Category Archives: Formative Spirituality

Ever since Socrates defined the human spirit, we have been on our search excellence. A basic fact: humanity transcends itself. It’s in our DNA. We either become better, or we deform. In the end, we have been 12 or a hundred different people. We unfold. We follow some primordial call.

Thousands of years of spiritual Masters have been on this journey, mapping its contours. Major streams of thought and untold religious effort have been spent to endorse, extinguish, capitalize upon, and support this one fundamental piece of the human DNA.

The discipline of Formative Spirituality, conceived by Father Adrian van Kaam, seeks to scientifically explain the unfolding of a healthy human spirit and locate its obstacles. At its core, spirituality aids a person in the discovery her unique-communal destiny (what one is called to be and do). The pressures of a sick spirituality reinforce human pride and the impulse to dominate and control even one’s own destiny. While Christian Spirituality does not claim that it alone creates deeply good and selfless human beings, it does claim to map the deepest image of reality, particularly the full flowering of one’s individual calling culminating in the creation of a divine community and embraced by the Creating Mystery as Cosmic King.

Contemplative Wisdom from T.S. Elliott

From “The Dry Salvages”:

To communicate with Mars, converse with spirits, To report the behaviour of the sea monster, Describe the horoscope, haruspicate or scry, Observe disease in signatures, evoke Biography from the wrinkles of the palm And tragedy from fingers; release omens By sortilege, or tea leaves, riddle the inevitable With playing cards, fiddle with pentagrams Or barbituric acids, or dissect The recurrent image into pre-conscious terrors – To explore the womb, or tomb, or dreams; all these are usual Pastimes and drugs, and features of the press: And always will be, some of the especially When there is distress of nations and perplexity Whether on the shores of Asia, or in the Edgware Road.

Men’s curiosity searches past and future And clings to that dimension.  But to apprehend The point of intersection of the timeless With time, is an occupation for the saint – No occupation either, but something given And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love, Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

For most of us, there is only the unattended Moment, the moment in and out of time, The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight, The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning Or teh waterfall, or music heard so deeply That it is not heard at all, but you are the music While the music lasts.  These are only hints and guesses, Hints followed by guesses; and the rest Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.  The hint half-guessed, the gift half understood, is


20 Least Life Altering Ways to Worship While you Whistle

The Shakers lived a lifestyle of worship.  And if they ever were to meet the 7 Dwarfs, I think they’d have a lot to talk about. Like the Dwarfs, we are a working world of busy professionals.  Like the Shakers, we all long for a lifestyle marked with meaning, with rich traditions, food, and relationships.  And unlike the Disney characters or the easy caricatures of the Shaker life, the everyday working person lives in a constant pressure cooker.  Are there not some easy ways to worship/ reflect/ center our spirits while we  blast through our morning routines, push through our 9 to 5’s, and endure through dinner and dusk?  Easy? No. Least life altering? Yes.

  1. Favorite Things:  After our dinner prayers, each person in my family shares their 1 favorite thing from the day.  It gets our conversation into appreciative tones and links together what could be an otherwise fragmented day.
  2. Interruptions into Invitations: When your nose is buried in an essential, career changing project, try to turn interruptions into invitations from God.  Unwanted extraverts can be invitations to remember that your life and happiness is not dependent on your effort alone.  God’s got your back. Then get back to work (this can take as little as 3 seconds, if you keep focused).
  3. Start Your Meetings Off With a Bit of Silence:  Organizational specialists stress the importance of inspiration.  People need to stay connected with why they do what they do.  Taking 5 minutes of silence at the beginning of a meeting can make a big difference in tone and positive energy.
  4. Kiddie Devotion: Read your children a kid’s Bible every night before bed.  When life is rushed, make it your devotion too.  Sometimes you have to go whole months doing this. I’d recommend: the Jesus Storybook Bible.
  5. Meal Contemplation: Everybody eats.  During your meals, take a few moments and try and think about the journey that your food has taken from its origin.  Just think about a frozen pizza: plants and animals grew, gave milk for cheese, people picked and diced the veggies, pasteurized the milk, made it into cheese.  Somebody packaged then delivered the food to someone else who sprinkled and spread. Somebody froze it. Another person delivered it to a market.  Another person stocked it.  You bought it, thawed it, and gnawed it.  It’s a humbling practice, contemplating at meal time
  6. Be Still and Know that I am God: Okay, for the people who thought I’d never get to God directly.  Taking a few breaks a day (for 2 seconds) and repeating in your head, “Be Still and Know that I am God,” can make a big difference.
  7. Find Joy in Cooking: Another food idea.  If you want, you can find joy in menial tasks.  Start with cooking, if that’s not too life-altering.  Appreciate how different tastes go together and the creativity of it all.  Once in a while put down the recipe and go for your own, trusting your intuition. Try to laugh when it turns out disgusting.  Eat your concoction or throw it out and contemplate over that frozen pizza.
  8. Worship Playlist. If you can listen to your iTunes during work…make a worship playlist of four or five of the songs that most inspire you/ remind you of God, His story, and his mission in the world. Play through it twice a day while you write emails.
  9. Posture. Pay attention to your posture.  Are you hunching over?  Let it be a signal that your spirit may be striving too much.  Are your shoulders by your ears?  Maybe your are putting too much pressure on yourself.  Let your posture guide you back to easiness of spirit.
  10. Prayer’s of the Saints: Take a moment to pray a prayer written by a saint.  If you don’t know any, try this link“Prayers of the Saints” is built for you.
  11. Carpenter’s Wink: Sometimes God wants you to keep focus and keep working.  I once was typing away at a manuscript.  I felt guilty that I was focusing too much on my work, too little on God.  I imagined Him working at a saw-bench beside me, with safety goggles and all.  I caught His attention as if to say, “I love you.” He stretched upright, pulled his eye protection off, gave a wink, and went straight back to work. So did I.
  12. Sabbath. Take at least one day of your week to rest.  Saturday or Sunday is the best, since a lot of people still take these days off. Resting in community is so much better than doing it alone.
  13. Breath Prayers. When you are driving or riding home, catch yourself taking intentional deep breaths.  When you breath in, think to yourself, “God be with me.”  When you breath out, think “away all that was meant for evil.”
  14. Crying and Sleeping Babies.  Our little bundles of joy can be great teachers.  Whether your little chap is fussing in your arms (he is alive after all, and has been given a voice) or your little princess is sleeping away (have you ever felt the palm of a sleeping baby?) you can turn these moments into deep places of thanksgiving.
  15. Appreciate Your Limits. Ever feel ultra-guilty that you can’t find time for God?  It’s okay.  Don’t beat yourself up or try and turn yourself into a spiritual Master overnight.  Sometimes trusting that God has you right where he needs you in this moment is the best thing for you. (Okay, now I am moving into some suggestions that may be a little more life altering. I’m assuming that God is the one who is turning  you into a spiritual master and that it might work).
  16. JNI. These are Just Noticeable Improvements.  When it comes to worship and intimacy with God. Keep going. Don’t give up.  Catch yourself making just noticeable improvements.  The spiritual life is far more about waking up one day and realizing that God has changed you and your habits than it is about mastering any one or the other spiritual discipline.
  17. Appreciation and Thanksgiving. As you progress in your spiritual life, try to find God’s invitations more and more.  Find them in the things you are successful with.  Find them in the obstacles you face.  Find them in the joys you experience.  Find them even in your deepest disappointments.
  18. Make Time for Prayer.  8 Hours Sleeping, 8 Hours Working, 8 Hours Playing. Do the math.  Make subtle adjustments for the equation to fit you.  If you are more than three or four hours off in any area, you might be a bit unbalanced.
  19. Make a Routine. 1 hour a day.  1 day a week. 1 week a year.  1 year of 7.  Rest and delight in this life God has given you.  This is a workaday master’s life plan (with room for you to adjust).  Wake up when you are 60 and find your life is filled rich traditions, food, and relationships.  And realize that your life is about more than your own happiness.  You are called, in your particular way, to help others with their JNI’s and sometimes to stand up when people live under rulers and systems that take away their potential for routine, flowering, and worship.
  20. Your ideas? What are some other ways that you worship while you whistle…

The Plunge: About Transitions

Some say transitions are like waterfalls.  Plunging over is not the extent of it.  You have the turbulent waters before and the turbulent waters after.  So when you move from one community to another,  or when you uproot from one country to the other, expect some anxiety.  Expect your stomach to feel unsettled.

This makes Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 all the more important: “Do not worry.”  And it makes me attempt an answer to his question, “how are you trying to add more hours to your life?” Worry grows on my heart like a vine.  One counselor called it, “Adolescent Paranoid Personality Disorder.”  That’s a fancy way of saying, “sir your have a fortress built around your life.  Loosen up.”

For me, one worry is about belonging.  It takes two to tango and time for people to get to know you.  Right now it is time for patience.  I wonder when I’ll feel like Merton who knew he was part of a family of which he had, “no illusions.” I look back on my former days, when time and time again, it was the illusions in community, which caused the most bursting heartache.

Now is the time for the plunge.  And with it comes deep transition.  From the US to Scotland.  From family to new neighbors (it hits me that my family hasn’t lived in Scotland for over two hundred years).  From overtired administrator/ minister to new possibilities for a contemplative life. Back to being a student.  I feel tossed about by transition these days when like Jonah, “the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.”  The plunge is coming.

Chapel/ Blog

Welcome to the Chapel space for contemplation and direction.   Below you will find resources for worship.  Worship transforms our hearts and brings us to union with God.  As Quaker Thomas Kelly put it: “God plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chain of attachment.  And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love.”

Like any chapel, we meet for weekly reflection.  Contributors will share devotions on a regular basis as well as link you to other good meditations.

For now here are a few good resources for socially conscious worshippers

Divinity Schools are Dying in the West, Deemed Irrelevant: Why I am Going for A PhD Christian Origins

If you’re like me, you love this world. And you feel a terrible tenderness for humanity, the evil it lives with and the death it must face. And for all your doubt, you have come to the somewhat unshakable conviction that evil and death were faced square on some two thousand years ago. The teaching and deeds and death of a Jewish peasant swirls through your heart almost daily.

You conclude that though God doesn’t do it, hadn’t done it before, or yet again, the resurrection happened, with Jesus’ body.  In this once in million years act, you see in it the celebration of life and promise of living without evil or death.  You sense that the longings of the human heart were fulfilled in that moment.  You know it isn’t escapist, because while you spend the days dwelling in your issues, you see marks of life sprouting all around.  You catch faint echoes of a deep love dwelling strongly in dark places.  And when you follow the reverberations of this hope, you find yourself just a little bit more every day living into your destiny and becoming the person you feel just right about.   You find yourself strong, a healer, whose breath gets taken away sometimes by the world’s landscapes and the humans dwelling upon them.

That’s why I aspire to apprentice in the healing ministry Jesus began.  That’s why I feel called to dwell on and eventually teach the historical origins of the man and his earliest followers.  That’s why I have compiled this platform of resources for contemplation– for like-minded individuals and communities seeking to share life together and their concern for this world and its people.

St. John of the Cross…was a Man

More and more people today are claiming that religion is a feminine endeavor.

St. John of the Cross wrote his magnificent poem “Dark Night” during his time in prison, likely during the years 1577-8.  His enduring legacy as saint and spiritual master can be seen clearly in his commentaries (The Dark Night and The Ascent to Mt. Carmel) on the first two stanzas of this poem. We perhaps have no other piece of work that can speak to the height of Christian union penned by a man. Like any relationship, like any marriage, intimacy is about more than learning.  It is about cultivating a life of shared experiences and appreciation for one another in difficult times.  Why do we think that 30 minutes a day will do it?  At its base, the problem of the quiet time is that we might be searching for God’s voice in all the wrong places.  We open our hearts to introspective individual prayer, but we have not learned the age-old skill of listening for God’s voice in all our experiences.    For any person devoted to intimacy with God, the poem speaks for itself.

Our tradition has given us an anemic version of intimacy with God.  For our spirits to work well, we have to let go of managing our own spiritual lives and give that back to God and the Spirit who works tirelessly to bring us back to our original form. Dr. Susan Muto puts it so well in her modern day commentary on these works.  Her words are an apt introduction to the core texts from which this project draws its insight.

“Many today who seek a spiritual life succumb to the propaganda of New Age gurus who promise instant salvation through one or the other technique of self-actualization.  They are prone to run from the cross as fast as fireflies from flame.  St. John not only embraces the cross with joy; he says we can never climb to the mountaintop of union with the Divine unless we take up the cross and follow Christ with courage…The night of sadness that never seems to end, the day of depletion that drags on mercilessly, the crisis that tears us asunder like cracked glass—all such occasions that stretch our faith to the limit are, in reality, our greatest teachers…In a society that would confine the life of the spirit to occasional practices of private piety, one might wonder what a mystic and spiritual master like St. John has to say to the masses…the “dark night” is no longer a metaphor we can take or leave, a quaint symbol or the title of an old book.  It is our unique and universal reality. It is a description of our world, our neighborhood, our family life.  It is about pain and loneliness, anxiety and grief.”

My Definition of a True Man

Jesus was not always a badass.  Truth and Grace incarnate is not the nickname any followers would give to a rogue vigilante.  Nor was he the mild shepherd that others imagine. He was the prime example of the fully human true man.  And having studied Jesus these last ten years of my life, I have concluded from his image that true men are healers: filled with life and laughter, grace and truth, in touch with poverty and grief, and bursting with desire to cultivate intimacy with the Father.  Jesus left his mother, embodied a fierce compassion, and stood up wisely and decisively against injustice. We must wisely reject the anemic, sentimental and emotive definitions of manhood propagated across the airwaves by experts of male psychology.  And we must seriously question the attempt to cajole men to bear their souls to one another with sobs so that they can harden their resolve to keep their promises.

We must first recognize that despite our culture and its averseness to Christ-likeness, God is busy using every day experiences, success, failures and crises to for Christ-like men all across our land.  We must recognize it will take a lifetime for a man to reach this destiny. Then we must see Jesus’ example clearly to know something of what God is doing.  I am not sure if we are ready for the implications of Christ-like manhood.  Women stand to loose their easily placated husbands, mothers their little boys, and father’s their own managed self-image. The risks are high, but the cost is even greater if we cannot soon find a Christ-vision and practice for a generation of men who are grasping for manhood yet blind to its pathway.