Category Archives: Spiritual Practice

Richard’s Christmas Fudge

It’s that time of year again. Oh, the goodness.

Fudge is one of the first things I learned to make well, and my recipe has evolved for two decades.

It requires patience, so cooking a batch each Advent for me is a spiritual practice of the season.

Share and enjoy, share and enjoy.

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Richard’s Christmas Fudge

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 12 oz evaporated milk
  • 1 cup butter
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 8 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 1 7-oz. container marshmallow creme
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Slather up a 13x9x2 pan with butter and set aside. Reflect a moment at the wonder of butter.

Butter sides of a 3-quart saucepan, humming as you do so. In it, combine sugar, butter and milk.

Cook and stir over med-high heat to boiling. Stir more, changing now from humming to singing. Stir, my friend. Stir like the wind. Stir until cows actually come home. Cook and stir to 236 degrees, soft-ball stage (about 14 minutes).

Remove pan from heat. Add chocolate, marshmallow creme and vanilla. Stir until it all melts. Feel your tricep and bicep muscles and nod at your buffosity.

Spread the chocolatey goodness into the pan. (Optional: If you like peanut butter cup flavor, sprinkle peanut butter chips in the bottom of the pan before adding the fudge. Sprinkle more on top and run a spoon through it a few times to spread as you desire). When finished, lick spoon like a 6-year-old, allowing some chocolate to remain on your nose and chin all day.

Cool in fridge or on that shelf on the porch. Do not neatly slice into cubes. Instead, chisel generous odd-sized slabs to serve in a big pile on a platter.

Makes 3.5 pounds or so. Just enough.

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The Church of Used Books and CDs


Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses means living in the fog of others’ holy breath.

In seminary, a Roman Catholic friend told me, “To Catholics, the world is a crowded place. Saints are everywhere.” Her words rise in my memory around All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day, and Dia De Los Muertos.

Among my experiences of the saints? Browsing used book and CD stores.

Maybe more a 12-step meeting than church, I am anonymous, but welcomed as one who belongs. Though baptized as a youth, I am now at home among the many denominations of used book and CD shops ’round the world, the local parishes of the invisible small-“c”-catholic church. I know the lingo and the culture; I chat with the help. If not the precise local liturgy, I know the sacramental intention of this place: communing with authors and artists across space and time with other seekers.

Among authors and artists who remind me what matters to me, I browse Religion, Philosophy, and Old Testament first. Today I am prepared to meet with Dogen, Thomas Moore, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Thich Nhat Hanh. Making my way to Nature Writings and Poetry/Essays, I seek a word of prayer with Gretel Ehrlich and David Whyte.

Always a visit to Music Biographies, these days to check for anything on June Carter Cash for Trishy. Always to Youth Series to check for the next Fablehaven and Pseudonymous Bosch for Sam.

In the CD area, there are mixed emotions. I shake my head sadly to see a Beatles CD, praying for the lost soul who gave it up. But then, in the great circle of life, maybe a tween Justin Bieber fan will attain enlightenment today.

I unfold the scrap of paper in my wallet reminding me which Dylan titles I am missing. Browse Bluegrass for Punch Brothers. Lament that there has never been an AC/DC Greatest Hits compilation. Hoping against hope that I may run across a rare P. Hux. I pull out jewel cases from the clearance bin with mixed emotions: “What great deals!” but also “Why does no one appreciate the genius of Michael Penn the way I do?” And always a quick glance to check for Sarah Vowell books on CD, because why would you read her when you can hear her amazing voice?

I am fellowshipping with the world of seekers.

I pull books off shelves which I have no intention of buying; I just want to feel their weight and shape and be close to the words, feel the breath of the saints.

I am part of a world where holy scripture is everywhere. And I am in good company.

“That which you are seeking,” writes Sheri Huber, “is causing you to seek.”

Blessings to you this All Saints week.


When Your Theology Changes

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

-Rainer Maria Rilke

Carl Jung wrote that a Circle is an archetype for wholeness or God. We are always drawn toward it, June Singer said, yet “to fly straight into it would be like a moth darting into a flame.”

I guess, like Moses, we don’t look directly at the Holy. We circle around. We admire its posterior, its profile, its moving shadow.

At seminary I heard all theology is autobiography. True, I think. If we’re paying attention, all our life experiences are naturally integrated into a Story of what’s holding them together. We come up with integral symbols, signs and words that help us make sense of it all: theology. God-talk. The witness of Scripture is that. We’re designed to do that, too.

We are God-seeking, tower-circling, hungry-by-design, circumnavigating-Life-by-instinct creatures.

You’re a falcon circling.
When Rilke describes circling around the Tower, it’s what all of us are always doing.

Whatever language and symbols you have going right now for the Holy One, it hasn’t always been this way. Your autobiography has grown with your years on the planet, and your theology has developed with you. Each time you’ve crystalized a personal belief, it’s been merely a stepping stone of long-haul enlightenment.

In other words, your theology has evolved.

You’re a storm circling.
Like a scientist in the lab, when something interesting happens, our definitions are disrupted and our Story of God grows beyond its previous borders. Bill Moyers’ Genesis: A Living Conversation project suggested the narrative of the Older Testament is really the Story of God evolving in the human experience. Your story is a kind of scripture, too. Everyone’s is.

We know change happens, yet when seasons of transformation dawn, we pretend to be surprised. As if life is supposed to be stagnant and smooth, and moments of transition are really messing it all up. Humans are funny.

Pete Seeger said we can’t know the whole Truth. We can only circle round the gorse-berry bush hearing the rabbit, pointing and saying, “It’s in there somewhere.” Observe a sculpture with three trusted friends at the compass points, and you have access to four different views, all true, all different. The community, friends, church, sanga, is a vital thing in your God-Story evolving.

Paul Tillich said the word “God” is so old and tired, it should be banished from our vocabulary for about a thousand years. Then that word might begin to mean something again. We outgrow language sometimes.

When you come to a place where old words don’t work anymore, tell someone. Because that’s the Christ story unfolding: death and resurrection, and old wineskins breaking. When a season of questioning moves through, share that story of Christ emerging. Don’t circle alone, at least not for long. Your story– everyone’s story– is something we need to hear. I’ve been part of some communities over the years where seasons of deep questioning are avoided as a failure of faith. I’ve been part of others that treat these seasons as holy moments where faith is growing. I hope you have a sense of being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses where your Story of God is welcomed, honored and treated as revelation. After all, didn’t he say something about being born again? And again?

You’re a song circling.
Who are you? After a thousand years, maybe we can say with Rilke, “I still don’t know.” Maybe the point of a creative, juicy life is to lose track of ourselves and know ourselves to be In Holy Process. We think we know what the point is; we think it’s all about the tower. But what about the circumnavigated path you’ve worn? Your favorite beverage on the journey? The weather lo these many years of orbiting? The company and the conversations? These are all parts of a spiritual life. The experiences of a true Christ life cannot always be neatly filed.

To conclude, let’s stretch the metaphor with Rilke:

You are circling ’round the One Holy Tower– a falcon, a storm, a song.

You’re a lover dancing round your Beloved.

You’re a storyteller wondering about the twist at the end,
a hawk patrolling her valley,
a youngster on the playground with one end of the  jumprope, whirling, whirling with your friend.

You’re an explorer of God downloading continuously to a universal core.

When your theology is changing, you are in the midst of a Holy Endeavor.


Spiritual Life in the 4th Quarter

In the final stretch of the calendar year, there is much to pay attention to. Lots of cultural traditions and liturgical moments converge in these final months.

From here on out the river moves fast, and something special will happen if you let go of the bank and let the current take you.

This post (should you choose to accept it) is to prime your imagination for the ride.

Autumn is a bell for change. Colors, aromas and temperature embodies the continual transformation of the Christ in us– death and life, ever recycling– and invites us to feel it in our bones. It’s a mixed emotional ride for many of us, however. As Gretel Ehrlich writes, in autumn “we hear a double voice. One says that everything is ripe; the other says that everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite.”

That intense mix resonates with these last few months of the year. As a liturgist, I think about how natural markers in time demand or romance our attention. At the end of the year, there are a whole lot of them piled up. It can be a spiritual practice to follow them– to keep in touch with the invitations to integrate what you feel and know, like you’d follow someone on Twitter.

Here’s a quick tour of some of these moments for your preparation. Notice the wide range of experiences we are invited into.

  • Harvest: Celebration! Seeds have, without any advice from us or wi-fi, made food. We are woven into all creation.
  • Day of the Dead, All Hallow’s Eve: Re-membering our dead dears, accepting our past, feeling grief and letting go.
  • All Saints: Each of us is woven into a great web of holy witnesses. We ask how to be purely present in the flow of past-future.
  • Thanksgiving: Refreshing our gratitude; imagining a thriving, generous life.
  • Advent: Whisper it: Mystery! Longing for newness, we are pregnant with change.
  • Winter Solstice: The darkest day of the year, quiet and stark. The ancients used to climb the mountain with fire to help stoke up the sun.
  • Christmas: Surprise and celebration! Holy-ness is among us; in fact, our very lives carry the Christ.
  • New Year’s: With hope and with tender trust, we begin again.
  • Epiphany: Share what you have; that’s the point of all this.

Quite a ride.

How does it feel to see your life as part of these moments? Celebration and contemplation, gathering and letting go, remembering and starting again.

To be a liturgist is to be a farmer. I often find myself in leadership simply inviting people to pay attention to what the current season calls for. It’s not to be taken literally. These moments don’t just happen once a year on the calendar, like, “better get ready to be grateful, because Thanksgiving Day is coming!” No, all these days are practice for what’s possible every day. It’s a spiritual life that recognizes what your life is asking for.

You probably have favorite things coming up as well as moments for which you have natural resistance. But listen: you’ve experienced all manner of things this year. These next few months offer the opportunity to integrate these experiences. Each moment coming your way is an invitation to acknowledge, accept and welcome your whole life experience.

Are you open to that?

A deep breath of space in your body is all that’s needed for today.


Introvert Practice: Good, Alone and Free

I went to strip away what I had been taught, to accept as true my own thinking…no one around to look at what I was doing, no one interested, no one to say anything about it one way or another.

I was alone and singularly free.

— Georgia O’Keeffe

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Sometimes you need to get away to see yourself clearly. Pry yourself away from the impulse to please family and friends, watch yourself be a self-standing whole You, and feel what that feels like.

Much of my vocation orbits family life, to give myself to wife, son, parents, sister, friends. The feeling is cozy, immersed in a glorious web of color and song. I love this life.

And then there are seasons where I feel entangled, and I begin to feel derivative of these powerful forces to which I gladly give myself.

Imagine with me browns, greens and blues. I am thinking of one of my favorite solitude spots, a one-room, no-electricity cabin in the woods. I stand on the edge of the forest, swallow hard my Blair Witch-phobia, and exhale. “This is my time,” I speak out loud. Nothing to produce, no multi-tasking, no email. Nothing to keep up with, no meetings, no waiting. No, in fact, clock.

I step slowly on the path through the oaks, as to not cause a wake to disturb the leafy floor. Slow. Slow. Slow feet for this seasonal pilgrimage to meet myself. “Nice to meet you,” I’ll say. Deep smiling sigh. “Tea?”

I inhale the sounds of squirrels and birds and the leafybreeze. Wind, spirit, Ruach. I watch for deer and turkeys for their medicine. I look for the cabin to come into view like meeting an old friend.

There is absolutely no one interested in what I am doing, and I am for the moment singularly free. Like Georgia.

When I am in the midst of change, I need solitude to get my bearings. Shout it from the mountaintops: I am an Introvert.

I love people for whom the opposite is true: when they are overwhelmed, they need a party. Like my friend Doug who just about crawls out of skin when faced with a contemplative exercise. Both ways in the world are good, and it’s good to know who you are.

Georgia cultivated her artist’s life by getting away. Silence and space refreshed her imagination for her true life.

Introverts unite! Er, Disperse!  In this change of season, some of us are getting out of the current that’s been sweeping us along. Even for an overnight, or an afternoon. Shoot, maybe an hour would do it: to practice your alone-ness, your free-ness and your goodness.