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Talking About My Talks
Here are blog posts about some of my favorite talks.
I created this talk for Benedictine College’s Symposium on the New Evangelization. It’s about the role art can play in helping us realize our ideals of virtue and holiness. I linked G.K. Chesterton, his character Innocent Smith (from Manalive) and St. Francis of Assisi to show how Chesterton wove the things he loved most about St. Francis into his character, and thus drew all that joy and abandonment to God a bit closer to himself and his readers.
Quoting Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis, his own biography and autobiography, Manalive, and Orthodoxy, I moved back and forth between the character and the saint, the ideal and the imaginative realization, to suggest that we need such imaginative bridges to move toward full appropriation of supernatural joy, toward holiness. That art may serve to help us realize ourselves more wholly, more fully without any violation of the art, the ideal, or of our own being suggests that Catholics would do well to enter in to the work of creating stories, poems, paintings, and other works with the goal of becoming saints in the process.
It often surprises people to find out that I do not prescribe or proscribe activities for the Sabbath. As the author of ‘the Catholic Sabbath book,’ I’m expected to tell people what to do, or not do, to keep the ideal Sabbath. The problem is, my whole approach is exactly opposite – strongly rooted in the real instead of in an abstract ideal.
I’ve found that, in every area of life, Sabbath-keeping included, people need help understanding how ideas get realized – how to move from the Ideal to the Real, or from theory to practice. In this talk, I focus on that process, discussing the role of symbols, of freedom, of gestures, and of leisure in the development of one’s own approach to Sabbath-keeping.
I love the way this process parallels artistic accomplishment. An artist must learn to realize ideas, and so must every individual, garden-variety Catholic. I believe that attention to the design of an authentic and personal Sabbath is the key to making our lives works of art. If I can help open this door for others, I’ll be very happy!
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to the, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. John 21: 4-7
The fishermen had been going through all the motions, and were drained of strength and disappointed and hungry. In obedience to Him, they rehearsed those motions one last time: gather the heavy, sodden net just so; heave together to lift and throw it; pull against the enormous drag of deep water and haul it back in to the boat with calloused hands and aching muscles.
What they had been doing all night in their own strength finally brought an abundant reward when the motions became acts of obedience. If you have been going through the motions at Mass, and bringing up an ’empty net’ over and over, you can revitalize your experience and start to take home a full catch!
In this talk I gave practical helps for the common experience of dryness, dullness, emptiness in the lives of Mass-goers. I created it for an evening of reflection led by the Apostles of the Interior Life, when they invited members of their Collaborator Family to contribute to their parish mission work. The Apostles, my Family, are something of a ‘sending community’ for me – rooting my speaking and writing in the practice of their charism and the sharing of their goal to lead people deeper into the interior life of union with Christ.
Did you know YOU are a poem? Check out Ephesians 2:10, where the Greek ‘poema’ is usually translated ‘workmanship’. I like ‘poema’ better, as it implies beauty and artistry, but ‘workmanship’ is nice.
I’ve discussed the importance of poetry, poetic education, poetic imagination and poetic reading in many different venues (many of the talk topics you see here relate to this theme). I’ve also used my own poems as lenses through which to view aspects of the spiritual life.
For several years, I hosted a Living Poem Society get-together during which we poets shared our current works and discussed the motivation, layers of meaning, word choices and life experiences that helped form each poem.
I hope to re-animate that group one of these days, but, until then, I’m working on a small volume of my poetry, for which I’ll include notes about that sort of background material that can help readers understand each poem more deeply. The title for that work-in-progress is A Destiny to Burn. Here’s the story behind that:
Artist Rose Shopen Klassen gave me an intricately carved candle and, when I said I’d never light it (because it was so beautiful), she told me “A candle has a destiny to burn that will not be fulfilled unless you light it.” That phrase became a poem of mine (Destiny to Burn), and I still love to say it over and over, it so resonated with me!
If an artist has to learn anything, it is how to be utterly spent on the doing of one’s work. Granted the skill to do it, there is still the mountain to climb of learning to pour out the self into works of art, most of which will be given away freely. This candle (I did and do light it, briefly…still hard to let it disappear completely!) reminds me to let myself be burned away in the living of my life, in order that Christ might somehow shine through all that is me, all that I do, whatever I create.
Here’s a collection of my talks that feature poetry, poems, or poetic formation.
OK – here you go: In this talk I do just that – give concrete, practical ways to dip into the kind of leisure that brings interior equanimity and leaves you more whole, more human, more able to balance all the demands of life.
Caution – one of my ‘theories,’ is that part of what makes your Sabbath practice effective in developing your capacity for Christ is conscious design of that practice. You can hear what might be done (and get some good ideas, see what resonates with you, be stimulated to overhaul your Sabbath day), but you still must choose what you will, or won’t do, freely. In that freedom is your authentic consideration of the ways you tend to get unbalanced, lose equanimity, wobble.
Sabbath is tonic – it brings you back to a clear, centered ‘tone’ from disintegration that has taken you in any number of different directions. Sabbath brings you home, if you’ll learn to practice it without legalism, without license – freely. And I’d like to help you do that!
Here are some other ways I’ve spoken about Sabbath over the years.