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Friday, June 30, 2017

The Cleaning Lady’s Name

The routine and predictable do not surprise us.  The serendipitous always is a surprise.  I like the word, serendipity, because it normally is a good surprise.  If we were to hear a doctor tell us we have cancer, that would not be serendipity---but it is surprising bad news.  I recently had a serendipitous moment.  A good friend of mine said she had a book for me.  While I did not expect something like this from her, it still was not that unusual.  
Soon I was handed a book.  I looked at it and recognized it immediately when I saw the title, The Winners Manual.  I had heard about it, but I am not sure I had actually seen it.  The book is by Jim Tressel.  For the people around my university, this is a well-known and even famous name.  All the coaches here have the book.  And I now have it.  I now have an autographed copy, which even has a personal note to me.  Some would consider me incredibly lucky.  I am grateful.  I am grateful to two people.  I thank Jim and I really appreciate my friend.

A person---even Jim Tressel---is never just one thing; life is too complicated to be that simple.  To many people, Jim is best known as the former coach of The Ohio State football team---national champions, to be sure.  Most folks in the state of Ohio know this.  Many others know him as the President of Youngstown State University, where he once was the football coach and was leader of a national championship team at a lower level.  Fewer know him as a graduate of my own institution where I teach.  Here he was a football player and quarterback.  But if you know him, you know he is far too small ever to have played beyond the small college level.  To others he is a brother, a father and for many, a man of faith.  Jim Tressel is, like all of us, a complex person.  
I have begun to thumb through the book.  After all, it is a gift and gifts are meant to be relished.  I want to relish it over time.  The sub-title of the book is “For the Game of Life.”  He has written a winner’s manual for the game of life.  Obviously, it is about football, but it is more than football.  I have not thumbed through too much yet, but a little story jumped out at me and I want to share it.
The story appears in Tressel’s chapter on “Love.”  It has the benign title, “Her Name was Dorothy.”  I did not expect much when I began to read the brief snippet.  It begins by saying, “During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz.”  The narrative goes on with the student claiming to be more than ready for this test and breezed through it.  Then came this question---the last one.  “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?”  I laughed and you have laughed too, if you paid attention to the title of this inspirational piece.
The student thought at first thought it must be a joke.  The student continues: “I had seen the cleaning woman several times.  She was tall, dark-haired, and in her fifties, but how would I know her name?”  I was touched by this sentence.  It is a challenge to me and, likely, to many of us.  What is the cleaning lady’s name?  Or what is the lady’s name who sells me the coffee each morning?  Who are all those people in our lives who make our lives better.  Who are the silent servants to our sometimes whimsical desires?  Like the student taking the test, we hand in the exam with the last question left blank.  We simply don’t know.

And we never stop to think it might matter.  Too many times I have been too uninterested to bother getting to know.  And sadly, I have probably even been dismissive.  To be dismissive is even worse than not caring.  As I write this, I am anticipating where the little story of Dorothy is going.
We jump back into the story only to hear, “Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.”  The professor retorted, “Absolutely.”  The professor continued the lesson in life.  “In your careers, you will meet many people.  All are significant.  They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say, ‘Hello.’”  And then the short story concludes with the clincher.  The student says, “I’ve never forgotten that lesson.  I also learned her name was Dorothy.”
It is easy to see this story both at the literal level and analogously at the spiritual level.  At the literal level, it is a great lesson to learn and practice.  I want to do better at this literal level.  And then, at the spiritual level there is much to learn.  The story is one I can imagine Jesus telling.  Pay attention.  Love!  No wonder Jim Tressel put this story in the Love chapter.  If I am spiritually aware, I can come to see every person in my life embodying the image of God and potentially bearing that image with the dignity of a child of God.  I can help this process and certainly need the loving help from others.

I don’t know the cleaning lady’s name at my college.  She is there sometime in the night.  But there are countless other “cleaning ladies” I do see who deserve my attention and care.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Host and Guest

Hosting and being a guest are two sides of the same coin.  I was first clued in to this fact when I learned Latin.  The Latin word, hospes, gives us the English words, hospital, hospice and related words.  In its Latin form, it can be translated “host,’ “guest” or “stranger.”  That is why I can say that hosting and being a guest are two sides of the same coin.  The Latin coin is hospes.  Let’s look at each side of the coin.

Probably most of us learn about being a guest before we learn about hosting.  I have early childhood memories of going with my dad into the town in early mornings.  For a kid growing up on the farm, this was a big deal.  Since I was the oldest kid, there could be an entire day when I would see no one except my two parents.  That was not bad.  But it was more fun to go to town and see some of my dad’s friends.

Often we would stop at the local drugstore, which was really the epicenter of human interaction on an early morning in that small town.  There the guys would gather, have coffee and talk about local sports and world news.  I felt years beyond my age when they would accept me into the circle.  At least, that is how I interpreted.

I would not have had the language yet that could have told you I was a guest in their midst.  They were gracious to me.  They invited me into their space.  They made space for someone who did not quite fit.  I was young, inexperienced and had literally nothing to contribute to the conversation.  But I was their guest.  And I felt immensely important for having been included.

I think that early experience taught me much about being a guest.  People invited me into the gang.  They made a place for me---even though it was a temporary visit.  They made me feel welcome and important.  I was put at ease.  I was comfortable.  I could be myself---no pretentions needed to be present.  They helped me to learn how to invite guests into my places and my life.  This has been a great lesson in life for me.

If we turn over the coin, the other side is the hosting side.  To host is to initiate.  To host someone is to invite him or her into your place---your home, your room, or even your space.  Fundamental to hosting is the willingness to include and to share.  There is a kind of grace to effective hosting.  Perhaps some folks are naturally gifted with hosting abilities.

But I am also sure we can learn to be effective hosts.  In the first place, effective hosts are people who are willing to take responsibility for hosting.  Guests are at the mercy of the hosts.  In fact, one cannot be a guest until someone decides to be a host.  In addition to taking responsibility, the effective host makes the whole process easy and pleasant when he or she is gracious.  Bringing a guest or stranger into a place of comfort takes effort and grace.

The effective host makes the guest feel comfortable and even wanted.  A good host makes being guest easy.  We all know what it is like to feel awkward.  A feeling of being awkward often is accompanied by the feeling that “I want out of here!”  When some people host me, that “I want out of here” feeling dominates my thinking.  Instead of relaxing as a guest, I am furtively looking for the fastest way out of the situation.  I find myself praying for a “guest exit” sign!

By the time we become adults, we have experienced both being hosts and being guests.  In my experience they both were learned and take some effort.  Perhaps being host is a little more demanding, simply because the host is the initiator and the responsible one---at least in the beginning.

As I write this, I realize this phenomenon is potentially quite spiritual.  Perhaps this hosting-being guest experience is very much an analogy to the human encounter with the Holy One.  It is tempting to think God is always the host and we humans are always the guests.  But this misses half the opportunity.

For sure, the Holy One is a host.  In fact, God is an amazing host.  Potentially God hosts us into some of the truly profoundest places and opportunities.  By definition God invites us into relationship, includes us, makes us comfortable, is gracious unto us and so much more.  As guests, there is so much to look forward to when the Divine Hosting includes us.

I also think we can host the Holy One.  God invites us, to be sure.  But we also can invite God into our midst, into our lives.  In fact, some of us have lived a life so self-focused, it would be fair to say God is actually a stranger.  For God to become real to us will require that we take the initiative and invite God to be our guest.

To be human is to be both host and guest.  Consider life to be an opportunity to practice both.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Growth in Holiness

When I was younger, I never would have used the title of this inspirational piece.  I did not like the word, holiness.  Of course, I really did not know what it meant.  I associated the word with some of the churches in my small town that seemed too far “out there” for me.  Again, if you had asked me to explain myself, I would not know how to do it.  I had two ideas from that tradition. 
   
The first and probably better idea came from a couple of my school friends who actually went to a church that emphasized holiness.  I inferred from them whatever thoughts I had about their church.  When I was a kid, the most impressive (or depressive) thing was the fact that my two friends, who were both guys, could not play basketball.  It was not because they could not play; I saw them play on the school ground at recess.  They were not great, but they could hold their own.  They could not play because when you played on the team, you had to wear shorts.  It never occurred to me that some church would decide I couldn’t play ball because I would have to wear shorts. 
   
The second idea I had about the holiness churches came through a common prejudice.  Of course, when you are a kid, nobody announces “this is a prejudice” right before they share one of their “truths!”  Kids tend to be literalists.  When someone tells you something, the tendency is to believe it.  At least, that is how I grew up.  And so the prejudicial word was that holiness churches were made up of “holy rollers.”  I did not know for sure what this meant, but my imagination ran wild.  I had visions of people rocking down the aisles, probably to wild rhythmic music and perhaps spiritually out of control.  Quakers seem perfectly benign compared to my imaginative scene.
   
Of course, no one asked me how I squared a wild spiritual scene with not being able to play basketball because you can’t wear shorts.  I would learn that my ideas had almost no basis in reality.  To make matters worse, I never visited one of these places nor bothered to talk to some people in order to learn something.  Fortunately, I began to learn some things a bit later in my experience.
   
One of the coolest things I did in seminary was to learn Greek.  I needed to know Greek in order to read the original language of the New Testament.  It was also necessary for doing my dissertation for my Ph.D.  When I hit the word “holy” in Greek, it was like a direct revelation from God.  Holy is a chief descriptive term for God’s nature.  God is holy.  A related word is sacred.  To be holy is to be sacred (which comes from the Latin).  A church or temple can be holy.  It is the place or space where you encounter the Divinity.  My own Quaker theology affirmed that any place or space can be holy or sacred. 
   
Often it is the human being who messes up holiness or the sacred.  When that happens, we call it sacrilege.  Another way of describing the messing up is to call it profaning.  It is an easy jump to language and the role of profanity.  It is a kind of desecration of language.  The same thing can happen to life.  We can dedicate our lives to a kind of profanity.  We can mess up.  Certainly, we can desecrate our life.  In fact, some forms of profanity and desecration are so normal and culturally acceptable, no one even thinks about it that way.
   
All this leads me to one of my favorite contemporary writers on spirituality, Richard Rohr.  I have read many of his books as well as follow his regular tidbits offered through his blog.  Recently, he wrote a piece on the “Spirituality of the Beatitudes.”  I know some of my students would have no clue what a beatitude is.  They do not know the string of “blessed are the…” sayings of Jesus found in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. 

Since I do know about beatitudes, I was intrigued how Rohr developed his idea.  He says, “Religion is not about heroic will power or winning or being right.  This has been a counterfeit for holiness in much of Christian history.”  I can agree with him.  As I learned, holiness is not just a term my two friends used to talk about their tradition.  Holiness is a term that fits all the prim and proper Christians who may not have what some would call a “living faith.”  It is easy to settle for the rules.

Rohr continues his thought.  “True growth in holiness is a growth in willingness to love and be loved and a surrendering of willfulness, even holy willfulness (which is still “all about me”).”  When I read something like this, I just want to say, “YES.”  Growth in holiness would be learning to leave my profanity and growing closer to God.  It is learning to live in the sanctuary, not the cesspool of life.  Holiness invites a process of growing.  And its goal is simple: love.

To grow in holiness is to grow in willingness to love and be loved.  Well, that may be simple, but it is not always easy.  But it is a worthy goal.  To aim for this is to aim for what Jesus sought: to love and be loved.  To this Rohr adds, growing in holiness requires surrendering our willfulness.  This is precisely the point in the Lord’s Prayer when we say, “thy will be done.”

Growth in holiness happens when those words of the Lord’s Prayer become the reality of our life.  In my spirituality I can grow in holiness and still wear shorts when I play basketball.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Goodbye Friend

A good friend of mine has recently died.  He happens to be English, so I have not seen him for some time.  He moved back to England.  Distance does not diminish friendship; it just makes it more difficult to spend one-on-one time in person.  We’ll call my friend, John.  I have known John for nearly four decades.  He was a fellow Quaker.  We had some things like that in common.  And there was much about him that was quite different than me.
   
I learned that John was an avid sports fan.  As a former athlete and sports fan, this appealed to me.  Very early in my time in England, John posed a question.  “Do you want to go with me to a football match?”  Affirmatively, I replied.  And so it was that I saw my first English Premier League soccer match.  It was at Aston Villa, one of the three Birmingham “major league” teams, as we would call them.
   
And so began my soccer----football education---in English.  I learned that the game was played on the pitch, not the field.  My education happened not only at the game, but soon thereafter.  My profound memory of that football match happened as we were leaving the stadium.  We emerged into a huge football hooligan brawl.  There must have been five-hundred younger fans from both sides engaged in a pitched battle.  Bottles, bricks and the like were flying like missiles.  We crouched next to a brick wall just beyond the melee.  I was scared, but John reassured that we would survive.  Suddenly, I realized he was not only a friend; he was also becoming a kind of mentor.
   
Because both of us were involved in higher education around the broad theme of religion, discussions were also breaking out about various issues of spirituality.  Because Quakers always begin their spiritual story with experience, rather than doctrine, I was intrigued to learn about John’s own pilgrimage.  Our personal stories are always revelatory.  His story did not disappoint me.
   
And so the real person, John, came to be a friend.  He was a bright, insightful Quaker scholar.  He was the Oxford-educated intellectual.  But he was a sports guy with interests as pedestrian as mine---a guy who grew up on an Indiana farm.  John was fun and funny.  He could be serious and, yet, he always had a twinkle in his eye and was ready for a laugh.  I found him to be both extraordinary and ordinary.
   
A pivotal point in John’s life was his experience of his father’s death.  John told me the night his father died, “I had to take a long look at myself.  I had to ask what I believed.”  To ask yourself what you believe is a profound moment.  John focused some on the fact that he was educated at Oxford University.  This is like being at Harvard---or even better!  John had to contend with whether he was “fully Oxford” or whether this was just part of his development?  His story became even more intriguing to me.  John’s story became a story of transformation.
   
Listen to his fairly long narrative.  Thinking about what trying to be “fully Oxford” demanded of him, he made a decision.  “The consequence of all this is that I parted company with my pedestal.  I saw through the system that had selected me and schooled me and given me its values and standards.  I prized my education highly, but came to reject what it had been for.  I discovered the joy of being ordinary.”  I loved this end-point: a joy in discovery he was ordinary.  As a farm boy from Indiana, I could relate. 
   
But his story did not end there.  He continues in a very spiritual fashion.  “These changes were set in motion the night I got back from the hospital…That night I came to know that as Christ was resurrected, so should my father live.  For the very first time, I had life in me.”  I find this very touching.  Even if I had no faith at all, I don’t think I could doubt the validity of his experience and even interpretation.  He had life in him and he knew why.  All this was behind John by the time I met him.  But it was also still in front of him, because he was still living out the consequences of the life he had in himself.
   
And now my friend has died.  So I can amend his earlier quotation about his father.  I expect that as Christ was resurrected, so should John now live.  I can affirm this in faith.  Clearly, I cannot prove it.  I hope it is true---for John’s sake and mine.  I am sure that John would have agreed with me that some form of life after death is not necessary to live a spiritual life here on earth. 
   
In death, as in life, John is a friend and mentor.  I can laugh at the fact we also were soccer buddies and baseball buddies.  To be spiritual should make us more human, not less.  That was one of my key learnings from John.  When people are popular, like he was, too often people try to imitate him and his life.  We were different enough, that I know imitating him was not an option.  Besides the spiritual key is to become all that God wants us to be.  That is our life’s work.
   
His life’s work is finished---at least, on this planet.  But his influence still is present---befriending and mentoring.  For that I am grateful.  And I can say, goodbye friend.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Agnosticism in Our Hearts

Titles intrigue and, sometimes, inspire me.  Maybe it is because I have written some books and numerous articles and had to come up with titles for all of them.  Some titles are merely descriptive; they tell you what the contents are.  Other titles go for more of a marketing angle.  They are designed to encourage you to buy the book or read the article.  While this kind of title may be catchy and intriguing, you may not be altogether sure what the contents will be. 

So it was that I landed on a title of a little article in an online publication I routinely read.  The title reads: “Friends from seminary days gather at Redemptorist center to bury friend’s ashes.”  I was immediately hooked; I had to begin reading it.  Maybe some of it is because of my age.  I have done countless funerals and have buried some of my own family members and friends.  I have my own stories and wanted to know this story.  I wonder whether in my younger, just-beginning-days whether I would have been intrigued and read the article?
The story was a good one.  It talked about the gathering of a bunch of guys who had studied in a Redemptorist seminary back in the 1950s and 60s.  In those days all of them would have planned on becoming priests.  Who they are now is the story of a number of individual lives and, really, the story of the life of the Catholic Church in America.  Some of them did continue and become ordained.  Some were still priests to this day.  Others were ordained but have since left the priesthood.  Some got married; some left their studies before they even finished.  I suspect it is not that different for Protestant seminarians from those days.  
The article was a touching story of the gathering of guys (and a couple wives) to bury their friend, Richard Koeppen.  Of course, I never heard of him, but that did not lessen my intrigue.  Richard was one of the dropouts from the seminary.  Richard was described briefly in their article.  We are told “had made a small fortune as a business executive then spent it all caring for the homeless.”  That is a great line describing a neat guy whom I’ll never know.  The story becomes tinged with sadness when we additionally are informed Richard suffered from dementia and died penniless.  But he still had friends.
That is one of my learnings from reading this.  Richard had life plans.  Those life plans changed, but he made the most of it.  He made some money and spent it on really good a really good cause---helping fellow human beings who had much less.  Actually, that is not a bad form of ministry.  It may not be the priesthood, but it is ministry nevertheless.  And he still had friends.  There is probably a book in that idea, but I won’t write it now.
Instead I want to share another piece from the article that also intrigued me.  Buried in the middle of the article is a quick story of one of Richard’s friends, a guy only called Mev.  Mev is one of those who finished seminary, was ordained and is still a priest.  We only know this about Mev until we hear some perspective from him.  We are told Mev “reminds us early in discussions that there's at least a little agnosticism in all our hearts.”  I love this coming from a priest.  Stereotypically, we might think a priest has it all together.  They have been taught, trained and now are tight with God.  My experience suggests this is almost never the case.

I agree with Mev: there is a little agnosticism in all our hearts.  Of course, it is important that I distinguish between agnosticism and atheism.  I was delighted when I learned the distinction.  It made life easier.  Atheism contends there is no God---it denies God’s existence.  Agnosticism, on the other hand, says, “I don’t know.”  Or maybe, the agnostic says, “I’m not sure.”  
That certainly resonates with faith, as I understand it.  Faith is different than certainty.  I certainly do have faith in God---that God exists and loves, etc.  But I cannot prove it.  I can even doubt it.  In that sense I have a little agnosticism in my heart.  Mev puts it well when he says, the agnostic “doesn't have certainty of either the self-proclaimed believer or the self-proclaimed atheist" about what may — or may not — happen in the great hereafter. The aspiring believer must then couple a quest for faith with that natural agnosticism.”
I like the idea of “natural agnosticism.”  It allows for faith---sometimes very deep and confident faith.  But it is faith.  It is faith that is also humble.  A little agnosticism in our hearts is a good pill of humility to take.  It prevents the arrogance of the kind of faith most of us probably don’t really like.  Faith without humility can create a religious bully.  No one wants to deal with this kind of character.
I do not think admitting that we all have a little agnosticism in our hearts makes us weak or second-class believers.  After all, faith is not a contest that determines winners and losers.  Faith is a journey of discovering and deepening in God’s Presence.  It is a relationship---a relationship of love.  It requires trust and discipline.  Faith is not the same thing as control.  
I appreciate Mev’s insight.  I am touched by Richard’s friends’ willingness to gather and bury his ashes.  There may be a little agnosticism in their hearts, but there is even more love and care for a friend.  That’s powerful.


Friday, June 23, 2017

Waiting

A theme that is part of the Quaker vocabulary, with which I grew up, is the idea of waiting.  I am sure to most people, the idea of waiting for anything seems pretty boring.  Of course, we do have to wait for things in life, but generally we don’t like it.  I wonder if American culture has not been a race to get faster?  There are many examples that suggest this is true.
  
So much of the world I inhabit seems to be on a quest to get faster.  The evolution of the internet is a great example.  I was aware of computers coming to be a factor in our world, but did not personally get involved in computers till the mid-1980s.  Of course, that was before the internet had been invented.  In those days all my mail came through the mail!  I finally made my peace with computers and, of course, now can’t imagine not having one.
  
Then the internet was invented---in the 90s, I think---and at some point my mail started coming through electronically---appropriately labeled, “email.”  Now if I get a real, interesting letter in the mailbox, I celebrate like an old friend pulled off a miracle!  And with the advent of cell phones now, most of us get our “letters” on a phone in our pocket.  Instead of going to the mailbox, we simply pull out the phone and read our emails.  And the email might be from half-way around the world and it is still instanteous.  No one wants to wait one second longer than necessary.
  
And that brings me back to the Quaker theme of waiting.  Quakers happened upon this term because our theology says we cannot program God to operate on our own sense of timing or whim.  We cannot demand that God show up on our command and do exactly what we want to do.  In effect, we are resigned to the fact that God is still God and we are still human.  Of course, an atheist denies God’s existence, so doesn’t worry about interacting with God.  But I still have a sense there is God and so am intent on interacting with my God.
  
I am intrigued with what God might want to say to me and what God might want me and others to do.  If I can’t email God, then I have to wait.  I recognize my timing is not necessarily God’s timing, so I have to wait.  Even if I am in a hurry, that does not means God is in a hurry.  So I have to wait.  And that’s the issue.
  
The theme of waiting came to be prominent for Quakers in their gatherings to worship.  Theoretically, Quakers see worship as a time when the people come together physically in order that they might be gathered into the Presence of God.  It is fair to say the hope is to experience some sense of unity coming out of our diversity.  It does not happen every time Quakers come together.  After all, God is not programmed by a group any more than by an individual.  I do think God promises to show up.  But God will show up in God’s own sense of timing.
  
And so Quakers gather.  It is appropriate that we gather expectantly.  It is appropriate because God does promise to be present.  But God does not promise to be present whenever and however we demand it.  And so we gather.  In effect we ready ourselves and come to be ready to be gathered into the Presence of God.  That is our part---to become ready.
  
The Quaker language I learned is we gather “to wait upon the Lord.”  I know this is a line that occurs frequently in the Journal of George Fox, that seventeenth century early Quaker.  To wait upon the Lord was his way of expressing the “readying process” that made Quakers aware and available to the God who would come.  While the waiting might not seem very exciting, it does not have to be boring.  Let me use an analogy.
  
Perhaps it is not a good analogy, but the place where expectant language is regularly used is with women expecting a child.  Typically, we say “she is expecting.”  In effect, she is waiting.  It is not boring.  It is not a question of whether, only when.  Analogously, this is how it is with God.  Ironically, waiting is the active part we humans can do.  Waiting is indeed active waiting.  That’s the trick, if there is a trick.  Most Americans probably seen waiting as both boring and passive.  There seems nothing to do when one is waiting.  But that is not true with active waiting.
  
The more I work with various layers of spirituality, I wonder if active waiting on the Lord is not an exercise in awareness and attention?  I suspect it is.  I am also convinced it is a form of spiritual discipline.  This is a good way contemporarily to talk about the process of coming to meet and be present with God.  That is still the basic question.
  
I assume that most people who believe in God and want to interact somehow with the Divine One do not think God is some kind of “cosmic bell hop,” as one friend put it.  We do think there is always a timing issue with God.  Theologically, God may always be present, but it takes a certain amount of awareness and attention on our part to know it.  And God may be sitting around always waiting for us to show up, but generally it takes some discipline on our part to learn to show up.
  
So in that little phrase, “waiting upon the Lord,” Quakers nicely have captured a succinct way to talk about coming to be in the Presence---to meet and mingle with God.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Quiet Soul

The evening prayer in my lectionary last night had a selection from a very short Psalm near the end of the Psalter.  Because I don’t live with the Psalms with the same depth as my monk friends, I still feel like I have often encountered a particular Psalm for the very first time.  I know I have read Psalm 131 before, but it felt like I had engaged it for the very first time.
   
As I often do, I compared two different translations of the Psalm.  The Jerusalem Bible begins by the Psalmist saying, “Lord, I do not puff myself up or stare about…”  The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) puts it similarly; “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high…”  In this case I prefer the first option.  It seems to warn against feeling pride when it comes to spiritual things. 
   
It makes me think of the old sports’ adage to “keep your eye on the ball!”  Perhaps if I were to put it spiritually, I would suggest that much of the spiritual journey is simply paying attention.  If I pay attention, then I am not likely to be filled with pride in my achievements.  Dealing with a God who is often experienced as mystery and in mystery leaves me with little reason to feel pride.  I do have reason to be comforted, consoled, and grateful to that God who covets and cares for me.
   
The rest of the first line of Psalm 131 has the Psalmist saying that he does not “walk among the great or seek wonders beyond me.”  I actually prefer the NRSV translation on this one.  That translation has the Psalmist saying, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvellous for me.”  That seems very clear to me.  It actually sounds like wonderful spiritual advice to beginning and sage alike.
   
Again I think of some of the things I have heard when I was growing up.  I think of the one-liner my grandpa used to say: “Keep your britches on!”  When I was young, I don’t think I understood what this meant.  As I understand it now, “keep your britches on” means to be patient.  It means that we should not get overly excited.  If I put it in spiritual terms, I suggest it means stay with the discipline.  Keep your journey simple.  Being spiritual is a life-long journey. 
   
The whole thing is God’s show and we are all actors with bit parts.  Why bother seeking to walk among the great.  Most of the great ones are folks lifted up by our culture.  In most cases there is little reason to idolize them, much less to model our life and behavior after them.  In fact the early church offered an alternative to their Roman culture.  That alternative was what the Latin writers called imitatio Christi---the imitation of Christ.  Certainly this is what the monks seek to do.  And in my own way, I try to follow suit.
   
By doing this, there is no reason to seek wonders or occupy myself with things too marvelous for me.  Stay simple.  There is no need to call attention to myself.  Spiritual living is not an achievement; it is a gift.  I just need to remember that I did not create my own life.  And I cannot prevent my own death.  I have choices, but they are choices on the way.  And I know that I have chosen the way which I am told is also the truth and the life.
   
I like the next line in Psalm 131.  The Jerusalem Bible puts it this way: “Truly calm and quiet I have made my spirit…”  The NRSV is nearly identical.  It reads thus: “I have calmed and quieted my soul…”  Maybe I like this so much because it resonates with my personality style, as well as my own religious tradition.  To calm and quiet my spirit seems like good advice, as I try to live spiritually in a noisy and chaotic world.
   
I wonder whether I prefer the option of a calm and quiet soul (as the NRSV) has it is because by nature I am an introvert?  Would an extravert prefer less calm and quiet and more action?  I don’t think so.  I don’t think the Psalmist is writing a Psalm for introverts.  I think the Psalmist is writing for all of us who tend to get caught up in the turmoil of our own little worlds.
   
We all know the demands on us.  Even if we are retired, those demands seem to lay claim to our time and talent.  I do think we live in a noisy culture.  And even if I am alone at my house with no external noise that does not mean it is calm and quiet in my head!  In fact, it is frequently when I am by myself that I notice the noise and tumult in my own brain.  Henri Nouwen famously talked about all the monkeys running around in his mind!
   
A calm and quiet soul is a soul that is centered, to use some of my favorite spiritual language.  Quakers talk about “centering.” There is a significant tradition within Catholicism that talks about “centering prayer.”  Centering is a good way to describe what happens with a calm, quiet soul.  To be in the Center is to be with God.  It is a place---a quiet place---where we listen to hear God’s call and then are free to obey.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Celebration of Reformation

Writing a headline that calls for celebration of Reformation might cause some consternation.  This might especially be true if I capitalize “Reformation,” as I just did.  If I left the word, reformation, in lower case, it might appear I wanted merely to describe a process.  But Reformation suggests Martin Luther, John Calvin, and all the other reformers---some of who were radical.  In fact, my own Quaker tradition has its origins in the Radical Reformation, as my mentor, George Williams, helped me learn.

I capitalized the word, Reformation, because we have entered a season where this movement will be much discussed.  I have already been solicited to write an article for a British Jesuit journal, which plans on dealing with the 500th anniversary of Luther’s nailing the famous 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.  As I ponder this, I am aware of what feels like a thousand ways to approach the story.
Many folks are tempted to read that historical period with a win-loss mentality.  If one happens to grow up on the Protestant side of the equation, it can well feel like a win.  Smugly, Protestants can tell a story of Catholic degradation, abuse and the like that left the poor Old Testament professor at Wittenberg no alternative except to begin a Reformation.  However, if you grow up Catholic, it is fairly easy to admit things were not perfect with the sixteenth century Catholic Church, but people like Luther went too far and was rightly excommunicated.  And so much of the half-millennium story since has been told.  
I had my own version (inarticulate, to be sure) of the story growing up in pre-Vatican II Indiana.  I knew where the Catholic Church was, but it never occurred to me to visit it.  When Vatican II happened (1962-65), I don’t even remember being aware of it.  Little did I know how profoundly it would affect my life.  It is too much to tell the Vatican II story, but I will say how grateful I am that Pope John XXIII had the vision and courage to move ahead with it.  I celebrate him and, now, I celebrate the Reformation.
When I say I am celebrating the Reformation, I am not cheering the victory of Luther, Calvin and the rest.  I am cheering the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.  In this sense I am on the side of every person and institution that is open to and co-operates with the work of the Spirit.  I caution this does not mean I think the Spirit was at work in the Reformers alone.  I don’t suggest for a minute that the Catholic Church was devoid of the Spirit and its own sense of needing to be reformed.  One only has to look at a figure like Erasmus to know this would not be true.  
I will make one theological claim.  While I certainly hold that the Spirit can work in all people and, indeed, in all institutions, I don’t think any person or institution can alone claim to possess the Spirit.  The Spirit is God’s Presence and that is not possessed.  It might possess, but it is never possessed---as in captured.
A characteristic feature of the Spirit, as I understand it, is the Spirit moves and causes movement.  The Spirit always brings life; it is not static.  And so where there is decay and death, the Spirit has gone.  A second characteristic of the Spirit is its movement causes evolution.  This is what the Spirit was doing in the sixteenth century and, I believe, is still doing in our own twenty-first century.  Because the Spirit is causing evolution, there should always be cause for celebration.  Another way of saying it, is to recognize the work of the Spirit is always renewing.  It brings new life.
This is the angle I prefer to look from when I hear about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation period.  Looking at it this way, prevents a win-loss reading of that history.  And more to the point, it helps us see our own time and where we can be led---if we are open to and heed the evolving, reforming work of the Spirit.  This is the exciting potential of remembering.  To remember reading history in order to learn from history in order to make a more meaningful history.
I want to read sixteenth century history---Protestant, Catholic and all others---from the perspective of the Spirit’s work.  I am convinced the Spirit is present and at work in all times and in all places.  But not all of us are attentive and open to this work.  And certainly, not all institutions are attentive and at work.  
What worries me about celebrating the Reformation is the temptation to read it as history alone.  It will be easy to make fun of the win-loss perspective and miss that we are in the same throes as those sixteenth century religious folks.  I am convinced the same Spirit is in our midst reforming and asking us to evolve.  To miss this is surely to opt for decay and, just as surely, death.  Our story may be so unremarkable no one will remember it.  
That’s why I want to celebrate Reformation and reformation.  My life and our times are at stake.  

 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Encountering Heschel Again

I read a number of things daily online.  One of those is the New York Times.  I am not so careful that I read everything every day.  But I try to be consistent in following things.  Although there is the usual spate of daily news that is depressing, there are other occasions when I run across something that helps me get a grip on the depressing things.  I ran into on such article by George Yancy, philosopher professor at Emory University in Atlanta.  I have read some of his stuff before in a posting he calls “The Stone.”
The article that caught my eye this time, Yancy entitles, “Is Your God Dead?”  I am old enough to remember the “God is Dead” movement in the 60s and wondered if that theological movement were being revived.  The answer is a flat “no.”  Instead, Yancey wonders if we---you and me---have lost our real God and only serve some idol of our own making?  It is a provocative question that I feel obligated to face.

Yancy is not talking about sophisticated theology, but practical theology.  He wonders whether we are looking “in the face of your neighbor on the street.”  He does not mean the rich neighbor across the way, but the poor one across town.  He presses on with more ornery questions.  And then he made a move that I deeply appreciated.  He began to refer to various words from Abraham Joshua Heschel, the late twentieth century Jewish theologian---one of my favorites.  Heschel was born in Poland, was overrun by the Nazis and harassed till he left for England and then the US.  He labored for peace, was a close friend of Martin Luther King and more.   

Herschel had a sense of his own need to stay engaged with all sorts of people and make his faith count.  He has provoked me before and provided solace, so I want to use some of his words here that Yancy quotes.  We can let Heschel instruct us in the faith---his faith and ours and everyone’s faith.  And we have to include even those who have no faith---at least, religious kind of faith.
Yancy’s first Heschel quotation portrays him concerned whether we “worry more about the purity of dogma than about the integrity of love.”  This is a challenge right away!  Following on this, Heschel is concerned about “an outward compliance with ritual laws, strict observance mingled with dishonesty, the pedantic performance of rituals as a form of opportunism.”  I am sure I have been and, likely, still am guilty of this.  I can do better.  

Decades ago Heschel charged, “We are a generation that has lost the capacity for outrage.”  I suspect that charge still fits most of us.  As I think about myself, I realize I am knowledgeable about things and yet do not move on to action.  I can do better.  My faith tradition calls for me to do better.  I do not need to berate myself and, certainly, not others.  Living one’s faith tradition is voluntary.  We are not conscripts.  But when we pray, “Thy will be done,” we should actually mean it.

Most of the problems of our lives and our world did not just happen.  Heschel could use his experience of the Holocaust to make this point.  Listen to him when he describes the Holocaust.  “It was in the making for several generations. It had its origin in a lie: that the Jew was responsible for all social ills, for all personal frustrations. Decimate the Jews and all problems would be solved.”  What are our own personal and social “holocausts” today?  They doubtlessly are not as horrific as the Holocaust Heschel experienced, but they still need to be dealt with.

There are a couple other quotations from Heschel I would like to include before concluding.  Heschel was a savvy dealer with words, especially when you consider English was not his first or second language.  Listen to him challenge people of all faiths.  Heschel notes, “Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.”  This is a wonderful, simple definition of an idol.  Most contemporary idols are not like the old idol gods found in Christian scripture.  Instead our current idols are very common-place.  But contemporary idols, like those of old, still control our lives and misdirect us from the true God.

One final quotation from Abraham Joshua Heschel may be the most provocative of all.  He observes, “one may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.”  That one nails me, for sure.  And it probably describes many of the kind of people with whom I hang out.  Pious and sinful; that is probably very accurate.  Of course, many of our sins are socially acceptable; after all, most people are doing them!  And this is exactly what Yancey is trying to convey and he uses Heschel to strengthen the narrative.

I appreciate encountering Heschel again.  I have always loved reading him, even if it usually does turn out to challenge me and bring me up short.  While most of the quotations here do not bring comfort, that is what Heschel also offers.  He’s been there and knows what he is talking about.  

Heschel always invite me to live into my better self. 




Monday, June 19, 2017

Gift as Expression of Hospitality

I have recently returned from a conference.  That is not surprising to know an academic goes to a conference.  College professors go to conferences all the time.  I have done my fair share, but generally don’t go anymore.  It is not that I think conferences are unimportant.  But I do have the sense that in my own field of religion, conferences that are academic are not where I spend most of my time now.  The papers presented at such conferences tend to be too arcane to be of much use to me.  

Most of my time these days is spent in what I would call ministry within the academic community.  That does not mean I go around praying for people all the time.  I am not preaching sermons.  I am not trying to get students to become Christian or anything else.  I am trying to help them think about life---their own life and others.  I want to help them figure out how they will make sense of their lives.  Of course, many of us make sense of life through our own religious tradition or via spirituality. 
I use a variety of people---historical and contemporary---to help students think about life.  One such person, whom I often cite and admire, is the late Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.  Even though Merton died tragically in 1968, his writings and teachings still have an amazing relevance to our world and making sense of our world.  And that was the point of this conference, which focused on Merton’s writings and legacy.  This was a conference that “spoke to my condition,” as Quakers would say.  But my story is not really about Merton.  He simply provided the context.
And so it was at this conference I met a young, engaging college senior.  I never saw her in my life, but I do know her mentor.  And it was her mentor who wanted to connect us.  And connect we did.  As we talked, she described her love of studying religion and business, especially accounting.  Of course, this is not the normal combination for college students.  It was easy to guess why the mentor wanted us to connect.  I, too, harbor interests in both religion and business.  In fact, I have written books in both arenas.  I guess that makes me strange, too.
I encouraged her not to feel like she has to choose between them.  My advice was not really advice.  People her age should feel no pressure to focus too quickly and exclude things that could be difference-makers later in life.  “Follow your spirit,” was my suggestion.  Of course, that is hardly specific.  In some ways I am not even sure I know what I am telling her.  But I do trust she has a spirit and that spirit connects with the Spirit of God.  What I suggested to her is precisely what I am still trying to do in my own life.
After spending a considerable amount of time talking with her and getting to know her, I became confident she will find a way forward.  I doubt that she (or anyone else) can plan this course of life.  Even at my ripe age, I don’t think I can plan my life.  Of course, we can all make plans and chart courses of action.  At some point I may leave my house and live in a retirement community.  She can choose graduate schools, etc.  But none of these choices dictate what life will come to be for her.
As we left each other that first meeting, I told her I would touch base the next day.  I already knew what I planned to do for her.  I would give her one of my books that deals with business and some spirituality.  The book’s content would not give her a game plan.  I meant it more as a form of encouragement.  And so the next day I looked for her to give her my gift.  I succeeded; she has my book.
As I ponder this action, I realize what I actually offered her was a form of hospitality.  The initial aspect of hospitality was to meet with her.  The hospitality deepened when I sat with her and intently listened to her story and receive her questions.  That could have been the end of the story.  But I wanted to offer more.  Encouragement can be a good word for someone.  But to offer an action is more powerful than a word.  And so I gave her a book.  The book may or may not be important.  What I hope is the lasting bit of importance is the giving of the gift---the gift of hospitality.
This provokes me to ponder the nature of hospitality.  As I think about it, hospitality is always a gift.  It has to be a gift.  You cannot require hospitality.  You cannot coerce it.  Of course, you can make someone do something.  But that is not hospitality.  That is a power play.  Hospitality is never a power play.
As I think about it further, hospitality is discerned by the gift that expresses it.  Hospitality may be a room in your house that you offer.  It might be a listening ear.  There is a myriad of possible gifts that can be expressions of hospitality.  Many of these gifts are free; they cost you only a little time and effort.  But they can be profound gifts---often better than money itself.
I am glad I did what I did.  I don’t know that I will ever see or hear from this gal again.  But that does not matter.  When you offer a gift expressing hospitality, it has no strings attached.  The gift does its own work thereafter.
 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Shelter Me, O God

Recently I was in a worship service where I noticed the music.  Now for many people that would not be surprising, but I am not very good with music.  I like it, but I don’t sing that well and I am not even sure I appreciate music in effective ways.  Perhaps some day when my working days are finished, I will take an appropriate music appreciation class and develop that ability.  I look forward to that.
   
As I sat in worship listening and, then, singing the music, I knew immediately the words were taken from the Psalms.  I certainly don’t know the Psalms like the monks who recite the whole Psalter every couple weeks.  I know I have read all 150 Psalms, but I don’t do it every two weeks.  And I certainly don’t keep going through the Psalter time after time after time. 
   
The refrain of the song we were singing went like this: “Shelter me, O God; hide me in the shadow of your wings, You alone are my hope.”  Interestingly the song sheet we were using did not reference the Psalm.  And I was not sure which Bible translation is being used.  In a sense, all that does not really matter when one is at worship.  It might matter if it were a Bible course in college or seminary.  But in worship it does not matter.
   
Let me simply suggest one locus for the music’s lyrics is Psalm 17.  You may not know that Psalm, but you may have heard of the imagery used in 17:8.  In that verse the Psalmist says, “Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.”  Of course, this is the Biblical background for the saying that you and I are “the apples of God’s eyes.”  I believe in that claim and in that claim I put my hope.  I love the fact that I am the apple of God’s eye.  And I think it is good that you are an apple, too!
   
So let’s assume that is the Biblical text for the song that develops.  A little more searching reveals this hymn has a popular history.  A number of people have recorded it and it appears in worship services often.  In fact, I may have sung it before, but don’t remember. 
   
Again, the refrain petitions God to be sheltered.  It is reassuring to think of God as the Protector.  When we were children, we needed protection.  As we become adults and may have children, we take on the role of protector.  As I think about it, I realize I have been both a protected child and a protector of children.  Thinking about it even further makes me realize that I never become too old to need protection.  That is where God comes into my theology.
   
I ask God to shelter me.  Hide me in the shadow of your wing, I could ask.  I know I am never that poetic.  When in trouble or wanting something from God, my usual prayer is, “Help!”  And I know many others probably are just like me.  Perhaps we can learn from this short hymn.
   
Maybe the trick is to learn to pray at times when we are not desperate.  We could learn the habit of prayer and supplication when the sun shines in our lives.  It would be good to develop this as a habit. 
   
The other line in that refrain is a good reminder, too.  “You alone are my hope.”  I know that is true ultimately.  And I suspect it is true even in my daily, non-ultimate routine, too.  Of course, there are many others in my life who also give me hope and bring me hope.  Included in this list are my kids, my friends and family.  But behind all of them is the God of hope.
   
So in this meditation we have found two themes.  God is my protector.  I can hide under the wings of God and be sheltered.  This brings me hope.  Whatever the world and circumstances come at me, I can find solace, protection and hope in God.  I am sure this is true in those little daily threats.  I am even confident this is true in those days ahead when I may have to suffer.  And of course, we all know at some day ahead of us, we will have to face the ultimate test, namely, our own death.
   
I want to find ways in this day and the days ahead to practice this hymn.  By practicing, I don’t mean I want to find times to sing it, although that would be appropriate.  I mean I want to take occasions to pray that God shelter me.  I am sure there is an independent streak in me that is not healthy.  Too often, I am sure, I choose to go it alone.  I want to recognize my own dependency on God and ask God to shelter me.
   
I want to ponder what it might be like to nestle into the shadow of God’s wings.  Of course, this cannot be taken literally.  I am not going to work and find some Divine Wing in the parking lot.  I want to figure out metaphorically where and how I take my place in the shadow of that wing.
   
What I do know, is there under that wing is my hope.   There is my hope and, ultimately, my hope eternal.  Thanks be to God.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Defining Spirituality

From time to time, I return to something I have read years before.  I guess that is one good argument for a library!  In our technological culture I am sure there is less book buying than I did.  That is not a bad thing.  But I still do like to have a book to hold in my hand, to underline and place back on a shelf in the hope that some day in the future, I will again pull it off the shelf and re-read parts of it.

I did that just yesterday.  I am working on some guest lectures for the near future.  It is a topic that I have given some thought to, but have never actually lectured or spoken publically about this theme.  This is an odd place---a place where I have been many times.  The topic given to me to address is one that I am quite happy to do.  I have many, many thoughts, ideas, and half-baked suppositions running through my head.  On one hand, it feels like I know quite a bit and could stand up right now and speak for an hour on the topic.  On the other hand, realistically I know that I have no organized way to present the extraneous material floating about in my brain.

I may know quite a bit, but it is randomly related, unorganized and, probably, chaotic.  I could stand up and make a whole range of thoughts that would not be related or connected.  An audience would think I am nuts, if I were to do it right now.  I need to ponder the topic.  I need to find a couple filters to sift through the variety of ideas that I have.  I need a magnet to line up the various strands of thought.

The topic is about spirituality.  Of course, there is much more specificity than that.  Spirituality is a very general term. There are many ways you could take a speech.  Some in the audience would assume they know what spirituality is.  And others would claim to have no clue.  What is needed is some definition.  Some focus would be helpful in the moment. 

And that is exactly what I found in a book that I had pulled down from the shelf.  I knew I had read it before.  Indeed, the markings in the book proved that I had read the whole thing.  I am always amazed and a little disappointed to see that I had read this book fairly carefully and, yet, had little recollection of what it said.  Maybe it is better to have read and forgotten, than never to have read at all!

I have no memory of the book’s definition of spirituality.  Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, is one of my favorite writers.  She is a spunky, daring writer who takes all of us half-hearted spiritual creatures to task.  In a book from the 1990s Chittister distills the meaning and truth from St. Benedict’s Rule.  The Rule offers guidelines for monks, nuns and other spiritual people to live meaningful lives.  I have read it often and try to follow its direction.

It was not specific words on the Rule that captured my attention.  What grabbed me was Chittister’s definition of spirituality.  She says, “Spirituality is more than churchgoing.  It is possible to go to church and never develop a spirituality at all.  Spirituality is the way in which we express a living faith in a real world.  Spirituality is the sum total of the attitudes and actions that define our life of faith.”  To me that resonated as quite true.  Don’t confuse spirituality with churchgoing.  Somehow, spirituality is different than going to church---although spirituality may include going to church.

It was the next line that made so much sense to me.  She says that spirituality is the way we express a living faith.  That also is a general statement, but it strikes me as being profound.  Spirituality is an expression.  It is more than ideas and more than doctrine.  It is an expression---an expression of a living faith.  It leaves me with some queries---some questions.  Do I have a living faith?  I am sure I have a faith.  But it is a living faith?  That’s the key question.

She continues.  Spirituality is the sum total of the attitudes and actions that define our life of faith.  Again, I like the idea of spirituality as both attitudes and actions.  Attitudes and actions are so much more than mere ideas.  For example, I could have a belief in God---a doctrine of God.  But if it does not shape my attitudes and develop specific actions, it is actually pretty puny.

Chittister’s definition gives me a good way to think about my own spirituality.  Is it a living faith?  Or it is only something to which I give only incidental, passing thought?  Does my spirituality actually shape my attitudes?  Or do I have my normal attitudes about things that have no real connection with my spirituality---my living faith?

Finally, does my spirituality shape and define my actions in the world?  Do I do anything because that is how my spirituality dictates the action?  Or are my actions totally unrelated to what I would say my spirituality is?  Perhaps that is the key question: do I act in a way that befits my spirituality---my living faith?  

Called by God

I have heard the language of “call” since I was fairly young.  It was not unusual to hear people in my religious tradition talk about people being “called into ministry.”  Although I knew sometimes God was the One who did the calling, I also suspected that God always was the One behind that call.  And if I am to be honest, I really hoped that God would never do that to me!
   
At the time I did not know anything about the Quaker tradition.  I did not know that Quakers think God calls everyone!  The question is not whether one is called; the question is to what is God calling us to do.  I realized I had a great deal to learn about this “calling business!”
   
Often it would be funny, if it were not pathetic.  I did not want any call on my life because I had bigger and better plans.  Talk about delusional!  Without ever saying it, I am sure I felt like I was better at planning my life’s outcomes than God.  I did not realize how shortsighted I was!  Thank goodness for some education and maturity.  So many folks assume they know everything about life planning.  No wonder so many of us make a mess of it!
   
Last night I had the privilege of going to the Catholic seminary in my city.  The occasion was a public lecture to which I get an annual invitation.  I enjoy participating in this event.  The speakers are usually top-notch.  I met the speaker last night.  He is a very well-known American Church Historian.  He is a Jesuit and a priest.  I have much respect for who he is and what he has accomplished.
   
I looked around the sizeable crowd to see where the speaker was so I could meet him.  I spent some minutes chatting with him.  It turns out his primary mentor at Harvard was one of the faculty people I know very well.  He also was a preeminent American Church Historian.  Ironically, he was a Quaker---a very well respected Quaker.
   
As much as I enjoyed meeting the speaker and hearing his lecture, that was not the highlight of the evening for me.  The highlight was dinner!  It was not because the food was so special.  The highlight was the people with me at the table.  Purposely, I chose to sit down at a table of seven seminarians.  I did not really want to be with the seminary faculty, nor the large group of priests who were in for the lecture.  I wanted to be with the guys who had chosen to come to seminary to study for the priesthood.
   
I think they were a little surprised when I asked if I could sit with them.  But they were nice!  They expected chitchat, no doubt.  But I had more in mind.  I turned to a couple of them and said, “So how did you know you were being called to come to seminary and begin studies for the priesthood?”  That also got the attention of the other five guys!
   
Such began the very interesting conversation of how God works in the lives of people.  They each had graduated recently from college.  They had a variety of majors in college.  I am sure they had done much soul-searching.  I was intrigued how they understand God to be working in their heart and soul to nudge them to consider a career path they probably did not think about when they were kids.
   
But even with that thought, I was brought up short.  I am not sure the priesthood can appropriately be called a career path.  It is not like the career in banking or the like.  The priesthood is a calling.  As they reflected and shared their stories with me, I began to hear some common themes.
   
Each of them had an awareness that their lives would be lacking or unsatisfying if they did not yield to the gnawing sense that they were being called to something special.  No one had such an absolute experience of God’s call, that there could never be any doubt.  That resonated with how God works in my own life.  I loved hearing their stories.  I felt like I had stood on sacred ground as they recounted the Divinity working in humanity.
   
As dinner concluded and we all headed to the lecture, I gave thanks for each one of their lives.  I told them to make good use of the next three or four years because they could very well be active in ministry until 2050 or even beyond!  How does one prepare today for life in 2050?
   
I left them, but I did not leave the issue.  I settled back into my own Quaker tradition that says each one of us has a calling.  If we will but listen and pay attention, I am confident that the Holy One will “speak” to each of us.  I am confident there will be a calling on our lives.  It probably will have little or nothing to do with our career.  We can stay in banking or teaching or, even, in retirement.
   
Some callings may have more to do with being than doing.  The calling might be as simple as being present to someone.  Like Jesus, we may be called into odd situations and with unusual people.  I know I want to stay open to God’s call.  And I want to be able to “answer” that call when I know it.  If I can live into that call, then I am sure I will come to know the peace that passes all understanding.