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Rejoice

“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down!” (Isaiah 64:1) Do you ever feel like that? So fed up and bowed down and pissed off that nothing short of the Second Coming has the smallest hope of making things right? (Yes, I am aware that the writer of those words didn’t have the Second Coming in mind.) Our world is so full of violence and suffering, from abused animals to AIDS orphans to police brutality to refugees in camps where they’re sitting ducks for their enemies, that I feel overwhelmed, certain that nothing I do can make any difference. Advent is about that. Our political process is polarized…

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A Widow’s Mite-y Love

You rejoice in God’s love, right? Do you think God rejoices in yours? I know: My love seems a poor thing next to God’s. But once again I’ve learned something from my dog, even though she’s been gone over two years. Abby was a dog, and she loved as a dog loves. Not as God loves; not even as I love. But she loved with her whole heart, with all that she was and all that she had. Her whole doggy being was dedicated to loving me, her human. And that was what melted my heart when I looked at her. It never occurred to me to ask something more…

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Is This the Life?

Lately I’ve been haunted by these words of Jesus: “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” When I hear Jesus talk like that I’m forced to wonder: Am I alive? Am I free? How would I know? I recently attended the funeral of a man I never met, the son of a dear couple in my parish. He was only forty-five, felled by cancer way too soon. One person after another got…

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A Rule of Life, Part 3: Getting Specific

So you’ve decided your spiritual life could use a bit of structure, and you’re ready to try putting together a rule of life. Where to begin? There are so many models out there, so many possibilities, that it can be a bit daunting. But rules evolve. While it’s good to give your rule a serious try once you’ve put it together, there’s no law that says you’re stuck with it if it isn’t working. My first rule of life, which served me well through years of travel, was pretty simple: “Never pass up a good toilet.” There’s no telling when the next one will turn up. My rule has expanded…

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A Rule of Life, Part 2: Scheduled Feedings

There’s a story told of a dog placed at the exact center point between two bowls of food. The dog starved to death (okay, this is not a real dog), because it had no basis for making a choice between bowls. I know just how that feels: When my blood sugar drops I get stupid-hungry, and have been known to call my husband and ask what I should do about it. He notes my location and then recommends a nearby source of carbs. He’s way better than Siri, because he has better sense than to give me more than one option. There’s a spiritual version of this, too. Stupid-hungry, we’re…

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A Good Death

I’m going to take a brief time-out from the series on having a rule of life, because today is the Transitus, the day we mark the passing of Francis of Assisi from this life to the fullness of joy. For Franciscans of all kinds around the world, this is the day to mark a holy man’s holy death, and it’s as good a day as any to ask, What makes a good death? I remember the death of my mother-in-law, over ten years ago now. She was a holy person too, a devout Baptist who’d lived faithfully in the face of hardship, racism, violence and loss. From the time she…

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A Rule of Life, Part 1: Who Needs More Rules?

“Every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Jesus, Matthew 13:52 Christians, perhaps especially contemplatives, seem to have a special knack for discovering the ancient. Sectors of the church that had long forgotten them have “discovered” labyrinths, icons, chanting and contemplative prayer itself. These “discoveries” sometimes have the feel of religious fads, but as Jesus’ comment above suggests, sometimes we just need to root around in the treasure chest that is our heritage, until we find what’s useful for our time. In the last few decades, one of the most useful recoveries has been the monastic…

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On Pilgrimage to Home

Do you revisit the places that formed you? Every year after Labor Day, when the tourists have mostly cleared out from the Florida resort town where my parents live, I pay them a visit. I haven’t lived in Florida since I was five years old, but in my youth we vacationed here a lot, and my parents retired here in 1990. My sister built a business here, and it was on the “sugar sand beach” of the Redneck Riviera that I’ve made some of my best decisions. I have a love-hate relationship with this place. When the water is calm and clear it is hauntingly beautiful, and there are people…

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House of Glory

Lord, I have loved the habitation of your house, and the place where your glory abides. (Psalm 26:8) One of the memorable moments of my teaching career came when I was standing with a student in a Roman church, the Nth one we’d visited on our quarter-long study abroad program. He had long since passed the point where they all start to run together, and asked me rather abruptly how many more we would have to endure. It had been a long day, so I turned to him and said, “You signed up for a program on the historical sociology of Christianity. In Rome. Did you not think you’d be…

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