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...

Signs and Wonders Are Everywhere

Spiritual direction can help you see what’s right in front of you. I wrote this poem-prayer after a walk through my neighborhood. You don’t have to walk far to see Divine signs. Signs and Wonders O God, we ask for signs And you give us trees ablaze with yellow blossoms. We ask to hear your voice And you give us the song of one small bird joyously proclaiming a new day. We ask to feel your love, to know it in our bones And you give us treasured friends with kind, encouraging voices. And we ask—no, we beg you—for everything we think we need And you give us a thousand ways to die through big and little suffering.   O Father, help us to wake up from our sleepy living and see you in every blessing you put before us each day, Open our plugged ears to hear your quiet whispers in the silence and in the sounds that surround us. Guide us to see your love in everyone we meet and in every burden you ask us to carry, Until we see your shining face and the radiant face of your Son when finally, joyfully, you welcome us home....
Green Cars, Yellow Butterflies and God

Green Cars, Yellow Butterflies and God

One of the first exercises of E Squared by Pam Stout is to notice green cars and yellow butterflies. This exercise is supposed to make you aware that you see what you look for. During the next 48 hours, I saw several green cars on the road from petite neon green Prius cabs to lumbering army green SUVs. Green is not a particularly popular car color, but yes, once you start looking for green cars, they jump out in front of you. Literally. Like the dark green one that ran a red light, narrowly missed T-boning another car as I watched safe inside my car stopped at the intersection. When I began the exercise of looking for yellow butterflies, I didn’t anticipate that it would be much of a stretch. I’m a nature girl at heart so I do notice yellow butterflies and green birds and pink clouds. But until I began this focused hunt for yellow butterflies, I didn’t acknowledge their presence. I now find myself greeting every capricious flutter of each yellow visitor. “Hello, yellow butterfly.” These flashes of yellow are everywhere—far more than there are green cars. Today I took my camera for my morning dog walk, and sure enough, there were plenty of yellow butterflies to acknowledge and greet. One flew over my head, one darted across the street half a block away. When I approached the area covered with lantana on the edge of Scottsdale Bible Church, I readied my camera. My dog Sam stood still while I patiently waited for a yellow butterfly to land. I’ve learned that they are dizzy dancers and don’t often stop long to take a blossom drink. Today...