Saturday, March 13, 2010

Paying Attention

Dear Malady,
I enjoyed the many fine examples Taylor uses in Chapter 2 about paying attention. I was struck, however, by how she closed this section. She just said you need a willingness to pay attention, but I really believe that you need to be in a good place to really pay attention as Taylor describes the act.

If you're not in good health, or have marital problems, or are stressed-out at work, it becomes exceedingly difficult to have the degree of awareness Taylor talks about. I'm not sure you can simply "will" yourself to do it. I think most of us struggle with enough stuff that we're not able to pay attention. But perhaps I should only speak for myself.

In my own life, it has only been after correctly dealing with chemical imbalances and learning how to recognize my feelings in everyday situations that I've been able to "pay attention." Paying attention would have been impossible for me without outside help. I cannot think of any specific "paying attention" examples from my own life at this time.

This chapter fell kind of flat for me. I'm curious to know what you thought of it.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

I'm Not Religious, I'm Spiritual

Dear Malady and Purl -
I, too, have now read the introduction to An Altar in the World. I had to laugh when I read the very first sentence: "If I only had a dollar for every time someone told me, 'I'm a spiritual person, not a religious person.'" I tell others that same thing ALL THE TIME!

Malady, you mentioned Taylor's emphasis on finding the divine in everything we do, no matter how small or insignificant. You also alluded to how difficult it is to maintain that kind of awareness when you're grinding through your day. I absolutely agree.

I think I tell people I'm a spiritual person because I long for meaning and connection. I look for meaning and connection in other people. I look for them in objects. Being an outdoor person, I especially look for them in nature. In fact, I fully expect to find God when I'm nature and am a little bummed out when I don't find Him (or Her, as the case may be) in beautiful outdoor places. What's up with that, anyway?

About a month ago, I woke up early when I heard the train pass by our house about a half mile away. Trains go by all the time and I'm so used to them now that I rarely wake up when they pass. But there was something different about this train. Or this particular time. I woke up hearing the train and feeling at complete peace. I could feel my weight on the bed. The sound of the train was crystal clear. My mind was calm and quiet. I felt happy for no particular reason. I think God was with me.

I rarely have this kind of sensation, as my mind is active, fretting, or engaged in some other distraction at nearly every moment of the day. For me, peace is one of those elusive and divine qualities I wish I experienced more of in my everyday life. I cherished this moment with the train.

I'm looking forward to this book.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Introduction to AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD

Dear Gary and Purl--
I just finished reading the introduction to Barbara Brown Taylor's AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD and I am so excited! This sounds like just the book I need. Although it is a simply premise, it seems groundbreaking to find a book on faith that focuses on the sacredness of daily life.  How we can find the sacred in the baking of bread, giving birth to children, making love to our partners and going through the processes of daily living. I am really looking forward to seeing what she has to say. 

This dovetails really well with what I have started reading in Baron Baptiste's 40 DAYS TO PERSONAL REVOLUTION.  I thought I was just picking up a guide to meditation and yoga but I have been surprised how Baptiste mentions Jesus in almost every chapter. Since this book focuses on bodily practices, I think it will be an excellent companion to Taylor's book.  A good start to Lent all around.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Keeping Promises

Dear Malady and Purl,

Recently I have found myself in a lot of trouble at home and at work. It's because I haven't kept promises to certain key people in my life.

My not coming through hasn't been intentional at all. In fact, I'm meticulous about writing things down and sorting out their respective priorities later.

Of course, one of my problems is that I have a lot to do. I tend to work slowly and carefully, so I often find my tasks piling up. Another problem I have is giving people false hope by promising to have things done by certain deadlines.

As I fall behind on my tasks, I have a tendency to put off the people who I care the most about and/or have the biggest investment in. I also look for simple efficiencies as I do my work. Often I find clear-headedness in getting ten unimportant tasks done at the expense of one important chore for someone who matters a great deal to me.

As a result, some of the relationships I care most about have suffered. I've lost much of the trust I once had in these people because I haven't come through on things I have promised. Right now, I feel inadequate and inauthentic in those relationships.

If you ask me about my own faith, I'll tell you that I derive much of it from the relationships I have with certain people. The people who I have failed. I'm wondering if you've ever found yourself in a similar situation, and if so, what you did to get yourself on track again. I would be grateful for any suggestions you might have to help me.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Lenten Challenge?

Dear Gary and Purl--
Guess what came across my desk today?

It's a yoga/meditation book.  Change your life in 40 days.  My doctor tells me I need to get serious about managing my stress.  I always enjoyed yoga but can't seem to find the time to go to class . I'm thinking of checking out this book and trying it out. Week one involves a 20 minute yoga practice.  By Week Six, you should have worked up to a 75 minute yoga practice.  Remember how many days there are in Lent? That's right. 40 days.  I might make this part of my personal Lenten challenge.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Five Love Languages

Dear Malady and Purl,
As I mentioned in my comment to Malady's last post, I've been reading a book called The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. I just finished it, and I'd like to tell you a little about it.

Chapman contends that all of us feel, give, and receive love in different ways, and that there are five fundamental ways in which love can be communicated: Acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and quality time. You can read more about these five languages here.

I learned two important lessons from this book. The first is that to truly communicate with someone (say, my spouse), I need to discover what that person's primary love language is. Chapman says that we have a tendency to communicate in our own love language, which may or may not resonate with the other person. This has been true in my own case - I tend to communicate using words of affirmation, which is my own primary love language. However, I've been practicing Chapman's methods on my spouse and even my boss, and I have to say I've already noticed a difference.

The second lesson I learned from this book is that love is a choice, not a feeling. The example Chapman uses in his book is that the "in love" feelings we have at the beginning of an intimate relationship is not real love. Those "in love" feelings are temporary and stem mainly from infatuation with the other person. When we finally come down from that high, what's left? That's when we must make a choice to either figure out how to love a person with whom you're not "in love" anymore, or get out and look for another "in love" experience.

I believe that God wants us to grow in this life. Falling in love is easy - it's happened to all of us and we all know how little effort it takes to maintain a relationship when it is in that stage. Sure, it's wonderful and fun, but we don't really learn anything from that experience. I believe that God wants us to choose to love. Choosing to love requires effort, but it is where some of our greatest potential to grow as human beings lies.

I highly recommend this book. I prefer the audio CD version because Dr. Chapman narrates it himself. He makes the book an entertaining listen. Chapman also writes from a Christian perspective. You can find his other books here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back to Business

Dear Gary and Purl--
Our conversation stalled around the time I had my baby. I'm going to rectify that right now.  Lent is coming up and my church has chosen our Lenten book selection.

Here is the synopsis:

"In her critically acclaimed Leaving Church ("a beautiful, absorbing memoir."—Dallas Morning News), Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about leaving full-time ministry to become a professor, a decision that stretched the boundaries of her faith. Now, in her stunning follow-up, An Altar in the World, she shares how she learned to encounter God beyond the walls of any church.

From simple practices such as walking, working, and getting lost to deep meditations on topics like prayer and pronouncing blessings, Taylor reveals concrete ways to discover the sacred in the small things we do and see. Something as ordinary as hanging clothes on a clothesline becomes an act of devotion if we pay attention to what we are doing and take time to attend to the sights, smells, and sounds around us. Making eye contact with the cashier at the grocery store becomes a moment of true human connection. Allowing yourself to get lost leads to new discoveries. Under Taylor's expert guidance, we come to question conventional distinctions between the sacred and the secular, learning that no physical act is too earthbound or too humble to become a path to the divine. As we incorporate these practices into our daily lives, we begin to discover altars everywhere we go, in nearly everything we do."

I'm really looking forward to reading this one. I recently finished DUG DOWN DEEP by Joshua Harris and I would recommend it for both of you. Lots of meaty stuff there.