Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Seeking Peace

October 6, 2020

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” To work for peace, you must have a peaceful heart. When you do, you are a child of God. But many who work for peace are not at peace. They still have anger and frustration, and their work is not really peaceful. We cannot say that they are touching the kingdom of God. To preserve peace, our hearts must be at peace with the world, with our brothers and our sisters. 

Thich Nhat Hanh

The work of spiritual formation manifests itself from inside out.

Although service is identified as a spiritual discipline, working for others must not take the place of working on oneself. People being served, as well as fellow workers can sense those who serve as a means of building self importance or sense of seeking praise or those who are condescending.

Those who work for peace without finding it within paradoxically bring strife to a peace movement.

When you first come to peace within, that peace radiates. It affects and infects those around.

On Being Responsible

October 5, 2020

While sitting in meditation this morning, the word of the day came to me. Responsible.

There is responsible speech. Certainly the Apostle James nailed the concept better than anyone of responsible speech. Just as the small rudder steers the big ship, the small muscle of the tongue causes more trouble than the major muscles of the back, chest, and legs combined.

Visit social media for a short while. Don’t read the meanings. Read the tone of voice. Is that the tone of Jesus you hear? Or the tone of tearing down other people? Responsible speech builds up.

We all say things we wish later we hadn’t. Some days I think I remember every time I did that when I’m feeling down. But for some people, this is a way of life.

Being responsible also means doing what you say you’ll do or doing what is expected of you.

It is your job to take out the trash. Then do it. That’s being responsible. You say you’ll have the report done by Monday. Do it. You say you’ll be there by 10. Be there by 10. That’s all being responsible.

Don’t we love being around people who are responsible in what they say and do? Maybe that’s a practice for us.

Humility Contains The Answer

October 2, 2020

Humility contains in itself the answer to all the great problems of the life of the soul. –Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Wisdom literature such as Proverbs in the Hebrew Scriptures or James in the Christian Bible advise us about the danger of pride and the benefits of humility.

But I cannot recall a single list of things to do in order to rid ourselves of pride and acquire humility.

Learning must not do it. Think of the preachers and priests who have stumbled due to pride and yet have been unable to find that humility that precedes repentance. Certainly they have committed every verse relating to pride and humility to memory. Yet…

Does it take a life event? Yet, not that only, but further an event sufficiently traumatic that one is forced to confront oneself honestly? Or, did some people acquire humility early as part of childhood development? Or, is there a path of spiritual discipline that leads us toward it?

It must be an attitude we can acquire. Merton continues in that paragraph, “It is the only key to faith, with which the spiritual life begins: for faith and humility are inseparable.”

Perhaps it is because some fervently desire to know God and the path toward faith leads also to humility.

Much to meditate on here.

Safety, or Beginning Right

October 1, 2020

We have discerned a safety problem with our high school soccer referees and the schools who prepare the field of play.

Kind of like that song from The Sound of Music, “It starts at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

You show up early for a game. You park by backing into your parking space (just in case you need a speedy exit). You check to assure your appearance is presentable. Introducing yourself to the coaches and site administrator, you then warm up by walking/jogging around the field of play making sure the goals are fastened, the flags are in place, and that there is nothing dangerous about the pitch.

If you find a problem, there is time to deal with it.

I have interviewed several CEOs of manufacturing companies. They tell me that developing a safety mindset begins at home. When they teach safety, they don’t start with watching out for fork lifts driving around. They start at home. How did you use the knife to cut fruit for breakfast? Have you used anti-slip mats in the shower? Do you fasten your safety belt in the vehicle? Do you drive safely to work? Now you are in a mindset to carry over those safe habits to the workplace.

Same for those of us working on spiritual development. Do we show up early? Do we fill our minds first thing with uplifting and educational reading? Do we take time for prayer/meditation/contemplation? Do we eat a healthy breakfast with the protein, carbs, and fats to start our body with energy for the day?

Spirit, mind, body. They all work together in a healthy, spiritually developing human. Starting right gets us on the right path for the day.

On Distancing

September 30, 2020

Social distancing. The mantra of the entire world for the past six months, and probably also for the next six months. Maintain six feet of distance from people you don’t know, unless masked and even then… Just in case they might be carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Distancing applies also to those of us concerned with spiritual formation.

Not the “stay away from other people” distancing. No, this is the “stay away from emotional entanglement” distancing.

For example, one might see a situation that makes them mad. That’s a reaction. It’s understandable. But allowing that emotion to live, and grow, and fester until it shapes our life turns it into our new god. It rules our life. It reflects in our face. It infects our relationships.

Learning how to step back in order to gain a new perspective on the situation. Learning to see ourselves from outside our body. Learning to deal with our negative emotions by gently easing them along. These lead us onto the path of spiritual maturity.

These lessons are practical. When I learned them (although maybe still not a master), I both learned how obnoxious a youth sports coach and parent I was and also how to deal with it and grow up.

Social distancing will help keep us healthy throughout this pandemic. Distancing from situations that cause perpetual angst in our hearts will keep us spiritually healthy throughout life.

Taming the Monkey Mind

September 29, 2020

Sometimes we sit and our mind races from one thought to the next.

Like Curious George, this tendency can get us into a lot of trouble.

When I sit and focus on breath, I can begin to still the monkey mind.

Then I notice a settling in my chest.

And it extends into and through the extremities. My arms and legs feel calm.

The images in my mind slow down and become just a white light, which fades into dim.

Then I can sit in restful awareness for some time.

I come out of the meditation calm and focused and ready for the day.

It is good to repeat once or twice during the day just to maintain an even temperament.


Thoughts On Watching Leeds v Sheffield United

September 28, 2020

The Laws of the Game provide for a marked box within which the manager stands;

He stands at the corner, on the lines.

A field is provided for the farmer’s cattle for grazing bounded by a fence;

The herd congregates at the corner reaching through the fence for better grass.

Animals, humans, alike push the boundary;

Wishing to go into forbidden land.

Perhaps it began with Eve pushing the boundary of the Garden;

With Adam behind deflecting blame from himself.

The human condition–one pushes the boundary, pushes God;

While another places blame.

Need A Stimulant?

September 25, 2020

He led a fast-track life. Only 30 years old he founded a tech company leading the hard-driving life of a tech entrepreneur. Until one day he felt terrible. Queasy. Out of sorts.

He checked into an emergency room. His heart was racing at 170. He was on the verge of a heart attack.

After they settled him down, the doctor came in for a chat. What’s your lifestyle? Hmmm. How much coffee do you drink? Seven cups a day??

He was limited to half-a-cup per day. How am I going to get by on that? Where will my productivity come from? I need a safer stimulant.

So, he experimented and researched and eventually arrived at a concoction a few varieties of dried mushrooms, turmeric, and a variety of herbs and spices. He made it in his kitchen while still running the other business giving to friends to get their feedback. It is now his business. It’s called Magic Mind. I neither recommend it or advise against it. But his idea was a productivity booster without the caffeine.

I love the taste of coffee. Well, not all coffee. I’m a bit of a coffee snob. I drink Starbucks, but I find the coffee beans to have been over-roasted and scorched. Not the best drink. Must be why people mostly modify it with sugar and milk.

But I never noticed any productivity enhancement from coffee. I did notice once after we had purchased an espresso machine that chugging four shots of espresso was a bad idea! And, by the way, in general dark roast coffees have less caffeine than light roast coffees.

I wonder if we need the stimulant, or do we think we need the stimulant? I wonder this about a lot of things. Is school cafeteria food really bad, or are we just supposed to think it’s bad and therefore complain? Did you just come away from a high religious experience, or do you convince yourself that you must present to others a personality of high religious experience otherwise they won’t think you’re religious?

So, I wonder, how much do we feel that we need a stimulant to get going in the morning or how much do we really need the chemical?

It always seems to return to attitude and awareness. Are we aware of how our mind and how chemicals play with us? Can we cultivate the attitude of change to shed the negative aspects?

Oh, I’m drinking “Cafe Diego” this morning that Hemisphere Coffee Roasters buys directly from the Chavarria farm in Nicaragua. I have had the opportunity to meed Diego Chavarria and hear the story of the struggle of coffee farmers. If you can buy direct trade, please do so.

Earn a Demerit

September 24, 2020

You didn’t earn a merit point. In fact, what you did earned the opposite–a demerit.

What do we know about God? And about humans? We know that humans earn a demerit from God quite easily. It’s almost as if we cannot breathe without doing or thinking something that violates God’s high standards that will earn us another demerit.

That is why the endless efforts to devise lists of rules for others to follow so that we have a scorecard that shows some are better (us) and some are worse (them) is worse than useless.

God doesn’t look at some cosmic scoreboard and say, “Well, done. We scored 1 demerit and they scored 10. I declare we the winner.”

Some people think, “I don’t even need a scoreboard. I know how good I am. I don’t score by 1’s, my scores wouldn’t add up to 1 over a month.”

Others think there is no need to keep score because there’s no way I can win.

But God says, “Hold on there, people. Throw away that scoreboard. Even if you score 0.01, you lose. But I’m not participating in that game. That’s just you silly humans trying to divide yourselves into groups. I have something that is a different game. It’s called grace. And mercy. And I invite you into a new game in my kingdom where we don’t keep score.”

And when you decide to play a new game you become aware of your own demerits, ask forgiveness from God and those whom you’ve offended, and then live a new kind of life where you don’t keep score–you just love.

When I first learned Jesus songs back in the folk song days, I learned this one. It goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they will know we are Christians by our love.”

[For reference, try reading the Letter to the Romans straight through to get the breadth of the argument Paul makes.]

Law of Unintended Consequences

September 23, 2020

French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre pondered the inextricable way slave owners are tied to their slaves. You start a way of life and you cannot escape.

Thomas Merton writing in New Seeds of Contemplation discusses what happens to one who hates as that hatred of others turns inward and destroys the hater.

The spiritual formation point is awareness. Until we become aware of who we are and what we’ve done, our lives can continue to spiral down the drain like when emptying the bath tub. The comic point of Wile E. Coyote is that he doesn’t fall when he’s run off the edge of the cliff until he is aware he is standing on air.

Sometimes, though, the unintended consequence of our actions leads to something good, as Rich Dixon writes on Jon Swanson’s 300 Words a Day blog today, that he pulled to the side of a road while cycling discovering a perfect place for prayer.

Awareness can stop us before we get in that predicament. Sometimes awareness can cause us to appreciate what we’ve experienced. Therefore the daily pause in meditation to stop things and survey and ask God for forgiveness for our wrong choices and for guidance back on the path.