744. I was younger yesterday

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Today I have something fun to tell you about, a blast from the past. A new and ambitious friend, Greta Holt, has started a blog about courage, but not the kind of courage that sends you parachuting off a plane or climbing Mount Everest, although I suppose it could. The courage she's writing about is "mostly the quiet kind," meaning the courage that can fill any ordinary day for her readers. As Greta puts it, this courage is "the listening, helping, working and thinking kind." Greta recently read my first book, Just Think: Nourish Your Mind to Feed Your Soul, and asked if she could include one of its section as a blog post. Of course I said yes. Please please click through to her blog, "Courage and Humility: Explorations" and read "Math, Wisdom, and White Sand" ("I was Younger Yesterday" was its original title in JT). While you're there, I hope you'll dig into some other posts in her brand new and very thoughtful blog.

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[Photo: taken last fall at an exhibit at the American Swedish Institute here in Minneapolis: "100 Days of Creative Balance" by designer and artist Tia Salmela Keobounpheng. To see many more photos of this exhibit, click through at the link to go to her page at MN Artists.]

725. Modus operandi of the attentive person

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A couple days ago something jumped out at me from an email. The email was from Poets & Writers website/magazine and identified stories of interest to click through and read. The thing that jumped was in the paragraph about the first story, in which Parul Sehgal, senior editor and columnist at the New York Times Book Review, was being interviewed.

Here’s what she said:

"There's something Cezanne said that I think about a lot, something like, 'I know what I am looking at, but what am I seeing?' That's what reviewing feels like to me. It's very much to 're-view,' to see again, to try to see farther and see deeper."

Sehgal was speaking there as a book reviewer, but what she said seems to me a habit for living as an attentive person, regardless of occupation: to try to see and not just look, to try to see farther, to try to see deeper.

You can read the full interview here.

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[Photo: taken of a sign I saw while in Orlando this winter for a work trip. I thought it fitting for a post about paying attention.]

724. The year of small things done with great intention

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About 20 years ago – or was it longer? – I took a class taught by a Protestant minister, the father of a good friend, about the devotional classics. We learned about and read from Thomas Kelly (A Testament of Devotion), Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God), Thomas a Kempis (The Imitation of Christ), Saint Augustine (Confessions), John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together), as well as William Law (A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life).

Law was an English cleric and devotional writer from the 18th century. Based on the book’s title, it sounds oh so heavy, but Law lightened it substantially by crafting his book using fictitious stories following characters named Classicus, Octavius, Miranda, and more as they learn the importance of intention. A much younger “me” wrote the book’s key message on its first page: “We aren’t where we want to be because we never intended to be. Commitment of will.” The lesson of intention delivered by this book resonated with me all those years ago and it resonates with me now. I still have things to learn from it.

The book’s lesson came to me again the last couple of weeks as I read The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, written by Sarah Arthur (who I’ve written about here and here) and Erin F. Wasinger, and published by Brazos Press. The Year of Small Things tells the story of how Sarah and Erin and their husbands intentionally became “communal friends” and together committed themselves to adopt, cumulatively over the course of a year, the twelve spiritual disciplines typically associated with new monasticism, with some adaptations for their young families. They began in August with their covenantal friendship, continued into September with hospitality and October with radical finances. Late fall and winter focused on spiritual habits, possession, holy time, and vows. Spring brought the practices of congregational life, teaching children, and sustaining creation. The start of summer brought self-care and justice.

Not all of us will move to the inner city or live with the homeless or protest unjust laws before city councils. Some of us will do just one of those things; a few of us might do several. But many of us are called to try this radical thing right where we are, facing our current battles and barriers, one day at a time. Mother Teresa is often quoted as saying, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Well, that’s all we’ve got. Small changes, small acts of hospitality, small attempts at solidarity with “the least of these.” This is what our families, with help from some wise friends and our local church, attempted over the course of one year, taking notes as we went. We hope that others, like you, will not only rejoice with us but give it a shot.

Although this gem of a book claims the word “discernment” as its guiding word, I think the stories of these two families could have the word “intention” as the watermark on every page. I was moved by all they intended and how they did what they intended.

Reading the story of the Arthurs and the Wasingers, you may not – or you may – join them in committing to the same spiritual practices, but my guess is at the very least you will close the book, like me, with some response in mind. An idea. An idea that will become an intention that will become an action that might change your life and someone else’s too.

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[Photo: taken of my kitchen window on a very cold morning]