Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

Once again it is New Year's Eve. Another year comes to a close and in a few hours a new year will begin. Part of this past week and this evening I have been reading through my daily thoughts for the last year. All in all it has been a good year. The only real sadness was the death of my mother in law and the ongoing concern about the welfare of my father who resides in a nursing home. My family and friends are doing well. I am still employed and except for a minor health issue in early November, I am in good health. I have no complaints about my life and I embrace the future with curiosity.

While all the really wild people are out on the streets tonight ringing in the new year, I am having a quiet evening at home with my wife, my youngest son, and my granddaughter, Chloe. We prepared some special food and in the words of Chloe we're "having a party". I doubt that any of us are still awake at midnight when the famous ball comes down in Times Square.

Happy New Year! Cheers! Welcome to 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Michael Has A Great Day!

Although I had a very pleasant Christmas holiday, and I received more gifts than I deserve, life has quickly gotten back to "normal". What is normal? Most of the time my life is very hum drum and even boring. The endless cycle of work and sleep and obligations sometimes seems to be a wheel and I am the pet hamster. It is not a bad life. One gets lots of exercise spinning on the wheel of life. As the Grateful Dead sing in their song entitled "The Wheel", The wheel is turning and you can't slow down, you can't let go and you can't hold on, you can't go back and you can't stand still, if the thunder don't get you, then the lightning will! When I woke up this morning it was just a normal day. The alarm clock seemed to go off way too early and I did not get nearly enough sleep. Things got better from there. Soon after arriving at work I received confirmation about some good financial news that will cause some money to flow into my bank account. No, my 401k did not double in value but I am getting a bonus. At lunch time I drove over to the local Veteran's Hospital to have lunch with my friend, Wayne, who is a chaplain there. We had some wonderful conversation that was intellectually stimulating and I was energized by the exchange. When I left the hospital it was the peak hour of a beautiful, springlike day. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the air was cool and intoxicating. This was especially nice considering the fact that it is actually early winter. When I returned to the office and was walking through our park, the smell of freshly mowed lawn filled the air. The grounds keeper was cutting the grass and collecting all the rotting leaves that have gathered on the ground in recent weeks. I felt like I was walking on air. I felt an incredible lightness of being. Last summer at a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert, Tom Petty remarked, "Wouldn't it be great if life was perfect just for a moment"? Well, for me, today was perfect just for a moment. It wasn't extraordinary in the sense that something truly special or unique happened. However, just for a moment, everything came together and there was a sense of unity and wholeness that is not always present. Today I just seemed to appreciate it more than I have been lately. It wasn't a kick in the head wake up call. It was more of a subtle but noticeable awakening.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Resting Quietly In Thoughtful Silence

Today we returned to more seasonal weather. Throughout the day it was about 30 degrees colder than it was yesterday. It's back to cold weather clothes although at the moment, sitting in my warm home, I am wearing my new tie dyed tee shirt, given to me as a Christmas present by my co-workers. Tomorrow, however, when I return to work for a few days, I will be wearing one of my new sweaters.

Here's another quote from Robert Thurman's introduction to Jack Kerouac's Wake Up...A Life of the Buddha.

Not by anxious use of outward means, had Buddha unveiled True Mind and ended suffering, but by resting quietly in thoughtful silence.

I am generally a quiet and passive person not given to bursts of assertion or confrontation. One of my coping strategies throughout life has been to simply wait things out. More often than not it has worked well for me. Although I would not normally attempt to push life along, I have sometimes attempted to give it a gentle shove through subtle means. In most cases it may have been better to heed the Buddha and "rest quietly in thoughtful silence". The way of the world is to run after life. The way of the contemplative is to let life come to you. I am not advocating total passivity here. The "action" of the contemplative is to be awake to the moment by moment arrival of life. Since I believe we humans have a natural tendency to be spiritually asleep, the wakefulness of the contemplative is a form of activism. Most people who think they know me might wonder, "Doesn't Michael already do this"? Certainly I present a calm and patient face to the world. On the inside, however, I am not always calm. My mind is active, my soul is restless, and I am not nearly as passive as I appear on the surface. Beneath the surface I am often fighting life and I don't spend near enough time "resting quietly in thoughtful silence". Perhaps in the new year that will soon appear I can focus more on my "inner quieting" and be more like the Buddha.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Summer Christmas?

As I sit here at my little desk typing these thoughts a nice breeze blows in my window. It is 70 degrees outside. One day last week it was 5 degrees with wind chills below zero. It is so warm today I can't even wear one of my new Christmas sweaters! I know, however, this day is a fluke and soon winter will reappear with a vengeance.

Part of today I have been sitting in my chair and reading my new Jack Kerouac book about the life of Buddha. I am still in the introduction written by Robert Thurman. Here is something I read this afternoon that really struck a deep chord within me.

Death comes from birth,
birth comes from deeds,
deeds come from attachment,
attachment comes from desire,
desire comes from perception,
perception comes from sensation,
sensation comes from the six sense organs,
the six sense organs come from individuality,
individuality comes from consciousness.

My question is this, "From where does consciousness originate"? Is my consciousness the same as my essence? Is the essence of who I am a product of a thought that God had at a particular moment in the eternal Now?

I have never intentionally written a Haiku but here's a first attempt. I don't know if there are additional "rules" other than the Haiku being a three line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second line and five more in the third line. This is perhaps a weak attempt but I will keep practicing.

I chase a Zen dream,
Mystical seeker I am,
It is a new day.

Friday, December 26, 2008


All of my life I have loved books. From the time I first learned to read there has never been a time when a book was far from my reach. Although in my youth I was very much the all American boy who loved sports and the outdoors, I also loved when the library bookmobile came to my neighborhood. I always came home with a stack of books. My favorites books were biographies. These days I have books downstairs and I have books upstairs. There are two chairs in my house where I routinely sit and there are books on both of the tables next to the chairs. Even Chloe, when asked what Pa Paw wanted for Christmas replied, "CD's and books". I received two more books for Christmas. They are Wake Up...A Life of the Buddha by Jack Kerouac. Kerouac is probably most famous for his book On the Road. It was the book that energized those that became known as the Beat Generation who in turn became the precursors of the hippie generation. The other book I received was The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. Unfortunately I don't read as much as I used to do. Most workday evenings I don't seem to have the mental energy to read without becoming sleepy. When I read it is usually during my quiet time in the morning before I leave for work or on a weekend. However, sometimes, when I find the right book at the right time, I am energized and I can read almost non stop. In those moments I can get completely lost in them. Books and music have been my most faithful friends.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas From The Browns!

I know these are difficult times for many people but my family was very blessed and I am grateful. I do not take these blessings for granted. Everyday I try to remember how lucky I am. If you are reading these words, I hope you, too, had a blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Learning To Be Quiet

You need not do anything. Remain sitting at your table (or on your rock) and listen. You need not even listen, just wait. You need not even wait, just learn to be quiet, still and solitary. And the world will freely offer itself to you unmasked. It has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

-Franz Kafka from his poem, "Learn to Be Quiet."

I like to believe that I know the value of silence yet I continually subject myself to noise, whether it be music or television or talking. When I am at the monastery I welcome the silence. When I am at home I seem to avoid it. Why is that? The silence at the monastery seems to be full and lacking nothing. The silence at home seems to be empty and in need of something to fill it up. In the silence of the monastery there seems to be nothing to hide from. My friends the monks may disagree with me on this statement. On the other hand, the silence of home can seem deafening. Maybe I am scared of this silence and want to hide from it. Perhaps in my noise I hope I am not seen. What am I hiding from?

It is still cold. At this moment it is 19 degrees. My mind drifts to a warm day last spring when I sat on a rock and all was well. The sun was shining but I was bathed in the shade of trees that no man had planted. They were here before we were.

Santa...We're waiting!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December Daze

Today is the Winter Solstice. It definitely feels like winter. It is 22 degrees as I write and tonight the wind chill is supposed to be 5 to 10 degrees below zero. I have tried very hard to stay in the house today. I have only ventured outside a few times because tomorrow is trash day and I must put my trash on the curb.

There's been lots of activity in the house today with last minute Christmas chores. All the presents are bought and wrapped thanks to the mighty efforts of my wife. If Christmas was dependent on me, there would be a lot of sad people in my family. I just try to stay out of the way.

I am feeling very tired and depleted. Last week was a stressful week for me at work. I was forced into a situation where I had to terminate someone's employment one week before Christmas and in the midst of difficult economic times. I don't feel guilty about my actions because they were justified but I do feel badly about them. I care about people and I liked the person I let go. All weekend I have felt tired and totally lacking in energy even though I slept ten hours on Friday night and almost nine hours on Saturday night. Today I am feeling very old even though I am only 57 years. The cold and damp weather makes my bones ache. Today I was looking at my own skin and realized much of it is wrinkled. I think every hair on my body is now gray assuming it hasn't fallen out. Christmas is four days away. I have mixed feelings about Christmas and all holidays. I want so much to like them and to be in the spirit of what ever holiday is it. I really can't think of a bad holiday memory. In spite of this I am often less than in the spirit and many times can't wait for them to be over. Christmas especially is a mixture of joy and dread.

Yesterday I went to the nursing home to see my Dad for the first time since before my surgery, hospital stay, and the death of my mother in law. In his mental state he hadn't even noticed. I spent nearly three hours with Dad and it was exhausting. He was in a fairly good mood but nothing seemed to please him. He didn't like his lunch. After lunch he wanted to go back to bed so I took him to his room. As soon as we got there, he wanted to leave and go sit in the lobby. As soon as I took him to the lobby, he wanted to go back to bed. As we waited in his room for the attendants to put him back in bed, he complained about how slow they were. When we got him back in bed, he complained about his pillow not being fluffed enough. Each time I tried to leave, he looked at me and said, "You're not going to leave me are you"? Way to make me feel guilty, Dad! Finally I just had to leave him and hope he didn't realize what I had done. On the way home I visited my mother and sister only to have the news dumped on me that another family member was in distress. Jesus! To keep my sanity I stopped at a couple of bookstores and spent every penny of two gift cards my staff at work gave me as Christmas gifts.

Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What I Wear Is Pants

I do not live in a hermitage. I live in a house, what I wear is pants, what I do is live, how I pray is breathe.
-Thomas Merton from "Day of a Stranger".

Must you see nature as a machine? Is your only learning chemistry, physics, and ontology? What if poetry was your template for life? Can't you know Tao by the feeling of mud in your sandals? Thus are the sages called silly because they have given up their prejudices.
-Today's Tao Reading

Both of these quotes say a lot to me. For many years I strived to maintain a variety of spiritual practices with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I always seemed to run out of gas. I admit there is a great possibility that my laziness and lack of personal discipline is likely the culprit for my inability to persevere. However, giving myself a little bit of credit and the benefit of the doubt, I also like to believe that I have spent so many years trying to be a spiritual man that my spirituality has become one with my life to the point that they no longer appear to be separate things. This does not mean that I am a saint or that I am a perfect man. I am far from achieving sainthood or perfection.

I believe I have become more like my mentor, Thomas Merton, in the sense that "I live in a house, what I wear is pants, what I do is live, how I pray is breathe". It may be a surprise to some people but I am an incurable romantic and a dreamer. Although I do not consider myself a poet or an artist at all, after reading today's Tao thought, I believe poetry is my template for life. Of course, in my mind, all of this is little more than a side effect of being a contemplative person. I may not write poetry but I usually see life with poetic eyes. Being like this makes me sometimes feel as though I am of no practical value to anyone. I sometimes feel as though I move from one Zen moment to another. Breathing is life and all life is spiritual, not just to those with poetic eyes, but even to those who are blind to the poetry of life. My life is not about doing many things beyond those necessary for daily life. My life is more about being and seeing and awakening. It's about looking out a window at falling snow while drinking a mug of hot coffee. I am not fully awake but I am no longer asleep either. As I read through this I wonder if I should be laughing at myself and my possible delusion that I have accomplished anything in the spiritual realm. Perhaps I should add a line to the Merton quote that says "What I see in the mirror is a fool who thinks he's a poet"!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Joy Of Being Home

I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child...our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
-Thich Nhat Hanh, "Miracle of Mindfulness"

Everyday I receive a daily Buddhist thought in my email. The above thought from Thich Nhat Hanh came today. I have seen it before and it is one of my favorites. I understand what he is saying and I agree with him. Few, however, who live in my part of the world would think today was a beautiful day or a good day for a walk. I woke up to a neighborhood that was cold and dark, with a thin layer of ice on everything. The wind was blowing and sleet fell from the sky. It was cold all day although I did get excited by the occasional bursts of snow flurries. By the time I left work to come home a light but cold rain was falling again. The trees are bare of leaves and color and the landscape has the dreary look that dampens the mood of even the most light hearted of people. It reminded me of the television commercial for the cold product called Theraflu. In the commercial the person who is sick has the appearance of a ghost as he walks the streets trying to get home. Once home, and after taking the medicine, he gains color and his home radiates warmth. Sometimes on winter days I feel like that person. Although nature and the world in general may be cold and dreary, and freezing rain, or sleet, or snow may be falling, once I am inside my home all is well. I love being home all the time but I especially love being home on a cold day or night. I wear my flannel shirt with an old sweater along with my pajama pants and thick socks. I am happy as I can be in my little Hobbit hole. All is well and life is good. I drink my hot coffee, read my books, listen to my music, watch a movie, or take a nap. I am warm and toasty in my little room hidden away from the world.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter Storm Watch

Tonight is our first winter storm watch of the season. As usual, people are in a panic. How can I tell? Well, I went to the pharmacy on my way home from work to pick up my monthly supply of insulin. My pharmacy is located inside a large grocery store. The place was packed and every checkout lane had long lines of people. They were buying food like it was their last chance before the big winter snows close the passage into town. At this hour you are probably lucky if you can find a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. The real worst case scenario is that people in the local area may be delayed a couple of hours tomorrow morning as they head for work. Will people really need that much bread and milk to get through the next 24 hours? As I left the store there was some sleet coming down. I think there may be a few inches of snow forecasted that based on the history of our local meteorologists will never fall. Perhaps winter storm watches need to be renamed "People Freakout Alerts". When one is issued all sane people will be alerted to stay away from all grocery stores!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Being Pa Paw

After a nice long sleep on Friday night, my wife, son, and I went to pick up my granddaughter, Chloe, on Saturday morning. She was coming to our house for the weekend. Feeling brave, we decided to take her to the Mall. That turned out to be a little stressful. Twelve days before Christmas the Mall is a bustling place with thousands of people. My biggest fear was that Chloe would get away from me. However, being a vigilant grandfather, she was never out of my sight. The Mall can be a wondrous place with its sights and sounds and smells. Although I sometimes have mixed feelings about the Christmas season, overall I love this time of year and the wonderful spirit and excitement that fills the air. I pushed Chloe around in her stroller and we took in all the sights around us. Before leaving we stopped and got some hot pretzels. They were very tasty as my wife, son, Chloe, and me sat on a bench and consumed them as people moved all around us in all directions. Later in the day, after dinner and when darkness has fallen, we drove around some local neighborhoods and looked at Christmas lights and other holiday decorations. Chloe loves doing this and gets very excited. Pa Paw likes it, too.

Early today, Sunday, about 7:30 AM, Chloe informed me that it was daylight outside and that it was time for us to get up. As we continued to lay in bed, she informed me that her Mommy and Daddy do not like to get up early. We then agreed that her grandmother does not like to get up early either. "Only Pa Paw's like to get up early", she told me. After getting up we went downstairs and made my coffee. She scoops the coffee and I pour the water. After the coffee was made we went into the living room and watched the "SpongeBob Squarepants Christmas Show" followed by two viewings of the traditional and very old "Frosty the Snowman". In the busyness of the weekend I forgot to take any new pictures but I am still including a picture from one of my favorite Pa Paw moments. When Christmas Day arrives I'm sure I will have new photos to share.

After taking Chloe home so she could see her dog, Cosmo, and, of course, her parents, my wife, son, and I went to see "The Day the Earth Stood Still". I had to see this remake since the original was a childhood favorite. The original was better although I liked the new version, too.

Now it is Sunday night. I will soon read the morning newspaper. The trash is gathered for me to take to the curb. The dirty laundry will wait till tomorrow. I must also get myself psyched for another work week.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Finding Your Voice

Today's daily Tao verse reads "Express yourself. That is meaning". These are simple words with deep meaning. They ask the question, "What remains unexpressed within me"? Much of my life, especially when I was younger, I struggled to find my voice. In some previous thoughts I wrote about the need for creativity in our lives. Your creativity is your voice. Until you find your gift for creativity, you will not find your voice. I cannot paint and I am not a musician. I've never thought of myself as an artist. However, in the beginning of my mid life years I discovered that I had a gift for writing. I started expressing myself in words and people liked what I said. With their encouragement I continued to write and to express myself more openly and honestly. I shared my life, my joys, and some of my frustrations. Some thoughts, however, are private and not for public consumption. Nevertheless, I have shared much of my life and many people have found comfort and encouragement from my thoughts, experiences, and my attempts to understand myself. A small email distribution grew into a list that contained hundreds of names. Eventually I created this blog. For a long time I wondered if anyone read it. I felt like I was just writing for myself but that was fine with me because I write for myself as much as I do for others. Since the creation of this blog I have become aware that hundreds of people have read my thoughts all over the world. Maybe I am not changing the world but I am making a difference in some people's lives. Through words, I have found my voice. I have found meaning by expressing my feelings and sharing my experiences with others. Everyone has a gift but they are not always easily identified. Keep searching though and you will find your voice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Favorite Merton Photo

The 40th Anniversary Of Thomas Merton's Death

On this day, 40 years ago in Bangkok, Thailand, Thomas Merton was accidentally electrocuted and died. He was 53 years old. The year was 1968. I was a seventeen year old hippie at the time and didn't even know who Thomas Merton was. Four years later I was a novice at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the very monastery where Merton lived. I would have to say that Merton has been one of the most influential people in my life. Through Merton I learned about contemplation, Zen, and Buddhism. I was introduced to Merton's writings in 1970 when I lived in a Franciscan community at a place called Duns Scotus College outside Detroit, Michigan. One of the Friars, Brother Brian, gave me several Merton books as a gift. The first one I read is still one of my favorites. It was "The Sign of Jonas". It was a journal written in the late 40's and early 50's and detailed life at Gethsemani. It was the book that made me think I might want to be a monk myself. Since that time I did live at Gethsemani for a while, I have always had a relationship with Gethsemani and many of the monks, I have made two solitary retreats in Thomas Merton's Hermitage, and for the last twenty years I have been part of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani, a group of lay people committed to living contemplative lives in the world. All of this began with the reading of "The Sign of Jonas". Merton's influence is a big part of why I am who I am. The pictures above are a photo of me taken several years ago just outside Merton's Hermitage. Those familiar with the hermitage will recognize the wooden cross and wagon wheel. The other picture is of the Dalai Lama and Dom Timothy Kelly visiting the grave of Thomas Merton. The picture was taken at the time of the Dalai Lama's first visit to Gethsemani for a Christian/Buddhist dialog. Dom Timothy was my primary teacher when I was a novice at Gethsemani.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Geography Of The Heart

I woke up from a deep sleep this morning with the unpleasant realization that I had to leave my bed and go to work. Once out of the bed I was fine and I proceeded to the office. All day long I was tired and sore. It took me a while to realize why I was sore. Over the weekend I gave a co-worker a bed I no longer needed. They came to my house on Saturday to pick it up and I helped her husband carry the mattress and box springs out to his truck. I'm still not totally recovered from my surgery so I probably shouldn't have done it and I also do so little manual labor that I am terribly out of shape.

I had my final visit with my surgeon today. Being tired and sore and a little bored at work I was happy to leave the office early even if it was for a doctor's appointment. I got to the doctor's office a little early and was happy to sit quietly in the warm waiting room. I was in a slight daze when the receptionist called me to the window. "Mr. Brown, I need you to sign this form concerning your colonoscopy". Colonoscopy??? Excuse me??? I'm here for a surgical follow up. I'm not here for any colonoscopy! Wow, that was a close call. I've had enough of those in my life. Heck, sometimes life itself feels like a colonoscopy!

Today's Tao reading is as follows......

Why yearn for a promised land? The true land is in the heart.

The commentary for this reading mainly discusses those people in the world who have been separated from their places of birth by war, economics, abduction, lack of work, and many other reasons. The land we call home has a strong pull on us. I always remember Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz story saying, "There's no place like home"! I am not a great world traveler but anytime I have left my home, it was always good to return to it. In the monastic life there is a term that refers to a monk's love for his monastery, a physical place where he has promised to remain for his entire life. The term is "Lover's of the Place". A friend of mine who passed away several years ago, Abbot Francis Kline of Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina, wrote a small book using this phrase as his title. Although we may have a strong pull or longing for a particular piece of physical geography, I believe there is a deeper pull and longing for something beyond geography. Most of my life I have felt a sense of longing for something I can not even identify. At times I have felt like an exile. In spite of much introspection I can never seem to identify why I have these feelings of longing and desire or the emptiness they expose. I am in the land of my birth so I am not yearning for any physical homeland. I am already there. What am I longing for? What am I looking for to fill the emptiness and satisfy the longing? Is the longing a human need for love and affection or a call into a deeper experience on a more spiritual level? I don't know. I do not think my experience is unique. I believe it is a common experience and perhaps part of most people's human journey through life. One thought I did have over the weekend is that when I feel these feelings I am sometimes spending too much time thinking of myself and my needs. The less I think about me, the less I feel unhappy. If the true "promised land" is the heart, I should open my heart more to others and spend less time thinking about myself.

Today's newspaper reminded me that John Lennon was murdered in New York City 28 years ago today. It still makes me sad to think that John and George Harrison are both dead. Their music, with the Beatles and as individuals, will always keep their memory alive with me.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Visit To The Monastery

I woke up very early this morning. My bed was warm and soft. Outside my window it was dark and very cold. For a few moments I was tempted to simply roll over, go back to sleep, and re-enter my dream world. My better self prevailed and I got up and headed for the shower. Today was the first Sunday of the month and I was expected at the monastery. After I got dressed and ready I checked to see if I had everything I needed, i.e., notes for the group discussion, my chicken pasta casserole for the pot luck lunch, a Thomas Merton book for an opening reflection, and some music for the drive. Having everything I needed I headed out of the house. It was very cold with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees. I drove to the gasoline station and froze my butt off while filling the car up with fuel. Then, after a quick stop at McDonald's for coffee, I hit the road. Early on a Sunday morning, on a very cold December day, there is little traffic even on the Interstate. Soon I reached my first exit and I headed down the two lane Highway 245. I love this part of the drive. The sun began to rise and eventually showed its bright and orange face through the trees. At this time of year the bare trees stand at attention like sentinels at their posts guarding the surrounding countryside. Further down the road the morning sun stared me in the face and I was nearly blinded as I drove the winding road.

I arrived earlier than expected at the monastery. The monastery in winter is an exceptionally quiet place. I headed for the dining room for a refill of my coffee. I sat at a table and quietly looked out the window into the guesthouse garden. The room was warm and I was as happy as I could be. Soon the people....friends....I gather with every month began to arrive. They are a great bunch of people and I have known some of them for many years. We had some great discussion, we sang and prayed with the monks, and we ended our time together breaking bread and sharing a meal. I love the monastery, the monks, and these people. The monastery and the monks have been a huge influence on the kind of person that I am. It's a part of my life that is impossible for me to imagine not being part of my life. Whatever is good about me, the monastery deserves some of the credit.

On the way home from the monastery I stopped at the home of my friend, Fr. Dennis. I had not seen him in a couple of months. Last month my monastery visit and my visit with Dennis didn't happen because of the health issue that landed me in the hospital in early November. As I have said before, Dennis and I are like brothers. I always enjoy being with him and whenever we are together the discussions are often deep and the laughter is plentiful.

Tomorrow it's back to work as the December daze continues.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Learning Is The Fountain Of Youth

Learning is the fountain of youth. No matter how old you are, You mustn't stop growing.

Today we have another intriguing thought from the Tao. The commentary says, "The creativity that everyone can engage in is learning. The continuing act of creativity keeps us young".

In my own life I have always believed that education gives us knowledge but life gives us wisdom. I regret the lack of formal education in my life. To compensate for it, I have focused much of my energy on the acquisition of wisdom. I have not, however, given up on education. Most of my life I have been a voracious reader and life itself has been my teacher. I study life and I observe it. I like to imagine that as I walk through life I am constantly collecting data. Coupled with this is my natural tendency to be introspective and reflective. My spirituality is contemplative. In my mind to be a contemplative means constantly striving to be an "awakened one". It doesn't matter what faith system you subscribe to or what your beliefs are. The deeper you get into a contemplative mindset, the more awakened you are. When I am asleep to life and what goes on around me I am not being contemplative. In a manner of speaking, the deeper I go into contemplation and the more awakened I am, the younger I become. The contemplative, awakened state is the fountain of youth. The more awake you are, the more childlike you become, and life becomes filled with wonder and awe. It is the wonder and awe of a spiritual being living in the grace of the moment and the light of God. When you are in such a state of being, your body may age but you are eternally young in spirit.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Brokenness And Creativity

In recent weeks and months I feel like I have been on some kind of intellectual holiday. Looking back over recent posts there is very little reflective thought. Since I quit sending our daily emails to hundreds of people, I have felt no pressure to provide people with something to think about. This lack of pressure and the events in my life during the month of November put me in a trance where I have read very little and I have only thought about the needs of the moment. The transition back to work has been smooth and after only a couple of days I feel like I was never away. The downside to returning to work is that I have fallen back into a pattern of going home and falling asleep in the early evening. I wake up in a daze and spend the rest of the night in a fog. I need to break this pattern quickly before it becomes too entrenched.

Today during lunch I read the following thought from a book entitled 365 Tao. The book has daily meditations from a Chinese philosopher named Deng Ming-Dao.

There's nothing to paint anymore.
We've seen everything from the classical to the absurd.
There's nothing to write anymore.
As many books are shredded as read.
There's nothing to sing anymore.
The once avant-garde is now background music.

Basically, this reading is about the difficulty of maintaining creativity. Though it is difficult to maintain creativity, we are compelled to keep trying. The commentary on these verses says, "The only way to have fresh expression is to go deep within". Although I have certainly had a few deep moments in the last couple of months, a great deal of my time has been spent living on the surface of my life with needs and concerns that were staring me in the face. I have experienced a variety of moods, some good, some bad, others positive and some that were negative. Looking out the window in the room where I write most of my thoughts I noticed that all the leaves on the tree in my front yard were now on the ground and the limbs of the tree were bare and exposed. Looking closer I realized the tree had several broken branches from the windstorm that blew through my area several months ago. It made me wonder, "How much brokenness do we hide from others with various disguises and coverings"? If we were all emotionally exposed to one another, how much hidden brokenness would we see? What is my brokenness? Where do I hurt and why? How do we heal ourselves? I think part of my ongoing healing will occur by going "deep within" and writing about it as honestly and openly as I can. Metaphorically, as well as literally, I want to continue painting and writing and singing. The creative process is a healing process and by exposing my pain and brokenness, I allow myself to be healed.

Whatever my mood, it always improves when I see my granddaughter. After work today my wife and I picked her up at the day care center. She is always excited to see me. We had dinner at McDonald's where we ate hamburgers and french fries and chocolate chip cookies. On the way to my house we drove through the surrounding neighborhoods and looked at all the Christmas lights. My heart was lifted when I heard her squeals of delight whenever we saw a house that was decorated. We both agreed that we prefer the colored lights over white lights. We ended the night by watching "A Shrek Christmas" on television and drinking pumpkin egg nog.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Living In The Twilight Zone

The month of November has been very surreal. I feel like I have been living in the Twilight Zone. First there was my unexpected surgery, hospital stay, and my continuing recovery. As soon as I was released from the hospital, my mother in law entered the hospital and died about two weeks later. I squeezed in a couple of days at the office but for the most part I did not work in the month of November. My mother in law's death coincided with planned vacation time so both were additional reasons I did not work. This afternoon some members of my family gathered at my mother in law's residence to make decisions about her personal belongings. All of her things were given to various people and tomorrow a moving company will deliver the last of her things to my home and the home of my son. It was another emotional experience closing another chapter in our lives.

Tomorrow my life will return to something resembling normal, whatever that is. My alarm clock will once again go off at its normal workday time. I will rise from my bed and face the morning commute. Waiting for me at the office is a new work location and all my things waiting in boxes. Before leaving on vacation I had to quickly pack and tomorrow I will need to unpack and resettle. At some point I will need to meet the movers at my house and hopefully still have time to make my final appointment with my surgeon. I am healing well so I look forward to the end of my health crisis soon.

While my wife and I were helping to dispose of my mother in law's personal belongings, my son, Nick, headed back to the seminary in Indianapolis. After a few classes and final exams, he'll be back home in a couple of weeks for Christmas vacation.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Today is Thanksgiving Day here in America and for the first time in my life I am at home instead of visiting someone else's home. For many, many years my family would go to both sets of parents and by the end of the day my belly would be very full of the traditional Thanksgiving entrees. About five years ago, after my father in law passed away, we began going to the home of my sister in law, Judy, for a midday feast and then we would visit my family in the afternoon. Of course, my father is now in a nursing home so my mother often goes to my sister's house for Thanksgiving. This year things are a little different. We just buried my mother in law yesterday and the family is exhausted from the events of the last two weeks. As a result we decided that we would not gather together as we normally do. Each family is on its own. So I am home today with my wife and youngest son, Nick, who is home from the seminary for his Thanksgiving holiday. We will have a traditional holiday meal provided by the generous co-workers of my wife. They all chipped in and provided us with everything we need for today's meal. As I type these thoughts the aroma of a baking turkey fills the house. Life goes on and traditions change but we still have much to appreciate and be thankful for on this special day.

It is a gorgeous day. The sun is shining, the skies are clear, and it's a pleasant 55 degrees. My wife and son have been completing our Christmas decorations. That holiday is now less than a month away. The house is beautiful thanks to my wife's creative abilities and my son's assistance. We have four Christmas trees and many other colorful and joyful decorations. Denise and Nick have taken advantage of the beautiful day to take all the empty storage crates out to the shed and have also put outdoor lights around the front door and the surrounding bushes. Certainly there will be some sadness this holiday season because of my mother in law's passing but we will still be thankful today for all of life's blessings and gifts and we will also embrace the joy that the Christmas season brings with it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Eulogy For Edna

Today we buried my mother in law next to her beloved husband, John. They are buried in Calvary cemetery. Right behind their graves is the enclosure wall of the Carmelite nuns. It is a great spot to be laid to rest. My sons were pallbearers and I was asked to give a eulogy. We were all honored to do these things. Here are the words I shared about this wonderful woman.

This past Sunday, a beautiful, clear, sunny day, Edna passed from this life. My father in law, John, once made a statement to his daughters about Edna that has become something of a family joke. He said, “Girls, your mother swims upstream”. True to those words and the words of the poet Dylan Thomas, she did not “go gentle into the good night”. The last couple of weeks were difficult but in her final moments she surrendered and surrounded by Denise, Pam, and Judy, she left this world in peace. I was also blessed to be in the room at the time of her passing and earlier in the day I was able to have my time alone with her. I gently held her hand and thanked her for everything she had done for me and everyone else. I prayed with her and told her we would all be fine and that she could let go and be with John. She must have heard me because she died a little while later.

I have been part of the Clements family for over 35 years. From the very beginning Edna embraced me and treated me more like a son than a son in law. She had a smile that would light up a room and a heart as big as life. If our family life together was a movie, John may have been the producer but Edna was the director. She was the real go to person if there was a problem. We knew she was the power behind the throne. This tradition has continued with Denise, Pam, and Judy. They are strong women. If you doubt it, ask their husbands.

Looking backwards over time my mind is filled with memories of life being celebrated. Edna was a hostess beyond compare and boy could she cook! I always preferred eating at her house more than any restaurant. I was overweight most of the time that she cooked on a regular basis. I did not begin to lose weight until she moved into an assisted living home and stopped cooking. We had family dinners that were legendary, not only for the quality of the food and the consumption of wine, but for their length and capacity for laughter and deep discussions. Admittedly, they were curtailed at one point with Edna’s proclamation of “No more Stingers’”! Before that day we had worn out several blenders and emptied many bottles of brandy and crème de menthe.

In addition to the intimate family dinners, I have memories of large Christmas parties for friends and extended family to say nothing of the wonderful weddings that John and Edna provided for all of us. Whatever the occasion, there was Edna with her captivating smile, her humor, and her magnificent hospitality. It is said that everyone has a gift. Edna’s gift may have been the gift of taking care of everyone and making sure they were happy. If Edna was around, your needs were met. Never content with providing one dessert at a meal, Edna would provide three!

Certainly, Edna was a great wife and a wonderful mother. As the husband of one of her daughters I could not have found a better mother in law. In addition to these roles, she was also a wonderful grandmother to my sons, Mike, Jr. and Nick, as well as Rick and Pam’s daughters, Chelsea and Christy. My own granddaughter, Chloe, called her the “old grandma” and loved to sit in her lap. Chloe made one visit to the hospital recently and while there got in the bed with Edna. During other visits in the past they would play peek a boo and both would laugh.

In her final years Edna was sometimes sad. She never got over John’s death five years ago. In spite of this there were still good times. Denise and I would pick her up and take her to the Cracker Barrel for dinner. I still kidded with her on a regular basis and I often made her laugh. Judy appears to have inherited Edna’s gift for cooking and in recent years our Thanksgiving feasts have been created in Judy’s kitchen using Edna’s recipes. Our Christmas Eve’s have been at Pam’s house and every Christmas morning Denise and I would bring Edna to our house, a house where she lived for many years.

I know I am not alone when I say that Edna will be missed. Her passing is the end of an era for our family. However, all of us take comfort knowing that her earthly suffering and sadness are over. We take comfort in our belief that she is now with John and all those she loved in life who preceded her in death. Her life was a life lived well. She loved greatly and was also greatly loved and she has left a huge footprint on our hearts. We are sad today but we will forever have our memories of her to bring a smile to our lips and laughter to our hearts. She would want us to continue what we have always done…celebrate life.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Passing Of My Mother In Law

Early this afternoon, on a beautiful, clear, sunny day, my dear mother in law, Edna Clements, passed from this life. I was blessed to be present in her last hours along with my wife and her sisters. Shortly before her death I was able to spend time alone with her. She was really more like a mother to me than a mother in law. While holding her hand I thanked her for everything she had done for me over the years. I told her what a great mother in law she had been to me and what a wonderful grandmother she had been to my children and granddaughter. I told her how her husband, John, and others she loved who have preceded her in death, were waiting for her. Edna was a grand and classy lady with a smile that lit up a room and a heart as big as life. In the 35 or so years that I have been part of her family we had many, many wonderful times. There are so many stories that could be told. I will be thinking a lot about our family life and our stories over the next day or so. Like I did for my father in law when he died, I have been asked by the family to give a eulogy at her funeral. I consider it a great honor. She will surely be missed and never forgotten.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Home Again...But Alone

I spent last night in the Hospice facility with my wife and her sisters as we continued a bedside vigil for my mother in law. As of this evening she is still with us despite us telling her it is OK to let go. My wife and I came home early this morning to clean up, change clothes, and take a short nap. As we were driving back downtown I had this image of my father in law on the other side of the great abyss saying, "Come on, Edna! Just jump"! She seems so close to death yet it seems so far away. However, despite the waiting and the anticipation I know it might come like a thief in the night and catch us all off guard. Hopefully, all of us, especially my wife and her sisters, will be there to greet it and assist in the hand off of my mother in law from this world to the next one. She is resting most of the time and the Hospice nurses ensure she is comfortable and pain free. We think she is aware of what's going on. Sometimes she opens her eyes and makes sounds or gestures that indicate moments of lucidity. I am home for the night unless my wife calls and tells me her passing is imminent. If she makes it through the night I will rejoin everyone in the morning.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Home For A While

Tonight my mother in law is resting comfortably at the Hospice facility. My wife and I, and other family members, are at our homes. Earlier this evening the Hospice nurse who is caring for my mother in law recommended that everyone go home and get a good night's sleep because we all looked exhausted. She advised us that based on her experience death was not imminent and not likely to occur tonight. She said, "Get your rest while you can. You may not get it later". She promised to watch my mother in law closely and that she would call us immediately if there was a significant change in her condition. We all sensed she was a woman we could trust and that our mother was in good hands. We will all sleep at home tonight and in the morning we will take care of any personal needs before heading back downtown in the morning to resume our vigil.

Today I spent about six hours at Hospice. The same nun who was a chaplain at the time of my father in law's death is still there and was in my mother in law's room when I arrived. Later I ran into a priest I know. The two of us went into my mother in law's room and prayed for her. I'm not sure what my mother in law, a Baptist, would think about having a Catholic priest praying over her but we did it anyway. I was happy earlier in the week while we were still at Suburban Hospital when the nurse asked if we needed the hospital chaplain to stop by. My sister in law, Pam, pointed at me and said to the nurse, "We brought our own". If I am any spiritual comfort to anyone in the family, then I am happy to be used this way.

During a time when I was walking up and down the hallway, I prayed for all the other patients, their families, and all the caregivers. Working in a Hospice is a real ministry. For a few brief moments as I looked out the sixth floor window on the downtown landscape, I was happy to see snow flurries in the air.

Keeping Vigil

For the last three days my wife and her sisters have been keeping an around the clock vigil at their mother's bedside. I have been juggling returning to work and making hospital visits. I have had the luxury of coming home each night to sleep in my own bed. Now I am "officially" on vacation so at least I no longer must worry about going to work. Denise and her sisters are exhausted. They have been dedicated and loving daughters to their mother. At this moment they are all getting a short break. My wife is upstairs sleeping. A little while ago I received a call from one of my sister in law's telling me that my mother in law has been moved downtown to a Hospice facility. In a little while we will all head down there. Hospice is a wonderful organization and they do a fantastic job helping patients and family deal with the end of a life and the issues surrounding it. At the moment I am letting my wife sleep a little longer before we must go downtown to the new facility. I am not sure when I will be able to write again. Please keep my mother in law, who's name is Edna Clements, as well as my wife and her sisters, in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Long Day Filled With Sadness

Today was my first day back to work after a two week medical leave. It was a typical Monday. In addition to getting back in the groove of work, I had lots of catch up to do. This probably seemed more intense than it really was because I only worked half the day. I left work early because I had follow up visits with my family doctor and surgeon. They both gave me a clean bill of health although I still have an open incision that will likely take several more weeks to completely heal. Between my two appointments I stopped at the hospital where my wife and her sisters are with my mother in law. She was admitted to the hospital on the day I was released. She is very ill and we believe these are her last days. My wife cried all last night and still gets easily upset at the thought of her mother leaving us. Although my mother in law is 85 years old, living in an assisted living facility, and in fragile health, you are never ready for a parent to die. Due to the uncertainty of the immediate future, my wife and I have cancelled our trip to the mountains. There will be other autumns for us. Pictured above is a moment from a happier time when my mother in law was well and Chloe was about two years old.

Driving home from my last doctor appointment I passed the small park where I take Chloe to feed the ducks. All of the Christmas decorations are in place and the maintenance workers were testing the lights. I even saw a few...very few...snowflakes in the air.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Home Is In Chaos!

Even though it is a very nasty day, the Queen Mother insisted that we get all the crates full of Christmas decorations into the house. All day long it has been cold and wet. There are now more leaves on the ground than in the trees. The good news is that I was able to take advantage of my recent surgery and avoid the task of hauling the crates from our outdoor shed into the house. Chloe is here for the night so my son, wife, and a neighbor carried everything into the house. Now the entire first floor is full of crates and decorations. Chloe and my wife have begun the process of turning our home into the North Pole. My wife will eventually make everything look beautiful. Although I am not a fan of all the chaos, I do love the beauty of Christmas and the joy it brings to the family. We will wait, however, for my youngest son, Nick, to come home for Thanksgiving vacation before putting up our Christmas Tree.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Other Sides Of Me

Living in peaceful co-existence with my aging hippie, rock and roll persona is another side of me. It is the deeper, more contemplative, introspective part of me. I don't know why I am the way I am. I do believe I have a personality inclined to be a reflective person and a spiritual seeker. Having said this, I am not nearly as religious or holy as some might imagine. Although I was a very religious child, most of my adult life I have been stumbling along the spiritual path that life has laid before me. I can still remember the moment in time when I had my first true spiritual awakening. I was about twenty years old. I was in Cincinnati the morning after attending a rock concert at a place called Ludlow's Garage. I was sitting in a McDonald's across the street from a Catholic church having a cup of coffee. At this time in my life I was at the peak of my youthful hippie experience and I was often in a drug induced haze. This particular morning as I was looking out the window of McDonald's, I could see people coming out of church and in the midst of them was a Franciscan Friar in his brown robes joyfully walking, and nearly bouncing, along the sidewalk. At that moment I felt like I was experiencing a spiritual awakening. Going forward, God seemed to be chasing me day and night. When I could no longer resist the call, I joined a Franciscan community at a place called Duns Scotus College just outside Detroit, Michigan. This was the beginning of a journey that eventually led me to the monastery at Gethsemani. Even though I later determined that spending the rest of my life as a monk was not for me, since that time I have been on a continuous spiritual quest. So, like most people, there are many sides to who I am. I am the fun loving, aging hippie, rock and roller. I am also the family man among other things, i.e., husband, father, son, brother, father in law, friend, and Pa Paw. I don't claim to be great at any of these roles except for being Chloe's Pa Paw and some people's friend. I think I do a pretty good job being a Pa Paw and being a friend to those who choose me as a friend. The glue that holds it all together is the spiritual me that strives to be open to the deeper realities of life, the moments of wonder and awe, and the unity of all things within me. I don't know where life will continue to take me but I will strive to stay on my path and listen for the voice that calls me forward.
Sakka asked the Buddha: "Do different religious teachers head for the same goal or practice the same disciplines or aspire to the same thing?" "No, Sakka, they do not. And why? This world is made up of myriad different states of being, and people adhere to one or another of these states and become tenaciously possessive of them, saying, 'This alone is true, everything else is false.' It is like a territory that they believe is theirs. So all religious teachers do not teach the same goal or the same discipline, nor do they aspire to the same thing."But if you find truth in any religion or philosophy, then accept that truth without prejudice."
-Digha Nikaya
From "The Pocket Buddha Reader," edited by Anne Bancroft, 2000. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Boston,

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In Praise Of Music

I attended my first rock and roll concert in the early Sixties. The older sister of a neighborhood friend took us to see the Beach Boys. It was the original band including Brian Wilson. The opening act was The Kingsmen of "Louie, Louie" fame. Once I heard those electric guitars and vocal harmonies I was hooked for life. In the last 40+ years I have been to a variety of cities and everywhere from hole in the wall blues clubs to intimate theaters, large stadiums and arenas, outdoor venues where I sat in my lawn chair on warm summer nights, and large open air festivals. I have seen obscure musicians and most of rock and roll's superstars. Having said all this, and fully acknowledging that there's nothing like being at a live show, during this time of rest and physical healing, there's a lot to be said for sitting in my Lazy Boy chair and watching well produced concert DVD's on my big screen television and surround sound system. It's like being in the front row without the over exuberance of dancers and beer drinkers. Plus, if I have to pee, I simply pause the show and walk into my own bathroom where there is never a line. I can do this without missing one note of music. Once I am well enough I will continue my rock and roll adventures but for now I will take it easy and sit in my chair.

Once, for the amusement of my friend, Bridget, I wrote my definition of a "Road Warrior". She liked it so much that she eventually turned it into a plaque that she gave me as a Christmas present. It now sits on a shelf in my music room. A big reason that Bridget and I are friends is because we are both music loving Road Warriors.

Road Warrior

An aging and nearly extinct creature who spends all available time and resources searching for the lost chord. These strange and exotic creatures have been known to spend their last dime in pursuit of the chills and emotional satisfaction generated by extended guitar solos, meaningful lyrics, and being with others of their kind. Often misunderstood, they are gentle creatures who enjoy simple pleasures like sitting in their lawn chairs on a summer night while good vibrations fill the space around them. They have even been known to take off their shoes and share a blanket. When dancing, these creatures should not be disturbed!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mitch Mitchell Is Dead

Just about two weeks ago I saw a musical tribute to Jimi Hendrix called "Experience Hendrix". One of the musicians who participated was Mitch Mitchell who was the original drummer for the Jimi Hendrix Experience and who played with Hendrix until Hendrix's death in September, 1970. Tonight's news is reporting that Mitch Mitchell died today in Portland, Oregon. The band in rock and roll heaven is a little larger and music fans on earth are a little sadder.

Home Alone

I woke up this morning in a silent house. My wife had quietly left the house earlier to go to work. I did not even hear the alarm clock go off. After washing the sleepiness from my eyes and face and brushing my teeth, I went downstairs to fix some breakfast. It has been a dreary day with occasional raindrops. With the rain comes the falling of leaves as thousands of them lose their grip on the tree branches. Many are still holding on and much to my happiness there is still color in the landscape. In the last couple of days I have needed to run some errands. One was to my doctor's office to give the office manager my FMLA papers. Another was to visit my sick mother in law in Suburban Hospital. She entered the hospital the day I was discharged. As a result my poor wife has been on hospital duty for ten days now. I am not sure what it worse, to be the patient or to be the person who must visit the patient. Even though my activity has been limited, I am realizing I need to take it easier. I am quickly fatigued. Today I decided to do as little as possible. After breakfast I simply sat in my chair with morning coffee and the daily news. I have discovered a new coffee. Celestial Seasons, of herbal tea fame, has gotten into the coffee business. I bought a bag entitled "Morning Thunder" and it's pretty good. Later in the day I watched some music DVD's. At some point I fell asleep so I let the body do what it needed to do. So, it has been a quiet and restful day with minimal activity which is just what I needed. I feel pretty good but the incision on my side has a ways to go before it is healed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cosmo The Dog

Chloe has a little dog named Cosmo. He is the perfect dog for Chloe. He's very friendly, non aggressive, and she loves him. Whatever is going on, including decorating the Christmas tree, he has to be in the middle of it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Christmas Comes Early For Chloe

Chloe is moving into a bigger bedroom. Mommy is changing her older, smaller bedroom into an office because she will soon be working from home. An over abundance of toys may also be a contributing factor. Chloe's new bedroom had previously been used for storage. Part of what was stored in there were Christmas decorations. When Christmas is only a little over six weeks away what better thing to do with the Christmas tree and other decorations than to put them up! My whole family, including me, loves this time of year when the holidays are upon us. Since my little guys are now grown men, it is a great thing to have a child in the family again. I was tired of being the only one left. As you can imagine Chloe loves Christmas and she finds everything about it exciting. Many of her daycare friends think I am Santa. Chloe, however, knows I am not. She looked at me once and said, "You're not Santa. You're Pa Paw"! Being Pa Paw is a better deal. I get to see Chloe more often and it doesn't matter if she's good or bad. She can have anything she wants if I am around. It's difficult to believe that Christmas is not too far off. The weather is cooler but not cold. The weatherman, however, did say we might see snow flurries sometime over the weekend. Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Prayer In The Hospital And Beyond

I believe it is safe to say that when you are a patient in a hospital you are easily moved to prayer. A hospital stay is never welcome, you usually feel awful and you are nervous and anxious about what is or what may be wrong with you. I certainly experienced all of this in the past week. My prayer was simple and involved few words. Mostly it was me quietly saying, "O God, please take care of me". I did have one experience where I deeply felt God's presence. It was mid week about 5:30 AM. Mornings begin early in the hospital. Most days nurses were waking me up in darkness to take my blood. After one such bloodletting I was sitting upright in my bed. Although I could hear activity outside my room, it was mostly quiet. The morning sun was slowing rising and light was showing through the trees in the park outside my window. I simply sat in silence and bathed in the moment. Occasionally I would whisper a mantra like prayer but for the most part I was still and quiet. I was overwhelmed with peacefulness and God's presence seemed palpable. It was a holy moment and the rest of the day I seemed to float in complete harmony with everything.

Although my life and spirituality have certainly been influenced by the monastic life as lived at Gethsemani, in reality I have a Franciscan heart and the spirituality of St Francis of Assisi is closer to who and what I am. Last week I received the following thoughts from Father Richard Rohr.

St. Bonaventure, building on the Franciscan experience of the Incarnation, saw the "traces" or "footprints" of God everywhere. The "journey of the mind to God" was to learn how to see the unity of all being, how to listen to the hidden God and how to read the footprints that were everywhere evident. The result was a life of gratitude and reverence and simple joy—a Franciscan spirituality. Thus Bonaventure, like most great saints, combined a highly contemplative personality with very active and effective ministry in secular and practical affairs. These words are from Richard's book entitled Radical Grace: Daily Meditations.

My spirituality and my prayer are simple. They do not involve a lot of words or disciplined practices. Sometimes I refer to the spirituality of my life. My prayer is my life and actions. It is being aware and present to the moment. It is simple joy and deep gratitude. It is full of wonder and awe with all of life. It is getting lost in the autumn beauty that currently surrounds me. It is swimming in the ocean that is God. It is life.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Election of Barack Obama

While in the hospital it was a great disappointment to me that I was not able to vote. I very much wanted to cast my vote and be part of such an historic moment. The good news is that my choice, Barack Obama, did not need my vote to win. I was also disappointed that I was not at home on election night watching the returns with my wife. Both of us were very much looking forward to watching the electoral votes rolling in. As destiny would have it, I shared much of the evening and the results with my African American nurse. Throughout the night she would come into my room to check on me and to get an update on the voting results. Shortly after Barack Obama reached the required 270 electoral votes needed to win, she came into my room. We gave one another the high five and we hugged. We also spent some time afterwards sharing our hopes and dreams for the future. I am not ashamed to admit that Barack Obama's election brought tears to my eyes. His moment of victory was very emotional for me. I believe he is a truly charismatic person and that he will be a great leader, not only in the United States, but on the world stage as well. I have high hopes for where this man will lead us. I know a good man when I see one. I know Barack Obama was not every one's choice but I urge my Republican friends to be not afraid and to share in the hope this man brings.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Where Have I Been?

It is late on Friday afternoon and I have just returned home after five days in Baptist East Hospital. On Monday I had surgery and for the rest of the week I have been lying in my hospital bed being pumped full of antibiotics. A little over a week ago I thought I had a pimple on my stomach. It got worse and worse. Eventually I thought the pimple was a boil. It, too, got worse and worse. Last weekend it was very painful. Because of it I cancelled a trip to the monastery. Early Monday morning I decided to go the emergency room to have the "boil" lanced. I never made it home until this afternoon. The boil turned out to be an abdominal abscess that was caused by multiple infections including a staph infection of unknown origin. The strange thing is that other than the pain associated with the abscess, I didn't even feel sick. Once admitted to the hospital I had multiple lab tests, a CAT scan, and a Echo cardiogram. The doctor was amazed I didn't feel bad because, in her words, "You are a very sick boy". I am going to live but I must continue to take antibiotics for ten more days and I have an open wound on my side that must be packed twice a day with clean dressings until it heals. All of this is complicated by being diabetic. It is extremely important for my recovery to keep my blood sugar under control. Please pray for my speedy recovery. If you are someone I work with, I have no idea when I will be returning to the office but hopefully it will be soon!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Quiet Saturday

Last night I had a steady flow of trick or treaters knock on my door. The last one, a three foot tall skeleton, came in my house and decided to spend the night with my wife and me. Yes, Chloe spent a rare Friday night with Grandma and Pa Paw. Her sweet little voice woke me up at 7:30 AM today. We got up, fixed some breakfast, and watched "Over the Hedge" for the 457th time. We've almost worn it out. When it was time to go home I met a wall of resistance until I suggested that we stop at park on the way home and feed the ducks. She was all for that so we gathered some duck food and headed for the park. Today was a warm but beautiful autumn day. The leaves are getting more colorful by the day. After feeding the ducks we walked over to the playground and rode the slide for a while. After I took Chloe home and returned to my own home I spent most of the afternoon on the couch moving as little as possible. For the first time in my life I have a boil. It is on my side and it hurts like hell. It has been a while since I have felt such pain and discomfort. I first noticed it last Tuesday so I am hoping I am near the end of it's lifespan. Last night in bed Chloe accidentally bumped me in the stomach and I thought I was going to jump out of the bed! It's so painful I am tempted to stay home tomorrow but I won't unless I wake up in the morning and just can't move. Since it is the first Sunday of the month I will be going to the monastery. Along the way I will stop and see my friend, Fr. Dennis.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Tomorrow is Halloween. Here is a picture of my granddaughter in her skeleton custom. She used to be afraid of skeletons until I told her we all had one inside our skin. Today in my office we had a pumpkin decorating contest. My co-workers created the pumpkin seen above. Guess who inspired it?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Mother

Today was a pretty good day although I was in a fog most of the time. I was sleeping very well early this morning when the alarm clock went off. It was dark outside and one of the coldest mornings we've had since last winter. All I wanted to do was stay in my warm bed. As I was preparing for work, my mother was in the hospital being prepared for surgery. My mother, who will be 79 years old in December, is generally in good health, lives alone since my father was moved into the nursing home, and for the most part is very independent. She recently went to the doctor after experiencing symptoms of unusual fatigue. After an examination her doctor deemed it necessary to have some minor surgery to relieve some blockage in an artery. She got through the surgery very well and tonight is resting in the ICU of a local hospital. I expect her home in a day or two. The picture here is the most recent photo I have of my father and mother together. It was taken in September after the Alzheimer's walk I did with other members of my family.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Back To Reality

I was missing my granddaughter this afternoon so I decided to pick her up at the daycare center. After a night of rock and roll, nothing brings me back to reality like my granddaughter. After parking my car I was walking to the entrance of the daycare when I saw a familiar silhouette out on the playground. It was Chloe. Before she saw me a chorus of little voices shouted, "Chloe, your Pa Paw is here"! Chloe stood up from the dirt pile she was playing in and looked around. As soon as she spotted me she bolted for the fence like an Olympic sprinter. When she got to where I was standing she lifted up her arms. I grabbed her hands and then she proceeded to scale the fence. Soon she was in my arms giving me a big hug. After I strapped her in her car seat we headed downtown to pick up Grandma. Along the way we talked about all kinds of things. She pointed to the sky and told me the clouds looked like fish. We then agreed that the sky was blue like the ocean and the clouds were all fish swimming around. Quite an imagination! After we picked Grandma up, we inched our way through the evening rush hour stopping for some dinner before coming to my house. Once there we had a very enjoyable time until Dad arrived from work to take her home. It was the perfect ending to a very pleasant day.

Chloe Carves A Pumpkin!

Some Music Loving Friends

Experience Hendrix

I am once again at home. It is the day after the night before. Last night was another great musical experience. A tribute concert called "Experience Hendrix" played at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Some of today's finest guitar players, along with Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell, played a wide selection of Jimi Hendrix's musical legacy. Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell played bass and drums with Jimi Hendrix at such famous events as the original Woodstock and the Isle of Wight Festival. After the show I met Billy Cox and told him that I had seen him play with Jimi Hendrix in 1970 at the Atlanta Pop Festival. I also remembered last night that my friend Tom and I saw the original Jimi Hendrix Experience almost 40 years ago on November 15th, 1968 at the Cincinnati Gardens. We were 17 years old at the time. I still have the ticket stub showing the $5.00 price tag. The ticket for last night's "experience" cost $65.00! Still, it was worth every penny! I got to see Eric Gales, Eric Johnson, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Sheperd, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, Chris Layton, who played drums for Stevie Ray Vaughn, Cesar Rojas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Hubert Sumlin, who played lead guitar for Howlin Wolf, and the always incredible Buddy Guy. Let me tell you, folks, there was some incredible guitar playing going on last night. The combination of musical virtuosity and all the memories generated by the great songs that have been part of my life made for a most enjoyable evening. The picture of the musician's tour bus was taken by my friend Bridget.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Finally....A Truly Restful Weekend!

This weekend, and especially today, have been truly restful. There were no little people in my house this weekend. Other than visiting my Dad yesterday, I had nothing that I needed to do. I slept in both days. I had nowhere to go and all day to get there. This morning I got out of bed at a decent hour, came downstairs, and brewed some Seattle's Best coffee. While it was brewing I walked outside for my Sunday newspaper. It was a cool morning and I knew there was promise of a beautiful day. At some point I put yesterday's chili back in the crock pot because chili is always better the second time around. I also did a few loads of laundry. Some people hate doing laundry. I actually enjoy it. While the chili simmered and the washing machine hummed, I read a few chapters from "Surprised by Joy" by C.S. Lewis. It was a very old edition, published in 1955 and had a price on the cover of $2.95. Where can you find books that cheap anymore? The early part of the book deals with Lewis's childhood and the forces and events that formed him. I found all this very interesting as I have an acute curiosity bordering on obsession with the circumstances of my own childhood and formative years. I've had a lifelong interest in unraveling the mystery of who I am and why I act and think the way I do. As the day got long, and the shadows lengthened outside my window, I decided on a rest from the rock and roll I was listening to and I simply sat in my chair, staring out the window, while Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" lifted my soul with its odes to Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. My son, Nick, also called this afternoon. He arrived safely in Washington D.C. He's there to visit some graduate level colleges in the Washington and Baltimore areas. Next year he will likely continue his seminary training at either Catholic University in Washington or St Mary's Seminary in Baltimore.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thomas Merton And The Dalai Lama

Anyone who has read my thoughts for any length of time knows what an influence Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama have been on my life and thinking. In Louisville there is a famous intersection where Merton had an epiphany and spiritual awakening that changed his whole way of looking at the world. There is an historical marker near the intersection commemorating the event. Less than a block away, near the Cathedral of the Assumption, a banner has been permanently displayed to commemorate another significant event in Merton's life. Shortly before his death in 1968, Merton met a then young Dalai Lama. There is a famous photo of this meeting that has been circulating for years. The banner that has been displayed is an enlargement of this photo. Earlier this week was a small dedication ceremony for this new memorial. I checked it out on Friday and it was great to see two of my spiritual mentors starring down at me.

Saturday With My Father

I have just returned home from visiting my father in his nursing home. Even though much of my life I have not had an especially close relationship with my father, I want to honor him in his old age and visit him on a regular basis, along with my siblings, so he does not feel forgotten. Regular visits from the family also keeps the nursing home on its toes. They never know when we will be there. I must admit, however, that whenever I am there the staff is very nice and seem to be attentive to the needs of the patients. As I walk around, I observe everything. In my opinion, the majority of people who work as caregivers for the elderly are saints. The elderly can be very trying at times. Today my father was in a fairly good mood but there was also a fair amount of complaining, i.e., he had been in bed too long, the nurses were too slow, dinner wasn't very good, he was "cramped", he had some diaper rash or other irritation, and his fingers on one hand were drawing up on him. Some of these were legitimate complaints and others were merely perceptions of time exasperated by some impatience. I did my best to comfort his mind and reassure him everything would be fine. I made sure the nursing staff attended to his physical concerns. While waiting for the nurses to check him out and get him back in bed, I walked in the hallway and prayed for Dad and all the other patients in the home. Theirs is not a happy existence and the thought of having the experience myself fills me with dread.

Although I will visit my father in the nursing home as long as he lives, I must admit that I hate going there. It is a sad and exhausting experience. Whenever I do it I am wiped out by the time I leave. On the way home today I stopped for a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke. I simply sat in my car with the windows down, letting the cool autumn air revive me. The drive home was beautiful. The leaves are changing colors and the trees are still full. The air is cool and the sun is bright. Sitting here in my room at my tiny desk, the house smells of the chili that is simmering in the crock pot. It is a beautiful day.