Archive for the ‘Disciplines’ Category

Breathe

March 18, 2021

We forget that we breathe. It just happens. Well, it happens or we die.

I hear or read the word, and I immediately become conscious of my breath. Then I regulate it. Slow down. Become aware of how my chest expands and diaphragm drops as the lungs fill with air. And then the contraction as I exhale.

Ever notice how people talk differently? Some talk with breath support–you’re taught that at speaking school. Some have a lazy diaphragm and lower abdominal muscles and speak in a lazier way lacking some enunciation. It’s breath.

Warriors must learn to regulate breath. As should all of us in stressful situations or when working.

We pay attention to breath while meditating. Slowing down. Filling our lungs.

Some people who study such things report that humans typically only fill their lungs to about 20% capacity. Stop, become aware, fill your lungs completely followed by a slow exhale (all through the nose) several times a day. Take short breaks from the computer or the book you’re reading. Breathe.

In Yoga, we learn pranayama–breathing exercises. I never told my class, “Now, we’ll do pranayama.” Instead, I would begin a class sitting (usually, but sometimes standing or reclining) and lead through some different breath work to get us warm and in the mood to begin exercise.

Breathing is so essential, yet so unconscious that James Nestor researched globally and wrote a book, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. I have not read the book, but I heard him interviewed on a podcast. So, this book is on my list.

Pause. Breathe with awareness. Set a timer on your calendar to pause during the day. Breathe. As I breathe with intention, I turn my awareness to God. It’s like a “God break” during the day.

Ancient Promotion of Women

March 12, 2021

I guess I have sinned in the eyes of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have learned from a woman. I don’t mean my primary school teachers–I guess that’s OK. But as an adult. I have learned from Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Therese of Lisieux, Beth Moore, and many others. Oops, I guess that some (men) within the SBC took offense that Moore had men in her audience (as I have been told). I see she has taken a public stance about the leaders of her denomination.

I never forsake an opportunity to learn something, no matter who is teaching or leading. I don’t like to tell people what to do, but I think I’d make this a command–learn from whomever.

It wasn’t this news that brought this to mind as much as it was reading Pope Benedict XVI’s description of Saint Jerome. “Moreover, an aspect rather disregarded in ancient times but held vital by our author [Jerome] is the promotion of the woman, to whom he recognizes the right to a complete formation: human, scholastic, religious, professional.”

Something else Jerome wrote that I think is appropriate at all times (but seems brought out by much news of (male) religious leaders over the past few years, “May your actions never be unworthy of your words, may it not happen that, when you preach in church, someone might say to himself: ‘Why does he therefore not act like this?’ How can a teacher, on a full stomach, discuss fasting; even a thief can blame avarice; but in the priest of Christ the mind and words must harmonize.”

1,600 years later, we’d extrapolate that “priest” part to include everyone who proclaims Christ. If only they (we) would all let our actions and words align.

This blog has surpassed 2,400 posts this week. That’s a lot of discipline. That’s a lot of opportunity for those few who know me to say–he isn’t really like that. But I hope not.

Taming Our Excesses

March 11, 2021

Pope Benedict XVI gave a series of insightful weekly teachings on the Church Fathers. This was a particularly interesting introduction to one of them.

Today we turn our attention to Saint Jerome, a Church Father who centered his life on the Bible: he translated it into Latin, commented on it in his works, and, above all, strove to live it in practice throughout his long earthly life, despite the well-known difficult, hot-tempered character with which nature had endowed him.

Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers: From Clement of Rome to Augustine

What better brief description of the works of spiritual disciplines can you find?

How often do we later regret some excess of out character–anger, depression (not clinical), cynicism, fear, hate–that expressed itself in hurtful ways?

Not only studying the Bible, but also striving to put it into daily, yes, even hourly, practice in our lives can tame that wild beast and at least make us easier to get along with. And maybe people would actually like us and like for us to be around!

Savor the Flavor

March 10, 2021

I really enjoy the flavor of coffee. Some coffee, that is. There is a whole value chain from growing kindly and organically to picking at optimum times to proper roasting. Taking care along the way.

I enjoy the early morning, quiet, alone, reading and meditating with a freshly brewed dark roast direct trade coffee.

Some people say they cannot get up and start moving until they have a coffee. It’s like an addiction. I wonder if it is all in attitude, since I have never experienced that. I can get up and get moving just fine without coffee. But I won’t be as happy.

Spiritual development can be related that way.

I think of how McDonalds has changed its coffee roast. Once McDonalds coffee was a fine as any coffee shop. Then they changed beans and roast and the flavor was reduced. A few months ago I stopped at a McDonalds in the morning for a coffee to sit in the parking lot, get out the laptop or journal and pen, and write for a while. They changed again. And the flavor was reduced yet again.

Was your prayer and meditation and study once robust and full of flavor? And perhaps you’ve noticed that over time the intensity, the flavor, has reduced?

Or taking care with attitude and preparation at every step of the way, you find enjoyment from the subtle flavors of your meditation, study, and prayer? It takes cultivation and care and persistence and habit.

The best part of waking up may not be “Folgers in your cup”, but it might be the practice of savoring the flavor.

Hearing Others, Not Fixing Them

March 9, 2021

I once worked with a guy for about six years. He was always in trouble with his wife. She would talk to him about a problem at work. He’d offer suggestions about how to fix the situation. She ignored the advice and would be not happy with him. “Brian,” I’d say, “she doesn’t want a solution. She’s smart. She’ll figure it out. She just wants you to listen.” He was an engineer. I don’t know if it was an engineer thing, or a man thing, or just a thing thing.

If we want to support each other’s inner lives, we must remember a simple truth: the human soul does not want to be fixed, it wants simply to be seen and heard. If we want to see and hear a person’s soul, there is another truth we must remember: the soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, and yet shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself.

Parker J. Palmer

I think this sit quietly and wait and listen that Parker Palmer talks about is the real key. Some try to order others around. They’ll fix you if you just do as they order. Perhaps more like a dog or cat is “fixed”, than finding a solution. Or helping some soul in need.

Some competent engineers in Texas could fix the power grid problem, if empowered.

Competent engineering, the trained problem-solvers among us, fail to help the human soul. Somewhat perversely, that takes more inaction than action. Sitting quietly and waiting on God is perhaps the hardest spiritual formation task of all.

Living In Encounter With God

March 3, 2021

Tevye is one of my favorite characters from the musical theater. He is the lead in Fiddler on the Roof. He is an impoverished dairy man blessed with several daughters. (Once I played Fyedka, the Russian who marries Chava, Tevye’s daughter, in a community theater production.) What impressed me about Tevye was his unpretentious continual conversation with God. He met God just as he was, with all his hopes and fears and wishes and concerns. He was never anyone beside himself.

I thought about Tevye while reading about the church father St. Gregory of Nyssa (brother to St. Basil). Gregory seemed to be a sort of Christian Tevye. He was meditative. He lived his life in daily encounter with God. Pope Benedict XVI in his teaching on the Fathers says of Gregory, “…this is the most important lesson that Saint Gregory of Nyssa has bequeathed to us–total human fulfillment consists in holiness, in a life lived in the encounter with God, which thus becomes luminous also to others and to the world.”

Richard J. Foster, who wrote the book on Spiritual Disciplines that I follow (Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth), called it the “with-God life.”

We can begin the day with meditation and reading that will focus us on God. Then pause during the day often to reconnect. Do that, and your personality and life will change for the better.

The Discipline of Solitude

February 26, 2021

“Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. Your will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways.”

Dallas Willard

Solitude will break isolation and loneliness? Is one of my favorite philosophers off his rocker?

Note the “well practiced” part.

Isolation and loneliness are a state of mind. I have been lonely in the midst of many people. There is a special feeling when you travel alone and go to a restaurant to eat. You see couples and parties, yet you are alone–or if, like me, you bring a book along for companionship.

Solitude is intentional. I decide to take a break and spend half-a-day or a full day somewhere alone. Perhaps on a bench in the woods. Or along a stream or at a pond. I’ve known people who rent a hotel room for a day–no, not for that–just to be able to be intentionally alone with themselves.

In the solitude, we can leave all distractions and call on God to visit. Kind of like Mork calling Orson, making contact with something distant, and yet close.

We’re closing out a year of Covid. Most likely we all have had feelings of isolation and loneliness. Others still are busy with work, writing, zoom conferences, whatever. It is a crazy, juxtaposed time.

Perhaps a weekly dose of solitude is just what we need to reconnect with God–and then with each other.

Love Is the Foundation

February 25, 2021

When I read the early Apostles and Church Fathers, I often think of the joy balanced by responsibility of these people trying to find the proper way to organize a church that Jesus started but left almost no instructions or rules for.

Reading Origen of Alexandria on Bible study, he emphasized reading within love for God.

I realized that Jesus instituted only two rules for us–love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Then later he added a mission statement (for you management consultant geeks out there)–Go into all the world teaching what I have told you and baptizing.

First, we must bring our awareness to ourselves and come to love ourselves. Perhaps this is the most important–and most missed–step. We must deal with our passions, fears, anxieties, prejudices, recognizing the evil within us just waiting to erupt. Sometimes we can heal over time with prayer and study. Sometimes we need help–a mentor, friend, professional, whatever it takes.

Then we can truly love others and love God with purity and a whole heart.

Then we can go and help others, continuing in our own spiritual formation as we love more deeply setting aside ambition. We can truly live that attitude of loving others–surely the most difficult command in the entire Bible. Sometimes we have to love even though we have the feeling expressed by a business acquaintance at dinner in his one and only tweet on Twitter including me in his bunch, “I’m having dinner with a bunch of idiots.”

Still, we must love. Only then can we truly begin our Bible study.

God’s Truth Is Not Theory, It’s a Life Force

February 24, 2021

Pope Benedict XVI presented a series of meditations on the early Church Fathers in 2007-2008. Discussing Clement of Alexandria’s thinking, he noted that Clement said Christians “must be guided by Christ and thus attain knowledge of the Truth…becomes a living reality in the soul: it is not only a theory; it is a life force.”

Discussing Irenaeus of Lyons, Benedict notes Irenaeus’ teaching that the Church should transmit the faith in such a way that it must be as it appears it is–public, one, spiritual.

Sometimes we humans become enraptured by a single word pulled from a context or by a theory proposed by another human. And we become fixated on just the words supposing that to be belief.

And we miss the spiritual, as Irenaeus would say, or we miss the life force described by Clement.

People who practice spiritual disciplines know that we must take those words and bring them to life within us. Not mere words, but descriptions of how we live. With the spirit, in the flow of the life force, described in the Christian Bible as living in the kingdom of God.

It Has Been A Year

February 17, 2021

A year ago this past week I was in Hannover, Germany. The organizers of the annual huge trade fair known as Hannover Messe had assembled an international cohort of journalists, writers, and other media types to preview the trade show that none of us would return to visit. By April, we were all on some sort of lock down.

I returned home on Thursday evening. Friday morning I taught the regular Yoga class and went home to let the house inspector in. For we had accepted an offer (very nice one) to sell our house where we had lived for 35 years. Saturday, I taught a soccer referee class (most likely the last one I’ll do, even though I remain a ranking instructor), drove to the Chicago suburbs, looked at houses, and made an offer to buy.

While in Germany, we remarked that there were no Chinese journalists in attendance. We knew something was up. Little did we know how bad it would get.

The next four weeks were a blur of arranging financing, waiting for deals to complete, and packing. And packing. And selling excess stuff. And throwing away excess junk (I estimate 2,000 lbs.). Advice–don’t live in one place for so long–or leave it to the kids to clean up 😉

We moved March 23. We then found the reality of the Covid shut downs in the sudden reduction of activity. Yes, we had to unpack, hang pictures, and all that stuff. But we were in a new community where we knew no one, in a lock down, in a new state, with a new lifestyle (sort of).

The first thing I decided was to maintain my daily disciplines of study, meditation, writing. We made one trip back to Ohio to vacation in the back woods of the southern part of the state and to close out banking accounts. And then the virus took off again, and we were back to mostly staying inside.

I’m ready to travel, if I had somewhere to go. It’s been a year since the last time I set foot in an airport. Eleven months since I’ve taught Yoga; twelve since I’ve taught soccer.

But the daily disciplines carry on. Here I am with breakfast writing this essay just like the past six years or more. I hope you all remain safe and maintain your disciplines.