“Writing,” Henri Nouwen wrote, “can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.”
So…I’m embarrassed to see that I’ve not posted anything here since December 29. Ach! I have no real excuses, other than a busy work schedule, a couple of graduate classes (I’m completing a graduate certificate in Spiritual Direction at Aquinas Institute of Theology here in St. Louis…) and, oh yeah, I’m about to become a grandpa for the first time! (Although, admittedly, I had very little to do with that last one and I can’t blame him or her for my blog-crastination. Watch for a photo soon!
I’m planning a regular (hopefully weekly) summer series of short blogs, the theme of which I’m still considering and mulling over. In the meantime, I thought I’d give some of you a chance to share your writing on this site. (And I know from hearing from some of you that there are some very good writers out there among my subscribers).
Read the rest of A call for guest bloggers: Writing as a true spiritual discipline »
Over the years, here on this blog and in my 25 years of writing reflections for Living Faith, I have often recalled those times of finding and experiencing God through the wonder of the natural word. Indeed, many people say that they often experience God more intensely during a walk in the woods or along the beach than they do sitting in a church. And while I’m a big fan of sitting in churches, both in solitude and as part of a community of faith, I continue to readily find God in the simplicity and the complexity of God’s created world. For me and so many others, it is impossible to separate the created from the Creator, so the earth and all its marvels stand as constant and ever-changing monuments to the One who dreamed and fashioned and set all in motion.
In the creation story told in Genesis, even God seems to be amazed at his handiwork, so why should we not be? Over and over, at the passing of each day of work, God stands back, surveys his accomplishment, and says: “Yes, this is good.” For who can witness a clear starry night, a majestic mountain, or the power of the ocean’s surge without thinking the same? It is good, indeed.
Sue and I are up in Wisconsin this week near the Dells, the state’s version of Disneyland or, perhaps, my own state’s Branson. Like golf, which Mark Twain and others have called “A good walk spoiled,” the Dells (and Branson) are “a beautiful view spoiled.” Anyway, I digress.
It’s mostly closed down for the season here and, in any case, we came to this area not for the cheesy (pun intended) tourist spots or the Midwest’s largest indoor waterpark, but rather to just get away and spend time alone (together). We’re staying just far enough away from the tourist hub that we can imagine what this all looked like before the advent of all-you-can-eat buffets, waterski shows, 81-hole mini golf courses and Las Vegas-like themed hotels.
With November on the horizon, our thoughts almost naturally turn to ideas of the Thanksgiving holiday and, soon after, advent and Christmas. It’s a beautiful time of year, filled with family gatherings, wonderful food, parties and gifts. But let’s be truthful: it’s also a time of almost unrelenting schedules and stress.
How are we going to get all the shopping done, prepare for the onslaught of relatives, attend parties and school concerts, clean the house, take care of end of the year business, and on and on and on? It’s a time of year when we have so much to be thankful for and, in reality, so little time to spend being thankful.
“So I said, ‘here I am.’” Psalm 40:8
Childhood memories are strange and powerful things.
Visiting with a woman in hospice care earlier this year, she could vividly recollect ice skating across Fairgrounds Park’s frozen lake in North St. Louis in the 1920s, even though she couldn’t tell me what she had for lunch an hour before I arrived. Perhaps sometimes God gives us just the memories we need, those that bring a little peace and joy.
“But you do see; you take note of misery and sorrow; you take the matter in hand.” Psalm 10:14
I can still vividly recall the scene. I am watching from a distance as my son, Jon, who is two or three, is running around on a playground. He is so immersed in his play that I can see joy oozing from his pores. He is beginning to experience the wonder and power of independence from the parental units, a chance to be on his own and test his own abilities as a human. How fast can I run, he wonders. How high can I climb?
But then he falls hard, tripped up by an untied shoelace or perhaps just the clumsy feet of a toddler. He gets up and looks around. Seeing no one, he resumes playing, unwilling to give up his freedom. But as I walk toward him he sees me and, you guessed it, begins crying and pointing at his knees. Apparently, he didn’t know he was hurt until he saw someone who cared, someone who would scoop him up and take care of him.
Margaret Silf’s “Just Call Me López: Getting to the Heart of Ignatius Loyola (Loyola Press, 144 pages) takes that question on a spiritual journey and allows us to come along for the ride, as long as we’re willing to suspend our disbelief in the impossibility of the premise of the book – the contemporary narrator’s months-long interactions with the 16th century saint and founder of the Jesuits. Along the way, what we get is far more than a creative approach to Ignatius’ biography (his middle name was López) or an introduction to his famed spiritual exercises, although we get plenty of both. For those who know nothing or little of Ignatius’ life and approach to spirituality, this slim volume will serve as a fine introduction.
In this unlikely tale of a 16th-century soldier-turned-saint and 21st-century woman, we see what happens when one person opens herself to a real-life, real-time experience of the communion of saints. The two are as different as pen-and-ink and laptops are as writing instruments, but their conversations show us that life’s really important questions don’t change with the times and technology. And perhaps the most essential question we can ask as spiritual beings (what is God’s will and plan for my life?) is the question to which most of us continue to seek an answer. That introspective and prayerful approach to life is what lies at the heart of Ignatian spirituality.
Walking with Sue yesterday morning at Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton, Minnesota, I was aware, as I always try to be when I walk in nature, of not only the beauty of everything around me but of its movement. For where there is movement there is energy and life.
Even the minutest movements illustrate the animation of life. With my camera I stop to capture a purple wildflower, only to notice the ever-so-slight movement of a pale yellow insect I would have otherwise missed, slowly and methodically working its way around the flower, doing what it is made to do with flowers. Energy and life.
Walking along a path, a flurry of brown and black motion catches my eye and I shift my attention and focus. It’s the rump of a chipmunk, hard at work digging in the soft soil, oblivious to us until we are nearly on top of it. Energy and life.
Jim Rygelski’s debut novel, “Forget Us Not,” is a lesson in faith, hope and love. It’s a story about unlikely heroes stepping up in defense of truth and truth-telling. It’s a tale that reminds us that the things we think about writing off as vanishing breeds may still have some life in them yet, whether those things are small towns and their newspapers, the integrity of individuals and public servants, or even the folly of waiting for and finding one’s true love. Quaint notions? Sure. Worth pursuing? Absolutely.
“Forget Us Not” is written in the grand tradition of old-fashioned storytelling, where a tight plot and deeply drawn characters to whom we can relate and see ourselves trump contemporary literary devices and a world far too many of us have no desire to dip our toes into. I may not want to befriend all these characters, but I sure would like to watch them in action and be a fly on the wall of their lives.
Set in the fictional Midwestern town of Whitesboro, the story takes place over a three-day period as the town celebrates its first “Forgottonia” Festival in hopes of attracting new blood and business to the dying town. But like many small towns, there is much going on beneath the veneer of “quaint and quiet.”
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
The sad truth is, it seems to me on this early Sunday morning, that I have spent far too much of my life not realizing how good the Lord tastes. It’s an odd notion for the psalmist to make, I admit. How is it (the wonder and mystery of the Eucharist aside) we can go about tasting the Lord?
The glorious truth is, we have been given a bounty in the tastes and colors and scents that come from the gardens and farms of God’s good creation. What better and further proof, if we have need of that, of God’s presence and action in the world than that of an heirloom tomato just hours from being on the vine? This misshapen and seemingly mis-colored fruit/vegetable (argue about that amongst yourselves!) is as difficult for our modern sensibilities to grasp as is the presence of the creator. We pass it by in the stores and markets because it doesn’t match our expectations of what a tomato is supposed to look like. But taste it…take it in…make it part of you…and the difference becomes obvious. And we find ourselves saying, “So that’s what a tomato is supposed to taste like!” It is our experience of the heirloom tomato, like our experience of God, that makes it real.