On a Holy Lent

I come from a non-liturgical background so the idea of observing Ash Wednesday seemed utterly foreign to me until my middle adult years when I found myself deeper drawn to both the contemplative life and the rhythms of the liturgical church year. The first year I observed the Lenten fast transformed my understanding of sin, grace and redemption. Easter made sense for the first time ever. Each year since then I have spent a few days asking God to show me what would be the way of my Lenten discipline for the season knowing the moment I said “oh no, please not…

Smaller Portions in 2014, Please

Over Christmas, I saw, Philomena, a well-done movie of evil masquerading as good, the need for closure, the temptation for revenge, and the freedom of forgiveness. Major human life themes combined with great acting: compelling and captivating. The story revolves around an Irish woman trying to find her son, adopted nearly 50 years before.  When she learns that he had been adopted by US citizens and grown up here, her immediate concern: “What if he is obese?  The portions are so huge there.” That line about the huge portions brought a good audience laugh. But perhaps an uncomfortable laugh–these words hit our…

We Do Love Our Tools

Humans are tool-making and tool-using creatures.  Our opposable thumb and finger grasp strength provide the springboard to create and use machines as extensions of our bodies and brains. We are also tool-purchasing creatures.  Tools to cook, tools to communicate, tools to study, tools to build, tools to create, tools to clean, tools to repair, tools to heal, tools to build muscles and increase stamina, even tools to help us relax and have fun. We really do like ‘em. Last spring I saw what a tool-wonder New York City is for my two-year old grandson. A north-south avenue near his house is undergoing…

A Time to Feast and a Time to Fast

If every day were Christmas, we’d be miserable.  We’d be stuffed, bored, broke and fractious.  Irritations would win the day and gloom and unfulfilled expectations would slather everyone with despondency. Adults would desperately turn to TV, youth and teens to video games, as a way to disconnect from person-to-person contact.  Children, surrounded by piles of overly-stimulating toys, would resort to whining, “Is that all there is?” as a way to remove themselves from their mental and emotional chaos. Christmas is special because it comes just once a year. But no one can stay in a fever pitch of excitement for long. Instead,…

Christmas Advice Column, Issue Two

Dear Friendly, Was Jesus really born on December 25th?  All these songs about snow and cold and shepherds sleeping outside in the fields in icy winter don’t make sense to me. Signed, Not So Sure About This. Dear Not So Sure, I was just a child when I heard some radio preacher say that Jesus was probably not born on December 25.  I thought the floor had just been yanked from me.  How dare that person question what surely is clear! Except it is not clear. First, the Bible does not indicate the date on our calendar that we call December 25…

On Earth As It Is In Heaven, Initial Reflections on “Everything Must Change” Clergy Retreat

I read this New York Times Magazine article with fascination, drawn into the beauty of the life of people on a Greek island.  The writer has been seeking to find the key to their extraordinarily long lives. Their food is simple, homegrown, primarily vegetarian, and herbal teas and homemade wines are consumed daily.  Exercise is just a normal part of life, and everyone gets plenty of sleep.  However, the researcher affirmed the impossibility of just importing their food, sleep and exercise habits as a solution to the diseases of civilization that plague us in more developed countries.  He writes, As soon as…

528 Steps of Prayer

Today I hope to climb to the top of the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  It is 528 steps up (and as many down, equally if not harder on the body).  No elevator, two stopping places if I can’t make it all the way to the top. I’m taking with me the ten year old cousin of my grandchildren.  I want to expose Katie to the power of the faith here–plus she is giving me elocution lessons as I seek to learn to speak “propah” British English.  We shall have a great day together. I figure the first 20 steps will…

Anything But That!

The time leading to Easter has long been seen in many Christian traditions as the yearly opportunity to take a good, hard look at the state of our souls and ask the question, “Do I need a Savior?” A great way to engage in that interior journey is to undergo a fast.  A fast, the intentional tossing aside of certain practices or gratifications, opens our eyes quickly to our habits of self-indulgence and mindless activities. There is no one proscribed fast.  Some need to give up meals, or sweets or caffeine or alcohol. Others need to give up social networking or video…