Sure thing, James. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sure thing, James. Send it to email@example.com.
For inspiration one evening I sat down to watch a cable show hosted by the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking. It had been billed as a show about his reflections on God and the universe. He concluded the first episode by explaining why he did not believe there was a God or any form of intelligence behind the big bang—that this incredible explosion of energy needed no impetus because there was no time before the big bang (as in “time was created by the big bang”).
At the end of the show, I was enveloped in a sudden, dark depression. I had so looked up to Dr. Hawking (though clearly I had not read his books because his conclusion was not anything new for him) that for a short time, I bought his premise. I had given away my power and the result was depression.
I’ve done this all my life: given seemingly powerful men authority to define reality for me. I did it as a child when I didn’t know better and the fundamentalist preachers screamed about hell. I did it in seminary when my biblical professors made fun of those of us who appreciated the Jesus Seminar. It’s easy for me to do if I don’t stay aware. This tendency is why I avoid online arguments between ultra-conservatives and, well, everyone else.
Thankfully, the darkness didn’t last long because I knew deep within that the essence of faith is in “things not seen or proven.” I don’t know how the world came to be although I appreciate those scholars who study the origins of the universe. I appreciate (many) religious and metaphysical teachers who chime in as well.
Appreciation is not the same as submission. My choice is to submit to the One who created me, even knowing this One is mostly mystery.
To whom do you give your power? What is the result? These are important questions to consider along your spiritual path.
If you are interested, you may read about Hawking’s conclusion here.
I’m sufficiently shamed and feel a little discombobulated at the same time over Facebook. Last week I saw a FB meme that indicated that if Martin Luther King (and other historic figures) had FB they would not be using it to post silly pictures of cats.
I sometimes post silly pictures of cats.
The implication of the meme being that serious people, serious advocates for change and justice, would use FB more wisely.
I happen to agree. If Martin Luther King Jr. had FB he or his organizers would probably use it wisely or not at all.
So I am duly shamed for enjoying an occasional re-post of a cat riding a Roomba.
My discombobulation with FB runs deeper. It’s so disjointed. A few weeks ago I opened my newsfeed to find disturbing news sitting right alongside a post (not my own) of a cat wearing a slice of bread. An old friend from my 20-something radio days had died. There was his obituary with his lovely smiling face and hundreds of condolence comments right next to political postings, silly cats, posts from my constantly outraged-at-the-stupidity-of-the-world friends and photos of people’s breakfast place settings.
I was stunned at how trivial FB’s format seemed to make the obituary look. It made me recall Neil Postman’s old classic “Amusing Ourselves to Death” and how he railed about TV’s “peek-a-boo” nature where news and ads are delivered without any regard to context. If that’s what he thought of TV, I wonder how he would react to Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest?
I don’t want to give up Facebook. At least not yet. I probably would not have heard about this friend’s death if not for FB.
I just long for context and deeper meaning. So I may give up posting silly cat photos. I don’t need the shame and I don’t want them ending up on a newsfeed next to an obituary of someone else’s friend.
I have intentionally put the brakes on a lot of work activities that fall into the seems-like-a-good-idea category. What happened was a lot of the workshops, seminars, travel and other duties undertaken in order to market my work ended up being not such a good idea after all.
They were fun, educational and I’m sure beneficial to quite a few people. And they wore me out. My body—in subtle ways—began to say “slow down.” When I didn’t listen as carefully as I should have, I got the more heavy handed message to “stop.” By the time I did, I had developed a stress-related condition that has taken months to overcome.
Thankfully I’m on the mend after a re-commitment to a healthier contemplative life that is slower than the one I used to call healthy and contemplative! Perhaps I was only kidding myself thinking that three jobs plus a non-stop marketing effort was contemplative.
The authentic life means being that person you are created to be, not the person the world says you have to be in order to be successful. I have discovered I was built for the long, relaxed walk and not the runner’s sprint. It’s time to honor that.
When you receive messages from within or worlds beyond, stop for at least a moment and take them seriously. Ponder them. Discuss them with a good friend or spiritual director. Discern what is good and true in the messages.
And if you need to, slow down.
We live in a world that is simultaneously gorgeous and appalling. Learning to make peace with that is a lifelong venture.
We live in a world where a sinkhole opens and swallows a man alive with no warning. Where North Korea wants to bomb us and probably has the weaponry to do it. Where superbugs with no antibiotic cure are cropping up.
And at the same time, in my neighborhood there was a successful “bunny rescue” not long ago. In an effort to save a very old saguaro, road builders in Civano created a roundabout at an intersection—pretty much a sunken planter for the Saguaro to live in. A little wild rabbit accidentally fell or jumped (who knows) into that pit and had no way to climb out. Someone in the neighborhood—I’m guessing the parent of a worried child—created a ramp, provided food, and made a sign letting us know we needed to allow that ramp to stay until bunny found his way out, which I’m certain he did.
Does a bunny rescue outweigh the horror of superbugs, dictators and sinkholes? I’m not sure. But it points to the human need to do our best to alleviate suffering no matter how great or small the effort.
It is vitally important that we remember the goodness all around us when we feel overwhelmed by the horror. And then—by God’s grace—live and act in that goodness.
Seek the good.
Let’s talk Lent. It’s a season of reflection and re-dedication. Many people choose a prayer or devotional practice to adopt during Lent. Fasting is also encouraged—giving up something that is no longer needed in your life or something that gets in the way of your spiritual development.
First of all, if you haven’t decided on any of that, don’t be hard on yourself. Just start now, even though Ash Wednesday is long gone.
Here are my practical tips for Lent:
Peace be with you this Lent.
Cacti in Arizona are fairly hearty and resilient but they don’t like below-freezing weather, and we’ve had a bit of that this winter. Some people in my neighborhood cover the tops of their cacti in order to protect the tips from turning black and dying. Most use styrofoam cups which are functional but rather unsightly. But neighbors in this one house have donned their cacti with little pointy sage-green fleece caps, providing protection as well as making the cacti look super cozy.
As I walked by these fleeced cacti, I began to identify with the cacti. These fleeced ones are a metaphor for the kind of diligent, kind and loving self-care we need when our usually hearty and resilient bodies and souls encounter hard times—times we aren’t particularly used to handling. Times like grief, high anxiety, hard knocks.
At those times, I hope we remember to treat ourselves like my neighbors treat the stately cacti—graciously taking small steps to make our bodies and souls a bit more comfortable as we endure the inevitable hardship. The simple step of slowing down, making yourself a cup of tea, booking a lunch with a friend who always makes you feel refreshed and renewed, reading a good book, sitting by the fire, petting the dog or cat, taking a nap, wrapping yourself in a fleece blanket and staring out the window—whatever that fleece cap on the cactus represents for you, do it!
Because the fact is not all cacti survive the winter intact. Come spring, you will see lots of them with dark, dead tips that need to be cut off.
The fleece caps really do help. Just like our small steps of self-care and love help our souls get through their winters.
May you stay warm and cozy during the cold spells.
I have noticed a lot of people these days love retreats. It’s nice to get away, change the pace and reflect on life.
But what I’ve also noticed when I lead retreats is that people are exhausted by daily life. So when they get away, they crash. Many times what they needed most was sleep.
Then there’s the syndrome of having a mountaintop experience while on retreat then having to go back to “business as usual” and a low-grade depression sets in.
That’s Retreat mode in contemporary culture. And it may not be serving you as well as you hoped.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go on retreat if you want to. What I am advocating—as someone who works with people on a monthly basis exploring their spiritual path—is adopting Monastery mode. Either instead of Retreat mode or in addition to it.
You see, we don’t have to run like hamsters on a wheel 95 percent of the time and then crash for the remaining 5 percent. We trick ourselves into believing that’s how the world works and we have to conform (I know because I am one who is able to trick myself in just that way). I believe that “hurry up and get to it” attitude to life is the world Jesus was talking about when he asked to be “in the world but not of the world.
We can make an intentional choice to take a portion of our day, every day, and spend it on retreat with ourselves and God. That’s Monastery mode. People who live in a monastery have a rhythm of life and prayer that keeps a balance. They may still need a retreat now and then, but when your life is in balance, you can enjoy the retreat wide awake instead of skipping parts of it just to sleep. You can enjoy the retreat for what it is—a nice change of scenery that helps you continue your life with God. You will no longer be reaching for that mind-blowing experience of God that will carry you through your busy months ahead.
Make your home your monastery. Create a space in your home for your prayer and reflection time. Find a circle of friends who may want to be your monastery community with regular check-ins. Find a daily, weekly or monthly rhythm to your life with God. You may find you can have the retreat you desire much more often than you ever dreamed you could.
After the bustle of holidays ended and everyone went back to work (and by everyone I mean my husband) I realized again how much I love ordinary time, and how much I benefit from a schedule. Which made me think of re-evaluating my personal Rule of Life.
A Rule is a set of intentions for life in the Spirit. It’s not a self-discipline tool—at least it isn’t for me—but a living reminder that “this is how I want to live my life as a spiritual being.”
The most famous Rule is the Benedictine Rule by which members of the Catholic Benedictine order live. Another famous Rule is the Rule of Taize by which members of the ecumenical order of Taize live. Here are a few items from the Taize rule:
A rule is a way of saying “this is who I am and what I commit to.” It is a schedule for prayer, meditation and reflecting on my values as a follower of Jesus.
My rule is pretty simple and I will begin it right away with the intention of using it as my 40-day Lenten practice.
If you would like to create your own rule but need inspiration, check out this website from Steve Macchio, www.ruleoflife.com. You can even post your rule on Steve’s site.
It’s probably a good idea to post it somewhere you can see it as a reminder that you have a good Rule of Life and you are sticking to it!
In early December, the world lost a bright light and I lost a beloved spiritual director. Rev. Dina Gardner, 41, died from a rare and aggressive soft tissue cancer.
The avalanche of feelings I have over this loss includes anger, sorrow, disbelief and ultimately gratitude. I happen to know that if I sank deeply into the anger or disbelief that Dina would not be happy with me! Sorrow she would accept. But gratitude would make her most happy.
Let me tell you about Dina. We met in 1996 at San Francisco Theological Seminary where she was a year or two ahead of me. She charmed me immediately at a dinner party when I spoke about being a second career seminary student (at 40 years old) and she scoffed, saying, “What second career? You’re not old enough to have already had a career!” And she wasn’t kidding.
We were mostly chums from within the tight circle of people attracted to the spirituality program at SFTS at the time. It wasn’t until ten years later that I contacted her about spiritual direction. I knew she had taken a lot of additional continuing education in intuitive counseling and was aware of her work integrating mind, body and spirit. That’s what drew me to ask her to be my spiritual director even though we would have to work by phone since she was in Marin County, CA and I in Tucson.
Dina had two strong gifts that she combined into her spiritual direction work: compassion and intuition. She had that magic quality that people look for in a spiritual director—they help you tell your story until you understand what God is saying to you in your own story.
Here is a sampling of what I learned from working with her:
Seek to be in the heart of God, open to all possibilities.
Know what energy is yours and what energy is someone else’s. Let everyone be responsible for his or her own energy.
God is so much bigger than our beliefs about God.
Discernment doesn’t always have to take a long time. Learn what it feels like when you are in alignment with God’s Spirit and let that be your test. Don’t quibble when you know your choice is in alignment.
The world’s way of marketing isn’t always the way for spiritual directors. Find your own way. Prayer is the most effective way to increase your business.
Advocate for yourself. Don’t shrink in order to be seen as “more holy.” Get paid what you know you are worth.
Give yourself the love you need to grow and thrive. Never see yourself as a victim of circumstances. You can provide love to yourself.
Thank you, Dina, for all you gave to me and everyone whose life you touched. I will never forget you and I rely on your guidance even now.
Peace, peace, peace my dear.