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About This Blog

public witness 2011In November, 2014, I left parish ministry and, over the next several months, created Shenandoah Spirituality, a new, personal ministry focused on spirituality, healing, and wholeness. In this space, I’ll be posting writings that might have been used in a sermon or a newsletter column–but with a far wider range of topics. New entires will be posted at least once a week.

December 10: Faith and Seeking

Last in a series.

There’s an old story in the Islamic Sufi tradition about an imam who was searching for a ring he had lost. The imam was standing under a lamp in a barn looking through a pile of hay when a friend asked him if he remembered where he was when he lost it. “I was standing next to that pile of manure over there,” he said. “So why aren’t you looking over there in that pile of manure,” the friend asked. “Because the light is so much better over here,” he replied. Continue reading

December 3: Faith and Service

Fourth in a series.

This week, I continue my series on the attributes of faith with an exploration of service. I became acutely aware of the importance of service when I went through my divorce shortly after I started attending my first Unitarian Universalist congregation. I had signed up with others to provide food once a month to a shelter for about 35 homeless men. I soon became friends with the four or five families with whom I worked on that project. They were there for me when I needed them. As devastating as a divorce can be, I knew I hadn’t lost everything because I had been visiting with men once a month who really had lost everything. I knew, too, that a lot of the resources I had taken for granted—resources these men didn’t have—would see me through that experience: health, education, family, and the congregation itself, which gave me a sense of belonging when I needed it most. Thus, service provided me with a community, a sense of purpose, and gratitude. Continue reading

November 26: Spiritual Practices

Fourth in a series.

A seeker once sought the guidance of a great Hindu teacher. “I have tried austerity, chastity, fasts, and nothing has brought me enlightenment. What else can I do? The teacher replied, “Have you ever noticed the sunset?” (paraphrased from an anecdote in Huston Smith’s autobiography, “Tales of Wonder”, p. 115.

I respectfully suggest that most of the spiritual practices among the world’s great religions have their roots in the practices of the first of the world’s great religions, Hinduism, which dates back to at least 3000 b.c.e. Today, I’ll write about how we may adapt Hindu concepts to fit our own, personal spiritual path. Continue reading

November 19: Faith and Integrity

Third is a series.

There was a time when my greatest fear was not that someone will spread a lie about me, but that someone would spread some embarrassing truth about me. Yet, I have learned that when we withhold parts of ourselves from others out of fear or shame, and when we lead public lives that are very different from our interior lives, we aren’t practicing integrity and our spirit is diminished.

This morning, I continue my series on faith by examining the role of integrity in faith. In plain terms, it’s about walking the walk.  I certainly don’t put myself above my message this morning. Much of my life has been trying to narrow that gap between my interior and exterior selves. Continue reading

November 12: Awe

Second in my series on faith.

Water by Wendell Berry:

I was born in a drought year.That summer my mother waited in the house, enclosed in the sun and the dry ceaseless wind,
for the men to come back in the evenings,
bringing water from a distant spring.
Veins of leaves ran dry, roots shrank.
And all my life I have dreaded the return
of that year, sure that it still is
somewhere, like a dead enemy’s soul.
Fear of dust in my mouth is always with me,
and I am the faithful husband of the rain.
I love the water of wells and springs
and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.
I am a dry man whose thirst is praise
of clouds, and whose mind is something of a cup.
My sweetness is to wake in the night
after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.

Awe has two elements, fear and reverence or dread and wonder. Without ever using the word, Wendell Berry’s poem captures both. It is Berry’s fear of dust in his mouth that makes him faithful to the rain; yet, he loves the taste of water. When he is thirsty, he is both grateful for what he has and is reminded how ethereal water is. He never takes water for granted because he knows how quickly it can disappear. Simply hearing rain offers him a reassurance that he so aptly calls his sweetness. So it is with faith. Continue reading

November 5: What is Faith?  

Faith has many definitions, but may favorite does not come from a theology book or even a sacred text, but from a poem called “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, in which she asks the question, “what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.” Whatever your answer, that is your faith.

We are all believers in something. We all have faith.  Like so many other qualities—vision, perspective, courage, and love—faith can be nurtured and grow in depth and quality. What follows, I believe, are the attributes that any of us might ascribe to a deep and meaningful faith, attributes that can be cultivated and nurtured. Continue reading

October 29: Exporting Hope

Last in a series.

There’s a great scene in the movie True Lies that shows how not to help people.  The character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger suspects his wife is having an affair. As he approaches his friend, played by Tom Arnold, Schwarzenegger looks distraught. Arnold offers unsolicited advice. “What did you expect?” he asks, reminding his friend how much he travels and is away from her. Then he says, and I’m paraphrasing, “Don’t worry. She really does love you. When she gets tired of this guy, she’ll come back to you.”   Then Schwarzenegger grabs Arnold by the collar, picks him up and says, “Stop trying to cheer me up!”

Tom Arnold’s character made just about every mistake you can make when trying to cheer someone up.  My goal today is to help you avoid mistakes and give you a few more tools to help you do the right thing. Continue reading

October 22: Living With Hope

Fourth in a series.

“Maybe you should know yourself for just one moment. Maybe you should glimpse your most beautiful face. Maybe you should sleep less deeply in your house of clay. Maybe you should move into the house of joy and shine in every crevice. Maybe you are the bearer of hidden treasure. Maybe you always have been.” (Rumi)

Today, I continue my series on hope by looking at how we may make hope a part of our daily lives. I rarely create artificial lists, but for today, I’ve picked out five elements of hope that all begin with the letter C so that I could have the catchy phrase, the Five C’s of Hope. Here they are:

Conscience. I’m using that term here as a synonym for integrity. We do ourselves a disservice when we hope to be another person or think we are the answer to someone else’s hope. This sounds trivial, but it’s true: you may only hope to be the best you that you can be.  The good news is that you already are good just the way you are.  You rightly may hope to be happy, joyous and free.  What I am discouraging here is hoping that someone else will make you happy, joyous and free.   Continue reading

October 15: Creating Hope

Third in a series.

I remember the first (and only) time I attended a University of Alabama home football game.Thinking how lop-sided the game was supposed be, I wondered what I might tell the other team before the game to give them hope.  I thought about it for a while and  concluded, “I’ve got nothing.”

Choosing to believe in hope at game time has a “faith in the foxhole” quality about it: it’s superficial and expedient, neither of which are qualities of genuine hope (or faith). Continue reading

October 8: Stealing Hope

Second in a series.

When I was growing up, I wanted to write the great American novel. (Still do)  So, when I had a short story I thought worthy of a writing contest, I was excited—until I told my mother. Like many parents, she didn’t want to see me get hurt. “A lot of people participate in these contests. I don’t want you to get your hopes up and then be disappointed,” she said. I didn’t enter the contest.

Very often, what deprives us of hope is a combination of upbringing, culture, values, and family dynamics. Learning to be hopeful—and hope is something that can be learned—requires rooting out that inner critic planted in our brains by nurture and nature. Continue reading