240 – What we give up for Lent – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

I did not grow up in a church were we talked about Lent or giving up something for Lent.  Over the last years as I have come to some understanding of the season of Lent and of what it can mean I hear people talk not just about “giving up” but more so about adding a Lenten practice.  I had come to the opinion that was the new norm but a recent article in Christianity Today* has me thinking otherwise.

Christianity Today reports that last year nearly 20% of Americans’s observed Lent and they found 400,000 tweeting about it.  Those tweets suggested “giving up” was closely associated with Lent and they reported on the 100 most often things given up.  “The top five choices: School, chocolate, Twitter, alcohol, and social networking …”

I make no claims this list reflects how most people engage the Lenten season but it is interesting that with a few exceptions this list reflects what I heard many years ago.

Maybe a word from Bernard of Clairvaux is worth hearing when we consider a “fast” of any kind,

“If the appetite alone hath sinned, let it alone fast, and it sufficeth. But if the other members also have sinned, why should they not fast, too? … Let the eye fast from strange sights and from every wantonness, so that that which roamed in freedom in fault-doing may, abundantly humbled, be checked by penitence. Let the ear, blameably eager to listen, fast from tales and rumours, and from whatsoever is of idle import, and tendeth least to salvation. Let the tongue fast from slanders and murmurings, and from useless, vain, and scurrilous words, and sometimes also, in the seriousness of silence, even from things which may seem of essential import. Let the hand abstain from … all toils which are not imperatively necessary. But also let the soul herself abstain from all evils and from acting out her own will. For without such abstinence the other things find no favor with the Lord.”

From: Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, Selections from His Letters, Meditations, Sermons, Hymns and Other Writings

It strikes me that St Bernard’s counsel is reflected in a number of ways in the list of 100 things most given up, but it also strikes me that many items in the list may not go “soul” deep as he also counsels.  But, maybe it takes time to go soul deep and discover what should be given up and what should be added.

How is Lent going with you?  Whether giving-up or adding a practice, is it touching the soul?

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

* http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/february/what-to-give-up-for-lent-twitter-reveals-top-100-ideas-2015.html

239 – Wilderness – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

This past Sunday I was with a congregation where we were reading Mark 1 and thinking about “Wilderness.” We noticed the Gospel writer reminded us that the prophets spoke about the wilderness, that John’s “pulpit” was in the wilderness, that John attracted an audience (which included Jesus) in the wilderness, and that Jesus was called/driven deeper into the wilderness.

It seems we spent a goodly amount of time in the wilderness before we heard Jesus announce, “The time has come … The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Some time along the way it occurred to me that Lent is something of an “institutionalized” wilderness for us.

Lent offers us a way to get a taste of the wilderness the prophets and John tell us about and Jesus experiences. And like Jesus we do not experience it alone. For some of our companions we have the Scripture, Jesus’s example, and the company of other Christians. We might even encounter a few “wild beasts” and “angels” in some form.

As you make your journey from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday, to Good Friday and on to Easter, who will accompany you? Who (or what) will be your “angels”? How might “wild beasts” show up? How will the Kingdom come nearer and nearer?

And don’t discount the idea that you may be called/driven to be God’s angel for someone else.

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

238 – Fast/Feast – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

As we once again come to Ash Wednesday and Lent, I want to share again the following prayer that for me speaks to the balance this season can point us toward,

Fast from judging others;
feast on the Christ indwelling in them.

Fast from emphasis on differences;
feast on the unity of all life.

Fast from apparent darkness;
feast on the reality of light.

Fast from words that pollute;
feast on phrases that purify.

Fast from discontent;
feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger;
feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism;
feast on optimism.

Fast from worry;
feast on trust.

Fast from complaining;
feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives;
feast on affirmatives.

Fast from unrelenting pressures;
feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility;
feast on nonviolence.

Fast from bitterness;
feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern;
feast on compassion for others.

Fast from personal anxiety;
feast on eternal truth.

Fast from discouragement;
feast on hope.

Fast from facts that depress;
feast on truths that uplift.

Fast from lethargy;
feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion;
feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken;
feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from idle gossip;
feast on purposeful silence.

Gentle God,
during this season of fasting and feasting,
gift us with your presence
so we can be a gift to others in carrying out your work.


{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}


237 – Simplicity – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

I suspect you are all familiar with the Serenity Prayer,

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


How does it strike you?

If I am honest with you today, I have to admit I have in the past not been impressed by it’s “character.”

A while back I heard about the book The Way of Serenity by Father Jonathan Morris in which presents what might be called a prolonged meditation on the Serenity Prayer,

These words of his caught my attention,

“When I first encountered this prayer many years ago, it caught my attention, but I didn’t give it much thought. It seemed a bit cliché, something you might see on a motivational poster with accompanying pictures of sprinters, pandas, sunsets, weightlifters, or waterfalls.” (p 2)

I have to say he well expressed some my thoughts on this prayer. But he goes on to write,

“In my pride and immaturity, I had mistaken simplicity for shallowness, and the universal for the cliché.”” …. I witnessed broken men and women pray the Serenity Prayer like I could only wish to pray it myself. .. It was prayer because it was wide open, fearless, and important dialogue with God …. It was the purest and most genuine act of self-abandonment to God’s will I had ever witnessed. Their prayer wasn’t especially pretty, or clean; it was real, and gritty. It was the opposite of religious showmanship; it was intimate, existential, and wholly indifferent to any outsider’s praise or reproach. It was prayer, plain and simple.” (p 3)

OK! some instruction for me from Father Morris!

Was it my “pride and immaturity” that I took for “maturity” in prayer that prevented me from seeing the simplicity and honesty and full depth of the Serenity Prayer?

Maybe so.

Read over his description of the prayer again, and look for what you take to be the character of “true” prayer.

When is our prayer “true” in these ways? When does it fall short?

What might the Serenity Prayer teach us today?

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}


236 – Fall Back – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

A day late.  Things the past few days just did not work out for me to get up a post yesterday but here we are today and we carry on.

This did get me thinking – what is my “fall back.”

If things get out of order or out of balance or simply “just messed up,” what practice or discipline gets me back on track, or at least closer to the track.

What is it for you?

Prayer? Silence? Solitude? Physical Exercise? A Meditative Walk in the Woods or on the Beach? The Quiet, Deep Reading of Holy Scripture? Worship at Church? Music? Works of Art? The Daily Office? The Jesus Prayer? Prayer Beads? Contemplative Prayer?

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Some of the above may be helpful while others, for that moment, do nothing to help you find the center and source of life.

Take some time and think back to times when you needed to find your “go-to” practice to help you get things in order.  What was it?  Maybe one I have named, maybe several, and of course it maybe something I have forgotten to mention.

As you name that practice, give thanks to God for coming to you in that way and providing so many ways to connect with you and hold you in tight.

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

235 – Speak/Listen – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

The past weeks I have spent time reflecting on the God’s call to Samuel (1 Samuel 3.1 – 4.1). I have  become more and more impressed with the richness of this portion of Scripture and the direction and encouragement it can offer us today. Last Sunday I shared a few of my thoughts with a congregation not too far from me and this morning I would like to share a thought with you.

While neither Samuel nor Eli initially recognize God’s call, after Eli does, he is able to provide the correct direction to Samuel and Samuel faithfully (is he “full” of faith yet) and obediently follows Eli’s direction.

Samuel echos Eli’s words, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3.10). Eugene Peterson renders this, “Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen” in The Message.

What captured my attention were the two pairs – Lord/Servant and Speak/Listen.

Samuel is told to put himself in the correct relation to God as his Lord and himself as servant. Than communication opens with the servant listening and the Lord speaking.

I have wondered before and now again, if often some of us (especially me) get this out of balance. Do I come to God in prayer with the attitude, “Your servant is speaking; listen Lord”?

I do not mean to say we should always be silent but maybe if we begin in silence and with the acknowledgement of ourselves as God’s servant, prayer, and our entire lives, might proceed in the proper way.

Your thoughts?
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

234 – Learning to Pray – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

In the weeks before this past Christmas I took several opportunities to visit a few local bookstores (no surprise to those of you who know me!).

On one of my visits, I was looking at several books on prayer and on the back of one saw a description of “Prayer’s Apprentice: A Year with the Great Spiritual Mentors” by Timothy Jones.  The title caught my attention but the bookstore did not have a copy. The local public library came to my rescue.  I was able to secure a copy through my library and have been reading some in it.
Over the course of a year each week Rev Jones took a prayer and spent time with it during that week.  Essentially he journaled during these weeks and this book brings together something of his experience during that year.  Thus far, I have found each chapter worth reading and appreciate his deep level of personal sharing I find in the book.
I am wondering today who we have apprenticed ourselves to?  Who has been instrumental in informing and growing our prayer life?  Rev Jones includes Thomas Merton, the Psalms, C. S. Lewis, John Donne, Christina Rosetti, Rueben Job and many others.
Take some time and call to mind who has taught you prayer.  What have they taught you about praying?  If someone asked, who has taught you the most about prayer, what would your answer be?
{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

233 – Water – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

Two things came together Sunday that have me thinking about water this week.

First, last Sunday was the celebrated as the “Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.” Many in church listened to the Scriptural accounts of Jesus’ baptism and were encouraged to consider their own baptism and the life that calls us into.

Second, this past Sunday was the running of the First Light Marathon here in Mobile. On that day some 3000 runners participated in a marathon that supports the work of the L’Arche community here. In addition to the runners there are many others who help with the event and on that Sunday I got to be one of those helping. Some very good friends, and family and some new friends were at a water stop near mile five of the run, handing out water and sports drink to the runners.

Scripture not only records for us Jesus’ baptism it also records his words “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” (Matthew 25.35). From Jesus’ baptism to our baptism to handing a drink of water to a thirsty runner.

What do you think Jesus had in mind when as he described the marks of his disciples and included in their actions “giving … something to drink”?

As disciples we enter the waters of baptism. Yes? As disciples we reach out to quench the thirst of those around us. Yes?

Water – what do you think it has to do with the Christ-like life? What does it have to do with being a disciple of Jesus?

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}


232 – An Ordinary Day – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

How about you?  Are you back to your ordinary routine after the holidays?  As the first post-holiday week rolls around are you glad all the extra activity is past?  Does it feel good to be back to “normal”?  Or, are you a little let down?

Maybe we need an little encouragement to pay attention during these ordinary, normal, routine (maybe boring?) days.  Recently some words from Frederick Buechner gave me the encouragement I needed,

I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.  ( http://www.frederickbuechner.com/content/life-itself-grace )

If you approached each day as a “fathomless mystery” what might you find in front of you?  What might you see? What might you hear?  What grace might you encounter? And what grace might you be able to bestow on another?

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Where will grace next surprise you?

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

231 – Spirituality – Intention on the Spiritual Journey

When I came across these words of Frederick Buechner, I couldn’t help but think he correctly identified one of the real dangers associated with spiritual disciplines.  If we let our concern for our “spirituality” draw us away from our life as part of God’s creation, we have probably started to take the incarnation with less seriousness that it demands.

Where does Buechner’s challenge find you?

 “The Word became flesh,” wrote John, “and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). That is what incarnation means. It is untheological. It is unsophisticated. It is undignified. But according to Christianity it is the way things are.

All religions and philosophies which deny the reality or the significance of the material, the fleshly, the earth-bound, are themselves denied. Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground (Exodus 3:5), and incarnation means that all ground is holy ground because God not only made it but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it. If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth but our bodies and our earth themselves. Jerusalem becomes the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). Our bodies are sown perishable and raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42).

One of the blunders religious people are particularly fond of making is the attempt to be more spiritual than God.

From: Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, p 55 ( www.frederickbuechner.com/content/wishful-thinking-page-55 )

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}