Welcome Advent!

By now you’re either in the Advent spirit of welcome and waiting, or you’ve skipped ahead to the Christmas spirit with its hustly-bustly feeling of overwhelm—too much to do and never enough time to do it. You do have a choice: be present to Advent’s time of waiting and preparation. Or focus entirely on the race to Christmas. I had a choice this morning whether or not to go to Zumba. Normally I love Zumba, but I was expecting a crowded room and boring routines that no longer challenge me. I really didn’t want to go. Goodbye, expectations! Welcome, new Zumba teacher! The room was still crowded, but this perky teacher led us through refreshing new routines. She actually demonstrated some of her steps before the music started. New can be challenging but in a good way because it makes my brain work harder to follow the steps. What I was expecting to be the same-old turned into something challengingly fun. On the drive home from the gym, I thought of this passage from Isaiah, “Behold, I make all things new.” Advent is a time to be and do something new. It’s not only a time to bring out your Christmas finery, but also a time to clear out some old ways of relating to God. As the first four weeks of the new liturgical year, Advent offers plenty of time to practice some new resolutions. If the familiar way you’ve been relating to God—and others—seems like a boring routine, then maybe it’s time to change things up and do something new. Some suggestions: Read a spiritual book and reflect on it. One of my favorites, Henri Nouwen, comes to mind. He is easy...

Meet the Enneagram

Last week an article I wrote about the Enneagram was published on The Change Blog. It didn’t seem to generate much buzz, and I was disappointed. Then I realized that the Enneagram isn’t exactly a household word. In fact, when I bring it up in conversation, most people say, “The what?” After I explain a bit, they usually ask, “And how do you spell that?” So what is the Enneagram and what’s so great about it? First of all, a warning: There is no such thing as learning a little bit about the Enneagram and then being done—or even being satisfied with what you know. The Enneagram refers to a circle with nine points that represent nine personality types.  The word comes from the Greek words for “nine” and “figure,” so it’s literally a nine-pointed figure. Inside the circle are arrows that make the diagram resemble a weird geometry puzzle. I’m sure a lot of people were scared off by the Enneagram diagram below that the editor of “The Change Blog” chose for my post—and why I chose a photo of a natural geometric puzzle to lead this post. So much more than a geometry diagram, the Enneagram is a system to gain insight into ourselves and others.  It is a tool for self-growth and transformation. But it also requires study and inner work and a willingness to take a good hard look at yourself and your habitual ways of being. We each contain a dimension of all the nine types, but we are predisposed to one type in particular. Each of the nine types has strengths and weaknesses. Studying the Enneagram is complicated. Each of the...

The Person God Intended Me to Be

“Humility consists in being precisely the person you actually are before God, and since no two people are alike, if you have the humility to be yourself you will not be like anyone else in the whole universe. ” ~Thomas Merton We often want to be someone other than we’re not. Or we compare ourselves to others and come up short. Lent begins today and is the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves, “Am I the person God intended me to be?” And since none of us is perfect, we all have room to grow toward that person. In his book The Rhythm of Life, Matthew Kelly talks about God wanting each of us to become “the-best-version-of-yourself.”  The word “best” may imply trying to be perfect—especially if you’re a perfectionist in recovery like me. Perhaps a goal during Lent is to try to become better than we’ve been. Becoming a better person may mean making a small shift in our habits by making more time for prayer and reading Scripture. It may mean making a small attitude adjustment about those people we find hard to get along with and trying to see them with new eyes. It may mean working on shifting the way we see ourselves. Being more kind and gentle with ourselves when we mess up. Forgiving ourselves when we’re less than perfect. Believing that we’re limitlessly loved by God because of God’s “no matter whatness,” as Gregory Boyle writes in Tattoos on the Heart.  It may mean spending more time reflecting on life’s purpose and meaning by asking two important questions: Who am I called to be? What am...

Happy Birthday, Thomas Merton

Today is the 101st birthday of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and author of more than 70 books and 2,000 poems. Merton also kept a personal diary that spanned much of his lifetime, and seven of his journals were published posthumously. My spiritual director introduced me to Merton. Many Americans were introduced to Merton as one of the four Americans Pope Francis mentioned last fall in his speech to Congress, calling him “a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”  In addition to being a prolific writer, Thomas Merton was both social activist and peace activist. During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, especially Zen Buddhism. The Dali Lama praised him in 1968 for having a more profound knowledge of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. Later in 1968, Merton died of accidental electrocution in Bangkok where he was attending a conference on East-West monastic dialogue. Published in 1962, Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation is packed not only with insights about living contemplatively but also about living as God intended us to be. “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny.” Imagine that—we co-create our lives with God! Then there’s Merton’s observation about living authentically: “Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the person or the artist...

Honoring Care of Creation Day

Pope Francis has designated September 1 as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, following the release of his encyclical this summer, Laudato Si (Praise Be to You). In this document, the Pope urges all of us to take urgent action to care for and save God’s creation. This prayer is from a Christian Prayer in Union with Creation: “Father, we praise you with all your creatures. They came forth from your all-powerful hand; they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love. Praise be to you!” In honor of this day and the gift of our beautiful Earth, here’s a poem I wrote this summer while walking by a nearby lake, in awe of what has come forth from His all-powerful hand. Now Here Who can fathom the flight path of the blue dragonfly and its silver wings glistening in the sun? Who can see the beeping quail calling to one another in the oleanders? Who can find the living thing rustling in the leaves of the bush? Who can decode the sad who-whooing of the mourning dove’s song? Who can appreciate the softness inside a purple flower as the hummingbird sucks its supper? Who can feel the wind rattling the cottonwood’s leaves and whooshing the pine’s needles? Who can predict the path of the falling yellow leaf in its dizzy dance to earth? Who can catch the leaping fish rippling the water’s surface? Who can wait silently and still like the great blue heron paused in the lake? Who can taste this one-of-a-kind, never-come-again day? Me. I can. I am Now Here.  ...