Sunday, December 31, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you aren't afraid of dying, there is nothing you can't achieve.

-- Stephen Mitchell

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Every day is Christmas Day; every minute is a Christmas minute. The child within us is waiting each minute for us to be born again and again.

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

God is within us; we don't need to seek God elsewhere. We have only ourselves to blame if we turn from God, occupying ourselves instead with the trifles of life.

-- Brother Lawrence

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

While I was standing there, quails began to whistle all over the field and in the wood. I had not heard any for weeks and thought sure they were all dead, for there have been hunters everywhere. No, there they are! Signs of life, of gentleness, of helplessness, of providence, of love. They just keep on existing and loving and making more quails and whistling in the bushes.

-- Thomas Merton

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Just as the mind digests ideas and produces intelligence, the soul feeds on life and digests it, creating wisdom and character out of the fodder of experience.

-- Thomas Moore

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

When we are excessively preoccupied with ourselves, we tend to see nothing beyond our own heartaches and problems, and our sense of reality shrinks. It is not surprising that we have trouble believing in the reality of God when we have trouble perceiving any reality at all beyond ourselves.

-- Ronald Rolheiser

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

God is never the object of love. That's just another example of the egoic operating system splitting the field of perception. God is always and only the SUBJECT of love, flowing through our relationships, through our opportunities and also our challenges, through each and every one of the particular conditions we find ourselves in at any given moment. No one and nothing is excluded.

-- Cynthia Bourgeault

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

You are a great being who has been given a tremendous opportunity to explore beyond yourself. The whole process is very exciting, and you will have good times and bad times. All sorts of things will happen. That's the fun of the journey.

-- Michael A. Singer

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

There is nothing more searching in its exhilaration than the experience of meeting the need in another person at the point that the need is most acutely felt.

-- Howard Thurman

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives.

-- Sam Harris

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Every now and then God lifts a corner of the veil and enters into our awareness through various channels, as if to say, "Here I am. Where are you? Come and join me."

-- Thomas Keating

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Sometimes I think there are TWO Orthodoxies (as, perhaps, there are two Christianities) -- the mystical faith of those who glimpse how little we know (and are drawn and driven by love), and the cranky faith of those who appear to know everything already (and wish the rest of us would either agree with them or disappear).

-- Scott Cairns

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

For years, the church kept me safe inside a building. All the while, the Spirit was out here on the streets.

-- Diana Butler Bass

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.

-- The Bhagavad Gita

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

The purpose of meditation practice is not enlightenment; it is to pay attention even at unextraordinary times, to be of the present, nothing-but-the-present, to bear this mindfulness of NOW into each event of ordinary life.

-- Peter Matthiessen

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

We were united by the love and compassion that brought us together, a community without the usual separations, all present in spiritual response to tragedy. It was an experience of heaven on earth. We were in a state of Grace.

-- Sandra Lynn Price
Hurricane Katrina survivor

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Do you want to live in a place where there is no suffering? If you live in such a place, you will not be able to know what is love. Love is born from suffering.

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

If you set the message of a gospel of love against a society enmeshed in hatreds and bigotries and engulfed in greed, you have a real but no necessarily a futile conflict on your hands. There is enough natural grace in the human heart to respond to the challenge of the real message in the gospel -- and enough original sin in human nature to create opposition to it.

-- Reinhold Niebuhr

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Hate is rooted in fear, and the only cure for fear-hate is love.

-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

There are born-again Buddhists, Christians, and Sufis. There are missionaries of every faith who insist that they have found the only true vehicle to God, to awakening, to love. Yet it is crucial to understand that there are many ways up the mountain -- that there is never just one true way.

-- Jack Kornfield

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

City Blog

Writing a blog is like raising a really big dog in the city. It's expensive -- in time if not in money -- and to do it right takes a lot of feeding and watering. And there's a lot of shit to deal with.

But that doesn't stop people from raising really big dogs in the city, and it doesn't stop people from writing blogs. That's me -- raising a blog in the city.

Sometimes I'm not a very good blog owner, though. I don't feed it. I don't water it. I don't take it for a walk around the neighborhood. Sometimes that bothers me and I want to do better. I want to write more. At other times, I'm distracted by whatever shiny object is in front of me at the moment, and I don't care so much about showing up here.

Taoism teaches me not to worry about these shifting patterns of writing and not writing. The blog will write itself if I just let it. Wu wei, as Lao-tzu would put it. But this is not always easy to do. I come from a hardy stock of native worriers, so letting go of worry is as much a problem as it is a practice for me.

Still, here it is. Another blog post, blooming like a day lily in an alley of Tao.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Extremes create their opposites; the wise avoid them. Find the balance in the center, and you will live in harmony.

-- Michael A. Singer

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes the third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.

-- Julian of Norwich

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Reasonable -- that is, human -- men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life.

-- Alan Watts

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sad Blindness

So if Buddha saw it and Lao-tzu saw it and Abraham saw it and Jesus saw it and the Prophet (PBUH) saw it, why can't we see it?

It isn't that we can't see it. It's that we won't let ourselves see it—"it" being the "kingdom of God," as Jesus would put it. Enlightenment. Awakening. Awareness of the currents of Tao flowing through our lives.

What a sad blindness.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

We can never underestimate the power of love, no matter how paltry, no matter how subversive. Much is going on in the shadows beneath dark and impenetrable walls.

-- Kent Nerburn

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Reading the Tao Te Ching

The way I read the Tao Te Ching these days is probably the way most people do. I open it at random and read a chapter. I'll usually read it a couple of times, then pick another chapter and do the same thing, and then maybe one more. I don't usually read more than three or four at one sitting.

At other times, I'll silently ask, which one?, and a number will pop in my mind, and I'll turn to that chapter and follow the same process.

Where the number comes from, I don't care. I don't worry about finding some deep meaning in the chapter, either. I just take it for whatever it is. At the same time, though, it's rare that I don't get something out of the experience.

I've learned to trust this.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lao-tzu's Kingdom

About 15 or so years ago, I was rummaging through a pile of "last chance" books on a cart at a bookstore, and I happened on a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s “English version” of the Tao Te Ching. I picked it up, read a few pages, and decided to buy it.

Up to that point, I'd heard of Taoism, but I didn't know much about it. Mainly, I just knew it was an ancient Chinese religion and that the black-and-white, "yin and yang" circle was one of its symbols.

What I found when I sat down and read it was a beautiful book of 81 poem-like “chapters” supposedly written by a Chinese contemporary of Confucius named Lao-tzu.

But more than that, I found in its pages the kingdom of God. Lao-tzu saw what the Buddha saw. He saw what Jesus saw. He saw what anybody can see who looks and expects to see.

So do I see?

I see what I see, and what I see is enough. But only if I'm willing to believe my eyes.

Sometimes I'm not.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Our little minds are part of the omnipotent mind of God. Beneath the wave of our consciousness is the infinite ocean of God's consciousness. It is because the wave forgets it is a part of the Ocean that it becomes isolated from that oceanic power.

-- Paramahansa Yogananda

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Independence Day

Over the last week, my hometown has made national news twice. Both stories were minor in the grand, national-media scheme of things, but they did show up on at least a few national news sites.

The first event happened a week ago on the grounds of the state capitol after workers finished installing a monument with the Ten Commandments engraved on it. Early the next morning, a car drove into the six-foot monolith and knocked it down, shattering it on the sidewalk.

The second event happened around 2:30 a.m. this past Saturday at a downtown nightclub called the Power Ultra Lounge. A gun battle broke out between different groups, and 28 people came away injured. No one was killed, but several of the wounded are still in area hospitals.

Both of these incidents are evidence of disunity -- of a breaking down of community. But these aren't the usual battles between different segments of society. They’re not conflicts between “tribes.” They’re conflicts within tribes.

The man who allegedly knocked down the monument wasn’t some hot-headed atheist or left-wing radical. According to news reports, he’s a self-proclaimed born-again Christian who's very serious about his faith.

The gunplay at the rap concert was apparently a continuation of a lethal feud that’s been playing out between two rival groups over the last six or eight months. Despite their enmity, both sides come from the same neighborhoods, the same socio-economic group, and the same subculture.

I see this same thing mirrored across America these days -- internecine conflicts within political groups, religious groups, and even families. We've always struggled to get along with those who are not like us. Now we're even struggling to get along with those who are like us.

It makes me wonder if we’ve reached another point in our history where we have to test the bonds that hold us together as a nation. After all, without community, there is no America. There's no great "American Experiment." There's no American Dream.

As I write this on the Fourth of July -- 241 years after we declared ourselves a nation -- do we still want to be The United States of America? Do we still want to be a nation at all? Do we still feel enough collective will to keep the experiment going?

I hope so, but I know it won't come from the top. And it won't rise up from the bottom, either. It'll have to come from the only place true change ever happens -- from within.

So here's my hope for my native land on its birthday. That we look around and recognize once again that one of the best things we have going for us as a nation is each other.

We the People.

Beats the hell out of Civil War 2.0.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Sister Fran, I

My wife's oldest sister (I'll call her Fran) is in her 70s and has spent most of her life in institutional care. For the last two-and-a-half decades since their mother died, she’s lived in a group home in Conway for special-needs clients, but she spends a night with us from time to time. The last time was Saturday night.

She isn't able to stay with us as often as she used to because she broke her pelvis back in September, and it's harder for her to get around now. She does okay, though, especially with the walker the group home got for her.

Getting to be around Fran is one of the joys of my adulthood. Coming to know her over the 13 years my wife and I have been together has been, and continues to be, enlightening on many levels. It makes me sad for all of those years before I met Fran when I didn’t know what I was missing.

It is the Frans of the world who can help us heal as a species. It’s the Frans of the world who force us to change the way we think. It’s the Frans of the world who teach us joy.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Making Tao Real

For Lao-tzu, following the courses and currents of Tao was the way to live one’s life. Simplicity. Humility. Silence. Stillness. Doing without doing. These help make that happen.

He knew there was more than could be seen or heard or smelled or tasted or touched. He realized that to get hung up in names and words like God and Tao and Holy Spirit just muddies the waters. It creates the illusion of divisions where none exist.

What Lao-tzu was writing about was experiential. What Jesus was talking about was experiential. What Buddha was talking about was experiential. We can’t transfer our experiences to one another. Only our limited descriptions of them and our acting out of the parts we can’t explain in words.

There is no Tao, no God, no Holy Spirit until you experience it. You can choose to believe it’s real because people you love and trust have told you to believe it’s real, but that doesn’t make it real. Only after you experience it does it become real.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

The ultimate purpose of the world lies not within the world but in transcendence of the world. Just as you would not be conscious of space if there were no objects in space, the world is needed for the Unmanifested to be realized.

-- Eckhart Tolle

Friday, June 30, 2017

Meaningless and Beautiful

I have friends who have no need -- and no use -- for God. Any God. They’re completely satisfied with the universe of time and space as it churns into being moment by moment without any Divine help.

I understand that. I totally understand that. If I hadn’t been raised in a church that taught me to believe in things that cannot be seen—perceived in any physical way, in fact—then maybe the ten thousand things would be enough for me, too.

But I choose to see more. And there is more. And what I see adds an ineffable layer to that universe of time and space, to all of those ten thousand things.

And when I come back to the real, the real is still here. But brighter. And also meaningless and beautiful.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wealth and Fear

One of the blessings of getting older is that I don't feel quite the same need I used to have for more and more and more. I find myself thinking less about what I don't have and more about what I do have. Gratitude ensues.

Believe it or not, this is one of the reasons I feel sorry for the wealthy of the world. Jesus was right when he said it was easier for "a camel to go through the eye of a needle" than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. I don't think he was talking about wealth. I think he was talking about fear. A fear of the future. A fear of loss of control. A fear of powerlessness. A fear that nobody can be trusted.

Wealth allows for control, and control allows for power, and power allows for security -- which is freedom from fear. We think money can free us from fear. Jesus saw that this is not so, and so he pitied the wealthy because their fear makes it harder for them to open their minds to the presence of [God, Tao, Allah, etc.] -- even though it's all around them and constantly welling up inside them like a spring.

Wealth can spread fear, or it can spread compassion. Great wealth can spread great fear, or it can spread great compassion. My hope is that the wealthier we are, the more compassionate we become.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

In the Scriptures, prayer is always ascribed to the heart, for it is the heart that God teaches and it is through the heart that God enlightens the mind.

-- Jean-Nicholas Grou

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Lunch with Sally

I'm almost certain that somewhere in our conversation (see last two posts), Steve and I ended up talking about people who pray before their meal when they're eating out in public the same way they presumably do at home in private.

He asked me if my family prayed in public when I was a kid, and I explained that my father would say a prayer after we sat down to eat at home, but only at home. We didn't pray in public places outside of church and home. That was considered unnecessary, showy, pretentious, and off-putting.

What I didn't remember until some time later is that a couple of weeks before my lunch with Steve and the prayer men, I had lunch with another friend of mine -- who led the two of us in a prayer at our table in the restaurant across the street from my office.

I'll call her Sally. She's in her 70s and is another retired Presbyterian minister friend of mine. We go to the same church. She's written a novel and has hired me to edit it and design it into a book for her. I should add here that Sally and I have developed a good and deep friendship over the years. We are spiritual mentors for one another. She's hurting these days because she just lost her husband, who was yet another Presbyterian minister. I'll call him Carlos. He was born in Cuba but had to flee the island in 1954.

Sally and I went to lunch after one of our meetings about her book, and after the food came and the server had headed back to the kitchen, she asked if I wanted her to pray. I said yes. She then said a short, delicate prayer of gratitude, and that was it.

I don't know how it looked to others on the outside, but to me on the inside of this little duo, it was lovely. I know that's a corny word, but that's what it was. It was a lovely little moment, and I'm glad I was included in it.

Why is that different to me than what I would think if I saw two people sitting at a table in a public restaurant praying aloud with their heads bowed and their eyes closed? Why can I not allow them to have the same experience I had with Sally?

Fair question.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Steve's Question, II

Back to what I posted yesterday about my friend Steve and our conversation about prayer.

As I mentioned, it didn’t surprise me that he would ask me about the two guys praying at the restaurant. He’d asked me about church stuff and Bible stuff and Jesus stuff and Christianity stuff and God stuff lots of times. As I said, he has a curious mind.

And opinions. Lots of opinions. (As do I.)

For instance, I've heard him say more than a few times that he doesn’t think it makes sense to pray to the Creator of the whole universe about his own petty little problems. After all, shouldn’t He or It or Whatever be out there taking care of bigger shit than his piddly little crap? He mentioned this again at the restaurant after he heard the guy praying for different people by name.

Even though he and I had talked about prayer in general, and he’d weighed in on how it looks to him, I'd never really said much about my own prayer life. So I started telling him about my view of prayer. (He did ask, after all.)

First, do I pray? Yes. My prayer life goes back before my earliest memories, and it's been with me ever since. I don't remember a time that prayer hasn't been part of my life.

I told him his idea that God would be too busy to worry about me and my daily calamities was understandable, but I had a different way of thinking about that.

We’re talking about something we can’t possibly comprehend because our minds are bound by time and space. How do we imagine the Eternal—the absence of time? How do we conceive the Infinite—the Emptiness that contains all?

This unnameable mystery is limitless, so how could it possibly be too busy to help poor little old me? Or Steve? Or anybody for that matter?

Then we started talking about praying in public, but I'll save that for another post.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Steve's Question, I

For the last week or so, I've been posting a lot of stuff about prayer. Here's how that all got started:

A friend and I were having lunch at a local restaurant a few months ago, and at one point, I went to refill my tea. When I came back to the table, he said, "Do you ever pray? I don't think I've ever asked you that before, but I was just wondering if you ever pray."

He nodded his head toward a couple of guys sitting at the next table. "Like that," he added. They both had their heads bowed and their eyes closed, and one of them was saying a prayer out loud -- not loud, just aloud. It was an extended one, not just a "thank you for this food" kind of thing.

My friend (I'll call him Steve) and I have known each other for more than two dozen years, ever since our kids were in preschool together. He became a client, then a friend, then a quasi-business partner. We shared an office for 10 years, and we continue to have at least one business client in common. We've had hundreds of lunches together and thousands of conversations on everything from women and wives to fishing and basketball to Buddhism and Donald Trump.

We even have the same birthday, just different years. He's the older, wiser one. I'm the younger, prettier one.

I don't know what it is, but many of my best friends over the years have been decidedly un-religious people -- in some cases even anti-religious. Maybe I'm drawn to such people because my own life is so saturated with religion and spiritual curiosity. True to form, Steve didn't grow up going to church, even though he was raised in the same Bible Belt I was. He doesn't believe in a God like the one described in the Bible. He sees religion on balance as a net loss, thanks to things like the Inquisition, various "holy" wars, and the Crusades, not to mention all of the preachers who condemn gays and deny climate change.

On the other hand, he maintains a curious and open mind, so it didn't surprise me that he would ask about these two guys praying in the restaurant. What DID surprise me, though, was to realize how little I'd said about prayer in all of our conversations. Looking back on it, I think it's because my prayer life is such an intimate, private part of my spiritual life.

But that didn't stop me from answering his question. More on that later.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

More Than Two

I think it was Ann Lamott who said she only needs two prayers: Help me, help me, help me, and Thank you, thank you, thank you. I've said those prayers since I was a kid. I still say them -- both of them -- every day.

I want more, though.

I want prayers that godless people can pray. I want prayers that happy sinners can pray. I want prayers that despots and dictators and dilettantes can pray. I want prayers that racists can pray. I want prayers that judges can pray. I want one big, long prayer that I can pray -- a psalm of joy and fear and pain and doubt and awe.

It'll never happen, though. Daily life is too seductive, too shiny. I get drawn away. I could bring prayer along with me, of course, but I get distracted and forget to do this.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Original Definition

As I mentioned elsewhere, prayer can refer to a lot of things we don't normally think of as prayer.

Everything I encounter in my daily life can become a prayer. Every experience I have has the potential to bring me back to an awareness of the Mystery. When that happens and I become aware, that’s prayer.

Watching sunlight on the sky-turned face of a lake. Listening to wind hiss through ripe wheat. Smelling coffee in a dark morning. Tasting salt. Touching water. Prayers, all of them prayers.

It’s the awareness that makes it work. Paying attention is prayer. Paying attention as big as I can as often as I can enlarges me. It guides me to wholeness -- the original definition of perfection.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Spirituality Quote of the Week

Inner brightness ends up being a much better and longer-lasting alternative to evil than any war, anger, violence, or ideology could ever be. All you have to do is meet one such shining person and you know that he or she is surely the goal of humanity and the delight of God.

-- Richard Rohr

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Always With Us

Prayer can’t be taken away. It can’t be given away. It can’t be thrown away. It’s always with us. One of its gifts is the dissipation of fear -- both within and without.

Whatever reduces fear is a prayer.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Four Lessons

Here are four more things I've learned about prayer over the years:

First, prayer is personal. We may pray with other people. We may pray for other people. We may pray in front of other people. But prayer is still personal. Even if we’re praying in a group, our prayers are still personal because we each have our own path of awareness into the Divine. Prayer is part of that awareness.

Second, prayer is a conversation, not a soliloquy.

Third, prayer doesn’t cure. It heals. To be cured is to return to the state of health we had before we became sick or injured. To be healed is to transcend sickness and injury regardless of our state of health.

Fourth, prayer is a mirror. It shows us what we think we need. It shows us what we think we lack. It shows us our fears. It shows us our joy. It shows us our pain. Tao already knows all of these things.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Prayer Problem

Prayer is a problem word for me. Not because I’m threatened by it or because I don’t understand it or I don’t like it or I don’t believe in it. It’s because it’s a church word. It’s a religious word. It drags around big suitcases. Prayer comes with a lot of baggage, in other words.

The word "prayer" may be a problem, but prayer itself—the state of prayer, of praying, of being prayed—is a persistent, widespread human activity. It arises out of human experiences, especially the hard ones.

When things get really bad, even people who don’t believe in a Divine will create one just so they’ll have something to rail against.

At other moments, life itself becomes so astonishing or so bewildering or so beautiful that we’re overwhelmed by the experience. In those moments, we create a Creator just by saying "thank you" for the experience of being alive.

No matter what we call it, though, it's a profound thing, prayer. I've learned this mostly the hard way.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Life Beside the Stream

My prayer life goes back before my earliest memories. I think my parents must have taught me to pray while I was still in the cradle.

Even in my late 20s when I walked away from the church of my upbringing and stayed away from religion for years, I still found myself talking to God.

Now it’s like living next to a stream. The sound of the water is always there, and I listen to it off and on all day -- sometimes even when I wake up in the middle of the night.

The stream is the presence of the Divine. The listening is my prayer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Prayer List

Silence is prayer. Stillness is prayer. Emptiness is prayer. Gratitude is prayer. Forgiveness is prayer. Compassion is prayer. Radiant joy is prayer. Awe is prayer.

Angst is prayer. Grief is prayer. Wonder is prayer. Wisdom is prayer. Kindness is prayer. Justice is prayer. Mercy is prayer.

Fear is not prayer. Fear needs prayer. Fear always needs prayer.