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A Sabbath Day

I am thinking of the mulberries we picked today,nearly black knobby fruits,their juice spilling so easily from thin skins. I held a branch down while you picked them double-fisted, dropping them into the empty bottle where they crashed, spurting tiny jets of juice. The girls ate them by the handful, stuffing the dark sweet berries into their small mouths, purple smears like bruises blooming on their hands, legs, cheeks. We had hoped for ice cream but were foiled, and returning from that failed trip we found the trees, dangling their fruit in offering. We ate, and it was good. It was very good.

Casual Holiness

About a year ago I was on my way into a church to attend a meeting. As I approached the door I passed a woman sitting on a red, overturned milk crate near the door. She had dark hair, and she was leaning forward, her bottom coming off the crate, her hands reaching just off the edge of the sidewalk and toward the asphalt of the parking lot. She appeared to be slowly falling forward, tumbling off the crate in slow motion.
I had stopped to hold the door for a man who was entering the church just behind me, and as I watched, he approached the woman on the crate.
"Here's two of them," he said, handing down a carton of Marlboro Light 100s. "Have a good day."
I realized then what the man with the Marlboros must have recognized immediately: the woman had no doubt been reaching for a discarded cigarette butt that someone had tossed down on their way into the church. I felt awed by the man's simple act of compassion. Without the slightest trace of judgement or distaste,…

A Living Body of Poetry

Reading and listening to the news makes the Psalms come to life. Children threatened with separation from their families, international tensions, indigenous people displaced from their homeland. Even in this too-brief sampling of common headline topics a person can find plenty of reason, as the psalmist did in his own context, to shake a fist at heaven, tear one's garments, beg for mercy and cry out for justice.

When I am caught up in my own mostly comfortable life, the Psalms are hard to reach, both their anguish and their ecstasy remote from my daily grind. As soon as I graze the surface of human suffering, however, the words of the Psalter become vivid, potent, a living body of poetry pulsing with human feeling and desire.

Here is at least one good reason to read both the news and the Psalms: to remember that I am part of the human family, which is also to remember my responsibility for the welfare of that family.

The Kingdom of Compassion

When Jesus is called the son of God, or especially the only son of God, in the gospels and the New Testament letters, it is not, as I was taught, to set him in opposition or claim his superiority to other faith leaders. Neither the gospel writers nor Paul had likely ever heard of the Buddha. Muhammad wouldn't come on the scene for several hundred years. The gods of the Hindu pantheon don't seem to have shadowed their writings.
Who's divine pedigree was being denied, then, if not the gods and leaders of other faiths? According to several prominent scripture scholars, and, if one reads closely, to the New Testament writers themselves, it was the political and military rulers of the day, those who exercised absolute power, especially over the people on the margins of society.
Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man of his time, actually claimed divinity for himself. He called himself the Son of God. The gospel writers knew this. Paul knew this. Jesus knew this. Caesar's reig…

Books That Have Rescued My Faith

I am reading a moving book by Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries, which works to educate and employ gang members in Los Angeles. Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart, is a beautiful testament to what the kingdom of God can look like in the twenty-first century.
In the book, Boyle sprinkles his heartful stories with quotes from various Christian writers. Reading these quotes, all gathered in one place and in such a spiritually powerful context, I realized how much these same writers have done to rescue Christian faith for me, sometimes gently and sometimes forcefully retrieving it from the confines of the fundamentalist package in which I originally received it and giving it new life and meaning.
Yesterday, as I read another of these quotes from Boyle’s book, a surge of gratitude welled up in my chest. I lifted my face and thanked God for these beloved teachers, without whom my relationship with the religion of my childhood, of my culture, would be dead…

Thoughts on Observing the Sabbath

In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor writes that part of what Sabbath looks like for her is living as though all her work is done. I like this as a guiding principle for Sabbath observance. I would set next to it the principle of doing the opposite of what I normally do, as a way to bring balance and rest. Since I spend much of the week sitting and looking at a screen, Sabbath for me might include walking around outside for a while. Since I spend my work days doing mentally taxing work, Sabbath might include mentally restful activities: doing puzzles, playing board games, or reading something light and entertaining. Perhaps most pertinent for me, since I spend most of my waking hours trying to improve myself, Sabbath must include rest from that heavy labor and the willingness, for twenty-four hours at least, to call my self good. To know myself to be beloved as I am.
True Sabbath requires an interior rest, the cessation of the inner striving to do and be more than I am righ…

Watering the Soil

As an intellectually oriented person and a book lover, I have tended to put too much faith in the written word. The excitement of new ideas, the pleasure of an eloquent turn of phrase and, frankly, the cheap but powerful satisfaction of thinking I know something that someone else doesn't have too often driven me to read books of great spiritual value without profiting much from them. I simply read too many books too quickly to digest the gist of any of them. Before I finished one, my mind had already begun to hunt for the next, always looking past the wisdom offered in the present toward some supposedly greater wisdom in the future. This kind of reading was more compulsive than intentional. It stimulated but did not transform.

Over the years my unhealthy relationship with spiritual reading has changed. Thanks to my spiritual teacher, Eknath Easwaran, I am coming to believe that truth and wisdom are not to be found among the aromatic pages and black ink of a paperback but within my …