Monday, September 2, 2013

"The Life You've Been Shown"

News of the death of the great Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, on Friday reminded me of a line from one of his poems that has stuck with me over the years. I can't remember which poem it is in, but I can't forget the line: "How perilous it is not to live the life you've been shown."

Like all great poets, Heaney expresses the essence of deep and great issues of human life in a few simple words. With these few words, he captures the concept of vocation. A vocation is usually expressed in the auditory term "calling." We feel or hear a sense of being called to a particular profession or to a specific way of life. An example of the latter kind of calling is John Wesley's contention that all Christians are called to a single vocation capture in the word "love."

Heaney's brilliance is that he puts the vocational issue in terms of sight or insight. When we've been "shown" the path we should walk in life, it is dangerous not to take that journey. Our world is filled with persons who have listened to the wrong voice and are living diminished lives as they suffer in working at a job they hate. In other words, they are not living the life which they have been shown.

How do we "see" our vocations? Each person must answer this question for him or herself. A vocation can come out of a spiritual quest or it can come out of working at something that is deeply fulfilling. However, once we have "seen" what we are called to be and do, we ignore this vocation at our peril. Fortunately, even though Heaney is gone, his words endure.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gratitude For the Office?

A colleague dropped by my office a few minutes ago. I asked how his 4th of July holiday weekend went and he said, "It was wonderful. I enjoyed every minute." I commented that all this enjoyment ended with coming back to the office on Monday morning. He then said "We are so fortunate to be in a place that has electricity, air conditioning, indoor plumbing and where we don't have to worry about Malaria."

To be thankful about being back in the office on Monday morning is a genuine expression of deep gratitude. It's easy to be grateful for leisure time and for good food, drink and company. Yet, true gratitude encompasses all dimensions of life: work as well as play, difficulties as well as joys, defeats was well as victories.

It's not that we are grateful for everything that happens to us. Giving thanks for cancer, violence or hatred doesn't make much sense. However, I believe we can be grateful in every circumstance. Gratitude is an inner perspective on what happens to us and to our world. Seeing life through the eyes of gratitude can be transforming.

So I'm going to work on cultivating a deeper and more persistent gratitude. I want to be able to give thanks in all circumstances and to have a gratitude that will stand up to defeat, disappointment and failure. I want to be able to be grateful even when I don't feel grateful.

This deep and resilient gratitude comes from believing that all of life is a gift, even the parts of life we don't like or enjoy. To be gratefully alive is to be able to affirm this giftedness of life. Gratitude isn't only about counting our blessings, but being thankful for the lessons taught by pain, disappointment and deprivation.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Benefits of Church-Going

Did you know that weekly church attendance has been scientifically linked to lower blood pressure, a strengthened immune system and can add up to three years to your life span? So contends an April 22 New York Times blog by T.M. Luhrmann.

Luhrmann speculates on the reasons for the health benefits of church attendance and comes up with several. First, being a part of a community has social benefits. This is especially true in a faith community with the mission of helping others. Secondly, healthy behavior is encouraged in religious communities. As the Dali Lama once said, "The purpose of religion is to make us better persons."

However, her the third reason she cites is the most intriguing. Because God is immaterial, she contends that those going to church are encouraged to conceive of God as personal and real. Therefore, religious persons can have a personal relationship of love and trust with God. While she admits this way of visualizing God may work in a similar way to the "placebo effect," she nonetheless argues that it is powerful and even transforming.

Religion at its best can make our lives healthier and better. However, Christians follow a Jesus whose spiritual path led him to suffering and death. The paradox at the heart of Christianity is that when we give of our lives for others, we receive a fuller and more abundant life.

I don't believe we ought to "sell" church-going as a cure for physical, emotional or social ills. At the same time, I do believe that connecting with the sacred dimension of life will make our lives fuller, richer and better. And, when suffering does come, we have a community and a God who walks this journey with us.