Spiritual Retreat: Ice Ferns

For the next few days,  I will continue posting a series of journal entries I made on a retreat last winter.  Every six months I try and take a few days away to regroup and focus on one spiritual master.  Last year, it was The Cloud of Unknowing.


Day 3: Ice Ferns

Dreams come and go, and I am stirred from my bed early today.  After sipping some water, I am drawn to my window again.

Then, it hits me like a thousands rays of light: the clouds have passed, the sun has freshly awoken, and the frozen world gleams.  I must get out among this wonder.

I practically jump into my wool and boots and pack my breakfast quickly.  Before I know it, I too have become part of this magnificent morning.  Perfectly deep blue skies grace this unfolding gift of a day as I walk into a vista that makes my jaw drop and spirit soar.   A trillion trillion ice crystals have formed on the slumbering, leafless limbs of these woods.  At closer look, each miniature crystal is like an ice fern with ten to twenty leaves.  One branch hosts perhaps a hundred crystals perhaps a thousand, and before me the blazing morning sun reveals a whole frozen wood, a greatly frosted forest.  Later, I learn they call this hoarfrost, where the temperatures dip more quickly than the trees, and the cold literally freezes the air vapors in millions of magnificent patterns.

On this one-decade day, I sit in awe of the detailed and careful artistry and know that in a few hours, all will melt.  The aged dichotomies of science and faith fade from my mind; I see this intermingling world of wonder and precision and, Oh, how the Mystery must be rejoicing at this beautiful artistry.  I alone will be its witness…


Spiritual Retreat: Anticipation of Snow

For the next few days,  I will continue posting a series of journal entries I made on a retreat last winter.  Every six months I try and take a few days away to regroup and focus on one spiritual master.  Last year, it was The Cloud of Unknowing.


Day 2: Anticipation of Snow

The day passes quickly as I read, and eat, and sleep some.  I rest, no doubt, but my mind is mingled with struggle, to let my work and worries pass away in a cloud of forgetting and to come naked before my creator.  This is not work for the faint hearted, coming to terms with hidden pride in places you would rather not look yet letting waves of mercy transform one’s deformed and dissapointed heart.  For many unwanted things can grow on the windows of one’s soul when the cares of life demand your concern.  And though I have come here for clarity of direction, to wipe the window clean, what I find is the eyes of a living Mystery looking back at me and leading me into depths of faith unfathomed where I must go and leave my pre-packaged questions and answers behind.

Indeed the day of solitude quickly passes, and as night comes again I heed the primordial call to rest, having no idea of the oncoming gift (consolation) that lies in store for me the next morning…

A Spiritual Retreat for a Fragmented Age

For the Next Few Days,  I will post a series of journal entries I made on a retreat last winter.  Every six months I try and take a few days away to regroup and focus on one spiritual master.  Last year, it was The Cloud of Unknowing.


Day 1: A Winter’s Retreat

The snow came while the world slumbered, and the people of central Kentucky had braced for the worst. Winter advisories warned of inches, perhaps five or six: an unusual accumulation this far south.  Last year, an ice storm blanketed the region cracking limbs, killing power, and shutting down society for half a week.  But five inches of snow, that would be an event of a decade.

So when I heard of the looming forecast that coinciding with a weekend where wife and child were visiting grandma, I hurried for the Kentucky woods to a familiar Catholic retreat center. With large decisions on our life’s horizon, these two days would be the perfect chance to breathe deep and listen to the Mystery’s leading…

Travel Diaries: Singapore

The Island City-Country of Singapore has figured it out.   Internationally known more for its harsh rules than its brilliant society, this beacon Multicultural nation shines bright in the Pacific.

We visited in 2008 after I graduated from my Masters program. My wife and I through caution to the wind and took our then one year old girl half way around the world.  It can be done!  There we stayed for three weeks.  It took all that time to get used to the chicken’s feet in the food, though the oddities soon receded behind the brilliance.  Not the least of which was the vast array of tropical fruit known to man. This is not to mention the worlds finest zoo along with the Night Safari–a nocturnal zoo experience unlike anything you’ve ever dreamed.

While one might think that the botanical gardens stretch like a root throughout the whole plush city, there is one park designated especially to the national flower: the orchid.  You have never seen so many varieties displayed in one place.  Simply Beautiful.

One my best memories included the journey downtown and to the Museum of Asian Civilizations.  I spent hours slowly weaving through the exhibits on South Asian Buddhism, Islam in the Islands and Malaysia, The Chinese dynasties, Hinduism in Asia, and South East Asian Kingdoms.  This is a must-see for anyone interested in the contours and beauties of Asia.  Singapore, was a taste of the glory of Asia to come and a dwelling in the glory of Asia gone by.  If at all possible, don’t miss this destination.


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Travel Diaries: Uppsala, Sweden

18 years old, I was a freshman in college, and it was my first international experience. Our choir toured through Sweden, the motherland of my kin.

There are certain moments when life impresses its  beauty on you unexpectedly.  This was one of them.  I had been lucky to land a spot in our college’s premier traveling Choir.  At the end of my freshman year we packed up our things, secured our passports, saved all our cash for Swedish fish, and caught the redeye to Copenhagen.  Ahead of us, hundreds of Swedes awaited the music, which we had spent a whole year memorizing.

Most of our time was taken traveling from city to city filling small and large Lutheran churches full of eager Swedish souls.  Yet,  we took in as many sights as the arts director could squeeze in.  We visited castles (the Castle), ancient viking ruins, country cottages, and other historic sites. I remember even getting the chance to wear a thousand year old vestment of some bishop we met.  One stop gave us the evening to rest at what seemed to me a summer camp.  There were cabins and woods.  My good friend Alice and I shared a walk in the woods (where we almost didn’t make it back before dark) and took turns on what seemed like an ancient rope swing strung from an older oak.  We also made our way to the cities.

Uppsala and Stockholm. Our choir had scheduled  a concert in the great Uppsala cathedral, the largest and tallest church building in Scandinavia.  It seemed to me to fit a thousand seats, which ended up surprisingly all filled for us in the end.

You often don’t realize when it is happening that life brings you unforgettable moments of pure joy.  Before our final concert our brilliant director took us behind the altar where the acoustics were most potent.  We sang a round through Rachmaninoff’s Bogorodise Dyevo (perhaps one of the most beautiful songs ever written for chorus).  As we sang through the unfolding harmonies, our eyes caught one another’s and as our voiced echoed through the spires,  it seemed as if thousands of angels had joined us.  We were pouring our hearts out in unison, yet somehow it seemed that we were not even partaking.  Surely this was a moment of ministry meant for us, lonely souls who joined voices in that day to transcend soul and body.  I will never forget it.


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Maintenance of Spirit Potency

Another important principle of formative spirituality is “Maintenance of Form or Spirit Potency”, which is the “inherent impulse to affirm/ appreciate one’s self and actualize one’s potency”.  I have found that the movement from depressed to appreciative living and thinking may be one of the most challenging aspects of spirituality.  At its core, appreciative living necessitates a certain harmony of dispositions that create awe as a byproduct.  If any or one of these dispositions is deformed, the move to appreciation becomes a task of discipline.  On the other hand, appreciation is created in the human heart that is fully dependent and reliant upon the divine mystery.  A striving for appreciation based in one’s pride will only ever lead to further frustration and endless willful failures.   In order to make this transition, we must first rely on the Holy Spirit.  It is my hope in life to engage the appraisal process in greater ways to discern how the Spirit may be equipping me to engage in appreciation. Since appreciation can be practiced, I hope try to do so especially when I am disappointed. I hope to transform disappointments into opportunities for formation.

A second movement includes a move from self to other centered attitudes and actions.  One way involves the practice of listening.  I have noticed that I usually guide conversations by my own insights and advice giving.  I hope to become more skilled at the practice of utilizing what they other is saying as a basis for furthering the conversation.  In this way, I am serving them where the spirit is truly forming them  instead of where I think they should be heading.  Another path to other centered actions and attitudes includes evoking the divine nobility and unique-communal life call of others. This process begins first with the practice of seeing the divine nobility in each human, a task not easy given the raggedness of humanity.  The next process includes especially the formation of the dispositions of compassion.  Such a practice will keep me other-focused.

Formation and Faith Traditions

Humans do not form in a vacuum. Rather, different faith and form traditions impact formation as cauldron contexts.  As a person moves throughout their day, different traditions impact their spirit, each at its own level of influence. And the deeper the influence, the more impact the tradition may have in coloring all other levels of traditional influence.  In Formative Spirituality, we construct pyramids to represent the levels of traditional impact; the closer to the base of the pyramid, the more the impact.  Ideally, in a healthy spirit, relationship with the divine mystery should be at the bottom. In this way, one’s relationship with the forming mystery ought to define and give meaning to less impact form traditions.

What might yours look like? What forces shape you the most?


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Life with Christ