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Learning to be a beginner. Again and again.

Last night a friend invited me to join her at the nearby Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna for vespers sung in the spirit of Taize, a prayer style that uses repetitive, meditative singing. Although I was familiar with Taize, an ecumenical order that came out of France, I don’t think I had ever really experienced true Taize-style prayer. As with anything new, when we arrived at the chapel with its beautiful mural (pictured here) by Tomie de Paola, I wondered what it would be like. Would I know what to do? What if I didn’t know the songs? Would I just have to sit there and listen rather than participate, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a different thing. Read more

Setting life to a sacred rhythm

Lessons from the  monastics via Everyday Divine:

Start to look at the “life-rhythm” of your day. Is it totally out of balance, with most of your time spent running from one stressful moment to another? Or do you have a peaceful “refrain” that keeps the melody of your life from turning dissonant? Actively work toward bringing balance into your daily life by making prayer the thing you constantly come back to for refreshment, rest, and renewal.  Read more

Wednesday Wisdom: Be moldable but immovable

“And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand.” Matthew 7:26

The majestic Adirondack Mountains and the vast Atlantic Ocean are both easily reachable from my home, so this line from the Gospel and the fuller Gospel story (Matthew 7:21-29) elicit some powerful imagery for me. In an instant I am on the beach, where the shoreline constantly changes because of gentle winds or powerful storms. With the crash of even the smallest wave, sand gives way beneath your feet and you can lose your balance.

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What’s so bad about rose-colored glasses?

“Your mission today, should you decide to accept it, is to start looking at your world through rose-colored glasses. Rather than focus on the crabgrass that’s ruining your lawn, marvel at the intricate beauty of the lowly dandelion. Instead of furrowing your brow in frustration when bees arrive on your picnic scene, focus on their awesome ability to gather nectar from the flowers in your yard and turn it into the golden honey that sweetens your tea.” — Everyday Divine, Chapter 6 Read more

A kernel of contemplation buried within the chaos

When I wrote my last book, Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality, my original plan was to develop some videos and other helpful tools to help readers and pray-ers put the written suggestions into prayer practice. This is a book about discovering the divine in the everyday, about praying not in the quiet of a chapel (although that’s necessary too), but in the chaos of household chores. It’s a book about finding God in the mundane moments of commuting to work, shopping for food, waiting in a doctor’s office, whatever often seems to pull us away from peace and serenity but actually has buried within it the kernel of contemplation. Read more

It’s always darkest before the dawn

I love Advent and Christmas. Really I do. I wear a Santa hat, light the Advent wreath, deck the halls, and drink eggnog like it’s going out of style, but usually by this point I am in closer to a pit-of-despair feeling than I am to holly jolly.

And every year I forget that I felt the exact same way the year before. I can go back to posts from Advents gone by and see the same sorry attitude. Read more

Remembering Thomas Merton

Ever since I first came in contact with the writings of Thomas Merton about 28 years ago, he has spoken to me. I know I’m not alone there. Countless people of every faith and persuasion have found meaning in his writings and his life. Of course, others will counter that with claims that he was too flawed to be held up as a role model, or, dare I say, saint, but that’s precisely why he’s a great example. Read more

Moving Meditation: the sacred rhythm of raking

I love to rake. I love everything about it — the sound of the rake scratching against the earth, the smell of the autumn air, the pre-winter peacefulness that seems to be settling into all of nature at this time of year, the crispy brown oak leaves swirling against a steely gray November sky and filling my path as fast as I try to clear it. Read more

The hope that’s found in the promise of purgatory

Some people have a problem with the idea of purgatory, which is something I honestly just don’t get. Of all our teachings, this is one that is not only incredibly beautiful but also especially logical (as logical as things of the spirit can ever be) and especially compassionate, at least in my book. When I look at my life here on earth so far, I can’t imagine — despite all my good intentions — that I’ll be ready to meet God face to face when I die. And so I’m banking on purgatory and the possibility that I might be able to do in the next life what I haven’t been able to achieve on this side of heaven, namely, get right with God. Read more