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Showing posts from May, 2017

Dynamics of Faith

Because I had earlier quoted something from Paul Tillich’s book, Dynamics of Faith, I finally had to finish the project by adding footnotes.  Because I was not careful enough in my original citation, I realized I did not know for sure where in the book the quotation was.  Instead of getting mad at myself, I laughed and enjoyed pulling the book down from my bookshelf and begin to thumb through it looking for the quotation.

In some ways it was a fun journey back through a book that had been important to me during my graduate school days---at least, I think it was in graduate school that I first read much of what Paul Tillich wrote.  Tillich was one of the twentieth century giants of theological reflection.  I first heard of Tillich when I was in college in the 1960s.  I was aware of his death in 1965, although at that time, I had little clue what I would do in my life and the central role that religion and, later, spirituality would play.  In 1965 I simply was aware a very famous theolog…

Relationships Make Us

I am fortunate to have lived long enough to have grandkids.  Having two girls of my own were great.  They taught me much as they grew up and became adults in their own right.  I always told people that I liked every next step of their lives better than the previous one.  Of course, it is amazing to see one’s own child born into this world.  The first year blows your mind because of their physical development.  And the second year is equally mind-blowing because of their mental development.  And so it goes. 

Even though I obviously was aware of relationships before they were born, their lives forced me to focus more on the nature of relationships.  There was something about becoming a father that changed.  Before my girls, I knew myself as a son, brother, cousin and friend.  All these relationships gave me a slightly different view of who I was.  I was always intrigued by the idea that I was a single individual---my own person.  But each of the relationships offered a different angle o…

The Art of Remembering

In this country we find ourselves at Memorial Weekend.  Clearly, the description of the weekend is unambiguous: memorial means remembering.  It is the “Remembering Weekend.”  There will be parades to highlight the festivities.  The little parade in my suburban town is so quaint and tiny, it is hilarious.  Of course, there are the boy scouts and girl scouts.  There are all the Little League baseball and softball players.  The fire trucks gain attention because the siren going off in your ears at a distance of 15 feet is dramatic!  And finally, there are always the politicians!

The other thing that is a staple for Memorial Weekend is the visit to the cemetery.  Now that I am living in a much larger, urban context, I am less aware of folks going to the cemetery.  When I was a kid, I did not really understand this ritual.  No one significant in my life had died.  There was no one “living in the cemetery,” as I once put it, that I felt like I wanted to visit.

But when my grandparents began t…

Be a Saint

Even when I am not teaching my seminar on Thomas Merton’s spirituality, I find myself turning again and again to his writings.  Merton has been dead for more than forty years.  As many of you know, he was a monk in a very out of the way place in the hills of Kentucky.  Every time I have been to the Abbey of Gethsemani, I am amazed at how this worldly citizen wound up in this place and stayed there for so long until he met his untimely death in a bathtub in Bangkok, Thailand. 

I think the reason Merton became so popular in his own lifetime and that popularity continues now forty years later is the guy was so human, so fragile, so searching.  He was a man of contradictions and, certainly, confusions.  He was a monk, but at times he was not a very good monk---at least, according to his abbot.  To become a monk at Gethsemani meant he took a lifetime vow of stability.  And yet, he always seemed ready to chuck it all and take off for some other place.  Perhaps it was fitting that he died i…

The Fraudulent Life

Occasionally I either choose or have to return to a book I read some years ago.  That is usually a good experience.  One of the depressing things for me is to realize I cannot remember everything I read!  I suppose that has always been true, but somehow I am more aware of it now.  So it is usually the case that when I reread certain parts of good books, I feel the thrill of learning all over again.  And that is a good thing! 

So I returned to one of my favorite authors, friend, and fellow-Quaker, Parker Palmer.  I wanted to look at some sections in his book, A Hidden Wholeness.  I used this book once in the group I lead, which we call Soul Work.  I liked it then and I rediscovered it to my liking one more time. 

I also like it when books have subtitles.  Often they are more revealing than the main title.  Palmer’s book has a great, revealing subtitle: Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World.  As Quakers would say, “that speaks to my condition.”  In other words th…

A Stroke is a Stroke

I admit that I play some golf.  It is a maddening game.  I always considered myself above average athletically, but when I play golf, I have my doubts.  I am not willing to claim there is anything spiritual about golf and, perhaps, there are no spiritual lessons to be learned.  It does teach me something about humility!  And it may well be diabolical---devilish---which may be as close to spiritual as it gets. 

I am intrigued by the scoring in golf.  For those who know nothing about golf, let me explain.  Any time the golf club makes contact with the ball, it counts as a stroke.  Strokes are added as you play the course and the one who has the fewest strokes for eighteen holes wins the game.  Most golf courses tell us “par” should be 72 strokes for eighteen holes of golf.  Of course, I would not know.  I cannot shoot “par” golf.  It always takes more strokes for me to play an eighteen-hole golf course than that “par” golf suggests it should take.

In this sense, “par” golf is not aver…

Search Your Soul

Recently, I wrote some observations based on the epilogue Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk, wrote in his book, The Sign of Jonas.  The book uses the familiar Hebrew Bible prophet, Jonah, to talk about both himself and his monastic community, Gethsemani, in Kentucky.  The epilogue is dated July 4, 1952.  The piece describes the night Merton was on fire watch duties, which included walking though the monastery at night on the lookout for fires.  The special concern was the outbreak of fires in the surrounding wooded areas.

It is not unusual, however, that Merton turned this daily monastic duty into a metaphorical spiritual lesson.  Reading the rather lengthy epilogue is to accompany Merton on his night rounds throughout the monastery.  But even more than this, reading the account is to join Merton in his internal spiritual pilgrimage through his own faith journey.  I am confident Merton shared this so that we, too, could embark on our own spiritual trip of memory and expectation.

Let…

Story of Love

The Pope is up to it again.  I enjoy following Pope Francis in his travels, speeches and actions in our world.  He is such an inspiration to many---Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  Even though I am not a Roman Catholic, I like to think he is my Pope, too.  I hope all my Catholic friends are ok with me claiming Francis to be my Pope as well as their Pope. 

I was pulled into his recent pronouncement by reading the article in a Catholic periodical that I regularly read.  The headlines of the article proclaimed, “God dreams big, wants to transform the world, defeat evil, pope says.”  This article deals with a recent papal speech in Francis’ appearance in St. Peter’s Square.  This was another in his series of papal addresses dealing with hope.  In his speech the Pope is dealing with the account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb of the crucified Jesus.  Unexpectedly to her, she has an experience of the risen Lord---God’s Presence.  At one point the Pope said, "she discovers the most ear…

The Scandal of Grace

I have a book that contains quite a number of short pieces.  Some of them are articles in various periodicals---journals that might be religious in nature or some more popular magazines.  I occasionally read another piece.  Some of the authors I know and very much like---people like Annie Dillard.  Others I have never seen their names and know nothing about them.  One such name was James Van Tholen. 

His article appeared in Christianity Today, a well-known, more evangelical magazine that I try to read with some regularity.  James was a pastor in a Christian Reformed Church in Rochester, NY.  He had been assaulted with a nasty kind of cancer at age 33.  After some months of chemotherapy, he was able to return to his church.  The selection I read was his first sermon back with his parishioners.  It was very touching and I wanted to share some of it. 

I was touched by his openness and vulnerability.  Early in his sermon he communicated these words.  “So let me start with honesty.  The …

What of the Paradox of the Night?

I like it when I am able to use material for two different things.  This inspirational piece is one of those opportunities.  I am responsible to write an article on another facet of Thomas Merton’s spirituality.  Although this is a task that requires some work, I am happy to do it.  Much of the satisfaction comes from having to dip back into Merton’s writings to see what he has to say about a particular theme.  In this case, the theme I am giving focus is “the mercies of the night.”

I chose to work with this theme because for Merton and for myself, mercy is an important idea.  Of course, it is a theological theme---even doctrine, if you will.  Certainly, in the Jewish and Christian traditions, it is commonplace to talk about the mercy of God.  Mercy is much like grace.  It is an undeserved gift.  Mercy is God reaching out to us when we have no reason to expect that. 

I also know how important the theme of the night is for Merton.  To talk about the night does not seem special when we t…

Hate Group vs. Love Group

“1,000 hate groups active in U.S” was the headline in the CNN online news!  “Wow, that’s reassuring”, I cynically thought to myself.  Really I find that appalling.  It is not surprising…and that’s also appalling!  Not only do I find that sad, I find it even sadder that according to the news article, these kinds of groups are experiencing resurgence. 

How in the world would we know there are 1,000 of these groups?  The Southern Poverty Law Center apparently is carefully tracking these kinds of hate groups.  The article also quotes Jack Levin, a sociology and criminology professor at Northeastern University in Boston.  Clearly there are people who have become experts in this kind of movement.  That is not surprising. 

I don’t know the precise definition of a hate group, but it is fairly easy to guess.  Obviously a hate group would be a few people who hate another group of people.  Surely, a hate group has to have it “in” for more than a single individual.  Nobody can have lived in the…

Wholehearted Lives

The phrase used in the title of this inspirational piece comes from listening to Brene Brown, who offers insight on one of the most viewed TED talks of all time.  Brown is a researcher in social work at the University of Houston.  The title of her famous presentation is “Listening to Shame.”  She links shame to vulnerability.  I have watched it more than once.  She is insightful, poignant and funny.  Much of the humor comes at her own expense.  That often is a good recipe for humor.  You are funny and no one gets hurt.

I also have run into Brown as I am finishing Krista Tippett’s wonderful book, Becoming Wise.  Tippett refers to and interacts with Brown in the final chapter of the book, which is entitled, “Hope.”  It is fair to say that Brown stumbled onto vulnerability while she was looking at what made some people able to live what she calls “wholehearted lives.”  So Brown set off to study the topic.  She said, “I started coding data and looking for patterns and themes in words and t…

Two Paths

Throughout the history of spirituality there traditionally have been two paths that one could follow.  These go by various names, but the thrust is the same.  One classic way of talking about them is to label them the active and contemplative life.  The active life is what characterizes most of us.  It is normal life in the world.  It describes those who have jobs and families.  The contemplative life typically is a more restricted, more reserved life.  Traditionally, it is seen a less worldly. 

Another way the two paths are described is the monastic and lay paths.  Obviously the monastic life is for those men and women who withdraw from the ordinary world and join a monastery.  They dedicate and devote their lives to God in a more focused and time-consuming way than the other, lay folks do.  To those of us outside a monastery, it might seem like a more demanding way of living.  But perhaps the monks look at all of us “out here” in the world and wonder how we do it.  For many there a…

Wisdom About Eyes

It is always fun to read something that looks intriguing, but you have no idea what’s coming.  That happened to me recently when I saw a title, “We must reclaim today’s ‘custody of the eyes.’  The author, Melissa Musik Nussbaum, was not someone I knew.  I learned she is a Catholic writer who lives in Colorado.  After reading this little reflection, I will be on the lookout for more of her writings.

I was not too surprised when she opened her reflections with reference to Matthew 5:29.  That passage comes from the Sermon on the Mount material in Matthew’s gospel.  It reads: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  I have read this passage many times and I think I know what it means.  But it is still a little intimidating.  I was eager to see what Nussbaum would do with it.

My intrigue heightened when I read these couple sentences.  She asks, “How could the first…

On Two Levels

Recently, I was writing a paper on becoming a contemplative.  Sometimes I smile when I type that word, contemplative, or even say it.  As far as I know, I never heard the word while I was growing up a Quaker.  No doubt, I heard people say something like, “Let me contemplate that.”  I know that phrase meant nothing more than “let me think this thing over.”  To contemplate meant to think hard about something or be careful when you think something over.  I suspect I was in graduate school when I began to hear about it in the sense in which I use it today.

Thomas Merton is probably the most well-known contemplative with which I deal.  In fact, the group of monks he joined in Kentucky are known as a contemplative group of monks.  Their whole goal is to learn to be with God as contemplatives.  Without getting technical, let me use three short sentences from Merton to indicate what being contemplative means.  Merton says, contemplation “is spiritual wonder.  It is spontaneous awe at the sacre…

Original Self

In the process of writing for another project, I had the occasion to return to one of my favorite authors, Thomas Moore.  I recalled he had commented on some ideas that I was trying to develop in my project.  In brief I am thinking about the issue of identity.  On one hand, that is fairly easy to determine.  Most of us would claim that we know who we are. 

On the superficial level, it is easy to describe our identity.  We have a name.  Most of us stick with the names our parents gave us.  As kids we may gain a nickname, but we all know that is not our ‘real name.”  And often women change their names when they get married.  But even if this happens, there are times when they will refer to their maiden name as if that is actually more basic to their identities. 

And in this country we all get social security numbers.  Of course, we don’t like to think about ourselves as a number, but the fact is, that number points to my uniqueness.  No one has the same social security number that I d…

The Future Has a Name

One of the popular things in the media world right now is Pope Francis’ TED Talk, filmed in April, 2017.  The Pope is always a compelling figure, so I watched it with great anticipation.  I was not disappointed with his message.  Sometimes, I am amazed at how relatable this guy---some would say, old man---really is.  I was intrigued what his message would be.  As usual, there are many significant sub-themes, but I want to focus on his one major theme.  It is worth noting his overall theme is the future, so let’s center in on one particular place he deals with that.

I center on one particular section or big paragraph.  The opening sentence is very clever.  The Pope says, “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope.”  That is a cool way to introduce the theme of “future.”  For the Christian, Francis claims, to talk about the future is to talk about hope.  Rather than analyze what he means by this, we do well to quote some more papal words. 

The Pope begins to develo…

Peace at All Costs

A Catholic publication I regularly read recently had an article celebrating the anniversary of Daniel Berrigan’s death.  Most of the students with whom I spend my days would have no clue who Daniel Berrigan was.  The fact that he was a Catholic priest would not create any interest.  If I were to tell them Berrigan also was a Jesuit, I am sure their eyes would roll.  And they probably wouldn’t even care that Daniel Berrigan and his brother, Phil, also a Catholic priest were two formative people for my own life.  Indeed, they were models for my generation, but they can be teachers for all generations.

If not for reading this article by Art Laffin entitled, “Redeem the times! A remembrance of Daniel Berrigan,” I would not have remembered the recent death of Daniel Berrigan.  Reading the article rekindled my awareness and appreciation of this twentieth century saint.  Of course, he has not been canonized by the Roman Catholic Church---and probably won’t be---but as a Quaker, I can conside…