Thursday, September 27, 2007

Going On Retreat Again

It is pouring down rain outside. Thunder gently rumbles and lightening occasionally illuminates the sky. I am leaving in the morning for a three day contemplative retreat at the monastery. I attend these retreats every autumn. It will be a different kind of retreat than the one I attended with the men of my parish. Although there will be some activity, it is mostly what some people call a silent retreat. One of the big differences this year is that there will be an overflow group attending. We are expecting about 60 people from around the country. Many I know and some I only see once a year at this retreat. Because of the demand for rooms, I am staying down the road with my good friend, Fr. Dennis. It will be good to have some unrushed time with him. The theme of this years retreat is spiritual friendship. All true friendship is spiritual on a deep level. Friendship is when two people connect on a deep and soulful level. I have been blessed with many such relationships in my life. Lately my life has seemed very busy and hectic. I look forward to this weekend to slow down a bit and relax in the silence and solitude of the monastery. Although the monastery will be crowded, it will be crowded with people who are much like me. Most of the time these people will be seeking out the quiet and solitary places around the monastery and the beautiful woods and fields and hills. The thunder outside my window as I write these words makes me wish I was already there. I would love to be in a hidden and dry spot outdoors, with my morning coffee, listening to the gentle rain. In my mind I am already there. My body, however, must get through one more day of work. Part of this day must be spent moving to a new building. When I return next week I will be sitting in a new spot in a another building. See you soon!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Seeds That Are Scattered To The Wind

Yesterday was another very busy day at work. I think it is because I am beginning a three day retreat at the monastery on Friday. Whenever I am going to the monastery for a weekend I always seem to have a hectic and busy week beforehand. After work yesterday I picked up my granddaughter and we had dinner. We also had bath time and when it was time for her to go home with Mom and Dad she was hesitant. Being at Grandma and Pa Paw's is like being at Disneyland. In order to get her to go quietly I had to part with one of my toy dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. She promised to take care of it for me. Just to be safe I gave her a plant eater. She's not old enough for a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Later in the evening when I was on my computer I had a note from someone in England who reads my daily thoughts. Publishing my thoughts on the Internet greatly expands my potential audience. The note reminded me how powerful my words and the words of others can be. I have no idea how many people see and read my thoughts. They are like seeds that are scattered to the wind. Where they go and where they land is any one's guess. Many days I hear from someone telling me I wrote what they needed to hear. Other days my readers are silent. Most days I wonder if I said anything of value. I am a life long spiritual seeker and when I think I have found something of value along my path, I usually share it, hoping it is of value to others. Sometimes I think people believe I am always at peace, always centered, and never flustered. One or two think I glow in the dark because of the Zen flame that burns within me. (smile) The truth is that I am pretty average and I often struggle with my life and the challenges it presents. I am a naturally introspective person. My daily thoughts simply represent a transformation from a private journal keeper to a more public thinker. I am not always right and sometimes I probably have no idea what I am talking about. I simply think out loud and others often agree with me or are prompted to do their own reflections. I've proven that an ordinary guy can think deeply about life and God and granddaughters while still loving rock and roll.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Usually I write my thoughts right before I go to bed. I am often very tired but it seems to be the quietest time of the day for me to write. Last night, however, the my system was down and I couldn't do anything. So, here I am at home, feeling very uninspired and a little rushed because I have to leave for work soon. Yesterday was a tough day at work. There were system problems all day and I had to announce some changes that were not popular with everyone. Change is something that none of us can escape and many do not like at all. I have often wondered why we are so reluctant to change. I think it is only human nature to like what you are used to and what feels comfortable. I know that I personally like the familiar and a stable routine. I have sometimes been resistant to change using the argument that I just prefer stability. However, I have come to the conclusion that my resistance to some change is because it is not an improvement. It's just change. I don't think people in general like to change unless the change makes life better. Show people an improvement and they will usually embrace the new and better way. Why is there so much change in modern life? Is it because life and the world move so fast that the motion itself is constantly rearranging all of life's molecules? I have lived in the same city most of my life. Sometimes when I am driving around I wonder about the landmarks that have disappeared and been replaced by other landmarks. Sometimes it seems to have happened overnight while other times change is so slow that you never notice it until the transformation has been completed. I sometimes look in the mirror and wonder what happened to the young man I once was. I didn't wake up one day and suddenly be the bald, grey bearded, middle aged man I now am. The transformation from a young father to an older grandfather occurred one day at a time in moments where I tried to be present and mindful but I still did not always notice the change. I guess the best thing about change is that it never stops. When life changes for the better...and it sometimes does....I enjoy it. When I do not like the change, I simply make the best of it and wait it out. I know my situation will change again as surely as the sun will rise and set.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Nothing Is Simple

It was a very full weekend. You know you're getting old when the highlight of your Friday night is a trip to Target. The highlight of my trip to Target was buying a pumpkin spice latte from the little Starbucks at the front of the store. It was all the excitement I could take on a Friday night. I got up early on Saturday because I was too tired on Friday night to clean out my laundry room plus I am a world class procrastinator. It wasn't that big a job and after I completed it, I had a few hours to chill out until my new washing machine was delivered. Sometimes in my life it seems like nothing is simple. Could the young men delivering my washer simply unhook the old washer and hook up the new one? Of course not! As soon as they attempted to unhook the old one, the pipe sprang a leak! It really wasn't their fault but it immediately threw me into a panic as water started to cover the floor. Thanks to my son, Mike Jr., and a neighbor across the street that we affectionately called "The Dude", the leak was fixed with a little soldering and many dollars were saved by not having to call a plumber on a Saturday. The only real inconvenience was having the water off for a couple of hours which immediately made everyone need to use the bathroom. I am happy to say that at this moment all my laundry has been completed.

During the washer crisis Chloe was present since she was spending the night. I thoroughly enjoy being a grandfather and spending time with her. It is very fulfilling to live life simply and on her terms. That being said, I am no match for a three year old after about 24 hours. Her parents came over on Sunday afternoon for a nice dinner. By the time we cooked the meal, fed everyone, cleaned up the mess, and sent them home, I was wiped out. I enjoy these family encounters but they are exhausting. I now realize how my in laws and parents probably felt after my wife and I did this to them. Chloe was all big eyes and amazement as she and my wife decorated the house with Halloween stuff. I must say it all looks pretty festive in spite of the 90+ degree weather that seemed very much like summer instead of Autumn. Today, by the way, is the first official day of Autumn. No one told the weatherman.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Homeless

I was walking down Main Street yesterday on my way to a lunch date with friends. A homeless lady, sitting on a bench, called to me as I walked by, "Hey, Grandpa, do you have some money that you can spare"? First of all, she looked older than me so I'm not sure why she didn't call me "Sonny". I felt badly because I had no cash and only a few coins in my pocket. I gave her what I had and she was grateful. It bothered me that she might be hungry while I was on my way to a nice lunch with friends. I've always been told that you shouldn't give money to homeless people because they usually just are looking for that next drink. This lady didn't appear to be an alcoholic and street people, even the scary ones, always touch my heart and I usually share whatever money I have. My life is so blessed. I always have food, a warm bed, a roof over my head, and lots of friends. Plus, Jesus says, "Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me". When I encounter homeless people I actually wonder if I am truly encountering God. Is this person who is sometimes smelly and dirty really God crossing my path? God is not always appealing in appearance. He's not always dressed in pure white robes and glowing with divine light. God is present in any person who needs kindness, regardless of the package in which they are wrapped.

Tomorrow I get my new washing machine! I can barely contain my excitement. I can't wait to do the laundry! Chloe is coming over this weekend to help Granny get all her Halloween stuff out of the shed. We're doing it a little early because I will be at the monastery all next weekend for an annual retreat. Chloe's sense of awareness is so much greater than it was a year ago. She will be freaking out this holiday season. Think about it. One year for her represents 33% of her life. One year for me is 1.7% of my life. Her intellectual growth in the last year has been tremendous. Mine has probably declined. She has finally gotten past the diaper stage and now uses the big potty although she sits on a "Dora" seat. I thought for a while that both of us would be in diapers at the same time.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Finally Home!

By the time I got home last night I was really tired. It's been a busy time at work. Picked up Chloe at the day care on Monday and Tuesday. I think she may end up as a circus acrobat. I will be picking her up again today. Although she wears me out...I am not really a pony....I always look forward to seeing her. Last night I attended the first gathering of the retreat team that I volunteered to be on. It was an interesting experience. This first meeting began with some of us sharing our life history. Most of the other men I barely know although I have frequently seen them at church. It amazed me how interesting and diverse some people's lives are. I also found it interesting and a little tough to summarize my entire life without taking all night to do it. When you look at your own life so far, what are the major movements and chapters? What has been significant? Who were major players? What were some of your turning points? How have you ended up where you are? When I finally got home after a few hours, all I wanted to do was sit. I changed my clothes and placed myself in my Lazy Boy chair. I felt like Captain Kirk on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise. Not wanting to challenge my brain too much, I watched a DVD of a Moody Blues concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London backed by a full orchestra. I cranked up my surround sound and relaxed. The Moody Blues are one of my favorite bands and they have been part of my life for forty years. I have put some of their children through college. I have all their CD's and have attended many of their concerts. It was a great performance. I am glad today is Thursday and tomorrow is the end of the work week. I need to spend more time dozing off in my chair.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When Young People Die

A friend came to me recently after attending a funeral for the 18 year old sibling of one of her best friends. She expressed to me how difficult the funeral was for her and how helpless she felt to console her friend. She asked me what can be said in such a situation. It is difficult for anyone to find the right words in such a situation. I have been through similar experiences. When I was 29 years old, my younger brother in law was killed by a drunk driver. A few years later a child in my neighborhood died in a house fire across the street from where I lived. Another time the only son of a good friend died of cancer at age 20. When my youngest son, Nick, was 17 years old, his best friend died unexpectedly the day after spending the night at our house. Each time I felt helpless as I struggled to find words for a sister in law, a neighbor, a friend, and my son. It is always difficult to deal with the death of a young person. None of us understand why such things happen. If God has anything to do with it, I don't understand what He's thinking. What's his purpose? What's the point? Why is such sorrow brought upon spouses, parents, friends, and relatives? Sometimes I shudder when, in such circumstances, I hear people say, "It's God's will". I don't like to let God off the hook so easily. There is probably a very thin line between what God wills and what God allows. I will accept the fact that many things in life are a mystery and one can have lengthy theological discussions about God and evil and why bad things happen to good people. I don't understand everything that happens in life and I certainly cannot give my friend or others easy explanations for why 18 year old's die and other's live to be 100 years old. Do the good die young? Yes, sometimes. Do bad people live long lives? Yes, sometimes. Do some of us live long lives because we need a lot of time for a deep spiritual transformation to take place within us? This is very likely. Life really is a mystery. It is not likely we will solve it's mystery this side of the grave. Through faith we believe and trust that our lives and the lives of others, no matter how short, have a purpose and life is not just a series of random, meaningless experiences. I must believe that life and pain have meaning and someday I hope understand it. Part of the mystery of life is that we never know when it will end. This should motivate us to live each day well and to the fullest.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why Life And Work Can Be Exhausting For Me

Last week a friend suggested I revisit the Myers-Briggs test. This is a personality type indicator test that I'm sure many of you are familiar with. I took the test again and confirmed what I have know for quite a few years. I am an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiver or INFP. After taking this test again I had something of an epiphany. It wasn't a completely new insight. I think it was something I already knew about myself but it really hit home this time. I think I finally realize why I find so much of life, and especially work, exhausting. My personality is in conflict with most of the ways of the world. I am an Introvert in an extroverted, ego driven world. I am an Intuitive in a "show me the data" work environment. I make judgements based on my personal values rather than someone else's rules. Finally, I prefer my life open ended and not bound by other people's schedules or deadlines. I am not suggesting that the whole world change to meet my personal needs, although that would be very nice. That will never happen. It's just that I realize more than ever that I spend a lot of energy living outside my personal comfort zone. I will still have to do this on a regular basis. I guess the epiphany for me is the realization of how much energy this demands of me. Some of you will feel this in different ways. Those of you with a personality type opposite of mine thrive on what drives me crazy. Perhaps you can't live without human interaction. Maybe you aren't able to make decisions without data. You wouldn't dream of breaking the rules. A life without dates, times, and deadlines is unimaginable to you. We are all different in how we deal with life and it's demands. If you are unfamiliar with the Myers-Briggs and wonder about your type, I have included a link to an on-line test that you can take and score yourself. It may answer a lot of questions you have about your own behavior and preferences.

There's been a death in my family. After many years of faithful service, my washing machine succumbed to multiple health issues and old age. This machine has been a true friend and cleaned many thousands of loads of my family's laundry. We were very close. He leaves behind a dryer that will likely go soon now that he is gone. The funeral will be on Saturday morning. The burial will be private. Expressions of sympathy should be sent to your local Laundromat.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Autumn Is Near

It was a glorious weekend. The weather was very cool at nights and warm during the day. I was able to give my poor air conditioner a rest, if only for the weekend. Summer has not retreated completely and will return this week. Saturday I slept in and got some much needed extra rest. When I woke up the house was cold because we had left windows open all night. It was great to lay in bed the night before, feeling the cool breeze blowing in the window and listening to the sounds of the night. Most of Saturday was leisurely. I was able to pretend that I was retired and under no time constraints. I made coffee and ate a pumpkin muffin as I sat in my chair with the morning paper. Such simple experiences are highly valued. Quality leisure comes at a premium. Most work nights my leisure is of a much lower quality because I am exhausted by the demands of the day. In the evening my wife and I met Chloe and her parents at a local pizza parlor. I could barely eat because Chloe wanted to play video games. How can someone three years old be so smart?

Sunday morning I slept in again but still got up early. I was feeling a need for some quiet time so I lit some Japanese incense, and played some quiet, meditative oriental music that is good for meditation. I logged on to a Zen website that has an cyber Zendo. A Zendo is a meditation room. I like this site because it doesn't really do anything except allow you to ring a bell to begin your meditation. After I rang the bell...imagine a small gong...I sat with my coffee mug warming my hands as I looked at the window. Autumn is definitely in the air. The leaves are changing if only slightly. My neighborhood was very quiet. I felt wrapped in the silence as if in a warm blanket. Actually, I had a real blanket, too. It was a gift that a good friend brought me from Mexico. This whole experience was one of those moments that I wanted to last a very long time. You usually cannot plan such a moment. They come to you like an unexpected gift. All you can do is graciously accept them and enjoy the experience. It was a gift and I was grateful for it. Amen.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dinner With A Princess

Last night I had dinner with a Princess. Grandma was going out to dinner with friends, Mommy was sick, and Daddy had to work late. That left me to pick up Chloe at the day-care and take her out to dinner. Afterwards, we went back to my house to hang out until Daddy got off work. We watched a movie and ate Jell-O. I must remember in the future to NEVER let Chloe eat red Jell-O in the living room while the carpet is still new. Fortunately, I had some carpet cleaner and I was able to scrub the redness out before Granny returned home. At some point we also had a tea party with a tea set that I think belonged to my mother in law. Chloe's become more fascinated with my beard. She yanked on it and at one point spread it apart exclaiming, "Papaw, you do have a chin"! All in all we had a good night. When I picked Chloe up at the day care, she ran into my arms and hugged me tightly. After what has been a long week at work, it was the highlight of the week for me. I could feel the love. Later, when it was time for Chloe to go home, she gave me another hug and a big kiss. She made it to the front door and then ran back into my living room saying, "I want another kiss"!

After Chloe, and before Granny returned home, I watch a DVD called "Mad Dogs and Englishmen". It was a documentary of a famous rock tour by Joe Cocker that took place back in 1970. Boy! Did we have a lot of hair in those days and some really awful clothes. Of course, the music rocked and still transcends everything else from those bygone days.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Pause That Refreshes

Yesterday was a good day but very busy at work. I did have some peaceful moments while sitting alone in a break room. There I was, a 56 year old man, lost in his thoughts, eating Scooby Doo Graham Crackers that were shaped liked dog biscuits. I took them from the cabinet at home where we keep treats for my granddaughter, Chloe. These thoughts, however, are not about Scooby Doo or Graham Crackers. They are about making time in your day, no matter how busy it is, for some silence and solitude. Most of our lives are filled with busyness and many activities and demands. Our lives can make us feel like spinning tops. Sometimes this makes us feel like we are out of control. Sometimes we spin so fast and for so long that we feel we cannot stop. This is not good for human beings and sooner or later you will stop because you have crashed. It is important to take some time throughout your day, if only for a few minutes, to simply stop and breathe. That's what I was doing while eating my Scoopy Doo Graham Crackers. While eating them I quietly said, "O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me". This short prayer is the opening to all the prayers said by the monks at the monastery. The have selected prayers for every part of the day. These prayers are called the Liturgy of the Hours. For monks, they begin with Vigils at 3:15 AM and end with Compline, also know as night prayer, at 7:30 PM. Their entire day is broken up by these pauses for prayer. Most people living in the world cannot formally stop six or seven times a day and spend 15 - 30 minutes in prayers. I do wish offices had non denominational meditation rooms where employees could have personal quiet time on their breaks and lunches. What I do throughout my day when the Spirit moves me is have a quiet moment within myself. No one knows when I do this. I need to do this for my own spiritual benefit and to maintain some sense of centeredness in my day. I encourage all of you to periodically pause in your day and retreat within the solitary place that's deep in your heart. It is the pause that refreshes.

It is a cool morning. Today I noticed the sunrise. It was beautiful and the morning sky was filled with color. That is a sure sign the season is changing. One of the great things about autumn and winter are the sunrises. Unlike the intensity of a summer sunrise, in autumn and winter, God produces some of his best work. It's worth getting up early just to see the art show.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

There's No Place Like Home

Doesn't it feel great to cross the threshold of your home after a long day at work? My daily life at work is usually not too bad but even a good day is exhausting. Each afternoon after my workday is over, I walk down nine flights of stairs and through the park to the parking garage. When I settle into my car and turn the key I breathe a sigh of relief and say a prayer of gratitude that it's time to go home. I drive a few blocks to my wife's office and wait for her. Everyday, when she gets into the car, she looks at me, sometimes laying her head on my shoulder, and says, "Mike, we've got to get out"! I know what she means and why she says it. As two people in their mid fifties, we've spent most of our adult lives working and making all the changes and adaptations that modern work requires. There is a point where the weariness sets in. It's a kind of battle fatigue. Returning home each day is like finding your base camp where there is relative safety, food, and a place to sleep. My home, in spite of all its imperfections, is my castle and refuge. When I was young, especially when I was still living with my parents, I couldn't get out of the house fast enough. I wanted my freedom. Now that I am older I can't get home fast enough. Some days I don't want to leave it. Every night, after cleaning up and changing my clothes, I quickly find my way to my little hideaway where I sit in my chair, listen to music, and read the morning paper. Usually I fall asleep soon afterwards. I feel like Bilbo Baggins in his little hobbit house. Dorothy was right when she told the Wizard of Oz, "There's no place like home"!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mother Teresa

There are few people in the world, Christian and non Christian alike, who didn't think Mother Teresa was a saint. We tend to think that all holy people are filled with inner peace and absolute certitude about God's love and presence. A book has been published recently, based on 40 years of Mother Teresa's letters to her spiritual director, that makes us aware that her actual experience of God was filled with doubt, questions, and a great spiritual dryness that was anything but comforting. In spite of this she spent much of her life ministering to the dead and dying of Calcutta. Her example inspired many to follow her and they now work around the world in some of the poorest and most destitute places. Mother Teresa lived a true life of faith. She remained true to the path of life on which she was placed in spite of her doubts and spiritual emptiness. Those of us who believe in God want to feel good about it. We want our belief to comfort and sustain us. We want to feel the life of God within us. What if our faith does none of that? I often think of the Israelites who witnessed the power and intervention of Yahweh as He led them out of Egypt. I also think of the Apostles and others who lived with and interacted with Jesus. Even with these direct and very personal experiences of God they all faltered, wandering in the desert and running at the first sign of trouble. Yet, Mother Teresa, with no such direct experience of God as far as we know, stayed faithful to God and the difficult path she was called to walk. When you think about it, isn't this what faith is really all about? Though God can choose when and how it might reveal himself to us, much of the faith journey is walk down a dark path in a cloud of unknowing. I believe that Mother Teresa was a saint and holy woman and that she now experiences the light that was hidden from her in life. If we are blessed with some spiritual light and insight, we must remember the words of another holy woman, Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Spanish mystic, who said "We must remember in darkness what we once experienced in the light".

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Spirituality Of Windchimes

When I woke up very early on Sunday morning I could smell my granddaughter's hair as she lay on the pillow between my wife and me. I gently slid out of bed hoping to not wake her. I dressed and did all my other morning chores in the dark. I quietly left the house for my monthly trip to the monastery. With coffee cup in hand I drove down the highway in a gentle rain. As daylight approached and I left the interstate for the more solitary Highway 245, I realized that fog covered the land and hills. The fog enhanced my solitude and deepened it. I settled in for a relaxing drive. Soon I was at the home of my friend, Father Dennis. Sometimes I stop at his home for mass so that he has a congregation of one. When the two of us have mass together, it is simple and prayerful. He does the priest stuff and I do everything else. Instead of a homily, we have a dialogue. Afterwards I headed to the monastery for my monthly gathering. We had some new folks in the group that generated some wonderful and deep conversation. Much of the conversation made me think back to the men's retreat I attended a few weekends ago. During that time, and yesterday, much was said about pain, suffering, and adversity. We all know these things exist in life. Life, not being fair, doesn't divide these things up equally. Some seem to have more than others and few are deserving. One thought I keep having is that we can become overwhelmed with pain, suffering, and adversity to the point we begin to believe this is all life has to offer. A relationship with God, and the spiritual journey, can benefit greatly from our pain. However, I think it is important to remember the JOY is also a part of the spiritual life. The contemplative life is a life lived with a grateful heart. In, around, and through our pain, we must also be open to joy. In our discussion at the monastery someone said that Thomas Merton, who lived at Gethsemani, was so in tune with the spiritual life that he was like a wind chime. I think this means that he was so open to the experience of God that the most subtle movements of grace moved him towards God and joy like a gentle breeze causes a wind chime to play beautiful notes. May we all be like wind chimes in our lives! When I left the monastery there was still a slight misting of rain. By the time I neared Interstate 65, it was like driving under Niagara Falls. Between the rain and the spray from semi trucks I could barely see enough to drive. As soon as I got off the interstate, it started to clear up. When I finally got home, the little girl I left sleeping in my bed in the early morning greeted me with a smile and a big hug. Now that was joyful!

Over the weekend we celebrated my daughter in law's birthday. We went to dinner on Saturday night. It was Chloe's first experience of a Japanese steakhouse and hibachi grill. The four foot flame that shot from the grill when the chef started cooking definitely got her attention as did all the theatrics used to make our meal. We can now add fried rice to the list of Chloe's favorite foods. She even used chop sticks!

Finally.....I was one of several thousand who did the Alzheimer's Memory walk. Most of my extended family, including my mother and father, were also there. It was a great experience for all of us and approximately $300,000 was raised to fight Alzheimer's. My thanks to those of you who made a contribution.

Friday, September 07, 2007

New Ministry

Earlier this week I attended a meeting at my parish that was a follow up to the men's retreat I made a couple of weeks ago. I previously shared that although the retreat was well planned and executed, it was a difficult weekend for me. Of course, the difficulty was more about me than about the retreat. I had a sense of what to expect at this follow up meeting. I knew they would be looking for volunteers to lead the next retreat. I was mentally prepared to NOT volunteer for anything. My excuse was going to be the work I am involved with at the monastery every month. Well, the next thing I know I am signing up to be on the next retreat team and it seemed like my body was lifted against my will from the back of the room where I was hiding to the front of the room where the newly seduced volunteers gathered. In my mind and heart I knew I should do it. I knew I should do it because I believe I am good at such things. The truth is that often in life I really just want to be left alone. This is not a noble feeling on my part. It is part of my laziness, my reluctance to lead, and my desire to avoid work that I really don't have to do. An additional truth, however, is that any challenge that makes me uncomfortable, or isn't always appealing, is usually something I need to do or am called to do. In the past I have talked about grace. Grace is God's life within you. Grace calls us to go beyond where we are. It challenges us to go out of our comfort zones. It beckons us to listen to the quiet voice within our hearts and to take a risk. Like many people I do not always want to do this. When I continually resist grace, the voice inside me gets louder. Sometimes it shouts. So, once again I am back in parish ministry in addition to what I do at the monastery. God will not leave me alone. I can only believe that I will receive what I need to meet this new challenge. Someone once told Mother Teresa that God will never ask more than we can handle. Her response was "I wish God didn't trust me so much"!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Little Sickness And The Experience of God

I was not in the office yesterday. It was one of those days where my body was not cooperating with the rest of me. It is a thin line between being sick and simply not feeling good. I spent most of the day on that tightrope. The day was not a total loss. I was able to turn the time into a hermit day. I went the entire day without human contact other than a few necessary emails. Even though I felt poorly, it was good to have a day of solitude. A day home alone, for any reason, is usually a gift to an introvert. I tried to use the day well by resting and giving my body a break. I think minor illnesses can sometimes be a gift from God. I usually interpret them as a message to stop and take a break from the never ending demands of life. Since the day was totally unplanned, it was even more appreciated. The only work I did was change from my everyday work clothes into something more relaxing. When I got up, I fully intended to go to work. My body had other plans and I am glad I listened to it.

Tuesday as I was walking into the office the morning sun was shining very bright. It was so intense that I had to turn away quickly after I glanced at it. This is how I imagine the direct experience of God would be. Many of the great mystics describe the experience of God as burning, intense, and even painful. In the story of Moses on Mount Sinai, we are told that Moses had to turn his back as God passed by. In this life the best most of us will get is a glimpse of God. His light is too bright and we cannot look directly into it. Of course, like our experience of the sun, we can feel the light and warmth of God even though we cannot look directly into the light.

Last week I shared a few thoughts about work and how we shouldn't find our identity in what we do. I shared that I wasn't what I do. I was Michael, Dad, Pa Paw, Son, Brother, and Friend. One of my friends and readers responded that many of us, even if we don't find our identity in work, still often find our identity in the different roles we assume. It occurred to me that I sometimes avoid identifying with undesirable but necessary roles for more preferred ones in terms of my identity. What if we found our identities in characteristics rather than roles. What characteristics would describe who you are? When I list what I like to consider my personal characteristics, I want to say things like "I am spiritual. I am strong. I am compassionate. I am tolerant. I am forgiving". Of course, even if these were all true, I would also have to say things like "I am weak. I am lustful. I am lazy. I am procrastinating. I am undisciplined." Buddha keeps it simple. When asked who he was, he simply replied, "I am awake". In reality I am a little of all these things. Some days my light shines bright and all around me are warmed by who I am. Other days my light is dimmed by my more human weaknesses and no one is impressed. On those days I rely on the light of others. I must also remember that the sun is always present even when hidden by cloudy days.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What Happened To The Weekend?

Sometime between Friday night and this morning I blinked my eyes and the entire long weekend disappeared!

My nest is once again empty except for Momma and Poppa. Most of the weekend it was full. My son came home for his first visit since going away to school and Princess Chloe stayed overnight on Saturday. Nick showed up for dinner on Friday and left after breakfast on Sunday. I thought he came home because he missed me. I think the real reason was so I could do his laundry. Of course, doing his laundry is now a way of serving the church. (smile) Princess Chloe arrived at dinner time on Saturday. She was thrilled when my wife presented her with a pair of red "magic" shoes that resembled Dorothy's ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz story. She would not take them off even when we went to bed. Earlier that night, while Fleetwood Mac's song entitled "Tusk" played on the television, we danced around the living room, Chloe skipping around in her "magic" shoes and me trying not to have a heart attack. Later, after we were in bed, and Chloe was asleep, I gently slipped off her shoes and put them on my night stand. As soon as her eyes opened the next morning, at 6:57 AM, she immediately said "Where's my shoes! Where's my shoes!" I put them back on her as she asked for chocolate milk. I said, "I'll go get your milk. Wait here for Pa Paw". She said, "No, I want to go with you and make your coffee, Pa Paw"! During all of this exchange, my wife was doing her imitation of a possum. The next thing I knew we were both downstairs. Chloe helped me scoop out the coffee and I poured her some fresh chocolate milk. Before 9:00 I had already watched "Over the Hedge" twice. It was the beginning of a long day that ended with a family cookout at my parents. My parent's nest was extremely full with siblings, various spouses, children of all sizes and ages, and a few boyfriends and girlfriends whose names I can never remember. Most of Labor Day was restful with me taking cat naps throughout the day. Summer ended on a high note and now I am ready to enter into my favorite time of the year. At one point over the weekend I drove past a local fruit market and there were hundreds of pumpkins and other reminders that autumn is near.