor he “spoke” to millions of people around the globe through his writings.  The voice that had chosen the silent path spoke in volumes!

Merton’s story is very familiar to me.  After a rather tumultuous youth and an atheistic phase through…

Spiritual Commitment

I was reading along in a very nice little book and hit these lines about commitment.  The author, Mitch Albom, uses the voice of one of the main characters of his nonfiction book about faith to reflect on commitment.  The voice belongs to Albom’s old rabbi of the Jewish synagogue where he went until his college days.  The old rabbi, Albert Lewis, says “the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.”

The rabbi continues in a way that surely would have many people saying, “Amen!”  About commitment he says, “I’m old enough when it used to be a positive.  A committed person was someone to be admired.  He was loyal and steady.  Now a commitment is something you avoid.  You don’t want to tie yourself down.”  I also think I am old enough to know that commitment was usually a positive word.  I can think of a range of situations in which commitment would have been seen to be positive.

For example, growing up was full of sports for me.  Commitment would have been presupposed to be part of a team.…

Spiritual Community

I am part of a group that meets weekly.  It is a great group of fairly diverse people.  The folks have a variety of jobs.  Both genders are represented.  The age range is significant.  Some are retired and others are newer into their careers.  Not everyone has the same religious background.  We have Christians and Jews and some who probably are not institutionally affiliated.  But the greatest thing about the group is how well they get along.

I like being part of a community.  Usually, I can tell if a group is a community or if they are just a collection of individuals.  They may even be working to some common end, but a collection of individuals will not automatically become a community.  I am pretty sure I cannot give you an academic definition of community.  But I do know there are some key aspects.

Community requires commitment from the various members.  Typically, the community members have voluntary membership in the group.  No one made them join up or even stay with the communi…

Capacity for Marvel

I am very aware there are many definitions of spirituality floating around in our world. I first became aware of the word, spirituality, in the 1980s. That was the time people in non-Catholic universities and theological schools discovered what Catholics had been using as a normal word. Before that time, Protestants normally used the word, religion, and other similar words.

As last century ended, a number of people began to use spirituality to talk about their experience with the Divinity. Many of these folks either did not like the traditional religious language or sometimes had even walked away from the institutional church and wanted nothing to do with “religion” anymore. I don’t share the “reject religious language” view, but I also like what spirituality has to offer.

For many people spirituality seems preferable language to describe their experience because their experience of God, of the Holy One, of the Spirit is less defined. For many folks spirituality is a better way …

This is the Day

For no reason at all, the music and words of an old hymn entered my head and got stuck there.  I like the hymn, so it could be worse.  It is an upbeat hymn.  I don’t remember singing it as often as many of the other old hymns, but it is one I liked better than most of the others.

The hymn begins with the catchy words, “This is the day.”  Somehow that always resonated with me.  Of course, I would think, this is the day!  In fact, this is the only day I have.  And if you are alive, this is the only day you have, too.  I have already had yesterday.  It might have been one of the greatest days ever.  Or, it might have been absolutely lousy.  In either case, yesterday is over.  You can remember it, but it is over---it is past tense.  And of course, tomorrow has not yet come.  There is hope that I will get to tomorrow, but it is future tense.  This is the day.

As if that were not sufficient, the hymn repeats the little sentence: “This is the day, this is the day…”  And then comes one of my …

Monkish Attraction

A monkish attraction?  Some would definitely consider that to be sick!  But I admit that it is something I suffer…well not actually suffer, more like delight.  This is an acquired attraction.  Growing up in rural Indiana as a young Quaker I never heard about monks, certainly did not know any monks, and was completely free of any taint of monkish attraction.  But you know what they say: “when they leave the farm….”

I suppose I read something about monks when I took some European history class in college or, perhaps, high school.  But it made no impression.  The first clear memory of encountering monks in literature would have been a history of Christianity course in college.  But again, there was little or no impression. 

I am confident my vulnerability to this monkish attraction came with my own spiritual search.  In those transitional years of college, I began the move from interest in knowledge “about God” to knowledge “of God.”  I began the exploration of my own spirituality.  I d…

The Leaf: Icon of Life

Most of the time I am absolutely convinced spirituality is about learning the simple lessons the complexity of life has to teach us.  I am also persuaded that our level of education has an indirect correlation to our capacity as students to learn these spiritual lessons.  Since by worldly standards, I am pretty highly educated, I probably am the worst kind of student of life and spirituality.  I am a slow learner, but I am trying.  For the most part, I still find being in the school of life interesting and thought-provoking.

Since I have advanced degrees and am a professor, I usually don’t think about finding teachers to teach me things.  That is my job!  And that’s how my problems begin.  I see myself as a teacher and in many ways I don’t know anything.  Perhaps the first step in growing is to realize and accept truth as it is revealed to you.  I had a little lesson recently.  My little granddaughter became my teacher.  Fortunately, I began to recognize I was her student, although I …

Road to God

To use a title like, “Road to God,” might seem fairly arrogant.If I were to see this title, I might think the author knows the road to God and is going to share the secret.I can assure you this author does not know the road to God and I don’t have any secrets.So at least I am not arrogant!In fact on this issue, I am incredibly humble.I would like to learn something about that road so I could begin the journey.
This topic arose as I was preparing for a class.One of the ongoing joys in teaching spirituality is getting a chance to keep reading and thinking about something that is so personally important to me.In fact, I might well claim spirituality is the most important thing in the world to me.That is because I do think it offers insight and assistance in finding my way to God.And to find my way there is to discover meaning and purpose for myself and, indeed, for the life we are can live.That helps me understand my life as a miracle and not a waste. A key book I use for the contemplat…

I-Thou Relationships

Those of us who have read theology or, perhaps, those who are people of faith and are old enough might well recognize this title as a reminder of the late Jewish philosopher and theologian, Martin Buber.I remember reading Buber’s book, I and Thou, when I was in college in the 1960s.It was already a famous book by then.I am not sure I fully understood it, but that would not be the last time I read it.It has been a while since I looked at the book.
Buber came up in a conversation with a friend who asked if I had seen the recent article by David Brooks?I had not seen it, but when I was told about it, I knew I would quickly locate and read that piece.I very much like what Brooks decides to write about and what he contributes to societal conversation.I wish more people read him and took him seriously. Brooks’ article focused on the 2016 contentious election.He provocatively suggests, “Read Buber, Not the Polls!”I think Brooks puts it well when he said that Buber “devoted his whole career …

Before Time and in Time

Coming up with a title for a particular inspirational reflection is fun and useful for me.It may do nothing for the reader, but it is my chance to figure out in a very succinct way what I thought I was doing in the longer reflection piece that I write.Sometimes, I have a title before I write one word of the essay.And sometimes I write something only then to figure out what I was trying to say.I realize the title is not essential, but it can be a pointer to my thoughts.
The title for this inspirational piece came when I was reading the first couple verses of Psalm 90.They are familiar words for anyone who has spent much time in the world of the Psalms.The words are the Psalmist’s address to God.Some interesting theology emerges in these words, which I will share and then offer some reflection. The Psalmist opens the Psalm by speaking to God, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” (90:1)Another familiar translation says that the Lord is our refuge.I like “dwelling…

The Day’s First Sounds

One of the things I most like about being in a monastery setting is the fact that it becomes so much easier to be devotionally involved.  I did not grow up knowing anything about monasteries or monks.  I suppose the best that could be said is that I had an ignorant, stereotyped view of what a monk would be.

Probably high on that stereotyped view would be a man (or woman) who did not have much else going for himself (herself) in the world, so opted out.  It does not get any worse because I was so ignorant I could not formulate any more opinion.  Basically, I was just dismissive.  For sure, monks and monasticism were dismissed as having anything to do with me and essentially irrelevant.

But how things change with a little openness, education, and common sense!  Not only do I see the point of monasticism now, but I also have an appreciation of how relevant it is to my own life.  Common sense now tells me that so many of us “normal” people out here in real life are squandering our lives o…