Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Being Prepared

I was watching a travel/cooking show last night and heard the phrase mise en place. Curious as to the meaning of this, I looked it up. It means, "putting in place" and refers to a chef getting everything ready before he or she begins to cook. All of the chopping, dicing and cutting needs to be done before a dish is assembled and cooked.

Just as it is in cooking, preparation is critical in life. Right now, I'm preparing my syllabi for the three courses I'm teaching in the fall. Such preparation allows me to know what topics I'm going to cover and lets the students know what they need to read to be prepared for class.

Preparation is also important in the spiritual life. In the context of spirituality, preparation involves being open and receptive to the sacred dimension of life. How do we prepare ourselves to be receptive? One way is to have times of silence built into our daily schedules. Silence may be the best way to prepare ourselves to be open to the sacredness of the world around and the world within.

There are surely other ways of being prepared in a spiritual sense. Some prepare themselves by reading a sacred text or by reflecting on a specific concept or idea. I find that anticipation and expectation are important ways to be receptive to the spiritual dimension of life that continually surrounds us. We can find a connection with this dimension if we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the heart to perceive.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Land of Fire and Ice

I recently returned from 8 days in Iceland. It's a place I've wanted to visit since I was 12 years old. My desire to see this unique place was inspired by Jules Verne's novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth. I saw the volcano across the bay from Reykjavik where Verne's characters began their decent into the earth's center.

Iceland is truly a place of fire and ice. There are 22 active volcanoes on this large island. In the past year, two eruptions have disrupted air travel in Europe because of volcanic ash. There are numerous glaciers as well, some of which are covering volcanoes. This means an eruption usually causes flooding and icebergs crashing into bridges and homes.

I was part of a group doing a 4-day trek through an area described as "Yellowstone on steroids." We hiked on ash-covered snow for the first two days and were treated to steam vents created by boiling water. The landscape reminded me of the prehistoric land in "The Land that Time Forgot." The photo above shows what I mean.

Fire and ice can also serve as metaphors for the spiritual life. At Pentecost, fire is a symbol for the indwelling of God's spirit. At times, we need the fiery energy that the spiritual life can supply, giving us the motivation and purpose to give ourselves to a cause greater than self.

While ice can symbolize the absence of God, it can also be a metaphor for non-reactivity and detachment. Buddhism has often been called a religion of "a cool head and a warm heart." This combination of fire and ice can be powerful. At times, we need detachment from those things that cause anxiety and stress; at other times, we need engagement in an important venture. In short, we need both fire and ice in our spiritual life.