Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

When You Are Not Feeling Right

June 24, 2019

There are times when we are just not in balance. One emotion or another is driving us. We cannot settle in to what we need to do. Or we feel a vague sort of fear.

Here are five things to check that need to be in our spiritual discipline tool box.

  1. When have we last eaten?
  2. When have you last had some water to drink?
  3. Have you exercised?
  4. How much time have you just spent on tech devices?
  5. How much sleep have you been getting?

Your body needs fuel. Skipping a meal is not a good thing. Of course, eating too much leads to lethargy. But, make sure you have fuel for the day.

Dehydration leads also to lethargy. It can also lead to the hospital emergency room. A significant percentage of ER visits for supposed heart attacks turn out to be dehydration. Drink water mostly.

Get out of the chair and move. If you normally get in some morning exercise, either running or walking, and you miss it. You’re emotions will miss it as well as your body.

Don’t get up and then get lost for an hour or more first thing checking your phone or tablet for social media, email, search engines (this morning I blew 20 minutes searching for the lyrics of a song I remember from long ago for another post–can’t believe that much time passed).

I’m told that operating on six or fewer hours of sleep per night leaves your brain in the same condition as when intoxicated. Get your seven, eight, or nine hours (whatever your body and soul need) every night.

Five simple daily practices to keep your body, mind, and emotions on the right path.

A Contemplative Life

June 21, 2019

We get our emotions all worked up into a frenzy.

Maybe because we are too busy. We are rushing here. Rushing there. Picking up; dropping off. Seeing this; shopping for that.

We do much; accomplish little.

Get angry about political or social issues. Either think everyone is out to get us; or we cannot understand those few who disagree with us.

Every statistic of life shows great improvement over life in the past. Yet, politicians and the media tell us we are worse off–and we cede reality to their hype and believe them.

We

Could

Slow

Down.

We could

Pause…

For as little as 5 minutes twice a day.

We could slowly control our breathing.

We could slowly pause and remember God (no matter how you define God).

We could contemplate wisdom and the spiritual life.

The result would be that we would become a calmer, more accepting, more loving, people.

Disagree? OK.

But with love? Of course.

Breathe in through the nose and count to 4.

Hold your breath and count 7 at the same pace.

Exhale through the mouth and count 8 at the same pace.

Repeat.

After four repetitions, you’ll feel much better.

Civil Discussions

June 20, 2019

He looked across the burgers and fries and said, “You were always interested in politics, weren’t you? I assume that you are a Trump supporter.”

We hadn’t talked for many years. And even though I am a midwestern white male, he assumed wrongly.

He explained why he likes Trump, why he’s doing a good job, why he thinks God put him in the White House. It’s politics. I believe politics is 95% emotion these days with about 5% rationality that is used to justify emotions. So, I accept his arguments–for him. I shared what I observe.

We departed on friendly terms as always.

It is possible. But you must tame your emotions.

That is part of what James, the letter writer who was accepted into the New Testament, meant when he talked about taming the tongue. You let your inside emotions get all worked up. They spill over into your tongue and out through your mouth. And they are out in the open.

I’ve seen the effect in small ways and large. I’ve been the cause many times in my life–for which I am often convicted in guilt when the incidents pop into active memory at odd times.

A corollary that James never imagined is that the tongue can be diverted to your fingertips and flow out into Facebook or Twitter.

Same thing. The words are out there. In this case preserved forever. And used by Facebook to send you messages reinforcing you momentary prejudice. That becomes all you see. You may even begin thinking the whole world agrees with you.

Guess what? They don’t.

You May Not Be As Extroverted As You Think

June 19, 2019

Jimmy Buffet sang, “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere.”

I am writing at about my usual time, except I’m on Pacific Daylight Time this week. It’s hot and dry in Las Vegas; and cold and dry inside the Sands Expo Center where I’m learning about high-performance computing, new wireless standards, and artificial intelligence.

Sometimes when I look at the world, I think there is more “artificial” intelligence than “real” intelligence. But I digress.

Yesterday, a few of us who are labeled by Hewlett Packard Enterprise as “Influencers” were chatting about other things and got into personality types.

For example, my Myers-Briggs profile suggests ENTP–extroverted, intuitive, thinking, perceptive. But what you wouldn’t know that each of those types is at one end of a scale from 1 to 31. On the extrovert-introvert scale, my score is 16. So, more accurately, I am almost as introverted as extroverted. It really depends upon the situation I’m in.

I bet it’s the same for most of you. I have no idea of the statistics, but I’m willing to bet (after all, I’m in Las Vegas) that more people’s score lies in the middle than at each end.

What does this have to do with Spiritual Formation, you might ask.

It has to do with the ability to be quiet. Silent. No, you most likely cannot use the excuse that you are extroverted and therefore cannot achieve quiet. You probably are not as extroverted as you think. And it is no excuse, anyway.

This quote from Ignatius, an early church father, came in today’s reading, “It is better to be silent and be, than to talk and not be.… Those who possess the word of Jesus are truly able to hear even his very silence, that they may be perfect and may both act as they speak, and be recognized by their silence.

Both our actions and our silence should be recognized as reflecting Jesus essence–his very silence.

Do not search for excuses. Even a deep breath and long exhale can bring 30 seconds of pause and quiet into a busy day. Try it for 5 minutes; 10 minutes; or an hour. Better try silence the next heated political discussion you blunder into. It feels better later.

Speech Overflows Into Attitude

June 17, 2019

Has it ever happened to you?

You are involved in a conversation about someone and they walk up in the middle of it.

Or, you discuss someone with another person and then go visit them.

How guilty do you ever feel?

Me? I always have at least a momentary sense of guilt–even if the comments were positive.

What really concerns me, though, is when I hear some people discussing a person negatively. And then they go to a meeting or dinner or reception where that person is present.

Is it possible for those negative emotions not to show?

I think that the object of discussion must feel the vibrations left over from the discussion. I don’t think attitudes can be masked. At least not for long.

That is one of among many reasons I am quite uncomfortable discussing people. I’d rather discuss ideas or writers or something where there is no right answer (like economics).

I side with James as much as is possible–watch what you say. Listen quickly, speak slowly.

We Need Balance

June 14, 2019

We know that all the wacky diet fads and “nutrition scientists” with a single cure for everything aside, what we really need nutritionally to feed our body is a balance of colors and a balance of flavors.

Your plate should reflect the colors of the rainbow as much as possible. The food should reflect a balance of the “six tastes”: sweet, salty, pungent, bitter, sour, and astringent. Also the simple “rule” from the research of Michael Pollan: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

We need a balance of physical exercise which feeds both muscle and brain. Movement–walking, running, intermittent sprints. Strength–minimum of weight training with pulling, pushing, and squats. Stretching and strength–Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, and so forth.

Balance spiritually keeps us on the proper path. A balance of stillness in meditation and prayer with activity in some sort of service to others. Spiritual balance helps us maintain emotional health and right relationship to the Creator of all.

These three–food, exercise, spirituality–also must be in proper balance. If we are sensitive to our own selves, we will notice the effects of something out of balance.

When in balance, we will be calm and focused and as healthy as possible.

Practicing the Presence of the Holy Spirit

June 12, 2019

Before we start laying down rules for others to follow or rules that divide people into groups we might label the good and the bad (with ourselves in the good, of course), we must first work on ourselves.

How can we insist others be shamed if we ourselves have not felt the shame of sinful thoughts and behaviors?

The celebration, or maybe just a vague remembrance, of Pentecost was last Sunday in the western Church’s calendar.

Remember Pentecost when the Spirit manifested itself in a great awakening that shook up the city of Jerusalem?

The prayer from the Emmaus movement begins, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful…”

When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t mean we go around “speaking in tongues” necessarily. Mostly it means that we have this inner guide that aids our decision-making process.

It opens us to new possibilities and opportunities. It frees us from worrying about whether we’re following every little rule.

It frees us from concern about deciding if a group of people is supposed to be hated or loved. Answer: love them all.

I contemplated on the Spirit over a period of time and was first shown all the sin that I was capable of deep inside. Then I was shown God’s grace and the fellowship of all humans.

Why do we follow the Spiritual Disciplines or Spiritual Practices? They open us to the Spirit so that we don’t have to go around always worrying about others or rules. We stay in touch with the Spirit and let it be our guide and helper.

Watch Out For Our Own Sin

June 11, 2019

“I can differentiate the sin and the sinner. Hate the one, yet love the other,” he told me.

“But, how can you prevent the hate from spilling over into the love?” I wondered.

“If everyone would only follow the rules and change their behavior,” he replied, “then the world would be a better place. That’s why we need to get the government to pass more laws making more behaviors illegal.”

“But, would that not just be a mask hiding that which is underneath?”

That is why we start with ourselves. What changes first is not behavior but our soul. Our inner life.

The Apostle Paul asked God in his letter to the church in Philippi to complete the work he began in his followers. For it is in the process of spiritual maturity that we begin. Our own, that is.

Then our work is to help others cultivate the Spirit and change the entire path of their lives. We can live a bountiful life in the Spirit, or we can live a shriveled life of counting mistakes of others. Or in feeling guilty about our own shortcomings all the time.

The cycle of counting the errors of our own lives and the lives of others and then condemning ourselves and others for those errors is spiritually and emotionally unhealthy.

Better the life of the Spirit.

When we have fully absorbed grace and the spirit, then we can understand how to hate the sin within us and with others. Then we guide in the spirit, not by piling useless rules one atop the other.

First see to the plank in your own eye, then to the speck in your neighbor’s.

Hate The Sin; Love The Sinner

June 10, 2019

“That person is a sinner,” he told me.

“How do you know?”

“Because of openly admitting to being homosexual.”

“That is a sin?”

“Of course. Just check the Bible. It contains lists of all the sins.”

“And you are positive that that person is sinning.”

“Yes.”

“And so they cannot participate in the church?”

“Of course not. No one who continues to sin can participate in the church.”

So, I asked, “When did you stop sinning?”

“When Jesus forgave all my sins.”

“Therefore you no longer sin? You do nothing of which God would be angry?”

“No, my sins are all forgiven, and I don’t purposely sin.”

And I asked, “How is your spiritual life? How are you practicing the love that God commanded?”

“For you know,” I continued, “as ancient Christian writers have put it, ‘For unless a man first have love and spiritual joy in his affection, he can in no way experience this perfect hatred of sin.’ ”

We must first do our own hard work of spiritual formation working our way through our own sins and other shortcomings and coming into to true joy in the Spirit, we cannot be so bold as to point to others and proclaim to love them while hating the sin. That hatred most likely boils over into the person we accuse of whatever sin. Better that we tread lightly in that path lest we should feel the rebound of our pride.

(A hat tip to the anonymous English author of The Cloud of Unknowing who wrote an essay based on Richard of St. Victor. Look them up. It would be worth your time.)

The More Confusing It Got

June 7, 2019

An interesting thought from Michael Pollan in his book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual:

The deeper I delved into the confused and confusing thicket of nutritional science, …I learned that in fact science knows a lot less about nutrition than you would expect.

I feel the same way about theologians. If you will pardon the expression, I see much of it as “mental masterbation.” They think a lot, no doubt assume they are advancing a science, disagree with most other theologians, and sometimes come to very weird conclusions. In the end, nothing is really accomplished.

People looking for certainty in their lives grab tightly to the safety net of one or another of these conclusions and assume they’ve found God.

But turning to a theology for certainty instead of to God leads down dangerous paths. Divisiveness, hatred, bitterness, and all the emotions and attitudes Jesus warned us about.

I return often to a comment of the theologian Karl Barth who wrote huge volumes on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Mostly as part of the German theology movement of the early 20th Century he was trying to remove “Jewishness” from the New Testament. However, at the end of his life when asked to summarize his findings, he sang the little song, “Jesus loves me, this I know.”

I like reading theology out of curiosity about what smart people with lots of letters after their name are thinking.

It is much more fulfilling to read the first person stories of spiritual seekers. Better yet, eschew confusion and go on your own journey of the spirit.