Friday, August 31, 2007

The Long Labor Day Weekend Is Finally Here!

As far as I am concerned, this is the last day of summer. Even if the heat continues for a while, I will be in an autumn state of mind. Show me the pumpkins! It has been a long and very hot summer that has been almost totally lacking in rock and roll. Musically speaking this has been the slowest musical summer I have experienced since 1990. I haven't been on a road trip all summer! If it wasn't for the Police concert back in July, I would have no musical memories for this summer. Perhaps all my rock and roll heroes are feeling their age as I am. My only alternative is to watch a concert DVD, turn off the air conditioning in my house and sit in a beach chair in the middle of my living room floor.

Tomorrow begins the last long weekend of the summer. There are no more until Thanksgiving. It will be a weekend of family for me. Saturday my wife and I will spring her mother from the retirement home and take her out to dinner. My granddaughter, Chloe, will also be over on Saturday night for a sleepover. I will need to work out before she arrives to be prepared for the gymnastics that she will put me through. On Sunday afternoon I will attend a cookout at my parent's home with my brothers and sister, their spouses, and my nieces and nephews. I will also see my son, Nick, for the first time since he went to the seminary a few weeks ago. I don't think I have ever gone this long without seeing him. I am looking forward to the weekend in spite of it's busyness. The fatigue of the week has accumulated to a point where I need a break. I will get to sleep in on Saturday and wake up with Chloe on Sunday. Monday, however, will be my true day of rest. I will have nothing to do and no where to go and all day to get there.

In the spirit of Labor Day, I am grateful for my employment. Even though work can be maddening and frustrating at times, it has served me well and provided support for my family and me. Work at it's best should be a sharing of life's creative process. Work should serve people, not people serving work. Like everything else in life, work should be balanced. My great fear of work in this age is that it is consuming the lives of many. Sooner or later we need to get work back into it's proper perspective as a means to live and not as life itself. Work should be fulfilling and satisfying, not stressful and life draining. Give work it's proper due but do not let it consume your life. Don't find you identity in what you do. Find your identity in who you are. My job is not who I am. Who I am is Michael, Dad, Pa Paw, brother, son, and friend.

John Lennon

Last night I watched a DVD entitled "The United States versus John Lennon". It was a documentary on the efforts of the United States and the Nixon Administration to deport John Lennon for his activities in the peace movement of the late 60's and early 70's. Watching the movie brought back many memories and a few tears. Those were heady times in which to grow up. There was much upheaval in our society and passions were deeply felt. I felt the passion of my generation when I was young. John Lennon was as much a hero to me as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. I, too, believed in his message of peace. I cried a few years later when he was murdered in New York City by a deranged fan. His music is part of the soundtrack of my life. Watching the movie and reliving those times I found myself wondering where the passion of my youth and generation has gone. Is it really gone or has it been transformed into something deeper and more spiritual? The truth is that I still get upset by things and sometimes I still feel the fires of passion within me. I still feel rebellious although I may express my rebellion in smaller ways. I think what's happened with me and many of my generation is that we aren't so much trying to change the world now as we are trying to change ourselves. For there to be peace in the world, there must be peace in our own hearts. Instead of trying to transform the world, we seek to transform ourselves. This is not a narcissistic activity. It is not self absorption at the highest level. All societal and global change begins with change within individuals. Buddha said something to the effect that it is greater to conquer oneself than to conquer a thousand armies. John Lennon was faithful to his heart and he put his money where his mouth was. I have little money but I do have big values and I strive to be faithful to them in the way I live my life. John Lennon may have started out as a rock and roll pop star but he transformed into a humanitarian and a lover of peace. All he was saying was give peace a change. Today Vietnam is a memory for most but new wars have taken it's place. Peace is still the goal of our life time. Let it begin with you.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pipe Smoking And The Spiritual Life

When I was in my early thirties I decided to smoke a pipe. I did it because I loved the aroma of pipe tobacco. I had often been in a gathering of people and the fragrance of carefully blended pipe tobacco would waft through the crowd and I thought it smelled wonderful. I went out and bought a beginner's pipe and some tobacco. I soon discovered, much to my dismay, that while smoking a pipe one could not smell the pleasing aroma. Whenever I smoked my pipe other people enjoyed it. Some even asked me to smoke just so they could enjoy the sweet smell. I, however, could never enjoy my own pipe smoking. I believe all of this is a metaphor for the spiritual life. When one is living a spiritual life, like smoking a pipe, you don't really enjoy your own spiritual qualities. Your holiness and goodness cannot really be perceived by yourself. Only other people can experience your holiness and goodness. A spiritual person may be aware they are living a spiritual life, like a pipe smoker is aware they are smoking, but they don't really enjoy the effects of their spiritual like as much as those around a pipe smoker enjoy the fragrance of pipe smoke. In spite of the fact that I didn't smell my own pipe smoke, I kept smoking for many years. I rarely smoke one of my pipes now for health reasons but I still have my entire collection of pipes. Some are quite valuable and others are real pieces of art. I do keep trying to live a spiritual life even though I don't always feel spiritual and I am not always aware of my own goodness. I also never feel holy. I do know, however, that there are people who think I am spiritual and good and maybe even a little holy. If this is their experience of me, like pleasing aromas are the experience of people around a pipe smoker, than I am happy and perhaps my purpose in life is being partially fulfilled. All goodness and holiness is a gift of God and not of our own doing. Living a spiritual life is really more of an openness to God's grace rather than doing things to achieve holiness through our own efforts. If smoking a pipe is a metaphor for living the spiritual life, I am not sure what smoking a cigar represents!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Long Day

Yesterday was a very long day. I was still tired from my weekend and lost in a dream when my alarm went off. It was a long walk to the shower. I found myself asking, "Why didn't I schedule a vacation day"? The work day turned out hectic with a few minor crisis (is this an oxymoron?). When the workday was over, I picked up my wife at her office and we headed to a family member's home. What was intended as a pop in turned into a long but enjoyable conversation with one of my sister in law's. Afterwards we stopped at a restaurant where there was a wait to enjoy a noisy meal in crowded environment. After making my last stop of the day, I discovered that I had a tire on my car that was obviously leaking air. I made it home, too tired to deal with it, hoping it wouldn't be completely flat by morning. When I woke up this morning, it was nearly flat. Fortunately I had an emergency air pump and was able to get enough air into the tire in order to drive the car. My oldest son, bless him, stopped by and picked up the car to fix the tire. When I got finally got home last night it was nearly 8:30 PM, four hours since I had left work. It was a trying and long day after a busy weekend. Sometimes life is like that.

Even though my retreat seemed intense, there were a number of special moments. We had easy access to a small chapel. Most of the time incense was gently burning, filling the room with a wonderful aroma that provided a pleasing background to quiet prayer. These quieter moments were refreshing to me and a nice balance to the busier moments of speaking and interacting with the other men. Another really nice touch to the weekend occurred on Sunday morning. Each of us received a large envelope full of letters, most of them handwritten. There was a letter from my wife and others who personally knew me as well as many letters from strangers. It was touching to receive and read these letters of encouragement and promises of prayer. In this era of email and text messaging, it was refreshing to read handwritten notes. It reminded me that I used to be quite a letter writer and journal keeper until I became hooked on email and blogging. I like the personal touch of the written word although I am also happy that modern technology enables me to reach so many more with far less effort. Yes, the retreat was taxing on some levels but, in retrospect, it was worth it and I am confident the seeds planted within me will germinate and grow. The mystery now is wondering what kind of seeds were planted and into what will they grow.

Monday, August 27, 2007

After The Retreat

My weekend was very full. As I shared on Friday, I was on a retreat with the men of my parish. It was an intense weekend. At times I felt like I was participating in a spiritual triathlon. As a off the chart introvert, it was sometimes exhausting for me to spend so much time with a group while having no personal time alone. If spite of that, it was a great weekend and the men who prepared and lead the weekend did a wonderful job. It was encouraging to be with a group of really good men trying to live good lives. In the relatively short time that we were together there was much bonding and deeply personal sharing. I do not often have such opportunities to be with other men my own age or older. It was refreshing and inspiring to be with men who were not afraid to reveal their vulnerabilities and the challenges they faced when adversity crossed their path. This weekend was more than just male bonding. It was a very spiritual weekend as well. Our pastor, who is also a mentor to my son, was with us the entire time. It was great to get to know him better and now I feel we are truly friends. The challenge of such a weekend is answering the following questions, "What does this experience require of me? What am I being called to do? Where I am being lead?" Retreats are not always pleasant or relaxing or a type of spiritual vacation. To be honest with you, after I signed up for this retreat, I regretted it. It really wasn't my preferred type of retreat. Spiritually, I am a cave dweller who prefers silent retreats and being alone. As I mentioned, the interaction with others, even good men, is draining. Often during the weekend I had negative feelings. I think it was because I wasn't in control and I felt kind of trapped. I didn't have my car so I couldn't escape. I had no privacy. Even my body seemed resistant as I constantly shifted in my seat and my insides seemed to be in a tug of war all weekend. The schedule was tight and Saturday was a very long day. In general, I was often uncomfortable. Trying to be open to the Spirit and feeling resistant at the same time, I wondered and prayed about what God was trying to tell me. I think I know but I am still feeling a little resistant. Sometimes, when you feel like this, it is a true sign that God is working in your life. One of the biggest misconceptions about the spiritual life is that it is always peaceful and serene. In reality, the spiritual life is often challenging and occasionally disruptive to the life you have. Often in our lives, and frequently in the types of experience I had this weekend, there are grace filled moments. Grace, which is another way of describing the life of God within us, always calls us forward. You can't stand still spiritually. There's a reason it's called the spiritual journey. After this weekend, all signs indicate that I need to do some laundry, pack my bag, and prepare to move beyond where I am now. The scary thing about the spiritual life is that you can't go online and get a Mapquest. As soon as I figure out where I am going, I will send you a postcard when I get there.

Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are. It sounds simple but in reality is quite challenging. Zen is also about balance. This is also very challenging. Keeping all of the different parts of our lives in balance is like spinning five or six plates on the end of long sticks all at the same time. Getting enough rest, doing enough but not too much work, being with others and being with self, being active and being still, enjoying life and being present to the sacred, knowing when to go and when to stop, when to speak and when to be silent is a daily challenge. If your life feels out of balance, it probably is. Life moves fast. Sometimes you must slow down to keep it all from spinning out of control. You can't be present to the moment if you are outrunning yourself. Stop now, close your eyes and simply breathe for a moment. Refresh yourself. Doesn't that feel good? Do it throughout the day. Go home at the end of this work day (if you are not already there) and practice slowing down. Pay attention to your own breath and remember it is the source of your life. Be where you are.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


This weekend I gave myself a gift. I spent all day Saturday and most of the day on Sunday attending a retreat with other men from my church. Often on retreats I have some work to do. I have been a facilitator and occasionally a speaker. I have worked behind the scenes on some retreats. This weekend, however, I was a participant. Quite frankly, I did not know what what was in store for me but I had heard good things about these weekends. The point is that I disrupted my usual weekend routine and took a leap of faith that the commitment I was making to attend this retreat was worth my time. I often shy away from group retreats because I prefer solitary retreats where I can keep my own schedule and do my own thing. I must admit that I am very jealous of my personal time. It is precious to me. Most of the time, after I subtract work related time and the minimum required sleep, I feel like I have little quality personal time. Like most of you, I spend my workday evenings in a fatigue induced fog trying to stay awake until it's time to go to bed. Weekends are often busy with personal errands or family commitments. It is a rare occasion to have 48 hours totally devoted to me. It is not selfish to desire such time. I find it necessary for my spiritual and mental health. The term "retreat" in this scenario is not exactly like a retreat in a battle. I am not running away so I can fight another day. A spiritual retreat is more of a stepping back. It's a time to get off the treadmill of life and simply be still. It's an opportunity to stop all your doing and simply be. It is a time to heed the words of Psalm 46 and "Be still and know that I am God". A weekend retreat is a short time to do all this. When I start a retreat I sometimes feel agitated as I attempt to put on my inner brake, empty my mind and slow myself down. To do all of this really well in a non jarring way, a person caught up in the rat race of modern life should make a 30 day retreat. Sadly, few of us have such a luxury. So, we take advantage of the opportunities we have knowing that God can move souls on a level not bounded by time constraints

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Role Models

Yesterday I spoke a little about parents being role models for their children. Who are the role models for parents and other adults? Hopefully, our own parents, even in their weaknesses, have been role models for us. My own parents have been together for nearly 60 years. They were not perfect but they did the best they could in the circumstances that life gave them. They raised six children with a lot fewer resources than I have had and we all turned out fine. When I look at people I am attracted to, many of them are holy men and women and people with artistic natures. Unfortunately, many artistic types and entertainers have not led lives that should be emulated. Ironically, art is often born from pain and dysfunction. Not all artists are dysfunctional but certainly a large number lead troubling personal lives. Even many holy types have led extreme lives that may not have always been healthy or balanced. Some of my role models for living are Jesus, Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Dalai Lama. However, I am also inspired by everyday, common people. Anyone who is righteous and honest, kind and compassionate, spiritual and or poetic in their view of life is an inspiration to me. People don't have to be perfect for me to admire them. I am attracted to artistic types, not for their lifestyles, but for their depth of vision and feeling for the sometimes hidden beauty of life. Art brings forth my deepest feelings about many things. I love people who cause my soul to stir within me whether its through their words, painting, sculpture, acting , or musical talent. These are just a few thoughts. Hopefully, they will help you to think about your role models and why they are your role models. Finally, are you a role model for others? I am not only speaking about your children, if you are a parent, but are you a role model for all those around you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


When I decided to get married at the tender young age of 23, I thought marriage would be like dating. If two or three hours with my wife to be on a date was so enjoyable, how much more so would it be to spend 24 hours a day together! I don't need to tell any of you who are married or living with another person how naive I was. If I was naive about marriage, I was even more clueless about parenthood. Although I grew up with a Mom and a Dad and five brothers and sisters, I had no idea about the demands of parenthood until I became a parent myself. When my sons were babies and young boys, the demands were great but once you got into a routine, it wasn't so bad. All my wife and I had for guidance were our parents and a paperback copy of Dr Spock's book of parenting. I was blessed to have a spouse to share the responsibilities and we had no major issues until my oldest reached puberty and the teen age years. In the spirit of kindness and forgiveness, let's just say he was a challenging young man. Neither of my children are perfect and they are also very different from one another. The good news is that both of them have turned out very good in spite of many mistakes made on my part as a parent. In spite of my own personal weaknesses and mistakes, I have tried to be a positive role model. I have tried to be faithful to my own values and to live with a moral consciousness. They did not always agree with me and I am sure there were times I was considered a clueless old man. I tried to always do and say the right thing, expressing my beliefs and opinions, and trying to instill in them a sense of right and wrong. All of this is a preface to the main idea I want to put out today. If you want your children to turn out to be decent human beings, stick to your values and be a positive and moral example to them. Later in life they will forgive your mistakes if you remained true to what you believe and practice. Most parents try to make up for whatever weaknesses they believed their own parents had. Unfortunately, your own weaknesses will eventually appear and you will make different mistakes. Your children may never actually tell you what they admire about you or what a positive influence you were. However, their lives will say volumes. My older son was a challenge in his youth. Now he's a good husband and father. His brother wasn't a lot of trouble but he wasn't perfect either. I like to think some of my spiritual nature influenced him to want to be a priest. All in all, I've been blessed and all the challenges and demands of parenthood have been worth all the effort and struggle. The seeds you plant early in their lives will blossom later. Then, as an older parent, you can sit back and enjoy their maturity and coming of age. Plus, when they have their own children, they'll get theirs. (smile)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Be Not Afraid!

It is always possible for life to go south or turn sour. Occasionally, it actually does. In spite of this potential we cannot live lives paralyzed by fear. Sadly, we live in a culture that is often overwhelmed with fear. The news media and our leaders are often major proponents of this fear. Certainly there are times in life when fear is justified and real. The truth, however, is that most of our fears are in our heads and never actually happen to us. Most of us will go through life without being robbed, mugged, or murdered. Our homes won't burn down. We won't die in an airplane crash or be kidnapped. Even though a meteor may have destroyed the dinosaurs, the chances are pretty slim that another one will hit the earth in our lifetime. Most of us will live quiet lives that will be a blend of happiness and joy, sadness and pain. There have been many occasions of happiness and joy in my life. I have shared many of them with you in these thoughts. As I sit here I am trying to recall any terrible things that have happened to me. I'm struggling to come up with anything of major significance that has been life altering. When I was young a few girls broke my heart. I got fired from one job. In my thirties I had a health crisis that resulted in some major surgery. In my forties I was nearly killed in a car wreck. In my fifties I was diagnosed with some health issues that might kill me someday. Looking back, I guess there hasn't been too many bad things happen to me. Overwhelmingly, my life has been free of calamity and other terrible happenings. Many of life's challenges are nothing more than life's inconveniences and annoyances. One of my life goals is to not live in fear. When I wake up in the morning I don't worry about all the misfortune that could happen to me. Way back in 1978, when Pope John Paul II became pope, the first words he said to the world were "Do not be afraid"! Today I say these words to you. Do not be afraid and let your lives be molded by fear. Yes, there is evil and pain in the world but life and people are essentially good. Live lives of hope and optimism. Believe in the power of faith and love. Living without fear does not mean we are always courageous. Being courageous simply means facing your fear and not letting it dominate you. Courageous people have fear but they ignore it. President Franklin Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address said to the American people, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself". He was a wise man and his words are true. Do you want freedom in your life? If so, cast off your fear and live.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Monday Is Not My Favorite Day

It is another new work week. If I am honest, I must admit that I often have a sense of dread about Monday's. I'm not exactly sure why. Judging from the facial expressions I saw on the elevator this morning, I am not alone. Most of the time work is not an unpleasant experience for me. I am surrounded by many people who I enjoy being with. I think the reason I sometimes dread Mondays is simply because I have to do it. At this stage of my life working is not a choice. I need to do it, not only for myself, but for my family. I suppose many of you have the same feelings and needs. Sometimes I try to imagine how I would feel about my life and work if there were fewer things I had to do and more things I did out of desire. Yes, I know that all of us have free will but life is not that simple. One can decide to make changes but they must be planned and orchestrated with care. Most of us are deeply embedded in the lives we have now and it is not always easy...or change them. Most of our past choices have been freely made even if some of them may have been poorly chosen. The truth is that I don't regret my life and I am happy with most of my choices. Certainly some of them could have been thought out more or better planned but I have no regrets. I believe most of us end up exactly where we are supposed to be and for reasons we do not always understand. When I look at my own life it seems very simple and ordinary but I have been able to influence many people and things. I have been blessed to cross paths with good mentors and role models and I have tried to be the same to others. Whatever I have received, I have tried to pass on and share. The wisdom that I share in these daily thoughts didn't originate with me. Most of the wisdom I have has been passed on to me by others. A little has been acquired by my stumbling down the spiritual path of my own life. My life has meaning and so does yours. As one of my mentors, Thomas Merton, says, "There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun".

Friday, August 17, 2007

Back To The Empty Nest

Yesterday was a long and enjoyable day with a bittersweet ending. My wife and I helped our son move to Indianapolis to begin his studies for the priesthood. He will be attending Marian College. It is a small college and I was very impressed with the ease of registration, book buying, getting ID cards, etc. When we arrived their in mid morning, they even had coffee and donuts waiting for us. Later, they fed us lunch! I find the choice of Marian College ironic because it is a small Franciscan college. The building where Nick will be living is called St Francis Hall. There was another building called Duns Scotus Hall. When I was a little younger than Nick I, too, attended a Franciscan college called Duns Scotus College. Much of my spiritual formation was in a Franciscan environment and now my son is in a similar environment. Eventually, we got all the work of starting a new school year completed so we moved all his stuff into his new living quarters. Admittedly, Nick's new living arrangement is not as cozy as Mom and Dad's house but soon enough it will be his home away from home and his new classmates will be like a family. When I look back on my years as a seminarian, they were happy years. Some day Nick will look back on these years and think the same. The day finally came to and end and we hugged Nick good-bye. His mother cried a few tears but I am confident Nick is where he is supposed to be and that God will take care of him. I am happy about what he is doing but I will miss him.The drive home was pleasant and uneventful. Indianapolis was experiencing a cold front with moderate temperatures in the low 90's. As we approached Louisville the temperature gauge rose. The official temperature was 105 degrees. Thankfully, about the time the Louisville Skyline appeared in the distance, it began to rain. It didn't last long but later in the evening we had a great storm that gave my part of town a couple of inches of rain. Unfortunately, it also knocked out the power for a while. It was nice, however, to open my window, sit in my chair, smell the rain, watch the lightening, and feel the air cooling down.

It was very foggy when I drove into work this morning. My mind feels a bit foggy today as well. At least it's Friday. Unfortunately, Fridays often seem very long since many of my co-workers leave early. I look forward to my alarm clock having the day off tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New Archbishop And My Son's Departure For The Seminary

I left work early today...Wednesday... in a last minute attempt to attend the installation ceremony for the new Archbishop. This is a huge event for the local Catholic church. Present for this event will be many lay people, most of the local priests, bishops from surrounding areas, and even a few cardinals. Earlier this week, my son Nick met the new archbishop at a prayer service for local priests, deacons, and seminarians. In spite of my desire to attend this ceremony, my last minute and poorly planned attempt failed. Initially, I left work in such a hurry that I didn't even consider that I would have to pay to park. So, I had to go find a money machine. Despite what my children think, money doesn't grow on trees. If that were true, I could have just pulled over by the nearest tree and yanked off a $20 bill. After getting some money, I drove around for 30 minutes trying to find a parking space. I don't think the Pope could have found one. On a nicer day, I may have been willing to park very far away and walk the distance. However, at one point the temperature gauge on my car indicated it was about 105 degrees outside. Frankly, I just wasn't up to the challenge of walking many blocks, without my trusty hat, in the mid afternoon when the temperature is 105 degrees so I came back to the office. Sooner or late I will meet this new Archbishop in a less hectic and much cooler environment. Hopefully, the event was filmed and will be shown on the local faith channel. My son was supposed to sit in a reserved section with other seminarians so I hope he made it. I guess I will find out tonight.

Tomorrow my wife and I will be helping our son move to Indianapolis to continue his great adventure with God. It is exciting for me to see him begin this journey. When my wife and I return home on Thursday night, we will once again be living in the empty nest. As soon as Nick announced his plans to go to the seminary, we measured his bedroom and ordered a hot tub. Now that both of our children are out of the house, we really should move quickly and downsize to a home for two that has no capacity for other adults to move in. Of course, there will always be room for Chloe.

Being In The Midst Of My Doing

Yesterday seemed like a very full day. Most of the morning and early afternoon were spent in meetings. I had lunch driving in my car on the way to picking up my son and taking him somewhere he needed to be. When I finally got back to work I breathed momentarily before reading emails that accumulated in my absence. Some days are like this. We run from meeting to meeting or errand to errand, meeting ourselves coming and going without knowing where we have been. Such a day is not my preferred way of living. Admittedly, I am more attracted to the idea of being than to the non stop pace of constant doing. This does not mean I am lazy. My preference for being is more of an attitude about living rather than a rebellion against doing. When my life is balanced I am being in the midst of my doing. When I am being, I am aware of my doing and not just being carried along by the centrifugal force of moving about. When I am being I am still and silent within my doing. My mind and my hands may be performing a task or solving a problem but my heart is still and I am aware and awake and presence to the moment. More often than not people have a dualistic attitude about being and doing. It doesn't have to be a choice. They don't have to be separated. They can be done at the same time and for most of us this is our only option. Of course, there are those precious moments when we can stop all our doing and simply be. We sit in silence before the light and in the light. We rest in the presence of a power greater than ourselves. We are on holy ground and our hearts are open to grace. All of life is sacred but these moments are especially blessed.

Do you ever feel like you didn't have any sleep the night before? I am having such a morning today. The truth is that I did sleep last night and I even had a high quality nap early in the evening. I guess God realized that we would have mornings like this so He gave us the coffee bean. I'm on my way now to grind some beans and fill my coffee mug with my morning java.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Compassion Fatigue

Sometimes I experience what I call compassion fatigue. This is a condition caused by the desire to care about everyone and everything but often being overwhelmed by the magnitude of such caring. There is so much pain and suffering in the world. There are so many people with real and serious problems and issues as well as the many people in our lives who believe their issues are major even when they are not. Whether problems and pain are real or imagined, people need and want compassion. How does one genuinely care about everyone and everything? Even Jesus was overwhelmed at times. Buddha says that all of life is suffering. I read last night that in the Lotus Sutra, Buddha says, "To shine up one corner, not the whole world. Just make it clear where you are". I think it was Mohammad who said, "Just deal with whatever is in front of you". I think what all these great teachers are telling us is that you can't fix everything. Deep in our hearts, beyond what we can physically do, I think it is possible to have a global and universal sense of true compassion. On a practical level, our compassion must express itself in ways that are sometimes small but no less authentic. We are all the center of our own circles and all of our circles overlap. I believe what we are called to do is reach out within the circles we inhabit, and further if we can, to touch those in our lives who need healing, compassion, and a word of encouragement. For most of us our circles include our families, our workplaces, our churches, and our neighborhoods. Sometimes we are blessed, as I am, to be able to reach beyond our circles with such things as the written word. My words through my daily thoughts extend far beyond my grasp. This makes me think of another thought who's author I cannot recall. This wise person said, "If everyone person swept his own doorstep, the entire world would be clean. The same would be true if each person practiced love, compassion, and kindness within the circle of their lives. Love, compassion, and kindness would ripple through our world the way a single stone can cause ripples to cross a lake or a pond. It really is that simple although it is also difficult. Unfortunately we have too many people in the work who spread hate, fear and greed. Good people, wherever they are, must overwhelm evil and suffering with goodness and compassion.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Key West In My Mind

I really wanted to go to Key West, Florida this weekend but, alas, I could not make the trip. I wanted a cheeseburger in paradise and a cold margarita while I sat on the beach watching the sun set over the horizon. The good news, however, is that I was able to go to the home of friends who have a pool. It wasn't quite Key West but it was very close. We sat around the pool and swam in the cool water. We drank fruity rum drinks as Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley music played in the background. It was a wonderful way to beat the heat, relax, and be with pleasant company. As the sun began to set, the aroma of roasting meat wafted from the grill where it was slow cooking. Later, after the sun had set and the days heat subsided, we enjoyed a wonderful meal of pork tenderloin, cheesy potatoes, green beans, and corn on the cob. After dinner, just in case there wasn't enough rum in the fruity drinks, we had a rum cake baked with banana rum that my sister in law Judy carried all the way home from the Cayman Islands. Dinner was enhanced by much storytelling, jokes, and laughter. For approximately eight hours I was in Key West, at least in my mind, and life's problems were on vacation till I checked my cell phone and had five messages from my son Nick telling me his car would not start because the key would not turn in the ignition. Please! More rum!

Note to self: Don't check cell phone messages when having a great time.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Air Conditioning

Today's thoughts will be short and sweet. Last night I had no time to write. Shortly after I returned home after a long day at work, my power went out. I guess the 102 degree temperature was just too much for my neighborhood electrical grid. It wasn't just the incredibly bad timing of losing my air conditioning, it was the inconvenience of losing all of my electrical power. As a result of all of this, my wife and I spent all evening until around 11:00 PM at my son's home. Just before arriving home earlier in the evening, we had dropped Chloe off at his workplace. She never expected to see me again so soon! Most of the evening Chloe and I watched a movie, read some books, and then I had to sit in her room while she showed me all her toys. The whole time I am doing this my son and my wife are sitting in the kitchen drinking wine. When I finally got back home the utility guys had fixed the power transformer at the end of my street and everyone's electricity was up and running. Fortunately the house was still relatively cool and soon I was in bed and sound asleep. The temporary lack of power and air conditioning gave me....once again...a renewed appreciation for these things.

Alive And Well In Spite Of Noise

One of my readers sent me an email yesterday expressing concern for me because of my reflections on death and mortality. Let me assure everyone that I am not terminally ill nor am I expecting to die anytime soon. I am alive and well and happy! I hope to live a long life and have many more adventures. I do think a lot about time. I think of the time already behind me. I think of the time I am in now and the unknown time ahead of me. Most of my focus, however, is in the present moment which is now. I wish I had a Zen wristwatch. No matter when you look at it, it always says now. There is no yesterday or tomorrow. There is only now. If you think about it, time is only a measurement used in the lives we are currently experiencing. This is no time with God. The true reality is that all of us are in the eternal Now. Our bodies are no more than a vehicle that we are using to travel through our current existence. When they wear out we will upgrade to something else for the next phase of the journey. Personally, I could use an upgrade. My current physical vehicle has a lot of wear and tear on it. My current body is like an old VW van with lots of mileage. In spite of that I think I can get a lot more mileage out of it.

I had dinner with Chloe on Tuesday. Twice a week my wife and I pick her up at the day care. We usually eat at the Dairy Queen. Most of the time it is a quiet meal although Chloe would rather play than eat. Tuesday, however, was a little different. When we walked into the place there was no one but us. No sooner had we ordered our food than a van pulled up with a load of teenagers. It seemed like there were ten or fifteen of them. They were just normal kids having a good time and eating their ice cream. Of course the noise level went up tremendously. They also decided to sit right where we were sitting. Chloe covered her ears and said, "It's too loud! It's too loud"! It reminded me of my wife when I play a Led Zeppelin CD. There was little I could do about it and eventually Chloe got used to it. I was impressed that a small child would be so sensitive about the noise. Even a three year old understands that silence is better than noise. Perhaps we older folks have gotten so used to noise that we have forgotten the beauty of silence. All of us are bombarded by noise all day. Sometimes the noise is sounds and other times the noise is images. Modern people living in the world need to rediscover silence and quiet. We need to sometimes shield ourselves from the overload and bombardment of sound and images. Of course, even when you can't physically do this, you can still learn to quiet your own mind and heart. You can still learn to find the still point within yourself to which you can retreat from the noise and bombardment of images. We all have a getaway within us.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

27,375 Days and A Perfect Winter Morning

The current life expectancy for a man is now 75 years or 27,375 days. Based on this estimate, I have already used up approximately 20,560 days. Hmmmmm! I'm down to about 6,815 days! I admit there are many days when my morning alarm goes off that I wonder "How many more days will my life be driven by the clock"? Usually after a shower, and when I am fully awake, I am just happy to be alive. Of course, I know myself well enough to realize that I will always need alarms in my life whether they be alarm clocks or temple bells. I long for freedom but need structure. I am not in a panic about the estimate of 6,815 days to live. For now I live one day at a time and I strive to live it well and fully. Doing so does not necessarily mean living an extreme or adventurous life. It means being present to the life I have and living in the moment. It means celebrating the ordinary and being open to the extraordinary. Every life is an adventure and one never fully knows where your life will take you. It may be a journey of the body and is always a journey of the spirit. My rather ordinary life has taken me places I never dreamed of being. In some cases I never left my home. I like the mystery of life and how it unveils itself in ways we never see coming. I may not have 6,815 days left. Maybe I only have 3,257 or maybe I have 11,277. Whatever the number they will reveal themselves one sunrise at a time. It is a good thing, when one opens their eyes in the morning, to greet the dawn with a prayer of thanks for another day with its endless possibilities for meaning and joy. Sometimes during the day one should pause and notice your own breath. Hear it? Feel it? If so, it means you are alive. Don't die before you live. My young son makes fun of me for saying this but "Seize the day"! Of course, in the evenings, when he catches me napping in my chair, he will sometimes wake me and ask, "Dad, are you seizing the day"? Well, in those situations I am seizing my dreams.

When I left work yesterday it was 100 degrees in the shade. On the way home my car temperature gauge read 102 degrees all the way home. It was the hottest day in Kentucky history since 1930. I thought I would try to use my imagination a little to create a scene that might help all of you cool off a bit. Here goes....It is a cold night as you snuggle in the warmth of you bed. Outside in the darkness the wind howls. You can hear it occasionally whistling around the corners and in between the houses in your neighborhood. Soon you are asleep while nature works its magic. When you awaken in the morning and look outside your window everything is covered with snow. All of the trees and bushes are draped and rounded, glistening as the morning sun reflects off the ice crystals. Your otherwise drab and ordinary neighborhood has been transformed into a beautiful and magical winter wonderland. Inside you are warm and cozy in your soft, flannel pajamas. The aroma of freshly ground coffee brewing in the kitchen sings its siren song to you. Providentially and serendipitously you remembered to stop at your favorite bakery on the way home the day before and you have a bag of fresh apple fritters. You warm them up as the coffee pot makes its last groans telling you that your morning nectar is ready. Soon you are sitting in your favorite chair by the window, drinking your coffee, eating your apple fritter, lost in the beauty of the magical and sparkling wonderland outside as you thank God for all of life and especially the perfect moment that you are now experiencing. Did you forget the heat while you were reading this? I bet you did.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Calamity And My Eventual Demise

My insurance representative came to my home yesterday to meet with my wife and me. It's always a thought provoking experience to discuss your own demise. I've never been one to worry much about my life. At the same time I do think about the unexpected and my personal mortality. I have made reasonable plans to be prepared for whatever may happen to me. Like most things in life it is all about balance. You don't want to be fixated on the possibility of some calamity that might happen to you or the inevitable death we will all experience sooner or later. I try to live a life of faith that my legitimate needs will be met and so far this has been true. As I have mentioned before I always seem to get what I need. At the same time I do not live only for myself. It is a good thing to prepare for the unexpected and to be prepared for the future even if it's not your future. Along with some planning and preparation for a future that has not yet been revealed to me, I try to enjoy every moment of every day. None of us know the number of our days. It is important to enjoy all of life everyday. Excessive worry is a waste of time and energy. Nothing was ever gained from worry. Worry simply drains you of energy that could be spent in more positive ways. The Dalai Lama says that the energy spent worrying could be used to find a solution to your problem. Anyway, my wife worries enough for the both of us.

This is about all I have on my mind. My brain is dulled by the heat. When I went to bed last night around 11:00 PM it was still 88 degrees. The night air was very heavy and wet with humidity. All the allergens in the air must have creeped into my house last night. My eyes felt like they were covered in Vaseline jelly. Even now in this early morning hour it is already 80 degrees. I am not a big fan of the heat. The next three days the expected air temperature is 100 degrees. It is not a dry heat. Heat makes me lethargic and dull. My brain is best served chilled with a hint of snow.

Here's Zen saying about snow. Hopefully this will cool you off a bit.

No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Summer Heat Wave

It is early Sunday evening as I write. It is still 93 degrees. The coming week will be dreadfully hot with some days forecasted to reach 100 degrees. These temperatures do not factor in the humidity that makes it even worse with the "heat index". I have lived in Kentucky most of my life. When I was a child and a boy very few people had air conditioning. The only way to stay cool was to hang out in the shade and drink lots of Kool Aid. That was the drink of choice for my mother. In the evenings even the parents hung outside. They usually sat around in their lawn chairs as the neighborhood children played. They usually had a drink, too, but I don't think it was Kool Aid. In those days neighborhoods were more of a community. I think the absence of air conditioning contributed to that. No one was isolated inside their air conditioned cocoons like today. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to being isolated. This week I will leave my home only to jump in my air conditioned car so I can drive to my air conditioned office. Kentucky summers with their high heat and humidity are my least favorite time of the year. I am more than ready for a hard frost, cool days, and colorful autumn leaves.

I went to the monastery this weekend. I got out of bed early after a good night's sleep. The morning was overcast which provided some relief from the heat. I had a pleasant and solitary drive along the country roads that lead to the monastery. Visiting the monastery is always a quiet joy for me. It is such a familiar place that I feel very much at home when I am there. I met with the usual group of people that I see every month. Occasionally there is a new face but most of us have been meeting long enough to be comfortable with one another. We have discussions about whatever we are reading, we attend prayer and mass with the monks, and usually share a pot luck lunch before returning to our homes across Kentucky and Tennessee. After leaving the monastery I stopped to see my good friend, Father Dennis. He is about ten years older than me and the closest thing I have to a big brother. In my birth family I am the oldest sibling. I have three younger brothers and two younger sisters.

Other than a movie on Saturday afternoon....The Bourne Ultimatum....and my Sunday trip to the monastery it was a quiet weekend. It is always quiet when Chloe doesn't come to visit. It's sometimes nice to have a restful weekend and also not have my left arm pulled out of its socket by a little girl saying, "Come on, Pa Paw, get up and play with me"! Of course, whenever Chloe is not around I miss her terribly. I am grateful that I get to pick her up at the day-care on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I am always excited to see her. One of these days I will be pulling on Chloe's arm saying, "Come on, Chloe, help Pa Paw walk"!

Like the rising and the setting of the sun, so are the rhythms of our lives. My circle of life is small but it is alive and well. Mine is a grateful heart and joyous spirit.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Today I have been married 33 years. I only have two more years till I am off probation. 33 years seems like a very long time but it has passed by quickly. In those years my wife and I have experienced everything we spoke in our wedding vows. There have been good times and bad times. We've had money and we have been broke. There has been sickness and good health. Today we have a competition to see who's on the most prescription drugs. We had four years alone together before my oldest son was born. Four years later his brother came along. Although there has been struggle, we are still together and I am glad of that. It has required work and patience on both of our parts. There were some years in my life when I felt overwhelmed by marriage and family life but overall it has provided stability in my life that has been good for me. My wife is a good woman and a great mother although I have to occasionally remind her that I am not her third son. Recently I was asked how marriage has deepened my relationship with God. It is difficult for me to answer that question without including family life. 29 years of my marriage has included children and now a daughter in law and granddaughter. Marriage itself is often used as a metaphor for our relationship with God. Part of the theology of God speaks of relationships and community. Isn't that what marriage and family life is all about? In my life, and I imagine the lives of many, the marriage and family relationships while living together in community provide both the joy and occasionally the pain of life. My marriage and family life have been mostly good but not without conflict and struggle. Of course when I look backwards it is not the conflict and struggle I remember. It is all the Christmas mornings, summer vacations, and celebration dinners when the goodness of life was acknowledged and laughter filled the room. No lifestyle lived in relationship with others will succeed without a lot of give and take and compromise. My wife and I still argue about the proper way to load a dishwasher. I fail every test that she secretly gives me. She's still a worrywart and I am still a little anal retentive and occasionally obsessive compulsive. I don't understand her fascination with clothes and shoes and she wonders when I am going to get over rock and roll or what the heck I do when I go to the monastery. We are not the same people we were in 1974 when I was 23 years old and she was 21. We have very distinct personalities that sometimes clash. Somehow, magically and mysteriously, all of this has worked for 33 years. Anyway, my parents have been married for 58 years so I am still a lightweight.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Wildflowers and Balance

I am currently reading a book entitled Spirituality for Everyday Living by Brian Taylor. It is a reflection on the Rule of St Benedict. Benedict was a sixth century man who wrote a rule that was used as a guideline for life in a monastery. This rule is still followed today all over the world with some adaptation for modern man. The chapter of the book that I have recently read is about living a balanced life. The value of the rule, beyond its historical significance, is that is it a primer for how to live a balanced life. Living a balanced life means to give equal time to your spirit, your mind, and your body. Monks do this through prayer, study, and work. We can do the same in our own particular circumstances. Balancing our time to give something to all of these areas of our lives is collectively living a wholistic life. If any area is ignored or not given what it needs, our lives are out of balance and one way or another we will feel it. One or more of these areas may be lacking in your current life. If your life is fast paced and busy, spend some time in quiet and solitude. If your work is all mental and leaving you brain dead at times, do some gardening or other manual labor. If your work is mostly physical, spend some time reading a book. Each of us must make the adjustments necessary to give each area of our lives what it needs.

I don't really have a best friend. It's too difficult to choose only one. I have many friends. They are like wildflowers in my life. They are scattered all over the place. Some are far away and I rarely see them. Others are close at hand and often part of my day to day life. Collectively and individually they are all beautiful and bring much joy into my life. Each has their own uniqueness and fragrance. Like wildflowers they have much diversity. I would never be happy with just one kind of friend. I like all the colors and shapes and fragrances mixed up together, just like the wildflowers that grow in the fields.

Last night I watch a film entitled Bobby. It was a fictionalized account of the events in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the day Robert Kennedy was shot and killed. It was June of 1968. I was seventeen years old. Approximately six weeks earlier Martin Luther King, Jr had also been shot and killed. It was a time of great unrest and also of great hope. Robert Kennedy was a visionary man and the hope of many who felt disenfranchised in our society. If you go to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. you will easily find the grave of Robert Kennedy's brother, John F. Kennedy who was killed five years before Bobby. John's grave is impressive and there still burns an eternal flame that was lit in 1963 on the day of his burial. Nearby, without any indication of who lies below, is a small white cross where Robert Kennedy is buried. I was able to visit these graves once. It was an emotional experience for me to be there since their lives and deaths are also part of my personal history.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Thoughtful And Considered Response

Sometimes you hear people says things like, "He didn't react quick enough to the situation" or "She totally overreacted to what happened". These types of reactions come from our gut. I know because my personality type is a "gut type". Sometimes I react to situations quickly and from the gut without thinking first. It's not all bad. I can get really excited about a sunrise or a sunset and have an immediate and emotional response to the beauty. I can also quickly overreact to something that doesn't please me or I don't like. Later, after settling down a bit and processing it through my head, I can be more accepting. Like most things in life, passion has its pros and cons. What I try to do in my life is have the more Zen Buddhist approach to situations. For me this means a thoughtful and considered response rather than a reaction to events or situations. When something happens I try to breathe first and then respond. This does not come naturally to me and it is a discipline I am still trying to master. In so much of my life, whether it is my personal life or my working life, I am either responding emotionally and reactively or I am surrounded by others doing it. So often we are all so upset about everything. We live in an unhealthy tension created by overly emotional reactions to life. I am not sure at what point everything in life became urgent and critical. Is it really or does it just seem that way because of the way we deal with it? What ever happened to just dealing with things instead of freaking out all the time? The stress and the tension we create for ourselves because of unhealthy ways of reacting to life saps us of the energy that could be directed towards creative solutions to life's challenges. In 56 years of living s I have experienced very little that was truly urgent or critical. Most of my life experiences that have been less than enjoyable were, at best, inconvenient or annoying. I have yet to witness the world stop spinning or the sun not rising. Life will go on at his own momentum in spite of our reactions to it. I am not in denial that sometimes life has it's critical moments that require action and immediacy. However, not every moment of every day meets this criteria. Let's all relax and strive to bring some calmness to the chaos that most of us often feel in our lives. I challenge all of us, when we are tempted to have a knee jerk response to anything, to breathe for a minute and respond in a thoughtful and considered manner. Try it. I hope it's contagious.