Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

The Power of Imagination

August 11, 2020

The fictional English detective Sherlock Holmes, who recently had a resurgence in popularity, is renowned for coldly rational and deductive thinking. Maria Konnikova explored his way of thinking in an excellent book, Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.

For entertainment reading to take a break from theology and edge computing/Internet of Things, I’ve been “binge reading” the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.

Twice in the first couple of stories I underlined sentences where Holmes told his companion Watson about the power of imagination.

Imagination is a great way to get yourself out of a rut. Maybe a rut of reading the same New Testament passages and getting nothing new.

Try exercising the imagination muscle to take yourself there, into the story. Imagine being the person Jesus was talking to. Imagine being a bystander. Imagine being an opponent who is greatly offended—sort of like a conservative hearing a liberal bash Trump. There—that got your imagination going, didn’t it?

Instead of trying to parse out a set of rules to follow from one of Paul’s letters, why not imagine being in the dark room with him as he is striving to describe a new way of life in the reality of a risen Messiah with a new way of living with God.

Instead of complaining about your church or group or company or neighborhood, imagine a better way and ask, “Why not?” Then begin taking steps to change.

Einstein often talked of the power of imagination and curiosity. From that came ideas that explained the motion of stars and planet that help land people on the moon and send satellites to distant worlds to explore their mysteries.

We exercise our biceps; why don’t we exercise our imagination? Take out a sheet of paper or a journal and write 20 different ways to tackle a problem. You will begin imagining many different solutions to explore.

What If We Expanded the Golden Rule?

August 10, 2020

What if our Golden Rule were not only “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” but also “Give more to the world than you take from it”? —Jacqueline Novogratz

Among my reading so far this month is Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World by Jacqueline Novogratz. She is inviting us into a new way of living and doing business by sharing examples of people doing just that. No doubt I’ll have more to say later.

I remember a conversation with a classmate at the university that introduced me to Baby Boomer ideology of “me first, and only me”. For some reason the German professor liked me or something. He recommended that this classmate get me to tutor him so that he could pass German, graduate, and get the job he had been offered at a good salary. His wife even came and personally thanked me.

What I really remember were the thoughts of “I don’t care about this person or that one, I don’t care about your causes (I was the civil rights/peace guy on campus—yes, singular in 1968), I just care about me”.

Some few years later Time magazine did one of its famous covers on the Boomers as the “Me Generation.” I thought of that guy.

I never wanted to be that guy.

There is something we could each do today to give back to the world.

The Presence of God

August 7, 2020

Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection was concerned that we let things get in the way of the simple presence of God in our lives. Zoom from the 17th Century to the 20th. Dallas Willard and Richard J. Foster wrote and taught the spiritual disciplines. They also cautioned that we don’t let practice become the end. We form the habits of spiritual practice in order that we might be reminded of God’s presence continually.

Meditation is popular right now. Meditation is a practice that has many children.

Psychologists and therapists have discovered that a mindfulness meditation practice is an effective treatment, or at least an important tool, for reducing anxiety and stress. It can also help reduce anger and help change a person’s outlook on life.

Meditation has been a practice used for more than 1,500 years by practitioners in many religious traditions as a path to enlightenment—the presence of God deeply into our life.

Those of us who have had an experience of enlightenment understand that the next step is not to go around telling everyone about it and perhaps even make a career of speaking and doing seminars or whatever. We just return to our work with a deeper sense of the presence of God.

Humans have devised sets of rules to follow in order to please God for thousands of years. Even today there are those who believe that if we only enact more laws through our governments that we can control people and make them Godly.

Brother Lawrence taught that this would be the wrong focus. Focus first on loving God and practicing the presence of God in our life. Then we do our work with a new meaning that no law would ever cause.

Freedom From Anger

August 6, 2020

Anger is an indication of concealed hatred, of grievance nursed. Anger is the wish to harm someone who has provoked you. An angry person is like a voluntary epileptic who, through an involuntary tendency, breaks out in convulsions. …a sure proof of a hot temper is that a man, even when he is alone, should with word or gesture (or Twitter) continue to rage and fulminate against some absent person who has given offense. —John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (OK, I added the Twitter part. That wasn’t invented in the 3rd Century.)

Anger seems to be a sign of our times. It is exhibited at the highest places…and the lowest. John Climacus says there is no greater obstacle to the presence of the spirit than anger.

He also adds advice. The first step toward freedom from anger is to keep the lips silent when the heart is stirred; the next, to keep thoughts silent when the soul is upset; the last, to be totally calm when unclean winds are blowing.

He said that the mothers of anger are pride, avarice, greed, and lust. The father is conceit. The daughters are remembrance of wrongs, hate, hostility, and self-justification.

We can counter this with humility—that is, placing others before us, removing ourselves from the center of our life and replacing with the Spirit.

I recommend breathing. Conscious, mindful attention to breath. Deep inhale, hold, slow release. Done four times it is a remarkable prescription for calming the flames. And can, if repeated daily for weeks, change your life.

Focus Attention To Form The Habit of the Presence of God

August 5, 2020

Every new human born into the world must learn for themselves that which humans have discovered thousands of years ago.

I am amazed every time I read from old or ancient sources the accumulated wisdom of the time, which is often not that much different from what we teach or at least know to be right in the present moment.

Some popular writers have explored the power of habit and how to create the right habits. There’s Charles Duhigg and I’ve recently discovered James Clear. And then there is Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection from about 1670.

That in order to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him, we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.

In order to live alongside God, first we must put our attention on God. This must be intentional and daily. Set aside a time, at first, where you know you will have one thing to do—set your mind on God. Maybe you repeat a phrase or the Jesus Prayer.

But then, after some period of time this becomes just a natural part of us. We “find His love inwardly excite to us without any difficulty”.

Constant Conversation With God

August 4, 2020

Whom do we converse with in our constant inner chatter?

People in the self-help industry or people in the self-esteem industry push the idea of “positive self-talk” on us. We should continually tell ourselves how great we are and push against times when we berate ourselves.

They have the conversation partner all wrong.

The author of the stories of Brother Lawrence, the beloved 17th Century contemplative, said in his first series of conversations that Brother Lawrence said, “That we should establish ourselves in a sense of GOD’S Presence, by continually conversing with Him. That it was a shameful thing to quit His conversation, to think of trifles and fooleries.”

The book can still be purchased—The Practice of the Presence of God. It is the story of a man who took seriously that admonition of the Apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing.”

Focusing our thoughts on ourselves may temporarily make us feel better, but that is a fleeting experience. Focusing our thoughts on God has the more permanent secondary result of making us feel better about ourselves without trying.

Learning versus Doing

August 3, 2020

Once I proposed leading a prayer class. My idea was to teach and practice prayer. The class just wanted some information about types of prayer. If I asked them to sit still and pray, they found it intolerable.

That is a bit like the feeling I had reading Ryan Holiday’s latest book Stillness Is The Key. Holiday is a talented writer who found his niche writing about the Stoics. He also has amassed many influential friends who have helped promote the book.

Maybe all the hype raised my expectations given my 50+ years of pursuing stillness (or, non-pursuing as the Zen Buddhists might practice). But I found the book not up to my expectations.

He divides the idea of stillness describing body, mind, and spirit. Each has nine aspects of its nature. Then he pulls together examples from famous sports, political, and thinking/literary lives.

It is a book about stillness. If you wish to know the benefits of stillness, this is a good, short read. If you wish for tips to help you get to stillness, then this is not the book.

Perhaps he has added a bit this idea from Herbert Simon, a researcher and thinker and Nobel Prize winning economist and cognitive psychologist, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Sometimes we read too much and focus and think too little. Not to mention pray.

Regaining Strength

July 31, 2020

Hermas (an early Christian document) You have become old in spirit and are already dying, and have no strength anymore. You have become enervated by the affairs of daily life and fallen into lethargy just like old men who, once they have given up all hope of regaining strength, expect nothing but to fall asleep. But if you repent, you will become quite new again.

I wrote a couple of days ago about numbing the soul. As often happens, afterwards I ran across this teaching from The Shepherd of Hermas. What an analogy for what happens when we let the world intrude into our soul, our spirit.

But we have a choice.

We can choose a different direction for our lives, our thinking, our outlook, our focus. The ancient Christian word is repent. In the simple terms I prefer, it means we were going down one path and decided to change and choose another path.

When we follow that pithy advice of the Last Crusader in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “choose wisely”, we choose the path that gives us life. Not that life of someday in heaven that some mistakenly think, but life starting now. We will “become quite new again.”

If you have made that choice, you understand. If you have not, try it. It literally does change our lives.

Intelligence Hub

July 30, 2020

I was scanning notes and recent reading to get an idea to expand upon when I spotted a page in my notebook (paper written with a pen, yes, you can still do that) “intelligence hub.” I couldn’t get that phrase to leave.

The idea behind this intelligence hub is that it is a software application that resides on some sort of computing device connected to all the sources of data in a factory. It doesn’t care about running the machines or the processes. It has an insatiable need to connect to every sensor and every device that through wires or radio waves can send some kind of digital data.

Of course, no one would buy that app if that were all that it did. Who would care about an ever-growing database that just sucked up resources to file that data.

People buy is (the creators hope) for…intelligence. It sorts the data, thinks about the data, finds patterns and anomalies in the data, and displays the results in ways that help humans make better decisions to operate the factory better.

What does that little discursion into the world of industrial technology have to do with spiritual discipline?

I ran into someone in a store in my small town once whom I had not seen for a while. “I haven’t seen you around church for a while.” “We left the church. We weren’t getting fed.”

So, were they (as an example for all of us) like that database just collecting data from teaching and reading? And they just looked for sources of compatible data to feed the database?

Maybe we should look at ourselves as spiritual/intelligence hubs. We connect to multiple sources of information—God, teachers, thinkers, writers, nature. But we don’t stop there. We process what we learn. Then, as Andy Stanley likes to say, we make better decisions and live better lives.

Awakening the Soul

July 29, 2020

“Choose your poison.” (I don’t know—a line in a movie I saw once.

What do you use to numb your soul, your spirit?

Excess alcohol, sex, drugs? These days it could be getting lost in other people’s lives through social media.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed, “Most of us would be seized with fear if our bodies went numb, and we would do everything possible to avoid it, yet we take no interest at all in the numbing of our souls.”

This is where forming regular habits of spiritual practice help us.

Practicing simplicity, shedding those practices we gravitate toward in order to numb our souls, is a start.

Service and meeting with other seekers connect us to outside ourselves bringing a sense of being alive.

This is the area that Jesus took most interest in. He healed many physical ailments, but he was always concerned with the state of our hearts. We should also daily check our status. Then do something about it.