Monday, August 30, 2010



Cracks. Every day is filled with them. We walk over so many cracks in a day that we hardly even notice them underfoot. Until we are put on hold, wait an extra minute for a webpage to download, sit in rush hour traffic, or stand in line at the checkout. 

Little cracks appear every day. The English language fills in the cracks with a variety of meanings. Superstition: “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”. Humor: “She cracks me up”. Measure of quality: “Not all it’s cracked up to be”. Measure of distance: “Open the window a crack”. Emotions: “Wear him down until he cracks”.

There are some kinds of cracks that are not funny and some that are not pretty. Waiting typically cracks up no one. Consider spontaneous cracks, those brief encounters with unasked for waiting. Such little unfilled cracks of time often leave us feeling impatient, resentful or frustrated.

If our days are full of cracks, what can we do to smooth things out? 
1. First, welcome cracks. See spontaneous cracks in your day as little unasked for gifts. Who doesn’t enjoy received an unlooked for gift. Rather than curse a crack, welcome it as an unopened gift. Welcoming cracks moves us into a receptive approach to life allowing us to experience empty places in the day with gratitude instead of irritability.

2. Second, fill in the cracks. Step right into those little spaces of time with special material of your own choosing. Make something creative happen in that specific minute of your day. For example: try smiling at the crack. Fill the crack with a little bit of humor. A smile just might be the seed crystal which transforms the whole chemistry of the situation.

3. Here’s another cracked idea. Meet gift for gift. Give a quality part of yourself to the crack. Fill the crack with one of your favorite wisdom sayings. Recite poetry while you wait. Carry with you a few hand-written cards with wisdom sayings, proverbs, great life quotes, a sentence or two from Scripture. Work on memorizing one of those in that crack.

4. Finally, think of cracks as soul time. Take those brief moments handed to you every day and zero in on the state of your soul. Breathe a few good slow breaths. Focus your full attention on God, and upon God's love. For those few moments each day within the cracks, let love pour in. As odd as it sounds, those are the places where wonders happens. Those are the creative spaces helping you become a radiant human.

As Leonard Cohen sings, Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.

Lyrics by Leonard Cohen, Anthem, off his The Future album, 1992.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I invite you to come along ancient paths of spiritual formation. The Rule of St. Benedict, a guidebook for spiritual life written in the early 6th century, offers practical guidance for spiritual living in the twenty-first century. Benedictine spirituality provides principles and well-tested practices especially within the setting of a faith community. Benedict’s Rule concludes just as he began, with his favorite image, that of walking together along the path of spiritual life:

Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then with Christ’s help, keep this little rule that we have written for beginners. After that, you can set out for the loftier summits of the teaching and virtues we mentioned above, and under God’s protection you will reach them. Amen (RB, 73.8–9).

In these closing words, we see a clear vision for spiritual growth: spiritual pilgrims traveling together as a community toward our home with God among “loftier summits”. We walk with Christ’s help; strengthened step by step through the grace of God. Along the way, we need basic instructions to help us follow the path of Christian formation. As we walk together by faith, we seek to follow in the way of wisdom along ancient paths. As Tolkien wrote of life’s journey,

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.*

*J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1954), 44.

NOTE: This blog post offers a sample of writing from the newly released book ANCIENT PATHS: DISCOVER CHRISTIAN FORMATION THE BENEDICTINE WAY. For more information on this book, see the following links:

Monday, August 16, 2010


The day had been very hot by coastal standards, with the thermometer well into the 90s under a cloudless sky. After a long summer of misty days in the low 60s, the heat was a welcomed change. Near midnight, we found our feet following dune paths to the sea to walk under the sea of stars swimming in the deep blue firmament overhead. With little human light pollution to obscure the sky, the shy stars revealed themselves by the millions, with mother Milky Way leading the festive throng across the brilliant night sky. Low tide invited us out westward, far beyond the dunes, into the wet flat-sands reflecting the stars above.  
          As though walking upon the stars, our feet felt none of their sharp points of light, but glided silently over the surface of the deep. With every foot fall, phosphorescence sparkled underfoot, like fireflies dancing in the wet sand, or light fairies from some long-forgotten sunken Altantis. Luther spoke well when he declared, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” My mind recalled the song of the morning stars as expressed in the Song of Creation, found in Job 38. 

Where were you when I laid 
          the earths foundation? 
     Tell me, if you understand. 
Who marked off its dimensions? 
          Surely you know!  
     Who stretched a measuring line across it? 
On what were its footings set,  
     Or who laid its cornerstone— 
While the morning stars sang together 
     And all the angels shouted for joy?
          “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass--grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.” So wrote one who touched the souls of millions, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, one of God’s bright stars shining in the  darkness of the night of human suffering. Out under the night sky, walking among stars, our souls find their place in the universe once again, tiny yet brilliant, shining “like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16).

Monday, August 9, 2010


When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night 

at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, 

and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

By Wendell Berry
Collected Poems
(North Point Press, 1985).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Have you ever happened upon a wilderness lakeside or mountain stream and discovered human built stacks of stones? You’ve been in the presence of an international, informal club of stone-stackers. Better yet, wade right into the wilderness, choose out a good sturdy base-stone and join the club. You’re well on your way to spending a carefree afternoon, wasting time in the sun by the lake. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in improving life's balancing act from stacking stones.

Find the Center
Most everything has a center. The earth rotates on a central axis. From the center of that axis radiates a modest little force we call gravity, drawing all other objects towards the center. Try a simple test. Balance a yardstick on your finger. Lay the number 17 or 19 on your finger and watch the stick fall. Then place your finger under the number 18 and watch it balance easily. Stacking stones calls a person to the center. Simply put, the spirituality of returning and resting in God quietly moves us to the center, to the balancing point where impossible loads become possible to bear. 

Allow for Failure
I remember one sunny afternoon at a lakeside a few years ago. One of our sons spent several hours on a single stack of stones. Over and over again, he would raise one stone upon another and over it would topple. He allowed for failure, and finally stuck the stack into a thing of improbable beauty, seven large round stones raised to a height above his head. No two stones alike. Stone stacking requires plenty of trail and error. Find a stone you think will work. Find what you think is the center. Set it gently upon the stone beneath to see how its weight is received by the stack. Make adjustments. Who cares if it knocks the whole stack down? Try it again. Learn the patient art of allowing for failure.

Get Support
One of the little tricks we’ve often used in stone stacking is the use of little stone wedges, or chinks, to help support uneven stones. Part of the delight of stone stacking is the lack of uniformity in a pile of stones. Stacking bricks holds little interest for me. But why not add an odd wedge of stone here and a prop there to give the whole structure more stability. Often, I’ve been propped up and found my center by the chinking support of a wise word from a friend, a friendly gesture of a stranger or even from a circumstantial event that filled the gap at the right time. Look for these little supports in the day.

Step Away
After you’ve set a few stones on the stack, take a few steps back, and look. Admire the creation. Inspect the angles. See how the sun plays on the faces of the stones. Get a feel for the whole. With most tasks, we get so caught up in the labor that we forget to take time to step away for a moment, just to pause, look, take a few breaths, and admire our work. Often, within this pause, I’ve felt the sense of where the stones are heading and plunged back into the lake with renewed vigor and clarity to finish the stack.

Enjoy Yourself
Take delight in stacking stones. You will not be entering the Pacific Northwest regional championships with this pile. There is no first prize. Your boss will not be writing up a performance review at the end of the day. There’s no deadline. Just you, the lake, and a pile of stones. Splash about, get wet, pretend you’re a child all over again, and set another stone on the stack. The first year our family began stacking stones on the north shore of Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Park, people walked by to gawk at the odd stone statues lining the shore along a rocky point. “What are they?” people would ask. Our answers varied from year to year. To be honest, I’ve never quite understood what they are or why we build them. Part of the answer lies in the wonder of childhood, in the delight children take at playing with the good earth at the edge of the water. The other part comes from that mysterious side of every human, no matter the age, language, culture, nationality or tribe. We all have an inner compass for the center and find delight in the beauty and challenge of keeping our lives in balance.