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Showing posts from February, 2017

From Me to We

Community has always been important to me.  But it is more than just an idea.  Community can be an experience.  I have been fortunate to be part of a number of communities.  Community is more than a group.  I have also been part of many groups, but they were not communities.  I could probably list a few characteristics of community.  Among them would be care for each other, etc.  However, detailing the list is not important here.

I have also been fascinated with the process by which community is formed.  At the beginning of every new semester, I tell the students that I hope somehow through the course of the semester we can form a community.  In most cases the students do not know each other.  The only thing they have in common is they go to the same college.  I think I have some ideas about community formation, but I certainly do not think I am an expert. 

I received another insight into community and community formation when I was re-reading a book by my friend, Alan Jones.  It is …

Theology as Metaphorical Meat

Recently, I read the account of a Spanish-speaking conference held at Boston College.  The focus of the conference was the Liberation Theology movement associated with Central and South America.  I know something about this theological way of making sense of God, humanity and our world.  That theology came on the scene about the same time I was in college and graduate school.  It grew out of the political and economic situations of the Americas that in some ways I could say I knew about, but didn’t really know. 

Liberation Theology has not always been kindly looked upon by the officials within the Catholic Church.  This is not surprising, since the Church often was implicated because they sided with the power structures in Latin America.  Too often through the later part of the twentieth century, the political power structures of various countries had policies that oppressed the poor and marginal folks.  Women were too often harassed and other minorities suffered as well.  The origina…

Trapped in Normalcy

I ran across a line in one of Richard Rohr’s books that I use for a course I teach.  The book is entitled, Everything Belongs.  I have used the book a number of times in some classes.  I find it challenging, comforting, and encouraging.  It is encouraging when I read that ultimately everything belongs.  Obviously, that is pretty general.  But it is also radical.

It is general and sometimes generalities don’t mean much.  It is tempting to say, “yeah, everything belongs, but belongs to what?”  The first place in Rohr’s book where he addresses this question provides a good, beginning answer.  He says, “In God’s reign, ‘everything belongs,’ even the broken and poor parts; the imperial systems of culture, however, demand ‘in’ and ‘out’ people, victors and victims.”

When Rohr says “everything,” he means every thing.  That includes me and you.  That means all of us and all of our world (and every other world out there).  This is the radicality of his message.  It is such a radical message t…

Mortar of Love

It is reassuring to work at a place that is supportive.I know enough about engagement studies to know that good relationships at work not only are more pleasant, but also it enhances productivity.While productivity is often measured in economic terms, there are also other measures.When I think about my own job of teaching spirituality to college-age folks, it is difficult to measure my productivity in economic terms.While I would like to think I am effective, I doubt there is an economic measurement that would confirm my effectiveness. Part of the joy of my work is having folks help and encourage me.One of those people happens to be president of my institution.I was not surprised recently when I received an email from him.What did surprise me a little was the content of the email.It is worth noting that, although I do not work at a Catholic institution, my president is Catholic.And he knows how much I value the Catholic tradition and how much, particularly, the monastic tradition has…

Recreating Through Us

The title for today’s inspirational reflection comes from a sentence from my favorite Quaker saint, Thomas Kelly.  Oh, Quakers don’t actually have saints in the traditional Catholic sense.  But if we did, Kelly would be sanctified.  Clearly he was no more perfect than any other human being.  He was a man with some significant flaws, but who among us does not have significant flaws?

Kelly died in 1948 at a relatively young age.  He had aspirations to be a world-class scholar.  In some ways he was on the path to achieve some of that dream.  And in other ways, he failed and suffered depression and other maladies because of that.  He taught at a couple Quaker colleges and wanted more.  He struggled to get a Harvard degree, but that did not bring him the success he sought.  He also was spending time in pre-war Germany in the 1930s.  There he saw the rise of Nazism and the horrors that would become WWII.

Finally toward the end of the 1930s, Kelly seemed to turn a spiritual corner.  His prio…

Keep the Faith

One of the things I try to do in order to maintain some discipline in my spiritual journey is to follow the lectionary of the church.  The lectionary is a set of daily readings.  I choose to follow the lectionary that I know the Benedictine monks follow.  This is a group to which I have some affiliation, so I enjoy knowing that I am doing what they are doing.  Of course, I know they are much more diligent in their discipline.  So I figure there are times their diligence is covering for my lack of diligence!

In fact, they are so disciplined, they set aside a number of different periods during the day when they stop whatever they are doing and join together in community for worship.  I cannot do all these, so I try to pay attention to the morning and evening sessions that they do.  I like the fact that every one of these gatherings include some readings from the Psalms.  I never had much to do with the Psalms as I was growing up.  I suppose that is because Quakers I knew did not pay spec…

Cultivate Holy Curiosity

Recently I have had the pleasure of returning to one of my favorite books of all time, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.This Pulitzer Prize winning work was initially published in 1974, so it is getting some age on it.By now it probably can be called a classic.The first time I read it, I was captivated.And I experience that every time I read it.Dillard has an amazing facility with words to express and elaborate a world of nature she sees so much more intricately than I ever have seen. Dillard’s classic is a great example of what I might call, subtle spirituality.You read her book and God seldom appears clearly and without obstruction.Rather God dances on the margins of her narrative about experiencing God.God is behind the scenes.It seems that God does not reveal as much as peek and peer into our reading of the text.Dillard teases us with hints of the Divine.She wants us to read, pause and reflect.Maybe this is the way the biggest truths of life really come to us. In my recent…

Human Development---Spiritual Development

Even though I read quite a bit, there is always more to read.  In fact, I am sure I am losing ground on all the new stuff out there.  That is probably true even in the world of religion and spirituality.  I am sure there is more being published---in print and on line---than any one person can read.  Rather than get discouraged, I simply hope to get my hands on some of the good ones.

My memory may be faulty, but I recollect that some person at Harvard in the early 1700s was the last person who had read all the books in Harvard’s library.  I know first-hand the library system there is amazing.  It is (I believe) the third largest in this country, after the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.  Even when I think about my little college, I realize there is no way I could read all the volumes.

However, I occasionally come across a book that I say, “I must read that one.”  This happened just recently when I was reading a review of a new book.  The book is by Edward O. Wilson…

People are Like Trees

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is a healing story.  In that story Jesus heals a blind man.  If you work some with New Testament scholarship, you soon will learn that healing blind people generally is an analogy to finding faith.  “Seeing” and “faith” make a good analogous pair.  If I can come to “see” something, then I can be said to have “faith.”  So in this healing story, the blind man comes to have “faith” in Jesus and who Jesus really is.

That’s fine, but that is not my focus for the day.  I am more intrigued with a little glitch in that healing story.  Jesus approaches the guy and touches his eyes.  Then when the man is asked if he can see, he basically says that he can see people, but they look like trees.  At that point, Jesus has to do a touch-up, so that people become people in the healed man’s eyes.

What I want to focus on in this inspirational reflection is not the healing story per se, but on the man’s response to Jesus.  In effect, he says trees are like …

Make Love Work

I know I often refer to books and even articles I read as I get ideas to ponder in order to write these inspirational essays.  I enjoy the variety of things I read and I value the chance to reflect on them.  I am quite aware that if I did not write these essays, I would probably not take the time to reflect on what I read.  That is not bad, but I also know that I would miss a great deal.

I also have become aware that I read a whole different category of work.  This would be the pile of papers and examinations that routinely come my way.  Some of my classes have weekly journal assignments, so there is a steady stream of papers that come my way.  Some days I look forward to the reading material pouring in.  And other days I feel more like, ugh, papers again!

When I step back and think about it, I realize the students are sharing some of their more precious thoughts.  I feel privileged to be able to look into the window of their souls and glimpse their truths, their questions, their doub…

Valentine: Sacred and Secular

One of the things I began to realize as a Quaker boy growing up in the middle of last century was that I was deprived!  When your world is small and provincial, you have very little to compare.  It is easy to assume people are all basically just like you are.  You assume most people live just like you live and have relatively the same amount of money, etc.  I figured I was normal and that was the deal life dealt to most people.  I was ok.

But then I went to school.   Back then, going to school was usually the window out of one’s provincialism.  I suddenly confronted “difference.”  Of course, I have to smile.  Back then, difference consisted of farm boy having to spend time with very small town “city kids.”  But they were really different.  They seldom wore blue jeans.  They did not have to milk cows nor drive tractors.  They did not know a bull from a heifer!  I was farm-smart, but they did not care.  They had a city, street-kind of sophistication---or so it seemed to me.  I was intri…

Deep Listening

I have enjoyed reading slowly Krista Tippett’s book, Becoming Wise.  Often I have to read books quite quickly.  I may need some information or just some acquaintance with the material in the book.  But I figure if I am reading something that is supposed to help me become wise, I should take it slowly and actually try to become wise!  I don’t know whether it is working, but I am making the effort.  I realize I did not have a wisdom baseline before I started the book.

I would like to think I have built up a little wisdom over the decades of my life, but how is one to know.  People don’t just come up and say, “Boy, you really are wise.”  In fact, I don’t think anyone has ever said, “Wow, you are a little wise!”  Knowledge is a little easier to measure.  You can take a test or something similar and know whether you actually have learned some things.

Wisdom often has to do with the things in life that are difficult to measure.  Wisdom has to do with love, faith, compassion and things like …

To See is to Live

The title of this inspirational piece is close to the old saying, “to see is to believe.”There certainly is some truth to this old saying, but that is not quite what I want to give focus.Obviously, believing can be very important.And not believing might be even more important.For example, the people today who do not believe there is a climate challenge are sadly off base.I trust the scientists and, sometimes, I trust my own eyes when I am in a place like Shanghai, Los Angeles or almost any big city on a truly smoggy, bad-air day.
The title of this inspirational message, however, refers to a one-liner I recently encountered again in a reading of Richard Rohr’s book, Everything Belongs.Rohr is a favorite author for me and that means I return to his writings from time to time.His truths speak to me every time I look at one of his books.I had occasion again to read the second chapter of Rohr’s book and that’s when I bumped into this sentence.“Spirituality is about seeing.” I could be cu…

A Merciful God

What a good deal, I thought: a merciful God.  This idea comes from the opening line of one of the Psalms used in today’s lectionary reading.  Actually, it is the opening line to one of my favorite Psalms, namely, Psalm 51.  The main reason I have liked that Psalm is the Psalmist’s petition that God create in him a clean heart.  I love that image---a clean heart.

Certainly one of the ways our spiritual tradition has talked about sin---or going wrongly---is as “dirt” or “dirty.”  To sin is to soil oneself.  It soils the purity of the heart created by God and the pure heart in relationship with God.  But the sinner is the one who leaves this pure relationship to go out and play in the mud of the world.  Maybe I always resonated with this image because I grew up on a farm.  I was always close to the earth.  And I knew what it was like to get dirty.

However, I think I was often too quick to get to that passage in the middle of the Psalm that I never lingered long enough at the beginning of…

Hospitality: Making Friends from Strangers

I am a Benedictine oblate.  When I was a Quaker kid growing up in rural Indiana, I would not have known what either of those words means.  I am sure I never heard about “Benedictine.”  I would not have known they were monks.  If someone had told me that Benedictines were monks, I am not sure I would have really known what a monk was…or did!

After too many years of school and a great deal of experience in the ecumenical and interfaith worlds, I know much about Benedictines and about monasteries.  Benedictines are monks (men and women) who follow the Rule of St. Benedict.  Benedict was an Italian Christian who lived in the late 5th and early 6th century.  It was a time of turmoil in the so-called “barbaric” period of the early middle ages.  The Roman Empire had fallen a century earlier.  All of Europe was politically, economically, and socially a mess.  Benedict wanted to find a way to practice his faith in a serious fashion.  He found many local churches wanting.  In many cases they we…

Discovering the Heart of Wisdom

It is fine to expect our spiritual journeys to bring us to a place of wisdom.  Most of us suspect there is some difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Most languages, even English, have different words for knowledge and wisdom.  In Latin the word for knowledge is scientia, which gives us the obvious English word, science.  Most of us can remember those classes, even in high school, where gaining knowledge was not easy.  Those chemistry classes, math classes, and others were deemed “hard.”

As I recall my formal education, certainly that education before college, I recall no one mentioning, much less teaching, anything about wisdom.  If one had a good philosophy class in college, reference might be given to the “wisdom of the Greeks.”  But again, colleges do not seem to be in the business of teaching about wisdom. 

Even churches, at least Christian churches, are seemingly not in the business of teaching about wisdom.  Of course, that is not quite fair.  There are books of the Hebrew…

Path of Justice

I try to build some spiritual discipline in my life by following the daily lectionary---the readings provided by an organized planner.  In my case I use the lectionary of the Benedictine monastic community.  I like knowing that the readings I do are being done by my brother monks around the world.  I am certainly not as faithful as they are.  But I figure when my zeal flags, somehow they are covering for me.  And I am sure they do it non-judgmentally.  I appreciate that.  I think that’s the nature of spiritual community.         

A specific thing I like about following this Benedictine lectionary is the copious use of the Psalms.  I know the Benedictines move through the entire 150 Psalms every two weeks.  For some people that would be awful.  How can they keep using the same body of literature over and over?  I am sure one of their answers is they do so in order to be joined to the body of believers stretching back over five centuries.  The Psalms, we know, are not just in the Christ…