Tag Archives: Spirituality

Spirituality

I’d be lying if I said spirituality is easy for me, but I’d also be lying if I said it didn’t matter or was difficult. My spirituality is by far the most important and integral part of my life, but it’s also one of the most complicated facets.

On my way back to coffee shop I visited yesterday, on my way back to actually complete my lesson plans for next week, I went past Taylor University, a small very conservative Christian college in Upland, Indiana. I am not a fan of their theology or their ridiculous set of strict rules, but I do feel like many of my favorite people in this world have gone there and gotten out relatively unscathed. Some of them seem to have even learned a thing or along the way. Taylor is also a somewhat rivalry of my theological alma mater, Anderson University, an equally conservative and rule-ridiculous college about 45 minutes away.

Anyway, I bring up Taylor University because my spirituality these days is heavily influenced by Jesus and Buddha, but not by any official church or religion. I pray, I meditate, I try to be kind and compassionate. Some days are more successful than others, but I haven’t been to an actual church service, except for watching my grandchildren be baptized, for about two years, I’d say. This is not because I don’t find it valuable—the Episcopal Church has my organized religion heart—but I just find that I can practice my spiritual pretty much anywhere. If I am not careful, I am moved to spiritual tears by pretty much anything.

Back to this morning—all these asides make my head spin, but that’s just how my brain works—when I drove past Taylor Lake on my way to some of the most beautiful scenery in East Central Indiana, a road that, when I was in high school, people called Devil’s Backbone, ironic because of TU being right there, I had a feeling in my gut that was so familiar.

If you know my story, you know I was baptized at a very young age, maybe 6, after accepting Jesus into my heart in an old, brown recliner chair where I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer with my mom one night before bed time. If you know my story even better, you know that I by no means believe that is how a conversion experience works, or that we maybe don’t even need conversion, because we are all good and pure and beautiful on the inside anyway, but that is how it happened for me at 4, 5, or 6.

As I drove past TU this morning with a beautiful pink sunrise and the fall leaves reflecting on the smooth water of the lake, I was transported back to 40 years ago when I wore a little white sundress and waded into a cold, slightly mucky, and very weedy, Taylor Lake to make a public profession of the faith that was shaping me. I waded in to the water, said I confessed my sins, promised to live a good life, and then I was under the water, looking up through a blur into the sunlight above the water.

As I drove past that lake this morning, my heart moved, my spirit stirred, I began to cry, and I wondered when everything in this world got so unbeautiful and so difficult and so mean. I wished I could go back and see the world through the water into the sun, weeds wrapped around my little ankles, safe in a feeling that everything would be alright.

Happy New Year 2015

Well, here it is, the time of year in which we’re supposed to look back with a regretful or chastising eye and then look forward with a hopeful or change-oriented one. For me, that’s every day, so this socially constructed mindfulness, reflection, personal analysis seems a bit felt up. I’m not being judgmental toward others who find this act refreshing; I’m simply saying that the way most people feel right now, looking back and looking forward, is pretty much how I live my life. I do enjoy the way the new year brings us all together into the same thoughtful consideration of what we’d like to change about ourselves. I love reading the goals that other people post, and I love hearing how people want to make the world better, starting with themselves. And I do love to participate in goal setting or resolution making. It’s an act of hope, like thinking that one day things will be better. So here’s to 2015, which will be better than 2014!

  1. Social Media: As of January 5, I plan to remove myself from social media. No more Facebook, no more Twitter, no more Instagram. For one year. Instead of these venues, I plan to call people, have real email conversations, and engage in face-to-face interactions with those people I love (or those who I will get to know). My interactions on Facebook, with the exception of some, simply serve to make me angry, jealous, bitter, ungracious, or otherwise not kind, compassionate, loving, friendly, or like someone I’d want to be around. If you know me, you can feel free to email, call, or text.
  2. Blogging: In lieu of social media, I am starting a creative project in which I write letters to people from throughout my life. Some letters will be anonymous, some addressed to the intended recipient, but all will be as close to the “truth” as I can get. I’ll house those posts at Grace and Shame, Letters, which is also linked on the right hand side of this blog. I doubt many folks will read the letters, because I won’t have them posting to Facebook or Twitter, but I hope to simply get improve my writing, post some hilarious and heartbreaking stories from my life (people are always telling me I have lots of stories), and maybe connect to some people through things that we have in common. I plan to allow myself an hour a day for writing, starting on January 5 for a total of 360 letters by year-end.
  3. Athletic Pursuits: This year I plan to work out five times a week, doing a variety of running, swimming, biking, and weight lifting. I have mapped out all of January, and I’ve been running and swimming a mile each day, so I think I’m on a good track there. I have two big goals for this calendar year: Muncie 70.3 (finish in 7 hours) and Big Shoulders 5K (finish in 2 hours). That’s it. Other than a couple of fun 5Ks, I have no other goals, except possibly a fall marathon, which entirely depends on my recovery from the 70.3. You can follow my Muncie 70.3 training by clicking above on Ironquest, which is where I will also begin posting my Ironman Wisconsin training after July.
  4. Food for Thought: I am going to eat what I want, when I am hungry. I will focus on eating whole foods and lean toward paleo/primal, but I’m not going to pass up some delicious crusty bread, Chunky Monkey ice cream, or M&Ms, if one of them is offered to me. I’m also checking one macro in my diet, protein, just to make sure I am getting enough to fuel my athletics. I do hope to lose some weight this year, so I’m going to be cautious, but not overly regimented about what I eat.
  5. Drinking: There will be only water, tea, coffee, and fruit juice. Mostly water (a gallon a day if possible, I hear it’s all the rage) and coffee (because I need it to cope). I am abstaining from alcohol, except for the fourth annual Burris Pub Crawl, for the entire year. On a somewhat related note, smoking is out too.
  6. Spirituality: Part of writing, for me, is thinking theologically. The hour of writing will include a bit of time for meditation, scripture reading, and prayer.
  7. Hairy Topics: A seemingly trivial and ridiculous goal is to let my hair grow. My long-term goal is Ironman Wisconsin in 2016, and if I let my hair grow from now until then, I’ll have enough to donate to Locks of Love again. Human hair grows about half an inch a month, so by September of 2016, I should have around ten inches of hair to pull back into a pony tail and shave off. I say this seems like a ridiculous goal, because what kind of a person can’t let her hair grow? Once my hair gets to a certain length, I have a terrible time leaving it on my head. I’ve been mostly bald for the better part of eight years, I’d say, and hair just seems extraneous. However, I do understand how very important hair is to those who have lost it. And, I say this in all humility, I do have pretty awesome hair.

Well, Happy New Year from me to you. I love you all. I do hope you’ll follow my journey.

Giving Thanks and Counting Blessings

This year I am thankful for so many things, and I am trying to get into the habit of counting my blessings each and every day, instead of waiting for a holiday to prod me into it. Here is a solid list of things I am grateful for, and they are in no particular order.

1) Mental Health: As I look back through this blog, I notice my thoughts and moods look like a roller coaster (not a fun one), going from high to low, back to really high then back to really low, and there are some flat places like where people stand in line to get on the coaster and then off again. Only I never got off again. I just stayed on the thing and rode it again and again, like when my youth group went to King’s Island one year and rode the Adventure Express ten times in a row, seeing the same sights over and over again. Then when we got off a couple of girls puked in the trash can. That’s an accurate portrayal of how I feel about my life for the past five years or so, but the past year from about August back to the August of 2013 was especially excruciating. Seeing the same sights over and over again began to kill me. Slowly. And definitely made me want to puke in the trash can.

Unknown to most people I was suffering. I thought about killing myself at least once or twice a week, and the thought wasn’t a fleeting whim of considering suicide. I dwelt on it. Sometimes for several days at a time. The days were dark, my thoughts were heavy, and I didn’t want to go on.

Unknown to most people I was also addicted to several things, the mildest of which were beer and cigarettes, but there were other darker addictions, too. There will be other posts, other writings, other stories wherein I discuss those things, but not now, not when there is so much to be thankful for.

Unknown to most people, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to escape my life and do anything but what I was doing.

Fortunately, I remained.

Fortunately, there was an end to my suffering.

Fortunately, there were Zen gardens, long conversations, fellowship, and grace.

And life is not excruciating right now. Now I have no suffering. I am only blessed.

Right now, I am filled with joy, and not the fleeting kind. I am filled with that joy I was looking for this time last year. The kind I had no business of even trying to write about, because I was so far from it, I wouldn’t have known it if it had bitten me in the ass.

Right now I feel mentally well. And content. And at peace. This wasn’t a magical transformation, but a transformation of hard work, diligence, and perseverance on the part of myself and many others.

I am thankful I am not where I used to be.

2) Vocational Health: I am blessed with the ability to work a minimum-wage job with very little stress. My goal each day is to be the person who brings a smile to someone else’s face. I don’t look at my job as making a cup of coffee; I look at it as bringing grace and joy through food to a guest of my hospitality.

I can’t explain how it feels for me to not be teaching; I do miss the thoughtful conversations with my students and my colleagues, but not the rest of it. I enjoy having those same conversations with my coworkers and customers, but moreover I enjoy clocking in, serving people, clocking out, and coming home. No planning, no grading, no emails, and no bull shit. The worst thing that happens at work now is I make someone’s coffee wrong, so then I remake it and no one is harmed.

Probably the best part of my job is my manager, who is the best friend I’ve made since I moved here in July. When she is filled with happiness, her excitement is contagious. When someone does something she appreciates, she tells the person. When someone does something wrong, she has a constructive conversation with the person, not with everyone who works at Caribou. There’s no guessing where you stand with her. No head games.

People who manage other people shouldn’t fuck with the people they manage. Each person should know exactly what she is doing right, or exactly what she is doing wrong, and how it can be corrected or continuously improved.

Nebulous feedback is only detrimental to coworkers. I am so glad I am out of the land of nebulous evaluations and the RISE model that causes all educators so much pain for so little helpful feedback or constructive criticism.

I am thankful I am where I am.

3) Physical Health: This is an area that I still need to work on, but I know I can do it. On Monday, I am going to go swim for the first time since I’ve been up here. I’ve been walking pretty consistently, and I plan to start running three days a week. I also plan to move my bike and bike trainer into the house, so I can bike twice a week. My physical health goal is to swim on Monday and Wednesday, to bike on Thursday and Saturday, and to run on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. I certainly feel better when I am active, and not just physically. I can tell in my emotional demeanor when I have the chance to do moving meditation and when I don’t.

I’ve been drinking a few too many beers, been smoking a few too many cigarettes, and been having a few too many eat whatever I want days. I know this is not necessarily healthy. I also know that the opposite extreme is not healthy for me either. I do not live well on a restricted diet. I do not live well without the option of smoking a bit now and again. And I do not live well without an occasional alcoholic beverage.

I am well aware that moderation in all things is best for me, and I am striving toward a better and healthier relationship with what I consume.

I want wellness in regards to exercise and food.

I am thankful for being able to tell when enough is enough.

4) Relational Health: I have more friends than I have ever had before. I have a better relationship with my wife than I’ve had in about a year. I am more appreciative of my family than I have been in a long time. I value and cherish people in a way I haven’t before in my life.

Without family and friends, I am fully aware that I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I especially wouldn’t be so mentally well.

Every day, I thoughtfully consider that I might not even be here today were it not for my family and friends who’ve loved me unconditionally.

I am thankful I am here today.

5) Locational Health: Is this really a thing? Haha. I am so happy we live where we live. There are several state parks within a short driving distance. I frequently walk on an island, which is part of what I’ve always wanted. I didn’t imagine the island would be between two rivers in the middle of a huge city in Minnesota, but I have an island to walk around. I can drive half an hour and be in Minneapolis, or half an hour in the opposite direction and be out in the country surrounded by cows. We live in a quiet and working-class river valley, but I work up in the Heights, so I can see everything at night after work or in the morning before work, even the stars. I can drive back to Indiana in one day, so I can visit easily, or I can drive one day in the opposite direction and be in Canada.

I am thankful I live in a second place I love.

6) Spiritual Health: Advent starts on Sunday, and I am so excited to see what God has in store for me for the next year. I have been using Common Prayer before work each morning, and I love how God speaks to me through those words. I can find one phrase or idea and carry it through my day.

I am thankful for God’s grace, peace, and love.

I Have a Plan

I am guest blogging over here at Where’s the Finish Line, which is my friend Teresa’s amazing blog about her quest for a strong and fulfilling Ironman Wisconsin finish. I am writing my own little posts about every two weeks about my struggle to make it to Racine 70.3 in my own column called “Corby’s Corner.” Stay tuned there, because the posts will be solely related to my struggle to maintain moderation in food and exercise. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, head over there.

So, here’s an update for My 20 Before 40:

1. Run a marathon. I signed up for the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon on October 5, so I have 230 days to get myself to be able to run a 6 hour or less marathon.
2. Finish the Racine 70.3 on July 21 in under 8 hours. I have signed up for this, and it’s 153 days away. My goal is to finish the 13.1 mile run in under 3 hours.
3. Swim a 500 in 7:30 minutes. This needs some work.
4. Do yoga every morning. Yeah, not so much.
5. Do a 30 burpees in 30 days challenge. I am going to start this on the day after Bec moves to MN. I figure it’s a good way to work off anxiety.
6. Ride a century ride on the bicycle. I need to sign up for something to motivate me to do this.
7. Meditate for at least 15 minutes each day. Yeah, not so much.
8. Eat paleo at least 80% of the time. Um, well, I am doing something a bit different with this: eating when hungry. Eating foods that bring me joy.
9. Try foods that aren’t the usual things I eat. I’ve had gluten-free granola, and I bought some whole-grain, gluten-free bread for PBJs for lunch.
10. Visit every Indiana state park with my brother. I think we might be back to breweries/cideries/distilleries. Who knows what we’re doing here.
11. Learn to cook one new thing each month. So far we’ve tried oxtail stew and shark. Next month, I am going to make haggis.
12. Do not drink alcohol until my birthday. This isn’t even something that makes sense for me. I love a good beer, cider, bourbon, scotch, or mead. Why be miserable?
13. Read the whole Bible. Working on it.
14. Finish the Sketchbook Project book. Decided just to fill my own sketchbook. It’s going slowly.
15. Finish my master’s degree in creative writing. Publish. Yeah. This. Class.
16. Post a blog post every Sunday. Well, I am trying, but it isn’t working. More about this goal below.
17. Get a new tattoo. I’m going to do this after Racine 70.3.
18. Lose 60 pounds. Um, yeah, about this. Why the fuck can I never lose weight?!
19. Find a job doing something I love. This may be a pipe dream, but I hope it works out.
20. Read a new book each week. I am reading so much for school, it feels as if I am reading a new book each day!

Blogging. Blogging. Blogging.

So I’ve decided that I am going to put a bit more format into my blogging efforts. I am going to write about a different goal in my list each week, with a bit more in depth of a focus. For the most part, I am going to go in order, but tonight I want to write about how I plan to structure this blog, so I can get a couple more posts in each week. Some of these post topics or ideas came from my friends’ blogs, so they aren’t original ideas at all, just themes that may help me to be more diligent in thinking about my life with focus.

So here goes:

Mystic Mondays: I’ll chose some Biblical or theological text, story, or scripture to discuss. I made this one up on my own, like the super smart kid I am. Haha!

What I Ate Wednesday: I’ll write about everything I eat that day, and I’ll include pictures when I can. I stole this from Teresa, who stole it from someone else.

Fiction Fridays: I expect my students to write reflections for Fridays about what they’ve read through the week. I think I’ll start doing the same. Some works won’t be fiction, but I’ll still call it Fiction Fridays. I stole the idea for this from many of my friends who write blogs or maintain some sort of online presence. I reserve the right to reflect on art, movies, television, news, literature, music, or any other creative endeavor.

And Sunday, Sunday will be my regular blogging day where I talk about what the heck is going on with one goal from the list. I hope in this way, this space will become more relevant and more regular so folks start reading again. The last Sunday of each month, I’ll reevaluate my goals, instead of discussing one in depth. Now, let’s just hope I can keep up with this. Writing brings me joy, so how is this so difficult?

Let’s do this.

Cultivate Joy: Part Two (St. Bernard)

I am slowly coming to realize that joy is not necessarily an outwardly expressed, chipper, I-am-so-happy-because-everything-is-fine type of feeling or attitude. Joy is an inwardly felt, deep, intense, I-am-so-connected-with-Jesus-I-can’t-help-but-feel-any-other-way-(at this moment)-and-I-can’t-help-but-share-this type of feeling or attitude. And, it seems as if everything I read about joy indicates that it’s cyclic. Of course, the goal is to be in a permanent state of joy, but because we have other human emotions, the permanence is varied depending upon the presence of those other emotions.

For example, according to an article by Sylvie Supper titled “Spiritual Joy in the Works of St. Bernard,” St. Bernard believed that joy is one of four inner movements. The other three are sadness, love, and fear (361). Supper quotes Bernard’s own writing: “If sadness follows fear, it brings despair. If joy comes after love, it brings laxness. Let joy then some after fear, for fear dreads what is to come, whereas joy finds happiness in what is present and possesses the object of a prudent security. Joy must therefore put fear to the test. And a tested fear is nothing but prudence. Sadness must follow joy, for whoever remembers sad things will embrace joyous things with moderation. Thus sadness must balance joy, and a balanced joy is nothing but moderation” (361-2). The part of this statement that resounds with me is this: “Joy must put fear to the test. [. . .] Sadness must follow joy, for whoever remembers sad things will embrace joyous things with moderation.” I find myself telling my students that bad things happens in order to help us recognize the beauty and grace that surrounds us every day, but St. Bernard says that remembering sadness will help us “embrace joyous things with moderation.” What that says to me is that if we remember sadness, we’ll realize that joy is temporary and subject to change. We won’t let ourselves be swept away by joy, but we will realize the beauty of that joy, because we remember the sadness we’ve experienced as well. On this earth we must recognize there will be highs and lows. We should expect them, and remember each to temper the other. Now I feel like I am talking in a circle: joy, sadness, joy again, sadness again.

In order to illustrate the various types or levels of joy, St. Bernard sets up an excellent metaphor involving drinking: a taste is the joy of God we can experience during life, drink is the joy that is experienced by the souls of the saints, and inebriation is the experience of joy at the resurrection of the body (364). In this life, we can only taste; we can’t become inebriated. He quotes Psalm 35: 9, but I think both 9 and 10 help to better explain this idea of the inebriation of joy: “Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his deliverance. All my bones shall say, ‘O Lord, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and the needy from those who despoil them.'” It’s as if the speaker’s entire body is steeped in deliverance, and why would that not bring an intoxicating, inebriating joy? “All my bones shall say” I am filled with the joy of the Lord. How many times has my whole body said, “I am inebriated with you, Lord”? Not yet. Not here. St. Bernard, much like John Wesley from the last post, says that inebriating joy will come later, that it’s not this-worldly.

Jubilus cordis is “the very music of the heart,” which is only found when our hearts experience “the deepest and most intimate joy of the soul united with God” (366). This intimacy is given to us through the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, and it is felt as if from an intimate couple, such as two individuals who marry or who are deeply, intimately bound. Supper says that this intimacy “is a certain experience of God that communicates to the soul [God’s] sweetness and the joy of [God’s] presence” (366). This reminds me of the song “You Are So Good to Me” by Third Day. The chorus says, “You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song,” which seems like a version of this intimacy with Jesus that’s prevalent in Song of Songs.

Finally, Supper explains that though St. Bernard focuses on the inner workings of joy, joy cannot help but radiate our from us. We should have a desire to share our inner joy with others. So, for Bernard, as for Wesley, this inner attitude becomes an outward attitude. Something we just can’t help but share. I suppose first you have feel joyful inwardly, which is my difficulty. I’m not sure if I should expect this joy that can’t help but radiate to be a knock-me-down kind of joy, or just this occasional sweet, peaceful, sort of pukey feeling I get in my soul when everything seems to be right with God. I think it’s the second one, because it seems to be tempered with fear like in the first part of this post, but I also think St. Bernard thought it was the first one, too. Joy is subtle and joy is blatantly obvious. Basically, joy boils down to, again, a relationship with God. Joy is part of the fruit of that relationship. It’s a part of the fruit I wish I could taste more frequently. I want to be inebriated with joy. Here. Now. I don’t want to have to wait for it. I’m the Veruca Salt of the spiritual fruit: I want it now.

*

Supper provides a nice little glossary of terms St. Bernard uses for joy:

  • gaudium: signifies all kinds of joy
  • laetitia and exsultatio: signify the exultation of those who have found God, opposite of bitterness; confiteor: the praise of whoever gives thanks to God
  • hilaris: one who gives joy, the radiation of the face
  • jucundus: someone who leads another to joy
  • congratulatio and congaudere: shared joy
  • alacritas: fervent and driving joy
  • delectare: delight found in resting in God
  • jubilus: the inner song of the soul united with God