The Spiritual Alphabet: A is for Attention


“Pay attention. Stay awake and totally alert.
See with receptive eyes and discover a world of ceaseless wonders.”

 –Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat,
Spiritual Literacy, Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life


Attention, Please!

Did you know that the very first word in the “Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy” developed by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat is also the key to all the other words?  “Attention” fortunately begins with “A” as it is the beginning of all that follows; that is, our ability to experience beauty, compassion, faith, and so on, is dependent on our ability to pay attention.  Yes, it all begins here at the top of the alphabet. 

And yet, some say goldfish have a longer attention span than humans these days. Maybe that’s not quite right, but there does seem to be something wrong with our ability to focus, to be deeply aware, fully present, and spiritually awake to the “ceaseless wonders” of the world.

Attention is not only the linchpin of the spiritual life, but the key to problem solving, creativity, and civilization in general.  Without attention, democracy crumbles, forests are blithely cut down, and scientific advances flounder.  Without attention, we may devolve into a very stupid species that eventually self-destructs— if we are not yet already on that path.

But how did we get here?  Is technology the culprit? Are the constant pings and dings of digital media short-circuiting our brains?  Are smart phones making us stupid?  Maybe. But, I don’t think the problem is so much the presence of technology, but rather the absence of something else.  When speaking of the spiritual life, our addiction to technology is indeed worrying, but not fatal, that is, if we can get back to that “something else” that has been neglected. . . . .  To continue reading this post, click here. 🙂




Patience is All


Do not measure in terms of time: one year or ten years means nothing.
For the artist there is no counting or tallying up; just ripening like the tree that does not force its sap and endures the storms of spring without fearing that summer will not come.  But it will come.  It comes, however, only to the patient ones who stand there as if all eternity lay before them—vast, still, untroubled.  I learn this every day of my life, I learn it from hardships I am grateful for: patience is all.  –
Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Patience, that long-suffering word, is
for our time, a holy place
where we can plant our yearnings
alongside hope and persistence,
like a garden planted in a neighborhood of despair.   
I long for the time when my country moves toward sanity,
When health care is declared a right for all,
When climate change is taken seriously,
When God and Caesar are not confused,
When vulgarity is not rewarded,
When Jesus no longer weeps. . . .  

 . . . to continue reading, click here


Black Bean Brownies and Grace (Redux)

“I can resist everything but temptation.” -Oscar Wilde 

(Note: This is an older post with a brand new recipe!)


Like most people, I strive to be reasonably fit. I walk religiously, eat my vegetables, and sometimes even do yoga. But I have a serious weakness, a secret yearning for what can only be called the dark side.

By dark, I am speaking literally, for I find that I can resist everything but chocolate. In more youthful, disciplined days, I would nibble only on small pieces of severely dark chocolate so bitter that I felt rather saintly; but as I mellow with age, I find myself drawn back to the sweeter confections that I loved as child, before saintly self-denial set in. I’m talking chocolate brownies, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake, gooey-filled chocolates, and that devil of darkness: fudge. Oh, sweet chocolate, forbidden one, how I yearn for you! I could write sonnets to your name, and I dream of stolen moments . . .

And then, one day, out of the blue, from some mysterious outpost on the internet, along comes a recipe for a relatively “healthy” chocolate brownie that tastes (surprisingly) delicious and can be eaten in broad daylight.

Oh, but it was not love at first sight! I was highly skeptical. The ingredients put me off. How can something called “Black Bean Brownies” (see recipe below) be any good? It sounds ridiculous, counter-intuitive, jolting—beans and chocolate? Together? In a brownie? Was this a joke? . . . . To read the entire post (and get the recipe!) click here. 

Gravity and Grief

Monet small

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

–  Rilke, Book of Hours

All the natural movements of the soul are
controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity.

– Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

I am watching my old white cat decline day by day, pieces of my heart falling helplessly into his dimming green eyes.  We move together in a downward pull toward something inexorable.

Dying is a kind of gravity, a letting go, a natural tug down toward the earth, toward dust, “toward the heart of the world.”  But so, too, for those left behind.  The gravity of grief pulls one back down to earth’s heart, the essentials, the center:  what matters.

I tend to think of the earth—earthiness itself—as God’s body.  To try and separate soil from spirit only compounds the grief.  Rather than a remote “King,” judging and ruling from on high, God is more like the suffering and compassionate Jesus, or as Whitehead says:  “the great companion—the fellow-sufferer, who understands.”

God is also like a grieving mother, a loving heart gently tugging us toward an eternal embrace that is both earth and sky, spirit and soil, death and transformation.  Such is a natural theology, one which sees God not just in vague and distant impressions of another—more perfect—world, but in the eyes of an old white cat and in the cries a refugee child and in our own longings to belong to the whole.

The gravity of grief nudges us tenderly toward the womb of God in whom “we live and move and have our being.”  God’s maternal song for us is like gravity—a pull, a tug, a nudge toward beauty and compassion and justice.

The pull of gravity in times of death and dying may be nature’s way of winnowing out the chaff and bringing us down to earth, to what matters in the end: love and beauty, earth and sky, death and resurrection—united in one eternal embrace.

The tenderness of God is the welcoming womb that catches everything as it falls:  cats and people and flowers and dreams.

Gravity takes us home.

Love All Beginnings (Even the Scary Ones) ​


I love all beginnings, despite their anxiousness and their uncertainty,
which belong to every commencement.
— Rainer Maria Rilke


When I begin a new adventure—a new project, a new job, a new year—I turn for inspiration to two Bohemian adventurers: my great-grandmother Lizzie Schwartz and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Lizzie was born in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) at the very same time as the poet Rilke, both starting life in the grand city of Prague.  I like to think of this:  They lived in the same city, shared the same space, the same air, the same streets.   Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to Rilke.  The river Vltava flows through my veins.

Rilke ventured into the world of feeling and words and beauty despite the chaotic state of the world, traveling to Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy, France, and eventually to Switzerland, where he was buried.  Rilke, one the greatest poets of the Twentieth Century, knew a great deal about change, risk, new beginnings, and how to love them.

My great-grandmother left Prague about the same time as Rilke, but for different reasons. She immigrated to the US, married a German Jew—who died while her children were still young—staked out land in the Oklahoma Land Run, and sold diamonds out of a hotel she built by a railroad station.  She was not known outside her world of family and friends and train travelers, but she is famous to me.

Both of these Prague-born adventurers knew about beginnings and how to enter them with all the zest and wonder and vulnerability of a newly hatched bird. . . .  Click here to read the entire post 🙂


Defiant Joy


We must risk delight . . .
We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness
in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Jack Gilbert

CHRISTMAS is closing in on us, but my heart is not quite there.  During my morning walk in a sunlit city park, it feels more like a “mourning “ walk as I attempt to fend off dire forebodings about the future of our country, our world, our planet. The Herods of the world seem to be taking control; a black curtain is descending and joy seems like a distant memory, a faraway feeling—possibly an inappropriate expression at such a serious time.  

But then, as I look ahead on the tree-studded path, my eye catches a twinkle of blue, red, and purple—a kind of glittering gladness pirouetting in the sun.  Shortly I find myself standing before a young, spiky, reed of a tree, on which some courageous soul has hung a rainbow of glass ornaments, which appear like jewels, electric in the sun. . .

To read the entire post click here 🙂

The Sky Remains: A Meditation for Anxious Times


Through the empty branches the sky remains.

It is what you have.

—Rilke, Book of Hours

It is late November in America.  Cold winds blow across the sky mixed with tears and fears and whispers of darkness to come.  And yet, the season of thanksgiving beckons us to find a shelter of gratitude where we can offer up some imperfect gesture.

Underneath a giant Cottonwood tree—a tiny yellow dot under the crisp, cloudless New Mexico sky— I stand, just a little awed.  Around me, the autumn light filters through crackling leaves into pools of warm gold.

In the trauma of our time, I take refuge in this safe place, under a great canopy of warm color, even while knowing that next month will be leafless and colorless.  Then, there will be no golden light, no pausing to stand in the bitter cold.

But for now, this arboreal refuge of change and beauty, rootedness and stillness, spreads over me like a golden fleece.

Winter is coming.  The world seems to be entering a season of darkness where goodness hibernates in caves high up in the mountains.

But “the sky remains.  It is what you have.”

What will we do with the sky in the absence of color and life and shimmering leaves?  The sky belongs to everyone, does it not?  The sky is universal and knowing.  The sky embraces all and weeps with all.

The sky is what we have.

The proud Cottonwood bows in quiet respect to the season, but resists letting go of its honeyed leaves— unlike the maple and the Russian olive trees, which shed their clothes at the first strong wind.  But the Cottonwood is stubborn.  The Cottonwood simply loves being yellow and shimmering in the sun.  It finds happiness in its own beauty, in its ability to shed pools of amber light on anxious beings below its branches.

The Cottonwood has made a pact with the sky:  to speak to the world below in elegant strands of flaxen light and quiet remembering.  These two schemers—the Cottonwood and the sky—remember for us seasons of darkness and anxiety, and how they are eventually overcome with spring.

They remember the poet Rilke, too, and how his resplendent words remain, and how his beauty survived the darkest century.  And how, through all the bare branches of loss and waste, the sky remains.

The sky remains, and reminds, and wraps itself around us—all of us under heaven.  We have only to reach up through the branches and take fistfuls of fresh imaginings and place them on our hearts like a pledge, our own pact with that spacious Heart of divine suffering and tenderness:

We will be that stubborn golden light in the darkness.  We will be that canopy of safety when the cold winds threaten.  Until our eyes catch the first tiny green buds of spring, we will be a filter of golden warmth around the anxious, the vulnerable, the traumatized.

And maybe even love our enemies who share the same sky.

It is what we have.