Choosing Joy Over the Facts

Choosing the joy of a hike on a warmer day. SJG photo.

Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.” Wendell Berry

This powerful idea of Wendell Berry, a Kentucky novelist, poet, cultural critic and farmer, can be a tough idea to get our heads around. For it requires openness on our part, a willingness to accept what life hands us with an attitude of joy and gratitude for what we have already received. It is an inclination to see the beautiful despite the ugly and an invitation to see the dignity of human life despite those who would have us denigrate everything we don’t agree with or understand. It is a chance to find the very best in others when all the cultural mores and signs direct us to find their faults and take advantage of them.

So with that in mind, I am deciding to “be joyful” today, even though the facts — the words and the images swirling around me — can be a bit disheartening. I am deciding that only I get to choose what creates my state of mind and my attitude toward the world.

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Notes from a Lecture: The Two Francises, by Fr. Michael Perry, OFM

Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, addresses a packed auditorium at Washington University in St. Louis. Twitter photo by Danforth Center on Religion & Politics.

Last night I had the good fortune to attend a lecture at Washington University (where I work) by Father Michael Perry, the American Franciscan friar who is the minister general of the Order of Friars Minor. Sponsored by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics, Fr. Perry spoke on this theme: “What Do Francis of Assisi and Francis of Buenos Aires Have in Common? A ‘Franciscan’ Perspective on the Common Good.”  My write-up here is by no means exhaustive of his roughly one-hour presentation but rather represents what most resonated with me and what I was able to capture in my little notebook…

A little background on Fr. Perry, just to give you an idea of his breadth of experience and education. He spoke from a deep, humble and well-educated place. Born into an Irish household in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1954, Fr. Perry entered the Franciscan seminary at Quincy University in Illinois where he studied philosophy and history. While still a theology student, he went to the Democratic Republic of Congo (ex-Zaire) where he served as pastor, researcher, and professor of mission and cultural studies. He completed his doctorate in social anthropology (religious anthropology) at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. and went on to serve as a foreign policy adviser to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and later as an adviser on African religion and social policy at Franciscans International, U.N./New York. He also served as a policy and programs adviser at Catholic Relief Services. From 2009-13, Fr. Perry served as the Vicar General of the Order of Friars Minor in Rome. Since 2013, he has served as the Minister General (leader) of the Order. He maintains an active interest and engagement in the promotion of peace and reconciliation in Africa, and in the promotion of inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.

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Finding God in All Things: 10 Books for 2018

Ten Books for Finding God in All Things

From time to time, as both a writer and a spiritual director, I get asked for book recommendations. So on this cold and snowy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday in the U.S., I stayed inside and scoured my shelves for ten books I would highly recommend, books that are both well-read and well-loved, books that have pointed me in different ways to the movement of God in my life, inspired me by their beauty and story, or have somehow appeared in my life just when I needed them most.

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Boy Like Me: The Call of Jesus in the Temple

That's me, right about 12.

Well, I was twelve years old in the meeting house
Listening to the old men pray.
Well, I was tryin’ hard to figure out
What it was that they was tryin’ to say.
There you were in the temple
They said, “You weren’t old enough to know the things you knew.”

And did they tell you stories ’bout the saints of old,
Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold,
Stories like that make a man walk straight.

(Rich Mullins, Boy Like Me)

In the Catholic Church and other liturgical denominations that follow a regular lectionary of scripture readings, this is the time of year that we hear what little we know about Jesus’ early years. There’s not much there, of course, once the Holy Family returns from exile in Egypt. (They were refugees, after all, and it’s important to remember that in these days).

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A New Psalm 8 for the New Year

A painted sky, Sedona. SJG photo.

As we head into the New Year this cold, cold, cold (did I mention it is cold here in St. Louis?) Sunday morning, I find myself yearning for spring and pondering two of the (many) great mysteries of life: First, why are we so gifted with the beauty, bounty and intricacy of the world around us? And second, in the midst of all this signal of God’s glory—small and hidden as we are as minuscule beings in the vastness of the earth and universe—who are we that God is mindful of us?

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Jacob in the Morning: Surely God is in this place

Every moment sacred. Sedona sunset in Sue's hand. SJG photo.

For this cold Sunday morning, I offer a retelling of a story from Genesis 28…a story that challenges us to consider that the holy is all around us — not merely in temples and churches, not only in sacraments and to the accompaniment of soaring music or while standing in inspiring places of natural or human-created beauty. The holy is where we are at any given moment of our day, if only we’re willing to look for God in that moment. Imagine Jacob, the morning after his dream:

It’s the “morning after” as I tell this story to myself, hoping that speaking it out loud will allow me to remember everything I experienced last night…

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When we walk in faith, each breath is a prayer

Doe Mountain Trailhead, near Sedona, AZ. SJG photo.

The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from.”  – C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

Over the past four days visiting the beautiful red rock country surrounding Sedona, Arizona, Sue and I have taken a hike each day. It’s easy to do here, for there are trailheads at the end of just about every road and many, many hikes of varying lengths and difficulty from which to choose. So, whether you are occasional enthusiasts like us looking for “easy to moderate” trails, or more experienced (and fit!) folks looking for something much more challenging, Sedona is a wonderful place to put one foot in front of the other and take a hike.

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Today’s Word: Wonder

Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona. SJG photo.

Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.”  – Socrates

When the heroine of E.B. White’s classic children’s novel “Charlotte’s Web” first writes “SOME PIG” in her web in an attempt to save her friend Wilbur’s life, she was creating more than a PR campaign. She was creating wonder. She was making everyone who saw her web stop in their tracks, stand back, scratch their heads, and try to contemplate something they couldn’t fathom. That seems like a pretty good way to go through life.

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The Creative Spirit: The Human Necessity of ‘Being Moved’

One in bloom, one on waiting. SJG photo

Over the past week, I have been reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’ve seen the B movies and a very good theatrical version years ago at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre, but I’ve never read the book. It was assigned reading this year for all the first-year students at the university where I work, so I thought I would join the throng of readers.

We all read books, poems and sacred texts with different mindsets and personal histories, of course, so these words purposefully and creatively strung together by the authors affect each person differently. As regular readers of my blog no doubt know, I write often on the idea of paying attention to the world around us, of leaving ourselves open to being moved by the things in our lives and, ultimately, by the looming presence of God. So I was delighted to read this passage below, spoken by Dr. Frankenstein about his hike through the woods and mountains, during which he observed the desolation after an avalanche, dangerous and deep ravines, “somber” pines, the distant valley with mist rising off the river and the mountain summits shrouded in clouds. In short, he was paying attention and was deeply aware of the human necessity of being moved. He says:

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The Creative Spirit: Conversation and Storytelling

Opening the door to conversation and storytelling. SJG photo.

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll certainly see a few repeating themes, among them the importance of living in awareness and gratitude of God and the critical nature of silent, contemplative prayer to do that. But there’s more, of course. As much as we need our times of silence, we need times of conversation and storytelling with friends new and old.

I received an email from L’Arche St. Louis this morning that helped drive this idea home for me, for the email contained this quote from Henri Nouwen, who lived in a L’Arche community for many years:

“Pay attention to the people God puts in your path if you want to discern what God is up to in your life.”

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