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Showing posts from January, 2017

Making Choices

Not everything I do originates in religion.  I have a variety of interests and read fairly broadly.  I have done some work in the field of leadership.  I have been a leader, but realized at one point I never read much in that area nor had any real formal training.  Thankfully, a number of the organizations I belonged to when I was a kid provided some informal training.

In retrospect, I can see that many organizations provide some role models for leadership.  Of course, not all role models are good ones. In fact looking back, I can see that some of them were quite mediocre!  But one can learn some things from people who are mediocre or, even, very poor leaders.  Of course, no one verbally announced, “ok, this is a lesson in poor leadership!”  However, everyone in the group would have known.  And I would have learned that you cannot do leadership that way…at least do it that way and be respected and effective.

I know that some leaders are leaders because they bring necessary skills to a…

Another Look at the Real Me

I couldn’t resist.  As I was glancing through a magazine that I read online, my eye spotted the title, “Discovering the true self in God with Merton’s guidance.”  I knew immediately that I would be reading this one.  As most folks who know anything about me know, I find the late Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, inspiring and instructive.  Although he died tragically in 1968 in Thailand far away from his monastic home in Kentucky, his impact on the world continues in some remarkable ways.  He certainly is one of the most impactful spiritual thinkers of the twentieth century.

But Merton was not the only lure to read the article.  The author of the article is another person I admire and follow through her writings.  Ilia Delio is a Franciscan who teaches at Villanova.  She is a widely recognized expert on science and religion.  I like reading her because she knows so much about the natural world that I never know.  And yet, she carefully tries to articulate her faith in a theology that takes…

Save Me: Give Me Some Space

Recently I have been giving thought to the idea of “the sacred.”  Not long ago we had a visitor who led us into thinking about nature as sacred space.  I find that intriguing.  Since the majority of Americans are now urban or suburbanites, I don’t think we give nearly as much consideration to nature and our natural world as in the old agrarian days.  Having grown up on a farm, I know I am much less aware of and observant of my natural world.

Most of us probably don’t live very close to nature.  Of course, we are all in nature, but it often is not “natural.”  If I am honest, I leave my house and jump in the car.  If it is cold outside, the windows are up and the heater is on full blast.  Most of the time the radio is playing some kind of music.  If it is hot, the windows are up and the air-conditioner is on full blast and the radio is playing some kind of music.

I arrive at the building where I have a pleasant study and where I teach my classes.  Most of my day is spent there.  Seldom …

The Dorothy Day Effect

One of the periodicals I regularly read has a regular column written by various people as they reflect on their favorite books or a book that profoundly affected their lives.These are always interesting reads for me, since I know most of the books on which they comment.Of course, most of the books are classics or books that had become very popular in their day.So in some cases, it is a trip down memory lane for me.
Recently, the column featured a piece by Julie Hanlon Rubio.She was reflecting on her long love affair with Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness.I liked the title of her reflections: “Arguing with Dorothy Day challenges my quest for a Christian life.”The article comes replete with a great picture of the silver haired saint herself.I like to call Dorothy Day a saint, although the Catholic Church has not canonized her.I don’t know whether they ever will move her through the process of becoming a saint, but to me she already has made it. I have also read a fair am…

Truth and Power

As often as I am on the prowl for the new and interesting events of the day to see where spirituality is at work, I am just as often very content to stay with the daily lectionary readings for inspiration.  Perhaps this is like a two-handed approach.  On the one hand, I watch for spiritual novelty.  I think God continues to work in our world doing new things, if we but had eyes.  I try to use my eyes to catch these new things.  On the other hand, there is the traditional---the oldies, but goodies.  God is just as much involved in speaking through tradition if we but had eyes to see.

So today it is the traditional that spoke to me.  When I use the daily lectionary---the daily readings provided by the monastic community---I start with morning prayer.  If I were really at a monastery, these would be the hymns, scriptural readings, and prayers that the monks would chant and say.  I can’t be at the monastery every morning, but I can participate in what I know they are doing.

Today’s mornin…

Calls or “the Call”

It seems like all one has to do is pay attention and potential themes for spiritual inspiration and reflection daily jump out at you. One way of saying it is religion is always in public life. Sometimes it is explicitly religious and other times religion is in the public life, but it is implicit. When it is implicit, you have to be alert and pay attention or you’ll miss it.

Such was the case yesterday when I was reading an article online. Gradually it dawned on me what I was reading was implicitly spiritual. It was an article by Andrew Keen, a British-American entrepreneur and social skeptic, as he was called. That description of the guy nearly stopped me in my tracks. I understand an entrepreneur, but social skeptic? That is an interesting vocation!

The article is entitled, “How our Mobiles Became Frankenstein’s Monster.” I hope it is clear that “mobiles” means our smartphones. For a long time, I could laugh at this one. I did not have a smartphone and did not plan to buy one. Wrong …

On Care for Our Common Home

On a recent trip to China, I was reminded of one of Pope Francis’ first public documents.  That may seem like an odd way to begin an inspirational reflection, so let me explain.  I was in China with my friend to do a seminar.  There is nothing unusual or inspiring in that, I grant.  I travel with him fairly often, but normally it is not to China.  The trip was uneventful; we did what we planned to do.  Of course, being in a very different culture, as China is, leaves a profound impression on me.  But I don’t even want to talk about that.

What I do want to discuss is the air pollution I experienced.  Of course, China is not the only place on earth where that happens, but rarely have I been somewhere the air is so markedly unhealthy.  I was lucky.  Much of the week I spent inside a comfortable hotel.  And I was in Shanghai, which is usually not the worst place in China.  Typically, Beijing is worse than Shanghai and other industrial cities are even lower on the “awful meter.”

Rather than …

When God Is Needed!

One of the things I most like about writing this inspirational thing is how it forces me to live life more attentively.  I do not know of any major spiritual tradition which does not say one needs to live attentively.  The other amazing thing about myself is how easy it is not to live attentively.  This is probably true for many of you, too.

It is easy for me to fake out myself.  If I am not thinking about it, I assume that I would be living attentively.  If I am honest, I have a pretty high view of myself.  By that, I don’t mean I am a walking, prideful, arrogant guy.  I don’t think that.  By having a high view of myself, I mean that I see myself as pretty capable---pretty “with it” when it comes to functioning in the world. 

At one level this is probably true.  I am educated at a level higher than the average American.  By now I also have lived long enough to have accumulated significant experience.  And the list goes on.  What I have achieved has been a mixture of some ability and…

Night God

As part of my daily discipline, I try to follow the lectionary reading.  A lectionary is a pre-selected series of readings.  The one I follow from the Benedictine monastery has morning prayers, evening prayers, night prayers, etc.  If one knows anything about the monastic life, one knows that monks follow a daily regimen that alternates worship and work.  In fact, for the serious, classical monks there are seven different periods of worship throughout the day.  And this pattern is repeated day after day.

To live your life with this kind of schedule is bound to shape you in ways that most of us are not.  For example, contrast your daily schedule with that more worshipful structure of the monks.  Even though my daily schedule can be fairly busy and, in some ways, pretty structured, it does not approximate the monastic life.  Of course, my goal is not to be a monk.

But a monk’s goal is not to be a monk either!  The monk’s goal is to live life in such a way that the monk is living in and …

Hearts That Speak

I do not usually read books looking for quotations.  But inevitably a phrase or, even, a whole sentence will jump out at me and I know it is a “keeper.”  Sometimes, I do not even know for sure why it is so important or why it captivated me.  I am convinced that sometimes I am captivated and, then, I have to figure out why that is the case.

Just such a thing happened recently as I was reading a book that is being used by a group of which I am a participant.  Parker Palmer’s book, The Active Life, is a good read.  I confess that I like Parker, that he is a friend of mine, and I am biased to like whatever he writes.  But that confession does not mean he cannot say important things and everyone would agree.

The phrase that jumped out to capture me comes in a chapter he entitled, “Active Life: The Shadow Side.”  Thinking about the shadow side does not entice me.  In fact, I find it a bit foreboding.  I don’t have doubts that I have a shadow side.  To be honest, part of me really hopes it s…

Already There

I was innocently reading along in the textbook for the next class and I hit an arresting line.  Before sharing that line, let me give you the context.  The book I was reading is one of my favorites.  It is by Richard Rohr and entitled, Everything Belongs.  I find the subtitle quite interesting: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer.  It certainly is that, but it is so much more.  In some ways, the book is a spirituality primer.

In a chapter, which Rohr titles, “Vision of Enchantment,” he charges that we modern people have a problem.  He says, “We have to accept that we share a mass cultural trance, a hypnotic trance.  We are all sleepwalkers.”  In many ways this is hard to believe.  I do not generally think I am in a trance.  I certainly do not think I am hypnotized.  I often have wondered what it would be like to be hypnotized, but so far have not stepped forward to let someone do it to me.  So I find it strange to hear Rohr tell me culture has already done it to me!

Rohr sets this contex…

Vicarious Spirituality

It hit me as I was reading the first journals handed in by students in a course I am teaching.  Although I generally don’t think about it this way, I realized in a way I am forcing students to engage spiritual issues.  “Forcing” is a heavy word.  It makes me a little uneasy when I see myself as being “forceful.”  After all, I try to make my classes as full of choice and voluntary as I can. 

I am forcing the students just because they are taking the class.  I suppose if one is going to be forced, this is about the most benign way force can happen.  I certainly am not coercing any of them to take the class.  But if they sign on for the class, then they are going to have to engage in some spiritual exploration and spiritual work.  The hope is that engagement will lead to spiritual growth and development.  I do not map out what the spiritual growth and development has to be.  In fact, different people will develop in very different ways.

It hit me that I ask the students to engage a spir…

Spirituality and Serenity

Occasionally, I run into a quotation that I want to embrace, ponder, and keep in mind.  I know there are some of my favorite authors who often provide just such a quotation.  They are dependable friends, if you want to put it that way.  Many of them I have never met, but I feel like I know them.  And I am always quite happy to invite someone else into that circle of people who offer memorable things for my life.

One such author is Rollo May.  I feel like I have known Rollo May for decades.  I probably first bumped into his writings in the 1960s.  I really don’t know how many books he has written.  I have encountered him in articles, in interviews, and other venues.  I have never met him.  Some day, maybe, in this life or the next phase of life---whatever that is---we will become friends.

Some twenty years or more ago, I encountered May’s book on beauty.  I liked the title: My Quest for Beauty.  Part of what attracts me to this work of May’s is the fact that I really don’t know much ab…

Look for the Doorknob

I am aware that I have three consistent teachers of spirituality.  Two of them are pretty obvious: other people and books.  In fact, books really are other people, but most of them I have not met.  Some of them are deceased---maybe long-ago dead.  Others are people who are living, but I have not met them.  I value these teachers very much.  I am always open to meeting new ones, so that my learning can continue.

The third teacher is also fairly familiar in the literature of spirituality, but this teacher often is not recognized or overlooked.  This teacher sometimes goes by the name of nature.  However, I like to widen it beyond nature.  Too many times folks limit nature to the outdoors---to trees, water, etc.  Those are very valuable, to be sure. 

Instead of just saying nature, I like to mention the third teacher as my natural and normal surroundings.  This obviously includes the outdoors---the winter snows, the lovely sunsets, the soothing ocean.  But my natural and normal surroundi…

Second Coming

I suspect some readers are going to see this title and have certain expectations.Some will be disappointed that I am writing on something like this and may never read it again.Others will be so happy and, then, when they read it, will likely be disappointed.And they may never read again anything I write.So indeed, this is about the second coming, but probably not in the traditional way people associate with that idea.
I did not set out to write this little inspirational piece.But the idea was dumped into my lap---or my mind, as it were.I am part of a group that meets weekly and explores spiritual issues.It is a group that has been meeting for many years now, so it is not unusual to get personal stories emerging out of a discussion about some issue.Most of them are important, because the people are important.But most of them do not provoke me to write about it.The one shared recently moved me to reflect and here it is. The story was a wintertime story and actually was pretty hair-rais…

Killing the Future

One of the major days in the Christian calendar is Epiphany.For virtually all the Christians I know, Epiphany is not as big a deal as Christmas.It is hard to gauge how significant Christmas really is because of all the hype and commercialism that goes with the Christmas season.In fact for many people, there is no religious significance to Christmas.It is merely a long shopping time, which begins in late October and reaches a crescendo by the Christmas Day itself.Of course, I am not recognizing the authentic meaning and depth Christmas has for so many people.
Epiphany is different.While it is less than two weeks later than Christmas and, indeed, is now the bookend to Christmas itself, it is far less known and probably less celebrated.In fact, many Protestant traditions do not recognize nor celebrate Epiphany.Growing up as a Quaker, I never heard of it.I am not sure when I first heard the word.Churches that are much more liturgical, i.e. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, etc., were aware…

To Be Human

The most recent essay by Thomas Friedman is thought provoking, as his work usually is.It is one I have given some thought.He focuses on the twenty-first century technological revolution that is happening in our midst.If we have even a smidgeon of awareness, we can know it is happening.But so often we ignore the most obvious signs.One of the unmistakable signs is the amount of shopping that folks are doing on the Internet.All the so-called big box stores and the smaller mom and pop stores struggle to compete with the new elephant in the room.
What I enjoyed about Friedman’s reflection was his sense of where this is taking us.Part of the intrigue is his account of visiting his former teacher, Dov Seidman.Seidman’s first words, which Friedman shares, are unnerving.“What we are experiencing today bears striking similarities in size and implications to the scientific revolution that began in the 16th century…The discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, which spurred that scientific revoluti…