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Showing posts from January, 2018

Follow Jesus

Occasionally, I realize I can read and read and wonder if it is like “binge reading.”  I realize this is probably not fair to those folks with an eating disorder and I mean no disrespect.  Of course, I think reading is good, healthy, etc.  I can’t imagine a life in which I could not read things.  I remember the liberation that comes from being able to put various letters together to get words and, then, watch the magic of sentences as multiple words combine to make deeper meanings.  For example, the simple word “cat” is barely interesting in itself, but put it in a sentence with a verb and that cat starts doing amazing things!  My interest in the cat soars.

But I also realize I can read things and never do anything with the ideas, advice and suggestions.  Learning with no application may not be adequate.  Surely this is true in the life of faith and in our spiritual journeys.  Faith is not simply an intellectual exercise.  As important as doctrine might be, doctrine does not inspire, s…

Freedom of Exploration

The phrase, freedom of exploration, I read somewhere.  I have no idea, since I read fairly widely.  I do remember when I saw it that my interest was piqued.  Perhaps it is because I have some interest in the process of innovation that it intrigued me.  But I also thought about my work in the discipline of spirituality.  Let’s look at both of these arenas.

The freedom of exploration seems like a suggestion or, even, advice to me.  I can imagine saying it to someone.  “Go ahead, explore freely.”  I do not know how you could order or command someone to do this.  It feels more like permission.  “Go ahead.”  There is an element of encouragement that I very much like.

I value both words, freedom and explore.  Our American culture talks a great deal about freedom.  It is assumed that we are a country with immense freedom.  Perhaps the ideal is being able to do what I want whenever I want and wherever I want.  I am not against this idea of freedom, but I am not sure that is the deepest or mos…

Unlearned Ignorance

I had not seen this phrase since graduate school days.  Unlearned ignorance is a phrase from the late-medieval theologian, Nicholas of Cusa.  Nicolas was a bridge figure---culminating the end of the medieval period and representative of the emerging Renaissance and Reformation period.  And unlike much of medieval theology, Nicholas still has something to say to us in the twenty-first century.  I met up with him again in an article I was reading in a periodical I routinely read.  The article was called, “Nurturing the cosmic perspective of learned ignorance,” by Alex Mikulich.

This article fits in with my quest to continue to learn more about the world of science and, thus, to be a reasonable conversationalist with my contemporary scientists.  Too often, people of faith are incredibly ignorant of the science of our day and, therefore, increasingly irrelevant to important discussions going on in our world.  And too often, people of faith arrogantly dismiss science as irrelevant.  The iro…

About Prayer

From time to time, it is important for me to write about some standard issues in spirituality.  One of the most standard issues, surely, is prayer.  Certainly in the traditional Western religious traditions---Judaism, Christianity and Islam---prayer is seen to be central to the practices of the religion.  Prayer is commonplace to these traditions, and yet I am sure many followers within these traditions find it difficult to pray on a regular basis.  And many probably don’t even care.

I recall the opening words of her chapter on prayer in her book, An Altar in the Word, when Barbara Brown Taylor says, “I know that a chapter on prayer belongs in this book, but I dread to write it.”  I am sure she gets a laugh from her audience when she reads out loud the following couple sentences.  “I am a failure at prayer.  When people ask me about my prayer life, I feel like a bulimic must feel when people ask about her favorite dish.”  She follows this with another funny line.  She confesses, “I wou…


I cannot recall the first time I heard the term, double-belongers.  I probably did not even know what it meant.  It is not a term I see very much; I think it is still fairly rare, at least in the circles I spend time.  I have no idea whether it is a technical term in the theological world, but it does not matter.  It makes some sense to me, even though I am not sure that I am a double-belonger.

Fortunately I learned some time ago that I could learn a great deal from people who are not like me and from traditions that are not my own.  The person who introduced this term to me, Paul Knitter, was until recently a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  I know Union.  In fact, when I was heading off to seminary, Union was one of the places I gave very serious consideration.  It was globally famous even in those days.  Before Union, Knitter taught for a long time at Xavier in Cincinnati.

Knitter is a fascinating man.  He is Roman Catholic.  He studied in Rome and became …

Meditate, Cogitate and Activate

This silly little trio of words came to me in a class I was teaching about meditation.  But sometimes these little teaching tools come in handy when trying to explain things and help people move from ideas to action.  Let’s look at the function of each of these three ideas.

Meditation certainly gets much more attention than it did when I was a kid.  Maybe I was out of it when I was younger, but I don’t recall anyone in my church tradition talking about meditation.  Granted I did not grow up Catholic, but I am not sure young Catholic kids heard much about meditation either.  Perhaps meditation is only a grown-up thing.

I know there is a long and storied history of meditation in Christianity.  After studying Christian history and spirituality, I know Christians have always practiced some form of meditation.  I know meditation was important in the monastic tradition.  Monks have been meditating for centuries.  Perhaps the common layperson also was exposed to that, but I am less aware tha…

Recreation Centers and Laboratories

Sometimes I get inspired in the oddest places.  I was in the middle of some exercise in the Recreation Center (or Rec Center, as it is affectionately labeled), when it hit me: this is it!  Well, this was not totally it; actually this was half of it.  So far, this should be making no sense!  Bear with me.

I was exercising in the Rec Center.  The days are long gone when I exercised vigorously.  In the old days I would have been going so hard, I would not have been thinking at all.  In those days I never was inspired, nor did I ever have a mystical experience, while exercising.  But these days, the exercise is more leisurely, shall we say.  I was inspired, but it was a slow, revealing kind of inspiration.

What hit me was the name of the building in which I was exercising: Recreation Center.  Of course, that is hardly novel.  Every college or university of any description has a Recreation Center of some kind.  There are plush ones, Spartan ones…but they all serve the same purpose.  I was …


When I teach my class on spiritual disciplines, I usually feel renewed in my life.  When I do that, I realize how significant discipline is for many different human endeavors.  I certainly knew the value of discipline in my more active sports’ life.  I suppose as I get older, it still takes a little discipline to keep up some form of exercise.  While I miss those days of long runs or the competitiveness of a basketball game, I still find joy in a walk through the Metroparks.  Discipline with respect to eating and so many other areas of life would likely make us all healthier and saner.  It is no different when it comes to our spiritual life.

As I have taught spiritual disciplines over the years, I have to think about books I want students to read.  As you can imagine, there are a host of books about spiritual disciplines.  Of course, the real trick is actually to get students---and myself---doing disciplines, rather than just reading about them.  For example, prayer is just an idea unt…

Being Busy: a Spiritual Issue

I am convinced when you work on a college campus, everyone is busy.  Talk to faculty and they are very busy, as they will be quick to tell you or complain.  Talk to students and one hears the same lament.  “I’m so busy,” they profess.  We can even ask the staff and they, too, are busy beyond belief.  And certainly, I have those periods where I also whine about being too busy.

I know it is not simply an issue in the academy.  I know some folks in business who are quick to tell you how incredibly busy they are.  I suspect if we were to step into a hospital, the nurses, aides, doctors and others would echo the busy refrain.  Perhaps the patients are not busy, but everyone else is.  I even have to laugh.  So many monks I know would sigh about how busy the monastery has become.  Even though monastic traditions, like the contemplatives, have often incorporated too much to do that they feel like their monastic calling has been compromised.

I wonder if this is a malady that only affects the k…

Focus My Flickering

Recently I was doing some work with the poetry of Thomas Merton, my favorite monk of the twentieth century.  Merton wrote a huge amount of poetry and, in fact, saw himself first and foremost as a poet.  Many people who like Merton a great deal do not know anything about his poetry.  I am told his poetry is not great, but that is ok with me.  I am not a poetry expert.

One of my regrets is not paying attention more in those high school English classes when the teacher was trying to develop an appreciation for poetry.  I am not sure what kind of stupid reason I would have given for my lackadaisical engagement, but love of poetry did not happen.  Clearly the problem was not with poetry; it was with me!  I have been playing catch-up ever since.

I was working with one of Merton’s most famous poems, entitled Hagia Sophia.  Since I know Greek, I knew that translated “Holy Wisdom.”  The biblical image of Wisdom plays a key role in the spirituality of Thomas Merton.  In biblical understanding, …

The Beginning of Day

I enjoy reading a range of things because of what they can teach me.  Even though I feel like I already know quite a bit about what I am reading, many times I am offered a new angle or perspective to understand something.  Recently I was reading a blog on spirituality.  I ran into a little story from Hasidic Judaism.  I know some things about that special Jewish group that tends toward the mystical.  There is something about the Hasidic spirit that resonates with my own Quaker spirit.

The story is about a rabbi who is asking his students or disciples a question.  “He asked, ‘How can we determine the hour of dawn, when the night ends and the day begins?’”  In and of itself, this is not a spiritual question.  It is an interesting question, but just not specifically a spiritual question.  It is interesting because it is not easily answered.  As an early morning person, I have often wondered that too.  I am doubly intrigued because you can get reports that are very specific.  We might hea…

The Desert and Dessert

When I was younger, these two words confused me.  Sometimes, I misspelled them.  And I see this same confusion among students today.  I know that many faculty claim students are not what they used to be.  My guess is the same thing was being said of my generation.  Spelling may be one of those things we all are sure current students don’t do as well as the older ones remember they once did!

What I do remember is not being clear, which was to spell the arid land devoid of water and the food served at the end of a meal.  Do I use one “s” or two?  And why does English have to be so confusing was the question?  I can only imagine what learning English as a second language might mean.

I thought it would be fun to explore both words---desert and dessert---as words that can have a spiritual meaning.  In this way perhaps we can have a handle on how to remember them.  And as we will see, they are opposite ends of the spiritual perspective.

We can start with the first word, desert.  Perhaps we…

The Advent of New Life

I keep reading because I want to keep learning.  I know one of the tag lines all colleges and universities use is “life-long learning.”  I am not sure that phrase means anything to eighteen-year olds.  For most of them, learning has been life-long: pre-school, kindergarten, secondary education and now college.  Most of them have not thought about learning outside a school context.  So the phrase probably does not carry much punch.

Of course, it has meaning for someone my age.  I don’t have to read; I could actually watch tv all day if I wanted to do so.  I could watch movies.  Many folks are not actively engaged I thinking about life.  If we are lucky, we have a sense of purpose in life, although when people retire, they sometimes lack the purpose that has driven them for so many years.  Life does not come wrapped with meaning.  I think meaning is both discovered and created.   Even if meaning is there to be discovered, it usually takes some work on our part.  It cannot be delivered by…

Poets of the Soul

One of the ways lately I have been thinking about spirituality is focused by the phrase, poets of the soul.  By itself, the phrase may sound nice, but it does not convey anything special.  If I simply used the phrase, poets of the soul, you would not have a clue what I meant by it.  So let me unpack it a bit and give it a context and some specific content.

No doubt, most of us would have some idea about poetry.  Most of us had exposure to poetry in high school, if not before.  Probably some of us would say something like, “exposure, ha, I was forced to read poetry!  It is easy at my age to have some regrets about my education.  One of my regrets is that I did not take poetry more seriously.  I don’t blame the poets or my teachers.  I am sure the blame falls squarely on my shoulders.  I do not know why I would have claimed, “I don’t like poetry,” but that would have been my claim.

It surely means that I have missed out on a real treasure of wisdom, beauty and truth.  It is something I …

More Resolutions

Yesterday we looked at some resolutions an 86-year old Jesuit priest.  While I am not generally into resolutions, I was fascinated by his list of ten resolutions.  I never wondered what does a retired priest and teacher resolve to do once his active career is finished and he is living in a retirement community?  I am not a priest and not yet retired, but I am getting along in years---as we all do as birthdays pile up. 

So it is I would like to look at Father William O’Malley’s last five resolutions.  On the surface they may not seem to be spiritual, but a deeper look reveals how spiritual they really are.  The first resolution that we hear from him goes like this. “Remind me that my caregivers have bad days, too.”  Part of me wants to laugh at this one.  While I am sure it is true, I don’t have caregivers in my life, such as all the folks in hospitals, nursing homes, etc. literally have caregivers all the time.  I have done enough ministry in these kinds of places to have immense appr…

Old Man’s Resolutions

Father William O’Malley is an 86-year old Jesuit who is now retired.  I don’t know him and have never heard of him.  But I was captivated by the title in a periodical I routinely read.  The title proclaimed, “An 86-year-old priest’s 10 resolutions for the New Year.”  I am not 86; I am not a Jesuit (not even a Catholic, except for some Catholic influences on my life); and I am not retired.  But I was intrigued by what this old guy had resolved.

As I read the article, it was obvious Fr O’Malley is well-educated, as all Jesuits are.  He had taught school and been a priest.  He is familiar with some great literature and seems to have pithy quotations at hand.  Even though I don’t know him, I think he must have been a good teacher and, hopefully, a fun guy.  But when one is 86, you know the clock is ticking on this life.  So what does a person resolve to do when retired?  His ten resolutions almost seemed like prayers or, at least, petitions.  Let’s look at the first five.

The first one is s…

New Thoughts on Forgiveness

I have thought about forgiveness and have written about it in earlier inspirational reflections.  But with a topic this big, it is not unusual to come at it with a different angle or to have new experiences that give you a fresh perspective.  In my case I have just read the short piece on forgiveness in poet, David Whyte’s book, Consolations.  Whyte chooses a number of ordinary words and offers very trenchant reflections and amazing insights.  The book has become a goldmine of ideas, challenges and encouragement.

Whyte almost always comes up with an angle to a word which I had never considered.  That opens up meanings that are fresh and helpful.  He usually captures my attention with his first line of comment on a word.  For example, here is his opening line for his dinky chapter on forgiveness.  “Forgiveness is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, it not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source.”  Most of us want to ge…

Change is the Name of the Game

If we pay attention, we are very aware how significant change is in our lives.  In fact, I suspect it can be fairly claimed that change is the name of the game.  Of course, we are tempted to think there are some things immune to change.  There are some things that seem unflappable in the face of the assault of change.  This resistance to change comes in obvious places, such as the materiality of things around us.  For example, the earth itself seems pretty much the same day by day.  And the material things that are part of our everyday life seem unchanging.

The chair on which I sit, the table, my car and the list goes on of things that seem never to change.  And yet, if I get serious, I know my chair, table and car once did not exist.  Once there was a tree that yielded the table.  And the same goes for the wood in my chair.  And clearly, the car was pounded into being from some metal and plastic.  And some day I will trade in my car and it will be flattened into scrap metal for re-use…