Keep death before your eyes daily.”
This instruction is found in the Rule of St. Benedict (chapter 4) which provides direction for monastic communities of the Benedictine order. Why so morbid? Aren’t Christians to be hopeful?
Our society celebrates excess. Supersize, jumbo size, all-you-can-eat. I can have whatever I want, whenever I want it, as much as I want. I can push a button and have it delivered in two hours. Why have one when you can have more? Why have some when you can have it all? It is a value of our culture: Having more is better. Having the most is best.
My Ethiopian friend Wondimu was telling me about Christians in Ethiopia. Many Ethiopians average two meals a day. In spite of this, Wondimu told me of people in his church giving up a meal a day in order to support a missionary. They don’t have to give up food, but they willing choose to do so. In culture of “more,” this seems silly. Why would you go without when you could have more?
Our societal system incentivizes "more." "Find your identity in stuff, and more of it. Your worth is tied to having 'more.' You’ll happier with more food, more likes on social media, more money, friends, career success, or pleasure."
But this system is broken. The stock market is at an all time high. At the same time, research is showing all time highs of depression, loneliness, drug abuse, and suicide rates. We're the wealthiest country in the world, but we have a poverty of soul.
We’re the wealthiest country in the world, but we have a poverty of soul."
I wonder if we’re so deep in the system of excess that we don’t realize it. I wonder if we can push back.
Impeachment debate and acquittal.
Kobe helicopter crash.
Iowa caucus (debacle).
State of the Union Address.
These are headlines from the last few days. The volume of significant (and heavy) events invading our head (and heart) space is overwhelming. The news cycle is like a carousel spinning out of control. If our only reading material is the endlessly urgent front page, we are trapped in a myopic moment.
I prefer the enduring over the instant. A bit of marinated wisdom instead of a tweet vomited in a moment of impulse.
Here's an actionable step. Limit the reading of "headlines," the new, urgent, up-to-the-minute. Make space to read what is "old," tested, and true. There is C.S. Lewis's classic quote on reading old books:
I was sent to the grocery store for one thing. Sweet and condensed milk. (I'm not completely sure what it is, but I know it's in a can.) I walked through the automatic door and saw bananas. I accidentally grabbed organic bananas, so I went back to exchange them for "real" bananas.
Then I saw blueberries on sale. Then Frosted Mini-Wheats. "Do I get the brand name or off brand?" And then I realized we needed salsa. There are 33 kinds of salsa! Decision overload! Then I noticed cute little bottles of Tito’s vodka for $1.89. "Whoa! That woman just put 50 little bottles of Tito’s in her cart. Why not just get one big bottle?" Then I paused, "I came here for one thing. What was it?"
There’s so much in the store, you forget the one thing you came for. Life is like this too. There is so much in our lives, we forget the one thing. In a world of "too much," we need the ancient Christian discipline of simplicity.
After the killing of Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani and retaliatory missile strikes on U.S. bases, there are millions of prayers being prayed around the world.
There are many Americans praying for Americans. For our leaders, military, and national security.
There are Iranians praying for Iranians.
There are Christians praying for Christians.
There are Muslims praying for Muslims.
In all the praying, here is the most radical prayer: Christians praying for Iranian Shia Muslims.
Snow globes are mesmerizing. Peaceful. Hypnotic . . . until a five-year-old comes, picks up the globe, and SHAKES IT!
Sometimes life feels like a snow globe shaken. We are cozy in our "silent night." Family gatherings at Christmas. Sentimental music. Comfort food. And then something happens and life is SHAKEN. A loved one is sick. The family can't get along. The child is lost. The account is empty. Life is disrupted.
Last summer I stopped by St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Like most monasteries, St. John's has a guesthouse that is open to any visitor, Catholic or otherwise. In the entryway is a wall hanging of chapter 53 of The Rule of St. Benedict.
"All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me.'"
In this rule, Benedictines bind themselves to welcoming the stranger as a guest, as if Christ himself. What would it look like for all Christians to adopt this rule, especially in the frenetic holiday season?
The impeachment proceedings have me thinking about power. Who has power? How are they using it? The characters are before us. Donald Trump. Nancy Pelosi. Mitch McConnell. Adam Schiff. And so on.
We tend to think this is an exceptional time in history, but the struggle for power is a repetitive story. Same plot, different characters. Caesar Augustus. Herod the Great. They were the power brokers of their time. Today they are mere footnotes in a history book.
Trump. Biden. Pelosi.
Even if I knew that tomorrow the whole world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." - Martin Luther
Is it worth all the work?
How much difference does it make?
What do I do when I want to quit?
Thanksgiving is in two weeks. We all have our rituals.
Turkey cooking and pecan pie baking.
Passing out in a tryptophan-induced food coma.
Vegging on the couch while watching the Cowboys or the Lions lose.
Another admirable Thanksgiving Day ritual is to “count your blessings.” Allow me to put a spin on that. On November 28th, count your curses.