Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's Stirring in Advent?

Our friend Gaye has called me back to the blogosphere once again.  Thank you!  Her comment posted way after my last blog entry asks a truly great spiritual direction question: "So what's stirring in your heart in Advent?"

I confess that Advent is my most difficult season of the year.  Some of it likely is about diminishing light and earlier dark and so I am  prone to easily move into a melancholy mood.  Rather like I notice that when it rains I'd just like to take a long nap.  A little blue.  Some of it is about the dissonance between a commercial culture that is playing holiday and Christmas music when my Christian subculture is celebrating Advent with its distinct themes of preparation for Christ's coming, John the Baptist's challenges to an unethical culture, and Mary's appalling consent and pregnancy.   I feel both bemused and angry that the commercial season so corrupts a religious holiday and those of us who are Christians have very often been complicit.  So in some ways I just try to bear the hype of this time of year, live as simply and prayerfully as I am able, and then enjoy the twelve days of the Christmas season.

Maybe because this time of year stirs up my heart in complex ways I am actually doing the inner work of preparation that Advent calls me to do.  But it is a different feeling than the song's lyrics, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!"   An Advent song that frequently brings me to tears, and echoes deep in my soul is by Christopher Drake, whose lyrics are:

What is the crying at Jordan? Who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark our hearts and shut to mystery.

Who then shall stir in this darkness, prepare for joy in the winter night?
Mortal in darkness we lie down, blind-hearted seeing no light.

Lord give us grace to awake us, to see the branch that begins to bloom;
in great humility is hidden all heaven in a little room.

Now comes the day of salvation, in joy and terror the Word is born!
God gives himself into our lives; O let salvation dawn!

There's a dark, rich longing to this season that I best hold in the hope of a God who can and does come to us, even while we focus our attention elsewhere--on our glittery lights and anxious worries about what we are going to give so and so for a present and how it is all going to fit into our budget.  But the Advent theme of watching and waiting for the coming of the Lord is what I seem to be called into year after year.

May God give you your heart's true desire for Christmas.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Where Did I Go?

One of our readers, Gaye, left a message asking, "Where did you go?"  Thanks for asking!  I have been working on many things, kind of like Martha in the Mary and Martha story.  However, I'm not griping about it.  It has been a wonderfully rich time but I have been going in many directions. 

On the winemaking side of things I got myself a manually operated crusher-destemmer and it has made a great difference in the volume of grapes I can turn into wine.  This September I went to Rominger Brothers Vineyard in Winters, CA and picked about 160 lbs. each of Chardonnay and Syrah grapes.  It has yielded about 8 gallons of white and 10 gallons of red wine at this point.  I will lose some in further racking the wine, but it will produce many bottles of wine in the end.  Rominger Brothers is one of those vineyards that is happy to have amateurs buy grapes in smaller amounts.  So I appreciate their willingness to serve us. I'm a happy old winemaker!

I'm also working on several spiritual direction-related projects.  I'll be teaching a completely online course for continuing education through a seminary (Church Divinity School of the Pacific) on "Introduction to Spiritual Guidance Traditions" at the end of this month.  So I'm working hard to get the course all set up.  I've never done a course totally online before so it is a fun challenge to get to know the technology and think through this mode of building a learning community.  At the same time I'm facilitating an online peer supervision group in a new model to the group. 

I'm trying to market an online virtual dreamwork group--and am close to getting enough people but not quite there yet.  I love dream work and am really good at facilitating the group process.  So I hope to get it up and running sometime soon.  Plus, I have a day of workshops I'm co-teaching in Berkeley on group spiritual direction and a group model for discernment coming up this Friday.  So I am very busy.  Then I'm off visiting my family in Michigan very soon and going to my monastic community where I am an oblate--St. Gregory's Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan.  I hope to see lots of beautiful fall colors in Michigan in October. 

Thanks, Gaye, for calling me me back to you all.  Enjoy the autumn/harvest season, folks. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Taste and See

The fullness of time began, and now continues, when I can share the wine and ale that I made!  The "Pentecost Red" pinot noir wine has turned out to be a luscious, full-bodied, deep wine.  It is an excellent wine!  The few bottles of "Pentecost Blush" were a bit sharp when I tasted it at bottling and I'm waiting for it to mature a while longer.  I had some problems using old yeast with the blush (shame on me) and that may have been a contributing factor.  If necessary I'll blend it with a sauvignon blanc, another full-bodied wine.  Little corrections can be made.

The Belgian trippel ale is another rich, full-bodied beverage that has just begun to mature enough to enjoy and share.  Ah, that's the key word--share.  It is such a delight to share a bottle with others!  There is a "little communion" that happens when we are all able to enjoy together the fruit of our labors.  That's true for wine or beer making, and for any other enterprise where we give ourselves over for the enjoyment and good of others.  A nice home-cooked meal together, and a shared bottle of wine or beer made by a friend's labors.  Or the enjoyment of a friend's hand-crafted ceramic bowl or painting.  The savoring of a good story, or the gift someone's respectful listening.  The sermon offered by someone who you know cares about you.  It is all so deeply satisfying.  There is divine energy at work there, connecting us together and to the Source.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bottling and Labels--and Naming Things

Soon after the Feast of Pentecost, the conclusion of the great fifty days of the Easter season, it was time to bottle the pinot noir wine I started last September and a Belgium Trippel ale (made with rock candy!) I brewed up about a month ago.  I dedicated two days to the bottling process: Cleaning reusable bottles, soaking and scraping off old labels, and sanitizing the bottles. When I finished the prep work on the bottles it was time to clean and sanitize the equipment for transferring the ale and wine into the bottles.  Then I did the actual bottling.  Then corking the wine bottles and capping the beer bottles.  Then sealing the wine bottles with wax and adding heat-shrink capsules for the tops of the bottles.  Then I printed off labels and applied them to the bottles.  It's a lot of work!  But there's a lot of enjoyment in all that hands-on labor. And it was another accomplishment.

I ended up with the equivalent (some were magnums and some were half bottles) of 24 bottles of red wine, 4 1/2 bottles of blush, and 47 bottles of ale.  Now I wait, again, for the wine and the ale to continue to mature.  I should let the wine mature for a minimum of another two months, and about three months for the ale (which is a higher alcohol ale at 7.5%).  Both will continue to improve with further aging beyond those minimums.

This was the first time I labeled these avocational products under the names Third Incarnation Brewery and Third Incarnation Winery.  I had a naming poll among friends as I was making the transition to the place where I now live.  Back in my hippie days in the early 70's I named my wines with the Uncle Dan's Very Fine Table Wine label.  Then when my wife and I moved to Evanston, Illinois so she could teach at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in the mid-90's I started up beer and winemaking again under The Seminary Cellar label.  I decided upon Third Incarnation when we made the move to the San Francisco East Bay area.  It was the third location for my brewing-winemaking and I think it sounds very "Californian" and whimsical. 

Naming things is an important activity.  When I was 15 years old I was adopted by my then-stepfather.  I underwent a change in my name.  Something of my past was ended, and something new was begun.  A new identity was formed.  Women who have traditionally taken on the name of their husband understand this.  Now many married couples take a hyphenated name, combining family names.  When we adopted a child, that child received a new name as part of a new identity and state of life and network of relationships and belonging.  Monastics take on a name that they will be known by in the community drawn from saints of the past.  Some people take on a new name by which the community will know them at their baptism.  In some traditions people will receive a new name as part of their initiation into adulthood.

In your own life if you could give yourself a new name emerging from important events, what name or names would that be?  How do you label yourself?  What does that imply and exclude?  What are your stories of naming and labeling?  What are your stories of working toward a goal and then celebrating it's accomplishment?

You are welcome to share them with us by adding your own comment if you like.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

When Life Intervenes

There's an old saying that we make plans but then life intervenes.  It's not always that bad things happen to our plans, just that often things occur that are unanticipated and call for a change in our plans and expectations.  In my current situation something very nice has occurred that is a renewal of an old plan that I had suspended.  Several years ago I sent a book proposal about leading spiritual guidance groups out to potential publishers along with some sample chapters and a book outline. I got a polite rejection from one publisher, no response from another despite one of their regular authors recommendation on my behalf, and then sent it to a third and received what seemed to be sketchy possible interest but the company was going through major reorganization. I then turned my attention to other interests and have only done a little here and there in continued writing for that book.

Last week I received an unexpected message that the third publisher's editorial and marketing review group is pleased with the proposal and is interested in publishing the book. However, since this may be part of a series of books through Spiritual Directors International they will need to get the nod from that organization. So while it is still pending, there is a possibility that book project is now coming of age! That is an exciting prospect and I am giving priority to getting back to work on the draft of that book. However, that also means that I am writing less in other areas--including this blog. Rather than just feel guilty because I'm not writing "enough" I'd like to turn this into an invitation to you, dear spiritual companions...

I would like to invite you who visit this blog to start conversations here with topics related to spirituality that are of interest to you. I'd love to respond to them and invite others to add their own pieces of wisdom as well. Is this something you would be interested in doing?  Anyone can make a comment currently to any of the blog postings. But if you would like to start a new topic please let me know at

Friday, March 19, 2010

St. Joseph's Day

Today I remember and give thanks for the men who have helped give shape to my own understanding of becoming a mature man in a society that has very few role models of healthy and mature masculinity.  Some have been uncles in my family network, others have been spiritual guides and mentors that have been a companion for me at particular points in my life.  In that list of male mentor relationships I remember with deep affection and appreciation my stepfather--later adopted father--who entered my life at twelve years old, and who willingly took on the not-so-easy task of loving not only my mother but also her three young boys and learned along with the rest of us how to be a family together.

Each of these men had a growing spiritual depth to them and a sense of community responsibility; and fortunately for me took interest in me and my growth as a whole human being. They had learned how to be emotionally present to themselves and others, and how to make commitments to the well being of others. Each of these men also had their own limitations and seemed to know how to acknowledge and make peace with that part of themselves and be charitable about others' failings.  They learned how to give nurture and support as well as provide strength and power for living.

I turn my attention with gratitude to these men particularly on this day each year, because in the Church's calendar we celebrate the one I think of as their patron, Saint Joseph.  Joseph was, according to tradition, the stepfather of Jesus.  He was the male figure in the holy family that labored on their behalf as a carpenter, and served as protector of the young family when King Herod was threatening the life of Jesus.  He heeded the warnings of his dreams to move the family to Egypt to escape Herod and returned the family to their homeland when Herod died.  He and Mary together suffered through Jesus' adolescence when, at 12 years old, Jesus stayed on in Jerusalem without telling them.  Even the holy family had their problems!

So for all those men and women who have been our mentors and guides in life, for those who seek our well-being and right living--let's give thanks to God!  And let's try to be that way for others that God might place in our path, too.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


I am now in the season of Lent and I've been thinking of the importance of pruning grapevines and other plants as analogous actions to the spiritual disciplines of this time in the Christian year.  Pruning a grapevine serves the purpose of concentrating and channeling energy for particular growth--to direct the energy into the growth of grapes in the summer and making the vine fruitful for harvest in the fall.  Similarly Lent can be seen as a time reserved for pruning our lives of all the stuff that diffuses our energy and makes us less concentrated on living into our core spiritual and ethical values and primary relationship with the divine.  A season dedicated to looking at where we expend energy in fruitless compulsions and distractions and letting go (with prayer and the grace of God, and sometimes with the help of others) of those actions and habits that stunt our lives is well worth practicing.  Sadly, popular religion can trivialize the potential for this season...turning it into a time of giving up candy or chocolates rather than looking at the greater issues of where we really get hooked and diminished!  What drains me of my vitality and power in living?  What keeps me from being at peace?  Where do I feel blocked or constricted in my relationships?  How do I participate in structures and systems that thwart or constrict or oppress others unjustly?  These are not easy or comfortable questions, but they have a better chance of  leading us to insights about what really needs to be pruned away and what preparation is truly necessary for healthy, vital, fruitful living and new growth that benefits not only ourselves but all those with whom we share a connection. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stormy Times

I apologize for the gap in postings.  In the San Francisco Bay Area we talk about the current weather pattern being influenced by El Nino, The Boy.  In that system we had about a week of very stormy temper tantrums, but for the last week and a half things have quieted down.

Sometimes at the beginning of spiritual companionship meetings I'll ask people what their "personal weather system" has been lately.  If someone asked me that question I would have to say that it has been stormy times. This storm has taken a lot of my emotional energy and attention.  There have been some things I have been able to do about this, and some things that are beyond my control or not mine to do amidst the storm.

None of us are exempt from periods of cloudiness or storms in our lives.  Simple things can help in those more personally difficult times like praying the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference." 

Sometimes I'll imagine the people who are experiencing these stormy times with me all in a boat together on a storm-tossed sea, like the story of Jesus and his disciples in the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:37ff).  We call out to him, asking him to still the storm.  I'll try to get in touch with what's being said between us in the boat, and what Jesus might be trying to tell us.  Then he'll call out, "Peace! Be still."...not just to the stormy situation, but to my own inner turmoil and chaos. 

For me there is also the blessing of having wise, spiritually grounded people who will pray for me, listen to me as I try to make sense of the situation, receive me in the strong feelings that surge within, and hold the trust for me that the storm will pass and safe harbor will be reached in time.  Those are some of the resources that help me in difficult times like what I am going through now.

What helps you in stormy times?

Friday, January 15, 2010


The devastation from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti has been terrible.  Tens of thousands of people are feared dead under collapsed buildings and so many are homeless and without basic food, water, and medical aid.  International rescue and assistance are being sent to help.

In the face of such a natural calamity it is deeply disturbing to me to hear the Rev. Pat Robertson attribute a spiritual cause for this and claim this is God's judgment on Haiti due to its people making a pact with the devil.  I remember similar claims of God's judgment when New Orleans and the Mississippi delta region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.  And the echoes of judgment reverberate from the 1980's initial outbreak of the HIV-AIDS virus.  There are times when I almost feel ashamed of being a Christian minister of the gospel when I hear such moralistic, judgmental diatribe from other ministers.  I expect that it can feel that way for the vast majority of Muslim imams who have to address Islam's extreme fundamentalist clergy, or Jewish rabbis having to deal with ultra-orthodox leaders, that are so caught up in their sense of righteous causes that catastrophic events mirror their purposes and reflect divine affirmation and judgment upon the Others.  It is dangerous stuff, this kind of projection of evil upon people and divine wrath read into natural catastrophes.

I cannot hold to such a view of God any longer, and I hope that most people see such pronouncements as portraying the Holy One as monstrous.  I sincerely hope that the vast majority of people of faith find such views of God repulsive and distance themselves from religious leaders that make such claims.  What is the fruit of such judgment?  Common people are associated with some pervasive evil intention and victimized a second time.

Certainly, and thankfully, the vast majority of credible spiritual leaders support all those who take up actions of compassion in response to such terrible situations as an earthquake in Haiti.  We pray for those who have experienced huge loss and death, and for those who are directly engaged in rescue and relief services.  We give our financial resources for emergency care of those who need it.  We do this as a response and participation in divine compassion and mercy, flowing from a God who cares for the sick and the stranger, the widowed and the orphaned, and holds all life dear.  It is not ours to cast or pronounce judgment.  Such talk bears bitter fruit.  It is ours, rather, to see the suffering Christ in the face of those who suffer and to respond with compassion.