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Live Longer

I read a great deal and fairly widely to gain new ideas and perspectives.  I am a sucker for good headlines.  Sometimes I chase a good headline, only to be disappointed when I start reading the actual article.  But sometimes, the content of the article is pretty good and I learn some things.  Such was an opportunity that recently came my way with the luring title, “Study shows churchgoers live longer than more secular peers.”  Since I am a fairly frequent churchgoer, I felt good about that headline. 

Baldwin Way, an Ohio State psychology professor, conducted a significant study to see if folks who go to church might live longer.  The answer seems to be yes.  Actually, I was surprised when I read about the conclusions of the study, which suggested “that churchgoers can expect to live up to nine years longer than their more secular peers.”  I thought there might be a couple years, but nine more years much more than I would have guessed.  I was ready to dive into the details of the study…

Decline in Spiritual Vocabulary

You can imagine I was drawn to read this short article when I saw the title, the gist of which I use for the title of this inspiration reflection.  The actual title of the article is a little longer: “It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God: the decline in our spiritual vocabulary has many real-world consequences.”  The author, Jonathan Merritt, begins in a catchy fashion when he says, “More than 70 percent of Americans identify as Christian, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to them.  An overwhelming majority of people say that they don’t feel comfortable speaking about faith, most of the time.”

While I do not have any hard evidence, I suspect that Merritt is correct.  He hired a professional group to do research, so it is not just his opinion.  I am willing to go with what he thinks he has discovered.  It aligns with my own sense that many people who claim to be religious do see it in a private kind of way.  They are religious, but don’t acknowledge it publically.  They would be …

Real Business of Life

Recently I have been doing some background research for a paper that I have agreed to write.  The paper offers a comparative look at my favorite monk, Thomas Merton, and the Quaker perspective on contemplative spirituality.  Certainly, Merton thought and wrote quite a bit about contemplation.  In fact, his monastery in Kentucky is rightly called a contemplative monastery.  Without going into a full explanation of contemplation, let it simply be understood here as a way of trying to live life in the Presence of God.

Quakers historically have not used the language of contemplation.  That meant that I would not have know much about the topic and would probably have answered negatively, if I had been asked whether Quakers were contemplative.  Now I would say that Quakers share much of what contemplation means without using the term or the normal contemplative language.

I had just hit graduate school when Merton died in 1968.  Hence, I never had the chance to meet him.  I have read a great…

Back Home Again

The title of this inspiration comes from a line in a conversation the late Salvadoran Archbishop, Oscar Romero, had with a companion.  Older people may well remember Romero.  And he is in the news again by virtue of being named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.  As one might suspect, there is the real human being named Romero and now there are “stories” about him---some of which are true and others are part of a legend that typically grows around those whose lives become saintly.

I remembered reading about Romero when he became Archbishop in San Salvador.  I recall his murder and the consequent outrage, etc.  Romero certainly had become a witness to and critic of the injustice of his native El Salvador.  Right wing governments, who often were propped up by American dollars, made life miserable for the poor folks.  It was a chaotic time.  Too often the Catholic Church was complicit in the misery.  That is why Romero’s story was compelling. 

This came back into my awareness when I re…

Support and Care

I was standing at the edge of the football field watching the college athletes go through their final paces for the day’s practice.  I like to pop by the various sporting venues to watch the athletes in their practice sessions.  I also like to go by the part of campus where music is made and theater comes alive.  Again, I like to do it when they are rehearsing or practicing.

Why do this, you might ask?  It sometimes is rather boring to watch them go through various drills.  Often it is not game situation or performing the act, as it will appear on stage when the lights are on.  That is surely true.  But we all know there are basic steps in the process of preparing the final act or when the whistle blows and the game is on.  There are fundamentals in all endeavors like this.

Secondly, I like to do it in these venues, because there is no crowd.  There are no parents cheering on their athlete, musician or actor.  They are not getting applause or kudos from anyone except the coach or dire…

Importance

Someone recently thanked me for being important in her life.  I appreciate the gratitude and, even more, appreciated the opportunity to think about importance.  Perhaps this is an issue of spiritual immaturity, but that’s probably where I am anyway.  I always hope to find things to ponder that might lead to some growth and a bit more maturity.  As I thought about the gal who thanked me, I would have agreed with her that in her mind I was important to her.  She was right.  I didn’t do that in order to be who I am.  But I was glad to help someone.

As indicated, the spiritually mature person probably never thinks about being important.  That is not their goal.  However, all truly mature spiritual people undoubtedly are important---perhaps in many ways.  But it would not register nor really matter, if they were to come to know it.  For those of us less saintly, perhaps it is a good exercise to think about importance.

Maybe our earlier ego development needs some sense that we are important…

Power of God’s Love

I very much like to read autobiographies.  I like hearing people talk about their own life stories.  Recently a friend shared with me a chapter in a book.  The chapter is written by Ilio Delio, the Franciscan sister who has written much on evolution and theology that I have enjoyed reading.  I have not met her, although I have read quite a bit by her.  So I was eager to get a sense for how she developed as a person and a theologian.

She begins the chapter in this fashion.  “In 1984 I completed a dissertation in pharmacology at New Jersey Medical School.  My research was in the area of motoneuron neuropathy and I worked on an experimental drug to mimic the pathological neuronal damage found in Lou Gehrig’s disease…”  As one who does not know that much science, I am awed and supportive of all the findings scientists discover.  Delio claims she was a hardcore scientist who felt that the path to truth could only be found in science.”

But this is not all.  I was intrigued by another sentenc…

End of the Bench

The idea for this inspirational piece was birthed recently at a sporting event.  Sports have been an important part of my life for a long time.  There are many aspects of sports that I would claim have made my life better and happier.  I don’t want to talk about that, however.  Instead I want to take the time to reflect on and develop an insight that came to me.  I would not claim it is original, but it is original to me.

I attended a sports event where the action was intense and high contested.  The play was at a consistently high level.  The outcome was in doubt.  My own college team was involved, so I felt invested and certainly had my favorite.  But the play was so good, I would have felt ok even if “we” lost.  But we didn’t, which made the experience that much sweeter.  The two teams were playing hard, but with respect for each other.  You knew at the end, everyone would shake hands and agree the contest was intense and fun.  And because the two teams are good, we all know somewhe…

Spiritual T Roads

I am assuming that most of us who have a driver’s license and have spent time behind the wheel know what a T road is.  I grew up in rural Indiana and it was not uncommon to be on a T road.  Pretty quickly you learn there are only two options---well at least two good ones!  I know I learned this lesson long before I was old enough to drive a car.  But then I also know I was driving tractors on the roads long before I was sixteen!  Now that I think about it, I am not sure anyone ever wondered if that were legal!

When I assume things, I always am prepared to be on guard that my assumptions may not be shared by all.  For example, I am not sure younger, urban drivers grow up learning about T roads.  Perhaps, they have never heard the phrase and have no clue what I mean.  So for their sake a T road is a road that dead-ends into a perpendicular road---forming a T, as it were.  When you are driving up the trunk of the “T,” you do dead end into the other road.  You have a choice to continue: g…

Contemplation as Power to Look

For the last few years I have had a special interest in the theme of contemplation.  In fact, I recognize I probably have been interested in it for quite a long time, but never used that word for the experience I saw other people have and wanted it for myself.  As is often the case, I realized that my own Quaker tradition actually “talked about” contemplation and the contemplative experience, although they never used that word. 

Essentially, I talk about contemplation both as an experience and as a way of living.  For a few years I have been teaching a class entitled, “Contemplative Spirituality.”  When I see students on the first day of classes, I tell them the requirement is that they become a contemplative.  Of course, they have no clue what that means.  But most of them are up for the challenge.  And that is a huge step.  I am pretty sure no one will be a contemplative if he or she does not want to become one.  So they key question here is to learn what being a contemplative real…

Availability

Some of what I have done in life would be explicitly called ministry.  But most of the things I have done would not have been called ministry, but in fact were a form of ministry.  In this country the term, ministry, usually has religious overtones.  People think ministers are special people within the church who often have designated roles.  Clearly, priests and pastors are doing ministry.  In fact, they are often called “ministers.”  And there are other folks within the church structure who also minister.

This is not a bad use of the idea of ministry.  Truly there are people who are doing amazing ministers in their church context.  But the problem is to limit the word, minister, to a church context.  It is a much broader word.  The word comes from the Latin word, minister, which means to serve.  Therefore, it means servant.  It can be noted that the term, minister, is widely used in the British system to designate a political role.  There is the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defen…

Life from the Center

When my younger daughter developed into an avid reader, she told me she liked to see what the first word and the last word of books were.  Of course, she would not count the little words, like “the” and “a.”  In her estimation those were not real words!  I am sure she has influenced me because often I will open to the initial chapter of a book---be it an introduction chapter or the first chapter itself.  And I will read a sentence or two.  And then I will flip to the back, last page and see how the author ends the book. 

And so I recently had a chance to re-read my favorite Quaker book, Thomas Kelly’s A Testament of Devotion.  The book was originally published in 1941.  It came from Kelly’s rather extensive time in Germany in the 1930s watching the Nazi threat come on the scene.  He returned to the USA and offered some observations to the Quaker community in the Philadelphia area.  These presentations became the chapters in this remarkable book.  While he was speaking directly to Qua…

Faithful Not Safe

Recently I had the occasion to return to some readings that I did long ago.  Because of an article I am writing, I needed to go back to my Quaker roots for some ideas and Quaker way of putting those ideas.  I returned to one of my favorite Quakers of last century, Douglas Steere.  I knew Douglas as an acquaintance, but not well enough to call a friend.  He was a long-time professor of philosophy at Haverford College in the Philadelphia area. 

In some ways Douglas Steere became a role model for me.  He was one of those seasoned veterans who come along early in one’s career.  Douglas was an academic---a good academic.  But he also was a man of the Spirit and a man of the world.  Douglas was involved in the ecumenical movement long before most of us knew what the word meant.  He read Catholic literature, much of which today we would talk about as the Catholic spiritual literature.  He chose to spend a month in a European monastery and that shaped his own Quaker Christian spirituality.

D…

Death, Memory and Poetry

Yesterday a friend died.  People die every day is an easy sentence to write.  But I don’t have a friend die every day.  She was a very good person.  She had many friends, so I am just one of the many.  And while we all saw this coming, when the actual death happens, it still hits you.  The dominant feeling among all her friends is sadness.  It is not the sadness of a life squandered in some crazy way.  It is not even sadness that she died a little too young, although it feels like she did. 

She was not a saint.  Because she was human, she was not perfect.  While I appreciated the many things she did for me, there were times when I really did not want anything from her, even though she would have been happy to help.  I know for a fact there are not too many people in my life who wanted the best for me than she did.  And I was not alone.  Somehow she cared about a big bunch of people.  And her care was predictable and palpable. 

Most days I don’t have to deal with death.  Life chugs o…

The Brink of Everything

I recently helped a friend decide it was ok to enter hospice care.  My parents both died in hospice care---one of them in my living room.  I have had a great deal to do with hospice care over the years and very much appreciate the tenderness and grace extended to the dying person and the family.  Indeed, it is a graceful way to die.  I am sure it will be the same thing for my friend.  The process always takes time---sometimes a little time and sometimes more time than we thought it would. 

But hospice is not really about death.  That is a given.  Hospice does not try to duck death; it embraces it as our ultimate outcome.  Hospice is about getting to death as painlessly and graciously as possible.  And hospice helps us see death finally as a friend.  We embrace this friend and acknowledge our desire and willingness to move on.  To die is to be fully human.  It is spiritual at its core. 

As I was talking with my friend, I thought about the recent work of Parker Palmer, a fellow Quaker…

Prayer as Exposure

In my spiritual journey I have learned many things, as would be expected.  Indeed, it would be sad if we were to be on a journey for a period of time and learn nothing.  That sounds more like stagnation than a journey.  One important thing I have learned is to balance working with the new---staying connected to the relevant things happening in our world---with the traditional---things like spiritual disciplines to keep me grounded.

A good bit of what I read comes from the spirituality in my contemporary world.  I do not fall for the illusion that anything new has to be better than the older ways of being spiritual.  But I am not so naïve as to think that most of whatever is new will have no staying power in our world.  For example, there is so much research coming out of our scientific community, we would be idiotic to ignore that.  Neuroscientists are discovering so much about how our brains work, how humans develop and how they learn, it would be silly to ignore or denigrate this.

I…

On Holy Ground

Recently I was at a gathering for worship and the congregation sang an opening hymn which I found moving.  It was soft and melodic.  I don’t always follow the words when the tune speaks deeply to me, but this time I sang along and let the words speak to me, too.  The music we used that morning did not indicate the source of the hymn.  I knew I wanted to write about it, but also knew I needed to give credit.  And so a little research yielded results.

The hymn is entitled, “We Are on Holy Ground.”  It is from an album published in 2009 with the title, “A Changed Heart,” by David Haas.  I did not know Haas, but a little more research unearthed some interesting information.  He was born in 1957 and writes contemporary Christian music, mostly for the Catholic liturgical communities.  He has studied both theology and music, which is revealed in the song I liked.  I have decided he is someone I hope to meet some day!

I would like to share the words from the refrain and some from the three stan…

Power of Partnerships

Occasionally ideas simply pop into my head.  They come as gifts of the universe or God or some Giver of gifts.  When I write this, I have to laugh.  I laugh because it is true for me.  At the same time, I realize how the truth of this could tempt me to want to manipulate it.  I am tempted to think, why not have money pop into my hands instead of ideas popping into my mind!  I could immediately spend the money.  Ideas come, but they seldom have any value until I work with them, fashion them and put them into a larger whole.

This is what I am doing with this inspirational piece.  The phrase, “power of partnerships,” came into my mind.  It would have been the easiest thing in the world to ignore it.  On the surface, the phrase sounds true enough, but there is nothing special about it.  There is nothing that inherently attracted me to the phrase.  But I have learned to receive this kind of gift---even if I do not know what it might mean---and then begin to work with it until its value sta…

Peaceful, Happy and Strong

It is hard for me to imagine anyone seeing the three words that form the title of this reflection---peaceful, happy and strong---not wanting a share in all three.  Can you believe anyone would say, “Nah, I prefer war to peace.  I prefer conflict to peace!”  Can you imagine anyone saying, “I much rather prefer sadness and despair to happiness!”  And it is just as difficult to hear someone saying, “Heck, I’d much rather be weak and hurting than be strong.”  Anyone in his or her right mind wants to be peaceful, happy and strong.

The real question is not whether I prefer these attributes, but how do I get them?  Is there anything I or we can do to make them come true?  Or do we simply have to wait, sit back and hope to become peaceful, happy and strong?  The good news is, there are some things we can do to bring peace, happiness and strength to ourselves and to others.

I encountered these ideas recently when I was reading one of my favorite books which I use for a class.  The book is by T…