Friday, December 29, 2006

What Is Holiness?

I am all settled into my new work home on the 9th floor of my building. I have a cozy little area that is quiet and solitary even though other people are around me. The morning sun is a little intense but at least I have some connection with the outdoors. I think I will like it here so I will enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

Yesterday I was sitting in my car waiting for my wife to come out of her office. My cell phone rang and it was her. "Where are you"? I said, "I'm right here in front of your office. I can't believe you don't see me"! She said that she didn't see me anywhere. It was then that I realized I was parked on the wrong block. I was in front of the wrong building. These senior moments are increasing at an alarming rate.

I also picked up my granddaughter at the daycare. As we were walking out I said, "Look at the sky, Chloe. Isn't the sunset beautiful? She pointed to it and said, "Orange!" Then we looked in another direction and saw the moon. "Goodbye, moon!" she said as we headed for the car.

2006 is nearly over. When we return to work it will be a new year. Starting a new year and moving to a new place is an excellent time to renew ourselves, have fresh beginnings and new attitudes, and start with clean slates. Forget all the failures of last year. They're in the past. As 2007 begins, become a new person. Be the person you always wanted to be. Let go of your baggage and start a new journey. Learn to travel lightly. Focus on what's really important in life. Below are the highlights of an article I read on holiness. Holiness may not be the personal goal of everyone. However, the traits listed below could also be applied to just being a good person. Who doesn't want to be a good person? I often wonder about the jerks of the world. Do people really choose to be a jerk? I think not. Somewhere in that person is a hurting soul. Choose to be a good person. If you also turn out holy, all the better! What are the traits of a holy person? According to Fr. Ron Knott, a local priest, the following would be evident in a holy person. It doesn't matter what religion you are or what tradition you follow, or even if you go to church.

People who are holy are first of all people who put their relationships with God and people above everything else in life. They have their priorities straight.

People who are holy are not so jaded and self centered that they no longer have the ability to feel compassion for those who suffer. Holy people are the opposite of cold and heartless people.

People who are holy know their strengths and weaknesses. They neither inflate their worth nor devalue it. Holy people have an unpretentious, down to earth goodness about them.

People who are holy want to get to know God more, want to become better people and are passionate about trying to do what God asks of them. Knowing God and serving God are the central passions of holy people.

People who are holy give other people a break, the benefit of the doubt, a good hearing, rather than rush to judgment. They withhold judgment and extend mercy, knowing they cannot see into other people's hearts.

People who are holy do the right thing and also do it for the right reason. What you see is what you get. Who they appear to be and who they really are match up perfectly.

People who are holy go out and look for opportunities to heal, to reunite, to bring together and to put an end to strife and misunderstanding. They cannot rest until unity and harmony are restored.

People who are holy are persecuted. Evil cannot bear the presence of goodness. No good deed, or good person for that matter, goes unpunished.

People who are holy are not afraid of being known as a friend of God. They do not shove their religion into other's faces but neither do they hide it.

This kind of person stands in stark contrast to the money grubbing, cold hearted, self inflated, quick to judge, self centered, opportunistic materialist that they world encourages us to be.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tis The Season To Be Busy

I think I met myself yesterday. I don't know if I was coming or going. It was one of those days where you are very busy but feel like you accomplished very little. I tried to be focused. I tried to be where I was and to do whatever I was doing, but Mindfulness failed me today. Not only is this the week before Christmas but my entire department is moving to another floor next Thursday. I just returned from our new area after assigning everyone new work spaces. In these kinds of circumstances I remember the words of Abraham Lincoln. He said, "You can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time". We'll see soon how perceptive and wise President Lincoln was.

I received a very nice gift card from my staff. It was for Border's Books. This store has everything essential for an introvert's happiness. You can buy books, CD's, DVD's, and coffee. As Robert Fripp once said, "Me and a book is a party. Me and a book and a cup of coffee is an orgy". If you also throw in some good music in the background, I'm totally out of control and someone is likely to call the police!

In the last few weeks I went to the theater to see Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" and I saw the new film called "The Nativity". Dicken's story is timeless and, of course, the Nativity is what Christmas is really all about for most people. This week my family watched "A Christmas Story" and "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation". The story of Ralphie and his family seems very much like my own childhood. However, the Griswolds seem more like my adult life. All of these views of Christmas have something to offer. Christmas is many things to many people.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Snow Wish

From the look of my desk right now, I must have been a good boy this year. I have received a number of very nice gifts today and in the last week or so. I appreciate them all and the thoughtfulness that accompanied them. It's another example of the blessings in my life. As much as I don't like to work sometimes, I am very blessed in the work place. All work places can be maddening at times. There are good days and bad ones. Most of the time it doesn't matter because I have friends who share all of the experiences with me. You can't get through life easily without friends that you care about and who care about you.

It was a busy day today. I got a lot accomplished but didn't complete all my tasks. Here and at home, life is busy. There will be no rest until next week when all the Christmas madness has subsided. In all the hustle and bustle, it is difficult to find a quiet and peaceful moment to just breathe. In times like this, I am happy to be an introvert. My inner world allows me much space to wander. Of course, everything has a flip side. It is this same introverted nature that finds all the Christmas activity exhausting.

I would love some cooler weather and a little snow. While the snow is falling I would like to be transported to the monastery woods. Snow in the woods is a wondrous sight. The snow is silent. At some point I might sit on a decaying log and simply stare into the trees and glens. Usually I would pick a spot near a stream. The flow of the water is all I hear. The sound soothes me as I close my eyes and breathe in the cool air. Such winter moments fill me with enthusiasm for life. I am lost in the beauty of the moment. Of course, as I type this I am sitting at my desk shortly before I leave for the day. With my vivid imagination, it doesn't matter where I am. The world I just described exists within me as well as on monastery land. I can visit it whenever I want. O well, its time to shake the snow from my boots and head home.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas And Zen

Christmas is nearly here. One reason I like it is that it generates some excitement and energy not found in other times of the year. People are more sentimental and loving. People seem to care more about their fellow man. It can be a bright spot in an otherwise boring and routine existence. I have always been blessed with good Christmas memories. I often find myself lost in my own thoughts in spite of being surrounded by people and activity. In many ways, Christmas is a continuation of Thanksgiving. I find myself feeling very grateful for all the blessings in my life. Admittedly, some of these blessings don't always feel like gifts. When I see the happiness of people around me, I realize that life is not all about the pursuit of my happiness. Although I sometimes forget it, making other people happy often comes back to me as happiness. When I am too focused on myself, I tend to see what's missing, not what's present. I see what's empty, not what's full.

Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are. Sounds simple, right? It is the same with the spiritual life. The simple things....the basics....are often challenging to do on a daily basis. The reality of the spiritual life is like the story of two monks who were meditating. There was an older, wiser monk and a young novice. As they were meditating, the young monk kept peeking at the older monk. He did this several times. Finally, the older, wiser monk looked at him and said, "This is it. Nothing else happens". Such is most of life. To be a Buddha means to be an "awakened" one. In the Christian tradition, to be a contemplative is to also be an awakened one. Our spiritual practices are a means to an end. Our intention is the inner transformation and conversion that leads us to purity of heart and the discovery of the true self. As awakened ones, we strive for the single minded attentiveness that slowly peels away the layers of the onion that makes up our false self. Like the Tom Cruise character in the "Last Samurai", we often have too many minds. We strive for this single-mindedness that is focused on the spiritual dimension of life.

A small fish was swimming along. He came upon a bigger fish and asked, "Can you tell me where the ocean is?" The bigger fish said, "Are you kidding??? You're in the ocean. It's all around you. In it, we live and breathe and have our being!" So it is with God. He is like the ocean and we are fish. We spend our entire lives living in his presence. In Him, we live and breathe and have our being!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Is Near

It was a very busy weekend. At one point I thought there might be such a thing as too much Chloe. I was wrong. There can never be too much Chloe. My wife and I did have her much of the weekend while her parents moved into their new home. It did occur to me over the weekend that Chloe may have inherited my rebellious streak. She had a few tantrums over the weekend. When you put a tired 2 1/2 year old with a tired 55 year old in a grocery store on a Friday night, there is sometimes conflict. We lived through it, however, and made it home with all the groceries. Later when we were in bed, we laughed and played games until Granny told us to settle down. Saturday we went to the Mall. When Chloe spotted Santa, she nearly leaped over the gate to see him. Well, when we finally got up to him and I sat her on his lap, Santa suddenly lost all his appeal. She had to settle for a Grandfather that look's like Santa's brother. Finally on Sunday afternoon we attended a family Christmas party. Chloe was in a great mood and looked lovely in her new Christmas dress and fancy shoes. It's one week until Christmas. Activity is reaching a fever pitch for many. Thanks to my very productive wife, most of the work of Christmas is behind us. Hopefully, you can say the same and we can all spend this week slowing down, being quiet, and contemplating the deeper and true meeting of Christmas. Next weekend we will all be in a frenzy as we go over the hills and through the woods to Grandma's house. Next Monday morning I will be cooking a breakfast feast at my house for my family. Now that I have advanced to Grandfatherhood, people come to my home instead of me having to hit the road. This growing old stuff has a few perks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lunch With Friends

Yesterday I drove to the home of my friend, Fr Dennis, to help prepare and enjoy a lunch with some friends. These were not ordinary friends. One was Fr. Damien, the current Abbot of Gethsemani. The other was Fr. Timothy, a former Abbot of Gethsemani and now the Procurator General of the Cistercian Order. Fr. Timothy was my Novice Master during my time at Gethsemani. It was a great priviledge to share such an intimate encounter with them. It was especially nice because, in spite of their titles and roles in the Cistercian Order, we ate as friends. There was also another priest with us from New York. I was told that he helped care for Fr. Francis Kline while he was in New York being treated for the leukemia that eventually caused his early death. The five of us laughed and told stories about one another and others we knew in the religious life. We shared concerns about the future of religious life and the church. All in all we were just five men who shared different but similar spiritual journeys.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Nativity, Potty Training, My Mother's Birthday, & A Christmas Carol

I had a very full weekend. I was able to spend much of the day on Saturday doing very little. It was the only time all weekend that I wasn’t busy. My busyness, however, was all good stuff. Saturday afternoon I went to see the new film entitled “The Nativity”. It was very well done. Scripture scholars may take some issue with it but overall I believe it was a very realistic portrayal of what that first Christmas must have been like for Joseph and Mary. I would recommend it all persons of Christian faith.

My granddaughter, Chloe, came over for a few hours on Saturday night while her parents attended a company Christmas party. At some point in the evening, my wife suggested I read a book to Chloe. It was a Bert and Ernie book about using a potty chair. The next thing I know Chloe is taking her clothes off, dropping her diaper and heading for the bathroom. It was time to practice using the potty chair. She sat down, pretended to pee, asked for toilet paper, wiped herself, and flushed the toilet paper down the real toilet. I thought, “Wow, she’s got that process down”! Of course, then we had to do it three or four more times. Finally, she said, “Wash hands”! I held her up to the sink as she turned on the water, asked for hand soap, and rubbed her hands together. When she was finished, she rinsed off the soap and dried her hands on a towel. Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. We also had to go through the hand washing process three or four times. Finally, I said, “That’s it, Chloe. No more. We’re done here”. That did not go over well. She gave me the look. It was the same look I sometimes get from her Grandmother. It was the kind of look only a woman can give to a man. Of course, sometimes Granny’s look is accompanied with words that I cannot print here. We slipped the Bert and Ernie book in her diaper bag when she left to go home. I’ll let the parents read it to her next time.

On Sunday morning I met my brothers and one of my sisters, along with my mother, for a very pleasant brunch. It was my mother’s 77th birthday. It’s actually a rare treat to be with my siblings. Usually the entire, extended family is also present. With spouses and children and boyfriends and girlfriends, our family encounters do not always lend themselves to much intimacy.

Last year on December 10th, I was a nervous boy. I had been asked to give the Sunday homily at the local Cathedral in memory of Thomas Merton on the 37th anniversary of his death. It turned out fine as most things do.

My weekend finished off with a trip to the theater with my wife, sons, and daughter in law. We went to see the classic Charles Dickens’s story “A Christmas Carol”. It was enjoyable as always. Admittedly, I am not at my most alert at 2:00 PM on a Sunday afternoon in a semi dark room. However, as I walked out of the theater I found myself thinking the words of Tiny Tim Cratchit, “God bless us, everyone”!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Lots Of Activity

Yesterday when I left home for work, the temperature was in the low thirties, slightly above freezing. Early in the morning there were so light flurries that dusted some areas. By the end of the work day it was in the low twenties. I went out for a walk during my lunch break and thought I would not make it back alive. I was walking along the river. There was a strong wind and the river actually had swells like an ocean. When I got back into the office my face had windburn and I was very cold. Wow! It sure was invigorating!

Life is a little chaotic in my office. People are moving to other floors. New people are moving in to available...and in some cases...not available space. I will be here holding on to my little piece of real estate for another two weeks before moving up to the tenth floor. I hate the chaos. I am a person who seeks harmony and tranquility. When I am in chaos my first reaction is to bring about order. Unfortunately, I have little control over what's going on around me. Of course, the chaos and lack of control over this movement in my office is nothing more than a metaphor for life. Life is often chaotic and most of it we cannot control. Does that mean our only option in life is to react to everything around us? I don't think so. In most situations people think you must either fight it or run from it. The contemplative way...the middle to simply be present to it. I can't always bring order to chaos or control the events around me. What I can control is my reaction to them. I can be the eye of the hurricane. I can be the order I desire. I can choose to not react but simply to flow with it. I can choose to relax and be.

I caused a near riot in my granddaughter Chloe's daycare last night. I suppose if you look like me you should not walk into a daycare wearing a red coat and hat at this time of year. Many of the little kids starting yelling out, "Hello, Santa!" and shook my hand. Chloe must be the envy of her friends. How many children get picked up by Santa Claus?

It will be a busy weekend. Tomorrow I am going to see the new film called "The Nativity". Sunday I am having brunch with my brothers and one of my sisters for my mother's 77th birthday. I realized this morning that she was only 21 years old when I was born. I wonder what she thought that day? On Sunday I am going to the theater with my wife, sons, and daughter in law to see Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol".

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Death And Living

I am not a morbid person but sometimes I think about death. It's probably natural to do so when you have more years behind you than ahead of you. I do not believe that thinking about death is depressing. I do it as a way to challenge how well I live now. The average life expectancy for a man is 75 years. That equates to 27,375 days. I have already used up approximately 20,315 days of my life. That's a sobering thought. That means I have approximately 7,060 days left, if nothing happens to me and the actuaries are on the money with their predictions, to live really well and to do good in the world. I am no different than anyone else. I have wasted days of my life and I regret that. I will probably never do all the things I would like to do. There are certain routines and responsibilities I will have to honor for a while. One thing I can do now and for as long as I have on this planet is to not sweat the small stuff. I once read a two step process for reducing stress in your life. The first step was to not sweat the small stuff. The second step was to realize that most things in life are small stuff. Let's be honest. Do we really have that many major crisis in our life? I think not for the majority of us. Most of what upsets us are little things that are pretty unimportant in the great scheme of life. Yes, sometimes I am petty and little things do annoy me. Most things, however, I let slide right down my back. Most so called "crisis" are not worth more than a passing thought. For whatever time we all have in the world, it is better to love than to hate. It is better to give than to take. It is better to be patient and serene than to be annoyed by every slight or inconvenience. It is better to relax and live than to be uptight about everything. I did not always understand these things. One must have more than a few days of living under their belt to achieve this awareness. I am going to do my best to live my remaining 7000+ days with some zest and a joyful and calm spirit. When I die I want it to be because I have used up all my capacity for living.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Monastery

I got out of bed at the crack of dawn on Sunday. Soon I was outdoors scraping the frost off my car in preparation for a trip to the monastery. After getting gas and buying a cup of coffee, I headed down the road. It was a beautiful drive. Sunday mornings are a good time to be on the road. Traffic is sparse. Soon the eastern sky was a glorious orange as the daylight illuminated the frosted landscape. Pockets of fog were nestled in clumps of trees. The morning light caused the fog and fields to glisten. I was so lost in the beauty that I sailed right past my exit. In a moment of alertness I suddenly realized that nothing looked familiar. Thankfully I hadn't gone too far out of my way and I was able to circle back and get back on track. The monastery is always an inviting place for me. Since it was my home in a former life, I always feel welcome and comfortable there. I met with my usual group of friends and we had some good conversation before mass with the monks. Afterwards I ran into my friend, Fr Dennis, who informed me that another of my past teachers and mentors, Fr Timothy, was there visiting from Rome, Italy. Later in the morning I had a chance to speak with him. It was good to see him after a number of years. Before leaving for home I shared a pot luck lunch with my friends. As usual I ate too much which made for a sleepy drive home. However, the drive home was also a beautiful one as the day was bright, cold, and clear. I am happy to live close enough to the monastery that I can go there on a regular basis. It is often a struggle to remain spiritual while living in the world. These monthly trips to the monastery give me the boost and renewal that I often need. All ground is holy but the monastery is a special place for me.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Daydreaming At Work

It's a Saturday morning and I am at work. It was a cold trip into the office today. The highway was empty but the streets around my building had cars parked in every available space. There must be a lot of work to do and people are motivated by the need for Christmas money. While I am here at work, my wife will be out spending all our money and more so there are lots of smiles at my home on Christmas morning. As I sit here drinking my coffee and typing these words, I am distracted by the photo on my calendar. It is a photo of a small log cabin nestled in the woods of the Great Smoky Mountains. The barren landscape and trees are covered with a light snow. I would like to be in that cabin right now. I would have a warm fire going in the fireplace. My rocking chair would be facing the fire as I stare at the flames and drink my coffee. Soon I would go out for a walk in the woods, hoping a hungry bear isn't doing the same thing. When I get cold I would head back to the warmth of the cabin, pour some more coffee, and pick out a good book. I would get lost in the silence and the solitude. Whew....I really drifted off for a moment. I am actually in a cubicle in an office building in downtown Louisville. It's not quite as romantic but I'm feeling kind of cozy. It is quiet and somewhat solitary. I think I will hide out here for a few hours before I go home and have to do some real work.