Monday, February 23, 2015
Last week I took a break from my PhD Multivariate Statistics studies to enjoy a jazz concert with my wife and daughter. We went to One World Theater in Austin, Texas to hear Keiko Matsui. The evening was an enchanting night of appreciation of creativity as well as thinking about my Soul Quest.
The One World Theater is a small intimate music venue. You experience the music there as even in the back rows you are still seem to be close to the artist. They bring in a wide variety of musicians throughout the year. If you find yourself visiting Austin do check out their concert listings.
Hearing Keiko and her band always helps me to appreciate the creative mind. We have heard her numerous times but never tire of her music. She has such variety of styles in her compositions. Watching her play the keyboards and piano it is clear that she is one with her instruments. The band she assembles has the same spirit of professionalism in their creativity with their instruments: guitar, sax, bass and drums. To see and hear 5 musicians play with such a unified spirit and selflessness of the give and take of solos is enjoyable to experience. You can hear it in a studio track on a CD but to see the interaction of the creative process live in concert is amazing.
It is her creativity in her song writing and keyboard playing that has kept her as one of my favorite musicians. That is why I list in my creative thinking chapter of my book, Living More Than OK. Her creative gift is one that she shares with the world in her calming and inspiring music.
I mentioned as well, that her concert made me think of my personal Soul Quest. Primarily because she played that evening many songs from her Soul Quest CD. Her music was a refreshing reminder that even though we are in a material based world the alternative reality of the spiritual world is with us if we are open to listen and see. I have always felt that the creative nature that we each carry in us and the creativity of the world around us points to a Creator behind all things. We all have our personal Soul Quest that is part of our journey as pilgrims in this short life on Earth.
Take a listen to Keiko’s song Soul Quest (click on the title) and think through your Soul Quest as you listen. The song begins with a soft mystical beginning and moves into a light meditative melody. It reminds me of the scriptures in Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." We need to quiet ourselves and have an open heart in our Soul Quest. It is in those times God can reveal Himself to us. Her song builds in strength just like we move further along in our Soul Quest our spiritual life can move higher up and further into deeper communion with God. Then at the end the song returns to quiet and calmness which reminded me again of the be still and listen aspect of the spiritual life.
If you ever have a chance to hear Keiko Matsui in concert do take the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.
Reflection: Go to YouTube.com and search for Keiko Matsui’s music videos. Listen to one of her songs of your choice and think through what do you appreciate about the song? What do you appreciate about creative musicians and the gift they offer in enriching our lives?
Monday, February 16, 2015
This past weekend by family and I attended a “Biblical Spiritual Disciplines for Real People” conference at our church, Oakwood Baptist, in New Braunfels. Texas. The Speaker was Dr. Donald Whitney of Southern Baptist Seminary in Kentucky. The topics focused in on two disciplines of prayer and Bible study. Dr. Whitney spoke with a sincere passion for the importance of spiritual growth. This week in the blog I want to share some thoughts from his talk on prayer.
My favorite section was his teaching on prayer as he opened my mind to a concept of prayer I had not heard of before. The concept was “Praying the Bible”. He started by saying we commonly pray about 6 main categories: family, our future, finances, work or school work, Church or ministry and current crises we find ourselves in. These 6 relate to our lives and that is fine as our lives are important to God. Yet he kept repeating the idea that we slack off in prayer because of a common problem. The problem is we continue to pray often the same words day after day saying the same old things. Therefore prayer tends to become boring and we give up praying, thinking the problem is us. Instead of self-blame he encouraged us to rework our method of praying to add vitality to it. That is where “Praying the Bible” comes to play.
The prayer method of “Praying the Bible” is not complicated. Actually it came across as simple, which I like as my mind likes simple methodologies. Before your prayer time you simply choose a passage of scripture from the Bible. Dr. Whitney encouraged the use of the Psalms but mentioned it can be used with other passages from the Bible as well. After you choose a passage or Psalm you read it over and then start your prayer using key verses from the passage God places on your heart to guide your prayer.
For example let’s say I choose Psalm 63 (NKJV)
1 O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water.
2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory.3 Because Your loving-kindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You. 4 Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.
6 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.
7 Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek my life, to destroy it, Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
10 They shall fall by the sword; They shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; Everyone who swears by Him shall glory; But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.
With this Psalm you may want to begin praying how you are thirsty to experience the reality of God’s presence in your life. Possibly God will bring to mind some friends or family who are experiencing a desert time in their lives so pray for refreshment for your spirit and theirs. You may then move into a section of thankfulness for God’s loving-kindness and seek to be an example of God’s love to those you meet in your workplace. With these few thoughts, you probably get the gist of what the concept of the method is getting at, in praying through a scripture passage.
Dr. Whitney gave everyone a time to try the method out with various passages of scripture. Many felt it was like a true conversation with God. Which if one believes as we Christians do, that the Bible is God’s Word to us; then by using a passage of the Bible as the foundation of a prayer it truly is an opportunity to allow God to speak to our hearts and minds spiritually. This also solves the initial stated problem of people giving up on prayer as they get bored with praying the same old things in the same old way day after day. With a different Bible passage each day we are allowing God to guide our prayers in new ways each day.
Dr. Whitney has several excellent books on spiritual growth that can be found on his website. He also offers free articles on a variety of spiritual growth topics. His website is biblicalspirituality.org. I would encourage you to check out some of the information he has available for your spiritual growth journey.
Reflection: Try “Praying the Bible” out by choosing a Psalm and using that as a guide for a prayer. Go to Dr. Whitney’s website and click on Resources and then click on Articles. Read an article of your own choosing and reflect over what is being said in the article.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
One part of reading I miss as I am immersed in my Phd studies is leisure reading. I was reminded of this as I was reading a segment in Louise DeSalvo’s book, The Art of Slow Writing. In it she has a chapter on slow reading. Growing up slow readers were considered those who had trouble reading. Her chapter takes an important look at a type of reading – reading slowly. I find myself with my classes for my doctorate having to speed read through journal articles. Of course my statistics book I read slowly as I am not keen on numbers, so I need to take my time to learn the information. That is a part of what she is getting at but there is more to slow reading.
She starts off the chapter discussing Bill Gates, reading habits. She mentions how he regularly takes reading retreats each year. I looked into what she was saying through an internet search and found out Bill Gates is an avid reader. Most articles mentioned the week away is called a “think week”. This is where Mr. Gates secludes himself from his family and workplace in a restful retreat setting for a week. He uses the week to read papers of ideas from his employees and other readings. I like both terms but I prefer how Louise DeSalvo describes it as a reading retreat as he is secluding himself away for the purpose of reading. Of course “think week” is a good term as well as he takes breaks from his reading to think and reflect over what he reads. The idea is very appealing to me as a Bookhead.
The idea of slow reading fits well with the retreat idea. Taking the time to savor what is being read be it a novel or nonfiction work of literature can be beneficial. I miss too often having a relaxed time to sit and read among my reading for studies and reading for my work as a professor and counselor. Thankfully I am down to just a few classes and my dissertation left on my Phd in psychology. That should free up time for enjoyable slow reading. Of course I do enjoy my work and study reading as I am a Bookhead. Any reading is enriching but I do look forward to more free time to read books I really want to slowly immerse myself into the material or story.
Louise DeSalvo mentions that writers should be readers. In the short chapter on slow reading she shares thoughts from the author, Henry Miller. She shares how Miller was a proponent of slow reading in that he took about a year to read Thomas Mann’s, The Magic Mountain. Her comments about him makes me want to read his, The Books in My Life. Reading slowly allows us to delve into the minute details and truly ponder and meditate on what the author is trying to say. The best thought she shared from Miller about reading is a quote from him that leisurely reading opens up, “a new life, (filled with) new fields of adventure and exploration.” One way to enjoy a better spiraling upwards life is through slow reading so as to learn new ideas for new life directions.
I can imagine the benefits of slow reading from even being more relaxed and allowing the body to be calm from the day’s pressures. Taking even 30 minutes for a slow reading break with a book you enjoy can help ease the tension of the day.
Going back to the idea of the reading retreat, how much could we improve our lives is we took a mini reading vacation to expand our mind and thinking.
Do you need to take a full week like Bill Gates? I know I like the idea and can see myself trying it out in the future. I even foresee myself using breaks between my Phd classes to do a reading retreat on my dissertation research articles I have accumulated. Also make use of your local library for a reading retreat. Many libraries have reading study rooms. Maybe take a reading retreat day at your library. Reserve a study room and select some reading material to work through for a day. See what new adventures in your mind and life occur from savoring your reading in this way.
Reflection: What do you think about Bill Gates’ “Think Week” concept? How would you do a reading retreat? What are some books or reading materials you would use on such a retreat?
Friday, January 23, 2015
In this early part of the New Year improving our thinking is one way to keep growing on our Living More Than OK journey. The quality of our thinking aids in our enjoyment of life and personal successes. Richard Paul and Linda Elders in their book Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life state this of the need for sound thinking: “There is nothing more practical than sound thinking. No matter what your circumstance or goals, no matter where you are, or what problems you face, you are better off if your thinking is skilled. …in every realm and situation of your life, good thinking pays off. Poor Thinking, in turn, inevitably causes problems, wastes time and energy, engenders frustration and pain.” (page 7)
If we look at the problems and difficulties of our lives and are honest we can see where most our negativity can be traced back to faulty thinking. In the Living More Than OK life we want to live more of our time spiraling up to abundant living instead of spiraling down into stagnation and problems. Each of us can find room to improve in our thought lives.
Improving our thinking begins with a choice to continually learn and improve our minds. We need to take time to make time to do things to improve our thinking. Take mental growth breaks during the day or on the weekend. Paul & Elders in the aforementioned book reveal that critical thinkers need to work on building intellectual habits and traits into their thought lives. The traits they mention are: “Intellectual integrity, Intellectual humility, Intellectual sense of justice, Intellectual perseverance, Intellectual fair-mindedness, Intellectual confidence in reason, Intellectual courage, Intellectual empathy, Intellectual autonomy.” (page 19) Look over those terms and first reflect over which areas are you already strong in and which areas do you need to grow in at present time.
How can we grow in these areas? Probably no surprise to you my first response is to tell you to go to your local library and select a book on Critical Thinking. I highly recommend any of the writings by Richard Paul and Linda Elders. Their writings are sound and also practical. There are other good writers on critical thinking but those two are my favorites. My book, Living More Than OK, has one chapter on the need for critical thinking. So this Bookhead is telling you books are one of the best ways to grow your mind and thought life. For reading material you can also go to www.criticalthinking.org and click on their Library tab and read various articles about critical thinking.
Beyond reading you can also search on YouTube or Ted talks for video lectures on thinking and critical thinking. Here is an example of a short video of Richard Paul on thinking from YouTube -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNCOOUK-bMQ . You may also want to look into Continuing education courses at local universities and colleges. Find an area of mental curiosity or interest to you personally, and take a course in that subject.
Growing in improved good thinking will add value to your life. The process may lessen the number or intensity of problems that you may be facing. By growing our thinking it helps keep the mind open to possibilities and new solutions to adversity and new areas of growth. Give improving your thinking a try in this New Year.
Reflection: Go to the Library link of the critical thinking website http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/index-of-articles/1021/ and read one article of your choosing. Take time to reflect over the message of the article you chose.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
This discussion is not about Lasik eye surgery or our physical vision. The idea is to look at our spiritual vision. The inner mental vision that focuses in on what is the most important in your life journey this New Year you find yourself traversing. It considers what values are important and what goals you are aiming for and keeping your eyes on. What is the foundation of your values? A song by For King & Country relates well with what I am thinking about this week.
So as always first take a listen to the song by clicking on the song title and reflect over the lyrics I have listed here:
Fix My Eyes by For KING & COUNTRY –
Hit rewind, Click delete, Stand face to face with the younger me.
All of the mistakes All of the heartbreaks. Here's what I'd do differently.
I'd Love like I'm not scared, Give when it's not fair, Live life for another,
Take time for a brother, Fight for the weak ones, Speak out for freedom Find faith in the battle, Stand tall but above it all Fix my eyes on You On You
I learned the lines and talked the talk 'cuz the road less traveled was hard to walk It takes a soldier who knows his orders
To walk the walk I'm supposed to walk
Love like I'm not scared Give when it's not fair
Live life for another Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You On You
The things of Earth are dimming In the light of Your glory and grace
I'll set my sights upon Heaven I'm fixing my eyes on you
Love like I'm not scared Give when it's not fair
Live life for another Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You On You Fix my eyes On you
The beginning of the song looks backwards at mistakes in life. We can hit rewind in our minds as we look at the past but in reality we cannot go back and redo the past mistakes. We can do things differently in our present choices and grow by moving ahead with better values. The song presents positive values of living out acts of love, caring for others and standing tall which I believe relates well with ethical living.
Is living out our values easy to do? The song writers are honest in how living rightly is difficult. The phrase “'cuz the road less traveled was hard to walk. It takes a soldier who knows his orders” reminds me of the M. Scott Peck book, The Road Less Traveled, that begins with the statement, “Life is Difficult”. Living the best life of positive values is often difficult as the negativity of the world says to take the easy selfish approach.
This song is written by Christian writers and they show the key to getting over the difficulty is by fixing their eyes on Christ. By keeping a focus on Christ’s example and His love and grace those of us who believe in the Christian worldview, can move beyond the past mistakes and move forward in loving our neighbors and stand tall above the difficulties of life. Not that the difficulties disappear but we have extra strength spiritually in the battle with the difficulties.
Fixing the eyes, which is the most repetitive concept in the song is the reminder of the importance of focusing our minds. To conquer and win in sports for example there is a need for a focus on the goal of winning. So if you have come across this post and you are not a Christian I would first say take a serious look at not the myths of Christianity, but seriously take a look at who Christ says he is by reading on of the books Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
Of course I feel the thought of “fixing your eyes” can relate to any belief system. Think through what or who are you fixing your eyes on. As this New Year starts to move on one way to live it for the best experiences is to examine your values that are important to you.
Reflection: What is the basis of your personal value system? What does it mean to you to “Fix Your Eyes”? How do you overcome the difficulties of living the best life? How do your values relate to the goals you have for the New Year?
Friday, January 9, 2015
In my past year of reading books about reading one of the most passionate books I came across was by an elementary teacher here in Texas, Donelyn Miller. The book is The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child. The title reminded me of the Robert Redford movie, The Horse Whisperer. The horse whisperer was a trainer passionate about horses, who had an innate knowledge on communicating with horses in training them. That concept fits well with the Book Whisperer. Donelyn Miller is an example of a teacher with a passion for reading and books and passes that passion and love of reading on to her students. Here is a link to her webpage about the book -- http://bookwhisperer.com
Her comment at the beginning, “Anyone who calls herself or himself a reader can tell you that it starts with encountering great books, heartfelt recommendations, and a community of readers who share this passion.” (page 4). That comment reminded me of my journey with books and reading with the Summer reading programs at my hometown, Barberton Public Library starting when I was in second grade. That is where reading caught on for me. Her comments here are in context of the standardized tests that focus on reading short passages in worksheets. Anyone who has had an honest conversation with students knows that is not how to build readers. Donelyn in her book shared how she encourages independent reading and students would read 40 books a year in her classes. That is how you build the process of “Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.”
I just want here to share a few of my favorite points I gathered from the book. First of all her statement of the importance of reading struck me, “ Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters – the saints and the sinners, real or imagined – reading shows you how to be a better human building.” (page 18). Back to my Summer reading programs the books I read opened new worlds to me as I read stories about cultures around the world. As to the thought of making us better people that relates to what I was getting at about two weeks ago with spiritual literacy. Spiritual writings help us improve our lives.
Ms. Miller reveals how reading was an integral part of her teaching time. She made sure the students had time for independent reading of books of their own choosing. This is important to note, that she allows students to read about things they were interested in reading. I over the years have had talks with College students failing remedial reading courses and often it would relate to their being bored or not liking the forced readings the courses revolved around. Her emphasis in taking time to read is a reminder to all of us which hits home from a poignant quote by Atwood H. Townsend, “No matter how busy you think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” (page 49) The quote and her thoughts in the book point to how reading develops the mind. We need to take even a little time during the day to read.
The develop of the mind is brought out by her mentioning the Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen. She states he, “reveals that no single literacy activity has a more positive effect of students’ comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, spelling, writing ability, and overall academic achievement than free voluntary reading.” (page 51). So why do I see parents leaving libraries with their children carrying stacks of videos instead of books? Reading needs to be encouraged by parents and teachers.
Ms. Miller reveals how she tries to be a role model in sharing her love of reading to students. We need more teachers like her. I remember back to my third grade teacher, Mrs. Clifford who would regularly read to the class from books. That also encouraged my reading. On being a role model for reading she states, “When my students think about me in the future, I want them to remember me as a reader with a book in my hand and a recommendation on my lips.” (page 106).
I was glad to see that she also brought up the harsh realities we face in our lazy minded world of passive video watching versus the enjoyment of reading. “We have created a culture of reading poverty in which a vicious cycle of aliteracy has the potential to devolve into illiteracy for many students… They may be capable of reading well enough to perform academic reading and informational reading, but they do not love to read and have few life reading habits to model to children.” (page 107) I ponder often about the truth of this and how this is creating a dearth of critical and creative thinkers due to the lack of well-read fellow citizens. A video based diet for the mind creates lazy passive thinkers. I have observed this experientially and in conversations with college students who admit they watch videos too much and read too little.
Another point I enjoyed in the book is her discussion on “Finding Your Inner Reader”. The concept reminds me of the importance of savoring memories about reading as in my case I can think back to my mother encouraging my involvement in the local Library Summer reading programs. Memories of my first grade teacher who encouraged reading as well as my third teacher, Mrs. Clifford who read openly in class from various literary books to encourage reading stand out as well. Good memories of reading can build future Book Whisperers.
Reflection: What are your memories about reading from your past? If you have good memories share them with others to become a Book Whisperer yourself. If you did not have good memories of reading in your past start new good memories. Visit your local library and pick out a couple of books on subjects you enjoy to begin reading in this New Year.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Starting off this New Year I want to continue on the topic of last week. Last week I spoke of a spiritual retreat we took to Immanuel Prayer House. It was a relaxing time of spiritual reading and enjoying the natural scenery of the Texas Hill Country. That experience reminded me of a book I had read earlier in the year. The title of the book is Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life. The authors are Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. The book brought back memories of reading Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence that speaks of worshipping God in all experiences of life.
In the introduction they define Spiritual Literacy as “the ability to read the signs written in the texts of our own experiences.” (p. 15). They both speak of their love and passion for reading from which they gleaned wisdom that relates to spirituality. Their book is built upon sharing spiritual thoughts from books, movies, and a wide variety of experiences of life that point to understanding the spiritual side of the lives we lead. A quote they use by theologian Samuel H. Miller, expounds on the premise of their book, “In the muddled mess of this world, in the confusion and boredom, we ought to be able to spot something – an event, a person, a memory, an act, a turning of the soul, a flash of bright wings, the surprise of sweet compassion – somewhere we ought to pick out a glory to celebrate.” (p.16). The spiritual literate individual is mindful of seeking God’s interaction in their lives to celebrate the grace and love of God.
They do mention that all the world religions have literature that relates to each philosophical worldview. The additional thoughts in the book is showing the spiritual in all other aspects of life. I personally feel that it is avid readers who are more Intune with the power of story, so are able to pick up on the spiritual that appears in life experiences. The authors point out that to be spiritually literate we need to be open to the possibility of the divine reaching into our world. There needs to be openness to wonder and mystery. This is based on our worldview. They present a quote from Albert Einstein when he was asked, “’What’s the most important question you can ask in life?’” He replied, “’Is the universe a friendly place or not?’” (p33). If the world is just random chaos with no God, true wonder and mystery is absent. If there is a God who is interested in involvement with humankind than wonder occurs as the world has the potential of being a friendly place.
Keeping so busy or living a life of just getting by, limits the sense of wonder to pick up on the spiritual rays of light that the Divine wants to shine into our pathways. “By skimming the surface, we miss what lies beneath. ‘Your soul suffers if you live superficially,’ Nobel Peace Prize – winner Albert Schweitzer cautions. (p.35). This is exactly what I try to get across in my book, Living More Than OK. If we are just living boring OK lives we are just existing and not being open to the spiritual light breaking into our lives. Being open to the spiritual around us provides meaning and purpose even in the little mundane issues of life. We can be more thankful and we can understand how the coincidences and even the disappointments of life as being His appointments to teach us new thoughts or reminders of important principles to apply in our personal growth.
One of the favorite quotes I came across in the book was “the words of the Christian journalist Malcolm Muggeridge: ‘Every happening great and small is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message’ (p. 40). The question is “are we open to His message?” If you are the type who enjoys spiritual reading books, this book by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat will be a helpful aid in your spiritual growth journey. They also have a website with a variety of resources. I have that website listed under the reflection definitely check it out.
Reflection – Are you open to seeing God work in your life each day? Do you make it a habit to read Spiritual Readings each day? What has been a way God has spoken to you in the parables of life?
www.spiritualityandpractice.com Website by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.