Monthly Archives: May 2023

What is Required?

“What is your vocation? To be a good person.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 11.5

The Stoics believed, above all else, that our job on this earth is to be a good human being. It is a basic duty, yet we are experts at coming up with excuses for avoiding it.

Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 165

One of my family’s core beliefs: you weren’t put on this earth to be miserable. Most often, it came out when one of us had been dealing with a difficult situation or person over a long enough period of time to warrant some kind of change – this affirmation that none of us was meant to live a miserable life.

On occasion, it was used in the other sense – none of us was meant to be the cause of suffering and misery for others. This wasn’t because the lives of others were of lesser value, but because there were other ways of saying the same thing that were more frequently said: treat others as you want to be treated; if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all; how would you like it if…; you were put here to be a gift to the world.

You would think it goes without saying that all of us have a responsibility to be good to others and to be good to ourselves, that such a thing is too obvious to miss, but it isn’t true. What’s left unsaid is easily forgotten or ignored – and the world is the lesser for that omission.

Say it in whatever person’s words work for you – Marcus Aurelius, Gandhi, Malala Yousafzai, or Mother Teresa. Or go with the classic:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8, NRSV

Pity or Mercy

Jesus, the Blessed Child of God, is merciful. Showing mercy is different from having pity. Pity connotes distance, even looking down upon…Mercy comes from a compassionate heart; it comes from a desire to be an equal. Henri Nouwen

[Nouwen, Henri J.M.; Bread for the Journey; San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1985, May 28th excerpt.]

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have Mercy. Lord, have mercy. [Kyrie Eleison]

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

If Henri Nouwen is right, then asking for mercy is a request for more than forgiveness of transgressions: it is seeking the company of someone who restores our dignity and fragile sense of self worth instead of stripping it away from us. This is a revolutionary request that can transform our inner lives as we seek to make amends for our shortcomings in our outer ones. We expand instead of contract – and perhaps we will dare to show mercy to others so that they may expand as well.

[This is one writing in an ongoing series. For more information, click Daily Meds above…]

Fortune Favors?

You say, good fortune used to meet you at every corner. But the fortunate person is the one who gives themselves a good fortune. And good fortunes are a well-tuned soul, good impulses, and good actions. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.36

[from The Daily Stoic; Ryan Holiday and Steven Hanselman; New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 158]

I’ve been lucky in the people I’ve loved and the meaningful work I’ve found. It feels like good fortune, like being in the right place at the right time. That being said, I’d bet that had I lived in different places and loved different people, I’d feel the same. The particulars of an alternate path would be just as beautiful and holy and joyful.

But I’m glad that the particulars of my life are what and who they are. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

What We Deserve

There are countless people who sit in church pews throughout the world, hearing words of love that they cannot bring themselves to accept or believe. Love freely given gets mistaken for benefits that must be earned, and that is no love at all. Why is it that harsh judgement is accepted as deserved, but love is not?

Stephen Chbosky is a novelist and film writer. Judging by the words above, he’d make a decent theologian, too.

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three: and the greatest of these is love. I Cor 13:13

[Daily Peace: 365 Days of Renewal; Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2014. Stephen Chbosky is the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, among other things. Photographer: Steve Schindler]

Daily Meds

For the last thirty years or so, I’ve spent part of my mornings delving into various daily readings and meditations. Buechner and Rohr writings arrive daily in my email; the words of Nouwen and L’Engle are in book form on my shelves; Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman have given me Stoic quotes and some points to ponder. National Geographic has gone one better, adding beautiful images to a marvelous and diverse collection of quotes.

I have missed many days over the past few decades, and a few months at a shot on occasion. Still, I return to my daily readings because they give me a time and a space to be quiet and listen to the hopes, dreams, thoughts, and prayers of another.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of my favorites. Perhaps you will do the same…

Expectation Blindness

My younger son arrived here late Saturday night, bringing his kitten, Franklin, with him for a several day visit. Because he stayed up late Sunday night writing the final paper for one of his college courses, I didn’t expect to see him until very late in the morning. He left his bedroom door cracked so Franklin could come and go; shades were down and all that could be seen through the crack was a couple of roundish lumps under the blankets – no head or feet sticking out, just a big round lump and a smaller one under the covers.

Once noon came and went, and I was heating up leftovers for lunch, I asked my husband if we should wake Jared up. Dave’s advice: let him sleep. So I did, but I began to wonder if he might be coming down with something – and end of term virus that might explain why he was sleeping so soundly. The thought had barely come into my head when the kitchen door opened and Jared walked in. As a Mother’s Day surprise, he had driven to Kittery, Maine, to bring me dessert: Lovebird’s gluten free donuts. The lumps in the bed were just a couple of pillows.

Once I realized he wasn’t in the bed, it was quite obvious that the lumps under the cover weren’t even close to big enough to be an adult. Even though I had looked in a few times, I saw what I expected to see rather than what was there – I was surprised because I couldn’t see through what I expected to see.

It’s a funny story, but also a cautionary tale that asks a question of me: what other things remain unseen because I am blinded by my own expectations?

Beautiful View

It’s been six days since the big move, and things are getting into some kind of shape in the new place. We have more boxes unpacked than full, and we’ve managed to cook a couple of meals in the new kitchen. Still, most of the spaces have boxes against the walls, and there are tables and other items clearly out of place because no place has been found for them. I’m happy with the progress in this moving process, but there isn’t a single room that is anything close to tidy or put together. The chaos isn’t large-scale, but it is pervasive.

When I need a break from the mess and toil of moving, I take a minute to look at something beautiful – two somethings, actually. The back porch view is the first:

Coming in or going out to the back porch, I pass the dining table. When Leslie dropped off flowers, she also left beauty that uplifts my spirit. It is the second:

Soon the rooms will be in good shape, and my days will return to their typical activities. I hope I don’t forget how a vase of flowers kindly given, and a few minutes outside transformed my days when I really needed it.


I spent the better part of two hours in the dentist chair today, getting a cracked tooth repaired and topped with a temporary crown; the permanent crown will replace the temporary one in another couple of weeks. But the molar is old, with more cracks than the one prompting today’s repair. The permanent crown is only as permanent as the tooth that wears it, and the tooth is far from permanent. In a matter of years, the tooth will fail, requiring a root canal or a full replacement. But for now, just a crown.

The dentist chair isn’t a favorite destination for most of us, but it’s a place to be reminded of some profound truths. Today’s truth: every living, breathing being, toothed or toothless, is a temporary resident in this cosmos. Milliseconds or thousands of years, time ends for all things. Even the cosmos itself. None of us are permanent residents in this state; all of us move through death into the next reality. That is a truth that abides.

But we don’t leave life empty-handed, even if we can’t take anything with us. The love we have, given and received, remains and stays with us – a ribbon connecting all things in all times to every other thing and the God who brought it all into being. It’s as sure a truth as any death, and it, too, abides.


We pick up the keys to the new house today. Saturday is the moving day for the big things – bed, dresser, and bookcase. We have people helping us with those things. But the moving began some days back; boxes are packed with linens, clothes, books, and other things easily packed into the car. Mops and cleaners will go first, getting floors and shelves ready for filling. Plants and pictures will arrive well before the big furniture, set aside until everything is in its place. It’s a lot of work to move the smaller things over, but easy enough to do with a few boxes, a car, and a free hour or two.

Moving in small doses, taking stock of what needs to go and what can be let go of, is how I’ve gone from one life stage to another just as surely as the way to go from one house to another. Small things shift, preparing the space for moving the bigger things. Activities are put in a new context, adapting to a new configuration that gives structure to my inner life’s new home. It’s a way to welcome in a new stage, and a reminder that it’s time to ask for help with the big things I can’t get from one stage to another on my own.