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...

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...