Metaphysical Exercise

With the need to keep social distance to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, and the need to get some exercise in relative isolation, my son and I decided to try a couple of the Audubon trails off Great Neck Road. A quarter of a mile out, we started passing parked cars – dozens of others had filled the parking lot and trails. We kept driving. Instead, we tried a trail through Minot Forest.

Within a dozen steps we were enveloped in the quiet of the trees. We walked this way and that, hiking uphill and down on narrow and wide trails, eventually finding a pond. Birds called, a breeze moved the tree tops, and light fell softly between branches – a hidden sanctuary less than a mile from Wareham center. I doubt we walked a tenth of the trails through the forest, so we’ll return soon and often. If not for the restrictions on the usual activities, I don’t know if we’d have ever found this soul soothing sanctuary.

Such an extraordinary revelation of beauty and nature reminds me of just how mysterious my little town is, and just how much there is left to explore – an exercise in spiritual awareness and humility that requires only a little time and legwork. What a beautiful way to care for body, mind, and soul.

Image by Jared Fredrickson

Study Materials

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep, which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

A Morning Resolve, Forward Day by Day, inside front cover; Cincinnati, Ohio: Forward Movement. www.ForwardMovement.org.

I got to spend over an hour on the phone with my brother, Bill, last night. We got caught up on each other’s lives – work, family, weather, etc. As usual, we also talked about what we are reading for pleasure and for work. We both agreed that almost any field of inquiry, almost any subject, can be a doorway into a deeper and transcendent reality – it just depends on our approach.

It’s true when I dive into something by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. It’s just as true when I study origami directions.

It’s just not as obvious.

May I have the wisdom and faith to recognize in whatever I study a doorway into God’s love.

This is one in a series. For more, click “A Morning Resolve” above.

In Particular, Work

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth...(Ecclesiastes 3:1, The Message)

Schedules are like the time signatures in music – they keep all the players working together rather than at cross purposes. Having a defined work time, a regular time for meals, and a designated bed time gives shape and coherence to the days – something especially important now that our usual external activities are suspended. With everyone out of school and working from home, it would be so easy to let the days and weeks pass in an unscheduled blur.

How do I keep faithful work habits when everything I have to do no longer has to be done at a particular time? I’ve always done a lot of my work at home, so I’m comfortable with setting a time aside for the many different things that make up my day. But now, my schedule must return to something closer to the one I had when my children were little; I’ll get up early to get my writing and baking done. I’ll get household chores done when everyone else is up – and have a list of chores for others to do as well. I’ll designate a few hours every week to projects – getting the garden beds in shape, cleaning out the attic and basement, getting Spring cleaning done in every room. I’ll do my best to strike a good balance.

When it comes to work, I wonder what will be the bigger temptation: not being faithful to getting my work done or not being faithful in leaving it when it is time for other things?

 

Morning Prayer

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep, which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

[A Morning Resolve, Forward Day By Day, inside cover, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, Ohio; www.ForwardMovement.org]

As I write, my local Shaw’s is out of toilet paper, chicken, diaper wipes, and sanitizing cleaners. Fear has caused a number of my neighbors to buy enough staples to last half a year or longer, leaving the neighbors who cannot afford to stockpile such things in immediate need. The problem isn’t the one or two people who take so much more than they need, it’s the ones who see them doing it and follow suit. Fear is catching.

But how should we live our faith in our shopping? None of us wants to be left without, having to depend on others for daily needs, and none of us really wants to live at the expense of those around us. Since we don’t know what the immediate future brings, it’s difficult to make faithful decisions: what if we make the wrong choice?

It’s been my habit for several years to recite a prayer when I awake, before I get out of bed and begin the day’s work: Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. In all things, help me to rely upon thy holy will. In every hour of the day, reveal thy will to me.

It goes on, but the rest is really a riff on these first three sentences. It transforms my day from a series of tasks and encounters to the grace of God’s daily gift of life. Peace as the basis, not anxiety, panic, or ambition. Reliance on God’s abundant love for all, not on my own self-centered plans; awareness that I can’t comprehend God’s perspective, and that I must continually pray for guidance throughout the day.

I make mistakes, and I come up short. I act without kindness, and I forget my neighbor. But in times like these, it’s only by beginning the day in God’s peace that I have any chance of holding the needs of my neighbor in my heart along with my own. God, give me the strength and wisdom to begin and end in prayer – especially now, when it’s difficult. Amen.

[Mr.Mister, Kyrie, Welcome to the Real World, RCA records, Recorded October, 1984-April 1985, released November 27, 1985. Purchased from iTunes]

Like a Child

At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 

If I’m asking where I am in the running for heaven’s #1, I reveal my willingness to consign others to a lesser eternity. What a terrible and terribly childish view of heaven to hold. As if any of us is loved less by God.

He called a child, who he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

This isn’t a statement of divine punishment or exclusion. The kingdom of heaven is wherever we fall into the limitless love God offers us. We consign ourselves to a self-constructed and self-chosen hell whenever we try to make heaven a prize to win or a goal to achieve.

Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Mt 18:1-4 NRSV

Heaven is the home where we are always welcome. Like any child, we just have to know enough to go home.

[Eric Clapton, My Father’s EyesPilgrim, Ocean Way and Olympic Studios, February 9,1998. ]

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

Is my word good?

And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, “I’ll pray for you,” and never doing it, or saying, “God be with you,” and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong. [The Message, Eugene Peterson, trans., Matthew 5:34-37]

Fidelity to every trust

Am I as good as my word? Not always.

If I commit to something, do I follow through? Not without exception, and sometimes begrudgingly.

Today, I will do my best to honor God’s gift of the people I meet, speak to, and think of. I’ll do my best to love the world and put in the work to leave it a better place. I won’t kid myself or others by shifting the blame to God or covering up the my shortcomings with church words or theatrics.

[For the complete prayer, click A Morning Resolve above.]

Fleas

In 2010, our cat’s flea medication stopped working. We returned from a two week vacation to discover a house full of fleas. When flea bombing didn’t work, we called an exterminator. He sprayed the house and left instructions:

  1. Throw out food exposed to insecticide.

2. Wipe all the surfaces in the house.

3. Vacuum every inch of the floors and furniture daily for four weeks. 

The first we had already done. The second was a one-and-done. The third, something else:  two hours devoted to vacuuming every sofa and chair cushion, every baseboard heater vent, and the floors of every room in the house. Then repeated twenty-seven times.

For the first week, it felt like undeserved punishment: it wasn’t our fault, but we were stuck with the consequences anyway. Even worse, we would still see a flea every so often.

Week two wasn’t much better. There was a lot of swearing when the children weren’t around, and silent swearing when they were. The fleas appeared to be gone, but who knew if the eggs were still around?

Week three: cursing wasn’t necessary – we just got on with the business of getting it done. We didn’t even look for fleas.

At the fourth week’s end, it was over.

Every so often, circumstance requires more effort and time than I’d like to give – “getting rid of fleas” work, in the symbolic sense. Sometimes this is of my own making and sometimes it isn’t. Either way, I still have to put in the work. These days, I do my best to skip the whining and cursing and just get on with it.

exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God. 

[This is one in a series. For the full prayer, click “A Morning Resolve” above.]

 

Sowing Seeds

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep, which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

[A Morning Resolve, Forward Day by Day, Cincinnatti, OH: Forward Movement – prayer on the inside front cover. www.ForwardMovement.org]

Words you speak to me directly and what I overhear you say to another can take root in my soul. Mine can do the same in yours. Words send their roots deep into the heart, breaking it open to grow beyond its current limits or reducing it to rubble. I cannot be sure where the words I scatter will land and take hold, but I can choose what verbal seeds I throw out into the world.

Lord, with your help:

I will do my best to share a sense of humor, but not at the expense of another.

I will avoid sarcasm because it’s a weed that chokes the life out of conversation.

I won’t wield my words like a weapon.

When I am tempted to speak in anger and frustration, I will try to keep silent.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Generosity in Giving

I will try this day to…exercise generosity in giving

My twentieth summer, I worked at Dockside restaurant in Alton Bay. One day, a stranger with a bed roll and backpack came in for lunch. He was thin, and his clothes were frayed. After giving the menu careful consideration, he ordered a cup of chowder and a glass of water.

The cook/owner, Lois, took one look at him through the kitchen window, and said in a low voice, “Oh Lord, someone looking for a handout.” I wondered if she would refuse to serve him, ask him to leave, or just send out the cup of soup and hope he left quickly and quietly. After a minute or two, she rang the bell for me to pick up the order. Lois had put pasta bowl full of chowder and three large pieces of grilled bread on a plate, garnished with a mini salad. “He’s hungry. Take it on over and don’t charge him for it” was all she said.

When he was down to the last piece of bread, he began counting out coins to pay for his meal. I told him the owner took care of it. He said thanks, asked for her name, and left a while later.

On the table was a remarkable mandala drawn in pencil on a clean napkin; on the bottom, the stranger had written these words:

Thank you, Lois. You are a gift from the universe.

Food for the body given on a plate, food for the soul returned on a napkin: Generosity in giving going both ways.

[For the full prayer, click A Morning Resolve above.]

 

Exercising Economy

With God’s help, today I will:

Recognize the difference between wants and needs – and spend accordingly.

Remember that, beyond the basics, happiness doesn’t come from possessions. If life wasn’t enough before buying that new toy, it won’t be enough after; if life was enough before, it will continue to be enough with or without it.

Amen.

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly ever thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep, which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.

And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

[Forward Day by Day, A Morning Resolve (inside cover),Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement; www.ForwardMovement.org]