Lizzie grew up in a household where anyone could preside over a brief, impromptu liturgy with the opening prayer: “Beauty Check!”  The ritual commences as car companions, fellow-hikers, bikers or paddlers stop…drop…and savor…some feature of a landscape…if only for a second or two.  This spur-of-the-moment rite was conceived, well before Lizzie was conceived, on a string of white-capped, stormy lakes in Northern Minnesota.  It was born as a serendipitous survival strategy for her newly married mom and dad fighting wind, rain, and fatigue on their way to a time-sensitive wilderness pick-up destination six miles away.    

Lizzie apparently internalized the Spirit of that handed-down tradition.  When she finally came of age for America’s cultural Bat Mitzvah—i.e. the bestowal of her very own cell phone—she commenced to taking pictures of memorable sunsets on the way home from soccer and basketball practices.  I defy any dad, no matter how rushed, to turn a deaf ear to his teen-aged girl’s request, “Dad, can you stop just for a second so I can get a picture?”  She’s a young adult now.  Occasionally I miss that younger version of her.  But on the darkest of days, I remember that somewhere in the Cloud there are over one hundred Lizzie sunsets always glowing!

Last week, a Lizzie story set me to glowing from the inside out.  It seems that she and a group of fellow collegiate outlaws snuck to the top of a campus building where they didn’t belong.  The intent of their crime was to steal a vision of the Western horizon at dusk, along with some warm fellowship and additional photographs to add to an already impressive portfolio!  Apparently, some laws were just made to be broken.  I don’t suppose I’ll tell her.  But, I know in my heart that I’d gladly post bail a hundred times over for this charming bandita and her enchanting practice of epikeia!

Until 2018, Eugene Peterson, the great biblical scholar, mystic, and Presbyterian pastor lived among us.  Famously, the lead singer/songwriter, Bono, of U-2 fame, took a well-documented spiritual journey to meet up with Eugene and his wife, Jan Peterson, at their cabin in Lakeside, Montana.  Arguably, a mystic in his own right, Bono was looking to sit at the feet of a master.  

I remember two things from that televised visit.  First, the formidable wife & mother, Jan, commanding the world-famous Bono and his mates to “quit running on those [deck] stairs!” Second, Eugene Peterson stating that, “Nobody can tell you how you should pray.”  Can you imagine?  By the time of that interview, the octogenarian Peterson would have concluded a life-time of pastoring various congregations, presumably teaching them, among other things, how to…pray!  What do you suppose he meant by, “Nobody can tell you how you should pray”?

Here’s what I make of it.  Whether a home chef’s cooking skills are caught, like my Grandma Francie’s, or taught, the way my mother-in-law’s tradition-based methods were, eventually, the new chef has to figure out how to make those methods and recipes her own.  My daughter, Lizzie, took a family spiritual tradition, fully internalized it, and made her own practices out of it.  

It’s like that with spirituality for all of us.  There’s real value in following tried and true spiritual recipes that have been handed down.  But it’s up to the practitioner to animate them with their own breath.  How else could it be?  Down to the tiniest shred of genetic material, each of us is made as unique as a fingerprint.  Why would God go to the trouble to hand craft all of that unrepeatability only to have us come to the Sacred through a cookie-cutter approach?  Can you imagine the Divine tediumthat would result on God’s end of things?  I’m convinced thatwhen you and I are bored in our spiritual practice, we’re experiencing God’s boredom within us at our failure to show up with who we really are.

Inspired by my youngest daughter, I’m asking myself how do God and Tom Wagner tend to rendezvous with one another in their own unique ways?  You wanna join me in a similar search? 


A Contemplative Exercise

Carve out at least fifteen minutes for this.  Get centered and grounded (e.g. posture, intentional breathing, piece of music, nature setting).  Open your heart for a little sacred free-association.  Allow scenes to percolate into your consciousness that involve times and places when you felt the Presence of God. Step back into them with your physical senses and re-experience them one-at-a-time.  Don’t be in a hurry.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense all at once.  At the end, take some time to journal, and/or discuss what came your way in this exercise.

• What stood out for you?

• Write or tell the story of one encounter that really sticks with you with narrative detail.

• Did you notice any signature methods that you tend to utilize when you come to God, or God tends to use to get to you?  For example, are your encounters generally in nature, or indoors?  Do they involve music?  Silence?  Other people?  Do they involve sacred texts like scripture, poetry, or literature?  Do you have your own routines that give you a framework?

• If “God” or “spirituality” language is unhelpful to you, can you translate these questions into your own appropriate idiom?  For example, what are your “go to” ways to encounter Beauty, Love or Awe?  

A Tiny List of Spiritual Recipes You Might Try

Tallit:  A Jewish client of mine talked about the warmth and comfort of his Tallit (daily prayer shawl).  I adopted my version of this ancient practice.  Especially on a winter’s morning, I’ll wrap a warm blanket around myself and consciously feel held as I move into my morning contemplative sit.  Psalm 131 is not a bad accompaniment to this method if you want to test drive it.

A Wing and a Prayer:  When I learned that swallows are a symbol of the Holy Spirit in some Hispanic cultures, I started to pay attention.  Like dolphins spinning and leaping, swallows’ scissor-tale acrobatics suggest something more than utilitarian purpose alone.  Looks to me like they’re having fun!  When I notice them, I affirm out loud, “Joy is on its way!”  It invariably seems to be true!  Why?  Is it that God always answers this prayer for me, like a grandparent constantly lavishing affection on a toddler?  Or is it that joy is always abundantly available, and I’m merely creating a space to receive it?  Or, is poor old Doctor Tom nurturing a positive illusion that results in a self-fulfilling prophesy?  My “go to” illusions are usually anything but positive!  If this is an illusion that results in resilience, flourishing, and joy…color me delusional…please!  

Prayer of All Creation:  When a winter’s hot shower warms my cold bones, resulting in audible sounds of comfort and relaxation, I think of God receiving this unconscious prayer as praise.  It makes me think of the way a tree, or a grasshopper, or a star worships God.

Prayer During A Bad Sermon:  When I’m at a worship service (usually Catholic Mass in my case), and the sermon feels off the mark for me, I’ve learned to shut my eyes and concentrate on receiving intentional breaths from God.  I receive God’s breath into my heart, into my belly, and into the place where thoughts and mental images are generated.  Sometimes I purse my lips as if there were a stir-stick in them.  This allows me to feel and hear Breath slowly enter.  It also let me hear and feel it blow out of me like Divine Energy for the world.  This has gotten me through many a stem-winder that threatened to rob me of peace and equanimity.

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