Thursday, April 10, 2014

sunshine, babies, and friends for the journey

The sun in shining here in Pensacola and I am grateful for that.  The weather lately has felt an awful like the overcast year I spent in Pennsylvania almost a decade and a half ago.  It is incredible how fast time flies.  Jessica and I got a run in this morning before we both ran off to tackle the day.  I have come to appreciate those incredibly small pieces of valuable time.  Three thoughts this morning, as has become customary.

1.  My best friend John called last night to announce a new addition to their family, a beautiful little girl.  Which was timely in light of some reading I have done this week on the declining population in Japan and the commoditization of anything relating to relational interaction.  The rejection of God and family in favor of narcissism.  An interesting juxtaposition.

2.  Lent has been personally meaningful this year, and I have made more progress in the area of recognizing my inordinate attachments than I've been able to muster in years past.  Fr. Robert Barron wrote this morning about the interesting stories of several athletes who have trashed their careers and reputations (often at their pinnacles) with steroid use.  Barron writes of our addiction to honor, recognition, and what amounts to the desire for immortality. 

3.  We have company in town this weekend.  Bob and Monika Brown will travel up from Sarasota to see us and watch the kids play soccer on Saturday.  I cannot imagine what life would be like without really great people to walk with. 

I'll leave you with the words from Cicero's essay "On Friendship," that chill me to the bone lately:

Esse quam videri
Be, not seem.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

insomnia, bagpipes, and big questions

Woke up at midnight and stumbled to the fridge for orange juice.  Reminded me of the time as an undergraduate when I did the same thing, only to look over and see my good friend Cliff standing at my window peering into my dorm room.  Opened the window to ask whether it was really the middle of the night and whether he was really standing there, as I do tend to have odd dreams from time to time.  He was looking for a plunger.  Sublime.  Life seems to happen that way.  Laid back in bed tonight and couldn't fall asleep.  So I decided to get up, set up camp in the dining room and do a little reading and writing.  If I am still wide awake at 4:00, I may go get my run knocked out.  Three thoughts on this very quiet evening, as has become customary:

1.  Jessica and the kids traveled with me to Tampa this week.  I had a half day mediation in a case that settled on Wednesday, and we got to eat a few meals together and generally enjoy ourselves.  Jessica and I celebrated our anniversary on Tuesday night and had dinner at the Columbia with Flamenco dancers in the background.  A lot of fun.  They took in a museum and we all lounged at the pool.  We took turns picking Pandora stations while we were in the car.  Bryton is into bagpipes of all things, so we cruised around with the windows rolled down listening to bagpipes and smiling as people looked at us like we were crazy.  The kids roared and I found myself giving thanks.  I lead a pretty charmed life.

2.  I read somewhere that Lent is a time to kindle our fire for God.  I like that description.  It seems better than a time of self-flagellation and bizarre dietary adventures.  I have elected for both abstention, as well as an affirmative obligation.  Both of which I am holding to.  I will work myself entirely through the Psalter before Easter.  Thankful for the awareness that there is still much work to be done. 

3.  A good friend and I are slowly working our way through Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Direction.  He asks light questions like, who am I?  Prompting me to think a great deal about identity and the measuring sticks that I use.  Nouwen is teaching me to embrace the big questions.  Investigate.  Wrestle with God and to speak with Him both reverently and openly.

Gratitude Share launched last week, George Brookhart did an amazing job putting the platform together.  I'll leave you with a piece from Spiritual Direction:

" ... [I]n the the words of Ranier Maria Rilke's advice to a young poet, 'what is going on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.'

Frequently, we are restlessly looking for answers, going from door to door, from book to book, or from church to church, without having really listened carefully and attentively to the questions within."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

tuesday post in five minutes or less ....

I have been slow on writing lately, so a quick break to jot something down.  Three thoughts on this bright, cool Tuesday afternoon, as has become customary:

1.  I am slowly working through Thomas Merton's Contemplative Prayer.  I cannot help but wonder to some degree if it reflects a tendency to complicate the very simple.  Perhaps my roots still cause me to bristle against too much formality (or form, for that matter) in the realm of prayer.  And it seems that there is some tension between this writing and Merton's personal observations that there is a seeming preference for the deeply personal, non-communal, and non-liturgical.  Or perhaps I have simply read this tension into his writing for my own reasons.

2.  I am mindful that peace comes as direct result of obedience.  Circumstances may change, but that a peace that surpasses all understanding, even in the midst of chaos, can accompany willingness to remain obedient.  I have been thinking a great deal about Mother Theresa's directive to Henri Nouwen, that all of his complicated bedevilments would be resolved if he would only spend an hour a day honoring God, and not intentionally do anything he knew to be wrong.  Simple.  Not easy, even for Nouwen, a "spiritually accomplished" Yale divinity professor.

3.  George Brookhart and I are working together to launch the platform for the "Gratitude Project."  The goal is to develop a forum for the public to post and read stories of gratitude.  I can hardly imagine a more appropriate way to remain mindful of the grace we are shown.

I'll leave you with a powerful reminder from Contemplative Prayer:

"We do not want to be beginners.  But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!"

Thursday, December 12, 2013

spiritual illusions, childlike foolishness, and snarky letters

It is a cool north Florida morning!  Not as cold as Massachusetts.  But colder than this Florida boy is used to.  Three thoughts on this bright Thursday morning as has become customary:

1.  Attended Lectionary lunch yesterday, where a great conversation was had on the awe that we encounter in Advent.  How it helps us develop the capacity to turn everything on its head.  I was reminded again how our perceptions can so often be dulled by this world and that we are frequently incorrect about the things that we are so sure of.  I am mindful of the fact that we often cannot see the things that are right in front of us.  Slate put out a great optical illusion this week (see below).  Look at the photo.  Which square is darker?  Block the white middle part with your finger.  Crazy, isn't it?  Makes me wonder how many things I am sure of because I can "see them" are wrong.  And the inverse, am I wrong about many things I cannot see?

2.  I heard a parent tell the story recently that her young daughter had announced she didn't believe in God because "He'd never done anything for her."  Amazing how we adults use the same arguments as children for things we are certain of, i.e., God has never done anything for us (See point 1).

3.  Reading through a small book on the Prayer of Jabez.  My prayer today is that my territory (circle of influence) would be an effective and fertile ground for God to work through me.  I ask for relief from my obsession with security and any lingering intimations in my prayers that in the end, that is the only thing I really seek.

Finally, I read last night a letter Karl Barth sent to Karl Rahner in 1968.  Talk about making one feel stupid.  I wasn't ever sure what Barth was saying (it was in English, so I have no good excuse).  Remarkable to watch great minds work from afar.  On occasion, that is enough for me.  I'll leave you with the aforementioned Prayer:

"Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!"  1 Chronicles 4 9-10

optical illusion

Monday, December 9, 2013

not all smoke and mirrors

Small excerpt from latest project.  Peace be with you on this day!

The scene in the sixth chapter of Isaiah is rich and powerful.  God is surrounded by smoke and angels and we can imagine the smell of incense and the sheer holy weight of the air.  “Holy, holy, holy,” as we come into the overwhelming presence of the Divine.  The Proverbs tell us over and over again that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  And in that smoke filled temple, Isaiah recognizes the overwhelming awe of the Master who has called him, crying out, “Woe to me, I am ruined!”  He is a broken man amongst a broken people.  And I love the image of Isaiah standing there as God asks whom shall He send.  I see Isaiah looking around with a dopey furrowed brow and saying to himself, “yeah, who can He send?”  Then realizing suddenly that maybe, just maybe – he can be an instrument for this incredible, smoky, perplexing God.  He changes in that moment.  He becomes a theology of conversion, a faith that rises out of the ashes of his humanness and brokenness.  By the very nature of this Holiness and our conversion, at that very moment, we are called to repentance.  The cost of grace is none other than our thereafter unceasing conversion.  With an awareness of our unworthiness we come to see that only because of Christ’s legal intercession – we are worthy of The Call.  Here I am, consume, change, and send me.  Father, accept our small offerings of metanoia.[1]
The Spanish Jesuit, Baltasar Gracian, opens his pensees in the Art of Worldly Wisdom as follows:

Everything is at its peak of perfection.  This is especially true of the art of making one’s way in the world.  There is more required nowadays to make a single wise person than formerly to make the Seven Sages of ancient Greece, and more is needed nowadays to deal with a single person than was required with a whole people in former times.   

This is not the musing of a modern social critique.  Gracian wrote in the 1600s.  Four hundred years ago and again today the flood of information presents old challenges in the makings of the wise.  Perhaps humanity has spent too much time trying to get God to explain himself. However you slice it, there are plenty of cutting agnostic apologetics.  As Gracian and perhaps even the shrewdest of clerics might observe, there is some risk in the proliferation of knowledge.  It goes back to the garden.  And yet, we find ourselves today in a state which is at the peak of its perfection.  I submit to you that we have a better opportunity today to know God than has existed throughout mankind.  We needn’t fear questions of progress and relevance.  Our current condition need not be interpreted as the inevitable and irreversible rejection of faith.  I submit to you that we are sitting on a powder keg of Divinity.   

[1] The classical Greek Translation is “repentance” or “new mind.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

daughters, adventures, and college Presidents

Kids are fed and entertaining themselves for a few minutes.  I am not sure where the dogs are, which is not always a good thing.  Jessica meeting with friends this evening.  I get a few minutes to jot something down.  A few sublime moments which will serve as a safety valve to bleed some swirling thoughts from this soul.  We ship off for Massachusetts on Friday.  Is it insane that I am even looking forward to two days in the car to watch patient miles go by, read, nap, and maybe listen to podcasts?  It may be that my journeying romanticism will fade by mile (92).  Only the asphalt will tell.  Three thoughts on this grace filled Tuesday night, as has become customary.

1.  I am ill prepared to raise a teenage daughter.  God, help.  Enough said.

2.  When I got home this evening, I flopped onto our bed and looked through the "Adventure Book" my wife made for me a few years ago.  It is stuffed with silly emails, love letters, and pictures from the first years of our relationship.  We have put miles behind us.  My daughter asked me tonight, "Do you still have a crush on mom?"  I smiled and told the truth.  Then she asked questions about marriage and love.  Jessica and I laid in bed last night and read some poems, the opening pages of Seven Storey Mountain (among my favorite writing out there) and ate a snack in the kitchen before bed.  It was a simple piece of time, but very memorable in its extraordinary ordinariness.  I've striven for better awareness as to where I end and others begin and maybe in getting to that place I am actually learning how to love someone.  And I suspect God being in His role rather than that Divine role being imposed on those close to me helps. 

3.  Heard a remarkable talk by Gen. Charles Krulak last week (past Commandant of the United States Marine Corps), who now serves as President of Birmingham-Southern College.  He gave a similar talk at the Naval Academy several years ago which is out on Youtube.  Listening to guys like Krulak  can get me feeling inadequate.  But his talk inspired me to think about the importance of sacrificing for others, the centrality of integrity, and the need to maintain "courage under fire" in both combat and daily life.

Tom Merton introduced me to Rainer Maria Rilke last night.  I'll leave you with Day in Autumn, as we enter these cooling days and the death and birth of seasons:

After the summer's yield, Lord, it is time
to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials
and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.

As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.

Whoever's homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along with the city's avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

stray cats, a waiter named Christ, and bumper stickers

It is well with my soul.  I have taken a break from most of what I am reading and am working through Anne Lamott's book, Traveling Mercies.  I like it.  My favorite part has been her explanation of the point of surrender in her own life.  How she felt the presence of Christ following her like a stray cat.  And how at that critical moment, she simply gave up.  Her writing is raw and sometimes strange.  Maybe even sometimes too raw and strange, but somehow I suspect that it not embellished and I admire honesty.  I am in Tampa until tomorrow afternoon.  I always feel like I am operating in a parallel universe when I travel.  And I miss my family.  But my son did get up this morning at 5:00 to eat waffles with me and read the Proverb for the day before I left.  I never got up that early when I was (8), period.  Didn't matter if my dad was going out of town or not. Though I was always excited to see what he'd brought home when he took off for a couple of weeks in Panama.  Three thoughts on this very nice evening, as has become customary.

1.  I met Christ today.  Well, not the one you are probably thinking of.  I decided to have dinner at the Columbia in Ybor City and he was my waiter.  I couldn't resist asking him about his name, and he rather blandly informed me that they had simply shortened his name so it would fit on his tag.  But it reminded me of a great story Wesley Wachob recently told about not knowing when we are entertaining angels. I suspect it is the same with Christ.  We never know for sure when the very unassuming person we are encountering in our common, benign, everyday life, is Christ.  Which puts a completely different spin on things.  Completely different.

2.  Grace has been on my mind.  On my drive over to Gulf Breeze to meet with friends last Thursday, my thoughts were on grace.  As I drove over the bridge, a song on the radio spoke of grace.  And in case the message wasn't getting through, I looked over and the truck slowly passing me had a big ol' bumper sticker with "GRACE" written on it.  Nothing else, just grace.  For some reason as I was reading last night, I thought to tell my bumper sticker grace story to my wife.  Then, within (5) minutes, I turned to the next chapter in the book I was reading, which was titled ... "Grace."  Ok, God.  I'm paying attention.  Honest. 

3.  God willing, the tree house will be completed this weekend.  I am so thankful for the friends who have helped me with the process.  Steve, George, David, Lewis.  It is great having people in our lives who help us build things.  When it is done, I'll get some pictures up of the process.  I hope that it will be the site of a great deal of wild eyed imagination, storytelling, and reading.  Good to have places like that.

I am off to bed.   Travel blessings.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

running shoes, discernment, and cooler days

Got to the park this morning for my run shortly after 5:00 AM.  Remembered to bring a towel, the dog's leash, and even the dog.  Forgot my running shoes.  Then couldn't find my cell phone on my way out the door to head off for work and ran around the house blaming everyone for having moved it.  My daughter called and figured out it was tied up in my lunch bag in the running truck, along with my wallet.  Put there by me.  Then spilled smoothie all over my pants as I entered the truck.  As far as I can tell, I did manage not to make anyone cry. Small graces.  Weird morning.  But, I am up and moving and the day holds promise.  And Jessica is back from Chicago and I managed not to burn the house down while she was gone.  Though I did apparently overload the washer (apparently all the soap doesn't leave bedding when this happens), and our son made a point to let everyone know he bled three times while she was gone over the weekend (fell at the park once, scraped his leg (I think) and splinter in the hand).  Perhaps a reminder to be mindful of trinity.  And in that spirit, three thoughts has has become customary.

1.  I am working through Henri Nouwen's Discernment.  I like it a great deal.  I am drawn to the idea of discernment being a process and the permission that comes along with that.  I want microwave discernment. As with just about everything relating to spiritual health, I am learning this is not how things operate.

2.  I also appreciate Nouwen's reminder that our times with God (daily) will not always feel fruitful.  This is no reason to abandon them.  That in returning diligently to the sacred space, we draw closer, and closer.

3.  I am already thinking about Thanksgiving.  I love this time of year.  I love the weather, the calm which comes with the cooling days.  I love the way that the light changes.  We will be traveling to Plymouth this year, and will hopefully spend a day or two on Cape Cod and in Newport.  I haven't been in that part of the country for roughly ten years.  I am excited about a week with my family.

Life is good.  I'll leave you with a short piece from Discernment:

The way I become aware of God's presence is in that remarkable desire to return to that quiet place and be there without any real satisfaction.  And I notice, maybe only retrospectively, that my days and weeks are different when they are held together by these regular and "useless" times.  God is greater than my senses, greater than my thoughts, greater than my heart.  I do believe that God touches me in places that are hidden even to myself.  And I do believe that when I pray I am in touch with the divine presence reflected in my heart.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

rock stars, potters, and foxes

Stunning                                                           Photographs                                                           That Will                                                           Leave You in                                                           AweIt has been a hectic week already! Coming up for air.  Returned from Manresa recently and have been working through the Examen daily with renewed vigor.  It was particularly powerful this morning as I rounded my way about the edges of the airport with Duchess (not sure that is the approved Jesuit format, running shoes, sweating, and physically moving).  Three thoughts, as has become customary, on this Wednesday afternoon.

1.  I finished Bonhoeffer's Life Together, as well as Metaxas's Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  Both were powerful.  I was especially moved by Bonhoeffer's description of the special time that exists in the early hours of the morning.  I'd read about the significance of the rising sun before (hard to conceive of the wonder of light coming into darkness when we are now so accustomed to artificial light), but it was presented in Life Together  very movingly.  I am always astounded at anything I read about Bonhoeffer's life.  I described him to someone the other day as a rock star.  What strikes us as a compelling personality changes.  I was powerfully reminded that our journey deeper into faith is not about escape.  I have without question viewed it that way.  I see that now.  Rather, it is about being fully engaged in the life that we live, with the grace of God being ever increasingly at the center of our awareness and consciousness.

2.  One of the graces I took away from Manresa was a timely reminder that we are constantly being made.  I always think of the potter.  I sometimes allow that truth to slip from my mind.  I feel fortunate enough to be plagued with enough defects to have no real risk of indulging in too much spiritual pride. Perhaps my Lord knows it must be that way for this man.  I was also reminded that being part of family is a vocation.

3.  Worked through chapter 16 in Luke today with my Lectionary group.  I remain utterly puzzled by verse 9, but I am somewhat convinced that we are being challenged to be shrewd in our faith.  So often we are described as sheep in the scriptures.  And yet it seems that Christ liked to turn things on their heads.  So what does a shrewd, "fox like" faith look like?  I think it's more complicated than I can imagine.

I'll leave you with a short piece from Merton's chapter on vocation in No Man Is An Island:

Each one of us has some kind of vocation.  We are all called by God to share in His life and in His kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom.  If we find that place we will be happy.  If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy.

Our vocation is not a sphinx's riddle, which we must solve in one guess or else perish.  Some people find, in the end, that they have made many wrong guesses and that their paradoxical vocation is to go through life guessing wrong.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

running, conversion, and grace

It is a good day.  Started out with a run with my good friend Clifford, who recently returned from a year teaching in China.  Stepped off at 5:30 and didn't feel like we'd missed a beat.  Although he claims not to have been running much, we ran too fast and my knee is reminding me of this now.  He'll head off for Dallas in a few days, so trying to get in as much time together as possible.  Tonight, tentative plans to sit down face to face and review Book 6 of Augustine's Confessions.  Counting down for my retreat at Manresa in early September.  Three thoughts, as has become customary:

1.    I am compelled by Romans 12:2 today:

Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. 

I have been reading through Eric Metaxas's biography on Bonhoeffer. Such a remarkable man.  I am fascinated by what appears to have been a conversion of sorts while he was in New York.  Unimpressed by Union Theological Seminary, he spent most of his New York time in African American churches.  I think it'd be fair to say that he perceived the suffering of that community as an impetus to earnest worship.  In my own case, my own (self-imposed, mostly) suffering has without question brought me to a place of spiritual teach-ability.  One wonders if there are any who get to that place, really get there, by means other than spiritual death.  Merton, Augustine, Bonhoeffer, Ignatius - all share powerful stories of conversion.  I am more convinced than ever that conversion is the greatest theology.  I am amazed that Bonhoeffer was willing to reject the dark behavior and customs of his time.  Am I willing to reject the dark behavior and customs of my time?  I am amazed that he was willing to do so at his own peril.  Am I willing to do so - or does grace look awfully cheap in my own life?   

2.    I found much truth in the following excerpt from Richard Swenson's book, Margin (emphasis added):

"The concept of unworthiness is a wonderful thing to grasp and is the first step in setting things right.  But getting stuck in it is a spiritually neurotic thing to do and is not God's will.  The call to spiritually accurate self-love is not a denial of our unworthiness but is instead the result of a journey that goes through unworthiness to God."

3.    I was literally overwhelmed upon reading the story of the three American teens who shot and killed a 23 year old Australian man for no other reason than apparent boredom.  The senselessness of it is incomprehensible.  The cycle of racism which flows out of these events is maddening.  I read today on CNN that one of the accused made racially charged tweets several months ago.  As I am reading Metaxas (as well as Malcolm X's autobiography with my oldest), I am struck by the suffering and hate that we allow to flow out of our supposed "racial" differences.  Why do we collectively remain so primitive in this regard? 

Onward with hope and the grace shown to each of us.  Peace of Christ be with you today.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

nature, grace, Legos, and bugs ...

I have returned to the land of the living.  Tentatively anyways.  Spent a few days in Alabama subjecting myself to the bar examination.  God willing, I will never have to do that again.  Have spent the last couple of weeks recovering and getting my stride back.  Picking back up on some projects which have been pushed to the back burner and only now feeling like I've had enough energy in the bank to jot something down.  Three thoughts on this Tuesday night, as has become customary:

1.  I just finished Richard Swenson's book, Margin.  He captures many of the anecdotal conclusions one reaches in examining our current culture with any level of honesty.  We fight an unending wave of information, "progress," and debt filled consumerism.  Well written and effective.  Might be a game changer for this soul.  It further reinforces the conclusion that we must create our own micro-cultures, and do so unapologetically. 

2.  Took in Tree of Life again over the weekend.  Darker than I remembered, but masterful nonetheless.  There exist innumerable choices between the way of nature and the way of grace.  Could our eternal struggle possibly be put more succinctly?

3.  Built a Lego airplane with my son this evening.  Snug as a bug in the rug with my daughter.  These small gifts strike me as the most important things accomplished today.  I feel as if God is giving me more and more perspective these days.  Please keep it coming.

I'll leave you a small piece from The Imitation of Christ:

"Nature is deceitful and draweth away, ensnareth, and deceiveth many, and always hath self for her end; but Grace walketh in simplicity and turneth away from every appearance of evil, maketh no false pretenses, and doth all entirely for the sake of God, in whom also she finally resteth ..."

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wednesday post in five minutes or so ...

It is a beautiful morning out, I got to watch the sunrise over Pensacola Beach while the rest of my family slept.  I took a much needed day off yesterday. No work.  No bar review.  Met with friends early in the morning, went for a run with Jessica, and spent the better part of the day lounging by the pool and even spent a few minutes in the sauna.  Had a great date in the evening with Jessica, ate at Cactus Flower and dessert and coffee at Hemingway's.  Wrapped it all up with fireworks, and a gratitude list in bed as I dozed off with Gracie.  It was a day to be remembered.

Three thoughts on this Wednesday morning, as has become customary:

1.  Our hunting Weimaraner intently pointed at a ... lizard, a week or so.  This is perhaps what happens when you take who knows how many generations of hunting instinct and move it into the semi-urban environment.  I suspect it is the same with our spiritual condition.  We are intuitively hardwired to be connected to the Divine.  Yet, we will often see a poor substitute for that which we are designed to seek, point, and chase it.

2.  As I ran along the beach yesterday, my shadow was split.  Half was in the light sand.  Half on the dark asphalt.  Depending on my movements, I was either more or less in the light.  Got me thinking about the fact that I know how to stay in the light.  I'm not always willing to do what it takes.  I ask that I'd be relieved of that.

3.  I had a very interesting talk with a friend earlier this week about how little time we really spend with those close to us.  I'll spend many hours at work today, and if I am lucky - minutes with those who are closest to me.  I will make a point to intentionally spend some time with those closest to me today, doing whatever it is they'd like to do.  For my son, this may mean a light saber battle (which I must admit, is pretty darn fun).

I'll leave you with a picture of Bryton and the birthday crew from this past Saturday.  Peace be with you!