Category Archives: Religion

Hope and Goals

Hope

I received a text from my wife earlier this week that simply said, “There is hope,” to which I responded, “Always.” There is always hope if nothing else, but hope is a funny, tricky thing.

St. Thomas Aquinas describes hope in this way: “a movement or stretching forth of the appetite towards an arduous good.” And I’ve read a lot about how hope is first and foremost predicated by our eternal desires, but I know people who don’t believe in any concept of eternity, who seem to have more hope than those who do have a sense of some eternal life.

My questions to myself this week, after that text, has been what do I believe that hope is? What do I feel when I feel hope? How does hope fit in with my four guiding principles: peace, grace, love, and joy?

What is hope? I’ve meditated on this for a bit of each day, as I rest, as I read, as I drive, as I work. For me, I think hope is a bit like St. Thomas describes it, but it’s more than just “stretching the appetite forward towards an arduous good.” Hope is visualizing that good and picturing yourself as a part of that good, as if it’s already happened.

For me, hope is a bit like competing in an endurance event. I visualize myself completing the course, putting myself through the imaginary rigors, and then finishing the test in an admirable way. I revel in the fictitious completion of the event, so I can then begin the event with hope that I will finish. I’ve already owned the success of it.

Hope is much the same. I have hope in a future event or a present moment, because I’ve already visualized the success of that event, not giving room for any other outcome. I hope good things into being by imagining them as such. My hope is not always related to my spiritual life, but also it is an integral part of my corporeal reality. My body and my mind need to feel hope to make it through each day. Many of my dark days have been comprised of a lack of hope, my inability to imagine an arduous good, to taste it, to see it, to imagine it into fruition.

What do I feel when I feel hope? Well, for me hope feels like standing in a field of yellow and purple wildflowers, near some pine trees, listening to the breeze come up over the hill, hearing birds sing and the bees buzz, and knowing that everything will work out for good.

The sun is warm on my skin, and hope burns my heart.

Hope feels like owning beauty and growth and goodness, even before they are completely mine. Hope is knowing and resting in the fact that whatever happens will be worked into some good, somewhere in the world.

How does hope fit in with peace, grace, love, and joy, as my four main guiding forces in my life? Hope is what ties them all together. Hope is what help me see peace where there isn’t any. Hope is what helps me gives grace and receive grace in difficult situations. Hope inspires love, and love is, ultimately, the arduous good that is hope’s appetite. Finally, hope breeds joy. How can I not be joyful or experience joy when hope is the visualization of an arduous good?

The tricky thing about hope is exactly what St. Thomas points toward in describing the desire of hope as an “arduous good.” There is nothing worth hoping for that is easy to attain, since hope, in and of itself, implies that the object of that hope is something difficult to attain. Are peace, grace, love, and joy easy ideals to attain? If they were, each day would not be struggle to live out those values. There wouldn’t be whole volumes of spiritual and religious texts written about how to have hope, how to think positively of the future, how to live a “happy” life, how to prosper, who to not lose faith, and how to live with an eye toward the future. Even religions that focus on the present, like Buddhism, have sacred texts that refer to hope as a positive tool for life.

Today in my life I feel hope. For a better future. For loving others. For changing this tragic world. For giving grace. For my vocation. For living life forward.

Goals

Veganism This is not going so well, and, at the risk of sounding like I am making excuses, it’s because I love to have dinner with my wife. It’s incredibly difficult to cook food that suits us both, and since she cooks most of the time now, I find it rude to ask her to cook special food for me. We’re strictly vegetarian in the meals that we share, though she does eat bacon for breakfast.

Volunteerism I got an email from 360 Communities about being a sexual assault advocate , and I really want to do it, but this time around conflicts with work. I’m waiting until the next round of training in October. I am volunteering in March to help pack lunches for small children, so that will have to suffice for now.

Prayer and Meditation I am enjoying an increased level of quiet time to contemplate spiritual things. I am trying to make the St. Francis prayer a morning ritual, thereby working to commit the prayer to memory. In its entirety, the prayer goes like this:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Exercise I ran the Winter Trail Quarter Marathon again this year, and my time was awful, but I finished. I then proceeded to get sick again, and I have only run once since then. Apple’s Wellness Challenge begins tomorrow, and I don’t want to let my team down, so I’ll be exercising daily for the month of February, starting with an hour-long swim tomorrow morning.

Alcohol and Caffeine This one really isn’t difficult. I’ve had a couple of beer and a couple of coffees, but, to be honest, I’m not really even tempted by either one right now.

Do good. Do no harm. Stay in love with God.

 

 

Prayer and Meditation

This may be the strangest thing I’ve said in a while, but this Lent was really good for me. While Lent is supposed to be a period of suffering and wandering, I’ve always viewed the liturgical season as a time of renewal and deep thought. Since I’d been in a period of serious self-evaluation for a few months prior to Ash Wednesday this year, I decided to add something to my life rather than to take something away. Quite frankly, I’d had enough suffering. I’d grown tired of contemplating my humanity, and I didn’t want to focus for one more minute on giving up some earthly pleasure.

I decided, since my church attendance had been pretty hit or miss for about 9 months, to add in going to the 8AM service at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church. No matter what I decided, at the Ash Wednesday service as I was reminded that I’d come from dust and I’d return to dust, I would attend every Sunday morning, even if it meant getting up early on the only day I had to sleep in.

As usually happens when we obey the nudging of God, I was blessed in my obedience. I look back and recognize how the small act of going to church every Sunday helped me move from a place of hopelessness to a place of hope. Was the 40 days some sort of mystical balm for my aching heart? No. Has my transition from hopelessness to hopefulness been easy? No. But I can say that today, the Monday after the third Sunday of Easter, that I have a strong hope that my life has changed for the better.

One positive thing to come from the 40-day Lenten season was my recognition of how self-centered I had become. I had spent so much time wallowing in my own misery and just clinging to my own concerns, that I failed to realize how shallow and internally focused I’d become. I suppose you could say that I had fallen into survival mode where I was focused on my own getting by, so much so that I was unable to see how people around me were suffering. And there’s a lot of suffering in this world.

In light of that, I’ve decided to cut everything out of my life that seems like work to me, things that feel like they go against my ethic or against my conscience. I’m cutting out racing and getting back to the pleasure of exercise, trail running, swimming, and disc golfing with no particular goal or destination in mind. I’m decreasing the pain I bring into this world by being vegetarian. I’m consciously trying to relax and breathe through situations that might cause me stress or where I might say or do something that doesn’t bring peace to this place.

Most importantly, however, I am trying to focus my energy toward helping others in whatever ways I can, which could include just helping folks out, not talking about people (which I try to avoid anyway), being alongside people when they need me, and just loving folks no matter who they are. The biggest way I see to put other people first is to pray for people and when you pray for them, you’re really changing yourself through those prayers. This idea is wholly embraced by the writers of Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

I typically believe that whenever I think of someone, those thoughts are similar to praying for them, but during Lent, I felt moved to have a more concerted prayer time wherein I conscientiously pray for the needs of my friends. I’ve decided to visit either St. Paul’s Cathedral or St. Mary’s Basilica on one of my days off each week, and I’ll simply put aside some time to pray for people by name, along with praying for whatever concerns I know are on their hearts or whatever they share with me to pray for. Is there a better way to spend time off than in prayer for family and friends surrounded by beautiful art and architecture?

I’ve learned that if I am more concerned for others, my concerns work themselves out on their own.

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

*

Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

*

The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

*

I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

*

Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.

Vegetarianism, Stress, Grace

I’m avoiding cleaning the house by watching Animal Cops Houston and Pitbulls & Parolees, and I am sitting here bawling like a baby. This might be PMS, but it’s more than likely a response to something I’ve been feeling for a while.

I have reached a point, yet again, in my life where I am finding it difficult to morally and ethically justify eating animals. The paleo diet I was following, where I ate meat with a side of meat, sickens me to think about now. Will I miss the chicken wings? Yes. Will I still eat them occasionally? Likely. Will this be something I reconsider in a couple of years, a couple of months, a couple of weeks? Maybe.

I consider myself prolife in all regards, and I am leaning more and more toward the fact that I need that to include animal lives in that prolife consideration. I desire a consistent ethic in companies I support, friends I make, places I work, and religious institutions I belong to, so it makes sense that I would hold myself to the same standards. I love my cats and my dogs, I am in awe and wonder of wild animals, so it makes zero sense that I eat animals.

I’m trying to get back to a place of peace in my life, to reduce my stress, which has been astronomical for about two years. While I do think that eating more protein has helped me, I also don’t think that ingesting the violence of our current farming practices and ingesting the violence of death has helped me to be a better person. Call me a hippie, but I just can’t get past the fact that a sentient, living, breathing being has to die to feed me. This facet of meat eating has never really stopped bothering me. I have dreams about animals chasing me, and they have never gone away.

On the day after Easter, on baseball’s opening day, I am going back to being vegetarian. This does not mean I’ll start eating a bunch of wheat, soy, corn, or other things that have been genetically modified, but this should mean that our grocery bill will go down a bit, since beans, rice, and vegetables are generally less expensive than meat. I’m not going to be vegan, so I will still use organic dairy and eggs, as I have been. Does the treatment of dairy cattle and chickens bother me? Yes, but I need to take this slow.

I’ve had a good portion of stress in my life in the past two years. I’m not whining about this, but I have noticed that the stress is taking a toll on my body. My body simply feels inflamed. My entire body. My brain feels foggy, my lungs are congested, and my joints are achy, and I think it’s because of stress, so I’m not trying to add more stress by making yet another drastic change in my life.

I’m in a good place right now. My new Caribou is less stressful, because we have more people working at a time. Since I am working my way up to manager, I can even pay my bills. I’m finally getting used to our new house and our new geographical location. I’m making some friends up here, and I am maintaining my friendships with folks in Indiana. I’m adjusting after about six months of the extreme stress of moving 10.5 hours away from where I’d lived for 40 years and changing careers from a professional job where I made $48000 a year to a food service job making $8 an hour. The transition was rough, but now I am through it, and I am ready to take back control of my body (through diet), my mind (through reading), and my spirit (through prayer and meditation).

I’m still training for the Muncie 70.3, though it’s been pretty hit or miss recently, and I am training for Sour Grapes and Big Shoulders. I’ve learned that it’s rough to be on my feet for six. seven, or eight hours a day at work and then still train, but I keep working on it. I’m working on giving myself grace for the times I don’t train. And I keep giving myself grace for being in a weird head space for the past year or so.

Weightlifting and Ground Kissing

The last time I lifted weights was just after college. I was trying like mad to lose weight to get into the military to become a medic and to eventually go to medical school, because the military was the only way I could think to follow that path. I needed to lose about 40 more pounds than I had already lost, so I did the only natural thing to do. I starved myself and exercised a lot. I was teaching at Garfield Elementary then and living in Hartford City in the downstairs of a haunted house that had been made into an apartment. I would wake up most days really early and go for a 4- to 6-mile run, then I would head into Ball State Recreation Facilities to either swim or lift weights, then I would teach all day, and finally I would come home and go for a 20-mile bike ride or so. I lost weight, but not enough, so I ate less. The eventual side effect of all of this was not acceptance into armed forces; the eventual side effect was dark circles, little to no energy, hair loss, and some permanent damage to my body.

I was, as some would say, a hot mess.

Today I start weightlifting again. I’ve found a plan called the 5X5, which uses five simple, full-body lifts (deadlift, overhead press, bench press, squats, and Pendlay rows) to condition the entire body over three workouts a week. Their goal is to lift heavier weights in succession, but my goal is simply to build and balance my muscles. Truth be told, I would love it if I could bulk up my muscles a bit, but my goal here is simply fitness, so I can swim, bike, and run more efficiently.

In order to be held accountable on my goal of moderation, I’m posting my general workout schedule here:

Monday: Run and Swim
Tuesday: Lift and Cycle
Wednesday: Run and Swim
Thursday: Lift and Cycle
Friday: REST
Saturday: Weights, Run (LSD), Swim (LSD)
Sunday: REST

I mentioned that my goal is to eat more protein, because even when I was eating strictly paleo, I didn’t eat enough protein, so I have started adding a protein supplement into my breakfast. I also plan to buy a bit more meat to eat throughout the day. My problem is that I love fruit, which contains lots of sugar and almost no protein. I guess I just mention this to say that I am trying to balance my body with exercise and the tools it needs to repair the muscles, so I can keep going.

*

Over the weekend, Bec and I watched the movie Unbroken. If you know me well, you know that I hate watching movies in the theater, and this makes the second one we’ve seen in three weeks, the first being Into the Woods. Unbroken was a beautiful, traumatic, hopeful, tragic film. The scene that moved me the most was when Louis came home from Japan and got off the plane and kissed the ground. Again, if you know me well, you know how I feel about the US, that we have pretty much as many flaws as we have positive attributes, but for some reason that scene struck me. For me, that scene wasn’t so much about the US as it was about being alive, safe, and at home. I am sure for Zamporini, the kiss was about the US, at least partially, since he was a soldier. (I just want to make a side note here that while I have little to no respect for our penchant for war and military might in the US, I do have the utmost respect for our military personnel. I love and adore several current and former sailors, soldiers, marines, air(wo)men, and guardians, and I appreciate the work they do and the sacrifices they make.)

That scene, when Louis returns home, reminds me of one of my favorite sayings by Thich Nhat Hanh: “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” Though it seems strange to pair a movie about war with the writings of a peace activist, there is a perfect connection between the two in my mind. If we could walk as if our feet are kissing the earth, we would have no need for war, because we would be so busy appreciating the beauty of our own lives and the sacredness of this earth. We would each revel in our own mysteries as we’re connected to this land, to each other, and to ourselves.

I’ve been noticing that many people function from their areas of insecurity and shame, instead of from their feelings of pride, worth, compassion, and love. We are a hurting people who keep continuing the cycle of hurt. By metaphorically kissing the ground, or imagining we are doing it with our feet as we walk, we move from a state of injury, shame, and hollowness to a state of appreciation and grace and love. Be mindful, like Zamporini, that you are alive.