Category Archives: Education

Finding the Rhythm

 

The time signature in a musical piece sets the rhythm – common time, three-quarter time, etc. It gives a frame for the notes, directions on how they work together in time, and keeps everyone singing and playing the various parts working together to transform dark spots on white paper into melody and harmony. It’s the touchpoint for improvisation, the place of reference for scat singing and jazz solos. When I dance, it directs my feet; it provides the when and how often for clapping.

It’s usually easy enough to find the rhythm that the time signature sets. But every so often, it isn’t so easy. I can’t quite find the underlying beat, and the pattern of the notes escapes me. Turning on the radio at the end of a song or during a guitar solo; a cappella chanting; some modern classical music that changes rhythm unexpectedly and often: these can throw me off, and it takes more than a few seconds to find my way in the piece. I have to wait until I can feel the structure and pattern in the music. It’s unsettling.

My spiritual life feels that way sometimes. The time signature changes throughout my life, and it throws me off until I find the rhythm; I’ve tuned in somewhere in the middle instead of at the start (more honestly, I tuned out for the beginning part!); someone’s offering a riff on faith, and I miss its connection to the standard version.

Finding the rhythm of the Spirit may take some time, and I may not catch on as quickly as I’d like – I may even clap in the wrong places. But given time and a little patience, I’ll find my place in the music. I may appreciate the time signature all the more for having missed it.

[The Book of LoveShall We Dance?, Peter Gabriel, 2004]

House of Cards

They come and go, tucked in envelopes or tucked under the ribbons of a present: cards. Birthday, Sympathy, New Baby!, Anniversary, Thank You, Thinking of You, and so many more arrive at and depart from this place I call home. Sure, some are forgettable in word and image; but others are amazing – wisdom and beauty in words and individually wrapped art work. They brighten my bookcases and hold my place in books. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you.

Feel free to do the same with me!

Orienting

[ Photo by Jared Fredrickson] 

The weeds in the garden were well on their way to taking over the bed, so I spent an hour pulling them away from the tomatoes, chives, snow peas, and sunflowers. When I began, the sun was just peeking over the roof line; when I finished up, it was well on its way to the middle of the sky.

I don’t usually pay much attention to this daily arc through the sky – unless it’s to seek shade or because the sun’s heat is doing its best to turn my skin pink. But today, I began my weeding at the base of the sunflowers. In the hour I spent in the garden, the sunflowers changed their orientation: all of them began facing one direction and turned their faces to another by the time I stopped pulling weeds. The sun had moved, and they changed their orientation to continue facing it, following the life-giving light.

When I water the garden this evening, the sunflowers will be facing in the opposite direction to their morning orientation. It’s why they are called sunflowers, I suppose: though grounded in one particular place, they turn with the sun’s movement. If that isn’t an every day miracle, I don’t know what is.

It struck me that I can do the same thing. I cannot move from the particular time and circumstance that set the parameters of my life’s span, but I can choose my orientation. I can choose to be moved by something life-giving beyond myself. And within this very small, brief, and specific life span I call my own, I can choose to act accordingly.

Lord, keep my eyes and heart open. Only with your help can I look beyond myself and act with compassion for all the life you’ve created. Amen.

 

Be Brave

Be brave.

My upstairs neighbor, George Greer, said that the first time he said goodbye to my nine month old son, Colin; they were his parting words to Colin every time after. I thought it was an amusing way to part company with a baby at the time, but over the 20+ years since, I’ve come to see it as a powerful benediction:

Be brave. Take on the day’s adventure  – who knows what will happen on any given day, in any given minute? Do the work which may be necessary but won’t always be easy or fulfilling.

Be brave. Don’t hide who you are. Meet whomever and whatever comes as your true self, not hiding behind a mask.  The world may knock the stuffing out of you sometimes, but it will also provide steadfast companions to help you on your way.

Be brave. Don’t live a lesser life because a deep one involves loss and pain. You can change the world in ways no one else can, but it takes some fortitude.

Be brave. With God’s help, be brave.

Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties. 

[For the full prayer, click For Today: Phillips Brooks prayer above]

Give Me Strength

O God, Give me strength to live another day.

Existing is easy, but that’s not the same thing as living.

Give me the wisdom to choose living over existing, Lord.

Without you, I might not have it in me to choose living.

Give me strength. Amen.

[This is one in a series. For the full prayer, click ” For Today:Phillips Brooks Prayer”  above]

 

For Today: A Prayer by Phillips Brooks


It’s the last thing you read before you leave one Forward Day by Day for the next one. I’d call it a way to redefine the day from a given number of hours to accomplish tasks to another chance to live humbly before God and in loving relationship with self and neighbor. It was written by Phillips Brooks, the man who penned the word to “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and served as rector of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. There’s an old fashioned air to this prayer, and a powerful use of words. It’s going to be the focus of these post-Easter writings, and my daily prayer. I hope you join me in praying:

O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity: Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Forward Day by Day, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, OH, www.forwardmovement.org]

This is the first in a series on this prayer. For more on this prayer, click “For Today” above.

Eating My Words

Conversations with my chef friend, Penny Cameron

1996, West Windsor, New Jersey

Me: How can it cost $5 for a loaf of decent bread?

Penny: Make your own in a bread machine. It’s easy.

Me: Not likely.

2000, New Hope, PA

Me: Genuardi’s is out of the good chicken stock again.

Penny: Make your own. It’s easy.

Me: When pigs fly.

2001, September, New Hope, PA

Me: Sugar free applesauce is almost impossible to find.

Penny: It’s easy to make on the stove and freeze in ice cube trays. Even better, can it – apples are cheap right now.

Me: I don’t I have an inner farmer to channel.

Since those conversations, I’ve done everything Penny suggested. I’ve made my own chicken stock for almost 20 years. I’ve canned applesauce and more for almost a decade. I’ve channeled an inner farmer enough to become a teaching gardener, showing preschool children how to grow and enjoy herbs and vegetables.

Penny died just a few months after my applesauce complaint – liver failure. Whenever I take a chance and try to grow or cook something new, I feel her spirit surround me. What a beautiful way for the Spirit to show me how to eat with intention and thanks.

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.

Cultivating Cheerfulness

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… [A Morning Resolve]

A good person, but not someone you’d want to go out for a beer with.

That’s most of the people I knew during my doctoral years at Princeton Seminary – faculty, administration, and students. There were notable exceptions, maybe 20% of the total population altogether. It isn’t as if the other 80% weren’t interesting, sincere, intelligent, or well-meaning: they were. It’s just that they weren’t particularly fun to be around outside a classroom. They were serious people with serious things to ponder and accomplish, and they had little time or patience for shared laughter and fun. Did I come across the same way?

As there were no classes on cultivating cheerfulness, and very few professors capable of teaching such a class if there had been, maybe a different kind of mentor was needed- someone who was comfortable enough in the non-academic world to help those who weren’t. It’s not just learning the social skills to talk with a wide range of people: it’s seeing in a stranger something of value, even before beginning a conversation. It’s knowing that there’s a whole wide world of fascinating people and ideas to explore, and being grateful for the opportunity to do so with whomever happens to be there at the time.

To lighten someone’s day, and to get a kick out of the world in general – that’s a spiritual gift worth cultivating.

Sincere

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life…

[A Morning Resolve, Forward Day by Day, November 2019 – January 2020, inside cover]

Merriam Webster’s definition of Sincere

A. Free of dissimulation: Honest

B. Free from adulteration: Pure

C. Marked by genuineness: True

[www.merriam-webster.com]

I will be who I am, fully and completely. I won’t offer a false version of myself to others. I will be faithful to the world and those around me, as best I can. 

When others share their true selves with me, I’ll do my best to be worthy of their sacred gift.

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