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Showing posts from April, 2017

Ten-Speed Bike

While reading for an upcoming speech I have to give, I ran across a great quotation and some helpful reflection.  Although it was not inherently a spiritual message, it struck me that implicitly it was spiritual.  The one-liner comes from the well-known Peanut cartoonist, Charles Schulz.  He said, “Life is a ten-speed bike.  Most of us have gears we never use.” 

Obviously Schulz is using an analogy here.  Life is more complex than a bicycle.  But if we understand something about the bike, then we can gain some insight to life.  This is a time-honored way of approaching not only life, but also spirituality.  Use what you know to learn about what you may know less about.  Of course, most of us have ridden bicycles in our lifetime.  And you have to be pretty old to remember bikes that only had one gear!  Since I can recall those kinds of bikes, that is one more sign that age is creeping up on me. 

At some point, the bike that only had one speed evolved to the 3-speed bicycles.  I do re…

Unceasing Prayer

People in the major religious traditions of the world, with the possible exception of Buddhism, believe in and practice some form of prayer.  Christians pray to God---classically understood as God the Father.  In my own devotional life, I am just as content to pray to God the Mother.  In fact, I like having both parental images.  One gets different content with each image. 

Most of us have had a father and a mother.  Even if we came from a single-parent family, many of our friends would have had both parents.  If you think about fathers, then you begin to get a sense of the “content” of the image of God the Father.  In my case, my father---Dad---was a hard-working farmer.  So that image is tinged with all sorts of agricultural images, too.  He cultivated the land; he took care of animals.  So the father image has connotations of someone who cares and is careful.  If your dad worked in a factory or taught school, likely your “content” is different than my content.

The same goes with …

Thirsty Soul

Last night I turned to the last prayers of the day, which are focused around a couple readings from the Psalms and a Biblical passage.  The night prayer in the monastery is called Compline.  When I visit a monastery, I think it may be my favorite part of the day.  It “finishes” off the day of worship and work and the monks head to their rooms and a night’s sleep. 

When I visit one of my favorite monasteries, Gethsemani in Kentucky, Compline comes at 7:30pm.  It is not a long service.  This is understandable when you realize the monks will be up again and in the sanctuary at 3:15am!  What’s interesting is that for much of the year, the monks begin in the darkness and conclude in the darkness.  I like Compline during those months when the sun has already gone down and the monks and the visitors gather in the soft lights for the last service.  As the service is ending, the lights are turned out and only one or two lights make the exit possible.  That truly does give one a sense of peace…

Flowering: Doing Your Job

It happened quite innocently. I was not even looking for an idea for reflection. But there they were: flowers. I had just finished my run and was slowly walking around the front of our Recreation Center. It was hot and I wanted to cool down a little before going into an air-conditioned building. I was tired and not very alert.

But there they were: flowers. They were beautiful. Resplendent colors, but mostly white and a variety of purples met my eyes. There were two benches, but it was the urns at the end of each bench which caught my attention. The urns are pretty big. I doubt that I could wrap my hands around one. And they all were full of those radiant flowers. They were so full of flowers, one could see nothing else inside.

Obviously, they were in dirt. They were real. They were alive. I suppose artificial flowers can be pretty. But they are not the same. Natural beauty beats artificial beauty any day! Maybe the same thing goes for natural human beauty!

I had only intended to take …

Dripping Water

The title for this inspiration may seem odd.  But it comes from a story the famous Buddhist writer in spirituality shared in his wonderful book, Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk who grew up in Vietnam.  He was forced to leave that country in the 1960s in the throes of the American involvement in that civil war.  Hanh eventually settled in France, but he has traveled all over the world.  He is one of the best known writers on spirituality.  When I use one of his books in class, students always fall in love with Hanh.

Near the end of that book, Hanh shares some autobiographical information about his younger days in Vietnam.  He tells the reader he became a novice Buddhist monk at age 16.  Most of us in this country could not imagine making that kind of decision at that young age.  All I wanted at age 16 was my driver’s license!  I hope I was mature enough for the responsibilities of driving, but certainly I was not ready to make a life-long sp…

Don't Rush It

I have been doing some background reading for an article I intend to write.  This kind of work is interesting to me for a number of reasons.  In this instance one reason is one of the people I am focusing on is someone I knew, namely, Douglas Steere, a stalwart Quaker of the 20th century.  I knew Douglas and his wife, Dorothy, through some mutual Quaker activities.  At the time I came to know him, Douglas was already post-retirement.  Although he was still very active, he clearly was aging.   

Douglas was one of those people who had done many significant things in his life.  It was easy for me to see this man in his “ripe old age.”  I have used that line many times.  When I used it as a kid, it was not usually complimentary.  The connotations suggested some old guy who basically had lost it…or outlived his usefulness in life.  The arrogance of youth is sometimes truly amazing!  Perhaps God’s best joke on me is giving me enough years that I slowly am becoming a guy looking in the mirr…

Climbing to God

Again, it’s back to the basics.  I know I have done this quite a bit.  But it is always a good thing occasionally to go back to the basics.  I like reading a range of material and I am always amazed how easy it is to find spiritual connections and lessons in a huge number of venues.  It is true, I believe, to find the spiritual ebbing through almost all of our daily life.  But there are always good reasons to go back to the basics. 

Back to the basics for me means that I engage the daily lectionary that I use.  Of course, most days I don’t use that to comment on life.  But it is always present.  It is the substratum of life for me.  It is part of the day’s pulsating presence.  I know it is always there, but I also know that sometimes I pay no attention.  And then I wonder why life seems a bit shallow or maybe a little more aimless.  God is always present and ready to speak to me, if I will but listen. 

I know God does not speak in a normal human way.  I don’t hear voices in my ears.…

Where Your Treasure Is

Long-time readers of this inspirational reflection could have rightly concluded that music is not a big deal with me.  Traditionally music was not important to Quakers.  In fact, the first two centuries or more of our history, music was not used at all.  And when I was growing up, music was not very present in my family.  So I have not had much in my context that supports and values music.  I am certainly not against it.   

Being a product of the 1960s means I was very aware of the rock n’ roll music that blared from the radios.  I recall how aghast the parental generation was when Elvis hit the scene.  I liked the Beach Boys and would agree that overall the lyrics of the music in the ‘60s left something to be desired!  By the time I was growing up, many Quakers were using music in their worship services, but it often was pretty mediocre. 

One of the things that I most liked when I began visiting monasteries was the music.  Very often, it would be the Gregorian chants that lured me …


I don’t know how old I was when I learned the word, remember.  I suspect it is learned fairly early---at least early in the stage when you are learning bigger words.  My guess is this word is used with some frequency in households.  I also think it is a word that all normal people use.  It is not a sophisticated word that only highly educated folks have in their vocabulary.  It is a word we would hear at home.  And certainly, it would be a word heard at school.  No doubt, all of us were cajoled to remember the things we were learning.

I am confident the word first is associated with the things we learn and are not supposed to forget.  We learn math and sentence structure.  We are supposed to remember this stuff so we can go on to bigger learnings.  If we forget, then we have to be re-taught in order to remember.  As I think about it, to remember something is a present activity based on a past activity.  To remember is to make present that which I once learned or did in the past.  We ne…

Attitude of Thanksgiving and Joy

The title of this inspiration comes from an unlikely source.  It is a quotation from former President, Jimmy Carter, in an editorial on his Christian beliefs.  I know something about the faith of this Georgia Baptist.  I know he has been a man of faith for a long time.  I respect him for his life and witness.  It is probably fair to say President Carter is a much-beloved man---more so since he was president than any time during or before his presidency. 

I voted for Carter in his election.  For many critics, his single-term presidency (1977-1981).  I remember the 1976 election and his close win over Gerald Ford.  I vividly remember his second day in office he pardoned all Vietnam draft dodgers.  I thought it was a savvy move, but obviously it was and, probably, still is controversial.  I saw is as an example of his capacity to forgive.  All of us who lived through the 60s know what a chaotic, crazy time it was.  And Vietnam was the epitome of that chaos.  Carter attempted to be a heal…

Holy Week

We find ourselves moving through what Christians know as Holy Week.  It begins with Palm Sunday, which was last Sunday, and it culminates with Easter Sunday.  On the way through the week we pass Good Friday, a mysterious Saturday between the crucifixion and, then, the resurrection of Jesus that Easter celebrates.  It is a heavy-duty week for Christians.  For other folks, it is just another week!

So for my Christian readers, I hope this week continues to have possibilities of being a “holy week” for you.  It is worth thinking a bit about what holy week might mean.  A number of things occur.  One that occurs to me is that one ingredient necessary for it to be “holy” was that we need to take time.  “Take Time to be Holy,” the classic hymn I remember singing when I was young, can become the theme song for the day.  I am sure that holiness requires time. 

Time is an interesting commodity.  In the business world a commodity is anything that exists that people can sell.  A commodity would b…

Holy Week and Easter…Again

Even if you are a Christian, I have concluded it depends on where you are---what is your context---how aware of Holy Week and the impending Easter you are.  If you are a Christian and work in a mainly secular environment, you may be relatively unaware of Holy Week.  For many it does not dawn on them until at least Thursday.  And of course, in the secular world there is absolutely nothing special about Thursday.

But even in the secular world, Friday often assumes special connotations.  It might be a holiday---a day off.  It is at my University.  So I suppose it is the one day Jews, Muslims, atheists, and other non-Christians are thankful for their Christian brothers and sisters!  But for the Christian, Friday---Good Friday---is an interesting one.

I suspect that for many Christians Friday is simply skipped.  They see Easter as very special and nothing else really matters.  The resurrection is key for them.  Why bother with anything less?  Let’s skip sadness and depression and go straig…

Work a Miracle

I was listening fairly closely as the priest was working his way through the liturgy.  It may seem odd that a Quaker participates so gladly in a much more liturgical worship than a silent form of worship which would be my normal fare.  Sometimes I joke and say I am spiritually ambidextrous!  That is not a bad comparison.  To be able to shoot a basketball with either hand was an asset when I played ball.  And to be able to participate and appreciate a highly structured worship approach or one rooted unstructured in silence feels enriching to me.   

The good news for me is I feel comfortable in either setting.  I have participated in liturgical worship situations fairly frequently, so I know what’s going on.  I can play my role as a participant in the group.  I like the fact that I will not be chosen to be up front and leading.  I like the music, the prayers and the sacrament.  But I also like those places in the liturgy where I won’t be able to guess what the priest might say or do. 

Free Laundromat

Simply reading the title of this inspirational piece would not suggest anything spiritual.  I had to use laundromats back in my graduate school days and in those first few years of marriage when the tiny apartment had no room for a washer and dryer.  And I am sure I never thought about spiritual things in the laundromat and I never had a spiritual experience while doing laundry!

As I was reading my usual range of things on the internet, I spied a headline that immediately drew me to read the short article.  The headline read: “Pope opens free laundromat for homeless.”  My initial impulse was to smile and nearly laugh out loud.  Pope Francis continues to do things that are surprising and really cool.  He really has pastoral heart.  I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I am ok calling him my Pope, too.  It is easy to dismiss anyone with this much power and prestige.  But Francis pulls it off very effectively.  If he is on an ego-trip, it does not show.

So I jumped into the article by Josephine M…

Getting In, Over and Deep

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of folks.  The invitation was to talk about how people get into spiritual living.  While that was an interesting topic to address, I soon realized how diverse and complex the answer really is.  I doubt there is a recipe or game plan that you can offer folks and everyone immediately proceeds to get into spiritual living.  I am sure people do it in different ways.  Perhaps it is that the same person does it differently over a period of years. 

I will offer three ways people get into spiritual living.  Over a period of time, I am confident people do all three.  I certainly have practiced all three.  I would like to talk about entrances, thresholds and openings.  These are not steps---to be taken one after the other.  They are not stages.  They are simply different ways we get into the spiritual. 

The first option is by way of entrance.  When I think about entrance, I first think about it in a literal fashion.  Probably the most typic…

Spiritual Creativity

I would like to do a little more with a short article from Cosmopolitan that a friend sent me.  The little piece is an interview Gloria Steinem did with Anne Lamott.  As I have said, I am not a regular reader of this periodical.  I know about Gloria Steinem.  And I like reading Anne Lamott, although after a few books, I am not sure about reading more of her.  I think most writers---certainly true for me---have a few foundational themes that recur throughout their writing.  For example, I have a particular view of God that will not necessarily change week by week as I write more things.  So it is with Lamott.

But this interview by Steinem asks interesting questions and gives me a chance to hear Lamott offer observations that both fit her and put her thoughts in a fresh fashion for me.  The interview has a long title: “Anne Lamott Talks to Gloria Steinem about Writing, Kindness, and Making Sense of the Universe.” 

One of the things Steinem addresses with Lamott is creativity.  Steinem co…

Hitting the Snooze Button

Sometimes I run across something to read that I never would have found or chosen on my own.  Cosmopolitan is not on my regular reading list, but a friend sent a link to an article in that periodical.  When I read the title, I knew I would read it.  The title was pretty self-explanatory: “Anne Lamott talks to Gloria Steinem about Writing, Kindness and Making Sense of the Universe.”  I like to read Anne Lamott and Gloria Steinem I know.  So I figured, why not?

The first book by Lamott I read was Traveling Mercies.  I still think that is one of her better ones.  In many ways Anne Lamott is quirky and unpredictable---especially when you initially encounter her.  After reading a few of her books, they begin to sound alike.  But I realize she is only one person.  After a few conversations with me, I probably start repeating myself, too!  Nevertheless, I was intrigued what might come out with the conversation between these two fascinating women. 

The first question Steinem poses to Lamott is …

Insignificance of Humans

I assume it is fairly normal for most of us to think a little more highly of ourselves than is warranted. By saying that, I don’t want to imply we are pieces of junk! To the contrary, I believe that we are created in the image and likeness of God. I do like the early Genesis creation accounts that give humanity a key role to play in the universe. In a very real sense, we are special.

But being special and being significant is a balancing act. I realize it is risky even to take on the subject. I am postulating that we are all special. Each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. We each come with divine potentiality to create and develop the specialness we have. And some people actually pull it off. I suppose those are the ones we call saints. The really big saints are known to all of us. There are people like Mother Theresa. Probably only the youngest have not heard about her and the incomparable work in the slums of Calcutta. But in a few more years, no young person will e…

Significance of Signs

I was out for a leisurely walk yesterday afternoon. It was one of those glorious days that would be unfortunate to miss. It was an effort not so much focused on exercise and more focused on simply enjoying the day. I am not sure I do enough of that. Too often I am in the middle of something I think is important and I am too much in a hurry to get to wherever I am going. I think I do miss the roses sometimes!

I was trying to pay attention to the world around me and the cosmic beauty. But I was not particularly focused on anything special. I was not trying to see anything nor learn anything special. I was certainly not thinking about this reflection to be written tonight. But as usual, if one is open and attentive, things are revealed. Once again, I went for a walk and something spiritual occurred.

It was provoked by an older woman who was driving down a street. I did not even notice until she stopped and a young lad jumped out of the car and disappeared into one of the college building…