Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Rolling Stones at Churchill Downs

First of all, every weatherman in Louisville should be fired from their job. All day on Friday all the local weathermen predicted a dry evening for the Rolling Stones concert. It ended up raining most of the night. It started at some point during Alice Cooper's set. One had to smile when the 60+ year old Alice Cooper sang about the angst of being 18 or the joy of when school's out for the summer! Shortly after the Alice Cooper set, the Rolling Stones hit the stage and opened with one of rocks greatest songs, "Jumpin Jack Flash". The energy rarely let up and Mick Jagger at age 63 has more energy than many men half his age. Except for a few of their newer songs from "A Bigger Bang", most of the 40,000 people who were there sang along to every song. As one would expect, it was an older crowd and we all felt a little pumped as the songs of our youth and lives filled us with nostalgia and a joy some may not have felt in a while. Of course, I feel this all the time because I am still out there enjoying such concerts on a fairly regular basis. It has been a great year for music so far and there are still three months to go! My friend and I got soaking wet as we stood in the rain. In spite of that we had a great time and this night will be added to a treasure trove of memories that will warm the heart someday. When the show was over and we were walking through the crowds of people and down the streets of the surrounding neighborhood, we didn't even notice that we were wet and cold.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


When a man becomes a monk, one of the vows he takes is stability. This means that the monk commits himself to a particular group of people and to a particular place. Unless there is a special reason or a need for him to be elsewhere, the monk will generally live his entire life in the same place and with the same people who persevere along with him. Stability is a difficult concept in a culture where 50% of all marriages fail and everyone seems to be on the move. Many people I know were born somewhere other than where they live. So what does stability mean for those of us in the world? It can mean being faithful to commitments or to a particular community or church or even employer. There's nothing wrong with advancing your career or moving to a new city but why do some feel the constant need to do so? I think what stability might ask of us is to think beyond our own needs. Stability might be challenging us about our own restlessness. Why are so many people unrooted? Why are so many like tumbleweeds rather than oak trees? Why are we so reluctant to plant ourselves and take deep root? Stability is tough in our culture of restless and wandering spirits. In some instances, it means staying in the same field and “chewing my cud” instead of always looking for the perfect situation. Stability must also be balanced with the idea of God calling us forth. Grace involves movement. Of course, that movement is often internal and doesn’t necessarily involve a change of geography. Community cannot be build without the stability of its members. Stability is definitely counter cultural in this country.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Typical Work Night...Sadly.

Tonight, sitting at my desk at home, the night air coming in my window is cool and it feels great. It has been another hectic day at work. There's change and growth and new relationships forming. It's all very normal in my world but still exhasberating at times. I really don't mind getting up and going to work everyday but I don't mind leaving work everyday either. It always feels great to walk out of the building at the end of the day. Today, while I was sitting in my car, waiting for my wife, my daughter in law, aka "Chloe's Mom", popped her head in my car window. It was just luck that she came out the side of the building where I was parked. Since my wife was expected any moment, I told her to hop in and we would drive her to her car. We've hired so many people in the last year that many people must park blocks away. On the way home, my wife and I stopped at a Chinese buffett where I ate too much. Later, I fell into a Egg Drop soup induced nap and woke up in a daze several hours later. I really enjoy my personal time in the evenings but too often I am in a daze. I stumble through the evening trying to stay awake and alert. It is often a challenge. The quality of my personal time sometimes suffers from fatigue and too much food. They're a bad combination!

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Fire Within

When my son went to the daycare to pick up Chloe, she didn't want to leave. My guess is that all the two year old boys were offering up part of their lunches to sit next to Chloe. She'll be the daycare heartbreaker! Chloe's mother, Stacy, also had a good day so my wife can check these things off her list of things to worry about. Now if I can just get her to stop worrying about that asteroid that might hit planet earth!

Yesterday was one of those hectic, busy days where I felt like I was meeting myself coming and going. At the end of the day I was tired but not sure what I accomplished. I felt like the day controlled me instead of me controlling the day. That is never a good thing. One oasis in the day was lunch with a friend. This friend has been through a recent retreat experience that really has her fired up. My introverted personality was almost overwhelmed by her extroverted enthusiasm. At the same time, I was happy to see such joy and passion. Too many of us lack these things in our lives and beliefs. I know I sometimes feel like much of life is simply an aggravation and my mantra at times is "Just leave me alone!" Of course, somewhere within all of us is passion and there is much in life that should fill us with joy. How we express our passion or experience our joy can vary from person to person. Certainly an extroverted person can seem to have more emotional than an introverted person but we are all human and we all feel. Do not worry if you don't feel the fire and enthusiasm that others seem to have. Some of us are ablaze and others on a slow but long lasting burn. We all have a fire within us and we will find the passion that will at times turn our spark into a flame. If your fire is out, stoke the embers, grab some kindling, and throw on another log.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Glorious Autumn Day

Any day that I wake up and the first thing I see is my granddaughter, Chloe, is a good day. Such was my Sunday morning. I could hear her waking up so I rolled over and looked in her direction. She sat up and said, "Pa Paw, how are you"? We sat there and talked a few minutes before heading downstairs so "Memo" could sleep a little longer.

Today was a glorious autumn day. In the afternoon my wife, Chloe, and I headed for my parents home where all of my family would be gathering. My sister was in town from New York City and my brother was home from Iraq. I didn't take a head count but I think most of my college age nieces and nephews were home for the weekend from their respective colleges. We were having a cookout and the brats and hamburgers on the grill smelled great and tasted even better. It was one of our better family gatherings. Chloe was a hit in her hippie like apparel. She has some competition now with Ellie, the four month old daughter of my niece, Christine. At one point we got a picture of the two of them together. Chloe was holding Ellie and seemed very impressed with the life like "doll".

We got close to eight inches of rain in the Louisville area Friday and Saturday. As you can imagine, it has caused many problems for many people. Some people died in surrounding areas from the flash flooding. Please keep all these people in your prayers

My Mexican lunch and Friday evening pizza woke me up several times Friday night. Each time I woke up, the rain was pouring down. At the time I didn't realize the extent of the rain or the problems it would cause. I simply enjoyed it. It was Friday night so I didn't mind the fact that I was losing sleep. I knew I could stay in bed as long as it took to get rested. The rain was heavy but not intense. I found it soothing and comforting. I listened to its song until I drifted back to my dreams.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Weekend Is Here

Does anything feel as good as Friday night? It is always a good feeling to finish the work week. I love to go to bed on Friday night knowing the morning alarm will be dormant and I can wake up naturally. To make this Friday night even better, it is pouring down rain outside my window. A little earlier my granddaughter, Chloe, and her parents were here for a visit. We had met them earlier for some pizza. Tomorrow, after I wake up, I will go get Chloe and bring her back here to spend the day and night. My wife and I will take her with us on Sunday when we go to my parent's home for a cookout celebrating the return of my brother from Iraq. Soon it will be bedtime and I am eager for sleep induced by the rhythm of the falling rain.

I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
-Psalm 4

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Life Is All Over The Place

Last Friday I left for the monastery and a weekend of silence, solitude, and peace. This weekend my granddaughter Chloe will be coming over to help Granny get out all her Halloween decorations and pack away all the everyday stuff that sits around. Chloe won't do any real work but she will be all excited and into everything. Every time I know Chloe is coming over for the weekend I am excited and everytime she goes back home I am exhausted.

Next weekend my rock and roll summer tour ends with a mammoth weekend. The rock and roll gods have smiled on me and I now have a ticket to see the Rolling Stones at Churchill Downs next Friday. This will be my 4th Rolling Stones concert. These guys are old but they can still rock and roll. I suppose they will keep going until Mick Jagger keels over on the stage. If this wasn't enough for the average, aging rocker, I will leave the following day for Indianapolis to see Roger Waters of Pink Floyd performing, among other things, his magnum opus "The Dark Side of the Moon" album. For all you youngsters out there, this was was of the greatest selling albums of ALL time. It was in the top 100 albums for 14 YEARS! Needless to say, because I am a aging road warrior, I will be taking some time off after these back to back musical events.

I think one of the signs of middle age is that everything exhausts you. I have noticed at the end of the workday that it doesn't matter how hard I worked that day. It could have been a hectic day or a slow one. Whatever it was, I am usually exhausted by the time I get home. I was exhausted when I got home from my retreat. Chloe will have me hopping all weekend and when she leaves, I will head straight for the couch. As soon as I finish typing these thoughts, I will stretch out on the sofa that is within my vision at this moment. The only part of aging that really annoys me is that I don't have the stamina and energy that I had when I was 25. Of course, as one gets older, you must let go of some of the expectations you have of yourself. At the same time, I am more conscious of time and my mortality so I try not to let any opportunities for fun or insight get past me.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Final Day Of My Retreat

Sunday Morning

I am back in my room after two hours of prayer and meditation. My eyes opened at 2:57 AM, three minutes before the alarm went off. As I was getting out of my bed, the monastery bells were ringing. After dressing and splashing some water on my face, I headed for church. My room is so close to the church that I feel as though I am sleeping in the church. Sunday Vigils are long and we sing rather than simply recite the Psalms.

After Vigils, I once again headed to the dining room for coffee and toast. Sitting in the silent and dimly lit room, I stared out the window into the darkness. The coffee and toasted whole wheat monk’s bread seemed like a great feast. Afterwards I got a second cup of coffee and went outside where I sat in the retreat house garden under the stars. The morning chill kept me awake and alert and all the insects around me sang their morning hymns. Since it is Sunday I will have an extra hour of solitude.

Sunday Midday

The morning activities are over. After another simple breakfast of oatmeal and brown sugar, I attended a talk by Fr Elias on a short passage of St Bernard. After a short visit with some fellow retreatants, I headed to church for Sunday mass. After mass, when I walked across the balcony to my room, the smell of incense was still wafting in the air. It is good to be alone again after a morning with people. It bothers me that people, especially groups, are so exhausting to me. Of course, I did not choose to be an introvert and I do know fully understand why I am one.

The noonday sun is hot.

My time at the monastery ended with a short ceremony where some of the people I have been guiding, as well as others, made a commitment to live their spiritual lives in solidarity with the monks. Those of us who have been doing this a while recommitted our selves.

After the ceremony, I loaded my bags into the car and I headed back home. I always enjoy being at the monastery but my life is in the city with my wife and children a little blue eyed girl named Chloe.

Saturday Night

I am just returning to the monastery after having dinner in town with Dennis. We always have a great time together. He’s much more extroverted than me and one of the funniest people I know. We laugh and joke a lot but much of our conversation is also serious.

The sun has set but I can still see the hills and fields outside my window. I like the ending of the day almost as much as I like the beginning. I don’t always like the middle part of the day when the sun is high and life is moving much more quickly.

It is easy for me to just sit here and be. This time at the monastery is called the Grand Silence. It lasts from Night Prayer (Compline) until the morning work period. Although silence is always valued and sought in the monastery, during the Grand Silence special care is taken to be quiet. People walk softly and close doors gently. There are no radios or television. Guests are asked to turn off their cell phones. If talking is necessary, it is done in a whisper. The silence is soothing and healing and wraps around you like a warm blanket.

I brought five books with me. The only one I have actually read is The Cistercian Way by Andre Louf. Cistercian refers to the type of monk in this monastery. They came to this place in 1848 to escape the French Revolution. Their origins go back to the year 1098 and the city of Citeaux, France. Citeaux is one of the cities I visited in the summer of 2005.

I have read that only 14% of all Catholics attend mass on a regular basis. Yet, this retreat house is packed and you must reserve a room months or even a year in advance. What does this say about the spiritual hunger in the world today? Many of the people who come here are not Catholic and some not Christian. The Dalai Lama has been here twice.

Sunrise Till The End Of The Day

Saturday Dawn

I am back in my room after morning prayer, mass, and breakfast. Weekday masses are like Vigils, quiet and subdued. Breakfast was simple, a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar. Soon I must attend a conference downstairs. After lunch I will have the rest of the day to do as I please. I will seek out opportunities for solitude.

Saturday Afternoon

I feel like Rip Van Winkle. I just woke up from a world class nap. It will probably take me forever to get to sleep tonight. Before I drifted off there was a gentle knock on the door of my room. It was Fr. Dennis asking me if I would like to go to dinner after Evening Prayer (Vespers). Since the evening meal at the monastery is very simple and sometimes leaves something to be desired, I accepted.

Now I sit here with a cup of coffee trying to wake up. I have an hour until vespers. The morning talks were very good and an interesting approach was taken on the topics. For each topic, a monk and a lay person gave their perspective. Each had the same topic but with different approaches and thoughts. For example, the topic of community means something different to a monk than to a person living in the world.

The early morning darkness and cool air have been replaced by bright light and warm sun. It has been a beautiful day.

My personal prayer is mostly silent. I am not one to use a lot of words. In most cases I just sit in the silence. When I use words, they are usually a mantra like the word “Abba” or a short scriptural phrase like “O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me”! Sometimes people ask me to pray for them. The world is also full of needs that cry out for prayer. How does one keep up with it all? No one can be conscious of every prayer request or need. I like to believe that every request or need, once I become aware of it, becomes part of what I hope is a ceaseless prayer of my heart. Of course, some people and situations are consciously noted and called to mind in prayer. Sometimes I do verbally refer to people and events and I intercede for them

It is nearly time for Vespers and soon the bells will ring. I need to get dressed and go sit in church. Since I am on retreat, Dennis and I will avoid the Bourbon Festival being held in town. (smile)

Saturday Morning In The Middle Of The Night

I woke up at 2:00 AM wondering if I had overslept. Only in a monastery would you have this kind of thought! Looking at my clock I realized that I had another hour of sleep. At 3:00 AM I got out of bed, got dressed, and headed for the church. It was a quiet and subdued experience. I sat in the back of the balcony and the prayers of the monks rose up to fill the church and surround me with peace. This is a special time for those on retreat as people in the world are not usually up at this hour.

Afterwards I went to the dining room for some coffee and toast. When I finished my toast, I took my coffee outdoors. Once again the surrounding countryside was shrouded in fog. You could still see the stars in the sky along with the crescent moon. Soon after I settled into my chair, I heard some terrible screeching and screaming like I have never heard before. Some poor animal was being killed by a predator. Later I heard there were roaming packs of coyotes in the area. Sitting alone in the darkness I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable so I headed indoors.

Now I sit here in my silent and solitary room. A cool breeze comes in my window. These pre-dawn hours have got to be the most peaceful time of the day, except for those poor animals that become breakfast for other animals. The law of the jungle aside, I wish I had the discipline and lifestyle to be able to get up this early everyday.

In the monastic tradition is a practice called Lectio Divina. Loosely translated, this means “Sacred Reading”. As a general rule, this involves the prayerful reading from scripture of a phrase or even just a word. Traditionally, this type of prayer would be done at this time of day and would provide the food for the monk’s private prayer and meditation. When I opened up my Bible, I came to the story of the Transfiguration. Two phrases caught my attention. The first was “It is good for us to be here”! and the second was “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him”. Both seemed very appropriate for this time of retreat. It is good to be here and it is a time for listening.

Friday At The Monastery

Friday Morning

I am finally settled in my room. The drive to the monastery was mostly roadwork and deep fog. The fog always reminds me of the 14th century spiritual treatise entitled The Cloud of Unknowing. Both the fog and the roadwork are excellent metaphors of what our life journey often feels like. It is easy to feel like life is always under construction or that we are driving through a fog with minimal visibility. Along the way to the monastery I met my friend, Fr. Dennis, for breakfast. Afterwards we went to a small enchanting coffee shop. As always we had some engaging conversation about the spiritual life. Dennis is like an older brother to me and I always enjoy being with him. Since I am the oldest sibling in my family, and never had an older brother, it is great to have such a relationship.

Most of my adult life I have suffered from intestinal issues and my gut is in an uproar at this time. I am not sure why but I hope I don’t have to spend the entire weekend dealing with it!

It is good to be here in the silence. Of course, even the monastery isn’t perfectly silent. Outside my window, along the entrance way to the church, a monk is enthusiastically trimming bushes with an electric hedge trimmer.

Friday Night

Once again I am alone in my room. It has been a busy afternoon. Lunch was followed by a short siesta. Back in June, while in Gatlinburg, I meant a lovely couple while sitting on a bench waiting for the rest of my family who were shopping. We have stayed in touch and this afternoon they were here and we spent some time together. Unfortunately, it was short as I had a meeting with some of the monks and other lay persons. I will probably see them again when I go back to Gatlinburg.

The meeting I attended is related to the group of people I am with this weekend. Even affairs of the Spirit must be managed when lots of people get involved. Our group is at a stage where we can no longer fully wing it. I am part of the original group of six that started the group. After nearly 20 years of involvement I am slowly backing out of leadership roles and responsibility so new voices can be heard and new hands guide the tiller.

Outside my window the night is black as coal. The sounds of the night creatures are a symphony to my ears. I am tired but feeling very peaceful. Before coming to my room I prayed the evening prayer called Compline with the monks and received the nightly blessing with holy water. It is a daily ritual in the monastery for all the monks and guests to be blessed by the Abbot. Afterwards I sit in silence with my group for about 30 minutes.

At home I would be turning on the television at this hour. Here it is bedtime. My alarm is set for 3:00 AM. I will join the monks and others for Vigils. It is often a sleepy affair, even for the monks. The best part for me is stopping in the dining room afterwards for some coffee and toast. Then I will take a second cup of coffee outdoors where I will sit in the pre-dawn darkness. The singing of the creatures in the fields and woods will caress me in their song. It is difficult to describe in words the beauty of such moments. They are the stuff of contemplation.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Going On Retreat

I will be going on retreat this weekend. Once a year I spend several days and nights at the monastery in their guesthouse. I will get out of bed at an insane hour. I will pray and be silent. I will sit outside under the gingko tree in darkness, drinking coffee, waiting for the roosters to wake up. I will look up at the stars. I may climb the hill across from the monastery and watch the sunrise. I will walk in silence and feel the wind upon my face. I will smell the soup simmering and the bread baking. I will remember my friend who recently left this world. I will think of my granddaughter, Chloe, and smile. When I am tired I will rest. I will read and meditate. Sometimes I will just sit and disappear into the clouds. God will put me back on solid ground when it is time to come home.

What Is Success?

What is success? If success is measured by the size of your paycheck, I am a failure. If success is measured by how much power you wield, I am a failure. If success is measured by how many things you have, I am a failure (admittedly I have enough things, if not an over abundance) If success is measured by how many people you have in your life that love and care for you, I am a success. If success is measured by how content you are in life, I am a success. If success is measured by how much influence you have in the lives of others, I am a success. If success is measured by the ability to get lost in a sunrise or sunset, I am a success. If success is measured by the ability to find joy in the simple things of life, I am a success. If success is measured by the ability to sit in silence and hear much, I am a success. If success is measured by the ability to sit in solitude and see much, I am a success. Don't measure your success by power, prestige, or possessions. Measure your success by how much you live and feel and love.

Work And Change

Many people struggle with work. Some love it, some hate it. A few find deep personal satisfaction in what they do but many don't. Some people are at a point where they no longer need to work for money but most work primarily for a paycheck. A lot of people find work the number one topic of frustration in their life. There are all kinds of valid reasons why people have so many feelings, good or bad, about work. These feelings create a complete map of human emotions. Last night I suddenly realized that the days are getting shorter. I was barely home and finished with dinner when I realized I couldn't see out the window. It's another sign that the seasons are in transition. Here at work, life is once again in transition. When I think of the word transition, I think of a link between what was and what is to come. Transition can sometimes feel like a walk upon a swinging rope bridge between two land masses. Usually I have been happy with the past and I am unafraid of the future. What I dislike sometimes is the walk across that darn bridge. It's always swinging and swaying and occasionally I feel like I will fall and end up in the pool of hungry alligators waiting below. It seems that every movie I have ever seen with a swinging bridge had a pool of hungry alligators snapping their jaws just waiting for some poor soul to fall off the bridge. We all know we have to cross that bridge sometimes but we long for the somewhat firm ground of the past or the hoped for stability of the future.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Yesterday time moved at the pace of a melting glacier before global warming. At one point in the afternoon I went to the park outside my office and considered sticking my head in the fountain to wake myself up. The day shouldn't have been a surprise. I woke up at 4:30 AM and then couldn't get back to sleep until five minutes before the alarm went off. Upon rising I realized it was raining and the rain fell steadily throughout the morning. If I ever get to retire I am giving away all of my alarm clocks and I will rely purely on sundials. The really ironic thing is that I am going to the monastery for a long weekend on Friday. While there I will voluntarily rise at 3:00 AM to chant with the monks. I hope to spend a lot of time in silence and solitude. If you want to read a good book about what it's like to spend a week in a Trappist monastery, I recommend "Finding a Heart for God" by Dianne Aprile.

Jumping Into The Pool

This is my first posting on a new site. For a few years now I have been emailing thoughts, reflections, and inspirational quotes to hundreds of friends and co-workers. It is a somewhat labor intensive process. I have been wanting to move in the direction of a blog or personal website. I guess this is my first step. My technical skills are somewhat limited so I have been hesitant to jump into the pool. I didn't realize how easy it was to get started until a friend showed me the way. My thoughts will usually be spiritual in nature although I often write about my two year old granddaughter or my love of music. Spiritually, I tend towards the contemplative life. Much of my life has been influenced by my relationship and physical proximity with the Abbey of Gethsemani. As a young man I studied and lived there with the idea of becoming a monk. It ended up not being the life for me but the place has always been part of my life and I am now part of a group of lay people called the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani. You can find out more about this group at