Poetry for Life

DSCF1121-3English was one of my favorite subjects in high school.  I enjoyed pouring my thoughts into a journal, and have continued that practice off and on for years.  I suppose that blogging is in some ways just a continuation of the creative writing that had its beginnings back then.  When I’m re-reading my emails at work, I know the brain cells looking for spelling and grammar mistakes were trained by countless exercises in English class, too.

Yet, what I remember most from high school English lessons was the poem “Inspiration” by Henry David Thoreau.  The first verse is emblazoned in memory, and comes unbidden to my mind, when I’m feeling tired, overwhelmed, or both.

Whate’er we leave to God, God does,
And blesses us;
The work we choose should be our own,
God lets alone.

The poem contains other wonderful verses, and I invite you to get the full poem from a publisher, on your Kindle or your bookshelf of poetry, especially if you’re a writer or a poet.  If you have any anthologies there, it may already be in your collection. In the meantime, let his words be my gift to you, and to my future self.

Posted in blogging, hope | Tagged | Leave a comment

Is this all there is?

Nitobe Memorial Garden in SpringSitting on the bench in the Japanese garden, I was asked by a couple walking by, “Is this all there is?” I answered aloud, “Yes,” and silently, “Isn’t this enough?” Two acres of carefully designed and cared for garden on a sunny spring day: new growth on every plant, stunning reflections of the trees in the pond, magical reflections of sunlight on the trees, the sounds of the waterfalls, slender iris piercing the dark, rich earth of their beds, big camellia blooms, and tiny buds and blossoms on tree branches.  My camera had been busy, feasting on the beauty every few steps, macro, wide angle, and video all found inspiration in the springtime scene.  “Is this all there is?”

It seems to me that the question itself bears some reflection.  Is there any fault in wanting more?  Certainly if you are in a miserable situation, that question could be a healthy one to ask yourself. But in most cases, if that question arises, I would counter, “Are you paying attention? Are you noticing the natural beauty, the artistry, the engineering, the craftsmanship, the ingenuity, that surrounds you? Are you using all the lenses of the camera of your mind?”

Life is short. The garden of your life may only have two acres. But if you slow down, pay attention, you may find that in all there is, abundance is just waiting for your discovery.DSCF0803

Posted in time, travel | 1 Comment

Ignoring the video

Been to a restaurant lately with TVs up on the walls?  Even if the sound is off, you and your companions are constantly distracted by the flashing colors and images. Conversation that might build the relationship is instead difficult to maintain, as eyes drift away, and you react not to each other, but to the entertainment magnet on the wall.  It’s so frustrating, and disappointing.

Distracting video also happens in meditation, described by Martin Laird in “Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation.”  There you are, repeating your mantra, when along comes a compelling internal video. It plays personalized content — something you need to do after meditation, something that didn’t go as well as you’d have liked, or maybe some event that has you worried, or angry, or unhappy.   Laird assures us that these videos are not going to stop — any more than the restaurant owner is going to shut off those TVs.  But you can, with practice, become less distracted by them.

This ignore-the-video concept was immediately helpful with my meditation, but what surprised me was its practical application at work.  When a stressful email hit my inbox, when a meeting was going poorly, when a colleague was going off the rails, I noticed the video of negative thoughts starting in my head: indignation, resentment, demoralization — customized to fit the situation.  And how helpful were these videos to keeping me motivated and productive?  Zero.

My goal for 2016 is to improve my meditation practice — to meditate more often, and to get better at contemplative prayer as a spiritual practice.  But if I succeed, I may also end my workdays in a better state of mind, more able to enjoy my family’s company.  And as for dinner conversation at restaurants with TVs?  The problem isn’t the TVs.  The problem is going to one of those places when our team’s game isn’t on, or it’s the off-season.

See how your perspective changes, when you’re not distracted by the negative video in your head?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Pokémon Wisdom

Pokemon groupEver watched a Pokémon show? Maybe you know someone who has a Pokémon card collection, or plays the Pokémon games on Nintendo? The TV show is a lighthearted adventure, with a group of kids and their Pokémon (non-human companions with varied special abilities) on a quest of self-discovery and personal achievement, periodically opposed by a team of villains out to steal their Pokémon.

My family enjoys watching this weekly show over dinner, commenting on the inevitable failure of the bad guys, and the relentless optimism of the hero. This week’s episode was more thought-provoking for me, however, as the female protagonist lost her temper with her bickering Pokémon partners, and excused herself for a walk – alone. Wandering about town, she encountered another girl – a famous person in disguise, of course – who needled her about not smiling. “Your smile is powerful. You should smile!”

Long after the show finished, I pondered this simple idea. I’m getting older now, and when I look in the mirror with no expression, the corners of my mouth turn down, and wrinkles extend the curve into a frown. But if I smile, even just a little bit, I look years younger. The lines are still there, but they enlarge into a pleasing, welcoming expression.

The promise in the Pokémon show wasn’t that smiling would be a youth serum, though. The troubled character was a girl, not a middle-aged woman. The promise was for power, for victory over the situation with her partners, and success in the competitions they planned to enter. How could a smile do all that? In the show, the girl’s smile indeed changed the outcome of a hopeless situation. When faced with defeat, with failure, with a skilled opponent and her own shortfalls, she followed the advice, and her smile changed everything.

In that same situation in real life, we have the same choice. We can invite the cloud over our heads to darken with rain and thunder, or maybe, with a little effort, we can call the muscles in our face to action, put on a little smile, and let the cloud dissipate in the sunshine. A little tug of muscle can become a smile of apology, a smile of appreciation for the opposition’s talent, and a smile of confidence that you’re going to persevere – to grow and learn from the experience.

We’re all of us on a quest of self-discovery and personal achievement. We have companions and adversaries, and yes, even battles of sorts. Let us take the advice of one Pokémon champion, and remember to smile at each other along the way. Our smiles‘ power of transformation may surprise us and bless us, with better outcomes than we could ever have imagined.

Posted in hope, movies, work | Tagged , | Leave a comment

In God’s Lap

I’m not a kid anymore. Not even close. But like a dressed-up child at a big party full of grown-ups and strangers, I can get a little overwhelmed, a little stressed, a little uncertain, in need of comfort and security.

The good news is, there’s a lap I still fit in. A place where I can go and be loved, have a hand stroke my hair, and a warm chest to lean back on. A place I am always welcome.

Sitting down at the doctor’s office after a stressful day of work, uncertain of what news might be in store at this visit, I saw the assistant pick up the cuff and her stethoscope. In my mind I climbed into the lap of God.

She pumped the cuff, and then again. “Do you have low blood pressure?” “Yes.” “Well, it’s 90 over 60.” “That’s normal for me.”

All my life, the church has taught that each of us is a beloved child of God. Remember that, and when you need it, climb up in God’s lap for a rest.

Posted in religion | Leave a comment

The Temple and the Beast

Ever seen light shooting out of your fingers?  Me, neither.  But do you remember when the Beast’s fingers did that, as his curse was being lifted?  Inside that beast was a human being.  It’s a pretty good visual for being filled with the Holy Spirit, I think.  One minute you’re growling around, in the depths of despair, fighting with the enemy.  The next minute, you’re lifted up, filled with light, and the weight of all that beastliness is gone.

These last few months have been beast times for me.  I’ll spare you the details, but I can bet every one of you reading this have had your own beast times. It’s no fun, for you, or for the friends, family, and colleagues that are around you.  But in the last week, things have shifted. I feel the Holy Spirit inside is no longer buried under a heavy coat of fur.  It feels like a new beginning.

It seems appropriate that it is also a new year.  As Jimmy Buffett would say, it’s time to treat my body like a temple, rather than a tent — a temple of the Holy Spirit.  With all that optimism, allow me to share with you this Collect from church this morning:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

May we all shine in the coming year, so that the people we meet can see the light inside.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remember Why

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

You hear about the Constitution in the news: the Supreme Court rulings, the pocket-sized copies carried by Tea Party faithful, and its example for new countries venturing into democracy. But when is the last time you looked at why this Constitution was created?

In honor of the upcoming mid-term election, I’d like to review that Preamble with you:

  • in order to form a more perfect union – Yep. We’re not perfect. We the people squabble and disagree, and divisions abound, some dating from back before the United States were united. However, we all agree that the Constitution is the keystone of the government. Sure, some of us want it to be the keystone of a multi-story mall complex, and others are adamant that it’s the keystone of a one-room bunker, but the Constitution’s durability helps to keep us together.
  • establish justice – Youtube has excellent examples of the horror that other governments (or terrorist groups with government aspirations) call “justice”. And is there any doubt that part of what drives the immigration from our southern neighbors is the lack of an effective justice system at home? The Constitution is the re-bar in our justice foundation.
  • insure domestic tranquility – We don’t have to have a coup or a civil war to overthrow the government, thanks to elections and term limits. Here in the US, folks can vote differently from each other, and not worry about endangering their lives or livelihoods. Other countries share this blessing, but the Constitution defines the American rules of engagement.
  • provide for the common defense – The Constitution gives us the ability to raise an army to fight enemy combatants. The NIH budget ballooned when the security-conscious post-911 Republican administration thought outside hardware weaponry, and into potential biological threats. Today’s Ebola virus vaccines were partly funded by those government dollars. The powers of Captain America’s shield are nothing compared to the powers of our Constitution.
  • promote the general welfare – Remember the TARP program, started by the Bush administration at the beginning of the Great Recession? Remember the banks “too big to fail”, and the buckets of money that Republicans and Democrats alike were spending? Convinced that the general welfare was at risk, they did what experts said was needed. Future economists and historians may debate the effectiveness of their efforts, but the Preamble tells us their intent was constitutional.
  • secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity – Liberty. Not just for this generation, but for generations to come. Not just for the rich, white, heterosexual, native English speakers, but for all the people of the United States. Liberty not just for the short term — that myopic view that plagues human nature, but for the long haul. That’s what our Constitution is meant to do for us.

As you look at the candidates’ platforms or the ballot initiatives for this election, can you see glimmers of the Preamble in their intent? I expect you will. So make your plans to vote. Do your part in our government. Let the Preamble remind you Why.

inspired by a particularly good rendition of God Bless America in Game 3 of the 2015 World Series (Note: the video clip’s temporary silence happened at game time, and was not a post-production error.)

Posted in engaging, hope, immigration, politics | Tagged | Leave a comment