When we think of the great religious traditions of the world, we tend to think in terms of symbols, a history of regional conflicts, of doctrinal distinctives. We think of surface differences.
The common bumper sticker challenging us to “Coexist” spells this out graphically. A crescent moon, a star of David, a cross. To some, common sense, to others, a hopeless compromise.
During a recent visit one of my family members was recounting a trip they had taken to Europe. On the trip they had visited several churches. In one of them the congregants had written letters to members of ISIS and read them to the congregation.
This family member was recounting with shock and amazement that these parishioners would call members of ISIS “brothers” and claim to be “praying for them every day.”
I was a little shocked that the family member was shocked.
A few weeks ago I found myself unable to perform my regular Centering Prayer practice for much of the week. My schedule was very unusual, including two sleep studies, one at a sleep lab, and several night’s sleep interrupted by my young son.
At the same time, I faced setbacks in several projects at work. And irregular circumstances required I stay at the ready for much of the week and skip my regular work out times. The fogginess from the lack of sleep only made matters worse. In the midst of this general slog, I received a co-worker sent me an antagonistic, disrespectful email.
A few years ago I was going through a period of prolonged inner tension. For work purposes, my wife and I had lived apart for some time and developed our own rhythms. I had been on one career track and was changing course to live in a new situation, a new job, a new city.
There was both relief and renewed tension in this life change. We were also adjusting to life with a newborn and trying to find our footing. I had taken steps in recent years to address long standing destructive patterns and addictions, but here I was out of rhythm and found old mental-emotional patterns returning. Dark moods born from regret, resentment, or anxieties about parenthood were easily triggered.
During an especially difficult period for me I connected with a friend who was going through difficulties of her own. She’d recently gone through a divorce and was confronting addiction issues in her life head on.
As one of the few people whose book recommendations for me are consistently spot on, I asked what she was reading at the time. One of the titles on her current list was Awareness by a writer I hadn’t heard of: Anthony De Mello.
Welcome to Season 1, Episode 6 of the Spiritual Directions podcast. In this episode, I sit down with wanderer, father, and now seminary student to discuss his spiritual journey, finding God in unexpected places, the importance of focusing on men’s spirituality, and the simple but powerful motto that helps him stay oriented.
How do we deal with the questions in our lives when our responsibilities don’t take a time out? For John Brand, the spiritual journey that began so many years ago has led him to pursue these deeper questions by going to seminary. John shares his journey from growing up in a Naval officer’s home, to the inspiration that led to a life changing journey, what helps him stay focused on what matters, and the gifts he brings to men’s spirituality.
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Many years ago I was asked to speak at a retreat for college students on worship. I wasn’t ready. I had recently finished my Masters in Theology and the Arts, had a couple of years of teaching under my belt and had some thoughts on the topic of the retreat.
But deep down, I was terrified. I was afraid I’d be exposed as a fraud. I was far from a good place internally. I was angry. I was bitter and resentful about my life situation at the time. The poor kids on the retreat were treated to an extremely self-conscious speaker who didn’t exactly deliver.
Soon after I started dating my future wife (we met in Seminary), I explained some of the ways in which my faith had been stretched, and she had a pointed question, “but you still love Jesus, right?” Having grown up overseas, I was wary of the question.
Americans in general and Evangelical subculture in particular seemed to have an addiction to sentimentality.
The agape of the Gospels, this moment to moment love-in-action springing out of rootedness in the divine so often seemed instead to refer to an intense emotional attachment.
We hear the language all the time, but what in fact did it mean to “love Christ?” What did it mean to “follow Christ?”
During seminary one of my professors shared a personal story that brought both him and much of the class to tears.
His wife had suffered yet another miscarriage and they were both still reeling. The professor shared times he had questioned his faith. He later ended class with the reminder that life can be messy. Relationships can be messy. Faith can be messy. Spirituality can be messy.
In dealing with my own uncertainty and stuck in relationship issues at the time, his words rang true for me, too.
And sure enough, the categories we use to navigate the world don’t always match up to our experience. But we usually just make a slight revision to the categories. All we can do at the level of the mind is to make these revisions or create more categories, subdividing further and further.