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The Meaning of Silence

One of the blessings of teaching is the chance to continue to read good books.  And often, it means the opportunity to re-read some of my favorite books.  In spite of our society’s penchant for the new and novel, I learned some time ago that there are classics that stand the test of time and continue to speak to humans in all walks of life.  Obviously there are classics in music, in architecture and in books. 

One of the classics I have had a chance to read again is Quest for God by the great 20th century Jewish rabbi and theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel.  Heschel is one of the theological giants who came to this country as a result of the Nazi craziness of the 20th century.  Heschel was born in Poland in 1907.  He was educated in Berlin, Germany.  When he was lecturing in 1938 in Frankfort, Germany, he was arrested by the Nazis and deported to Poland.  He was encouraged to leave before he would be killed.  So he fled to London and in 1940 arrived in New York City.  He spent five y…

Search for Certainty

I try to live life appreciatively.  One thing I do appreciate is seeing notes, reviews or announcements of books I did not know existed, but which I now want to read.  That just happened with a small review of a new book by Alan Lightman, entitled Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine.  Lightman is a professor at MIT, prolific astrophysicist and author.  As I read more about him, I discovered how fascinating he really is.  He is one of the few people who can write both for the scientist and the humanities person.  

Diane Scharper is the person who wrote the little review, which I saw.  I want to share a few tidbits from that review that hopefully might whet your appetite to pursue some of Lightman’s stuff.  Scharper’s opening line hooked me.  She writes, “Alan Lightman, professor and author of more than 15 books, including the best-selling novel Einstein's Dreams, says he is not a believer in God. But he wishes he were.”  I almost laughed out loud at that last description.  I…

Dynamic Evolving Cosmic Presence

There are many sources of information and inspiration for me.  I like to read things from other Christian traditions to supplement my own valued Quaker spirituality.  And I feel blessed by all the non-Christian friends I have.  And I appreciate chances to read some from their traditions, like Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.  Our multi-cultural society is so much different than the little, homogeneous world of rural Indiana of my growing up days. 

One of the groups within Christianity I appreciate are the nuns and religious sisters.  I have never been an official Roman Catholic, although I proudly admit to some crypto-Catholic tendencies.  I obviously have never been a monk or nun, but I have learned about their calling and way of life and highly value what the monastic life has taught me.  Recently, I had the honor of speaking to a fairly sizable gathering of Catholic sisters in the city where I live.  Their warmth, welcome and wisdom were palpable when I was with them.  I don’t know whe…

To Live is to Change

In reading a recent article in a periodical I regularly peruse, I came across an interesting quotation by the late Cardinal John Henry Newman.  I recall having come across this sentence before, but it has been some time since I saw it and thought about it.  Newman said, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”  It fits Newman and it fits our own times.  Let’s first look at who Newman was and then look at the times in which we live.

One publication I consulted calls Newman “the 19th century most important English-speaking Roman Catholic theologian.”  I would not disagree.  Born in London at the turn of the 19th century (1801), Newman grew up an Anglican---the Church of England.  Newman was a studious boy and enrolled at Oxford by the time most Americans are still in high school.  It was evident he was a gifted student.  He graduated in 1821 and within a year was named a Fellow at Oriel College, arguably the premier college of the Oxford college system.

In 1824…

To Be in Relationship

When I was in graduate school, one of the things we joked about was all the big words we were learning.  Learning the big words was not a joke.  We all understood why we were doing it.  The big words gave us an ability to be more precise about what we were discussing.  Our conversations were often about deep things that were not capable of absolutely clear description.  God is the biggest example here.  We would joke that if anyone described God precisely, that person did not know God.  And we felt like the joke was true!

We joked about our big words knowing that we could never use these big words in many of our venues of ministry.  If we were preaching to a group of normal folks, we cannot use the big words.  They would not be understood and that is the point of speaking---to be understood.  And if we use big words when they hampered our cause, then we were the joke.

I thought about this when I recently read one of Richard Rohr’s daily meditations.  I will use only one sentence from th…

The Real Me

Who am I?  That is a question almost everyone entertains and, perhaps, spends a good deal of time in life figuring out the answer.  It is not unusual for us to come up with a few different answers in the process of living our lives.  I am confident I would have answered that question differently when I was ten years old than I would today as a relatively mature, older guy. 

I know there are some religious traditions that scoff at the idea there is even a real me.  For example, Buddhists question whether there can ever be a self or a real me.  Of course, we can pretend there is one; we can act as if there is one.  In my world of illusion I can have a self-illusion.  I am sure there are some psychologists who do not believe there is such a thing as a real me.  I am hoping they are not correct. 

As a Christian and Quaker, I am captivated by the early Genesis creation account that humans are created in the image and likeness of the Divine One.  I value that affirmation and hope in some …

Thoughts on Faith

I have thought about some topics for decades now.  But it is always wonderful to come across someone who can shed new light on an old subject.  One such topic I have pondered for years is faith.  Anyone who has engaged religion in any form probably has thought about faith.  I reckon I first thought about faith---what it is and how it works---as early as high school.  Perhaps I thought about it even earlier than that, but I can’t remember.  However, I am sure faith was involved in my life long before I thought about it! 

To be sure, faith is a word that is usually involved with religion and the religious journey.  I would even use it with respect to spirituality, assuming there is some difference between religion and spirituality.  But faith is not simply a word used in conjunction with religion.  And I would contend, it is not a religious word.  Rather, I might call it a human word.  If you are human, faith is part of your vocabulary and part of your life. 

My earliest forays into f…

The Creek of Life

Reading the title of this inspiration piece probably makes no sense until you get an appropriate context.  The context comes as I begin re-reading a classic book for me, namely, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  I have used this book in a course I teach and I always love returning to the pages of this contemporary contemplative of nature.  I don’t know how else to put it, except to say Annie Dillard is an exciting writer.  Originally appearing in 1974, the book reads as if it were published only yesterday. 

The reader would not know it, but Annie Dillard summarizes the entire book in a paragraph in the first chapter.  I would not have known this until a second or third read of the book.  This summarization comes in a paragraph where Annie describes where she lives.  Quite simply she says, “I live by a creek, Tinker Creek, in a valley in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.”  Again, I am not sure I caught the connection between this sentence and the book title until about the third re-read.…

Alone or Together

The title for this inspirational piece could also be written in a different way.  I could have chosen to say “alone and together.”  In either case the question in my mind is how people in general and how I in particular practice the spiritual journey.  On one hand the answer is obvious.  My spiritual journey is mine alone.  You cannot do my spiritual journey and I cannot do yours.  From this perspective to pose the question, alone or together, is senseless.  It seems like my spiritual journey is done alone. 

There is no way I can speak for the majority of Americans who actually would say they are on a spiritual journey.  However, I would guess that many, if not most of them, are doing their spiritual journey alone.  I would say this even knowing that a significant portion of people on their spiritual journey are folks who go to church, attend a synagogue or mosque.  

I say this because I do not consider going to worship---in whatever tradition that happens---to be the same thing as …

Five Gifts

I realized some years ago that I actually receive many more gifts than I ever would have thought.  I realized this when I changed the way I perceive gifts.  As a young boy I certainly thought about gifts in materialistic terms.  That is why birthdays and Christmas are such wonderful events.  People are obligated to give you things!  Of course, the reverse is also true.  On those two occasions I am also obligated to give others some gifts. 

Of course, material gifts count.  I have had some fantastic gifts over the course of my life.  A new baseball mitt that I received in my early youth was about the best gift a kid could have received.  Like me, I am sure you have received many gifts during your life.  Some were likely fairly expensive and others cost hardly any money.  In fact, some of the most touching gifts I have received have come from natural resources and may not have cost any money.  I think of flowers, for instance. 

I am not sure at what age I began to change my view on gi…

Advice for Spiritual Folks

Recently I read that Pope Francis met with some young European men who were in the formation process to become Jesuits.  Knowing that Francis himself is a Jesuit, I was interested in what he would tell these guys.  One question that was posed to the Pontiff was how he suggested they communicate with young, unemployed youth?  His answer was a good one, but disappointing if you want a specific formulaic, “here’s how you do it” answer.  Obviously, the question points to one of those really difficult social issues.  There is not an easy, ready answer.

The Pope told the soon-to-be Jesuits they needed to cultivate three qualities, namely, to be courageous, prayerful and creative.  I like this response.  Granted it is a general answer; in fact, at the street level, it does not even seem to be an answer.  But surely it is good advice.  And I believe it is good advice not only for young men on their way to becoming Jesuits.  It is good advice for all of us striving to become more spiritual and …

Ethics of Responsibility

Sometimes when I am dealing with students, I encounter some who are not very responsible.  If it were that simple, we would have narrowed the range of the problem.  However the problem is bigger than the student population.  Certainly in my past I have been irresponsible.  And I am still all-too-capable of not being responsible, even in my ripe old age!  And clearly, there are other adults with whom I deal who are not very responsible.   

But it does not even stop there.  We all can cite examples of businesses, which did not operate responsibly.  We know some banking establishments in the mid-2000s that were involved in shady practices that cost thousands of people much, if not all, of their life savings.  We know major sports programs that have cheated on grades---obviously not responsible behavior.  So when we talk about the ethics of responsibility, we are dealing with a real issue in peoples’ lives and interchanges. 

The way I want to use the idea of responsibility differentiate…

Take Care

I would have no idea how many times I have told people, “take care.”  And I am sure there are just as many people out there who have said the same thing to me: “take care.”  It is very much like the phrase, “how’s it going?”  Most of the time I hear someone ask me that question, I assume it is not a real question.  It is a figure of speech---something we likely are to say to someone we know as we pass him or her on the street or in the hallway. 

I am not against this act of cordiality.  I just don’t assume it means much more than that---people being cordial to one another.  It is an extended form of “hi.”  It is not a negative thing and I am not complaining.  In fact, I know the two phrases can become quite meaningful with the right kind of eye contact or voice inflection.  If I actually stop, look someone in the eyes and ask, “how are you,” with the right kind of voice, I am sure there will be an honest answer.

And if I look at someone a bit more intently and say, “take care,” I am…

Ignatius of Loyola

Yesterday was the feast day of Ignatius of Loyola, famed founder of the Jesuit order within the Catholic Church.  For some daily devotions, I normally follow the lectionary.  A lectionary is a selected group of biblical readings for the day.  As I have often commented, the various orders of monks and nuns around the world follow a lectionary.  Each time they gather for worship, there will be a reading from the Old Testament, a piece from the Psalms and a New Testament reading.  I like following the lectionary because if provides a pre-selected group of texts.  It keeps me from reading my favorites all the time!

Within the Catholic tradition, there is also designated certain days that celebrate various people within the biblical tradition and beyond.  There are famous historical figures, like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and others.  Among this group is Ignatius of Loyola.  Ignatius was a native Spaniard---born in the Basque country in northern Spain.  His early adult years was spent in th…

Memory as Poetry

One of the people I have enjoyed reading over the years has been Thomas Moore. I first became aware of him when I bought and read his best seller, Care of the Soul.  That book was published in 1992 and I must have read it soon after it came out.  In fact, that book inspired me to begin a group I called “Soul Work,” probably sometime in the mid 90s.  Interestingly, I still lead a group by that name even today. 

Moore is just a little older than I am.  He has traveled a different spiritual path than I have, which is what makes him valuable as my teacher (although I have never met him).  He had an interesting pilgrimage as a monk, psychotherapist and university professor.  Paradoxically, it was his denial of tenure that launched him into his popular writing career that will leave him with a legacy much bigger and different than had he continued as a college professor. 

After reading his first book, I have read others.  Soul Mates was ok.  I liked the book, Re-enchantment of Everyday Life

Three Poisons

I have been re-reading some of Thomas Merton’s journals in order to write a paper I promised I would write.  As a Trappist monk, Merton had a fairly rigorous daily schedule.  The monastery in Kentucky where he resided had the monks showing up for their first worship of the day at 3:15am.  This was the first of seven times they would show up.  Some of the times were rather brief---fifteen minutes or so.  But they still showed up.  Besides that, every monk had a particular job or responsibility.

Among other things, Merton was assigned to teaches the novices.  A novice is a person who has just entered the monastery.  A significant aspect of the novice life is spiritual formation.  Basically, you have to live the monastic life long enough to get an idea whether you wanted to make a lifetime commitment.  And you would need to learn some history and other basics of monastic life.  In monastic language, you needed to be there to discern whether God is calling you to that way of life.  In effe…

The Servant Leader

I have been privileged to be able to see myself as a leader.  I do bring some native talent to the leadership opportunities I have had, but I also have had a helping hand offered by many different people at a number of junctions in my life.  I have had many good leadership models to help me get clear about what leadership style fits my personality and my own Quaker convictions.  I also have watched some leaders whom I thought were not very good and were more of a negative model.  They showed me ways I never wanted to be seen as a leader.

I remember getting some leadership opportunities as early as elementary school.  In the bigger scheme of things, these were miniscule leadership chances.  However, they gave me an early chance to practice being a leader.  Much to my surprise, some other kids followed my lead!  I guess you are a leader if someone follows you.

As I grew, so did some of my leadership opportunities.  In high school I became more aware there were different ways to be a lea…

Falling Forward

I normally don’t use videos or even PowerPoint to do presentations.  I hope it is not simply because I am old-fashioned.  I know their use is almost universal now.  I am willing to use them when I think they are appropriate or add value.  And since that is a subjective judgment, I am sure others we see appropriateness and value much quicker than I do.  That said, I recently made a presentation to a group where I did use a little video.

The topic of the presentation was trust.  I suspect most folks underestimate the significance of trust when you think about teams, co-operation and so forth.  Simply put, when trust is low or missing, things will not go well.  As our new book, Exception to the Rule, demonstrates, you certainly don’t get high performance when trust is lacking.  Trust is foundational.  And I would add, when I talk about trust, I am also talking about faith.  For me faith and trust are virtually synonymous.  I know some people don’t think that is true, but for me they are. …

The Joy of Being Ordinary

The title for this inspirational piece comes from a book of a friend of mine.  John Punshon was a British Quaker---now deceased.  John was a good friend of mine.  I first met John when I went to England for a sabbatical.  I was a Fellow at a Quaker study center in Birmingham.  The study center was much like a little college.  It offered courses that were honored by the University of Birmingham.  The range of course offerings was limited, but what was taught was really first-rate.  The Quaker Tutor was my friend John.

John was a little guy in stature.  But he was a big-hearted guy.  He had not grown up a Quaker, so when he decided Quakerism was for him, he dove into it with gusto.  He was not a pain, like some converts can be, but he was clear and strong in his beliefs.  He was a very principled man and that fit very well his version of Quakerism.  He lived out his concerns for justice.  He worked for peace.  Simply his presence was a challenge for those of us more lax with principles a…