Tuesday, June 23, 2015


On a day when insecurity rose,
hooked and reeled to the surface by a simple question—
preventative measures failed
and I was tossed into the box,
gasping for assurance,
caught by my lack of confidence.
All day I flopped there—
feeling strength one minute,
uncertainty the next, until
someone touched me, lifted me up, seeing
what was pure,
setting me free to swim in waters of love.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Inside Out

"How terrible it will be for you legal experts and Pharisees! Hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and plate, but inside they are full of violence and pleasure seeking. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup so that the outside of the cup will be clean too.  Matthew 23:25

What we value is where we spend our energy, time and attention. Jesus' warning to the Pharisees and legal experts is as true today as it was then. If we are focused on how we appear to others, we aren't focused on what is within us. Appearances matter in our culture. The clothes we wear, the cars we drive, our hairstyles, jewelry, homes, where our children attend school or summer camp--these can be all-consuming for people, the focus of most of their attention.

Withing the church we may find this emphasis on appearances acted out in a different fashion. Maybe we agree to certain positions in church leadership because they give us power, or we contribute with the notion that we can influence programs in the church. I've heard people say they stopped giving because they didn't like something the church was or wasn't doing. Life can be choked out of ministries when pride of ownership takes priority over the needs of others, when "our" ministry cannot be expanded to include people from outside the church.

Motives matter. If our concern is how we appear to others, our motive is not love of God. A story from the desert illustrates this: A brother asked Abba John of Gaza, "If I settle an account and afterwards discover that I tricked my brother without wanting to, what should I do?" John replied, "If the amount is large, then return it to him. If it is small, then examine your thought carefully, asking, from the contrary perspective--what you would do if you were tricked by him and were about o receive that amount; if you find that you would indeed want to receive it, then you too should return it. If you would not receive it, then neither should you give it, unless the person was extremely poor: for in this case, a small amount would make a big difference. In that case, you should give him what is fair."

This story warns agains prideful morality and instructs us to be motivated by other-focused love. If we insist on giving the amount when the other would not want it, our concern is on being perceived as honest rather than loving the other whom we short-changes. We are more interested in our own respectability than in valuing the other person.

It's especially significant that John says to examine one's thought carefully. Neglect of such examination keeps us from seeing what is at the root of our motivation. Self-reflection is the vehicle for turning our attention from the outside appearance of our cup to the inside. It's not easy to acknowledge the yucky stuff within us. St. Teresa of Avila, in The Interior Castle, speaks of coming to this realization as seeing all sorts of vile creatures in the lower parts of our inner selves. Most folks see that and shut the door to their interior, becasue admitting that ugliness dwells within us, good Christian folk that we are, is mroe than we want to know.

But denial does not make the ugliness go away. If we want to be rooted and grounded in Christ, in love, we simply have to deal with the junk within us. We have to clean the cup from the inside out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Necessity for Silence

We are a culture that does not value silence. We are bombarded by noise, be it music, television chatter, mechanical sounds or podcasts. It is hard to find silent space in our lives, and for many, silence is uncomfortable. We are so used to constant noise that we don’t know what to do with the rare occasions that there is a void of noise.

I believe one reason we fail to appreciate silence is that it seems unproductive. If we are driving the car and keeping up with the news, or returning phone calls or having our emails read to us by our smart devices, we feel efficient and productive. At the very least, if we aren’t working while driving, we can entertain ourselves with music or podcasts.

The same pattern is repeated in other venues: doctors’ offices, restaurants and airports—even walking down the street. I walk in the early morning and enjoy the songs of birds that signal to me the world is waking up to another day, but many of my neighbors who are walking at the same time don’t hear the birds or other nature sounds because they have their headphones in their ears. I don’t know what they are listening to, but I have to wonder if it is as renewing as the morning sounds of birds, bugs and wind in the trees.

Silence for me is more than simply an absence of noise. It is accompanied by an inner stillness that is essential to being fully present where I am. Silence creates pauses in our lives, allowing us to catch our breath, to remember who we are and whose we are, to reclaim the peace for which we are made. But silence is usually not forced on us or encouraged by our surroundings. We have to want to be silent. We have to seek silence. We have to be intentional about carving out time and space for silence.

I read a line in a book recently that contrasted the spiritual life with a life lived without consciousness. To think that the opposite of living a spiritual life is living a life without consciousness shows me the importance of silence. When our lives are filled with noise, we end up living lives without consciousness. Thomas Merton spoke of the mindlessness of Muzak and how, even if we had to be in places filled with noise, recognizing our yearning for silence keeps us open to be renewed. In contrast, if we are numbed to the noise around us, and have no desire for something different, we cannot be renewed.

Like a field that needs to lie fallow so that depleted nutrients can be restored, we need silence for our own spiritual restoration. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Wide Soul

For the past eighteen months I have been slowly working through a book called All Will Be WellThirty Days with Julian of Norwich. The book pulls material from the sixteen showings Julian received from God. Each of the thirty readings has so much in it that I usually spend weeks working through it.

In the reading I’ve been ruminating on most recently, Julian describes one of her showings, in which she saw the soul as wide as if it were an unlimited realm. That sense of wideness has caused me to ask myself: how wide is my own soul? What would I say causes one’s soul to be wide?

Since Julian says that Jesus lives in the center of our soul, and her showings were revelations of God’s love for us, I think that love and grace likely determine the width of our soul. You can probably name people you’ve known whose soul is wide, because their hearts seem to expand with love for others. These are joyful people, and generous. They are too busy loving others to keep account of how they are treated. They love because it’s way more fun to love than to hold onto resentments. They don’t keep score; they don’t make their love conditional.

One of the wide-souled people I’ve known, who died several years ago, was a woman named Betty Sweet Simmons. Her name fit her perfectly, because she was a dear, sweet woman. When my children were young and performing in a Christmas program at church, I was sad because there were no grandparents coming to see them sing. I invited Betty Sweet to sit with us and thanked her for coming, and she said, “I wouldn’t miss this. These are all my grandchildren.” Her soul was wide enough to encompass all the children of the church, not just her own biological family.

I can’t recall off the top of my head the scripture reference, but the phrase “filled with the fullness of Christ” is one that comes to mind when I think of folks with wide souls. It would be impossible to be filled with the fullness of Christ and possess a narrow soul.

Julian says the soul is as wide as an unlimited realm. So a wide soul really has no boundaries. Its ability to grow and expand is limitless, which means all of life is changing and fresh for those who live with ever-widening souls.

I can think of no finer legacy to leave behind than to be known as one whose soul was wide.